Film Review: The Strangers: Prey At Night

 

 

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Slashers in the modern era and mainly in the mainstream are very far and few in between compared to their heyday in the early to mid-1980’s. Now granted we do have some mainly from the indie market such as “Terrifier”, “The Barn” and others to satisfy our urge for the classic slashers we grew to love. However the more mainstream market besides the major hit with “Halloween” last year has not had a huge market for these films. But luckily we did get a major released slasher in the form of “The Strangers-Prey at Night” last year which is a sequel to the 2007 film “The Strangers”. Now I am a huge fan of the first film and how it managed to use a good deal of suspense and had a likable cast as well as killers that I always wanted to see more of. Well after a long, long time we finally get a sequel!

I will say right away I love this film. I was unfortunate to miss it in theaters but when I picked it up on blu ray, I was told to take it with a heavy grain of salt. I was essentially told over and over that the serious tone of the first film was pretty much butchered for a cut and paste type movie. However, I went into it with an open mind and just by going through the opening credits blasting “Kids In America”, I could already feel this was going to be a bit more of a tongue in cheek kind of movie….and I couldn’t be any more right. Where the first film was more of a 70’s-esque home invasion film, the sequel goes straight for the 80’s slasher formula which makes for a fun time. The characters while not as memorable do their parts very well and final girl Bailee Madison who plays “Kinsey” at first I was not fond of her character, it felt very forced. But after multiple watches she definitely fits the part and has some badass scenes towards the end. Her brother played by Lewis Pullman I really enjoyed and had probably the best scene in the film where he gets to fight back against two of the masked assailants gaining the upper hand on one only to be outed by the Man in the mask. It is a great scene filled with 80’s pop music blaring which almost adds the unsettling feeling to the whole situation. Now story wise it is pretty standard but it works. It follows a slightly dysfunctional family visiting an aunt and uncle at a trailer park during the off season which means no one’s there. Its spooky and creepy and essentially it’s a perfect place for our three slashers to be staking out and the family must fight for their survival cut print and on we go etc.. While the plot is bare bones, it is how the film is handled that works. With some great tense moments especially toward the end and the 80’s pop soundtrack it all works well to create a fun throwback film. There are also a lot of homages it seems to films like “Christine”, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and every time I watch, it is more enjoyable to notice them more and more.

Overall, I feel this film is much more enjoyable than the first in sense of just being a fun slasher that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It feels slightly like Chainsaw part 2 in the sense of not trying to outdo the grittiness of the original but the take that world and make it a lot more fun which horror to me has always been about: a fun, blood splattered time. Highly Recommended!

 

Film Review: Scarecrows(1988)

 

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The 1980’s spawned literally hundreds and hundreds of Horror films. Year by year companies spat them out and with the advent and convenience of VHS, these films flooded the market. While I have tons to choose from and many I will be getting to from time to time, one I really want to talk about today is the direct to video supernatural slasher from 1988 known simply as “Scarecrows”.

Released in 1988 by Manson International Pictures and directed by William Wesley, “Scarecrows” follows five mercenaries who robbed Camp Pendleton and hijacked a plane with the pilot and his daughter in tow. As they head for the border, one of them decides to double cross the team by parachuting to an abandoned farm with all the cash. As the team lands the plane in the isolated area, the farm becomes alive and the surrounding Scarecrows begin to cause havoc to the trespassers. I have to say that this film while having a lot of similar tropes to supernatural haunted house films of the time still has a unique plot to it. The atmosphere presented is very well done as well with a lot of shadow play throughout to add to the isolated feeling. The best thing I can say about this film also is the Scarecrow effects are very well done mainly due to Norman Cabrera known for working on Gremlins 2, From Dusk Til Dawn and others later on. However, in terms of character development, there isn’t a ton save for the team becoming more paranoid as we see them picked off one by one. The plot for the first half hour seems to drag on with the team slowly discovering that the house may have been a ground for satanic worship however it is never fully explained and is always kept mostly vague. The film really picks up toward the end with the scarecrows being fully realized as nearly indestructible killers and they even bring back those they kill as straw filled zombies which is a nice touch.

Save for a few recycled shots of scarecrows, the film does its best with its low budget in making an effective and fun horror film. The characters are really nothing to write home about with not really any big names but they aren’t portrayed terribly. This is definitely a good flick to add to an October playlist for the atmosphere alone. A fun little horror flick that didn’t create a whole new subgenre but gained a cult following for its simplicity and well done practical effects. Recommended!

 

Double Feature Friday: The Exterminator(1980) and The Exterminator 2(1984)

I am a sucker for 80s action/exploitation flicks. While the seventies had some terrific action films, the eighties really delved into going straight for the throat with its forced masculinity and gun toting one men army flicks left and right. From “Death Wish” becoming more outlandish (we’ll get to those) to films like “First Blood” kick starting the Rambo franchise along with so many others, it was easy for a lot of solid action flicks to get swept under the rug like the two we are talking about today. Vigilante films “The Exterminator” and its sequel are the subject of the very first double feature Friday.

The Exterminator (1980)

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The Exterminator released in 1980 and directed by James Glickenhaus and is one of the prime examples of early 80’s action/trash cinema. The plot pretty much follows Vietnam War Veteran John Eastland on his battle against New York crime including low life gangsters, Mobsters and human traffickers. The way we see him become a vigilante is pretty much based from a revenge story of his best friend being horribly paralyzed for life. Essentially this how most vigilante movies are started, however Eastland begins to go after any and all crime in New York city and makes for a very entertaining and gritty film. Robert Ginty plays Eastland with pretty much only two emotions: Calm and collected or pissed off and mad as hell. The moments I like the most are when Eastland is raging, when he has criminals at his mercy. I don’t want to spoil too much but there are some great scenes including a car chase with Eastland pursuing on a motorcycle and a  mobster strung above a meat grinder which you can tell how that’s gonna go. We also see Christopher George playing the detective who is hot on discovering who the exterminator really is. This culminates in the two meeting up at the end of the film with a quick tense finale that I won’t spoil. I really like his character as he plays the part straight with a few soft comedic moments that work.  The film definitely relishes in the down and dirty feel New York seemed to have at the time and added to the exploitative nature the film had. Definitely recommended for fans of early gritty action films with solid pacing and a good cast.

The Exterminator 2 (1984)

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By 1984, the action genre was in full effect and Cannon Films had acquired the rights for the film and released its sequel entitled “The Exterminator 2”. This film is very much a retread of the first but has almost more of a comic book feel to it. It comes from the beginning with Eastland listening to police scanners before heading out on the town with his flame thrower, bulletproof vest and welding mask. Eastland definitely has more of an antihero kind of style and look in this movie which comes from that Cannon charm. Now in terms of a sequel it really doesn’t feel so much like one. John was pretty much found out at the end of the first film but here he is walking free not a care in the world. A bit of a plot hole yes but it’s an 80’s action movie, we aren’t here for Shakespearean art we are here to see shit get blown up. And blown up it does. We see a gang led by their crazed leader X played brilliantly by Mario Van Peebles, ravaging New York looking to be the top of the top. Eastland who has secretly been taking out parts of X’s gang gets caught in the middle when his girlfriend and other friend from ‘Nam are killed by said gang. This basically sends the movie into overdrive toward the end with Eastland armoring up his friends garbage truck essentially into a tank with turrets and a huge plow on the front for an epic finale. The end action sequence definitely the tops first film however it feels like it lost some of the charm the original film had. But in the end I feel it is a fun enough film and definitely a product of its time. Recommended for fans of the first however it is not as grounded asis but is definitely still a good popcorn flick and has good entertaining value. Plus Ginty is still pretty badass in it.

Movie Review: Dead End Drive-In(1986)

 

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Post-apocalyptic films are personally one of my favorite genres of film that has ever hit the silver screen all the way to vhs tapes to blu ray and beyond. Australia in particular, seem to have a cornered market on these types of films with creating perhaps the most iconic and my favorite action franchise of all time, “Mad Max”. However there are some interesting less talked about Ozploitation action films that came from this time such as “Road Games” and the subject of today’s review, the neon splattered new wave drenched “Dead End Drive-In”.

Released in 1986 by New World Pictures and directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, “Dead End Drive-In” is definitely one of the most unique post-apocalyptic films I have seen. Set in the “not so distant future” like many of these kinds of movies, we see that society is breaking down (of course) and has adopted mainly a free for all kind of lifestyle. Cars have become a hot ticket as anyone is looking for car wrecks that happen on the roads so they are able to claim the wrecked parts for salvaging. Right away this film feels very colorful with the world we have been put into. With the gangs that ride the highways to the locations and colors used in the film, it definitely bleeds that 80’s style. Our main character Jimmy “Crabs” played by a very charismatic Ned Manning is looking to take his girlfriend Carmen played by Natalie McCurry(R.I.P) to the local Star drive in for your run of the mill teenage date night. While getting hot in Crabs’ brothers 57 Chevy (which doesn’t get nearly enough screen time), the tires are stolen and as Crabs goes to the office to file a report, he finds out the real truth behind the drive in: there is no leaving. Essentially drive ins have been converted into concentration style camps for the undesirables of society and Crabs inadvertently got caught in the trap. The rest of the running time shows Crabs will to survive and escape as everyone else pretty much sees it as an easy way of life for them. Even his girlfriend has adapted to the life and is even brainwashed to feel as though the Asian immigrants that have also been transported here are the cause of the world’s problems. When this element was introduced in the plot, I realized how much social commentary was really laid on in this film and done with a lot of thought in mind. The racist gangs present and the theme of bigotry throughout the camp slowly comes out toward the last half hour or so in the film and is when Crabs realizes he cannot be blinded by everyone here. What results is a fantastic action sequence with some tense moments and one bombastic ending that had me grinning like an idiot. The action sequences in this film are fantastically done with some good explosions and one hell of a jump at the end. Another thing to note is the exceptional acting by just about everyone in the film. While Crabs seems the most level headed, everyone else plays very outlandish and cartoony distorted wackos that fit perfectly in this film but never come off as cheesy and annoying.

Overall, with some very exceptional and charismatic acting, style and charm that can be rarely matched by even the time period it was conceived in and the interesting take it has on the Post-Apocalyptic sub-genre, “Dead End Drive In” definitely is a gem that needs to be rediscovered and the newer Arrow Video blu ray is definitely the way to go with a bunch of loaded extras and a very sharp picture and exceptional sound quality. Very highly recommended.