Horror

The Serpent And The Rainbow

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Universal Pictures

Directed by Wes Craven

Produced by Doug Claybourne and David Ladd

Written by Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman

Based on “The Serpent and The Rainbow” by Wade Davis

People who know me and know what I look for in horror movies say that I’m way too critical and demanding of them. Maybe so. But I’ve never been one of those who excuse the downright stupidity of the majority of horror movies simply because my friends say I’m supposed to turn off my brain and stop thinking while watching. The best horror movies and the ones I enjoy the most are the ones that do engage my brain and encourage me to not only feel but think about what’s happening up there on the screen.

The horror movies of Wes Craven are among some of my favorites. Although he has made some hideously bad movies such as “Shocker” “Vampire In Brooklyn” and “Cursed” he has also made some spectacularly good ones as well. The original “Nightmare On Elm Street” “The People Under The Stairs” the “Scream” series and what is probably my favorite Wes Craven horror movie and one people just don’t mention a lot and that’s a damn shame they don’t; THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW.

Anthropologist/Ethobotanist Dr. Dennis Alan makes a good living going into remote jungles and coming back with rare herbs and ritual drugs from native tribes that he then sells to American pharmaceutical companies. He’s extremely good at his job which is why he’s asked to go to Haiti to investigate the voodoo society and see if there’s any truth to the myth of there being some sort of secret powder that creates zombie. Alan’s mentor Dr. Schoonbacher (Michael Gough) thinks that this could lead to the secret of where the soul is located. Andrew Cassedy (Paul Guilfoyle) the head of Boston Biocorp thinks it could be the ultimate anesthetic. Cassedy claims to have proof of a man in Haiti who was poisoned with this powder, buried alive, dug up and revived as a zombie.

With the assistance of the gorgeous and brilliant Dr. Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson) and voodoo priest Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield) Dr. Alan attempts to find out if this powder does exist and if zombies are actually real. His quest brings him into conflict with Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae) the head of the feared Tonton Macoute who is also a voodoo practitioner of frightening power. As Dr. Allan goes deeper and deeper into the truth behind the zombie legend he has to navigate between the political unrest and civil turmoil of a Haiti ruled by ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier and the horrendous hallucinations tearing his mind apart placed there by the power of Peytraud. Hallucinations so overwhelming that he can no longer distinguish what is real and what isn’t.

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There are a whole lot of reason why I love THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW and why I always recommend it.  Along with “The People Under The Stairs” it’s one of the few horror movies with a predominantly African-American cast that is believable and treats the characters as human beings and not plot devices to be killed off to make the Caucasian heroes look good. Cathy Tyson is a wonderfully beautiful actress who isn’t in the movie just to fall in love with the hero. She has an interesting backstory of her own as well. There’s a really nice scene where Mareille talks about how she does not divide her faith and her science but makes them work together.

I also like the political subtext in the movie. Set during the reign of ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier there’s always the threat of the secret police in the background, always reminding us that not all of Dr. Alan’s enemies are supernatural. Ah, but are they? I think it’s masterful how Wes Craven plays not only with Dr. Alan’s head but ours as well, challenging us to figure out what is real and what isn’t. Is Dr. Alan hallucinating or is what is happening to him actually happening? Is Peytroud a black magician or just really good at messing with Dr. Alan’s head?

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THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW is also excellent at showing voodoo as a legitimate religion and way of life for the people of Haiti. There are a lot of scenes that are almost documentary in nature, such as the wonderful scene of a pilgrimage where a huge image of The Virgin Mary is taken to a holy grotto. Now, don’t get me wrong…I’m no expert of voodoo but I can’t think of another horror movie where voodoo is treated with the respect of it being a religion/way of life as it is here.

And the hallucination/dream images in THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW are just as good as anything Wes Craven did in his “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies. And the scene where’s he’s buried alive is without a doubt one of the most frightening in horror movie history.

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The acting is top notch. Bill Pullman, Cathy Tyson and Paul Winfield are all nothing less than believable. Zakes Mokae is an appropriately formidable bad guy while Theresa Merritt as a voodoo priestess and Brent Jennings as a con man who may or may not know how to make the zombie powder do solid work as supporting characters.

So should you see THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW? Absolutely. It’s that rarest of creatures I always look for and treasure so much when I find it: a believable horror movie. The motivations of the characters make sense and they don’t act like idiots who are plainly being manipulated by a brain dead scriptwriter more concerned with his plots twists than telling a story. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW makes a great double feature with “Angel Heart” in that for me, they are both horror movies in which the main character seeks the solution to a mystery that ultimately turns out to be more horrifying than the mystery itself.

98 minutes

Rated R

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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2012

20th Century Fox

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

Produced by Timur Bekmambetov, Tim Burton and Jim Lemley

Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith based on his novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”

Two things before I jump into this review:

1) I’ve read on the Internet and heard from friends of mine about how historically inaccurate the movie is. Folks, if you’re expecting historical accuracy from a movie titled ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER then you most certainly are watching the wrong movie. You need to be watching 1940’s “Abe Lincoln In Illinois” starring Raymond Massey as Abe Lincoln. Seriously. It’s an excellent movie that I’ve seen about two or three times now on Turner Classic Movies. It’s well worth your time.

2) People complaining that the movie wasn’t like the book. Sigh. Folks, haven’t we grown past that by now? True, I haven’t read the book but now, having seen the movie I plan to. But from what I know of the book the only way it could have been done justice was as a six hour miniseries on HBO and Showtime. Would that have been better than the 1hr. 45 minute movie we do have? I dunno. But I do think it worth pointing out that the same guy who wrote the book wrote the screenplay. I like to think he’s an intelligent enough writer to have realized that novels and theatrical movies are two different mediums and what works for one may not necessarily work for the other. Bottom line is all I know is that I enjoyed and respected ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER the movie for what I got out of it: It’s a superhero movie in historical/vampire/horror movie drag.

We’re introduced to Abraham Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) as a boy living and working with his parents on a southern plantation owned by Jack Barts (Marton Csokas) Barts is a vampire who kills Lincoln’s mother and the grief stricken youth sets out on afailed attempt to get revenge ten years later. He’s rescued by the professional fearless vampire killer Henry Sturges (Dominic Cooper) who takes on the young man as an apprentice. Lincoln is no good with conventional weapons like guns or knives but he’s a regular Jet Li with an axe. Henry develops an unconventional fighting style for Lincoln using the axe and then sends him out into the world to kill vampires. Well, Abe does that in spectacular style and he also finds time to enter politics and romance Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead)

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Now here’s when things get more than a little wacky: turns out there’s this vast secret vampire empire led by The First Vampire, Adam (Rufus Sewell) that controls the southern United States. Slaves are used not only as labor for the humans but as food for the vampires. The movie gives us the outrageous notion that Lincoln became President and fought The Civil War not just to end slavery but to break the back of this secret vampire empire. The tide of The Civil War is turning against The North but President Abraham Lincoln has one desperate ploy left: a trainload of silver that is deadly to vampires that he has to get to the Union Army at Gettysburg. Armed with his trusty axe as well as his faithful sidekicks (Anthony Mackie and Jimmi Simpson) can Honest Abe defeat Adam and his vampire hoard and still get to Gettysburg in time to deliver his address?

I think the thing I admire most about ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is that no matter how silly and how ridiculous things got, the actors kept a straight face and played the material with respect for what they were doing. And yes, it is an outrageously silly movie. It’s the kind of movie where even though this takes place in 19th Century America, everybody and I do mean EVERYBODY knows Kung Fu. Abraham Lincoln takes hits to the chest that throws him a good fifty feet but he gets up as if nothing happened and proceeds to kick vampire ass with relish.

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You won’t get a bad word out of me about the acting. Benjamin Walker looks and acts so much like Liam Neeson in some scenes it’s scary. And he gives the role all he has. In fact, he gives it more than he really has to but to me that only showed how committed he was to selling us on his incarnation of Honest Abe Lincoln as Vampire Hunting Superhero. Anthony Mackie, Dominic Cooper, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead all turn in solid performances. If there is a complaint I have it’s that Rufus Sewell isn’t given enough to do. But then again, I never think Rufus Sewell is given enough to do.

The action sequences are absolutely jaw-dropping if totally impossible and again, that’s what lends to the superhero aspect of the movie. There’s a fight Honest Abe has with a vampire in the middle of a stampede of hundreds of wild stallions that has to be seen to be believed and the entire train sequence near the movie’s end has already become legendary.

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So should you see ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER? I say yes. It’s a really bizarre mixture of outrageously mashed-up historical/fantasy material married up to serious acting and flavored with incredible action/fight sequences that you would expect to see in a Hong Kong Kung Fu flick. You might not like it but I can guarantee you one thing: you will not be bored. It’s got an amazingly strong visual style and more than any movie I can think of in recent memory it plays like a live action graphic novel. I had a good time watching it and I think that if you approach it in the right mood, you will too. Enjoy.

Rated R

105 Minutes

Duel

1971

Universal Studios

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Produced by George Eckstein

Written by Richard Matheson

Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:

And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:

Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment.  Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald” “Haunts Of The Very Rich” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: DUEL, which along with “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” comprises The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies.

DUEL is a Made-For-TV Movie with the most interesting history of any Made-For-TV Movie. It’s directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Richard Matheson, based on his short story originally published in Playboy. The movie was only Steven Spielberg’s second feature-length directing job and the movie proved to be such a critical success and ratings hit that Universal asked Spielberg to spend a couple of days filming additional scenes and it was then released to theaters overseas where it played to sold-out audiences. Then, amazingly, Universal released DUEL theatrically in some venues here in the United States. This was an unheard of event back in those days and Universal was rewarded with DUEL going on to make a very respectable profit in its limited U.S. theatrical run.

But it’s no surprise to me why the movie has gone on to earn the reputation it has. Next to “Trilogy of Terror” and “The Night Stalker” DUEL is probably the best known Made-For-TV Movie of all time and rightly so. It’s a white-knuckle thriller that taps into the deepest fear of any motorist on the highway. I know that for me, DUEL is a movie that represents one of my worst nightmares. A movie like “Saw” doesn’t scare me at all because there is zero chance of me being forced to play some bizarre game by a hyper-intelligent serial killer. But there’s every chance I can innocently piss off some maniac behind the wheel of a truck and without meaning to find myself engaged in a life or death battle on a highway.

David Mann (Dennis Weaver) starts out his day peacefully enough. He’s a salesman, driving on his way to an important business meeting. In a wonderful bit of characterization, during a phone conversation with his wife (Jacqueline Scott) we learn that David actively works at avoiding confrontation, a personality trait that greatly factors into what happens to him during the course of his horrifying day.

During his drive he encounters a tanker truck driving slower than the posted speed limit. David passes the truck and thinks no more of it. But after a stop at a gas station he is passed by the same truck which gets in front of him and again slows down. David again passes the truck and the truck’s driver (who we never see) appears to take umbrage with this as he first tries to trick David into a collision with another vehicle. The truck’s driver continually ups the ante of this deadly game, chasing David down the highway, trying to push his vehicle into the path of a passing freight train. As this long day goes on, David cannot escape the fact that the driver of the truck is trying to kill him and if David wants to survive he is going to have to stop running and confront his unseen enemy.

And eventually it does come down to just David and the truck driver. David cannot convince anybody he meets along the road that this man is trying to kill him. Taken from a psychological point of view, the truck represents David’s fear of confrontation that is relentlessly pursuing him, forcing him to make a stand and fight for what his important to him. In this case: his life.

But you can throw that psychological stuff out the window. Taken purely as a horror movie, DUEL delivers on every level. Dennis Weaver gives an Academy Award level performance. He’s on screen for the entire running time of the movie and he is just flat out terrific. He is never less than totally convincing as this perfectly regular guy caught up in a situation way over his head, caught up in a deadly road game with a serial killer and no idea of how he’s going to survive.

So should you see DUEL? Absolutely YES. DUEL is an absolute masterpiece of suspense on all levels. You can see echoes of Spielberg’s later work on “Jaws” in this movie and the story by Richard Matheson is so tight it hurts. You used to be able to watch the entire movie on YouTube but it’s been taken down. No matter, it’s available on DVD from Amazon and I’m sure that if you ask nicely, The Internet Fairy can help you out.

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

1968

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Directed by George A. Romero

Produced by Karl Hardman and Russell Streiner

Written by George A. Romero and John A. Russo

It’s not given to many men or women in the entertainment field to say that they created a genre and even George A. Romero himself would resist being labeled as such. He freely admits in interviews that he “ripped-off” Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in his creation of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Me, I think he’s way too hard on himself. Sure, he may have used Mr. Matheson’s brilliant horror/science fiction concept as the springboard for his own now classic horror masterpiece.  But I believe that Mr. Romero brought enough of his own ideas to this interpretation of Mr. Matheson’s book that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD does indeed qualify as a brilliant work of cinematic art in its own right. And besides all that, it’s simply a damn good movie whose main desire is to keep us on the edge of our seats, biting our nails for 96 minutes and it succeeds.

And besides, considering the hordes of zombie movies that came after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, many of them true rip-offs, remakes, imitators, reworkings, parodies and the like, if Romero feels any guilt about ripping-off Matheson, then being ripped-off in return must soothe his conscience. Even video games such as  House of The Dead and Dead Rising owe their creation to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

It’s the day when Daylight Savings Time goes into effect when we meet sister and brother Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny (Russell Streiner) who are visiting their father’s grave in a rural region of Pennsylvania. It’s in the graveyard that we get the now famous “They’re coming to get you, Barbra” scene as Johnny teases her in that truly annoying way brothers tease their sisters. Having two sisters myself I am quite familiar with this technique. Barbra is creeped out by a strangely behaving man coming towards them and doesn’t think that Johnny’s “They’re coming to get you, Barbra” is very funny and pretty soon Johnny doesn’t think it’s funny either as the man attacks them both.

Barbra gets away and with the zombie in pursuit manages to find refuge in a farmhouse. Also taking refuge in the farmhouse is Ben (Duane Jones) who has to take charge of the situation as the shock of her experience is catching up to Barbra. They soon find they’re not alone. Hiding in the basement is the married couple Harry and Helen Cooper (Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman) who barely escaped from a gang of zombies that overturned their car. Their daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) has been unconscious ever since she was bitten by a zombie. Teenage sweethearts Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley)likewise sought safety in the farmhouse after hearing an emergency broadcast.

Harry and Ben immediately start doing the alpha male dance, each insisting their plan for survival is best. Harry wants to stay down in the basement and keep quiet. Ben’s plan is to turn on every light in the house, make as much noise as he can boarding up the windows and doors and playing the radio as loudly as possible. Remember this because I’ll come back to it soon.

While the radio reports that all over the United States the dead are coming back to life and eating the living, the small group attempts to survive the night against the growing number of zombies attacking the lonely farmhouse. That’s if they don’t kill each other due to their constant bickering and inability to work together.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD always gets praised for having as its hero a black man. And as Ben, Duane Jones is certainly heroic looking and heroic sounding. He takes charge. He’s resourceful and courageous. He offers hope to the others that they will survive the night. He makes plans. Unfortunately those plans also get everybody killed. Next time you watch the movie, watch it a little more carefully. Each and every thing that Ben does ends up getting somebody killed. Ironically, Ben survives the attack of the zombies by doing what Harry said right from the start: go in the basement and be quiet. Ben’s turning on all the lights and making all that noise is what draws all the zombies to the farmhouse in the first place. Makes me wonder if the statement the movie is making about having a black man as the hero isn’t the one that everybody praises it for.

But that’s a conversation for another time. Taken as pure entertainment, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD still holds up for me. It’s filmed in a documentary-like manner that should be studied by those filmmakers who are so in love with shaky-cam. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is a perfect example of how to make your audience feel like they’re in the middle of the action without giving them motion sickness. Supposedly the cast improvised much of their dialog and I believe it. There’s a real heat in the scenes between Harry and Ben as they’re struggling for control of the farmhouse’s resources and the group. For me, a lot of what makes this movie still effective is that nobody looks or acts like a movie star. For better or for worse they act like regular people caught up in a really terrifying predicament.

So should you see NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD? Without a doubt. It’s one of the greatest and most influential horror movies ever made. You’ve probably seen one of the two remakes (1990 and 2006) or the six sequels that were made. If not, it’s a sure bet you’ve seen one of the many zombie movies influenced by the original. Somewhere in your personal movie watching history you’ve seen a zombie movie, I’m sure. So why not take a look at the classic that started it all?

96 minutes

The Shining

1980

Warner Bros.

Directed and Produced by Stanley Kubrick

Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Based on the novel “The Shining” by Stephen King

Hard as it to believe nowadays when THE SHINING is considered to be a horror masterpiece and one of Stanley Kubrick’s finest films that it really wasn’t all that well received when it had its original theatrical run. Don’t get me wrong, it made its money back and in fact did quite well at the box office. But Stephen King said that Stanley Kubrick had taken all the bite out of his story, deliberately downplaying the supernatural elements of the book and the theme of family disintegration caused by alcoholism that were so important and central to the book King wrote. Some critics said the movie’s pace was too slow. Others said that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall were too eccentric and quirky as actors for the roles of Jack and Wendy Torrance. And African-Americans groups called for a boycott of the movie seeing as how the only character to be killed onscreen is Dick Hallorann, played wonderfully by Scatman Crothers.

But over the years THE SHINING has been re-watched, discussed, debated and has emerged a winner.  I don’t think it’s far off the mark for me to say that it’s become to Halloween what “It’s A Wonderful Life” is to Christmas. And whenever lists of The Scariest Movies Of All Time are made, THE SHINING definitely is in the top ten and quite often in the top five.

Mind you, we’re talking about a movie that has no CGI monsters, no gore and no graphically gratuitous violence. But it’s a movie that has been consistently described as downright terrifying. It’s also sparked an immense amount of speculation as to what it’s really about. Don’t believe me? Just for one example check out Rob Ager’s insanely in-depth analysis of THE SHINING. Just make sure you eat something and go to bathroom before you do so. You’ll be awhile reading that sucker, trust me.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is an aspiring writer who takes a job as winter caretaker of The Overlook Hotel, an isolated mountain resort located in Colorado. Jack hopes that the isolation of being stuck in the hotel for the winter will help him reconnect with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) his five year old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) and help him battle his alcoholism which has led to physical abuse of his son and emotional abuse of his wife.

Danny possesses psychic abilities and is able to see visions of the past and future. It is through these terrifying visions that Danny knows that The Overlook Hotel is haunted. This is confirmed when during a tour of the hotel,  Danny meets Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) who has powerful psychic powers of his own. Dick calls it “The Shining” and informs Danny that he’s going to see things in the hotel but that they can’t hurt him. Boy, did he call that one wrong.

In the novel version it’s made clear by Stephen King that The Overlook Hotel has achieved some kind of malevolent sentience and lusts after Danny’s power to enhance its own. The Overlook uses Jack to get to his son but in the movie version, it’s clearly Jack that the hotel wants. Danny’s just an afterthought. This gives the movie a whole new slant since it’s not long after the Torrance family arrives at The Overlook that Jack promptly goes crazy.

And it’s here where I can understand the grumbles over Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrance since the guy looks kinda wacky even before The Overlook starts playing mindgames with him. Even though he’s supposed to be the caretaker we never see him doing any of the maintenance work he’s supposed to be doing. It’s Wendy who does all of that while Jack is having conversations with a ghostly bartender (Joe Turkel) and long talks in the men’s room with the ghost of the hotel’s previous caretaker, Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) who chopped up his wife and two daughters with a fire ax then stuck a shotgun in his mouth and blew his head to pieces.

But let’s face it, you want to get somebody to play crazy in your movie, especially back in the 70’s and 80’s you get Jack Nicholson. Nobody could play crazy so convincingly and yet be so entertaining. There are moments in THE SHINING that are horrifying yet hilarious and Jack Nicholson is firmly at the center of those scenes. Shelley Duvall really doesn’t have much to do but be terrified by her husband for most of the movie and then by The Overlook itself at the conclusion but she gets to have what is without a doubt for me the most blood-freezing moment of the movie when she discovers what her husband has been writing all day long, every day for weeks.

Scatman Crothers has a really nice scene with Danny Lloyd where they talk about their shared ability but let’s be real, in this movie Dick Hallorann’s only purpose is to provide an escape vehicle for Wendy and Danny at the movie’s end.

But outside of Jack Nicholson’s performance, nobody ever really talks about the acting in THE SHINING, good as it is. No, people talk about images that now have become iconic horror classics: the elevator doors that slowly open to release a tidal wave of blood into a hotel corridor. Danny riding his Big Wheel through the hotel. The half-open door of Room 237. Jack sticking his face in the hole he’s just chopped in a locked door and squealing with manic delight, “Here’s Johnny!” Danny running through the hedge maze in the middle of a snowstorm trying to escape his deranged father who is chasing him with a bloody axe. The man in the bear costume. Danny with a huge knife in his hand, writing ‘Redrum’ on a door. The Grady twins who invite Danny to come play with them. The photograph of the 1921 July 4th Overlook Ball.

I love haunted house stories and I consider both the book and movie versions of THE SHINING to be right up there with the best of haunted house stories. It couldn’t have a better pedigree than to be directed by Stanley Kubrick who is the last person I would have picked to direct THE SHINING but damn if he didn’t do an excellent job. No, it’s not the book. There’s a tremendous amount of material that Kubrick and his co-screenplay writer stripped away but I didn’t mind. THE SHINING is one of those odd movie adaptations where even though most of the subplots and character exposition is gone, the core of what makes the story work is still there.

So should you see THE SHINING? Chances are you’ve seen it already. I don’t think I know anybody who hasn’t seen it at least once. But if by some chance you haven’t then you’ve picked the best time of the year to catch up. Trust me on this, THE SHINING is a movie that truly deserves its reputation as a horror masterpiece.

142 minutes

Rated R

 

497 Movies You Oughta See

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Before we get to the actual list I pray you to indulge me for a bit as I give you the backstory behind 497 Movies You Oughta See.

Ever since I started writing movie reviews and people were good enough to read and enjoy them they’ve been asking me a question: “I would love to watch more Westerns/Comedies/War Movies/Horror/Whatever but I just don’t know where to start.” It occurred to me that if I drew up a list of movies in various genres that it would be a good starting point for folks to at least dip their toes in a genre they had little or no knowledge of.

The first incarnation of this list was “250 Movies You Oughta See” that I pretty much drew up on my own. There were some folks who put in their suggestion here and there but most of it was me. And that list I drew up two or three years ago. Since then we’ve seen a lot of movies come out. It occurred to me that it was time that I revised the list dramatically.

And this time I decided that I would open it up and ask members of the BETTER IN THE DARK Facebook group for their input. And boy, did I get it. But I’m really glad I did. I got a lot of movies I wouldn’t have even thought of. And with such a wide and diverse group I was confident I would get an equally wide and diverse range of movies. Which is exactly what I got.

Couple of things. I want to stress that this is not and I repeat not a “Best Movies” list. It’s a “Oughta See” List. Which simply means that these are movies that I and others think you Oughta See because we think they’re pretty damn good movies. But we’re not saying that they’re the best in a given genre so let’s get that out of the way and done.

And it will do no good for you to jump up and down screaming that your favorite Science Fiction or Crime Movies isn’t here. The first and foremost purpose of this list is for fun. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive list of every single movie in every single genre. The best way I would hope that you guys use this list is to scan it and jot down the names of movies that sound good or you’ve been planning to see or that you’ve heard of from friends or movies you just want to take a chance on watching. Okay?

And now, here’s where I thank those BiTD friends who helped me put together this list. And here they are:

Mark Bousquet. Tobias Christopher. Zoe Collins. Kelen Conley. James Dye. Gordon Dymowski. Michael Franzoni. Erik Fromme. Lucas Garrett Don Gates. Orenthal Hawkins. James Hickson. Lonni Susan Holland. Chris Johnson. Matthew Laub. JD Mathis. Tom Moses. Chris Munn. David Olfers. Adam Orchekowski. David A. Pascarella. Arthur Ratnick. Jeffrey Rist. Andrew Salmon. Kenneth Smith. Parker G. Stanfield. Sean Taylor.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you all for your time and your suggestions. Some of them were phenomenal. Some were downright dangerous. Others provocative and while still others hilarious. But all are appreciated and I don’t take your participation lightly.

I have run my mouth sufficiently so now it’s time to present the list at last. Enjoy and I hope that this list will enable you to enjoy movies that you would not otherwise have even heard of. Good night and God Bless.

 

COMEDIES

9 TO 5

A Christmas Story

Airplane

Amazon Women On The Moon

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

Animal House

Arsenic And Old Lace

Beetlejuice

Better Off Dead

Blazing Saddles

Bridesmaids

Cannonball Run

Clerks

Clerks II

Clue

Down Periscope

Ghostbusters

Johnny Dangerously

Midnight Run

Mother, Jugs & Speed

Murder By Death

Never Give A Sucker An Even Break

Office Space

Oscar

Sleeper

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Smokey and The Bandit

SuperTroopers

The Blues Brothers

The Bride Came C.O.D.

The Kentucky Fried Movie

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

Tropic Thunder

UHF

Young Frankenstein

EPIC DRAMAS

A Clockwork Orange

A Face in The Crowd

A Raisin in The Sun

As Good As It Gets

Becket

Ben-Hur

Black Narcissus

Boogie Nights

Casablanca

Citizen Kane

Germany Year Zero

Gladiator

Glory

Imitation of Life

Jaws

Legends of The Fall

Lolita

Master & Commander

Nothing But A Man

On The Beach

Raging Bull

Rocky

Schindler’s List

Seven Samurai

Shawshank Redemption

Spartacus

Taxi Driver

The Bad and The Beautiful

The Grapes of Wrath

The Lion In Winter

The Ten Commandments

The Third Man

Titanic

To Have and Have Not

To Sir, With Love

Troy

Twelve Angry Men (both versions)

Gone With The Wind

Cape Fear (both versions)

Falling Down

FANTASY

Dragonslayer

Excalibur

Jason And The Argonauts

Ladyhawke

Merlin

Star Wars

The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen

The Empire Strikes Back

The Green Pastures

The Neverending Story

The Princess Bride

The Seventh Seal

The Sword And The Sorcerer

The Thief Of Bagdad (1940)

The Wizard of Oz

Time Bandits

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory (1971)

SPORTS

A League of Their Own

Brian’s Song

Cool Runnings

Eight Men Out

Field of Dreams

Friday Night Lights

He Got Game

Hoop Dreams

Hoosiers

Necessary Roughness

Pride Of The Yankees

Remember The Titans

Rudy

Slapshot

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars And Motor Kings

The Sandlot

The Wrestler

When We Were Kings

White Men Can’t Jump

CHICK FLICKS

An Angel At My Table

Bright Star

Clueless

Dirty Dancing

Fried Green Tomatoes

He’s Just Not That Into You

How Stella Got Her Groove Back

How To Marry A Millionaire

Love Story

Pretty Woman

Sense and Sensibility

Spice World

Steel Magnolias

Terms of Endearment

Thelma & Louise

The Bridges of Madison County

The English Patient

The First Wives Club

The Notebook

The Piano

The Proposal

The Red Shoes

Under A Tuscany Sun

The Way We Were

Waiting to Exhale

What Women Want

When Harry Met Sally

SCIENCE FICTION

12 Monkeys

2001: A Space Odyssey

A.I.: Artificial Intelligence

Alien

Children Of Men

Close Encounters of The Third Kind

Back To The Future Trilogy

Blade Runner

Dark City

Dr. Cyclops

Enemy Mine

eXistenZ

Forbidden Planet

Gattaca

La Jetee

Metropolis

Moon

Planet of The Apes

Robocop

Serenity

Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan

Sunshine

Soylent Green

The Blob (both versions)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Fountain

Westworld

ACTION/ADVENTURE

300

48 Hours

Aliens

All Through The Night

Beverly Hills Cop

Big Trouble In Little China

Die Hard Series

Dr. No

Enter The Dragon

Equilibrium

Escape From New York

Indiana Jones Series

Jurassic Park

Lethal Weapon Series

King Kong (Original & Peter Jackson remake)

Mad Max

National Treasure

Passenger 57

Predator

Raiders of The Lost Ark

Sahara

Silver Streak

Tango & Cash

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

The 13th Warrior

The Fifth Element

The Hidden Fortress

The Last Dragon

The Road Warrior

The Terminator

WESTERNS

3:10 To Yuma (both versions)

Barbarossa

Bend In The River

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid

Cat Ballou

Dead Man

Duel at Diablo

El Dorado

Forty Guns

Hidalgo

High Noon

Lonesome Dove

My Name Is Nobody

Once Upon A Time In The West

Open Range

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid

Quigley Down Under

Ride The High Country

Rio Bravo

Silverado

Stagecoach

The Angel and The Badman

The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

The Magnificent Seven

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Missouri Breaks

The Outlaw

The Professionals

The Quick And The Dead

The Searchers

Valdez Is Coming

Vera Cruz

The Virginian

The War Wagon

The Wild Bunch

The Wrath of God

Two Mules For Sister Sarah

Tombstone

True Grit

Unforgiven

MUSICALS

1776

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum

A Hard Day’s Night

Cabin In The Sky

Cabaret

Chicago

Dreamgirls

Godspell

Grease

Guys And Dolls

Hair

Hairspray

Jailhouse Rock

How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Jesus Christ, Superstar

Little Shop of Horrors

Mamma Mia

Moulin Rouge

Pennies From Heaven

Showboat (1936)

Singin’ In the Rain

South Pacific

The Apple

The Music Man

The Sound of Music

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Victor/Victoria

Wattstax

West Side Story

The Wiz

WAR MOVIES

Apocalypse Now Redux

Band of Brothers

Blackhawk Down

Fixed Bayonets!

Full Metal Jacket

Hamburger Hill

Inglourious Basterds

Kelly’s Heroes

Letters From Iwo Jima

M*A*S*H

Paths of Glory

Platoon

Red Tails

Saving Private Ryan

The Big Red One

The Bridge Over The River Kwai

The Dirty Dozen

The Hurt Locker

The Steel Helmet

The Thin Red Line

Three Kings

Tuskegee Airmen

We Were Soldiers

Where Eagles Dare

HORROR

American Werewolf in London

Angel Heart

Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Cabin In The Woods

Candyman

Carrie

Carnival of Souls

Dawn of The Dead

Demon Seed

Event Horizon

Halloween

House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Insidious

Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

Night of The Hunter

Night of The Living Dead

Nightmare on Elm Street

Phantasm

Poltergeist

Psycho

Stir of Echoes

Suspiria

The Abominable Dr. Phibes

The Beyond

The Birds

The Black Cat

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Changeling

The Crazies (both versions)

The Exorcist

The Haunting (1963)

The Invisible Man

The Island of Lost Souls

The Last Man on Earth

The Thing (both versions)

Trick ‘R Treat

ODDITIES

Battle Royale

Barton Fink

Big Fish

Blue Velvet

Buckaroo Banzai

Brazil

City of Lost Children

Crash

Day Watch

Dogma

Donnie Darko

Edward Scissorhands

Eraserhead

Heathers

Hudson Hawk

Ichi The Killer

Identity

Inception

Liquid Sky

Miracle Mile

Mulholland Drive

Naked Lunch

Night Watch

Oldboy

Repo Man

Six String Samurai

Speed Racer

The Big Lebowski

The Cell

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover

The Point

The Thirteenth Floor

Time Bandits

Videodrome

Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

CRIME

A Rage In Harlem

Bonnie & Clyde

Charlie Varrick

Cotton Comes To Harlem

Detour

Double Indemnity

Donnie Brasco

Drive

Ghost Dog: Way of The Samurai

Goodfellas

Heat

High Sierra

Hoodlum

Jackie Brown

King of New York

L.A. Confidential

Last Man Standing

Little Caesar

Memento

Miller’s Crossing

New Jack City

Ocean’s Eleven (both versions)

Once Upon A Time In America

Pickup on South Street

Pulp Fiction

Scarface (both versions)

Shadow of a Doubt

Shaft(1971)

Silence of The Lambs

Sin City

The Big Sleep

The Conversation

The Departed

The Godfather Trilogy

The Italian Job

The Maltese Falcon

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

The Thin Man

The Third Man

The Usual Suspects

Touch of Evil

Zodiac

SUPERHERO

Batman (1969)

Batman (1989)

Batman Returns

Batman: Mask of The Phantasm

Batman Trilogy

Blade

Blade 2

Captain America: The First Avenger

Darkman

Danger: Diabolik

Dick Tracy

Doctor Strange

Dredd

Hellboy

Hellboy and The Golden Army

Hulk

Incredible Hulk

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

Meteor Man

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins

Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow

Sky High

Spider-Man

Spider-Man 2

Superman

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

The Avengers

The Incredibles

The Phantom

The Adventures of Captain Marvel (1941 serial)

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl

The Rocketeer

The Shadow

Thor

Unbreakable

V For Vendetta

Watchmen

X-Men

X-Men 2

X-Men: First Class

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

ANIMATION

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Akira

American Pop

Antz

Beauty and The Beast

Chicken Run

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

Cool World

Despicable Me

Fantasia

Fantastic Planet

Finding Nemo

Fire & Ice

Ghost In The Shell

Grave of The Fireflies

Happy Feet

Heavy Metal

How To Train Your Dragon

Iron Giant

Laputa: Castle In The Sky

Lilo And Stitch

Mulan

Princess Mononoke

Rock and Rule

South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut

Spirited Away

Steamboy

Streetfight

The Aristocats

The Castle of Cagliostro

The Jungle Book

The Lion King

The Triplets of Belleville

The Tune

Toy Story

Toy Story 3

UP

Waking Life

Wall-E

Wizards

SPY & ESPIONAGE THRILLERS

Hunt For Red October

In Like Flint

North by Northwest

Taken

The Good Shepard

The James Bond Series

The Jason Bourne Trilogy

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold

The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

The Professional

Ronin

Safe House

Salt

Sneaker

Spy Game

Three Days of The Condor

Spione

The Keep

1983

Paramount Pictures

Directed and Screenplay by Michael Mann based on “The Keep” by F. Paul Wilson

Produced by Howard W. Koch

Say the name Michael Mann to any reasonably informed movie fan and they’ll most likely rattle off the titles of movies such as “Thief” “Manhunter” “Heat” “Public Enemies.” He’s built up a solid reputation as a director of crime thrillers. As well he should after being the executive director of such classic crime dramas as “Miami Vice” and “Crime Story.” He’s rightfully acclaimed as being one of the best directors actively working today and rightly so. The man knows how to direct a movie. Waitaminnit. Back up and bit. Let me amend that. The man knows how to direct crime thrillers and dramas. I finally got around to watching THE KEEP and while I’m not going to say it’s a totally worthless movie I am going to say that after watching it I know why he’s never made another horror movie. It’s the work of a terrific director, no doubt. But a director who let his art house aspirations for the work get in the way of making a fun horror movie that could have given viewers the screaming fits. Instead, THE KEEP may give you the yawning fidgets.

Certainly the set-up is a fascinating one. A detachment of German soldiers led by Captain Woermann (Jurgen Prochnow) comes to a village located in the Dinu Mountains. The only strategic value the village has is that Russian soldiers could slip through the pass and that’s what the detachment is there to prevent. Overlooking the village is a huge Keep that Captain Woermann takes as his base despite the warnings of the caretaker and his sons who look after The Keep.

The German soldiers are quick to notice the hundreds of crosses embedded in the walls which the caretaker insists are worthless nickel but are actually silver. Two soldiers manage to pry one cross out of a wall, loosening the bricks behind it. Thinking there is more treasure hidden, they crawl inside. Well, you know what happens to noisy folks in horror movies who go where they shouldn’t.

Pretty soon, the soldiers are dying horribly and a detachment of stormtroopers led by SD Sturmbannfuhrer Kaempffer (Gabriel Byrne) arrive to back up Woermann, thinking that it’s simply partisans trying to throw a scare into the Germans. Woermann knows better. He indicates a mysterious message on a wall of The Keep and the village priest advises them to get Professor Cuza (Ian McKellen) out of the local death camp as he’s a noted Jewish historian and linguist and might be able to decipher the message. Cuza’s daughter Eva (Alberta Watson) has accompanied her father and is saved from being raped by two of of the stormtroopers by Radu Molasar (Michael Carter) the demonic entity imprisoned within The Keep. Molasar makes a deal with Cuza: if Cuza will recover a talisman that Molasar needs to regain his full power, Molasar will destroy the Nazis. Seems like a pretty good deal all way ‘round. But nobody as yet knows about a mysterious stranger with glowing purple eyes on his way to The Keep (Scott Glenn) who shares a destiny with the demon trapped inside…

Sounds pretty good, don’t it? I thought so as well and I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend THE KEEP but the fact of the matter is that I can’t. But let me put it this way: If all you’re interested in is mood and atmosphere thick enough to cut with a bayonet, gorgeously creepy sets and stylish cinematography then you’ll want to give THE KEEP at least a try. The movie looks great, no denying that. But great looks do not make a horror movie and this movie has none of that at all. What Michael Mann is going for here is art house, not grindhouse and as a result, there is nothing in the least bit horrifying or scary about THE KEEP.

I did like the appearances of Molasar, especially in one scene that is for my money the best special effect in the movie where it appears to Cuza as a creature of living smoke that freaks the old dude out completely and at the end of the movie Molasar has metamorphosed into a form that looks like he could be a distant, darker skinned cousin of The Engineers from Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus.” And the score by Tangerine Dream is marvelous all the way through, especially during a scene where Cuza is racing through the bowels of The Keep with Molasar’s talisman clutched in his hands.

But that’s about it. This is the movie that contains what I think is perhaps the worst performance I’ve ever seen from both Scott Glenn and Gabriel Byrne. Especially Glenn. I couldn’t tell you who he is or what his deal is other than he’s got glowing purple eyes and a stick he carries around with him in a case he won’t let anybody touch. But apparently those glowing purple peepers come in handy for something because five minutes after meeting Eva they’re bumpin’ uglies. And it happens just as I describe. Really. They meet, exchange one minutes worth of dialog and whoomp, there it is.

So should you see THE KEEP? It’s available for streaming from Netflix and if you subscribe then I don’t see the harm in checking it out. You can have it playing in the background while you’re folding laundry or scraping your bunions or whatever and not worry about missing a thing. It’s a pretentious exercise that sacrifices everything that a good horror movie should have. Visually, it’s always engaging. But that’s really all the movie has going for it. Watch at your own discretion.

96 minutes

Rated R