Archive for the Psychos Category

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: GIRLS NITE OUT (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, B-Movies, Grindhouse, Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Psychos, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on March 7, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 61:
I’ll Take a Couple of Bear Claws, Please…
By Nick Cato

Girl's Nite Out poster Among the endless list of 80s slasher films is GIRLS NITE OUT (1982), a semi-dud that at least tried to be a bit different from the crowd. Tried to be. The above newspaper ad made it seem much more exploitative than it is, and did a fine job of luring high school sophomores like myself into the theater, which in this case was the (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema.

A young man is found hanging at a sanitarium in his bathroom. When two gravediggers are digging his grave, they’re both attacked and buried. The film quickly had the crowd’s attention.

We’re then taken to a college where the basketball team has just won a championship game. The entire school is in a festive mood, and we learn the female students will be having a scavenger hunt the next day (because, you know, what better way to celebrate a sports victory than with an all-female scavenger hunt?). But of course the night of the game there’s a serious party, where everyone talks about the poor guy who is now at the local nuthouse for killing his girlfriend, unaware he has hung himself. Then the film takes a tedious nose-dive as the students fight like junior-high students over girlfriends and boyfriends and generally act like idiots for approximately 20 minutes (although it seemed like an hour).

After the party, the guy who is the team mascot is murdered in his dorm room, and the unseen assailant steals his bear costume. I need to pause (paws?) here to say that my friends and I laughed our butts off over this development and didn’t hear a word the police were saying when they came to investigate the next morning.

Later the next day, a local DJ starts giving clues as to where the scavenger hunt items are, and our goofy “college” students listen in on their small portable radios. Meanwhile, our mysterious killer customizes the bear suit by attaching serrated knives to a wood block then placing it where the claws should be (NOTE: this predated Freddy Krueger) and prepares to go on a rampage.

It takes a good half hour or more for the killings to begin, as GIRLS NITE OUT tried a bit too hard in its first section to make us sympathetic to these throw-away characters. There are also a few subplots that don’t amount to much, and although most of the kill scenes are dark, they are gory, but I just couldn’t help myself from giggling whenever the bear-suited killer shows up. Neither could the crowd.

Like most 80s slashers, there are suspects all over the place, and a couple of kill scenes are quite brutal (especially one poor lass who is ripped to pieces then left to die chained up in the shower). But again, whenever the bear-suited killer is seen, the face is just so silly-looking, it’s hard to take any of this seriously (and you can forget about any genuine tension).

In the “shock” ending, we discover the killer is the sister of the guy who hung himself at the beginning of the film. She is told by our hero cop that her brother is dead, but she claims he’s fine, and shows him his corpse in a freezer. Yep…it’s multiple personality time again, folks (sorry for the spoiler).

I guess the only people who will enjoy this are serious slasher completists and those with an unusual thing for bear costumes. The killer, played by Rutayna Alda, does a good enough job despite her non-threatening countenance (which she later used to her advantage the same year in AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982) and on soap operas like SANTA BARBARA and AS THE WORLD TURNS). Fans of cutie-pie Julia Montgomery (of the REVENGE OF THE NERDS films) might also want to take a look, as she’s the main star here.

In the end, the crowd seemed indifferent, I left still laughing over the idea of a slasher in a bear suit, and one of my friends’ hatred of the horror genre was strengthened.

GO TEAM!

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

Don’t go near the window…especially when a maniac in a bear suit is at large!

“”

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STOKER (2013)

Posted in 2013, Family Secrets, Intense Movies, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psychological Thrillers, Psychos, Serial Killers, Women in Horror with tags , , , , , on March 6, 2013 by knifefighter

STOKER (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Stoker-Official-Trailer

Most people who read Cinema Knife Fight regularly will recognize the name Chan-wook Park. He is the Korean director of such highly regarded films as J.S.A.: JOINT SECURITY AREA (2000), the vampire movie THIRST (2009) and his renowned “Vengeance Trilogy”: SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002),  OLDBOY (2003), and LADY VENGEANCE (2005). His new movie, STOKER, is something of a milestone, since it’s his first movie made in English. For someone known for his violent, uncompromising brand of cinema, the question that immediately springs to mind is, how much did he have to tone things down to work in America (and within the MPA’s rating system)? The answer is, not too much.

STOKER is kind of a riff on Alfred Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943), with its story of a young girl and a visiting Uncle Charlie. Here, the girl’s name is India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and her father has just died in a car accident. She has a strained relationship with her mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman). And, just as they’re burying India’s father, dad’s brother Charlie (Matthew Goode) makes a surprise appearance and announces he is going to stay with the two women for a little visit. The thing is, Uncle Charlie is a dangerous man.

He’s also a man of mystery. He has traveled around the world and is eager to meet his niece, even though she had no clue he even existed. For some reason, India’s parents never told her about her uncle, and she finds this kind of odd, especially since Uncle Charlie is such a larger-than-life character.  With his  sunglasses, cool demeanor, and charismatic charm, Charlie is a breath of fresh air in India’s life, which has been reduced to just of her and her mother, who seems a bit “unbalanced.” Mom sleeps most of the day, drinks to excess and has mood swings. Charlie, in contrast, always seems completely in control and gives India all the attention she could want.

At first, things are strained between India and her uncle. She refuses to speak to him, gets angry when he shows up at school to give her rides home (she avoids him and takes the bus instead) and seems to regard him as an intruder. But over time, India warms to him. A very sexually charged duet on piano – a very intense scene – clinches the fact that they are destined to be co-conspirators of one kind or another. Although it’s not clear at first if he’s more interested in her mother or her.

By the time the bodies start piling up, we know Charlie for what he is, and slowly uncover his past and where he really was when he was supposedly traveling around the world. But the big question is, what is India? Is she a soul mate to Charlie, like the older man surely wants, or is she a strong-willed individual who will make the ultimate moral decisions on her own?

It doesn’t help that she feels completely isolated as the movie begins. It seems that her father, who she went on regular hunting trips with (there are taxidermied animals around the house—mostly birds that India killed), was her only friend and confidante. Her relationship with her mother is terrible. At school, she’s the “weird girl” who does well in academics, but is a complete outcast among the other kids. A group of boys who have targeted her are especially cruel. Constantly insulting her, making innuendos and basically harassing her, these boys seem more like predators than schoolmates. In one jolting scene, a school bully actually tries to punch her when she refuses to be cowed and insults him back, but his fist meets the sharp end of a pencil instead of his intended target. It seems as if India isn’t safe at school, and yet, she knows how to keep enemies at bay and survive.

When she meets a boy who defended her at school in a parking lot (an action that is in direct reaction to seeing her mother and Charlie sharing an intimate moment), even this degenerates.

So India is more than ready for someone like Charlie to step into her life and offer a way out. A different way. And while it seems enticing at first, she is bound to have reservations when she has to make real life and death decisions.

stoker-poster

While not as physically violent as the Korean films that made Chan-wook Park’s reputation, STOKER seethes with an internal violence that colors most of what we see. Speaking of which, the cinematography by Park veteran Chung-hoon Chung is pretty remarkable here. There are some strong images, like children making angels in the sand (or on their beds); a spider crawling up a nyloned leg; flowers sprayed with blood (an image that reminded me of something similar in Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED, a very different kind of movie); an overhead light in a basement rocking back and forth; that all add another layer to the proceedings.

The script here is by Wentworth Miller, who is also an actor (you may remember him as Michael Scofield, one of the leads on PRISON BREAK, 2005 – 2009), and it’s a good one. Park makes it his own, though, and even if he is not proficient in English, his images transcend language.

The cast is top-notch. Nicole Kidman continues to take on quirky roles in interesting movies, when she could be appearing in more Hollywood blockbuster fare, and I enjoyed her here as the damaged mom, who finds herself competing with India for Charlie’s affections. She doesn’t seem all that broken up when her husband dies. Days later she’s playing tennis with Charlie.  But there’s something in her eyes at times, that there’s a part of her that’s crushed. Goode is suitably creepy as Uncle Charlie (he also played Ozymandias in WATCHMEN, 2009) and believable as a psycho who can seem unhinged at times, and other times is completely calm and collected, and pretty cool. But the main attraction here is Mia Wasikowska, who previously played the character  Sophie in the great HBO series, IN TREATMENT (the 2008 season),  but who is better known for playing Alice in Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND (2010). Here, she plays a tortured girl who might just have murder in her DNA, and it’s an especially brave performance.

My only complaint is that sometimes India seems a little too wrapped up in her own world. Not that I don’t think there are real girls like this, but she seems a little Wednesday Addams-ish at times. And while she is the target of cruelty from the boys at high school, just where are the girls?  In the school scenes we see, she appears to be the only girl in her school. Or rather, any other girls seem to disappear on the fringes in these scenes. Not that I would expect someone like India to have female friends, but you would think the girls in her school could be as cruel as the boys. Instead, they simply aren’t there.

And speaking of people who simply aren’t there, some characters “disappear” rather abruptly and no one seems concerned about them. A maiden aunt, Gwen Stoker (Jacki Weaver, who also played Bradley Cooper’s mom in last year’s SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK) comes to visit, intending to perhaps warn the Stoker girls about delightful houseguest Charlie. It doesn’t take long before she’s among the missing, but none of the characters seem to notice or care. She’s not the most likable character, but you would think someone would at least wonder where she went.

And the title is a bit off-putting. With a title like STOKER, most people are going to assume it has something to do with author Bram Stoker, the man who gave us Dracula, and maybe vampires are involved. They’re not. And ol’ Bram has nothing to do with the storyline here, either. The family’s name could be anything, and naming them Stoker just seems too much like an annoying red herring.

stoker_ver3

Despite its flaws, I really liked this movie. It has a great cast, it looks great, and while it’s not Chan-wook Park’s most uncompromising work, it’s got enough of his DNA to make it extremely watchable. While I don’t think it’s as good as Park’s Korean films, it’s a dark piece of mischief in its own right. And where it doesn’t erupt in utter carnage the way a movie like OLDBOY does, it does have an inner violence to it. A psychological pressure, threatening to pop.

I give it three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives STOKER ~three and a half knives.

DREAD (2010)

Posted in 2013, After Dark Horrorfest Movies, Clive Barker Movies, Family Secrets, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by knifefighter

DREAD
Review by Paul McMahon- The Distracted Critic

“There is no delight the equal of dread. As long as it’s someone else’s.” –Clive Barker, from his novella DREAD

dreadusdvd

DREAD was one of the films in the 2010 After Dark Horror Fest. Since I found no entries for an ADHF 5, I imagine this outlet for independent horror has washed up. It’s a shame. In their four festivals, they did promote a fair amount of crap, but their selections were peppered with filmmakers trying new things and attempting to be different. Since this isn’t a review of After Dark‘s successes and failures, let’s get right to the movie in question.

DREAD opens on a tall, ivy-league college building. A professor’s monotone is dubbed over, droning about philosophy. Inside the classroom, we focus on Stephen, who’s obviously not into this lecture at all. The next frame, Stephen is outside the building, smoking hard. A shadowy figure a few feet away bums a cigarette and asks him what he’s doing in the class. Stephen grins and says it fulfills requirements for his film major. The stranger’s name is Quaid, and he insists that philosophy is crap unless you flirt with the only worthwhile subject—the things we fear.

“I lead a pretty dull life,” Stephen says. “Fear doesn’t cross my path very often.”

They go for drinks and Quaid proposes a thesis interviewing students about their fears, the things they dread. Before long, Stephen is telling Quaid about losing his brother in a drunk driving accident—an accident Stephen very easily could’ve been in the car for. We don’t know why, but we feel uncomfortable with Quaid having this information.

Next, we see Quaid alone in a big empty house. He opens a medicine cabinet full of prescription bottles and slips into a flashback. A young Quaid is at home with his parents late at night. A stranger appears on the steps and kills Quaid’s father with an axe. As the child watches, his mother is murdered as well. The killer starts up the stairs, clumping the head of the axe against each stair riser as he ascends. The man holds the bloody blade in front of young Quaid and tells him: “This is your mother… your father….” before the axe swings.

Stephen invites a classmate, his would-be girlfriend Cheryl, to participate in the study, and at first it seems they’re getting good stuff. People are forthcoming about why they fear the things they do. Some of them even describe childhood traumas and how those events formed fears they suffered from for the rest of their lives. Quaid, however, is not at all happy with the material they’re getting. One night after a particularly long session, we see him slip into his bathroom and methodically pour his meds down the sink.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Stephen and Cheryl conduct interviews about what people fear.

Soon after, Quaid attacks a woman they’re interviewing, accusing her of making her stories up. She confesses and says she thought appearing in their thesis tape would look good in her portfolio. When things finally settle down, Quaid tells Stephen and Cheryl: “I want us to take our study to the next level.”

When Stephen insists they’re done and they have only to edit the film, Quaid reacts badly. It’s obvious that Quaid is going to go ahead with whatever experiment he’s been planning, with or without their help.

A short time later, Cheryl disappears….

Using a title like DREAD makes a very bold promise to the viewer. It says: “Before this movie is over, you will feel your nerves frost over, you will draw breath as if a python is squeezing your chest, you will feel the whisper of death brush the hairs along the rim of your ear.” The title gives you permission to ignore the film if the cold grip of fear is not your thing. Indeed, many of those who seek out horror films will have a moment’s hesitation before selecting this movie. Such is the power of the concept of dread.

The movie is based on a novella of the same name written by Clive Barker, easily one of the best horror writers out there. It’s an exceptional work of terror that makes good on the promise of that simple five-word title. Frankly, I was surprised that Clive Barker’s name wasn’t featured more prominently on the advertising, but so it goes.

Writer/ director Anthony DeBlasi (CASSADAGA, 2011) does not take the title’s promise lightly. It’s a tricky thing to translate the written word to the screen, even more tricky if the source material is literary and philosophical in nature, which Barker’s most assuredly is. DeBlasi makes a lot of right decisions here. He manages to keep some of the literary feel of the story. Maybe a little too much, as the stakes in the first hour of the film don’t amount to all that much and therefore aren’t as compelling as they could be. Still, he gets more right than he gets wrong.

Jackson Rathbone (who played Jasper Hale in the TWILIGHT series from 2008-2012) plays Stephen Grace. He seems a little out of his depth, but mostly hits his stride emotionally with a very challenging role. The rest of the cast is far more recognizable to British audiences. Shaun Evans (CASHBACK, 2006 and WRECKERS, 2011) plays Quaid with an intensity that is apparent even when he has no lines. Hanne Steen (IDEAL, TV series, 2011) plays Cheryl and does a fair job keeping balance between Stephen and Quaid, keeping her own secrets from both of them.

The clear standout in this film is Laura Donnelly (MISSING, TV series, 2012, and THE FALL, TV series, 2012). She plays Abby, a close friend and co-worker of Stephen’s who has a very intense crush on him. Revealing this is a huge risk for her character, since a Port-Wine Birthmark shadows half of her face and stretches all the way along her body to her right ankle. Laura makes it impossible for us not to feel for Abby as the movie progresses.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film's true standout.

Laura Donnelly as Abby is the film’s true standout.

The end result is an unusual horror movie that looks different than much of the work out there today. Though it starts out slowly, the intensity picks up as we roll along. It may not be a perfect film, but it’s definitely one you won’t regret—or soon forget.

I give DREAD two and a half stars, with two timeouts.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.

The UK DVD cover for DREAD.

THE LOVED ONES (2009)

Posted in 2012, Australian Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on December 12, 2012 by knifefighter

THE LOVED ONES (2009)
Review by Paul McMahon, “The Distracted Critic”

TLO - poster 1

I came to THE LOVED ONES (2009) through an online conversation in which someone who’d seen it insisted I hunt it down. To convince me, he stated that Lola Stone was “the most intense female psychopath put to film, with the possible exception of La Femme from INSIDE (2007).”

How could I pass up a challenge like that?

I jotted down the craziest female psychopaths I could remember. Asami from AUDITION (1999). Annie Wilkes from MISERY (1990). Baby Firefly from THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005). Pamela Voorhees. Baby Jane Hudson. May. So many more.

Then I popped in THE LOVED ONES and prepared to be amazed.

The movie opens with a teenager driving with his Dad. It’s made clear that the teen, Brent (Xavier Samuel, Riley in TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE, 2010 and TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN 2, 2012) is getting experience for his driver’s license. They chat about the car, Brent insisting it’s crap while his Dad says it’s the best car he’s ever owned.

“You were conceived in the back of this car,” he says, and laughs at his son’s reaction.

In a blink, a bloodied and half naked man appears in the road. Brent swerves around him, over corrects, and smashes into a tree.

We’re told it’s six months later. Brent’s father was killed in the crash. Brent now wears a double-edged razor blade on a chain around his neck and is cutting his arms pretty regularly. While Brent’s friend Jaime asks the school’s hot Goth chick to the End of School Dance, Lola Stone (Robin McLeavy, ABE LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, 2012), shyly asks Brent to the dance.

“Sorry, Lola,” he says. “I’m going with Holly. Sorry.”

Soon after, Holly picks Brent up from school. She’s gotten her license. She takes Brent parking. While they’re doing the deed, we look up through the car window and see Lola Stone, staring, watching, glaring. It’s a clue we’ve seen in a hundred films that mousy Lola is not all there.

Later on, Brent’s mother offers him money to take a cab to the dance, insisting that he have someone with experience drive them tonight. They argue and Brent runs off. He finds a stone cliff and begins to climb. He’s obviously been here before, and he flirts with throwing himself off now and again. Once he reaches the top, he collapses, exhausted, and suddenly there’s a man holding a rag over his mouth until he passes out.

Holly arrives at Brent’s house and finds only his mother who is worried that Brent has not returned. Then Brent’s dog shows up, bloodied, broken, and crawling on his belly. They’re on the phone to the sheriff soon after.

Always a bad way to wake up.

Always a bad way to wake up.

From here, the movie becomes torture-porn. It’s a sub-genre of horror that I personally tired of a long time ago. The thing about torture-porn is, there are only so many implements of pain, there are only so many body parts you can mutilate with them and there are only so many ways a person can scream. Sure, you can get creative in the editing room, and first-time writer-director Sean Byrne, with editor Andy Canny, have done everything they can, cutting away and cutting back in tempo with the search efforts of the town Sheriff, with Jaime and the Goth chick obliterating themselves with pot and booze in the school parking lot, and with Holly poking around her missing boyfriend’s bedroom. Still, if a movie of this sort is going to rise above the crap that’s out there, it’s got to tell a story alongside the bloodshed.

I was impressed to find a story here. Actually, there’s a different story for each character, and Mr. Byrne does a masterful job keeping us up with who’s suffering through what. The nature of their issues keeps the characters from ever really connecting with each other. Brent’s problems are completely internal; Lola and her Daddy have the type of problems that don’t allow for interactions with anyone but each other. The one time Holly and Brent’s mom start to have a real conversation, they are interrupted by the sheriff, who has his hands full with his own problems. In effect, we get characters that are more interesting than average bouncing around each other while wrapped up in themselves. It’s a bold strategy, and it all hangs together to sharpen the isolated tone of the film.

The most natural performance was by Fred Whitlock as Brent’s dad, and he was gone from the movie in the first few minutes. John Brumpton (THE HUNTER, 2011), who plays Lola’s dad, managed to be creepy in a bunch of different ways; as a dad who would do anything his child asked, as a father who would destroy anyone that caused his girl the slightest disappointment, as a lonely man confused by lustful feelings toward his own daughter. The other actors put forth good work, but seemed subdued, possibly due to the director’s decision to keep the characters apart.

Which brings us to Lola Stone. Robin McLeavy’s performance was crazy in the manner of a spoiled rich kid, which was a surprising choice in that she lived with her dad in a run-down shack and supplemented their diet with roadkill Daddy brought home. Despite my Internet friend’s insistence, Lola is a far cry from the “craziest female psycho ever put to film.” She’d be very lucky to crack the top twenty. Lola’s dad did the hard work, subduing Brent and bringing him home. Can’t imagine Annie Wilkes or Asami ever needing help to capture their prey. Daddy also coached Lola on how to use syringes and power tools. No one ever had to tell Baby Firefly or Pamela Voorhees “Push a little harder, sweetheart.” Left to her own devices, I can’t even see Lola Stone placing above Catherine Tremell from BASIC INSTINCT (1992) or Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (1987).

Probably how Veruca Salt from WILLIE WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY would have turned out had she grown up poor in the Australian outback.

Probably how Veruca Salt from WILLIE WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY would have turned out had she grown up poor in the Australian outback.

In all, though, THE LOVED ONES managed to offer a surprise or two for this type of movie. The camera work was pretty good, Zeljka Stanin’s make-up effects were excellent, and the unusual storytelling technique catches your attention. The biggest point against the film would have to be a pretty important plot point that disappears without an explanation.

I give THE LOVED ONES two-and-a-half stars, with no time-outs.

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

TLO - poster 2

THE COLLECTION (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Elaborate Murders, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Medical Experiments!, Mutilation, Psychos, Sequels, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT Presents:
THE COLLECTION (2012)
Review by L.L. Soares

The Collection (2012) Movie Poster

(THE SCENE: an abandoned hotel full of cobwebs. L.L. SOARES is climbing the stairs using a flashlight)

LS: I’m starting to think MICHAEL ARRUDA isn’t here at all. I’m sure this is all a prank.

(His cell phone rings, playing Bernard Herrmann’s music from the shower scene of PSYCHO)

LS: Hello?

MA: LL, is that you? I’ve been waiting for an hour now.

LS: What are you talking about? I’m here now, at the Argento Hotel, just like you told me. I can’t find you anywhere.

MA: Oops, I meant the Argento Steak House. My bad.

LS: That explains a lot.

MA: Well, while I have you on the phone, how was that new movie, THE COLLECTION?

LS: I was just going to start the review. I guess I have to do this one solo.

(SWITCH to Michael Arruda in a restaurant. A waiter brings a delicious meal to his table)

MA (making noises with his mouth): Oh no, I’m having phone problems. LL are you there? I can’t hear you?

LS: Yes, I’m still here.

MA (makes more noises): Oh no, you’re breaking up. I’m going to lose you. (MA shuts off his phone)

LS: Dammit! I hate bad connections. And it always happens when I’m in spooky places like this.

So where was I? Oh yes, I was going to review the new movie THE COLLECTION. I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.

(LS sits down on a comfy chair in the hallway of the old hotel. He brings the flashlight up to his face, turning it on, making himself look spooky)

LS: Gather round the fire, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the spooky story of THE COLLECTION. First off, it’s the sequel to the 2009 movie THE COLLECTOR, which was also directed by Marcus Dunstan.  He also co-wrote the screenplays for SAW IV (2007), SAW V (2008) , SAW VI (2009) and SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2010) as well as FEAST (2005) and its sequels, with his writing partner, Patrick Melton. This is a busy guy.

Anyway, in case you didn’t see the first one, it was a about a thief named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who breaks into a house to steal some money and valuables, and instead finds a house of horrors. Someone else has gotten there first, and has turned it into a booby-trapped filled torture chamber, and the family (who was supposed to be on vacation) suffers horribly at the hands of a masked murderer known only as The Collector. They call him that because, whenever he attacks someplace, he kills everyone except one person, who he kidnaps for his “collection.”

The first movie ended on a suspenseful note, as Arkin was captured by the Collector, and then the end credits rolled.

The new movie, THE COLLECTION, continues where the last one left off. Sort of. This time around, we find out that the Collector has been up to lots of mischief since the last time we saw him. Not only is he making random home invasions, now the number of people he’s killed is off the charts, and the police have no clue how to stop him. The city is in a panic. So what does teenager Elena  (Emma Fitzpatrick) do? She goes to a rave of course, in an abandoned building that no adults know about. When she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she runs away from the dance floor to an empty room, with a trunk in the middle of it.  She’s crying when suddenly the trunk moves and starts to make noise! There’s someone inside it. As we know from the previous movie, this is the Collector’s calling card, and if you open a trunk, it puts all kinds of horrible things in motion. So of course, she opens it, letting out Arkin (Josh Stewart again), our hero from the first movie. Only this time he is bloody from having been tortured for weeks.

His being set free sets all kinds of weird traps and pullies in motion, and a giant wheat shredding blade descends on the partiers, chopping them all to mulch. Another group of people, including Elena’s friend, Missy (Johanna Braddy) get locked up in a cage where the ceiling is crushing down on them.

Somehow Arkin escapes, and Elena gets nabbed by the Collector before he can save her. She is the only survivor of the massacre, and, as we know, the Collector always takes one victim away from the crime scene alive.

(LS gets up from the chair, just as a huge metal spike drops down from the ceiling and stabs where he was just sitting)

LS: Arkin wakes up in the hospital, where he is interrogated by a guy named Lucello (Lee Tergesen), who appears to be a cop, but isn’t. He works for Elena’s rich father (Christopher McDonald) and will stop at nothing to find Elena and bring her back to her father. Even if that means forcing Arkin to retrace his steps to find where Elena is being held (he has marks carved in his arm to determine where he was taken to last time).

Lucello and his team of Black Ops agents then invade the Hotel Argento (get the funny homage to horror director Dario Argento?) where the Collector rules over victims driven insane by their horrible treatment and who have been turned into crazed zombie-like creatures. Oh, and there are tons of booby traps and mazes and bear traps and time bombs. Let’s just say that Lucello has no idea what he’s in for, and poor Arkin is forced to go along for the ride, even though he’s endured these particular horrors before.

There are also lots of “collections” throughout the hotel. From the usual butterflies and insects in frames, to giant tanks full of bizarre sculptures made from human body parts.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

(LS continues walking down the hallway. Hatchets are hurled at him and keep missing him.)

LS: THE COLLECTION is in limited release and its official release date was December 1st, except that week it was only playing in obscure movie theaters out in the ‘burbs, so I couldn’t see it. This weekend, it got a slightly wider release and made its way into the city. Because I enjoyed the first movie, I was looking forward to seeing this one, so I made sure to check it out before it disappeared.

Let me state something for the record. I like “torture porn.” That might be the first time you have ever seen a critic say this out loud in public, but the truth is, when the genre is done right, it can be pretty compelling. I think the first two HOSTEL movies, for example, are terrific. I was less-than-enthusiastic about all the SAW movies, because I had a problem with the Jigsaw character.

You see, our old friend Jigsaw had this agenda where his elaborate murder scenarios were meant to give the  bad people who survived them a second chance. He was  trying to change their lives. He was trying to redeem them, by making them thankful to be alive. This was all a bit hard to swallow, and I’m sure you found this all to be as much bullshit as I did. Also, Jigsaw didn’t like to get his hands dirty and watched the violence from a control room. His “victims” had to make decisions about which door to open, or which lever to pull, while he watched from safety.

The Collector isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is more than happy to resort to hand-to-hand combat when his more elaborate methods don’t finish everyone off. He’s a skilled fighter, knows his way around a knife fight, and is lethal as hell. And there’s no pontificating about changing people’s lives. The Collector simply thirsts for blood and uses his weird,  elaborate killing methods to quench that thirst. Plus, he wears a cool, black Mexican wrestler’s mask to keep his identity a secret. Let’s just say that the Collector would kick Jigsaw’s ass in a fight.

THE COLLECTION is gory as hell. It pushes its R-rating to the limit. And it’s very suspenseful. You never know what is going to happen next, and who will die. Which is just the way a good horror movie should  be. Sure, not all of it makes sense, and you really start to wonder how anyone can set up as many crazy booby traps as this guy does throughout  the hotel—it just doesn’t seem possible—and then you realize, “hell, it’s just a movie.” And there are lots of blockbuster action movies that make even less sense.

And the cast is top-rate for this kind of thing. Josh Stewart, who was so good in the first movie, does an equally good job here, reprising his role as petty thief  and “Collector expert” Arkin. Emma Fitzpatrick is tough and unflinching as Elena (she reminded me a bit of Natalie Portman). Lee Tergeson (who you might remember as Beecher from the HBO series OZ) is solid here as Lucello, and his team of mercenaries includes Andre Royo, who was so great as the homeless guy Bubbles on another excellent HBO series, THE WIRE (it seems like more great actors have come out of OZ and THE WIRE than any other TV shows put together). Believe me, the actors involved are above-average for this kind of thing.

And the ending is actually pretty satisfying this time around. So make sure you stay in your seat until those end credits roll, because there’s a kick-ass epilogue to the story.

(LS stops in front of a doorway, and a pie hurtles at him, hitting him in the face)

Beware! The Collector wants to add you to his COLLECTION.

Beware! The Collector just might want to add you to his COLLECTION.

LS (wipes cream off his face and licks): Mmmm, banana cream!

Sure there’s horrible violence. Sure, people get tortured. There’s blood and body parts galore. But it works. There’s this incredibly sadistic bastard trying to kill as many people as possible, and a group of people trying their best to stop him. If it’s “torture porn,” and it certainly fits the bill,  then it’s one of the better examples of the genre. Unfortunately, the genre itself is in decline, no doubt thanks to all of those SAW movies that amounted to a great big example of overkill. They milked that cash cow as long as they could. So there’s a good chance THE COLLECTION might be the end of this particular franchise.

I am not expecting THE COLLECTION to be a big hit. In fact, I’m sure it won’t do very well at all, especially since it’s in such limited release. But I’m telling you, if you’re not squeamish about this kind of stuff, you might just enjoy the hell out of it. I know I did.

I give THE COLLECTION ~ four bloody knives.

(LS dials his cell phone, and Michael Arruda picks up on the other end, enjoying his steak dinner)

MA: Hello?

LS: I know you gave me the wrong info on purpose. I hope you’re enjoying your dinner.

MA: Er…I am.

LS: And I hope you enjoyed the ground up glass in the mashed potatoes.

MA (touches his mouth and coughs up blood): NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

LS: What? I can’t hear you. We have a bad connection.

(FADE TO BLACK)

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE COLLECTION ~ four knives!

Friday Night Knife Fights: PSYCHO vs. HALLOWEEN (Part 3 of 3)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 2012, 70s Horror, Alfred Hitchock Films, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, John Carpenter Films, Plot Twists, Psychos, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , on October 26, 2012 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

 (CONCLUSION)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back folks, to the conclusion of this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  This installment will decide the winner of the battle of the iconic horror movies. It’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).

So, which one of these two is the better movie?  That’s what our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters assembled here tonight plan to find out. So far, HALLOWEEN leads 3 to 2. But this time, anything can happen.

 *****

Okay, it’s Round 6.  “Which director does a better job at the helm?  Alfred Hitchcock, or John Carpenter?”

NICK CATO:  Can I say that this is a stupid question?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can say whatever you want.

L.L. SOARES:  Someone has to say it.  It’s about time it’s someone other than me!

NICK CATO:  Okay, then.  STUPID question!

It’s Hitchcock. No one had created that type of suspense before he unleashed Bates on the world.  Carpenter doesn’t come close.

DAN KEOHANE:  I think it depends on what you want out of the movie.

L.L.SOARES:  What is this, a psychology class?  Pick a director!

DAN KEOHANE:  Easier said than done.  This is one question I can’t honestly answer one way or the other.

L.L. SOARES:  What—did you change your last name to Dudar?

PETE DUDAR:  Hey, stop giving me a hard time!

DAN KEOHANE:  Hitchcock is a master at the subtle, without getting boring doing it.  Sure, the first third of THE BIRDS (1963) is pretty dull before it rockets up to its intense level, but that’s the exception.

L.L. SOARES:  Hey, I love THE BIRDS! There’s not a dull moment in that movie. It’s called “building a story.”

MICHAEL ARRUDATHE BIRDS is overrated.

(L.L. SOARES punches a wall in disgust)

DAN KEOHANE:  Carpenter is just having a ball, and it shows in this film (and most of them). He’s got the fast-paced thrill ride down, without ever having to rely on over-the-top gore to cover his blemishes.

L.L SOARES:  So, you’re going with Carpenter?

DAN KEOHANE:  Nope.  I can’t decide.

(L.L. SOARES screams loudly)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  We are really having a hard time making up our minds today.

PETE DUDAR:  I told you this thing was impossible!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I have to admit, this is a very tough question.  Which director does a better job at the helm?  I don’t know.

L.L. SOARES:  Not you, too!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  This one needs examining.

Let’s start with Alfred Hitchcock.  In 1960, he’d been making successful movies since the 1930s, and really had just come off an amazing decade, the 1950s, where he became one of the most celebrated and popular movie directors of his time.  Needless to say, when he made PSYCHO, he was at the top of his game.  And with PSYCHO, Hitchcock doesn’t disappoint.  It’s one of his best efforts.

He does nearly everything right in PSYCHO.  You’ve got the infamous shower scene, the most famous sequence from the movie, but there’s so much more.  I love the sequence after the shower scene, when Norman Bates cleans up after his “mother’s” crime.  The end sequence where Vera Miles and John Gavin arrive at the motel is also memorable.

But you can make the argument that John Carpenter did an even better job at the helm of HALLOWEEN.  For starters, HALLOWEEN doesn’t have the same strong story PSYCHO has, and yet, it’s an incredibly scary movie, and most of the credit for this belongs to Carpenter.  The opening murder scene is a gem, shot from the point of view of the killer looking through a Halloween mask.  The whole sequence is superb, from the actual murder to the revelation that the killer is a little boy.

The scene near the end, where we believe Jamie Lee Curtis has killed Michael Myers, and he’s lying down “dead,” and Curtis is sitting in the foreground, exhausted, and it’s silent, and in this silence, Myers sits up, turns his head, and the music blasts, and we’re on our way again.  It’s a phenomenal scene.

And there are so many neat scenes where Myers appears like a phantom in and out of the shadows.  One second he’s there, the next, he’s not.  It’s a masterful job by John Carpenter.

You can’t take away what Hitchcock did with PSYCHO, but I’ve seen him better (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, 1959, Hitchcock’s previous film and arguably his most ambitious, includes many more of Hitchcock signature touches).  I know some people don’t consider HALLOWEEN to be Carpenter’s best work, but it’s up there.

L.L. SOARES: Of course it’s up there! Who doesn’t consider HALLOWEEN one of Carpenter’s best movies? That’s a ludicrous statement! HALLOWEEN is the movie that put Carpenter on the map and made him a household name.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yes, I know that, and you know that, but there are some people who feel otherwise.  I know people who think THE THING is Carpenter’s best film, for instance.

L.L. SOARES: Hell, I think THE THING is his best film. But that doesn’t mean HALLOWEEN isn’t great, too. In many ways, HALLOWEEN is more iconic and important to horror movie history.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: PSYCHO has such a strong story, that even with a lesser director, the film may have been a hit.  I don’t think you can say the same for HALLOWEEN.  Without John Carpenter at the helm of HALLOWEEN, that movie just isn’t the same, and I doubt it would have been the classic it is today.

L.L. SOARES: You’re selling Hitchcock short! The story is so good it would have still turned out well without him?? But HITCHCOCK did make PSYCHO and nobody could have done it better. Why dismiss the guy because he did a great job? What kind of logic is that?

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I’m not dismissing him.  He did a terrific job.  I’m saying the story itself is so good, a lesser director could have made a decent film out of it, on the strength of its story. Terence Fisher, for example, Hammer Film’s best director—no Alfred Hitchcock, mind you, but a talented director all the same—could have made a very good film out of PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I’m sure he could have. But it wouldn’t be the same.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So, after some thought, I’m going with John Carpenter on HALLOWEEN.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Sorry, Michael, but I just don’t see it that way.  I’m going with Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is regularly listed among the best directors of all time, while Carpenter is listed among the best “horror” directors.

As innovative and groundbreaking as HALLOWEEN was, it wasn’t Carpenter’s best work. He doesn’t really break with conventional filming techniques or storytelling rules. Hitchcock made tons more unorthodox and unexpected decisions in PSYCHO.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I don’t know about that.  I’m not taking anything away from Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO, but I think Carpenter does break with conventional filming techniques in HALLOWEEN.  There are so many cool scenes in HALLOWEEN thanks to Carpenter’s direction, like Michael Myer’s mask appearing in the darkness where you see only the mask, or the aforementioned opening murder scene.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Good scenes, but Hitchcock’s work on PSYCHO is better.

L.L. SOARES: Look, this one is a no brainer. I love HALLOWEEN and I think it is among Carpenter’s best films. It is powerful, it triggers a great response, and it’s a director at the height of his powers. I am not going to say anything bad about Carpenter in this context. He did an amazing job.

But Alfred Hitchcock was one of the top five directors in the history of cinema. I just watched PSYCHO again recently, and it holds up very well. It’s atmospheric, powerful, and strongly acted. Hitchcock is just in another league when it comes to directors. He was an artist.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Okay, after six rounds it’s HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO -3. We’re now neck and neck.

PETE DUDAR:This is getting exciting.

  *****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  On to Round 7.  “Which film has done more for the genre?”

I’ll start by asking where would the genre be without PSYCHO?  While it’s technically not a horror film…

L.L. SOARES: Says, who?  It’s a goddamn horror film. A horror classic.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, it is scary, and did an awful lot to make horror movies more mainstream.  It made them more adult.  Alfred Hitchcock was not a kid-friendly director.  Kids didn’t flock to see his films.  Adults did.  When he directed PSYCHO, he expanded horror’s audience.  In other words, a lot of the folks who went to see PSYCHO were not the same folks who would have gone to see FRANKENSTEIN or KING KONG.

L.L. SOARES: I complete disagree. People who love great movies would have gone to see all three of those.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  He also reinvented the conventions of the movies.  His lead actress is killed midway through the movie.  What’s up with that?  The “hero” Norman Bates, turns out to be the killer.  What’s up with that?

Where would the genre be without HALLOWEEN?  We wouldn’t have had to suffer through all those awful slasher movies had HALLOWEEN not been so successful.  So, maybe it’s hurt the genre!  Actually, I’m kidding.  It helped the genre because it made a ton of money, and it led to John Carpenter getting a lot of financing so he could make a lot of other cool movies!

I think they’ve both helped the genre, since they both established franchises and iconic characters, Norman Bates and Michael Myers.  Today, I think you hear more about HALLOWEEN than you do PSYCHO.  I think HALLOWEEN has done more for the horror genre directly because it’s a horror movie, pure and simple.  PSYCHO is really a mystery that has a lot of horror elements.

L.L. SOARES: Horror elements? That means it’s a damn HORROR MOVIE!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Ever so slightly, I give the edge to HALLOWEEN.

DAN KEOHANE:  They both exploded the genre, but in their own respective decades.

Both were unique when they came out, and both got a somewhat apathetic audience’s pulse revved up, opening the door to more films and books.

Both of them equally helped the genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  There was a very slow build of slasher movies after PSYCHO‘s release in 1960.

When HALLOWEEN came out in 1978 the slasher sub-genre really took off. PSYCHO may have kicked things off, but HALLOWEEN got them going.

HALLOWEEN.

L.L. SOARES: You people are high!

Without PSYCHO, there would be NO HALLOWEEN! While Michael Myers does have a supernatural component, he also started out as a little boy with psychological problems. No matter what he became, he began as a psychopath. Just because a movie is older doesn’t mean it’s less relevant. To be honest, the opposite is probably more true. PSYCHO was the pioneer, the trailblazer. It made the word “psycho” a part of our language. It made the serial killer film a mainstream genre.

HALLOWEEN is more the little engine that could. It was a small, low-budget movie that overcame its humble beginnings. I remember it was in theaters for over a year when it first came out. It seemed to stick around forever. It was a smash hit, as commercially important to the horror genre in its way as PSYCHO was.

But Michael is right in one respect. HALLOWEEN spawned as many horrible rip-offs as it did worthwhile horror descendants. It worked because Carpenter did it, but way too many bad directors proved that it wasn’t easily replicated.

They’re both great movies with different strengths, and I am still pissed off that you’re making us choose between them, because they’re both just as vital to the horror genre. But which one has done more for horror? The fact that there’s any debate baffles me. It’s PSYCHO. Period.

NICK CATO:  While HALLOWEEN paved the way for countless imitators in the 1980s slasher film uprising, PSYCHO (1960) was the model and is STILL imitated to this day.

I disagree with Michael and Paul, and I say PSYCHO has done more the genre.

L.L. SOARES: Now there’s a smart man!

MICHAEL ARRUDA: That means this round is a tie. Wow, this is going to be interesting.

It’s now time for the eighth and final round, and if one film should win this round unanimously, then that film scores a knockout and wins the entire bout, regardless of the score up until now.

And the final question is:  in your humble opinion, if you had to choose, which film, PSYCHO or HALLOWEEN, is the better movie?

PAUL MCMAHON:  PSYCHO.

Constructed better, stronger and with so many twists and turns that even today people viewing it for the first time are surprised by how it develops.  I’m going with PSYCHO.

PETE DUDAR:  PSYCHO was a groundbreaking masterpiece. Filmed in 1960, Hitchcock’s black-and-white adaptation of Robert Bloch’s novel reminded post-war America and the baby-boom generation that crazy people were, in fact, our neighbors.

HALLOWEEN, on the other hand, is a whole other candy-apple. PSYCHO is loosely based on real-life killer Ed Gein. HALLOWEEN is the logical progression of an urban myth, one about the ‘babysitter killer.’

As I said earlier, in terms of story and characterization, PSYCHO wins, but in terms of longevity and ability to still deliver sheer terror, my vote goes to HALLOWEEN.

NICK CATO:  I’m not sure which film Pete just voted for.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Join the club.

NICK CATO:  Technically PSYCHO is the better film, but again, HALLOWEEN holds up better to repeated viewings and to me isn’t as slow moving. If I had a butcher knife pointed at my head I’d go with HALLOWEEN.

PETE DUDAR: So, it would take a butcher knife to your head for you to make a decision, and you guys are giving me grief!

L.L. SOARES: At least he’d be able to make a decision if forced to. If someone put a butcher knife to your head, it would just let out all the confetti and sawdust.

PETER DUDAR: No it wouldn’t (sticks out tongue)

L.L. SOARES:  I happen to have a butcher’s knife handy if you need help making a decision, Pete!

DAN KEOHANE:  No butcher’s knives needed here, although an axe might come in handy.

L.L. SOARES:  I have one of those too.  Right here under my seat.

DAN KEOHANE:  I’m sure you do.

Anyway, overall, for me, it’s PSYCHO.

But HALLOWEEN is a close second.  (smiles)

NICK CATO:  If anyone needs help making a decision, it’s Pete.

PETE DUDAR:  I stand by my answers.

L.L. SOARES:  What answers?  (Laughter)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I love both movies, but if I have to pick which one is better, without an axe to my head, I have to go with—  PSYCHO.

PSYCHO has the stronger story— it has an amazing story, while HALLOWEEN has just an average plot.  It has one of the best all-time performances in a genre film: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates.  Bates is a much more interesting villain than Michael Myers.  It has a stronger cast.  While I like Jamie Lee Curtis a lot in HALLOWEEN, no one else in the cast really delivers a strong performance.

Sure, I think John Carpenter’s directing effort is second to none in HALLOWEEN, but Hitchcock is strong throughout.  Carpenter put HALLOWEEN on his back and carried it to the finish line.  Hitchcock didn’t need to carry the film all by his lonesome.

True, I prefer Carpenter’s music score over Bernard Herrmann’s score, but by percentage points.

I prefer HALLOWEEN on a lot of points, actually, but taken as a whole, especially because of its incredibly strong story, I find PSYCHO to be the better movie.

HALLOWEEN shows off John Carpenter’s directing talents, his music score, and a fine performance by Jamie Lee Curtis.

PSYCHO shows off Alfred Hitchock’s directing talents, Bernard Hermann’s music score, Anthony Perkins’ powerhouse performance as Norman Bates, strong performances by Janet Leigh and, in a supporting role, Martin Balsam, and a deep, resonating script by Joseph Stefano based upon a novel by Robert Bloch, a story credit that HALLOWEEN just doesn’t have.

The numbers favor PSYCHO, and so I’m going with PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES:  Look, I already made my case. HALLOWEEN is above-average for a slasher film. It thrust John Carpenter into the public eye, and rightly so. It’s a classic of its kind. And I hate having to compare it, and I hate having to saying anything negative about it, because I do think it’s one of the best horror films ever made.

But it’s a no-brainer, folks. PSYCHO is the better movie. It’s close to being a perfect movie.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Well, that’s it for Round 8, and PSYCHO has won the round.  I can’t say that it won unanimously, due to a couple of obscure answers, but that’s no matter.  The two movies were tied 3 ½ – 3 ½ going into the final round, and so the final tally is PSYCHO – 4 ½, HALLOWEEN – 3 ½.

The winner of tonight’s bout is PSYCHO!

But that certainly was a close one! I really had no idea what would happen until the last round. Which made this one a real nail-biter.

Thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks for making this FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT a good one!

Good night everybody!

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Peter N. Dudar, Daniel G. Keohane and Paul McMahon

Friday Night Knife Fights: PSYCHO vs. HALLOWEEN (Part 2 of 3)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2012, Alfred Hitchock Films, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, Horror, John Carpenter Films, Psychos, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , , on October 19, 2012 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978)
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

(PART 2 of 3)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back folks, to another edition of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS.  This time, we continue with Part 2 of our battle of the iconic horror movies. It’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).

L.L. SOARES: Why isn’t Rob Zombie’s version HALLOWEEN (2007) part of the debate?

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Come on!  This is supposed to be a serious debate.

L.L. SOARES: Okay, okay.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: So, which one of these two is the better movie?  That’s what our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters assembled here tonight plan to find out. So far, HALLOWEEN leads 2 to 0. Let’s see if it maintains its momentum this time around.

Okay, Round 3.    “Which film is scarier?”

I’ll start this one off myself.

I think HALLOWEEN is scarier, but not by much.  The last 20 minutes of HALLOWEEN, from the moment Jamie Lee Curtis decides to check out the house across the street, to the film’s closing credits, is among the most suspenseful last 20 minutes ever put on film.  I love it.  And there are lots of scary, make-you-scream-out loud moments interspersed throughout the movie.

PSYCHO, on the other hand, has the huge jolt, the shower scene, early on, where lead star Janet Leigh is killed off, shocking filmgoers who based on prior movie experiences, simply didn’t see that coming.  And it’s a frightening scene, even today.

And PSYCHO is also blessed with a suspenseful sequence towards the end, where Vera Miles and John Gavin go to the Bates Motel to solve the mystery, mistakenly believing that Bates’ sick old mother is the all-important witness they need to speak to regarding Janet Leigh’s disappearance, and of course, this sequence ends with the huge shock, the dramatic revelation, that Norman Bates is one sick dude.

I love how this sequence plays out as well, because the audience thinks they’re in the know, but they really aren’t.  Vera Miles is searching for the sick mother, who the audience mistakenly believes is the killer, when in reality, it’s Norman, who up until the end audiences viewed as a good guy.  It’s great stuff!

But when it comes to scares, HALLOWEEN is simply scarier.  The bulk of PSYCHO plays out like a drama and mystery—a superb one, at that—while HALLOWEEN is much more of a genuine horror movie.

“Hello? Myers residence.”

DAN KEOHANE:  I’m going with PSYCHO.  But you need to sit still and watch it. It pays off, so well, if you let the mood wash over you.

HALLOWEEN is more exciting, however, so you can be making out on the couch and look up for the scary bits without missing the point.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  So, you’re saying that you need to pay attention to PSYCHO, but HALLOWEEN you can miss a lot of it but still enjoy its scary parts?

DAN KEOHANE:  Yeah.

L.L. SOARES:  Enough with the double-talk.  Which one’s scarier?

DAN KEOHANE:  I said PSYCHO.  (leans over towards LS)  “eeeh eeeeh eeeeh!”

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Pete?

PETE DUDAR: I pass.

L.L. SOARES:  Is there a reason why Dudar is even here? He sure isn’t adding a lot to the conversation.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Oh come on, stop picking on him.

PETE DUDAR: Yeah, you big bully.

PAUL MCMAHONPSYCHO may have scared the hell out of viewers back in 1960, but watching it with my parents when I was fourteen it had little effect on me. HALLOWEEN gave me icy “I-almost-wet-myself” terror, especially when Laurie Strode hides in the closet– perceived as a safe-haven by children everywhere—and Michael hammers through the slats of the folding door to get at her.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Yeah, that’s a great scene.

L.L. SOARES: Just don’t wet yourself here, okay?

PAUL MCMAHON:  I’m going with HALLOWEEN as the scarier movie.

The killer attacks! From PSYCHO.

NICK CATO:  While PSYCHO has a few tense moments (least of which is the iconic shower sequence), HALLOWEEN has an overall scarier tone, and holds up much better to repeated viewings.  Based on this, if I had to choose, I’d pick HALLOWEEN as the scarier picture.

L.L. SOARES:  You guys keep talking about the shower scene in PSYCHO, and sure, it’s great, but it’s not the only scary scene in the whole movie. There’s the great scene where Martin Balsam gets stabbed in the face. And the very end, where Norman’s voiceover, as his mama, says “They’ll say I wouldn’t hurt a fly,” is just creepy as hell the first time you see it. The way everyone talks, it’s like the movie just has one big, scary moment, and that’s not true.

But I have to go back to my argument about generational responses. When PSYCHO first came out, nobody had seen a movie like that before, and I’m sure it freaked a lot of people out. I remember when I was a kid and I first saw it on television, it had a real effect on me, especially that creepy ending about the fly.

But this one is difficult because I have to look at both of them and decide which one is scarier now. Which one holds up the best. And while I think PSYCHO is smarter, and better at delivering big as well as more subtle chills, I have to admit that HALLOWEEN holds up better as a solid, scary movie. Maybe because it’s not as smart—its triggers are more emotional. This round, I have to give it to HALLOWEEN.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Another round goes HALLOWEEN’s way, and it now leads PSYCHO, 3 to zero!  I have to admit, I didn’t see this coming.  I thought things would be closer than this.

L.L. SOARES: I still say, in some ways, this is a stupid comparison. Both movies are very important, and effective, in their own ways.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Would you rather we compare a great film to a dud?

On to Round 4: “Which film has the stronger cast?”

DAN KEOHANEPSYCHO.  No question. In fact, the script requires a strong cast because there’s so little else besides some cool, dark sets.

L.L. SOARES: PSYCHO, without a doubt. Not only are the main roles played by great actors like Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and of course Anthony Perkins, who is unforgettable here; even the smaller roles are great, like Martin Balsam as Detective Arbogast. And there are even cameos by cool people like Ted Knight from the MARY TYLER MOORE show(1970 – 1977) as a cop toward the end, and Simon Oakland from THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) as a psychiatrist who gives a rundown at the end of what’s wrong with Norman. It’s just a great cast from beginning to end.

PETE DUDAR:  Pass.

L.L. SOARES:  This guy is really starting to get on my nerves. (to Dudar) Why did you even bother coming, anyway?

PETE DUDAR:  The free food.

L.L. SOARES:  What free food?

 PETE DUDAR:  You mean you missed the buffet?

L.L. SOARES:  I guess I was too busy preparing my answers!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I’m also going with the cast of PSYCHO.   You’ve got Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, and Martin Balsam, and they’re all great in this movie.   Perkins delivers one of the all-time great performances in a genre film.    His Norman Bates is creepy, unsettling, and yet he’s actually likeable at times.  It’s a terrific performance.

Janet Leigh is also strong as Marion Crane.  Vera Miles and John Gavin are less impressive, but Martin Balsam makes his brief stint as Detective Arbogast a memorable one.  The cast also includes Simon Oakland as Dr. Richman in a small role at the end of the movie. As L.L. mentioned, Oakland appeared alongside Darren McGavin in THE NIGHT STALKER movies and TV show, as Carl Kolchak’s boss, Tony Vincenzo.

The HALLOWEEN cast isn’t as strong on paper, with Donald Pleasance being the only established star in the cast, but they handle themselves well.  The best performance in the film is by Jamie Lee Curtis in her debut, but head to head, Perkins’ performance as Norman Bates is stronger than Curtis’ performance as Laurie Strode.

Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis in HALLOWEEN.

L.L. SOARES: Yeah, I don’t want to imply the HALLOWEEN cast is bad. It’s not. Everyone does a really good job in that one, too. I just think PSYCHO is that much better.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Strangely, I wasn’t all that impressed by Pleasance’s performance as Dr. Loomis in HALLOWEEEN, as he comes off sounding like a crackpot. I actually like him better as the series goes along.  Nancy Loomis does well as Strode’s best friend Annie, and Carpenter favorite Charles Cyphers does a nice job as Annie’s father Sheriff Bracket.

L.L. SOARES: And don’t forget the great B-movie actress P.J. Soles as Lynda!

P.J. Soles as Lynda in HALLOWEEN.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: But Michael Myers is nothing more than a killer in a mask, a mindless monster, and he’s not on the same level as Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates.

So, in terms of who has the stronger cast, I go with PSYCHO.

NICK CATO:  Another hard one to call.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun!

NICK CATO:  Perkins is amazing, as is Leigh in her brief role.

Jamie Lee Curtis set the stage for the babysitter in peril thing, and Donald Pleasance provided a smart and sneaky hero. I’m stuck on this one, too!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Can’t make a definitive call?

NICK CATO:  I’m afraid not.

PETE DUDAR:  See, I’m not the only one having a hard time here!

PAUL MCMAHON:  I’ve made up my mind.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   What did you decide, Paul?

PAUL MCMAHON:  This one goes to PSYCHO, hands down.

Not only does it have a better cast—Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam– but it used one of the most popular actresses of the day, Janet Leigh, in what felt like the lead role… and then killed her off at the end of the first act. Unprecedented for the time.

Donald Pleasance is great fun to watch in HALLOWEEN, and Jamie Lee Curtis shines in her movie debut, but they’re no match for the list of Hitchcock’s players.

PSYCHO.  No contest.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   So, Round 4 goes to PSYCHO, which means Hitchcock’s classic finally gets on the board.  We’ve reached the halfway point of our contest, and after four rounds, it’s HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO – 1.

On to Round 5.  “Which film has the better script?”

PETE DUDAR:  I’m going with PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES:  The wooden dummy speaks!

PETE DUDAR:  Shut up!

I choose PSYCHO because in terms of story and characterization, PSYCHO wins hands down.

NICK CATO:  I agree with Pete. It’s easily PSYCHO. HALLOWEEN is a by-the-numbers stalk and slash film, whereas PSYCHO has more depth in its villain.

L.L. SOARES:  Well,I wouldn’t go so far as to call HALLOWEEN “by-the-numbers.” It does transcend its genre. It has a lot more there than most slasher films. But most of what works about it is visceral—more a mood and an emotional response rather than a powerful script. So, script-wise, PSYCHO is another level completely.

PAUL MCMAHON:  This is another tough one.

I’m going to say PSYCHO. It broke with a lot of conventions of the times and challenged the way stories were told. Though HALLOWEEN was the father of the unkillable boogeyman, spurring the likes of FRIDAY THE 13TH, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and other franchises, PSYCHO is the “mother” of all slasher films.  (laughs)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Good one!

PAUL MCMAHON:  So, which film has the better script?  PSYCHO.

DAN KEOHANE (looks at camera):  Eeeeh eeeeh eeeeh!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Hands down, PSYCHO has the better script.

To me, the weakest part of HALLOWEEN has always been the script by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, which comes as no surprise, since a lot of early Carpenter movies didn’t have the best scripts.  The story for HALLOWEEN is nothing to brag about.  It’s just a standard tale about an insane killer who attacks teenagers, and whenever it tries to explain the truth about who Michael Myers is and what his motivations are, it never makes sense.  It’s one of the reasons why Donald Pleasance sounds like a crackpot in this movie.  The lines he has to say are insane!  What makes HALLOWEEN the classic that it is, is the amazing directing job by John Carpenter and Carpenter’s music.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN.

PSYCHO, on the other hand, has a phenomenal screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the novel by Robert Bloch.  As such, it has a literary connection noticeably absent in HALLOWEEN.  The PSYCHO story blows the HALLOWEEN story out of the water.  You have the whole Marion Crane storyline, followed by the mystery of her disappearance and the investigation into finding her, all interesting plot points in their own right, and I haven’t even mentioned the main plot point yet, the weird world of Norman Bates and his “mother.”

PSYCHO has a deep, rich, rewarding story that I seem to enjoy more each time I see it.  HALLOWEEN, as much as I like the movie, has just an average story.

Round 5 also goes to PSYCHO.  It’s now HALLOWEEN – 3, PSYCHO – 2.  Things are starting to get interesting.  Three rounds of questions still to come.

We’ll be wrapping this up next week. So don’t forget to check in for the conclusion of this month’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT!

L.L. SOARES: Y’all come back now, you hear?

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Peter N. Dudar, Daniel G. Keohane and Paul McMahon