1981 is strongly starting to feel like an incredibly poignant year in horror and strangely another classic cult feature had slipped me by.
I intend to right this wrong this year and finally took the time to sit down and watch Dead and Buried, and straight off the bat, I can see why it is revered so highly.
Right from the get-go, the opening scene pulls you in as we follow an amateaur photographer visiting the small town of Potter’s Bluff. He quickly becomes enamoured by a beautiful woman along with an invitation to copulate.
The photographer becomes ensnared and what starts out as a moment of sexual intrigue swiftly leads to his ruin when he is ambushed by some of the townsfolk, who beat him and set him on fire. As if that ordeal was torture enough, the photographer somehow survives, only to be finally put to rest by the temptress who visits him in the hospital dusguised as a nurse.
It’s a gripping and horrifying sequence that hangs heavy on the mind and wrongfully shafted the feature into the video nasty category.
It’s the raw approach to these harrowing scenes that force the viewer into the dark world lurking in the shadows of a remote American town.
This isn’t even the masterstroke of the film however, as director Gary Sherman (Death Line, Poltergeist III) guides us through Dan O’ Bannon and Ronald Shusett’s screenplay via Sheriff Dan Gillis’ (James Farentino). Gillis is drawn to the increase in murders that are sprouting up in town and enlists the support of eccentric mortician, Dobbs (Jack Albertson) to unearth those responsible. In doing so though, Gillis finds himself falling down a rabbit warren of death and despair, and curiously (although perhaps not surprisingly considering O’Bannon’s involvement) the discovery of reanimated corpses.
As Gillis descends further into his investigation, the behaviour of his wife Janet (Melody Anderson, who will always be remembered fondly as Dale Arden in 1980s Flash Gordon), adding to the bizarre things that continue to occur.
The final blow when it happens is a killer moment and one that leaves the rug firmly pulled beneath Gillis’ feet and us the audience along with him.
If you’ve not seen this movie before, I highly recommend it and it firmly confirms to me the genius mind of O’Bannon, who keeps on impressing with his writings of the Undead. Oh and it boasts an early performance from a certain Robert Englund in the mix too.
25 years ago, before Scream would reawaken the horror genre and generate a plethora of like minded movies came a film that tapped wholly into my adolescent brain. I’ll let you decide which part of the brain from which I am referring. Needless to say, Fairuza Balk’s Nancy stirred something inside me that yearned for and connected with females who drifted outside the mainstream of what was considered “normal”.
Recently, The Craftwas given new life in the public eye thanks to its sequel of sorts, The Craft: Legacyreleased by Blumhouse last year, but somehow it failed to ignite the same passion as the original.
Some of this could easily be put down to its strong, young cast with the afore-mentioned Fairuza playing the main antagonist to Robin Tunney’s white witch, Sarah in what is essentially a coming of age teen-drama. Joining these two are also Neve Campbell, Rachel True, Skeet Ulrich, and Christine Taylor, who all essentially lift what comes across as a medicroe tale when reviewed through today’s eyes.
It still however holds a strong place in my heart, despite its flaws and molded my love of 90s teen horror as a result. What can I say, it’s my achilles heel.
It helps that swiftly following TheCraft came the behemoth of Teen Slasher films… Screamdirected by the great, Wes Craven. It also boasted two of the movie’s stars in Neve Campbell and Skeet Ulrich whose careers were rightfully projected to stardom as a result.
Scream is now the stuff of legend with its meta representation of the horror franchise and again boasted an awesome cast with Courtney Cox, David Arqette, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Jamie Kennedy and let’s not forget that killer opening sequence with Drew Barrymore. Before the decade was out a sequel would also follow the following year and along with it a franchise and Ghostface’s interchangeable personna was born.
Chief among setting the tone for the decade and the success that followed in Scream’s wake was Dawson’s Creek scribe Kevin Williamson, who managed to tap into the pulse of those of my generation, eager to be understood and have those “deep and meaningful’ relationship discussions.
By 1997, Williamson was just starting to hit his stride with I Know What You Did Last Summerstarring Campbell’s fellow Party of Five alumni Jennifer Love-Hewitt.
Love-Hewitt stars as Julie James, who along with three other school friends (Ryan Philippe, Freddie Prinze Jr. and Sarah Michelle Gellar, the latter was already on the rise thanks to a certain Buffy role) accidentally run down a stranger on the road and leave him for dead. It’s basically an elongated urban legend with the man with a hook hellbent on revenge. Like Scream it would also generate a franchise with a further two sequels to cash the cow.
Back to the Dawson’s Creek connection and another teen horror, Disturbing Behaviourthat would be released in 1998, the busiest year for the sub-genre, At the time, I more-than jumped on this band-wagon following Katie Holmes’ second feature film. This was a time when I, like Dawson, was undecided about the whole Joey/Jen thing, before realising in my case, that Michelle Williams was always the more interesting person to watch on screen, but more about her in a moment.
Disturbing Behaviour is probably the weakest in this line up of movies, but does boast James Marsden and Nick Stahl in the mix, in a tale of idyllic suburbia with a sour undertone in both its take of the American Dream and repressed teenage sexuality but it does still have the same beats and touches on the same wavelength that was being generated at the time.
Onto Holmes’ counterpart, Michelle Williams, who, again in my opinion, deserves greater praise for the work that she produces each year. In 1998, Williams would be cast in the support role of Molly in one of Horrors biggest franchises, Halloween.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later would have Kevin Williamson on writing duties, so it’s no wonder that Williams would connect well with the screenplay. Aside from bringing Jamie Lee Curtis back for the first time since Halloween 2 to pit against Michael Myers, it also introduced us to the so fresh and hot right now, Josh Hartnett. Let’s not talk about that hair cut though, for in his other movie that year, The Faculty, he slipped easily into the bad boy, good heart character with a brooding presence. Oh and that guy Kevin Williamson is behind the screenplay again.
When I first watched The Faculty I had a strong negative reaction to it, as I wore my snobbery hat when I watched it and took all the homagees embedded within as rip=offs of the great films that preceded it. I was a huge fan of director Rober Rodriguez at the time, which I think added to my disappointment further.
I have since grown to love this film more though and recognise it for what it was, a love of sci fi horror and again had some great stars in Elijah Wood (pre-LOTR), Jordana Brewster, Clea Duvall (I had such a thing for her too – Apparently I have a type, just ask fellow Surgeon Antony Yee), Laura Harris, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth, Robert Patrick, Shawn Hatosy, Jon Stewart, and Piper Laurie. It definitely warrants repeat viewing and holds up because of the fun energy and bold direction that Rodriuez alway brings to his movies.
Rounding out the quartet of movies for 1998 is Urban Legend which is a little forgotten despite generating a franchise in its own right and another strong cast considering with Alicia Witt, Jared Leto, Tara Reid, Rebecca Gayheart, Michael Rosenbaum, Joshua Jackson (Dawson’s Creek again), Robert Englund, and Danielle Harris into the fold. It captures the urban legend tales of horror well enough but can’t quite shake off the fact that it’s riding on the coattails of stronger movies and suffers a little with age.
My last notable film to mention however lifts the half-decade of teen horror back to higher standards with its clearly tongue in cheek tale, Idle Hands where a stoner, Anton (Devon Sawa currently seen in a cracking film, Hunter Hunter) who discovers his hands are possessed after waking up to find his parents murdered. A cool cast again with Jessica Alba and Seth Green, Idle Hands is great fun to watch and definitely not to be taken seriously.
Sawa would also go on to star in another cracking film at the turn of the next decade in Final Destination as the trend would dial down a little.
For those 5-6 years though, it would produce a number of movies, some to hold high and some probably best forgotten but for nostalgic reasons still resonate with me today. I can only blame Nancy. I should have taken the heed and bound her from harm… harm to others and harm to myself…
Here is another movie that completely slipped me by and had generated a lot of buzz at the time of its release.
On face value, it could easily slip into the ranks of mediocrity, but there’s a great deal of intelligence brewing beneath this mockumentary slasher. My prejudice was also combined with a familiarity to a 1992 Crime mockumentary called Man Bites Dog, where a film crew follow the life of a serial killer, recording his every move. Man Bites Dog is also highly regarded by this reviewer as I deem it to be one of the finest Found Footage style films ever.
In the case of Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a similar tale is told, where a film crew, led by Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) and her two cameramen, Doug and Todd, follow Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesai) who claims to be from a local urban legend and encourages them to document his rise to infamy.
There are a couple of elements that lift this fly-on-the-wall black comedy above the ranks of similar movies, chief among these is the tongue-in-cheek knowledge that filmmakers Scott Glossermann and David J. Stieve about their subject matter. The writer and director team channel all the usual slasher movie tropes and delightfully ridicule them with a nudge and a wink to its audience. To cement this further, the storytellers have cemented their world where known slasher killers, such as Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers and the crimes that they have commited have actually taken place and are treated as historical events.
The stroke of genius comes in casting of Robert Englund as the Dr. Loomis-type character, on the hunt to track and bring down Vernon. Englund hams this up so aptly, including some deadpan down the barrel looks into the lens when he spouts his lines or retribution.
The humour is suitable macabre and on-point bringing to light what we all come to love about this sub-genre, and in doing so, the job of building up the character of Leslie Vernon and he’s mythology is an easy one to portray.
The first half of the movie allows the narrative to build on this exposition and nicely shapes up the characters involved, before flipping the lid on the voyeurs and subjecting them to the game that Vernon is playing.
At this point, the pleasure comes in letting the scenario play out to its more than satisfying conclusion accompanied by a heartening round of applause from this reviewer.
I can clearly see why it was so well received within the horror community and would happily watch it all over again.
The question arises though with talks of a potential sequel on the horizon, with strong talks from the creative team about resurrecting Leslie Vernon again, whether this a lightning in a bottle moment or if they can recreate the magic once again.
Time will tell. Hopefully BFTM will come about soon and delight us again.
Come on Glosserman… Please make it happen.
Behind The Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon is currently screening on Shudder Australia.
They said he was dead, but Freddy returned although not as we may have expected him.
Wes Craven resurrected the beloved villain in a bold new enterprise back in 1994. Did it pay off? Does it still stand true today? The Surgeons team dissect and discuss this film to find out some of these answers.