Halloween Special: The Straight to Video Extravaganza

It’s Halloween. The day everyone seems to go nuts for, but only because everyone else seems to be doing it. I mean, all Halloween really is is a trumped-up excuse to go out drinking. What do we actually celebrate on Halloween? Does anybody care? Of course not, but we pretend to because, fuck, everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to appear un-festive. The one thing that we can take from this bizarre obsession with dressing up as slutty nurses and zombies in Primark t-shirts is the fact that said obsession also puts the spotlight on some bloody good horror movies. Of course, now my embittered but roguishly funny opening paragraph has turned you against the very notion of giving money to The Man for some big-budget Halloween classic, allow me to turn your attention towards the slightly smaller Man, namely The Man Who Sells Straight-To-Video Horror Movies. I know, I know, paying for anything is so pass√© these days, but if you just want to spend Halloween solemnly chugging beer, ignoring the probably fat kids begging for chocolate at your door, and watching some low-budget horror movie, please avail yourself of the following straight-to-video classics that really didn’t deserve to be, well, straight to video.

 

Bad Biology

 

 

To begin our list of bargain basement horror movies, it’s only fair that we go back to the subject that brought us all into the world in the first place: sex. Specifically, sex between two mutant sex addicts who have innumerable clitorises (clitori?) and a detachable, vagina-addicted penis with a mind of its own. Guess they glossed over those minor details in sex ed lessons back at school, but luckily you can get the education you deserve with Bad Biology.

 

That’s basically all there is to this movie, but needless to say it is certifiably batshit and not afraid to show it. To say too much is to spoil some of the more entertaining shocks, although it’s safe to say this is far from the scariest movie on this list and one that you need to be firmly under the influence in the company of like-minded friends to appreciate fully. It’s as well-acted as you’d expect, with the tone set somewhere between ’11-year olds re-enacting a famous tragedy’ and ‘Willem Dafoe screaming FINISH IT at Aunt May in Spider-Man only much, much camper’. If you can put up with that, and the constant nudge-wink ironic humour of the shoddy special effects, Bad Biology is a memorable, fun ride, which is all you can ask for from a Halloween movie.

 

Splinter

 

 

If you’re after something a bit more serious than that film, you could watch Gamera, the Godzilla knock-off about a giant monster turtle with rocket boosters. In fact, just watch Gamera anyway, but forget I mentioned it for the rest of this article and focus on something that manages to successfully be altogether more spooky than the pair of them: Splinter. This is actually one of my favourite horror movies ever, and one I always encourage people to watch whenever possible. It’s the tale of a couple who are taken hostage by a pair of fugitives, and end up trapped in that horror movie staple, a deserted gas station, as they’re besieged by carnivorous spores.

 

Unlike Bad Biology, there is no camp in Splinter. It’s low-budget but extremely efficiently made, with top drawer cinematography, special effects and acting throughout. The splinters themselves are a surprisingly effective monster, and are creatively used throughout for some brutal, sickening scares. It’s reminiscent of The Thing in all the right ways, with an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere and a small but likable group of main characters who are virtually the only characters in this movie. A common failing of a low-budget horror movie is to make you actively root against the obnoxious characters, but Splinter effortlessly sidesteps this by making the characters actually, well, not pricks. However, “doesn’t contain pricks” is not really a good tagline to put on a DVD case, so I’ll just tell you to bloody watch Splinter instead.

 

Batman: Under The Red Hood

 

 

Probably the most well-known of the films on this list, Batman: Under the Red Hood holds this honour partly because it’s Batman but mostly because it’s absolutely flipping incredible. The signs aren’t good from the start, with none of the cast from the classic Batman: The Animated Series reprising their roles, but push that inner fanboy to one side and you’ll be treated to a gripping tale of loss and the quest for revenge that follows. If that sounds a bit heavy, it’s for good reason; this movie is certainly not for kids and is considerably darker in tone than the TV show. The opening scene feature Joker beating the shit out of Robin with a metal pipe, then blowing him up, for example.

 

To go into any much more detail about the plot is to spoil the journey of Under The Red Hood, so I’ll simply gush about it some more until you relent and watch it. The voice acting is top drawer, the animation is sumptuous, the plot is mature and gripping to the end, and why are you still reading this and not watching it right now?

 

Pumpkinhead

 

 

If, after Splinter and Under the Red Hood, you need something a bit lighter (you’re probably quite drunk by now and I’d love it if you didn’t break down in tears) you can always pop in another campy gem, only this one’s even more appealing because it has a hilarious title. Pumpkinhead is actually far better than any movie called Pumpkinhead has any right on Earth to be,¬† and it makes good use of a fairy rigid adherence to well known horror tropes. The main lesson Pumpkinhead teaches us is that you shouldn’t screw with hillbillies, particularly not when one of them is Lance Henriksen and he might literally summon a demon from Hell to chew on your face.

 

Such is the plot of Pumpkinhead, which sees your common-or-garden teenage horror movie fodder accidentally run over Lance’s son while drunk driving (you know, for kicks), leading Lance to turn to the local witch for help. From there, it’s pretty standard stuff, but alarmingly well-acted and certainly much better than the many sequels in the franchise would have you believe. Ignore them, watch this.

 

Bubba Ho-Tep

 

 

To round off our list, we need something a bit weird. I mean, all these movies are pretty weird in their own way, but none of them feature a retired old Elvis living in a care home with black JFK. For those of you yearning for that oddly specific niche to be filled, yearn no more, and pick up a copy of Bubba Ho-Tep as soon as possible. It’s a pitch black comedy horror, starring Bruce Campbell as a decrepit Elvis. And, if you need more than that to tempt you into buying it (although you really shouldn’t) you can add in some delightfully icky monster effects that makes the film fun for all the family – at least, the members of your family with exceptional taste. Unlike many comedy horrors, Bubba Ho-Tep never feels like it’s unfairly targeting the horror genre or its fans for cheap laughs, and as such it manages to work as both a horror and a comedy, without feeling like some weird, ironic in-joke half-measure. It’s a film that absolutely has to be tried at least once – it certainly won’t be for everyone, but a film such as this deserves your time even if you end up not liking it.

 

That concludes our journey of the straight-to-video dungeon. There’s plenty more down here, such as my entire collection of Captain Simian and the Space Monekys, but that’s for another day. In fact, no it’s not. Captain Simian is all mine. At any rate, I’ll be sure to dip into my collection of video nasties again at some point, so stay tuned for more. Or don’t. Whatever. It’s your life, you sheep. End of article.

 

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Don’t Remake My Heart

On a recent episode of The Highlight Reel, myself and Matt got into it (and by ‘it’ I mean a discussion which only came to blows after we went off the air) on the subject of remakes. It’s a topic that’s been brought back into sharp focus by the considerable, still-churning backlash against the Robocop reboot. Yes, the one where they paint Robocop black for literally no other reason than to make him look cool. No, really, they explicitly say that in the damn trailer. It’s this kind of attitude that means remakes, much like sequels, are an often-unfairly maligned branch of cinema. They suffer from many of the same problems as sequels (needing to be different enough to justify being made without being so different that they alienate the fanbase), only these problems are exacerbated a thousand times by the fact that they are, well, remakes. You have literally seen it all before. So why bother?

 

Well, that’s an interesting question, and one with no easy answer. I know why they do bother, of course, because Hollywood is run entirely by moustache-twirling Scooby Doo villains, but from the perspective of the fan, the mucky-faced plebeian crammed into a cinema screen, the matter can be a delicate one to touch. As a film fan, whenever you watch a film, it is a unique experience to you. Any film is subject to your own personal checklist, and the more boxes it ticks, the more likely it is that you’ll remember it and take it close to your heart (unless of course, it is a truly terrible film, in which case you remember it in the same way you’d remember a bout of malaria). If a film that you like is being remade, then there’s absolutely no way you’re going to respond positively to it at first. How could you? It’s like Hollywood went right into that brain-checklist and fiddled with it, changing and tweaking everything about that film until it’s nothing like you remember. If you liked the actors in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s pretty much no reason you’d want watch the exact same film again with different actors in, right? Get the brain-eraser out and scrub that off the checklist. That’s one black mark against the film before you’ve even watched it.

 

But which remake am I even talking about?

 

What I’m getting at, in my own torturously metaphorical way, is that a remake is onto a loser from the start, purely because it takes something you liked anyway and then changed it. It’s adding tabasco sauce onto your favourite meal. Depending on what it is and how much you spice it up, your remake can be a disaster or a roaring success. Take The Haunting for example. The 1950s original was a brilliant exercise in horror, namely because it showed restraint. The plot begged questions of the characters and the audience because you didn’t know whether there was actually spooky shit going down, or whether it was all in the sleep-deprived minds of the characters. The 1990s remake, however, didn’t have any time for that subtlety crap. Didn’t you know? By the 90s, that shit was totally gay, man. Using the Babby’s First CGI brand of special effects that plagued films in the 90s as filmmakers took to this exciting new technology like a child would take to an annoying novelty ringtone , the rejigged version of The Haunting was like an exceedingly cheap ghost train. Gone was the creeping psychological horror, replaced by Owen Wilson doing awful comic relief and shoddy, shocking-but-not-in-that-good-way pixellated ghoulies that wouldn’t even scare Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It completely missed the point of the original, dumbed it down hopelessly and added things where they did not need to be added. This approach, used by many remakes during this time (and in present day, actually) is one of several solid reasons why remakes are treated with such scepticism by audiences around the world. Hollywood doesn’t care about you, and it certainly doesn’t get you, so if it can replace subtlety and craftsmanship with waving a shiny new toy in your face for 90 minutes, it will.

 

Or is it? See, within the sprawling hellmouth that is the modern Hollywood landscape, there lie a selection of noble artists. Sleeper agents, if you will, embedded, deep cover, within enemy territory, fighting the good fight for the simple moviegoer that they once were themselves. I have a lot of time for filmmakers who are obviously big movie fans themselves – I know all of them are probably big fans to some extent, but I’m talking the weirdly obsessive, student of the game sort of fan here – and that’s why I’m a huge fan of guys like Rob Zombie (I list The Devil’s Rejects among my favourite films of all time without shame) and his work in the Halloween franchise. Now, the two new Halloween movies he made are far from perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot more important than people give them credit for. You can hardly accuse Zombie of not getting his source material when the Halloween franchise itself had descended into campy self-parody over the years. It’s little wonder John Carpenter himself looked on Zombie’s remake so kindly, as he’d seen his creation bled to a more painful death than any of Mike Myers’ victims (and people who watched The Love Guru). Hallowee-make (shut up) modernised and reinvigorated the character of Myers and almost threatened to start a new franchise all of its own, for a time. It was never going to match the original, but what it did do was provide a gateway to a generation of moviegoers who knew nothing of the original classic, and instead might only know the character of Mike Myers from his pop-culture footprint, which had largely been spoiled and demystified by years of crappy, knock-off sequels. Hell, much of this could apply to horror films in general – as the best horror films are very much a product of their time, it makes sense that they might need to be updated from time to time. The need for a new lick of paint only becomes more vital after said horror film has suffered a series of dodgy sequels, which is ultimately the fate of every successful horror film.

 

And even most of the unsuccessful ones too!

 

At the end of all that, my not-very-revelatory conclusion is simply that, like all film (and indeed all art forms) remakes need to be made for the right reasons. If they’re made for genuine reasons by an artist who genuinely wants to add something to the original, then it at least deserves a chance. Take remakes on their own merits, and don’t tar them all with the same brush, and you could be in for quite a treat. Or, at the very least, you get to like a film that everyone else hates and get a smug feeling of superiority from doing so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to defend the new Robocop on Youtube. You filthy mainstream casuals.