Wednesday, December 10, 2008

An Announcement

So my faithful readers may have noticed that there has been a slight drop-off in productivity here lately. Well, starting next month this problem shall be rectified, as I shall be debuting my new project, "100 Rare and Obscure Horror Films You Should See Before You Die". Whether your impending death happens to be caused by a tremendous overload of fear from watching so many horror movies is up to you and your various heart conditions; Gorginfoogle's Movie Guide accepts no liability for any such doom.

Some conditions do apply. While I have already reviewed several delightful lesser-known horror movies, I am disqualifying any film I have already reviewed here, so as to avoid any problems of redundancy. As such, films like Begotten and Lemora, both of which you still owe it to yourselves to check out, shall not be included. Additionally, while I will still be including the damnable star ratings in these reviews, the films themselves shall be sorted alphabetically, to avoid any questions as to what order I prefer them in. Learn to make your own decisions for a change, you jackals! Finally, this shall most likely be done as two reviews per week, which means I will be finishing up around this time next year. I may miss a week if I happen to go on vacation or become hospitalized or something; after all, who knows what the future may bring? I hope to see you all for the duration, and if you've got a suggestion for an obscure horror movie before January 1st, feel free to nominate it.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Freddy vs. Jason

Back in the early 90s, New Line, which already owned the rights to the Nightmare on Elm Street series, bought the rights to the Jason series (though not the Friday the 13th title, because why would they need that to continue the franchise?) from Paramount. The first major sign fans had that this was a big deal came at the end of 1993’s Jason Goes to Hell, when he was dragged down to Hell by Freddy Krueger’s arm. This was intended to set up this film, which would have come out one or two years later to thunderous box office. Then it languished in development hell for a decade before finally getting made, but at least it still did really good business (probably not as good as it would have in the early 90s, though).

One of the odd things about the Nightmare series is in how it both insists on calling back to previous films, and yet still repeatedly tampers with the rules involving Freddy. In this film we both get kids rescued from Freddy through the use of Hypnocil, the experimental dream suppressant first introduced in Nightmare 3, and then also rewrites history to say that he can’t attack any children in their dreams unless they’re already afraid of him, which makes one wonder how he was able to start in their dreams in the first place. Anyway, he decides that the only way to fix things is to bring Jason back from Hell to attack everyone, thus creating a panic about Freddy’s presumed return that enables him to return for real, an ingenious plan complicated only by Jason’s insistence on remaining after he’s no longer needed.

As Nightmare films go, this one falls somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t reach the heights of the original or New Nightmare, but at least it’s consistently entertaining, and is easily the bloodiest in the series (once we get to the final fight between them, they pretty much open up new arteries with each swipe they take at each other). There’s also one pothead character that completely steals every scene he’s in, though he sadly doesn’t quite make it to the end. You get a couple groaner lines, like when our heroine, completely out of nowhere, suddenly says, “Wait, Freddy died by fire, Jason by water. How can we use that?” but for the most part it’s solid all the way through, and thanks to its crossover with the Jason-verse we get an extra infusion of nudity, something I will never complain about in a movie.

There was a planned sequel to this, titled Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, but unsurprisingly it languished in development hell as well, and now that New Line has recently closed up shop, it looks like that film will never get made. Shame, really.

Rating: ***


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

As I said yesterday, I’m glad they got Wes Craven back to close out the series properly. The series had become a complete parody of itself with Freddy’s Dead, and New Nightmare is a very welcome return to the scarier origins of the series. It’s also a premise that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before or after in a horror movie or elsewhere (excepting maybe Adaptation).

Set in the “real” world, we get to meet Heather Langenkamp (Nancy from the first Nightmare) and her family, as she and her son both start having nightmares about a surprisingly dark, more evil-seeming Freddy. We also get to meet up with other actors from the original film, including the delightful John Saxon and makeup-free Robert Englund (though sadly there is no appearance by Johnny Depp), as well as a good deal of crew members, including Wes Craven himself, as he busies himself with writing a new Nightmare screenplay. Eventually we learn that Freddy was actually a kind of primal evil that was shaped and contained within the stories of the first few films, but has been leaking out slowly into the real world as a result of the watering down and eventual dissolution of his stories.

This is a brilliant idea for a horror movie, and provides a superior bit of metatextuality (a word that fits so perfectly that I do not care that MS Word is telling me it isn’t real) to Craven’s later work on the Scream series. Freddy is about the most ideal candidate for a story about a horror villain that finds a way to escape from his fictional origins and menace people in reality, since he’s been sort of doing that very thing in each of his films prior to this. This is the true peak of the series, and should be required viewing for any serious horror fans.

Though man, does that kid get annoying.

Rating: ****


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare

So yeah, I know I promised that I’d have the Nightmare on Elm Street 3 review written up sometime over the weekend, but that got unexpectedly delayed by an offer to spend the weekend with my friends Jasmine and Paul, neither of whom I’d seen in months. I also didn’t get to do this one yesterday as I’d planned because I got a bit lazy. In my defense, this isn’t exactly a movie that inspires effort.

Set ten years from now, all of the children of Springwood, Ohio (this is a somewhat abrupt departure from Springwood, California, where the series had taken place up to now) are dead and the adults are undergoing a mass psychosis. Unfortunately, we have to wait to see that, as we then focus on a surprisingly alive last surviving teen who is chased out of town by Freddy and winds up several towns away at a center for troubled teens. The head of the center hears his story and decides that the only proper response is to take everyone on a road trip to Springwood to help him work through all of his mental problems, with somewhat predictable results.

The main problem with this film is in how it’s played entirely for laughs, rather than in maintaining even the barest bones of suspense. It’s to the point where we get wacky cartoony sound effects whenever Freddy tries to kill someone (speaking of, just like in Dream Child, there are only three kills in this film – that’s forgivable when the film is good, it’s not forgivable here). Hell, at one point he outright sucks someone into a video game and then kills him with the Power Glove. Granted, points there for style, but the more serious, nasty Freddy of the first couple films is much preferable.

There’s also the problem with the climax. This film was made partially in 3-D, which meant if you saw it when it was first released in theaters like I did, then during the last twenty minutes a bunch of stuff lunged at you. This stops being entertaining and starts being obnoxious when they remove the 3-D from the DVD and leave you with a bunch of stuff lunging at you while still maintaining the same visual plain as everything else. Despite this supposedly being the “final” nightmare, I’m glad they brought Craven back in to do one final film to give it a proper send-off, because this would have just been an embarrassing way to end it all.

Oh, and the end credits give us a montage of clips from every film in the series, just to remind us of how much better the earlier films were. Very nice.

Rating: * ½


Friday, August 29, 2008

A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

And we see a welcome return to form here for the series, which had taken an unfortunate slide with the previous film. Here we are freed from the taint of Renny Harlin, and get to learn a bit more about Freddy’s origin, something the series has largely only seen fit to elaborate on in the odd numbered films.

Once again the survivors of the previous film have returned (you’d think they’d have taken the hint from the two previous times this happened in the series), and are once again menaced by Freddy, though with a rather original twist. Apparently Alice and Dan, fresh off of their defeat of Freddy in Dream Master, have started knocking boots, and now Alice has a bun in the oven whose dreams in the womb have opened up a new way for him to return.

This film is all about the mythology of the series, even bringing back Freddy’s long-deceased mother to explain some of his history that she didn’t get around to in part 3. This is generally a good thing, though it’s focused on to the point that the kills have largely dried up. It’s a pretty uncommon thing for the fifth film in a series of slasher movies to only have a body count of 3, yet here we are. Fortunately, the film at least partially attempts to compensate for this by dragging out the first kill for so long that it may as well have been several, something that is always appreciated.

This is a quality entry in the series, though it’s probably one of the least talked about, presumably because of the low body count and the overall lateness in the series. Frankly, though, more people should be checking this thing out. If nothing else, it’s got a guy that decides to fight Freddy by transforming into a superhero he created (though little tip for any of you that have to fight Freddy at some point in the future: transform into Superman or something, don’t just turn into a masked man with two handguns, all right?), and that’s awesome.

Rating: ***


Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Yes, I’m doing this review before I do the review for part 3, so that I don’t get further behind, if that makes sense. Anyway, Dream Master is (in my opinion) the second weakest film in the entire series, ahead of only Freddy’s Dead due to a combination of an exceptionally weak story, uninteresting characters, poor pacing, and largely pretty weak kills. Actually, now that I think about it, this might be the worst one, I haven’t seen Freddy’s Dead in a few years.

The film was directed by Renny Harlin, which should be enough explanation in itself for film buffs. For those lucky readers not already familiar with him, he is the highly esteemed director that has made such films as Die Hard 2, an action movie notable for its action sequences being the weakest parts of the entire film, Cuttthroat Island, the film which bankrupted Carolco Studios, and Driven, that Stallone racing movie that I didn’t see but I’m sure sucked. This was one of his first films, and he seems to have peaked early.

So onto the story. The film opens with the three surviving teens from the last film, which never bodes well for their continued health, as they accidentally bring Freddy back to life and he kills them all. Before he can completely finish them off, however, the last girl manages to transfer her power to bring other people into her dreams to a new girl (Hrmm, I should probably mention something about that when I write up the review for part 3), who now gets to put all of her friends in danger of Freddy. We then pretty much jump from segment to segment where he kills off another of her friends in an ironic manner (sucking all the air out of an asthmatic, turning a girl terrified of insects into a roach thing, etc.) before our new heroine decides to combat him once and for all. She is…the Dream Master.

The movie’s admittedly not outright terrible (though thanks to doing this blog my concept of how low the bar can be set has greatly expanded), but it comes from a higher pedigree than the average horror film, and so should be held to a somewhat higher standard. It’s perfectly watchable if you’re just trying to see all of them like I am, but it’s hard not to view this as a bit of a speed bump in a series that’s mostly a pretty smooth ride.

You know, so far as series’ where people get gruesomely killed a lot go.

Rating: * ½


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

So here’s finally the long-delayed review of Dream Warriors. This is probably the most famous Nightmare film after the original, and the one primarily responsible for the tragically lame NES game back in the 80s. It also brought series creator Wes Craven back into the fold, however briefly; he was one of roughly three dozen screenwriters credited to the film, as this went through a ridiculous number of rewrites before it was finally released (Frank Darabont, who would later go on to direct the classic films The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, also has a screenwriting credit, though you wouldn’t know it from watching the film). Still, despite the script being a bit of a mess, this is one of the most fun in the series.

This one seems to largely pretend the second film never happened, as we instead move on to a mental hospital filled with teens that are all having nightmares of being stalked by a burned-up man with sharp fingernails. The kids start dying off, and all seems hopeless until the hospital gets a new staffer named Nancy (Heather Langenkamp from the first film), who has some experience in such matters and wants to help them. Apparently due to the nature of the dreamworld, everyone has their own magical power that will help them in the fight against Freddy, such as Kristen’s ability to pull other people into her dreams, or the wheelchair-bound Will’s revelation that, “in my dreams, I can walk. My legs are strong. In my dreams, I’m the wizard master!!!” before donning an incredibly silly black cape and making everyone else in the room extremely uncomfortable.

So yes, this is the film where the series goes from being scary to being somewhat cheesy and silly, but it’s still done well enough to work. The kills in this tend to be among the more imaginative of the series, particularly one involving a young lad’s arteries being yanked out of his arms and legs and him being pulled along by them like a marionette. The dialogue tends toward the laughably poor, as one would expect from such a jumbled mess of a script, but I can’t complain much about a film that brings back Langenkamp and John Saxon, and then throws in Larry Fishburne to boot. It may mark the beginning of the series’ descent into self-parody, but it’s still an entertaining film in its own right.

Rating: ***


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

So here we are with Freddy’s Revenge, the second Nightmare film, and the first horror movie I ever saw. Watching it today, this film does not quite hold up as such an important piece of my personal history, but it’s still pretty decent.

Set several years after the first film, an awkward teen boy moves in with his family to Nancy’s house from the first movie, and soon his dreams are being haunted by a strangely familiar burned up monster with fingerknives. Freddy’s got a new trick in this one, as he’s decided to outright possess the poor lad and force his way back into the waking world.

There is one thing hanging over this movie’s reputation, and that is how this movie, along with the original Sleepaway Camp, reigns supreme so far as the most overtly homoerotic horror movies out there go. Seriously, there is a ton of man on man action in this film even without the S & M bar frequenting gym coach that likes to punish his cuter students by making them run nude laps showing up. Even our main hero, who is supposedly saved by his love for his new girlfriend, looks completely bored when he makes out with her, in sharp contrast to the barely controlled passion he shows when he sneaks into his best bud’s bedroom at night and wakes him up by jumping on him. Hot.

The body count, as can be expected for a sequel, is much higher, as Freddy wipes out half of a teen pool party here, pausing only to utter the immortal line “you are all my children now!” We also get a nice continuation of all of the adults being utter retards, as when Jesse’s father assumes their bird went crazy, attacked them all, and then freaking exploded, because there was a gas leak. Well, of course, it’s the only thing that makes sense.

This is obviously not the high point of the series, but it’s hardly as bad as a good number of people have made it out to be. It’s a nice halfway point between the dark dreamlike effort of the first film and the really goofy third film (which is also by far the most quotable movie in the series, but we’ll get to that tomorrow). This probably shouldn’t be your introduction to the series, but if you’re already a fan this won’t make you change your mind.

Rating: ** ½


Monday, August 25, 2008

A Nightmare on Elm Street

After a chance encounter with Robert Englund over the weekend at Monster Mania (he briefly wandered out onto the main floor and as soon as I noticed he was there he took off like a shot, so there was no time to take any pictures of me chasing him like a fucking creepy stalker), I decided it would be fun to rewatch all of the Nightmare on Elm Street films for the site. They have a lot of history for me – Nightmare 2 was the very first horror movie I ever saw (or at least that I can remember seeing) when I was five or six years old. It’s good that they all still hold up so well (yes, even the bad ones), so this week won’t go by nearly as torturously as, say, another week of Tomb of Terrors movies.

One nice thing that sets this film apart from its sequels is the mystery of just who is committing the crimes. We gets a view of the killer (mostly in shadow), but we don’t learn his name until more than halfway through the film, and we don’t find out how he is for a few more scenes after that. It also provides us with a halfway intelligent cast (at least the teens – the parents, especially Nancy’s mother, are a whole ‘nother story), that in defiance of standard slasher logic, actually makes some small effort to avoid being killed by a deranged killer.

Of course, the teens aren’t the real reason to watch a movie like this, so it’s good that the kills tend to be so impressive. For a film with so few (four, a truly paltry sum compared to its peers), the ones it has are truly memorable. Right near the start, a girl gets sliced to ribbons while being dragged across the ceiling, and film newcomer Johnny Depp’s final scene is an unceasing delight. Freddy is actually surprisingly scary in this one, too, as he hadn’t yet transformed into the joker character of the later films.

While many people view this as the pinnacle of the series, it’s actually only my second favorite, as I think the initial series was closed out perfectly with New Nightmare. Both that and this film were directed by Wes Craven, who clearly knows his shit. If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere and haven’t seen any of these films, I cannot recommend strongly enough that you begin. You won’t regret it.

Rating: *** ½


Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

Well, there were a few rocky moments, but at least we get to end Fantasy Film Week on a high note. I apologize to all of my readers out there for this review coming out on Saturday instead of Friday, but in my defense I hadn’t written it yet by the time Friday ended. As you can see, my hands were tied.

This film, despite having been a bit of a flop in theaters, is definitely the best of the movies I’ve seen this week. Apparently a lot of people avoided it because its title made them assume it was just a Narnia ripoff, though having not read any of the books or seen either film, I feel that it may be a tad presumptuous of me when I say that it is a clearly original work and everyone was being up in arms for no reason at all.

The plot, in stark contrast to the other four films this week, is actually pretty straightforward: there’s a book with info on all sorts of magical creatures, young British boy finds book, evil ogre tries to get it from him, fight fight fight. In rather startling contrast to, say, Beastmaster or Willow, it’s fast-paced, well acted, and not completely moronic. It’s pretty much exactly what you would want from a movie like this. Go check it out.

Also, the boy totally stabs his dad in the chest with a knife at one point, it's great.

Rating: *** ½


Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Golden Compass

I do generally try my best not to directly compare a movie to the novel it was based on, and just view it for its own merits. However, this becomes a somewhat difficult task when the film in question is so damn rushed that the filmmakers forgot to include the goddamn ending to the novel! Come on here, I can accept only so much.

The main problem, as mentioned before, is the heavily rushed feel of the film. Coming from someone that’s actually read the novels, it comes off as more of a greatest hits of important scenes from the first book rather than an organic outgrowth from scene to scene. It just rushes from major plot point to major plot point, something that only works so well for someone that understands how they all connect (I can only wonder how well they connect for someone that hasn’t read the novels).

That said, there are some minor benefits of the story. For one, there’s a battle in it between two bears that easily eclipses anything I’ve seen so far in Fantasy Film Week as fight scenes go (and as a major bonus, how many children’s movies have you seen that have a fight end with the hero biting out the villain’s throat?). However, I have to feel that the story would have been better had it more closely followed the spirit of the novel, rather than the bare factoids.

The anti-Catholic leanings in the novel, for instance, have almost been entirely expunged from the film, which was presumably an effort to make it more palatable to the masses, an effort which clearly did not work. I can certainly understand the reasoning behind the decision to remove such potential conflict; after all, why would they want to piss off a fanbase that approves of protecting mass numbers of child rapists? And yet, despite catering to such an audience, the film was still a flop. I can’t explain it myself.

While the books were admittedly pretty good, I cannot recommend this movie to anyone, regardless of how visually nice it may be. A story that’s both intellectually and morally vacant as this should not be approved of, no matter how young your kids might be. You should all go rent something much better, like the film I’ll be reviewing tomorrow (Spiderwick Chronicles, for you impatient bastards out there).

Rating: * ½


Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The first sign that I had that this would not be a gradual improvement over Ladyhawke came pretty early on when I saw the Lucasfilm logo. The second sign came during the opening credits when I saw that this was “A Ron Howard film”. Call me a film snob all you want, but that is not a very good pedigree there.

To be sure, the two do bring a minimum level of competence to the film that definitely makes it watchable, but it’s without question the weakest so far of the films I’ve yet covered for Fantasy Film Week. It rehashes the plot of Beastmaster by including a prophecy that a newborn child would cause the doom of an evil ruler, it has the “delight” of a screaming infant, because as we all know there’s nothing more pleasant to listen to, and with Lucas co-writing the story we get a climax that involves a battle plan by the heroes that’s actually even worse than relying on an army of teddy bears to take out the evil empire.

That said, though, there are a few bright spots. For all his faults as a filmmaker, I do still find myself inordinately pleased with Lucas’s insistence on keeping wipes alive as a scene transition; even in his 60s or however the hell old he is, he’s still stubbornly continuing with them, and God bless ‘im for it. The fight scenes are also, as usual for the genre, pretty impressive, even though it’s pretty impossible to feel any real concern that any of the principle players might be killed.

Still, though, there’s a good reason why Warwick Davis was in zero sequels to this, and yet was in five sequels to Leprechaun. Despite its higher production and name values, this was really a second rate fantasy film. It’s probably the safest one for young children that I’ve seen so far this week (as evidenced by how I had last seen it in elementary school), but if you’re reading this blog you’re most likely a bit out of its target age bracket. Still, I guess if you have a kid, there are much worse 80s films to watch with them. Like Legend, for instance (no, I’m not reviewing it this week, I just hate it).

Rating: **


Tuesday, August 19, 2008


And Fantasy Film Week continues onward with Ladyhawke, a somewhat sharper, more coherently written, and definitely better acted entry in the genre. I hope this trend of gradually increasing quality continues over the course of the week, I must say.

Before I get into the requisite plot summary, I feel I must address the issues with Ladyhawke’s MPAA rating, as it relates to that of Beastmaster. Now, Beastmaster came out in 1982, before the PG-13 rating existed, and so while it had a greater amount of blood in it than Ladyhawke (as well as some nudity), it wasn’t considered extreme enough to warrant an R and got a PG rating. Ladyhawke, unfortunately, had the misfortune to come out a year after the creation of the PG-13 rating, and so was branded with that despite being nudity-free and less violent than Beastmaster had been. The MPAA is a very screwed up organization.

Anyway, this film stars Matthew Broderick as a young thief on the run from the villainous French government, led by a corrupt bishop, who befriends a powerful soldier (the delightful Rutger Hauer) who has coincidentally been cursed by the very same bishop. See, the bishop had been lusting after Michelle Pfeiffer, and when she fell for Hauer instead, the bishop decided that the only reasonable way to settle this dispute was to make it so that every time the sun goes down, Hauer turns into a wolf until dawn, while Pfeiffer turns into a hawk from sunrise to sundown, ensuring that they can never properly consummate their love without a lot of social taboos being broken.

Much like pretty much every fantasy film I’ve yet seen, the plot does tend to be fairly episodic, though this one is a step above by virtue of spending the bulk of its time focusing on the tragic love angle, rather than just being a string of largely unconnected battles. It also helps that Hauer and Pfeiffer are much better actors than one normally gets in such a film (nothing against Marc Singer, mind you, but his acting in Beastmaster tended to consist pretty much entirely of squinting and flexing), as they both help elevate this one above the standard 80s fantasies.

Rating: ***


Monday, August 18, 2008

The Beastmaster

Due to circumstances that were clearly beyond my control, I was “forced” to take a long weekend and skip out on reviews for Thursday and Friday. To make up for this scandalously lax regimen, I’ve decided to cheer up all of you lucky readers with a theme week: from today until Friday (presumably), you’re going to get to enjoy Fantasy Film Week, starting with The Beastmaster! Hooray!

Which is not to say that this film is all that amazing and worthy of applause, as it’s a pretty average effort, definitely the weakest effort I’ve so far seen from director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep). Big on brawling fight scenes and light on coherency, it comes off a lot like the first Conan movie, to the point where I’d be tempted to call it an outright ripoff had they not come out in the same year. Our hero, the Beastmaster, spends his days running around with no shirt on to better show off his manliness, and communing with animals and seeing through their eyes and whatnot. Of course, the film would be very boring were that all he did, and so soon after cutting ahead from his youth to adulthood his village is destroyed by evil knights in black armor and scary helmets, and so he must now go questing to save people from a villainous pagan priest and the evil knights.

It’s not so much that the movie is bad; indeed, several of the scenes, such as one involving a creepy race of bat people, are very good. It’s just that they don’t seem to add up at all. He just seems to roam from place to place having new mini-adventures everywhere he goes like a road trip movie without anything really connecting. Hell, unless I missed something while I was on the potty, the evil priest and the evil knights weren’t even connected at all, they were completely separate enemies. If you’re a big fantasy fan, this is worth a view. For everyone else, it’s probably more something to see only when there’s nothing else on TV.

Rating: ** ½


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay

When faced with the surprise DVD success of the first Harold & Kumar, the film’s creators were faced with a choice for the sequel: should they try to capture the insane spirit of the original while taking the story in a totally new direction, and risk alienating fans of the first film, or should they pattern the second film as closely as possible to the first film, to the point of reusing many of the same jokes? Well, if you’re wondering, obviously they went with the second. Hollywood isn’t really known for taking chances, after all.

Of course, that having pretty much been a given, the real question isn’t so much “is this as good as the original”, but rather “is this still worth seeing, even though it’s not as good as the original”? Well, it is, so have no fear. The plot is still basically that of a road trip movie, with the addition of them being on the run from the NSA as suspected terrorists. All the same rules apply as in the first film; Harold is uptight and permanently nervous and angry, Kumar is always cheerful and stoned, they go from random sketch to random sketch, Neil Patrick Harris steals the show, etc. There’s even a repeat of Freakshow, as we get another creepy hillbilly with his hot wife inviting them over. The jokes generally work, though its pretty impossible not to feel some amount of déjà vu at it all.

While this isn’t on the same level as the original, it’s still an entertaining enough comedy, and you could do much worse than seeing it. If it tends to repeat itself, then so be it. You could always watch the original again, after all. Trust don’t try to watch them back to back, as it’ll be uncannily like watching the same one twice.

Rating: ** 1/2


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

One Dark Night

With all of the recent hype over Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I thought it would be fitting to review the film that inspired it all, the 80s cult classic One Dark Night, featuring a very young Meg Tilly (who sadly never quite achieved the level of fame of her sister Jennifer). Some might argue that this film actually has nothing to do with Dark Knight other than having a similar name, but I say those people are damn fool hippies who want to overthrow our government, and I will be damned if I will let them have their way!

The film starts off pretty damned slowly, however, much moreso than Dark Knight does with its Bat-imitators trying to shoot up some crooks, and the Joker gang bank robbery and whatnot. No, this preferred more of a slow build, to the point of being borderline glacial. There’s two main plots, one concerning Meg Tilly as a teenager trying to survive some sorority hazing from her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend. Before you ask, no, despite half the cast of the movie playing sorority sisters, there is no nudity to be had, because we like to keep things classy here. The other plot follows the family of a recently-deceased magician, who apparently was a legitimate telekinetic, and who gained his powers by terrifying young victims and then draining them of their psychic energy.

All this setup is pretty long and dreary, but it climaxes beautifully. For her final bit of hazing, Tilly is told to spend a night locked in a mortuary, which happens to also be the resting place of the villainous telekinetic. The sorority sisters decide to both drug Tilly to make her hallucinate and break into the mortuary themselves to frighten her until she flees and loses her chance at the sorority. This is when the movie just goes completely off the rails insane, and turns from a snoozefest into a thing of beauty. Just as one would expect, all of the negative psychic energy brings the magician semi-back to life (his corpse stands up and glows, but doesn’t move at all), and his natural response to such a situation is to start knocking props over and flinging corpses at everyone.

There’s a shockingly low body count for the film (just two or three, unless you count the four girls found in the magician’s closet that were already dead by the start), but there’s so much crazy action at the end that it more than makes up for it all. Indeed, it kind of acts like The Dark Knight, but in reverse: it has both a dull first two acts, and then gives us an amazing final third, instead of the incredibly rushed Two-Face storyline that weakened the great beginning and middle of Dark Knight. If some enterprising young film editor were to take The Dark Knight up to the end of the Joker storyline and then splice in everything in this film after the arrival at the mausoleum, we may just get one of the best movies ever made. Get right on this, people, it’s a gold mine waiting to happen!

Rating: ***


Monday, August 11, 2008

The Borrower

If there’s one nice thing about horror movies (at least, ones that weren’t just shot on someone’s home video camera), it’s that the people involved with their creation often have the same fabulous taste in films that I do. Perfect example: out of all the vast multitude of movies out there that two of the characters here could have chosen to watch while an alien murderer killed their dog and wore its head before trying to murder a bunch of nearby teens, they were watching the Garbage Pail Kids movie. Now THAT is pimp.

The movie opens with an alien condemned for his crimes to be devolved into human form and sent to Earth to live as one of us, for there can apparently be no greater punishment among overly prickish aliens. Sadly, however, the devolving process is a smidge flawed, and once each day he needs to kill someone else and take their body, a process that involves his current head exploding and him then needing to attach the new one on. I’m not really sure how it works, but there may be science involved.

There’s also a female detective thrown into the mix, who must try to solve the string of head-stealing murders while also trying to bring to justice a vicious rapist and occasional cross-dresser. If you think you can guess where and how these two plotlines intersect, you’re probably not far off. The film’s only serious flaw comes in the ending, which is way too rushed and is blatantly intended to be nothing more than a setup for The Borrower 2, which sadly has yet to arrive. And really, as far as horror movies go, that’s a fairly forgivable offense.

Rating: ***


Friday, August 8, 2008

The Vulture's Eye

About fifteen minutes into this film, when it finally took a break from the interminably long horseback riding talk, we got a glimpse of our villain, and instantly the thought flashed into my head: not another goddamned vampire movie! This is like the eighth or ninth one so far in the set, and I’ve only watched 25 movies so far. Of course, a few minutes after that thought, the names of the characters clicked in my head and I realized an even more horrible thought: this is just Dracula set in the present day, with just the vampire’s name changed Nosferatu-style.

I have seen in my day far too many versions of Dracula. From Hammer Studios alone I’ve seen close to a dozen Dracula films, not to mention all the old Universal ones, both Nosferatu films, Coppola’s tragically lame 90s version, and a wide variety in between. My point is that unless a film really excels, really takes the basic story and runs with it in some new way that nobody has done before, I’m probably going to be very bored watching it. Of course, as about a third of this film’s running time is devoted to horses and stables and horseback riding and discussing horseback riding and zzzzzzzzzzz…*snort* Huh? Wuzzat? Oh, a review? At this time of night?

This isn’t all bad, of course. It’s probably the best made of the four movies on this disc, for what little that’s worth. Unfortunately, it’s still a rung below Sleep Disorder, just because it’s so goddamned serious and dull for most of its running length (every now and then we’ll get an abrupt “vampire attack” sequence that’s set to loud generic rock music and which has lots of blood and occasional brief nudity, but we’re always quickly sent back to our lame main tale). Retelling the story of Dracula, even with a few minor twists, does not in itself make a movie good. Indeed, with several hundred films under his belt, a budding young filmmaker would be wise to make a vampire movie that had nothing to do with Dracula himself, even if they were to rename him Count Vogel.

Rating: ½ *


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sleep Disorder

This is a notable step up from the first two movies on the disc, for a simple little reason I like to call “effort.” Sure, it’s the incompetent effort of people that need a lot more practice before they make anything that could be called good, but damn it, at least they tried, unlike the fuckers that made Redneck County Fever and Devil’s Moon.

Filmed in flashback, the movie follows a budding young ghost hunter as he kicks the flowers away from a grave while filming a documentary searching for ghosts, and finds himself haunted by the ghost of the woman buried there. Most of the story is being told by him to a psychiatrist, whose sessions with him are curiously filmed in a bit of pseudo-slow motion, where the audio comes in fine but the video is all choppy and awkward. I at first took this to just be an effort to distinguish these scenes as coming at the end of the film or something, until we later get a scene with the psychiatrist by herself with the video trick still going on. I now have no option but to assume that this is done because the psychiatrist is so terminally boring that all laws of physics become warped and time itself seems to slow down around her. There really is no other possible explanation here.

Speaking of video effects, the filmmakers pretty much pull out all the stops here. They use pretty much every effect that one could easily find on Photoshop or some similar home-style computer video editor. What’s more, the camerawork is actually done with some attention to shot composition and some rudimentary knowledge that a good filmmaker films more than just the immediate action in as few shots as possible. It’s not done well, but after seeing several scenes in Redneck County Fever that were all done in one shot for no discernible reason beyond that it would have presumably involved effort to try a different camera angle, I’m happy that some measure of effort was made here. Perhaps tomorrow when I watch The Vulture’s Eye I’ll get effort and talent…no, that’s probably asking too much.

Rating: *


Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Taking a slight break from the Tomb of Terrors set, here’s a recent film that I actually didn’t find it a chore to watch. Doomsday, the last effort by delightful horror director Neil Marshall (whose previous films include Dog Soldiers, which is one of the best werewolf movies I have ever seen, and The Descent, which is simply one of the creepiest and best-made horror movies of the past decade), plays out like an upgraded version of Escape From New York, all the way down to the lead with a missing eye. It’s fast-paced, action-packed, unashamedly derivative, and extremely fun to watch.

Set in the near future, as such a film must, we are treated to an England that was walled off Scotland after the outbreak of an incurable plague several years prior. Tragically, a new outbreak has begun in London, and so the government (headed by Prime Minister Julian Bashir, who I’m always way too excited to see in anything) decides to send a strike force into Scotland in search of a possible cure before all of London gets put at risk. Of course, things go horribly awry, as multiple factions of survivors of the plague attack the strike force, mostly wiping it out, and our one-eyed heroine is largely left alone to find a cure and make her way back home.

It’s the first film I’ve seen from Marshall that wasn’t a horror movie, and it shows that he is equally qualified to do any other kind of sleazy genre film. There’s all the blood and over-the-top violence you’d expect from his previous works (at least in the unrated version, I haven’t seen the theatrical one), and there’s a good amount of cleverness and fun to the whole thing. Without giving much away (see, when I actually like the movie, I do try to avoid spoilers), the big performance of the head of the first gang is so wonderful that I had to rewind it when it was done so I could watch it again.

Now, this is not the best movie Marshall has ever made; that honor still belongs to The Descent. This is, however, a superior action film, one that’s not afraid to get a good deal grimmer and more vicious than most modern-day action movies are brave enough to tread. If you have a vested interest in joy, or the comfort of cuddling young kittens, then you should absolutely check this film out. If, however, you feel a certain amount of masochism, and can only feel happiness when experiencing pain, then perhaps you may be more interested in the Tomb of Terrors collection, which I should hopefully be halfway done with by Friday.

Rating: *** ½


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Redneck County Fever

I do have to say that, in this film’s favor, at least it was somewhat short, clocking in at “only” an hour, and didn’t try to force itself to ponderously chug along to the 90 minute mark so it could call itself a feature film. Sadly, that’s the best praise I can find for this movie, as otherwise it’s a total dog.

The film’s origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery. It has no IMDB page to rely upon; the Tomb of Terrors set says it was made in 2001, but why on earth would a movie made in 2001 feature one main character that spends the whole movie doing a lame Spicoli impression, and another main character that goes around dressing like an 80s hip-hop star? Further, the film looks fuzzy and indistinct, which could just mean they used a shitty digital cam, or it could mean that it was transferred off of an old VHS tape. Of course, it doesn’t matter too much either way, as the film sucks.

You may have noticed that, outside of “garbage”, I didn’t give this film any kind of genre tag. There’s a reason for that, as the film just kind of meanders along without any real point to its existence, and doesn’t really stray far enough into any genre to qualify. Here’s the plot in a nutshell: the two are driving in the south, their car breaks down, they have no money to fix it, a guy offers them money if they deliver a package for him, they run afoul of the law and run into the woods, a cannibal tries to hunt them, they escape, they run into a faith mechanic, they run into a female mechanic, they talk to a cop, there’s a quick shootout, the end (complete with “THE END” in big block letters against a black background, in case we didn’t get the hint).

None of these little vignettes are at all fleshed out, and none go on more than five or ten minutes. I guess it’s more like a road trip movie than anything else, just for the fact that the entire film is them bouncing around an unknown landscape running into people and then ditching them so that they can run into other people, but that’s probably more attributable to bad writing than any specific design. Again, this is a film that was just done by a group of friends that had a few weekends off, created to amuse them and let them show their friends that they had been in a movie, with no entertainment value whatsoever for anyone that’s not personally acquainted with one of the cast or crew. There’s two more movie to go and I’ll have made it halfway through the Tomb of Terrors collection, I can only hope that at least one of them can justify itself a bit better.

Rating: Zero stars


Monday, August 4, 2008

Devil's Moon

Well, that was certainly a nice, refreshing week off, and now I’m ready to come back for some more reviews! What’s that you say, I took a tiny bit more than a week off? Nah, I’m sure you’re all just crazy and imagining things. Anyway, to celebrate my grant return after a scandalously long one week absence, I’ve decided to return to everyone’s favorite bargain collection of homemade horror movies, the Tomb of Terrors collection! Now, I realize that I may have been a tad critical, even harsh, of some of the previous films found in the collection, but I’m sure that we’ve got things back on track now, and starting with today’s entry, Devil’s Moon, we’re going to usher in a new era of quality low-budget horror entertainment. Because as we all know, in big box sets like this, they always hide away the best films in the back so that we can enjoy searching for them. Really, it’s about the journey.

And that journey is going to have to go on a bit longer, because this movie is a complete dog. The first thing you notice when the film starts is that it’s by “Gasslight Productions”, and I don’t know which is worse, the idea that they’d misspell their own company’s name in the opening credits, or the idea that they’d think it was funny to intentionally misspell Gaslight so that “ass” would be in it. Either way, it starts the film off to a fairly low standard that it absolutely manages to live down to. Lacking what some would conventionally refer to as a “plot”, it starts off by dealing with a serial killer trying to become immortal by sacrificing his victims to the dark gods or whatever, though his villainous credentials are somewhat nullified by the fact that he talks like an irritating frat boy. The film then moves on to a pair of annoying coworkers who run afoul of the mad killer, and soon start running through the woods endlessly trying to avoid him. Then some evil spirits get involved and a few zombies start running around because he was the essence of pure evil as summoned by a couple of college age goths who spend too much time in the woods. If this seems a bit busy for a 90-minute film, I’d tend to agree, if not for the fact that it’s all so thinly fleshed out that there’s not a scene in the film that doesn’t seem to drag on forever.

When I say this is a home made horror movie, I don’t think I’m exaggerating. The acting is so amateurish that I’m stunned to see that so many of them have appeared in multiple films (though to be sure most of them have only been in similar no-budget horror like this). The script manages to be both cluttered and dull, a good sign of someone who could barely be bothered to finish up a first draft. The lighting and sound, always good indicators of a film’s budget, are strictly limited to the kinds of lights and microphones that someone with a normal job outside the industry could afford (the opening scene, for instance, which drags on a good deal more than it should, is “artistically” lit only by a regular computer lamp). The director, David DeFino, wisely has yet to make another film after this. I mean really, how was he going to top this?

Rating: Zero stars


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Tragedy and bedlam!

Due to to a surprising lack of free time lately due to girls, I am giving you no more updates for the rest of the week while I slowly recharge. I know you're all deeply disappointed by this news, but try to refrain from ending it. I'll still need you here next week, after all.


Monday, June 2, 2008

National Treasure: Book of Secrets

So here’s a Perfectly Acceptable Film that offers exactly what you would expect it to. We have Nicholas Cage running around spouting insane nonsense about our nation’s historical figures, just as he did in the first film, finding maps and codes on every cultural artifact he comes into contact with, just as he did in the first film, and racing to find a lost treasure that is hidden in a place so public that one wonders how nobody has stumbled across it by this point, you know, just as in the first movie.

The plot concerns a surprise revelation that, rather than being one of Lincoln’s strongest supporters, Cage’s ancestor may have actually been involved in the plot to assassinate him. Refusing to believe the evidence, an uncovered page from John Wilkes Booth’s diary that implicates him, he instead decides that it must be an encoded treasure map that eventually leads (as you no doubt have already gathered) to a hidden Indian City of Gold lying within Mt. Rushmore. Of course, Cage has a bit of a flair for the dramatic, so rather than jumping right to the end, he feels the need to first travel to England and France, fight it out with Ed Harris, regain the love of his estranged girlfriend, kidnap the president, get his parents back together, and find a hidden presidential book that contains all of the country’s secrets. You know, when I just list it like that, it almost sounds too easy.

Of course, the movie is pretty fun, and wisely never slows down enough for us to start thinking critically about it until after it’s over. The only problem is in how it is simply so formulaic, so closely tied to the original, that you start to question what the whole point of it is. Most sequels try to differentiate themselves by elevating the stakes somewhat; here, the worst Cage ever risks is a bit of jail time if he fails, and even that is unlikely. There’s still the same faux-intellectual babble about our nation’s history that conspiracy theorists and fans of the Da Vinci Code will love, and there’s the requisite car chase or two and shootout to keep things moving along, but if you’ve already seen the first movie, then there really is no point in seeing this one. This should be a rental only.

Rating: **


Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sexual Parasite: Killer Pussy

I’m sure that there are readers out there somewhere that will hear a title like this and wonder at my overall mental state that I would eagerly jump at the chance to watch a film like this. I am equally certain, however, that a greater number of you out there (much, much greater, among regular readers of this blog) that read that title and wanted nothing more than to know where they could get their own copy.

The film opens with a group of explorers out in the jungle near Botswana that run afoul of a rare parasite that infects a female explorer by burrowing deep into her vagina. We then cut ahead a few years, as a group of Japanese teens (two guys and three girls) go on a road trip and stumble across an abandoned building filled with music, porn, a bath tub, and the frozen body on the infected explorer. While the teens all rush off to strip down and fool around a little, they sadly don’t notice as the explorer comes back to life and begins trying to infect the girls and feed off of the guys by eating their penises during sex. For those wondering, the recent American film Teeth was a more serious remake of this.

This movie does pretty much everything right. It features a nice, slimmed down cast, featuring four really hot girls that all get somewhat naked, it features a nice amount of goofy violence (the chomping sound whenever the monster bites off a guy’s penis was a nice tough), and, best of all, it combines the two. I’m always a little concerned when reviewing movies like this that I’m inadvertently revealing too much of myself when I say, for instance, that it was a huge turn-on when a girl was naked and screaming and her breasts were covered in blood, or when the one guy is fooling around with his big-titted girlfriend while their other female friend is passed out next to them. Still, I wouldn’t be a proper critic if I shied away from the tough answers here, now would I? Now go get this movie, it’s fucking hot and people die in it.

Rating: *** ½


Thursday, May 29, 2008


Much like I said yesterday, it’s always nice when one of your childhood favorites winds up not being a piece of crap when viewed as an adult, but sadly, unlike Stay Tuned, this one doesn’t really hold up perfectly well. It ain’t bad by any means, but way too many of the jokes are forced and labored to really make this as much of a classic as Young Frankenstein (probably the only Mel Brooks movie I watched more times as a kid) or The Producers were.

The film is a pretty overt parody of Star Wars, starring Bill Pullman, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Daphne Zuniga, and Brooks himself, in a story of the evil planet Spaceball (ruled by Brooks) that is trying to steal all the air of the nearby planet Druidia to replace all of Spaceball’s air that was wasted by pollution. Their efforts at capturing the princess (Zuniga) are thwarted, however, by the intervention of Lone Starr (Pullman), a Han Solo character who later pulls double duty by learning how to use the Schwartz from a little Yoda-like muppet named Yogurt (also Brooks). You know the rest, because frankly, even if you haven’t seen Spaceballs, and you likely have, you’ve at least seen the original Star Wars.

The movie generally works pretty well, but it does have some glaring flaws to it. The humor is obviously the main portion of the film (what with, you know, it being a comedy and all), and while the jokes work more often than not, there are a great deal many more misses than in your average Brooks movie. While he’s never really been known for his subtlety (The Producers and Blazing Saddles both rank as two of the most over-the-top comedies ever made), here he seems unable to find a joke that he’s not willing to beat into the ground. It reeks of a desperation that we shouldn’t be finding in a film by a guy that at the time had been a prominent director for almost 20 years. It’s not two surprising, then, that not long after this he’d go on to make Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, easily the worst two films of his career.

Still, even though this was a definite slide toward what eventually became a career-threatening slump, there’s enough entertaining elements in this film to make it worth at least one viewing. If you happen to see it on TV (it should be playing on a channel near you any moment now), then by all means check it out. Just make sure to go in with some slightly lowered expectations than one is used to from such a major filmmaker.

Rating: ** ½


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Stay Tuned

It’s always nice when one of my childhood movies turns out to still hold up when I’m an adult, and such is the case here. It’s one of John Ritter’s best roles, and he has a perfect foil in the villainous Jeffrey Jones.

The film stars Ritter as a professional couch potato whose wife is on the verge of abandoning him, when a nicely Satanic Jeffrey Jones arrives and offers him a free trial on a big screen satellite TV that gets 666 channels. Soon Ritter and his wife are sucked into the demonic TV network, where they have to survive for 24 hours against such brilliant shows as Northern Overexposure and Driving Over Miss Daisy (no matter how many times I saw that when I was younger, it never failed to make me laugh hysterically) in order to win their freedom. Eugene Levy also makes an appearance as a hellish crony that also gets sucked into the network and occasionally begins partnering up with them to defeat his former boss.

The film is everything one might want in a movie like this: it’s funny, clever, and child-safe enough that you could watch it with your 8+ children (assuming you would want to have that many, of course). It throws in about as many great gags as one could possibly cram into a 90 minute film, up to and including a Three’s Company crossover and a music video that perfectly suits Hell (“Start Me Up” by Salt n Pepa). The children are a tad irritating, but I guess they’re there to give the children watching (you know, all 8+ of them) someone to identify with, and while they are annoying enough (especially the daughter) to knock this rating down half a star, they aren’t bad enough to outright ruin the film, so we can definitely celebrate that. It’s the kind of comedy that we stopped getting for a while, one that focuses on cleverness and doesn’t mind having a little bite to it, rather than veering to the extremes of super-sanitized and child-safe or gross out teen sex comedies. It should be supported for that.

Rating: ***


Tuesday, May 27, 2008


So this was a big ol’ pile of suck. I’m not sure how exactly it is that a movie could a) be an 80s horror movie from Italy, b) make prominent use of Donald Pleasance, and c) entice us by starting off with a commercial for Demons 2, and still be as leaden and slow as this was.

The film has Pleasance playing an archaeologist who uncovers a new series of catacombs where ancient sacrificial artifacts are found. Excavations begin, and what seems like a mere half a year later a monster begins attacking people, sometimes appearing physically and sometimes just tossing things around the room like a poltergeist. I’d say it’s a slow build, as a good half hour goes by before the first death, but it never really picks up the pace at any point. We just get a bunch of boredom, with someone getting attacked every ten or twenty minutes afterward.

I can’t really say that the death scenes are all that good, either. They’re mostly very quick, with a minimum of blood and gore, just as the nude scenes tend to be as brief as possible (though, being an Italian film, the women in it are universally lovely). Pleasance isn’t really given much to work with, and doesn’t get to really chew the scenery until the last third of the film. Perhaps most damning of all its flaws, though, is when it blatantly rips off Johnny Depp’s death scene from Nightmare on Elm Street, and doesn’t do it half as well as the original. I got this film because a reviewer had described it as Argento-ish. I can only assume that by this he meant that the film was indeed a horror movie made in Italy while Argento was alive, because outside of a few very minor effects (a semi-incoherent plot, lots of multi-colored backlighting, etc.) the two have nothing at all in common. It’s currently only available on VHS, too, so if you decide from this review that you must buy a copy, you’re going to have the added thrill of figuring out how to re-install your old VCR that you’ve had in storage for years because it’s a dead format. So enjoy, I suppose.

Rating: *


Monday, May 26, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

What’s so wonderful about Steven Spielberg is that he can enjoy a twenty year pause in between Indiana Jones films and then make a new one without missing a beat. This new film, made by a man in his sixties that still proudly views himself as a young boy with gray hair, has all the excitement and fun of the original trilogy, with a plot that starts off fairly ridiculous and works its way farther and farther away from sanity like a good movie should.

One obvious difference in the series is that star Harrison Ford has visibly aged since the original movies, and as a result the film is now set roughly twenty years after the older movies. Thus, while the old movies featured standard pulp adventures from the 30s and early 40s, like Nazis, voodoo, and evil Asian tribesmen, this one is firmly entrenched in the stories of the late 50s: evil Russians, government conspiracies, aliens, and greasers. The plot has Indy getting caught up with a young James Dean wannabe (Shia LeBeouf) in a race to a hidden kingdom in Peru to rescue Shia’s mother and professor from the KGB, who are trying to unlock a secret that would theoretically give them control over the entire world! Much like the earlier films, it’s pretty much just an excuse to string along action sequence after action sequence, each one more absurd and delightful than the last. There are times when it does get a little bit overdone, such as when Shia starts his Tarzan impression, but it’s still pretty fantastic all the way through.

If there’s a real problem with the film, it’s in the form of the villains. Cate Blanchett, surprisingly enough, does a pretty weak job as the heavy, giving us a Ukrainian that is a failure on pretty much every level: she has supposed psychic powers that are hinted at once and then never brought up again, she’s an expert swordswoman that can’t defeat a young punk with only a little formal training, and never once comes off as intimidating as, say, the creepy bald Nazi in Raiders, or the voodoo priest in Temple. I think she can safely be chalked up as the big victim of the film’s numerous rewrites.

Even with these flaws, though, the film is every bit the rollercoaster ride that the first three films are. If you have a fondness for the old movies, and there’s something wrong with you if you don’t, then you should enjoy this movie as well. If you happen to not like those old movies, then I can only assume you are also opposed to kittens, roses, and sheer human joy, and will as a result not find it within your heart to enjoy this movie. If such is the case, then you may want to go see something else. Perhaps Prom Night or Baby Mama might be more your speed.

Rating: *** ½


Friday, May 23, 2008

Deadly Prey

Yeah, much like with the Scorpion finale, you're going to have to wait on this review too. Hopefully the three day weekend will recharge me enough to do ll of these.

Type rest of the post here


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Booster Gold: 52 Pick-Up

I thought I’d take a bit of a break from movie reviewing to review a newly released collection of the first six issues of the new Booster Gold comic. It’s a fun effort to liven things up with a tale of a comic book that you should all be reading (at least those of you that read comics, which frankly should be all of you), and should not in any way be taken as a sign that I was just uninterested in watching a movie today.

When DC’s big event of last year, 52, came to its conclusion, there were a number of new titles to try to capitalize on 52’s success. First up was Countdown, a new weekly title that, putting it politely, was not as well-received as its predecessor had been. There were also three miniseries that were a good deal better written in Black Adam: the Dark Age, The Four Horsemen, and Crime Bible: Five Lessons in Blood. Finally, and easily most importantly of all, there was a new ongoing title for Booster Gold, Savior of the Multiverse.

It’s a great premise for a comic, as Booster Gold and Rip Hunter are now off secretly repairing the time stream from villainous time travelers. In doing so, we get a comic that touches on all of the major moments in DC history, like the crippling of Batgirl and the death of Ted Kord, shows us some nice bits of the multiverse (the all-too-brief appearances of Dr. 13 and his crew were a treasure), and gives us some great characterization as well. After all, Booster Gold is somewhat renowned as the super hero that most wants to be famous and loved by the world, so how well is he going to take it when his work requires him to make the world think he’s just a buffoon instead of a proper hero? This collection of the first story arc also ends with what has to be the single most satisfying comic book moment this year has had so far, a claim I do not make lightly.

Writers Geoff Johns and Jeff Katz have made this title into one of the top three best comics coming out of Marvel or DC right now, and you should all be reading it. If you were waiting on a trade to see how it goes, well, it’s out and you must pick it up pronto. Otherwise nobody will respect or love you, and you don’t want that, now do you?

Rating: ****


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Horse Feathers

This was a very early effort for the Marx Bros., back when Zeppo would still show up on camera to be his usual bland self. Like those earlier efforts, it works almost more like a cabaret effort than a normal film, so it’s definitely not going to be for everyone. However, for those of you that don’t mind a comedy with a bare-bones plot and frequent musical interludes, you may just find a gem here.

The story, like all Marx films, is thoroughly ridiculous, and features Groucho as the new head honcho at a college where his son (Zeppo) is currently attending for seemingly no reason beyond access to girls. The college really functions as little more than a framing device to hang such scenes as a verbal duel at a speakeasy and a climactic football match on, but it functions well enough.

If you haven’t seen a film by the Marx Bros., here’s what you can expect: there’s a great deal of verbal humor, primarily from Groucho and Chico, a few songs sung by Groucho and Zeppo, a piano number by Chico, and a harp number by (wait for it) Harpo. It’s a very different style of movie from what you’d expect to see nowadays, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s goofy, charming, and unabashedly silly, and still manages to have some real bite to its humor, moreso than a lot of tragically “safer” comedies nowadays have. It’s not quite a masterpiece, but it is definitely worth a view.

Rating: ** ½


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Slap Shot

After the recent dreariness of the Drive-In Cult Classics set, it’s nice to be surprised by a really freaking great comedy that I had somehow missed all these years. While it’s not quite the best sports movie I’ve ever seen, it is absolutely the best sports comedy I’ve ever seen, and I say that while having a vast fondness for the Major League films.

The film stars Paul Newman (who apparently just a couple years ago said this was his all-time favorite role) as the aging coach of a crappy hockey team that’s in the middle of a big slump. He decides to change up his game a little, after a one-two punch of hearing about how he’s a lousy coach, and hearing about how his team’s going to be folded after the current season, and soon his team is winning heavily based on their new strategy of just beating the hell out of the other team.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this movie was in how it completely rejects the normal sports movie structure, and doesn’t seem to care at all about winning the championship or whatever. All the characters are really interested in is goofing off, joking, watching soap operas, and hurting other people, and that’s all the movie is interested in too. While there are the occasional obligatory moments where they discuss trying to get the team traded to Florida (pfft, as if there’d ever be a hockey team there) and trying to win the season, the film mostly ignores all that in favor of a constant barrage of jokes and senseless violence. The humor is generally spot on – this is the single funniest film I’ve watched in months – and as for the violence, well, I guess there’s just nothing more entertaining than someone being randomly beaten up for no good reason whatsoever. All the best sports movies function fine even to people unfamiliar with the sport – transcending the sport, if you will – and this certainly qualifies. It’s some of the most fun you’ll have all week, with the obvious possible exception of seeing Indiana Jones 4 this weekend, which I’m hoping to do. Really though, what are the odds that something whose fame peaked in the 80s would be sold out?

Rating: ****


Monday, May 19, 2008

Best Friends

This Drive-In Cult Classics collection seems to be on a fairly steady downward spiral, only without the soothing vocal talents of Trent Reznor. I’m just under halfway through the set, so there’s a distinct possibility we can still turn this thing around, but right now the outlook’s not looking so promising. I’m sure someday I’ll learn that getting a collection of 8 movies for “only” ten bucks may not be quite the bargain it always seems to appear.

The film stars Richard Hatch (Apollo from the original Battlestar Galactica) as half of a pair of friends that are traveling the land in an RV with their girls. Right from here, you can probably intuit where the plot heads. Yes, Hatch’s friend begins to feel jealous of Hatch’s relationship with his girl, and feels that all of their childhood closeness may now be ending, and so goes completely insane, and starts threatening the girl, and trying to force himself on her to force a confrontation.

This is all very dully accomplished, and done so slowly and ploddingly that a good deal of my viewing was of my watch, wondering when it would mercifully end. Outside of the crazy best friend, none of the characters has any personality to speak of. Apollo was the same nonentity that he would later be on BG, and the two girls are so completely interchangeable that at the end, when one of them is murdered, I was unable to identify which of them it was. Try as I might, I can’t find a single reason for this film to have ever existed, and must assume it was created as an active effort of spite against the world. As such, it is an unqualified success.

Rating: Zero stars


Friday, May 16, 2008

Visitor Q

Just as I was unable to properly categorize The Teacher, I find myself now unable to properly describe Visitor Q, though for vastly different reasons. Unlike the previous film, which was indescribably lame, this one was so indescribably vile that a normal review pales in comparison to the sheer experience of watching it.

The film, shot on video, is apparently attempting to parody reality TV, and follows a dysfunctional family as their lives are changed by a stranger named Visitor Q, who enters their lives by tagging along with the father after beating him in the head with a rock. Frankly, though, calling the family dysfunctional is a bit of a misnomer. The son is the victim of bullies, and retaliates by regularly beating the hell out of his mother, the mother has resorted to drugs to cope, the father has been raped and has developed a fondness for rape, incest, and murder, and the daughter has become a prostitute.

The directing isn’t as exciting as a normal Takashi Miike film, presumably because it was shot on video instead of film, but he has made up for it by making this the most vile film he possibly could. I watch a lot of offensive films, as regulars to this blog can attest, and this is, to date, the only film I ever watched where I felt like a bad person just for having seen it. Whether it be the rape, the necrophilia, the lactation sex, or what have you, there’s just something about this film that really makes me feel a bit less like a legitimate human being each time I watch it (tonight being my second time). As such, I’m not really sure what kind of rating to give it, so I’m going straight down the middle on it. It’s definitely not one of Miike’s best made films, but for those for are fans of his, or for anyone who’s interested in extreme cinema, it is definitely something to check out.

Rating: ** ½


Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Teacher

I’m somewhat at a loss as to what to categorize this film as. I’m sure as hell not about to create an exploitation tag for it, since that would cover roughly nine-tenths of the films I review. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough nudity in it to qualify as porn, and the thriller sequences within it come way too few and far between to allow me to call it that. I guess it’s stuck as a romance then, by default, even if it’s a fairly lame one.

The plot, as one might guess from the title, concerns a hot young teacher that makes it her mission to spark up a romance with one of her muscular students. This is complicated by how irritatingly uncomfortable he gets around her, to the point where we start to assume that he’s holding out for the attentions of one of her male colleagues. There’s also the problem of how, at the start of the movie, he had accidentally killed his close friend (they were fighting for control of a pair of binoculars to spy on the teacher with, and his friend fell off of the factory they were standing on), and his friend’s insane brother now wants to kill him with a bayonet.

Does this all sound like it could have been a good, or at least amusing, movie? It does, honestly, at least to me, but the good bits come few and far between, and what we mostly deal with is a good hour of padding in a 90 minute long movie. What we pretty much get is a long scene of parents talking, then the teacher showing a breast briefly, then a long scene of people walking around and talking, then the crazy brother shows up pointing a bayonet and threatening to kill one character, then another long stretch where nothing happens… The filmmakers clearly had no idea how to make a full feature out of this story, or simply didn’t care enough so long as something interesting happened every ten minutes or so to keep people from leaving the theater or drive-in. It’s a definite letdown after the comparative entertainment that was Pick-Up (its double feature on the first disc), but I’m going to try to remain cautiously – some might say foolishly – optimistic that the rest of the set will yield somewhat better results. And if not, hey, it’s ten bucks for eight movies, can’t go too wrong with that, right?

Rating: *


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Gayniggers From Outer Space

Here’s a true oddity: a short film made in the early 90s that parodies old 50s sci fi by throwing in a lot of straight-faced gay jokes. I can’t really say that I fully liked it, but at the same time I can’t really say that it didn’t have my undivided attention, either.

The film follows the crew of an alien spaceship from a deeply advanced race where women are extinct and men are perfectly happy. While out exploring the universe, they stumble across Earth, and their initial scouting expedition meets with disaster when they come face to face with wild, hedonistic women that seem to have come straight out of a speakeasy. Armed with this news, the entire crew decides that it is their solemn mission to save this planet by using their ray guns to wipe out every last woman on the planet.

The visual and audio style is a large part of what makes the film entertaining. It really captures the cheesy, yet earnest look of those no-budget sci-fi efforts from the 50s, all black and white and shimmery. The special effects are dead-on, and the fact that it seems to have had all the dialogue and sound effects dubbed over just adds to the cheese factor (given that I first saw this done in Beast of Yucca Flats, a cheesy black and white science fiction movie from the 50s, sure doesn't hurt). There’s also a nice bit at the end when, after saving Earth from women, the film suddenly shifts into color as we get to witness the new paradise that all the men can enjoy (as they go swimming in their tighty whiteys). This isn’t a perfect movie (the overwhelming need, for instance, to give every crewmember a gag gay name like Sgt. Shavedballs is a little tiring), but for a 27 minute long film it certainly entertains well enough.

Rating: **


Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Female Prisoner # 701 Scorpion: Grudge Song

So here it is, the fourth and final film in the Scorpion series, surprisingly much-delayed (the review, not the movie). This one, as I mentioned before, was by a different director, though thankfully Yasuharu Hasebe (mostly) manages to keep the same general great madness and style of the first three movies.

One thing that’s noticeably different about this film is in how much more plot there generally is compared to the earlier movies. Once again Scorpion is free to roam the streets, where she runs into an old classmate of hers, and the two begin to embark on a Bonnie and Clyde style crime spree. Unfortunately her new man turns out not to be as strong as she is, and after he’s captured by the police they eventually break him and get him to spill the beans on where his chick is hiding. Back in prison once again, she’s again menaced by the various inmates, guards, wardens, police, and politicians, until it becomes time to either escape or face the noose.

It’s always a bit of a frightening things when a new director jumps onto a series of films, particularly one as fun as this has been, but outside of some awkwardness at the big climax between her and the vengeful cop hounding her, it manages the same over-the-top delightfulness that has been a trademark of the series. It’s got all the violence and nudity that is pretty much required in a film like this, and knows how to pace itself well enough that there’s never a period where it starts to drag. It doesn’t quite have the brilliantly mad ending of Beast Stable, where the police make the city’s sewers explode to try to get at Scorpion, but it works well enough on its own merits. Unlike what I’ve seen so far of the Drive-In Cult Classics set, this is a box set that is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: ***


Monday, May 12, 2008

Female Prisoner # 701 Scorpion: Beast Stable

This is the second film in the box set of Scorpion movies, but the third in the series. This doesn’t really mean all that much beyond how she’s somehow managed to escape from prison in between the end of the first film and the start of this one, but if you were expecting this to come directly after the original you might be a tad surprised.

The film is a bit different than the first one, in large part because Scorpion is out on the loose (in a nice opener, she’s riding the subway when a cop tries to arrest her and loses a limb for his efforts). She starts building up some semblance of a life for herself, but this is of course thwarted when she runs afoul of a prostitution ring and, once again, the police.

The police officer trying to take her down is really the best reason to watch this film. It is admittedly a tad slow in the middle when she’s trying to get herself a life, but by the end when the officer in charge is beating up random people and ordering the sewers to be blown up you know you’re in safe hands. It’s the last film in the series helmed by director Shunya Ito, and he manages the difficult task of making his third effort as entertaining as his first (though, despite having a story in which prostitution is heavily involved, the nudity of the first film seems to have mostly been replaced with a lot more violence). There’s only one film left in the set, and hopefully having a new director won’t ruin the series. Really though, what are the odds of that?

Rating: ***


Friday, May 9, 2008

Mother's Day

So yes, while I just recently whined about how lame Troma films tend to be, I now find myself watching another one instead of doing something productive. What can I say, what with the holiday rapidly approaching and all this just seemed appropriate. * At least it’s from the start of the 80s, when Troma still at least made a vague effort to make their films watchable, rather than going out of their way to make every film terrible and then giggling about it.

The film is basically a rip-off of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as a group of three girls go into the woods to get back in touch with each other, and run afoul of a family of rapist-murderers led by (obviously) their mother. One of the girls is taken from the group, and is brutally raped and beaten, while the other two start their escape, slowing to snatch their friend away with them, and then deciding to go back and wipe the whole family out.

The movie, written, directed, and produced by Charles Kaufman (not to be confused with the Charlie Kaufman that wrote Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, all of which you should see before tackling this film), manages to have a sense of humor about itself that is startlingly understated for such a film. Rather than beating into our heads how hysterical the film must be, it instead gives us some subtle moments of genius, such as how the two evil brothers wake up to a Big Bird alarm clock, or their frankly brilliant morning exercises. The movie falters quite a bit when it focuses on our heroines (the first third of the movie is just tedious to sit through, as they frolic in the woods and share memories that are just boring and awful), but the bulk of the movie manages to focus on the bad guys, as it should. The violence is unfortunately sparse, but generally works well when it appears (one character takes a hammer to the sack in a particularly horrid scene), though the nudity, despite all the rape going on, is almost nonexistent. There are also quite a few continuity errors, like when one girl starts getting splattered with blood before her boyfriend is even killed. Still, despite its flaws, it is easily the best Troma release I’ve seen in some time. If you were looking to try the company out, this would not be a bad starting place.

Rating: **

* I didn’t actually watch the film because of the holiday, that was just sheer random coincidence that I didn’t even notice until the person I was watching it with pointed it out. Still, it does make a handy excuse.


Thursday, May 8, 2008

Alvin & the Chipmunks

So yeah. Sometimes you get to watch a sleazy Japanese women in prison film for your blog, and sometimes you’re stuck watching a dumb kid’s movie with your little cousin. So it goes. At least this was better than I was frankly expecting it to be, which is an admittedly low bar to hurdle over.

The film stars Jason Lee (before he showed up, my cousin helpfully informed me that you actually get to see what he looks like in this film, as he evidently did the voice of some cartoon character in a previous film, and has clearly never acted in anything else before that) as a failing musician desperate for a new sound when three talking chipmunks decide to take up residence in his house. Their names are Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, which you were no doubt unaware of, as I apparently wasn’t since my cousin felt she had to explain who each one was and what their defining characteristics were. Anyway, and you’ll be amazed by this I’m sure, Lee hears them singing (they of course know all the latest pop hits from their time living in a forest), realizes they’re just what he’s been looking for, and soon enough they become instant successes in the music biz. Conflict arises in the form of David Cross, a powerful music exec who decides to throw away his old friendship with Lee so as to better exploit the chipmunks and make even more money. Eventually, of course, everything turns out all right, Lee and the chipmunks are reunited, and we get more of that horrid singing.

In this movie’s defense, it is indeed better than it really needed to be, and remains thoroughly watchable all the way through. Lee and Cross do perfectly acceptable work, even if they’re both clearly slumming here, and if the story is cliché and retarded, well, it’s fucking Alvin & the Chipmunks, were you really going to go into this thinking it was on par with Tolstoy? If you have a small cousin, or perhaps have been rooked into having a child of your own, there are worse movies you could get stuck watching with them. As long as you can make it through their songs without strangling the kid for making you sit through them, you should indeed be alright.

Rating: * ½


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Brave

So yeah, I know yesterday I said I’d be reviewing the remaining two films from the Female Prisoner Scorpion set, but how often do you hear of a film directed by Johnny Depp, where he agrees to be in a snuff film in exchange for enough money to get his family out of the poverty trap they live in? Especially when it’s a film that not only has yet to be released on DVD in the U.S., but has never even managed a theatrical release? And it’s one of Marlon Brando’s final film roles? Frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to respect myself if I had passed this one up.

That said, while good, this is not quite the out-of-the-park home run one might expect from all of the above. Depp keeps the film moving very slowly (we’re ten minutes into the film before anyone starts talking) to try to draw us further into how his character, and those around him, feel, which does work to an extent. He’s kept the manner of how he’s gotten so much money to himself (he just tells everyone he’s gotten a new job), so pretty much everyone, up to and including his long-suffering wife, assumes he stole it from somewhere. It’s nice seeing how, as soon as he gets part of the money, he spends it on building a mini carnival outside of his home for his kids and neighbors, to try and give them some measure of happiness that he’s been incapable of giving them up until now. This is complicated by Luis Guzman, Depp’s old partner in crime, who also assumes that Depp is stealing the money from somewhere, and is willing to get violent to get in on it.

The main flaw of the film is that it just moves too slowly a lot of the time; while it’s nice that the men making the snuff film keep popping up to remind us that Depp’s death is coming, the film could have had a good twenty minutes shaved off of it, and would have been all the better for it. Still, there is a good deal to like about it, from the strange combination of Depp’s Native American character looking oddly similar to Jack Sparrow while having a surprisingly well-defined chest, to Brando’s all too brief appearance as the man in charge of the company making the snuff films. It’s frankly a great concept for a movie, and I’d like to see Depp direct another film (this is the only one he’s helmed so far – given that eleven years later, it still hasn’t gotten any level of American distribution, I can’t really blame him), though perhaps his next one could have more of a plot rather than being just a character study.

Rating: ***