Archive for the Serial Killer flicks Category

MANIAC (2012)

Posted in 2013, Art Movies, Based on Classic Films, Cult Movies, Disturbing Cinema, Exploitation Films, Grindhouse, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, Joe Spinell Films, Kinky Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Remakes, Serial Killer flicks, Sleaze with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2013 by knifefighter

MANIAC (2012)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares


Yet another in a long list of  movies that do not need to remakes, William Lustig’s original MANIAC (1980) featured the amazing Joe Spinell (who also provided the story and co-wrote the screenplay) as Frank Zito, a violent psychotic who kills women and then scalps them, so he can attach their hair to mannequins that surround his bed like lovers. Visceral stuff, made all the more effective by the teaming of Lustig, Spinell, and effects maestro Tom Savini at the peak of his powers. This was one movie that lived up to its title, and yet there were tender moments as well, focusing mostly on the friendship (and blossoming romance?) between Spinell’s Zito and Caroline Munro’s photographer, Anna D’Antoni. It didn’t hurt that Munro was one of the most beautiful women to grace celluloid at the time. But Spinell somehow, through this relationship, made you sympathize with a man who is otherwise a deranged animal. You somehow cared about Zito and wanted to see him redeemed. Of course, in these kinds of movies, redemption eventually gives up and steps aside, so that punishment can take control of matters.

In the new version of MANIAC (2012), Franck Khalfoun gives us a strange recreation of the original film, with just enough quirks and differences to make it enjoyable on its own terms. Even if it comes nowhere near the gut punch of the original. This time, the script is co-written by Alexandre Aja, the director who has given us such recent horrors as the HILLS HAVE EYES remake (2006), MIRRORS (2008) and who is currently adaptating Joe Hill’s HORNS for the big screen. As for Khalfoun, he previously directed the murder in an underground parking garage flick, P2 (2007) and has acted in Aja films like HIGH TENSION (2003) and PIRANHA (2010).


The new MANIAC stars Elijah Wood, oddly enough, perhaps the exact physical opposite of Joe Spinell. Where Spinell was genuinely creepy and yet always had a strange vulnerability to him, Wood seems slight and wimpy, but has a kind of strangeness to him that could easily be perceived as a capacity for violence. This aspect of Wood has been exploited previously in SIN CITY (2005), where he played an intense and merciless hit man with a penchant for eating human flesh. So this is hardly the first time someone saw Elijah Wood and thought “Hey, he might actually be an effective psycho.”

In MANIAC, however, Wood’s appearance and attributes are given only a small chance to shine, since the movie also adopts the rather odd gimmick of giving us the story from the killer’s point of view. What this means is that, throughout most of the film, we see everything through Frank Zito’s eyes. So whether or not Wood looks the part, we only see him occasionally, when he happens to look at himself in a mirror, for example.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

Elijah Wood is actually quite good in the remake of MANIAC. I just wish he was onscreen more.

This POV seems very artificial, making us very aware that this is not a gritty tour of the gutter like the original film, but something different. The new MANIAC strives toward art, towards being something more than just another killer on the loose flick. And yet, considering the subject matter, this arty direction doesn’t always work. We’re not watching a MANIAC film for artistic merit. We want to see a psychotic on the verge of complete madness, and the POV actually distances us from the meat of the film, even as it thinks that it is bringing us closer to the madman, by showing the film from his eyes.

The POV works some of the time. It’s not a bad thing, per se. There are some scenes that use this to nice effect. But in a movie like this, it doesn’t really elevate the story in any way. It’s just a fancy trick that tells us “No, you don’t have to really see Frank get his hands dirty.”

I actually like Elijah Wood. I’m not really a fan of projects like the LORD OF THE RINGS movies (or the HOBBIT films), but he’s been in plenty of other things that have impressed me. I think I first noticed him in Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), and he has a kind of intensity that gives him a lot of range. I even enjoy him in the odd FX TV series WILFRED, where he plays a man whose best friend is a man in a dog suit (the rest of the world sees it as an actual dog). But the point is, Wood is kind of fearless and open to playing a wide variety of roles, however offbeat, and for what he does in MANIAC, I think he does a decent job. In a way, though, I would have preferred to see the whole “from the maniac’s eyes” viewpoint ditched, so that we could have really enjoyed Wood’s performance to the fullest.

In the new movie, Anna is played by Nora Amezeder as a French photographer who is drawn to Frank via his strange little shop where he carries on his family’s business of restoring antique mannequins. She uses mannequins in her photographs for artistic effect, and his equally artistic display of actual mannequins might just be the perfect complement to her photos in her upcoming gallery show. Can she borrow some of his work? He catches her taking pictures of his shop’s display window and invites her inside. The fact that she sees beauty in the same objects he does creates an immediate connection. And the groundwork is there for the one normal relationship in Frank Zito’s life.  Sadly, whatever normality there is between them won’t last for long. There’s no way it could.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell's performance in the original film.

Unfortunately, no matter how good Elijah Wood is as Frank Zito, he can never come close to Joe Spinell’s performance in the original film.

Wood’s Frank Zito has mother issues, after all, that go as deep as Norman Bates’s. We see flashbacks to Frank as a child, forced to watch as his mother has sex with all comers, whether its two sailors at once in her bedroom as he peers out from between the slats of a closet door, to a late night assignation in a parking garage, Frank wants his mother as much as he is repelled by her, and it is only a matter of time before relationships he has with other women dovetail into his feelings for his mother—even the one he has with poor Anna.

Feeling a possessive jealousy for whatever woman he comes across that he finds attractive, that same need to have them always turns into a stronger need to punish them. And therefore, he can’t really have any enjoyment with them while they are alive. He can only truly possess them (and come close to “loving” them) when they have been recreated, with their bloody scalps stapled onto the heads of his mannequins. In the darkness of his apartment, he convinces himself that the mannequins are the real women, and that they are now in an environment he can control. It is only then that he can show them that he cares.

So he drives around the city late at night, picking victims at random based on how they elicit lust in him, and making quick work of them. He tries to break the cycle, even joining an online dating service and meeting Lucie (Megan Duffy), a tattooed beauty who actually seems to act motherly towards him (uh oh!) when he complains of a migraine at the restaurant they agree to meet at, and who takes him back to her place afterwards for some almost-successful seduction. You really think Frank might finally loosen up and enjoy himself, but in the end, we know that’s impossible.

There are some interesting set pieces, including Frank hunting down Anna’s agent, Rita (Jan Broberg), breaking into her glorious Manhattan apartment to kill her in her bath tub. This sequence is done quite well

I liked this new version of MANIAC. It’s a good film, despite its flaws. It’s just easier to judge it as a stand-alone film about a psycho played by Elijah Wood. To compare it to Lustig’s original is to its detriment. There is no way this movie could deliver the goods like the original movie did.

I give it three knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives the 2012 version of  MANIAC ~three  knives.


(Despite being made in 2012, the new version of MANIAC is only now getting limited release in theaters in some cities. It is available on cable OnDemand in some markets as well.)



The Distracted Critic visits MADISON COUNTY (2011)

Posted in 2013, DVD Review, Horror, Indie Horror, Paul McMahon Columns, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Slasher Movies, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , on February 15, 2013 by knifefighter

Review by Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic


Oh, how I miss video stores. I miss popping in with an evening to kill and browsing the shelves of cover art, trying to determine from an artist’s rendering whether a film would be worth a rental or not. When the “box art” for MADISON COUNTY(2011) appeared on my Netflix Instant Watch menu, I immediately knew it was something I would’ve snagged off the VHS shelf back in the day.

The movie was written and directed by 22-year old Eric England, who starts out the film with a bold choice for an opening—a bloodied, scantily clad blonde in the bed of a blue pickup truck, her face distorted with terror. It reminds you instantly of the ending of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974), giving you the subconscious impression that all the terror of that classic film has come before this. The driver of the truck brakes, and immediately the blonde climbs out and tries to escape. She calls for help to someone off-camera while the driver comes up behind her, knocks her out with a shovel, and throws her in the cab of the truck. As he drives off, the camera pans to a run-down house a few feet off the road, where a grinning old man sits on his rocker, enjoying the show as all this goes down.

Now we meet James and Will, excited about embarking on a trip once they pick up “the girls.” They’re off to Madison County to interview the author of a book about Damien Ewells, a serial killer who murdered 33 people. James has been corresponding with the author and is planning his school thesis on the case. Will is going along to take pictures. Presumably, “the girls” are going so “the boys” don’t get lonely. They arrive at Brooke’s house, and since Will is her boyfriend, he knocks. Brooke’s brother Kyle answers the door, glaring. He’s a coiled spring who we realize is ready to rip Will limb from limb. Brooke and Jenna finally come out of the house, and while they greet James and Will, Kyle climbs into James’s truck. Apparently, he’s decided he’s going with.

“Are you freakin’ kidding?” Will asks Brooke. “He hates me!”

Once within Madison County, they stop at a diner with gas pumps out front. The diner is jammed with creepy-looking townsfolk who stare at the newcomers. It’s a real TWILIGHT ZONE moment, as we realize that James’s car was the only one outside, so how did all these people get here? James manages to get directions to author David Randall’s place. After ignoring the POSTED: KEEP OUT sign and climbing over a gate at the end of the drive, they find the author’s home deserted. Confused, they try to decide what to do next. Kyle drives back to the diner, alone, to get further advice. James and Jenna stay at the house to wait while Will and Brooke set off down the path to check out the barn on the property.

With our heroes thus split up, it’s time to introduce Big Pig Head, so he can start shedding blood.

In this corner... weighing 190 pounds... Big Pig Head!

In this corner… weighing 190 pounds… Big Pig Head!

The actors do exactly as well as expected for a movie like this, with no one really standing out above the rest. They’re all relative newcomers, though Ace Marrero, who plays Kyle, has a role in England’s movie ROADSIDE (2012) while Matt Mercer, who plays Will, is appearing in England’s upcoming CONTRACTED (2013). Colley Bailey, who plays James, appeared in last year’s DONNER PASS. The girls, Joanna Sotomura as Brooke and Natalie Scheetz as Jenna are making their first feature film appearance.

Eric England’s direction is pretty advanced for a young person making his first feature film. He’s creative and chooses interesting shots, at one point framing the car in a bright red dust mote, sort of like a bull’s eye. At another point, Kyle is glaring at Will and a flash of light looks like a knife in Kyle’s hand. Possibly most interesting of all is how, except for one brief scene, he films the entire movie in broad daylight. Artistically, Eric might be a director to keep an eye on, especially with the two more films already on the way, ROADSIDE and CONTRACTED. As far as his writing, though, MADISON COUNTY ends up losing points.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England... he can only get better from here.

Director Eric England is a newcomer to watch. Writer Eric England… he can only get better from here.

There are at least three moments in the film where minor characters assure James, and therefore us, that “he’ll understand before it’s all over.” This is a point that’s made and re-made throughout the first three quarters of the movie, usually after a weird swerve in the plot that leaves us scratching our heads. When it’s all said and done, though, there are no answers to be found. There is no final revelation that makes the movie come together in a flash of understanding. The credits roll abruptly and leave us wondering what in the hell was going on, which really drained my enjoyment of the film.

It’s not that I don’t like movies that leave us with unanswered questions. I recently reviewed LOVELY MOLLY, which left more than a few. In that film, though, Eduardo Sanchez never promised that we would understand everything. In MADISON COUNTY, England goes out of his way to foreshadow that answers will be coming, but then he ignores these promises and leaves us feeling cheated. I’m going to chalk it up to a rookie mistake and hunt down ROADSIDE as soon as I can, to see if this was a fluke. In the end, though, I find it difficult to recommend MADISON COUNTY overall.

I give MADISON COUNTY one and a half stars, with no timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon


Transmissions to Earth Presents: LAID TO REST (2009)

Posted in 2013, Horror, Horror DVDs, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Psycho killer, Serial Killer flicks, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 7, 2013 by knifefighter





Movie Review by L.L. Soares

Look out! Here comes ChromeSkull!

Yet another in the “Unstoppable Killer Who Keeps Coming” Sweepstakes, ChromeSkull is the antagonist of the 2009 movie LAID TO REST, directed by Robert Hall, who is probably better known as a special effects makeup artist who has worked on everything from television series like THE X-FILES to BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and ANGEL to recent movies like THE COLLECTION and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 (both 2012).

To say there’s a plot to LAID TO REST is a bit of an exaggeration. But here goes:

A girl (Bobbi Sue Luther, who was also in the 2009 remake of NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) —we never learn her real name, and she’s simply called “The Girl” in the credits—wakes up inside a coffin and struggles to get out, knocking the casket to the floor. The mortician (Richard Lynch), freaks out and runs away. The girl runs around, trying to determine where she is (how hard is it to figure out you’re in a funeral home?) and at one point, she sees the mortician killed by a psycho who wears a chrome mask that looks like a skull. The guy also has a video camera he attaches to his shoulder, so he can tape all his murders. We learn later he’s sent some of his “home movies” to the police to taunt them. So he’s been doing this for a while.

Somehow, the girl escapes and flags down a guy named Tucker (Kevin Gage, who some people might recognize as the title character from the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT rip-off, CHAOS, in 2005), who takes her back to his house. For some strange reason, nobody in this movie has a working phone, and Tucker and his wife Cindy (Lena Headley) are no exceptions. They tell the girl they can’t call the police, but they’ll bring her to the sheriff’s office in the morning, and that she’s safe for the time being. Of course, she’s not. ChromeSkull followed them there and is soon going on another killing spree. Tucker and the Girl escape and drive away, but Cindy isn’t so lucky. Soon after they escape, Cindy’s brother Johnny (Johnathon Scheach) and his girlfriend show up, and are promptly murdered by ChromeSkull as an appetizer, before he goes after the ones that got away.

Look out! Chromeskull's on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Look out! ChromeSkull’s on the rampage in LAID TO REST.

Tucker and the Girl show up at the house of Steven (Sean Whalen, who’s been in everything from HANNAH MONTANA to LOST and movies like MEN IN BLACK, 1997), a goofy-looking guy who reminded me of  a young Steve Buscemi. Steven tells them he doesn’t have a phone (of course), but he does have a computer and can email the police for them (WTF?). It doesn’t take ChromeSkull long to track them down and they get away, heading back to the funeral home (where Steven’s mother is, since she just died the day before).

The rest of the movie involves everyone trying to stay one step ahead of ChromeSkull, who kills other people who get in his way as he tries to get these guys, and most specifically, the Girl.

All the big names here (big for indie horror movies, I guess) don’t last very long. As previously mentioned, they include Richard Lynch (who just died last year and whose long career included everything from Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO, 1976,  to the upcoming Rob Zombie movie THE LORDS OF SALEM); Lena Headley (who was Queen Gorgo in 300, 2006, Sarah Connor in THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES TV series, and is probably best known as Cersei Lannister in the HBO series GAME OF THRONES); and Johnathon Schaech (who we saw as the killer in the PROM NIGHT remake in 2008, and in movies like THE POKER CLUB , 2008, and “The Washingtonians” episode of the Showtime series MASTERS OF HORROR, 2007).

There’s not all that much to LAID TO REST. It’s just people trying to stay one step ahead of a maniac who wears a mask. It must have been successful, because it spawned a sequel (2011’s CHROMESKULL: LAID TO REST 2). But I didn’t find it to be particularly memorable, aside from that shiny mask of his (it does look pretty cool, but it  keeps slipping off, and he keeps gluing it back on, so it’s not very practical). We learn that he has tons of videotapes of his victims from cities and towns all over America, that he likes to use super-sharp hunting knives and that he kept lots of bodies in caskets in a house back behind the funeral home (it’s not really clear what his relationship with that mortician was, but they knew each other). We never get a good look at ChromeSkull’s real face, and it’s hard to see him as anything more than just another one-dimensional boogeyman.

As I said before, nobody seems to have a phone, every car seems on the verge of running out of gas, and nobody seems to have any brains, which means that LAID TO REST isn’t the most satisfying horror movie you will ever see. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t have its moments. Director Hall is able to generate some suspense, and he keeps the pace brisk enough, but by the end, it’s hard to really care about what happens, since the characters make so many dumb decisions.

Overall, there’s not a lot about LAID TO REST to distinguish it from other movies of its ilk.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.

A cool foreign poster for LAID TO REST.


Posted in 2013, 3-D, 70s Horror, Cannibals, Chainsaws!, Cinema Knife Fights, Gore!, Indie Horror, Sequels, Serial Killer flicks, VIOLENCE! with tags , , , , , , , , on January 7, 2013 by knifefighter

By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


(THE SCENE: a meat packaging plant. MICHAEL ARRUDA and L.L. SOARES are seated at a table.  LEATHERFACE slams a slab of meat onto the table in front of them and promptly slices into it with his chainsaw, spraying both LS and MA with blood.  He places dripping chunks of meat onto two plates and slides them in front of LS and MA.)

LS (grinning):  Oh boy!  (begins to eat raw meat.)

MA (frowning at plate in front of him):  I’ll pass, thank you.

(LEATHERFACE grunts and points towards plate.)

MA: Nothing against your cooking—(aside) what cooking?—but I ate before we got here.  Anyway, we’re here to review your new movie, so why don’t you let us do that, and maybe I’ll work up an appetite.  (LEATHERFACE nods).  Since L.L. is busy filling his face, I’ll start things off.

LS (wipes blood of his chin): Gee, thanks, buddy!

MA: TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D (2013) is the latest movie in the TEXAS CHAINSAW franchise, a series that started with Tobe Hooper’s original THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974), a classic of the horror genre, but a movie that I just have never been able to get into or appreciate.  In short, I’ve just never liked it.

LS (spits out his food in shock):  What kind of a horror fan are you?  How can you not like THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE? It might just be the best horror movie of all time.

MA:  If we were reviewing that one, I’d tell you, but right now we’re reviewing TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.  Anyway, along the way, there’s been various remakes and sequels, including THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003) and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE:  THE BEGINNING (2006).  None of these movies did anything for me, but if you’d care to comment more on them, to give the folks a little history, be my guest.

LS:  Not really. As is usual with these kinds of things, the various sequels and remakes run the gamut of various levels of bad (or at least inferiority) compared to the original film. I thought the recent remake and its sequel were incredibly bland and sterile compared to the visceral power of the original film. The nominal sequels have been a mixed bag of wasted celluloid, with only the sequel Hooper made himself, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986) worth checking out at all, and that one is a train wreck of another kind, which is sad, considering the great cast involved. I think the one I hate most is TEXAS CHAINSAW: THE NEXT GENERATION (1994) which is like a really wimpy retelling of the original film with a younger cast that includes Matthew McConaughey and Rene Zellweger in early roles (let’s just say, they’re wasted) and a skinny Leatherface! Just pathetic! Nope, there’s not much to recommend about the franchise aside from the first movie. Unfortunately, Tobe Hooper’s career hasn’t been especially awe-inspiring since his first film either, he never did recapture the pure gut-punching adrenaline of TCM ever again, although he’s made a few okay films. I wish he had something to do with this new one, other than a “Characters created by” credit, though.

MA:  Which brings us to today’s movie, TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D.

The film opens with events from the original film

LS: In 3D no less! Looked….kinda goofy.

MA: …and then adds new footage showing the locals forming a lynch mob, surrounding the home of Leatherface and his family, and burning it to the ground, killing everyone inside.  Well, almost everybody.  A couple rescues a baby from the home, although you wouldn’t want these folks working as your local paramedics, as the man, once he takes the baby from its mom’s arms, kicks the mom in the head, killing her.  And of course, we never do see Leatherface perish in the fire.

LS: This first scene really set the wrong mood right from the start for me. The first film is so dark, almost subterranean in its spookiness, that a shootout in broad daylight seemed like a real letdown. This holed-up-in-a-house-with-the-police-outside scene also reminded me of a similar scene that started off another, much superior horror film – Rob Zombie’s classic, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005)– which makes this one look pretty awful in comparison.

And we don’t really get to see any of the original characters in the shootout scene– Chop Top (Edwin Neal in the original and Bill Moseley in Hooper’s 1986 sequel) was hit by a truck before this, Leatherface is in hiding, and the Cook, maybe my favorite character in the original, isn’t shown at all (actor Jim Siedow died in 2003, but they couldn’t have had someone else play his character?). The only character from the original movie we see in the shootout scene is old, zombie-like Grandpa, sitting in a chair with his deathly white face (anyone could be behind that old man makeup). It turns out a bunch of relatives showed up at the house before the police, to defend their kin (including Drayton Sawyer, played by the previously mentioned Bill Moseley in a different role here). There are so many new faces, it doesn’t even seem like the same family or the same story, although it was cool to see Gunnar Hansen (the original Leatherface) as “Boss Sawyer.” But something about this whole opening shootout seemed too normal, too bland right from the start. The original cast and house made us feel like we were traveling through Hell itself. Here, it’s just another shootout with the police…

(A man holding a chainsaw and wearing a severed pig’s head over his own head enters the room)

LS: It’s Farmer Vincent from the movie MOTEL HELL (1980)

FARMER VINCENT: That’s right, boys. I’m here to make sure old leatherbutt here made the meat correctly. Did you use my special recipe?

(LEATHERFACE grunts and nods his head no)

FARMER VINCENT: The hell you say! How could you prepare these people a decent meal of meat and not prepare it correctly! DAMN YOU!

(FARMER VINCENT revs up his chainsaw, and LEATHERFACE revs his up in turn)

MA: Now gentlemen, there’s no reason for violence here.

FARMER VINCENT: Like hell there’s not!

LS (grin): Let ‘em fight, this might be fun.

(Suddenly the Sawyer family member known as THE COOK enters the room, flapping his arms)

COOK: Dang nab it! Don’t go making a mess in here.

FARMER VINCENT: I thought you was dead!

COOK: Well, I ain’t. And I prepared the meat. So you bet damn well it’s done right.

(FARMER VINCENT grabs a chunk, lifts his pig mask and tries it)

FARMER VINCENT: Mmmm. Pretty good.

COOK: Now get yer ass out of here before I kick it across the state of Texas!

FARMER VINCENT: I’m going, I’m going.

COOK: Now look what you done! (he slaps LEATHERFACE). Causing all this commotion. And me in the middle of my cooking! (LEATHERFACE cowers before him)

(COOK stops and turns to LS and MA)

COOK: Sorry, gents. I didn’t mean no harm here. Just go about enjoyin’ your meals.

(COOK goes back to the kitchen. LEATHERFACE is still whimpering in a corner)


LS: That was fun! It’s like dinner theater!

MA: Can we get back to our review…finally?

LS: Sure!

MA: After the shoot-out, where the Sawyer home gets burned to the ground, the story then jumps ahead to present day where beautiful young Heather Miller (Alexandra Daddario) receives a letter informing her that her grandmother has died, and that the woman left a home in Texas for Heather in her will.  Now, Heather wasn’t even aware that this grandmother existed, and so she also learns at this point that she was adopted, and that her true blood line lived in Texas.  Yep, Heather’s the grown up baby that was rescued from Leatherface’s home, making her Leatherface’s cousin.

LS: Woo-hoo! That sure is some looker, you’ve got for a cousin, Leatherboy!

(LEATHERFACE grins and nods his head)

MA: Heather and her hip friends decide to take a road trip to Texas to check out the new home.  Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker (an event which mirrors the original story) and once in Texas, they find that the home left for Heather is an elegant mansion.

The twentysomethings prepare to celebrate, but their plans are short-lived when it turns out that Leatherface still lives in the basement, and he’s none too happy about new folks moving into his home.

Further complicating matters is that the mayor of the town, Burt Hartman (Paul Rae), is the leader of the lynch mob who burned Leatherface’s home to the ground.  He hates Leatherface’s family, and he’s not above lynching Leatherface a second time, or his young cousin Heather.

It seems lovely Heather has more to worry about than just Leatherface.  In fact, Leatherface might even become her ally.  Aww, a kinder gentler Leatherface!  Just what we need.

(LEATHERFACE nods at first, then pauses as if thinking, then vigorously shakes his head “no.”)

MA:  I didn’t think so.  Honestly, I’ve seen worst movies than TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and I didn’t hate this one by any means, but that being said, boy, what a lame movie!  In short, this one’s awful.

The worst part of TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D, and why I called this one lame, is its story.  Its premise generates absolutely no suspense—Heather and her friends arrive at her new home—does anyone in the theater (and there were three other people there besides me, by the way) not expect Leatherface to be living somewhere inside that mansion?  A creative story would have taken us in a different direction, one that we didn’t expect.  Not so here.  You can see every move happening long before it does.  It’s standard horror storytelling all the way.

LS: Unfortunately, yes.

MA: And nice job, Grandma!  Way to go, caring for your long lost granddaughter by giving her a house with a homicidal maniac living in the basement!  Yup, as they say in the movie, blood is thicker than water.  What a boneheaded move!  I’m supposed to believe that a woman who cares for her family would bequeath a home with Leatherface living in it to her unsuspecting granddaughter?

LS: Yeah, Leatherface almost kills her a bunch of times, until he realizes who she is. But you can’t completely blame Grandma! She did leave Heather a letter.

MA: Yeah, she says in her letter to Heather that all Leatherface needs is a little loving and caring, and he’ll protect her.  How sweet.  Leatherface is a regular hero.  I don’t think Heather’s friends, all butchered by Leatherface, would agree.

LS: This is one major plot point that bothered me. Leatherface kills some of her friends (I’m not saying who) and suddenly it’s like it never happened and Heather has to make some choices about who she’s going to stand by and who’s the enemy. And suddenly, she’s able to forgive the murders of people she cares about without a second thought. It didn’t seem genuine to me.

MA:  I agree.

LS:  Although, they’re not the best friends. Her boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz, who is okay here, but not very developed as a character) is cheating on her with her best friend, Nikki. (Tania Raymonde).  But Heather doesn’t know that.

MA: Adam Marcus, Debra Sullivan, and Kirsten Elms wrote the screenplay for this one. You’d think three writers would have come up with a better story.

LS: Maybe they should have gone with Arruda and Soares instead?

MA: I like the sound of that!

LS: Seriously, they have some good ideas. The script just wasn’t good about following through with them.

MA: Director John Luessenhop does an okay job at the helm.  The film looks fine and includes the expected gore, which I found both tasteless and fake-looking, not a good combination.  One guy gets his body sawed in half by a chainsaw, grisly and pointless, but expected, and yet it didn’t disturb all that much because it looked fake.  That CGI culprit again!

LS: I didn’t mind the stuff you’re calling tasteless. But some of the fake-looking stuff I could do without.

MA: But anything resembling genuine suspense is absent here, as are any real shocks.  And as you already know by its title, it’s in 3D, and no, I wasn’t impressed.

LS: I don’t know. It wasn’t worth the extra price, I’ll give you that. But there were some cool moments where chainsaws come right out of the screen at you, that I enjoyed. But it was just a gimmick. Over all, it wasn’t really worth seeing it in 3D.

MA: I did like Leatherface’s mask, as it was sufficiently gruesome.  But that being said, Leatherface himself didn’t make for the scariest villain.  I mean, he comes off as this overweight lump of a man barely able to run—I was half surprised he didn’t keel over and die from a heart attack.  His cholesterol level must be off the charts!

LS: Another big problem I have with the movie is that you’re right, Leatherface isn’t scary here. In the original, he was this big killing machine. Intimidatingly huge, and vicious. Here, he’s kind of like the smaller, less scary version. Sure, he’s supposed to be 20 years older, but not once did I feel like he was a force to be reckoned with. Not once did I think he could scare the hell out of anyone. The chainsaw—sure, that’s scary. Leatherface here, not so much. Gunnar Hansen in the original movie was SCARY AS HELL.

MA: For the most part, the acting was okay.  Alexandra Daddario holds her own in the lead role as Heather Miller.  She’s beautiful and she can act, so that’s nice combination to have.

LS: You’re right. She’s very stunning. Between those eyes of hers, and everything else (she wears shirts exposing her belly in almost every scene of the movie), my eyes were just drawn to her like a magnet. And she’s okay here as an actress. Nothing amazing, but she pulls it off.

MA: Her friends were fine, but reminded me of the same types of characters I’ve seen in countless other horror movies of this type.  I recognized Tania Raymonde from LOST, as Heather’s friend Nikki, who likes to flaunt lots of skin and cleavage in this one.

Also in the cast as a young police officer is Scott Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s son.  He’s okay.

LS: Scott Eastwood as Carl is really wasted here. He’s actually really good in every scene he’s in. But then, toward the end, once the action shifts to the inside of a slaughterhouse, he is completely forgotten and we don’t see him again, which doesn’t make a lot of sense.

MA: Paul Rae as Burt Hartman makes a nice villain, and he’s actually the main baddie in this one, as he’s one big pain in the ass.  He seems to want to lynch everyone he meets. One other thing I’ll say is that this movie doesn’t paint a very nice picture of small town Texas either.  These folks aren’t friendly.

LS: Hartman is good, even if he never does seem like that big of a threat. He’s the leader of a lynch mob who became a crooked mayor in a small town. Somehow it seems like the enemy here should have been more formidable.

MA: And of course there’s Dan Yeager as Leatherface, wowing us with his multidimensional performance.  Yeah, right.  Sorry, Leatherface, but you’re about as multidimensional as a loaf of white bread.  In fact, at times in this movie, you resemble a loaf of bread.  A big fat loaf.

LS: He’s supposed to be Leatherface as an old man, so sometimes it worked for me. But as I stated before, he’s simply not intimidating or scary. They needed to get a bigger, scarier actor in this role. Yeager just seems like a mini version of the real thing.

MA: Sorry TEXAS CHAINSAW fans, but I can’t really find anything good to say about this movie, the latest silly chapter in a series that I just can’t warm up to.

I give it one knife.

LS: I actually liked this one more than you. But in the end, it is a disappointment. First off, I think the people who made this film had their hearts in the right place. You could tell they really wanted to pay respect to the original film. TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D states its goal early on with the footage from the original film. It’s meant to be a direct sequel to the 1974 movie. It simply dismisses all those bad sequels and boring remakes. In the remakes, by the way, the family’s name was changed to Hewitt for some inexplicable reason. Here, in this movie, we are told right off the bat that the murderers are the Sawyer family—the correct name—and that immediately got points from me early on.

I really think the people who made this film liked the original and wanted to do it justice, but  they just didn’t have the imagination to do it well. That said, there were scenes I liked, and things about the movie that worked for me. I just didn’t think it was scary, and I don’t think it’s very logical (especially toward the end). The fact that Leatherface is able to walk away without being arrested, after killing Heather’s friends, other people, and running through a local carnival with a chainsaw, completely puzzled me. It just wasn’t believable.

MA:  Not only that, but in a key scene, the sheriff just stands and watches a main character get murdered in front of his eyes without offering assistance.

LS: Well, he does kind of deserve it! Strangely, I liked this movie. I thought its flaws outweighed what was good about it, but I saw this as kind of a labor of love, and I can appreciate that. The original CHAINSAW deserves to be revered in the horror genre. And for once, this didn’t feel (completely) like a movie that simply wanted to cash in on a name brand and make some quick money.

I give it two and a half knives. Not a great score, but not a dismal one. And it’s at least as good as some of the movies I’ve given that score to in the past. This one has its problems, but it has just enough heart to come close to winning me over.

(LEATHERFACE pushes plate of meat back in front of MA and grunts.)

LS:  That’s right.  You said you’d build up an appetite.

MA:  I meant, like next week.

LS:  I think he wants you to eat it.

MA:  Oh well.  (grabs a fork and digs in).  (chewing).  Not bad. Rather spicy.  What kind of flavoring did you use?

(LEATHERFACE reaches into his pocket and removes what looks like squished guts and organs.  MA stops chewing.)

LS (laughs):  Sorry you asked?

MA:  I was thinking steak sauce and paprika.  Anyway, isn’t it time we move on?

LS:  What?  And skip dessert? He made us blood pudding!

(LEATHERFACE nods eagerly)

MA:  Well, folks, at least you get to leave now.  Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next time.


© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D ~one knife!

LL Soares gives TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D~ two and a half knives!

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

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?


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

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



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.


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)


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

The Reassessment Files: MALEVOLENCE (2004)

Posted in 2012, Indie Horror, Killers, Madness, Paul McMahon Columns, Psychos, Reassessment Files, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , on October 17, 2012 by knifefighter

The Reassessment Files:
Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

To be perfectly transparent, the first time I saw MALEVOLENCE was at the premiere in Worcester Mass, at the Bijou theater. Today, the Bijou exists as a deep pit of rubble right in the heart of New England’s second-largest city. I miss the hell out of that theater. Anyway, that night was great fun. I went alone, as I often do when attending horror-themed events, and the place was packed with horror freaks. I felt so at home. I arrived early and was met at the door by R. Brandon Johnson, who plays Julien in the movie. He was a great guy and obviously as excited to be there as everyone else. He introduced me to Stevan Mena, who wrote and directed MALEVOLENCE, who in turn introduced me to Gunnar Hanson (the original Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, 1974), who wasn’t in the movie but came to draw fans.

I admit that the venue might have had something to do with me granting the movie three enthusiastic stars at the time. I’ve been told that rating was a result of my being caught up in the excitement. There are elements of the film, however, that have stuck with me long enough that I don’t believe all my love for it was tied up in the experience of that night.

The first thing we see on screen is a title card of missing children statistics. Next we get: “In 1989, Martin Bristol disappeared while playing on his backyard swing in Minersville, Pennsylvania. He was six years old.” We then see a girl hanging by her wrists in a dark cellar while a shadowy figure carries in a burlap sack, which he opens to free a young boy– Martin Bristol. It’s the same opening as in the film BEREAVEMENT (2010) (see my previous review), only shot with different actors. The action plays out the same way, and then we’re treated to a scene card that says: “September, 1999.” Martin is now sixteen.

Link to Paul’s review of  BEREAVEMENT.

We look up a hill in a beautiful cemetery, a great cinematic view, while two shady-looking characters meet at the top. They talk in riddles for a few moments, giving us a clear idea that they’re planning some kind of heist and will meet up afterward at a house that’s been “vacant for years.”  Max, an evil-looking character with a mean facial scar, promises Kurt, a mullet-wearing, goofy-grinning, itchy-way-down-deep-in-his-pants type, that there’ll be “no loose ends.”  If you’ve seen more than one movie featuring a crime, you know what that means.

Now we meet two more characters, Marylin and Julien. Marylin is Max’s baby sister. Julien is her boyfriend and he doesn’t want to go along with this, but they owe money to “those people” and he really doesn’t see another option. “I’m not spending the rest of my life scratching off lottery tickets hoping for a miracle,” Marylin says.

We cut to a girl’s softball game. A blonde, skinny mother watches the game excitedly, waving to the pitcher. The pitcher’s name is Courtney. The mother’s is Samantha.

There’s a bank robbery. Max, Marylin and Julien arrive. Max gives Julien a gun. Julien doesn’t want it, but is forced to pocket it anyway. They don Halloween masks. Kurt must have missed that memo because he shows up wearing a pillowcase with eye slits cut in it. The bank robbery goes badly, and Max is shot. Kurt runs with two bags of money down one alley. Marylin and Julien return to their car, stuff a bloody Max into the back seat, and drive away.

Kurt lost his Frankenstein mask, so he improvised with stolen motel pillowcase. He’s such a criminal.

By now, Courtney’s team has lost the ball game. Courtney feels it’s her fault. Samantha, being one of the world’s greatest Moms, pulls into a gas station for a curative highly processed ice cream snack. Courtney digs around behind the seat for her mitt.

Meanwhile, Kurt celebrates getting away and has a blowout. He grabs the money and the mask and abandons his car, running across a field to a highway, where he finds a gas station and an apparently vacant minivan, still running. Kurt leaps in, surprising Courtney and then overpowering her. With his mask back in place and his gun to the girl’s head, he makes Samantha drive them to the house in the middle of nowhere. The one that’s been “vacant for years.”

Once there, Courtney escapes and runs through the forest to a nearby abandoned meat packing plant. At that point, things start to go really wrong for everyone.

Samantha (Samantha Dark) and Julien (R. Brandon Johnson) search an abandoned house for the explanation to everything.

There are enough parts to the story that it stays interesting throughout. It’s the first full-length effort of Stevan Mena, but his being an amateur isn’t apparent. MALEVOLENCE was shot on a miniscule budget, and that much is apparent here and there. Even so, Mena’s found a foreboding and formidable location to shoot the movie. The natural growth of the forest gives the same hide-and-seek shadow trickery that is a staple of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise, and the deserted abattoir is rife with creepy, dirty hallways sporting jagged shadows from the junk piled everywhere.

There are no well-known actors involved. R. Brandon Johnson, who played Julien, has appeared in the soap opera ONE LIFE TO LIVE and, more recently, in the TV series SHAKE IT UP! Samantha Dark, who plays Samantha, does some pretty convincing work here. She’s appeared in ULTRACHRIST (2003) and Mena’s horror-comedy BRUTAL MASSACRE (2007). A shout out should go to John Richard Ingram, who played Sheriff Riley here and then reprised his role in BEREAVEMENT.

Watching the movie again, I came away with the same sense of satisfaction that I had the last time. There are definite glimpses of a director who knows how to tell an effective story, and who is only going to get better. My rating for the film fell, but only from “three enthusiastic stars” to a simpler “three stars.”

First viewing: 3!!! out of 5 stars
Reassessment: 3 out of 5 stars

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon


Friday Night Knife Fights: PSYCHO vs. HALLOWEEN (Part 1 of 3)

Posted in 1960s Horror, 1970s Movies, 2012, Alfred Hitchock Films, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, John Carpenter Films, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , , , on October 12, 2012 by knifefighter

Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Pete Dudar, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon
(PART 1 OF 3)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome to another edition of FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS. 

And this time I really do mean knife fight!  It’s the battle of the knife murderers: Michael Myers vs. Norman Bates! The battle of the classic music scores: Bernard Herrmann vs. John Carpenter! And the battle of two top film directors: Alfred Hitchcock vs. John Carpenter!

Tonight we bring out the heavy hitters, as two of horror’s heavyweights go at it in what we hope will be a memorable bout. Hold onto to your carving knives, it’s PSYCHO (1960) vs. HALLOWEEN (1978).

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.

Welcome everyone, and let’s get started.  Tonight’s bout features eight rounds of questions.

L.L. SOARES: Eight? What is this, the SATs?

MICHAEL ARRUDA: The first question tonight is this:

“Who is the more iconic villain, Norman Bates or Michael Myers?”

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960).

PAUL MCMAHON:  Norman Bates.

As the psychologically twisted serial killer, Norman is the one the general public thinks about when strange cases of serial killers are revealed in the news (at least he was until Hannibal Lecter took that honor away from him).

Michael Myers, when he’s thought about, is usually an afterthought to Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I like Michael Myers much better than Jason or Freddy.

L.L. SOARES:  Who cares which one you like better? (laughs).

PAUL MCMAHON:  You may like Michael Myers better, but I think among most fans today, he’s third behind Jason and Freddy.

NICK CATO:  Getting back to the debate at hand, gentlemen, Norman Bates vs. Michael Myers, while I love Norman’s loner-bird-stuffing psychotic schtick, I always found Myers more terrifying. As Dr. Loomis said, he’s evil incarnate.  So, I’m going with Michael Myers.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Good choice, Nick!

L.L. SOARES:  Oh come on! Myers is okay, but Norman Bates is the gold standard of horror movie serial killers. He was the first “psycho” to really burrow into the mind of the general public, and what made him so scary was that was very plausible for the most part. He was, after all, based on a real life murderer, Ed Gein. Someone like Norman Bates could really exist in the world. Michael Myers was more of a boogeyman.

PETE DUDAR:  Norman’s a lunatic, but he’s a conflicted lunatic…actually showing signs of fear and remorse.

Michael Myers is a different breed of monster. The whole set-up through Donald Pleasance’s expositional spiels indicates that he’s pure evil, with no emotional or mental faculties to speak of.

I don’t know who’s more iconic.

L.L. SOARES: Well, Michael Myers was in WAYNE’S WORLD (1992) and AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (1997). So he is pretty iconic.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Very funny.  I wondered how long it would take before someone mentioned Mike Myers, the comedic actor of AUSTIN POWERS fame.  Well, we’re not talking about him tonight.  We’re talking about Michael Myers, the psycho killer from the HALLOWEEN movies.

L.L. SOARES: There’s a difference?

MICHAEL ARRUDA: I think Mike Myers has a better sense of humor.

L.L. SOARES:  Not by much

In a lot of ways, I think it’s a generational thing. Older horror movie fans will remember how Norman Bates was a game changer. The shower scene in PSYCHO was one of the scariest film scenes of all time, and people actually avoided showers after seeing the movie. It really shook up the American public at the time.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Deodorant sales must have increased!

L.L. SOARES :  But people who grew up with HALLOWEEN might feel the same way about that movie. The thing is, PSYCHO came first and influenced all of the serial killer movies that came after it. Thus, it’s the more iconic.

DAN KEOHANE:  It’s a tough question to answer.  Who is the more iconic villain, Norman Bates or Michael Myers?


I’d have to say Michael Myers.

Personally, I think Norman Bates is a hundredfold creepier, but come Halloween time more kids are wearing Michael Myers masks than dressed as a twitchy guy with mother issues (though most of the ones behind the mask are like that in real life.  Brooh ha ha ha!!!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I agree with Dan.

Michael Myers from HALLOWEEN (1978).

I mean, it’s a tough call, but based on what I hear from today’s audiences, I’d give the slightest edge to Michael Myers.  I think his image, and his name, are more recognizable today among fans of the genre, and among people who aren’t fans of the genre.

Bates was obviously the bigger icon in the 1960s, and Myers was the bigger icon in the late 1970s into the 1980s.  I’m not sure if either one of these characters remain iconic today among today’s audiences, although like I said, I think Myers is more known.  Visually, Myers, with his mask, is more striking.  His look is more iconic than Norman Bates, but then, who can forget Anthony Perkins’ sly smile at the end of PSYCHO?

Still, I go with Michael Myers.

So, Round 1 goes to HALLOWEEN, as three of us chose Michael Myers, two chose Bates, and one, Mr. Dudar, remained undecided.

On to Round 2 and the next question.

“Which film has the better music score?  Is it Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO score or John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN score?”

NICK CATO:  This one’s simply impossible to answer.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I disagree.

While it’s true that I love both music scores, and that they’re both among my favorite film scores of all time, right off the bat, without thinking about it for too long, I’d say I prefer John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN score, for a number of reasons.    I like the actual tune better, for one thing.  Whenever I watch a HALLOWEEN movie, I have the HALLOWEEN theme stuck in my head for days, and this is not a bad thing.

The music score for HALLOWEEN also does more for the movie than Herrmann’s PSYCHO score.   Without the music, HALLOWEEN just wouldn’t have been as effective.  In fact, I read once that when John Carpenter initially screened HALLOWEEN, trying to get a distributor, the film was rejected.  He then added his music score, showed it to the same people, and the film was accepted, the viewers saying they were pleased with his changes, when in fact the film was exactly the same, and the only difference was his music score.

But the longer I think about it, the less sure I am.  Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO score is also instantly known as soon as one hears it, and can you imagine the famous shower scene without Herrmann’s score?  And when you watch PSYCHO, the score is so much more than just the iconic staccato notes of its main theme.  It’s a rich and powerful score throughout.

Yet, I’m going to stick with my initial choice.  I like Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN score a wee bit better, and I think it helps the movie more than Herrmann’s PSYCHO score.  I can’t imagine HALLOWEEN with a different music score, but I could see PSYCHO working with different music.

Bernard Herrmann, composer of the score for PSYCHO.

L.L. SOARES:  I love both scores and I think they are very effective at what they do. But I’d have to give a slight edge to Bernard Herrmann’s classic score for PSYCHO. It pretty much showed everyone else how to do it. I hate to keep going back to the “movie that came first” argument, but the truth is, the first of its kind is the one that everyone else strives to imitate or surpass. And everything about PSYCHO is pretty much perfect. But in a weird way, I agree with Michael that I think I like the HALLOWEEN score a little better. It’s something I’d prefer listening to on my iPod. But for the sake of this argument, I have to go with Herrmann’s as the better score.

DAN KEOHANE:  Oooohh… you know, to be honest, there must be something to Herrmann’s score, since I can’t remember it at all except for the famous “eeeh eeeh” part, and the music for the  credits.

Carpenter’s score is admittedly more melodic and creepy in that it stays with you. Back to the iconic question, though, Herrmann’s “eeeeh eeeeh eeeeh!” killing score with the strings (yea, I have such a way with words) is far more iconic. Everyone knows what that is.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Since you can’t remember the PSYCHO score, you’d better pick the HALLOWEEN score.

DAN KEOHANE:  I remember the “eeeh eeeeh eeeeh!” part.

L.L. SOARES:  Enough with the “eeeh eeeeh eeeeh!” already!

DAN KEOHANE:  I do prefer the Carpenter score, so I’ll go with that.  (Turns and pretends to stab LS, crying out,  “eeeh eeeeh eeeeh!”

John Carpenter not only directed and co-wrote HALLOWEEN, he also wrote the music.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Interesting question.

The screeching violins of the shower scene is what most people remember when they think about PSYCHO, but that music was just a tiny part of the overall score, the rest of which most people, like Dan, don’t remember. As proof, I offer that the PSYCHO score Bernard Herrmann wrote was re-orchestrated for RE-ANIMATOR (1985).

The “trivia” section on says Richard Band “borrowed heavily” from Herrmann’s PSYCHO—but having just watched the openings to both movies back-to-back, I can say that Richard Band flat-out ripped Hermann off, and Herrmann’s name appears nowhere in RE-ANIMATOR’s credits. I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who recognize the music was originally from PSYCHO.


MICHAEL ARRUDA:  You can count me as one of those people.  It’s one of the reasons I initially disliked RE-ANIMATOR so much, because I recognized the music score and realized they had ripped off Hermann’s PSYCHO score.

L.L. SOARES: I recognized the “similarity” in the music, too, but unlike you guys, I don’t really care. I love everything about RE-ANIMATOR, even the more iffy aspects like the music. It just all works for me. Besides, I’m sure Mr. Band would clarify things by saying it was a “homage.” (laughs)

PAUL MCMAHON:  By the same token, if someone were to “re-orchestrate” Carpenter’s score for HALLOWEEN, not only would it be immediately recognized, fans would cause a stink that would dominate the Internet for days.

L.L. SOARES:  So, what’s your point?

PAUL MCMAHON:  My point is that HALLOWEEN has the better music score.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Pete, how about you?

PETE DUDAR:  Could you have picked two more iconic horror films to juxtapose? This is like asking “Which is better? Hot fudge or butterscotch?”  (Everyone on the panel shouts out one or the other.)  See what I mean?

I think picking between these two movies is simply too difficult.  So, I don’t really have anything to say about the music.

I’ll save my answers for the final question.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Ah, a rebel.

L.L. SOARES:  A wimp is more like it!

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Round 2 also goes to HALLOWEEN, with three for John Carpenter’s score, one for Bernard Herrmann’s PSYCHO score, and two undecided. HALLOWEEN enjoys an early lead, 2-0.

L.L. SOARES: That’s ludicrous.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: And since HALLOWEEN has jumped out to an early lead, I just want to remind our audience that, even if one movie has an insurmountable lead going into the final round, that movie can still lose if it falls in the final round.  It’s like a knock-out in boxing, where the fighter who’s losing the fight on points can still win in the final round if he knocks his opponent out.  Of course the difficult part is that the movie must win the round unanimously to score a knockout.

L.L. SOARES:  Yeah, yeah, they’ve heard the rule before.  You don’t have to repeat it every time.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  I just don’t want the folks to tune out if one movie builds a big lead, but something tells me that in spite of HALLOWEEN’s early lead this one is going to be close.

So HALLOWEEN is in the lead. What will happen next? Come join us next Friday and see!

L.L. SOARES: See you next week.

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