Thursday, June 25, 2009

Crimson King: Stephen King's 10 Best Antagonists

He's the King of horror for a reason, and though not everything in his massive body of work is a masterpiece, when it is, it is. So, we'll take a look at the darkest, baddest characters the King holds to his credit.

10. Jack Torrance (The Shining)- What's scarier than having an antagonist hiding in the shadows is realizing piece by piece that he's standing right in front of us. Jack is driven slowly insane by the Overlook Hotel throughout the story, in a cold isolated hotel with only his wife and son. While the book and movie are very different, and each goes about Jack's madness in their own way, both are very well-executed.

9. Blaine (The Dark Tower)- The insane, suicidal, riddle-loving monorail from The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands and The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass. In short, he is just one disturbed, crazy motherfucker even if he is only a programmed talking monorail. He's the literal crazy train. Blaine wants to die and wants to take our heroes down with him, as well as destroy an entire city. While the city cannot be saved, his game of riddle telling with the heroes makes for nail biting reading.

8. Christine- The touching story of a boy and his first car. One messed up romance, and a really unhealthy relationship. Christine will let nothing come between her and Archie Cunningham, her owner/lover. She is a vengeful 1958 Plymouth Fury, and the name is far too appropriate, as this is one crazy furious bitch. Also, this car is pretty much indestructible. One hell of an entertaining, obscurely creepy read, and John Carpenter's film is overlooked.

7. Carrie White- Carrie is a completely sympathetic character. High School is hell for her and things just don't seem to go well for her at all. We want her to be okay. We want her mother to accept her, we want the boy to like her for real, we want to be prom queen. But this is a high school fairy tale in which NONE of these things come true. What were left with is a girl now controlled by the one aspect of herself she actually tried to hide. After the prank at prom, Carrie's uses her telekinesis to destroy everyone and everything around her, and our sympathetic heroine is barely even human anymore. In all honesty, the true villain of the piece is the mother, but Carrie is one who kills hundreds of people, and the image of her in her blood stained prom dress has become iconic.

6. The Crimson King (The Dark Tower)- The overbearing antagonist of the Dark Tower series comes in late in the game. The Crimson King is not so much as scary as his lead henchman (we'll get to that dark man later) nor as his ambitious goal. He wishes to bring about the true destruction of everything. Not just the world, not just the universe, but every world in every universe. True ultimate destruction.

5. Pet Sematary- The MicMac Burial Ground is the subtlest of evils. We don't understand what happens here, not really, but we see the product and it is frightening. One of King's most disturbing books, one of his most successfully horrifying films. What we know about this place is what we hear through old-timer Judd Crandall. And we know it is bad. The message "sometimes dead is better" gets clearer and clearer as the story goes on.

4. Mr. Barlowe ('Salem's Lot)- The master vampire of King's smalltown horror, which he once claimed to be his scariest book. And it's definitely one of them, if not the top spot. Salem's Lot is half homage to Stoker's Dracula, half smalltown creeping horror. He spreads his evil through the town and these, lemme tell you, are NOT your metro Anne Rice or sparkly Twilight vampires.

3. Annie Wilkes (Misery)- Every celebrity's worst nightmare... the ultimate fan. She starts off so nice, a kindly, portly woman taking in a writer after an accident and insisting that she's his biggest fan. But when she keeps the writer captive, we see how insane she really is. Kathy Bates performance as the chilling character earned her a well deserved Academy Award.

2. Pennywise (It)- A cosmic entity with a hunger for all life, but especially prays on children, it see into the deepest parts of your soul and take the form of everything you were ever afraid of. And it's favorite form to appear in is a clown. With this character, King personified fear and dread itself in one eccentric, laughing monster. One of the scariest creations in all of literature.

1. Randall Flagg (The Dark Tower, The Stand, The Eyes of the Dragon)- The walking dude, the dark man, he goes by many names and can appear in any King work ...if he hasn't appeared already. He IS King's villain. Whether he be the ultimate embodiment of charismatic evil (as in The Stand) or a crazed, power-hungry sorcerer (The Eyes of the Dragon), or in King's epic masterwork, The Dark Tower, both. He is beyond psychotic, both evil and likable, and bears many similarities to the Devil Himself. The impact he has had on King's writing is profound (not without a sense of irony for a Dark Tower reader) and there could be no other top spot than this.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"You Can't Kill the Bogeyman": 31 Years of Halloween

Following on my Friday the 13th and my A Nightmare on Elm Street retrospectives, I decided to continue with a feature looking back on the Halloween series, tracing it back from John Carpenter's original masterpiece and Rob Zombie's above-average remake, and all the varied ground in between. There's nine films to cover (a tenth on the way this August) so we better get a move on, eh?

1) Halloween (1978)- Is there even any doubt? This is not only by far the best of the series, but simply one of the best horror movies ever filmed. From the intelligently simplistic story to the realistic characters, dead-on cinematography and absolutely perfect score, Halloween is a horror film if there ever was one. It tells like an urban legend (maniac escapes institution returns to hometown, stalking a core group of babysitters) set in an area so real and quaint it could be any town. It's cold, simple death infecting peaceful everyday life. It is the American horror story. Michael Myers is one of the most chilling villains ever put to film. A silent, slow, faceless killer, he is the embodiment of death itself. Jaime Lee Curtis makes an astounding debut as heroine Laurie. Donald Pleasance is perfect as Dr. Loomis, the Ahab (or Van Helsing) hunting down a monster capable of more than even he can imagine.

2) Halloween II- If a sequel had to be made, this is how to do it. Halloween was a perfect film unto itself. While the ending (Michael is shot off a porch, they look down, he's gone) was meant to simply bear the message that evil never dies, it is understandable how the general public saw it as implying a sequel. Either way, the original certainly made the money to warrant one, so it was put in motion. Picking up immediately where the original left off, Halloween II is also completely set on the same night. Both Donald Pleasance and Jaime Lee Curtis (who had already established herself as the first true "scream queen" since the Hammer era) reprise their roles. The sequel sees Laurie being taken off to the hospital while Michael continues his pursuit of her and Loomis makes a shocking discovery about the girl and the maniac. This sequel reveals that Laurie is Michael's younger sister (his elder sister, Judith, was his first victim when he was six years old). While the original film worked without the notion, it's a good twist in terms of a series. The body count is higher this time, the nudity more gratuitous, and the gore is present, but the story is not lost (original scripters John Carpenter and Debra Hill return).

3. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later- After become a scream queen in the early '80's (doing such films as Prom Night and Terror Train) Jaime Lee Curtis actually went on to become a very successful, acclaimed actress, so the series continued without her. On the twentieth anniversary of the original Halloween, however, Curtis decided to pay her respects by reprising the role of Laurie for this inventive sequel. This film ignores everything after part 2 (mind you, this is the seventh entry) but that's not necessarily a bad thing as Laurie wasn't even involved with those. Instead, this is about a woman trying to cope with her past when it literally comes back to haunt her, and she realizes that the only way to conquer her demon is to face it a final time. This was a film made for the fans, Curtis is great as always, and the only complaint is that it is meant to be a final film and ends on such a high note, but it is not the final film. Halloween: Resurrection followed before the remake.

4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers- After Halloween II, Carpenter and crew felt they had told the Myers story. So, they decided on something new. How about a completely unrelated movie with nothing to do with the first two other than being set on Halloween and it's about an old guy trying to destroy the world with masks that make kid's heads blow up and I'm pretty sure there were robots. Well, that's exactly what Halloween III: Season of the Witch was. Scroll down to the bottom to see how well that worked out. Long story short, Halloween III was not met with universal acclaim. So, it was time to bring back Myers. Hence the title, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. So, Michael's been in a coma since he got torched at the end of 2. Loomis survived the fire. Laurie was apparently killed in a car crash, but H20 later reveals she faked her death. This time, Michael's target on his return trip to Haddonfield is his eight year old niece, Jaime (Danielle Harris). This film plays a lot like an '80's horror movie, but it is definitely a worthy sequel.

5. Rob Zombie's Halloween (2007)- Rob Zombie's remake is a unique and surprisingly good adaption of the original material. It is, essentially, a completely different way of telling the same story. While the original was scary because the killer was unknown and faceless, this movie is scary because it gives Myers a face, it feels real. Myers is a psychopath whose inner rage was unleashed in the midst of an awful childhood, events he had no control over, but did not help his development. Malcolm MacDowell (of A Clockwork Orange) plays Loomis very well, but even he, a superb actor, could not hold a candle to Donald Pleasance. Scout Taylor-Compton is genuine and sympathetic as the new Laurie. Danielle Harris (of Halloween 4 and 5) is all grown up (interpret how you please) as Laurie's friend Annie and also does a very good job. Many other genre vets make appearances, most notably Brad Dourif (voice of Chucky in the Child's Play series) as the new sheriff, but none of the new, compelling story is sacrificed. Zombie did a good job with this, overall. While it obviously is not and could never be the original, it does definitely hold its own.

6. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers- The sixth film in the series also marks the last film to feature Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis (he died in post-production). This film has a very intriguing premise, but the story becomes muddled and overdeveloped. The producer's cut (unreleased to this day, but can be found online) is a much, much better and more coherent version of the film. Still, the main idea behind this film is to give origin to a character who was never supposed to have one. Tommy Doyle, one of the children Laurie babysat that fateful Halloween night in 1978 is all grown up (played by Paul Rudd, who would go on to star in comedy hits such as I Love You Man, Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Anchorman) and believes Michael is preparing to return to Haddonfield, and has come into possession of the last of Michael's bloodline-- Jaime's baby. After killing said niece, but not finding the baby, Michael returns to town. Tommy and Loomis try to warn the family now living in the Myers house of the danger that surrounds them, but there is something else watching and waiting. A mysterious group called the Cult of Thorn that bears the secrets to Michael's supernatural origin.

7. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers- This was released and set one year after 4, with Danielle Harris returning as young Jaime running from her maniacal uncle. It just plays like a simplistic slasher film, not much story other than the bizarre link between Jaime and Michael that unsuccessfully tries to explain why Jaime stabbed her mother to death in the end of Halloween 4, but is fine now. One of the teenage victims, Tina, is so mind numbingly annoying that one cannot help but pray for her death the moment she steps on screen. Even Donald Pleasance looks like he's starting to get tired, which is a sad thing to see. Also, what the fuck. The Myers house is now suddenly a blue Victorian mansion instead of a simple white house. They didn't even try to have it look the same.

8. Halloween: Resurrection- Interestingly, the director of the the best Halloween sequel returns for the worst (Halloween III, which we'll get to in a minute, folks, pretty much doesn't count). Jaime Lee Curtis returns for an interesting opening scene which sees her character get killed off. While I guess this has a nice message of "the past always catches up with you" the fact of the matter is, Jaime was what sold the tickets, she died in the opening scene, this film could only go down from here. And oh, does it. How low, you might ask? How's about Busta Rhymes in a Michael Myers outfit and mask, telling the real Michael Myers, "I ain't playin' you to be Michael Myers! I'm Michael Myers, bitch!" and then informing him to get his ass back to the garage. Oh, and that dude from American Pie gets his throat slit.

9. Halloween III: Season of the Witch-................................... What. The. Fuck.


(sigh) what the fuck.

I mean, exploding masks? Really? I'm just, I mean, the only thing I learned from this film? Six more days til Halloween, Halloween, Halloween, Six more days till Halloween, Silver Shamrock! Imagine that commercial playing every fifteen minutes along with the "plot" I listed above, and you have this film. Not a Halloween film, not connected in any way shape or form, it just adds insult to injury that it's not a good horror film on its own.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Review: Nightbreed


Following the obvious success of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II Clive Barker brought audiences a very different film with his second feature as director, Nightbreed. Based on his novella, Cabal, Nightbreed is a unique, interesting and underrated film.

The late 1980's saw the rise of the modern horror franchise. Movie monsters like Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees had become heroes of sorts. The audience went to see them do what they do. Clive's own Hellraiser (and later Candyman) had already begun heading in this direction. Nightbreed, however, does things differently. In Nightbreed, the monsters literally are the heroes.

There are some very fantastic, very imaginative creatures on display in Nightbreed. Truly striking visual designs, but with a master at the helm, there is obviously far more to the film than that. This film plays brilliantly with the established connections of "good" and "evil". In Nightbreed, the more monstrous looking characters are generally the most innocent and kindhearted. Generally. But there are humans in this film capable of far worse than many of the Nightbreed.

The film focuses on a man named Boone (Craig Scheffer) who dreams of a mysterious land called Midian. He knows nothing of this place, only that he has to find it. But, it confuses him, leading him to doubt himself. His psychiatrist, Decker (played brilliantly by astounding director David Cronenberg) has him convinced that he has committed horrific murders, that he is losing his mind. In reality, Decker himself is the killer, also pursuing Midian. As the film goes on, Boone is shot down by the police. His pursuit continues, eventually finding Midian and the creatures (called Nightbreed) that inhabit it. He is their leader. He is Cabal. Essentially, the police catch up and find Midian out, leading to a sort of war between the humans and the "freaks".

Nightbreed is a truly imaginative, completely original film, at times incredibly frightening (thank you, David Cronenberg). The human characters can become incredibly vicious, in particular the sheriff and Decker, who believes he is cleansing the world by removing the physically abnormal. The Nightbreed often look nightmarish, but the audience can much more easily connect with them. This is in part due to the fantastic visual/make up effects and obviously due to the writing and directing of Clive Barker. Doug Bradley is also noticeable in a non-Pinhead role.