I’m still alive, I think

Howdy folks.

It’s uh….been a while.

Not that you have anything to do with that. The cobwebs that have gradually descended on this blog are my fault, and nothing less. The last two months or so have been some of the “throw your life upside down” type, with a hearty few “let’s learn some things about yourself and what you want in life,” weeks thrown in for good measure.

In the midst of all of this external and internal ruckus, I have had little energy to do much but either sleep or mope. I was going to do a series of Star Wars reviews, but Carrie Fisher’s recent passing has made that idea a little harder. I saw Rogue One a few days after she died, and to say I was a hot mess in the theater would be an understatement. I will get a Rogue One review out (in addition to a Force Awakens review) soon, but I’m still gathering my thoughts about it.

While I’ll save it for another post, my relationship with the Star Wars series is deep. The first movie I ever remember consciously watching was Return of the Jedi, and growing up during the prequels meant dressing up like Queen Amidala- but then grabbing as much Sith merch as I could in my rebellious 5th grade year. The Force Awakens made me fall in love with Star Wars again as an adult, and reminded me why this universe is so important.Then Rogue One made the Star Wars story more relevant than ever.

And then we lost the General.Losing the beacon of wit and wonder that was Carrie Fisher hurt a lot more than I thought it would, and then that was followed by the death of Debbie Reynolds, her mother.

It’s been a rough few weeks, and 2016 made damn sure to try and cement itself as The Hell Year in its last few days. I’m not going to get into the political and social reasons 2016 was The Worst (C), and in the grand scheme of things Fisher’s passing means very little. But to a lot of folks, Carrie meant a lot. She was an outspoken woman who dealt with her mental illness in an open, accessible way. She was unapologetic about her age, her history, her looks- and was not afraid to call bullshit. Princess Leia may have been a pop culture icon, but Carrie Fisher provided a lot of very real hope to a lot of people, myself included.

At any rate, this a really lengthy, roundabout way of saying that I’m getting back on the horse with a new series of reviews, all centered around starting 2017 off on the right foot. The next few days, I’m going to post some reviews of my favorite feel-good movies, so we can get this next trip round the sun started properly. Nothing but happy tears for the next few days, friends. The work that is 2017 waits, but I think we all deserve a moment or two to recover from 2016. If you’re game, hang out with me tomorrow for the first installment of I’m Gonna Wash That Year Right Out of My Hair! It’s a fun throwback with a bangin’ soundtrack and an amazing cast.

Until then, folks!

 

 

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Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, (1998)

That was a nice warm-up

So Hocus Pocus belongs on a Halloween movie list, right? It’s a classic. Might not be scary, but it merited at least a nod on this list. So you read the review, shrugged, and hoped tomorrow’s pick would be a little more mature.

…Which leads us to where we are now: you staring at a screen, wondering how in the hell I am going to justify putting a Scooby-Doo movie on this list. I’m probably somewhere eating chips or something, in case you were wondering.

On the second day of Halloween, some cat-people gave to me: Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island (Jim Stenstrum, 1998)

To get straight to the point, Scooby-Do on Zombie Island was the first movie I ever watched where I was terrified, but wanted to watch more.

See, I was a wimp-ass kid. When I was three, my parents put on Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, and then left me alone for a moment. Of course, the moment they happen to leave was the moment when Lon Chaney turns into a werewolf.

I had a core-fucking-meltdown in my basement.

I was three! I didn’t understand slapstick comedy! I didn’t know Bela Lugosi from shit! All I knew was that a man just turned into a fucking wolf-thing!

After that, I refused to walk down the Halloween aisles they would set up at like, Target. I was fine looking for costumes, but the sections with all the masks and props was a big no-no. You could have told my younger self that the biggest fucking cake was at the end of the mask aisle and that I could eat the whole thing if I just walked through it and I would have thrown toddler-sand in your eyes.

Of course, this is all water under the bridge now. When my parents spent each autumn wishing for me to just get over it, I’m sure they didn’t mean get into it. In my young adult life, I’ve done a total 180, watching almost exclusively ~spooky~ things, dabbling in FX gore, and going really fucking ham for Halloween. But when did this happen? Where on my timeline did I suddenly go from 0 to 100?

Honestly? Who knows. But I do know that Zombie Island scared the absolute shit out of me the first time I watched it on TV, when I was younger. But I also know that I loved it. I don’t know how old I was (my guess is 6-8) but the animated zombies in Zombie Island absolutely freaked me out, yet, I would seek it out every time it came on, and dutifully watch it. I now own it on DVD as well as three other Scooby-Doo movies and crack it out in the fall when I want some ~spooky-lite~.

Honestly if I told my 16 year old Film Asshole © self that one day you were going to publicly admit to liking Scooby-Doo movies as an adult, she would have probably would have choked on her own spit and died. But fuck it, I love them. So let’s do this.

I can’t believe I’m actually about to review a Scooby-Doo Movie

So the basic premise is: the gang has split up and gone separate ways in adulthood, but Daphne (Mary Kay Bergman) calls them back together for a new TV show she is producing, which aims to capture real monsters and real ghosts. Everything is a bust until they’re in New Orleans and bump into Lena (Tara Strong, bless her), who tells them about the island she works on, which is invitingly called Moonscar Island. The gang jumps at the chance, and heads to the island. Real spooky shit starts happening, zombies appear, there’s a wicked musical break, and the gang has to figure out how to break the zombie curse.

This was SPOOKY AS SHIT TO A KID, OKAY

The zombies in here are animated, but still pretty creepy looking, particularly for something aimed at kids. There are no dripping entrails or anything, but they’re definitely rotting and soulless-looking. They shamble and moan, and that was enough for me as a child. But there are ghosts, jump scares, the whole bit. It’s got a creepy vibe going for it, and I soaked it in. For once, the monsters are not masked businessmen, but real, certified Spooky Things. I think this is what made it a little extra scary to me, because there was a solid supernatural side to this, where Scooby-Doo’s whole shtick is that they’re “meddling kids,” who always figure out who is behind the “spooky” and expose them. Not so much with these zombies. At one point Fred gets his hands on one, and tries to remove the “mask,” only to rip its head off. There was no gore or anything, but still.

About that zombie curse

This movie has one fucked up part. And it’s not fucked up as in problematic, but fucked up as in, “that’s a really, really strange direction you decided to go in.” This is technically a spoiler, if you care. By the way, if you are invested enough in this review to care, please let me know because I think we’d be best friends.

 

——-spoiler I guess—–

 

CAT PEOPLE

OH MY GOD THE LADIES ARE COLONIAL CAT PEOPLE

Even my younger self knew this was bullshit. I was too scared to care, but I still thought it was odd. But honestly???? The movie is about zombies and they still manage to work in ancient cat people. Soul-sucking colonial cat people.

For clarification:  Lena and Simone (Adrienne Barbeau, I’m not joking) were part of a cat-cult that came to America to escape persecution, but were attacked, so they make a deal with their god to seek revenge. They become immortal cat-people who have to “harvest” souls once each year as a part of their bargain. The zombies are their victims, whose souls are not laid to rest, as they were slurped up by some weird-ass werecats.

What a ride.

——end spoilers—-

Why is Scooby-Doo’s music so good?

That’s really about all I have to say about the movie: it was a decently well-done kid’s movie that scared the shit out of me. There’s nothing extraordinary or clever  about it, but it was my baptism into Things That Scared Me, But Also Enjoyed.

But there is one thing about Zombie Island that I will defend to my death, and that is its soundtrack. And the soundtrack of almost any other SD movie, for that matter. I have no idea why or how, but the music for the Scooby-Doo movies was always LIT.

Like look at this:

 

This song is good. Like “listen to it by itself” good. Everything else about this movie is decent, above average for a kid’s movie. But I jam to this song by myself as an adult, and that bridge still pumps me up.

And this isn’t an isolated incident! Other kids my age still jam to The Hex Girls from The Witch’s Ghost:

Or “Brothers Forever” in Loch Ness Monster (my personal fave):

Or the weird but beautifully animated CyberChase montage?

I mean, these aren’t necessarily musical masterpieces, but they’re still pretty fucking good for straight-to-TV stuff. I might just be a nostalgic fool, but I think it’s all pretty great.

Ever Onward

So that’s where I’d like to think my willing foray into the creepy began. Tomorrow I’m gonna dig back to a movie I first saw on the SciFi channel (this was pre-SyFy!), recorded, and re-watched for like a month. Should you be so inclined, pop back in tomorrow for Cerina Vincent’s greatest film- It Waits.

 

4/5

 

—-Further Reading/Sources—-

Featured image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/59/Scooby-doo-on-zombie-island.jpg

 

Hocus Pocus, (1993)

Okay, let me explain.

When I sat down to compile a list of my favorite horror movies, I wanted each week or so to have a theme.  Some of the themes came pretty easily: zombies, supernatural horror, etc. These films were the hard-hitting major leaguers, the ones that most people recognize as horror. But I also wanted to pay my respects to the movies that lead me up to where I am now, in my pursuit of all things spooky.

So the first couple movies on my list aren’t necessary what I would consider “great” horror movies, and some aren’t even really horror movies at all. But they gave me a taste for the weird and for the macabre, so I figure I should give them some love.

On the first day of Halloween, Bette Midler gave to me: Hocus Pocus (Kenny Ortega, 1993)

Would this even be a Halloween list without this movie? I mean, when it comes to shared experiences among people my age who celebrate Halloween, this movie is always #1. Hocus Pocus is a goddamn Halloween classic and gets you feelin’ spooky quicker than it takes to light a candle. It’s goofy as all hell, but has a fantastic production value and a crew of brilliant actors.

NO, THIS MOVIE ISN’T SCARY

…or is it? When I was a little kid, there was one part of Hocus Pocus that scared the shit out of me. Was it the reanimated corpse? Nah. The sisters sucking the lives out of children? Nope. The book made of fucking skin with one animate eyeball? Eh.

It was when Max lights the candle and the Sanderson cottage starts to shake, specifically when a ghoulishly green light starts to shine through the rumbling floorboards. For some reason that tiny detail set tiny me off: I suddenly became terrified that every floor was going to do that. While that’s absurd, the desire to not walk on or be around floors is decidedly…impractical.

Anyway. No, this movie isn’t scary, but it is ~sp00ky~ and gets me feeling all Halloween-like, so fuck it, it’s on the list.

…But it is scarily fantastic.

Okay, you can slap me for that one.

A brief plot, for those who haven’t seen it or need refreshing:

In the storied town of Salem, Massachusetts,the skeptical California-born Max (Omri Katz) accidentally releases the legendary Sanderson Sisters (Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker0, a trio of witches who were hung for attempting to suck the souls out of children in an attempt at immortality. The sisters set out to reclaim their chance at immortality, but only have one night -Halloween- to do so. It is up to Max, his little sister Dani (Thora Birch), and his lady love Allison (Vinessa Shaw) to save the children of Salem from the grasp of the nefarious sisters, before it is too late.

This movie is a family movie through and through, what with all the budding romance and silly hi-jinks. But Hocus Pocus has aged so well, and remains a seasonal staple for Halloween lovers of all ages. This movie is like a children’s storybook come to life, and uses the beautiful New England landscape to evoke a distinctly autumnal feeling, one that can only come from cobbled roads and abundant foliage.

The Sanderson Sisters are similarly the quintessential witches: they’re odd looking, wearing out-of-place garments and striped stockings. Their cottage is straight out of a little kid’s head:all gnarled wood and cobwebs, with a massive cauldron and people-sized cages.

There’s even a black cat, albeit one that talks gets you invested in his back story, and makes you cry at the end because he’s dead, dammit, but he finally gets to be with his sister and you’re so conflicted.

Hocus Pocus plays directly into every stereotype about fall and Halloween and witches, but does so with gusto and talent. Like I said, the production value on Hocus Pocus is great. But sets and costumes aside, the onscreen talent is brilliant.

The Sanderson Sisters are a delightfully dysfunctional bunch. From the way they walk as a trio (A-MUCK-A-MUCK-A-MUCK) to their chemistry as sisters, all three actresses pull their weight in various ways. Kathy Najimy’s physical comedy as Mary is subtle but hilarious, and Sarah Jessicac Parker’s ditzy, boy-crazy Sarah has some of the best one-liners in the film. Of course, Bette Midler steals the show as Winnie, the leader of three witches. Her characterization of the oldest Sanderson sister is iconic, and has stood the test of time.

And it would obviously be a shame to cast Bette Midler and not have her sing, and Ortega incorporates Midler’s real-life talent as a plot device. Indeed, Midler’s vocals are what one might call magical-nay, spellbinding.

But while I Put A Spell on You is upbeat and catchy, Come Little Children is lyrical and legitimately haunting. Here’s a version that I found a few years ago that perfectly captures its eeriness:

I think Ortega uses music in Hocus POcus to great effect, and all without making it feel like a kid’s musical. But to be sure, most of Hocus Pocus is comedic. And while a lot of it is physical comedy or comedy meant for younger ears, there are several moments that weren’t funny until I got older: constantly ribbing Max for being “the virgin” to light the candle, Sarah’s whole scene with the bus driver, etc. It’s not crude or outrageous, but clever enough to slip under the radar of most wee ones.

BooooOOOOOOOOOK!

Hocus Pocus is one of the few family-oriented Halloween movies, but it’s holding down the fort in style. For those who have seen it: it’s always worth a re-watch. Hocus Pocus is a good time, even without the nostalgia. To those who have never seen it, I would seriously recommend finding a copy. It’s a fun way to get into the spirit of things, particularly if you’re not into the scarier fare that gets touted around this time of year.

…Unless you’re scared of floors.

…in which case I’d strongly advise against watching Hocus Pocus. Or like, at least not the first 20 minutes or so.

 

5/5

 

—-Further Reading/Sources—-

Featured image source : http://img.lum.dolimg.com/v1/images/open-uri20150422-12561-m60pgz_95d7bb7e.jpeg?region=0%2C0%2C1000%2C1409

Chad Perez’ vine: https://vine.co/v/eQIdKvItJ3e