Two Fun Part Twos
Zombi 2 – Maybe, just maybe, this one’s a little bit of a cheat, as it’s really only a pseudo-sequel to the Italian cut of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Still, Zombi 2 is not only one of the best (pseudo-) sequels out there, but it may well be the definitive Italian zombie flick. The plot, about a woman and a journalist traveling to a cursed island in search of her missing father, might not be especially memorable, but the movie’s special effects and menacing atmosphere certainly make it worth a look.
Italian horror movies of this era were often forced by budget constraints to employ painfully primitive special effects. There’s certainly nothing fancy about the effects work in Zombi 2, but in this case it’s probably to the movie’s benefit. The zombies, caked as they are in layer upon layer of makeup, have a dirty, moldy look that’s worlds apart from the comic book-colored ghouls of Dawn of the Dead. Every single special effect in this film looks grotesque and genuinely unpleasant; I really can’t think of any other films from the same time period that were quite so willing to show the audience such extended and explicit scenes of zombie violence. The film’s famous eye-gouging sequence, for example, is honestly not easy to watch.
Also a zombie wrestles as shark. What else do you need?
House II: The Second Story – The first House was a pretty weird film – part slapstick horror-comedy, part meditation on the psychological toll of war. It was also a hell of a fun movie. House II, which has little to do plot-wise with the first movie save for the title, plays up the comedy even more. The plot is fairly unique – Jesse and his girlfriend move into an old house with a pair of their friends, only to find passages to alternate dimensions hidden in the walls. Their explorations lead to the reanimation of Jesse’s zombified cowboy ancestor, as well as Slim, an evil cowboy zombie who they must fight for control of a magical crystal skull. Along the way they must also fight their way through caveman times and then rescue a human sacrifice victim from a Mayan temple with the help of an adventurer electrician.
This movie inexplicably scared the crap out of me as a kid. Slim, with his gaunt, rotten frame accentuated by his ridiculously red hair, somehow got under my skin. As an adult I can see it for the comedy it is, albeit comedy with a great Henry Manfredini horror soundtrack.
Three Crappy Part Threes
The Howling III: The Marsupials – The first Howling was one of the best werewolf films of all time and combined groundbreaking special effects with a genuinely interesting story. The Howling 2 had…um…lots of nudity. The Howling III, however, is an unmitigated turd of a film. Although the idea of were-thylacines running amok in Australia is admittedly a little bit cool, this movie has laughable special effects and a plot that somehow manages to be simultaneously bizarre and predictable. That notwithstanding, I can remember defending this movie to my brother as a teenager, largely because it portrayed the werewolves in a sympathetic light and I was, at the time, really into that old Werewolf: The Apocalypse RPG.
To its credit, it’s not as bad as the four sequels that came after it (Howling IV-VI and The Howling Reborn), but that’s like saying that one kick in the groin is more pleasant than another.
Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth – Following hot on the heels of the groundbreaking Hellraiser and the significantly less groundbreaking but still fairly enjoyable Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Hellraiser III showed definitively that the franchise had succumbed that ravenous plague of the horror genre: infinite sequelitis. Whereas the previous films in the series offered at least some meditation on humanity’s dark side and the sinister symbiosis of pain and pleasure, Hellraiser III can be summed up as follows: Pinhead jumps out of a haunted statue then tries to conquer the world.
Gone are all of the other iconic Cenobites like Chatterer and Butterball from the first two movies – they were all killed off at the end of part two. Instead we get Camera Head Guy, CD Face Dude, and Firebreathing Barbed Wire Man. Even Pinhead says on camera that the new Cenobites suck…so I guess this movie gets a few points for honesty.
Paranormal Activity 3 – I have in past spoken of Paranormal Activity as a great movie that should never ever have a sequel. Well, it turns out that Paranormal Activity 2 was alright, even if it was more or less just a rehashing of the first flick’s scares with a silly “hold the camera while I fight the monster” finale. Paranormal Activity 3 on the other hand is a little harder to describe. I’m of a mind that prequels pretty much always suck, but to be fair the first 90% of the movie is actually pretty alright. It’s got a kind of The Entity vibe to it and it does a pretty good job of conveying the paradoxical childhood feeling that your room is both the safest and most dangerous place of all. Overall it’s solid, just kinda’ predictable.
Then we get to the climax. The best part of the first movie was that neither the characters nor the viewer ever knew exactly what was up. We have no idea what the motivation of the entity is, or even what the entity is. Then Paranormal Activity 3 shows up and tells us in no uncertain terms that, yup, it’s cult stuff. Also, things happen in this movie that undoubtedly would have been mentioned in the previous films had they been established in the fiction at the time those films were made, and that makes this movie that much harder to swallow. Spoiler Alert: If a ghost breaks your stepdad in half and sticks his head up his own butt, then 15 years later your boyfriend is picking a fight with that same ghost, tell him about your stepdad.