Indie Horror Spotlight: Siko Mike's Hallowscream (2010)

Even though Halloween is almost over on the East Coast of the United States, I still wanted to highlight a short film one of my coolest friends made a year ago. Called HALLOWSCREAM, Siko Mike created a short that was inspired by his love for all things horror and his obsession with Batman [especially the Joker]. Directed and written by Siko Mike, he also stars in it along with his younger brother, Josh Huntley, and their friend Ray Perry.

Here's the synopsis:

Fred and Jason are best friends, but totally opposite people. Fred always seems to find himself in trouble. Jason however doesn't approve of Fred's mischief. On Halloween night, the two teens decide to trick or treat at the crazy neighbor Psycho Mike's creepy house. Jason gets angry at Fred and leaves. Fred sees a house that appears to be empty with a bowl of Halloween candy on the front porch and nobody around. While stealing some of the candy, Fred notices that the front door is wide open and decides to just walk in and see what he can take. What Fred doesn't know is that the residents of the house are not Human, but monsterous homicidal clowns that eat trick or treaters that just so happen to come to their home on All Hallow's Eve. The season of fear is back this Hallowscream!

While this micro-budgeted film isn't perfect - some static shots linger way too long and the editing and audio sometimes aren't leveled enough - there's still a lot to like about it. The Jester is pretty funny and the actors seem to be having fun, which is what's important. Please check it out and show some love to indie filmmaking.

Happy Halloween everyone!




Dawn of the Dead (1978 & 2004) - A Special Original vs. Remake Article

George A. Romero [1978]
Zack Snyder [2004]

David Emge - Stephen
Ken Foree - Peter
Scott Reiniger - Roger
Gaylen Ross - Francine
David Crawford - Dr. Foster
Tom Savini - Motorcycle Raider

Sarah Polley - Ana
Ving Rhames - Kenneth
Jake Weber - Michael
Mekhi Phifer - Andre
Ty Burrell - Steve
Kevin Zegers - Terry
Lindy Booth - Nicole

Genre - Horror/Action/Zombies

Running Time - 127 Minutes [1978]/ 110 Minutes [2004]

**This is something I wrote for one of my college classes in December of 2009, comparing the narratives of both versions of DAWN OF THE DEAD. I did watch the films again a few days ago and the scores at the end reflect my feelings on both films. Let's just say that I feel both movies are worthy of a watch if you have not yet seen them - and if you haven't, shame on you.**

In 1968, a low-budget horror film about cannibalistic zombies took audiences by storm. It was called Night of the Living Dead and it was directed by George A. Romero, a man who not only wanted to scare his audience, but educate them as well with social commentary. 1968's Night of the Living Dead used its "survivors" and zombies to relay thoughts on racial strife, the Vietnam War, and the general disillusionment of the government and general authority types. Costing a little over $20,000 to make, the film was a huge success and is considered one of the most historical and influential films of all time.

In 1974, Romero visited a mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania with a friend whose company ran the mall. While visiting, Romero spotted parts of the mall that weren't accessible to the shoppers inside. He believed that these hidden spots would be quite useful in case something really horrible would happen in the mall or in the general location period. This idea led to the writing and directing of his next zombie feature, 1978's Dawn of the Dead. Taking place at the Monroeville Mall, with make-up effects done by FX master Tom Savini, and creating satire by using the zombies as social commentary for the mall culture and the idea of corporations and consumerism, Dawn of the Dead was both a critical and commercial success. In fact, the success of Dawn of the Dead would inspire other zombie classics such as Zombie and The Return of the Living Dead.

In 2004, director Zack Snyder directed a remake, or "re-imagining", for Dawn of the Dead. While the film still took place inside a mall and had similar themes, the remake couldn't be more different than its predecessor. So why and how are the two versions of the same movie so different from each other?

One of the major differences between the two versions of Dawn of the Dead is the use of social commentary behind the plot of the film. In Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the commentary on mall culture and consumerism is not hard to find. According to Mike Molesworth in his article, he considers the "punch line" of the film is that "the zombies are consumers". Stephen Harper, in his article, compares the roles of the survivors and the zombies to that of Marxist beliefs. He feels that the zombies act as "lumpenproletariat", or "walking symbols of any oppressed social group" that are "synonymous with oppression and slavery". According to Harper, the "human survivors" in the film are "literally and etymologically 'living over' the zombies".

This idea is best shown in a number of scenes in Dawn of the Dead. The whole idea that the zombies are actually playing the part of brainwashed consumers during a time where mall culture was very prevalent in American society is best shown during the scene where Peter tell Stephen and Fran the reason why the zombies are even at the mall. Stephen believes that it's because the dead is after them, but Stephen disagrees, believing that the zombies are actually after the place. Stephen claims that the dead remember how much the mall means to them in their past lives and they just want to be there, leading to the classic quote, "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth." In fact, in a similar scene prior to this one where Fran and Stephen are on the mall's roof looking down at the zombies trying to get into the mall, Fran wonders why the zombies are so attracted to the mall. Stephen claims it's "instinct".

This leads to Harper's idea that the zombies are an oppressed and slaves to consumerism. If one is to think about this idea, Harper is pretty much correct on his assessment. Americans are born into a culture where we're told to buy things, whether we need them or not. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, consumerism was at an all-time high because new products were constantly being produced and advertised on television, almost brainwashing people into believing they needed the latest fashion, cookware, and recreational equipment. Big corporations use subliminal messages to lure unsuspecting Americans into buying what they're selling. The fact that many Americans, and other nationalities in general, need these things to survive and/or to feel better about themselves as individuals shows that we're slaves to product placement without even realizing it. The zombies represent that the role of the consumer is a very important part of our behavior as human beings. It's instinct. It's one of the few things all of us really know how to do because it has been embedded in all of us, even if we don't want to succumb to it. Harper believes that the mall represents "the epitome of corporate capitalism", and at the same time, the "potential site of resistance to the forces that regulate consumerism."

In fact, the zombies aren't the only characters in the film that reflect this idea. The human survivors also cave in to this consumer slavery throughout the movie. Once they trap themselves inside the mall, the characters create a parody of how people shop. They take money from the bank. They entertain themselves with video games, playing with weapons as they stock up to protect themselves, and even put on make-up as if there wasn't a zombie invasion happening around them. They grab food, clothing, and even unnecessary things like fur coats and jewelry. Besides food and weapons, the other items are completely unnecessary. Yet, these characters have this instinctual need to own these materials, as if they wouldn't be able to live without them in their possession. Even as Romero directs these scenes, they're played as almost a utopian paradise of materialism, upbeat musical soundtrack and all.

For example, there's a scene where Fran sees zombies roaming about aimlessly. Instead of grabbing a gun and shooting them, she just raises the collar of her fur coat as a way to protect herself. This passive aggressiveness shows what Fran really values. It isn't her physical well being. It's her emotional and social well being that takes precedence.

But eventually, the characters, even with all the goodies at their disposal that many of us would dream to own ourselves, grow distant and become displeased with their utopia. These products that supposedly keep them safe lose their sheen as they realize that the one thing they all want can't be bought at any mall: freedom. And it's here that what Romero is trying to say is evident: consumerism takes away our freedom and individuality. We have this need to shop because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It reveals our social status, feeding into our self-esteem and self-worth. Feeding into greed and gluttony keeps some people grounded emotionally and mentally. The humans hide inside the mall for the same reason the zombies want to get in: it's our "fool's paradise" revealing our "visceral indulgence" for things we probably don't need in order to survive. The survivors are just as oppressed and dead (although not physically) as the zombies who are threats to their very lives. Like Peter points out in the film when they discuss the zombies: "They're us." Both sides of the coin could be considered "cultural dupes". This mentality leads to the downfall of the survivors, especially when the motorcycle gang arrives to take over the malls themselves. Stephen, or "Flyboy" as he's called throughout the film by Roger and Peter, tells the bikers that the mall belongs to them - that he and his friends took it for themselves. This leads to chaos, as Stephen and several of the bikers get bitten by zombies the biker gang accidentally let in. This forces Peter and Fran to escape on a helicopter with pretty much no fuel. While downbeat, the fact that they might not survive the escape doesn't bother the characters one bit. As a matter of fact, their deaths represent the freedom they didn't enjoy inside the mall. The idea of envy and want is in all of us. We all want something. We all want to have it and get jealous when someone else does. The act of wanting could possibly turn malicious because of envy. This is what is believed to be the result of consumerism.

While the mall is still the setting in the 2004 remake, the commentary on consumerism is completely lost. This is mainly due to the fact that in modern society, malls aren't seen as the hotspot for our consumer needs. With the invention of online shopping, especially Amazon and eBay, going to a mall to buy isn't as prevalent as it was 30 to 40 years ago. In his article "I Shopped With A Zombie", Phillip Matthews felt that Snyder "had nothing to add to Romero's view of that culture," and that the remake felt "less like a critique than a demo reel." While I agree that Snyder doesn't create the commentary as Romero did in the original, there are still scenes in the remake that reflect consumerism - especially in the form of product placement. There is a shot of a Cosmopolitan magazine and bottles of Aquafina are splattered throughout the film. So while the remake doesn't comment on consumerism, the remake is sure a product of it.

The real commentary in the 2004 version is obviously the post-9/11 threat of terrorism. The opening sequence of the film is very bleak and dreary, showing footage briefly of praying Muslims. This correlates with the scene during the end credits where the zombies attack the survivors as they make it to an island. Snyder wants to express that all hope after 9/11 for a brighter future is gone and lost. There's no hope anymore. Just chaos. Just death. The zombies in the 2004 version represent the terrorists that still haunt many people. The world doesn't make sense anymore. How does one stop this outbreak of zombies? Why is this even happening to begin with and why won't anyone explain? What you once thought safe is now dangerous and full of uncertain.

Even the zombies in each film reflect the change with the times. The original's zombies are slow, mute, clumsy, and not much of a threat unless one lets them get close. The fact that you could have pie fights with them and they don't really counterattack unless the advantage is there proves that fact. The remake, however, has zombies inspired by the viral infected humans in 28 Days Later. These zombies are quick, brutal, violent, feral, and hungry for flesh. These zombies are more aggressive and more of an in-your-face threat. One can run away from a Romero zombie. But it's a lot harder with a Snyder zombie, making the possibility of surviving slimmer. The faster, meaner zombies reflect today's society in a post-9/11 world. Terrorists attack innocent people with planes, gas, and bombs. There's no escaping it and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. As much as we try and understand, as much as we try to run away from the problem, it always bites back when it catches up with us. We live in darker times and the remake uses the zombie characters to reflect that. Unlike the original Dawn of the Dead, the remake plays on fears that we can truly understand from a visual experience, not a philosophical one.

Besides the commentaries, there is also a big difference between the characters in each respective film. This is no more evident than in the female leads of both Dawn of the Dead's, as they couldn't be further different from each other. In the original Dawn of the Dead, Fran tries to be the epitome of a feminist woman, trying to show her independence and usefulness in a small group of men. But the character is weak from beginning to end on these merits. As I was doing research, I found two different thoughts of Fran by two different authors. Stephen Harper considers Fran to be the "moral insight" of the film and the one expressing Romero's point of view on the consumer issue. Harper feels that Fran, while not as aggressive as her male counterparts, does aid them in protecting the mall and wanting to learn how to fly a helicopter and use a gun in case something bad happens. And the fact that she refuses to domesticate herself at the beginning of the film gives Harper the belief that Fran has feministic qualities.

Shane Borrowman, however, pretty much considers Fran to be of "limited value in her tiny, well-stocked world". I agree with Borrowman here. Fran doesn't do much of note in the film. Whenever she has a gun, she hands it to one of the men rather than taking shots herself (which she does on rare occasion). While not wanting to play the role of a housewife and mother, that's exactly what she becomes. She nurses people, especially a bitten Roger, for much of the film. Refusing to cook in the beginning, she ends up doing so later, almost becoming a domesticated wife and mother. When it comes to decision making, she stands or sits off to the side smoking while the men take care of creating plans for their survival. And in one of the scenes, she dolls herself up in makeup and lavish clothes and jewelry to feel more feminine in a way. These aren't feminist qualities. Fran never stands up for herself. She's caught in the ideal roles of women. She's a lover. She's a mom. She's a sister. She's a fantasy. But she's never just Fran. Her passivity makes her more of a decoration than an actual member of the group. For a professional woman, she rarely displays any sorts of leadership skills in the film.

The same can't be said for Ana, the protagonist of the Dawn of the Dead remake. Ana is a highly skilled nurse who doesn't let the men around her put her in the background. She's smart, strong enough to take care of herself, and takes charge of situations when no one else will. This is evident in the opening of the film, where Ana has to save herself both from her zombified husband and her equally zombified young neighbor. While emotionally devastated at the loss of her husband, Ana still manages to be brave and clever enough to prevent him from biting her and killing her, escaping out of a bathroom window and running away from her house without looking back. When inside the mall with others, she asks questions, rallies the troops, and takes initiative without asking permission first. Despite one scene where Ana does go to Michael, her love interest, for help in escaping the mall, Ana is more independent, and in a sense, more of a feminist than Fran before her. It's similar to the first two versions of Night of the Living Dead (1968 and 1990) where the Barbara character in each one are completely different (the remake's Barbara is more of an action heroine than the fragile, catatonic original Barbara). The world is more accepting of strong female characters in entertainment now than they probably were 30 years ago, making the audience relate more to Ana's "fight or flight" behavior than Fran's passive aggressive nature.

Another difference between the original and the remake is the idea of family. In the original Dawn of the Dead, the family dynamic between the four main characters isn't exactly tight-knit. The best relationship between the four is with Roger and Peter, who goof around shooting zombies and looting the mall. They trust each other, communicate all the time, and are the leaders of the small group. Even when Roger tells Peter to kill him after he's been bitten, we can see and feel Peter's hard time dealing with the fact that he has to kill his best friend, his brother, in order to keep himself, Stephen, and Fran alive. They're the only two in the film that seem to have a relationship built on something real.

The other couple in the film, Stephen and Fran, don't seem to fare well with each other like Roger and Peter do. They disagree on a lot of things. Especially when it comes to Fran being left out of discussions with the other members of the group, and her pregnancy. Stephen, just as weak as Fran when it comes to being active, seems very indifferent about her pregnancy. The topic of abortion comes up once, which Stephen mostly dictates until Fran asks whether he wants her to get rid of the baby. Instead, Stephen gives her what Borrowman calls a "vague and halfhearted negative". Even when it comes to her own unborn child, Fran doesn't seem to have much say. Peter says that they'll deal with "it" away from Fran's presence and she's the mother! All Fran does is smoke and brood, snapping at Stephen over her ejection about the subject and his unwillingness to stand up for her and himself. There's a lack of communication and understand between Stephen and Fran that's not there with Roger and Peter. Same goes with Fran and everyone else. That makes Dawn of the Dead more bleak. The zombies aren't the monsters. The survivors, constantly bickering with each other and excluding each other out of difficult and important situations, are the real monsters.

In the remake, there's more of a family feel between the survivors. They communicate with each other normally. They eat together. They sleep together. Most of them are willing to protect the others over themselves. There's a sense of camaraderie between the survivors, each other accepting their roles, and working together to survive as long as possible.

But the family issue also becomes a bad thing. This is true in the case of Andre, who hides his pregnant wife Luda, who has already been bitten, in a room and lies to the others about her condition. His love for Luda blinds him to the fact that saving his wife is a hopeless cause and that the baby will die because of it. When it's revealed that Luda has transformed into a zombie and gave birth to an actual zombie baby, Andre shoots down a fellow member of the group who attempts to kill the baby before killing himself. With no one in the way, the rest of the group destroy the zombie baby, realizing that innocence no longer plays a role in this post-apocalyptic world. Borrowman calls this subplot "the ultimate inversion of family values".

Also dealing with the family issue is the character of Nicole, who loses her father who's been quarantined in a room inside the mall after he's been bitten. She attaches herself to a young guard named Tucker and a dog she finds, using both as surrogates to fill the void left by the loss of her father. However, Nicole's loyalty to the dog gives the group problems as the dog runs away every now and then, forcing Nicole to go after it, putting herself and the others in danger. Her sense of loyalty and family to this dog brings more tension and grief to the other survivors. So while the family aspect is stronger in the remake, it also creates just as much tension, if not more, than in the original.

Even though the remake of Dawn of the Dead is so different visually and philosophically than the original Romero version, I still find the remake to be a refreshing take on the zombie genre and a great film in its own right. I feel it's impossible and a waste of time to achieve the same level of commentary Romero put in his version, as the issue of consumerism is not as important today as the issue of terrorism, although it is up there with the recent downturn in the economy. I admire that Snyder went into a different direction, even with using the same plot. I think both films have a place in the horror genre and can be enjoyed for different reasons, even though both outcomes are

4 Howls Outta 4

3.5 Howls Outta 4

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) Trailer

DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004) Trailer


ChromeSkull: Laid to Rest 2 (2011)

Robert Hall

Brian Austin Green - Preston
Nick Principe - ChromeSkull

Thomas Dekker - Tommy

Mimi Michaels - Jess

Owain Yeoman - King

Gail O'Grady - Nancy

Danielle Harris - Spann

Johnathon Schaech - Agent Sells

Genre - Horror/Slasher

Running Time - 93 Minutes

Judging by box office receipts this year, it seems less people are going out of their way to watch horror movies in theaters. While INSIDIOUS was a success no one really saw coming back in April, horror movies since then haven't done as well as projected. I'm not sure if this is because audiences have been disillusioned by the current state of the genre [due to reboots and remakes, as well as focus on 3-D] or because of the economy, but horror seems to be at a crossroads these days. Fortunately, the genre is still thriving due to foreign filmmakers and the massive independent scene [thanks to home video].

One of these independent horror films that struck a chord with horror fans was 2009's slasher film, LAID TO REST. With a unique killer in ChromeSkull and gore effects that will amaze anyone, LAID TO REST was a great Nu-Slasher that didn't try to reinvent the sub-genre, but just give its fans exactly what they wanted. And even though it seemed final at the end of LAID TO REST, the success of the film led to today's review: CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2. Even though it was heavily anticipated and much discussed within horror circles, is the film necessary? Was the first LAID TO REST enough or is the sequel a decent enough continuation that will keep audiences wanting more?

Picking up where LAID TO REST left off, ChromeSkull (Nick Principe) is barely alive after his incident with The Girl. He's found by an underground group known as The Organization, who seem to help ChromeSkull run his operation in murdering people and crafting those nifty weapons he sports. Preston (Brian Austin Green), as ChromeSkull's right hand man, gets a group of surgeons to try and salvage ChromeSkull's face as much as they can, even though the recovery process would take three months.

In the meantime, Preston [who wants to be just like ChromeSkull] decides to finish what ChromeSkull started. First, he kills The Girl. Then he kidnaps Tommy (Thomas Dekker), who was the last witness besides The Girl of ChromeSkull's destruction. Another girl, Jess (Mimi Michaels) is kidnapped due to ChromeSkull wanting another toy to play with, even though she's losing her sight.

However, Preston seems to want to be in charge of it all, making ChromeSkull pretty angry that his protege is trying to take over his spot. Not to be outdone by Preston, ChromeSkull quickly recovers and picks up where he stopped, hunting victims of his own. As the two compete for supremacy, will Tommy and Jess survive the war?

CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 is a film I was looking forward to all year, due to my love for the original and the cool trailer that was posted months in advance of its release. After watching it, I was not disappointed in the film at all. It's a slasher through and through with buckets of blood and gore and an interesting twist to ChromeSkull's background that kept me glued. However, the film is far from perfect and it probably raises more questions than answers. Still, CHROMESKULL manages to be a fun time for slasher fans around the world.

The problems for CHROMESKULL lay in its narrative. Even so, there's still a lot to like about the screenplay. For one, director Robert Hall listened to fans who critiqued the first film, wanting feedback in how to make this sequel better. Out were stereotypical slasher characters [who I did enjoy in LAID TO REST] and a predictable set up for his killer. For those who watched the first film, we watched The Girl bash Chromeskull's face in with a bat that should have killed the man. Obviously in slasher films, the killer never truly dies. So I kept wondering how ChromeSkull was gonna be brought back. Lightning? Magic? A dog peeing fire on his corpse??? How was Hall gonna bring this dude back? Simple - make ChromeSkull the head of a corporate structure that has doctors who can save his life and some of his face. How refreshing! I guess ChromeSkull is somewhat human after all and can get hurt badly. It took a stereotypical set up and gives it a realistic edge I was not expecting. I actually dug it!

Speaking of The Corporation, I liked this plot device as well. Instead of having ChromeSkull be undead, an inbred, or someone who had childhood demons he needed to let out, ChromeSkull is the hired hand of a bunch of corporate pricks who enjoy kidnapping young women and torturing and/or killing them before putting them in a coffin while they're videotaped. While there's still a lot to be explored with this aspect of the story [which I will get to momentarily], at least it's different and gives ChromeSkull a fresher feel from his other slasher monsters, such as Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, and Freddy Krueger. We still don't know ChromeSkull's backstory and I'm kind of glad we don't. Just the fact that he's working and seems in charge of this underground group is intriguing in itself. There seems to be a bigger picture when it comes to this character and I think some decent sequels could be set up from this [I'm sure we're getting another one].

I also liked the fact that the cops played a big part in the narrative as well. Usually in slasher films, the cops are probably the dumbest characters and usually end up being annoying because they refuse to believe the victims' cries for help. In CHROMESKULL, the cops seemed mostly intelligent enough to investigate ChromeSkull and his group in order to save Jess and Tommy from being their next victims. I'm writing mainly about the King character, who was written competently, even if we didn't know much about him. He never rolled his eyes. He never tried to push his own beliefs on the victims, which is an annoying trait in most of these films. He actually listened, investigated, and worked hard to figure out what the hell was going on by what Tommy had told him about ChromeSkull. That made him instantly likeable and refreshing for me. The other cop characters were fine until they found leads and ended up screwing themselves in the process, but they were lambs to the slaughter as expected. I just feel that the cop element really added an element of urgency and survival to the film due to the fact that they actually behaved like real cops.

I also enjoyed the straight-on continuation from the end of LAID TO REST. It reminded me of 80s slasher films, such as HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II, as well as several of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films that continued right after the other. I liked that the issue with The Girl was resolved in a believable way and that Tommy played a big role in the sequel since he was pretty small in the original. It showed that ChromeSkull and his organization wanted to clean the mess up from the first one while starting another one.

I also really enjoyed the Preston vs. ChromeSkull rivalry as well. One, I think it's great that the main villain had a protege. The fact that someone wants to be just like this crazy dude is actually intriguing and reminds of me the SAW franchise where Jigsaw had apprentices to carry on his work after his death. The thing is, while ChromeSkull is still a cool character and I enjoyed his subtle relationship with the Spann character [who is a manipulative little bitch - but in a good way], Preston is really the most developed character in the entire film. While we don't know why he's even part of this group or how he became ChromeSkull's #2, we do know that he wants to be in charge of the whole shindig, to the point where he wants to be ChromeSkull in looks, killing style, and respect. He hates it when ChromeSkull doesn't acknowledge his accomplishments. He gets frustrated whenever ChromeSkull undermines him. His jealousy of ChromeSkull is what drives this sequel and it's handled very well. I kind of wish their rivalry played out more than it did, but I thought it was a cool idea that worked.

Unfortunately, not all of the characters had as much depth as Preston. In fact, a lot of them seemed one-note in my honest opinion. Tommy was decently developed in terms of how ChromeSkull's rampage had effected him, but I kind of wish he was the focus of the film rather than who they did focus the film on - Jess. I didn't hate Jess at all, but she wasn't as interesting as The Girl from the first film. At least they developed her somewhat with her medical condition and her strained relationship with her mom, but she pretty much just whines and plays with a telephone or camera for much of the film. I kind of wished her ailment would have played more of a part during the Final Act, but it's your pretty normal conflict. I thought she was okay but I wasn't really invested in her as a Final Girl. Spann was an intriguing character who ChromeSkull seemed to trust quite a lot, but nothing else was done with her. The cops were written well, but none of them really stood out besides King. As much as the original characters were stereotypical, at least they had depth to them and you could understand why they were in ChromeSkull's bloody path. Since a sequel normally has a larger number of characters, it's harder to maintain that same level of focus. While not stereotypical, CHROMESKULL's characters seemed shallower.

I also felt there wasn't enough done with The Corporation. I thought the idea and set up was interesting [reminded me of HOSTEL for a bit], but it was just vague and not enough was explained about the whole deal. Did ChromeSkull fund this organization, or is just a hired hand? Why is this Corporation so concerned with making caskets to place young girls inside? Why is there a random tattoo artist nearby, waiting for work? How does one even get involved in something like this? It's a sub-plot that needed a bit of fleshing out, especially when much of the film focused on it. It nagged me for much of my viewing experience.

The true highlight of CHROMESKULL is obviously the kills. And by God, Hall and his crew did an amazing job with the death sequences. While some CGI was used, most of it was practical and it looks awesome! The film showcases these brutal kills within great pacing, as they don't occur all the time and take place when they need to. There's so much to list here: decapitations, bodies split in half, stabbings, gunshots, faces being sliced off, knives going through mouths, hooks to the shoulder, electrocutions, torsos being ripped in half, and so on. I actually cringed at some of these - that's how good they look. Gore hounds will absolutely love this film, as it's more brutal than the first. Add in some nudity and we got ourselves a true slasher flick. Two thumbs up.

The direction by Robert Hall is very good. The film looks great, first of all. Very bleak and grim looking - almost cold and industrial to be honest. I do think some of the quick cuts during the editing took away from some of the death sequences, but it wasn't a frequent thing. There's quite a lot of shaky cam and handheld filmmaking here that adds a bit of tension to the film. There was some suspense thrown in as well. I do feel that Hall loses some of the intimacy that made LAID TO REST work though. And things don't feel as mysterious as in the previous film, but that's to be expected in a slasher sequel. It's obvious Hall has become a much better director since the first film and you can tell he has more installments set up that will probably explain the questions I have. While not perfect, I think Hall's direction improved somewhat and he deserves kudos for visualizing a bloody massacre that horror fans like myself will enjoy.

The acting in CHROMESKULL is also surprisingly good as well. Nick Principe returns as ChromeSkull, this time bringing a more dangerous and brutal edge. Principe is more confident in the role and really portrays a killing machine quite believably. Thomas Dekker also returns as Tommy, doing well in a much bigger role. I believed his trauma and fear of ChromeSkull, as well as his grief over losing his best friend and The Girl - bringing some guilt to the role. Mimi Michaels did well with what she was given as Jess. The character didn't really capture all of my interest, but Michaels still stands out due to her looks and her convincing portrayal of a victim suffering with an illness. She never annoyed me and is actually quite likeable. Gail O'Grady also impresses in her limited role as Jess' mom. Owain Yeoman was cool as King, playing a cop with some substance for a change in a horror film. Danielle Harris playing a bitch as Spann was quite a turn on and a pleasant change of pace for her. I really enjoyed her short role and hope it's expanded in a future installment.

But by far, the best actor was Brian Austin Green as Preston. I was really surprised by his performance here. Seeing him grow up on Beverly Hills 90210, go through his ridiculous gangsta rapper phase, and being jealous for a time for actually banging and marrying Megan Fox didn't really give Green any favors. But he's really impressive in this film, stealing the movie from everyone around him. He's imposing, charming at times, and especially nutty when he goes full "slasher mode". I thought he was a great foil for ChromeSkull and matched Principe's intensity very well. I hope to see Green in more projects like this because CHROMESKULL proves the man can act when the right material is in front of him.


- Preston sliced The Girl in the mouth, giving her an extended smile that upset her. Some people will see that as ungrateful. Seriously, "Why so serious?"

- Spann seems able to calm and soothe ChromeSkull. When it comes to knowing what makes masked men tick, she's been an expert at the age of 10.

- ChromeSkull stabbed a girl on the side of her face and pulled it off as she was making popcorn. I'm sure that wasn't the type of ear she had in mind.

- Cops were worried that Preston kidnapped Tommy from the police station. I wouldn't be too preoccupied. There's probably a Terminator that needs its ass handed to them.

Preston wanted to be so like ChromeSkull that he shaved his head, got a skull tattoo on his chest, and put on his own ChromeSkull mask while hunting. I have a feeling this move was 90210-no...

While I feel the first one tells a better story, CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2 is still a worthy follow up to blooming horror franchise. The gore is off the charts, the narrative is interesting yet a bit shallow, the direction slightly better, and performances like Brian Austin Green's keep the sequel afloat. If you enjoyed the first LAID TO REST, there's no hesitation in watching CHROMESKULL since I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy it just as much, if not close. But whatever you do, don't dress up like ChromeSkull while watching this. When it comes to imitation, it isn't the sincerest form of flattery...

3 Howls Outta 4


The B-Movie Bungalow Presents: Basket Case (1982)

Frank Henenlotter

Kevin Van Hentenryck - Duane Bradley
Terri Susan Smith - Sharon

Beverly Bonner - Casey

Lloyd Pace - Dr. Harol
d Needleman
Diana Browne - Dr. Judith Kutter

Ruth Neuman - Aunt

Richard Pierce - Mr. Bradl
Robert Vogel - Hotel Manager

Genre - Horror/B-Movie/Cult/Creature Feature

Running Time - 91 Minutes

In my review for POLTERGEIST, I briefly talked about films I have had my readers/watchers request for me to review. I won't spoil those requests, but let's say that they're coming up pretty soon after holding off on them for so long. One of those films has eluded me for some reason since the 1980s, to the point where I don't think about it until someone mentions it to me in person, or through social networking. It's not that the film isn't memorable - by God, it certainly is - but it hadn't stayed on my radar due to other films taking precedence over it. Hell, I never even mentioned the film's writer/director on this blog ever, and he's one of the cooler cult filmmakers out there! The man I'm talking about is Frank Henenlotter and the film I'm discussing today is 1982's cult classic, BASKET CASE.

I first watched BASKET CASE during the VHS days in 1988 when I was seven-years-old. My uncle would borrow VHS tapes that were mostly horror based, including this film. Imagine being that age, watching this weird film about two brothers born siamese twins where one looks like "a squashed octopus". I had no idea what to think. HALLOWEEN at 4, THE FLY (1986) and FRIDAY THE 13TH at 5, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET at 6, and THE EXORCIST, PHANTASM, and BASKET CASE at 7 - yeah, I'm not mentally fucked in the head whatsoever! I watched a lot of weird shit when I was a kid, but it made me appreciate the different sides of cinema, especially in the horror/sci-fi genre. And for that, I am, and my psychiatrist, are eternally grateful.

Thanks to people requesting it lately and Netflix Instant Watch having it, I decided to watch BASKET CASE again after 23 years. And while watching, I realized that Henenlotter's cult classic is still as weird, crazy, and oddly charming as ever. But with an adult mind to grasp the concept of BASKET CASE better, I regret not watching it again before now. Let's look inside the basket and see why BASKET CASE is still an awesome one-of-a-kind cult success.

Duane Bradley (Kevin Van Hentenryck) arrives in New York City after years of living upstate in Glen Falls. Bringing just a backpack and a wicker basket that's strangely locked, Duane arrives at Hotel Broslin - a run down location where Duane decides to rent a room. While the tenants of Hotel Broslin are curious about Duane's basket and the massive wad of cash he carries, Duane is equally intrigued by the bizarre tenants and their distinct personalities. After settling in, Duane goes out and buys large quantities of food. Returning, he opens the locked basket and pours the food in there, feeding whatever happens to be inside that basket. Duane even talks to it, even though the conversation appears one sided.

While the tenants believe that Duane is in NYC just to see the sights and enjoy the city for a short while, Duane has other reasons for staying there. We quickly learn that Duane has a large scar on the side of his body, apparently due to an operation where his Siamese twin, Belial [a deformed looking person-thing], was removed against their wishes. Their mother had died during childbirth, which their father (Richard Pierce) had blamed on Belial. Mr. Bradley had three doctors (Bill Freeman, Lloyd Pace, and Diana Browne) perform the operation when their caring and understanding aunt (Ruth Neuman) was away. However, Duane and Belial's connection never went away, using their anger to get revenge on those who tried to separate them.

Duane has decided to pay a visit to all three doctors involved in the operation, an idea presented by Belial. Wanting revenge, both Bradley brothers have decided to murder these individuals. However, Duane has become distracted and smitten with one of the doctor's secretaries, Sharon (Terri Susan Smith), which makes Belial jealous and extremely dangerous as a result.

For horror fans, BASKET CASE is one of those classic B-movie cult films that has managed to grow a great following and reputation for almost 30 years. It's beloved by the community and considered one of the best and weirdest films a horror fan could and should watch. For everyone else, BASKET CASE is just a bad film that has no redeeming value and only exists to disturb and disgust an audience of depraved and immoral individuals. Hell, why do you think I like it so much then? It's depraved. It's ridiculous. And it's one hell of a low budget flick.

Frank Henenlotter's screenplay won't win any awards, but it does what it needs to do, making it quite effective and deeper than what most people can imagine BASKET CASE to be. The highlight of the script are the characters of Duane and Belial. Both are pretty much in the forefront of BASKET CASE and rightfully so, making us sympathize with them even when they decide to murder people for various reasons. Duane is the normal looking one of the two, even though he struggles with hs individuality. He's decent looking, girls seem to like him, and appears to be a sane and level-headed individual. But underneath, Duane is pretty twisted. He goes along with whatever diabolical plan Belial has in mind. He has trouble dealing with the fact that Belial can talk to him telepathically and feel every thing he does, especially when it comes to girls. Duane is constantly on alert because of Belial in order to protect him. He comes across as awkward and weird, unsure of who he is as a person because he's too concerned with being a good brother.

As for Belial, he's pretty much the opposite. He looks like a creature instead of a normal looking human. He has no social skills. And the one true thing he knows is destroying people, things, and his slowly strained relationship with Duane. Belial doesn't utter a word, but his actions say quite a lot. In a way, Duane is nothing but Belial's lackey, doing whatever Belial tells him to do because Belial can read Duane's thoughts and use them against him. Belial's focus is strictly on revenge, not realizing how this effects Duane's chance to live a semi-normal existence. In later sequels, we would see how this further separates the two brothers. But it's quite evident that the bond of brotherly love can go so far, even if it is done a bit more subtle than expected.

The other characters, while not as deep as Duane or Belial, are each different in terms of personality and characteristics. Sharon is the quirky secretary who seems pretty eager to flirt with Duane and try to make things work with him. Unfortunately, Belial gets jealous of Sharon, feeling that she'll cause Duane to abandon him. While this may be true, Belial also wants to be with her as he has needs too. Casey is Duane's neighbor, who likes to indulge in drinks and sex. She easily befriends Duane, trying to figure him out and what he's hiding inside his basket. There's O'Donovan, who is a klepto. And the hotel manager is quite funny, always having to deal with the messes without understanding who or what caused them until right at the very end. They're all kooky and odd, which makes them just as freakish as the former Siamese brothers.

BASKET CASE continues to remain a film grasp on audiences due to a couple of themes the film presents. One is the brotherly bond between Duane and Belial. Love should be unconditional, and for a while, the bond of the Bradley brothers is very strong. Duane would do anything for Belial. He buys him food. Together they get revenge on those who have wronged them. And when one is upset, the other drops everything to support the other. In a lot of ways, Duane is more of a parent than his brother, taking care of him and carrying him around as if he were a child. This obviously puts a toll on both of them due to Duane wanting to find his individuality for a while, but the bond is there. It was instilled due to Belial being attached physically to Duane, and due to their aunt taking care of both and treating them and protecting them equally until she passed away. BASKET CASE is really a touching story of two brothers who would do anything for each other, even if most people see it as a horror story - and rightfully so.

Another them is the idea of what's considered normal in our society. While Henenlotter purposely puts us in the shoes of both Duane and Belial, we can also see Mr. Bradley's side of things as well. I don't have children, but I couldn't imagine how I would feel about my children being born Siamese twins, where one looks normal and the other a deformity. Would I still be able to love both of them equally? Would I treat the normal child better over the other one? Would I blame the deformity on my wife's death during childbirth, taking out my anger on him and wanting to separate him from my normal son so he can live a normal life? It's a really interesting perspective that I don't think the film stays on for enough time. Sure, Mr. Bradley was devious and pretty vicious around separating his two sons from each other. But you can sort of understand why he wanted it done. The morality issue comes into question here, but it's another angle where we could see that the bond between Duane and Belial isn't as healthy as those characters want to believe.

Plus, the interaction between all the characters are very humorous. They react in ways that are way over-the-top, which makes BASKET CASE more of a horror-comedy rather than a straight on horror flick. Plus the dialogue is very clever at times and helps make this film so bad that it's actually quite good. I really liked the script for this film.

The special effects in BASKET CASE date the film a lot, but they still maintain a certain level of charm modern CGI-filled flicks tend to lack. Belial is mostly a puppet that moves due to someone's hands inside it, or the actors playing off on it. Other times, Belial's movements use stop-motion technology that really spotlights its low budget origins. But I rather take this over CGI that makes Belial look animated rather than natural. And since this a horror film, there is a decent amount of blood and carnage here. The most memorable moment happens when Dr. Kutter has her face impaled by scalpels due to Belial attacking her. For a low budget film, BASKET CASE uses them well enough, even if it does put the film in a time capsule of sorts.

Frank Henenlotter's direction isn't all that stylish [mainly point and shoot], but it tells his story well. While we do see a bit of grain and fibers from filters every now and then on the film, BASKET CASE is visually sound. The movie does look amateurish in a way, but I kind of like how gritty and cheap it looks. The editing is fine. The pacing is excellent. The use of flashback, which can be trickier than it seems, is used very well. I liked that the visuals told the story of Duane and Belial's past rather than Duane telling people about it. The tension and suspense over the mystery of what was inside Duane's basket and the attacks that occurred because of this curiosity was done nicely. I think the best part of Henenlotter's visuals is that he captures 1982 New York City in such a way that it almost becomes a character in itself. I really love watching older films that showcase NYC. Compared to how clean it is now, NYC was a very gritty city back in the day - full of sex shops on Times Square and really shady characters [like hookers, drug dealers, and the homeless]. You wouldn't want to walk in a dark back alley back in the day [now there's more people out at night than they are during the day without much trouble]. It really sets a mood and atmosphere that makes BASKET CASE authentic and sleazy looking, even with the ridiculous premise headlining the film. I'm sure I remember his direction becoming better in his short career, but it's very good with what he had to work with.

The acting is amateur, but it enhances the entertainment value of the film for me. Kevin Van Hentenryck is probably the best actor in the film as Duane. He's so over-the-top and animated that he's oddly appealing. Plus I got to give props to a guy who tried not to let a demonic looking rubber puppet overshadow him. While I do think Belial is the most interesting character, Van Hentenryck is the most interesting actor. Terri Susan Smith gives Sharon a quirky demeanor that I find it funny and cute. I thought she had some decent chemistry with Van Hentenryck as well and her "love scene" with Belial is a memorable one. Beverly Bonner was cool as Casey. She tried to be the sex pot of the film in her sleazy, Studio 54-looking sort of way. Of the three doctors, I though Diane Browne as Judith Kutter was the most memorable. I thought her acting was pretty funny, since it wasn't all that great. But she was entertaining in her short role and her gore scene is the most memorable. Everyone else had their moments. Odd cast that actually enhances the film quite a lot.


- A doctor with a gun couldn't shoot his target. I hope he's not a surgeon. Knowing this world, he was probably in the same graduating class as Jack Kavorkian and "Weird" Al Yankovic.

- A patient said she got dizzy, then she couldn't breathe, and felt her throat was on fire. She either has an allergic reaction or she participates in a ton of oral sex. Even if she has scrapes on her knees, it would still be hard to tell.

- Dr. Judith Kutter likes to get her younger boyfriend drunk to have her way with him. If they ever do an autobiography on Kutter, I think Demi Moore would be a great choice.

- Belial copped a feel on Casey. The fact that he enjoys dark meat shows that the KKK is uglier than he is. Go get yours, you squashed octopus!

- There were scalpels sticking out of Dr. Judith Kutter's face. Looks like Pinhead finally found a suitable wife. She may not be a HELLRAISER, but she's still making Pinhead rise in his own special way...

What is there to say about the cult classic known as BASKET CASE? For a very low budget [talking shoestring here], Frank Henenlotter creates a truly wacky world with quirky characters and a rubber puppet that enjoys creating havoc just because he got separated from his normal-looking brother. They sure don't make them like they used to anymore. Definitely recommended as long as you can keep your curiosity in check. If not, be prepared to see what's inside the basket - it may scar you for life.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Ring of Darkness (2004)

David DeCoteau

Adrienne Barbeau - Alex
Jeremy Jackson - Xavier
Stephen Martines - Shawn
Ryan Starr - Stacy
Colin Bain - B.J.
Matt T. Baker - Jake
Eric Dearborn - Max
Jeff Peterson - Jonah

Genre - Horror/Zombies

Running Time - 85 Minutes

PLOT - Boy band, Take 10, is the hottest group around. They can sing. They can dance. They get hot chicks - well if you're wearing beer goggles, that is. They're managed by Adrienne Barbeau. And they like to eat their lead singers once he learns that Take 10 are really zombies. I'm sure you won't be hearing this story on N'Sync's Behind the Music episode!

Anyway, the lack of a lead singer puts a grind in Take 10's plans. So they conduct an audition to see who can lip sync to their one really annoying song the best [I'm not joking]. The three finalists are confident Max (Eric Dearborn), secret reporter Jonah (Jeff Peterson), and serious musician Shawn (Stephen Martines) - who brings his girlfriend, Stacy (Ryan Starr) along.

The finalists and Take 10 are taken to some secret beach location with a beautiful house, a beautiful view, and a beautiful cave where the group does human sacrificing.
Obviously some of the contestants are zombie food, although Take 10 wants to save Shawn for last because he has the most potential for their future. Can Shawn stop these Boy Band zombies? Can someone turn off that stupid Take 10 song? It's giving me a bigger headache than the actual film itself!


STORY - I have three lyrics for RING OF DARKNESS:


The WTF? Vault has been busy lately and films like RING OF DARKNESS are extending its stay. I have no idea what possessed to watch this film. The generic, photoshopped poster should have given it away. Plus, the film is directed by David DeCoteau - a man who directed some fun B-movies back in his early career, such as SORORITY BABES IN THE SLIMEBALL BOWL-O-RAMA, CREEPOZOIDS, and several of the PUPPET MASTER films, but now has regulated into making bad homoerotic Z-grade horror films like THE BROTHERHOOD V: ALUMNI. Also, the film stars Baywatch's Jeremy Jackson and American Idol reject Ryan Starr, as well as scream queen Adrienne Barbeau who probably lost a bet to star in this or something. What I'm trying to say is that I saw all the warning signs and still watched this anyway. What does that say about me? Please don't judge...

RING OF DARKNESS is a terrible film from beginning to end. The screenplay written by Ryan Carrassi, Matthew Jason Walsh, and managing editor of Fangoria Magazine, Michael Gingold, is just shallow, empty, and bad. If there was anything positive to say about the script, it would have to be the originality of the concept itself. I have never heard of or seen a film involving zombies who happen to be a member of a boy band. I'm sure there was an attempt of symbolism there, as a lot of us see boy bands as puppets who are controlled by strong marketing teams - similar to the original voodoo zombies who were under the spell of witch doctors and power hungry villains. I just wish more was done with that if that was the intent behind the concept. Instead we get a very cliche film that just meanders until its really silly end.

I don't even know where to begin with this script. The characters are all dull and don't have much dimension at all. The Take 10 members all seem to have different personalities, but none of them are really explored much besides the racist one who didn't want a black guy being their leader. Where that comes from isn't explained at all, making that characteristic ineffective on a whole. All I really knew about these characters was that they had great abs, perform one song, and are supposedly zombies. Alex, their manager, seems to be the one in control of Take 10, bringing them back to life after a plane crash had taken theirs years ago. Yet, we don't know anything about her either. Why would she bring these four singers back? What does she have to gain from this? Why is she so focused on getting a fifth member? I don't have the answers for these questions and neither does the script.

As for the so-called protagonists, they're just as bland. Shawn is the lead character of the film and does have a bit of dimension at times compared to everyone else. He wants to be a serious rock star, but on the advice of his girlfriend, decides to try out in order to gain some fame for a future solo career. He's the film's Justin Timberlake in that case. He's not deep or anything. I don't know why he lets his girlfriend tell him what to do. I don't know why he even goes along with everything when he shows he doesn't give a shit about the contest. But I can understand why he tries out and that's, at least, a small something. Doesn't make the film good though. As for Shawn's girlfriend, Stacy is such an underused plot device that I even wonder why she's even in the film to begin with. She doesn't really do anything at all and is just eye candy for the hetero males and lesbians - but she's not even eye candy you'll remember an hour later. She's pointless really. As for the other contestants, Max is just a cocky dude who happens to be the token black character. Jonah, the reporter, is only there to help Shawn figure out what's going on with Take 10 when Jonah records his death on a tape recorder. He's working for a major newspaper, yet no one from that agency bothered to check up on him to see if he was getting the story they asked for. Journalism is such a caring career, isn't it?

As for the zombie aspect of the film, there's barely any to speak of. Take 10 doesn't eat brains, but do love flesh I suppose. I couldn't tell since most of this takes place off-screen. But they do kill together instead of hunting alone. They also conduct rituals inside a cave, where they cut their victim open and drink their blood. I'm not sure what this is supposed to do - I guess they make them one with this person - but it doesn't seem to work at all the two times they're shown doing it. So I don't get what the point of this whole thing either. Maybe this rituals makes them stay young, but I can't confirm that because the script doesn't know itself. So it fails as a zombie film.

As for the resolution of the film, it's just ridiculous. In fact, a lot of moments in this film in the Final Act really are laughably done. I won't say how the zombies can be destroyed, but you can pretty much guess how since they perform voodoo rituals. The problem with this is that the zombies' weakness doesn't appear until the moment it happens, with no explanation on how Shawn knew how to stop them or that the weakness even existed to begin with! And how does Shawn find out about Take 10? Not only does he hear Jonah's tape, but he goes inside Take 10's cave and finds a drawer with old photos of the group in their different incarnations through the years.


I just laughed at how the information of Take 10's backstory was shared with the audience. I can't believe someone actually greenlit this screenplay. Unique concept but terrible execution.

DIRECTION - David DeCoteau's direction isn't the worst I've seen in my life. The picture does look nice and there is some bit of style every now and then. However, there are too many unnecessary montages throughout this film. When scenes transition, we get clips of a music video that Take 10 did with their original lead singer interspersed with the present action. Why is that needed? It doesn't add anything but grey hairs on my head. There's also a montage of Take 10 walking through some fog at night, with quick cuts and edits that had no place being there. And it lasted TWO FUCKIN' MINUTES!! Talk about filler! Also, we don't see the zombies eating people [I guess due to budget reasons]. And as with most modern DeCoteau films, RING OF DARKNESS has a bit of homoeroticism. Take 10 seem to do everything together: sing, dance, kill, and even have sex with groupies. Plus we get a lot of scenes of men shirtless and in tight underwear. It's not as blatant as in the BROTHERHOOD franchise, but it is there. No tension. No suspense. Not visually interesting either. This isn't DeCoteau's worst directed film, but I have seen him do a whole lot better.

EDGE FACTOR - RING OF DARKNESS is a very tame film. There's barely any edgy going for it. Hardly any foul language. While Ryan Starr is in a bikini and the male actors are shirtless every now and then, there's no sex scenes or nudity. As for violence, the only blood we see is when the victims of Take 10's sacrifice are cut with a knife. Other than that, nothing.

ACTING - The acting is mostly bland. Stephen Martines is probably the best actor as Shawn. He's not going to set the world on fire with his performance, but he's the highlight of an otherwise dead [no pun intended] cast. It seems like he cares about his character and attempts to make the most of it. He honestly deserved to be in a much better film. Baywatch's Jeremy Jackson has a monotone delivery but he wasn't annoying or anything. He tried at least. Adrienne Barbeau probably needed a paycheck because she seemed bored, or embarrassed, while playing Alex. The worst actor, by far, had to American Idol Season One contestant, Ryan Starr. Wow, this girl is really terrible. Not only was her acting not convincing, but I could barely understand 95% of what she was saying most of the time. It's like Starr was talking with a flesh colored microphone in her mouth. If she wasn't decent looking, her performance would be a complete disaster.

MUSIC - There are some generic rock and pop songs in the film. The biggest culprit, however, is Take 10's signature song. It plays a total of 7 times in the film - 4 or 5 times within the first 25 minutes. It's not a great song and it gets really old right away. If I had to pick the most horrifying thing about this movie, this song is probably it.

RING OF DARKNESS is just a really awful film. It's a zombie film that barely has zombies. It has boy band music that's terrible. It has actors that have no right acting in a film like this. And as B-movie horror, it fails to scare and be cheesy enough to be so bad that it's good. I'm saying bye, bye, bye, to RING OF DARKNESS as it goes into the WTF? Vault where it will never be watched again by me and hopefully all of you as well. And it won't even get to kiss my ass. I have a feeling Take 10 will like that too much.

0.5 Howls Outta 4


Psycho II (1983)

Richard Franklin

Anthony Perkins - Norman Bates
Meg Tilly - Mary
Vera Miles - Lila Loomis

Robert Loggia - Dr. Raymond

Dennis Franz - Warren Toomey

Hugh Gillin
- Sheriff John Hunt
Claudia Bryar - Mrs. Spool

Genre - Horror/Slasher/Thriller

Running Time - 113 Minutes

If there's one horror film discussed in film schools today, it's Alfred Hitchcock's legendary 1960 PSYCHO. The film that's widely considered the "Granddaddy of Slasher Films", PSYCHO has become an icon in cinema for its direction, storytelling, and the chills it gave its audiences 51 years ago. While I disagree [VERTIGO is my favorite Hitchock film], many others consider this the ultimate Hitchcock film. This is probably because it's the most well known, due to homages, parodies, and the fact that the shower scene is discussed in length in many universities.

However, there were some people who wanted more of Norman Bates story, feeling there was more to tell. No one really knows whether or not Hitchcock would have been appreciative of a second installment to Norman Bates' life, as sequels weren't really a big deal back in his day. However, after he passed in 1980, Robert Bloch [who had written the novel that PSYCHO was based on] released a second novel, Psycho II, in 1982. Depicting Norman Bates escaping a mental institution dressed as a nun, leading him towards Hollywood once he learns that a film is being made of his life, the novel did quite well on the Bestsellers List. However, Universal Studios [who owned distribution rights to PSYCHO and its sequels if they sought fit] disliked the novel since it criticized the very profitable splatter/slasher film craze at the time. So Universal hired Tom Holland, who would later become more famous for his direction and writing on 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT and 1988's CHILD'S PLAY, to write a script not related to the novel. The studio also hired Australian filmmaker and 1981's ROAD GAMES director Richard Franklin, who was a long time devotee of Hitchcock's and even became good friends with him during the last years of Hitchcock's life. With Anthony Perkins and Vera Miles returning to reprise their roles from the original, PSYCHO II was finally released on June 3, 1983 to generally positive critical and commercial success.

The question, even after 28 years, is whether PSYCHO II needed to exist at all. Was a sequel really necessary? Would Alfred Hitchcock have approved of this? Does the film still hold up after all these years? Let's return to the Bates Motel and see if we can find any answers.

Twenty-two years have passed since Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) was arrested for the murders he had committed as his late mother. Being rehabilitated at a mental institution, Norman is considered "sane" by the law and is released to the dismay of Lila Loomis (Vera Miles) - the sister of Marion Crane. He returns to live at the Bates Motel, still somewhat haunted by the events of his past, while trying to move on with his life by taking a job at a local diner.

At the diner, Norman meets a young waitress named Mary Samuels (Meg Tilly). After she splits up with her boyfriend, who kicks her out, Norman offers Mary free room and board at the Bates Motel. As soon as Mary stays at the hotel, weird things begin to happen around Norman. He starts receiving weird notes, supposedly written by his dead mother. He also receives phone calls from his mother. And of course, there are the murders of people associated to Norman in some way or another, making Norman look guiltier even though he proclaims his innocence. This starts to take a toll on Norman, driving him insane and making him wonder if he's picking up where he left off, or if someone close to him is behind this whole mess.

Let me get it out of the way: PSYCHO II should have never been made. While Robert Bloch can write how many novels about Norman Bates he wants since it's his story anyway, to do a sequel to a film that's considered iconic is not only ballsy, but pointless if the original film doesn't need a follow up. The original PSYCHO is a masterpiece that had a story with a clear beginning and a clear end. Norman Bates' story arc went full circle and left you satisfied. PSYCHO II is nothing but a cash-in on PSYCHO's popularity, sort of like TRON LEGACY was to TRON and those STAR WARS prequels were to the original trilogy. Were the newer stories interesting? To an extent. But were they necessary? Probably not. Yet even though it was made for money, PSYCHO II is a very well made sequel that not only manages to continue the story started in Hitchcock's film in a realistic and logical way, but manages to stand on its own through its crafty narrative that keeps you guessing what's real and what's not.

Tom Holland's screenplay is strong in many ways. For one, it never insults the original film. In fact, it embraces the elements and moments that made it such a huge phenomenon and pays homage to them. For example, Mary Samuels is obviously a play on the pseudonym Marion Crane used when she signed in to the Bates Motel in 1960 ["Marie Samuels"]. Speaking of names, Lila Loomis proves that she married Sam Loomis, who was her sister Marion's boyfriend in PSYCHO. Also, PSYCHO II's first murder doesn't occur until 40 to 45 minutes into the film, which follows the original's structure in terms of that film's first murder. We also have director Richard Franklin pulling a Hitchcock by appearing in a cameo playing a video game at the diner where Norman works. Tom Holland does the same, playing one of the Deputies. We also have a similarly structured shower scene, with peep hole watching but no murder this time. A car is pulled out of the same swamp Marion's car was sunk in, with a dead body inside. And someone gets stabbed at the top of the stairs and falls over the bannister, which is sort of similar to one of the death's in PSYCHO. Even some of the dialogue and a lot of Norman's habits seem to be taken right from the original film. It gives the viewer a sense of nostalgia and fondness for the original film, while admiring that the sequel reinvents these things to create its own look and feel.

As for the ending, which many PSYCHO fans still are not fond of, it doesn't bug me all that much. Yes, it sort of changes what was established in the original film. But I kind of feel that it just adds a whole new element to Norman's story. It doesn't take away what was done in the original film. It just puts a new twist on what we know about Norman's family, which really wasn't much at all. Do I think it needed to be done? Not at all. But I think it's an interesting twist that reveals what was really going down once Norman returned home, which gives insight to Norman's character and how things could have been prevented if he was just left alone. Plus, we get a sweet shovel swing because of it. So I'm good!

Another reason why the screenplay works so well is because of the characters, mainly Norman, Mary, and Lila. Norman, in particular, is just written wonderfully in PSYCHO II. Here's a guy we know is certifiably insane and dresses like his dead mother when he murders people. This is a person we should despise and expect will fall off the wagon and start killing people again. But Holland manages to make Norman the hero of the film, giving him a ton of sympathy and purity that the original PSYCHO also did but in a lesser manner. We watch Norman try and be a normal person. He works at a diner. He fires the Bates Motel's new manager because he's running the place to set up people with somewhere to sell drugs and sex, which makes Norman admirable with a set of morals. He invites Mary to stay at the hotel, knowing she needs a place to stay. In fact, he panics when she attempts to leave a few times because he's lonely and wants a friend he can confide in. Norman is quite the likeable guy until he starts receiving the calls and notes that aren't a figment of his imagination. He wants peace in his life, but outside forces won't let him achieve that. You can only push a man so far before he snaps, especially when he was very fragile to begin with. Norman is very much a fleshed out character even before this sequel, but the new problems he faces really give him more dimension.

As for Mary, she also comes across as likeable, even when we learn her true intentions with Norman. She seems like a normal girl with family and boyfriend problems, willing to protect Norman from anything bad by covering for him when cops begin to accuse him or murder and comforting him when he starts to lose it. Yes, Mary has ulterior motives when it comes to befriending Norman due to her connection with Lila Loomis [which I won't reveal how if you haven't seen the sequel for whatever reason]. Her job is to drive Norman mad and make him look bad in front of the community, but she has a conscience and begins to realize that Norman is just a normal person who just wants to be understood and loved. Obviously Norman soon learns what Mary's true purpose for being at the Bates Motel is, which doesn't lead to anything good. But Mary just seems like a regular girl who is caught up in a situation she signed up for but no longer wants any part of. In a lot of ways, she's like Marion Crane - she's done a bad thing, but has enough sense to realize it and wants to change to make things right. But knowing this is a continuation of the PSYCHO story, things don't always happen the way these characters want them to.

The real villain of the film is Lila Loomis herself. Ironically, she was one of the considered "heroes" of PSYCHO, as she helped reveal Norman's crimes to the world in order to get justice for her sister's murder. In PSYCHO II, Lila still wants justice but does it in a way that makes her worse than Norman ever was. She schemes to drive Norman nuts. She uses Mary as a way to find out info on him to use it against the guy. I get that Lila is still upset that the man who murdered her sister was released, but she just takes it a step too far. Instead of letting Norman live his life after he did his time, she wants to ruin everything he worked so hard for 22 years. She comes across as bitter, delusional, and even more crazy than Norman at times. A lot of PSYCHO fans were upset that Lila was changed this way in terms of character, but it's honestly realistic and just gives Lila depth. She believes she has good intentions, but her execution is severely flawed. It's human.

Unfortunately, there's not much focus on the other supporting characters. All of them, especially Mrs. Spool, Warren Toomey, and even Dr. Raymond, all come across as different and interesting. But there's just not enough depth to any of them, coming across more like archetypes rather than fully fleshed characters. Toomey is a sleazeball, a drug, and misogynistic - but that's as far as it goes. Dr. Raymond cares a lot for Norman and is quite likeable, but that's all we really know. And Mrs. Spool doesn't get to do a whole lot, even though she happens to be a very important part to the story when it really comes down to it. Obviously you can't focus the same spotlight on everyone and these characters are really meant to be cannon fodder at the end of it [after all, this is a thriller/slasher film]. But I think more attention on them, especially on Mrs. Spool, would have been great.

I think what makes Holland's script so powerful is that all the twists and turns that the film goes through really work. I won't go into detail about any of them, but they really make PSYCHO II its own film rather than trying to cash in on PSYCHO's success. The connection between Mary and Lila, the reason behind the notes and phone calls, whether Norman is really crazy or not - all these things plus others really structure the movie quite effectively. Just when you believe one thing, it ends up being something else. PSYCHO II feels more like a psychological thriller rather than a slasher film, which this film is and was intended to be. The movie is not about Norman Bates returning to the scene of the crime to recreate it with newer victims. It's about the mystery surrounding his return and the consequences that the answers have on Norman and his future. I wish more slashers had deep stories like this one has.

Speaking of slashers, PSYCHO II was made to capitalize on the slasher film boon of the early 1980s. While it's tamer than other slashers around this time, PSYCHO II still manages to have some sweet kills nonetheless. We get a knife right through the mouth, stabs in the back, a decapitated head, hands getting stabbed, a shovel to the head, and probably my favorite - someone getting stabbed in the chest that causes this character to fall, which pushes the knife in deeper. It's not a gore fest but it's violent enough to be effective, especially when the murder scenes aren't frequent.

The direction by Richard Franklin isn't as good as Alfred Hitchcock [who is really?], but it's still incredibly solid. The film is two hours long and it feels much less than that. The film looks great due to Director of Photography Dean Cundey, who's most famous for working with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN and other Carpenter films, as well other popular movies. Cundey helps Franklin make every frame and composition matter, washing out the film as well to create a moody atmosphere that Hitchcock would be proud of. I especially love the scenes that focus on the outside of the Bates Motel with the grey clouds moving overhead. Pretty chilling shots. Franklin, while paying homage to Hitchcock in certain scenes [loved the scenes shot overhead, like in the original PSYCHO], manages to make his own mark by maintaining a very focused film that happens to be quite suspenseful and gripping. He should be proud of his work on this sequel. I think Hitchcock would have been as well.

The score by Jerry Goldsmith isn't as good as Bernard Herrmann's in the original, but it works for the most part. Interestingly enough, one of Goldsmith's tunes was used in TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE when Franklin rejected it.

The acting in PSYCHO II is very good. Anthony Perkins does an amazing job portraying a much older Norman Bates, making him more sympathetic this time around. Perkins has more to play with than he does in the original PSYCHO, truly being able to flesh out Norman as a character - one we can like and wish to succeed, but be scared of at the same time. And when Perkins plays a crazy Norman, it's amazing and captivating to watch. Even though Perkins was typecast in these type of roles, he always made the most of them and PSYCHO II is no exception. Meg Tilly does well also as Mary. Her character isn't complex as Norman's, but it's layered for sure. She comes across as sweet and likeable at times and conniving during others. I thought she did a great job. Originally, Jamie Lee Curtis [daughter of PSYCHO shower victim, Janet Leigh] was offered the part but Curtis was ready to leave the horror genre at this point. Would have been interesting to see how she would have portrayed this character, but Tilly is solid in the role.

Funny bit of trivia: Perkins and Tilly didn't like each other on set. Apparently, Tilly had never watched PSYCHO at the time and didn't see why Anthony Perkins was such a big deal. Also, Perkins didn't like how good of an actress Tilly ended up being, worried that she would get the spotlight over him. The two would constantly bicker on the set, which caused a bit of frustration for Franklin. Pretty funny, if you ask me.

Vera Miles does really well, reprising her original role of Lila Loomis. Instead of playing the worried sister/detective, she's now the antagonist who can't believe Norman was released and will scheme to make sure he goes back behind bars. I really liked the change of character and thought Miles handled it quite well. Robert Loggia was cool as Dr. Raymond. Loggia is one of those guys you'd want in a film because he brings it every time. Dennis Franz played a douchebag quite convincingly. Not a huge cast, but all of them were great actors.


- Lila Loomis wanted people to protest and sign a petition to keep Norman Bates locked up for his crimes. Where was she when O.J. Simpson, Robert Blake, and Casey Anthony were released? Oh, they were "innocent" of their crimes. Allegedly.

- Warren Toomey, the new manager for the Bates Motel, has been using the location as a base for drugs and sex. Even after 22 years, people were still being penetrating at this infamous motel.

- A drunk Dennis Franz scares me. In this state, he's most likely to show his bare ass and I don't need to feel NYPD Blue while watching this.

- Norman's toilet and sink were leaking blood. I guess the bathroom isn't pregnant.

- Mary and Lila are scheming together to drive Norman nuts again by calling his phone, leaving strange notes, and even dressing up like his dead mother. Usually if I dress up as a dead person, it's Elvis Presley. But whatever floats your boat, I guess.

While the sequel isn't as classic nor a masterpiece like Hitchcock's original film, PSYCHO II is still a fantastic film that's better than it has any right to be. It takes real balls to follow up such a classic and iconic film, but I believe Richard Franklin and company did a phenomenal job helping create a sequel that's respectful to the original. It didn't change the horror genre like PSYCHO, but it still manages to be film that PSYCHO and horror fans should definitely check it out. Not just a solid sequel, but a solid horror film in its own right.

4 Howls Outta 4

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