Oct 11, 2021

JOHN CARPENTER'S HALLOWEEN SAFETY PSA


Something I made for a laugh to celebrate the spooky season: a remix of the 1985 Centron Halloween Safety PSA, this time with footage from Halloween, along with cameos from Halloween 2 and Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.

Every apology in the world to John Carpenter.

Oct 7, 2021

LEGEND OF THE SCARECROW

A complete and total tip of the hat to ShellHawk's Nest for turning me onto this beautiful short film entitled "The Legend of the Scarecrow," about a lonely scarecrow who only wants to befriend the crows that visit his field. It has elements of Frankenstein and Poe and TEARS. Be sure to check it out.

Oct 5, 2021

PLAYLIST: HALLOWEEN – SEASON OF THE HITS

Another round of Halloween listenin' for the year of our gourd 2021.

This one really fought me this year. Hopefully it doesn't suck.

Allow me to soundtrack your spooky season: 

Oct 4, 2021

NIGHT OF THE ANIMATED DEAD (2021)

There’s never been a more abused horror title than George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead (1968), as its strange and immediate classification as a public domain title allowed decades of ensuing filmmakers to pick its bones in all kinds of ways without legal ramifications, from creating unauthorized remakes to remixing the movie with new edits and presentations to straight up showing scenes from the movie in their own low budget endeavors. At this point, I’ve seen more characters in horror films settle down in front of their TVs on Halloween night and begin watching Night of the Living Dead then I’ve seen them wandering around dark houses or backyards while asking, “Is anyone there?” (I can speak with authority on this because even I’ve been personally involved with two crappy projects that desperately clung to the OG movie’s coattails. Any moron can do it.)

To date, only one project, officially sanctioned by Romero, has brought any class to the Night of the Living Dead name and that’s been the 1990 remake by longtime Romero collaborator and special effects maestro Tom Savini, which starred Candyman himself, Tony Todd, as the ill-fated Ben. Since then, we’ve had 1998’s 30th anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead, which went back to the original movie and added newly filmed scenes to fill in some of the “gaps,” and which included returning actors who were very clearly thirty years older, as well as 2001’s Children Of The Living Dead, starring a now-regretful Savini, which was designed to be a direct sequel to that specific version of the movie and has since been disowned by nearly everyone involved in its making. Then came Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) with Sid Haig, in which zombie Johnny TEXTS his beleaguered sister with “COMING 4 U BARB,” and its prequel Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012) with Jeffrey Combs. Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead (2011) vied for a meta-approach by taking its own universe and meshing it with that of the classic undead zombie shocker. 2015’s Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn was the first attempt to present an all-animated take on the zombie classic and was produced by, of all people, Con Air’s Simon West, and featured voicework by Danielle Harris and a returning Tony Todd. Honestly, this list could keep going but it’s already becoming tedious, so the last one I’ll mention is the recently filmed, odd-but-curious sounding project Night of the Living Dead II, which seems to be more of a straight-up sequel to Day of the Dead (1985), as it brings back the main trio of Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, and Jarlath Conroy. As you can see, nothing about Romero’s original is safe – not the concept, not the title, and not the actual film, which is a trend that refuses to stay buried, as we now have Night of the Animated Dead, courtesy of Warner Bros., who hasn’t touched hands with anything remotely tied to this universe since 1988’s lousy but harmless Return of the Living Dead II.

With voicework by people you’ve actually heard of, like The West Wing’s Dulé Hill, the Transformers series’ Josh Duhamel, and It’s Always Sunny’s Jimmi Simpson, as well as the animation’s mostly loyal depictions of the characters/actors from the original film, it’s tempting to think this return trip to the well has finally figured out how to rebirth Romero’s film in a way that’s honorable, entertaining, and even substantive. Known actors, familiar characters, a major studio – clearly, they’ve nailed it this time, right? But if you think Night of the Animated Dead is going to be the title that finally gets it right, then buddy, you’re chewing a mouthful of Greek salad.

Die-hard fans of Night of the Living Dead will notice as soon as it starts that Night of the Animated Dead is using the original screenplay nearly word for word, which immediately robs the movie of any suspense. Instead of pondering what will happen and the new directions the movie will explore, your anticipation will be reduced to a basic curiosity for how the animators will present some of the original’s more notable sequences. This kind of approach to a movie, especially one you know so well, frankly isn’t enough to keep interest sustained, so once the novelty of the animation wears off, and once the first few words of each voice performer are spoken and you get the sense of how that performer meshes with his or her character, Night of the Animated Dead has trouble keeping viewers invested. One would also assume, being what it is, that the animation on display would be impressive, what with it being the selling point of the movie, but it’s not. It’s haphazardly done and very cheap looking, with herky-jerky movements that, at times, can actually be nausea-inducing. It’s that kind of Hanna-Barbera animation where if none of the characters are speaking to each other, everyone’s at a dead still like a photograph, and this happens so many times that you begin to wonder if your Blu-ray player is on the fritz.

The voicework ranges from perfectly fine to downright confounding, and it’s difficult to ascertain if certain choices were purposely made or accidental byproducts of the actors’ voice performances. Hill’s take on Ben is much gruffer than Duane Jones’, while Duhamel’s take on Harry is more subdued than Karl Hardman’s, whose Harry Cooper is still one of the all-time great dicks in cinema—and this while recognizing that Hardman wasn’t a professional actor. This might not feel like a big deal, but the dynamic shared between Jones and Hardman in the original movie put them on equal footing: they were both comparably bossy, domineering, and alpha male. Meanwhile, Hill comes off as the aggressor while Duhamel makes Harry Cooper seem more desperate and afraid, and whose dickishness seems to spur from fear instead of dominance and egotism. For reasons that should be obvious, and considering the decades of film theory that have examined the racial themes in the original movie, that’s…not a good thing to present for 2021. Really, the only voice actor who seems entirely comfortable with her work is Nancy Travis, who voices Helen Cooper. Confident with the medium and with a firm grasp on her character, hers is the only performance that blends well into the presentation; meanwhile, the other actors’ voice performances consistently blast you back out again. (Katee Sackhoff as Judy is bewilderingly bad.)

The only new thing Night of the Animated Dead brings to the table is its graphic depiction of violence, which was left unexplored in the original movie (at least by comparison). Instead of Johnny bumping his head on a tombstone, now his skull cracks open, brains leak out, and blood pours from every hole in his face. Instead of Tom and Judy blowing up unseen in a pickup truck, the engine block explodes through their windshield and takes out whole chunks of his face and her neck. It’s gratuitous, for sure, but it also comes across as disrespectful, though I can’t say why, considering how hyperviolent Romero himself would make his later sequels. And maybe that’s because the filmmakers felt constrained by sticking with the original screenplay and even the physical appearances of the original actors, so this was their way of putting their stamp on the movie…but then again, who asked them to stay so loyal in the first place?

Really, Night of the Animated Dead never feels respectful to its parentage, even if it does reuse the same words Romero wrote and the physical embodiments of the actors Romero cast. Even certain scenes’ choreography and staging are re-used, as if the filmmakers were looking at the original movie’s storyboards when creating their animations. But one thing stuck out more than anything else: in spite of Night of the Animated Dead borrowing the script, the actors, and the shot setups from the original movie, one scene in particular was pared down from its original incarnation, which Romero and co. had filmed guerilla style in Washington, DC, and depicted several governmental figures being grilled by the media while walking down the busy city street on the way to their car. Instead of re-using this walk-and-talk sequence, those same three government figures are placed in front of a static shot of the Capitol Dome while fielding questions from off-screen reporters—which, in essence, completely removes Romero’s in-film cameo as a reporter from this new iteration. I have to wonder if the filmmakers of this new version even knew he was in that scene to begin with. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t, because if they did, why cut the director out of his own movie? Why not take that moment to tip their hat to the man whose seminal film they’re making a buck off? That, right there, seems to sum up Night of the Animated Dead: it’s the same screenplay, the same “actors,” and mostly the same shot compositions, and yet, somehow, there’s a complete lack of George A. Romero. And that’s the worst thing this newest take on the title could’ve done.

I wish I could delude myself and believe that, at the very least, Night of the Animated Dead might help to introduce the original film to newer audiences, but I doubt that’ll be the case. If you’re born with horror in your blood, that path was always going to lead you to the godfather of the zombie sub-genre anyway; for the newest generation, however, there are an army of imitators to wade through before arriving at the main event. One thing’s for sure: it’s more than worth the journey.

Aug 24, 2021

THE CONJURING 3: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

And The Conjuring train keeps chuggin’ along! After four spin-offs of varying quality following the release of The Conjuring 2 in 2016, The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It returns us to the primary series. Following its production announcement, there were a lot of “oh, really?” reactions in the horror community. The first worrisome development was that James Wan, who had directed the previous two Conjuring films along with new classic Insidious and unfortunate cultural touchstone Saw, had opted to reduce his involvement to a producer capacity, citing a desired break from working in the horror genre (that is, before making Malignant, an unrelated horror film). Being someone who considers himself a fan of Wan’s horror output, and also being someone who recognizes that the scripts for the first two Conjuring films had been bland, rote, and very familiar but which had become solid genre pics because of Wan’s direction, I assumed the magic was over. When it was additionally announced that The Conjuring 3 would be directed by Michael Chaves, an untested director who only had The Curse of La Llorona to his name – one of the blandest genre movies to come out in a long time (and which crammed in a five-second appearance from Tony Amendola’s Father Perez from Annabelle to force an otherwise non-existing association with the Conjuring series) – The Conjuring 3 seemed doomed. And here we are, all these years, pandemic delays, and strange rumored plot points later (werewolves! Amityville!) and The Conjuring 3 has landed with a soft okay.

It’s the ‘80s! And the Warrens are still driving around in their Mystery Machine solving spooky cases like the meddlesome kids they are. Their opening-scene reintroduction sees them assisting on an exorcism of a young boy named David (The Haunting of Hill House’s Julian Hilliard), which doesn’t go all that well until one of the main characters, Arne Johnson (Ruairi O'Connor), wills the infesting demon out of David and into his own body. The Warrens soon discover that this isn’t a “simple” case of possession like so many of their previous romps, but that Arne is actually in the midst of a “curse,” which means whomever has cursed him can basically rent him out to an interested demon for a few minutes at a time so said demon can get its avatar on and do some murderous mischief…and only one frumpily-dressed, demonologically-experted middle-aged couple can stop them.

Despite my glibness, The Conjuring 3 isn’t the disaster I expected it to be, even walking away with what I’d confidently describe as the richest and most complex screen story yet from the entire Conjuring universe. As mentioned, the first two Conjurings, though far superior to this newest entry, were built on a foundation of very familiar stories, bandying plot points we’ve seen before in the genre. In fact, the story that inspired The Conjuring 2 had been previously explored with 1992’s incredible and controversial Ghostwatch and 2017’s solid BBC miniseries The Enfield Haunting. In the face of their stories’ familiarity, Wan ably brought them to life using his uncanny talent for creating shockingly creepy images – and each entry directed by him has more than one example. The Conjuring has the leaping wardrobe demon and hanging specter; The Conjuring 2 has the Crooked Man – eerie creations brought to life and depicted in such a manner that they stick with you after the movie has concluded. The Conjuring 3, though it sidesteps the typical haunted house story in favor of murder mysteries, courtroom drama (which it needed more of), and witchcraft, is desperate for this same feat, leaning not once but twice on a chase sequence involving a very rotund and bloated corpse seemingly borrowed in concept from 2019’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but which doesn’t contain the same staying power. Though this feels like one random example, it sums up the experience of The Conjuring 3 as a whole – not as good as what’s come before, somehow including the two most recent Annabelle spinoffs, but also much better than tripe like The Nun. The makings for terror are there, and the opening exorcism scene involving a small-statured stunt actor depicting some insane (and very real) body contortionism is genuinely unsettling, but it also unfortunately establishes a level of scares that the remainder of the film simply can’t recapture.

The Conjuring 3’s main issue is that it’s overdone, as if Chaves believes on-screen chaos and fear are interchangeable, whereas Wan had previously proven many times over that a calm, stationary shot which builds on that misleading foundation of calm is ripe for sudden terror – see the “let’s play Hide and Clap” sequence from the first film for an ideal example. Wan’s Conjuring films established and maintained dread; Chaves doesn’t know how to do that. Though he doesn’t flat-out rely on cheap jump scares like the ol’ cat in the closet, some of his “boo!” choices border on that kind of style, like boosting the decibels of a little kid doing nothing more than ripping a sheet off a bed. Instances like these are harmless of course, as the flick knows that genuine scares are coming soon, but they are leaned on a little too often and they set the tone early on that this new entry doesn’t have anything in store beyond gotcha moments.

Keeping things alive are the returning Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the ghost-chasing couple, whose performances and holds on their respective characters haven’t changed in the face of a new director. They are the constant component in these films and the rock around which their various conflicts are eventually cleansed. The script by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick offers them small moments of humanity to bring light into another dark story, notably the scene where Lorraine insists on investigating a cobweb-ridden crawlspace and Ed tries to deter her by saying it will ruin her dress, leading her to say, literally, “hold my purse.” Is it too on the nose? Sure. But it also works because we’ve seen the horrors this couple has lived through and it’s nice to see them act like real people instead of the somewhat cartoonish bible-brandishing superheroes the film world has turned them into.

Speaking of, nothing annoys a horror fan more than using the words “based on a true story” across a film’s marketing, because in so many instances, the studio is testing the durability of the word “based.” The real-life Warrens have left behind a lifetime of strange and unexplained work with seemingly irrefutable proof of the supernatural, but you’ve also got a large, vocal group of naysayers who called the couple charlatans and frauds. Even if you accept their body of work as fact, the Conjuring series has always pushed those facts to their breaking points, with this latest entry going so far off the reservation that you have to wonder how much people who see the words “based on a true story” are willing to believe. In a historical sense, the Arne Johnson saga – the murder of his landlord and subsequent court case – was faithfully retold; everything having to do with the curse and “the Occultist” (Eugenie Bondurant) was entirely fabricated, and though that sounds like a fair balance, the Warrens’ hunt of the Occultist makes for the bulk of the flick, and once the finale arrives and takes place in a ludicrously complex underground tunnel system beneath a simple farmhouse that is given zero explanation for its existence is what tips the movie’s scales from true morbid history to utter farce. (For those interested, there exists a 1983 made-for-TV movie called The Demon Murder Case, also based on the Johnson case, starring Kevin Bacon.)

With The Conjuring 3 having gone to theaters and HBO Max during the eye of the pandemic, the flick still managed to rake in 200 million, becoming another bonafide hit for the franchise. Despite that, there’s been no chatter involving The Conjuring 4 (except for a dozen websites running “here’s everything we know” articles that conclude absolutely nothing is known), and none of the previously announced spins offs like The Crooked Man and The Nun 2 appear to be moving forward. I would, of course, welcome The Conjuring 4 – also, of course, depending on who’s at the helm.

Jul 27, 2021

TEOS TURNS TEN


This blog is exactly ten years old today.

FUCK.

I started The End of Summer three houses, two jobs, and one pandemic ago, and for no good reason. Sure, I may have taken a couple-three years off to focus on other things, but here I am once again filling the coffers with writings new and old, and once again for no good reason. I had a lot of different ideas for things I wanted to cover, especially movies I wanted to highlight that I felt never really got their due, but that was all I had in mind. Since then, it led me to writing for several different dot commers, including Daily Grindhouse, which for some reason continues to let me crack wise for them on a regular basis. I've also written or co-written several books, one of which takes the name of this very blog, and it was because of my self-imposed challenge to write something at least on a weekly basis to practice my chops that made all of those books possible.

I humbly offer sincere thanks to anyone who has remained with me all these years, who took the time to read and respond, who continued to send emails during TEOS' downtime to offer their hopes that it would return in some manner. This blog has never commanded huge VPMs, but those who visit do so with loyalty, and that's even better.

I won't end this post with "here's to ten more" because thinking that far into the future causes me too much anxiety. Instead, I'll end with a quote from one of my all-time faves:

"Why don't we just wait here for a while... see what happens?"

Jul 25, 2021

CHUCK (2017)

The boxing movie is coming dangerously close to eclipsing the baseball movie as the most prominent sport depicted in cinema. There have been the major or minor classics (most of them starring Sylvester Stallone), the very okay (starring…Sylvester Stallone) to the downright pitiful (um….yep). But between the first and most recent Rocky/Creed films, there have been the well-made and sappy Cinderella Man, the well-made but overwrought Million Dollar Baby, and…whatever Grudge Match was. (Besides terrible). They have been founded on true stories, semi-true stories, or complete works of fiction. What sets Chuck off from the pack is that it’s a boxing film that doesn’t focus much on boxing, instead spending its time focusing on lead pugilist Chuck Wepner, whose reputation as a “bleeder” in the boxing world, as well as his somewhat stunted presentation (Whoo! New Jersey!) would inspire Stallone not just to write Rocky, but to fashion his Rocky Balboa character after him. And that’s where Chuck’s conflict comes into play. While one might argue that every boxing film is about your hero fighting him or herself, this more obviously plays out when he or she fights an insurmountable foe by film’s end, declaring victory either in or out of the ring. Instead, Chuck looks at Chuck, the man, not Chuck, the boxer. It looks at a man suddenly struggling with his own identity after the fictionalized version of him has been washed across silver screens and earned a multitude of Academy Awards. Chuck doesn’t culminate in that final fight against the insurmountable foe because the insurmountable foe he fights the entire film is himself – his demons, his reckless lifestyle, his selfishness, and his sense of worth.

Chuck features an eclectic ensemble of actors, all of whom do absolutely phenomenal work, from the lead performance by Liev Schreiber all the way down to comedian Jim Gaffigan, who appears only in a handful of scenes. Character actor Ron Perlman, face shaved and beneath a bald cap, delivers a small performance that allows him to go beyond just being Ron Perlman. Elizabeth Moss, too, excels as Wepner’s wife, Phyllis, nailing both the Jersey accent as well as the attitude. And then there’s Naomi Watts, nearly unrecognizable beneath the wig and the fake boobs, stealing every scene in which she appears. (And yes, Stallone – or rather, Chuck’s version of Stallone – also appears, portrayed by Morgan Spector, who nails the actor’s voice and intonation, but not quite the look...mullet notwithstanding.)

Chuck’s tone, too, helps set it off, as right off the bat it’s clearly more interested in being an American Hustle-style boxing film rather than just another overly dramatic story about the successful underdog. Marrying together genuine footage from Wepner’s career, along with recreations seamlessly weaved within, Chuck tells a story that you think might be familiar because you know the Rocky series by heart, but by film’s end, you’ll realize you don’t know anything about the real fighter who went the distance.

Despite the impressive ensemble, Chuck is one of those films that’s easy to write off before giving it a chance – “inspired by a true story” has become the new go-to for marketing films that have even a casual connection to reality – but Chuck impresses with its excellent performances and its reliance on a boxer’s fight against himself rather than a larger, meaner foe. It’s not taking things as seriously as the best Rocky films did, but it doesn’t pull any punches, either.