Tag Archives: before they were famous

Making Friends

may 2002 artwork angela bettis

MAY

3.5 Stars  2002/18/90m

“If you can’t find a friend…make one.”

Director/Writer: Lucky McKee / Cast: Angela Bettis, Jeremy Sisto, Anna Faris, James Duval, Nichole Hiltz, Merle Kennedy, Kevin Gage.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “When I left for vacation, my dog had four legs. When I came back… now… she only has three.”


With her lazy eye and pirate-style eyepatch, little May has no friends, so her mother’s advice at her empty birthday party – “If you can’t find a friend – make one!” – comes with a handmade doll named Susie, who permanently resides in a glass case, to be May’s best friend.

Grown up May works in a veterinary surgery and catches the attention of amateur horror film creator Adam (Sisto), who “likes weird”. But when May becomes a bit too weird for his liking, he avoids her like the plague, leaving her open to the affections of her dippy gay co-worker Polly (the always fun Faris), who donates her beloved cat to May for company. When Polly’s interest is refocused on another girl and May accidentally kills the cat, things begin to crumble and eventually splatter to rock bottom when Susie the doll is pulled to pieces by a bunch of blind kids she volunteers with.

Sadder than ever, May ends up walking around her apartment, petting the dead cat and smoking Adam’s cigarettes and tries to attract a new friend, who she ends up killing when he discovers the dead cat in the freezer and calls her a freak. Snared by the idea of literally making a new friend to replace Susie, she visits Polly on Halloween to collect her ‘beautiful neck’, the legs from Polly’s new girlfriend, and finally Adam’s ‘perfect hands’.

may 2002 angela bettis

Bettis had recently played Carrie in the TV adaptation of the Stephen King book and extends upon the nuances of that character here, a girl similarly emotionally isolated. We generally feel for May as she drifts from her happy childhood into an entirely confounding adulthood; Her joy at receiving corrective contact lenses is sweet; Her heartbreak when she overhears Adam and his friends calling her a lunatic.

McKee hits the right notes, making her more human and sociable the more insane she becomes to the point of her premeditated scalpel murders, dissections, and sewing-together of her friend – who she affectionately names Amy. May echoes the sleazy gorefest that is Pieces only insofar as the killer creates a companion, but for entirely different reasons, making it the best Frankensteiny slasher to date.

Blurbs-of-interest: Bettis was later in Scar and the Toolbox Murders remake; Jeremy Sisto was in Wrong Turn; Anna Faris was in Scary Movie and Lovers Lane; James Duval was in The Clown at Midnight and Cornered!; Kevin Gage was in Laid to Rest.

Valley of the Mid-Range Franchises: The Stepfather

For a long time I didn’t really consider The Stepfather movies to be slasher flicks: Slightly too-highbrow (the first one, at least) and more in common with the rush of late-80s demented family member/one night stand/roommate/nanny thrillers.

However, the titular character does kill his way through the three movies, laying to waste those who disrupt his vision of familial bliss. That the films are less about a string of victims and more focused on the facade created by the stepfather is relevant, but they’re cool films so let’s love them anyway…

the stepfather 1987THE STEPFATHER

3.5 Stars  1987/18/85m

“Jerry Blake loves taking care of the family. Any family.”

Director: Joseph Ruben / Writers: Carolyn Lefcourt, Brian Garfield & Donald E. Westlake / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Jill Schoelen, Shelley Hack, Stephen Shellen, Charles Lanyer, Stephen E. Miller.

Body Count: 4

Laughter Lines: (to the grieving sibling of a murder victim) “Why don’t you get on with the rest of your life and forget about it?”


As the product of a family where the parents have stayed together for over 40 years, I don’t have much insight into what it’s like to grow up with a single parent and have a prospective new partner enter the scene, disrupting the routine that you likely cling on to in the wake of a divorce or loss.

I can only imagine what it must be like to have someone try to be your new best friend, especially if they glow with a plastic Ward Cleaver aura, one that feels so forced that, in the wake of films like this, you’d automatically suspect them of having some literal skeletons in their closet.

For Stephanie Maine (then-burgeoning scream queen Jill Schoelen), this is a nightmare come true as, after her father’s death, her mother has remarried Jerry Blake – smilin’ family guy, realtor, doting dad, unhinged psychopath. Beyond the expected issues of coping with her loss, Stephanie gets expelled from school and blames all of her problems on Jerry and his transparent attempts to reach her: The usual ‘champ’, ‘slugger’ platitudes, buying her a puppy etc…

step1-2

Of course, we know better having seen ‘Jerry’ dramatically alter his appearance and walk out on his slain previous family in the prologue, slipping effortlessly into a new life.

At a party hosted by the family, Stephanie gets a glimpse of Jerry’s hidden persona as he throws an anger hissy in the basement where he thinks he’s out of sight. Over hearing the tale of the still uncaptured family-slayer, Stephanie begins to believe Jerry is that guy.

Like the thrillers that came in its wake, a large midsection of The Stepfather concerns Jerry thwarting Stephanie’s attempts to out him, while mother Susan looks on, thinking all is rosy. He also finds time to murder Steph’s shrink and mocking up an accident, the event that eventually brings them closer, that is until he flips about her kissing her crush on the doorstep.

stepfather 1987 jill schoelen

Jerry finally decides enough is enough and begins sculpting a new life in preparation for getting shot of Susan and Stephanie and starting anew elsewhere, but unfortunately for him, not only does he confuse his identities, but the brother of his last wife has been busy tracking him down and is about to show up with a gun in hand. Things shunt into slasher gear when Stephanie is attacked and has to save herself.

O’Quinn’s commitment to what could easily have been a campy, over-hammed role as Dad is what carries both this and the sequel beyond the contrivances of the plot (more pertinent in the follow-up). His natural intensity, later seen in Lost, and a talent for balancing his below-the-surface psychotic tendencies with the outward guy-next-door charm is genuinely unsettling – the way he posits “maybe they disappointed him?” as a possible motive for the murders is chilling – and a series of glares serves to remind the viewer that we know a lot more than his family and friends.

stepfather 1987 terry o'quinn

The many stares of the Stepfather

For her part, Schoelen oozes likeability – as she did in all her horror roles – and rises to the challenge of final girl-dom with aplomb, using broken mirror shards and sledges to her advantage. The only weird thing about it is that, despite being in her early twenties during production, her brief topless shower moment seems wrong as her character is said to be fifteen. It’s buoyed in a way by some frontal nudity of O’Quinn, courtesy of a reflection in a mirror, but still seems weird.

A fine film, albeit with a narrative that’s been aped too many times to reap its rightful returns, but it seems over a little too soon and, I think, could work well in mini-series format if they ever wanted to resurrect it. Oh wait, they did…

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stepfather ii make room for daddy

STEPFATHER II

3 Stars  1989/18/88m

A.k.a. Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy

“Tonight – Daddy’s coming home to slice more than just the cake!”

Director: Jeff Burr / Writer: John Auerbach / Cast: Terry O’Quinn, Meg Foster, Caroline Williams, Jonathan Brandis, Henry Brown, Mitchell Laurance.

Body Count: 5


Having miraculously survived the wounds inflicted on him at the end of the first film, Jerry is now locked up in an institution in Puget Sound, where the new doctor, Dr Danvers, is keen to help him and find out his real identity – but we know Jerry will have other plans.

After winning the doc’s trust, he dispatches him and a security guard before making his escape and rocking up in a Los Angeles suburb ‘for the family’ where he sets himself up as Dr Gene Clifford, a therapist specialising in familial stuff.

Before long, Gene is involved with local divorcee Carol and her sad son Todd. While he disappears her ex husband forever into a compactor, Carol’s friend Matty (Williams) begins to suspect the good doctor is not all he seems, using her access as local mail handler to find out that the actual Gene Clifford is not only dead, but was also black.

stepfather 2 terry o'quinn

Of course, Jerry/Gene isn’t going to let anybody ruin his plans for suburban family bliss and engineers her out of the picture so he can hurry up and wed Carol. A violent climax at the aborted wedding ramps things up the camp-o-meter a fair way, but, as before, O’Quinn’s performance always teeters on the brink.

The infamous Weinstein’s insisted on more gore for this follow-up, which O’Quinn flat out refused to participate in, which explains some of the insert-shots of various pools of blood etc, moving the property closer to a sort of Freddy-down-the-block slasher series, which probably explains why the leading man opted out of returning for any more rounds.

Either way, Meg Foster’s eyes are still the scariest thing in this film.

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stepfather III

STEPFATHER III

3 Stars  1992/18/106m

A.k.a. Stepfather 3: Father’s Day

Director: Guy Magar / Writers: GM & Marc B. Ray / Cast: Robert Wightman, Priscilla Barnes, Season Hubley, David Tom, John Ingle, Dennis Paladino, Stephen Mendel, Mario Roccozzo.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “Maybe he’s not who he says he is?” / “Yeah, well with any luck maybe he’s Kevin Costner or Tom Cruise?”


Terry O’Quinn’s (wise) decision to not return to the series, probably for fear of being typecast, means that this third and very final entry required the biggest convolution of all: Plastic surgery.

That’s right, fresh from escaping from the same institution again, Family Guy gets back-alley surgery from a greasy, chain-smoking dude who then gets his throat cut with a surgical saw for his trouble.

Nine months later, ‘Keith Grant’ is the new guy in the small town of Deerview, working at the plant nursery, volunteering to dress up as the Easter Bunny at a church fete, and hunting for a new mother-child combo to call his own. Although, Stepfather III smells like it’s trying to create some kind of mystery as to who it is who’s had surgery, but entirely fails to disguise it in any way.

stepfather 3

Said schmuckette is Christine (Barnes), amicably divorced and with wheelchair-bound son Andy, whose condition is psychosomatic (so we all know he’ll rise up outta that thing at the perfect moment). After three dates, Keith and Christine are married, but detective-mad Andy is suspicious of his new stepfather.

The perfect family illusion Keith has been desperate for begins to shatter when Andy goes to stay with his father for awhile, leading psychodad to begin courting another single mom, Jennifer, and hatching plans to get rid of Christine, but abandons them when Andy comes back earlier than planned.

Andy, meanwhile, becomes convinced Keith is Jerry Blake/Gene/whoever else, and recruits Father Brennan to help him prove it, but of course those who get in the way end up shoveled to death, raked, or driven off the road.

A woodchipper-tastic finale brings forth the moment when Andy finally lifts his feet from the wheelchair, accompanied by some rousing superhero music, and he’s forced to finish ‘dad’ off with some ferocity, ensuring there’s no amount of plastic surgery that can resurrect the Stepfather for Part 4.

stepfather 3

The video sequel needs to be trimmed along with Keith’s plants, clocking in about 15 minutes longer than necessary, but Wightman does fine in O’Quinn’s big shoes, though the script leans towards tacky elements here and there and Christine is the most naive of the Stepfather’s victims to date. In fact, all through the series women are made to look a bit dumb, eager to get married ASAP despite knowing fuck all about this man, and it’s down to the children to strike the final blow at the end. Hope they use those guilt coupons wisely going forward.

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THE STEPFATHERthe stepfather remake 2009

2009/15/101m  2 Stars

“Daddy’s home.”

Director: Nelson McCormick / Writer: J.S. Cardone / Cast: Dylan Walsh, Sela Ward, Penn Badgley, Amber Heard, Sherry Stringfield, Paige Turco, Jon Tenney.

Body Count: 7


I saw this once ages ago and can’t remember much about it, beyond the fatal error of switching out the final girl to a final boy, a guy from a military background, no less – where’s the fear for our hero(ine) in that?

At the time it was just the latest in the factory line of people-remember-this-title-so-let’s-remake-it churn-outs, written by Cardone, who had also penned the risible Prom Night upchuck (directed by McCormick) and, back in ’81, The Slayer. O’Quinn was reportedly offered a cameo and sensibly said no. Sela Ward has an utterly thankless role as the new wife and Amber Heard spends most of the running time in a bikini, highlighting just how little thought went into this watered-down PG-13 retread.

No.

* * *

So, a quality series in terms of production values. O’Quinn was definitely the high point and the conservative/anti-conservative subtext of the whole thing is interesting even today, with all this “I like tradition,” rhetoric Steppie likes the spout.

As a slasher series, it’s definitely low-key, with far more emphasis on the character’s manipulative psychosis over a blade-wielding maniac chasing skimpy babes, which is refreshing in a way. Remember it next time you’re messaged on Tinder.

stepfather 2009

Blurbs-of-interest: Jill Schoelen was also in Cutting ClassThe Phantom of the OperaPopcorn, and When a Stranger Calls Back; Stephen Shellen was also in American Gothic; Stephen E. Miller was in Funeral Home and Matinee; Jeff Burr directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre III and Night of the Scarecrow; Caroline Williams had final girl duties in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and was also in Hatchet III; Guy Magar later directed Children of the Corn: Revelation; Priscilla Barnes was in The Back Lot Murders; David Tom was in Dead Scared; Stephen Mendel was in Jack Frost; Amber Heard was the title character in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.

Funeral Ho– No wait… Mortuary

mortuary 1981

MORTUARY

2.5 Stars  1983/18/87m

A.k.a. Embalmed

“Before they bury you… make sure you’re really dead!”

Director/Writer: Howard Avedis / Writer: Marlene Schmidt / Cast: Mary McDonough, David Wallace, Bill Paxton, Lynda Day George, Christopher George, Denis Mandel.

Body Count: 5


Although the script virtually staples a neon sign on the forehead of the killer from the first time they appear, Mortuary is still quite a fun little flick. At worst it’s largely incoherent to the apparent recent history.

McDonough (another Little House On the Prairie refugee alongside Melissa Sue Anderson of Happy Birthday to Me) is a girl, Christie, who is convinced her father was murdered despite all evidence leaning towards an accidental end (we know better, natch) and when her boyfriend informs her that he witnessed her mother taking part in some weird séance, she starts to get jittery and the black-cloaked psycho cropping up at every turn wielding embalming tools isn’t helping much either…

Cue lots of Scooby Doo-styled investigations by the kids that point towards the answers in the town mortuary, owned by séance-leader Chris George. Nothing is less surprising when we find out who the killer is in the first hour, even their motive is spelled out simplistically enough for a five-year-old to guess, but it’s still a good laugh.

The late Bill Paxton (wah!!) is the school geek with a crush on Christie and the mortuary owner’s son mourning his mother’s recent suicide. The low body count is a bit of a bummer, especially as Christie’s three other teen friends who turn up at the roller rink (weren’t the eighties great?) could have easily ventured off to the mortuary to help with the detective work and been ‘embalmed’ as well, but the film is still offbeat enough to provide a 90 minute distraction.

Blurbs-of-interest: Paxton was the bully who got milk poured over his head in Night Warning, was also in Deadly Lessons and, much later, Club Dead; Christopher George was also in Graduation Day and Pieces (along with wife Lynda); David Wallace was in Humongous.

Those loved and lost

2016 was regarded as a terrible year for many reasons, a lot of which are political and divisive, but also because of the deaths of so, so many well-loved famous folk. (I hate the word ‘celebrity’, don’t you?)

Naturally, some of those people had a presence in our beloved slasher genre, so it wouldn’t be right to let their contributions become forgotten to career write-ups that conveniently forget the time they ran screaming from a killer…

CARRIE FISHER
1956 – 2016

carrie fisher scream 3 sorority row

Mrs Crenshaw, Sorority Row; Bianca Bernette, Scream 3

Having never been much of a Star Wars type of guy, Carrie Fisher’s tragic loss at Christmas 2016 represented more of a loss of somebody generally important because of the issues she stood for and wasn’t afraid to discuss openly. She always came across as very genuine.

Anyway, Carrie cameo’d as a self-a-like in Scream 3 and later played the awesome Mrs Crenshaw in the 2009 Sorority Row remake, a no-shit, shotgun-toting badass of a housemother.

*

ALEXIS ARQUETTE
1969-2016

alexis arquette bride of chucky

Damien, Bride of Chucky; Greg, Children of the Corn V

The youngest Arquette sibling was more known for supporting comic roles in the likes of The Wedding Singer (the only Adam Sandler film worth shit), and his transition to becoming her, and then back to him again.

Still, let us not forget Alexis’ contributions to two slasher pics, as wannabe goth/killer Damien, and the almost final-boy in the underrated fourth COTC sequel, Fields of Terror).

*

ZSA ZSA GABOR
1917-2016

zsa zsa gabor nightmare on elm street 3 dick cavett freddy krueger

Herself, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3

Reportedly, Dick Clark chose Zsa Zsa Gabor for his cameo in Dream Warriors as she was the stupidest person he’d ever interviewed. Nevertheless, Hollywood royalty Zsa Zsa was at least not taken from us too early, making it to 99 years old!

*

GEORGE KENNEDY
1925-2016

george kennedy wacko 1982

Himself, Wacko; Roy, Just Before Dawn

George Kennedy appeared in all of the 70s Airport disaster movies, but also cropped up at the end of 1982 slasher parody Wacko as himself to warn the audience that “lawnmowers don’t kill people, people kill people,” before getting pounded with cream pies.

And I really need to sit down with JBD again.

*

VANITY / D.D. WINTERS
1959-2016

vanity d.d. winters terror train

Merry, Terror Train

Prince’s former protege died just a couple of months before the man himself. I don’t know a whole lot about her, only that she had this small supporting role in Terror Train.

Thank you all for your contributions to a bunch of films you probably thought no one would ever see. R.I.P.

The Big One.

halloween 1978

HALLOWEEN

5 Stars  1978/18/88m

“The night HE came home!”

Director/Writer: John Carpenter / Writer: Debra Hill / Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Andrews, Brian Andrews, Nick Castle.

Body Count: 5

Laughter Lines: “You know it’s Halloween. I guess everyone deserves one good scare.”


HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

I’ve been avoiding reviewing Halloween for a few years for two reasons: Firstly that it’s just so huge – what else can I add to a film that’s probably been put under the microscope more times than co-boogeyman Donald Trump has hit on underage girls?

Also, it means I have to troll back through eight years of posts and link it. And it gets mentioned a lot. And I’m old. And tired.

Stand by for lots of pictures.

halloween young michael myers clown 1978

Watching it today, it struck me that I obviously hadn’t seen it with decent picture and sound before, as I heard a whole lot more than usual. Never knew Don’t Fear the Reaper was playing in the car during Laurie and Annie’s drive to their babysitting gigs before.

The simplicity of the story belies its genius: Madman incarcerated for homicide as a child breaks out of his institution fifteen years later and returns to his small down to slay anew.

halloween 1978 body

Everyone always forgets about this poor chap.

As a much-analysed film, Halloween‘s numerous bloopers are brought up a lot, so viewing it with such familiarity sometimes turns into a game of spot-the-mistake, which isn’t a good way to enjoy any film, unless it’s really bad or pretentious.

halloween 1978 laurie tommy myers house

“Lonnie Lamb said bad things happened there.”

What I noticed in this viewing was a significant difference in acting ability between Pleasence and Curtis and the rest of the cast. Of course, it goes in layers, but the primary offenders are bit-parters: Laurie’s dad and his robotic delivery of “don’t forget to drop the keys off…”, the kids tormenting Tommy at school, Judith Myers’ boyfriend.

halloween 1978 bullies

It would’ve been awesome for this trio to have re-appeared in one of the sequels and gotten cut up.

But even within the main cast, Curtis outshines everyone around her with her natural talent: She is the shy girl down the street, sensible and dependable, you would have her babysit for you anytime.

On the flipside of Laurie’s bookish good girl, there’s the lurking presence of evil that’s Michael Myers. Far from most of his ensuing imitators and even his own incarnations in the gazillion sequels, Michael stalks Laurie far beyond most slasher movie killers, who turn up a few minutes before the kill for a bit of peering from behind trees n’ stuff. The first time I watched Halloween, probably close to twenty-five years ago, Michael appearing outside school, behind the hedge, amongst the laundry, was far scarier than a masked maniac manifesting out of the blue with an axe. In that scenario, the threat is sudden and obvious. Somebody watching from out of reach, turning up wherever you go, is fucking creepy.

halloween 1978 michael myers car staking

…outside school

halloween 1978 michael myers behind hedge

…in your street

halloween 1978 michael myers stalking laundry

…in your neighbour’s laundry!

Not so far removed from the recent trend of people in clown masks just trying to freak folks out during October. Maybe that’s what Laurie thought it was? Course, there were no slasher films around to teach her otherwise!

Unlike the genre it ushered in, Halloween takes its sweet time before killing anybody new once Michael reaches his home turf, but is never boring. Carpenter sustains the tension of his presence throughout the scenes, bolstered by our genuine fear for Laurie, as the girl it’s impossible to dislike. I defy anybody to come up with a genuine reason to hate her.

halloween 1978 laurie strode jamie lee curtis

One of the many academic studies I’ve read on the film goes on about how her friends Annie and Lynda are devalued in opposition to Laurie. True, it’s big-picture difficult to imagine the three of them being friends, and Rob Zombie’s horrendous remake of these moments only showed how far we’ve moved on from nice people up for the slaughter towards wanting the cast to bite it.

halloween 1978 annie nancy loomis

There are still plenty of sweet moments between the girls, reminding us that horror (and in particular slasher) movies give actresses much more to do than play the supporting wife, mother, femme fatale. Laurie’s need for her friends is nicely realised, even if they mock her. Listen when Annie tells her she’s losing it, to which Laurie replies “I already lost it,” and Annie quips: “Doubt that.”

halloween 1978 dr loomis and sheriff brackett

What also defines Halloween in its status as the most important teen horror film that ever was is that while a new audience would laugh and point at all the cliches on show, they simply didn’t exist in 1978. Hell, didn’t exist until June of that year.

A girl I went to college with once wrote it off as crap because: “I knew he would sit up behind her!” Of course you knew, because Halloween was so good at everything it did that ten thousand filmmakers copied it.

halloween 1978

In the wake of scores of bodies we’ve seen drop from trees and fall out of closets, the funhouse moment of Laurie discovering her dead friends does seem contrived and a little comical (Lynda’s face-of-death), but it’s just one of countless genre boxes Halloween ticked long before everyone else did it.

halloween 1978 lynda closet dead

Hey Lynda…

 

halloween 1978 lynda dead closet

Lynda!

halloween 1978 lynda dead closet

LYNDAAAA!!!!

What else can be said? While I’ve always been more of a Friday the 13th guy (the early ones, that is) and placed Halloween third in my countdown of The 100 Greatest Slasher Films, only a fool would try and deny in terms of importance and influence that it’s the best slasher movie, and probably teen-horror film of all time.

Blurbs-of-interest: Pleasence returned in parts 245, and 6, plus Alone in the Dark and Phenomena; Curtis came back for II, H20 and Resurrection, and was also the final girl in Terror Train and Prom Night and was the only good thing in Ryan Murphy’s dreadful Scream QueensP.J. Soles took on heroine duties for Innocent Prey and was also in 90s comic slasher Uncle Sam and then the crazy doom monger lady in The Tooth Fairy; Charles Cyphers returned for the sequel.

Here are some more awesome stills:

halloween 1978 wallace house

This shot is ever so creepy. Do you reckon the Wallaces ever moved back in?

halloween 1978 michael dressed as ghost

Michael certainly had a sense of humour.

halloween 1978 annie dead bed gravestone

halloween 1978 closet scene

The old trapped-in-the-closet-while-the-killer-breaks-in routine.

halloween 1978 dr loomis donald pleasence

Series mainstay and, dare I say it, true star: Donald Pleasence as Dr Loomis.

“That was the boogeyman,” a tearful Laurie says.

“Yes, as a matter of fact it was.”

Perfect.

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