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Here’s why you SHOULD “Be Afraid of the Dark.”   Leave a comment

WHO ARE YOU CALLING A FAIRY? These tiny critters take no prisoners…oh, wait a minute, they do!

By C. Michael Forsyth

I’ve been chafing at the bit for months to see the remake of the memorable 1973 TV movie “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” The trailer was one of the most compelling I’ve seen for a horror movie in years and it’s the brainchild of Guillermo del Toro, who directed the visually stunning “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy.”

The premise is promising. A young, withdrawn girl is sent by her mother to live with her father and his new girlfriend in a 19th century Rhode Island mansion the two are restoring. The child is plagued by tiny, malevolent gremlins that emerge from the ash pit of a fireplace in the basement of the house – ancient creatures that prey on kids and drag them to their hellish underground kingdom.

The massive flaw that renders the movie almost unwatchable is that the entire family, especially surrogate mom Kim (Katie Holmes) are idiots. Look, I know that horror movie characters usually aren’t too swift and one of their traditional bonehead moves is staying in a house long after it’s become obvious that it’s haunted. But “Don’t be Afraid of the Dark” takes that to a ludicrous level.

It’s one thing to stay in a house after a troubled child in your care is traumatized by fear of creatures she claims to have seen in the basement. It’s another to stay after an old workman emerges from the basement with a tool in his neck following a savage attack and warns you from his deathbed to get the girl out of the house! Even after slow-on-the-uptake Kim learns from a librarian that the previous owner painted evil beings just like Sally described and vanished without a trace along with his son, she allows Sally to wander around the mansion on her own.

If there existed a child welfare agency devoted to the paranormal, they’d take the daughter away. (Hopefully in real life, Katie Holmes does a better job of mothering little Suri).

NO SUPERMOM: Dim-witted Kim (Katie Holmes) fails to take common sense steps to protect child.

In the original version, Sally was an adult. One striking scene from the 1973 movie stands out in my memory. The imps are repelled by light and as they drag Sally across the basement floor toward the ash pit, she grabs a Polaroid camera and uses the flash to fend them off. It was a pretty cool move, I thought as a kid. In the remake, when Sally tells Kim about the creatures’ Achilles’ heel, Kim gets a bright idea, smiles, and gives the girl one of the old-fashioned cameras for protection – instead of a freaking flashlight like any normal person would!

Using a Poloroid flashbulb for light isn’t a plan. Using a Poloroid flashbulb for light is what you do what a plan fails, as Fred Ward’s character in “Tremors” would say.

Little Sally, who unleashes the menace when she sneaks into the basement and uses tools to unseal the ash pit, isn’t much brighter. She continues to think the critters might simply want to be her friends even after she’s seen their monstrous, hissing faces up close. More unbelievably, she doesn’t tell Kim or her dad about the pint-sized pests even after they’ve repeatedly terrorized her in her bedroom. Nor does she tell her real mom, whom she’s clearly close to, over the phone. Here’s some advice, kids: When a swarm of small creatures from the bowels of hell try to shred you with a straight razor, tell Mommy or Daddy.

LESS THAN LOVABLE tot Sally (Bailee) gets the ball rolling when she sets the evil creatures free.

On top of not being very bright, our young heroine is far from adorable. Sally (Bailee Madison) is perpetually cold and sullen. When she meets Kim for the first time, she tells her, “My mother said he picked you because you’re young. But you’re not – you’re old!”

The biggest idiot, naturally, is dad Alex, who as is par for the course in horror flicks, pooh poohs his daughter’s fears long after any reasonable person would. Even after his child has run away out of terror, he refuses to leave until he’s held a big dinner party to show off the mansion he hopes to sell. Guy Pearce, as Alex, excels in playing uptight guys, most famously in “L.A. Confidential.” There he brought an intelligence and sincerity to the role that made you root for him. Here he’s just a jerk, like the pompous concierge he played in the comedy “Bedtime Stories.”

The scuttling, rat-like creatures look frightening. But, in the time-honored tradition of mediocre horror movies, we see way too much of them and they quickly cease to be scary. Heck, they’re almost as cute as the mischievous little devils in “Gremlins.” The CGI isn’t very convincing, further weakening their impact.

In an interesting deviation from the original, the creatures are described as fairies – nasty ones that collect children’s teeth. Guillermo del Toro, who wrote but did not direct the film, said in an interview that he got the idea from the books of Welsh writer Arthur Machen, whose works are mentioned in the movie.

“I love his idea that fairy lore comes from a dark place, that it’s derived from little, pre-human creatures who are really, really nasty vermin but are magical in a way, living as they do for hundreds of years,” del Toro said. “His books are what compelled me to do this.”

However, the case that the Tooth Fairy is actually evil was made with greater logic in the Darkness Falls (2003).

The takeaway for film buffs: A terrific trailer does not always mean a terrific movie. Also, if you’re stuck in a horror movie, never, ever go in the basement.

The author of this review penned Hour of the Beast , hailed by Horror Fiction Review as “a fast-paced, rip-snorting, action-packed, sexy college romp.” The book is available in hardcover and softcover at Amazon.com. But you can save $4 by clicking HERE! The Kindle version is just $7 and the eBbook is a measly $5. Be the first on your block to read this bone-chilling tale — before the movie comes out.

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The 12 Greatest Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen!   1 comment

C. Michael Forsyth

There are great horror movies that even aficionados of the genre have missed and are often overlooked on top 100 lists. Here are a dozen rarely viewed films that gave me the willies:

A remote forest is home turf for a demon in “Equinox.”

EQUINOX, 1970

Four young people searching a remote forest for a missing scientist get more than they bargained for when they encounter the demon Asmodeus. Taking refuge in a cave, they come across an ancient book the evil being needs to spread destruction beyond his wooded domain. Heroically, the humans fight to keep The Book out of the demon’s claws, while trapped within his forest by a mysterious force field. Asmodeus sends a series of monstrous minions, including a giant ape-like creature with cloven hooves, to retrieve The Book.

Though shot on a shoestring budget, the movie makes create use of Ray Harryhausen-type stop motion animation. Plot-wise, it is a forerunner to “The Evil Dead,” and the filmmakers could show the producers of “The Blair Witch Project” a thing or two about telling an entertaining story with no dough.

A rustic European town harbors a terrible secret in “Vampyr.”

VAMPYR, 1932

Most horror buffs have seen the silent-era vampire film “Nosferatu,” an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, but only hardcore enthusiasts have seen this 1932 picture from Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. Though less well known, it’s every bit as creepy as “Nosferatu.” Inspired by a tale by Carmilla author J. Sheridan Le Fanu, it’s about a student of the occult who stumbles across a village under the curse of a vampire hag.

Although made in the sound era, it too is silent. It benefits from a haunting atmosphere and imaginative effects. Among the most striking, the vampires slinking around the deserted town are seen only as shadows.

A young woman rubs shoulders with history’s most infamous sadist in “Waxwork.”

WAXWORK, 1988

A group of students visit a wax museum featuring 18 villains from horror lore and history. Two are sucked into the waxwork displays, where they run into a werewolf and Dracula. Another two find themselves pitted against zombies and the infamous Marquis de Sade. The concept of universes within the displays struck me as quite original, and I loved how each one is depicted as real as our own. A kinky highlight of the film arises when the teenage girl drawn into de Sade’s world is whipped by the infamous sadist…and kind of likes it! Zach Galligan, who had vanished from the screen after “Gremlins,” does a smashing job as the young hero struggling to rescue her.

Homeowner Jesse (Ayre Gross, left) learns there’s more problems with his new digs than mice in the attic in “House 2.”

HOUSE 2

This horror comedy is a rare case of the sequel surpassing the original. Charlie and Jesse, a pair of yuppie pals, move into an old mansion Jesse has inherited. Rummaging through the basement, Jesse finds a picture of his great-great grandfather in front of a Mayan temple holding a crystal skull. The buddies soon learn that the house has been transformed by the skull his ancestor swiped and that each room is a doorway across space and time. The guys must keep the skull out of the hands of evildoers, while their mettle is tested in a series of harrowing adventures on the other side of these portals. Jonathan Stark, best known as the vampire’s henchman in the original “Fright Night,” is great as the goofier member of the duo. And look for an appearance from a smartalecky young Bill Maher.

A visit to the family crypt reveals clues to an awful curse in “The Undying Monster.”


THE UNDYING MONSTER, 1942

Mystery and horror combine in the curious case of the Hammond family which has been cursed since the Crusades and whose members frequently die under strange circumstances. When the latest Hammond heir is slain by an unidentified creature, intrepid private detective Robert Curtis and his plucky sidekick Christy are summoned to investigate. An early clue is a very peculiar statue in the Hammond family crypt.

What delights me about the film is the successful blend of genres. Curtis brings the logic of a Sherlock Holmes to the case and his relationship with Christy is reminiscent of Nick and Nora of “The Thin Man” fame. The detective takes a scientific approach, which makes the increasingly uncanny events all the more alarming. In one memorable sequence, he uses a microscope to examine a strange hair and it vanishes before his eyes!

Boris Karloff is a father who returns home from a vampire hunt and brings terror with him in “Black Sabbath.”

BLACK SABBATH, 1963

This anthology film boasts some truly terrifying segments. My favorite, “The Wurdalak,” is drawn from a common theme of vampire folklore rarely depicted on film: that when the undead return they first prey on their own relatives.

In 19th century Russia, a young nobleman on a long trip stops at a small rural cottage to ask for shelter. He learns that the family patriarch has disappeared for five days while searching for a vampire, or “wurdalak” as the locals call it. At the stroke of midnight, Dad — Boris Karloff at his creepy best — shows up at the cottage. His disheveled appearance and odd behavior lead his sons to suspect he’s joined the ranks of the undead. The situation makes for a rather tense evening.

“I tell you, I’m not crazy. Now get that hand off my mouth.” Michael Redgrave is a ventriloquist with a sinister dummy in “Dead of Night.”

DEAD OF NIGHT, 1945

Another chilling anthology film, it includes the granddaddy of all evil-ventriloquist-dummy stories and a chilling yarn about a haunted antique mirror. The frame story itself (often laughable in such movies) is truly unnerving. In the frame story, a man arrives at a country house party where he reveals to the assembled guests that he has seen them all in a dream. They begin to tell various tales of the supernatural and the uncanny. The frame story climaxes with a haunting twist ending.

“I don’t much like the look of that.” Peter Cushing, right, finds that a fellow scientist has created a deadly new lifeform in “Island of Terror.”

ISLAND OF TERROR, 1966

The great Peter Cushing stars as a scientist investigating the peculiar case of a farmer found dead on a remote British isle without a single bone in his body. He and his companions learn that a researcher working on the island accidentally created a new lifeform from the silicon atom while searching for a cancer cure.

The tentacled creatures, dubbed “silicates,” kill their victims by injecting a bone-dissolving enzyme into their bodies and are virtually indestructible. Trapped on the isolated island, the heroes battle the monsters with guns, Molotov cocktails, dynamite and other weapons to no avail. In one hair-raising scene, Cushing is grabbed by a silicate. With a stiff upper lip, the Englishman sternly instructs a companion to chop off his hand with an ax before its too late.

Wicca is for wimps. These witches are the real deal in “Horror Hotel.”

HORROR HOTEL, 1960

A college coed visits a small Massachusetts town to research the witchcraft trials, unaware that her landlady is the reincarnation of an infamous witch burned at the stake in the 1600s. The accused witch wasn’t innocent – not by a longshot. She and her evil cohorts practice virgin sacrifice in order to remain immortal. Christopher Lee as the missing girl’s professor and her friends must solve the mystery of her disappearance before an unholy ritual on Candlemass Eve. Look for one of the most startling heroic rescue scenes in horror cinema history.

A madman (Patrick O’Neal) doesn’t let a disablity stand in the way of exacting bloody vengeance in “Chamber of Horrors.”

CHAMBER OF HORRORS, 1966

Cesare Danova, the suave actor with the sexy foreign accent that made him a ubiquitous TV guest star, plays the proprietor of a wax museum and amateur sleuth, aided by a dwarf sidekick. When a deranged man named Jason Cravette murders a woman and marries her corpse, Danova helps police bring him to justice.

Unfortunately, the killer escapes from a manacle by amputating his hand and vows vengeance on everyone involved in his capture and trial. In place of his hand, the madman wears an array of deadly weapons. He associates his foes with body parts – for instance, the cop who arrested him is the “arm of the law.” So after each revenge killing he makes off with that body part. The wax museum owner has a special incentive to stop the culprit, because he solved the initial murder and Cravette has indentified him as “the head of the law.” Gulp.

The movie was filmed as a pilot for a series to be called “House of Wax,” but it was deemed too gory for TV. But I would have tuned into such a show every week!

The devil is afoot in Merry Old England in “Blood on Satan’s Claw.”

BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW, 1971

This movie is set in village in 17th century England, where a series of bizarre events suggest to superstitious peasants that the devil is afoot. The trouble begins when a farmer plowing a field uncovers a deformed skull with one leering eye. Later, young townsfolk begin to sprout patches of fur and other odd markings on their bodies. It’s up to the local judge, a rational man who is initially skeptical of the supernatural, to stop the epidemic and solve the mystery. High production values and convincing period dialogue elevate the film. It’s like watching a version of “The Crucible” in which Satan really is on the prowl.

Dinner is served! An army officer resorts to cannibalism in “Ravenous.”

RAVENOUS, 1999

The always compelling Guy Pearce ( “L.A. Confidential”) stars in this film, which offers a unique take on cannibalism.

The story takes place during in 1840s California during the Mexican-American War. Pearce plays a U.S. Army captain who comes across the aftermath of a Donner Party-like disaster. The sole survivor, a Colonel Ives, is now hooked on human flesh. According to a Native American legend recounted in the movie, a man who consumes the flesh of his enemies takes their strength but becomes a Wendigo, a demon cursed by a hunger for man meat. Turns out the Indians were right. Col. Ives has cured himself of tuberculosis and turned himself into an invincible superman through cannibalism. Worse still, he gets others addicted and is bent on turning our hero Capt. Boyd into a cannibal too.

I found the notion of cannibal as a sort of vampire thought-provoking and appreciated the film’s dark humor. With great performances from Pearce and Robert Carlyle as the sinister Colonel Ives.

The author of this article also wrote the acclaimed horror novel Hour of the Beast. In the opening chapter, the unthinkable happens. Then things get out of hand.

Hour of the Beast is available in hardcover and softcover at Amazon.com. But you can save $4 by clicking HERE! The Kindle version is just $7 and the Ebook is a measly $5. Be the first on your block to read this bone-chilling tale — before the motion picture hits the big screen.

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