FEEL BETTER NOW?

It’s hard to make violence shocking onscreen anymore, but The Purge manages to make you squirm a bit. In the near future, the U.S. government sanctions an annual night of lawlessness that allows society to exorcise its aggressive, hateful impulses in a 12-hour orgy of violence that is a sick and twisted free-for-all. Crime rates have dropped dramatically thanks to this event, but at what cost? In his nice mansion, a security alarm salesman (Ethan Hawke) and his family hole up for the night, but when his young son offers sanctuary to an African-American man being pursued by an angry young white mob, they must make a choice. Send him back out to spare themselves, or risk the psychopathic group breaking in and killing them all? There’s a strong moral compass at work here. Even if some of the fight scenes are familiar, some of the characters’ actions are not, and the end proves to be less predictable than you would expect. It will certainly push your buttons and stir some debate.

 

A CHUCKY SIX-PACK

Chronicling the Child’s Play series of movies about the killer Good Guys kids’ doll (voiced by Brad Dourif) that will be your friend to the (bloody) end, The Chucky Collection allows you to revisit, or experience for the first time, the nasty highs and lows of the blood-laden series, which has been going since 1988. Dee Snider once bemoaned how ludicrous the original was—”It’s a doll! Kick it!”—but it can be fun watching a possessed toy running around, brutally dispatching people and attempting to “hide the soul” in a tyke that will allow him to grow up to be an adult-sized killer again. The initial movie and the tongue-in-cheek fourth entry The Bride Of Chucky are a lot of fun, while part III and Seed Of Chucky are lame. The newest installment Curse Of Chucky, the first direct-to-video entry, eschews the recent series shift to comedy and returns to the franchise’s dark roots with a gothic, Ten Little Indians-style slash fest in which the blend of animatronic and CG effects make the little guy look truly creepy again. Longtime fans will appreciate his sinister rejuvenation as Chucky bumps off members of a squabbling family in a big, old house.

 

FURRY FRANKENSTEIN

Peter Cushing’s sixth and last Frankenstein movie for the legendary Hammer Studios, 1973’s Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell sees the demented scientist (Cushing) hiding out in a British asylum, where he secretly conducts his experiments using parts from unfortunate inmates. He receives assistance from a mute woman and a man imprisoned there for trying to recreate his experiments. The monster (played by David Prowse, later to physically portray Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy) looks a bit like Bigfoot, which is unintentionally comical, but the movie offers a lot of sympathy for the abused creature, along with some intentional humor. Prior to the brain transplant, Dr. Frankenstein eyes his dinner and quips, “Ah, kidneys!”

 

FREAKY FLY

While seeing the original 1958 version of The Fly after watching David Cronenberg’s excellent, stomach-turning, existentialist remake may seem like a letdown for those weaned on modern horror delights, it has its own charms. You might expect to inhabit the scientist-playing-God role, but in fact he is the brother of the overly curious experimenter (David Hedison) whose attempts at teleportation lead him to an unfortunate, unintended cross-genetic transfer with a simple housefly. It may not be overly scary, but it has a couple of moments that will get under your skin, especially the gruesome finale. And it holds up well in HD.

 

CHRYSLER CREATURE

While Larry Cohen’s low budget 1982 monster mash Q: The Winged Serpent did not have the money to compete with Hollywood blockbusters, it possessed quite a bit of charm. The set-up is simple: A lowlife crook (a young and intense Michael Moriarty pre-Law And Order) finds the nest of a giant, prehistoric serpent living atop the Chrysler Building, then tries to extort money from the city of Manhattan in order to reveal it. The bird has been munching on the locals, and the authorities aren’t too happy about it. So why watch a romp with a claymation creature? Because of some clever matte shots, great camera angles and aerial point-of-view shots, strong performances (David Carradine included) and the fact that the soldiers fighting the Aztec creature at the climax actually are stationed within the Chrysler Building steeple. No CGI cheating there. Q is a good primer for indie filmmakers seeking to achieve a lot with a little.

 

QUALITY TERROR TIME

While Death Valley might seem like a slasher movie from the packaging, it’s more of an intense thriller in which a young boy (A Christmas Story star Peter Billingsley) on vacation with his mom (Catherine Hicks) and her boyfriend in Arizona stumbles on a murder scene and through unfortunate circumstances learns who the killer is. Unfortunately, the murderer knows this too, and the suspense builds from knowing how petrified the boy is and how determined the killer is in trying to bump him off. There are some creepy moments here, thanks not only to Billingsley’s strong performance but also the menacing Stephen McHattie, who you’ve seen in a gazillion films and tv shows since.

 

SCANNERS REDUX

While nothing can top David Cronenberg’s original sci-fi thriller Scanners for weirdness or effectiveness, two direct-to-video sequels emerged a decade later at the dawn of the ’90s to capitalize on the name. (Two Scanner Cop movies later followed.) Scream Factory has resurrected and upgraded them in HD. Scanners II: The New Order is actually a decent follow-up, with a young, inexperienced Scanner (future Stargate SG-1 star David Hewlett) becoming the unwilling pawn of a clinic secretly experimenting on other Scanners and aiding a corrupt police chief by using them to fight crime and promote his fascist ideals. There are some plot inconsistencies and over-the-top scenes, but it’s not bad. On the flip side, Scanners III: The Takeover is terrible. A beautiful Scanner (Liliana Komorowska) takes an untested drug developed by her father that helps her control her mental instability, only to turn evil. She kills her father, takes over his company and seeks world domination via mass telepathy through live broadcasts. (Umm, okay.) Only her long-forgotten brother, who returns from years of secret solitude in a Thai monastery, can stop her. It’s cheesy, overacted and silly.

 

BUZZ KILLER

You know those cult movies you heard about as a kid, never saw, but then discovered as an adult and thought were awesome? The Town That Dreaded Sundown won’t be one of them. Based on the 1946 Texarkana murders of the Phantom Killer, this late ‘70s low-budget flick plays like a historical drama with a documentary narrative that describes all the local fear and panic never seen onscreen. The movie also features odd bursts of Don Knotts-like humor. As the hooded murderer who often uses a silencer, Bud Davis is really into his crazed role (the death by trombone scene is certainly bizarre) and likely inspired the Jason Voorhees of Friday The 13th Part II. But Andrew Prine, a bloodied Dawn Wells (Maryann from Gilligan’s Island) and Oscar winner Ben Johnson are ultimately wasted here. Rename it The Town That Dreaded Excitement.

 

NETFLIX FIX: “DEAD SNOW” (2009)

Take the premise of Evil Dead 2, but transplant the locale to a frozen Norwegian landscape and turn the demons into Nazi zombies, and you have Dead Snow. This simultaneously grim and funny undead romp is not original in its premise or characters—college students on a ski retreat come upon a supernatural evil and get picked off one by one—but it has a good energy, meta sensibility and sense of gory fun about it. Once it warms up, it gets bloody as hell. You’ve been warned.

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