The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directors: Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sánchez
Granted... Of all the countless found footage flicks that flooded the movie market over the last 20 years (doesn't matter if good or bad), Myrick & Sanchez' debut still stands out as one of the most original, most ambitious and, obviously, best-advertised movies of that still insanely popular sub-genre. I'd say it's also well-directed, well-written, interestingly shot and built; it's simply a solid movie, but...
Dafuq? ...4 stars from Roger Ebert, 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, 81% on Metacritic... like, really?? As solid as "The Blair Witch Project" is, it's also pretty flawed and far from what Ebert called 'a reminder that what really scares us is the stuff we can't see'. I wasn't scared when I saw it on the big screen, and I wasn't scared whenever I rewatched it over the last 15 years. Yes, I think I've seen it 5 or 6 times so far, mainly because it has certain elements to it that are damn good, like the opening outside the woods or the grand finale in the woods. The problem is that whenever it's getting a bit scary, the three main characters immediately destroy any ounce of scariness by behaving in annoying ways, by talking rubbish, by quarreling over nonsense, or simply by wandering and talking and wandering and talking etc. etc. It's just frustrating.
It may be scary to younger audiences, it may be scary to average chickenshits, but to grown-ups... wait a minute, when I saw it in theater, I was 17 years old, and even back then it didn't scare me!!
To Quote... Rob Gonsalves, eFilmCritic.com
"Some have said that if we didn't know Blair Witch was fake, it really would be as terrifying as many critics are claiming. But who ever thought Halloween or Night of the Living Dead were really happening? Those movies scared us because, well, they were scary, not because they were cleverly faked to seem real. Blair Witch is a labored gimmick with too much 'realism' and too little inventiveness.
In an early scene in 1981's An American Werewolf in London (...), two college students are lost on the foggy Moors, surrounded by blood-freezing growling noises; one of them clenches his teeth and says quietly, 'Ah, shit, David, what is that?' That brief, understated scene does everything that this movie tries, and mostly fails, to do in 86 minutes.
The Blair Witch Project may bother those who are easily freaked out, and it may dissuade a few campers, but the lofty talk in the press of its being a new horror masterpiece is nonsense. That's a burden of hype this scrawny cinema-verité stunt can't carry."
Better: It's ridiculous, but Myrick & Sanchez' fake-documentary "Curse of the Blair Witch" (1999) [made for TV, available on every Blair Witch DVD] is FAR scarier than the feature!
Even more ridiculous: "The Burkittsville 7" (2000), another Blair-Witch-themed fake-documentary [made for TV, NOT on the DVD, but easily available online] is even scarier than "Curse..."!!
If you're not interested in Missus Blair, but still wanna see a found-footage flick about some scary thing roaming the forests, check out "Willow Creek" (2013). It's very basically the same movie, but with characters that are actually likable, with a slow but intense build-up, super-effective creepiness, and footage that looks much, much, much more believable than anything we saw in "The Blair Witch Project". Trust me, it's that good!
Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)
Director: Brian Gibson
Granted... The adorable Freeling family is back and has a new house. There's a couple of good-looking practical effects, a great score by Jerry Goldsmith, and an exceptional performance by JoBeth Williams.
Dafuq? I always thought that "Poltergeist II" isn't exactly a popular movie - but then came the stupid remake and suddenly everyone was talking and writing about the old "Poltergeist" movies and I realized how many people actually enjoy, or even lurve this flick, and they all enjoy/lurve it because of one damn thing: Julian Beck's performance as Reverend Henry Kane. In case you didn't know, Beck was suffering from colon cancer and even died during shooting, which is why he looked so damn fucking skeletal. I admit his performance is pretty neat, but far from being what others call "shockingly gaunt", "god-damned terrifying old man", or "one of the greatest horror villains of the 1980s". Actually, it's not so much him, or the fact that he looks like an old, horny pederast, as the fact that the whole movie is more about him INSTEAD of good ol' Poltergeist action and shit
I mean there's dull Indians and silly Giger-creatures and Craig T. Nelson as kinda-hippie and a horrible Zelda Rubinstein and dumb fun with braces - but NOTHING tense, NOTHING scary, NO suspense, NO NOTHING. It's a bad sequel, plain and simple. The awful opening alone gives me the shivers *brrr* The remake is bad, but clearly better than this piece of trash.
To Quote... David Keyes, Cinemaphile.com
"It is clear no one on screen here is having fun with the material (...) The film drifts through the material with a sleepy focus that diminishes the power of the tension, and brings it all together in a final climax so utterly preposterous and cheesy that we howl out in protest. As far as the trend of follow-ups go, here is a film that offers a few shining moments of inspiration and then does exactly what the audience expects it to: throws it all away in a mad dash of conventional (and often boring) exchanges between characters that undercut the strength of their personalities and the purpose of their struggles."
Better: It doesn't matter which 80s haunted-house movie you choose over "Poltergeist II"... they're all better than this, doesn't matter if classics like "The Shining" or "The Changeling", or the hilarious "House", or the slightly forgotten "Ghost Story" or maybe "Amityville 2: The Possession", or even Italian rubbish like "Witchery", "Ghost House" or "Beyond Darkness".
Oh, and of course the original "Poltergeist" =D
House on Haunted Hill (1959)
Director: William Castle
Granted... It's about as enjoyable as William Castle's other flicks, it's short and sweet, it has a pretty cool storyline, a delightful cast with a top-notch Vincent Price, some very memorable dialogue and 2-3 fun jump scares. Oh, and it's in public domain = free shit! :-D
Dafuq? Aside from the facts that it's a tad too silly and too campy, and that it has aged pretty badly and looks extremely dated nowadays, the main reason why "House on Haunted Hill" just doesn't work anymore is because all the stories about its initial famous promotional gimmick "Emergo", the plastic skeleton that was flown over the audience, sound so much more entertaining and exciting than the actual film. I mean, you're sitting in front of your television and you watch it and it's all fun and well, but aside from some eerie shenanigans, there's not much happening, and when the skeleton finally appears at the end, you turn around and you look above and you realize that there's no skeleton on your walls or ceiling, and that is just damn frustrating.
Ok, I'm kidding, but... well, I hope you know what I mean. Back in 1959, you didn't saw it at home, you saw it at a packed theater and hot damn, there WAS a fucking skeleton!!! It must have been sooooo awesome!!! If you've seen Joe Dante's "Matinee" or Mark Herrier's "Popcorn", you are aware of how awesome it would be to experience such an insane horror gimmick. "House on Haunted Hill" is a child of its time. It was something completely new at that time, especially due to its famous gimmick and its terrific marketing, but now, it's just an old hat. Watchable, but unfortunately also quite forgettable.
To Quote... Mutty McFlea, Imdb
"William Castle's movies might be a bit shonky, but the gimmicks he used to publicise them are legendary. (...) However, the movies themselves don't live up to their own gimmicks, and this one, while supplying a few chills and a typically enjoyable performance from Vincent Price, is no exception. (...)
Castle's genre movies are usually as corny as they come, and this one has a job lot of hokey horror staples (...), so it should be good fun, but unfortunately once the set-up is out of the way the sludgy pacing and the one-note characters become boring very quickly.
Watching a Vincent Price film is never a complete waste of time, but House on Haunted Hill is never really spooky or fun enough to raise it above the level of patchy dullard."
Better: I'm one of those insane bastards who think that William Malone's 1999 remake is far more entertaining than the original, so if you don't care about William Castle, I totally recommend the new version.
However, if you still wanna see a good old black-and-white haunted house movie, there's no denying that classics like "The Innocents", "The Haunting", "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" or "Gaslight" are far better, far scarier, and far more chilling must-see choices.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
Director: Sam Raimi
Granted... Don't get me wrong! I like "Evil Dead 2". I have seen it many, many times before, one time even on the big screen. It's a terrific sequel, extremely well made, packed with fantastic special effects and hilarious scenes, and Bruce Campbell's performance is simply top notch.
Dafuq? Actually a big, huge, gigantic DAFUQ when it comes to peeps who frequently hail this as 'one of the greatest horror comedies of all time' or 'one of the greatest horror sequels of all time'. Even worse: when they call it a 'perfect blend of horror and humor'. It's a horror comedy with too much humor and not enough horror. The horror is there, but toned down and/or replaced with a huge portion of humor that is often way too fucking stupid. The first "Evil Dead" is so awesome because it takes itself serious for the greater part, while "Evil Dead 2" is too much of a parody and doesn't take itself seriously at all. Various scenes even feel like Raimi had a hard time deciding if he wants to do straight horror or pure comedy, before he eventually focused on the comedy part.
Also: the fact that it starts out with such a weird smells-like-reboot recap... I never really liked that. I know why Raimi made it that way (no rights to footage from the the first part etc.), but I would have preferred if the second part would have started at the exact same moment where the first one ended. And... hm, am I the only one who thinks aside from Ash, all characters are rather annoying?
All in all, it's great fun, but way too flawed to be hailed as a masterpiece.
To Quote... Pat Graham, Chicago Reader
"The effects are just as delirious this time around, but the nightmare poetry has vanished, along with the sense of archetypal purpose and narrative inevitability that held the jack-in-the-box original together. Everything's so show-offy and literal that nothing really matters beyond the self-conscious display of technique: it's like a chopping-block adaptation of Edison's old Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, without the excuse of primitive experiment to justify the arbitrary flailing about. The pop-up humor and smirkiness suggest Raimi's aspiring to the fashionable company of the brothers Coen, though on the basis of this strained effort I'd say he's overshot the mark."
Jay C. Gallagher, Letterboxd
"My main issue (...) is that the film simply doesn't have a story. Whilst the original was never big on plotting, at least it made sense and seemed to be saying something. Evil Dead II, by contrast, relies much too heavily on the fact that Ash is impossible to dislike and, as such, feels like a hastily cobbled together series of admittedly wacky sequences that ultimately add up to nothing. Back in the day, I found it easy to embrace the madness and accept the fact that the film was totally and utterly barmy. Today, I just felt like I was being cheated. (...)
I can't stress enough that I think Campbell is amazing, and his descent into madness is very well handled, I just thought everything else was a total let-down."
Better: Sam Raimi actually has made one movie that could be described as 'perfect blend of horror and humor', and that is the awesome, often misunderstood "Drag Me To Hell" (2009), a stunning blast of a movie that delivers both, a huge portion of hilarious fun AND a huge portion of blood, shocks and scariness. For me, it works so much better than "Evil Dead II".
Same goes for "Army of Darkness" (1992), the third part of the Evil Dead saga, a medieval slapstick-horror-comedy with almost no horror elements, but an incredible amount of excellent one-liners and terrific absurdity.