Tag Archives: writing

Underrated 90s Horror Gems

It’s nearing Halloween so it’s high time to plop yourself down with a bowl of popcorn or candy and watch some scary movies, but as us horror connoisseurs know, scary movies come in all shapes and sizes, both good and bad. Thus, let’s look at a few underrated horror movies from the 90s that either don’t get much love or just get a bad rap.

Cube (1997)

I didn’t know what to expect the first time I watched Cube (1997) and was completely mortified when the realization of the protagonists’ impending doom set in to my adolescent mind (the body horror didn’t help either). Cube pits a group of unsuspecting individuals against a giant military-constructed contraption that exists, because, well—it just does. I think the franchise reveals what the cube is all about later in the series, but the mystery of it in the opener is damn intriguing. Additionally, there are some seriously gory death scenes in Cube that, while horrifying, are also creative and expertly executed.

Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

There is a lot of hate for this film, it seems…but I love it! Full disclosure: I’m not a huge Friday the 13th series fan, but I have seen all of the films (self-imposed viewing), so I can rightfully argue that they are just not my thing—except for Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993). To that end, here are my reasons for liking the detestable beast of an installment:

First, it gets rid of Jason Voorhees, who is a tall, lumbering and dull character who should have stayed dead after Tommy Jarvis (Corey Feldman) hit him in the head with a machete in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) (at least the franchise could have gone in a different direction, like with more copycat Jasons or something). Let’s face it, those movies get pretty boring because the viewer knows what to expect, and when the audience becomes all-knowing, omnipotent observers, the films stop being exciting. And, really, considering the myriad flaws throughout each installment, shouldn’t these movies just be fun and not overly plodding?

Second, Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday creates a slimy worm-like character who slithers around and takes control of people by entering their bodies (ewww). I love this angle on the film, because it’s new and inventive rather than predictable and lame. Really, ole slimy boi could be a slasher villain with his own franchise. It could be like The Exorcist or The Evil Dead, except the villain is everyone around the protagonist and not just a hulking jackass with a garden tool, who slips, trips (but has an absence of quips) because he has an insatiable lust for murder.

Slimy Boi
What could be the the poster for the first “Slimy Boi” in the series. 

Lastly, there is also a cool bounty hunter named Creighton Duke that actively tries to stop Jason and doesn’t run around screaming for 90 minutes. Moreover, there are some epic-level death scenes that I still marvel at to this day, and they use the Necronomicon in the film, which is alongside a million obvious horror movie references that the creators nod at throughout the film. I suppose so many movie references can be worthy of an eye-roll, but I actually appreciated them due to the slasher-niche genre of the film.

Tales from the Darkside (1990)

I love a good horror anthology, and I think Tales from the Darkside (1990) really does the trick for me in regards to presenting good stories, good gore, and good atmosphere. Director John Harrison does an excellent job with the material as he seems to know what Tales from the Darkside is all about, and that makes all the difference. I like to imagine a modern take on Creepshow (1982), which would no doubt have a million “jump scares” and good-looking actors and actresses to appeal to casual horror fans who don’t give a damn about the source material (and probably rightfully so because not everybody loves horror movies like us junkies).

The cast is really great. Steve Buscemi as a vengeful graduate student who reanimates a mummy is perfect, David Hickey as a wheelchair bound millionaire who fears retribution from a murderous cat is…well…he plays David Hickey and that works wonders, and James Remar as a gloomy artist who has sworn an oath to a gargoyle to never speak of having seen it in action is also a joy to watch.

This is a more than excellent anthology of horror very much in the vein of The Vault of Horror (1973) or Tales from the Crypt (1972), so it’s worth checking out if you are a fan of violent little vignettes,

Night of the Living Dead (remake) (1990)

I just watched Night of the Living Dead (1990) within the last few years and didn’t like it as much as I remember, but that just means it is high-time to watch it again.

It has a lot going for it as a movie: Tom Savini directs, it stars Tony Todd (Candyman [1992]), and features hordes of cannibal zombies at every turn. It at least has all the qualities of a good horror movie. Except that it takes shlock and camp and jacks it up to 11, and then features a repetitive castle defense-style game plot that sees the cast attempting to nail all of the windows and doors closed again and again.

But, I wanted to highlight this movie for a reason: when I was a kid, my brothers and I would play a game that we created called “Zombies,” which saw some of us playing as the hordes of the undead and some us as the survivors (or we would all be survivors and just pretend there were zombies), and the point of the game was to keep the zombies out of our home (one of our bedrooms). We would spend much of the game fake nailing the doors and windows shut against an ocean of imagined monsters and also pretend to be nearly bit as we boarded ourselves from the outside. As I was watching Night of the Living Dead, I suddenly realized that we had harvested much of that game from the movie itself, which is awesome for a kid’s game, but not awesome for a movie, because it’s repetitive and boring.

Still, I kind of like it for nostalgia alone, so…oh well!

Whelp, that’s my list of 90s gems, and while this list accentuates my taste in horror films, the 90s is filled with all sorts of strange and curious flicks for viewers of all stripes. Consider the campier Wishmaster (1997), Leprechaun (1993), and Hocus Pocus (1993), versus the revolutionary found-footage film The Blair Witch Project (1999). In the span of ten years, horror movies went bat-shit insane with bipolar depictions of the terrifying and the macabre.

So, what are your favorite horror movies from the 90s? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!


“Dark Was the Night” uses atmosphere but reveals too much budget in the light

Released: Oct. 16, 2014

Title: Dark Was the Night

Director: Jack Heller

Starring: Kevin Durand, Lukas Haas, Bianca Kajlich


A small-town sheriff (Kevin Durand), who is struggling with grief due to the loss of one of his sons, comes face-to-face with a monster that has been exacting its revenge on the local populace for desecrating its habitat.


Dark Was the Night begins promisingly enough. It has the slow-burn quality of a tense horror thriller without using “jump scares” to try and excite the audience. However, the filmmaker forgot to add moments of excitement and resolve to create an engaging narrative.

By the time the climax hit, I was standing in front of the television waiting for it to be over, which is not the quality of a good film.

Kevin Durand turns in a good performance as a depressed father who has lost all emotional attachment after the abduction of his son. The long-windedness of the writing makes his character arch tiresome, though, and the viewer is exhausted from Durand’s depressed state by the end of the film.

Bianca Kajlich plays Durand’s estranged wife, who lives with her mother—unable to deal with the loss of her son. There is a lack of chemistry between both her and Durand, and their relationship feels like it is “going through the motions.” This is made abundantly clear through the writing, but their lack of attachment to one another seals the deal.

Lukas Haas provides some enjoyment as Durand’s rather detached partner. While he also shares many of Durand’s qualities in the film, he brings a sort of escalated expression to his role, which makes him enjoyable to watch—mores so than the lead of the film.

The first half of Dark Was the Night has interesting visual qualities. The screen is literally cast in blue to give a cold, distant winter-vibe, which I thought achieved its purpose. This cinema trickery wears off by the end of the second act as the film steers into generic territory.

Furthermore, the evil monster, which may or may not be a “Windiga” (sic) is revealed to be a giant malformed CGI creation. The entire film is a build up to the reveal of this creature—and it looks horrible. I wanted to give the movie a half-star in this category but really felt as though the monster ruined it. They should not have revealed it at all, because they could not pull it off as the build up set too much expectation.

As far as the music goes, I will keep this brief. There was nothing memorable in the score. The monster’s cries were monster screams that could have been royalty-free sounds from a horror website. And, there are moments where the audio is difficult to hear because Durand’s voice is both deep and low, which is fine, but they do nothing to elevate it in the mix, so it gets lost in a void of silence.

I would not recommend Dark Was the Night for the reasons previously mentioned. It is a long build to ultimately reveal something that could not be filmed. The setting was interesting (I love cold, snowy environments), but the characters were forgettable, and the CGI was not executed well at all. It’s kind of disappointing since I enjoyed the first half of the film.

Overall Rating: 1 star (writing ½ + acting ½ + sight 0 + sound 0 + recommend 0)

The Times are a-Changin’ in “No Country for Old Men”


 The first time I became familiar with “No Country for Old Men” in any format, was when I watched the movie by myself at the ripe old age of 17. The movie played through, Tommy Lee Jones finished his monologue with “And then I woke up,” the screen went black, and I sat up from the couch. “God, that movie sucked.” Seemingly, I had just sat through something poorly executed and meaningless. I mean, was there significance to each character? What was I supposed to take away thematically? Anton Chigurh got away scot-free aside from a baffling car accident? And Moss simply dies off-screen and away from the reader’s window? I am the wiser at this point and with the help of literary analysis, I have come to understand the book much better, and find it far more profound than I once did. Though, this essay is a reflection, I will impart both thoughts and lessons I have taken from “No Country for Old Men,” and elaborate on what I think and feel about the content.

Outdated Characters in the Modern World

I suppose a good starting point is the book thematically as a whole. An initial scan reveals the suggestion that life, often being brief and ending abruptly, has a way of informing its residents in many aspects, as does the slow deterioration of one’s self. While I think nailing down a theme for “No Country for Old Men” can be difficult, there are some clues that may help the reader understand what McCarthy is getting at throughout the text. Reviewer Walter Kern writes that the novel relies on sparse elements that create a cohesive whole, which include, “Too much temptation. Too little wisdom. Too many weak, bad men. Too few strong, good ones.” Yet, it’s covered in something else. Kern writes that it’s freedom and space to make poor choices to temporarily flee, as we see with Moss fleeing for his life with the drug money—the blood money.

“He sat there looking at it and then he closed the flap and sat with his head down,” McCarthy writes of Moss’s fateful decision. “His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead.”

So, then the theme it is tied to fate and chance, as one’s actions will see literal outcomes; however, I also think an important theme to consider plays into the title, which is that time moves on whether one wants it to or not, and, with that, people become outdated in their morality, philosophy and ethics as the years pass. In other words, relevancy is not permanent, and it can be inferred that one’s age dictates the currency of one’s life. I think this makes sense when one considers an older person who is attempting to dress in the current fashion—there isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that, but it just looks off, because we have adopted what our own conscious understanding of fashion (and what is fashionable) and to whom it belongs. With that being said, the looming irrelevancy of all of our lives can dictate the meaning we derive from ourselves and our history.

  1. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell

Case in point, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. He believes people should be responsible for their actions and for their justifications; and, yet this concept evolves throughout the novel. The endless procession of horrors jostles Bell to the point that he retires disenfranchised due to his inability to exact any kind of justice in a world that no longer fits him.

“A few years ago and it wasn’t that many neither I was goin out one of these little two lane blacktop roads of a night and I come up on a pickup truck … so I hit the lights and whenever I done that I seen the slider window in the back of the cab open and here come somebody passin a shotgun out the window.”

During this scene, Bell is attacked by drug runners, who shoot at him from their truck, and he crashes his car and realizes that times have changed. No longer is the world full of innocent barfights that lead to a few minor scrapes, but now it has morphed into a landscape rife with murderous rampages, violence, and killing. While he reminisces in the book from what we can assume is the future of the events, the real change isn’t apparent until he visits Moss’s dad toward the end of the book and discusses his dreams with his wife.

To frame it another way, at the start, he is an honest, stalwart sheriff who is overseeing the civilians within his county (what could be defined as his flock). At the end, he doesn’t know if there is any reason to continue doing such a thing, as evil has forced its hand, the villain got away, and good people died. This is an interesting evolution as Bell reminisces about “better times” where kids used to play different games (better, more innocent games), and, as such, we see the theme of an evolving world taking place in a more literal way—in Sheriff Bell’s mind. Moreover, in meeting with Uncle Ellis and after having a thorough discussion about modern morality and ethics, Bell learns that these “better times” might have never existed, as men have always killed each other for the same reasons—or lack thereof. As Uncle Ellis states of Uncle Mac’s death, the violent times never went away.

“They was seven or eight of them come to the house,” Uncle Ellis tells Sheriff Bell. “Wantin this and wantin that. He (Uncle Mac) went back in the house and come out with a shotgun but they was way ahead of him and they shot him down in his doorway. She run out and tried to stop the bleedin. Tried to get him back in the house. Said he kept tryin to get hold of the shotgun again. They just set there on their horses. Finally left.”

This excerpt is reminiscent of Chigurh’s macabre methods. While the killing of Uncle Mac seems devoid of emotion and meaning, one could suppose that such killing happened a lot in that particular area of Texas, and thus had historical value to the inhabitants. One could also surmise that Uncle Mac was so attached to the past, and the way things were done in his day, that his death was assured. But this is only my own inference.

  1. Llewelyn Moss

Furthermore, we see the theme of outdated values in Llewelyn Moss, who is truly a flawed character. While hunting on the flats of New Mexico, he stumbles upon money, which he then decides he will steal to better his own life. This action dooms him as far as the theme of the novel goes, as he is then pursued from the start of the novel by a drug cartel, a sheriff, an remorseless assassin, and another hired gun; and, he is finally left dead in the doorway of a motel after a shootout with someone from the cartel.

Sheriff Bell’s unveiling of Moss’s corpse is indicative of the dry means of killing in this part of the world:

“He (Bell) pulled back the sheet. Bell walked around the end of the table. There was no chock under Moss’s neck and his head was turned to the side. One eye partly opened. He looked like a badman on a slab. They’d sponged the blood off of him but there were holes in his face and his teeth were shot out.”

In this, we can see Kern’s point—Moss had the freedom of choice and the freedom to flee, which he chose not to do and thus killed himself and his wife in the process of his own wants. But, we must also analyze the “outdated values” argument. Moss is impulsive and is willing to follow his morality and ethics to the end to justify his theft. Moreover, he is willing to throw his life away, and he believes that, through simple ingenuity, he could survive and defeat the odds. Nevertheless, as we see, this is not the case. Moss is killed, the money is taken from him, and his wife, Carla Jean, is murdered likewise. Llewelyn’s outdated morals—morals he perhaps honed in Vietnam (and thus during a different older time)—ultimately get him killed. He is too reliant on the skills he hopes to use to defeat the cartel and Chigurh. As such, his morals are outdated and thus lack rational logic for modern problems, which in McCathy’s world means you will leave defeated or you will die.

  1. Anton Chigurh

Anton Chigurh is vastly different from both Llewelyn and Bell in his moral code. He doesn’t believe that life has inherent meaning, and instead favors fate as the guiding principal. In Chigurh’s opinion, one follows a path that leads them to where they are going rather than choosing their path. Destiny is destiny.

As Kern states:

“He’s a strict, conscientious, self-taught psychopath who vigilantly maintains his mental ill-health. He’s purged himself of all qualms and second thoughts so as to function smoothly in the world that Bell has grown unfit for.”

The march of time and “outdated morals” do not apply to Chigurh because his morality and ethical purity are made for a violent world. In other words, he lives strictly by his convictions, and he will not be deterred unless he is in an absolute dire strait, which isn’t often. As such, he is completely different from Bell in that way.

“… what makes Chigurh such a chilling antagonist is that by McCarthy’s reckoning, he seems like the right man for the times—an uncaring beast with no concern for anyone else,” Keith Phipps from the A.V. Club writes.

He is the right man for the right time, and he is playing a violent game—not an innocent one.

Llewelyn Moss is flawed, impulsive, and impractical, while Sheriff Bell is in over his head as times have moved on without him, but the world seems to reward people like Chigurh due to his convictions and his willingness to adopt the methods of the current climate. Somebody who has no want of sensibility, community, and capital—those things that tie Bell and Moss together—will benefit in the en—or, at least, that seems to be the suggestion.


Which brings me to one of the final scenes in No Country for Old Men—both the book and movie. Anton Chigurh is driving down the road in suburbia after killing Carla Jean and is t-boned by another car that runs a stop sign. He is left in bad shape, bloody, but is able to pay a bystander for their shirt and silence, and then he makes off into the night, as though he is some phantom of vengeance and retribution that can’t possibly succumb to his own rule set.

I’ve always found this to be the most confounding part of the book and movie, but now it makes sense to me when applying the “outdated morals” concept. Taking a step back, one can see how Chigurh simply leaves the scene of the accident, and gets away, which would literally mean that this really is “No Country for Old Men,” because evil perseveres in the face of justice. However, in applying the “outdated morals” concept, we must reflect on Chigurh’s confrontation with Wells and his unwillingness to take money in exchange for Wells’s life. In fact, he gives Wells a face full of shotgun instead of taking his money; but, this should be strange, because we then see Chigurh bribe two small children in order to ensure his own escape. Is he just being a pragmatist who is cleaning up loose ends? I think not. As the two boys ride their bikes to Chigurh, who is terribly hurt, he asks them for their help and gives them money.

“Chigurh thumbed a bill out of the clip and put the clip back in his pocket and took the bill from between his teeth and got to his feet and held it out … Take it. Take it and you don’t know what I looked like. You hear?”

But, why? If he is so sure of fate, wouldn’t it work itself out? In the novel, Wells asks Chigurh if he would take money in exchange for sparing his life, and Chigurh says it’s a good payday, but “It’s just in the wrong currency.” This, he says, shortly before outright murdering Wells. Nonetheless, according to Jack’s Movie Reviews, and what I think is an astute observation, the reviewer states: “As he passes the one-hundred-dollar bill to them, it is a passing of generations. It is him being weak. It’s him becoming an old man. And, as we know, this is no country for old men.”

There is no right or wrong in “No Country for Old Men,” in my opinion. There are no just actions or evil actions. There are just those who have outdated morals or ethical impurity and suffer from their own actions, and those who adhere strictly to a modern moral compass that ensures survival. Bell realizes he is outdated and is no longer fit for a world that has changed and left him in the past. Once, he used to break up bar fights, and suddenly he was being shot at by drug dealers, and then he was following in a destructive swath cut by Anton Chigurh. The world moved quickly and away from Sheriff Bell, and regardless of the amount of his ruminations—the world had changed.

No Country for Old Men is a book about changing times and how that has a lessening effect on one’s own immediate surroundings. Toward the end of the novel, Bell states that by trying to live by his own morals, he thought he was going to live his life the right way, or at least the way that he perceived was right.

“I thought if I lived my life in the strictest way I knew how then I would not ever again have a thing that would eat on me thataway.”

Perhaps it is a little about mental change as one gets older, too, and the realization that these moments you once lived are now just shaky memories. I recall reading an article about how unreliable our memories are, which is such a sad realization, because we hope those memories will remain with us and will in some way allow us to remain current and relevant in conversation. The thought that we generate parts of our own memories undermines our intellectual independence and renders us fragile before time, which is what I imagine Sheriff Bell feels in No Country for Old Men. He remembers better times, but maybe those times were never better in the abstract. He just remembered them as better days. 

Either way, I believe McCarthy wants us to believe that regardless of one’s morals—or their ability to survive, or their patience, or their violence toward others—everyone becomes outdated one day whether it’s through their own memories or actions. Yet, by understanding and accepting this, one can adjust their life so that the reliance on the past has less of an impact on the present and the future. At least this rational could help us rest easy with the knowledge of our own impending irrelevancy as time marches onward, and perhaps it could help us avoid Sheriff Bell’s disenfranchised conclusion…or Llewelyn Moss’s violent fate.

Works Cited

Cheuse, Alan. “McCarthy’s ‘No Country for Old Men.” NPR. July 28, 2005. Web.

Kern, Walter. “‘No Country for Old Men’: Texas Noir.” The New York Times. July 24, 2005. Web.

Phipps, Keith. “Cormac McCarthy: No Country for Old Men.” A.V. Club. Aug. 16, 2005. Web.

Futility and Nuclear Annihilation in “Beneath the Planet of the Apes”

The follow-up to the legendary classic Planet of the Apes (1968) is a strange one, which I think is fair to say, but it’s also far more speculative than the first in the series and deserves a little more credit for its theme and ambition.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) picks up where the original left off, and features a second astronaut (James Franciscus) landing on the monkey planet in search of Taylor (Charlton Heston).

After stumbling upon a series of clues and realizing that he is in fact not on a different planet but on Earth and in its own post-apocalyptic future, Brent discovers a group of humans who have survived the war with the apes living deep beneath the planet’s surface. As a society of telepathic remnants who revere a massive “Doomsday Bomb,” the mutant humans decide that the inevitable ape invasion of the “Forbidden Zone” must result in the triggering of the bomb itself. It is up to Taylor and Brent to stop them from setting off the weapon to prevent the destruction of the planet.

Clearly, Beneath the Planet of the Apes was inspired by the nuclear tensions relevant the decade preceding the production of the film and the concerns for what the future held in such a hostile environment. Was it possible that every living thing on the planet could be wiped out by mutually assured destruction? It was undoubtedly on everyone’s mind during the era the film was made.

What the film does well, and what its predecessor accomplished, too, is play off the xenophobic fears of the warring factions involved in the film’s plot—especially the apes—but it also employs the real-world tensions of foreign policy that had Americans on edge from the Nuclear Age onward, partially because the idea of “diplomacy” to the common citizen is either alien or seems an easy task to execute without realizing that money and power needlessly convolute even the most minute aspects of policy in the political realm.

I should say that the human characters—other than Taylor and Brent—have a similar cynical sheen over their characterization, which is to say that human rationale, over ape rationale, doesn’t leave the film unscathed. The telepathic, underground-dwelling humanoids are clearly encumbered by their own fears of annihilation; so much so, that they would rather destroy the planet than let it fall into the hands of a few damn, dirty apes. The irony is all too real.

And, spoiler alert, that’s exactly what happens in a bafflingly genius move on the film’s part: the two main protagonists are killed and the world is destroyed by the “Doomsday Bomb” in the climactic throes of a monkey frenzy. It’s bleak but it speaks to the futility of the time, or at least the feelings of futility in the hearts of every American strolling the streets of what could be a suburban nuclear holocaust if the prevailing attitudes reached a fever pitch.

Of course, there is also a recurring theme in the “Planet of the Apes” series of racism (or in this case ‘speciesism’) that resonates in the Trump-era, but one that was surely apparent when Obama was president, and when this film was made in the 1970s.

Unquestionably, Dr. Zaius’s outburst toward Taylor at the end of the film is a reflection of this: “You ask me to help you?! Man is evil! Capable of nothing but destruction!” That sentiment can be taken as an all-encompassing look at Man itself and its countless fractured relationships within its own race; after all, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated only a few short years earlier and the tumult of race relations is still an ongoing issue even through basic public services such as housing and policing. In response to Dr. Zaius, Taylor’s final expression of hatred toward the apes is just as fitting: he exclaims, “You….bloody….bastard,” and falls forward, triggering the “Doomsday Bomb,” killing everyone and himself.

It’s very Charlton Heston-y.

What I think the film is trying to tell us in so many words is: “If we don’t buck up and knock off the schoolyard antics—we are all going to die,” and I think this gives the film a “timelessness” in a way. Not in the “Forest Gump” or “Shawshank Redemption” timeless sort of way, but in the “2001” or “Blade Runner” sort of timelessness.

With that being said, the film certainly has its problems—lack of concision, cheap effects, some rambling plot ideas—but it’s a pretty solid exploration of a very dark real-world theme and one that definitely rests somewhere near the heart of political science—futile political motivation. We definitely see this theme in US foreign policy (“us” over “them”), in other country’s treatment of their civilians (the use of violence and coercion), and in the capitalist paradigm rampant in emerging global markets (profit over human life).

That is to say, there is a lot going on in this film that is both prescient and appropriate, from the themes to the story, which makes it all the more engaging, and, frankly—that ending is pretty dang cool because it’s legitimately “shit or get off the pot,” and, boy, the filmmakers went for it.

I will end this post with the closing narration of the film, just after the planet explodes in nuclear annihilation, which I think is more than appropriate:

“In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star. And one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”