Friday FabOoolousness – Cue the Chainsaw

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  Sticking with our usual ways, Catie reviews the original and I take on the remake.  This month we tackle a horror classic, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Usually, I include Catie’s Homeade Summary that applies to both films.  But this time, I tweaked it just a bit:

Five young adults, traveling the back, desolate roads of Texas, pick up a wandering and nearly comatose hitchhiker.  When the hitchhiker has a psychotic break and commits suicide, the group’s only option is to explore a nearby and deserted community searching for help, but instead stumble on a family of sadistic killers.

Before I begin, let me first mention that to this day, I have never watched the original 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre entirely.  Why?  Because the story spooks the bejeezus out of me.  First of all, I’m a Texan.  Secondly, the story claimed to be based on actual events.  Third, not only did my family live out in the country when I was a little girl, sort of anyway, so did both sets of my grandparents.  And what was the only way to get out to my grandparents’ properties?  We had to drive down desolate, two-lane Texas roads.  Oh, and the sound of a chainsaw?  You’re kidding me, right?  I will still run the other direction to this day—just ask my friends that I attend haunted houses with every year…

Anyway, despite all of my above fears about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I’m usually not one to shy away from a good horror movie.  So, I saddled up and watched the 2003 remake.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I now know the TCM tale isn’t really a true story, even if it is based on bits and pieces of actual real-life sociopaths.

So that I don’t give too much away for those who have yet to see either the original or the remake, I’m going to stay away from a storyline synopsis here.  Regardless of whether or not readers have seen the films, I’m quite certain everyone knows the gist:  A man known as “Leatherface” uses a chainsaw to hunt and kill his victims, victims that are stranded out in the middle of nowhere and have no hope of rescue.

But what I do want to do is compare the 2003 film to Catie’s “Why is Chainsaw a Classic?” list.  How else can we determine whether or not the remake is worthy of our time?

Let’s start with the opening.  Catie mentioned that the original begins with a voice-over by John Larroquette that leads viewers to believe the events of the film are based on a true story.  Keeping with what I consider to be one of the best indicators of a well-made remake, the 2003 feature also uses a voice-over by the very same John Larroquette to open the film.  It’s always in the details… right?

So, obviously, the voice-over—check.  We covered that above…

The hitchhiker—check.  Seriously, who picks up a hitchhiker?  Call me crazy, but I actually speed past ‘em… maybe I’m not a nice person?  Or maybe I’ve just seen too many horror flicks!

The isolation—check.  What’s scarier than being stranded out in the middle of nowhere?  Not  much.

The eerie lack of dialogue from the killer—check.  It is always the silent ones we need to keep our eyes on, right?

The “help is not coming” factor—check.  This fits alongside the isolation factor.  Granted, today we have cell phones.  But this film is based in 1973, when if someone was stranded, they were stranded.  And just when you think you’ve found a gas station attendant or a sheriff to help, think again…

The cringe-worthy violence—check.  Cringe-worthy is definitely the proper terminology used to describe the violence in TCM.  What the viewer actually sees isn’t too horrible and gory; yet, what is left up to the viewer’s imagination is pretty disturbing.  Well, depending on where the viewer’s mind goes…

The music—no check.  Maybe a check?  I honestly have no idea.  I was so engrossed by the intense scenes and the sound of the chainsaw that I literally can’t remember if there was music in the film!  Someone help me: was there music?

The murder house luring its victims in like a spider web draws its prey—check.  Seriously, why not run the other way when you discover a graveyard of the previous victims’ cars?

The simple fact of knowing the killer is still out there—check.  Even if he only has one arm left, he still has that chainsaw, and he’s still roaming the desolate, two-lane roads of the Texas countryside.  Scary!

Comparing the remake to the original in the list above seems to indicate the 2003 film holds up.  But with most horror films, and not just in remakes, I look to the dialogue.  Is it quirky?  Does it make me laugh?  Is there the element of foreshadowing and does the dialogue itself state the obvious?  The answer to these questions is an absolute YES in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

“You’re all going to die.”
“He’s a bad man.”
“Something like this comes along, makes folks realize how crazy the world is out there.”
“Pig Sty.”  (I really loved this one, especially since the character was walking through a disgusting living room as huge pigs meandered about.)
“Deader than a doornail.”  (And here I thought only my family said this….)
“You’re so dead, you don’t even know it.”
“That wasn’t a good idea.”

As usual, Michael Bay’s production does not disappoint.  That’s right—Michael Bay.  Many associate his name with major motion picture action and drama masterpieces (Transformers, Bad Boys, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, etc…), but he also co-owns the production house responsible for so many of our favorite remakes:  A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th (coming soon in our original versus remake series), and today’s feature, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  Mr. Bay may be one of my favorite producers in Hollywood now simply for this reason.

And here we are, closing in on the end of the review, and I haven’t even mentioned the characters/actors in the 2003 movie.  Well, that’s because it honestly doesn’t matter… unless, you’re a man.  Men will love this movie.  Why?  Because most men will enjoy watching Jessica Biel run around, sweaty and wet, in a knotted-up-tank-top, showing off her big breasts, curvy waist, and great derrière.  Really.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.  And be sure to check out her blog post today, where she talks about Elmer Wayne Henley… one of the real-life killers used as inspiration for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

And why stop there?  Visit a few of her archives that also relate to our original versus remake series this month:  Leatherface’s House (we can actually go have dinner there in Kingsland, Texas… if you want) and Ed Gein: The Man Who Changed Horror, another of the real-life inspirations used for the movie.

And while it may not  be horror, remember to check out my YA Mystery novel, Football Sweetheart… now available on Kindle and Nook!

Now, I need to go watch another of the films in the franchise—The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. Why?  Because Matt Bomer is in it!!  You know, Neal Caffrey from White Collar… or Ken from Magic Mike?  Oh, and don’t worry men; there’s some eye candy for you too (Jordana Brewster).

Friday FabOoolousness – “Vengeance is Mine”

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  Last month’s switch-up felt a bit uncomfortable, so we went back to our original ways—Catie reviews the original and I take on the remake.  This month we discuss Cape Fear.

Usually, I include Catie’s Homeade Summary that applies to both films.  But this time, I tweaked it just a bit to fit the 1991 release:

Sam Bowden is a small town attorney who has always relied on the legal system to dole out justice.

Max Cady  is a violent sociopath just released from prison after serving a fourteen year sentence for rape.

Cady blames Bowden for the years he lost in prison, and he’s ready to serve up some revenge.  He stalks the family, poisons the dog, and moves in on all of the women in Bowden’s life.   

But, in the eyes of the law, Bowden can’t prove Cady has done anything.  Cady has been careful to do everything but break the law.

Sam Bowden decides it’s time to make his own justice in order to stop Max Cady from destroying his family…and getting away with it.

Anytime a studio attempts to remake a classic, like it did the 1962 Cape Fear starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, they must hire the same caliber star-power.  Amblin Entertainment and Martin Scorsese did just that…

First, let’s talk about the character of Sam Bowden, played by Nick Nolte.  Sam is a lawyer in the small town of New Essex, North Carolina.  He’s married to Leigh (Jessica Lange) and they have a fifteen year old daughter, Danielle (Juliette Lewis).    The Bowden family seems happy in their new home, despite Dani’s normal teenage rebellion that lands her in summer school.

Sam, on the other hand, is happy for a different reason—he has a budding relationship on the side with a woman from the District Attorney’s office.  I personally found it difficult to like the patriarch in this movie—he has misrepresented a client (Cady, but more on that below), even if it was years ago; he intends to cheat on his wife, even if he hasn’t consummated the affair just yet; and he’s as arrogant as all get out.

Now, let’s talk about the character of Max Cady, played by Robert De Niro.  As always, De Niro perfects his portrayal of the crazed and vengeful Cady, angry for spending years in prison when there was evidence that potentially might have lightened his sentence.  He uses his time in jail to learn to read and fight his own appeals… and to perfect his body art.

After his release, he focuses all of his new-found knowledge on seeking revenge against the public defender who cheated him out of a fair trial.  He travels to New Essex, hunts down Sam Bowden, and plays an evil game of cat and mouse while planning his ultimate vengeance—raping Bowden’s wife and daughter.

And let me just say, there is nothing quite as creepy as a muscled-up De Niro (rumors say he worked his way down to four percent body fat for this role), hanging upside-down on a workout bar, and smiling with his mischievous grin as he talks his way into Danielle’s school day…

Catie mentions the 1962 film was controversial for its time; I wouldn’t so much say the remake was controversial, but it was dark (literally and figuratively; at times the cinematography flashed from color to x-ray or night-vision-like images), inappropriate (theater scene between Cady and Danielle), and disgusting (the “cheek” scene, for those who have already seen the movie).

As with any film, or at least it should be true of every movie, the dialogue is strong—particularly with the element of foreshadowing.

Sam to his wife… “He’s not going to do anything.  He just got out of prison.  He doesn’t want to go right back.”
Cady to Sam… “You’re gonna learn about loss.”

And then there’s the occasional line that makes you laugh, or at least say, “Huh?”

“Debauchery—it’s a three syllable word.”

Um, no; it’s not.

Then there’s the music, and much like Psycho (last months’ review), the score is creepy…

While I can’t attest to whether or not the remake is better than the original—because I shamefully haven’t seen the older of the two—the film did feature three stars from the 1962 classic: Gregory Peck, the original Sam Bowden, plays Cady’s attorney in the remake; Robert Mitchum, the original Cady, plays a police officer ; and Martin Balsam, the original Police Chief, plays a judge .  It says a great deal when the originals will come back and play a small part in a new version of a very successful film from their past—doesn’t it?

Even though I can’t claim the remake is the better of the two, Scorsese’s film is worth seeing—even if it’s for the always enjoyable Robert De Niro and young Juliette Lewis.  I vaguely remember seeing the movie in the early ‘90s when it was a new release, but I couldn’t help  but smile at the teenage pop culture references used in the film when I watched it recently—like Danielle’s Swatch telephone, the Jane’s Addiction music video, and the music of Guns N’ Roses.

Cape Fear is a great psychological thriller.  I mean, what’s worse than fearing for your own life?  Watching those around you suffer for your own actions…

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of Cape Fear?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.  And be sure to check out her blog post today – Robert Mitchum’s Life of Crime

Friday FabOoolousness – “We All Go a Little Mad Sometimes”

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  But this time we switched things up a little—Catie reviews the remake and I take on the original.  I know, crazy…   Anyway, this month we discuss Psycho.

First, let’s check in with Catie’s Homemade Summary that applies to both the 1960 and 1998 versions:

Marian Crane steals a large sum of money from her employer with plans of using it to help her and her boyfriend start a new life together.  Her plans go awry when she checks into the Bates Motel and is killed in the shower.

Marian’s sister and a private investigator trace Marian to the Bates Motel.  Will they find out what happened to Marian before the same thing happens to them?

Today, Psycho is known as one of the best Alfred Hitchcock films of all time, or at least one of the most popular.  Everyone knows about Psycho.  Everyone recognizes the names the Bates Motel and Norman Bates.  Everyone thinks twice about taking showers in motel rooms.  Everyone shivers just a bit when they see a motel vacancy sign.  Right?  Or is it just me?

Still creepy today…

Adapted from Robert Bloch’s novel and loosely based on the true crimes of Ed Gein (see Catie’s Freaky Friday post today!), Psycho received mixed reviews but eventually earned Academy Award nominations—that doesn’t happen for the thriller genre all that often.  So what makes Psycho special?

As with any cinematic success, Psycho first attracts an audience with its cast, starring all young and beautiful actors: Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, Janet Leigh as Marian Crane, Vera Miles as Lila Crane, and John Gavin as Sam Loomis.  Next, we have the score—haunting and suspenseful music by Bernard Herrmann that raises the movie’s tension and impending violence.  Just listen as we play the trailer:

Along with the score, Psycho raised the bar and was a bit ahead of its time with its heightened sexual element and violence.  Heck, in watching the film again for the purpose of this post, I was shocked to hear the characters use the term “transvestite” when talking about Norman’s personalities.  Today “transvestite” is socially acceptable, at least in the form of everyday conversation, but in 1960?

Before jumping into the most obvious reason as to why Psycho is and was such a successful suspense and horror film, let’s pay homage to some of the film’s fabOoolous dialogue—dialogue that not only left viewers on the edge of their seats, but specific lines with insight into the classic element of foreshadowing.

“Mother isn’t quite herself today.”

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

“A son is a poor substitute for a lover.”

“We all go a little mad sometimes.”

“We’re all in our private traps.”

Think about the overall story arc of Psycho, and then re-read these lines—all shared between Norman and Marian before the famous shower scene.  Every single piece of the above dialogue hints at what viewers learn at the end of the film when the psychologist shares his findings with the rest of the characters following his interrogation of Norman.

And since we brought up the famous shower scene, this might be the number one reason why the 1960 version of Psycho is still relevant today.  Queue Herrmann’s orchestra…

Viewers never see the knife actually stab Marian; the scene grabs a hold of the audience by the music, the screams, and the blood washing down the drain.  Hitchcock adds dramatization by Marian’s pulling at the shower curtain and it ripping off ring by ring, and uses excellent cinematography, flashing from the bathtub drain to the close up of Marian’s lifeless eye.  The movie may be over forty years old, but I truly appreciate the genius behind this scene—one little old scene.

The Original “Scream Queen”

Psycho is dark, literally and figuratively.  Not only is the film black and white, the lighting scheme oftentimes shades the characters faces to where viewers only see their silhouettes and shadows.  But this darkness launched Hitchcock’s film into the franchise world, with three sequels (Psycho II, Psycho III, and Psycho IV: The Beginning) all starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, the 1998 remake directed by Gus Van Sant that Catie reviewed earlier this week, as well as other television and documentary pieces.

Norman is CREEPY!!

Speaking of the franchise, Anthony Perkins is just as recognizable today as the creepy Bates Motel and the two-story residence located behind it.  He had a very successful career before his death in the ‘90s, was even nominated for an Academy Award for a different role, but he will forever be remembered as Norman Bates.

And before we go, let’s talk about the original “Scream Queen” Janet Leigh.  Man, was she beautiful and not afraid to show off her sexuality.  It wasn’t until watching Psycho for the I-don’t-know-what-time preparing for this post, that I recognized the similarities between Ms. Leigh and her daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.  The two practically mirror each other with their tight-lipped grins and expressions.  It’s no wonder Jamie Lee took to slasher movies as well and followed in her mother’s footsteps as the modern-day “Scream Queen.”

Hello, Mother…

If anyone hasn’t seen Hitchcock’s masterpiece, check it out at least once.  For any AT&T U-verse customers, Psycho (1960) is currently available on Movieplex’s OnDemand films until August 1st.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of Psycho?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.

Friday FabOoolousness – “Let’s Dance!”

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake – this month, we discuss Footloose.

First, let’s review Catie’s summary of the 1984 film:

Footloose is the story of a big-city kid who moves to a podunk town where dancing is illegal.  The big-city kid fights to hold a school dance, a prom, and encounters resistance from both town leaders and other kids who don’t like slick, fast talking outsiders.  Footloose has it all–romance, fighting, laughs…and dancing.

And in keeping with Catie’s style, here’s a taste of the most recent, Footloose (2011):

I’ll be the first to admit that when I saw the trailer, I felt the remaking of Footloose was sacrilege.  The 1984 film is and forever will be a classic – why mess with greatness?

But it’s because of this negativity that I asked to review the 2011 remake by MTV Films.  And I won’t lie – I prepared myself for a horrible film.

The opening scene gave me goosebumps, blasting the original Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” as today’s teens danced and partied.  It almost seemed like there wasn’t a generational gap between kids today and kids twenty years ago – everyone appreciates good music.  Heck, I wanted to get up and dance with them.  Already, my opinion of the movie slowly began to turn around…

Immediately following the opening scene, five teens are killed in a horrendous car accident.  The driver, a senior football star, was also the son of the town’s reverend (Rev. Shaw Moore, played by Dennis Quaid).  This accident forces the members of the Bomont, Georgia city council to impose strict laws, forbidding teens from drinking and participating in public dancing.

The “new” Ren

Fast forward three years and viewers are introduced to the new kid in town, Ren McCormack (played by Kenny Wormald), a boy who also recently suffered a great loss of his own with the death of his mother.

The “new” Ariel

Ren immediately finds himself not mixing well with the locals and can’t quite understand why a local police officer pulls him over for disturbing the peace (he was playing his music too loud).  He attempts to befriend the reverend’s daughter (Ariel, played by Dancing with the Stars’ Julianne Hough), but she’s too busy rebelling and dating an older, rough-around-the-edges man to give Ren the time of day.

The “new” Willard

After Ren makes friends with a fellow high school boy (Willard, played by Miles Teller), he learns that the town also enforces a “no dance” ordinance.  Needless to say, Ren is miserable in Bomont.

Does this sound familiar?  It should – the 2011 film mirrors the 1984 classic throughout.  Usually I’d list the differences between the original and remake, but today we’re going to appreciate the similarities:

Ren’s car – a yellow Volkswagen Beetle, also known as a Slug-Bug around Texas
Ren’s hobby and pastime – Gymnastics
Ariel’s boots – red
Ren’s first day of school attire – a neck tie
Ren’s “blowing off some steam” dance scene – a lot of the moves were the same (but the music was way off)
Willard learns how to dance – wearing a straw cowboy hat to the music “Let’s Hear it For the Boy” by Deniece Williams
The high school students’ secret hangout – The Yearbook
Ariel’s t-shirt at the council meeting – “Dance your @$$ off”
Ren’s prom attire – dark red, almost maroon, tuxedo jacket with a black bow-tie

Can everyone see where I’m going with this?  I applaud the attention to detail in keeping the original alive.  Of course there were also a few differences, but the bottom line is what matters – the story remains the same.

Footloose is a story about a boy, a stranger from another part of the country, who moves in and changes the town people’s lives and opens their eyes to believing in their children again.

Footloose is the story of a town coming together to celebrate life, not just mourning the dead.

Footloose is the story of children finding their voice – peacefully and respectfully.

Catie mentioned the music in the original Footloose, something none of us can argue with – the soundtrack is simply amazing, featuring artists such as Kenny Loggins, Sammy Hagar, Mike Reno (of Loverboy), Ann Wilson (of Heart), Bonnie Tyler, Foreigner, John Mellencamp, and Quiet Riot.

How does the remake compare?  The 2011 soundtrack may not be considered a classic twenty years from now, but the movie does feature many of the original’s hits – including Kenny Loggins’ and Blake Shelton’s rendition of “Footloose”, a Quiet Riot heavy metal song, plus remakes of “Hero” and “Almost Paradise”.

Catie also enlightened the rest of us with a fun fact – Kevin Bacon was not the first choice to play the role of Ren in the 1984 hit — Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe were considered first.  Can any of us imagine anyone besides Kevin Bacon playing Ren?

The “original” Ren

Similarly, Kenny Wormald wasn’t the first choice for the remake either.  Apparently Zac Efron, Chace Crawford, and Thomas Dekker all passed on the role first for one reason or another.  I was a little disappointed, especially that Chase Crawford didn’t work out, but I must say I am not at all sad after watching Kenny Wormald’s performance.  I don’t know who he is, but he’s absolutely adorable and nailed the character of Ren.

Speaking of relatively unknowns, the same can be said for Miles Teller.  Catie honored the fabOoolous performance of Chris Penn as Ren’s best friend, Willard, in the 1984 film.  But what about the 2011 portrayal of Willard?  Miles Teller may actually be the best casting of the entire film.  Sometimes I actually saw and heard Chris Penn in his performance.

Now Catie closed her post on an entirely different note, introducing the true story on which Footloose is based.  Be sure to remember and click over to her blog to read all about it.

For me, I’m just going to close with Ren’s words: “There is a time to dance.”

“Let’s Dance!”

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of Footloose?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.

Friday FabOoolousness – Living with a Wicked Stepfather

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and I to break down another cinematic original and its remake – this month, we discuss The Stepfather.

First, I must applaud Catie’s homemade summary for the 1987 thriller:

Jerry Blake is in search of the American Dream.  Somewhere out there is a house surrounded by a white picket fence and a family who will live up to his expectations. And if Jerry’s family doesn’t live up to his expectations, he’ll murder them and start over again.

And in keeping with Catie’s style, here’s a taste of the most recent, The Stepfather (2009):

When I first watched the trailer, I had no idea this film was a remake.  I saw the stars of the movie (each from past and current day television programs that I highly enjoy) and the premise of the movie, and I was hooked!  Not to mention, you know you’re aging when you have just as much of a crush on the dads of the film as you do the young actor playing the teenage son…

Now for a few differences between the original and the remake:

Jerry Blake is now Grady Edwards, or David Harris (played by Dylan Walsh, Nip/Tuck).  We can’t be sure of his real name because he has changed it each time he has murdered his family and attempted to move on with his life.

David is definitely no Sean McNamara...

David meets Susan (Sela Ward, CSI: NY) in a grocery store where he discovers his next opportunity — his next American Dream — a single mother with two young children, a boy and a girl.  He introduces himself, she invites him to dinner, and the happiness commences.

Susan just wants to be happy...

That is until Susan’s oldest son, Michael (Penn Badgley, Gossip Girl), returns home from military school.  Apparently, Michael didn’t respond well to his mother and father’s (Jon Tenney, The Closer) divorce, so Mama sent him away to give Michael time to contemplate whether or not his acting out was the best way for him to deal with his life changes.

Michael is ecstatic to be home, but he’s not thrilled about David — he doesn’t like the speed with which David has courted his mother; and David makes him uncomfortable when he invites Michael down to the now padlocked basement for a shot of tequila for the two to bond over.  But Michael’s girlfriend (Amber Heard, Playboy Club) convinces him to give David a chance — after all, his mother has been so happy since David came into her life, and she doesn’t want Michael shipped back to military school.

Don't do anything stupid, Michael!

Everything in David’s new world is perfect — Susan’s sister (Paige Turco, Person of Interest) hires him at her lucrative real estate agency; he and Susan will soon marry; and it seems he has successfully escaped his life as Grady Edwards.

That is until the neighbor sees a man resembling David on America’s Most Wanted.  Of course this neighbor loves to gossip, so Susan laughs her off.  But not David.  No, he can’t have a nosy old woman sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong.  So he does what he does best — he murders her.

It’s also about this time that Michael and Michael’s father begin questioning the new man in Susan’s life.  And they aren’t the only ones…

Mom, are you sure you can trust David?

Why is the basement padlocked now that David lives in the house?
And since the basement door is already padlocked, why are the brand new shelving units that David built down there also padlocked?
Why does David call his deceased daughter by two different names?
Why doesn’t he have any form of identification to provide to his boss for his required government tax documents?

Stepdaddy is CRAZY!!!

Catie mentions in her post that including the POV of the brother of Jerry’s dead wife saves the predictability of the 1987 film.  The same can’t be said for the 2009 remake.

What’s not predictable?  The fact that David escapes at the end…  I honestly didn’t see that one coming.  Of course, had I known at the time that there was an original and subsequent sequels as I watched The Stepfather (2009)  for the first time, perhaps the ending would not have surprised me the way that it did.

But here’s the best part — The Stepfather movies are loosely inspired by actual events.  Has anyone ever heard of John List?  John List murdered his entire family and then walked away — vanished into thin air.  For more on List, click over to Catie’s blog today and read all about him on her Freaky Friday post.

David can change his appearance, but he can't change the crazy!

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of The Stepfather?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.

Friday FabOoolousness: The Fear of the Unknown

Catie Rhodes and I are back with our new blog collaborative series where we each review an original movie and it’s more recent remake.  This month, we discuss the psychological horror film/s, The Thing.

Despite the fact that Catie agreed to review the 1982 film version of The Thing starring Kurt Russell, I scheduled the DVR to record it and watched it as well.  What better research for my blog post than to watch both films practically back-to-back, right?

For an early ‘80s film, The Thing is really terrifying.  I had seen it before, but still managed to jump in my seat on multiple occasions and cringe at some of the special effects — not because they were outdated, but because they were so well done and gory beyond belief.

The 1982 movie poster

After reading Catie’s post, I knew exactly why I was so impressed: The Thing was directed by none other than John Carpenter himself.  I may not be a “Level 3 Nerd” fan like she is, but I too believe the man is genius and knows horror (I am a big fan of Halloween; thank you, Mr. Carpenter).

I am also glad Catie mentioned the hotness of Kurt Russell.  Even with a full-on beard, the man had it going on in The Thing.  And if we’re being honest here, the main reason why I wanted to review the 2011 remake of The Thing is because of another cutie on my radar – Eric Christian Olsen (NCIS: LA).

He's not a bad reason to watch a movie, right?

So I keep saying remake, but this is not correct.  I had heard in passing that the 2011 film was actually a prequel to the 1982 movie, but like usual decided that I must first see it to believe it.

It is.

Based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, writer Eric Heisserer begins the story with the Norwegian and American scientists who discover The Thing.  Not only do they discover the alien life form, but they also find its spaceship buried deep beneath the Antarctic ice.    The Norwegians contact a doctor (Ulrich Thomsen) about the discovery and he immediately makes plans to travel to the base.  But he first needs someone to assist with the dig.

The doctor remains hush-hush about the find when he hires a paleontologist to assist him (Kate, played by Mary Elizabeth Winsted).  Together with the doctor’s assistant (Olsen), the three travel to the Antarctic not knowing what BIG discovery they will unearth.  It doesn’t take long for their eyes to bug out in disbelief when they see firsthand what they are dealing with.

Kate immediately gets to work, and with help from the scientists removes a large chunk of ice surrounding the alien.  They return The Thing to the Norwegian base and the Mister-Know-It-All-Doctor demands a tissue sample from The Thing, even though Kate highly recommends against it.

The group later gathers in the common area and celebrates the find – they will forever be associated with the team that captured the first alien life form known to man.  While they party, the alien breaks through the ice and escapes.

Or does it?

Burn it! Burn it!

After capturing and burning the alien life form, Kate learns from a tissue sample that the creature’s cells have yet to die.  Instead, these cells have the ability to imitate another’s cells perfectly: a human’s cells.

Much like the original film, panic and mass paranoia spreads across the camp like a wildfire in hot, dry, and windy conditions.  The search for The Thing yields many dead bodies (and a dog, which I could have done without).  But luckily for the group, Kate discovers a crucial tell-tale sign about The Thing — when it imitates a life form, it cannot absorb any metal — therefore no dental fillings, no earrings, and no metal rods replacing bones from previous surgeries will absorb in the mutation.  Knowing this will later prove to save her life.

I'd be looking behind my shoulder too...

The 2011 movie ends just as the 1982 movie begins.  The transition was very well done, even matching the music and the burned Norwegian camp with the dead body inside (the man slit his throat rather than die at the hands of The Thing).  The film also answers how The Thing escapes camp to continue its slaughter of human lives after MacReady (Russell) arrives – the alien is the dog (again with the poor dog).

Unlike the 1982 movie, the prequel (ha, notice I didn’t say remake this time) didn’t get great overall reviews.  But it’s really not that bad.  I particularly liked the fact that one doesn’t have to watch the films sequentially in order to understand what’s going on.  I also applaud the fact that even though the 2011 film is a prequel to the 1982 version, they didn’t take us back in time with ‘80s clothes and other retro images.  Or if they did, it wasn’t distracting.  It’s not that I have anything against the ‘80s (I’m actually a proud child of the ‘80s), but sometimes the effort to create a certain time period takes away from the rest of the story.

Having watched both films, and truly knowing what to expect, I still jumped in my seat…on multiple occasions.  I even looked away at times.  That to me is good horror.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the 1982 or the 2011 The Thing?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.

Friday FabOoolousness: Babysitting is a Dangerous Business

Catie Rhodes and I had such a fabOoolous time teaming up and writing the last collaborative blog (Straw Dogs), that we decided to start a monthly series where we’ll review and compare original films and their remade counterparts.  This month, we discuss the psychological horror film, When a Stranger Calls.

On her Wild-Card Wednesday post, Catie breaks down the 1979 horror film, When a Stranger Calls, starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning.  In her blog, she mentions the fact that the original movie was based on an urban legend: The Babysitter and The Man Upstairs.

In addition to When a Stranger Calls, other popular horror/slasher flicks come to mind that play off of this urban legend: Black Christmas (1974 and 2006), as well as the cult-classic Scream franchise.   Being that Catie and I are planning future blog posts, I won’t go into much detail about Black Christmas since it’s a potential candidate in the running, but we can briefly discuss the opening sequence of Scream.

A girl, home alone, prepares popcorn awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend when the telephone rings.  The disguised voice on the other end asks her, “What’s your favorite scary movie?” and before we know it, the teenager is terrorized by a crazed killer, chasing her through the house.  While she may not be babysitting, she is home alone and the killer is already inside the house.

Creepy…

Catie also does a wonderful job of  breaking the original When a Stranger Calls down into the classic three-act structure: Act One, the babysitter and the “caller”; Act Two takes place seven years later, as a former policeman chases the “caller”; and Act three, when the “caller” has refocused his attentions on the babysitter from years earlier.

Immediately, we see the first major difference between the original movie and the remake – the 2006 When a Stranger Calls focuses approximately 90 minutes on the original film’s act one.  The second and third acts of the original movie do not exist in the remake.

The trailer:

The movie begins with a brutal murder after a girl receives prank phone calls – the killer doesn’t leave behind a murder weapon, and the body is so completely mutilated that the medical examiner has to remove it in multiple body bags.

 

Next, we meet Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle), who lives over a hundred miles away from the first homicide.  Jill is clearly having a rough week – her boyfriend cheated on her with her supposed good friend Tiffany (played by Katie Cassidy), and her parents have disconnected her cell phone for going 800 minutes over her calling plan.

Side note #1: Why does the home-wrecker character always have to be named Tiffany in movies and television?

Side note #2: The fact that a teenager doesn’t have an unlimited cell phone plan really dates this movie, and it’s only six years old.

Back on topic:

To pay off her cell phone bill, Jill agrees to babysit instead of partying all night with her friends at the high school bonfire.  Her father drives Jill out to her employer’s house for the evening — a beautiful and luxurious home out in the middle of nowhere, hidden behind security gates with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the plush trees and forest.   The wealth of the family also allows for motion sensor lights throughout the house, and for an enclosed  greenhouse smack dab in the center of the home, filled with greenery, chirping birds, a pond, and fish.

The parents give Jill the quick run through before leaving for their night out – if she hears any noises, it could be one of three things:

1)      Their black cat,
2)      Their housekeeper, who lives upstairs but has the night off,
3)      Or their son living in the guest house, home from college.

Jill sets the alarm, and settles in for a nice and quiet night of studying while the children sleep upstairs.  This should be easy, right?

Wrong.  The suspense starts almost immediately: the phone rings with no one on the other end, which Jill assumes is her silly ex-boyfriend and his friends playing pranks on her; she hears doors and/or cabinets close, which she imagines is just the housekeeper; the house alarm sounds, which she also writes off as the housekeeper since her employers mentioned they can’t seem to get her to remember the code; Tiffany pays her a surprise visit, through the open garage door (how did that happen?); and the motion sensor lights keep going on and off in other parts of the house.

Jill is so spooked, that at one point she walks through the house with the fire-place stoker in hand.  Okay, who hasn’t done that at least once?

The prank calls continue, and finally the voice on the other end of the phone speaks out and Jill has had enough.  She calls around for help, but not even the police can do anything at this point.

The phone rings again, and this time the “caller” asks those five frightening words:

“Have you checked the children?”

Jill does what any good babysitter would do, and she rushes upstairs to check on the sleeping children who are safe and sound, snuggled away in their beds.

The phone rings again:

“How were the children?”

How is he watching her?  Jill hangs up and calls the police again, and this time they agree to run a trace on the calls.  Before hanging up, the officer on the other end of the call reminds Jill that she is “safe inside the house.”  Yea, right!  Famous last words….

At this point in the 2006 film there is a lot of Jill’s running around the property, searching for the housekeeper, for the son home from college, for anything to make her feel better about being alone in this house.

And then the phone rings again, and trying to keep the “caller” on the line for the minimum sixty seconds required for the police trace, Jill asks, “What do you want?”

“Your blood, all over me.”  This may be one of the creepiest movie quotes of all time…

Jill successfully keeps the “caller” on the line long enough for the police trace, and the police notify Jill that “the call is coming from inside the house!”

Side Note #3: My doorbell rang at this very moment in the movie, and I had to laugh at the fact that I literally jumped in my seat.  Now I’ve seen this movie multiple times, but that didn’t stop the delivery man from giving me that one little “BOO!” when he dropped off our package…

Back to When a Stranger Calls

This is where the big battle ensues, and I don’t want to give too much away in case everyone hasn’t seen the movie.   But even during the fight scenes, the viewers don’t see the “caller’s” face.  Not once.  He is just a dark shadow, lurking around every corner, pursuing Jill until the end.

It’s not until the very end of the film, after the “caller” is arrested, that we see his face – and it is a creepy, creepy face (played by Thomas Flanagan).

There were rumors that a sequel was in the works, but other rumors mentioned that it had been thrown to the cutting room floor.  I’m not sure “sequel” would be the appropriate term anyway; it sounds just like another remake.  A true sequel would be a movie about the second and third acts from the original film, not another movie about a babysitter.

Regardless, we still have the 1979 When a Stranger Calls, the 1993 television sequel When a Stranger Calls Back (also starring Carol Kane and Charles Durning), and the 2006 remake to satisfy our psychological thriller needs.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the original or the remake of When a Stranger Calls?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  I’d love to hear from you! 

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog discussing the original if you haven’t already.

If you still want more of “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” urban legend, check out When a Killer Calls (also 2006).

Friday FabOoolousness – Knocking Down Straw Dogs

I love scary movies, including honest to goodness horror and slashers, as well as suspenseful, psychological thrillers.  That’s why when I saw the trailer for Straw Dogs (2011) last year, I felt chills run down my spine.  I would watch this movie.

It didn’t hurt that the trailer for the film was full of eye-candy: Alexander Skarsgard (Vampire Eric Northman from True Blood); James Marsden (Cyclops from the X-Men movies); and for the men, Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush).

Immediately, I reached out to my writing and movie friend, Catie Rhodes, who has introduced me to many great crime films – some even inspired by actual events.  But, I digress.

During our chat, Catie mentioned that Straw Dogs (2011) is a remake to the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.  Once again, Catie was educating me on an older movie that I wasn’t familiar with (travesty, I know).

After renting Straw Dogs (2011) via my favorite vending machine (Redbox), I contacted Catie again.  Following a brief conversation, we decided to team up and provide a review of the original movie and the remake.

Hollywood always seems to remake movies, almost to the point to where we might think all originality is gone.  But I like to think that it is because there are so many great older films that the newer generations aren’t familiar with, and the remake introduces them to the story.

The general definition of the term straw dog means something that is made to only be knocked down, or when someone is referring to raping or pillaging someone.

In Catie’s post, she mentioned the Chinese tradition of using straw dogs (dolls) as sacrifices.  According to the Tao Te Ching, a straw dog was dressed up and honored at the altar only to be discarded in the streets at the end of the ceremony.

Honestly, all three of these explanations are applicable in the 2011 remake by Rod Lurie.

The movie follows David Sumner (Marsden) and his wife, Amy (Bosworth), as they return to her small hometown in Mississippi.  The young couple recently inherits her family home following her father’s death, and David feels the wide open space and the peace and quiet will be exactly what he needs to finish his current movie script.

They’re not in town long before David meets the town’s characters, including: Amy’s former classmate and ex-boyfriend, Charlie Venner (Skarsgard); the previous high school football coach (Emmy winning and Academy Award nominated actor, James Woods) and his teenage daughter (Willa Holland, The O.C.);   Daniel Niles (Walton Goggins, Boyd Crowder from Justified) and his mentally handicapped brother, Jeremy (Dominic Purcell, Prison Break); and Charlie’s “boys” – Norman (Rhys Coiro, Entourage), Chris (Billy Lush, The Black Donnellys), and Bic (Drew Powell, Leverage).

Trying to win over the home crowd, David hires Charlie and his “boys” to fix the barn’s roof across from the couple’s new home.  The “boys” take advantage of the situation by showing up for work according to their own schedule and working only a few hours per day.  Matters intensify as the “boys” taunt David, making Amy feel she’s married to a coward, and they constantly gawk at Amy and her short shorts and braless breasts (although flashing her bare breasts while the “boys” are working doesn’t help the situation).

One thing leads to another, and before we know it the Sumner family pet is murdered, Amy is brutally attacked, and David snaps.

Everyone has a breaking point (the logline for the 2011 remake).

To what extent will Charlie's "Boys" follow the leader?

The closing scenes of Straw Dogs reminds me of one of my favorite all-time movies (Fear starring Mark Wahlberg, Reese Witherspoon and William Peterson) when the “boys” and their coach viciously attack the impenetrable Sumner home from the outside, while the Sumners (particularly David) put up the fight of their lives protecting one another and distraught Jeremy, who sits in the corner rocking back and forth yelling over the commotion trying to ease himself.

Sounds like Fear, doesn’t it?

In her blog post reviewing the 1971 movie, Catie writes “the tension is like a character in the film.”  That’s also true of the 2011 version, but probably the largest similarity between the two Straw Dogs is the ambiguity of the stories – we don’t get a ton of answers.

We never know the story behind Amy and Charlie, other than it seems extremely awkward when she returns.  We never know who murders the Sumner pet; we only assume it’s one of the “boys” at Charlie’s orders.  We never know why the former football coach’s teenage daughter continuously bates poor Jeremy, knowing that her father will kill the poor boy the next time he catches Jeremy near her.

Mainly, we just never know many things behind the why.

But we do know that the so-called coward transforms into a hero at the end, and all the straw dogs are knocked down.

“He’s got some man in him after all.”

What do you think?  Have you seen the original 1971 Straw Dogs film or 2011 remake?  Were you satisfied or left wishing for a bit more? Is there a remake that you feel is actually better than the original?  I’d love to hear from you.

Be sure and click over to Catie’s review if you haven’t already!