Monday, March 26, 2012

Sleepwalking to the Sematary

Some old films this week, and a new-ish one ... just depended what we saw as we trawled one of the discount DVD websites.

First up is Pet Sematary, based on the Stephen King novel of course, and starring Dale Midkiff (who?) as Louis Creed and Denise Crosby (fresh from playing Tasha Yar in Star Trek: The Next Generation) as his wife Rachel, who move into a house which backs onto a spooky graveyard where pets have been buried ... and beyond the graveyard and on top of the mountain is a further burial place, where what is buried comes back.

The film stands up pretty well all told, though Midkiff lacks the presence of, say, Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Crosby does a better job at keeping it together when first their cat, and then their son, Gage (Miko Hughes), is killed by one of the oil trucks which barrel past their front door at a rate of knots. Given that they know this is the case, we could not understand why they didn't put a fence up the moment they moved in - an obvious thing to do given that they had a toddler and that the trucks went past at all hours of the day and night.

Helped by friendly neighbour Jud Crandall (played by The Munsters' Fred Gwynne), Louis takes his son up to the old burial place, and seems surprised when he comes back as a murderous Chucky-like presence, killing first Jed, and then Rachel. Given that the cat was hardly pleasant following its resurrection, poor Louis really wasn't thinking straight at all. The ending is pretty neat, with some good and gruesome effects, and a somewhat bleak outlook.

Watch out for a cameo from Stephen King as the vicar at the burial of Gage as well - one of those moments to make you smile.

King also cameos in the next film, Sleepwalkers, another tale scripted by himself, but not, as far as I remember (and I know people will correct me) not ever released in prose form. This time we have Alice Krige and Brian Krause as mother and son - the Bradys - but they are really monstrous werewolf-like creatures who drain the blood from humans in order to survive and stay young. There's an insestuous relationship between the two also which is fairly eye opening but it's all handled very well.

Charles Brady targets young Tanya (Madchen Amick off of Twin Peaks) as his next meal, but plans are thwarted by Sherrif Ira and his cat Clovis (probably the star of the film!). For it seems that the monstrous Sleepwalkers are scared of cats, and that their scratch can make the beings steam and die.

It's interesting to note the use of CGI in the film in some of the transformations and effects. This is 1992, and I find myself wondering what the first commercial film that used CGI was (Wikipedia tells me it might be Westworld in 1973 which is interesting). Jurassic Park was 1993 ... so what is on show here is actually very basic for the time.

It's an enjoyable film, well made and well acted by all concerned. I enjoyed spotting not only King, but author and director Clive Barker (Hellraiser), and directors Joe Dante (Gremlins) and John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) in bit parts as well.  Certainly one worth revisiting.

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a film that perhaps is overlooked in favour of Bram Stoker's Dracula, coming as it did a couple of years later. Where the Dracula remake had a stand-out performance from Gary Oldman as the Count, so Mary Shelley's Frankenstein has an impressive turn by director Kenneth Branagh as the misguided Victor, and Robert deNiro excells as the monster. DeNiro actually manages to steal most of his scenes, turning in a sensitive and very well judged performance.

Letting the side down a little is Helena Bonham-Carter as Elizabeth who overacts somewhat and has the most incredible rats' nest of a hairdo. She does better when transformed into the Bride at the end, just before the whole place goes up in the traditional flames.

I enjoyed the film a lot, and there is much to appreciate in it. It's something of a shame that it seems a little overshadowed by other fare of the time.

Finally, a more recent offering comes with Boo, a haunted hospital tale which manages to be quite creepy and scary. The idea is fairly basic - a group of teenagers decide to play around in a deserted hospital one halloween, not realising that it is actually haunted by a fairly vengeful ghost who wants to escape by taking over the bodies of the teens.

The effects are good, and the acting is passable though not wonderful. What stands out most is the location - we're certain we saw the same building in an episode of Dexter recently, and that it's been used elsewhere too. Somewhere like that is a total gift to a filmmaker, and if used well can really reap rewards. I'm reminded of Session 9, where they had a similarly brilliant location, but the film itself was somewhat disappointing.

What you have to do with this sort of film is put your brain on idle and just go with it. If you try and think too hard it all falls apart - like what was with the dog which gets skinned? What was the relevance of the necklace the lead girl was wearing? And why did the bodies melt and explode once they died?  It's something of a gorefest with people melting all over, and there are some nice chills of ghosts appearing unexpectedly. The film references Halloween and other great shockers, and I suppose was intended a an homage to them as well as being fun in its own right.

It's not as effective as, for example, Trick R Treat, but it does a lot better on the scares and makes more of the location than other films I have seen. Well worth looking out for a boozy night of horror.

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