4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films: Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster, Poltergeist, Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part II


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Yesterday, we lost one of the great character actors, James Karen.  Over the course of his long career, Karen appeared work in almost genre imaginable, including horror.  Today, we pay tribute to him with….

4 Shots From 4 James Karen Horror Films

Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (1965, dir by Robert Gaffney)

Poltergeist (1982, dir by Tobe Hooper)

Return of the Living Dead (1985, dir by Dan O’Bannon)

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988, dir by Ken Wiederhorn)

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.

4 Shots From 4 Haunted Films: The Haunting, Poltergeist, The Conjuring, Crimson Peak


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, the Shattered Lens gets a little bit spooky with….

4 Shots From 4 Haunted Films

The Haunting (1963, dir by Robert Wise)

Poltergeist (1982, dir by Tobe Hooper)

The Conjuring (2013, dir by James Wan)

Crimson Peak (2015, dir by Guillermo Del Toro)

4 Shots From 4 Horrific Family Films: Spider Baby, The Baby, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Amityville II: The Possession


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, we have 4 shots from 4 films that all feature horrific families!

4 Shots From 4 Horrific Family Films

Spider Baby (1964, dir by Jack Hill)

The Baby (1973, dir by Ted Post)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, dir by Tobe Hooper)

Amityville II: The Possession (1982, dir by Damiano Damiani)

Horror Film Review: The Funhouse (dir by Tobe Hooper)


1980’s The Funhouse opens with an almost shot-for-shot recreation of the famous shower scene from Psycho, with Amy (Elizabeth Berridge) getting attacked in the shower by a masked, knife-wielding maniac.

The only difference is that there’s no shrieking violins, there’s no blood, and the knife is quickly revealed to be a fake.  It turns out that the “killer” is actually Amy’s younger brother, Joey (Shawn Carson).  Joey loves horror movies.  In fact, he’s pretty much the perfect stand-in for The Funhouse‘s intended audience.  Joey was just playing a rather mean-spirited prank but now, as a result, Amy snaps that she’s not going to take him to the carnival.

Of course, Amy isn’t supposed to be going to the carnival either.  Her parents have strictly forbidden it.  Everyone knows that traveling carnivals are dangerous and, at the last town the carnival visited, two teenagers disappeared!  There’s no proof that the carnival has anything to do with those disappearances, of course.  But still…

Amy does exactly what I would have done in her situation.  She tells her parents that she’s going over to a friend’s house and then she goes to the carnival anyway!  Accompanying her is her boyfriend Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), who is so cool that he has a name like Buzz.  Also along for the ride: Amy’s best friend, Liz (Largo Woodruff), and her boyfriend, Richie (Miles Chapin).  Richie’s kind of a loser but that’s to be expected.  Every group needs at least one idiot who can do something stupid that gets everyone else killed.  We all know how that works.

The carnival turns out to be just as sleazy as Amy’s parents thought it would be.  There’s a fake psychic (Sylvia Miles).  There’s a magician who dresses like Dracula.  There’s a barker (Kevin Conway), whose deep voice is constantly heard in the background.  And, of course, there’s a funhouse!  Still, everyone’s having a good time.  Either that or they’re all just stoned.

For his part, Joey sneaks out of the house and goes to the carnival himself.  He doesn’t have quite as much fun as Amy.  In fact, his experience is pretty scary.  Weird carnival people keep yelling at him.  He keeps getting lost.  Still, things could be worse.  By the time his parents arrive to pick Joey up, Amy and her friends are all trapped in the funhouse.  They’re being pursued by the barker and his deformed son (Wayne Doba).  Needless to say, it’s all pretty much Richie’s fault.

Richie.  What a dumbass.

With its teenage victims and its lengthy chase scenes, The Funhouse is often dismissed as just being another early 80s slasher film.  However, The Funhouse is actually a fairly clever, entertaining, and occasionally even witty horror film.  Much like director Tobe Hooper’s best-known film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Funhouse gets its scares by convincing audiences that they’re actually seeing more than they are.  Hooper emphasizes atmosphere and performances over gore.  While The Funhouse has its share of jump scares, it mostly succeeds by convincing us that anyone could die at any moment.  It’s an intense film, with excellent performances from both Elizabeth Berridge and Kevin Conway.

After kickstaring the slasher genre with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hooper used The Funhouse to poke a little fun at it.  From the opening shower scene to the electrifying finale, Hooper plays with the genre-savvy expectations of the audiences.  Our four victims even do the smart thing for once — they try to all stay together.  Needless to say, that doesn’t work out too well.

The Funhouse is an entertaining thrill ride and, seen today, it’s more evidence that Tobe Hooper deserved better than he got from the film industry.

 

 

Horror Book Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion by Stefan Jaworzyn


Originally released way back in 1974, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre continues to be one of the most iconic and influential horror films of all time.

Not only did the film terrify generations of filmgoers, it also undoubtedly inspired many people who lived up north to swear that they would never visit Texas.  (Speaking as a Texan, I appreciate it!)  So powerful was the impact of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre that it is regularly cited as being one of the first “gore” films, despite the fact that barely a drop of blood is seen throughout the entire film.  Instead, what is seen is Sally (played by Marilyn Burns) screaming while running and Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) dancing with that chainsaw.

So, how did a group of hippies in Austin come to make one of the most famous movies of all time?  That is the question that is answered in the 2004 book, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion.  Written by Stefan Jaworzyn and featuring a foreword by Gunnar Hansen, this breezy and entertaining book contains almost everything you could possibly want to know about this film.  The book is largely an oral history, featuring lengthy quotes from the film’s cast and crew.  (For the most part, Jaworzyn allows the interviews speak for themselves and only occasionally interjects any editorial commentary.)  Along with detailing the film’s infamously difficult production (with Marilyn Burns nearly being driven to the point of an actual breakdown and Hansen, an otherwise sensitive poet, coming close to being possessed by his murderous character at one point), the companion also deals with crimes of Ed Gein and Tobe Hooper’s career both before and after his best known film.

Most interesting, to me, were the sections that dealt with how the head of the Texas Film Commission helped to secure The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a national distribution deal.  Considering that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre basically portrayed Texas as being a place where you could get killed if you made a wrong turn, the involvement of the Texas Film Commission may seem strange at first.  Some of the interviews in the book seem to suggest that the head of the Commission had a crush on Marilyn Burns.

It’s an entertaining book, even if I don’t agree with everything that Jaworzyn says.  (He calls Psycho overrated at one point.)  With the recent deaths of Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, and Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Companion now serves as something of a tribute to these three artists and the film that, to the surprise of everyone, changed cinema forever.

Music Video of the Day: Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol (1983, dir by Tobe Hooper)


Hi!  Lisa here, filling in for Val, with today’s music video of the day!

On Saturday night, fans of both film and horror were saddened to learn of the death of Tobe Hooper.  Tobe Hooper was a Texas original, a fiercely iconoclastic director who totally changed the face of horror when he directed a low-budget shocker called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

When it came time to pick today’s music video of the day, I decided to see if Tobe Hooper had ever directed a music video.  It turned out that he directed exactly one and here it is:

According to almost everyone online, Dancing With Myself is a song about masturbation.  However, Idol himself says that the song’s lyrics are actually meant to be quite literal.  The song actually is about dancing with yourself.  Here’s how it’s explained over on Songfacts:

“This song is commonly thought to be about masturbation, but it’s really more about dancing by yourself. Billy got the idea after watching Japanese kids at a Tokyo disco “dancing with themselves” in a nightclub. The kids would dance in a pogo style up and down, and there were mirrors in the club so they could watch themselves doing it… This song is about more than just dancing. Idol told Rolling Stone: “The song really is about people being in a disenfranchised world where they’re left bereft, dancing with their own reflections.”

As for how Tobe Hooper came to direct the video … well, I have no idea.  I imagine he was hired because of his fame as the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  This video came out a year after the original Poltergeist, a film that Hooper is credited with directing but which many people believed was actually directed by producer Steven Spielberg.  (Poltergeist was a huge hit but the rumors of Hooper being a director-in-name-only permanently and unfairly damaged Hooper’s reputation.)  As far as I know, this is the only music video that Tobe Hooper directed.

As for the video, it features neither masturbation nor Japanese nightclubs.  Instead, it appears to be taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting.  The beginning of the video reminds me a bit of Hooper’s underrated slasher film, The Funhouse.

Anyway, enjoy!