The first chapter in the tragicomic saga of Chucky the killer doll is actually scary, not funny (unlike its many sequels). Before Chucky screamed with equal amounts anger, exhaustion and wink-wink self-awareness in Bride of Chucky right before he was about to be killed for the umpteenth time, "I'll be back - I always come back!", he was a truly freaky movie monster whose small size and (relatively) benign appearance made him all the more frightening -- and dangerous. Chucky can go places a normal-sized human can't, and he has the advantage of being able to get away with almost anything -- after all, who would believe a doll has come to life and is throwing hammers at the babysitter's head? Like Poltergeist before it, Child's Play is very much a horror film about a child's deepest fears, told from a child's point of view -- Andy Barclay, the young protagonist, is very much alone in this world, terrorized and pursued by his "best friend" and surrounded by disbelieving grown-ups. "Hidey-ho, ha, ha, ha!"
Herk Hervey's surrealist classic went on to inspire filmmakers such as George Romero and (especially) David Lynch with its stark, nightmarish imagery and is it real/is it a dream/does it really matter? narrative. Shot in three weeks on a budget of about $33,000, Carnival of Souls stars Candace Hilligoss as a musician who becomes haunted by ominous ghouls after her car ends up in a lake after an impromptu drag race gone wrong; her main tormentor is a tall specter known only as The Man (Hervey himself), her spirit guide of sorts as she traverses through an increasingly strange and terrifying dreamscape upon accepting a job as a church organist. The film certainly tries your patience after a while (it really isn't hard to figure out what's going on pretty early in the film), but Hervey proves himself a master audience manipulator and something of a cinematic hypnotist as his atmospheric tale unfolds.
This surprisingly not-bad remake of George Romero's most underrated film is an argument for "Don't drink the water" if there ever was one. The town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa is known as "the friendliest place on Earth" -- that is, until the water supply becomes tainted by something called the "Trixie virus" (a government-created biological weapon), which turns the kindly townsfolk into irrational, bloodthirsty killers. Timothy Olyphant (aces, as always) is the sheriff trying to keep the peace (or at least stay alive and uninfected), with Radha Mitchell (who's maybe appeared in one too many of these kinds of movies at this point) as the town doc in way over her head. While it doesn't have nearly the kind of frantic, desperate and dangerous energy as Romero's film, this new Crazies manages to be a creepier film, with director Breck Eisner perhaps being more inspired by Romero's Night of the Living Dead than the original source material. A horror remake that's actually pretty good -- that's kind of a Crazy thing in and of itself.
A stylish, moody '70s Euro-thriller, Daughters of Darkness is kind of what you'd get if you turned The Shining into a lesbian vampire movie -- and still kept (most of) its smarts. Danielle Ouimet and John Karlen play newlyweds who check into a grand and strangely deserted hotel on the Belgium seafront; the only other guests are Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig), the legendary Hungarian countess who bathed in the blood of virgins to keep her youthful looks, and her "secretary," Illona (Andrea Rau). Bathory soon becomes obsessed with the young bride, setting off a sadistic game of seduction and murder that includes at least one super-awesome vampire death scene and more than a few scenes of delicious gothic erotica that walks that oh so fine line between being pretentiously artsy and shamelessly sleazy. Oh, and the dialogue is killer, too: "It is since long that I have crossed the river Ocean!" exclaims the Countess at one point.
"Nazi zombies -- in the snow!" That was probably the pitch (verbatim) that the producers of Dead Snow had for whoever shelled out the cash for this fun (but not quite great) Norwegian splatterfest. The explanation behind the "Nazi zombies" is just as silly as the pitch, but who cares? There are attractive and only mildly obnoxious young people scurrying about in the snow, trying to not get eaten by these undead S.S. troopers who obviously didn't let a little thing like freezing to death keep them from continuing their reign of terror. There are plenty of imaginative and predictably gory kills, as well as at least one outhouse sex scene (that, predictably, is followed by an imaginative gory kill), but you can't help but wish the filmmakers of Dead Snow had pushed things even further into the realm of sheer cinematic madness -- they may've had a true genre classic on their hands if the amp (or snowmobile, or whatever) had gone up to 11.
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