Review: Jack Frost (1997)

Jack Frost (1997)
Director: Michael Cooney
Writers: Jeremy Paige (story), Michael Cooney (story)
Stars: Scott MacDonald, Christopher Allport, Stephen Mendel

As a young child in snowy Minnesota, this movie not only horrified me but, to my mother’s dismay, caused a severe aversion to venture outside in the winter months. Watching it again, now I’ve realized that while this movie is technically a horror flick it, like the chest burst scene from Freddy’s Revenge, is only scary in my adolescent memory.

Jack Frost, a 1997 so-bad-it’s-good horror/comedy, features serial killer Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) who, through a Marvel-worthy accident, involving a genetic research vehicle on the way to his execution, turns into a mutated snowman. Freed from his death sentence and given a new body, Jack travels to the fictional small town of Snowmonton in order to extract revenge on the sheriff (Christopher Allport) who sent him away. As you can imagine, death, destruction and even a mild conspiracy plot involving the FBI ensue.

The technical aspects of this film aren’t anything to get excited about, the acting isn’t that great, and the effects are cheap at best (the snow looks more like coconut flakes than anything that could have ever come out of the sky) but it’s all of that cheese, along with the comical editing and over-exaggerated expressions from the actors, that makes it so fun to watch. There are more puns in it than an episode of CSI, and the amount of foreshadowing is near nauseating, not to mention the film seems to drag on forever (who knew a mutated snowman would be so hard to kill) but that’s all easy to forgive. From the intro alone, it’s obvious that this movie isn’t to be taken seriously and by the halfway mark its status as a cult favorite becomes inarguable. It’s no Silence of the Lambs but considering the basic plot you shouldn’t expect it to be.

When it comes to this movie, just lower your standards, turn off your brain and allow yourself to both laugh with it and at it while you decorate your Rocky Horror themed gingerbread men or try to get hammered off eggnog. While I certainly wouldn’t recommend trying to watch Jack Frost for scares or thought-provoking dialogue (although some of it is surprisingly clever), putting it into your Holiday movie line up is a must.   

 - Marysa Storm


Review: The Hunger (1983)

The Hunger (1983)
Director:  Tony Scott
Writers:  Whitley Strieber (novel), Ivan Davis (screenplay)
Stars:  Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon

This movie had me at Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie play a pair of vampires.  It's also directed by the late, often great Tony Scott, who always knew how to make a good popcorn flick.  The Hunger is a surprisingly entertaining vampire movie, given it's probably the most un-vampire like vampire movie in existence.  It's as though it's in a state of genre denial, and for some may come off more an erotic thriller than horror film, but the final product delivers enough blood and gothic imagery to whet the appetite of any horror fan.

Deneuve plays Miriam Blaylock, a gorgeous ancient vampire who every 300 years or so must acquire a new immortal lover of her choosing.  At times it's gory and disturbing, especially the turning point in the film when Miriam’s current lover John, played by Bowie, takes the life of a young child, the child Miriam plans on having as her next partner in crime. It's an unsettling moment with significant repercussions, and this is when the plot really thickens, as Martian must scramble for a replacement.  The big finale, when the mummified corpses of Miriam’s past lovers rise from their caverns, is a genuinely frightening sequence, if not a bit too reminiscent of the Poltergeist finale a year earlier.  But this climactic moment is the most visually stunning of the film and really shows off the amazing special effects work, which look better in '83 than most stuff nowadays.  

The Hunger was not initially well received but has since found its audience and over the years developed somewhat of a cult following.  It's easy to see why, based on the credits alone: Deneuve and Bowie are icons in their own right, Sarandon offers an early and quite edgy (and rather nude) performance, and it’s Tony Scott’s first major work and one of his only horror films.  There is a classiness to The Hunger you don’t find in many other horror films and its unique atmosphere is unlike any vampire story I’ve ever seen.

Peter DiGiovanni


The Horror Delight of 1991: A Closer Look at POPCORN

Unveiling the Horror Delight of 1991: A Closer Look at Popcorn

In the vast realm of horror films, the year 1991 introduced a hidden gem that remains a cherished cult classic among genre enthusiasts – Popcorn. Directed by Mark Herrier and released by Studio Three Film Corporation, this horror flick delivers a unique blend of scares, thrills, and a meta-narrative that sets it apart from its contemporaries.

Popcorn unfolds its eerie tale within the framework of a horror movie marathon hosted by a film school. The plot revolves around film student Maggie Butler, portrayed by Jill Schoelen, who discovers a dark secret about her family's past while organizing a horror film festival to raise funds for her school. As the festival progresses, the line between fiction and reality becomes increasingly blurred, leading to a series of spine-chilling events.

One of the film's standout features is its self-awareness. Popcorn doesn't shy away from acknowledging and celebrating the horror genre. The movie within a movie concept allows it to pay homage to classic horror tropes, offering a meta experience for viewers. This self-referential approach adds a layer of depth, making Popcorn not just a horror film but a love letter to the genre itself.

The setting of the film, an old, decrepit movie theater, adds a haunting atmosphere that heightens the overall sense of dread. The use of the theater as a backdrop provides ample opportunities for suspenseful sequences, as the characters navigate darkened corridors, hidden passages, and creepy prop rooms. The eerie ambiance of the setting contributes significantly to the film's effectiveness in creating a genuinely frightening experience for the audience.

The strength of Popcorn lies in its ability to blend horror with humor seamlessly. While the film explores genuinely terrifying elements, it also injects moments of levity, keeping the tone engaging and entertaining. The juxtaposition of horror and humor is a delicate balance, but Popcorn manages to pull it off, providing viewers with an enjoyable and unpredictable ride.

The practical effects and creature designs in Popcorn deserve special mention. In an era dominated by CGI, the film's reliance on practical effects showcases the creativity and craftsmanship of the special effects team. From grotesque monsters to eerie illusions, the practical effects contribute to the film's nostalgic charm, harking back to a time when horror relied on tangible, in-camera effects to terrify audiences.

The cast, led by Jill Schoelen, delivers commendable performances that enhance the film's overall quality. Schoelen's portrayal of Maggie Butler anchors the narrative, and her journey from an unsuspecting film student to the protagonist facing supernatural horrors adds depth to the character. The supporting cast, including Tom Villard, Dee Wallace, and Tony Roberts, contribute to the film's ensemble dynamic, each bringing a unique element to the table.

Despite its undeniable charm, Popcorn did not achieve commercial success upon its initial release. However, over the years, the film has garnered a dedicated cult following. Its unique approach to the horror genre, combined with the nostalgic appeal of practical effects and a compelling meta-narrative, has elevated Popcorn to a revered status among horror aficionados.

In conclusion, Popcorn stands as a testament to the creativity and innovation present in the horror genre during the early '90s. Its ability to blend scares, humor, and a self-aware narrative set it apart from its peers, making it a must-watch for fans of classic horror. As the film continues to find new audiences through the years, its legacy as a cult classic remains intact, proving that true horror gems are often discovered in the shadows of cinematic history.


Review: Patrick (2013)

Patrick (2013)
Director: Mark Hartley
Writer: Justin King
Stars: Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths, Sharni Vinson

Summary: Behind the walls of Roget Clinic, which specializes in the care of coma cases, a supposedly brain-dead patient is subjected to brutal experiments.

At the time of viewing this movie, I was unaware that Patrick was a remake of a movie by the same name that was made in 1978. J.W. Brewer, if you were planning on doing a “Remake Vs. Original” of this franchise, I do apologize. But I am going to go out on a limb and just assume the original was better after having only watched the remake.

The movie starts with a nurse at the clinic snooping around in the basement and being killed by a needle to the eye from an unknown person. We then cut to the heroine of the story, Kathy Jacquard (played by Sharni Vinson), applying for a job at the clinic. She is a highly educated expert in the care of comatose patients and is hired by Dr. Roget (Charles Dance) immediately. He does warn her though, that what he is doing at the clinic is very avant-garde and that he is taking drastic steps to improve, perhaps even awaken at will, a person in a comatose state.

While Kathy is getting used to the hospital and its coma patients (who are all topless and in one single room), we learn that Kathy is on the run from something in her life which led her to Roget’s clinic. Her friends wonder on her (imitation) Facebook page where she is and why she is avoiding phone calls.

The only coma patient with his own room is Patrick, who strangely has his eyes wide open and has a muscle spasm where he randomly spits. This is Dr. Roget’s special project. And the method of testing he uses is…a little off. He basically puts two electrical probes to Patrick’s temples and electroshocks the shit out of his head. According to Roget, he is trying to awaken long dead neurons in the hopes that the patient will make a full recovery.

For the first and second act of this movie, it relied heavily on a build-up of jump scares and eerie settings to keep the viewer interested. And then…something happens. While Kathy is alone with Patrick after one of his treatments, she learns that Patrick can actually feel and can communicate through his spitting (spit once for yes, twice for no). She tests him by touching his face, his chest, his feet, and then…

Wait. What? Hold on. Is she trying to give him a hand job? Fortunately, Kathy is interrupted by the head nurse, but what the hell was that about? What was her end game there? It was such an odd thing to happen in the movie and was so out of character. From what we saw of Kathy previously, she is intelligent, self-assured and independent. So why the hell is she sticking her hand down Patrick’s pants? Was it medical? Was she looking for a reaction? Why not just tickle his feet? It was one of those things you couldn’t really disregard. If you think I am dwelling too much on the attempted hand-jibber, I wish I was, but this little moment turns into the crux of the third act.

Patrick will only communicate with Kathy and no one else, which causes Kathy to second-guess her sanity, especially when Patrick begins to communicate through the computer monitor in his room. At this point, I was wondering if the director was going to go for one of those clichéd, no-longer-a-twist endings where maybe Kathy is the one in the coma and all the events that she is experiencing were symptoms of her illness or random firing of neurons, some crap like that. The scene structure of the movie sets up for such an ending, as each scene just kind of appears with no set-up, much like a series of dream sequences. Whoever she interacts with seems to hurt themselves, and although it was not as frenetic and feverish as say, Jacob’s Ladder, there were some odd things going on. 

So, I was intrigued. I at least wanted to know if I was right about how it would end. There was some decent suspense and intrigue built up and leading into the last half hour of the movie. What will happen with the coma patient who is being experimented on by a desperate, half-mad doctor as well as a nurse who is struggling with bouts of delusions? And then I watched the movie shit all over the proverbial bed.

Telekinesis. They went with Telekinesis. Apparently, for each of Patrick’s treatments, he was getting stronger and was able to better control objects with his mind, even from miles away. Patrick is controlling cars, he’s taking over people’s computers, he’s making phone calls. Not only is he making phone calls, but he’s also controlling the people he calls through the goddamn telephone if they pick up the receiver. Why, he can make a man melt his hands in a sandwich press if he wants. At one point, he doesn’t even need to make the phone calls. He just wills himself into another’s body, whether they are alive or dead.

Toward the end, Dr. Roget gets so desperate for results from the testing that he literally amps up the treatment, giving Patrick all sorts of telekinetic powers. Because that’s how electricity works. Let that be a lesson to you, kids: If you’ve ever wanted to do a Jedi-mind trick, like Luke Skywalker reaching for his lightsaber, then all you need to do is grab your favorite fork and jam it into the nearest electrical socket.

This third act was so terrible, it felt like I was watching someone smear themselves with their own shit. Sweet little Patrick was actually admitted to the clinic right after he killed his mother and her boyfriend and tried to off himself. And now he was obsessed with Kathy. Why? Because she showed him some care and consideration. Oh, and the hand job. Patrick was really keen on getting that hand job. In order to convince her to finish the (hand) job, Patrick controls all of the coma patients by making them sit up straight and say, “Patrick wants his hand job.” No, I am not kidding.

Now, if Patrick could control multiple people at will, couldn’t he have just taken over Kathy’s body and finished his hand job then? It would have given a whole new spin on “the stranger” masturbation technique. And it would have saved me a lot of frustration watching this dreck.

The movie turned into such a farce; I hardly even noticed the ending. I was half-expecting Leslie Nielson to come into Patrick’s room and go, “I just wanted to tell you both good luck, we’re all counting on you.”

Kathy kills Patrick somehow, in a way that I didn’t really care about, but right after she does so, Patrick gives himself one last surge of electricity and flies his body out the goddamn window to kill himself. Again. And I couldn’t stop laughing.

- Michael Jenkins

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Review: Alice Sweet Alice (1976)

Alice Sweet Alice (1976)
Director: Alfred Sole
If you survive this night…Nothing will scare you again.

Set in the 1960s (which, due to lack of budget, was lost among more contemporary details) and heavy on anti-Catholic rhetoric, Alice Sweet Alice is definitely the odd one out of its time. It stars a young Brooke Shields as Karen, the first victim and younger sister of our deeply unnerving yet oddly likable antagonist, Alice. Between the constant whining and carrying on of Karen and the overt favoritism of children by the mother, it’s easy to sympathize with poor Alice.  Although the film starts right off with all kinds of emotional tension, the first death definitely sets the mood for the rest of the film.

Alice becomes main suspect in murder of sister. I mean, she did just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, have the same creepy smiling mask and yellow raincoat as the murderer, and have more than enough motive. Throughout the film, it becomes more and more apparent that Alice is less than innocent, but her involvement in the terrors to unfold would remain to be seen. However, there was much hinting at the idea that the ghost of Karen, back for revenge may be to blame.

One character, which we are introduced to briefly after the death of Karen, was the creepy apartment manager with all of the kittens. I feel he could have been explained or integrated into the plot a little more. He seemed to both hate and take a “liking” to Alice and reminded me a bit of a John Waters character. Alice seemed to return the favor, somehow possibly liking his creepy, pedophilic attention, adding to the Alice character as deeply troubled and demented. Indeed, a disturbing but weirdly compelling relationship.

Throughout the film, Mom refused to listen to anything and anyone, ready to fight everyone about her children, and was always hysterical and uncooperative. She was also kind of an enabling pushover. There was also the aunt. She seemed to always know what was up, but no one listened and came off as overzealous at times. Between the two of them, there was quite a lot of tension and screaming, especially in regard to the guilt of Alice, who later may or may not have stabbed her aunt several times. As you can imagine, the following scenes would be littered with yelling, denial, and hysteria. The estranged father played the role as the voice of reason, although he started off by being uncooperative and silly about everything. However, he begins to pull himself together and actively aid in solving the mystery of who attacked the aunt in the stairwell.

I do believe that had the film followed along the “disturbed little girl dodging everyone’s radar on a killing spree” path that it would have been more compelling. The final murder and the reveal of the real killer at the end were a bit of a letdown (although it didn’t not make sense). However, the notion of the idea that Alice could very well be capable of murder and was not completely innocent was compelling and would have made for a fine storyline in of itself. The fact that the ending seemed kind of thrown into place, for the sake of the element of surprise, was more frustrating than anything. Despite the fact that the plot was a little bit all over the place, I would say that this film is deserving of a gander for any horror buff.

- Jasmine Casimir

Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) 
Director: Tobe Hooper     
Writers: Tobe Hooper, Kim Henkel   
Stars: Marilyn Burns, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen

Cliff’s Notes: Narrator: "The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths, in particular Sally Hardesty and her invalid brother, Franklin. It is all the more tragic in that they were young. But, had they lived very, very long lives, they could not have expected nor would they have wished to see as much of the mad and macabre as they were to see that day. For them an idyllic summer afternoon drive became a nightmare. The events of that day were to lead to..." First lines of the film spoken by Emmy Award-Winning actor John Larroquette

Lecture: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (TCM) is, without a doubt, one of the best horror films ever made. Technically speaking, the composition and direction of this flick is nearly perfect. Each of the early strokes beautifully crafts the image of a carefree summer drive. The documentary-like first act is tempered with only a vague air of threat, as if this is the beginning of a cosmically bad day. Our group of friends is sketched with the broadest of strokes, but the quality actors bring it up a level. The meeting with this hitchhiker, the exploring of the family home, and the walks through the Texas countryside each build to a single explosion of violence.

And from that moment on, TCM is like watching a nightmare. Danger is always no more than a few feet away. The reality of the film seems to collapse in upon itself, keeping the viewer trapped in a holocaust of violence and degradation. There is no reprieve, no release from the horrors that surround the characters. As it builds, TCM becomes a horror powerhouse. And then the dinner scene starts.

Filmed over 26 straight hours in the Texas heat, the dinner scene is pure anarchy. It is a decent into madness driven by violence, some of it real, and rage. It’s like watching the end of the world. That’s not a complaint. This is a horror movie lover’s dream. This scene, as well as the third act, are so emotionally draining that, by the time the film has let up, any of the film;s last images – characters run over by trucks, escaping into madness, or pure unadulterated rage- are apt metaphors for the viewer’s mental state.

Acting: Marilyn Burns, who sadly just passed, R.I.P., is fantastic in this flick. I’m not sure how much counseling she had afterwards, but the terror she puts out on screen is incredible. The rest of the disposable teens hold their own and read as real people, which makes the docu-feel of the flick hit harder.

Special props go to the chainsaw family. Edwin Neal and Jim Siedow are fantastic as the crazies. Siedow especially brings a moral schizophrenia to the film. He is both drawn to the violence that his family is dishing out, but also somehow terrified of the possible results. Hansen also brings a powerhouse performance. Without a single word, he commands the screen like a champ.

Directing: Tobe Hooper underplays most of his choices. TCM, at least for the first half or so, reads almost like a documentary. The angles are simple, the pace effortless, and the tension slowly rising. Hooper pays strict attention to Hitchcock’s bomb under the table theory. We know this is going to end horribly, so the lead up is laced with tension. Halfway through, Hooper opens the floodgates. There are crazy dolly shots, wild angles, and extreme close-ups galore. Every movement of the camera, every shot of not seeing something terrible build the film to a level of terror that has rarely been seen.

Script: Despite being rewritten extensively during the production, the script is a perfect microcosm of the movie. It’s distressing, technically solid, and matches the horror happening on screen. Grade A!

Effects: The film itself is nearly bloodless. While other, lesser films would have collapsed under this stress, it actually makes TCM more unsettling. By seeing less, the viewer’s brain makes up for what they think they’re seeing. And what they think they’re seeing is horrible. Also, special note for the production design of the Chainsaw house. You want “arm” chairs? Awesome bone sculptures? Distinct and terrifying masks? You get it all and more!

Highlights: Um… the whole thing? Actually, the one thing that I have found, after multiple viewings, is the humor of the piece. I know, it doesn’t sound like this is a funny flick, but TCM is masterful in its use of dark humor.

Lowlights: I really can’t complain about the film itself. The only thing I can mention is that the making of the film was incredibly, legendarily difficult. The horror stories from the TCM set are well known and universally painful. Not only was Marilyn Burns actually cut and beaten, several of the cast complained of the difficult conditions. Edwin Neal compared the filming to his time is Vietnam and Gunnar Hansen’s thoughts on filming are well documented in the excellent Chainsaw Confidential. (BTW, pick up Chainsaw Confidential. It’s a great look at the creation of this film.) I’m all for suffering for art, but this was a little ridiculous.

Final Thoughts: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is an excellent film. It routinely ends up on just about everyone’s top horror film list. The awards are well deserved. There is no film that matches the intensity and destruction that this movie lets loose upon the viewer.

- J.W. Brewer

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Review: I Saw the Devil (2010)

I Saw the Devil (2010)

Director: Kim Jee-woon

Amid snowfall in Korea, a man breaks into a car and brutally murders a young lady while her fiancée helplessly listens on the phone. Unfortunately for the killer, that man, (played stoically by Byung-hun Lee) just happens to be a secret agent with a complicated understanding of revenge.

Kim quickly tracks down the killer, an unassuming bus driver, Kyung, (Min-Sik Choi) who is perhaps the devil himself (a detail that gains momentum throughout). From here, it’s quickly revealed that his fiancée was only one of many such victims. Kim and Kyung battle and the villain is taken down. It’s epic. It’s satisfying and there is a lot more of it. That’s because instead of capturing Kyung, our hero plants a tracking device on him and releases him. You see, for our hero, revenge will take place only when the villain feels what our hero has. This film, "Akmareul boatda" aka I Saw the Devil, quickly becomes torture porn in reverse. That is, this is a film about a hero constantly torturing the villain and honestly, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

At nearly two and a half hours, you may think this concept of “catch and release” would get tiring and it certainly would, but the plot continues to thicken. One anothers’ back-stories accumulate and ultimately play into a visceral cascade where, one might believe, our hero can truly not recover.  However, this is a film that doesn’t stop being inventive. That’s right, this is actually a film that starts out strong and only gets stronger.

I Saw the Devil might lag for some and while there is limited dialogue there’s also subtitles. That said, the photography of this film is alone breathtaking, as each composition is a conscious and artistic choice, and while a horror film, director, Kim Jee-woon knows just how much gore to show in order to get one to be able to empathize with our hero. The score is appropriate. The acting is flawless, and the philosophical overtones all compliment this baroque masterpiece, which emphasizes what’s missing in so many horror films on the mass market today. If you still haven’t seen this film, and you prefer substance over pulp, then I would suggest planning on watching this without interruption and savoring every moment. It’s really that good.

- Nick Bain