October 2005

Top 10 Halloween Films

by Aaron on October 31, 2005

in Essays 

Take a gander at our hard-fought-over Top 10 list of the scary movies you need on your itinerary tonight. From the classics to the cult-faves, these are the films guaranteed to make your All Hallow’s Eve a scream-fest to remember.

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You’d think a Top 10 list of scary movies wouldn’t be a difficult list to put together, but wrangling a consensus from the varied and passionate opinions of the staff of RazorFine proved to be more of an endeavor than we imagined.  Though in the end we hammered out a list of the films we think make for the best Halloween viewing.  Presented (in no particular order, seeing as that might have prompted a nuclear war among us) is our semi-definitive list. 

Behold!

  • The Exorcist:

    30 years (and 2 sequels and 2 prequels) later, William Friedkin’s exploration of a young girl possessed by demonic forces still proves to be a powerhouse of the genre. Not just a great scary movie, it’s a great movie period. And one of the few horror films to ever win an Oscar. Okay, so it was for best sound but still…. A couple years back The Exorcist was re-released with more footage and Dolby Digital sound, adding even more visceral punch to an already turbulent film experience. You’ll never look at a pea soup the same way again.

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  • The Shining:

    Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of his novel, but film fans recognized it for the gem it truly is. Just as much the story of one man going completely insane as it is a ghost story, The Shining works on multiple levels as a horror film. Sure, there’s ghosts, ghouls, and bloody twin girls haunting the Overlook Hotel, but Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) is the real monster here, losing his mind and trying to axe murder his own family when he thinks they’re holding him back from finishing his novel. Big Wheels and Bear Suits take on new levels of weirdness here-in, and on top of everything else it’s got Scatman Crothers. Bonus points for showcasing the greatest two paintings of all time.

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  • Dawn of the Dead:

      While many of us here at RazorFine would like to completely forget Land of the Dead, Romero would have to make about 50 atrocious movies to erase our fondness for Dawn of the Dead, the semi-sequel to his iconic Night of the Living Dead.  Night was more ground-breaking, and Day of the Dead was a hell of a lot gorier, but Dawn of the Dead found Romero walking the fine line between commentary and cautionary film-making.  The finest exploration of human behavior in a zombie filled world, Romero used his zombies as stand-ins for the mindless consumer culture just exposed to the concept of a shopping mall, while also taking a hard look at what people will do to make a life for themselves in every situation.  There are some stand-out moments in this film and, while it’s not the scariest movie you’ll ever see, it’s certainly one of the most well-thought-out horror films you’ll come across.  Ken Foree just owns as the cop who leads a small group to survival in the confines of a massive shopping mall.  The recent remake had 17 minutes of greatness that still can’t make the power of it’s inspiration.

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  • Evil Dead 2:

    Sam Raimi may be the master of Spider-Man now, but for many, many years he was the cult-director who gave us the double whammy of Deadites and chin-tastic actor Bruce Campbell.  The first Evil Dead is scarier, and Army of Darkness is infintely more quoteable, but like Goldilocks figured out, the middle one is sometimes the best.  Evil Dead 2 keeps you balanced between screaming and laughing as you hang out with the intrepid Ash, whose adventures have made him crazier than the beasties he’s fighting.  After all, it’s not many heros who would lop off their own hand and replace it with a jury-rigged chainsaw.  Bruce Campbell is kind of like the B-movie Indiana Jones, in that it’s not how much ass he kicks, but how much damage he takes throughout the process.  Raimi utterly tortured Campell during the course of this film, and every slapstick minute of it is loving captured.  Zombies, dismembered (and angry) limbs, naughty, naughty trees, and more insanity that you can shake a stick at.  A true classic worthy of your time.

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  • Poltergeist:

    Director Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) ruined clowns for an entire generation with his tale of a family under siege from the malevolent spirits inhabiting their suburban dream home. Diminutive psychics, maggot filled steaks, crazy clown dolls, killer trees, and a swimming pool full of fun awaits you if you take some time to visit with the Freeling family. Though it’s a toss up which is creepier: the evil ghosts or precocious Carol Anne.

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  • Halloween:

    C’mon, it’s even CALLED Halloween. John Carpenter set the standard for creepy with nothing more than a synthesizer and a translucent William Shatner mask. Much like his hockey-fan lake dwelling peer Jason Vorhees, masked maniac Michael Meyers don’t take kindly to the teens with their sexin’ and loose ways, and he’s escaped the asylum he’s been rotting in to paint the town red. You know he’s a bad seed if for nothing else than stabbing his sister to death when he was 6 years old. He didn’t take into account the combined power of Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, though. While there have been numerous sequels, once again the first entry is the best of the breed.

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  • The Omen:

    And you thought your kid was a terror. How’d you like to find out your kid is the literal Anti-Christ? Gregory Peck and Lee Remick have parental anxiety as the parents of said hell-spawn, which they don’t figure out until the nanny’s hung herself, a priest is skewered by a falling steeple, and well…all manner of bad happenings. It’s got both 70’s corny charm and some seriously disturbing undercurrents. You’ll find yourself crossing Damien off the baby-name list pretty damn quick afterwards.

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  • Nightmare on Elm Street:

    Ah, nothing says lucrative franchise like a child-murdering burn victim with a knife glove, does it? The first time out Freddy was pun-free and a lot more vicious as he sliced his way through the rambunctious teens of Elm Street. A young Johnny Depp learns the dangers of impure thoughts (and water-beds), but the horrific slice-and-dice of a sex-crazed teen (while her boyfriend looks on) is a great horror moment. It’s too bad the sequels turned Freddy into a bad comedian, as the first Elm Street really packed a punch that stuck with you for a long, long time.

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  • Alien:

    While it’s overshadowed by it’s balls-to-the-wall sequel, the first film stands out as one of the best monster movies of all time. A nigh-unstoppable biological killing machine let loose in the claustrophobic confines of a deep space freighter. In addition to one of the greatest cinematic monsters of all time, this film also introduced audiences to the simply excellent Sigourney Weaver and the twisted artistic visions of creature designer H.R. Giger. Everything about this film screams bio-terror, from the egg pod field, to the facehuggers, to the chest-bursting alien pup. Bonus points for showcasing the evils of robots.

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  • Dead Alive:

    Peter Jackson may be the Lord of the Rings, but this low-budget bloodbath is the high (or low, depending) watermark for over-the-top guts and gore. Seriously, this film makes Romero’s zombie films look like E.T.  And all thanks to the poisonous effects of the Sumatran Rat Monkey, whose bit turns victims into crazed flesh eating zombies, who need to be dispatched as horrifically as possible. Just as much an exercise in making viewers queasy as it is a horror film, Dead Alive (or Brain Dead as it’s known in some parts of the world) shows you new uses for your lawnmower, and may put you off pudding for life.

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  • Ringu:

    America got a much more effects heavy remake of this ground-breaking Japanese horror classic, but the original out-scares it’s big budget children through sheer will alone. After all, when a film-maker can instill fear with nothing more than a Polaroid and a turned off television set, you know there’s some serious scares going on. While a big part of the film gets bogged down with the detective story going on, the sad and scary tale of little terror Sadako has a creep factor that will keep you jumpy well after the film is over. While we’ve been overrun with J-Horror remakes in recent years (with many more to come apparently), it’s easy to forget what makes the originals so powerful. Japan has a much more storied (and respected) ghost story history, and the willingness of filmmakers to let those ghosts remained somewhat unexplained just adds to the flavor.

     

 

Well, that takes care of that.  Like all lists, this one isn’t meant to be a definitive answer to what makes the best Halloween movies as much as it’s meant to maybe open your eyes to some unknown classics, or just get you started on making your own list.  Fire away in the comments and let us know what you think.  And most importantly, Happy Halloween.

The Ninth Gate

by Alan Rapp on October 31, 2005

in Uncategorized

Some books are dangerous.  Johnny Depp is hired to compare the last three remaining copies of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows to find the one true copy and the secret which lies inside the mysterious engravings – the knowledge to summon the devil himself!

The Ninth Gate
4 & 1/2 Stars

Roman Polanski at his best gave us Chinatown and at his worst gave us PiratesThe Ninth Gate is a great suspenseful mystery as Johnny Depp is thrust into the world of the occult and dark knowledge.  One of Polanski’s, and Depp’s, best films.

Some Books are Dangerous

The film opens with an older gentleman, Andrew Telfer (Willy Holt), just finishing his affairs one evening.  He then gets up from his desk and very matter of factly hangs himself from the chandelier of his study.  The camera pans to the books of his study for in this film knowledge can bring both power and death.

Dean Corso (Johnny Depp) deals in finding rare and expensive books, a book detective if you will.  His methods do not endear him to his competition as he will often sneak, lie, and trick his way into obtaining the object of his desire.  A very wealthy client Boris Balkan (Frank Langella) purchased Telfer’s copy of The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows which was written in 1666 by Aristede Torchia before he was killed during the Inquisition for heresy and almost every copy was burned.  The book is a translation Delomelonicon rumored to be written by Satan himself supposedly acquired and translated by Torchia before his death.  Some believe the Nine Gates may contains clues on how to summon the Devil himself.

Balkan now owns one of only three remaining copies in existence and wishes Corso to authenticate that his is the original, and if not obtain the true copy from one of the other owners, no matter the cost.

The Book

Corso accepts the assignment, but soon finds him in over his head in a world of deceit, greed, and murder.  He is followed by a beautiful woman Emmanuelle Singer.  Is she friend, protector, competitor, or foe?  He is attacked by Telfer’s widow (Lina Olin) who believes in the power of the book and will do anything to get back what she believes is her property.

Odd occurrences, dead bodies, and attempts on his life make Corso consider abandoning the project all together, but he has become caught in the mystery.  He has stumbled on the secret of these three books hidden in the engravings and the only questions that remain are:  Will he live long enough to interpret them?  And what happens if it the nine gates are open?

This is just a mesmerizing tale that weaves its characters through a world of danger, deceit, and deception.  There are no heroes here, no white knights; everyone has their own agenda, even our protagonist.  In a lesser film Corso would become the reluctant hero and do what is right because the script calls for him to do so.  Here Polanski lets the story play out, allowing his characters to be interesting without trying to force them to be likable or noble.

Polanski slowly builds the tension and paranoia offering glimpses of understanding and knowledge, but like a good magician never showing us the entire truth.  Shooting much of the movie in Euope gives the film an old world style which adds to the mystique of the centuries old mystery held within the pages of a book.

Mysterious Woman

Depp is excellent as always; this is one of my favorite roles of his career.  Polanski finds just the right supporting cast to fill in this world of shadow and dark secrets.  Langella and Singer are both outstanding in their roles.  I also enjoyed Barbara Jefford as the demonolgist Baroness Kessler and Jose Lopez Rodero in the dual role of the Ceniza brothers.

This was one of many “devil” films that Hollywood shot out in a short period of time—End of Days, Bless the Child, The Devil’s Advocate among others.  Ninth Gate succeeds where they fail by playing on the seductive nature of knowledge and power rather than casting or creating a huge CGI devil creature (like Pacino in Advocate).

The DVD contains the trailer and a very short two-minute featurette on the making of the movie with on set interviews with Johnny Depp, Frank Langella, and Roman Polanski. 

While not your average scary movie, The Ninth Gate is something much more interesting.  Polanski’s film is a thoughtful and suspenseful movie with great performances and wonderful direction.  The world we are thrust into is a confusing and violent one, but the out isn’t to slay the beast or stop armaggedon.  Here only knowledge can save you, but that knowledge has the power to destroy you as well.  Every choice has a consequence and Polanski take devilish care in showing us only about half of what is going on so that even the revelations lead to more questions.  The Ninth Gate is a maze where each turn provides startling suprises and the end is always close but never quite within reach as the suspense builds from the very first scene until the end credits.

Horror From Months Long Past

by Alan Rapp on October 31, 2005

in Uncategorized

Don’t check out Razor every day?  Too lazy to work your way through the index for horror posts?  Well no need to fret true believers.  We’ve got ‘em all, the good, the bad, and the horrifically ugly.  Enjoy!

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Reviews of previous Halloween type movies for your pleasure all organized here.  Just click on the link and read the review.  It’s like magic….dark magic.

The Good


The Bad

 

The Horrifically Ugly


 

Trick or Treat

by December Lambeth on October 31, 2005

in Contests 

Click on comments below and give us a short snip or quote from your favorite scary movie. Then shoot us a quick email to be entered in our drawing to win Fly 1 and Fly 2 on DVD. Hey, we will even throw in a couple of shirts, posters and hats to sweeten the pot.

ENTER NOW!

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Saw & Saw II

by Tim Dodd on October 28, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

I just saw Saw. I saw Saw II first, which prompted me to see Saw as a bit of “research” for what would hopefully be a “well-written” review of Saw’s sequel, Saw II. If you saw Saw, then you may or may not want to see Saw II too. Cos’ I just found out that Saw is much better than Saw II. Sorry to burst horror movie fans’ bubbles, but it’s what we do best here at Razorfine.

After seeing Saw II my main thought was “wow… the idea had promise, but in true Hollywood fashion, they effed it up with plot convolutions that make episodes of The Prisoner look like The Wiggles.” I mean, it wasn’t horrible, but it left a lot to be desired as far as movies that I’d ever really want to see again even for free go. This, of course, made me want to see Saw and try to figure out how a sequel was even made. Well, I found out.

Saw II
2 & 1/2 Stars

I just saw Saw. I saw Saw II first, which prompted me to see Saw as a bit of “research” for what would hopefully be a “well-written” review of Saw’s sequel, Saw II. If you saw Saw, then you may or may not want to see Saw II too. Cos’ I just found out that Saw is much better than Saw II. Sorry to burst horror movie fans’ bubbles, but it’s what we do best here at Razorfine.

After seeing Saw II my main thought was “wow… the idea had promise, but in true Hollywood fashion, they effed it up with plot convolutions that make episodes of The Prisoner look like The Wiggles.” I mean, it wasn’t horrible, but it left a lot to be desired as far as movies that I’d ever really want to see again even for free go. This, of course, made me want to see Saw and try to figure out how a sequel was even made. Well, I found out.

For those of you who might have missed it (much like I did), Saw is actually a pretty good movie. It has Cary Elwes and Danny Glover in it, for chrissakes. Cary Elwes was Robin Hood! Oh yeah, he was also the main guy in that Princess Bride movie that youngsters seem to like so much, but he was in Hot Shots too! And Danny Glover was in Silverado. Silver-fuckin’-rado, the best goddamn western ever made starring Kevin Kline and Brian Dennehy. Ok, so Cary and Danny aren’t at the top of the heap these days, but Danny Glover was in Lethal Weapon (and Operation Dumbo Drop)!!!

Who does Saw II have in it? Donnie Wahlberg. I won’t make any jokes about how he was in New Kids on the Block (Aaron already did when we were in the theater) because I think his acting is actually pretty good in this. But still, he’s no Danny Glover (Lonesome Dove, anyone?)

So Saw is basically about these two guys who wake up in a dirty bathroom chained to the wall and staring at a dead body in the middle of the room. They soon figure out that some sicko has captured them and is making them play a game in order to save their own lives. Cary Elwes is one of the two guys, a stuffy doctor whose wife and kid have also been kidnapped by the sicko. The other dude in the room is a wacky photographer who’s been spying on Cary. Cary is given instructions that he must kill the photographer guy before 6 a.m. or his wife and kid go bye-bye. The two are each given saws and a few other little “game pieces” in order to carry on the play.

Danny Glover is a police detective who is on the case of a serial-killer-like guy they call “Jigsaw” who has been kidnapping people and putting them through elaborate tests of their character, which usually end in their deaths. Jigsaw is obviously the one in control of the proceedings in the bathroom, and Danny does his best to find the killer (then again, by this point in the fairly intricate story he’s been slashed in the throat, discharged from duty, and is insane… don’t ask).

Alright, I’m gonna spoil some stuff for you guys and gals that haven’t seen Saw, so if you wanna see this stuff for yourselves, skip to the next paragraph. We think that the guy in charge of this sick stuff is an orderly at the hospital in which Cary works and that he’s Jigsaw. Cary’s been banging a student doctor and it’s affecting his marriage. Jigsaw is trying to teach him a lesson about appreciating one’s family as well as giving the photographer a lesson on why he shouldn’t spy on people. But then, there’s a twist!!! The Disorderly Orderly is actually under orders from another guy, an old cancer patient of the good doctor’s who has flipped his lid since he discovered his own mortality. The old guy is really Jigsaw, and after Cary’s wife and kid have escaped from the orderly, gunshots are fired, Cary goes nuts and saws his own foot off to escape, shoots the photographer, the orderly comes in, the photographer gets up (he was only faking it) and bashes the orderly’s head in with a toilet tank cover. Cary slithers away for help, the dead body in the middle of the room rises… it’s Jigsaw and he’s ready to rumble. Well, not really. He just gives the photographer a little shock treatment, and locks the dude up in the room to rot. Oh yeah, he gets in a clever quip: “Game over!”

Was that confusing? Are you wondering what the hell I was just going on about? Are you thinking “Wow, this Tim guy is insane… I’m gonna go read what some guy on IMDB has to say”? Well, good! I’m just trying to weed out the pussies. And yeah, I am insane. Insane about movies. Let’s continue.

For Saw II, Jigsaw is back, and he’s dyin’ to teach some other sinners a lesson. He’s kidnapped Detective Eric Mason’s (Donnie Wahlberg) son and locked him in a house with a group of other kidnappees. He’s set up an (of course) elaborate game for all of them to play and, as in the first movie, gives the “players” a series of choices to make. Bad choices end in death (and a lesson, I guess).

Mason has been lured into finding Jigsaw and, with the aid of a SWAT team of sorts, finds Jigsaw’s hideout and comes face to face with the cancer patient himself. This withering old mad reveals to Mason that his son is part of the elaborate game and action shifts back and forth between the happenings at the house and the not-so-happenings at the hideout.

While Mason isn’t able to follow simple instructions at the hideout, dude’s son and others are back at the house being pumped full of poisonous gas. They have two hours to find antidotes for the gas’s effects which are hidden throughout the house and usually attached to some sort of puzzle or trap. If they don’t get out of the house within those two hours, the gas will kill them.

I can’t tell you any more of the plot, really, because it would spoil all the fun. Oh, wait, it really wasn’t all that fun. That’s sort of the point of this review… to tell you what was wrong with Saw II. So here we go…

First of all, Saw was compelling because it focused on the victims in the bathroom. We pretty much found out about stuff as they did. Since the emphasis is on the action, the two victim’s back stories, and the “what-the-fuck?”-ness of it all, there really isn’t too much time to think about plot holes. In Saw II, a lot of screen time is given to Jigsaw and the machinations of his evil plot. The emphasis keeps going away from the victims and to the drama between Jigsaw and Detective Mason, which really isn’t that interesting. It ends up laying bare the sheer ridiculousness of the plot and the impossibility of the intricacies involved.

What do I mean by “impossibility of the intricacies involved?” Basically, Jigsaw gives these people choices to make from several options. So many things that end up happening depend on the characters making certain choices that only a god would be able to anticipate. Jigsaw has set up an elaborate game in which like a million things have to happen in a certain way for the whole thing to work and, guess what? It works! It’s just stupid. Unlike Saw, Saw II is elaborate just for the sake of being elaborate.

Another thing that bugs me about this movie is that while the first one was a strange and disturbing horror mystery, this one comes off as just another serial killer movie. There are even parts that rip off Silence of the Lambs and Seven. Also, I like gore and violence in movies when it’s done right – with humor and cleverness. The gore and violence in Saw II is just mean-spirited, cold, and deadly serious. Certain scenes just kind of made me nauseous, and not in that good Dead Alive way. More in that “I just saw nine minutes of French rape” way, just not as shameful.

Alright, it’s time to put a cap on this one. Saw actually impressed me a bit. It left me feeling disturbed, thoughtful, and highly entertained. Saw II just left me scratching my head. There will be those that think it’s the best horror movie ever, or even the best movie of 2005, like some doofus on IMDB has already shared with us. Those are who this movie is made for, I suppose. If you’ve read this entire review, you’re probably either going to see it in the theater or rent it anyway, so let me just say that I kinda warned you. It’s not godawful by any means, it’s just not all that great.