Greg Nicotero

October 28, 2015

The Horror Time Capsule – 1999: House on Haunted Hill

MISUNDERSTOOD

House on Haunted Hill – Misunderstood

I’m not sure why there are certain films that take hold of me, especially universally panned films, that have such a lasting impression on me. I guess I’m the inverted horror movie hipster. While people will always hold Dario Argento and any type of obscure Hungarian and Spanish horror director in high regard, I love schlock and appreciate horror that is not only all that good, but just plan bad. This brings me to the remake of the William Castle classic “House on Haunted Hill.” This 1999 remake is the first film from the Dark Castle brand, that was started by super star producers Joel Silver and  director Robert Zemekis, who you might also remember had a huge hand in the creation of the “Tales from the Crypt” TV series.

“House” follows a similar story to it’s predecessor, however it includes the backstory of the titular “House on Haunted Hill” which was an insane asylum that housed a maniacal doctor who performed heinous experiments on the inmates until there was a revolt and everyone was murdered and the asylum burnt down.

Years later, eccentric theme park owner, Steven Price, wants to throw a party for his wife at the “House” that includes several of her friends, but by some work of evil, the invitations are changed and all new guests are invited, most of whom are connected by some wicked twist of fate.

There are a few things I like about this film, actually, I think the good certainly outweighs the bad for me. First, it’s funny to me that the roller coaster they use for Price’s newest creation, is actually the “Incredible Hulk” roller coaster at Islands of Adventure in Florida, a roller coaster I know all too well. I also love all the subtle nods to the Castle original, and the over-the-top performances, especially from Geoffery Wright who sells it so well as Steven Price. Lastly, the monster effects are awesome, and remind me a lot of the monsters in “Silent Hill,” but what could you expect from Greg Nicotero.

Sure, when you get down to it, this is a genre film, and it has flaws, but that doesn’t make it bad. For a genre fan, and a relative poopoo’er on remakes, this one holds up and is super entertaining.

You have been invited…..to check out these other gems from 1999:

The Blair Witch Project
Deep Blue Sea
End of Days
The Haunting
Lake Placid
The Mummy
Ravenous
Sleepy Hollow
Stir of Echoes

October 3, 2013

Here Comes Halloween: Phantasm II

Phantasm II – Look-a-like

LOOK-A-LIKE

Naturally it would make sense to review the first “Phantasm” before I get to it’s sequel, but there is a logical explanation; I simply enjoy “Phantasm II” better than it’s predecessor.  An odd way to begin a review, I’m sure, but I just wanted to get the semantics out of the way before I get into this review.  Welcome back to October, and an entire month of scares, frights, masks, blood, gore, inferior sequels, and more blood.

Phantasm II” is the 1988 sequel to the 1979 cult classic, “Phantasm,” written and directed by Don Coscarelli.  If you’re unfamiliar with “Phantasm” here is a quick refresher; A kid named Mike begins experiencing strange happenings around his town, with a sinister figure called The Tall Man behind said happenings.  As things begin to reveal themselves Mike finds himself stalked by The Tall Man in nightmarish visions involving corpses, metal flying balls with a taste for blood and a body full of embalming fluid and dwarves created from the reanimated corpses of the town’s dead.  Throw in a Bruce Campbell look-a-like named Reggie, and you got yourself “Phantasm.”

The sequel picks up right where the original leaves off, so for the purposes of this review, and if you don’t want to be spoiled, even though these would be 34, and 23 year old spoilers, respectively, tread lightly.  Mike is about to be taken away by The Tall Man but is rescued by Reggie.  We skip ahead roughly 10 years to an adult Mike who is being released from the local mental hospital.  After tragedy besets Reggie, the two spring into action to track down The Tall Man and end his reign of terror, forever.  Joined by a young girl, named Liz, with a psychic link to Mike, the trio head out to, once again, stop The Tall Man’s devious plans, including the creation of more zombie dwarves and to rescue Liz’s grandmother.

What I love about “Phantasm II” is the excess.  You can see clearly that the sequel takes a lot of it’s cues from another famous cult classic sequel; “Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn.”  While the original “Phantasm” relied on real scares and it’s tone to convey a feeling of dread, just like “The Evil Dead,” it’s sequel relies on banter between Mike and Reggie and a lighter tone, which includes a chainsaw fight and the creation of a quadruple shotgun, smells like “Evil Dead II.”  Consider the time frame between all the films as well.  “Phantasm” was released two years before “Evil Dead” and you can see some similarities in the tone, but that was also the sign of the times in the late 1970s and 80s.  Fast-forward to 1987, when “Evil Dead II” is released with a more comedic tone, and a year later “Phantasm II” is released with a lighter tone as well.  I’m not saying that “Phantasm” and “Evil Dead” share much with one another, but in comparing the two, you can see where there are similarities and the fact that each franchise borrowed a little from one another.

Now back to the “Phantasm II.”  I’m sure purists who love “Phantasm” will kill me for saying the sequel is superior, and I’m not actually saying that, I’m just saying that “Phantasm II” is more accessible for non-fans than the original.  Just as he was in the first film, Angus Scrimm literally stands out, again, as The Tall Man, the series’ main antagonist.  While The Tall Man never received the fanfare of Jason, Freddy, or Michael Myers, there was still something very creepy about an old supernatural man who steals corpses to create evil dwarves.  I liken The Tall Man to Henry Kane from the “Poltergeist” series as they both share a similar, skeletal look.

Like most sequels in the late 1980s, there is an extreme case of style-over-substance in “Phantasm II” with more special effects, spotty acting, and plot holes big enough to throw a million of those killer metal balls into.  However, the cheese doesn’t take away from the fun.  There are some excellent creature effects, done by a than relatively unknown Greg Nicotero and Robert Kurtzman, now of “The Walking Dead” fame.  And of course, it’s no surprise that Nicotero also did effects on “Evil Dead II.”  The comparisons continue!

While not exceptional, “Phantasm II” is a fun little sequel that lives in the zeitgeist of horror during the late-1980s.  It’s over indulgent, silly, campy, and not as good as it’s original.  But, it gives horror and gore fans what they wanted; MORE!

Fun Fact:  For even more The Evil Dead/Phantasm fun, take a look at one of the bags an undertaker is filling up and you might catch the name on the name.  That name being Sam Raimi.  Meta!!!!

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