Horror

Horror films, traditional 80s movies from the slasher boom, to supernatural, found footage, cannibal, comedy horrors and zombie films.

The Crazies

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The Crazies is the kale of horror movies. It’s not particularly exciting, but it’s good for you.

Bio-horrors are a terrific social experiment where citizens have to band together to fight off an external force, usually a virus that threatens to kill us all. And to compound matters, communication has broken down, especially between those tasked to protect us, and how they convey said message. Spoiler alert: not very well.

Rounding up people for quarantine, not telling them why, and doing so very violently, doesn’t do much for social cohesion. And there’s an immediate push-back.

Here, a secret bio-warfare weapon (Trixie) is released after a plane crashes in western Pennsylvania. The pathogen is in the water supply, so the government has to prevent its spread by any means necessary. (Including, after a call to the President, the contingency of just nuking the whole place to be done with it. It’s a real life example of what philosophers call The Trolley Problem. Do you kill a bunch of people intentionally, to save a bunch of other people?)

George Romero’s The Crazies follows two stories:

thecrazies31) Efforts by a stentorian researcher to find a cure, using makeshift conditions of a high school science lab and trying to secure blood samples from the increasingly rabid and sociopathic townies to send back to Maryland for processing, and….

2) survivors/resistors/militia who are trying to escape the clutches of NBC suit-wearing soldiers with shoot-to-kill orders, by fleeing to a neighboring town.

It’s the science part of the tale where things break down, much like the social cohesion and the institutions that are meant to make people safe.  It’s simply not as compelling a tale as a survivor’s fight for their very survival.

There’s something undeniably creepy about NBC/Hazmat suits, gas masks and a bunch of men running around doing the unquestioned bidding of higher ups. However, at the end of the day there are serious pacing issues and, despite the inherently interesting survival tale, the survivors themselves are not particularly compelling.

Much like zombie threat movies, they’re forced to close ranks when one among them is thought to have been afflicted.

It’s hard to separate out one’s critical response to The Crazies given when it was released, as these kinds of films have been done to death so often now. But it’s important to start somewhere, in this case 1973.

*** (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR PODCAST OF THE CRAZIES]

Child’s Play

Childs-play-movie-poster1In The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead, author Adam Rockoff asked, “Why is Halloween loved but Friday the 13th despised?” One word. Blood.

Critics love restraint and Child’s Play is mostly bloodless too. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t bloodcurdling. Roger Ebert, whose antipathy to horror was infamous, said the film was “cheerfully energetic,” undoubtedly due to it holding back.

But for true fans, it’s neither here nor there if horror’s got gore. That’s at odds with public perception. We’re open to getting frights where we find them, even if it’s Toys ‘R’ Us. And unlike critics, we don’t punish films for gore. (The word “punish is forever ruined by Silent Night, Deadly Night.)

In Child’s Play, like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the series’ quality is inversely related to the number of lines spouted by its antagonist. For most of the first installment, the Chucky doll’s utterances are of the Ned Flanders variety, a “hi-da-lee-ho,” paired with an innocent rhyme, “I’m your friend to the end.” And when the doll becomes animate, it’s actually the silence that drive the horror, not the one-liners.

The spirit of a serial killer, Charles Lee Ray (an amalgam of Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray) enters into a Good Guys doll, which is then purchased in a back alley by a penny-pinching Chicago mom for her son Andy.

One night mom has to work late and Maggie, a babysitter co-worker, is a last minute sub to put Andy (and his new friend) to bed. Director Tom Holland makes great use of the hulking 19th century Brewster apartment complex in Chicago’s north side, and the creepy, creaky building becomes a character until itself, almost like the sprawling Brooklyn mansion in The Sentinel. It’s in the apartment’s living room where Chucky comes to life, after making excuses via Andy to stay up late “to watch the 9 O’Clock news.” Dutiful Maggie balks, and for her troubles she’s pummeled with a hammer between the eyes, causing her to fall to her death from the kitchen window.

childs_play_movieChicago’s Finest is soon on the scene, including the former Mr. Susan Sarandon, Chris (speaking of The Sentinel).

The cops notice tiny footprints leading up to the crime scene, and eventually, they realize there’s a killer in their midst, the likes of which unseen in The Windy City since perhaps Henry in Portrait of a Serial Killer.

The animate doll, unwilling to be trapped in a plastic body for eternity, tracks down a Voodoo practitioner to “be a real boy,” to quote Pinocchio, and leads sweet Andy out on a CTA train to a seedy neighborhood (probably the kind President Obama once tried to “community organize).

Chicago PD finally comes around after dismissing mom’s tale of a doll minus its batteries that’s wreaking havoc.

The film holds up exceedingly well. A mere blink from the psycho ginger doll causes shivers. Creepy dolls may be overused in supernatural horrors, but killer dolls are a different matter entirely.

And here’s some advice: as collectors know, these toys retain their value when kept in their packaging.

***3/4 (out of 5)

[CHECK OUT OUR CHILD’S PLAY DISCUSSION ON THE REALLY AWFUL MOVIES PODCAST]