Horror Scenes I Love: The Dead Rise From The Ground In Poltergeist


This is from 1982’s Poltergeist.

I love Craig T. Nelson’s delivery of the headstones speech.  James Karen is staring at him the whole time like he’s thinking, “Is anyone going to say ‘cut?'”

Brute Farce: Wilder & Pryor Go STIR CRAZY (Columbia 1980)


cracked rear viewer

Gene Wilder  and Richard Pryor weren’t really a comedy team at all, just two incredibly funny comic actors who happened to work well together.  Both were stars in their own right, first appearing together in the 1976 comedy-thriller SILVER STREAK, with Pryor in the pivotal supporting role as a thief who aides the in-danger Wilder. Audiences loved the chemistry between the two, and of course Hollywood took notice. STIR CRAZY is not a sequel, but a funny film of its own allowing Gene and Richard to be their loveably loony selves.

New Yorkers Skip Donahue (Wilder) and Harry Monroe (Pryor) are a couple of buds who’ve both lost their jobs. Playwright Skip’s a dreamer, while aspiring actor Harry’s a realist, but somehow Skip talks his pal into leaving The Big Apple to seek fame and fortune in Hollywood. Their cross-country trek ends when Harry’s decrepit Dodge van breaks down in…

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Horror Film Review: Poltergeist (dir by Tobe Hooper)


The 1982 film Poltergeist tells the story of the Freeling family.

There’s Steven the father (Craig T. Nelson) and Diana the mother (JoBeth Williams).  There’s the snarky teenager daughter, Dana (Dominique Dunne), who has a surprisingly good knowledge of the local motel scene.  There’s the son, Robbie (Oliver Robins), who is scared of not only a big ugly tree but also a big ugly clown doll that, for some reason, sits in his bedroom.  And then there’s the youngest daughter, Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke).

They live in a planned community in Orange County, sitting just a few miles away from the cemetery.  (Or so they think….)  They’ve got a nice house.  They’ve got nice neighbors.  They’ve got a nice dog.  They’re getting a pool in the backyard.  There are hints that Steven and Diana may have once done the whole rebellion thing.  They still occasionally get high, though they do it with a smugness that somehow manages to make marijuana seem less appealing.  But, for the most part, Steven and Diana are happy members of the establishment.  Steven sells real estate and is a favorite of his boss, Mr. Teague (James Karen).  Diana is a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t get upset when some unseen spirit rearranges all the furniture in the kitchen (seriously, that would drive me crazy).  They’re the type of family that falls asleep in front of the TV at night, which is a bit of a mistake as Carol Ann has started talking to the “TV people.”

Strange things start to happen.  As mentioned earlier, furniture starts to rearrange itself.  Whenever Carol Ann sits down in the kitchen, an unseen force moves her across the floor.  Diana, for whatever reason, thinks this is the greatest thing ever.  Then, on the night of a big storm, the big ugly tree tries to eat Robbie and Carol Ann goes into a closet and doesn’t come out.  Though Carol Ann has vanished, the Freelings can still hear her voice.  Apparently, she’s been sucked into another dimension and she’s being encouraged to go into the light.

Of course, this leads to the usual collection of paranormal researchers moving in.  The house decides to pick on one unfortunate guy and he ends up not only eating maggot-filled meat but also imagining his face falling apart over a sink.  A medium named Tangina (Zelda Rubinstein) comes by and reprimands Steven and Diana for not doing exactly what she says.  Of course, it turns out that Tangina isn’t quite as infallible as she claims to be….

To me, Poltergeist is the epitome of a “Why didn’t they just leave the house” type of film.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand that once Carol Ann vanished, Diana and Steven had to stay in the house to rescue their daughter.  I’m talking about all the stuff that went on before the big storm.  Seriously, if a ghost started moving furniture around in the kitchen, I’m leaving the house.  At the very least, I’m not going to take my youngest daughter and invite the ghost to push her around the kitchen.  Even stranger is that, at the end of the film, the Freelings still don’t leave the house even though the situation with Carol Ann has been resolved.  They hire a moving truck and make plans to leave but, instead of spending a night in a hotel, they instead decide to spend one more night in a house that’s apparently possessed by Satan.

Poltergeist is famous for bringing together two filmmakers who really seem like they should exist in different universes.  Steven Spielberg produced while Tobe Hooper directed.  It seems like it’s impossible to read a review of Poltergeist without coming across speculation as to how much of the film should be credited to Spielberg and how much should be credited to Hooper.  It must be said that the film does occasionally feel like it’s at war with itself, as if it can’t decide whether to embrace Spielberg’s middle class sensibilities or Hooper’s counter-culture subversiveness.  On the one hand, the emphasis on special effects and the early scenes where the Freelings watch TV and Steven gets into a remote control fight with his neighbor all feel like something Steven Spielberg would have come up with.  On the other hand, the obvious joy that the film takes in tormenting the Freelings feels more like Tobe Hooper than Steven Spielberg.  Or take the film’s finale, where the special effects are pure Spielberg but the scene of Diana getting assaulted in bed and then thrown around her bedroom feels like pure Hooper.  Really, it’s the mix of two sensibilities that make the film compelling.  Poltergeist’s planned community is appealing but it’ll still kill you.

Anyway, I like Poltergeist.  I certainly prefer the original to the remake.  It’s a silly film in many ways but it’s still effective.  Once you get over how stupid Diana acts during the first part of the film, JoBeth Williams gives a strong performance as a mother determined to protect her children.  And Craig T. Nelson gives a classic over the top performance, especially towards the end of the film.  Just listen as he screams, “Don’t look back!”  That said, my favorite performance comes from James Karen, who is perfectly sleazy as the outwardly friendly, cost-cutting land developer.

Poltergeist is still a good, scary film.  And, if anyone wants to play a lengendary prank this Halloween, show it to someone who has a fear of clowns.

Horror Scenes That I Love: Craig T. Nelson Freaks Out In Poltergeist


Admittedly, this is a pretty short scene.  It’s only 16 seconds, taking from the much longer climax of 1982’s Poltergeist.

That said, this is one of the greatest over-the-top moments in cinematic history.  Craig T. Nelson basically acts the Hell out of accusing his boss of …. well, you’ll see….

(Also, give some praise to the one and only James Karen, heroically bugging out his eyes there at the end.)

An Olympic Film Review: Blades of Glory (dir by Josh Gordon and Will Speck)


All good things must come to an end and the Winter Olympics have done just that.  Tonight, here in the States, NBC will wrap up their coverage of the Games and they’ll broadcast the Closing Ceremonies.  As NBC tends to do, they’ll pretend that they’re broadcasting live but the truth of the matter is that the Winter Games are over and now we’ll have to wait two years for the far-less exciting Summer Games.

I enjoyed the Winter Olympics this year.  I was one of those obsessive people who would watch all of the recaps at one in the morning.  Medal-wise, Norway dominated with a total of 39 medals.  The United States came in fourth with only 23 medals but that’s still 22 more medals than Latvia got!  (Just kidding, we love you, Latvia!)  Overall, though, it was a pretty good Olympics.

That said, there were a few things missing.

For instance, no one attempted to recreate JFK’s affair with Marilyn Monroe on ice.  I thought that was definitely a missed opportunity.

There weren’t any frantic chase scenes.  No mascots were injured over the course of the Olympics.  I guess we should be happy about that, all things considered.  Still, it’s hard not to feel that this break with Olympic tradition left something lacking in the games.

Finally, none of the skating routines featured the risk of decapitation.  Again, I guess this is a good thing.  I mean, we really don’t want to see anyone lose their head, especially not when the games are being broadcast across the world.  But again, it was hard not to feel that lack of the Iron Lotus was unfortunate.

In short, the Winter Olympics may have been good but they were nothing like the 2007 film, Blades of Glory. 

Blades of Glory tells the story of two very different ice skaters.  Jon Heder is Jimmy McElroy, who was adopted by a hyper-competitive, kinda creepy millionaire (William Fichtner) and practically raised to become a gold medalist.  Will Ferrell is Chazz Michael Michaels, who is a hard-drinking, hard-living, sex addict.  Jimmy is all about technical perfection.  He’s a non-threatening, almost child-like celebrity, the type who has earned himself his own obsessive stalker (Nick Swardson).  Chazz is, on the other hand, is a self-styled rock star, as well as being something of an idiot.  In 2002, when they both tie for the gold, they get into an argument that 1) leads to a mascot getting set on fire, 2) brings shame upon the “World Winter Games,” and 3) leads to them getting banned from men’s single competition.

But, as Jimmy’s stalker figures out, that doesn’t mean that they can’t compete in pair skating!  The former rivals may loathe each other but it’s either that or a future of skating in cheap ice shows and working in retail!  Under the guidance of their burned-out coach (Craig T. Nelson), Jimmy and Chazz learn to work together.  And what better way to win the gold than to do an extremely dangerous maneuver that could potentially lead to one of them losing his head?

However, not everyone is happy to see Chazz and Jimmy return to competition.  The reigning champions — Straz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, who were still married when they played creepy siblings in this film) — have no intention of allowing themselves to be upstaged.  And if that means using their younger sister (Jenna Fischer) to try to drive a wedge between Chazz and Jimmy, so be it…

So, obviously, Blades of Glory is not a serious look at the world of ice skating.  The plot is really just an excuse to highlight the absurdity of putting people who clearly don’t belong there on the ice.  This is another Will Ferrell comedy where the majority of the laughs come from the absolute dedication that Ferrell brings to playing an almost absurdly stupid human being.  Ferrell has the ability to deliver even the most nonsensical of dialogue with total sincerity and conviction.  In Blades of Glory, he’s well-matched by Jon Heder, who brings his own odd style to the role of Jimmy.  If Ferrell is all about aggressive stupidity, Jon Heder is all about impish stupidity and it becomes surprisingly compelling to see whose stupidity will ultimately win it.

While it never quite reaches the highs of Anchorman, Blades of Glory is still a funny movie.  It made me laugh and that’s always a good thing.

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Scream Blacula Scream (dir by Bob Kelljan)


Am I correct in assuming that everyone knows who Blacula was?

Blacula is often described as being the black Dracula but actually, it’s a little bit more complicated than that.  In life, he was an African prince named Mamuwalde who, in 1780, went to Dracula’s castle and asked for the count’s help in suppressing the slave trade.  Dracula turned him into a vampire instead and, after declaring that Mamuwalde would forever be known as Blacula, he proceeded to lock Mamuwalde in a coffin.  That’s where Mamuwalde remained for 290 years, until he managed to escape.  By that point, his coffin had been relocated from Transylvania to Los Angeles.

All of that was revealed in the 1972 film, BlaculaBlacula, which starred a distinguished Shakespearean actor named William Marshall in the lead role, was a surprise hit so, of course, Mamuwalde (played again by Marshall) returned the following year in a sequel.  It didn’t matter that the first Blacula ended with Mamuwalde deliberately ending his existence by walking out into the sunlight.  Blacula would return!

It also didn’t matter if anyone in the audience for Scream, Blacula, Scream had somehow missed seeing the first movie.  Scream, Blacula, Scream features lengthy flashbacks to the first film.  It makes sense, really.  Why waste money on all new footage when you can just pad the sequel with scenes from its predecessor?

I’m disappointed to say that Scream, Blacula, Scream did not feature any disco action.  When I saw that this movie would be airing on TCM Underground, I decided to watch it specifically because I figured there would be at least one scene of Blacula dancing underneath a spinning disco ball.  I mean, it was a movie from the 70s, right?  Honestly, I think that if Scream, Blacula, Scream had been made later in the decade, it would have featured at least one disco dance scene.

What the film did have was a lot of voodoo.  Judging from this movie, Live and Let Die, and the House on Skull Mountain, it would appear that people in the early 70s were really obsessed with voodoo.  When the movie opens, a voodoo priestess named Mama Loa is dying and she’s just named her apprentice, Lisa (Pam Grier), as the new head of the cult.  Mama Loa’s son, Willis (Richard Lawson), isn’t happy about this decision so, for some reason, he decides that it would be a good idea to bring Blacula back to life.

Willis apparently thought that the revived Blacula would be his servant but it doesn’t work out like that.  First off, Blacula was perfectly happy being dead.  Secondly, he is no one’s servant.  Blacula promptly bites Willis on the neck and then proceeds to vampirize nearly everyone that he comes across.  Soon, Blacula has an army of vampires but all he wants is to be human again.

And who can help him reach that goal?

How about the city’s newest voodoo priestess, Lisa?

Now, I will say this about Scream, Blacula, Blacula.  The main character is named Lisa and that automatically makes it an above average movie.  The entire movie features people saying, “Lisa” over and over again and you know I loved listening to that.

Other than that, though, the movie was kind of a mess.  It was obviously written and filmed in a hurry and, as a result, a lot of the action felt like padding.  For a subplot that wasn’t that interesting to begin with, the voodoo cult power struggle got way too much screen time.  On the plus side, William Marshall and Pam Grier were both a hundred times better than the material that they had to work with.  Regardless of how ludicrous the dialogue was, Marshall delivered it with dignity and just the right hint of ennui.

Scream, Blacula, Scream is not a particularly good film but it’s worth seeing for Marshall and Grier.

 

A Movie A Day #55: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980, directed by Art Linson)


where_the_buffalo_roam_ver3At his Colorado ranch, journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray) is up against a deadline.  He has to finish his story about his friendship with the radical lawyer and activist, Carlo Lazlo (Peter Boyle).  Thompson flashes back to the time that he covered a trial in which Lazlo defended a group of young men charged with possession of marijuana.  When the men are sent to prison, Lazlo snaps and physically attacks the prosecutor.  Later, Lazlo resurfaces during the Super Bowl and tries to convince Thompson to join him in fighting a revolution in Latin America.  And finally, in 1972, Lazlo tracks Thompson down while Thompson is traveling with the Nixon campaign.

Bill Murray as the legendary gonzo journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson?

It sounds like a great idea, it’s just too bad that the movie’s not any good.  Where The Buffalo Roam may be based on three of Thompson’s best known articles but it never feels gonzo.  It never comes close to capturing Thompson’s anarchistic spirit.  The real Thompson did drugs by the handful, was fascinated by guns, and always seemed to be on the verge of plunging into the abyss.  Where The Buffalo Roam’s Thompson is a mild prankster and an ironically detached hipster, the type who the real Dr. Thompson probably would have kicked out of a moving car.  As for Carlo Lazlo, the character is based on Oscar Zeta Acosta, the infamous “Samoan attorney” that Thompson renamed “Dr. Gonzo” in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.  The movie never figures out what to do with the character or Peter Boyle.

While preparing for the role, Bill Murray spent months hanging out with Thompson and, according to the book, Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live by Doug Weingard and Jeff Hill, literally became Hunter Thompson for not only the duration of the filming but for several months afterward:

“In a classic case of the role overtaking the actor, Billy returned that fall to Saturday Night so immersed in playing Hunter Thompson he had virtually become Hunter Thompson, complete with long black cigarette holder, dark glasses, and nasty habits. ‘Billy,’ said one of the writers, echoing several others, ‘was not Bill Murray, he was Hunter Thompson. You couldn’t talk to him without talking to Hunter Thompson.'”

Neither Thompson nor Bill Murray were happy with Where The Buffalo Roam‘s neutered version of gonzo and the film is really for Murray completists only.  The closest that Hollywood had gotten to getting Thompson right remains Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.