Jaws (1975) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Adventure, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 124 minutes (standard version), 130 minutes (extended edition)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those films that reminds you of why you fell in loves with movies in the first place. A trio of men – police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), seasoned shark-hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), and marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) – set out to hunt down a large shark that’s been terrorizing a coastal town. This summer blockbuster has held up beautifully over the years, still pleasing its audience.

This horror-thriller’s most iconic aspect is, of course, its vigorous musical score, which put its composer, John Williams, on the map. It should be mentioned that Jaws actually has a strong dramatic core to it, thanks to vividly-drawn characters that the viewer becomes attached to. Of course, the stuff with the shark is still cool, but this picture provides a reason to care about the man-versus-beast confrontation.

Jaws sometimes resembles a seaside slasher flick with a literal animal instead of a figurative one. While the special effects for the central fish are often derided as fake-looking, I think that they’re sublime. The filmmakers wisely kept the shark offscreen for as much of the runtime as possible, only really showing off the monster extensively during the grand finale. The feature also does an impressive job of capturing the atmosphere of a small town effectively under siege by a fiendish foe.

Likely to make anybody too frightened to go into the ocean, Jaws is superb entertainment. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that it became the highest grossing movie of all time upon its release (although it was soon outdone by Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope [1977]). Amazingly, Spielberg has managed to top the film several times so far during his career as a director.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Review

Director: Jonathan Demme

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Intense from the get-go, The Silence of the Lambs is an instant classic that won an Oscar for Best Picture, the only horror movie to win that award so far. The plot follows aspiring FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who must use the help of imprisoned cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a woman-murdering serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Does it deserve its reputation as one of the finest psychological thrillers of all time? I’d say so.

It just might be the perfect performances that keep The Silence of the Lambs on track. Anthony Hopkins gives a masterclass acting job as cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, effortlessly getting under the skin of the viewers. The mind games he plays are enough to warrant giving the feature a thumbs-up. His role won him an Oscar and Dr. Lecter was named the number-one villain in American cinema history as part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. It would be a mistake to forget about Jodie Foster, who also won an Oscar for her part. Her character was named the sixth greatest American screen hero in the celebration mentioned above.

Dark, serious, and macabre, The Silence of the Lambs earns its R rating, but doesn’t go overboard with the gore, probably making it watchable for most adult audiences. It’s very fast-paced and efficient, making the minutes fly by when experiencing it. If I had to find a fault with it, it would be that the ending feels less conclusive and a bit more sequel-baity than desirable, but that’s a minor flaw.

This bone-chilling horror-thriller flick is nothing short of gripping. Even the critics generally loved it, even if they seem to avoid calling it a “horror movie,” favoring the term “thriller.” Perhaps they were too embarrassed to admit that they liked an entry into the horror genre? Also, just how big is “Buffal0 Bill’s” basement supposed to be anyway?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween (2018) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2018’s Halloween doesn’t exactly have the freshest-sounding plot in cinema history. Exactly forty years after his murderous rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois, silent killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) escapes from a mental hospital bus to resume his attacks on the local population. This entry into the series ignores all other installments in the franchise except for Halloween (1978). Even if it retcons the history of the Halloween films, this is still an excellent horror picture.

This, right here, is the real deal among slasher flicks. Okay, it’s not as terrific as the 1978 original, but it comes close enough to make it a worthy feature. Michael Myers is the pure-evil force of nature that he should be, delivering quite the body count. While there is gore and a “jump scare” or two, 2018’s Halloween does not overly rely on them to bring the scares. The filmmakers prove that they can make a scene intense with or without bloodshed.

The woman who faced off against Myers in the first movie, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), returns here, as a traumatized, gun-toting, agoraphobic paranoiac. It’s more sad than “badass,” but I think that’s the intention. Halloween also has a few bits of humor spread around in the mix, which is welcome, as it would’ve been difficult sitting on the edge of one’s chair the entire time.

With the exception of one contrived, yet forgivable, twist (if you’ve seen the film, you know the one I’m talking about), Halloween is an outstanding work of horror. It reworks the formula just enough for modern audiences, while retaining elements that made the 1978 movie soar. It may seem like a lot of work watching all the other members of the Halloween series to get to this one, but, since this one only considers the first movie canon, you don’t really have to.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween II (1981) Review

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 92 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Does 1981’s Halloween II recapture the terror of the 1978 original? I would say, for the most part, “yes.” It’s not quite as tightly wound as the first one, but it definitely packs in the scares. On the same night as the events in Halloween (1978), Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is taken to the hospital, as psycho killer Michael Myers (Dick Warlock), who somehow survived getting shot several times, continues his spree of seemingly random murders. Will Laurie be one of his victims this time?

This one has an identity of its own. The decision to set most of the action in a hospital at nighttime was a wise one, and, to keep up with competitors in the slasher subgenre, the violence is more graphic this time around. In terms of carnage, we’re not quite in hard-R territory yet, but this is a step in that direction. While the overall product is not quite as satisfying as the 1978 one, it does have some moments that rival that picture’s intensity.

The downsides of Halloween II include the aforementioned fact that it’s not as compact-feeling as the first member of the series. There are a lot of characters that simply exist to be fodder for Michael Myers. Also, Laurie’s role doesn’t feel as large here. She spends much of the movie in a hospital bed, just lying there. Perhaps a more active heroine would’ve improved the film a little.

Although not directed by John Carpenter (who did the original), this largely feels like a solid continuation of the story from Halloween. Although released three years later, we have several of the same characters, such as Laurie, Myers, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who’s more crazed here than in the first installment, and similar locations. Some will dismiss this one as just another slasher sequel, but I think that it’s a success.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Halloween (1978) Review

Director: John Carpenter

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 91 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Slasher films are often derided as trash cinema, but the first entry into the Halloween series is one of the few that is beloved by both audiences and critics. 1978’s Halloween didn’t invent that subgenre, but it did do more than any other movie to popularize it. After fifteen years of being locked up in a mental hospital for murdering his sister (Sandy Johnson), Michael Myers (Nick Castle, Tony Moran, and Will Sandin) escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois…to kill again. Brace yourself, because this is one great horror picture.

Halloween was made on a low budget, but the film never feels limited by this. This is all about terror and menace coming to familiar locations, as Michael Myers stalks the inhabitants of a small town (no haunted castles or sweaty South Seas islands here). Speaking of Myers, the filmmakers do an excellent job of keeping him offscreen or at a distance to maximize the impact of the instances when he does strike.

The musical score by the movie’s co-writer/director, John Carpenter, is simply iconic, although a few bits of music do feel stuck in the 1970s. It helps the flick truck along nicely. There’s little-to-no pacing issues, as this is a lean, focused production (it’s only 91 minutes long, so there’s no time for monkey business). For a slasher picture, the violence is surprisingly restrained, meaning that the squeamish are invited to watch this one as well.

Halloween works well because of how brutally simple it is. Even viewers skeptical of watching a horror movie about a madman walking around murdering people may want to give it a chance. It really doesn’t have a high body count, but manages to wring just about as much tension and suspense from its subject matter as is possible. It’s a rightly famous film that spawned a lengthy franchise.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Vampyr (1932) Review

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer

Genre(s): Fantasy, Horror

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Vampyr was Carl Theodor Dreyer’s first sound film as a director, but it often feels closer to being a silent movie than a talkie. The plot is about a man named Allan Grey (Julian West) who checks into a remote inn and finds a nearby mansion where there is some vampire business afoot. However, this not your typical vampire picture, as it places greater emphasis on dream logic and oneiric atmosphere than on the usual thrills.

Like the best of surreal movies, Vampyr makes it feel like you’ve stepped into someone’s dream. The pacing is slower here than in, say, Un Chien Andalou (1929), but, considering its relatively short runtime (85 minutes), this is forgivable. Despite being a horror film, it’s not really scary, just eerie, haunting, and moody.

This dream-like flick has some impressive special effects involving shadows, and some of its imagery, even when not related to said shadows, is very memorable. The film’s characters are reasonably well-defined and its somewhat blurry cinematography adds to the otherwordly feel (supposedly, thin gauze was put over the camera to achieve this). Sound is used fairly sparingly, making it feel semi-silent.

So, will Vampyr appeal to you? It’s not an in-your-face gorefest, like some horror movies, but, instead, it’s a mood piece. That being said, it’s an engaging one, despite its arthouse pedigree. If you like the more surreal side of cinema, you don’t have much to lose (considering its runtime), so I’d recommend giving it a shot. It’s certainly creepy.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) Review

Directors: Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 63 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the gems of the Pre-Code era of Hollywood of the early 1930s (before the Production Code was enforced), The Most Dangerous Game tells the story of a shipwreck survivor named Bob (Joel McCrea) who finds himself stranded on a South Seas island ruled by the mad Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who’s taken game-hunting to a whole new level. Putting action-adventure, horror, and thriller elements in a blender, it’s a wonderful piece of pulp.

The whole motion picture is short as Hell, clocking in at a little over an hour. There’s a very, very good musical score from Max Steiner – one of the first to play frequently over the course of a talkie film (prior to this, most sound movies only had scores over the main and end titles). The performance from Leslie Banks as the villain is appropriately lively and crazed. Banks even tries to convince the hero to join him, since apparently they aren’t so different deep down, which is now a classic action-adventure film trope. The Most Dangerous Game, while being primarily focused on violence and horror, does have a fair amount of comic relief, and, yes, there is the obligatory romantic subplot, but it doesn’t distract too much from the cool stuff.

While short, this isn’t exactly a fast-paced movie. It contains some talky sections that slow down the mayhem somewhat. Some of the fighting looks a bit dated, and a viewer should be prepared for a little bit of cheesiness (like the “He got me!” shark attack).

The Most Dangerous Game isn’t a perfect flick, but it’s got it where it counts. There’s a bit too much yapping, but it’s on a solid footing when it lets the action do the talking. Its short runtime means it should make an exceptional companion piece to either Island of Lost Souls (1932) or King Kong (1933), if you need a Pre-Code adventure double-feature.

My rating is 8 outta 10.