Thursday, November 1, 2007

Another Halloween Video Party

Well last Sunday I attended another Halloween video party, a long-standing one with some friends of mine and their kids. Now that the kids are growing up, we’ve decided to up the terror quotient a bit and away from the Universal and Hammer standbys (as good as those films are).

We started out with the original “Halloween” oops, sorry, make that “John Carpenter’s Halloween” (1978), a film I’ve never cared for and this recent viewing did nothing to change my opinion. Everyone knows the story by now, so I’ll say I find Jamie Lee Curtis’ girlfriends in this movie pretty obnoxious and not at all likeable. I think the pacing is slack and I find the whole movie something of a bore. My dad and I saw this in 1978 on a Saturday night at a packed house at the Dolton Theatre and both of us walked out wondering what the big deal was. Donald Pleasance is always a welcome presence in any movie and he’s fine here, but when all is said and done it’s pretty dull. Carpenter’s musical score is pretty good for an amateur, but he hasn’t written anything good since and someone should tell him to hire a professional composer to score his movies.

I’ve never thought Carpenter was a particularly good director. “John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness” (1987) is one of the worst horror movies of all time, as is “John Carpenter’s Vampires” (1998), a film so awful on every level it left me angry that I had wasted my time with it. Even seeing “Vampires” on a Saturday night with two women (giddy up!) did nothing to quench the loathing I felt for “Vampires.”

I’ve always been irked by the possessor credit he puts in the titles of his movies. Films are a collaborative art but putting his name in the titles really irritates me, none more so than when he adapted (very badly) “Christine”, the classic Stephen King novel about a possessed car. Of course when Johnny Boy put it out it became “John Carpenter’s Christine.” No, I don’t think so. He didn’t come up with the story, characters, or situations. To put his name in the title like that strikes me as hubris of the worst kind. If it was modified to read “John Carpenter’s Production of Christine” that would be one thing, but not “John Carpenter’s Christine.” Who does he think he is? Stephen King should have sued.

Rating for “Halloween”: Two stars, which makes it John Carpenter’s best film.

Next up was a classic from my youth “Count Yorga, Vampire” (1970) starring Robert Quarry in the title role. This tale of a vampire stalking modern-day Southern California is a low-budget goodie filled with genuinely creepy moments. Containing none of the tortured self-doubt that curse modern day vampires, one gets the feeling that Count Yorga thrills in his existence and the vampiric thrall he holds over people. Plus, the film has one of the most effective “pulling aside the drapes to have a face staring in at you” sequences I’ve ever seen.

I first saw this film in 1971, when I was nine years old. We didn’t do a lot of traveling as a family, so when my dad would take his vacation in the summer we would have a week of day trips and each of us was allowed to do something he or she wanted to do. My choice was to drag the family (on a gorgeous summer day) to the Bremen Theaters in Tinley Park to see a double feature of Count Yorga and Vincent Price in “The Abominable Dr. Phibes.” (1971). My parents were appalled at the graphic quality of the sex and violence (for a PG-rated film) and the bosomy presence of Yorga’s vampire brides. They absolutely refused me permission to see the sequel “The Return of Count Yorga” (1971) when it played at the Dolton. We all enjoyed Dr. Phibes however, and that memorable double feature has now entered the family lore.

Interesting bit of trivia: The film’s score was composed by Bill Marx, son of Harpo. Anytime one can work the Marx Brothers into a discussion is a good thing.

Rating for “Count Yorga, Vampire”: Three stars.

The last movie of the festival was “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984). 1984? Sheesh, where does the time go? The first film to introduce Freddy Krueger, the first Nightmare film kicked off one of the better and more imaginative of the horror franchises. Wes Craven can out-direct Carpenter any day of the week, and the story of a dead serial killer who can enter his victim’s dreams to kill them still holds up. I just wish the ending was stronger. Like so many movies today, the directors and writers don’t know when to stop and insist on giving us two or three climaxes when only one would do. The film is also noteworthy of introducing Johnny Depp, though, to be fair, his performance here gives no indication of the acting powerhouse he would be down the line.

Rating for “A Nightmare on Elm Street”: Three stars.

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