The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

MAY 31, 2011


I wasn’t expecting much from The Incredible Melting Man, due to the fact that it was featured on MST3k and makes a few lists of the worst movies ever made (most of which I suspect are just made by lazy folks glancing at the list of movies that were featured on MST3k, but whatever). But I actually found it pretty fun; once you get past the silly concept, it’s a pretty traditional “unwitting victim on a rampage” movie, with a major downer ending that adds a touch of Romero-esque cynicism to the proceedings.

As I’ve mentioned before, dumb plots are nothing to me. You know what a genre movie with a really realistic plot is? Boring. I bring up the Armageddon defense – show me a better movie about oil drillers going into space to blow up an asteroid if you think it’s so bad. Same with this. I don’t think I’ve seen a better movie about a melting man, and hell, it’s even better than some of the more basic “astronaut comes back from space... but something’s not right!” movies I’ve seen; I defy anyone to tell me that The Astronaut’s Wife is better than this.

Anyway, a big part of what makes it work is its dedication to the R rating. A lot of these things tend to be pretty light, but this movie is grim as all hell. I was almost kind of surprised when a little girl ended up escaping, because it seemed like the kind of movie that would have no problem offing a tyke. Especially in hindsight, since (spoiler) the ending sees the death of both heroes, followed by the tragic titular character sort of moaning in anguish as he literally melts away, with parts of his torso and head just sort of sagging/falling off, until he’s just a pile of mush. His anguished howls are actually kind of disturbing; sure, he’s just killed a bunch of folks, but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for the guy. At least in American Werewolf In London he had someone to put him out of his misery; this poor bastard just cries and melts to death while his best friend lies dead nearby (he was shot by the cops while trying to protect him).

Some of the kills are pretty nasty too. One of the first finds him tearing some poor bastard’s head off, followed by an unnecessarily long (read: hilariously awesome) shot of the head floating down the river and then falling down a waterfall and smashing against the rocks below. And he gets it in turn; a would-be victim cuts his arm off around the one hour mark, and throughout the movie he is losing ears and other minor body parts. And the makeup is incredible for its time; Rob Bottin was apparently inspired by Rick Baker’s work here when he made the melting dude in Robocop, so just imagine that guy for an entire movie and you’ll get the idea. And it may have even looked BETTER, as Baker had designed a few different stages of melting-ness, but the actor (Alex Rebar) refused to put on the appliances. Well, fuck him, even if he was an executive producer of Home Sweet Home. I hated putting on monster makeup too, but if you sign on for a movie you do what you signed on for (especially when you’re not even a big star – this was only his third film, and the others seem to be supporting roles).

Another thing I learned was that the movie was originally written as a parody of these sort of movies, but then they decided to make it a real monster movie, which might explain some of its rather silly plot elements. But it seems this decision was made during the screenwriting process, not during filming, so I’m unsure if the other actors (particularly hero Burr DeBenning) were ever told that this wasn’t supposed to be funny anymore. DeBenning plays Dr. Ted Nelson, a name that pops up with alarming frequency throughout the film (as does the rather unthreatening name of the melting man: “Steve”). Even when the cops are about to shoot him at the end, he keeps repeating his name: “No! I’m Ted Nelson!”. Anyway, he delivers all of his lines like he’s in the middle of some sort of deep depression; even when he’s telling his buddy at work that his wife is pregnant, he looks like he just watched his dog get run over or something. The movie also has plenty of wonderfully odd dialogue exchanges, like when Ted and his wife argue about the lack of crackers in the house in the middle of his telling her that their friend Steve is now an Incredible Melting Man. And of course, DeBenning’s detached line readings just make such conversations all the more hilarious.

I was also endlessly tickled by the extended scene where Ted’s in-laws are seen taking a shortcut as they head to the Nelson house for dinner. Not only are the old folks quite frisky, but they mug their way through the entire scene before the Melting Man takes them out. And the icing on the cake – when Mrs. Nelson hears that her parents are dead, she takes on her husband’s soulless exterior, barely even blinking at the news (Ted of course has no emotion about it, but that’s just the standard Ted Nelson way of dealing with things).

If I had one complaint it would be that the movie gets pretty repetitive; maybe if that jerk Rebar had worn the makeup like he was supposed to it would feel more like it was building to something, but you can pretty much chop out the entire middle of the movie and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Melty has flashbacks to the space accident that exposed him to the radiation in the first place, and while they are of some comedic value (Steve says “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the sun through the rings of Saturn!” at one point), but the FX are so bad that it renders most of these scenes fairly incoherent. Plus they keep going back to them, which I thought was going to build toward a twist of some sort, like that maybe Steve intentionally killed his crewmates or something, but like the movie itself, you can remove them or mix up their order and it wouldn’t really change your understanding.

But who cares! It’s a movie about a melting man! And it features smoking children, beheadings, old people stealing lemons, and a janitor shoveling the mushy remains of our villain into a barrel as we hear a wonderfully cynical radio announcement about another trip to Saturn about to get under way (one that carries a message from Steve and the other “quarantined” astronauts that they wish their successors well). It’s also presented in a remarkably good transfer on Netflix; I didn’t see the HD icon pop up but it sure looked like it, especially for a cheapie 35 year old movie (one that doesn't appear to be available on DVD in the US at that). Highly recommended if you enjoy mean-spirited schlock. And if you don’t, well, watch the MST3k version I guess.

What say you?


The Hollow (2004)

MAY 30, 2011


I don’t know how many of you follow my weekly articles over at BadAssDigest, but it should be all of you! Anyway, one of my recent pieces concerned a few R rated movies that should have been rated PG-13 for one reason or another, and had I seen The Hollow before writing it, I may have included it. Everything about it seems aimed squarely at teens and even pre-teens, but they toss in a quick nip slip and a decapitation to secure an R rating that the rest of the movie doesn’t even seem to want. Very weird.

I also keep up with Formspring, and one of the questions I had answered right before watching The Hollow concerned what I thought would make for a good horror movie. Instead of listing things I’d LIKE to see, I listed 10 things I DON’T want to see, and it’s kind of interesting how the film more or less went by those rules. For starters, one thing I mentioned was unlikable characters, which I know I’ve complained about a lot here in the past. So I was somewhat charmed to discover that the folks in The Hollow were a largely pleasant, amiable bunch; even the obligatory rival for our hero wasn’t too big of a dick, and by the end they’re more or less pals (again, it seems aimed at kids). Our two leads are Kevin Zegers and Kaley Cuoco, folks who I don’t think COULD be unlikable in a movie because they’re so damn pleasant to look at. Cuoco’s a bit green here, and the plot has her unfortunately running around with ghost makeup for the second half, but the two have a charming chemistry that made their rather budding romance work despite having very little buildup. Zegers also seems to be having fun playing against the great Stacy Keach (two Keach movies in one week! Nothing wrong with that, even if one of them is Isaac’s Return), who is in sort of the Dr. Loomis role as a guy who actually knows what’s going on but looks/sounds crazy so no one believes him.

And yeah, the Halloween influence is a bit apparent, but more in spirit than direct reference. For starters, it takes place on Halloween, and then Zegers’ character had originally planned to stay in and watch a John Carpenter marathon on TV instead of hosting the town’s annual hayride (we hear some fake Halloween music on the TV). Plus Keach spends some of his time going around the town with the disbelieving sheriff. Hell, they even shot it in Los Angeles even though it takes place somewhere on the other side of the Mississippi (New York here, obviously). Good stuff. The film also has a pretty decent amount of Halloween atmosphere; there are pumpkins everywhere, some trick ‘r treaters, etc. And the town’s way of celebrating reminded me of Salem, MA, where Halloween is a big deal due to the Salem Witch story. Zegers’ character tells the story of Ichabod Crane in dramatic fashion in an early scene (on October 30th), and then hosts the hayride, which has ghosts and such popping out as the “terrified” folks drive past. Going on hayrides is something I definitely miss about the season (I wish Universal would put one together instead of just having us ride the standard tram), and I liked that this stuff felt not only nostalgic, but sincere (knowing that director Kyle Newman is a true geek didn’t hurt). It may not be as overall successful as Trick ‘R Treat in that regards, but I chalk that up more to a low budget (reportedly under a million, with a lot of familiar faces in the cast) than a lack of intent.

One odd thing about the movie is that I kept thinking it was a 90s flick for some reason. When Zegers pulled out a Red Bull I was momentarily confused, thinking that they didn’t have those back then. And there’s a minor plot point about Zegers’ dad wanting to change the channel and thus mess up his taping of the Carpenter marathon, which seems like a 90s thing – they haven’t figured out how to watch one thing while taping another yet? And why doesn’t he just have these movies on DVD? I was also a bit baffled by the fact that he took fencing class – do they even have that in high school anymore? It’s obvious WHY he is taking it, to set up the inevitable sword fight with the Headless Horseman, but they should have come up with something a little less anachronistic. Hell, Newman’s a giant Star Wars fan (his followup was Fanboys), they should have just had Zegers playing with a lightsaber in his spare time to set it up. Not like he pulled off any big fancy moves anyway.

I was a bit miffed that the Headless Horseman, um, had a head. Not a human head, it was some sort of demonic pumpkin-headed thing, but still – the visual of an actual HEADLESS figure riding around on his horse is a lot creepier than some Jack-O wannabe thing (the CGI is also less than stellar). I figured it would get knocked off early on and then he’d look more like the traditional figure, but it’s there until the end. They also set up a bit where he is able to escape his isolated wooded area and go to the town, but then he ends up going right back to the woods, instead of wreaking havoc in suburbia. It’s possibly another budgetary issue, but it’s a disappointment either way.

But again, it’s harmless, pleasant fun. If not for the nip slip and decapitation (both in one scene – it’s a misplaced but funny “head” gag featuring two horny teens – you figure it out), it’d be the type of thing I’d probably show my niece (who will be 8 this Halloween), or suggest for an upper grade school (6-8th grades) Halloween day party instead of rolling out It’s The Great Pumpkin for the 50th time. The themes are strictly young adult – Zegers has to prove to his dad that there’s more to life than playing football, for example – and the few other kills are pretty tame or off-screen entirely. Apparently it premiered on ABC Family and didn’t even need much editing; that should be all you need to know. So I’m not exactly the target audience, but as we’re in that terrible time of the year where the previous Halloween is long past but it’s still too far off to start putting up the decorations for the next one, I found it sort of soothing, for lack of a better word. Tivo the edited TV version for your kids this fall and enjoy the Judge Reinhold cameo for yourself!

What say you?

P.S. The jock is played by Nick Carter, of the Backstreet Boys and now NKOTBSB. He contributes a rock song over the end credits that’s actually not too bad as these sort of tunes go. So there’s something, but I think that one guy from N’Sync has done better for himself in his attempt to branch out into feature films.


The Lodge (2008)

MAY 29, 2011


I think I finally figured out why I have so much trouble telling the legitimate movies from little indie productions like The Lodge - it's the posters/box art. Studios are so lazy now with their posters, they're using the same generic fonts and basic Photoshop techniques that are the best indie productions can hope for. Ever go on a font site and notice how they have like "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" or whatever fonts, but nothing new? That's because Paramount, FOX, et al are just settling for what they got. A shame really; I can't even remember the last great new movie poster. Hellboy II?

So anyway, despite a cover that could easily be mistaken for a Wrong Turn sequel or something, it's a fairly clumsy looking movie, in that every shot seems to be out of focus. At first I figured it was just a poor transfer, and I'm sure that doesn't help, but every now and then something like a door frame or knick-knack would be in perfect focus, so I'm pretty sure it was a production-long goof. Maybe it was realized partway through production and they decided to keep it that way in order to have some sort of consistency (indeed, I didn't really notice after awhile), but it does call attention to its amateur roots - if they knew what they were doing and/or had the dough, it would have been corrected/reshot.

And it's a shame, because the directors and/or their DP are above average for this sort of thing when it comes to blocking, camerawork, etc (then again, after yesterday's River Of Darkness, anything would look impressive). One of the trio is fond of shooting things from behind blades of grass or wood swings, which adds a nice bit of rural atmosphere (and seemingly pays homage to one of the most memorable shots in the original Chain Saw Massacre; the out of nowhere appearance of a chainsaw during the climax certainly adds to my theory that someone was a fan), and despite the fact that 90% of the movie takes place in the titular lodge, they manage to keep it sort of lively and visually interesting. I also quickly understood the layout of the place, which is important for the numerous chase scenes that peppered the third act.

They also got good performances from their leads. The Julie Benz-esque Elizabeth Kell and Owen Szabo (who looks like Scott Speedman dressed up as Dawson Leery) could have easily been insufferable with their sex-crazed demeanor and occasional bickering, but both actors make Julia and Michael feel like fully realized people, and I liked that the script allowed them to be logical on several occasions; when Julia is spooked by an alarm clock going off in the middle of the night, Michael reminds her that they haven't been there for a full 24 hrs yet and thus it wasn't anything to worry about, as perhaps the previous renter of the lodge had to be up early for whatever reason. Normally, a jump scare like this comes and it's never mentioned again, having served its purpose, but this little attention to detail (and a few others in the same vein) was enough to convince me that they weren't just going through the motions and were putting a little bit of effort into this stuff.

So it's almost sort of a shame when it devolves into a typical "tie 'em up" movie, offering precious little that we haven't seen a zillion times before. The movie actually starts with a vague, extended shot of someone (we can't see their face) killing two female victims (also unidentified), so I was thinking it was part of the climax. Plus, they waste no time in showing us that the "owner" of the lodge is up to no good, as he goes through their stuff and clearly doesn't know the area very well. But he's not doing anything violent, so I was thinking perhaps they were going to do a switcheroo on us, that the lodge guy was just some robber or pervert, and then another killer would come along. The credits help misdirect us by listing six people when we only really see four; those nameless, unseen victims who have a combined total of 7 seconds screen-time are given credit at the top of the film, AFTER their scene has passed and are thus never seen again! So I kept thinking someone else would show up. Well played, opening credits guy.

So there's no twist to it; the weird lodge owner is also the killer. What keeps it afloat is that he has a daughter that's just as sadistic as he is; I may be fairly sick of seeing people tied to chairs or beds and being tortured, but when it's a little girl doing it I can give it a pass. Still, it's ultimately the same old thing; he's disabled their car, they get out of the house but then realize they need to go back in for something, various power tools come into play... there's even an unpleasant/unnecessary rape (off-screen), as if they were making sure they hit every mark. I mean, sure, I've seen more of these films than the average moviegoer, but it's not so much that they're being typical - it's that they're being typical after a first half that seemed to be suggesting that they WEREN'T.

They also need to brush up on their foreshadowing skills; Julia tells us about four times that she's a kickboxer, including a lengthy bit where she tries to convince Michael to take classes with her. WE GET IT, she can take care of herself when in danger! It's a horror movie, our heroines always somehow learn advanced fighting skills when necessary. Besides, they don't keep her from getting tied up/raped/smacked around anyway. Michael also comments "Whoa, creepy...." on one of those slide down attic doors with the string hanging down. What's creepy about that? My mom's place has one, and that's the complete opposite of a creepy domicile.

I did identify with one bit of throwaway dialogue though; at one point Michael comments that the birds were keeping him awake. Recently, some birds that have chosen the tree near my window as their go-to perching place have begun chirping throughout the night, a phenomenon I've never been aware of until the past couple weeks. I mean, to me, the sounds of bird chirping means that it's almost time to get up (or if I've passed out on the couch, time to slump to bed), so when they start their shit at 11:30 pm, it not only annoys, it confuses. Apparently it has something to do with mating, but I honestly can't recall ever hearing them (at least, not nightly) at these hours in my life. Have birds not mated for the past 30 years? The esteemed Simon Barrett has also commented on hearing them, and I heard them coming out of midnight movies at the New Bev a couple times now as well, so it's not specific to my neighborhood. Stupid birds.

Anyway, it's not bad as these things go, but doesn't really offer much new, and the fact that it's out of focus the entire time makes it a tougher sell. But then again, you might want to check to make sure you're not actually involved with the movie; the end credits list no less than FORTY associate producers along with several regular and executive producers. There are towns in the US with smaller populations than the producer roll on this four actor/one location movie. Plus, all of these guys that are supposedly making sure that the money is being spent in the right places and that everything is running slowly, and no one thought to check the damn focal length?

What say you?


River Of Darkness (2011)

MAY 28, 2011


I've seen so many movies with awful scripts that I'm almost tempted to give River Of Darkness a pass on the basis that its story/structure actually ain't that bad. It's a ripoff of The Fog, sure, but it's actually paced slightly better and has a nice little ironic twist at the end. But it's an inexcusably cheap looking movie, with sub-"Kid playing with his dad's camera" direction, the worst acting I've seen in years, and the hands down lamest climactic fight I've EVER seen in a feature film.

According to the IMDb this movie cost three million, but I'm guessing someone "accidentally" added a zero to the real budget in order to come up with that, unless the trio of wrestling stars (the non-active Kevin Nash and Sid Eudy, plus Kurt Angle) got nearly a million a piece to appear in this thing. I guess their name value can help the movie get sold in certain territories and stick out a bit on the shelf, but since all three are lousy actors (though, depressingly enough, better than most of their co-stars), unless they worked for scale it did the movie a disservice to hire them. How else can one explain the lack of any real action and almost laughably bad cinematography (take a drink every time the camera moves... you might almost get a buzz going by the end) if the movie really cost three million bucks? Christ, Troll Hunter cost that much and that has pretty realistic CGI trolls running around for half the movie.

And the camera they used! It's bad enough that nearly every shot (including death scenes) has the camera sitting motionless on a tripod*, but whether it's moving or not it just looks like a live broadcast, or maybe a soap opera. I'm not sure what setup they were using, but it did NOT look like a professional feature film. Until the title came up I was convinced that they had put the wrong movie on the disc or something; granted Nash and the others aren't exactly the biggest names in wrestling (despite what the box art says), but I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that the producers had somehow convinced them to be in a movie that looked like it belonged on the Pendulum Pictures demo reel. It's also clunky as hell; a major scene in the finale is almost incomprehensible because director/DP Bruce Koehler couldn't be bothered to show a wide angle that explains where everyone is in relation to one another.

The acting just kills any possible chance the movie had to be believable, though it's also the only thing that makes it any fun. Angle's deputy in particular was hilariously wooden; at one point a mother calls the station to report that her daughter was missing, and you get the impression that he's possibly never spoken to another human being before due to his toneless, awkwardly delivered responses. The sort-of final girl is also wretched, playing the least likely ghost hunter in history. It's possible that somewhere, someone is justifying her terrible performance as intentional (spoiler - she's just posing as a ghost hunter), but: no. The girl just can't act. The assorted locals also have trouble delivering lines, and it's funny, since I have very little knowledge of the wrestling world, I wasn't sure which ones were the wrestlers, since they were all big tough looking dudes with admirably bad facial hair. Angle actually ain't TOO bad as the sheriff, but since most of his role requires him to just stand around and listen to other people tell him what's going on, it's not like his skills were really being put to the test. The Rock certainly doesn't have to worry about him taking his roles away from him (hell, John Cena doesn't even need to worry).

And again, the ending is just a giant slap in the face to anyone who has gotten that far. None of the kills were particularly memorable, but they were at least more or less on-screen (except for the aforementioned little girl, though the fact that she was killed at all was admirably ballsy). However, when the ghosts finally catch up to the guy that was primarily responsible for their deaths in the first place, they raise some axes and then we just hear a bunch of fruit being sliced or whatever other foley effects their sound guy came up with as we watch Nash and a half-assed posse look on in "horror" (read: they just kind of stand around looking off-screen, with an expression that can best be described as the halfway point between looking interested and looking asleep). Especially when the character is being played by Bill Hinzman, who was one of the folks involved with the NOTLD 30th Anniversary thing - if there's one guy horror fans deserve to see getting hacked to pieces...

There is one scary bit in the film, however. I squirmed, I got upset, I was worried I'd have nightmares... all because of THIS:

Yes, as mentioned before, I suffer from ichthyophobia, or the fear of fish. Their puckered mouths and dead eyes just freak me right the fuck out, so when they cut (twice!) to this giant school hungrily sucking at the surface of the water, I was genuinely unnerved and horrified. If you are a fellow ichthyophobian, I'd urge you to steer clear (well, I guess I'm urging you to steer clear anyway).

Sadly, the DVD contains no bonus material of note; I would have loved to have heard someone brag about how great the director was (or maybe get a look at the camera). Hell, I'd even be open to listening to a commentary, because I KNOW that the director would claim that he was influenced by Seven in relation to his backwards (top to bottom) running end credits, which would be pathetically hilarious to hear. There is a "Bonus Feature" menu, but clicking it offers the trailer and "Main Menu", rendering it worthless (why not just put the trailer on the main menu and save yourself some scripting?). The disc also lacks a chapter selection, a basic feature that has been part of DVDs for the past 13-14 years now, but would you expect any less from Echo Bridge? And it opens with a trailer for Death From Above, another movie from the same people (and seemingly shot with the same camera) that somehow roped Tom Savini into its production.

Look, wrestling fans - I know your heroes don't make too many movies, but please, don't support junk like this. If you need a horror movie with a wrestler, watch See No Evil, which at least looks like a professional film and has some great kills (plus a mean streak that makes Silent Night Deadly Night almost look puritan in comparison).

What say you?

*It probably didn't help that I watched the movie right after Bourne Supremacy, in which I think even the end credits were shot with a shaki-cam.


The Comedy Of Terrors (1963)

MAY 27, 2011


Today would have been Vincent Price's 100th birthday, so rather than sit around bemoaning that he died before I ever got to go to conventions (did he ever actually appear at any?), I wanted to make sure my movie today was Price-ified. Luckily, Netflix came through with The Comedy Of Terrors, which as the title suggests is more of a comedy, but like The Addams Family, it's a very macabre comedy that horror fans would appreciate more than the usual comedy fan.

For starters, it actually delivers on my wish from the "Black Cat" segment of Tales Of Terror, in that it gives us an entire movie of Price and Peter Lorre playing off each other. These two have an amazing chemistry; I don't think I've ever seen someone manage to keep up with Price in a film (to be fair I've pretty much only watched his horror movies), and thus their running gags (Lorre's pronunciation of Price's character's name) and Mutt and Jeff routines are pure joy. Add in a wonderfully silly Boris Karloff and an insane turn by Basil Rathbone, and you have a treasure trove of some of our most sinister classic horror actors having a delightful time being silly for our enjoyment.

And it works! I often don't find older comedies particularly funny, but I was chuckling throughout. True, most of that was just due to the surprise of seeing Karloff deliver a rambling, drunken monologue, or hearing Price burp, but there are a ton of great little jabs and one-liners that kept me smiling. Price pretty much hates everyone else in the movie, but puts up with them for his own gain (it's like the relationship he had with his wife in House On Haunted Hill, but with everyone), and thus peppers every conversation with a mean-spirited response or unnecessary insult. When his wife talks about her father's habit of collecting strange objects, Price retorts: "He did more than collect curious objects, madam, he also fathered one!". He also chooses alcohol over her advances on occasion, and anything that keeps Price acting drunk is fine by me.

As for the horror stuff, it's still a bit silly. Basically, Price and Lorre run this struggling funeral parlor, and their cost-cutting ways (re-using the same coffin over and over) haven't been enough to pay the rent, so they decide to start helping business by killing wealthy folks. Of course, their plans always go awry, particularly in the case of Mr. Black (Rathbone) who amusingly won't die no matter what they do. But if you remove the jokes you still have Vincent Price and Peter Lorre creeping around big mansions and committing murder, so it's not really that far off from their usual sort of thing - they just go about it in a different way.

It's also a wonderful looking film, with frequent Val Lewton director Jacques Tourneur (Leopard Man, Cat People) making the most out of his studio sets; I was actually a bit surprised it was all shot in Hollywood. The scope image allows for the two main actors to share the screen as much as possible without cramping them, and it's quite colorful as well (it's not often I see Karloff in color). The FX are also pretty good for the time; there's a running gag about Price's wife (Joyce Jameson) having such a high-pitched singing voice that it can make flowers wilt, candles fly (?), and of course, glass break, so every time she sings we are treated to some "Invisible Man" style trick photography and/or stop motion animation. Tourneur also gets a good performance out of a cat, which I found particularly impressive today since I couldn't get mine to stop trying to claw his way through the floor near the door so he could get outside (the idiot! There's cement on the other side! He'll never do it!).

Literally the only person of note from the movie that is still alive is Richard Matheson, who wrote the script after penning a number of the Poe/Corman adaptations (including Tales Of Terror). Obviously the main stars would have passed from old age by now, but Jameson died young, as did co-star Alan DeWitt. Then there's this poor bastard, Douglas Williams, who appeared in movies going back to the 30s but was never credited until this one, and then died a few years later. Obviously, I've watched enough movies from the 30s and 40s in which everyone would have to be dead by now, but somehow it seems more of a bummer to think about when the movie is so fun. It's really going to be upsetting when I realize that everyone involved with a movie from my childhood has left us (assuming I don't die young myself). But I guess that's another reason to be happy and relieved about digital preservation and such; here's a 50 year old movie that looks beautiful, and forever will thanks to technology that wasn't even imagined at the time its participants were alive.

Anyway, happy birthday Mr. Price - you have delighted me time and again over the years, and I do not look forward to the day when I run out of your horror movies to watch.

What say you?


The Return Of Dracula (1958)

MAY 26, 2011


You know how we sometimes have two movies coming out that have pretty similar concepts, like Dante’s Peak and Volcano, or Independence Day and Mars Attacks? Usually, the one that comes first is the bigger hit, though there are exceptions, most notably (and, of course, most IMPORTANTLY) Deep Impact and Armageddon, was the former was pretty much just an appetizer for the latter. Well, unfortunately for The Return of Dracula, it was also one of those exceptions, as it was released not too long before Horror Of Dracula, which boasted color, a bigger budget, and Christopher Lee. And thus it’s been pretty much forgotten.

Which is a shame, because it’s actually pretty decent. After an early geographical snafu in which our vampire boards a train in Romania and ends up in California (with a shot of the Statue Of Liberty in the middle just to make matters more confusing), I was mostly on board with this low key vampire tale. I particularly enjoyed the first half, because that was the most “outside the box” before turning into a more traditional Dracula type story, with hypnotizing comely lasses and a Van Helsing type enlisting a young romantic hero to stake a vampire before sundown and such. This stuff is fine too, but I wish they had stuck more to the first half’s approach, which found the vamp posing as “Cousin Bellac” to a typically bland 1950s family, complete with a precocious young lad who liked to go exploring in caves and what not. They could have milked his ruse for more suspense (or even a few laughs), I think, because while the basic plot works because no one has seen Bellac since he was a young man, there is precious little of him being put on the spot or asked to do things that the real Bellac could do. Those brief moments are the best in the film, and I wish there were more of them.

I also wish he had killed the bratty kid, who earned my eternal hatred early on when his cat fell in a pit. Rather than help his pet, who was crying that horrible cat cry (the one that can make me late for work if my cat has decided he needs to sit on my lap or get a good belly rub when I’m trying to leave), he goes “I’ll come help you later!” and takes off to go see a train arriving. And of course he forgets, and then Bellac eats the poor thing. Screw you, kid.

I also enjoyed the bits with Jenny, a blind girl who was able to see him (and his true identity) in her dreams. The actress wasn’t particularly good at playing blind, but I liked the irony behind the concept, and her early “death” was a nice surprise; not just because I figured she’d be around for a while, but because it happens so suddenly, she literally just drops dead in the middle of a sentence (which results in the most hilariously blasé response ever from a doctor, who just sort of mutters “she’s gone” as he packs up his shit). She ends up returning as a “bride” of sorts, but doesn’t get to do much (actually no one does much in this; it fully earns its PG rating), and her eventual, permanent death isn’t as good as her original one.

Francis Lederer was a delight as Dracula/Bellac, playing him as kind of a slimy, antisocial jerk. No romance whatsoever to this version; even when he’s going after the female lead you get the feeling that he’s just going through the motions and would rather go back to his room and drink or something. Even his hair is kind of messy. While I doubt it would have made much difference in its initial box office success or its legacy, it’s a bit of a shame that it came along when it did; maybe ten years later the unique approach to depicting the look of a vampire would have been novel, but in early 1958, it had been a while since the last big vampire flick, so the off-kilter look probably wasn’t even noticed.

The finale definitely could have used more excitement, I must say. It’s a short movie (78 minutes) and at the 70 minute mark folks are still sort of putting their climactic plans in motion, resulting in a very brief, largely uneventful final “fight”. Speaking of the fight, what the hell is up with the random color shot in the middle of the staking scene? I’m pretty sure it’s from a different movie entirely, because I can’t see the filmmaker being like “We need this one shot in color, for dramatic effect”, because Schindler’s List wasn’t around yet to rip off (or fine, Andrei Rublev), so I guess they figured it needed some “oomph” and stole it from another vampire flick. The kid also pretty much disappears from the movie after the first act, it’s a shame they couldn’t have used him somehow. When I saw him I figured he’d actually be the sort of hero of the movie, like an early version of Stepfather II, but instead they just get rid of him and focus on the generic male love interest.

So it’s got some issues, but I sort of enjoyed its laid-back approach. It’s better than a couple of the Universal Dracula sequels, in my opinion, so that’s gotta be worth something.

What say you?


Children Of The Corn 666: Isaac's Return (1999)

MAY 25, 2011


After the previous better-than-expected entry, the series hits rock bottom with Children Of The Corn 666: Isaac’s Return, which is just as bad as Revelation (part 7) but doesn’t even have the hateful old man that movie had, giving that one a slight edge. Add in the fact that Echo Bridge’s blu-ray is, without hyperbole, the absolute worst looking Blu-ray disc I have ever seen, and you start to understand why the Bridge opted not to give this particular film its own high def disc (666 is only available on Blu with Fields Of Terror, as far as I can tell), so I guess it’s best to just look at it as a sort of bonus feature.

And it’s a shame, because on paper this one had promise, due to the fact that it’s the only one in the entire series that bothered to bring back a previous character/actor. John Franklin (who also co-wrote) returns as Isaac, apparently being rendered comatose by the immolation he suffered at the end of the original film. It’s now 19 years later, a jump of a few years in real world continuity in order to make some sense out of a nonsensical plot that involves the offspring of the original Corn cult. I guess Isaac was too busy dealing with Linda Hamilton to mention that he had a son on the way (since by the movie’s own design he has been in a coma ever since; unless they are suggesting some girl essentially raped him in his deep sleep).

The weirdest thing here is that there are some adults besides Isaac who were child cult members back in the day, which seems to betray one of their biggest “rules” about being sacrificed to He Who Walks Behind The Rows when they turn 18. I mean, I can see why they’d let Isaac live, but why the lady cop, or Nancy Allen’s character (Rachel, which was the name of one of the girls in the first movie but I can’t recall if she died and/or if it’s supposed to be the same one –they’ve more likely just run out of names to use by now)? And what the hell happened to their magic corn from the end of Urban Harvest? Sure, they brought Isaac back, but everything about it is half-assed and just calls the lack of continuity into stronger attention. What worked about Urban Harvest was, by taking things to a new area, they didn’t have to worry about things not matching up with what came before. By coming back to Gatlin, it just raises too many questions/plot holes.

Of course, you can ignore all of that stuff and it’s still a lousy movie. I don’t know if Franklin’s script was spotty, or if Dimension gave it their usual working over (read: re-edited it to the point of incoherency), but everything seems to happen out of nowhere in the movie, with our heroine shifting between scared and defiant sometimes in between shots. She somehow manages to get run off the road THREE times in the movie’s first 40 minutes, but yet still doesn’t seem to get that the town is crazy and she should just leave. She also seems to learn about plot points while the camera is off; we should be with her when she learns about the cult, Isaac, etc, but every now and then she just tells another character that she’s up to speed. Is she watching the Isaac scenes (for which her character is not present) on DVD or something? There’s also a baffling bit where she’s told to drive to another town and meet someone at a coffee shop; a plot point that is never explained, nor does she ever mention it again despite not ever getting there (due to one of her aforementioned car accidents).

Plus it’s just too goddamn boring. We learn early on that our heroine (who looks like a wonderful mix of Kristen Stewart and Elizabeth Banks – no complaints there) is supposed to fulfill some prophecy, which takes all of 9 seconds to figure out once Isaac starts talking about his own son and “pure evil” and such. It’s a bit clever how it all goes down, but only if you haven’t seen too many other cult movies in your life. But of course, this means that they won’t even TRY to harm her, so it’s a horror movie without any real danger. Thus, in order to get a few kills in here and there, we have poor Stacy Keach as a doctor who they presumably kept alive for all these years due to his needed medical skills, but ignored that once Keach’s 2-3 days on set ran out. There’s also a gothy girl who runs the motel that treats Ramsey like shit throughout the movie but then decides to help her out of nowhere at the top of the third act, only to be sliced in half for her trouble. You can almost hear Bob Weinstein (or whoever oversees Dimension’s DTV movies) yelling at the director that they need a kill here.

There were two moments where I found myself entertained. One was when Allen (poor woman; I hope whatever car she bought with this paycheck got good mileage) tells Isaac that his “prophecies never come true”, which took on new meaning this week, with that idiot who apparently forgot to buy a calculator with all the millions his even more moronic followers keep sending him once again naming a random date as the Rapture. The other was near the end, when the guy you thought would be the villain but actually turned out to be not so bad decided to kill himself rather than risk being used in Isaac’s master plan. Not only does he do it in a pretty badass and series-centric way (he falls on a raised sickle), but they play this hilariously cheesy metal song over it, with the Disturbed-type singer rattling off “Your hatred! Your bloodshed! Your future! Your death!” (and so on). I have put the video below instead of a trailer for the movie.

And of course, the icing on the cake, all of this is presented in a shockingly terrible transfer. As I said earlier, it’s the worst I’ve ever seen in high def, and I am truly amazed that Echo Bridge could possibly have the stones to charge people for this sort of shit - do they not have quality control over there? Ghosting, artifacting, smearing... you name it, if it’s a known problem with subpar mastering for a disc, it’s represented here. Even when things were perfectly still it looked like a standard DVD, but whenever the camera and/or actors moved at a faster than glacial pace it would turn into the worst looking Youtube video you’ve ever seen. The only thing I can think of is that they didn’t split the bitrate on the disc evenly between the two films (since Fields Of Terror actually looked quite good), so I’ll have to check the other double features they sent me to compare. I know H20’s was bad too (whereas Halloween 6’s was pretty good), but nowhere near as shoddy as this. I don’t care if it’s the worst movie ever made, they can at least provide a professional transfer, not this Mill Creek level disgrace. When I see this disc in the aisle of the frozen foods section of my Ralph’s, I will hide it behind a Hungry Man boneless chicken.

What say you?


Fall Down Dead (2007)

MAY 24, 2011


The great thing about slasher films is that the script can be overcome if the director knows how to craft scare scenes and/or if the actors bring some charm to the proceedings. Take a movie like Friday the 13th Part 2 – one of the weakest in the series in terms of scares, and it’s little more than a remake of the first film. But folks (including me) love it, in part due to the above averagely memorable characters (in particular Scott the charming creep). Or Halloween – there’s hardly any story at all, but it’s a perfect film due to Carpenter’s deftness behind the camera. Sadly, Fall Down Dead has neither of those elements, and thus becomes an interminable bore.

The script is pretty basic: characters are only given enough backstory for the audience to be able to tell them apart and the dialogue, for the most part, might as well have been written by Clippy. However, the concept is somewhat novel – strangers are trapped in a building along with a serial killer that has been terrorizing the city. The idea of putting a bunch of people who don’t know (or are at odds with) one another in one location and having them face a common enemy is the backbone of a bunch of great horror movies, but I can’t think of another where it’s a known serial killer. Usually it’s zombies or a monster of some sort; not a guy who stepped out of a 1990s Seven wannabe. So at first, while the scenario was being set up, I was fine with the clunky dialogue and erratic performances, because I figured once the killer showed up it would get a lot more exciting/interesting.

Wrong. If anything it just gets worse, primarily due to the fact that director Jon Keeyes inexplicably stages the bulk of the action like a whodunit slasher film. We see that it’s Udo Kier in the very first scene, but yet nearly every death is off-screen, with a body being found or Udo being obscured by shadow or something as he attempts to pick off another victim. It’s really bizarre; first of all if he’s a serial killer he should be more methodical and cunning, and secondly – it’s UDO KIER! Why hide him, or keep him from talking until the final 20 minutes? I almost started to wonder if the movie was re-edited from a version where Udo was one of the people trapped in the building and thus his “reveal” was a surprise. In fact, the disconnect of the opening scene (where we plainly see Udo doing his thing) from the rest of the film suggests maybe I’m not that far from the truth.

And even that would be acceptable if the movie was suspenseful or scary. It seemingly unfolds in real time, and the entire second act is pretty much just people walking slowly around the building looking for Udo and/or a way to escape to safety, with endless, laughably terrible music accompanying every frame. This is where having a great director could make up for the movie’s faults – a Carpenter or Brian De Palma could salvage this stuff. But Keeyes can’t manage a SINGLE good scare or tense moment (something one can blame his editor for as well), and thus it just becomes almost insultingly tedious, especially when you’re not even getting a death scene out of the deal. I may not like Jason Goes To Hell very much, but at least if it’s on I can enjoy a fornicating teen being sliced in half or a dude being tossed on a grill – this movie can’t even offer a simple stabbing!

The performances are no help either. Udo is his usual weird self, and thus there’s no real way to judge whether it’s a good performance or not. But David Carradine (the distributor laughably billed this as “one of his final roles” – it was shot in 2006; he has 34 IMDb credits AFTER this one) seems to think he’s in some sort of broad comedy with his mugging and physical humor (or attempts at it anyway), and Dominique Swain plays nearly every scene in campy hysterics. And then there are two cops; one of whom acts like William H Macy in Fargo, the other overly serious. It’s like some weird exercise where the director told each actor that the tone of the movie was something different than what he told the others.

Most offensive is that they waste a potentially interesting serial killer. Dubbed “The Picasso Killer”, Udo cuts pieces of skin off his victims and makes art from it. We see some of his handiwork at the beginning of the film (I particularly liked the chessboard with dismembered fingers as the pieces), and the idea of art being the backdrop as opposed to the usual pseudo-religious angle was refreshing – I think Stendhal Syndrome was the last combination of art and killing that I saw. But with the borderline slasher setup, they don’t do anything with it; there’s no police investigation or anything of that nature (that would be one colorful “cop looks through books at the library” montage), hell he just shoots a couple of his victims.

There are literally hundreds of slasher movies available, and probably around half as many serial killer films. Fall Down Dead (which sounds like the title of a DTV Seagal flick, no?) may not be the worst of either genre, but it’s certainly one of the most criminally botched. When you have interesting performers and a fairly unique concept, there is no excuse for a movie to be this lackluster.

What say you?


Children Of The Corn V: Fields Of Terror (1998)

MAY 23, 2011


For a while, I was convinced Children Of The Corn V: Fields Of Terror might overcome its terrible title and actually be the best of the series, thanks to some wit, fairly likable leads, and a welcome gaggle of cameos from folks like Kane Hodder, Fred Williamson, and David Carradine. But it becomes kind of generic after 45 minutes or so, with the fun, quirky approach abandoned in favor of typical “we have to get out of here!” chase scenes set around barns and other “middle America” fixtures. Still, better than Revelation.

One thing that’s a bit different is that our Final Girl has actually heard about He Who Walks Behind The Rows, as her brother was a budding disciple at the time she ran away from home due to their drunk father’s abuse (sort of like Urban Harvest! Lot of drunk dads in Nebraska, I guess). It doesn’t pay off much; she still needs to read up on it and get shit explained to her, but it gives the movie a minor sense of “history” that the others lacked. I mean, this guy has been responsible for a lot of deaths over the years – it would make sense that someone outside of the area might have heard about him by now.

Sadly we don’t get to really see him this time. As always it’s a bit confusing, but I guess he’s some sort of parasite inside of a human shell, in this case Carradine, a man who had died years ago but was being kept “alive” thanks to He and Ezekiel, the leader of the Corn cult this time around. At one point Carradine’s head splits open and reveals a quick shot of some sort of monstrous being inside, which shoots a fireball at Williamson, causing HIS head to explode. And it’s cool, because Williamson had recently appeared in From Dusk Til Dawn, which was written by and co-starring Quentin Tarantino, who would go on to write/direct Carradine’s minor comeback a few years later with Kill Bill.

Speaking of QT, those guys aren’t the only ties to his work. Corn V sports not one but two Pulp Fiction vets; Alexis Arquette plays the male lead, and Angela Jones (Esmerelda Villalobos!) pops up as half of the requisite “first couple to die”. And for the hell of it I’ll just point out that Eva Mendes made her debut here, playing a 17 year old (actual age during production – 23) that decides to ditch her friends and become one of the, ahem, Children of the Corn, and thus fulfilling the requisite “Future hottie” role filled by Naomi Watts and Charlize Theron in the previous films. So this one definitely has the most recognizable cast (even the little kid playing Ezekiel looked familiar, but he wasn’t nearly as creepy as Eli from Urban Harvest).

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a bit of off-kilter humor that I enjoyed in the first act of the film. Our heroes are driving off to the middle of nowhere to spread the ashes of a recently deceased friend, and they are finding their way via a series of blow up sex dolls that one friend has placed as markers. This results in the first car accident caused by blow up doll that I can recall, not to mention the best inflatable-cartoon based jump scare in cinema history (sorry, Danny Boyle/Scooby Doo). And the resulting accident causes the ashes to spill all over everyone, a morbid sight gag that you may think was stolen from Big Lebowski, but this film was shot before that one was released, so there.

Even more hilarious/morbid is a bit where a deputy shows the sheriff some body parts that he found and then placed in a shopping bag. Sheriff tells him to “put them with the others”, which leads to the deputy clumsily dumping the disembodied hands and such into a body bag (and then squeezing the plastic bag to wring out the excess blood for good measure). Sadly it’s one of the few good gore gags in the movie; this one’s oddly pyro-centric, which means not a lot of the red stuff. One hero blows himself up and takes two kids with him, another hero and the villain are dropped into an “eternal flame” (a new part of the mythology), the same flame that immolates a pair of firemen, etc. And most of the other stuff is off-screen; another villain is tossed over a ledge and then later we see his body on a thresher, mostly concealed by shadows and the quick editing. Come on, show us some impact! It’s DTV, who cares about the MPAA! It’s also oddly lacking in corn; there are two brief chases in/around some corn stalks but otherwise it’s almost all set on interior locations. But I guess that’s what happens when you use Ventura, California for the Midwest; only so much you can do (check out the palm tree next to the main house!).

Echo Bridge’s transfer is shockingly good here; a lot of the movie is set in the daylight and those scenes tend to be the standouts on their other discs (all movies set primarily in the dark). Detail on faces and such is quite vivid (check out the cracks on the lips of our heroine in the final scene), and even the night scenes aren’t as crushed as some of the others. This, for Children of the Corn 5. Whatever.

Haven’t mentioned it yet, but one thing that tickles me about these discs is that they all start with the Miramax logo (the one of the city by the water, with the lights in the buildings forming the company name), even though that logo never appeared on their original releases that (Miramax offshoot) Dimension put out. It’s weird; it’d be like seeing the Heaven/pearly gates version of the LionsGate logo before Saw IV or something. And then Echo Bridge puts their own logo at the very end of the film, which means unless you stick around until the end credits you won’t know who to thank (or blame) for finally putting these DTV sequels on the most superior format ever designed for home viewing. Very silly.

What say you?


Blu-Ray Review: Halloween 6/H20

MAY 22, 2011


While I have already watched/reviewed both Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers and H20 for HMAD, I jumped at the chance to get a copy of their new Blu-ray releases from Echo Bridge, as it was the first time that the two films had been released not only in high def, but also anamorphic (in the US anyway). So head on over to those reviews for a bit more in depth of how I feel about the films, though I will offer a few thoughts before discussing the quality of the new transfers.

Unsurprisingly, the version EB put out for Halloween 6 is the theatrical cut, with the legendary, oft-bootlegged “Producer’s Cut” still commercially unavailable ANYWHERE as far as I know. It’s funny though; I’ve watched the producer’s cut so often I was taken aback by some of the editing here; lines and small moments that were excised in order to make the film faster-paced seem “missing” to me now. But on the plus side, the little kid playing Danny is one of the worst child actors this side of Jake Lloyd, so the fact that this version features a lot less of him can only be considered a good thing.

And really, it’s not THAT bad. Not worth the buildup (didn’t help that Dimension’s ad campaign focused heavily on the sort of things that they themselves had cut from the movie), sure, but it’s a decent slasher movie, and pretty much the last major “old-school” slasher film to come along before Scream reinvented the genre for a while. There are a number of pretty tense stalking scenes (particularly Jamie’s in the barn), and it’s thankfully not overpopulated with annoying teens. Beth and Tim pretty much cover that ground, and they’re not in the movie long enough to be too grating, and their death scenes are a nice homage to Bob and Lynda’s without being a full blown copy (ahem, Rob Zombie).

Also, it was interesting watching it back to back with H20, because both tried really hard to capture the feeling of and pay homage to the original, albeit in different ways. In H6, it was in the attention to Halloween holiday detail, the aforementioned Beth and Tim characters, bringing back Tommy Doyle and Dr. Wynn, and other minor bits. Plus by setting the climax at Smith’s Grove, it sort of brought the story full circle. H20, on the other hand, basically just copied the first film’s structure almost beat for beat, with one crucial difference: NO STALKING SCENES! Apart from the obligatory homage to the classroom scene, with Molly in Laurie’s place seeing him out the window, and a brief bit with Adam Arkin, Michael doesn’t really appear unless he’s actually killing or chasing someone. One thing I love about the original is all the shots of him just sort of standing around watching them, and fucking with them (potted plant by Annie’s window, for example), but there’s a severe lack of that stuff here. Instead we just get a lot of Scream-ified teen dialogue, Lifetime network scenes of Laurie dealing with her drinking problem, and the nauseating romance scenes between Molly and John (between this and Armageddon with its Animal Crackers, summer 1998 may have turned people off from the idea of love forever).

On the other hand, it IS respectfully strong in character, with a nice blend of teens and adults, similar to what Scream 4 would attempt over a decade later (to much less success). And I appreciate bringing back Marion for the opening scene kill; she may not be Drew Barrymore but it almost made up for saying the last three sequels didn’t exist. “Mr. Sandman” was also a nice touch, though the moment where Laurie hears it on the radio is sort of a goof – it wasn’t a song that actually played in the actual movie, it was on the soundtrack the same way the score is. “Don’t Fear The Reaper” or maybe even whatever that Coupe De Villes song was would have made more sense.

And you can’t deny the awesome showdown, which thanks to the movie’s insanely brief running time doesn’t take too long to get to. I like how they managed to get the obvious out of the way (that John and Molly would survive) and send them off, allowing for just the two to face off without any other distractions. Michael flipping those two tables over, while seemingly impossible to do without having purchase on the other end, is pretty goddamn badass, and I liked seeing her go all Ripley in turn, especially after her drugged out, largely inconsequential role in Halloween II.

But good god, that friggin’ mask (or masks, I should say). I don’t know how ANY of them got approved, and the fact that they actually realized how bad the one they had was and replaced it during shooting, only to get one just as terrible, infuriates me. And it certainly doesn’t benefit from Blu-ray, because now you can see his face through the eyes (not damaged as it should be), plus just plainly see how cheap and lame it looks. I’m not even joking when I say that going to any 3rd rate costume store and buying a couple of knockoff Myers masks would have improved things. I actually like the one in Curse; the eyes are a bit too big but since it’s sandwiched between the two worst in the series, it looks even better, IMO.

Curse’s transfer is also much better than H20’s. In fact it’s probably the best of all the Echo Bridge blus I’ve watched this week. Grain levels are appropriate, and the image is certainly less washed out and richer with detail (check out the various unexplained “mad science” stuff in the climax – you can see it clearer than ever!) than the DVD. Sound mix is blah (2.0 again!), but since it’s a talky movie the surrounds wouldn’t have had much to do anyway, except for maybe Alan Howarth’s score, which is probably his weakest effort of the sequels.

But it’s a reference quality disc compared to H20, which is just shy of an abomination. If not for the fact that they were combined onto one disc I would have tossed H20 in the trash and stuck with my non-anamorphic DVD. The image quality is pretty washed out even compared to these other, unspectacular discs, but this was a 50 million dollar hit movie – you’d think they’d treat it with a little more respect. Also, the aspect ratio is now at 1.78:1 instead of 2.35:1 as it was in theaters. However, this isn’t a case of a movie’s sides being cropped; instead, there is more information at the top and bottom of the frame to fill out the HDTV dimensions. And in some cases, this actually results in a better framed image – I compared to the 2.35 DVD and noticed how cramped certain shots were (such as when John and Molly are trapped in between the two doors), but other shots now have a lot of empty space at the top. Either way, if Steve Miner intended the movie to be scope, then it should be scope. Needless to say at this point, there’s also a lame-ass 2.0 track, which means you can’t enjoy the Creed songs in glorious surround sound. The commentary that was promised on the original DVD still hasn’t surfaced, either, but I think at this point it’s safe to say that Echo Bridge wasn’t interested in putting even the existing bonus features on these discs, let alone digging up the ones that were missing and/or creating new ones.

So if you’re looking to upgrade, I think Curse is probably worth the dough if you’re a big fan of the flick; it looks a lot better and will take up less space on your shelf. But H20 isn’t worth it in my opinion; the sub-par transfer and aspect ratio issues are unacceptable to me. You can get the double feature I guess, as it only costs a couple bucks more than the single feature price, but collectors be warned – the spines on the double features feature generic, ugly fonts for the titles (single disc releases are correct), so they might look a little weird on your shelf. Hopefully not all of you are as anal about such things.

What say you?


Platoon Of The Dead (2009)

MAY 22, 2011


The most depressing thing about Platoon Of The Dead is that I could have watched it on Netflix Instant and spared myself some boredom. But instead I rented the disc, which came loaded with a ton of bonus material, nearly all of which was seemingly designed for the actors and crew members to enjoy exclusively. In-jokes and the like fill just about every second of the roughly 90 minutes of supplemental bonus material; none of which really explained why the movie was so damn dull.

Well, one part does. Over a particularly obnoxious and anticlimactic shot of one of the characters endlessly shooting at unseen assailants, the director explained that none of their zombie extras showed up for the shoot, and they HAD to shoot the scene that day, because the main actor (who most of the extras are focused on, as if he was some sort of major star that was gracing their shoot; his resume is actually one of the smallest in the entire production) had to go off for another shoot (presumably his role as “Army Colonel” in a TV movie that came out two years later). So I’ll give them that one. But how do they explain the rest of the movie’s shocking dullness? I’ve seen more than my fair share of no/low budget zombie movies in the past couple years, and I can’t think of a single one that featured so little action. By the one hour mark of the 80 minute film, all six of our main characters are still alive, and we’ve seen maybe three zombies. That is not acceptable.

Plus, the appearance of one of those three zombies is largely confusing, because it’s clearly being played by one of the actors playing the heroes. So I thought it was him, and didn’t understand why his friends were all hiding for him, until I realized it was supposed to be another character. The actors didn’t really fit their roles either; this guy was a typically hard-ass looking, crew-cut dude in his early 40s, but the commanding officer looked like a typical stoner (long hair and all) in his late 20s at BEST. It’s fine when a bunch of 12 year olds make a movie and pretend to be soldiers and other age-inappropriate things, but come on guys.

I bring up kids because their guns are clearly plastic rifles from Toys R Us, but the difference is that they shoot lasers instead of bullets. Maybe I just missed something; was this movie supposed to be taking place in the near future or something? Because everyone drove 90s models caravans and such, and there were only two locales in the movie (a forest and a very homey ranch house), so nothing but the lasers suggested anything later than 2005 or so.

Platoon Of The Dead also makes a good case for why you should never explain where the zombies came from, and just let the audience make up their own reasons. Because whatever you come up with is likely going to be less interesting than whatever the viewer thinks is the cause due to the fact that everyone always thinks they can do better. But in this case it’s actually true, because we discover that the zombies are all born from five kids messing around with a Ouija board, which barely passes for a good back-story even in movies that are ABOUT Ouija boards. And this explanation comes in that final 20 minutes, so not only are we still not getting any action, we’re hearing full blown nonsense instead.

The best thing I can say about the movie is that the actors are pretty decent for these sort of things, and the director seemed to know what he was doing in terms of blocking and shot setups. A lot of these things tend to have endless master shots where all of the actors stand around awkwardly so they can all fit in frame, or even more awkward back and forths that are clearly shot separately, with jarring pauses in between lines because the director didn’t know how to edit properly. But this one is actually sort of professional in that respect; there are good angles, the editing is fairly strong, etc. If he had a script worth shooting this could have been a pretty good movie!

I urge you to skip the extras, save for maybe the commentary which is thankfully not too jokey or arrogant; the director is pretty straight-forward and amiable as he discusses the production fairly thoroughly, and doesn’t seem too bitter or blame-y about the film’s issues (i.e. the extras not showing up), so that’s good. But everything else is just obnoxious; the Tom guy giving the actors a “boot camp”, a making of that seems more like the home videos of one of the crew members, a tour of the house (which is covered with Jesus paraphernalia for some reason), etc. Bizarrely, the better extras are only available on the DVD-rom part of the disc, which means folks are likely not going to find the deleted (really extended) scene, an interview with the director and producer (there’s a random anecdote about lunch in this), and some outtakes, which might be funny, I guess – never found them to be particularly funny even in movies I like featuring actors I know. It baffles me why this stuff was more or less "hidden" though; could they not figure out how to make two pages on the special features menu?

So once again, we have a movie that no one was demanding with several flaws that could have been avoided. Zombies don’t show up? Shoot the scenes when they do. Actor not always available? Hire someone who is. To the best of my knowledge, the release date of Platoon Of The Dead was not set in stone by its parent studio, so I don’t see why they couldn’t just wait for their situation to be more ideal before shooting. The locales they had were perfect for a slasher movie; why not make one of those instead of trying to pull off a zombie war epic when you don’t even have zombies? Fake guns, recycled actors... all of this stuff I can deal with as long as the movie isn’t boring me to tears. The six hottest/best actors and actresses in the world couldn’t have held my interest if they weren’t doing anything interesting.

What say you?


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