Category Archives: Retro Reviews

[Review] Shudder’s “Exorcist” Documentary : LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST

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Let me start off by stating that I’m fairly certain, I could be the world’s biggest whore for horror film documentaries. To dive into the behind-the -scene encounters involving those who made some of our most cherished genre pictures, is close to Godliness. Also, it totally helps at those Horror Movie Trivia nights. So when I caught wind that Shudder was releasing an documentary exclusively with William Friedkin on The Exorcist, I damn near had a happy anxiety attack as TRUE docs on the film are scarce with the exception of a few under-the-radar specials on networks such as REELZ and A&E.

To put it it mildly, I was pretty excited to see the mastermind Friedkin going pedal to the medal with his infamous visionary experience of Blatty’s novel. And to my delightful surprise, the documentary was A LOT more than a “making of” type deal. So much more…

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Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on the Exorcist run time sits in at about 105 minutes of an in-depth exploration of Friedkin’s inspirations that led to his directing-style approach for his notable films; including of course The Exorcist. If one ever wanted to sit and pick the brain of the 85-year-old director, this documentary gives you close to everything you would want to know and more. One would even go so far as saying that if you’re an aspiring film-student, than this is basically some free and sound advice from one of the best- so if you’re in that group, might want to put this in your watch queue.

When touching on The Exorcist, this doc will absolutely give even the BIGGEST Exorcist fan a few new nuggets of knowledge one may have not known about the film unless you just so happen to be in Friedkin’s inner-circle. From where exactly the idea of that infamous, iconic image of Merrin on the street cam from, the casting of the actors, (one of which might just blow your mind) and the journey into finding the perfect instrumentals for the picture, this will give everyone a new appreciation for all the painstaking blood, sweat, and literal tears that went into making the horror masterpiece.

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Obviously I want to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but one thing I will say that won’t take away any “eureka moments” is the recurring theme throughout the doc that Friedkin is heavily influenced by the arts of the Renaissance Period which truly gives this doc some really beautiful cinematography and visuals that one usually doesn’t see in well, a horror film documentary. This chronicle of The Exorcist is visually speaking, the prettiest looking-thing I’ve ever seen in this type of arena and I have to really give a shout-out for making this aesthetically appeasing to the eyes as well as keeping me intrigued throughout the duration of the program.

With all that being said, LEAP OF FAITH: WILLIAM FRIEDKIN ON THE EXORCIST premieres on Shudder November 19th, 2020 in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

BUY: THE EXORCIST (DIRECTOR’S CUT)

A Very Special Halloween Episode: “The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t”

Long after Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein and eight years before we learned the ultimate truth that the wolfman did indeed have nards, live-action theatrical gatherings of our beloved undead monsters were far and in between. Up until we hit the twenty first century that is. Nestled in the middle of those two great films lies a little diddy that aired specifically as an ABC Halloween Special Presentation on October 28, 1979: The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t.

And with so many people questioning what Halloween will or won’t be this year, I feel like now is no better time to revisit the nostalgic classic.

Hot off of the hit primetime show Taxi, Judd Hirsh plays his form of Dracula, (which totally serves as a pre-curser to Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania take) and self-proclaimed “King of the Monsters”. We start the program off in Dracula’s castle the night before Halloween where a news break on Drac’s boob tube informs himself and Igor (played by Henry Gibson- Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, voice of Wilber- Charlotte’s Web) that Halloween is in danger of being cancelled; and that Dracula is behind this travesty.

This totally pisses him off.

With malicious rumors swirling, Drac calls upon the rest of the world’s top notch monsters for a meeting of the minds. Well actually, to shame them them as he tells them they are no longer scary due to them exploiting themselves. Such as Frankenstien (played by John Schuck who also played Herman Munster in the 80s’ revival) letting a so-called-movie influence him to tap dance.

Gee I wonder which one, haha!

The werewolf (Jack Riley-The Bob Newhart Show), Zaabar the Zombie (Josip Elic- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and the Mummy (Robert Fitch) fair no better with Hirsh Drac as he pretty much lays right into them for being shit monsters. Then, the almighty Halloween witch (played by Mariette Hartly) shows up late, gives Dracula a pointed boot in the ass (vocally), and admits she is the one who started the vicious rumor as she is dead-tired of being a witch. Tired of being called ugly and taking orders from Dracula. As a woman I can totally relate to this. She puts her witches’ boot down and demands certain actions be taken, such as becoming leader of the monster world, or she refuses to ride over the Halloween moon that night; in which refusing to do so, would therefore cancel Halloween officially.

Well, Drac obviously thinks she’s gone too far and poo poos on her demands; leaving the witch no choice to flee to her castle while Drac and the other monsters hatch a plan to get her to do her Halloween duties.

And that’s where I’ll stop for those of you who have never experienced this little Halloween national treasure. While both light-hearted and humorous, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t has a pretty serious undertone hidden behind this Primetime holiday special. Our side characters, a young pair of siblings who at the same time see the same newscast as our monster protagonists, help bring the story full-circle with a very special 80s-esque message. You know, the kind that sort of brings a tear to your eye, moral to the story, type malarkey that you almost NEVER see anymore. And it’s a very special message directed toward young girls in particular- one that up until pretty recently, the Disney Princess movies usually failed at.

THAT PEOPLE LOVE YOU FOR EXACTLY WHO YOU ARE.

Should I say it louder for the people in the back?

And honestly, that’s such a beautiful thing. Which for me, makes this special in particular, one of the tip-top best Halloween Special Presentations of the twentieth century. Not to mention the non-sensical disco dance at the end where Dracula is channeling his inner Tony Manero. Look I know we were at the peak end of the disco craze in the late 70s’, but this is just weirdly out of place. You know what tho? I’m on board with it because that’s part of the marvelous phenomena that makes these specials so unique and nostalgically fuzzy.

My other inspiration in writing this- 2020. Being what it is, it doesn’t really matter how you celebrate this Halloween when in actuality, Halloween can NEVER be cancelled. The spirit of Samhain and the holiday lives inside you and not one person, or “invisible enemy” can take that away. What it may be, or may not be depends solely on you. And I truly believe this year in particular, will be a frightfully magikal one- in a good way mind you. At least that’s my own goal anyway!

While The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t eventually made its way to the Disney Trick or Treat Halloween block from 1983-1996; and then to VHS retitled as The Night Dracula Saved The World, it never got a much deserved DVD release. Or hell, in this case a special Blu-Ray is much deserved for this gem. I’m looking at you Arrow Video and Shout Factory. The ball is in your court.

In the meantime, thank disgustingly vile candy corns for the glorious Youtube. Happy Halloween nostalgia nuggets!

REVIEW: ‘NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW’ OFFERS A GLIMPSE AT WHAT ‘FRIDAY THE 13TH’ COULD BE

Ten words have haunted the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise since 1981. Since that time, ten other films have played out on screens the world over, but with the notable exceptions of John Shepherd’s Tommy Jarvis (FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING, 1985) and Jason as human being courtesy Derek Mears (FRIDAY THE 13TH, 2009), the words”let’s think beyond the legend, put it in real terms” have fallen on deaf ears.

One filmmaker heard Ginny Field (Amy Steel), and more importantly, Vincente DiSanti is still listening. Womp Stomp Films dropped its fan effort NEVER HIKE ALONE (2017) three years ago and provided FRIDAY fanatics with something that was much more than a new adventure steeped in “real terms”, it was a glimmer of hope that with the right people driving the RV, Camp Crystal Lake could return to glory.

NEVER HIKE ALONE was the FRIDAY film we’d been waiting for, but it turns out that it was but an appetizer for the delectable, 25-minute dish to come. NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW takes place shortly before the events of ALONE but writer / director DiSanti takes the time to illuminate the emotional toll this universe inflicts on its residents. In other words, Womp Stomp puts it in “real terms.”

DiSanti introduces us to Mark Hill, a 17-year old aspiring photographer and his mother Diana, played to perfection by Courtlan Gordon and Anna Campbell, respectively, but also reacquaints the audience with a pair of old friends. No longer a deputy, we find Sheriff Rick Cologne (Vinny Guastaferro) investigating a case in Wessex County, and once more Thom Mathews is the punk he wants to punch silly.

Unlike the aforementioned Shepherd in A NEW BEGINNING, Mathews wasn’t afforded the opportunity to display the tax of Tommy Jarvis’ associations with Voorhees in JASON LIVES (1986), but that ended with NEVER HIKE ALONE and rages all ahead full in SNOW. The lingering repercussions of those experiences didn’t end when the credits ran on Part VI, and those demons are still very real in 2017 (when SNOW takes place).

Jarvis knows exactly what’s going on when hikers come up missing, and wants to put an end to Jason once and for all. Cologne, however, remains an obstacle and fans will be thrilled to find that the animosity between the two remains as heated and entertaining as ever. Though it’s cliche to say “never skips a beat,” the relationship between Rick and Tommy may be even more contemptuous than it was 30 year ago and the passage of time hasn’t tarnished the magic.

Beyond the performances (which are stellar), it’s the production value that will leave fans in awe. DiSanti’s writing is clean, crisp and sensible, but the brilliance doesn’t end there. Director of Photography Evan Butka takes the snow and the dark and blends them into something wickedly beautiful, Mike Api’s editing is seamless, and Suzan Jones’ sound mixing brings the picture alive. But what would a FRIDAY flick be without makeup effects? Norah Hewitt and Rachel Lynn Gerwig’s work here is something to behold, with kills that will stay with you long after you’ve walked away from the screen, and it’s all topped off with Ryan Perez-Daple’s foreboding score that clutches with tension throughout.

DiSanti continues to raise the bar for further studio releases. Rehashing the same old story, or worse–rushing the same old story for a cash grab–will no longer be acceptable, and we have Womp Stomp to thank for that.

In fact, it reminds this writer of something Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said about a fellow enshrinee, “I would never insult another catcher by comparing them to Johnny Bench.” The sentiment holds true for DiSanti and the Womp Stomp crew because referring to the NEVER HIKE entries as fan films ventures beyond insult, it’s downright offensive. Look, there are many well done fan films in existence, but poorly made ones outnumber them 50-to-1 and the NEVER HIKE pictures are more than a group of friends with some camera equipment and a dream, they are a highly motivated and capable team led by DiSanti. Womp Stomp is not a group of uber-fans taking a weekend to pay homage, they are laying the groundwork for the direction the franchise should embark upon once the legalities surrounding FRIDAY are settled.

Womp Stomp has set out create the FRIDAY THE 13TH film fans have been yearning to see since the ’09 reboot, and if we’re honest, even before that. And that is exactly what they have done. Twice.

To take it a step further, several years ago when rumors of a FRIDAY television series began to gain traction there was excitement, but devotees of the franchise had long since been accustomed to disappointment. Would it actually happen, and if so, would it work as a serial? NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW answers that question with an emphatic yes.

Shudder gave CREEPSHOW six episodes last year and should strongly consider handing a similar FRIDAY run to DiSanti and Womp Stomp because frankly the effect of resurrecting The Last Drive-In would pale in comparison to the flood of FRIDAY freaks rushing to subscribe for a revival of the Jason and Tommy rivalry.

For Camp Crystal Lake to return to its glory days requires three things: the vision of someone who loves (but more importantly) understands the franchise, who also possesses the chops as a writer and director, and then whichever studio ends up with the rights simply needs to get out of their way.

Let’s put it in real terms: that someone is Vincente DiSanti, the most important addition to the FRIDAY family since Kane Hodder.

NEVER HIKE IN THE SNOW went live on YouTube at 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, October the 13th.