Film Review: Salem’s Lot (1979)

Also known as: Salem’s Lot: The Movie (cable TV title), Blood Thirst (video title), Phantasma 2 (Spain), Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot (Netherlands), Salem’s Lot: The Miniseries (Germany)
Release Dates: November 17th, 1979, November 24th, 1979
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Paul Monash
Based on: Salem’s Lot by Stephen King
Music by: Harry Sukman
Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres, Ed Flanders, Fred Willard, Elisha Cook Jr., Marie Windsor

Warner Bros. Television, CBS, 184 Minutes (uncut), 183 Minutes (DVD), 200 Minutes (TV), 112 Minutes (theatrical version)

Review:

“You’ll enjoy Mr. Barlow. And he’ll enjoy you.” – Straker

The last time I watched this wonderful film/TV miniseries was just before the 2004 remake came out. So it’s been a really long time and because of that, I guess I forgot how incredibly fantastic this was.

While I’ve never read the book, I know about what changes they made in this adaptation and frankly, I’m fine with all the major tweaks.

For one, the vampire is not some Eastern European dandy of the Bela Lugosi variety. Instead, Tobe Hooper gave us a vampire that is more reminiscent of Count Orlok from the 1922 film Nosferatu. And the late ’70s were a great time for vampire movies, especially lovers of F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu between this picture and the Nosferatu remake by Werner Herzog.

Another change that was made is that the final confrontation with the heroes and the vampire took place in the creepy basement of the vampire’s house, as opposed to one of the heroes’ homes. The vampire house was truly a character all its own in this film and it made this movie a mixture of classic vampire fiction and a traditional haunted house story.

What’s really great about the finale, is that the house that was created for the film is absolutely terrifying and enchanting all at the same time. The set designers created an incredibly creepy mansion for the final showdown and it truly brought the dread onscreen to a whole other level. A level that this film couldn’t have reached had they kept the story true to Stephen King’s novel.

The vampire mansion is just one part of this movie’s mesmerizing atmosphere, though.

All the scenes that feature some sort of supernatural element take on a strange life of their own. The scenes where the vampire children come to the windows and float into the rooms at night with fog billowing in are f’n incredible!

Honestly, for its time and maybe all-time, Salem’s Lot takes the cake for creating a perfect ambiance for a horror picture on the small screen. Honestly, I’d love to see this on the big screen, if it is ever showing somewhere near me.

The vampire kids at the window was so well done that it became a bit of a trope following this film. It was used in other movies like The Lost Boys and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Plus, this film has a moment where a character is impaled by deer antlers mounted on the wall. This would go on to be seen in other movies as well.

Additionally, this would inspire vampire movies in other regards. Fright Night borrows from Salem’s Lot in different ways. That film even has a big finale in the vampire’s home and while it isn’t as incredible as the finale of Salem’s Lot, it is still a great sequence that is a nice homage to it. Fright Night is a classic in its own right, which also spawned a sequel, a remake and sequel to the remake. I even heard a rumor that it may be turned into a television show in the future.

But while this film would go on to inspire countless others, Tobe Hooper, the director, also had his own homages to other films in this, primarily the work of Alfred Hitchcock and his masterpiece Psycho. The vampire mansion has a very similar appearance to the house on the hill above Bates Motel. Hooper also employed similar shots.

For a TV movie, this also has some pretty good acting but no one else quite kills it like James Mason. He absolutely owns every frame of celluloid in which he appears. I’ve always loved Mason but seeing him truly get to ham it up while being terrifying was so damn cool. And honestly, Mason looked like he was loving this film, as he was so committed to the role that he breathed life into it that no other actor probably could have.

Salem’s Lot is a bonafide classic and pretty close to perfect. My only complaint about it is the running time. The film does feel a bit slow in parts but it was a two-part miniseries and had a lot of characters and subplots. In fact, those were all greatly trimmed down from the original novel and some characters were combined to simplify the story. But honestly, I’m still okay with the final result and I wouldn’t trim much, as almost every scene featuring the main characters feels necessary.

In the end, I love this movie; more so than I remembered. I’m glad that I revisited it after all these years and I feel like it’s a film that I will go back to fairly often now that I’ve been reminded as to just how damn good it is.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu remake, as well as other vampire films of the ’70s and 2000s Shadow of the Vampire.

Film Review: Eaten Alive (1976)

Also known as: Brutes and Savages, Slaughter Hotel, Death Trap, Horror Hotel, Horror Hotel Massacre, Legend of the Bayou, Murder on the Bayou, Starlight Slaughter, The Devil’s Swamp (alternative titles)
Release Date: October, 1976 (limited)
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Alvin L. Fast, Mardi Rustam
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns, William Finley, Roberta Collins, Robert Englund

Mars Productions Corporation, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Name’s Buck… and I’m rarin’ to fuck.” – Buck

A film that was directed by a young Tobe Hooper that features both Robert Englund and William Finley is enough to hook me. Now add in great TV legends Neville Brand and Carolyn Jones and you’ve got me hooked even further. Toss in Mel Ferrer, Marilyn Burns and Roberta Collins and this picture is now boasting some serious f’n talent!

But overall, this isn’t a classic and from a historical and cultural perspective, doesn’t hold a candle to Hooper’s previous film: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

However, this was still an awesome experience and even though I know that I had seen it in my youth, I barely remembered anything about it other than it taking place in a shitty bayou hotel where the owner chases people with his scythe until they fall into a pit where he keeps a large man eating crocodile.

But you don’t really need to know more than that. And frankly, that’s all the film needs to be. One doesn’t need to get bogged down by details and an elaborate story. This was ’70s horror. Just throw boobies and blood at the screen every few minutes and consider it a job well done. Granted, this could’ve used more boobage.

This is gritty and pretty brutal but not so much so that it’s a gore festival. But if you like watching people get slashed by a madman and then chomped by a large animal, this should satisfy.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Tobe Hooper’s other earlier films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Funhouse and Salem’s Lot.

Film Review: Poltergeist (1982)

Release Date: June 4th, 1982
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Richard Lawson, Martin Casella, James Karen, Michael McManus

SLM Production Group, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 114 Minutes

Review:

“[first lines] [talking to the television] Hello? What do you look like? Talk louder, I can’t hear you! Hey, hello! Hello, I can’t hear you! Five. Yes. Yes. I don’t know. I don’t know.” – Carol Anne Freeling

Poltergeist was a massive hit back in 1982. I was too young to see it in the theater but once it hit TV, it was on all the time. It was also one of the few horror movies to actually scare the shit out of me. While those scenes aren’t as effective to my 39 year-old brain now, throughout the ’80s, I was terrified of clown dolls, creepy trees and the possibility of my face falling off just by washing it. Hell, I was afraid to turn the television off when there was snow on the screen. I didn’t want to be anywhere near that haunted infernal machine.

There was just something about the styles of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper coming together that created a special kind of magic that complimented the two men’s styles even more. Granted, there was a lot of friction during the production of this film and bad blood formed between the two men but the end result is quite exceptional and still carries that magical quality today, thirty-six years later. In fact, the sequels didn’t come close to capturing lightning in a bottle like the original did and I really feel like that is due to Hooper not directing them.

The special effects in this are damn good for the time and the movie does feel like its a big budget affair when compared to other ’80s horror. This is much closer in special effects quality to Ghostbusters or Spielberg’s E.T. and Close Encounters than say Friday the 13th or Halloween III.

Poltergeist also has a really solid cast with Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Beatrice Straight. I also love that James Karen is in this, even if he isn’t as over the top as he was in Return of the Living Dead.

On paper, if you ignore the two capable directors behind this, Poltergeist is really just a run of the mill haunted house story. This is a tale that’s been told a million times but something about this film is just different and better. I wish I could define it with words but for fans of ghost stories, you just sort of have to experience this. I’d hate to keep using the word “magic” but there really isn’t another word to fit what this is.

I love this movie. Even if it scared the everliving crap out of me as a kid, I still watched it… a lot. As an adult, I still throw it on every couple of years and never grow tired of it.

Plus, for those ’80s horror aficionados that love those rotating room scenes in A Nightmare On Elm Street, this movie did it first. And it did it nearly three decades before Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.

Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Release Date: June 6th, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Sylvester Levay, Christopher Young, David Storrs
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro (uncredited)

Cannon Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!” – General Climet Wilson

*written in 2014.

This is one of those films that seems to be forgotten. Granted, it wasn’t a huge success when it came out but it was still directed by Tobe Hooper who is most famous for directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This film is about a boy who sees a big UFO land behind his house. Suddenly, his parents start acting weird, as does almost everyone else. Why? Because evil Martians have implanted some weird device in their necks that controls them.

The effects are hokey and at the same time brilliant. This is a unique looking film and is at times, part campy and part terrifying.

Horror legend Karen Black plays a nice character in this film, as the school nurse who is trying to protect the boy after his parents have become alien slaves. Louise Fletcher, best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a good sport in this film and jumped into the insanity and became a stellar addition to this bizarre movie. James Karen, who I loved in The Return of the Living Dead, shows up as the Army general on a mission to wipe out the evil Martians.

Invaders From Mars is pretty much the epitome of a really good 1980s b-movie. It has horror, it has sci-fi and it is just fun as hell with very colorful effects. It’s also quite imaginative.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The original Invaders from Mars, as well as Spaced Invaders.

Film Review: Sleepwalkers (1992)

Also known as: Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers
Release Date: April 10th, 1992
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: Stephen King
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Brian Krause, Mädchen Amick, Alice Krige, Ron Perlman, Glenn Shadix, Stephen King, John Landis, Joe Dante, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Mark Hamill, Stuart Charno

Columbia Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Stop looking at me! Stop looking at me you fucking cat!” – Charles Brady

I didn’t like this film when it came out way back in 1992. I was in middle school, at the time, and all the kids were obsessed with Stephen King. While I love many of the film adaptations of his work and did enjoy a couple of his stories, Sleepwalkers was not among King’s work that I found worthwhile. I did see it in the theater, after having my arm pulled by several friends and because I was crushing hard on Mädchen Amick back then, thanks to her character on Twin Peaks.

Seeing it all these years later was not a better experience. It didn’t age well, there wasn’t some sort of endearing or charming quality to the film and frankly, it was hard to sit through.

The special effects are pretty crappy. the transformation animations when the werecat characters’ faces shift is quick and fluid but just looks insanely hokey and bizarre. It is on par with something you would see in a music video from the same era. And while I’m aware that this movie had a modest budget, other similar horror films with modest budgets were doing better effects a dozen years earlier. Look at An American Werewolf In London and The Howling, for instance. Hell, look at the amazing effects in Fright Night, which came out in 1985, seven years before this.

The film also suffers from being completely bogged down by awful 1990s cliches. The fashion, the music, the overall style… it all just reeks of the worst things that decade had to offer. Sleepwalkers is teen horror at its worst and the 90s panache really just shovels a few extra pounds of shit into this gaping hole of a movie.

The creature effects, once the monsters appeared in their final form were okay. The werecat vampire monsters looked fairly cool but it wasn’t anything that could save the picture.

At least the film had cameos from several horror directors and also had small roles for Ron Perlman, Mark Hamill and Glenn Shadix.

So does Sleepwalkers deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer? To quote the legendary professional wrestling manager Paul Bearer, “Ohhhhhhhh, yessssssss!” So the results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: The Funhouse (1981)

Also known as: Carnival of Terror (alternate)
Release Date: March 13th, 1981
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Larry Block
Music by: John Beal
Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Kevin Conway, Sylvia Miles, William Finley

Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“…Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” – Funhouse Barker

I’ve never been a big Tobe Hooper fan. I don’t dislike the guy’s work either but it has never stood out as anything exceptional. He’s better than your average horror director and certainly made better movies than the sea of PG-13 teenie bopper diet horror flicks that rule the industry these days but he never had that one great film that made a mark on me. Sure, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a game changer in 1974 but I never felt like it was all that great. In fact, I liked its hilarious and gory sequel better but that wasn’t great either.

The Funhouse may be the best picture in Hooper’s filmography, though. Sure, the average horror buff may scoff at my assessment of it, especially after what I said about his Chainsaw movies but it is Hooper’s one picture that I actually want to rewatch around Halloween every year. There is a certain mystique about it but a lot of what sells the picture is the work of Kevin Conway, who plays a different carnival barker at just about every tent. He sets the tone effectively and lures you in.

Also, I have always loved the monster in this movie. He’s a sort of tall, skinny, mutant beast that one could assume was the creation of generations of incestuous inbreeding. However, he seemed to be a really gentle and misunderstood monster that was unfortunately in the care of an asshole and surrounded by shitty people. Realistically, he was probably just a disfigured horny teenager but the film doesn’t really do much to explain the monster. But his look is cool, the makeup was superb and he has always stood out in my mind when looking back at slasher pictures from this era.

The film takes a lot of time getting to the slasher parts but the build up is good and sets the tone. Going through the carnival with the kids in the picture, for the first thirty or forty minutes, is fun. They’re all mostly likable and carnivals are cool. Once they decide to spend the night in the spooky funhouse though, their fate is sealed. Well, three of the four teens fate is sealed, as one girl gets out alive.

The final showdown between the final girl and the slasher is really good though. It takes place in the room under the funhouse with all the gears and dangerous hooks and chains.

The Funhouse also has a pretty impressive score. The music is well orchestrated for a slasher picture and it adds a sense of quality to this low budget feature. It does have some bits that feel repetitive but it may only be noticeable after seeing this a dozen times.

Also, the lighting is great. The use of colors and shadows to make the funhouse even spookier is executed well. I’m also a sucker for old school funhouse rides and this film is set in one. The place feels a lot larger than the outside lets on, which is probably true with the big sets but it gives the funhouse a maze-like structure that is hard for the frightened teens to traverse.

With all the shoddy slasher remakes that have come out over the years, I’m surprised this one has remained untouched. I personally prefer it that way but it makes me think that this one is sort of forgotten and underappreciated.

The Funhouse is a quality slasher picture from the early 80s that isn’t just a retread of the Halloween or Friday the 13th formula. The setting is cool and unique and gives this film its own distinct identity in a sea of slasher clones.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Part 2 (1986)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: L. M. Kit Carson
Music by: Tobe Hooper, Jerry Lambert
Cast: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Johnson, Bill Moseley, Lou Perryman

Cannon Films, 101 Minutes

texas_chainsaw_massacre_2Review:

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not as good of a film as its predecessor but I still prefer it to the original. Maybe that is a controversial stance, considering that most fans of the original loathed the sequel, but I don’t care.

I find this one to be the most entertaining of the series and I like that it is a gory dark comedy that parodies itself. Besides, the first film didn’t have the blood and guts one would anticipate with a film featuring its name. This one, more than makes up for its predecessor, if blood and guts are your thing.

I’m not a huge gore hound but the way it is used in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, is fantastic. It is deliberately over the top, almost to mock the critics of the first film that didn’t get the violence they felt they were promised. This movie pretty much states, in the most bold way possible, “Here you go! Here’s your fucking gore!” The scene where Lefty knocks a hole in the wall, only to discover that the whole place is full of human viscera, is enough to make most people wince.

I think it was over a lot of people’s heads that this was satire. It certainly wasn’t marketed that way when it was released and it may have caught people completely off guard or just pissed them off. When I saw this as a kid, I was grossed out, but I loved the humorous approach. And while I didn’t understand that it was a parody, at the time, I appreciated that it upped the ante a thousand times over.

It also develops the psychotic cannibal family’s story more. You really didn’t know much about them in the first movie but now you have a better idea of what they are. You also see Leatherface, as a character, more clearly. The introduction of Bill Moseley’s Chop Top is a great addition to the family and this became one of his most iconic horror roles.

The opening sequence of this film, as nonsensical as it is, is still one of my favorite openings to any horror film. I never understood why the vehicles drove at the same speed, albeit slowly, or why the radio station couldn’t hang up the phone but it still works for me. Maybe it was the awesome Oingo Boingo track that accompanied the violent and bizarre scene.

The music in this film was really good. Well, the rock tunes were. The actual score is pretty horrid. It sounds like a ten year-old with a synthesizer trying to pound away with scary sound effects. It kind of fits the satirical nature of the film though and it blends in well, as the movie progresses.

As far as the sets go, I much preferred the family living in an old defunct theme park, as opposed to the gross farm house from all the other movies. The evil lair was surreal and the scenes of Caroline Williams running through its bizarre halls was infinitely cooler than all the other girls, in all the other films, running through the woods with Leatherface in tow.

The scenes in the radio station also provide a cooler atmosphere than the creepy house.

Dennis Hopper said that this was the worst film of his career but he’s an idiot if he thought that Super Mario Bros. was any better.

I like Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. I like it better than all the others in the franchise. Again, the first movie is better, artistically. However, this one is just a lot more fun and insane.