Rian Johnson unsheathes the Knives Out Trailer

A filmmaker is sometimes only as good as their last film. If you mentioned director Rian Johnson’s name around 2012, it was probably met with wild applause. After all, he gave us the time travelling thriller Looper, with Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Mentioning Johnson now breeds a bit of contempt after his outing on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film was hit with reviews ranging from daring to awful, and most of the Star Wars fanbase don’t think of what he’s done there.

With his newest film, Knives Out, Johnson looks like he’s moving forward. The film appears to be a classic whodunit with a fantastic cast. Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langsford, and Jaeden Martell round out the cast list, which is pretty great overall. The story seems to cover the murder of a patriarch, and a family of suspects which reminds me of the classic Infocom game, Deadline.  Hoping for the best with this one.


Horror Film Review: Terror Train (dir by Roger Spottiswoode)

Wow.  Fraternities are mean!

How else do you explain the prank that begins the 1980 slasher film, Terror Train?  At a party, awkward pledge Kenny (Derek MacKinnon) is told that Alana Maxwell (Jamie Lee Curtis) is waiting for him in an upstairs bedroom and she totally wants to have sex with him!  Poor Kenny.  Really, he should have been able to figure that this was a prank but I guess he’s just naive.  Anyway, he goes upstairs, strips down to his underwear, and listens as Alana says, “Don’t be shy …. kiss me!”

Kenny thinks that Alana is waiting for him in the bed but actually, she’s hiding behind a curtain.  So, what’s in the bed?  Well, as Kenny soon discovers, it’s a limbless corpse!  Oh, those wacky pre-med students!  Under the direction of Doc (Hart Bochner), they’ve stolen a cadaver from the medical school and they’ve used it to play the joke of the century!  Everyone bursts into the room, laughing.

Ha ha!  Funny joke, right?

Well, not to Kenny.  Kenny totally freaks out and starts spinning around and gets all wrapped up in the sheets.  Needless to say, Kenny does not get laid that night.

In fact, Kenny ends up losing his mind.  And that’s unfortunate but, as they say, life goes on.  Three years later, the pranksters are all due to graduate so they’re going to throw a costume party on a train!  The conductor (Ben Johnson) watches as these rich, costumed college kids get on his train and you can just tell that he’s thinking, “There better not be no funny business.”  He need not worry!  Alana is on the train and she still feels so bad over what happened to Kenny that you can be sure that there won’t be any pranks during this graduation party!

Unfortunately for everyone else, Kenny’s decided to get on the train as well.  While his former classmates are smoking weed, getting drunk, dancing to the best disco music of 1980, and taunting a magician (David Copperfield), Kenny is killing people and stealing their costumes.

Kenny’s first victim actually dies before the train leaves.  When he comes staggering up to everyone with a sword sticking out of him, everyone assumes that it’s just another joke.  Nope!  Turns out the sword is real but everyone’s too busy boarding to notice as the guy collapses to the ground and is promptly dragged underneath the train.  In a scene that always makes me cringe, the train slowly crushes him as it starts to move forward.  I mean, seriously …. Agck!

So, now Kenny is wandering around the train, dressed like Grouch Marx and killing people.  It takes people a while to notice because we’re not exactly dealing with the smartest group of college graduates.  And, once they do realize …. well, what are they going to do?  They’re stuck on a train in the middle of nowhere!  Even if they do get off the train, it’s snowing and below freezing outside!  I mean, it’s almost as bad as Minnesota in January out there….

Of the many slasher films that Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in after Halloween, Terror Train is definitely the best.  After making his directorial debut here, Roger Spottiswoode went on to become one of the busiest directors in Hollywood and you can tell why when you watch this movie.  Spottiswoode’s makes great and atmospheric use of the train and Kenny’s habit of constantly changing his costume keeps you guessing just where he might be at any given time.  Even more importantly, Spottiswoode takes the time to develop the characters so that they become more than just cardboard victims.  Jamie Lee Curtis, Hart Bochner, Sandee Curris, and Timothy Webber all give excellent performance as the objects of Kenny’s wrath while old veteran Ben Johnson brings some gravitas to the film as the wise conductor.

(My only objection is that the worst of the pranksters is named Doc, which happens to be the name of our cat.  And let me just say that Doc the cat would never pull as cruel a prank as Doc the medical student.)

As we all know, Jamie Lee Curtis will be returning to the horror genre later this month.  She’ll be playing Laurie Strode in David Gordon Green’s Halloween remake or reboot or sequel or whatever it is.  Famously, Curtis refused to appear in horror films for several years, saying that she didn’t want to be typecast.  That was understandable on her part and, as much as I love horror movies, it was probably a smart career move.  That said, the slasher films that Curtis appeared are some of the best of the genre.  Halloween, Terror Train, and even Prom Night are all classics of their kind.  Terror Train is a suspense masterpiece, perfect for any cold and snowy night when you want to scream a little.

Trailer: Halloween

Halloween 2018

October 19, 2018. Keep that date in mind.

It’s the date for the latest entry to the Halloween franchise. It’s to be a sequel to the original film. It will also discard every other Halloween sequel ever made. So, for those who are so anti-remake/reboot this should alleviate any of those triggers.

David Gordon Green (who co-wrote this sequel with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) directs this sequel as a continuation of the events which happened with the original film. A follow-up that’s 40 years in the making, literally.

So, once again, remember October 19th and make sure to check this film out. I have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll be the true sequel to Carpenter’s classic.

Canadian Dances Scenes That I Love: Jamie Lee Curtis and Casey Stevens in Prom Night

Prom Night … everything is alright…

Since today is technically still Canada Day, I figured why not share one of the greatest dance scenes ever filmed?  This scene is from the classic 1980 film, Prom Night, and it features Jamie Lee Curtis and Casey Stevens showing what they can do on the dance floor!

Well, actually, it shows Jamie Lee Curtis showing what she could do.  According to David Grove’s Jamie Lee Curtis, Scream Queen, Casey Stevens claimed that he could dance but, when it came time to shoot the scene, he turned out to be rather awkward and the responsibility for selling the scene pretty much fell completely on Jamie Lee Curtis’s shoulders.  As Prom Night co-star MaryBeth Rubens put it, it was impossible to imagine Casey and Jamie Lee ever being a couple in real life, despite the fact that they were during the making of this film.

Interestingly enough, Prom Night would later bring Jamie Lee Curtis her first acting nomination when she was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Foreign Actress.  (Indeed, one of the interesting thing about the early history of the Genie Awards is just how many slasher films were nominated.  Apparently, during the early 80s, the Canadian film industry was a bit less robust than it is today.)  That said, Jamie Lee does give a really good performance in this film and dammit, she deserved the award!

(Or, at the very least, I assume she did.  I’m not really sure to whom she lost and I’m too lazy to look it up on Wikipedia.)

(Okay, screw it.  I felt guilty for being lazy so I decided to look it up.  Jamie Lee Curtis lost to Susan Sarandon, who won for her performance in Atlantic City.  Since Sarandon’s role was actually a supporting one to Burt Lancaster’s, I still say that Curtis should have won.)

The song’s great too.

So, enjoy this scene and just try not to dance!

Here’s The Trailer for David Gordon Green’s Halloween!

Somewhat under the radar, Texas’s David Gordon Green has had one of the most interesting and varied film careers of any modern filmmaker.  How many other directors would be capable of directing both Your Highness and Joe?

Green’s latest film is a sequel/remake/reboot of the horror classic, Halloween.  The trailer picks up decades after the end of John Carpenter’s film, with Michael Myers again coming for his sister (Jamie Lee Curtis) and, this time, his niece (Judy Greer).  However, Laurie isn’t just passively waiting for the next night that he comes home.  Laurie’s got a gun and she’s not shy about using it.

So, judging from this trailer, all of the original Halloween sequels never happened.  Needless to say, the two Rob Zombie films have been pushed to the side as well.  Whether that’s a good thing or not will depend on how you feel about those films.  I’ll be sorry to lose Halloween II but the one with Busta Rhymes?  Who cares?  Rob Zombie’s first Halloween was good but his second one can ride out of town on a mysterious white horse for all I care.

As for this latest film, the trailer looks good.  I have faith in David Gordon Green.

Horror Book Review: Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen by David Grove

I cannot let this Halloween end without recommending Jamie Lee Curtis: Scream Queen, David Grove’s biography of one of horror cinema’s most iconic stars.

As you can probably guess from the title, the focus of this book is on the start of Jamie Lee Curtis’s career, when she was almost exclusively appearing in slasher films.  Beginning with her starring role in Halloween and going all the way through films like Terror Train, Prom Night, Road Games, The Fog, and Halloween 2, the book shows both how Curtis dealt with suddenly being a horror icon and how she eventually left the horror genre behind in an effort to show that she was capable of doing more than just screaming and running.  Eventually, as the book details, she reached a point where she could return to horror with Halloween H20 but, for a while, her horror work was truly a double-edged sword.  It made her famous but it also kept her from being considered for the type of roles that she truly hoped to play.

That said, this book takes refreshingly positive look at her early film career, providing both serious analysis of and fascinating behind-the-scenes details about all of Curtis’s horror films.  Yes, even Prom Night.

In fact, the two chapters devoted to Prom Night were probably my favorite part of the book.  Though Curtis herself was not interviewed, several members of the cast and crew were and their recollections of their work on this not-very-good but oddly watchable film provide an interesting portrait of life during a low-budget movie shoot.  Of course, everyone focuses on how in awe they were of Jamie but, at the same time, they are also open about their own personal feelings and recollections about the shooting of this movie.  Their hopes and dreams, many of them destined to be unfulfilled, come through just as vividly as their memories of watching Jamie Lee Curtis film the famous disco scene.  The passages dealing with Casey Stevens, who played Jamie’s Prom Night boyfriend and subsequently died of AIDS, are especially moving.  In the end, Jamie Lee Curits; Scream Queen is not just a biography of Jamie Lee Curtis.  It’s a tribute to both movies and the people who make them.

If you’re a lover of the horror genre or a student of film history, this is one of those book that you simply must have.  It’s got just about everything that you could possibly want.

A Movie A Day #229: Amazing Grace and Chuck (1987, directed by Mike Newell)

Amazing Grace and Chuck has a heartfelt message but it ultimately trips over its own good intentions.

Chuck (Joshua Zuelkhe) is a 12 year-old boy who lives in Montana and who is the best little league pitcher in the state.  Because a field trip to a missile silo causes him to have nightmares, Chuck announces that he will not play baseball until the world agrees to nuclear disarmament.  Chuck’s team ends up having to forfeit a game because Chuck refuses to play.  In the real world, this would lead to Chuck enduring 6 years of ridicule and bullying until he was finally old enough to change his name and go to college in a different state.  In the world of the movies, it leads to Chuck becoming a hero.

A basketball player named Amazing Grace (Alex English) reads a news story about Chuck’s protest and he decides to protest as well.  He announces that he will not play basketball until there are no more nuclear missiles.  Before you can say “Colin Kaepernick,” hundreds of other sports stars are following Amazing Grace’s lead.  Of course, if any group of people is well known for their willingness to give up a huge payday for a quixotic and largely symbolic protest, it’s America’s professional athletes.  Amazing Grace and the athletes even move out to Montana, so that they can be closer to Chuck.

Because they do not appreciate his efforts to put all sporting events (and all betting on sporting events) on hold, the Mafia makes plans to assassinate Amazing Grace.  Chuck protests this by taking a vow of silence.  By now, it is hard to keep track of what Chuck is protesting and how.  Is he still trying for world disarmament or has he moved on to getting the Mob out of professional sports?  All the other children of the world follow Chuck’s example, refusing to speak.  In the real world, children taking a vow of silence would lead to parents celebrating in the street but, in the movie, it leads to panic and causes the Soviets to assume they have the upper hand over the west.  The President (Gregory Peck) ruins it all by inviting Chuck to the White House.  When President Peck explains that people are not allowed to shout fire in a crowded movie theater, Chuck breaks his vow of silence to ask, “But what if there’s a fire?”

There are many problems with Amazing Grace and Chuck, including the dumb Mafia subplot that seems like it should be in a different movie and Chuck coming across as being a smug little creep.  Joshua Zuehlke made his film debut as Chuck and, on the basis of his performance, it is not surprising that he has never appeared in another film since.  By the end of the movie, even Gregory Peck is sick of Chuck and his demands.   It’s obviously a heartfelt film, which is probably why actors like Peck, Jamie Lee Curtis, and William L. Petersen all appeared in it despite presumably having a hundred better things to do, but a nuanced look at détente and the arms race, Amazing Grace and Chuck is not.