Don't Go Near The Park (1982)

DECEMBER 31, 2010

GENRE: CANNIBAL, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

For whatever reason, I was under the impression that Don't Go Near The Park was a Last House On The Left ripoff or something along those lurid lines, and almost considered watching something else for the day since my wife was around and she gets upset with those sort of things. So I decided to check, saw that it involved a 12,000 year old curse, and figured it was 'safe'. And thus, I am happy to report that it was a gloriously way to close out another year of HMAD, as it was not without some sleaze, but was 82 minutes of pure nonsensical entertainment.

While most films are content with a sole "_____ years ago" in its first 10 minutes, Park has two, and then leaves it up to our imagination/logical deduction powers to figure out the other time periods that are depicted until we finally catch up to the present day (a half hour into the movie!). The 12,000 years ago one shows some cavemen arguing with their elder, who puts a curse on them, which is fine, but it's the second title card-ed period ("Sixteen years ago") that really kicks things off, as we see one of our cavemen (who is immortal as long as he disembowels and eats a young girl every now and then) stalk Linnea Quigley and then rent a room at her home. After she discovers he's a murderer, she instantly falls in love with him, they get married, she has their kid, their marriage deteriorates, and we see that he dotes on the daughter. Again, this is all the first half hour of the movie.

So now the girl is 16, and after her parents have a hilarious fight during her birthday party (the guests all awkwardly leaving as she cries), she runs away and meets up with some other runaways in Griffith Park. From there the plot continues to get more convoluted, and to make up for the head-scratching elements, writers Lawrence D. Foldes (who also produced and directed) and Linwood Chase occasionally toss in some T&A, largely courtesy of Tamara Taylor, playing the 16 year old (19 in real life, thankfully). Foldes and Chase play a pair of would-be rapists who paw at her, she falls for a guy named Cowboy who goes to 2nd with her about 17 seconds after they first meet (and later gets it on with for real), her dad rips her clothes off near the end (purportedly to sacrifice her to end his curse, but it comes off more like he's trying to rape her). Hell, even the little runaway kid she bonds with cops a feel while she's sleeping, and when she shrieks he offers "I didn't know you were alive!" as an excuse. Like I said, the movie is lightly sleazy, but mostly it's just that special sort of batshit nonsense that I love.

I mean, it's only 82 minutes long, but we get all of the above and more - at one point, reporter Aldo Ray goes on and on about the history of Griffith Park. And there are a number of out of nowhere situations, like when some dude tries to mug the little kid, or a girl looking for her dog (curiously named "Starshine"). Plus a parade of some sort, and then, in a plot twist of some sort, we find out our immortal cannibals also have laser eyes! Hell, zombies even make an appearance in the final moments! It's cinematic stew - just toss in whatever you got, as long as there's some sort of center that folks can latch onto.

The one thing it DOESN'T have an abundance of is legit horror scenes. There's a few of the afore-mentioned stomach eating scenes, but they're all the same and the effects are too terrible for them to be enjoyed from a technical viewpoint. The zombies (!) don't show up until the very end, and a lot of subplots and characters (Linnea Quigley, for example) just disappear rather than end in another kill. I kept thinking Quigley would come back into the movie, but nope, she argues with the caveman dad and is never seen again. But honestly, I was too busy laughing or yelling "HUH?" at the screen to really notice until it was over. "Hey, was that even really a horror movie?" Good thing it had the zombies.

Of almost equal entertainment value is the commentary by Foldes and Quigley, moderated by Dark Sky DVD features guru David Gregory. Foldes has a really pleasant and young-sounding voice - he sounds like a PR rep or something, which just makes his often tasteless stories and anecdotes all the more hilarious. He randomly begins discussing Aldo Ray's drinking problem, gleefully points out that "as the director I got to cop a feel", and at the very end confesses that he wanted to jump Quigley's bones. He also more or less admits that the film existed solely to fit the needs of a few investors and try to make everyone some money, which might explain the film's record number of plot elements and out of nowhere actions (the laser eyes, for example - you can almost hear a producer saying "Hey, we need some sci-fi in there to make an extra 10% on foreign sales!"). There are a number of gaps in the track though; not sure if it's because they had to remove some comments or if they were just as momentarily stunned by the movie as I often was.

The rest of the extras aren't as entertaining. The "gore outtakes" are completely worthless, it's just a bunch of holding on shots of blood dripping from a wound or something. There's a lengthy deleted/extended scene piece that runs about 25 minutes, but half of that is just footage from the movie that they left in for context (or pure laziness). Most of the scenes are pretty worthless - most of it consists of Bondi and the other runaways talking, though there's a full frontal shot of Quigley that will be of interest to her fans. On the commentary, they discuss their guerrilla style shooting of a scene in front of Mann's Chinese, but the scene was cut from the film and doesn't appear here, which is a shame as it was pretty impressive how they pulled it off (even posting some ADs with 8x11 sheets of paper saying "By entering this area you consent to being filmed" at the sides of the area to cover themselves legally). The final extra is the film's rather misleading trailer, which makes it look like a full blown zombie film ("Zombie on a rampage of blood and terror!" - in the movie they wake up, move about 7 feet to the left, and kill the bad guy. Some rampage.), though I wouldn't envy someone who had to make a legit trailer for this movie that depicted its actual plot.

If you notice, I have added the label Video Nasties for this review and will go back and add it where appropriate for the others. Partially spurned on by Jake West's documentary that I saw at Frightfest, my goal for 2011 is to see all of the Video Nasties that I haven't already, because I'm pretty tickled by what made the list. This movie is pretty tame compared to say, Pieces, an equally batshit but far more gruesome film that was NOT on the list. But also, I was given the 3 disc set to review and I realized that I couldn't because they kept spoiling all of the movies on the bonus features (which, given the doc's brief length, the bonus features are sort of the meat of the release). So once I see them all, I can finally write my review - hopefully by the time it sees release in the US (as of now it's not available on Region 1 disc). Hopefully I can do it; I'm sure some of these movies are no longer available (or never were) on DVD and thus VHS will be expensive. And I want to stick to legitimate releases, so don't offer your bootlegs.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Killing Ariel (2008)

DECEMBER 30, 2010

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

There’s a good movie somewhere in Killing Ariel, but the muddled and repetitive script keeps it from ever rising to the surface. The film boasts two directors, which is perfect for the film’s ultimate problem – it lacks a coherent vision. It tries to be a psychological-based tale AND a supernatural one, and in trying to combine both ends up succeeding at neither.

The main problem is that there are too many timelines. We start in 1933, then flash to the present day as our hero Rick is about to tell his psychiatrist something that happened in 1973. Now, actor Michael Brainard has the ‘unfortunate’ benefit of not looking his age, so this was a bit confusing – he’s supposed to be about 45 (and in real life he was) but he looked like he was in his 30s to me, so they probably should have cast an older actor or changed the opening date to 1943. I’d actually go with the latter, as Brainard’s actually pretty good in the role, and makes the character sympathetic despite the fact that the movie is basically about him cheating on his wife. Also, when he goes nuts in the 2nd half of the film, he reminded me of the best Michael Keaton performances, where he’s unhinged but still likable. Good work, sir.

But back to the timeline issues, it's not just the awkward transition from one to the other - it gets even worse. At one point, Brainard (in a flashback) reads a diary entry, and in that diary entry, the author has a flashback! So its 2008, and a guy is telling his shrink about the time in 1973 that he read a diary entry from 1933 about something that happened a few years before. Jesus Christ. Now I know how people must have felt if they tried watching a season 5 episode of Lost without ever having the show before.

Adding to the confusion is the old movie standby of “is he crazy or is this happening?”, exacerbated by the fact that the plot is, as the title suggests, about killing Ariel. It’s not a spoiler, Ariel just won’t stay dead. So he kills her over and over again (or DID HE?), and she comes back over and over in turn; sometimes as if nothing happens, other times taunting him, and eventually talking to him as a disembodied head. Also, sometimes it’s played for laughs (Evil Dead 2 came to mind more than once), other times it’s straight up psychological thriller. The tone in this movie is as erratic as its timeframe.

But then the twist (of course there’s a twist) came around, and it was a really good one that I neither saw coming nor can recall being used before, at least on a specific level. Unfortunately, its impact is lessened by the director’s insistence on closing the film with another “scare”, which renders the explanation potentially false. I can’t think of any off hand, but I know it’s not the first time I’ve seen this sort of “have their cake and eat it too” ending in a horror movie, and it annoys me every time. One or the other is great/acceptable; both is annoying.

Also, the girl playing Ariel is cute and unabashedly naked quite often, but is not the best actress. She’s supposed to be an exotic “perfect” woman and thus she has an accent and looks like she could be several nationalities, but her limited acting range and lack of chemistry with Brainard is damaging at times. It’s her first movie so I won’t hold it against her, but I couldn’t help but think if the movie would have improved with someone more experienced (if anything, she should be stealing scenes from Brainard, and not just with her breasts). They also could have used more scenes with Brainard’s family, since they are crucial to the film’s final scenes but largely forgotten about by the time they got there; I actually forgot he even had a son for a few minutes.

Another item for the "pro" column - it's a horror film shot in/around Los Angeles featuring a hospital, but it's NOT the Linda Vista. Thank you, filmmakers.

The disc’s sole extra beyond some trailers is a pretty decent behind the scenes that largely focuses on stuff we don’t see too often, namely the rehearsal process and how two directors work together (one handles the actors, one handles the technical stuff, at least they claim – we see the ‘actor’ director explaining where the camera should be at one point). Some of it is the usual boring stuff about applying makeup or whatever, and it could have used some interview pieces, but it’s a bit better than the average indie making of piece (in that it’s watchable).

It’s not a very long movie (85 minutes) so it’s not a question of editing; this movie needs “alternative” scenes to operate at 100% capacity. A little less time with the Killing Ariel stuff (or the pointless epilogue), and a little more time with the family and perhaps showing us “what really happened” in clearer detail at the end, and you’d have a really solid and fairly original flick. Points for trying though.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Sssssss (1973)

DECEMBER 29, 2010

GENRE: MAD SCIENTIST, MUTANT
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT)

Sometimes, I’d rather watch a flat out shit film than one that was just ‘off’, because it’s too frustrating to see cool ideas and scenarios botched by a terrible pace or nonsensical censorship. Sssssss is one such film; the concept is awesome and even scary, but the film’s piss-poor structure keeps it from being a winner; if I had any power at all, I’d have a remake of this movie in development ASAP.

I’ve seen enough movies to usually accurately gauge how much is left based on the way the movie is going. Even a movie like Memento, which is told backwards, reached an obvious point where it seemed things were about to be wrapped up. However, in Sssssss’ case, I was more inclined to believe that Netflix’s transfer was broken or maybe the film was actually just the first half of a two part story when I saw that only 8 minutes were left (including credits), because the plot had just reached the point that should have been the end of the second act. This isn’t a slow burn, it’s literally two acts of a story awkwardly converted into three. Whereas most movies of this type would have the end of the 2nd act be the point where the monster breaks free or becomes fully formed, the end of this movie’s 2nd act is roughly the point where the monster finally starts turning at all.

And even that would be OK if it was more tragic, but since the movie spends more time with its mad scientist villain that its tragic would-be hero, I never got attached enough to him to really care. Dirk Benedict is cheesy as all hell, sure, so there’s already some “Ah go ahead and kill him” feeling, but a few more scenes devoted to his character could have helped immensely once he began to turn into a snake (yes, that’s the movie’s plot – not a snake-like man, an actual snake). Granted, the mad scientist guy is crazy enough to be entertaining, but by focusing on him the whole time, it renders the big finale not only abrupt and incredibly weak, but also anticlimactic.

The problem is that there doesn’t seem to be any way for Benedict to become human again, so the stakes are already pretty low. But also, he doesn’t even get revenge on the scientist! He gets attacked by another, presumably not-originally-human snake, while the Bene-snake fights a mongoose, a fight we don’t even get to see the outcome of – they just cut to Benedict’s girlfriend screaming (so I guess we can assume he lost to the mongoose).

Also, this is as "exciting" as the action gets in the entire movie. Like I said, it takes forever for him to turn, so until then it’s just the scientist talking to and/or about snakes, and occasionally getting revenge on folks. Those scenes are also confined to the film’s latter portion, but at least they are more satisfying than the climax. In one example, he goes to the house of a jock douche who had killed one of his snakes while snooping around the lab, and tosses another snake into the shower with him. The other one’s even better – he chains a professional rival in his basement and produces two keys and two snakes – one snake is lethal, the other harmless, but he can’t tell which is which. It’s like an early Jigsaw trap!

Hilariously, it doesn’t even matter, because he ends up getting eaten by the 18 foot King Cobra snake, which we are told is the “most dangerous of all living things”, which I call bullshit on – a grizzly or great white would eat the ever living fuck out of one of those things. We’re also told that one bite “has enough venom to kill 30 men”, which is a fairly worthless statistic. Enough venom to kill one man would mean just as much – it would have to BITE 30 men to actually kill 30 men, right? Dead is dead.

There’s also the matter of the inane “blocks” in scenes that have partial nudity. Considering how talky it is, I can’t imagine anyone but adults wanting to see this movie, but apparently someone had a different opinion, because in post, odd objects were placed in the “foreground” over shots that had nudity. The jarring leaves and branches in the skinny-dipping scene were one thing, but later they put what I guess is supposed to be a giant lamp over a half nude girl, one that moves along with the shot. Why not just cut the scene? She wasn’t even a victim – she’s boinking the jock douche and takes off before the scientist even shows up. Could have just cut the whole scene, lessened the movie’s excessive length (98 minutes) and not had distracting nonsense. Nope, a giant superimposed lamp made more sense.

Shockingly, the producers of this character and suspense challenged movie are none another than Zanuck and Brown, who just two years later would produce a movie called Jaws. Guess the genius of that film can be chalked up to someone else...

Now, like I said, it’s not a bad movie, it’s a frustrating one. A mad scientist turning folks into snakes and getting revenge on those who wronged him is an awesome idea. The gradual snake-turning effects are pretty decent for the time, and I loved how Benedict started showing snake-like instincts before he physically began changing. There’s a scene where he’s at a carnival and that same jock douche starts harassing him, and rather than take a swing like a normal person, he jumps up and sort of wraps himself around the guys torso and tries to bite him. It’s pretty hilarious. It’s also the first moment of action in the movie, occurring right around the 50 minute mark or so.

I remember this because right after this scene, I had to stop it in order to make it down to the New Beverly for Godfather Part III, which I had successfully avoided for the past 20 years. Luckily for Sssssss, it was even worse (couldn’t have guessed that the low budget killer snake movie would be superior to something that shockingly earned a Best Picture nomination), but I was surprised to discover that both films had abrupt endings that weren’t dramatically satisfying in any way. I don’t need Michael Corleone to go down in a Scarface-like blaze of glory, but for Christ’s sake, would it have killed them to resolve anyone else’s character or at least provide context for that final scene? Where’s Kay or Anthony? And for all the shit Sofia Coppola’s acting gets (which I prefer to her films, for what it’s worth), at least it was entertaining, and it was hardly the only problem with the movie; it was terrible whether she was on-screen or not. At least Sssssss disappointed me in half the time.

Final note - I could swear I have seen the house/lab in another movie before. Anyone else recognize it? The IMDb didn’t have the “filming locations”. Also, if you want to watch on instant, you have to do so today or tomorrow – it’s going away. Thus, if you seek frustratingly slow-paced movies about folks being turned into snakes, you’ll have to make other plans.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Campfire Stories (2001)

DECEMBER 28, 2010

GENRE: ANTHOLOGY, CRAP
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

I never finished Sopranos (not having HBO, I would rent on DVD, and got sidetracked after S3 or 4); I liked it, but didn’t love it as much as every TV critic in the world. But one thing I fully enjoyed was watching Jamie-Lynn Sigler blossom from cute to positively stunning over the few seasons I watched. However, after Dark Ride and now Campfire Stories, I will be sure to never ever watch a horror film starring Ms. Sigler ever again. Yes, the rule is three strikes and you're out, but these two movies are so bad they make for like five outs. I don’t care if it’s a Halloween sequel with cameos by Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck as their Armageddon characters*, if she’s in it I will avoid like the plague.

Not that either film’s colossal failure is her fault; indeed, she barely appears in this one, despite her top billing. She’s one of the three teens that “host” David Johansen (Buster Poindexter!) is telling his stories to, which means her role consists almost entirely of reaction shots (or NON-reaction shots – most of the time she’s just staring blankly, and I can’t blame her). She gets a bit more to do in the final scenes, due to an inane but still obvious twist involving her character, but still, her combined screen time is probably less than five minutes.

No, the problem with the movie, as is far too often the case, is that every single character in its three stories is a hateful piece of shit, rendering most of the film borderline intolerable. Our first tale concerns four douchebag jocks (one of them played by Perez Hilton, of all fucking people) who pick on and beat up a mentally challenged janitor for no real reason, then run around in the woods with hockey sticks and golf clubs as he kills them one by one. That’s about it – there’s no twist or anything, nor anyone to root for (well, besides the killer). It doesn’t even offer any good kills – everything is off-screen, which renders some of it just plain incoherent, especially during the pointless prologue (what the fuck kind of anthology segment has its OWN prologue?) where the guy escapes from a mental institution and we just see these random, choppy bits of violence happening to people we haven’t really been introduced to.

And yet it’s still better than the second segment, which ALSO features a group of annoying assholes picking on some older guy, in this case a Native American with a magic bag that glows yellow and produces 50 dollar bills. Well, anyway, they kill him, and then smoke his “drugs”, which causes them to see the worst CGI snakes and beetles (I think?) ever committed to film, before they all freak out and become old. The twist at the end (which was hinted at in the beginning of the tale) isn’t too bad, but the hateful characters, similarity to the scenario of the first story, and truly atrocious CGI take away whatever goodwill it would have earned from the twist, and then some. I mean, Christ, look at this horseshit:

They couldn’t just film these two with an actual sky behind them?

The third tale is probably the best, if only because I didn’t know where it was going from the first few minutes. I didn’t LIKE where it went, but at least it had the “suspense” going for it. Overlong and again keeping everything off-screen (including any and all outcomes of an endless game of truth or dare – this movie was shot in New Jersey – you couldn’t find two ‘actresses’ willing to kiss on camera?), at least the characters are slightly more tolerable than the ones in the other stories, and since the killer used a video camera, the filmmakers’ decision to use what had to be the shittiest digital available at the time (2000) at least paid off, as the in-camera shots looked appropriate, unlike say Cloverfield’s way too professional looking “found footage”.

The music is also uniformly atrocious – when they’re not using obvious library cues (particularly in the first story), they just load it up with horrendous (presumably) local bands, including one that offers a horrid Alice Cooper ripoff called “Welcome To My Hell”. Oh, and The Misfits show up out of nowhere. It’s the best production value the movie has to offer, in fact – everything about it looks/feels cheap, including the DVD itself, which has chapter breaks in the middle of scenes, which just seems even more ridiculous on an anthology.

You know, this seriously makes Dark Ride look good. At least the killer looked cool in that one and the opening scene was decent. This doesn’t offer a goddamn thing.

What say you?

*OK, obviously I’d watch THAT, but otherwise my threat stands.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Blacula (1972)

DECEMBER 27, 2010

GENRE: VAMPIRE
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT VIEW)

I haven't watched many (any?) so called "blaxploitation" horror movies, but I think I will remedy that if any of them are as enjoyable as Blacula, a straightforward, surprisingly not silly take on the basic Dracula tale. See, based on the title (and this depiction), I figured it would be about a pimpin' vampire, wearing a purple cape and what not, but it was actually kind of tragic, featuring one of the best "death" (in quotes because there's a sequel) scenes for the big guy in any Dracula movie, and I felt genuine sympathy for Manuwalde.

I was also surprised to learn that Dracula was actually in it. In the film's prologue, Manuwalde is an African prince who is (inexplicably) seeking Dracula's help in suppressing slave trading, to which Dracula counters by turning him into a vampire (and, because Dracula is racist, coins the title term). But then later some dudes talk about Dracula movies, so this is both our world and the world of Bram Stoker's novel combined into one, I guess? Doesn't matter, though I was disappointed that Drac never re-entered the story. I figured Manuwalde would go after him for revenge or something, but no dice.

Nope, Manuwalde is all about the ladies, or, specifically LADY, a woman named Tina who appears to be the reincarnation of his wife, who Drac killed in the prologue. So it's all very Vampire in Brooklyn-y, except a lot better. The one thing Brooklyn has over this one (besides less terrifying facial hair for the vampire) is that it wasn't as racist or hateful as this movie. Some choice quotes: "That is one rude n---er!" and "Why would anyone want a dead faggot?" (referring to the Bradley Cooper-esque dude who Manuwalde had turned and thus has disappeared from the morgue). Now, I will admit I chuckled at some of this stuff, but not at the words themselves, but more the far long gone attitudes of folks (no one in the movie has any problem with their friends' unabashed bigotry). Needless to say, uptight PC folks should steer clear of this movie.

Back to the romance though, I liked how straight he was with her (and how well she took it!). He doesn't tell her he's a vampire right away, but when it comes time to do so (about an hour in), he doesn't beat around the bush; he more or less says "My name is Manuwalde, I was a 17th century prince and now I am one of the undead, and you are the reincarnation of my wife." On that note, "undead" is a good word, because in his first kill scene he acts like a zombie more than a vampire (and mutters like Frankenstein's monster, for good measure). Other kills are more typically vampiric, with the gnashed teeth and hands raised above the neckline.

That's the other thing, it's actually kind of scary at times. There's a great moment where he goes after a photographer who snapped a photo of him, because when she sees the developed picture, sans Blacula, she will expose him. So she opens the door to her darkroom and BAM! He's on the other side, ready to strike. Good stuff. Some of the other kills are kind of botched though; there's an odd moment during the climax where they suddenly just cut to a random cop getting fried on a big electric panel - it's not even clear if the guy was just clumsy or if Manuwalde tossed him at it.

Back to the ending though (spoiler!), I loved how he chose to die, now that his love has been taken from him yet again. Throughout the movie he is tracked by a doctor who was examining some of the victims and trying to figure out what was going on, so you figure they'll have a big battle at the end since he's sort of the Van Helsing of the movie, but no. He closes in on Manuwalde (I love that name, in case you haven't figured it out yet), and Manuwalde is just like "No, I got this", and then walks out into the sunlight. Awesome.

My only real issue with the movie was that it didn't capitalize on its Los Angeles location. Since so many "modern day Dracula" movies take place in New York, I was excited to see "my" city for once, especially in the 70s. But alas, other than a sign saying "Port of Los Angeles", you'd never know you were there, as the movie largely takes place in apartment buildings and other generic locales (indeed, there is a map of New York in a cop's office, so perhaps they didn't actually shoot in LA anyway). I know it's a low budget movie, so I wasn't expecting Manuwalde to wreak havoc at the Mann's Chinese or take Tina to The Ivy, but they could have at least tossed in some generic establishing shots to sell the locale a bit more.

Otherwise, a surprisingly good, entertaining flick. I know I've said in the past that I'm sick of Dracula movies (straight or "re-imagined") but this was definitely an exception. Or maybe because I just watched those two lousy Hammer ones last week, I was just happy to see a typical vampire tale again. Either way, I'll be adding the sequel and some of the other blaxploitation takes on the classic monsters (such as Blackenstein or Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde) to my queue.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Sisters (1973)

DECEMBER 26, 2010

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

I don’t know why I am so slow to catch up with Brian De Palma films, since I rarely dislike any (Redacted being the only one I flat out disliked; even Mission to Mars I found mostly entertaining at least). I know I had planned to check out Sisters when I heard it was being remade, so I could avoid potentially seeing the remake first, but that film hit DVD a while ago and I’m only seeing the original now. I’ve also owned Casualties Of War for about 3 years now and its still in the shrinkwrap!

Anyway, Sisters is good, but not one of my top 5 favorites*. I know he loves Hitchcock and draws heavily from him, but I think he went a bit overboard with the Psycho love here, since the movie is structured almost identically, right down to a lengthy cleanup scene after the person we thought was our hero (Lisle Wilson) got killed. But instead of following the “Norman Bates” character, in this case Margot Kidder, we follow “Lila Crane”, aka Grace, a reporter who witnessed the murder and is determined to get to the bottom of it. Kidder disappears for about a half hour or so, and now we are following someone we barely know, and who’s kind of abrasive to boot. So it’s a bit of an awkward shift, and it took a while for me to get back into the groove of the film.

I did love, however, the “meet cute” for the film’s would-be romantic lead couple, Kidder and Wilson. Seemingly reverse engineered from De Palma’s need to work a large knife into the story, they meet on a game show of dubious merit, where contestants vote on how staged “Peeping Tom” scenarios will play out. Kidder is the female victim and Wilson is the “Tom”, and for their participation, they get some random but fairly traditional prizes – she gets a set of steak knives and he gets a gift certificate for a trendy new restaurant (which Kidder basically invites herself to help him spend). Sort of like a Simpsons episode, with the opening scenes having nothing to do with anything beyond a seemingly pulled-from-the-ass way to get the story where it needed to be.

It’s nowhere near as random as the film’s closing shot, however, which may be one of my favorites in movie history. Wilson’s body is concealed in a couch that has somehow ended up in front of a building on a farm or something. A cow approaches it, its owner chases her off, and then we zoom out to reveal Charles Durning, dressed like a repairman and watching the cow/couch nonsense with binoculars from a telephone pole. The end! But even that sort of feels lifted from Psycho; it’s simply a stranger/funnier version of the final shot in Hitch’s film, with the car being pulled from the lake.

Actually the movie is sprinkled with humorously random stuff, like William Finley slipping on a floor and whacking his head, or Grace’s mother and her dismay that her daughter hasn’t found a husband yet. And I loved the scene where Wilson decides to buy a cake; not only is his whim more or less causing his death (he should be bringing Kidder’s medication back so she doesn’t go crazy), but BDP milks it for all its worth. For example, the usual decorator isn’t around, so the inexperienced clerk and Wilson have to write on it themselves, which is painfully slow. And hilarious.

I was surprised to learn that the disc was from Criterion, especially when I took a look at the extra features. None are video based (not even the trailer), nor is there a commentary or anything of that nature – just a few magazine articles: an interview with De Palma conducted during the film’s release, and the 1966 Life article about real Siamese twins that served as the inspiration for the film. And then a bunch of publicity stills and the like; all told – a remarkably thin package for Criterion. The transfer wasn’t particularly great either – it looked good and was anamorphic (many early Criterion titles aren’t – this is spine #89 out of 550 or so), but it also had a lot of scratches and other imperfections. Could be a low budget thing – maybe it hasn’t been preserved as well as it should.

I’ve heard the remake is awful, but only via die hard De Palma fans, so I will try to keep an open mind going in, especially since it was written by one of the writers of Terror Firmer. How bad can THAT be? But if it’s truly bad, it will help me appreciate this one more I guess, so that’s good. I have a feeling I’d like this one even more a 2nd time around anyway, now that I know about the only thing that was really bothering me (the Psycho cribs).

What say you?

*Could change since I have more to see and others like Raising Cain that I saw as a kid and don’t remember, but roughly: Carlito’s Way, Blow Out, Dressed To Kill, Phantom Of The Paradise, and Carrie.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Haunted (1995)

DECEMBER 25, 2010

GENRE: GHOST
SOURCE: DVD (STORE RENTAL)

Merry Christmas everyone! Except to Haunted director Lewis Gilbert*, who managed to make a movie in which a naked Kate Beckinsale (well, a body double) makes out with her brother boring. Based on a James Herbert novel, the movie could have been decent at about 80 minutes, but at nearly 110, I had long since given up being invested in anything that was happening by the time, er, well, by the time anything actually happened.

Like several thousand ghost tales, our hero (Aidan Quinn) doesn’t believe in ghosts, and in keeping with this movie’s excessive pointlessness, this is clarified not once but twice, as we see him dismiss the idea of ghosts to his psychology class, and then again when he exposes a medium (who turns out to be not entirely fake after all). But he takes on a “case” where an old lady claims to be seeing ghosts in her big, standard period/British horror movie house. He is met by a young Beckinsale, who is the perfect woman and thus obviously the ghost.

But he doesn’t realize this until some 5000 hours into the movie. It’s one thing to be a step or two ahead of the main character, but it’s another to be several miles ahead of the guy. Plus, he obviously wants to hit it, and she him, and yet it takes the entire movie for them to finally go at it (with those body doubles, again – sigh). There’s even a scene where they almost kiss and get distracted by wind or something, yet they don’t pick up where they left off. No way. If Kate Beckinsale is about to ram her tongue down my throat, if there’s any distraction, I would be back in her personal space before you could say “cantaloupe” and asking “so where were we...?”

The incest angle is good for a few “hey-o!” moments, but they are too few and far between, as if the filmmakers were trying to retain it from the novel but hope you actually don’t catch it. Hell, even after Quinn sees her making out with the brother, he never confronts her about it. It’s kind of a problem when, during the big exposition scene at the end, we discover that it was their unusual relationship that kicked off all of the problems in the first place (they were caught by their mother, who killed herself, which is why the old woman – her sister – killed them). Because Quinn never asks her about it, it just carries no weight, especially when there’s a running theme of “is he seeing things or did they really happen?” in the movie.

The cast is also too small. Even if I hadn’t figured out the “twist” from the minute the characters were introduced, the movie would have trouble maintaining much suspense given the limited options. You know Quinn’s gonna be OK until the end, the old lady just sits in a chair the whole movie, and then there’s the trio of siblings, who all claim that the lady is seeing things, which means they’re in it together. John Gielgud pops up as a local doctor, but he’s kept out of the “action”, as is Quinn’s assistant. Including these folks in the actual movie (i.e. having them come to the house) would have livened things up a bit. Instead, it’s just an endless series of scenes where Beckinsale and Quinn almost screw around, get distracted, and then her brother says something snooty and Quinn goes off by himself and pretends to do something.

One thing the movie does surprisingly offer in abundance is fire and explosions! A car blows up, a gas leak or something causes a big explosion on the ceiling (think Backdraft), and Quinn gets trapped in not one but two infernos, rescued by ghosts both times. I was expecting a more atmospheric/subtle tale not unlike The Woman In Black, and for the most part it WAS, but every now and then it would turn into the Michael Bay version of this sort of thing.

Speaking of the fire, the DVD and IMDb both say that the film was shot 1.33:1 (full frame), but I’m not sure that’s correct. There’s a scene where Quinn discovers that the floor beneath him is seemingly concealing fire underneath its tiles, and when he sees a little flame coming up, he steps on it which makes another pop up a few feet away. But WE don’t see that, because it appears to be cropped out – there’s a cut to his reaction, and then they cut to a different angle allowing us to see it (and others that presumably just popped up). Yet you CAN see the faint glow of the flame on the tile. Plus, who the hell shoots an R rated (i.e. not TV friendly) movie in full frame? I would investigate, but I’d rather not spend any more time on Haunted. If you’re in the mood for a horror-lite, romantic ghost tale, I’d suggest The Eclipse, starring CiarĂ¡n Hinds and... hey, Aidan Quinn! It works better both as a romance AND as a ghost tale, and it’s about 20 minutes shorter to boot.

What say you?

*It's not too harsh - he also directed Moonraker. Dude's got a lot to make up for.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

DECEMBER 24, 2010

GENRE: HOLIDAY, MONSTER
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

Let's be perfectly clear - Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is not a full blown horror movie. It's a fantasy adventure at heart, but structured very much like a monster movie, and even features a few slasher-style killings (pickaxe through the head!) and some genuinely creepy moments. But it also feels like a kid's movie at times, and if not for one of the most disturbing shots in cinema history (a room full of very elderly, very naked men), it probably would have gotten a PG rating back in the pre PG-13 days.

Its first hour works best, as it unfolds sort of like Jurassic Park or something, with some guys digging up SOMETHING and we are treated to a lot of shots of "people looking" and others that slowly track in on seemingly innocuous objects. Then our heroes find a field full of slaughtered reindeer, which is quite disturbing (think the buffalo scene from Dances With Wolves, only with, like, Blitzen). And then the children of the town start disappearing, with only these creepy little wicker dolls left behind. Then, the Tom Jane-esque co-hero (his son is our main character) traps an old man in a wolf trap, one who says nothing, is naked, and has a penchant for gingerbread cookies. And he has a big white beard...

All of this stuff works great. It's clever, it's suspenseful, kind of funny (I love the running gag about gingerbread), and you're not sure where it's going to end up. It's also shot quite well; the DP finds a lot of vibrant color in an otherwise gloomy and fairly dark Finland locale. The score is also wonderful, something that sounds like a cross between Thomas Newman and Danny Elfman (alas, no score release as of yet).

However, it starts to go off the rails in its third act (spoilers ahead!), which sort of hurt the movie overall. Had it lived up to the terrific first hour, this would be top 10 of the year material, but the weak climax brings it down. Once we discover that the old man is not Santa Claus, the real Santa is "introduced", which I put in quotes because we never see him/it. All we get is a giant block of ice (and I mean giant, like, hundred feet tall/wide) with big horns sticking out. I'm all for leaving things to the imagination, but come on! This is a giant monster Santa, and you're not going to show it? Or worse, even let it loose, if even for a few minutes? Maybe it was a budgetary limitation, or they want to save something for a sequel, but the giant Santa is just a Macguffin of sorts.

No, the real "villain" and thus focus is the old man, who turns out to be an elf. Of which there are seemingly hundreds. The scenes of a few of them advancing on our heroes like old naked zombies are fun, but once Santa is removed from the picture, the movie takes a sharp turn and goes about explaining the title, which sets up what the sequel is probably going to be about (i.e. not a giant Santa monster). It's an idea that would have worked better if the movie was a period piece, because it would sort of make us rethink our own legend of Santa, but it seems to take place in the modern day. Plus, it comes after we've been denied a giant monster Santa Claus, so we're at a point where pretty much anything would be unsatisfying.

Due to the Tom Jane-esque dad, I couldn't help but wonder how a US remake would turn out. Not only do we have entirely different Christmas traditions and legends, but we're also the folks who made the Amblin films (ET, Gremlins, etc) that this often emulates. Nobody does it better than us! Again, possibly for budget reasons, but I would have liked to have seen a few more kids (our hero, who is kind of annoying at times and reminded me of Oskar from Let The Right One In, has a list of 6 friends but we only see one), and possibly a bit more with the businessman who wants to thaw Santa (in one of the film's best moments, he gives the construction crew that is digging him out a list of "safety measures" that includes "No swearing" and "Wash behind your ears"). It's a short movie, but they introduce enough elements that could easily have lengthened the film by about 20-25 minutes without causing any problems. It feels very stripped to the bone at times, so while I'm usually the first to cry foul at a US remake of a recent foreign film (i.e. Let Me In), I think an expanded, bigger budgeted version of this movie would be pretty awesome if done right.

Given the film's thin plot and wonky 3rd act, I wasn't too surprised to learn that the film was actually the feature length version of a short film that director Jalmari Helander made seven years ago. I WAS surprised, however, to learn that the short's plot was more like the last 5 minutes of the feature length, with nothing about a giant Santa (or even any kids for that matter). It's like Helander keeps focusing on the wrong part of his own story. No dude, screw the elves - GIANT MONSTER SANTA, dammit! You can watch the short film (plus a sequel that acts as an instructional video for those who have received an "original Finnish Father Christmas") on Youtube. Even though it kind of spoils the twist of the movie, watching them before might make you less disappointed than I was with the movie's climax, since you will know beforehand that the elves are what Helander is most interested in.

Weak ending aside, it's still one of the more unique and enjoyable Christmas "horror" movies in ages, and I'm happy that it has gotten a theatrical release despite the language barrier (the first scene is actually in English though; which momentarily gave me hope I wouldn't have to read the movie). Horror fans might be disappointed that it's not the "killer Santa" movie they might have expected, but the tone was clearly inspired by a lot of your favorite monster movies, and thus I feel it makes for a perfectly acceptable horror movie.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

DECEMBER 23, 2010

GENRE: HAMMER, VAMPIRE
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT)

Well, at least The Vampire Lovers is better than Lust For A Vampire, thanks to a more focused story, fewer extraneous characters, and the appearance of Peter Cushing, who disappears for the bulk of the film but elevates the few moments he IS on screen (and gets to play Van Helsing at the end of the movie by killing the villain himself, instead of one of the characters who had actually been around for the movie's events). But it's still on the lower end of the Hammer totem pole, at least amongst the ones I've seen.

The problem with both films is that it spends too much time explaining the back story and not enough time on exciting events from the present day. The movie opens with a lengthy flashback about a guy seeking revenge for his sister by beheading a vampire (awesome!) and then, possibly to make up for nothing happening, we see most of it again an hour later when he re-enters the present day story. Plus he weakens the prologue version by endlessly droning on the entire time, with all the conviction of the assistant principal reading the lunch menu over the PA system.

Had I not watched Lust yesterday I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more, since it's similar. Carmilla (Ingrid Pitt in this one - so the character inexplicably got younger in the sequel) pretty much does the same thing in this one, seducing men and women alike, randomly killing a few others in the meantime. So it's a better version of the story I just saw, one that wasn't particularly exciting in the first place. It's also something that could have been avoided if Netflix's suggestion system was worth a damn. Tell me, when queuing up the film Lust For A Vampire, which of the following films do you think would be suggested: The Exorcist, Jaws, or The Vampire Lovers? If you guessed Lovers, you'd be wrong, yet you'd be correct with either of the others. I'm sorry that I don't have time to fully research each movie I see before sitting down to watch it (in fact I prefer to know as little as possible); how silly of me to assume that another film from the same lesbian vampire series would come up before a movie about a shark.

But back to my point, this one is superior, partly due to the more focused story. Carmilla has two main targets this time, one being the innocent and sweet girl named Emma (an actress who often resembles a robot due to her expressionless, rarely blinking eyes), and the other is Madame Perradon, who is a bit more "mature" but seemingly less of an interest - she sort of just has her to do some of her grunt work. There's a fun subplot in the third act involving the placement of garlic around Emma's room, with Carmilla trying to seduce everyone in sight to get them to remove them for her so she can get at her, which they milk for every possible angle and keep it rather entertaining, surprisingly enough.

The Count (I think?) makes an appearance as well, but he's just a shadowy figure that they never bother to explain. In fact as I watched it I realized that my occasional confusion during Lust had nothing to do with not seeing this film - I found this one just as baffling at times and having zero to do with the later film other than Carmilla (who, again, was played by a different actress anyway). I sort of wish Emma had returned in the sequel, since she had some sort of psychic link to Carmilla that they could have exploited in some way, but alas.

I was also tickled by Emma's continual fears about a fat and fluffy cat named Gustav. As a cat owner, I find the idea of being scared of cats rather silly, but I think anyone would be amused by Emma's repeated insistence that the thing was trying to get her. Gustav looks like he could barely get off his ass long enough to get some catnip, let alone try to kill Ms. Robot over here. There's a wonderfully stupid moment where another girl tries to convince her that she's seeing things by showing her how shadows work, and even then, with his giant shadow, Gustav just looks like a typically lazy cat who is about two seconds away from dozing off.

Interestingly, Cushing's character in the third film, Twins of Evil, is named Gustav, but I assume it's not a human version of the cat. It's also not the guy he plays in this movie, but I guess they simply didn't care about such things. Hopefully he's in that one more than he is in this one, though I'm not going to rush out to see it (even though a few twitter pals assured me that it's the best of the series).

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Lust For A Vampire (1971)

DECEMBER 22, 2010

GENRE: HAMMER, VAMPIRE
SOURCE: DVD (ONLINE RENTAL)

Is it possible to get so many things "wrong" when watching a movie? As Lust For A Vampire began, I noticed that there was a credit for "based on characters by", which is usually something you'd see in a sequel. "Is this a sequel?" I thought. Later, I learned that it WAS, which I assumed was why so much of the movie baffled me, so I looked it up on Netflix and was delighted to discover that the first film (The Vampire Lovers) was available on instant, so I made it my movie for tomorrow. THEN, I discover that the "based on" credit was actually for the author of the book that both films were based on. And, as you'll read about in that film's review, the films are about as connected as the average James Bond film (in other words, barely), and thus watching it didn't help much in understanding this one.

The biggest problem is that there are about 19 girls in the finishing school where most of it takes place, which is about 13 too many. Also, I had trouble telling some of them apart, so there was a lot of "I thought she was dead." "Maybe now she's a vampire?" "Oh wait no that's the other girl." type conversations going on in my head. And of course, listening to my own mental conversations (which, let's not beat around the bush here, also included random Meat Loaf lyrics, what achievements I could earn on my next round of Halo: Reach, whether or not I had left my computer on at work, etc) distracted me away from the nearly non-stop conversations in the film itself.

No Hammer movie is exactly an action-packed thrill ride, but even by their standards this is one dry, talky movie. Most of the kills are off-screen, with folks just finding a girl with two bite marks the next morning or whatever. And at times, the vampire plot threatens to be dwarfed by the "school covers up a girl's disappearance", which, needless to say, isn't quite as interesting. Yes, put the undead bloodsuckers away, I want to know how they explain one of their victims to a girl's dad (in the 3rd act of the film no less, long after I had forgotten the girl's name anyway). Now, combining Picnic At Hanging Rock with a vampire movie is actually a cool idea, but only if it's more about the events, not the talking about them.

It also looks cheap, which is a shame because usually even the weakest Hammer films can be enjoyed on a visual level. The women are beautiful, of course, but the backdrops are laughably fake, and the color is bland for the most part as well. Apparently, Terence Fisher dropped out at the last minute and was replaced by Jimmy Sangster, who wasn't given any time to prepare (and pretty much hates the film), so at least there's a good reason for it, but still - you have to be a die hard Hammer apologist to want to recommend this one for any real reason, I think.

There's also a guy called Count Karnstein who pops up from time to time, which just adds to the film's rather half-assed feel due to the fact that the actor (Mike Raven) looks like a Christopher Lee stunt double (in fact, I'm 99% positive they use Lee's actual eyes for a closeup at one point). No Ingrid Pitt, No Lee, no Fisher, no Cushing (he was in the first one as well, and dropped out of this one), no Oliver Reed... how is this even a Hammer movie?

Luckily it DOES have some good bits, such as the awesome reviving scene, with blood being poured on a skeleton, which magically becomes the lovely Yutte Stensgaard (replacing Pitt, who played the role in Vampire Lovers). She even rises and walks for a bit with a bloody sheet over her, which is like something out of Hellraiser or something. I also loved that the coach driver turned out to be a vampire! Every period vampire movie has a coach driver, and he's usually just cryptic or completely anonymous, so I like that this thankless role finally got mixed up a bit (plus the actor has a rather amusing face, so for a few seconds the movie's actually a lot of fun).

And, not to be crass, but if you enjoy lesbian overtones in your vampire movies, this should satisfy you to some degree, as Stensgaard makes moves on a few of the girls. Nothing as explicit as Black Swan or Devil's Nightmare (odd theme for the week here at HMAD), but you know, there it is. The finale also feels very Hammer-ish, as there is a fire, some peasants, and a quick denouement (though the Count is left standing, pointing out that fire doesn't hurt him - there's actually a third film called Twins Of Evil, with yet another cast overhaul and Cushing returning to play a different character than the one he played in Vampire Lovers). But it's just not enough to give this one a passing grade.

The commentary is a delight, however. Featuring Sangster and Suzanna Leigh (who plays one of the finishing school women, but is best known to me as the star of The Deadly Bees!), plus a Hammer expert as moderator (forgot the name, sorry), the trio (mostly Leigh) dish good-natured dirt on their dead co-stars and crew members, tell anecdotes that are in no way relevant to anyone but themselves, and mock the horridly awesome "theme song" called "Strange Love" that plays over one of the (straight) love scenes. Sangster doesn't say much, which I guess is a shame since he doesn't like the movie - might have been fun to hear him take the piss out of it more often. However at the end, when the moderator guy asks him if he has any final words, Sangster just says "No." and that's that, which is funnier than any overt mockery anyway. There are some better than average bios and radio spots as well, plus the trailer that makes it look a lot more exciting. Good extras for a bad movie = OK DVD, I guess?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The Devil's Nightmare (1971)

DECEMBER 21, 2010

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

It's strange, but knowing what was essentially the twist of The Devil's Nightmare (Italian: La Terrificante Notte Del Demonio) actually helped me enjoy it more than I otherwise would have, because the movie was kind of dull and confined all of its action (read: kills) to a 15 minute segment at the top of its 3rd act. So I'm going to discuss that in the next paragraph, however if you haven't seen the movie and don't know anything about it - out of curiosity, try watching it without knowing and report back on how much/little you enjoyed its lengthy "pre-kill" portion.

So the hook (not even really a twist) is that the villain (a succubus!) is killing folks by using their trademark sin against them, and thus each of the seven protagonists represents a different one of the seven deadly sins. This is something she sort of explains in her standard "I'm the villain but before I kill you let me explain myself" speech, but it was also part of the goddamn plot synopsis on my DVD case. Ordinarily I'd be annoyed, but in this case it was beneficial, because nothing happened in the movie's first almost-hour (save a wonderfully odd prologue, featuring Nazis and a baby being stabbed), which would have usually bored me to tears. However, I was entertained by trying to figure who was who - something I shouldn't even have been privy to.

Gluttony was pretty obvious - there's a guy eating what looks like half of a roast chicken while he drives a bus full of the other folks. Greed came in a bit of the way through, when one woman decides she's going to go look for some buried gold in the castle they're all stuck in. Anger was a particular delight, as it was personified by an old man who got, well, angry about pretty much everything. And I was quite tickled by how they depicted sloth - they basically had a girl engage in some lesbian action with "Envy" right after they arrive at the castle (20 minutes in, tops) and then sleep for the rest of the movie. So there was some process of elimination and minor detective work going on in my head throughout the bulk of the first hour, keeping me entertained.

And then the killings start, and they're pretty awesome - a beheading, an old man being tossed out a window, and an idiot backing herself into an iron maiden are the highlights. So I'm just about to write this one off as a surprise win, when BAM! The IT WAS ALL A DREAM! demon reared its annoying and overused head, and the movie completely lost me. Worse, it goes on and on for another 15 minutes after the hero wakes up, because even though it was all a dream there really is a supernatural/succubus/devil plot going on, albeit one that isn't as interesting or entertaining. Though it does involve a 70s standard - a car going over a cliff and then exploding after it landed.

Now, I can give it some leeway because the film is from 1971 and thus this sort of twist hadn't been done to death yet, but it's still lame. Plus, it just throws the whole movie's pace off - we essentially have to start over, including all the talky setup, but with only a fraction of the time. Also, the old man is no longer all bitter; in fact he's sort of the hero, as he is the one to point out an 'accident' to the others, because they, like any sane person, were rightfully ignoring the terrible fencing match going on outside.

Speaking of the early date, this movie, I think, introduced a very traditional slasher movie moment, when a girl is running from the killer, gets to her car, and then POW! He shoots an arrow into her tire, removing the car as a possible means of escape. Though I have no idea how this fit into the movie, since the succubus preferred a sneaky and more hands on approach, and thus I couldn't really see her running around with a bow and arrow, but whatever.

It's possible that there was another killer too. This is a dubbed version of an Italian movie, so there were probably some translation errors. The sound on the budget DVD also left much to be desired, dipping out entirely for a second or two quite often. But I paid 75 cents for this movie (it was a 2.99 budget pack consisting of four movies on the same side of one disc), so I can't complain too much. The video transfer was actually decent for this sort of thing; it was non-anamorphic and won't be mistaken for blu-ray, but it wasn't cropped, and didn't look too bad when I zoomed in to make up for the lack of an anamorphic transfer. If I were to zoom in on say, something from the Chilling Classics set, it would be akin to looking at chunky beef soup from inside the can.

So it's a bit slow and the ending sucked, but I was still entertained through most of its running time (I didn't even doze off!), and it was nice to see a different kind of Italian horror movie, apart from the usual zombie or giallo films. Definitely worth my 75 cents.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Waxwork II: Lost In Time (1992)

DECEMBER 20, 2010

GENRE: COMEDIC, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: NETFLIX (INSTANT VIEW)

Looking back at my review, I was surprised to discover that it was over two years ago that I had watched the original Waxwork, but the length (and thus, the associated memory loss) had a small benefit for Waxwork II: Lost In Time – I had no idea that the actress playing Sarah, the hero’s girlfriend, was changed. I’m sure die hard Waxwork fans were all like “This sucks, how can you do this!” and such, but I had no idea. Nor, I suspect, would I care if I had.

I also forgot that Zach Galligan (not replaced) was kind of a douche in the first movie, because he’s just a goofy schmuck in this one. He’s still a rather ineffective hero, but in the first film he was constantly saving his own ass, whereas here he tries to help others and often bungles it. For example, when a character gets an exposed rib cage as the result of a bat attack, the guy asks for water to soothe the pain, and Galligan throws vinegar on him instead. Oh you wacky goon!

The guy, by the way, is played by Bruce Campbell, who I wish was in the movie more. His role, like many of the others in the film, is more or less a reprisal of a horror movie character, in his case Dr. Markway from The Haunting. Because this time, instead of being stuck in a wax museum where classic characters have come to life, Galligan and Sarah travel through “time”, seeking evidence that will clear her name for the murders in the first movie. But in this movie, the different time periods are represented by not-very-loose homages to classic horror movies. The Haunting, Alien, Dawn of the Dead, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are a few of the more obvious examples, in addition to generic Frankenstein and giant monster movies.

It’s a fun concept, but it’s not a particularly good movie. For starters, the rules keep changing – sometimes they know who they are, sometimes they think they’re characters in that particular era. The clothes change, yet Galligan retains a T-shirt at one point. Also, it keeps the real villain of the film away for far too long, as they’re constantly fighting (and quickly defeating, or at least escaping from) new adversaries.

Also the tone doesn’t quite make sense – it appears to be aiming for a younger audience, with the silly humor and broad physical gags, but it’s also quite gory, which earned it an otherwise pointless R rating. It doesn’t look like it ever played in US theaters, so I guess it doesn’t really matter (did video stores ever card? Mine never did), but it’s still baffling. Oddly, Campbell’s appearance (and a medieval sequence) reminded me of Army of Darkness, another film that had an undeserved R rating (fought, unsuccessfully, by Sam Raimi), which was released around the same time. MPAA and blood, man.

Some of the humor works, luckily. Campbell is always fun, and I laughed like a loon at a sight gag in the opening scene, where the judge for the trial is drawing Sarah hanging from a gallows. The opening scene (also reminiscent of an Evil Dead sequel, in this case ED2) is also a delight, with a Thing-like disembodied hand murdering Buck Flower and causing general chaos around Sarah’s dingy house. Speaking of Flower – why is she on trial for this? He’s Buck Flower, of course he’s going to die. They can’t try you for that, can they? But there’s a lot of painfully unfunny scenes too, such as when Galligan watches a video will, which includes “responses” to the things he wisely assumed Galligan would say. Ugh.

Not all of the effects are as successful, either. Many of the sets are clearly just soundstages in/around the Universal backlot (look out for shaky walls!), and the time warp portal thing is just awful looking. There’s also a painfully awkward moment where our “shapeshifter” villain just sort of waves his hands around, and then there’s a jarring cut to his “true” form (not even from the same angle), with that actor (Karl from Die Hard!) waving his hands around as well. Couldn’t they have at least done a Wolfman-esque fade from one to the other, if they couldn’t afford some of those cool early 90s morphing effects? Did they just forget?

It’s also too damn long. 105 minutes for what’s basically the climax of Shocker stretched out to feature length form is a bit too much to ask. They could have cut the inane Alien segment entirely, that’s for sure. I also could have done without the Jack the Ripper scene, since Galligan seems to be more concerned with saving the girl in the scene than fighting his nemesis. Some of these scenes just seem to be trying to connect the film to the original, which is a nice touch, but they didn’t have to go through ALL of them, especially when it just slows the movie down.

Also, not for nothing, but uh... there’s no wax. Kind of early in the series to be abandoning its key plot hook.

Oh well. I didn’t love the original either, but I can’t imagine fans were too enthralled with this one either. It’s not terrible, but it’s very bland, and less than 24 hrs later, I’m already having trouble remembering chunks of it. Did Campbell die? Ah, who cares. Just watch (the similar) Stay Tuned. At least that had the awesome Three's Company gag.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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