Category: Scare of the Day (Page 2 of 7)

Scare of the Day: “The Hand”

Good evening, and welcome to the sixth and final entry in an ongoing series within “Scare of the Day.”

Wait, let me guess: you didn’t even know I was doing an ongoing series, did you?

Well, there’s no reason you should, really, unless you’re really observant and noticed a recurring logo within the artwork of the last several films I’ve tackled, but Warner Brothers recently released a six-disc box set of horror films entitled The Twisted Terror Collection, and today’s the last of the bunch. It’s a strange mish-mosh of selections, with no seeming rhyme or reason aside from the fact that they’re all horror flicks, but if you like horror flicks, it’s a pretty good deal: individually, they hover in the $13 range, but you can get all six for under $38.

So, anyway, tonight’s the night when we finally get to the sixth and final film with the set. We’re worked our way through “Deadly Friend,” “From Beyond The Grave,” “Eyes of a Stranger,” “Dr. Giggles,” and “Someone’s Watching Me” (see what I mean about how disparate they are), and, now, it’s time to get to the flick that I intentionally kept ‘til last, just so I’d have something to look forward to: “The Hand,” starring Michael Caine and written and directed by Oliver Stone.

If you’re anything like my fellow contributor David Medsker, this is the point where you say, with legitimate shock, “Oliver Stone did ‘The Hand’?” Yes, he did. And in case you think I’m trying to pull a surprise ending on you, yes, it’s the Oliver Stone, the same one who directed “J.F.K.,” “The Doors,” “Talk Radio,” “Platoon,” blah blah blah. But at this point, he had a decidedly shorter resume, having only directed one previous film (1974’s “Seizure”), but he had written an Academy Award-winning screenplay (“Midnight Express”), which was apparently enough to get him the gig on “The Hand.”

Based on The Lizard’s Tail, the novel by Marc Brandell, “The Hand” stars Caine as comic strip writer and artist Jon Lansdale. He’s doing pretty well on the business end of things, but his personal life is another story; he’s got a cute little daughter (Mara Hobel, who soon scored cult film immortality by playing Christina Crawford in “Mommie Dearest”), but his relationship with his wife is strained at best, and…well, hell, you don’t give a good God-damn about his marital woes, do you? Of course not. You just want to know about the disembodied hand that goes around strangling people, which is just as it should be. I mean, I saw this movie when I was 12 years old, the reason I remember it so vividly ain’t because of the back-and-forth dialogue between husband and wife; it’s because you don’t forget the sight of a hand scuttling across the ground like a freaking spider!

On the whole, “The Hand” isn’t nearly as scary as my memories would’ve had me believe, mostly because I’ve seen a lot of movies in the interim. Back then, I was so focused on the hand that I couldn’t fully appreciate back the fun of Michael Caine’s bug-eyed performance in the film, which he gradually takes so delightfully over the top that, by the end, you’re more likely to be cackling than shivering.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some scares here, though. In fact, we’re only about six minutes into the proceedings when we get our first jump-out-of-your-seat moment, courtesy of a cat leaping and yowling into a shot…but it’s more than just a cheap scare. Stone’s already set the scene and shown us that the cat’s there; the big reason it proves so shocking is less to do with the feline and more to do with the fact that, only moments earlier, Lansdale has been cutting wood with an axe…which means that the audience, who already knows that he’s destined to lose a hand at some point, find itself wondering, “Is this how it happens? With an axe…?” Well, no, actually, it isn’t. But since we’re already distracted by the mere possibility, we forget about the cat in the scene, and, voila, a simple scare becomes more profound than it otherwise might have been. (The cat ends up shocking us again later, resulting in my wife jumping, then grumbling, “Stupid goddamned cat.” I immediately seconded her emotion.)

When Lansdale finally does lose his hand…well, I can’t speak as to how medically accurate it is, with the ungodly amounts of blood spurting everywhere, but it certainly feels like there’s more blood than is actually necessary. Then again, his hand has just been completely ripped from his arm at the wrist, so maybe that’s just me wanting to believe that it should’ve been less bloody. However you feel about the gore, though, one thing that’s undeniable is that the choreography of that scene is the definitive moment within “The Hand” that’ll make you go, “Yep, even back then, Oliver Stone was already a hell of a director.”

With the loss of a hand, specifically his drawing hand, Lansdale’s life as a cartoonist is effectively ended, and his marriage is already hanging by a thread, so it’s no wonder that he begins a descent into depression…but is it a descent into madness as well? He begins to dream that his hand, which was MIA after the car accident which severed it, is still out there somewhere…and crawling towards him. (There’s a very fun scene when Lansdale goes to search the field where the hand should’ve landed and we’re treated to camera work which effectively provides us with a “hand’s-eye view.”) As the film progresses, we’re left uncertain as to whether he’s been dreaming or not…and if you haven’t actually seen it, this is definitely one that I won’t spoil for you.

The score by James Horner is suitably creepy, but there’s something very amusing about the scene where a slightly-crazed Caine is cruising down the road whilst cranking Blondie’s “Union City Blue” on the car stereo. (Don’t tell me Stone wasn’t aware of the lyric, “Power, passion plays a double hand.”) It’s also worth noting that “The Hand” is the only selection within the Twisted Terror Collection to feature audio commentary; Stone himself sits down and discusses the experience of making the movie and, as with most of his commentary tracks, it’s almost as entertaining as the film itself, in particular because he admits outright that he hasn’t seen it in years…not unlike myself.

“The Hand” is an enjoyable blend of drama and horror, with the occasional bit of humor to lighten the mood; it might not be as scary as I’d remembered it, but thanks to the team of Caine and Stone, it proves entertaining nonetheless.

Scare of the Day: “Deadly Friend”

My wife was absolutely dumbfounded when I told her that I’d managed to spend 37 years on this planet without ever having seen Wes Craven’s “Deadly Friend,” but it’s true. In fact, not only had I never seen it, but I didn’t even know the first thing about it; it didn’t ring even the slightest bell when she gave me a one-line synopsis – teenage whiz kid uses his knowledge of robotics to try and bring his dead girlfriend back to life – and given that that’s the kind of plot that would’ve immediately grabbed the attention of the complete geek that I was in 1986, I really don’t know how I possibly could’ve missed it.

Now that I’ve finally seen it, though, I wish I had seen it back then; unfortunately, I say that because, at times, it feels far more like a historical artifact than a horror film.

Okay, so you’ve got a rough idea what the movie’s about, but here’s how the box text spells it out: “Lonely teenage genius Paul (Matthew Laborteaux), a specialist in brain research, has two best friends: his remarkable robot BB and the beautiful girl next door (Kristy Swanson). When tragedy strikes both his friends, he desperately tries to save them both by pushing technology beyond its mortal limits into a terrifying new realm. Like a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein, Paul discovers too late that he has created a rampaging monster.”

As “Deadly Friend” begins, you’re introduced to BB the Robot, and all I could think about was Number Five in “Short Circuit.” Or the Ro-Boz from “Riptide.” Or, y’know, pretty much any big-ass, non-streamlined robot from the ‘80s. BB’s got a wacky voice that sounds a little bit like Gizmo the Mogwai, which comes courtesy of Charles Fleischer (he also voiced Roger Rabbit), and we’re given the impression from the get-go that he’s on the verge of outgrowing his programming, which means that we won’t be surprised if he suddenly kills someone. That turns out to be a red herring, though…as is the suspicion that when Samantha (Swanson) finally meets her doom, Paul’s gonna somehow transfer her brain into BB. Alas, the poor robot gets shot all to hell by the neighborhood crazy lady, Elvira Parker – played by Anne Ramsey, who fit this role into her schedule between her roles in “The Goonies” and “Throw Mama from the Train” – but there’s definitely a Frankenstein element to the tale when, after Sam’s abusive father pushes her down the stairs and she breaks her neck, Paul takes BB’s chip and puts it into her brain in order to bring her back to life…and since I’m sure you were wondering, why, yes, things do go horribly awry!

For the most part, “Deadly Friend” plays like your average teenage flick, which is due in no small part to the decidedly average acting of Laborteaux, who’s forced to carry the film whenever Swanson isn’t around but is rather less than enthralling as a big-screen presence. As for his co-star, she’s charming and cute during her scenes prior to her death, but for the rest of the film, she’s forced to stalk around silently, wearing really dark eyeshadow to remind us that she’s only one step above corpsedom. (Good thing she’s got expressive eyes!) It’s the interesting premise that keeps us watching, though, along with curiosity about how it’ll be resolved; unfortunately, the film goes on for about two minutes longer than it should have, tacking on what may be the dumbest ending of any ’80s movie ever. Seriously, I was just left sputtering. In fact, here’s an exact transcript: “But…but…there wasn’t…it couldn’t have…she wasn’t…oh, God, that’s fucking dumb!”

Of course, even in one of his lesser films, Wes Craven still manages to produce two death scenes that made the film worth seeing.

Sam bends her father’s hand back, throws him against the boiler in the basement, and snaps his neck like the proverbial twig…and when Paul finally discovers them, Sam’s got her father’s body lying so that his head is lying inside the boiler, where it’s just smoking and sizzling away amongst the flames. Mmm-mmm, nothing smells loving like Daddy’s head in the oven…

When Sam breaks into Elvira Parker’s house to extract her revenge and to get back the basketball Parker swiped, Sam kills two birds with one stone by throwing the ball so hard at Elvira’s head that it fucking explodes.

Okay, okay, don’t twist my arm, here’s the YouTube clip of the latter:

So now I can scratch “Deadly Friend” off my list of ’80s Movies I’ve Never Seen…and, in an odd moment of serendipity, I can also finally scratch “basketball” off my list of Things I’ve Seen People Killed By In Movies.

Wow, this is the best Thursday ever!

Scare of the Day: “From Beyond the Grave”

Amicus Productions often sat in the shadow of its better known countryman, Hammer Studios, but horror film aficionados will concede without hesitation that both firms provided the world with plenty of hours of chills, screams, and general creepiness, often even utilizing the same actors. (In particular, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee proved to be familiar faces in both camps.) If there’s one thing that Amicus tended to specialize in over Hammer, however, it was in the field of horror anthologies, offering up classics like “Doctor Terror’s House of Horrors,” “Asylum,” “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Vault of Horror” a.k.a. “Tales from the Crypt II,” and…wait for it…“From Beyond the Grave.”

Yes, I’m well aware that, given that the title of the film was listed right in the title of the posting, that wasn’t exactly the most shocking reveal. But it felt right, dammit.

British horror films from the late 1960s and early 1970s are almost always a joy to watch, if only because…and I’ve said this before, but I know others who agree with my theory as well…there’s something about a British accent that makes even the most preposterous dialogue sound like the God’s honest truth. Additionally, the Brits have always had a dark and nasty streak to their humor, which invariably shows up within the short and sweet tales of these anthologies.

There are four tales within “From Beyond the Grave”: “The Gate Crasher,” “An Act of Kindness,” “The Elemental,” and “The Door.” Each story has been taken from author Ronald Chetwynd-Hayes’ 1971 collection of short stories entitled “The Unbidden.” The foursome are all interlinked via an antique shop which is curated by none other than Grand Moff Tarkin himself, Peter Cushing; in most cases, the reason for the characters to enter the shop is at best only tangentially related to their tale, but it hardly matters, since it’s mostly just fun to see the pale-as-a-corpse Cushing shuffle around the shop, sneaking up on his customers and asking them if he can help them find anything.

“From Beyond the Grave” stars David Warner as Edward Charlton, a man who tricks Cushing into selling him an antique mirror at a highly discounted price by claiming it to be a fake; perhaps unsurprisingly, however, Edward gets his just desserts when the mirror turns out to be inhabited by an evil spirit who need fresh blood in order to get his strength up and escape his confinement. During a séance, the spirit possesses Edward and soon sends him out on a nightly basis to bring him another sacrifice, and as a bonus, he has Edward do the actual slaying for him as well; the conclusion is predictable, but Warner’s increased anxiety as the segment progresses makes it worth watching ‘til the bitter end. “The Gate Crasher,” which follows, is probably the most enjoyable of the four segments for several reasons. For one, there’s the cast, which features Donald Pleasance, Angela Pleasance (yes, she’s his daughter, both in real life and in the film), and Ian Bannen, a husband who’s forever henpecked by his wife, played by the voluptuous Diana Dors; for another, however, it offers a legitimately unexpected conclusion and a darkly funny closing line from Mr. Pleasance.

(Unrelated sidebar: many Americans aren’t aware of Diana Dors, but Anglophile music fans may recognize her from appearances on The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Smiths’ Singles, which is how I came to know her name. What I didn’t know until very recently, however, was the story of her secret fortune and how it reports remains hidden somewhere out there, just waiting to be found by the person who can crack the code she left behind before her death in 1984.)

“The Elemental,” which stars Ian Carmichael as a man with something decidedly larger than a chip on his shoulder, will make fans of the “Harry Potter” films laugh out loud, as Margaret Leighton plays a spiritualist who will instantly remind them of Emma Thompson’s take on Professor Trelawney; indeed, the similarity is so profound that you can’t help but draw the connection. Lastly, “The Door” features Ian Ogilvy and Lesley-Anne Down as a young couple who find that their new residence has an unfortunate connection with the late Sir Michael Sinclair, who’d prefer not to be quite so late any longer.

The film comes to a conclusion by returning to Cushing and giving him a few moments to shine, presumably in a scene unique to the movie (i.e. not something composed by Chetwynd-Hayes), but it probably isn’t much of a spoiler to suggest that when he’s accosted by a gentleman who intends to rob the shop, something rather untoward occurs to the would-be thief.

Immediately thereafter, he addresses the camera directly:

“Aye, customers, come in, come in; I’m sure I have the very thing to tempt you. Lots of bargains, all tastes catered for…oh, and a big novelty surprise comes with every purchase. Do come in, any time. I’m always open.”

It’s an offer you can’t resist, really.

Scare of the Day: “Eyes of a Stranger”

When I helped pull together Bullz-Eye’s piece on TV transitions, which examined actors who tried but failed to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen, it turns out that there was at least one name that flew completely under my radar, possibly because her first shot as a leading lady turned out to be her last: Lauren Tewes, a.k.a. cruise director Julie McCoy on “The Love Boat.”

I’m not saying that Tewes’ lone headlining role in the 1981 slasher flick, “Eyes of a Stranger,” was necessarily bad enough to warrant such a sudden and dramatic conclusion to her career as a Hollywood leading lady…but, well, there’s a reason why the film is mostly remembered not for Tewes’s contributions but, rather, for the fact that the film served to introduce the world to Jennifer Jason Leigh. At the very least, it’s not going out on a limb to suggest that, even then, Leigh had the edge when it comes to range…but, then, you’ll see what I mean when you read about her character.

Tewes plays newscaster Jane Harris, who seems particularly stricken by the recent attacks on women by a nasty character who’s strangling and sexually molesting his victims. At first, it seems as though Jane’s concerns exist because she’s so protective of her deaf and blind sister (Leigh), but it soon becomes evident that there’s a horrible secret in her past which has raised her fear level. When she discovers who the guilty party is, Jane decides to play the “I Know What You Did” card by calling him and threatening him, which inevitably leads to a confrontation. The film’s gore effects are provided by the legendary Tom Savini, who offers particularly nice results to a decapitation (the head ends up floating in an aquarium), and director Ken Wiederhorn does manage to provide a few scares in the darkness, but, overall, the film’s only the slightest step up from TV movie fare. If you took away the nudity and gore, you’d find that the plot and dialogue wouldn’t even make the cut for a Lifetime production. Leigh obviously impressed someone with her work on “Eyes of a Stranger” – wow, she’s deaf and blind, but she can still make toast and coffee! – but given that Tewes slinked back to the Pacific Princess and Wiederhorn’s next project was “Meatballs 2,” it’s clear that Leigh was the only one.

In closing, we’re stuck with another film without a trailer available, so let’s watch the video for The Payola$’ song, “Eyes of a Stranger.” Paul Hyde + Bob Rock = an awesome ’80s Canadian rock song. Okay, maybe not awesome…but it’s still better than the movie that shares its title.

Scare of the Day: “Dr. Giggles”

Man, I can still remember when this film was originally released: I was just finishing up college, and there was a big ol’ cardboard stand-up in the local theater, proclaiming its imminent release. I was never a horror movie aficionado back then, and, frankly, this just sounded like an excruciating viewing experience, preying on all of my own personal medical nightmares, so I decided to take a pass on checking it out.

What a fool I was.

Not that “Dr. Giggles” is in any way a classic, but as a fan of really awful puns and one-liners, I laughed out loud a dozen times during the course of the flick…and probably groaned at least as often. Anyone who’s guilty of snickering when Arnold Schwarzenegger watches a guy get cut in a half and then says, “He had to split,” will love watching a film with a serial-killing doctor who throws out lines like…

“Get ready to take your medicine.”
“Check-out time.”
“Do you feel any discomfort?”
“If you think that’s bad, wait until you get my bill.”

If you’re one of those folks who likes to have a pop culture timeline, “Dr. Giggles” was filmed in the same time frame when Holly Marie Combs was just starting on “Picket Fences,” Glenn Quinn was just getting the hang of playing Becky’s boyfriend, Mark, on “Roseanne,” and Larry Drake was several years into his stint as Benny on “L.A. Law” but was already trying to make sure it wouldn’t be the only role he was remembered for. (He’d already played the villain in “Darkman” two years prior to this.)

The film focuses on Evan Randell (Drake), whose father was the physician of the small, picturesque town of Moorehigh; Dr. Randell’s wife passed away, and he proceeded to remove the hearts from several townsfolk in an attempt to bring her back, but he was caught and stoned to death. (Gotta love that small-town justice, huh?) Young Evan, who’d assisted his father, managed to get away, vanishing into anonymity, but his natural tendency toward being batshit crazy led him to be institutionalized, and as “Dr. Giggles” begins, we’re introduced to Evan, all grown up, in the midst of performing a decidedly unauthorized operation on one of the suits at the asylum where he’s been held. This opening sequence is pretty sweet, actually, and I couldn’t help but think of Arkham Asylum, from the “Batman” comics. (When is someone gonna get around to adapting Grant Morrison’s graphic novel into a film, by the way?)

As you’ve read, there’s a lot of ridiculously silly humor in “Dr. Giggles,” but it works because of Drake’s delivery. There’s really not as much gore as you’d expect, although there are a couple of scenes worth noting, including one where the good doctor operates on himself; certainly the most disturbing scene, however, comes via the flashback sequence where we discover that Evan made it out of his parents’ house because his father sewed him into his mother’s corpse!

I’m mildly surprised that the film ended in such a way that a sequel is unlikely, but you can’t beat the way it does end, with Combs holding up two sharp knives, saying, “Take two and call me in the morning,” and stabbing Evan to death…though not before he gets in the closing line, “Is there a doctor in the house?”

Not anymore! (Ho, ho.)

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