Last year, Geeks Out’s Rob Russin did a series on horror classics like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. This year, I thought I’d focus on some lesser known but still highly enjoyable fright flicks that make my personal list of classics.
(This should give you an idea of how friggin' amazing this movie is.)
The Sentinel (1977)—This unusual film from Michael Winner (best known for directing the Death Wish series) is essentially a rip-off of Rosemary’s Baby: Alison (Kate Jackson lookalike Cristina Raines) moves into an apartment building with a sinister secret, and her boyfriend (the excellent Chris Sarandon) may have nefarious intentions of his own. But if all rip-offs were this eccentric, superbly cast, and slyly comic, we’d all be better off. In addition to the sleazily unforgettable Sarandon, The Sentinel stars veteran character actor Burgess “The Penguin” Meredith, Martin Balsam, William Hickey, Ava Gardner, and Beverly D’Angelo as one half of a lesbian couple (her initial meeting with Raines has to be seen to be believed!)—not to mention Jerry Orbach and a young Christopher Walken. The movie features disturbing, in-your-face flashbacks (i.e. Alison’s dad cavorting with fat, nude prostitutes and birthday cake), reams of quotable dialogue, and enough camp value for any queen. It makes effective use of locations in Brooklyn Heights (I work just blocks away from Alison’s building) and Manhattan and is gleefully politically incorrect; the lesbians are played for creepy shock value, and most infamously, actual freaks turn up as demonic specters in the climax. Ryan Murphy, eat your heart out!
(Mary Lou thinks this is worse than pig's blood)
Hello, Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987)—Never saw Prom Night? No problem. For my money this in-name-only-sequel, a Canadian gloss on Freddy Krueger and Carrie, is far superior. It concerns Vicki Carpenter (Wendy Lyon) a comely teen with a sweet boyfriend (Louis Ferreira from Dawn of the Dead 2004) and an overbearing, Bible thumping mom (aren’t those the worst?). When she scours her high school’s theater department for a dress befitting a prom queen, she winds up possessed by the spirit of Mary Lou Maloney (Lisa Schrage), the school tramp who burned to death on prom night thirty years earlier. From the opening scene, when Mary Lou gleefully discloses her promiscuous “sins” to the local priest, Hello Mary Lou establishes a wicked sense of humor while also developing empathy for its teen characters. (An unwanted pregnancy is dealt with in a straightforward way, while a sex starved geek wins the audience over with some priceless lines.) The scares, meanwhile, are imaginative and achieved through a variety of practical effects. The possessed rocking horse is particularly striking. Prom Night II displays the best hallmarks of 80s horror: formulaic but fun, well executed and equal parts creepy and amusing.
(Cronenberg counsels Sheffer)
Nightbreed (1990)—Queer writer/director Clive Barker is no stranger to provocative, sexual subject matter, and Nightbreed is no exception. Think of it as his version of Bryan Singer’s X-Men, with the residents of Midian, a city hidden under a cemetery, standing in for queers. (It doesn’t hurt that leather jacket wearing Boone, played by Craig Sheffer, is a bona fide hunk, or that two male characters flirt with each other.) A demented serial killer (director David Cronenberg in a rare acting role) tries to pin his crimes on an unwitting patient and destroy Midian in the process; by the end, it’s all too clear who the real monsters are. Already a cult favorite for attributes like stunning makeup designs, Danny Elfman’s score, and eerie imagery, Nightbreed is getting a second chance with its long awaited directors cut hitting DVD and Blu Ray October 28.
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