Shadows Run Black (1986)

MARCH 31, 2010


I forget what movie it was, but a review on DVDVerdict (invaluable review site, even if I don't often agree with their overall judgment of a film) said that this particular movie was the worst one the reviewer had seen since Shadows Run Black, which of course prompted me to “top of the queue” it. And I was baffled by the “related movies” Netflix offered, because they were primarily Kevin Costner movies. It wasn’t until later that I discovered that he was actually in the film (though uncredited), which was shot in 1981, copyrighted in 1984, and released in 1986. And since I own pretty much all of Costner’s films (love that guy), that means someday I might have this thing in my own collection.

If I ever watch it again, however, it will most certainly be with friends. Shadows Run Black is indeed a terrible movie, but it’s got that je ne sais quoi that makes it inherently watchable, not unlike Disconnected, or most car crashes. It seems to be a student film at times, due to the laughably stiff camerawork and careless storytelling (the non-slasher scenes mostly play out like the stream-of-conscious joint screenwriting of a beat cop and a racist). But there’s something entertaining, even delightful, about a “slasher” film where most of the kills are off-screen, victims are introduced only moments before their demise (whereas others are introduced and simply never mentioned again), and nearly every red herring suspect (and half-assed motive, including one that’s racially charged) is vastly more interesting than the identity/motive of the actual killer.

The movie also must hold the record for number of unnamed characters (Costner is one of the few to be given a name - Jimmy). Most of the credits are given to the sort of roles most actors wouldn’t bother adding to their resume - Girl At Station, Biker In Bar, Cop At Counter, etc. Even most of the victims don’t even have a name - you won’t shed a tear when Girl Stabbed In Chest or Girl Killed In Kitchen are dispatched.

It also probably holds the record for nudity without sex. Every single female character in the film (save for the overweight lesbian character who sets a table and, say it with me, is never seen again) strips in order to take a shower or to simply walk around the house. Two of them even offer full frontal, revealing that the limited budget stretched all the way down to the razor department in the process. But there’s only one actual sex scene (at the very beginning), the other 5-6 nude scenes are solo efforts. Again, this is the sort of movie that can only truly be enjoyed with a bunch of friends - after a while, watching it alone, I felt kind of dirty.

It’s also a terribly made movie. No one was apparently concerned with color timing, and the ADR work is sub-Jackie Chan movie, with people saying lines not only in the wrong voice, but in the wrong sort of “room” - a girl will sound like she’s on a phone even though she’s on camera talking to a guy right next to her. People often say things that are missing words (“For the 3rd time in many weeks”) or simply pointless, like when a cop points at a witness looking through mug shots and asks “Has she made a positive ID yet?” Yeah, she did, now she’s just looking at mug shots to pass the time, asshole. The same cop later begins laughing for no reason during a confession.

As for the afore-mentioned racism, it’s not really prominent, but it’s jarring all the same. Our heroine’s brother (who looks twice her age) is mad that she is dating an African American, but SHE is the one to use the N-word (twice). And later it’s suggested that he’s the killer, more or less for no other reason than the fact that he’s black. Like The Dark Power, this sort of stuff really had no place in an otherwise fun-oriented horror movie. And considering how random and largely inconsequential the bulk of the film is, it just seems like they were throwing it in there for more padding, which is really in poor taste.

And Costner? Well, he’s only in two scenes. In the first, he mocks a magician (one who is seemingly mute when he’s doing tricks, but has a bass player at all times) and drinks a Coors. He’s a full blown loudmouth, in other words. In his second scene, he is being interrogated for the murders, which has seemingly caused him to have a personality snap. Now he’s all nervous, eyes darting around all the time, giving one of the cops a peculiar stare for no reason, lying about his whereabouts even though he’s not the killer, etc. It might as well have been a different character entirely. It’s not like anyone would think anything of it if his character just had one scene - the fact that he has two actually makes him stick out more than the fact that he’s Kevin Costner in the middle of this no budget piece of junk slasher movie.

In case you still weren’t sure what kind of movie this is, I will leave you with this bit of dialogue from the killer’s final, “let me explain why I’m doing this” speech (which is primarily about how he doesn’t like non-virginal women): “Take Sandy for instance. Sweet, innocent looking Sandy. Whoever thought though that she was a topless dancer and living with a dyke?”

Certainly not I.

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Spiker (2007)

MARCH 30, 2010


There’s nothing wrong with combining two sub-genres to make a horror movie, as long as they work as both kinds on their own, or tie together in a way that is completely creative. American Werewolf is one of the better examples - it works as a dry, black comedy, but it also works as a pretty great werewolf movie. Spiker, on the other hand, is a combo ghost and slasher movie, but it fails to compel on either level, resulting in a film that could have simply been generic had it just been one or the other, but is ultimately generic AND messy as the two stories cross in less than successful ways.

Let’s start with the slasher. It’s got a painfully common setup, that of the six friends going to party in one of their relative’s isolated homes for the weekend. All cheerleaders and jocks too, so there’s barely even any variety between the guys (the girls, at least, benefit from a “goth” among them). This is never as apparent as around the halfway mark in the film, where all three couples make love at the same time, in their rooms that all look alike. Kudos to getting all three girls to show their breasts, I guess, but all it does is further cement the idea that they are completely interchangeable.

To be fair, the slasher himself is a bit original - an albino (played by director Frank Zagarino) who exclusively uses railroad spikes to carry out his kills. He’s an imposing figure, and is a bit more memorable looking than other maskless killers (Final Exam, for example). Even if he wasn’t an albino, I think you would understand that someone was dressing as him if they chose to go as Spiker for Halloween (as opposed to the Final Exam killer - if you “dressed” as him you could be mistaken for a neighbor who wandered over to steal some beer).

His backstory factors into the ghost story, which never really makes a lot of sense. Basically, the ghost is that of his ex fiancé, who was fucking his best friend, something that was discovered on their wedding day (so she threw herself in front of the train - least boring wedding ever, I’ll give it that much). So ever since, Spiker has been killing anyone and everyone, and the friend (who looks like a Hollywood Blvd Johnny Depp) is left with the torment of knowing that Spiker’s rage is his fault. Not exactly sure that correlation makes any sense, but it’s still more logical than why the woman’s ghost would hang around and do nothing of note.

Except help our heroine play the piano. One of the many awkwardly implemented bits of backstory for our Final Girl (the very cute Giselle Rodriguez) is that she never learned how to play piano, and in fact never even HAD a piano growing up (shit, how did she ever make the cheerleading team then?). The ghost helps her play it near the end, which keeps Spiker from killing her. At least, for now. He seemingly kills her at the end anyway (off-screen while we watch faux-Depp feel sorry for himself). Again, the ghost stuff serves as padding and nothing else.

There is one thing about the movie that kept me midlly entertained though, which is the strange ties to my hometown of Methuen, MA (the film was shot in Long Island, NY for the record). The movie opens with a nice looking road with a sign stating that it’s Route 114, a route that runs through my town (it’s the road I would take to get to Hometown Buffet back in high school, when I could get my money’s worth from such places). And then our cheerleaders show up wearing blue and white, which are also the colors of my hometown team. Then later in the movie, the cops are driving Chevy Corsicas, a car which was used by a lot of my town’s government types (and myself - a 1988 Midnight blue one, which I still miss). Methuen is a very Springfield-ish town, in that it seemingly has everything (woodsy areas, city areas, suburban areas, even a factory area! No escalator to nowhere or tire fire though), and I always thought it would make a good setting for a horror movie. Rest assured if I ever write/direct a Scream type slasher, I will set it in a town called Methuen, if not go ahead and film it there.

I also got a kick out of the pretty much universally terrible acting, because everyone was so damn earnest. There’s a cop named Scott who delivers every single one of his lines as if he was absent-mindedly muttering “mm hmms” to his wife while she rambled about her day at work, and Linda Tovar is the least goth-y goth girl of all time. And special mention must be made of the guy who played the boyfriend - just check out his reaction to finding a body (of a character he had no connection to, as far as I can recall):

(Forgive the presentation - I did it with my phone and don't feel like editing out the "fat" on each end of the relevant part)

Oh man, I love it. I also liked the schizo score, which sounded rather library music-y for the most part, but near the end there’s a cue that sounds like the Halloween theme as played on an inverted piano. Why they used a rather ill-fitting, Guster-esque pop song for the DVD main menu instead of this is beyond me.

As for the kills, meh. Most of them are “aided” with bad digital blood/impact wounds, so those all suck on principle. And since he only uses spikes, it gets a bit monotonous - you know, Leatherface always uses his Chainsaw, but Chop-top or Vilmer or whoever else is in his “family” for that movie adds the necessary variety. There are two moments I liked though. In one, the car won’t start (no shit!), and when the kid opens the hood to look at it, he sees the head of one of his friends placed inside amongst all the belts and fluid containers, which prompts him to scream and slam the hood back down (poor head). The other is what I believe is the first 1-2 punch of the final girl screaming because she sees a ghost, and then screaming because she finds one of her dead friends right after. Would have been great if they threw a vampire or a giant insect into the mix at this point - “Let’s see how many different things can scare this girl in under 60 seconds!”

Well, whatever. Low budget slasher movies are a dime a dozen, and it really isn’t any better or worse than anything else with the same pedigree that I’ve watched. I was hoping that the ghost element would elevate the film above those others, but ‘twas not to be. Add that to the usually crummy MTI transfer (possibly the first time someone watched a horror movie and had to make their screen DARKER, so that the blacks actually looked kind of black instead of light gray; the trailer below actually looks better than the retail DVD!), and you have a movie that really serves no function. Hell, the only reason I watched it is because my first choice for the day, Flu Birds, turned out to be a user-unfriendly disc containing a workprint (no music or FX, varying aspect ratios, etc), so I opted for something else. And I watch everything!

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Non Canon Review: A Nightmare On Elm St 4: The Dream Master (1988)

MARCH 29, 2010


I still remember begging my mom to take me to see Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master in theaters, but it was not to be - not only was it too nice out (I asked while we were in Maine at a summer campground/resort - I think sitting on the beach or by the lake would be far more preferable than driving 30 miles to the nearest theater for a movie called Nightmare on Elm St 4: The Dream Master), but at that point she was not taking me to R rated films. She’d rent them though, and thus like all good moms, rented the film for me when it hit VHS six months later (you see kids, back in my day, we’d have to WAIT to see a movie on video if we missed it in theaters, whereas nowadays anything over 3 months after its theatrical release is considered “too long).

But had I seen it in theaters, I probably would have been blown away. I didn’t go to the movies much (based on what I can remember, I only went to the movies four times in 1988 - Beetlejuice, Roger Rabbit, Big, and Twins), and thus every movie I did go see I usually loved (I think Hook was the first movie I went to see that I didn’t like). And Nightmare 4 is filled with the type of stuff that would have appealed to me as a kid - “funny” wisecracks, a few boob shots that were brief (and out of nowhere) enough for me to see before my mom made me cover my eyes, a fast pace, and a bright, colorful aesthetic that must have seemed like Speed Racer did to children twenty years later.

However, as I said in my review for the first film, Freddy was never as appealing to me as the other icons, and I think it’s pretty telling that whereas I liked Dream Master OK enough then, I still preferred Dream Warriors, and now, twenty plus years later, I STILL like Dream Warriors, but don’t see myself ever wanting to watch Master again. Even if I quit HMAD (something that would appease this gentleman or lady) and thus had time to revisit films more often, I doubt Dream Master would ever entice me; if anything, I like it less and less each time I see it, so it’s in its best interest for me to ignore it from now on.

The biggest problem is obvious - Freddy was no longer scary. The opening nightmare, and even his resurrection (which I never realized doesn’t make any fucking sense - the idea is that Kristen’s belief in him being alive actually made it so - but why would he return in Kincaid’s dream, when Kincaid DIDN’T believe he could return?) has some minor tension and scariness, but it’s all thrown out the window soon after that, as the new, largely boring lot of kids take over from the original Dream Warriors and Freddy begins wisecracking like Fletch, often tossing out 2-3 zingers in a row without doing anything evil/scary. Christ, I don’t even like it when Fletch does it (like when he enters Stanwyck’s garage - “Must have cost you hundreds. That’s a good idea, I should frame mine. Pope be in later?” - shut up and move the plot along!), I sure as hell don’t appreciate a once-scary (and interesting) monster doing it.

But it’s got more problems than Freddy’s new career path. The re-casting of Kristen is particularly troublesome (like in the opening scene, where she has to awkwardly say her own name in order for us to know it’s supposed to be the same character), especially when she is “shockingly” killed at the end of act 1. With a new actress in the role, we aren’t given enough time to give a shit about her, making her death as “eh” as any of the other new folks. Kincaid and Joey don’t fare much better - not only are their death scenes quick and largely unimaginative, but their roles are diminished even before that point. You’d have to be a complete goon (or, fine, an 8 year old) to believe that the Dream Warriors were important to the film, because even before they are killed we are spending more time with Alice. Christ, we see her house/family before Kristen’s! And learn about Debbie's crush on Dan, and Sheila’s bookishness, and Rick’s karate... I appreciate that they wanted to have a connection to the previous film to lead us into this one, but it should have just been Kristen (and maybe Dr. Gordon - where is he?), which would allow the film to spend more time with her (and still introduce the new characters), and maybe give the audience a chance to care about the new actress before she was dispatched (it doesn’t help that Tuesday Knight is a pretty lousy actress anyway).

It also makes the same mistake that Freddy's Revenge did, with not really drawing the line between the real world and the dream world. But at least in part 2 it was part of the plot - Freddy wanted to get free and become “real”. Here, however, Freddy doesn’t really have an actual goal this time around (in fact once he kills Kristen he doesn’t even need to kill anyone anymore - his revenge on the Elm St parents is complete), and there is no “pull him out of the dream” or any of that other stuff, so all of the "world-breakers” are left completely unexplained and pointless. At one point Alice wakes up and sees that Freddy has left a photo on her mirror - huh? And it also fails to develop the Freddy mythology, something EVERY OTHER SEQUEL did. Dream Warriors introduced the “son of a hundred maniacs” thing, Dream Child further explained his mother’s plight and what his birth was like, and Freddy's Dead had flashbacks to his father abusing him and stuff like that. Dream Master has Freddy wearing sunglasses and eating a pizza.

Hell even if you take the dream world out of it the movie doesn’t make a lot of sense. I love that all of his victims are buried together in the same cemetery, with Nancy and Donald Thompson’s graves sitting just behind the ones for Kincaid and Joey. And how can teenagers STILL be disbelieving in the idea of Freddy after so many folks have died? One even comments that Springwood isn’t a good place to be a teenager, yet the concept of Freddy still seems to be unknown to everyone. Also - how many close friends/family members of Alice need to die before the girl takes a few days off from school?

It also fails as an R rated horror movie (maybe if it got the PG-13 that it would probably get today (save for the boob shots) my mom would have taken me after all!). Apart from some red water during Joey’s death, there isn’t a single drop of blood in the entire film, and the kills all seem trimmed (Kincaid’s to the point of confusion - he yells “KRUEGER’S BACK!” without Freddy there, and then Freddy is next to him, bloodlessly stabbing him). I’m sure the MPAA had something to do with this, but I’ve never heard of there being a problem with them on this film, and the MPAA is traditionally more lenient toward horror films that skew toward the comedic side. And Halloween 4 came out just a month or so later and that had plenty of gore (thumb to the forehead!).

So is anything good about it? Well, it’s watchable, that’s for sure. Even though the kills suck, there are plenty of them (six by my count, plus Freddy’s gonzo demise and Dan’s major injury), and the film never slows down for more than a minute or two before someone falls asleep again. And Alice is a pretty great heroine - the scene where she realizes she knows kung fu (with Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything” playing in the background - yes!) is still a crowd-pleasing delight, as is her later scene where she takes on the identity of all her dead friends before battling Freddy (I guess she can only wear those things in her dream if she has them on in real life?). And Renny Harlin stages some great fantasy/dream scenes, such as when Alice is sucked into a movie screen.

And this shouldn’t be something to praise, but I liked that it was consistent visually with the other films. They were all shot in Los Angeles, and the house always looked the same. Crystal Lake never looked the same from film to film, and while Halloween 4-6 were all shot in the same town, the series as a whole never had any consistency for the Myers house, which figured into many of the films. It’s nice that even though the writers and producers were running their character to the ground, the production designer was giving it his all.

Speaking of the writer, half of the story and half of the screenplay credit is given to LA Confidential writer Brian Helgeland, continuing and ending the tradition of Nightmare sequels being written by future Oscar nominees (after Shawshank’s Frank Darabont wrote 3). Oddly, he isn’t mentioned in any of the articles in Fangoria about the film’s production, and the writers THEY do credit (Jim and Ken Wheat) use the name Scott Pierce on the film (original writer William Kotzwinkle isn’t mentioned in Fango’s pieces either), so maybe this movie just never had a chance for real creativity or coherency with so many folks in charge of its basic structure. And of course, it goes without saying that the more or less universally agreed “good” Nightmare movies - 1, 3, and 7 - all had scripts (or at least stories) by Wes Craven, who had no involvement whatsoever in this film, unless you count the horrible “Crave Inn” gag.

Like Halloween 5 (which also killed off its supposed heroine in the first act!), Nightmare 4 has some decent scenes, and has high production value not afforded its predecessors, but had the misfortune of following up an above average (best?) sequel, and more importantly, began what would be its series’ downfall. In Halloween 5’s case it was the Man in Black, but at least he’s a relatively minor aspect of what is otherwise a decent followup. My problems with Nightmare 4, however, are threaded throughout the entire film - a few edits couldn’t have saved this one, it’s simply made with all the wrong intentions in mind. And the next two sequels fare no better, by my recollection (I haven’t watched either of them since 1999 either), because this one is at least largely coherent (unlike 5) and connected to the other films (unlike 6). So it’s either the worst of the best Freddy movies, or the best of the worst. Neither is a ringing endorsement.

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Killer Movie (2008)

MARCH 29, 2010


Between Kaley Cuoco, Leighton Meester, Gloria Votsis, and Torrey DeVitto, you’d think it would be pretty obvious why I would want to watch Killer Movie, right? Well, wrong - it was actually the presence of Nestor Carbonell that enticed me. As one of my favorite characters/actors from Lost (and The Tick!), I was excited to see him in a movie (a horror movie at that!). The quartet of very lovely ladies was a bonus. And his character is a delight, a typically douchey agent who pops up from time to time explaining why he refused to answer an actor’s call or whatever. He wasn’t in the movie as much as I had hoped, but this made his occasional appearances (most of which are in “direct to camera” confessional videos - more on that next) all the more enjoyable.

As for the confessional videos - the movie concerns the crew of a reality show being stalked by a killer. But this is actually a relatively minor aspect of the movie, and apart from the confessionals, which comprise a total of maybe 5 minutes of the movie, there is nothing “reality” or documentary-esque about the movie - no “found footage”, no hand-held, camera graphic on screen shots, etc. Hell, they barely ever even film anything for their show. Ultimately, the reality show stuff is just a red herring; a means to get everyone to the town and nothing else - they could have all been there for a spelling bee for all it mattered. Writer/director Jeff Fisher is a vet of a dozen reality shows, so I guess it's more of a "Go with what you know" decision than anything else.

In fact, the thing I liked most about Fisher’s script was that it kept me off-guard and misdirected, something I can’t say about too many slashers at all, let alone modern ones (I’m going to head into spoiler territory here, so skip the next two paragraphs if you want to be surprised for yourself). Early on, we learn about two warring hockey coaches, and that the town is prone for people getting into “accidents”, and that the director (Vampire Diaries’ Paul Wesley) was specifically requested for the gig by the lead actress (Cuoco), who was recently under investigation for assault, etc. It’s a lot of red herrings, but it’s ultimately pretty simple - which I loved. So many slasher movies (hell, movies in general) exist in this sort of bubble, where we only learn about things/people that are directly important to the plot, so I liked the idea of presenting this Twin Peaks-y town but having the killer’s motive basically come down to simple jealousy.

And I didn’t guess the killer! (Remember, spoiler-phobes, you’re supposed to skip this paragraph too!) I thought for sure that Carbonell would turn out to be the killer, because he was one of the bigger names in the cast and yet seemingly had no part in the proceedings. But it was someone else (I won’t say who), with Carbonell remaining safely in LA for the entire movie. In fact, one of the film’s other great strengths is that it introduces a lot of characters that could be viable suspects, but doesn’t kill them all off so that it ultimately becomes impossible for it to be anyone but a particular person. Scream is the only other slasher I can think of that pulled this off successfully, where at the end it could have been one of maybe 5-6 folks and all would have been a satisfying answer (as opposed to say, Sorority Row, where the killer turned out to be a glorified extra, or worse, I Know What You Did Last Summer, where the killer was someone we never met). Any time a movie can successfully pull the wool over my eyes but not come off as a cheat, I’m pretty happy.

I kind of liked how prolific the killer was too. Almost every kill scene involves the would-be victim finding another character (or someone we never saw, like the clerk at the grocery store) lying dead. Not only does it boost the movie’s kill count without it becoming a splatterfest (it’s actually fairly tame, again, not unlike Scream), but it also helps with the mis-direction. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that they pull the same trick from My Bloody Valentine (the original), possibly even more successfully so because of the groundwork that was laid from the other off-screen kills.

My only qualm, besides the groan-worthy reality show set up (it took me a bit to warm to the movie), is that the final girl is kind of unlikable for the bulk of the movie, and suddenly turns sympathetic and even protective near the end. I would have liked it had they either humanized her a bit more throughout the film, or merely kept up her snotty attitude all the way through (or killed her!). It’s sort of jarring, because for most of the movie she’s a bit intolerable (Cuoco’s inherent appeal is about the only reason you AREN’T rooting for her death) and sort of a supporting character, and then suddenly she’s our main character. It’s sort of ballsy to make her a bit of a bitch, but I’m not sure it’s an entirely successful gamble.

Oh, and Votsis and DeVitto looked alike to me, which confused me at times. This is my only complaint about their presence. Be in more movies, ladies!

Like Alien Raiders, Killer Movie’s secret weapon is its really shitty title lowering my expectations. It’s not exactly going to blow anyone’s mind or anything, but it’s a solid, well-made, engaging flick all the same; catering to fans of its sub-genre while adding some unique flair and creativity. And stars folks from my favorite genre shows (Raiders had Carlos Bernard from 24 and Rockmond Dunbar from Prison Break, this has Lost’s Carbonell, plus Meester was on Surface, a cool show from 2006-07 that unfortunately never got a 2nd season). BC approved!

What say you?

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Rockula (1990)

MARCH 28, 2010


Despite meeting a few of my horror “requirements”, I was prepared to just watch something else for the day and forget about Rockula review, but under severe pressure from some friends who were also at the screening to count it, here we are! Why wouldn’t I count it, you might ask? Well, Rockula’s vampirism doesn’t really have anything to do with the movie, he doesn’t follow any traditional vampire rules (goes out in the sun, doesn’t mind garlic, etc), and no one even seems to notice he’s a vampire. So it's really about a guy with weird teeth.

But it IS a wonderfully batshit movie, the type I would probably like more with each viewing, and ultimately love it after I watched it 10-15 times if such a thing was possible (it’s not on DVD, and it’s not physically possible to watch a VHS tape too many times, even I found one). There aren’t a lot of actual jokes in the movie, but it’s just so damn goofy and weird, with “huh?” worthy sight gags passing by in the background more often than not. Some of it is ZAZ-worthy, like a bloodmobile delivering blood in bottles like a milkman, but more of them are a bit less obvious and random, like the idea that his love is always going to be killed via hambone by a guy with a peg-leg.

There is one but-gusting amazing moment around the half-way mark though. As our hero and his eternal love are about to “go upstairs”, they begin to sing a fairly catchy (in a cheesy 80s ballad kind of way) duet called “By My Side”, and just as he is about to start the chorus, a car comes out of nowhere and slams right into him. But it doesn’t stop him from singing, he just carries on as the car keeps driving with him spread out on the windshield. He finally gets off in a homeless area, and the two continue singing as they look for each other amongst all the homeless people, some of whom rough him up. It’s a glorious moment - I love when movie musicals play with the conventions of the genre (i.e. that people are suddenly breaking out into song in the middle of a street or whatever). I wish more of the songs had this sort of parody quality, but sadly the bulk of the songs are performed on stage.

See, Rockula is the name of the band that our hero starts in order to win over the girl, but the band keeps changing genres. First he’s a Devo-esque rock band, then they perform a rap song that sounds like a Tone Loc leftover, and near the end he’s doing an Elvis number. He’s the David Bowie of vampire band leaders. But these scenes more or less stop the movie cold for the song to play out, unlike the “By Your Side” one which doubles as the film’s only real action scene until the end.

Rockula (actually Ralph) is played by Dean Cameron, who you all know as Chainsaw from Summer School. I think he was better suited to comic relief supporting character than a romantic lead, but he’s fun to watch all the same, and actually plays two roles (his “reflection”, which is sort of a Jekyll and Hyde type relationship), and some of the movie’s best scenes involve him basically talking to himself, going in and out of “mirror acting”. He’s definitely a very skilled comic performer, and it’s a shame that this film got buried (due to Cannon going bankrupt - this was one of their last films). I doubt it would have been a very big hit, but it probably would have gotten him enough recognition to get better leading comic role scripts than Ski School in the following years.

I definitely wish we had seen more of Tawny Fere. I don’t know if she did her own singing, but she’s a knockout AND a pretty decent actress with good comic timing. And she looks like Rachel McAdams, which I would have liked to have before the real one came along a decade or so later. But this was pretty much her last big role, she followed it up with a stint on General Hospital, and then appeared in a pair of DTV movies (one as just “neighbor”) at the end of the 90s. Her only credit of the 2000s is a short film. Lame.

The rest of the cast is primarily musicians. Ralph’s mom is played by Toni “You’re going to put Mickey in quotes in between my first and last name, aren’t you?” Basil, who comes off like Fran Drescher more often than not and stops the movie cold for a song AND dance around the hour mark. Ralph’s main band mate is played by Bo Diddley, who is game enough to join in for several silly montage scenes such as when Ralph is trying to think of a look for the band. And his nemesis? Thomas Dolby, obviously (if they remade the movie his role would probably be played by Will Ferrell). As a villain he’s pretty ineffective, but he’s an important part of this movie’s random charm - I particularly like his commercial for his graveyard, featuring horrible ideas like windows on the caskets.

Had I seen the movie during its (apparently excessive) cable run, I probably would have been singing along and cheering at certain lines. I’m not sure if seeing it at midnight (actually 1 am by the time the Q&A with Cameron ended - not a complaint though, he was a great guest AND forever earned a place in my cool book when he inexplicably made an obscure reference to the HMAD screening of Dr. Giggles*) was the best way to see the film for the first time - I was a bit sleepy (duh) and had no idea what to make of it. And it’s a very low-key movie with many subtle, almost subliminal gags (what the hell is up with SQUID being written on the wall during the “By My Side” scene?), which makes it a better fit for home viewing to boot. I just hope a DVD gets released so I’m not stuck with Youtube clips forever.

What say you?

*Someone in the crowd asked if Cameron would do the “Tension breaker” bit from Summer School, and he quipped “No, but I will do the Dr. Giggles laugh.” At the Dr. Giggles screening, Larry Drake, an otherwise wonderful guest, bummed everyone out by not doing the laugh for the crowd (as he rightfully pointed out, we were about to hear it 1000 times in the movie). I don’t think Cameron was at the Giggles screening (and for the record, he did indeed do the Summer School bit for everyone), so I assume Phil told him the story, but it was a funny joke all the same. New Bev inside jokes!

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Komodo Vs. Cobra (2005)

MARCH 27, 2010


I recently upgraded my cable package to include Showtime and The Movie Channel (and now I pay less, for some reason), so expect an influx of crappy DTV horror movies like Komodo Vs. Cobra, which is the stuff they show in the middle of the night in between airings of Twilight. As I have literally exhausted my local Blockbuster's supply of horror movies (barring new releases and a few sequels to movies I haven't seen yet), these are the types of movies that I would never think to go out of my way to add to my Netflix queue, but will hit "record this" while thumbing through the guide without a moment's hesitation.

Hopefully some of these films will be better than Komodo Vs. Cobra. Or worse. The movie followed the monster/island/experiment gone wrong template to such a T, I felt I could have simply watched the movie on fast forward and known exactly what was happening, even when people were talking. I'd almost rather an outright disaster like Lake Placid 2 than something this dull.

Of course, maybe I was just missing the subtle nuances of the film because it was a sequel to a movie I hadn't seen (ironic, considering my above excuse as to why I recorded the thing in the first place). The film began with people already being chased by Komodo, and when it eats one particular guy, it seems like it's supposed to be a big shock and/or really upsetting for the audience. So I did a little research and discovered that there was a film a year earlier titled Curse Of The Komodo, by the same director (and by all accounts, an identical film), but I also discovered that the actor who died at the beginning of this film played a different character in the first one (Foster in Curse, Dr. Richardson in KvC), and the girl playing his daughter wasn't in Curse at all (nor does another actress with the same character name), so who the fuck knows. I've already put more effort into this than anyone involved did.

And who is responsible for this nonsense? Jim Wynorski, of course, albeit under one of his many aliases (Jay Andrews, if memory serves - I already deleted the damn thing off my DVR). A quick look at his IMDb filmography reveals some interesting tidbits: 1. He has directed an average of 3 films per year (even Uwe Boll only does about 2), and 2. His entire career switches between softcore porn (most with movie parody titles - I'm partial to The Hills Have Thighs) and crappy monster/action movies like this. The goodwill he earned from Chopping Mall has long since run out (many would argue he pissed it all away just a few years later with Return Of Swamp Thing), but god bless him for being such a workhorse, I guess. I guess when you direct six films in between your two Komodo movies (which came out only a year and change apart), you can forget things like the name of your main character.

So with that guy dead, the lead this time is Michael Paré, who also executive produced. Paré's entire role consists of making jerky, "cool" comments toward the "group", a bunch of young rabblerousers who want to expose the island's experimentation on animals (or something). So like, they offer him 5 grand to take them to the island, but rather than stay with his boat like any normal captain would, he stays with them. Why? "I got reasons to make sure they make it back in one piece.... five thousand of them." Ah, such wit! At least, that's all he does during the non-monster scenes (of which, unsurprisingly, there are many). When a Komodo and/or a Cobra shows up, he stands in one spot and fires his automatic weapon over and over, despite the fact that it never does even the tiniest bit of damage (it barely even seems to annoy the damn things). All of the gunfire is digital, so his arm doesn't even twitch, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was just a still frame of Paré holding a gun half the time. He also takes the "movie guns never run out of ammo" thing to a ridiculous degree - at one point he fires at LEAST 40 times in a single scene.

Then again, such cheapo giveaways are about the only entertainment value this movie holds. I love the establishing shots of the Army HQ, as it looks suspiciously like the main building of a highway visitor center. The stock footage matches even less than you would expect it to, given that the film was shot digitally and the stock footage is on film. Neither monster looks even remotely good - some of the animation is passable, but compositing is even weaker than normal - they don't even bother adding half-assed displacement (knocking over small brush and tall grass as it moves) like some of these other things. And whether it was a goof or a strange acting choice, I laughed my ass off at the scene where the group's cameraman gets killed, as he runs around and dodges the advancing Cobra without ever dropping his cigarette. I like to think that Wynorski grabbed the guy while he was on break and had him run around for a few minutes, and the actor was like "Fine, whatever" and didn't bother putting out his butt.

I must also mention the film's very special soundtrack. Besides a score that sounds suspiciously like a Connery era Bond flick, all profanity in the movie is "bleeped" via animal sounds - squawks and chirps and such. It's rated PG-13, and most of the swears are of the PG-13 (or even regular TV) variety - bitch, ass, et al, so I'm not sure what the hell the point of this is. Also, for a Wynorski movie, there is a shocking and complete lack of nudity, which is like seeing a Michael Bay movie without an explosion. I admit to being partially interested in the film when I saw Michelle Borth's name in the credits, having been smitten with her a few years back when she was in those "Office" Burger King ads. Borth + Wynorski = satisfaction for a brief actress crush from 6 years ago, right? Nope. In fact, the mildest praise I can offer this movie is that it doesn't take too long to get going - they land on the island and within 10 minutes are being chased by Komodos and Cobras, so there wouldn't have been any time for nudity anyway.

Finally, the title is a spoiler. The two creatures only meet/fight at the very end of the film. Of course, this is nothing new for VS movies, but they point out early on that there are many of each, so I thought we'd get a couple of fights and then a big battle at the end, like 3 on 3 or something. But nope. Their fight is pretty lousy too, they just bite each other a few times before the stock footage army blows them up via footage from what I think is Behind Enemy Lines. And Cobra barely gets any play - there's a 2:1 ratio of Komodo to Cobra scenes. Poor Cobra.

Oh well, they're sort of paying ME to have Showtime (seriously, my bill went down 10 bucks and I got another tier of basic cable channels as well), so I can't complain too much. Here's hoping that something called The Gathering, starring Christina Ricci (airing at 3AM tomorrow), fares better!

What say you?

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Haunting Of Winchester House (2009)

MARCH 26, 2010


Like Halloween Night*, The Asylum’s Haunting Of Winchester House is a knockoff of other horror movies, but not recent ones. And also like Halloween Night, it’s watchable and even entertaining at times, which is also a rare thing to say about an Asylum production. The acting and terrible casting (the 15ish daughter acts like she’s 7) are its biggest faults, instead of the usual lack of production value, scene for scene copying of better films, and total absence of action. This being a haunted house movie, it’s OK to have a little atmosphere and deficiency of visual candy. It’s Asylum’s own The Haunting!

But it’s not just aping Robert Wise; there’s a bit of The Others and LOT of The Sixth Sense in here as well - the whole thing hinges on ghosts that don’t know they’re dead, something we learn in a monologue that’s more or less identical to the exposition delivered by Haley Joel Osment in that film. But this time, the guy with the answers is a grown man, and why he doesn’t just tell these ghosts that they’re dead, or at least report that their bodies are in a ditch a few hundred yards from the house, is beyond me. Kind of an asshole, if you think about it.

The movie also shoots itself in the foot a bit by working in the history of the real Winchester house, owned by the widow of the guy who designed the Winchester rifle. She believed it was haunted by all of the folks that were killed by Winchester rifles, and thus she had her house continually remodeled/reconstructed nonstop, which she thought would keep the ghosts at bay. This resulted in a wacky house, with staircases that went to nowhere, interior windows, and doors on the ceiling. The movie just takes the “the ghosts are victims of Winchesters” idea, and doesn’t even really do anything with it - the three ghosts we see the most are all former residents who, like all ghosts in 2000s horror films, are simply trying to lead our living characters toward the corpse of someone who died accidentally.

As for the wacky house, nada. Not even a single stairway to nowhere. Since that is the far more popular/interesting aspect of the story, I’m not sure why they wouldn’t at least reflect it in some cheap way (just put a door on any wall!). It’s like doing a movie about Ted Bundy and leaving out the fact that he killed people. But really, they should have just given the house a generic name/history, since it has fuck all to do with the real meat of the story anyway.

The 3D works with the pink and green glasses, if you have a pair of those (it’s the kind that came with My Bloody Valentine 3D). As with all home 3D, it looks pretty lousy, so I only looked at it for a few minutes before turning it off and trying to uncross my eyes (seriously, it messed with my vision for a few minutes). But since the film was actually shot in 3D, and not some half-assed post-conversion process, I could see that if it was projected properly, it would be a pretty good 3D movie. Not a lot of “Comin at ya” crap, but there were some really good depth of field shots just in the few minutes I looked at. Unfortunately, this also washed out all of the color - not that it was exactly a Joel Schumacher-ian visual feast, but I don’t know why any filmmaker, even one working for the Asylum, would want his images to be all washed out so that a few branches on a tree would stick out more than the trunk.

I also didn’t see much of a REASON to shoot the film in 3D. They had to know it was going DTV, and it wasn’t particularly exciting on the page - most of the film is just two folks wandering around a house where not much happens (in fact, it might have BENEFITED from a few “Comin’ at ya!” shots, not just for the 3D gimmickry, but also for the fact that it would mean something exciting was happening). And the house is hilariously 2D - one room is adorned with, I kid you not, wall to wall “bookshelf” wallpaper (and drapes!). So even with the glasses, it would still be a flat image. Weird.

But, as I said, it has a slight charm to it, and I wasn’t as bored as I usually am with Asylum productions (even more impressive when you consider I don’t really care for haunted house movies in general). The little creepy baby (doll?) that makes a brief appearance is probably the best thing ever seen in an Asylum flick (well, 2nd greatest after Mega Shark ate that plane). And I liked the sort of depressing ending, where one ghost realizes their fate and hides it from the other ghosts, to keep them from the pain of realizing they are dead or something. I mean, if you think about it, it’s actually MORE painful a fate - they can’t talk to anyone (save for suspiciously half-assed mediums), are confined to their house, etc. But watching it without thinking about it - it’s sort of melancholy, even almost touching.

Along with the 2D/3D option, the disc has a brief featurette and an even briefer pair of deleted scenes, nothing of interest. Maybe those new 3D TVs that nobody can afford have the capability to show the film properly, but even in 2D this is a notch above the usual Asylum fare - maybe someday they will (possibly by accident) make a legitimately good movie!

What say you?

*I made this comparison before I even realized that Mark Atkins directed both films. But he was the DP on several of their schlocky knockoffs like Snakes on a Train, so he's not impervious to their usual gimmickry.

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The Resurrected (1992)

MARCH 25, 2010


One of the bigger genre losses in recent memory, without a doubt, was Dan O’Bannon, who lost a cancer battle. He wrote several landmark genre films (Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall) and was about the same age as John Carpenter, George Romero, and other folks who are still active in the business - he was far from retirement, in other words. And he died without ever seeing a proper release for his film The Resurrected, which was his 2nd and last directorial effort (after ROTLD). Not only was the film taken away from him during post production, but it bypassed theaters and went straight to video, where it still has not been given the benefit of a widescreen release (even the DVD is full frame).

So I was delighted to see that the Egyptian would be showing the film in his original workprint form (along with Dark Star, which I had also never seen, despite my Carpenter hard-on). But I wasn’t expecting such a rough assembly - a non foleyed, non-scored, VHS copy is what they were showing. See, I’ve been to a hundred test screenings since I moved out here, and they are referred to as workprints. In my experience, these "workprints" have occasional missing or unfinished effects, and some color timing issues, but they have complete soundtracks (with scores from other films being used most often), and look good to boot. Resurrected, on the other hand, was covered in grease markings and VHS tracking lines, missing pretty much every bit of audio that wasn’t a spoken line (even some of that is missing), entirely missing shots, etc.

Now, had I seen the film before (in its release version), I’m sure it would be bearable/interesting. But it was really hard to focus on the story with so many distractions, and I wish the Egyptian had been more specific with regards to its state, as I probably would have watched the release version first. Instead I watched it later - since I knew it was a different cut, I rented the disc from Netflix so that I could compare. And now that I’ve seen both, I hate to say it, but I think the producers were right to fire O’Bannon and edit the film themselves (O'Bannon's brief thoughts on the matter are presented below, in lieu of a trailer).

Apart from the cheesy Richard Band score (as if there was any other kind of Richard Band score?), everything they did was an improvement over the O’Bannon version. Scenes are tighter, painfully bad attempts at comic relief have been removed, as well as a pointless love scene between the two leads. On the other hand, a brief, creepy scene at a gas station early on has been added, as well as other small bits throughout the film that give the film a focus and a tighter pace that the O’Bannon version sorely lacked. I was bored through most of his version, but I found the release cut (not 12 hrs after watching it in its other form mind you) interesting and enjoyable. It’s still a slow film, but in a deliberate, atmospheric way, like a good early episode of The X-Files, as opposed to the just plain dull O’Bannon version.

Either version offers a lead role for John Terry, probably best known today for playing Jack’s dad on Lost. He’s got dark hair here, and he proves an amiable lead - I think he should have been a bigger star. He’s got the same sort of personable leading man quality that Harrison Ford has in his glory years (a comparison that’s even more apt once they start exploring some underground tunnels in the 3rd act), and good chemistry with all of his co-stars (including Jane Sibbett, best known for playing Ross’ ex-wife on Friends). I also enjoyed Chris Sarandon’s performance(s) as the villain, though he disappears for far too long during the middle of the film (a problem exacerbated in the O’Bannon version). He essentially plays two roles (one of whom we’re not supposed to know is him, but Movie 101 rules - if a character is only seen in quick glimpses, and has a beard and other face-covering accessories, than he is a twin/clone/whatever of another character. See: The Prestige), but their differences are supposed to be subtle, something Sarandon pulls off effortlessly.

However, both cuts suffer from a core structural issue that seems to be taking two acts of a story and making them into three. The name of the damn movie, as well as a biblical quote from Job at the beginning, tell you what the movie is about, but it takes about 80 minutes for the characters to realize it, and then it’s over not much later, before the shit really hits the fan. I’m all for a slow build, but it builds to something that should be the 2nd act climax, not the end of the film. Sarandon never really gets to resurrect any sort of force, just two (really cool, for the record) creatures that are dispatched fairly quickly. As this was based on a Lovecraft story, I’m not too surprised that it all comes down to more or less stopping the evil before it really does anything, since a lot of his stories play out that way, but it didn’t make it any less of a blue balls-ian endeavor. It even starts with Terry telling the story, but this doesn’t have any payoff the way something like Fallen did (or, in my favorite example, Memoirs Of An Invisible Man, where he’s telling the story in flashback only up to a certain point, and then it becomes the present for the final 30 minutes).

The film also has an overwhelming number of flashbacks in which the narrator says what is happening, and then we hear the sentiment repeated. Sibbett begins telling a story where she “wanted to tell [Sarandon] to find someplace else for whatever he was doing”, and then we see her say to him “Find someplace else for whatever you’re doing!”. It reminded me of when you watch a serialized show on DVD and you have to hear a line twice back to back where it used to be interrupted by 4-5 min of commercials (or, nowadays, 4-5 presses of the DVR’s skip button). And yes, this means that the film is occasionally a flashback of flashbacks, a narrative device I’m never comfortable with, though it doesn’t seem as ill-thought out as some other movies (Titanic) - Terry tells the story from his POV and flashback-in-flashbacks are stories told TO him by other characters. But again, there is no payoff for this structure, so I’m not sure why they bothered in the first place.

The original story sounds more interesting, as it was told from the Sarandon character’s point of view (there doesn’t seem to be a Terry character, based on what I got from the Wikipedia entry on the novel) and involved vampire-esque actions. And Lovecraft apparently didn’t think much of the story, so I have even more reason to believe I will enjoy it if I ever get around to it (again, not a big HPL fan). Either way, I think O’Bannon made a good movie, and it’s a shame he felt it was destroyed by the producers - I’m all for the director protecting his vision, but the fact remains that his version was sluggish and horror-starved. This one improves it in pretty much all areas; if you have the opportunity to watch his original version, I would take it - but only if you have already seen the released one.

What say you?

P.S. Dark Star was pretty fun. Carpenter’s score is only about 2 notes removed from Halloween’s at times, and the finale, with a guy debating a robot bomb, is pure genius. And O’Bannon is a delight as the hapless Pinback. I wish the two of them had worked together again.

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Non Canon Review: A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

MARCH 24, 2010

LAST SEEN: 2004 (?)

With the “looks rather half-assed” remake coming up, I figured I’d take a look back at the original Nightmare On Elm St (and it’s sequels, not counting 2 and 3 which have already been reviewed here - look for one a week leading up to the remake’s release!), which I hadn’t seen in years. In fact, I would guess I’ve probably only seen the film maybe 5-6 times in my life. I’ve seen Dream Warriors probably 20 times, because it was my favorite as a kid (and probably still is), but otherwise, I was never as big on Freddy as I was the other horror icons.

I have no reasonable explanation for this - the films are, if nothing else, better made than any Friday the 13th movie, and it also has the suburban flair that drew me to the Halloween movies. But also, the films that came out around the time I started getting into horror (the late 80s) are also the ones that moved further away from horror and into comedy - I knew wisecracking Freddy first, and then discovered his darker version (in this film, and part 2, a slightly lesser extent) later. So basically, I was robbed of a proper introduction to the character, and by the time I finally got around to seeing the original (which, I think was the LAST one I saw of the original 5 films), I had already sort of gotten tired of him. It is the biggest irony that Freddy was always the least likely horror villain to give me nightmares - to this day I don’t think I’ve had one (Jason has chased me several times, however).

Now, of course, I realize how great of a film it is. In fact, it just dawned on me for the first time that Tina is actually sort of set up as the heroine of the film, only to be killed at the end of the first reel (another downside of watching the films out of order, though the film’s final poster “spoiled” this too). Nancy is introduced as the friend and only really takes center after Tina is dispatched. It must have been a great shock back in the day, but now it still works as evidence of how fast paced this movie is. In fact, despite the rather compact cast of kids (only 4, as opposed to the usual eight to ten-ish that the Friday films had offered), it moves along faster than most other slashers of the era, and it’s far more creative than the others to boot.

I also enjoy, and always have, how Craven depicts dreams in a fairly realistic way. People change into other people, locations change on a whim, there’s an odd sense of logic in that you can follow what is happening but actually describing it wouldn’t make a lick of sense... the sequels got away from this idea, staging big set pieces that were obviously written before the actual story of the film was. Here, the nightmares are organic to the story start to finish. Sure, it may not be as visually exciting as parts 4 or 5, but it’s more grounded in reality, and thus, far more interesting/scary - Freddy jumping up behind Tina at the beginning still gives me a bit of a jolt.

Less successful (in retrospect) is the standard Craven scene of a character setting booby traps. Not sure why he always goes back to this well, but at least five of his films have such devices, and it’s somewhat laughable. Are all of his heroes natural survivalists? I’ve said in the past that unlike Carpenter, Craven doesn’t have a particular visual style that would instantly identify one of his films to a viewer, but I guess if you see the film’s hero setting up tripwires and small shocking devices, you are probably watching a Wes Craven film. Or Home Alone.

Another thing I noticed this time around that I never gave much thought to before - why doesn’t the doctor at the Katja Institute (played by Charles “Roger Rabbit” Fleischer) ever follow through with his research? His subject breaks all of his known nightmare threshold levels, and then pulls a goddamn HAT out of her dream, but it seems he doesn’t consider this any sort of breakthrough. It’s a shame Craven was left out of the sequels for the most part, as I think he would have returned to this character in some way.

The effects still hold up quite well. The effects in the jail cell (first phasing through the bars, and then the magic blanket/noose) still impress, and the revolving bedroom is still a wonderful invention that, again, remains a remarkable visual. And the scene where Freddy attempts to break through the wall above Nancy’s bed is still chilling - and even moreso in the wake of the laughably bad CG version seen in the trailer for the remake.

And with that - the remake rant. Most notable about the original is that it’s not even that dated. Apart from the mom smoking in a hospital, there really isn’t anything in the movie that a new audience couldn’t identify with. Johnny Depp listens to a record while he watches a TV that is so small he can move it around his room with ease - will changing this to an iPod and a 27 inch LCD really make any fucking difference? I really don’t want to go down this road again, but I guess it bears repeating - Rob Zombie is a guy with a vision. It’s one I don’t always agree with, but he brings something to the table, creatively and technically. So the idea of him doing a remake of a perfect movie like Halloween is, in theory, a solid one, if remakes must exist. Friday the 13th, on the other hand, is NOT a perfect movie. It’s got a cheat ending, and it’s sort of an anomaly due to the franchise taking on a different life once Jason was introduced. Therefore, it made sense to redo Friday the 13th - it could give him a rebirth that was worthy of his iconic stature. But the Platinum Dunes factory cannot possibly improve on Nightmare on Elm St with the way they make films (combining scripts from multiple writers, hiring a director who producers Brad Fuller and Andrew Form can push around, etc). The only way a new Nightmare could be a viable prospect is if a filmmaker with an actual vision AND IDEA wanted to do one. Now, I haven’t seen the film, and for all I know it’s entertaining. But it won’t change the fact that all of their money and efforts should have been utilized elsewhere, because this Nightmare still works splendidly, as both a horror film AND as an important piece in the career of its sole creator: Wes Craven (who wasn’t even given a courtesy call when the Dunes put their remake into production, let alone involved in any way as he was with the Hills Have Eyes and Last House remakes, both of which are “upper level” remakes).

/End rant.

While I still have the old boxed set from 1999 (at the time, the most money I had ever spent on a single thing besides my car; I can now get it for less than the cost of a new Blu-ray), I recently picked up the new-ish (2006?) Infinifilm release, which has a new commentary track and some other bonus features, all of which are worth a look. First is a look at the history of New Line (aka “The House That Freddy Built”), which is an unusual feature to have on any movie, let alone a horror movie (let’s see Dimension put something together like this for the inevitable Scream Blu-ray). It’s a slightly bittersweet piece, as New Line has been since folded into Warner Bros., but it’s still a nice tribute to a studio that really did take chances on genre fare (Se7en was rejected by every other studio due to the ending - New Line gave them enough to hire Brad Pitt to star in the damn thing). Then there’s a brief look at the history of dream studies, with some professors (one of whom seems to be a bigger Freddy nerd than anyone I know, despite the fact that he looks about 70) and Craven offering insight into the subject. Then there’s a 45 minute “making of” that’s really a retrospective, featuring many of the participants (no Johnny Depp, sadly) as they walk us through the entire film’s production. Actual behind the scenes footage is rather scarce; it’s mostly limited to stills - but there are some alternate takes where Englund is using his own voice for Freddy, which is kind of creepy in and of itself. The sequels aren’t really mentioned, oddly enough - surely Craven and Heather Langenkamp could have offered a thought or two on the ones they were involved with (as for Englund, the man can talk for twenty minutes straight about his shoelaces, so if asked for his perspective on the sequels, it could yield enough for an entire full length documentary).

The two commentaries are packed with info. The one with Craven, Langenkamp, Saxon, and DP Jacques Haitkin is held over from the laserdisc (apparently Haitkin’s kids have been bugging him to get one - wonder if he ever did?), but it’s screen specific, and has an equal balance of technical and creative stuff, as well as between anecdotal and insight. And Craven mentions Shocker once or twice, so that’s a plus (the track cuts out in mid-sentence though - weird). The other one is edited together from interviews with the above as well as Englund, Bob Shaye, Amanda Wyss, etc; some info is repeated, but the comments from the folks who aren’t on the other track are certainly welcome. Both are recommended.

Dream Warriors is still my favorite of the series, but the original runs a very close second, and it’s actually held up even better than Warriors has (those skeleton effects in the graveyard NEVER looked good). And I’m kind of glad I never really watched it a lot, as it allows me to look at it more or less with a fresh pair of eyes, without nostalgia clouding my judgment as it probably does for other childhood horror movies (again, Shocker, plus some of the Friday and Child’s Play sequels). And with this new viewing, I remain more convinced than ever that the upcoming remake is as unnecessary as they come.

What say you?

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The Graves (2010)

MARCH 24, 2010


My original plan to see The Graves in theaters during the theatrical run of this year’s After Dark crop was thwarted by my buddy Mike, who was shooting a short film the same night and needed some extras (my shoulder made it into the final version!). Now that I’ve seen it, I’m glad I waited for home - the screening in question was attended by cast and crew, whereas at home I was free to sigh, laugh at things that weren’t meant to be funny, and yell “Fuck you!” to horrible CGI blood splatters without offending anyone.

That last one really got me. At one point, actress Jillian Murray (from The Fun Park! She’s HMAD’s Girl of the Week, I guess) is hacking away at someone below the camera line, and they STILL use digital blood, which couldn’t possibly have taken less time/resources than having a guy laying on the floor throwing some karo at her. And you’ve seen this moment in a hundred horror movies, so the fact that none of the blood seems to hit her in the face/torso makes the digital-ness even worse. On the commentary, director Brian Pulido says that there wasn’t time to do it “right” on the set, as they would have to re-set and clean up, but at another point on the track he says that they were on schedule every single day. Surely going ten minutes over one day (assuming that there was somehow a way to “screw up” splashing blood on an actress) would have been acceptable if it meant a better moment for the film (and indeed, it’s one of the film’s biggest death scenes, AND a turning point for her character, yet all I can focus on are badly composited red pixels).

I can assume, then, that there wasn’t time for the ridiculously high number of moments that occur off-screen, resulting in confusion. Early on, Murray’s character runs out of frame and lets out a little yelp, and later she’s unconscious on the ground. Was she attacked, or did she fall? Either way, why is she in a seemingly different location entirely? And the climax is filled with off-screen events. The villain literally sucks souls away, but we have to imagine what that looks like most of the time, as it occurs off camera while we look at actresses sort of reacting to it (and a few opaque light filters for good measure). At one point we watch Murray and Clare Grant react to off-screen stuff, stumble around a bit, look for a way to run, and finally run out of frame. THEN they cut to the aftermath of what was happening while we were essentially looking at nothing. One of the film’s biggest problems is a script that has way too much going on for what was obviously a limited budget, so instead of toning the fantastical elements down a bit, they simply leave them up to our imagination, which is a bit difficult when the plot is this convoluted. If you want to keep a simple slashing off-screen, fine. But if your movie’s about a supernatural entity called The Savior who has possessed a group of townsfolk (via smell, I think) into killing tourists so that their souls can be used to resurrect their crops, I think the audience would actually like to SEE some of these things at work, not just be told about them by a hammy Tony Todd while our main characters are screaming and the rest of the extras are chanting.

And it’s strange, because Pulido comes from a comic book background. Surely he (more than anyone else!) would understand the importance of visuals being used to tell a story? And it’s not an occasional thing, it happens over and over throughout the movie - even basic kills are usually presented off-screen.

There is some merit to the batshittedness of it all, however. At one point Murray and Grant (I don’t buy these two as sisters at all, by the way - can’t they at least cast two women with the same hair/eye color or something so there can at least be a BASIC physical similarity?) become possessed by the evil smell and begin hissing and biting at each other, while tied to a chair. Again, the plot developments in this movie are always a bit left of fully coherent, so it seems to come out of nowhere, which makes it even more delightful. And Bill Moseley spends about half of his screen-time wearing a pig nose (at one point he even snorts and squeals). I can’t say much about the movie, but I will say this: it’s never boring.

However, Moseley’s presence just illuminates the biggest problem with the film - it’s derivative of too many other genre films. Our leads are traveling to strange tourist spots while on a cross country trip and they run afoul of Bill Moseley - sound familiar? The climax is largely stolen from Children of the Corn, and the basic beat-for-beat execution is not unlike any dozen “breakdown” movies - finding the room where the villains have kept all of their victims’ belongings, flagging down a car for help only to discover he’s one of the bad guys, trying to get away with the villain’s truck, etc. You, I, and everyone else has seen all of this stuff before, and usually better. Hell, it even brought to mind Machined at one point (Arizona junkyard), though at least it’s better than that.

Sadly, the most original thing Pulido brought to the table is also botched. Our two heroines are introduced as being huge geeks, going to the comic book store and filming their picks of the week (all Pulido titles, by the way - he is the creator of "Evil Ernie" and has worked on several other series). But it’s weird, even though I know that these two girls are indeed a bit on the nerdy side of things in real life (Grant in particular - ever see Saber?), but their geekiness seems a bit forced. “There’s more to life than comics” one says; “There IS?” says the other. It just doesn’t work, and for all the time they spend on painting them as these super-cool girls, it has fuck all to do with their characters once the shit hits the fan. There’s no correlation drawn between the ridiculous stuff that they read (and love) and the ridiculous stuff that actually happens to them, which could have been interesting. Even more interesting - they could have been horror fans too, and thus would be better prepared for all of the clichés they were about to experience (like in Hills Run Red, where the guy is (theoretically) smart enough to bring a gun when camping in the woods).

Bonus points for making a reference to the original Vacation though (“This ain’t Wallyworld”). Even MORE bonus points for not going to the “Not in Kansas” well.

After Dark has made a strong comeback in terms of bonus features, after the bare-bones third series (only Autopsy had significant supplemental material; most didn’t even have a making of featurette). Pulido provides one of two commentaries, and though it starts off shaky (he sounds like he rehearsed the entire thing, and starts off more or less just narrating the movie), he finds his groove and turns in a pretty decent track, pointing out set design details (his wife was the production designer, her and DP Adam Goldfine provide the other track, which I don’t have time for) and heaping praise on Moseley (who was the one to come up with the pig nose), plus the usual sort of nitty-gritty. It seems to be a bit off-sync though, he’s often pointing out things about 5 seconds before we see them. Then there’s a pretty standard making of, trailer, music video, and a “not as funny as they seem to think it is” thing about some lawn gnome that he is “contracted” to put into all of his films. All that stuff you can skip, but definitely check out “Plan To Actual”, which is a sort of storyboard comparison-esque piece in which we see Pulido and a few others acting out certain scenes on location, compared to their final version in the film. I also enjoyed the look at the sound editing, and the brief audition footage, primarily for the fact that Randy Blythe (lead singer of Lamb of God) tried out for Moseley’s role (he ended up playing main villain Todd’s top henchman in the film), so you get to see a different interpretation of the character. Finally, the original script is included (PDF file on the DVD-rom), which is interesting because it seems to be word for word exactly what the film was. Either the actors all followed it to the letter, or it’s actually just a transcript (I lean toward the latter, since it specifies that Moseley sings a certain line, something that Pulido says was an acting choice on Bill’s part and thus probably wouldn’t have been in the script).

The wealth of extras are sort of a double edged sword though. With all of this insight and cooperation, one has no choice but to assume they are happy with the film (in fact, they even say as much on the commentary and making of). Had the film been tossed on a disc sans any sort of input from the creators, I could be persuaded to think that the film’s shortcomings (to sum up - a muddled script that goes from painfully generic to needlessly convoluted, awkward visual storytelling, unbelievable sister dynamic) were the result of the filmmakers fighting with producers (of which this film has several), rewrites, post production editing trouble, etc. But everyone involved is accounted for, and seemingly quite pleased with the outcome. Wish I could have joined them, but sadly this is the weakest ADF entry of the current group so far (5 down, 3 to go!). Better luck next time, folks!

What say you?

P.S. They spelled my boss’ name wrong on the end credits - It’s MISKA, not MISHKA! If he was SAG that woulda cost em 10k.

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