Eighties

Summer of 84

84

In a suburban town young boys are disappearing. One paperboy believes his police officer neighbor is behind it. He convinces his friends they should spend their summer vacation spying on him to get proof. Their little investigation leads the friends down a dangerous path. Is their neighbor an innocent man, or is he a serial killer?

One of the unique things about this film is that it has three directors. The directors are Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell, who together also directed the film Turbo Kid. Something this trio is particularly known for is capturing the spirit of the eighties. Summer of 84 is no different. The plot follows along as the boys try to find proof their cop neighbor is the serial killer everyone is talking about in the news. Only one of the boys truly believes he is the killer, while the other three are just going along with their friend. While the film is an intriguing mystery thriller, it is also very much a coming-of-age story. This aspect of the plot is enjoyable, but it also makes certain parts of the film feel a bit slow. That doesn’t mean the plot isn’t very well written. There are just times when the various subplots, like a romance between two of the characters, is developed a bit too much, taking away from the main premise.

First time screenwriters Matt Leslie and Stephen J. Smith do a great job of getting the right eighties feel, creating a group of friends with a strong bond, and bringing a large dose of suspense. Specifically, in the climax of the film, there is a very well-written monologue that sends chills down the spine. Many of the revelations at the climax of the film are more than the characters ever bargained for. A common theme throughout the film is that people never reveal everything about themselves. While this theme is used to show that you never know who could be a serial killer, the writers also applied it to the people you think you know best. As the plot moves forward the audience learns there are things the friends keep from each other, and these things allow the audience to see a side of the kids no one else does. This layer of the plot adds a lot of depth to the coming-of-age aspect of the film.

For the cast of Summer of 84 the filmmakers primarily chose relatively unknown actors. Graham Verchere (The Good Doctor, Fargo) plays the leader of the group of friends, Davey. Davey is a bit of a conspiracy theorist, which is why when he tells his friends the neighbor might be a serial killer they all think he is just imagining it. Verchere gives a very endearing performance as he balances the line between investigating the cop, finding summer love, and being a good friend. Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) plays Eats, while Caleb Emery (Goosebumps) plays Woody. These two characters, and the actors’ performances, stand out because they act a certain way around people, but when you learn about their troubled home lives it gives the characters more depth. Rich Sommer (GLOW, The Devil Wears Prada) plays Wayne Mackey, the cop and suspected serial killer. Sommer’s portrayal of Mackey stands out because he straddles the line very well between being a typical nice neighbor and a creep. It keeps the audience continually guessing at whether or not he truly is the killer. The entire cast does a great job, delivering especially strong performances in the final act of the film.

This film had a lot of artistic details that make it very authentic and enjoyable. Both the clothing and the music do a great job of transporting the audience to 1984. Even the lighting and color scale used throughout the film lends to the desired time period. Another great artistic detail is the practical effects. The effects are saved until the climax of the film, and for the most part they are shrouded in darkness, but what can be seen looks great. There is a disturbingly gooey quality to the effects that makes them appear even more horrific. Each small bit of artistry adds to the overall appeal of the film.

Summer of 84 is a suspenseful throwback flick that hits close to home. It instills the idea that no one ever truly knows another person, and, in this film, that means anyone could be a serial killer – even your next door neighbor. The plot can meander a bit, but when it sticks to the primary premise it is thrilling and even heartfelt. All of the young actors do a fantastic job, and the suspected serial killer perfectly walks the line between being normal and suspicious. Summer of 84 is the kind of film that has a broad appeal, even for non-horror fans, and it will likely end up with quite the cult following.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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Under the Shadow

A mother gets left alone with her daughter in post-revolution Tehran in the eighties. Everyone is on edge because of the constant threat of bombings from Iraq. With tensions already running high, things only get worse when an evil entity begins to haunt the apartment the mother and daughter call home. Life gradually become more dangerous, both outside their home and inside. Which threat should they be most fearful of?

This was my first Iranian horror film, and there were so many things I loved about it. While this is a horror film, it focuses quite a bit on what life was like for a more liberal family living in post-revolution Iran. Not only do we see the oppression that the lead character goes through as a woman in that time, but we are also shown a glimpse of what it was like to live with the constant fear of a bomb coming through your ceiling. As if this isn’t terrifying enough, the mother and daughter also have to deal with something evil. This evil is known as a “djinn,” which is a supernatural spirit from Islamic mythology. Using the ancient evil in a modern, war-torn landscape created an excellent juxtaposition.

Under the Shadow was shockingly successful at keeping you tense from start to finish. By the time the film ended, I had a horrible headache from clenching my jaw and tensing my muscles in anticipation of what would come next. On top of that, the filmmakers managed to have a few excellent jump scares thrown in to add to the suspense. While the film is generally what would be described as a “slow burn,” the last 15 minutes manages to keep you at the edge of your seat and peeking at the screen from behind your hands.

While there are some periphery characters, there primarily is just the mother and the daughter. Shideh, the mother, was played by Narges Rashidi (Aeon Flux). Rashidi delivered a powerful performance. It is hard to imagine what it would be like living as a woman in warn-torn Iran in the eighties trying to take care of your daughter alone, while at the same time combating an evil that you don’t even know is real or not. However, Rashidi does a great job giving us a glimpse into that world. Dorsa, the daughter, was played by Avin Manshadi. This was Manshidi’s first acting role, and she definitely delivered. As many horror fans know, children in horror films can easily lean towards a more annoying performance. Luckily, this was not the case for Manshidi. She was very talented, and her performance was truly believable.

Being more of a suspenseful film, there aren’t that many special effects. Most of the effects enter at the end of the film, which of course I will not give too much detail on. The effects are primarily CGI, which from a practicality standpoint was the only way to achieve the climax of the film. The effects are simple, especially in the styling of the djinn, but they are highly effective. The simple design managed to send chills down my spine and make something seemingly harmless absolutely terrifying.

When I went to see this film in the theater, I went in blind. The only thing I knew about it was that the film was from Iran. I’m thrilled I didn’t pass up the chance to see it on the big screen. The atmosphere of the film left you in a perpetual state of dread. This feeling was only amplified by being in a dark theater. Under the Shadow gives you a glimpse into the old and new aspects of Iranian culture, while also giving you a fright you won’t soon forget. This is the kind of film that will appeal to many viewers, not just because of the scares, but also because you learn things you may not have known about a different culture while watching it. It’s a horror film and a history lesson all in one.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Re-Animator (1985)

A medical school student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is trying to find a classmate to be his new roommate. When a mysterious new student answers his add, Dan’s world gets turned upside down. This new student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is obsessed with finding an agent that can re-animate dead tissue. Dan slowly gets sucked into Herbert’s work. It doesn’t take long for things to go awry, with some dire consequences that the two students may not be able to get themselves out of.

I know this may come as a shock to many horror fans, but this was my first time seeing Re-Animator. I know, I know! It’s shocking. There are many classics that I need to catch up on (which is why I do Throwback Thursday reviews). This is a film I’ve always wanted to watch. I see clips of it here and there on different horror TV networks, plus it has quite the reputation as a cult classic horror film.

Going into this film, the one thing I was the most excited about was the practical effects. Luckily the film lived up to my expectations. Eighties horror and scifi films always have the most creative and elaborate practical effects. Re-Animator doesn’t use as many practical effects as I was expecting, but the ones they do use are pretty amazing. Two of the stand-outs are a mangled, deceased cat that gets re-animated and a re-animated headless body (along with the severed head). With the severed head they did a great job going back and forth between using a model head and the actual actor’s head (which was stuck through a hole in a table).

Generally speaking, the story was interesting and kept my attention. While I wouldn’t technically call this a zombie film, it takes an interesting approach to the how and why the dead would be brought back to life. I enjoyed that it went in a more scientific direction than many living dead films do. There were some aspects of the plot that I don’t think worked quite as well. There were many times during the story where I couldn’t help but think “why?” Why was Herbert so obsessed with proving he could re-animate dead tissue? Why did Dan trust Herbert so easily? Why was Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) obsessed with Megan (Barbara Crampton)? These pieces of the story made things more exciting, but I hate not knowing why they happened in the first place.

Considering this is a campy eighties horror flick, the acting is surprisingly good. Jeffrey Combs (Frighteners, From Beyond) was equal parts creepy and intriguing as the obsessive Herbert West. Throughout the film he does an amazing job of portraying the borderline psychotic need Herbert has to prove his theory, and his willingness to do whatever it takes to reach that goal. Bruce Abbott (Dark Justice), while not really a standout in the film, was still enjoyable to watch. At times his character felt a bit bland, but that could have been more due to writing than his acting. My favorite performance came from David Gale (Bride of Re-Animator) as the menacing Dr. Carl Hill. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to play a severed head, but he pulled it off in a way that was disturbing and comical all at the same time.

While I couldn’t say this film is my favorite eighties horror film, it’s definitely a fun watch that will appeal to many viewers. Re-Animator is a cult classic for good reason. Whatever it lacks in the scares, it greatly makes up for in weirdness and humor. It’s a fun story with a bizarre cast of characters. Add that to the delightfully cheesy eighties practical effects, and you get a recipe for a fun flick that will entertain people for years to come. This is a film that every true horror fan should see at least once.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Final Girls

Max (Taissa Farmiga) is a teenage girl who lost her mother (Malin Akerman) in a tragic car accident 3 years ago. Her mother was an actress whose most famous role was in a cheesy 80’s slasher flick. On the anniversary of her mother’s death Max gets sucked into attending a screening of the slasher movie. During the film a fire breaks out in the theater. Max and her friends escape by cutting through the movie screen and walking through it, only to find themselves trapped inside the movie. Now Max and her friends have to keep themselves alive until the horror movie they are trapped in ends.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I LOVE this movie. Not only did I love it, but there are many things to love about this film. One of my favorite parts was simply the originality of the story. The “Camp Bloodbath” film is obviously paying homage to Friday the 13th. The idea that these modern day teens somehow accidentally transport themselves into an 80’s slasher makes for some hilarious scenes related to the differences in clothing and technology. It’s so clever that I’m not even bothered by the fact that we have no idea how these kids ended up in the movie world in the first place. While the filmmakers are clearly honoring the classic slasher films, they also mercilessly make fun of them. It is absolutely hilarious. They make fun of everything including the over-the-top acting, bad writing, and the fact that sex is equal to death. The filmmakers even included classic 80’s horror movie music, but they updated it a bit in order to keep it fresh.

The acting in this film was perfect. Taissa Farmiga (American Horror Story) alone was brilliant. She does a great job of portraying the girl next door, but with an added edge that makes her more interesting. What was really brilliant was the juxtaposition of the “real teens” acting compared to the acting of the teens from “Camp Bloodbath.” It was hilarious to see the real teens and their reactions, especially next to the teens from the slasher flick who are acting so over the top and cheesy. Malin Akerman (Couples Retreat) surprised me in this film. I usually am not very fond of her or her acting, but she managed to win me over in The Final Girls both as Max’s mother, Amanda, and as the shy camp counselor from “Camp Bloodbath,” Nancy. Two standouts in this film are the over-sexed camp counselors Kurt (Adam DeVine) and Tina (Angela Timbur). They perfectly fit the 80’s slasher stereotype of the not-too-bright counselors that only care about getting laid. These two definitely stole some scenes with how hilarious they were.

The various effects and styles of this film also contributed to its success. The cinematography is gorgeous. There are a few scenes where they fluidly move from one point of view to another in a way that I don’t think I’ve seen in other films. The effects they utilized to transition to and from the flashback scenes were also quite unique and added some interest to the film while we experience things the way the teens from the real world do. I honestly can’t say anything bad about the CGI in this film. They used it in a relatively sparing way. When they did use it the effects were slightly over the top, but in a way that fit the film in a perfect way. The same goes for the practical effects. There were some practical effects used for the various kill scenes, but those scenes were not very gory considering this is a PG-13 movie. There was really only one aspect of the practical effects that I didn’t like, and it is really so minuscule that most people probably wouldn’t even notice. In the beginning of the film when we see Max with her mother, Amanda, they clearly had to age Amanda a bit because she was much younger when she filmed “Camp Bloodbath.” The only real effort that can be noticed to age her was subtle prosthetics under her eyes to add wrinkles. As I said, it was pretty subtle, but what really bothered me about it is that I could tell they were prosthetics. The edges didn’t seem to be blended very well and the color of the prosthetics didn’t match her skin tone, making it stick out a bit. This may seem nitpicky, but it ruined the age makeup for me.

I really had so much fun watching this film. It had everything you could want from a horror comedy. There was an interesting story, it made fun of itself, it honored the classics, can be touching at times, and I don’t think I stopped laughing the entire time. What makes this film even better, is that it has outtakes! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a horror movie, or even a horror comedy, that has outtakes at the end. This is the kind of film that will appeal to everyone, even those that don’t love horror films. You can even bring younger audiences to see this since it has a rating of PG-13. This is definitely a must see film that will keep you laughing the whole way through, and maybe even make you tear up a bit, with an ending that couldn’t have been better if I wrote it myself.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: The Monster Squad (1987)

I’m going to preface this by saying that this is a very biased review. I grew up watching this movie, some of my earliest movie-watching memories involve this movie, and I love it. That being said, it is still a pretty awesome movie. I have never introduced this movie to someone and have them not love it. It seems like the perfect choice for my Throwback Thursday movie review.

The film centers on a group of young teens that have their own monster club. They meet and talk about awesome monster movies and even have a clubhouse plastered with horror movie posters. The leader of their group acquires Abraham Van Helsing’s diary and soon realizes all the strange things that have been happening in their small town are leading to the end of the world. Who is trying to end the world, you ask? None other than all the classic movie monsters complete with Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the mummy, Wolfman, and the creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s up to these kids to stop the monsters from destroying the world and bringing about eternal evil.

This movie is not scary by any means, but it is insanely entertaining. The storyline is hilarious. It is often compared to The Goonies since they came out around the same time and both involve a group of kids that have to save the day. The writing is pure genius. Not only is the dialogue very witty, but there are also some amazing one-liners. One of the more famous lines that you may have heard before is “Wolfman’s got nards!”

This being an eighties movie, there are some great practical effects as well. Frankenstein’s monster of course has gorgeous makeup, along with the creature from the Black Lagoon. One top of that, the practical effects used when Wolfman makes his transformation and the mummy gets unraveled are very impressive.

This film really has everything you could want from a light-hearted eighties horror flick. It is witty, it has great practical effects, the storyline is very original, and it appeals to people of all ages. This is a movie that I would highly recommend if you are looking for a “gateway movie” to introduce children to the horror genre. It is also very fun to watch with a group of drunken friends. I truly hope you enjoy the movie, because it has given me much joy since the tender age of 4.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10 (I told you I was biased)