Archive for the Entertainment Category

Comic Book Wednesday

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2011 by thelasthonestman

There’s a lot of news in the comic book marketplace, both from the publishing aspects as well as the far-more-profitable-these-days movie-making aspects.  None of the subjects today are earth-shattering or new, but there’s items I thought were worth mentioning (and due to a busy schedule, that I hadn’t been able to get to until now).

Pictured here: Marvel editors coming up with new ideas to save the dying comic book industry

The Fantastic Four is catching the attention of the mainstream media, as the news surrounding the latest issue of the team’s title — which features the “death” of one of the team’s members — was broken early, before the book’s actual release into comic book shops.  I’m not going to spoil here who bites the bullet — though clicking on the link above will bring you to an article that has the deceased hero’s identity — and I’ve already pretty much ripped Marvel and the comic book industry as a whole for their lack of vision in keeping our industry alive, so there’s not much reason to rehash things again here.

What I will add in is the latest in ridiculous proclamations by comic book heads — this time by Joe Quesada — who tells us that, if the deceased in question makes a return from the dead at sometime in the future — you know, because we’ve never really seen deaths and rebirths in comic books as a story-telling device in a while (sarcasm alert!) — that “… I can assure you that it’s going to be very, very interesting and not what anyone expects.” (emphasis mine).  Maybe Quesada should have said “It’ll be what everyone is expecting”.  If he had, at least he’d be speaking honestly as to one reason why the sales of new comic books continue to drop to frighteningly low numbers.

— And in another sign of changes in the comic marketplace, there was the announcement that Wizard Magazine (and its sister publication for toys, Toyfare) was ceasing publication, ending its run after almost twenty years (While Wizard was founded in 1991, Toyfare was strarted later, in 1997).

For those seriously invested in the industry, Wizard had stopped being relevant a long time ago.  The price guide — what was left of it — was inaccurate, and the magazine came under heavy criticism at times for being a shill for certain companies and their products, and not an impartial observer of the marketplace.  In recent years, the magazine began covering seemingly everything but comics — movies, television, video games — as its circulation numbers declined heavily.  Still, with all of its fault, the advent of Wizard at the time was a big deal in the industry, and the loss of the magazine is a noteworthy event nonetheless.

— As is often the case these days, the exciting news in the comic book industry revolves around nothing in the publishing arena, but instead in the movie world.  There were two very good tidbits that came out in the last week — and one that was … uh … not so good.

First, the good.  One of the comic-book based movies I’ve been waiting for anxiously for a long, long time has been a Captain America movie worth seeing — and this summer, my wish will become a reality with the release of Captain America: The First Avenger on July 22.  I’ve long thought that a serious take on the heart of Marvel’s universe set in World War II would be a winner, and that’s exactly what we’re going to see in director Joe Johnston’s film.  Early pictures from the film have been leaking for a while now, and this photo of Cap in his war attire makes me feel confident that this picture will be on the right track.

Also making news is the announcement that Anne Hathaway has been cast as Selina Kyle/The Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane in the third installment of  Chris Nolan’s Batman epic, The Dark Knight Rises.

The choice of Catwoman as a villain/love interest in the film wasn’t surprising (even if  the casting of Hathaway was a minor surprise — this sure beats her playing a female Vulture in Sam Raimi’s aborted Spider-Man 4, though), and Hardy’s presence wasn’t a shock either, considering his track record of working with Nolan.  What was a surprise, however, was the choice of Bane as one of the primary bad guys.  I liked the decision myself; the Bane in the comic books was (and is) an intelligent, ruthless, powerful adversary capable of defeating his opponent wither through brawn or through strategy.  Anyone who only knows Bane from his god-awful portrayal in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin entirely missed the potential of the character.  Judging by Nolan’s work so far, that’s not a concern I have here at all.

On the other hand, I am concerned about the first photos getting leaked out from the new Spider-Man film.  I was already critical of the approach that the film seemed to be taking early on — particularly with the unnecessary retelling of an origin that was done perfectly by Sam Raimi less than a decade ago — but I was at least happy with some of the initial casting announcements that were being made (Emma Stone as Spidey’s first love, the doomed Gwen Stacy and Denis Leary as Captain George Stacy among many), even if I was still worried about the film turning into “Twilight with webs”.  But I was a lot more concerned when I saw the first photos of Spider-Man’s costume hitting the web.

That’s not — terrible — but it looks like it”s immediately deviating from the classic portrayal of the costume (which was nailed 100% true by Raimi in his trilogy).  My obvious question is — why?  Why go away from something that’s iconic and instantly recognizable?  If there’s good reason to — like changing Batman’s garb somewhat in Nolan’s films — then I understand the reasoning entirely.  But change for the sake of change isn’t smart.  My growing skepticism on this film also wasn’t helped by the news that one of the most iconic characters in the Spider-Man universe — J. Jonah Jameson — doesn’t appear in this film either.  Considering that Jameson was a pivotal character in Spider-Man’s earliest years — and that he predates both of the Stacy’s in the character’s history — his omission from this film is bizarre, even if there was no way another actor was going to nail J.K. Simmons dead-on portrayal of the character that we saw already.  As big a Spidey fan as I am — I’m not feeling excited about this movie.  At all.

Later this week I’ll be at the New Orleans Comic-Con — pictures hopefully to come!

Happy Festivus!

Posted in Entertainment, News/Current Events, Television on December 23, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Let the airing of grievances begin!

First Thor Trailer Released

Posted in Comic Books, Movies with tags , , , on December 11, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Consider me psyched up.

Weekend Quickies

Posted in College Basketball, College Football, Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies, News/Current Events, Personal, Sports, The Wrapups with tags , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2010 by thelasthonestman

It’s a hit-and-run update this weekend (but thankfully not like the hit-and-run my wife suffered earlier in the week), as my personal schedule gets a little tighter — though I’m not going to complain about the reason.  I’m one of the lucky ones out there, as I’ve just picked up some supplemental income in the form of a new job.  That makes me one of the fortunate ones in a country where unemployment is now sitting at just under 10% and where unemployment is at a seven-month high — even as we’re smack dab in the middle of what’s supposed to be the biggest retail time of the year.

The Economy will be fine! We're going to recover any day now! Nothing to see here! Nothing to see!

It’s not just retailers shedding jobs, however — industry, financial institutions, and the government are all cutting their workforce — which makes some of the people making claims that we’re entering a recovery look about as clueless as the late Leslie Nielsen telling us there’s “nothing to see here.”  We’re a long way from getting to where we want to economically, and so long as our Congress continues to work in their own self-interests (and the self-interests of the people supporting their re-election bids) and we continue to ignore the problems that aren’t going away — the deficit, a loss of our manufacturing base, and the lack of creating new technologies to spur new industries, just for starters — then we’re going to continue heading in the wrong direction.

— Speaking of the deficit, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that while people being polled these days are in favor or cutting the deficit, viewing it (correctly) as a major problem our country is facing — they largely want the deficit to be slashed while not touching the programs that are important to them.  Well, of course.  It’s that kind of narrow thinking — and a belief of entitlement that our parents and grandparents never had, but that current generations have come to embrace — that’s led us into the quagmire we’re in now.  And unless everyone is prepared to ante up in the form of sacrificing something, then the problem won’t ever get fixed — until as a nation we find ourselves truly looking into the abyss (cue ominous music).

— I saw a large uptick in the traffic here over the last week, and a large part of it were people being drawn to the site searching for Jimmy Valvano-related items.  Jimmy V Week just ended, and for those of you who somehow aren’t familiar with the story, The Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded by ESPN and the late coach Jimmy Valvano.  Over it’s over 18 years, the foundation has raised over $100 million for cancer research.  I wrote a piece about it last year around this time that included Valvano’s inspirational speech from the 1993 ESPY awards — yow owe it to yourself to listen to it if you’ve never heard it (and even if you already have).  Click here for the piece.

"Someday, the Heisman Trophy Club will just pretend I never got this."

— As we head into the weekend and the announcement of the Heisman Trophy winner on Saturday, my friend Steven pointed me over to direction of the Heisman Trophy Winners list at the official Heisman Trophy website — for a good chuckle (and once you’ve finished marveling at the days when players from Army, Yale, and Princeton could actually win he award) scan to end of the list and to the winners of this past decade.  See anyone missing?

While we’re at it, maybe we can take bets on whether or not Cam Newton will be conspicuously absent from the list as well in another five or six years.  If I had to guess, Vegas has that result off the board.

— And finally, the trailer for the new movie from Marvel Studios — Thor (based on the comic book hero of the same name) debuts today (at 6:00 PT).  All I can say is that, if the footage I saw that was leaked a few months ago is any indication, Marvel is hitting it out of the park again so far as their adaptations go.  With the Captain America and Avengers movies forthcoming, it’s a great time to be a comic book fan!

As soon as the trailer is available, I’ll try to get it up here — so check back later tonight!

— With that, I hope everyone has a great weekend — and I’ll see you back here next week.

RIP, Leslie Nielsen

Posted in Entertainment, Movies, News/Current Events with tags , , , , on December 1, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Lost in the commotion of the beginning of the week was the sad news that one of my favorite comedic actors, Lesxlie Nielsen, had passed away at the age of 84 due to complications from pneumonia.

My first introduction to Nielsen was in the classic spoof film, Airplane!.  What made the film even funnier at the time — and an element that I didn’t get on the first viewing as a kid — was the hilarious playing-against-type performances by Nielsen and other actors known for their serious roles, such as Robert Stack, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges.  Nielsen re-invented his career with his brilliant performance as Dr. Rumack, and he would take his straight man role to even greater heights as the bumbling Lt. Frank Drebin in the trilogy of Naked Gun movies.

A heartfelt thanks to Nielsen for all of the laughs he provided us.  And for your enjoyment, some clips — including the rarely-seen Police Squad! television series, on which The Naked Gun films were based.

What’s A Superman Movie Without Superman? Probably A Disaster Even The Man Of Steel Can’t Prevent

Posted in Comic Books, Entertainment, Movies, Rants with tags , , , , , , , on November 24, 2010 by thelasthonestman

When it was announced that Zach Snyder — he of 300 and Watchmen — would be at the helm of the new Superman movie, I was on board.  The two films referenced above had their share of critics, but they were two films I found immensely entertaining.  On the latter especially did I think Snyder proved himself capable of putting a serious comic book movie (tights, powers, and all) on the big screen.

However, word that’s leaking out about the upcoming Superman project makes me believe that Warner Brothers still doesn’t get it when it comes to putting one of their flagship characters on the big screen, and more than ever, it means that the movie battle between Marvel Comics and DC Comics will continue to be won by Marvel.

Anne Hathaway + any movie = worth watching

The news that bothers me isn’t the rumored casting of Anne Hathaway as Lois Lane — not at all.  I absolutely love Anne Hathaway — I’d pay good money to watch her read the contents off the side of a milk carton — and I think she’s got the mixture of sex appeal, spunk, and sass to make her the perfect Lois Lane.  The two previous attempts at getting this character right on the big screen were misfires; Margot Kidder had the right personality for the first four films, but — as bad as this might sound — she just wasn’t attractive enough onscreen to make me think she could sweep the Man of Steel off his feet, and while Kate Bosworth is definitely beautiful, she looked too young for the role and had the charisma of a grilled cheese sandwich in Superman Returns.  Hathaway would take the best of what both other actresses brought to their roles to be the definitive big-screen Lois (though for my money, it’ll take a hell of a performance to top Teri Hatcher’s smoldering portrayal of Lois on the small screen in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).

My issue is the supposed plot details that are being leaked, namely that we’re going to have a rehashing of Superman’s origin and a film that largely focuses on Clark Kent, with precious little Superman in it — or at least it seems that way from what’s being said.  According to the above linked report,  the film will focus on the Man of Steel’s alter ego as a young journalist as he helps people while not using his superpowers.  Supposedly, the audience will then watch as Clark Kent travels the world only to return to his Smallville home to learn his true origin.

To quote Bill Murray from the classic Scrooged:

Here’s a newsflash for the good people at Warner Brothers and Snyder as well:  We know the origin story of Superman.  All of us do, everywhere — men, women, and even children.  It might be the most famous origin of any fictional character in any medium.  And it was told tremendously in Richard Donner’s original movie, which everyone who’ll be interested in seeing this film will have already seen.  And you won’t do it any better than it was done there.

You're the Man of Steel -- Stop Crying!

And so far as the “finding himself and who he really is” nonsense — well, we’ve seen that too, again, mostly in the first movie (though similar themes were explored in the second movie as well).  A Superman who is unsure of himself and who can’t embrace his role as the protector of mankind?  This take has been tried before in the comics, usually to universal derision and scorn.  No one wants their Superman filled with angst, doubts, and a touch of self-loathing — while there’s plenty of characters that such an approach fit perfectly with, the Man of Steel is definitely not one of them.

What do audiences — both the die-hard comic-book fans and the casual viewers — want in their Superman movie then?  How about no more tired rehashing of the same things over and over again for a start — enough with Lex Luthor as the main villain already.  No more dumb bimbo sidekicks to the antagonist as comic relief.  No more ridiculous subplots involving children that might be the Man of Steel’s, or real estate scams as the bad guy’s motivation, or endless monologues from Marlon Brando as Jor-El.  No more Phantom Zone escapees.  It’s ground we’ve covered enough times already.

Instead, give us a bad guy who really can challenge the Man of Steel on a physical level as well as a mental one.  Brainiac would be a great start, coming to Earth to shrink Metropolis to add to his collection of cities.  Or Darkseid, in an attempt to enslave our planet under the rule of Apokolips.  Or maybe a classic interpretation of Bizarro, in the form of a weapon used by a smarter, less physical rogue like the Toyman.

Once we have a villain to build a story around, then give us action.  Plenty of it.  You have the most powerful being on the planet with an opponent who can match him toe-to-toe — let’s see them go at it.  While one would think that using this formula isn’t exactly rocket science, it’s worth noting that only one Superman movie has had anything resembling this approach in it (Superman II).  Add in some other thrilling action sequences that display the Man of Steel’s powers to their full effect (like the incredibly well-done Shuttle rescue sequence in the most recent movie, one of the only things about that film that actually worked) and presto — a winning formula.  Certainly, it’s a recipe for something better than the some of the bad-tasting films we’ve seen for a character that’s deserved far better.

Will Warner Brothers realize that before they end up with another big-budget debacle on their hands?  If early reports are any indication, you don’t need a Superman to tell you that the answer is apparently not.

My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Finale

Posted in Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , on October 30, 2010 by thelasthonestman

We’re made it here to the end — my top-5 horror movies of all time.  If you missed the first three parts, you can find them here, here, and here.

5.   Alien  (1979)

I almost didn’t list this movie at all, as I wasn’t sure if it really fit the definition of horror.  I left out Silence of the Lambs and Jaws because I didn’t think they fit the genre neatly enough, but Alien I thought did.  Does that make sense?  Of course not — but it’s my list, and I get to make those judgments, right?

That said, Alien is a tremendous movie, no matter what genre you want to stick it in.  The cast is brilliant, headed by Sigourney Weaver in her first major movie role, the always entertaining Tom Skerritt, and a host of other excellent actors;  how many movies in general — not just horror movies — have casts that are even half as talented as this one, a group that also included Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm,  Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartright, and John Hurt?

And Alien is downright frightening.  The scene where Dallas (Tom Skerritt’s character) encounters the Alien in the ventilation shaft is enough to make your heart stopand we don’t even need to get into the chestburster scene (too well known now to surprise, but a shock to those seeing the film during its release).  The Alien special effects are incredible, the idea of Ripley’s character emerging as the sole survivor and the heroine was groundbreaking for a science fiction/action film (though less so for a horror entry — see, there’s that genre thing again).  The atmosphere of the Nostromo is claustrophobic and depressing.  I could go on and on — there’s nothing I dislike about this film at all.

4.   Nightmare on Elm Street  (1984)

Wes Craven had already made low-budget horror films The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes prior, but it was this film that put the director on the map as one of the biggest names in terror.  Nightmare follows the story of a deceased child murderer who finds a way to stalk the children of the adults who killed him — by invading their very dreams and striking at them when they’re the most helpless.

Craven’s masterpiece introduced us to Freddy Krueger, an enduring icon of horror that took his place alongside the greatest movie killers and monsters of all time.  But it also introduced us to the terror of being trapped in a world of dreams where things aren’t what they always seem, and the monster — Freddy — is always in control.  This was a theme explored in a number of films and stories over the years that followed (the Matrix, anyone?), but the surreal dreamworld portrayed in Nightmare was unlike one audiences had ever seen before.

The sequels would make Freddy a caricature of himself, but in this original film, he’s at his best: serious, deadly, and terrifying.  Add in great acting performances all around, bloody special effects, and a haunting score and it all adds up to a winner.  Just remember — once you’ve seen it, don’t fall asleep.

3.  The Exorcist (1973)

The top-3 films on my list are pretty much interchangeable in that any of them could have been ranked in the number one slot (even if all three films couldn’t be more different in their composition).   I’ve seen William Friedkin’s classic (based on the best selling book by William Peter Blatty) in the top spot in any number of horror lists — and for good reason.

There’s not a high body count in this film, there’s no maniacal killer for the protagonists to hide from as they’re stalked, and the heroes at the end of the film are a pair of priests — how’s all of that for atypical for a horror film?  The story revolves around a 12 year-old girl (played by Linda Blair, in an incredible performance) who undergoes a dramatic, disturbing change in her personality.  When medical causes are ruled out, her mother (Ellen Burstyn) begins to believe that her daughter is possessed, and she calls in the priests to perform an exorcism.

The performances are all tremendous, and the final exorcism scene is one of the most chilling, disturbing events put on film.  The special effects are outstanding as well — who will ever forget Blair’s head spinning around?  And the idea of a demonic possession, to me at least, is a thousand times more frightening that some random guy running around with a knife and trying to kill me.

The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards (winning two), and it’s well deserving of its critical acclaim, as well as its spot on my list here.

2.  Halloween  (1978)

This is the low-budget production that revolutionized the way we looked at horror films, and even thirty-plus years later, it still stands up as one of the best that the much maligned genre has to offer.

The story is incredibly simple:  as a child, a boy murders his sister on Halloween and is committed to a mental institution — then as an adult, he escapes the institution and returns to his hometown to kill again.  But in Halloween’s case, it’s not the story that makes the film, but the tremendous way that everything else in the movie works so well — a tribute to horror master John Carpenter’s magic touch.

Carpenter hits a home run in almost every way imaginable.  The casting choices are brilliant, whether it was Jamie Lee Curtis (in her debut) as the innocent heroine Laurie Strode, or the underrated Nancy Loomis and P.J. Soles as her not-so-innocent friends, or the most important casting choice, veteran actor Donald Pleasence as the psychiatrist hunting his former patient down.  The female leads are authentic and believable, and Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis is our window to the madness that is Michael Myers, The Shape who stalks them.

There’s surprisingly little blood in Halloween, and the violence is tame compared to horror movies today.  But there’s tension in nearly every scene;  you can’t help but feel unease as you see Michael standing outside Laruie’s house amidst the laundry — then vanishing, or outside of Annie’s door, or across the street for little Tommy Doyle to see him.  He’s a real-world Bogeyman who’s everywhere and then nowhere at the same time, unstoppable, unfeeling, and utterly frightening.

I could rave about the film all day — from the perfection of Michael Myers’ look (who ever thought a William Shatner mask could be so creepy?) to the brilliance of the now-instantly-recognizable score — but the best thing I can say is to see it for yourself if, unbelievably, you haven’t already.  Forget the sequels (which ranged from mediocre to absolute garbage) and the Rob Zombie remake (which is instantly forgettable) — the original was — and is — still one of the best that horror movies have to offer.

1.  The Shining  (1980)

My first introduction to the great Stanley Kubrick’s “Masterpiece of Modern Horror” was a television commercial I saw for The Shining when the film was just getting released into theaters.  I distinctly remember creepy music and the visual of Jack Nicholson driving an axe through a bathroom door while Shelley Duvall screamed in absolute horror.  The scene scared the hell out of me then (as a ten year-old), and while I might have gotten a lot older since then, the film’s ability to scare it’s audience hasn’t lessened one bit with time.

The story is of a writer serving as the caretaker of a mountain hotel over the winter.  He brings his wife and their son with him to this isolated abode — but the young boy has a special gift of his own, and the hotel that they’ll be staying in is an evil place with a life of its own.

Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King, the movie deviates greatly from the book (King was extremely dissatisfied to many of the changes that Kubrick made).  After having read the book, I was at first disappointed in a number of Kubirck’s alterations — particularly in Jack Nicholson’s character — but the end result is still a triumph, not just in horror films, but in film making in general.  Indeed, Kubrick took king’s story and made something else out of it altogether — but what he made was something spectacular.

Nicholson’s performance as a tortured soul slowly going insane (or was he that way from the very beginning?) carries the film, but it’s Kubrick’s hand behind the camera that makes The Shining a hypnotic, spellbinding work of art that, three decades after, still has no secrets to reveal to the viewer watching it.  It’s a movie that makes the perfect film for a Halloween night viewing, and it’s my choice for the number one horror movie of all time.

Horror Movie Honorable Mentions

Posted in Entertainment, Movies with tags , , on October 28, 2010 by thelasthonestman

It’s time for an intermission in my countdown of my Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time.  No, not one of my “I’ll see you again in three months” kind of intermission — but since we’re still a few days away from Halloween, it’s an opportunity to talk about some of the other horror movie guilty pleasures that didn’t make my list, but that I still will watch if I catch them on the tube and nothing else is on.  Think of it as my honorable mentions:

Terror Train  (1980)

Jamie Lee Curtis, the scream queen of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, stars in this “killer on a train” flick.  It’s not too bad a film, all things considered — and it’s got David Copperfield as a creepy magician, no less.  It’s a standard “youth seeks revenge on those who wronged him” tale, but it’s got a few good scares in it.

Friday The 13th — The Final Chapter  (1984)

The fourth installment of the Friday films — and one of the most violent.  Jason’s got the hockey mask and a whole bunch of horny teenagers to slice and dice. Friday fans consider this one to be one of the best of the series.  The highlight — Crispin Glover gets up-close-and-personal with a machete.

April Fool’s Day  (1986)

This is a movie I’ll probably write a piece on some day (I know — maybe next April Fool’s Day!). It was oh, so, close to making it onto my top-20 list.  The cast is great and the story, unlike a number of horror/slasher films, is smart and makes sense.  I love this movie, but there’s a lot of horror film fans who hate it with a passion.  Why?  Watch it and you’ll see!

Children of the Corn  (1984)

What’s creepier than children taken in by an evil cult and killing all of their parents and any adult that stands in their way?  How about Malachai shouting “Outlander” over and over again while dragging a young Linda Hamilton behind him?  Mindless fun — and the opening scene is 100% unnerving.  Speaking of creepy children …

The Omen  (1976)

… Nothing is creepier than having your angelic-faced little son be the spawn of the Devil and the Antichrist, is there?  This was another film that barely missed my top-20 list. It’s got a great story and an all-star cast that’s headed by all-time great and Academy Award winner Gregory Peck.

Candyman  (1992)

This mix of urban legend and horror is severely underrated on horror movie lists. Tony Todd is menacing as hell as the titular character, and the gorgeous Virginia Madsen is — well — gorgeous (the most unbelievable part of the film isn’t that there’s a folk killer that’s somehow been brought to life, it’s that the husband of Madsen’s character is actually cheating on her  Talk about someone who deserves what he ultimately gets).  

I could probably go on and on — there’s plenty of horror films I actually like that I didn’t mention either here or on my top-20 — but as always, my list is my list and may differ greatly from yours or anyone else’s.

Again, check back on Saturday for the finale of my top-20 — numbers 5 through 1!  See you there!

My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 3

Posted in Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , on October 27, 2010 by thelasthonestman

We’ve made it alive to our top-10!  Today, it’s numbers 10-6 as we count down to my number one favorite later in the week.  For parts one and two, click here and here.

10.  Hellraiser  (1987)

It’s the film that introduced us to the horrifying Pinhead and the Cenobites, though — much like Jason in the first Friday the 13th movie — we don’t really see much of them until the end of the film.  But having Pinhead in small doses makes his appearance at the movie’s climax that much more effective.

The story is about a puzzle box — a Rubik’s Cube that opens a gateway to Hell.  But more than that, it’s a movie about flawed human beings and their relationships with one another.  It’s a story about a decent man, Larry Cotton (played by Andrew Robinson), his daughter Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), and his unfaithful, scheming wife (Claire Higgins) — who had once had an affair with Larry’s brother, Frank — who’d found himself sucked into the Hell of the box.  But with Claire’s help, Frank has found a way to escape the Cenobites who torture him endlessly — until Kirsty unwittingly summons Pinhead and his minions herself.

The movie’s theme revolve around sex and sadomasochism, the violence is disturbing and graphic, and there’s no shortage of blood spilled throughout.  Hellraiser is frightening and suspenseful, and the scenes with the Cenobites are nightmarish.  Doug Bradley’s work as Pinhead is masterful — as a force not necessarily of evil, but of nature — his character is fittingly:  scary as hell.

9.  The Fly (1986)

Even more surprising than seeing a John Landis-directed film on this list yesterday is seeing a Mel Brooks — yes, that Mel Brooks — produced film on today’s list.  And as the story goes, when this remake of the 1958 original was first screened, the studio executives present apparently thought they were seeing another wacky Brooks comedy like Blazing Saddles.  Oops.

But it wasn’t Brooks behind the camera, but David Cronenberg — which should have been a tip-off that the laughs were going to be few and far between.  What the audience would get would be a tragic story of an eccentric inventor’s misstep that leaves him slowly transforming into something no longer human.

Where can I begin in gushing over this film?  I nearly ranked it higher on this list, except that while I think it’s a better film than some of the entries ahead of it, it’s not necessarily a scarier one, which had to be weighed.  But the acting of the leads, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, is incredible — Goldblum was jobbed out of an Academy Award nomination (and Siskel and Ebert agreed with me at the time).  The special effects and makeup are astounding.  The story is rich in symbolism.  And the ending is one of the most heart-wrenching finales I’ve ever seen in any film, not just a horror film.  This is a film you owe it to yourself to see if you haven’t.

8.  Night of the Living Dead (1968)

George Romero’s classic that introduced the cinematic world to zombies introduces today’s offerings, and it’s a groundbreaking film in more ways than you might imagine.  One of only two black-and-white films that made this list, Night of the Living Dead was a low-budget independent movie that was Romero’s first work as a director (the low budget was the reason the film wasn’t made in color).  The black-and-white lends a gritty realism to the movie, as well as providing a nod back to classic horror cinema.  The plot is straight-forward — the dead have come back to life and are coming to get a group of disparate people hiding out in a rural home — and the cast is unknown.

The casting of African-American actor Duane Jones, who played the male lead Ben, as the hero in an otherwise all-white cast in 1968 was groundbreaking.  The movie builds up tension throughout, as the zombies effectiveness isn’t in their speed or ferocity, but in their sheer numbers that are increasing as the area of safety for the protagonists continues to shrink.  The violence and the gore are effective and disturbing, and unlike most movies of the time, there was no happy ending to send audiences home with.

Night of the Living Dead spawned a number of sequels, remakes, and copycats, and it’s the reason we have zombie cinema (like the excellent 28 Days Later and the upcoming AMC series The Walking Dead) today.  It’s a classic of the big screen, and if you’ve never seen the original — what are you waiting for?

7.  Psycho  (1960)

This entry stands out from the rest of the film on this list for a number of reasons.  It’s one of only two black and white films on the list.  It’s also the oldest film of the bunch, and the least violent, as there’s almost no blood and no gore to be seen anywhere.  And of course, it’s directed by the Master of Suspense himself, the legendary Alfred Hitchcock.

If there’s a problem for modern audiences in viewing Psycho, it’s that the surprises are long since gone, and it’s impossible for anyone today to replicate what viewers back in 1960 went through went they first saw the film.  Thankfully, my first viewing — when I was still just a kid many years ago — saw me unaware of the twists that today’s audiences are privy to, and I was just as stunned as they were back then when Janet Leigh took her shower — and never came out.

The film is a true masterpiece.  Anthony Perkins’ performance is brilliant, and the musical score is a classic that is instantly identifiable when you hear it.  It’s arguably Hitchcock’s finest film, and it’s a testament to the fact that you don’t need to show everything on film in order to get a reaction from the audience — or to scare them.

6.   The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Upon it’s initial release, Tobe Hooper’s film — presented as a true story (it wasn’t) of a group of friends ambushed and slaughtered by a family of cannibals while traveling through the sparsely populated regions of Texas — quickly became one of the most controversial movie releases of all time.

The film’s main killer, Leatherface, was modeled after real-life serial killer Ed Gein (as had been Norman Bates beforehand and Silence of the Lambs killer Buffalo Bill afterward).  And it was easy to see why many people believed that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a true story — the film itself had a grainy quality to it that many have commented make watching it akin to viewing a snuff film.

The sadistic violence and the gore, while at the time unlike what most audiences had even seen in a theater, are frankly nothing compared to what’s on the screen in the current “torture porn” movies (like Eli Roth’s Hostel, for example).  But the sense of terror that comes through on the screen is no less effective now than it was almost forty years ago.  Famous film critic Rex Reed once described it as “the most terrifying film he had ever seen”.   It’s also the film that in many ways — for better or for worse — started the slasher film sub-genre.

And finally — keep checking back as we recap our final top-5!

My Top-20 Horror Movies Of All Time — Part 2

Posted in Entertainment, Movies with tags , , , on October 26, 2010 by thelasthonestman

Like any good horror movie franchise, here’s my sequel to yesterday’s list of horror movies that put a scare into me.  Today, I’m looking at numbers 15-11 on my list, counting down to my number one favorite later in the week.

15.   Suspiria (1977)

If there’s a movie in my top-20 that someone reading this hasn’t seen yet, then it’s probably this one.  From the mind of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, Suspiria was a film I had never seen until recent years, when it appeared in its uncut form on one of the myriad satellite channels I get (I believe, I saw it on IFC, though I can’t remember for certain).  I heard about it originally from the Bravo special running a few years back, the 100 Scariest Movie Moments — and I’m glad I did and wish I’d seen it sooner.

The hallmarks of the movie — a tale of a American ballet student attending a dance school in Germany where terrible things are happening — are the vivid colors used throughout, giving a nightmarish quality to the the story, and the music — a powerful soundtrack unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a horror film before.   Also, the violent deaths in the movie are brutally graphic and over-the-top in their depictions of blood and gore — it’s definitely worth catching the film in as close to an uncut state as possible if you can in order to get the full effect.

If you think that all horror films are nothing more than some masked killer preying on a bunch of horny teenagers, then this movie will change your perception dramatically.  There’s nothing really out there like it, and that’s a sign of what a horror masterpiece this movie is.

14.   An American Werewolf in London  (1981)

One of the more underrated movies on this list, it was directed by John Landis — yeah, that John Landis who directed Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Trading Places.  But don’t be fooled into thinking this a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, even though there are definitely comedy elements mixed in with the horror.

The plot follows two American students traveling in England, and their encounter with a werewolf on the darkened, fog-shrouded moors.  One of the students, played by Griffin Dunne, is killed while the other, played by David Naughton, survives — though he finds that he may have been better off if he hadn’t.

The English settings and the largely English cast give the film a tremendous atmosphere, as do the great sets.  The special effects at the time (the centerpiece being the main characters transformation into a werewolf) were groundbreaking at the time, and they still hold up strongly today.  I had a soft spot at the time for the nurse played by Jenny Agutter (at age 57, she’s still gorgeous today), and the story isn’t just a horror film — it’s a tragic love story as well.  But there’s no shortage of scares — the  nightmares suffered by the protagonist, for example, are as frightening as anything you’ll see on this list.

13.   The Evil Dead  (1981)

When I watched the scene in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 where Dr. Octopus’ tentacled arms come to life and brutally kill the medical staff trying to attend to him, my first thought was, “It’s moments like this where you can see Raimi’s horror movie roots shining through.”

This horror classic follows the story of five students who travel to an isolated cabin in the Tennessee mountains to spend a weekend.  While there, they discover “The Book of the Dead” and accidentally use it to summon a host of demons and evil spirits, which then begin to possess them.  Needless to say, the weekend goes pretty much all downhill from there.

The sequels that followed the exploits of the main character Ash (portrayed by the brilliant, underrated Bruce Campbell) were far lighter in tone than the original film.   Like a number of films on this list, the violence is graphic and disturbing, but the film isn’t just a sequence of violent deaths repeated ad nauseum.  It does beg the question, however — are there any films where people go to an isolated cabin in the woods and don’t end up dead?  Certainly, that’s not the case in our next film on the list …

12.  Friday the 13th  (1980)

The original that kick-started the long-running franchise of horror films, this is also the one that’s known as “The One without Jason”.  While the hockey-masked, unstoppable killer Jason Voorhees would become the face of the series, the first only features him as a boy (and possibly only as a hallucination) at the end of the film.  This movie does follow the standard series plot, though, of having a host of hot-blooded young teenage counselors going to Camp Crystal Lake — and slowly getting picked off one by one.

What sets this film apart from the others in the series — and why it’s on this list — is that, for one — it’s genuinely scary.   With the exception of one early death, the first half of the movie is mostly about building suspense — you know someone’s stalking the doomed counselors, and half the scares are in waiting for the shoe (or axe) to drop.  Unlike many of the other Friday installments, while there’s gore and violent deaths, there’s also plenty things you don’t see but have to imagine instead (this is probably the least gory of all of the movies in the series).

In addition, there’s actually attempts made to develop the characters, and the ending where the killer is revealed is a great twist the first time you see it (though, by now, everyone knows who the killer is — it’s iconic enough to have been used in the opening of Scream).  And as a bonus — it has Kevin Bacon in it for crying out loud.   Enough said.

11.   The Blair Witch Project (1999)

This entry will almost certainly be the most controversial on my list;  it’s definitely one of those, “You either love it or you hate it” entries there’s absolutely no in between with nearly everyone who’s seen the film.

Presented as found footage discovered a year after three student filmmakers vanish in the woods in Maryland, the movie was a triumph in independent film making, Blair Witch becoming the most profitable film independent movie ever released.  So convincing was the film-s unique set-up, that many viewers initially thought that what they were watching was a real documentary (and even today there are still people who think the events of the movie actually happened).

Unlike almost every movie on this list, there’s nearly no violence, no gore, and nobody dies (presumably) until the end.  So why is it on my list?  Well, it’s what you don’t see — and what your imagination tells you is out there — that makes the story scary.

My biggest complaints is a lack of much going on for the first two thirds of the film — stop arguing about the map already! — and the nausea-inducing movements of the hand-held camera (a necessity for the film’s premise, though).  But all faults are forgiven in the spine-tingling ending in the abandoned house, which left me more than unnerved when I left the theater and kept me that way the entire drive home.

Now up for your entertainment — click here for numbers 10-6!