This is the fourth year I've done the Halloween horror marathon. I can't believe I've never touched on Night of the Creeps. Looking back, it was on the docket for 2010, but somehow, I never made it to it. I'm not sure as to how that never happened, given that I've owned the DVD for the entire time I've been doing this cavalcade of creepiness. Anyhow -- this is Tom Atkins' finest hour. As Ray Cameron, he's a hard-bitten detective. All cigarettes and quips, I could watch a series of movies with this character. His best line in the film is so iconic, they used it on the goddamned poster. And that's before you've even gotten to "Thrill me." Sure, Jason Lively as Chris is the "star" of the film, but anybody who's ever seen this remembers Ray long after the rest of the characters have faded from memory. And that's before you have space aliens and slugs that turn people into zombies, and even an axe-wielding maniac hacking people to death. Throw in some smarmy fraternity types, and it's like Return of the Living Dead has met Revenge of the Nerds. Brilliant lines, stupid action, and a fucking FLAME THROWER. Words can't begin to describe how much I love this movie. I think we might have to cover Monster Squad on Monday. Fred Dekker directed so few films, but it's entirely possible that two of them are among my top five. The man gets ample credit for making two of the most likeable b-movies in modern history, populating them with characters who are likeable and relateable, in addition to being far more clever than you or I can hope to be on a regular basis. [embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhLGYUYTTD0[/embed]
Halloween III: Season of the Witch isn't even in the same universe as the first two Halloween films -- the only mention of the events in the previous movies comes as a commercial for the first on television. If one ignores the fact that Season of the Witch is connected only via producer / composer John Carpenter, and looks at it as a film in and of itself, it's far easier to take. I can't imagine how pissed I would've been to have expected Michael Meyers stalking folks again, only to discover that this is about evil masks. However, given the fact that it's creepy and fucked-up beyond belief, what with the kids and the masks and the repetitive jingle. It's basically a detective story with killers and witchcraft and androids. Once you get into the big reveal, shit really stops making sense -- your evil overlords don't ever really explain as to why they're doing what they're doing, other than something than something about Samhain. You get to see our hero of the week, Tom Atkins, being a mediocre father and an alcoholic doctor. He's fantastic and unpleasant, and you really only like him because he takes charge and tries to get things done. His actual personality is pretty abrasive and downtrodden. It's purely because Atkins plays him as a guy who's trying, despite being kind of a dick. Still -- Season of the Witch is creepy, uncomfortable, and so weird that you can't help but keep watching. Any film willing to make killing kids a central plot point -- and actually do so on-screen -- is pretty well up on the psychotronic scale, and worth peeping. [embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-n4T4gQF9A[/embed]
Let me get this out of the way: I like The Fog. I like most of John Carpenter's work. Carpenter has the unique ability to use wide shots to set the scene, and give everything this sense of place, and contrasts that openness with tight interior locations. The tightness of those interior shots -- or, in the case of The Fog, using the fog itself -- is all the more intense when the viewer's been made aware of the freedom right outside. Carpenter's score for any film is what ratchets up the tension to near-unbearable levels, and it's much the same here. The minimalistic tones of its keys and synths are offset by the upbeat jazz tones broadcast by the San Antonio Bay KAB radio station, much in the same way that the wide-open shots are offset by the tight, close-up interior shots. The Fog is just ... tense. It has more in common with Hammer horror than anything else, really. It's very much a ghost story, in the vein of the one that starts the film itself. Everything moves at slow speed, building up to a climax, with its occasional shocks and frights hidden in shadow, rather than presented in gory Technicolor. It builds up to a big reveal at the end, as one would expect, but the lead-up to it is slow and steady. And can we talk about Tom Atkins? I mean, all the posts this week are movies in which he features, but why didn't he ever become a bigger star? My guess is that, while a decent actor, and featuring some rugged, James Garner-style looks, he never really showed how charming and badass he could be until well towards the end of his career, with Night of the Creeps. The Fog's likely not a good showcase for his talents, because there's no real lead. Ostensibly, Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis are the principles, but it could just as easily be Hal Holbrook as the priest, or Adrienne Barbeau as the KAB DJ. It's such an ensemble piece, and everyone's character is so broadly drawn, that nobody in the film ever has a real chance to outshine the others. [embed]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOZwnivtLbc[/embed]
As we've done the last few years, we'll be covering a different horror movie each and every weekday during the month of October, going all the way up through Halloween. I'm going to try and organize some sort of theme each week this year, in the interest of keeping things interesting for both me and you. This week, we're going with Tom Atkins, and we'll be going in chronological order through his greatest hits: The Fog, Halloween III, Creepshow, and Night of the Creeps. Get excited.