Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Halloween hangover

With nothing recent of interest on the video store shelves (Dead Silence or The Invisible just weren't going to cut it), our Halloween viewing this year consisted of three vintage 1980s titles (no, not all on the same night). At least then when they're bad, they're '80s bad. Here's a recap, and I'm also throwing in The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which I just caught on TNT on my lazy Sunday evening.

Witchboard (1986)
For a movie that includes a little Ouija board inside the DVD case, there's precious little Ouija action in the film, and what there is isn't scary. Tawny Kitaen ("infamous '80s vixen," the box copy says) gets pestered by a demon and ultimately possessed, but much of it feels more like a high school grudge movie than a horror film as her boyfriend (Todd Allen) and former squeeze (Stephen Nichols of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives) butt heads. Verdict: &&

The Evil Dead (1982)
The best thing about The Evil Dead is its authentic backwoods location in eastern Tennessee. The movie goes for visceral shocks as a young party of five, looking to enjoy a weekend in the woods, conjures up death and demons by reading from a "book of the dead" found in the impossibly huge basement. Early on, one of the squealing girls runs through the woods in the middle of the night and is held down by limbs and vines for what appears to be a sexual assault. Everything else here is pointless blood and gore, and the characters are as blank as the cabin's furniture, but this somehow propelled director Sam Raimi to a career. The DVD booklet includes a fairly lengthy interview with the three screaming lasses, while the dts-ES soundtrack is utterly wasted. Verdict: &

The Entity (1981)
Easily the best of our Halloween batch, The Entity boasts a strong concept backed by potent performances. Barbara Hershey is single mom Carla Moran, who one evening notices things moving around in her bedroom and then is molested (common theme!) by an unseen force. The subsequent haunting activity is low-key (it was smart not to try to outdo The Exorcist) but completely effective, and the movie smartly pits the phenomena against the world of psychiatry as a doctor (Ron Silver) tries to convince Moran, who is tormented by fear and shame, that the experiences are not really happening. Ultimately, parapsychologists attempt to lure the entity into a trap. Based on a "true" story as novelized by Frank de Felitta, who researched the case, it is thoughtful and engaging in a way that few horror films ever try to be anymore. Verdict: &&&

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)
Fusing a sedate legal drama with exorcism horror, this one, based on a "true" story (common theme!), is competently made and certainly more sophisticated than the flood of teen-oriented horror dominating the mid-2000s. Anticipating climbing the ladder at her firm, defense attorney Erin Brunner (Laura Linney) takes the controversial case in which a priest (Tom Wilkinson) is charged with negligent homicide after performing an exorcism on Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). The movie delivers a few chills here and there as Rose first encounters the entity in her room and later becomes a screaming, wall-clawing banshee, but the most effective moments are arguably those in which the skepticism of Brunner is shaken. It's mildly entertaining on an idle evening, but the court scenes begin to drag between the high-energy demon scenes. Verdict: &&1/2


Daft Monk said...

I think you're right to point out that The Evil Dead is far from a great movie but assuming I remember correctly the movie was strictly diy and Raimi scrapped together something that resembled a major studio release which got him other projects because of his budget stretching skills. The good thing is that he realized that the tone didn't work so when he remade the movie in the far superior sequels he went light and let Bruce Campbell loose which eventually led to the best old spice commercials ever so it all evens out.

Jebb said...

Thanks for the link -- that's a hoot and I don't recall ever seeing it. You're probably right about Raimi -- it might have been the technical achievement more than the end result that worked for him. Of course, I am admittedly less interested in the cheesy and violent horror movies than movies like The Haunting, Poltergeist, The Ring, etc.

Daft Monk said...

We have similar sensibility since I generally don't have the stomach for violent films but love the ones you mentioned. The first Evil Dead is simply okay so I’m glad Rami went on to more interesting things.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

You have really brought back memories. I have watched Witchboard when it came out in the cinemas! And also Evil Dead on videotape then. Heh.

Funny that both of you should mention that, I don't care for gore or violence either.

Jebb said...

Saw Witchboard in the theater, eh? Perhaps it worked better on the big screen. I'm trying to catch up on some older horror films, especially from the 1980s. The Fog is one of the biggies I am still yet to see.

Karl Hungus said...

I think you're pretty hard on The Evil Dead, the film did create a very potent atmosphere, and the possessed girl who was laughing absolutely creeped the hell out of me when I first saw it.

Really have to watch it again.

Jebb said...

Maybe Karl is right. I did consider giving it 1.5 medals instead of just one! I'll agree, the possessed bee-otch under the floorboards is one of the most effective things in the movie. The location was the most effective thing it had, but I think it's mostly squandered.