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Ed Owens

 

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Movies for a dark
and stormy night


by Ed Owens

The Howling (Joe Dante, 1981).

Despite the fact that it opened nearly eight months earlier, Dante's tongue-in-cheek riff on wolves in human clothing was forced to live in the shadow of that other post-modern werewolf film, An American Werewolf In London. Regardless, The Howling remains a worthwhile entry in the canon, thanks largely to a reference-rich script (John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless) and some nifty effects by a young Rob Bottin (with help from American Werewolf's own Rick Baker).

Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978).

Considered an anomaly by many, Kaufman's late 70's remake is considered by many others (myself included) to be one of those rarest of birds--a remake that actually improves on the original. Rather than slavishly copy Don Siegel's 1956 classic, Kaufman and screenwriter W.D. Richter (who would go on to pen one of my favorites--Big Trouble In Little China) capture the essence of the original without being afraid to update it. Though some elements of the film have dated badly (check out the tweed jacket behind Mr. Nimoy!), the film itself has not.

Nightbreed (Clive Barker, 1990).

Clive Barker's follow-up to the moderately successful Hellraiser features a deliciously twisted performance by fellow Canadian David Cronenberg and a wonderful score by Danny Elfman before he began bordering on cliché. Though a bit disjointed, much of Barker's direction and script (based on his own short work "Cabal") manage to keep things flowing while still playing thematic games with the distinction between man and monster.

Peeping Tom
(Michael Powell, 1960).

Another film that got lost in the shuffle (anybody seen Psycho?), Powell's intelligent psychological thriller (which effectively ended one of Britain's greatest cinematic careers) has finally gained some well-deserved respect. Aside from being one of film's most piercing meditations on the nature of cinema itself, Peeping Tom is also a fine thriller, one definitely not to be overlooked.

The Hitcher (Robert Harmon, 1986).

Speaking of The Hitcher, Roger Ebert said, "this movie is diseased and corrupt...it is reprehensible." High praise indeed. The Hitcher hits the ground running and never looks back (though it does occasionally slow). Rutger Hauer dominates even the scenes he's not in with a malevolent yet tortured performance as the personification of C. Thomas Howell's worst nightmare. No matter how over-the-top the material may get (and it does go way over the top at times), Hauer consistently anchors it, turning your attention away from the script's holes even as he drives his truck straight through them.

Near Dark
(Kathryn Bigelow, 1987).

Bigelow's vampire western, co-written by Hitcher scribe Eric Red, follows a young farmer sucked in to a family of undead and makes for an ultimately engaging, if occasionally uneven, hybrid. The film's central setpiece, a showdown in a honky-tonk bar, is near legendary in some circles.

The Lady In White (Frank LaLoggia, 1988).

LaLoggia's supernatural thriller is, first and foremost, a well-told ghost story. But LaLoggia injects a bittersweet nostalgia into the proceedings that calls to mind the pains and pleasures of adolescence even as the main narrative unfolds, giving the film a quiet beauty. Though some of the film's elements are a bit dated, its charm remains unfaded.

Dead Alive (Peter Jackson, 1992)

Ten years before Jackson would strike box office gold bringing Tolkien's epic Ring trilogy to the screen, he showcased a wicked sense of humor and a lot of body parts in Dead Alive (aka Braindead). Many will find it hard to sit through, but those that make it will certainly be rewarded with one of the most offbeat and clever horror films of the past decade. Definitely not for the weak of stomach.

©2002 Ed Owens
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