The yin to E.T.‘s yang, Poltergeist allowed Steven Spielberg the chance to explore the dark side of suburbia. There’s no little boy befriending a cute alien here; Poltergeist is nasty stuff, a near-perfect exploration of childhood terrors — indeed, if there’s any justification for the highly questionable PG rating, it’s that this is a perfect horror movie for kids, as it conjures up oh so many things that youngsters would find terrifying: the creepy tree outside coming to life, wrestling with a murderous stuffed clown and getting sucked into the television by whispering demons. Tobe Hooper, who so excellently directed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, is reduced to a hack-for-hire here; this is a Spielberg movie all the way. Interestingly enough, it’s the broken family that gets the cute alien and the one with both a mom and dad that gets the haunted house — have issues much, Steven?
The thing is that Famke Janssen can’t leave her house, unless she wants to go back to the slammer; as an ex-con under house arrest, the sensor around her ankle goes beep-beep-beep straight to the police station if she goes within 100 feet from the source. She’s also enough of a toughie that she’s not going to give up her house to the ghost of her abusive husband, who wants revenge for her finally murdering the son of a bitch a couple of years earlier. If writer-director Eric Red was trying to soften the edges of his dark tale of domestic abuse by adding the supernatural layer, he failed miserably — if anything, it’s even more disturbing to watch Famke get slapped around by a ghost than it would be if it were by some flesh-and-blood thug. 100 Feet is an underwritten yarn, and a mean-spirited one, though it’s worth watching to see Famke, who’s quite good in the role of a hardcore Brooklyn woman, claw her way to a sweet and well-deserved victory.
If you haven’t seen this one yet, believe the hype: it’s pretty much as scary as you’ve heard. It took ten years for another no-budget horror flick to follow in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project, going way beyond its humble origins and becoming an international sensation — Paranormal Activity is a more than worthy successor to the now-underrated Blair Witch, bringing the terror straight to the bedroom as a young couple discovers there’s a malicious presence that’s capable of dragging them out of bed and setting their dumb ouija board on fire. A spectcular — and truly terrifying — exercise in cinema verite, neat-o sound design and old-school visual trickery. Watch it, but don’t expect to have a restful night afterwards for at least, oh, a week.
Warner Bros. inexplicably dumped this clever horror anthology straight to video, though why the studio thought it would fail in a theatrical run is beyond us. While it never reaches the ghoulish heights of something like Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat is an entertaining celebration of every horror fan’s favorite holiday with three intersecting tales o’ terror, our favorite of which features Brian Cox as a grumpy old man who’s taught a lesson for refusing to give out candy to the neighborhood kids. You also get Anna Paquin in a wicked sequence that seems like it’s about a girl preparing to lose her virginity… but you just know that she and her pals are talking about something else entirely. Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, who wrote the screenplays for Bryan Singer’s X2 and Superman Returns.
In retrospect, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser isn’t very good — in fact, it’s something of a plodding mess. But when it was released in the fall of 1987, we had never seen anything like the now-iconic Pinhead and the demonic Cenobites before… and rarely had any filmmaker really explored the sadomasochistic themes of pleasure and pain in a horror film with such, well, enthusiasm before Barker. If nothing else, Hellraiser is filled with some unforgettable horror visuals, including chains flying out of a puzzle box and tearing off someone’s skin — the poor bastard in question ends up lurking in the attic of a house, getting his former lover to bring home strange men so he can feed on their blood and become whole again, all while the lady’s cuckold husband and stepdaughter wonder what all the racket is going on upstairs. Yeah, if you hear strange noises in the attic, it might be a good idea to just move out.
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