Friday, November 2, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Let's Boogie, Boogeyman

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Torture, slashings, and Halloween and Friday the 13th alumni.


I recently watched writer/director Sean Byrne's second feature The Devil's Candy, which I ended up feeling was one of the best horror movies to be released in 2017. After seeing that, I had to seek out Byrne's feature debut, a movie I had heard a lot of good things about but which I had never seen for myself: The Loved Ones - the story of the worst prom night ever, or at least one that's in the running for that title alongside Carrie.

A film that has forever changed the way I think of the term "Bright Eyes", The Loved Ones stars Xavier Samuel as a high schooler named Brent, who is dealing with the fact that he was behind the wheel in a car accident that killed his father. Brent has a steady girlfriend named Holly (Victoria Thaine), and it's a given that he's going to be taking her to the school dance, but that doesn't stop their meek classmate Lola (Robin McLeavy) from asking Brent if he'd like to go to the dance with her. Brent lets her down easy, and even apologizes twice. But one doesn't just turn down Lola.

Lola is her daddy's princess, and Daddy (John Brumpton) does what it takes to give his little girl the dance of her dreams. He abducts Brent and brings him back to their home so Lola can have her own personal prom with her date of choice... What follows is a night of torture, sickening situations, and horrifying revelations.

With both The Loved Ones and The Devil's Candy, Byrne has proven that he can do intensity with the best of them, and in both cases he's capable of convincing the viewer that is fully willing to present you with the worst case scenario. All you can do is hold on and hope for the best.

The Loved Ones is captivating and disturbing, carried on the back of McLeavy's fantastic performance as Lola. This girl is a walking nightmare, who'll one moment be pining away for true love while repeatedly listening to the Kasey Chambers song "Not Pretty Enough" - a song with lyrics so appropriate for Lola that I thought it might have been written for the movie, but as it turns out it was a hit in Australia years earlier (and The Loved Ones is an Australian production) - and the next moment will be causing someone severe bodily harm. McLeavy makes Lola absolutely unforgettable.

So as not to be completely relentless, the film does offer some relief by occasionally cutting away to Brent's friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) on a date of his own. It's a subplot that could have easily been removed, but then The Loved Ones would be even shorter than its already short 84 minutes. There's also a glimmer of hope with cutaways to Holly as she tries to figure out what has happened to her boyfriend.

The Loved Ones was a great debut for Byrne, and it's a movie I should have watched years ago. The upside to the fact that I waited so long to see it is that I got to watch two awesome Sean Byrne movies for the first time in the same year.


Late, great character actor Bill Paxton was on the rise in the early '80s, and in a two year period he appeared in three relatively obscure slasher horror movies: Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker (a.k.a. Night Warning), Deadly Lessons, and director/co-writer (with Marlene Schmidt) Howard Avedis's Mortuary. His roles got more substantial with each film, and while his character in Deadly Lessons is more the sort of person I associate him with overall, being a good guy who tends to horses, Mortuary definitely gave him the showiest, most against-type role to play.

Here Paxton played Paul Andrews, a dweeby guy who skips around when he's happy and has an unrequited crush on heroine Christie Parson (Mary McDonough). Paul is a far cry from the bullying jock Paxton played in Night Warning, but he isn't your average '80s nerd - he does the embalming at the local mortuary, which is run by his creepy father Hank (Christopher George) - a guy who not only has a career involving death, but also leads a death cult on the side, performing séances with cloaked followers. Including Christie's mom Eve (Lynda Day George).

Christie has a lot to deal with. Her father died, or was possibly murdered, just a month ago, a fact which is ruining her relationship with her boyfriend Greg (David Wallace). Her mom has odd hobbies and is moving on from her dad at record speed. She keeps having nightmarish sleepwalking spells. And now there's a cloaked figure with a painted face stalking around her town, impaling people with an embalming needle... and he seems to have a special interest in Christie.

Paxton's early slasher movies are films that had largely flown under the radar for me until recently - I had heard the title Butcher, Baker, Nightmare Maker before, had never seen the movie. I had never even heard of Deadly Lessons and Mortuary before, which is sort of surprising, given the cast of the former and the fact that the latter gave Paxton such an important role. Mortuary isn't a great lost slasher, but if you're a genre fan who appreciates what Paxton brought to the screen, you should absolutely see this movie.


The same year director John Carpenter got his horror classic Halloween onto the big screen and Someone's Watching Me, a more obscure genre offering, onto the small screen, he was also credited as writer on Irvin Kershner's well regarded "American giallo" Eyes of Laura Mars. The project began when The Blob producer Jack H. Harris bought an 11 page treatment Carpenter had written, and if Harris had ended up producing the film on its own it would have had a screenplay by Carpenter and would have starred Roberta Collins of The Big Doll House, Women in Cages, Death Race 2000, Eaten Alive, Death Wish II, and Hardbodies as the title character. Eyes of Laura Mars became a bigger deal when burgeoning producer Jon Peters had the thought that it might make a good vehicle for his girlfriend Barbara Streisand.

Streisand didn't end up starring in the film, but she did contribute the "love theme" "Prisoner" to the soundtrack while the title role when to Faye Dunaway - straight off her Oscar win for 1976's Network. With these names attached, Eyes of Laura Mars had become a major studio project, and with that comes a studio-commissioned rewrite: Carpenter shares screenplay credit with his replacement, former Oscar nominee David Zelag Goodman. Goodman co-wrote Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, so he knew thrills.

Laura Mars is a controversial photographer whose work mixes female nudity with violence, destruction, and monsters, and while there are plenty of people out there who call her work trash, her real problem is when she starts having not just visions for new art, but also visions of actual murders, which she sees being committed through the eyes of the killer. As her friends and associates are knocked off one-by-one, Laura is the person who has the best chance of bringing the killing spree to an end, thanks to her apparent psychic connection to the perpetrator.

Trying to help Laura figure all of this out is police officer John Neville, played by Tommy Lee Jones - who would go on to be in another Carpenter-scripted film, Black Moon Rising, eight years later. Among the potential killers is Laura's knife-packing ex-con driver Tommy, who might draw extra suspicion from viewers if they recognize actor Brad Dourif as the man who became the killer doll Chucky in Child's Play. Also in the mix are characters played by René Auberjonois and Raúl Juliá - this movie has a great cast.

Despite the cast and the impressive creative team, Eyes of Laura Mars isn't a film I'm enamored with, mainly because I feel that it drags at times. The stretches between visions and kills struggle to hold my attention because there are too many conversations, too many minutes devoted to Laura taking and developing her photographs, and the film has sort of a stuffy and off-putting feeling to me... A down and dirty Jack H. Harris production starring Roberta Collins might have been more to my taste, but this is still good movie. It's nice to see that you can have a prestige picture that happens to include bloody slashings and a lot of bare breasts.

SWEET 16 (1983)

Director Jim Sotos's 1983 slasher Sweet 16 is a film I've been wanting to watch for a long time now, but for several years it proved quite hard to find. It eventually received a proper re-release in the digital era, so I was finally able to check it out... and I have to admit, I was disappointed that it didn't turn out to be as much of a death-filled slasher as I was hoping it would be. That said, it was an intriguing murder mystery, and I did get to see what I was really watching it for: the reason I've wanted to see Sweet 16 so badly is the fact that it stars Dana Kimmell, who played the heroine in my favorite Friday the 13th movie, Friday the 13th Part III.

Playing younger here than she did in the F13 movie a year earlier, Kimmell stars as Marci Burke, the aspiring sleuth daughter of Dan Burke (the great Bo Hopkins), sheriff in a town in the American Southwest where residents start turning up dead.

The murders seem to have some kind of connection to Melissa Morgan (Aleisa Shirley), a new girl in town and someone who's meant to seem so alluring to the characters around her that she even has her own song that starts playing on the soundtrack while another person stares at her. "Melissa, sweet Melissa"... It's a wonderful slice of '80s cheese. And if you're wondering about the title, it's Melissa who celebrates her sixteenth birthday in the film.

Patrick Macnee plays Melissa's father, who's in town to conduct an archaeological dig and recently fired the prime suspect in the murder investigation for stealing knives from the site. That suspect is a Native American named Jason Longshadow. The character is played by Don Shanks, who played slasher icon Michael Myers in Halloween 5, and he shares a first name with slasher icon Jason Voorhees, so of course he sets off alarm bells whenever he enters a scene.

There's an unexpected element of racial tension mixed into the story of Sweet 16, which was written by Erwin Goldman. With Jason being a top suspect, that gives some racists in town even more reason to lash out at the Native Americans who live on a nearby reservation.

But if the residents will just hold on, the Burke family - which includes Steve Antin as teenage Hank Burke in addition to Kimmell and Hopkins as Marci and Dan - are doing their best to crack this case.

Whoever the killer is in this film, they're no Jason Voorhees. There are only a few murders in Sweet 16, so if you're looking for a body count picture this one doesn't fit the bill. But if you can get into the mindset of trying to solve the mystery with the characters, you can get some entertainment out of it.

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