Thursday, October 21, 2010

Pumpkinhead & Evilspeak

It's October. And it's that time of year when I get the itch for some good horror movies.

As a child of the 1980's, I like my horror movies from that era of the 70's and 80's -- when the slasher craze was booming and quality directors like John Carpenter, William Friedkin and Richard Donner were pushing the envelope with taboo themes and ample gore.

So while there are still dozens if not hundreds of horror movies from that era that I have yet to see, I can't help but feel like I've seen most of the great horror movies from the 70's and 80's.

And while watching Pumpkinhead, a movie that I had such high hopes for, and Evilspeak, a movie I knew would suck but wanted to watch it for nostalgic reasons, my fears were realized: Maybe I have seen all of the good horror movies from the 70's and 80's.

Pumpkinhead was made in 1988 by Stan Winston, who you may know as the special effects wizard from films such as The Terminator and Aliens. He's a true visionary. And so when he stepped behind the camera, you'd think the quality of his films would be in line with that of his special effects work.


I should have known there was a reason why Winston's only feature film directing credits are Pumpkinhead and a Gnome Named Gnorm. But that didn't keep me from wanting to like this movie. First, it's called Pumpkinhead. Great title. Second, it's Winston, so you know the make-up and creature effects should be great. And for the most part, they are. Third, the name alone is awesome. Fourth, Lance Henrikson is in it. Come on! That alone should make it awesome.

The plot also piqued my interest: A father invokes a demon to seek revenge on the teenagers who accidentally killed his son. But sadly, Pumpkinhead feels amateurish from the start and never improves. And where's the gore? I expected Winston to really show off the special effects here as a director, but aside from some nasty creature effects, the film was pretty tame by the standards of the 80's. By comparison, Raiders of the Lost Ark, a PG movie had more gore. All we get in Pumpkinhead is off-screen killings and after the fact blood.

On the positive side, the movie looks good despite the crappy DVD version I watched. Winston wisely borrowed James Cameron's steel-blue palate and incorporated some burnt oranges to give the film a nice visual feel that oozes Halloween.

But in the end, the idea of Pumpkinhead is better than the actual movie. And while I usually balk at the idea of horror movies being remade for modern audiences, I think Pumpkinhead could actually benefit from the recent remake craze. Just don't let Michael Bay get a hold of it.

Up next was the 1981 film Evilspeak starring Clint Howard, who's appearance alone made it a cult classic. I'd watched Evilspeak when I was twelve or so when our local TV station aired horror movies on Saturday's at 2 p.m. It was edited to hell, of course, but some of the images of the film had stayed with me over the years. And when I signed up for Netflix, I added Evilspeak to my queue, knowing that it wasn't a movie I could stroll down to the local video store to rent.

Evilspeak has some infamous qualities to it, since it was a Video Nasty in England back in the 80's and 90's. But while watching it, I wondered why. The first hour and fifteen minutes of the 95 minute film is just talk. That's right. We aren't even strung along with a random killing here and there. All we get is poor Stanley Coopersmith (Clint Howard) being relentlessly bullied and typing away crazily on a 1981 era computer to resurrect a Satanic spirit and get revenge on his classmates. It's really just a Carrie rip-off with really bad Atari graphics. And slllooooowwwww!

The last ten or fifteen minutes are almost worth the wait, but even the climax is too short. But get this. In the final act we get: a woman eaten alive by pigs, an upside-down impaling on a chandelier, a nail in the wrist of Jesus on a crucifix shoot into a guy's forehead, Clint Howard floating in the air wielding a giant sword, multiple beheadings, and a heart ripped out of a guy's chest!

If ever there was a horror movie that you could watch on You Tube, Evilspeak is it. Just watch the film's trailer and then the last fifteen minutes and you will have not missed a thing. I will give props to the makers of Evilspeak for the computer-being-used-for-bad themes that were about 20 years before its time. So while Evilspeak does have some things going for it, it's just too damn slow.

So yeah, I'm a little disappointed that I'm having trouble finding good horror movies from the 70's and 80's to wet my beak during this Halloween season, but it's still fun to watch a movie I haven't seen before or haven't seen in a long time.

And ironically, I've watched three excellent horror movies in the last year that were all made within the past three years: Trick r Treat, House of the Devil and Paranormal Activity. All of these films were made with the qualities of 70's and 80's horror movie -- "less is more".

So while I may not find many more good movies from my favorite era of horror films, at least some current directors are using what made horror movies so good back then, and transporting them to the present day.

I guess I can't complain.

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