The Traveler (2010)

FEBRUARY 28, 2011


Do you like Fringe? Then you will hate The Traveler for wasting what could have been a perfectly good Fringe episode (with the obvious tinkering). The scenario is fine, but it in no way lends itself to a 90 minute feature, so you're left with a lot of repetition and padding, and a third act that revolves around "revealing" things that any intelligent viewer would have figured 40 minutes ago.

Now, that might be a bit misleading, because there's nothing scientific about the movie, but at its heart is a supernatural tale of somewhat justifiable revenge, something Fringe has tackled on occasion, and the beats of the tale would better be served by a TV show - start with a weird murder, bring in our guys, learn some info, another murder, yakkity yak, murder, reveal, murder, revenge complete, end of episode. It would also give us an "in" to the story that the movie lacks - the entire plot hinges on six people who did something terrible a year ago and their victim who is seeking revenge. There's no one to explain anything to, so instead we just get a bunch of repetitive flashbacks showing us what they did, with no one to root for (they viciously tortured and beat a suspect into a coma) - who the hell am I supposed to care about here? They should have had a "new guy" or another (innocent) prisoner or SOMEONE worth latching onto. Worse, the 2nd flashback (maybe 25 minutes into the movie) shows us EVERYTHING, rendering future flashbacks pointless.

Then again, maybe I just had Fringe on the brain because the "hero" of the movie is Dylan Neal, best known as Pacey's older brother Doug on Dawson's Creek. So while Pacey has graduated to a really great TV show, Doug is playing second fiddle to a bored Val Kilmer (what HAPPENED to you, man?), stuck in between playing the showy villain (Kilmer) and one of the random cops who at least get to take part in surprisingly gory death scenes. No, all Neal gets to do is talk to the ghost of his daughter (during the most baffling climax I've seen in a movie in quite some time) after spending 80 minutes angrily storming up and down hallways with a flashlight. I guess we're supposed to root for him because his daughter died and thus he's sad, but stabbing a guy in the chest with a pen after he claimed he was innocent is sort of hard to justify. Plus he was always a dick to Pacey.

But at least he seems like a real cop (hey, Doug was a cop too! Should I just cut the review here and go watch Dawson's Creek?), unlike the other five officers. Two of them puke at the sight of a corpse, which you'd think would be something they'd be prepared for, and one guy I can't even figure out how he passed the exams - the cops in Police Academy looked more competent than this clown. The lone female officer also shows zero signs of the authority one should possess to be a cop; screaming and running around like any old slasher victim when presented with danger. Guess this is why you don't see too many horror films populated entirely with cops. Maybe if I recognized any of them it would have been more fun (or at least made them somewhat worth rooting for), but they're all anonymous Canadian actors. Maybe next time Kilmer can bring along his "we pissed away our career" DTV cohorts like Tom Sizemore, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Michael Madsen - it can be like the DVD version of Identity or something.

And who the hell thought the grinding guitar music was a good idea? Rarely has a film score been more intrusive. The kill scenes don't make a hell of a lot of sense as it is (Kilmer seemingly uses telekinesis), but the obnoxious score just makes them unbearable to boot. I mean, the movie's been boring me to tears from the end of the first reel, so you'd think that suddenly tossing guts and skin and blood around the set (for real) would make up for it, but the awful score ruins their appeal (not to mention that the tone is completely out of place with the rest of the rather moody film).

At least it LOOKS nice. The scope imagery was a nice surprise, and Neil Cervin's photography was appropriately dark and cold (I bet he watched the Assault on Precinct 13 remake beforehand - this movie also leaves its police station for the woods at one point, in fact). And the flashbacks have that desaturated look that lets you know it's a flashback, which I appreciate after yesterday's The Bleeding, where it was a bit of a guessing game since both flashbacks and present day scenes were over-filtered.

No extras. Not a complaint.

What say you?


The Bleeding (2009)

FEBRUARY 27, 2011


On paper, the basic concept behind The Bleeding is fine: take an over-muscled tough guy not unlike (read: borderline plagiarized from) Vin Diesel's character in the Fast & Furious films and put him in a vampire/action hybrid. Should be perfectly enjoyable B-movie fun, right? Well, the makers (or the financiers) of the movie must have been hell-bent on making sure that they never even came close to achieving that level of entertainment, which is probably why it's been on the shelf for 2-3 years.

The biggest problem is the near total lack of action. I was worried right from the start, as the movie (after a fairly cool opening credits sequence) started with what was obviously the film's climax. There are only two reasons to do this in a movie; one is to toy with the audience, and present the scene in a whole new light once you have the additional information that the movie provided (Usual Suspects is a good example). The other is to simply pad out a short running time and make up for the lack of any action in the first half. Guess which category this movie falls under, with a running time of 82 minutes and a plot that can basically be boiled down to "Meathead kills some vampires"?

Instead, we just get a lot of padding, and thus a lot of boredom. Our hero (Michael Matthias, who makes Diesel look like he's got the range of John Hawkes or someone) is prone to driving around, looking fondly at his town's waterfront or something, and then driving away, or providing voiceover consisting of bible passages laced with tough guy profanity. Most insulting is when Michael Madsen (the film's lone bright spot, unless you count the very lovely Rachelle Leah) asks our hero to, you know, kill vampires. Matthias says no, then wanders around the woods for what seems like a full five minutes before (spoiler) deciding he will indeed kill vampires. There's also a scene with Armand Assante that seems transplanted from another movie entirely (Assante is in the one scene and never mentioned again).

It's also loaded with inane editing, particularly in the first act, that suggests perhaps the film was re-edited in post (hey, it's been on the shelf for years, might as well play around with it). It's difficult to tell what is happening in the past or in the present, and Matthias' voice-over often seems added to sum up deleted scenes and plot points, particularly the Afghanistan based back-story that is crucial to the creation of the film's villain (Vinnie Jones) but is treated like an afterthought. I also love when DMX (!) informs us that vampires "hunt alone" and then they cut to a shot of 3-4 vampires hunting together. The idiotic "let's play the ending of the movie!" concept also spoils the death of Leah's friend - not that it was a major shock, but she doesn't die until nearly the end of the film. Maybe they thought we'd forget about it by the time she got around to dying?

Then again, you can't really blame them for wanting to use this sequence twice, because it's the only time the movie becomes sort of fun. It's essentially the climax of Road Warrior, but at night (not enough car chases at night, in my opinion) and with vampires instead of crazy gang dudes. The film was directed by veteran stunt guru Charles Picerni, so he ensures a lot of cool acrobatics and even a few good shots (love the sideways-traveling truck passing over the camera), and I laughed like a loon at Matthias standing on top of his barely in-control truck shooting two guns without being affected by gravity or any of that silly stuff. Honestly if the movie was just 82 minutes of this, I would have loved it. Unfortunately it's very brief, and they stupidly killed off Madsen and his partner, making it a suspense-less battle. At least if Madsen and the other guy were around, we could tense up whenever they were in danger, as there was a chance they might die (unlike Matthias and Leah), but no - they blew themselves up before the chase even began.

And can we do away with the "vampires in a nightclub" concept? Blade cornered the market on that over a decade ago, and since every action/vampire movie since has pretty much sucked, no one has forgotten about it. We also haven't forgotten the horrors of Van Helsing, so why they outfitted Jones in a nearly identical getup is beyond me (dig his long hair though).

The disc has a few brief extras, which seem to have been created for a website or something due to their brevity and basic worthlessness. One has some interviews with the cast (including Assante, who does nothing to dispel my belief that he was from a different movie by talking about how these guys have a "code" and such), one covers the stunts, and another features the makeup, including footage of Kat Von D, a horribly unappealing woman that is featured front and center on the DVD box despite having a role in the film that's essentially that of a glorified background extra.

It's never a good thing when you sit down WANTING a brainless B-movie to enjoy and it can't even deliver. I hate to be too harsh on it because I can almost guarantee that the script was probably a good read, and again it shows signs of post-production tinkering. Alas, Matthias' woeful performance and a fatal lack of action (or even some tension - you can save all the action for the end as long as you're building suspense, like Executive Decision) overpower what little is left to enjoy. Wait for Fast Five and/or Underworld 4.

What say you?


Night Of The Living Dead 3D (2006)

FEBRUARY 26, 2011


Luckily for the cast and crew of Night Of The Living Dead 3D (or Night Of The Living De3D, which is too stupid for my fingers to type with any regularity), I just watched the 30th Anniversary edition of the original film, and thus used up all my ability to hate a film for “butchering a classic” or “raping my childhood” or whatever the hell else people will toss out whenever reviewing a remake that they wanted to hate from the minute they heard about it (I just hated the music and editing, myself). So I think it’s mainly because of that that I was able to get through this one with minimal eye-rolling and annoyance.

I mean, it’s not a very good movie, but it’s less hacky than I expected, which after yesterday’s debacle made it look like a goddamn classic in comparison. And even without that in mind, there’s a lot to like here: the makeup is good, the zombies are slow, the lead actress is fetching (Timber Falls’ Brianna Brown), and unlike Savini’s version, they don’t just make minor variations on the original movie – it’s more like Dawn 04 in that it takes the same basic concept and changes most everything else (it even has a sort-of explanation for the zombies). In short, it’s basically just another mediocre 00s zombie movie, but shot well and cast with a few real actors.

And in 3D, of course. I didn’t realize it when I bought it, but there is actually no option to watch it in 2D on the disc, like most 3D releases have. Since the red/blue style is unwatchable at home (the red always overpowers the blue, giving a weird flashing effect over lighter/white areas of the frame), I couldn’t watch the entire movie like that lest I get a blinding headache, but it was just as annoying watching it without the glasses and seeing red/blue “shadows” everywhere. So I spent most of the movie alternating between glasses on, glasses off, and glasses on but covering my right (red) eye. Headache kept at bay! However, I should note that the 3D DESIGN is actually quite good – there are some requisite ‘pop out’ gags, but nowhere near as intrusive as Friday the 13th Part 3, and director Jeff Broadstreet and his DP/3D team really put effort into creating depth with the shots and lighting it appropriately so that the glasses don’t dull the image too much. I also quite like how they “introduce” the 3D element, by starting on black and white footage from the first movie (in 2D), only to zoom out and pan to reveal it’s just playing on a TV in this (now) 3D world. Very cool.

However this leads to one of my problems with the movie. It takes place in the real world, where NOTLD is a movie, and yet even though the characters in this movie are watching it, no one notices how strange it is that they all have the same names (Ben, Barbra, Karen, Helen, Tom, Judy.... Harry is changed to Henry, however). Since they were more or less doing their own thing, I am baffled why they kept the same names, especially with the original film playing in the background a couple of times. It certainly doesn’t help in the case of Ben – in a bit of unintentional irony, not only is he white, he’s a fucking terrible actor (Duane Jones got the role because he was a great actor, not because he was black – the role was written without a race in mind). I assume this guy only got the gig because he was handsome, but whatever the reason was, I wish someone had the foresight to change his name, because it just invites unfavorable comparison to the original.

My other main problem was the drug humor. In this version, the farmhouse is actually a weed farm, and the occupants are stoner/hippie types. This sort of comedy has never appealed to me, and I certainly don’t think it has any place in an otherwise serious horror movie (there isn’t a touch of humor in the film until the pot farmers are introduced). One of the film’s biggest “Comin at ya!” moments is a guy offering a joint to Barb and Ben, holding the oversized thing out in the foreground with a Franco-esque dumbass look on his face – this would inspire a huge round of applause on a college campus, I am sure, but I just sighed and lost interest for the next few minutes. I also particularly hated the Henry character, who runs the farm, and was shocked to discover the actor playing him was a stand-up comedian – he was the least amusing of the lot. I did feel a little better later, when I learned that this stuff was at the insistence of one of the executive producers (screenwriter Robert Valding was opposed to it, in fact).

It could have done without Sid Haig as well. I like the guy, but the best zombie movies don’t stop to explain everything in the middle of the climax, which is precisely what his character does here. The zombies are in fact the folks who should have been cremated at Haig’s mortuary, but he didn’t have the stomach to burn them so he just kept them all. He also keeps his father “alive” as a zombie by feeding it, Seymour Krelborn style (though why this doesn’t make him turn into a zombie is beyond me). One of the things I was sort of enjoying about the movie was that it toned down the human in-fighting (Cooper and Ben argue briefly but never really become antagonistic toward one another), but then Haig comes along in the 3rd act (he only appears once before then) and does the whole “evil human” shit we’ve seen in a zillion other zombie movies, with a plotline that barely even makes any sense to boot.

The DVD bonus material is largely on the technical side, including the commentary, which despite the number of participants (4 including Haig, who shows up late) is primarily joke-free. Much of the talk is about the 3D process and other shooting nuts n’ bolts stuff, and then Sid discusses his performance with minimal self-deprecation. Not a bad track, but more geared toward 3D junkies and/or those who truly loved the film, of which I am neither. There’s also a Q&A from the New Bev (2nd bonus feature of its type this week! Both of screenings I can’t even recall taking place let alone why I missed them), which is worth a look for HMAD aficionados (if there are any) for the moment where Haig bemoans A Dead Calling’s direct-to-DVD release (fans know that I consider that to be one of the absolute worst movies I’ve reviewed yet). Then there’s a making of, a quick bit about working in 3D, some trailers, and a blooper reel which is not only unfunny, but almost sort of uncomfortable because no one seems to be amused when things go wrong (it’s also missing the audio on several clips, rendering it impossible to understand what exactly went wrong). Not a bad package, all told, but I’d dump nearly all of it in order to afford the disc space that would allow the 2D version to be included (apparently it’s available on a separate release, but the design is worth at least sampling, I think).

Overall, it’s not as successful as Savini’s version by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s hardly a train wreck, either. Compared to the likes of House of the Dead (hey, Haig appeared in that film’s sequel!), Dorm Of The Dead, or Pot Zombies, it’s a classic. And when my biggest problem with a film is humor that I’m just not a fan of in general (humor that was forced upon the film’s creative team to boot), I have to factor that into the equation. And again – these guys did a better job of “re-imagining” Romero’s film than his own partners did with the 30th anniversary thing. That’s gotta be worth some credit, right?

At any rate, NOTLD week is over! I can go back to watching movies sans any sort of planning or focus on a theme. I can also hopefully go a week or so without hearing any variation on “They’re coming to get you, Barbra!” (speaking of which – giant UGH on the “modern” version of that in this movie, luckily the trailer had already spoiled it so I was prepared). Plus, my “overdose” gave me an idea for my next Terror Tuesday column at Badass Digest, so it was all worth it!

What say you?


Night Of The Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition (1998)

FEBRUARY 25, 2011

There's a wealth of extras on the Night Of The Living Dead: 30th Anniversary Edition DVD, but none accurately explain why John Russo and Russ Streiner did it in the first place. One can assume that they saw it as another way to make some money off the property (again, a copyright snafu has resulted in Romero and co. seeing a mere fraction of what they could/should have earned as a result of the film's success), but every single thing that they added or changed in this version can be described as awful at best.

They were also likely inspired by George Lucas' revisions to the original three Star Wars films, but there are two key differences. One is that he had the money and resources to do these things properly (for lack of a better word), and two (and this is far more important), he didn't go back and shoot new scenes while removing others. Now, he DID add in some scenes (such as Han meeting Jabba), but these were originally shot for the film and excised for one reason or another. He also fixed up some effects and changed some things (via CGI wizardry) to make the films connect more with the others, such as adding Hayden's face to Anakin at the end of Jedi. Sure, the general consensus is that these things took the charm out of the film, but one can still watch them and more or less get the original experience.

But what Russo and Streiner did here is nothing short of offensive, filming entirely new scenes that were in no way part of the original design. If they can prove that these scenes (or even the basic idea behind them) were planned in 1967 while the original film was in production, then fine, I will take back that part. It doesn't change the fact that they are awful in every way - from casting to writing to their production. Look at the new scene where the cemetery zombie (Bill Hinzman, another conspirator) attacks some folks - it's shot from a stationary wide angle that looks like a 12 year old's idea of an action scene. The action in Night may not exactly be the most jaw-dropping zombie carnage ever shot, but at least Romero knew how to shoot it in a visually interesting way (via closeups, editing, etc). Worse, they actually REMOVE other scenes, which just makes their amateurish and ugly new scenes look even worse. Say what you will about Lucas, he didn't cut out any of Mark Hamill's performance because of his corny acting or whatever. But Russo deletes scenes (Barbra telling Ben about what happened at the cemetery, for example) with no rhyme or reason throughout the film. Tightening some bad edits is one thing; they actually just hack away at the film.

Even more offensive is the new music score by Scott Vladimir Licina, who thankfully hasn't been allowed near another film since (his only other credit is composing a short film six years after this debacle). Nearly all of the original music has been replaced by his god-awful, borderline Manfredini-level score, which not only just sounds bad but doesn't even fit the film 99% of the time. Even someone who unfortunately saw this version before seeing the original would be able to tell that the music didn't fit, which just shows you how terrible a composer this guy is - the original Night was scored with found library music, and yet it works better than this shit that was allegedly recorded specifically for the film. Licina also appears as a priest in some of the new scenes, in which he proves that he should stick to composing.

The closest thing to a positive remark I can say about the film is that the new scenes do indeed blend well on a technical level with the original footage. They used the same cameras and film stock, so apart from the improved exposure and unavoidable modern sensibilities (plus some too-advanced gore techniques on the new zombies), they don't stick out too badly. Far less successful is the attempt to make Hinzman look 30 years younger so he can reprise his role as the cemetery zombie (which we now get a back-story for, as if anyone gave a shit); they should have just pulled an Ed Wood and found a guy who (sort of) looked like a young Hinzman rather than put him in makeup that made him look more like Hal Holbrook than his old character.

The bonus material is just as worthless. Russo is strangely absent from the making of, but Streiner and the others talk about how they are "slightly" changing the original film, and everyone talks about it like they are doing something really great, and hilariously assuming fans will really appreciate it (to this day I have never heard of a single person liking it). Russo does appear on the commentary with Hinzman, Streiner, and a 4th party who barely speaks (I forget who it is already, not Licina though), where they spend precious little time explaining what the fuck they were thinking, and for the most part just tell the same goddamn stories they've told a million times on the documentaries and commentaries featured on the legitimate versions of the film.

Then there's an awful music video (techno remix of dialogue and Licina's beats), a trailer for the new edition, a scene from some movie Hinzman made (presented without any sort of context or information - the movie was ten years old at the time so it's not like it's a preview or something), and a still gallery. There's also a booklet made up of interviews with Russo, Striner, Hinzman, Licina, and Debbie Rochon (another actor from the new scenes), all of which repeat the insane idea that they think people will like this shit. Oh, and there's a second disc with Licina's entire soundtrack, so you have twice as many discs to break in half.

But you know what annoys me more than anything they've done here? The fact that this pile of shit doesn't have its own IMDb page. Licina and Rochon are now listed as cast members for a movie that came out before they were born (in fact, if you just type "Rochon" into IMDb's search engine, Night Of The Living Dead is the title they put next to her name in the results - ugh), and Licina is listed as its composer. This is a disgrace, and if I had the time and know-how I would create a separate page for this piece of shit. This is not Night Of The Living Dead - this is an abomination, and I despise everyone involved with it. Avoid at all costs.

What say you?


Autopsy Of The Dead (2009)

FEBRUARY 24, 2011


After 40+ years, there’s not a lot of uncovered ground when it comes to Night Of The Living Dead (don’t I know it, after ODing on bonus material about the film this week), so I can certainly appreciate the approach to Autopsy Of The Dead, which, with the exception of Bill Hinzman and maybe Kyra Schon (the little Cooper girl), devotes its time to folks you don’t really hear from all that often. No Romero, no Karl Hardman, no Russ Streiner, hell not even John Russo, who I kept expecting to barge into someone else’s interview and talk about how important he was in the film’s creation and execution.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that the folks behind the movie simply couldn’t get/afford those others and were forced to change their approach. Bizarrely for a 2.5 hour doc (with another hour’s worth of bonus material), there isn’t a single mention or appearance of writer/producer/director Jeff Carney or anyone else in his crew. You’d think with all this stuff, and a fairly impressive talent roster (pretty much everyone beyond the big guns) they’d at least give themselves a commentary or brief interview about how they found everyone, what made them want to do the project, etc – but there’s absolutely nothing.

So all I can go by is the film itself, and sadly it’s pretty much a bore. The structure is wholly damaging; rather than tell the story of the film’s production from start to finish like a normal doc on a movie, Carney starts things off with a full hour of interviews, one at a time, with each participant talking about what they did and when applicable which zombie they played (seems like just about everyone played two roles – some crew position and anonymous zombie). This is a terrible way to present a documentary, in my opinion; it just comes across like someone hitting “Play All” on an outtake collection or something.

Once they get through all of this, it improves a bit, as the participants are edited together discussing one particular aspect – three or four folks discussing filming the truck explosion, two or three discussing the creation of the news footage scenes, etc. But while it’s at least more enjoyable from a technical standpoint, it’s still pretty dull. Their anecdotes aren’t all that amusing, and the fact remains that these folks are, for the most part, only tangentially related to the film’s production and thus don’t really have a lot of insight to share (one guy even starts his interview by pointing out that he only worked on the film for ten minutes). Let’s face it - a zombie extra doesn’t know shit except about what happened right in front of him/her on the day or two that they were there. Maybe as a half hour sort of “Tales from the Trenches” piece as a supplement on a traditional Night release, this could have been worthwhile, but two and a half hours (longer than even the longest cut of Dawn of the Dead!) devoted to telling stories about lighting mishaps or low budget workarounds for props or sets does not make for a compelling film. You also get a lot of stories about the other people who aren’t there, which is like telling your friends at the bar about the fish some other guy caught.

Plus, not for nothing, but it’s pretty poorly shot. At least two participants are shot in front of a white wall while wearing a white shirt, and pretty much everyone has their lav mike clipped on the outside of their shirt. I mean, come on guys, this is basic first year film school shit. I can forgive one or two carelessly shot interviews (i.e. from the first day, where most folks would be like “Oh from now on we shouldn’t do this or that” for future interviews), but they all have a fairly lazy and amateurish feel. It’s obvious that they put a lot of effort into tracking everyone down and researching the original shooting locations and such; just a shame they didn’t put as much effort into the presentation (which includes the editing – or lack thereof). I was also baffled by the DVD construction – at around the 86 minute mark, the timecode and chapter breaks reset for the final 55 minutes or so. What the hell?

The bonus materials are fine, nothing too exciting but some good stuff for NOTLD junkies. The best is probably the 10 minute collection of “locations – then and now” footage, where we see a clip from the movie and then a similar shot of what it looks like today. Unlike Dawn of the Dead’s now unrecognizable Monroeville Mall, a lot of the locales are pretty similar looking (the house is gone, however), so this is better than most things of that nature. However most of it was used in the film itself, so it’s sort of redundant. Speaking of clips from the movie by the way – couldn’t they have ponied up for a decent release? Looks like they took their footage from a sub-Mill Creek transfer. There’s also a nice dedication to the cast/crew members who have since passed on, which is a nice touch (there are quite a few; I wasn’t aware Keith “Tom” Wayne had passed, and I was even more bummed to discover that he actually committed suicide).

The rest of the stuff is pretty bland; a “newsreel” that’s just a bunch of footage without narration, a longer interview with the guy who did the animation during the end credits (why him, of all people?), a decent collection of archival materials such as a check that they gave to zombie extras (for 25 bucks) and the album covers for the library music that they used in the movie, and a blooper reel of interview outtakes, none of which I found particularly amusing (and considering the average age of the participants seems to be about 75, there’s not a lot of humor to be found in someone losing his train of thought). They also toss in a bunch of trailers and radio spots for the actual film, which I guess they just figured they might as well throw in since they had it lying around.

I really wish I could have liked this more. Maybe if they cut it in half (at least) and had a more interesting presentation it would work, but as is, I think you need to be the biggest NOTLD fan in the world to find this stuff interesting, and even you will probably be reaching for the chapter skip button after a while. It’s a laudable concept with a totally lackluster execution.

What say you?


Rubber (2010)

FEBRUARY 23, 2011


When I first heard about Rubber, I thought it was a short film. “There’s no way that can sustain itself for 90 minutes,” I said. Well I was right and wrong. It is indeed a feature film, running just under 90 minutes (though padded with an overlong epilogue), but it doesn’t sustain itself for that time, either. After about 50 minutes I started getting bored, and it wasn’t until the somewhat predictable but still inspired finale that my interest returned.

It doesn’t help that writer/director Quentin Dupieux never tops its opening scene, which starts with a car driving through the dusty desert, going out of its way to knock over a bunch of dining room chairs that are arranged up and down the road. The car stops, a man gets out of the trunk, is handed a glass of water by the driver, and then proceeds to ask the audience why ET was brown, or why we never see anyone in Texas Chain Saw Massacre washing their hands or going to the bathroom. The answer to all is “no reason”, which of course sets up the movie itself. “Why is a tire alive and rolling around killing people?” No reason.

The first few scenes with the tire (named Robert) are also its best. It figures out how to roll along without tipping over, kills a plastic bottle and a bug, and then goes to extreme efforts to kill a glass bottle by rolling over it (as it did for the plastic and the bug). It finally does so by “revving”, which causes nearby objects to explode after a few seconds (Robert is a Scanner, I guess). Then he moves on to people, and while I love a good head ‘splosion as much as the next guy, I wanted more of him running things over. It’s a killer tire movie and there isn’t a single scene of Robert rolling over some poor sod. Even if it didn’t kill him, it’s a damn shame that he never even attempts it.

From then on the laughs come a little less frequently. There are a number of truly inspired bits (love the “flashback” montage), and pretty much anything involving Stephen Spinella (the aforementioned “Why is ET brown?” guy) is gold, but there’s just too many scenes of Robert rolling up to someone, that person either dismisses or doesn’t notice him, and then he blows up their head. I also never really shined to the group of folks watching the action as if it was a movie (though one has the movie’s best line, a reaction to the chair-icide). Maybe just me, but a killer tire concept is already a tough sell – adding in meta-humor is not beneficial. Who recruited them, who’s behind their care (they seem to be living out in the desert for the duration of Robert’s rampage), etc, is never explained, and while that fits the movie’s “no reason” motif, there’s only so much WTF I can enjoy in a single movie.

Interestingly, my buddy (who loved it) pointed out that it was like a full length Adult Swim movie, and I agree. However, I feel the same way about Adult Swim shows – there’s only so much I can take. 10-15 minute “episodes” are ideal; as the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie perfectly illustrated, unfiltered randomness can only be funny for so long to me (oddly, that movie had an otherwise unrelated opening scene that was its own best part. Huh.). I love the show, but by about 45 minutes into that movie I was more or less OK with never seeing Meatwad or Master Shake again (Frylock, on the other hand, is always amazing).

I think it might have worked better for me if it was legitimately a horror movie, without all the meta shit. Basically take any Friday the 13th script and replace Jason with a tire – perfectly hilarious “no reason” movie. This other stuff just busied it up with time they could have spent on more traditional horror movie elements (chase scenes, for example – again you’d think that would be a given, but there isn’t one). I mean, you only get one chance to make a killer tire movie, you gotta do it right. There’s no way anyone else can rip it off (though I guess they could do a killer coffee mug or something).

Another factor was that Magnet showed the film as the 2nd feature after Hobo With A Shotgun, the movie born from a Grindhouse trailer (apparently it showed with the movie in some areas; it didn’t play when I saw it). Sort of like a Death Wish style movie by way of Troma, it was so much better than I expected, and I hope everyone involved with the rather lousy Machete sees this and says “THAT’S what we should have done!” Rutger Hauer is brilliant as the titular hobo, and while they try a bit too hard at times, the tone almost perfectly matches that of the genuine Grindhouse films from the 1970s. It’s also got some all time classic awful lines that had me laughing my ass off every couple of minutes. Also: best use of a bear in movie history. Highly recommended, just make sure you leave your politically correct merit badge at home. I can’t help but wonder if I would have enjoyed Rubber more if I saw it first (not unlike, ironically, how I think I would have enjoyed the slower and more subtle Death Proof more if it was first, saving the more outrageous and colorful Planet Terror for the main event).

But don’t get me wrong - it’s still definitely worth checking out. I doubt there will be a better example of “it’s not for everybody” for any movie this year, but I am even more sure that there won’t be anything as original and unique, either. All I ever ask is that more filmmakers use the freedom of horror movies to stretch their imaginations – even if it doesn’t completely work for me, I’d still rather see something like Rubber than another Final Destination movie.

What say you?

P.S. Quite fittingly, this was the first movie I drove my ‘new’ car to (if you recall, my previous car “died” when its tire (and the things connecting it to the car) broke off as I was pulling into a parking spot). For those curious, it’s a 2002 Chevy Impala with 38k miles on it, gold (gave up trying to find black or blue with respectable mileage in my price range) and with a tape deck – I drove to the screening room listening to a mix tape I made in 1997 (I haven’t had a tape deck in my car OR home for over a decade). Needs a bit of minor work (nothing preventing me from driving it – more “I want it to be as ‘new’ as I can make it), but I am once again on the road, and thus, I just want to thank you all again for your donations and Amazon purchases – it means the world to me and every penny helped more than you know. I may not be eating too many steaks in the near future, and I’ll have to cut back on comics and such, but rest assured, HMAD will live, all thanks to YOU! You guys all rock!!!


Non Canon Review: Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

FEBRUARY 23, 2011


I still remember my first copy of Night Of The Living Dead; it was a VHS I found in a ‘dump bin’ at the local Suncoast, which means I probably got it for 4.99 at the absolute most. At the time, I didn’t know about its public domain issues (or even what public domain WAS), so I thought it was a steal – this was a classic horror movie! Psycho and Rosemary’s Baby and such all cost 19.99! Of course, the quality was awful, though not as bad as some others I’ve seen/owned (all told, I’ve probably owned eight or nine copies of the film over the years). My second copy was that 2 tape edition that Elite put out around 1997, and I remember being so blown away by the awesome ‘before and after’ example at the top of the tape showing how much work they put into the transfer.

Well this most recent “A-level” release (2008 from Dimension/Genius, released in conjunction with Diary of the Dead) is once again remastered, and it does indeed look the best I’ve ever seen. The photography is actually quite striking at times, particularly in Barbra’s hectic run from the cemetery to the house, as well as the truck “escape” later on, and previous releases never offered this much detail and strong contrast ratios. Add in the quite worthy bonus features, and this is probably the best bang for the buck release ever of this movie (though the 1999 special edition was no slouch either, and in fact I am pretty sure the commentaries on this disc were taken from that release).

The movie, of course, is a classic, and I never tire of watching it. Even Dawn, which I more or less prefer, I really need to be in the mood to watch (partially due to the length), but Night I can throw on pretty much whenever and be just as entertained as I was the first time. And since it was I believe the first time I watched it back to back with the remake (I only did it in reverse because I knew I had to see Rubber today and had to make Night "non-canon" no matter when I watched it, so it just worked out that way), it was eye opening at times with regards to certain aspects, in particular the Ben/Cooper relationship. While their dynamic is antagonistic in both films, it’s more cooperative here. Even after the two come to blows, they still talk like adults and (in their own warped way) work together to come up with a plan, and I particularly like that Ben offers to carry Cooper’s daughter. At the same time, Ben’s more of a dick in this version – he won’t even let Cooper take some food down? What the hell, man?

And as I mentioned yesterday, it’s just a truly creepy film. I can’t imagine how blown away I might have been if I saw it when it was first released, when this level of “gore” and macabre thrills hadn’t really been seen before. By the time I saw it in the mid 90s, I had already seen Dawn, plus the remake and I think even Cemetery Man, not to mention Texas Chain Saw Massacre and any number of gory slashers. But that didn’t diminish its power; those early scenes are still quite effective, and the sense of dread and world-ending doom is apparent throughout the entire film. Even when it’s just the actors yakking in the house sans any zombies, you can FEEL the isolation and general feeling of “we’re all fucked”, in a way that Savini’s remake and pretty much every other non-Romero zombie film (and even some of his, most notably Diary) ever managed. And it starts right off the bat – one of the most effective little ‘scares’ in the movie is when Johnny’s radio suddenly comes back to life, and we realize that it wasn’t off during their drive – it was just ‘down’ due to the zombie plague that had already begun. Awesome.

I also truly appreciate that it set a good precedent for future zombie movies. While I’m not saying it CAN’T be done, I always prefer when the undead still roam at the end of the picture, and I suspect that if Romero had taken that route at the end of Night, it would have been far more common to see “problem solved” endings to these things, with the “it still goes on” endings considered nihilistic, instead of the norm. Interestingly, another concept never really caught on – the fact that zombies eat animals. I’m sure there are a few others, but for whatever reason, a zombie making a snack out of a woodland creature or whatever remains quite elusive (there IS that one shark, however...).

Another thing that elevates this movie above its remake (if you didn’t read that review – in short, I like that film’s ending more than this one, and some of the other little changes, but overall I think this is the superior film) is that it doesn’t introduce Harry and Tom so quickly. I think we’re about 40 minutes into the movie before they show up here (Ben’s arrival is also delayed a bit, allowing more time with an isolated Barbra), whereas they pop up around 25-30 minutes into the remake. I always prefer smaller groups in zombie tales for whatever reason (another reason why I like Dawn more than Night), so keeping it to just Barbra and/or Ben for a longer period totally works for me. Especially since the actors aren’t all that great – the females in particular are pretty stiff (love the delivery on “Don’t be afraid – I’m Helen Cooper!”).

One thing that the remake did better is the key/gas pump scene. Here it really doesn’t make any sense, the key just doesn’t work for some reason, and then Tom starts spraying the gas around like an idiot. He still behaves like an idiot in the remake, but at least they built in some irony with the fact that the gas pump key was clearly labeled and would have been found if Cooper wasn’t such an asshole (or if Ben had just gone into the cellar to begin with). The actual gas pump key in this version remains a mystery.

Speaking of this scene, in film school we had to do a project for our sound class where we got muted clips of a movie and had to recreate the sound design, and I got this particular scene (from the moment they leave the house to right after the truck blows up). I, being a wiseass, gave all the characters “funny” voices (including the insect that buzzes past Cooper’s face when he looks out the window) and did pretty much all the sounds (intentionally poorly) with my mouth: gunshots, explosions, etc. And for the zombies, I took the moaning from Day of the Dead. If I can find it I’ll put it up on Youtube or something.

As I mentioned, this release has some great extras, including a full length retrospective documentary featuring just about everybody of significance (plus John Russo) that is still alive, and contains some great behind the scenes photos and footage, including some priceless photos in color (real color, not colorized). It’s actually sort of jarring to see Johnny and Barbra in full color, but I wouldn’t have minded some more. They cover the entire production, including thoughts on the unfortunate copyright situation (apparently Russo and Russ Streiner are still trying to correct it), and there’s a touching bit about the late Duane Jones that I quite liked. Jones’ last interview (available previously) is also included, and even though he dislikes talking about the film, he still manages to sound personable and intelligent, making it worth a listen even if he barely reflects on his experiences shooting the film. A trailer is also included, and while it’s a typically terrible trailer from the era, I will never not laugh at the voiceover guy’s booming voice when he says “A night... of total ter-ROR!!!” (I also like his overlong dramatic pause for the title: Night!!! ..................of the Living Dead!”). There’s also a brief Q&A with Romero from some Canadian screening or festival, but most of what he says is repeated elsewhere and if there was any audience participation it has been removed; only the moderator asks anything. I prefer to hear the audience questions for these things, because you get more off-the-cuff nonsense.

Another reason I wish I was alive earlier is because I never got to see the movie in a drive-in or on a late night cable broadcast. I think it would be so awesome to be 10 or 11 and staying up late to watch it on one of the local channels (with or without a horror host), or in a drive-in, where I wouldn’t mind the film’s library score and mono soundtrack coming out of my little car speakers (I was recently at a drive-in shooting a movie and was amazed to see people going to see Unstoppable or Red– yeah that DTS sound mix must sound amazing coming out of 1520 AM or whatever the frequency was there). I mean, does it even air on late night broadcasts anymore? Seems the entire late night lineup is comprised of infomercials or actual programming (repeats of CSI, Law & Order and such). One of my favorite parts of Halloween II is when the guy is just sleeping in front of it even though it just started – almost like the movie is a sort of comfort for folks who like these things, the way It’s A Wonderful Life is for Christmas, or how ID4 is almost watchable on the Fourth of July. In fact, it seems almost counter-productive to be watching it on a pristine DVD with a bunch of bells and whistles – I would actually PREFER to go back to a low-quality version, just to retain some of that low-budget feel. But however you see it, if you haven’t yet – you’re doing it wrong. This one film inspired enough material for an entire week’s worth of HMAD entries (and then some), and even on that shitty VHS I first bought, when I was barely into high school, I could recognize its power. One of the few horror films that I truly believe will never ever be forgotten.

What say you?


Night Of The Living Dead (1990)

FEBRUARY 22, 2011


I actually saw Tom Savini’s Night Of The Living Dead remake before I saw the original (both around 1994-1995), so maybe that’s why I’ve always preferred its ending to Romero’s. But that’s all I could remember about it; it had been so long since I had seen it, I don’t think I even had any real appreciation for Bill Moseley’s cameo as the ill-fated Johnny (I certainly didn’t realize they spelled his name wrong in both beginning and end credits). How’s it hold up?

Well, I still like the ending more, that’s for sure. While Romero’s ending was grim, it was also overshadowed by unintentional racial connotations (Ben was always meant to be shot by hunters who mistook him for a zombie; however the character was not written to be black). But here, Ben really did become a zombie (after the ironies are laid even thicker; i.e. the key that could have saved them was in plain sight in the basement that he stubbornly refused to enter), and Cooper was still very much alive, only to be (purposely) shot by Barbara as a glorious “Fuck you”. Maybe it’s just my sensibilities or fondness for karmic retribution, but I just think this is a better way to end things. It’s still a grim ending – the zombies still roam, Ben’s still dead, etc – but there’s a touch of crowd-pleasing darkness to it as well.

As for the rest of the movie, well, no, I prefer the original. I like the film, but overall Savini’s version just isn’t as scary. Some of his fake outs, where he uses your knowledge of the original to misdirect you into thinking a scare will come from somewhere only to have a zombie jump out elsewhere are successful (most notably the crazy old NOT-zombie man in the cemetery scene), it just lacks that unending creepiness and sense of dread that the original had (and still has, based on my most recent viewing – I’ll discuss more in that film’s review tomorrow). Part of the problem is the limited number of newscasts; whereas in the original we saw a lot of news footage and interviews with scientists and law enforcement types, here the news is pretty much limited to two brief moments, one of which is just an EBS message. In short, the film feels more insular, and Ben’s stories about what he saw before arriving at the farmhouse are pretty much the same as the original, so Savini and co shot themselves in the foot there – they could have used the opportunity to come up with new scenarios to try to ground the movie in its own reality.

But it’s still an effective zombie movie; it might be a bit light on gore (thanks, MPAA!) but there are a lot of unique zombies to enjoy, some good action scenes (I love Tony Todd’s tendency to kick the damn things), and while he may be a bit cartoonish (even more than Karl Hardiman), Cooper makes for an effective human villain, a seeming requirement of all zombie movies. But he’s not a mustache-twirling type – every “evil” thing he does can more or less be attributed to panic and fear, unlike the biker gang from Dawn of the Dead or the army types from Day of the Dead and 28 Days Later.

It’s also a satisfying remake, in that it doesn’t branch too far from the original but doesn’t copy it note for note either. I prefer Barbara as someone who can stand up for herself instead of sitting around in a catatonic state for the whole movie, and I like that Savini threw in some Dawn of the Dead at the end, where Barbara seemingly heads into Johnstown (where “those rednecks are probably enjoying this whole thing”). He also added some nice touches, such as the fact that the house owner was “M. Celeste”, in reference to the Mary Celeste, a ship that was discovered abandoned in the 18th century (a mystery still unsolved, and I’m guessing probably never will). He also uses his special effects know-how to good use, allowing for more variety to the zombies than Romero’s film could have allowed (but, more importantly, without the CGI “benefits” that all modern films – including Romero’s, sadly – rely on).

Savini also improves Ben’s arrival. I’m not sure if it was a case of not getting the footage or what, but Ben’s first appearance in the original is really awkward, and no matter how well the film has been remastered over the years, I still can’t quite tell what is going on when he suddenly just appears next to Barbara. Here, Tony Todd drives up, runs over a zombie (yeah!), and then get out of his truck, cigarette dangling from his mouth. Badass! Plus it’s always nice to see Todd in a good guy role (I believe this is his only starring role where he wasn’t a villain), and while he lacks Duane Jones’ Poitier-esque grace and stoic demeanor, he makes up for it in bona fide action hero style (his version of Ben is less stubborn, as well – but that’s another thing for tomorrow’s piece).

But he also tosses in a “release the car brake” scene. I never got these in movies – am I just too young? Did cars used to be built with brakes that you could release by pulling on a little knob (which would always instantly send the car rolling away)? At any rate they always bug me, even more than the car simply not starting. I really want to see someone in a modern horror movie try that only to discover that it doesn’t do shit; in my car, for example, the knob in that area just turns on the headlights.

Despite being a non top title, Columbia put some effort into the DVD release. Savini provides a commentary, and while he could have watched the movie again prior to recording (he admits he hasn’t seen it in years, and thus often just sits silently watching it), it’s a decent track. He points out some of the MPAA cuts, offers a few funny tidbits (such as when Barbara stands still for a moment before running – an off-screen grip is putting shoes on her feet so they wouldn’t be injured on the rough gravel), and explains how a few of the FX were achieved. Perhaps he could have used a co-commentator, but it’s worth a listen all the same. They also put together a decent retrospective piece that runs about 25 minutes, in which Savini, Patricia Tallman (who looks stunning in her interviews – the lady ages well), John Russo (grrr), and Russ Streiner talk about making the film. It’s the usual stuff, but I liked that they bothered – this was hardly a successful film (grossing a mere 5 million despite being released at Halloween time).

The final extra is the trailer, and normally I could care less but I found it interesting that the spot doesn’t advertise that it’s a remake. Nowadays it’s always like “the bold new reinvention of the immortal classic!” or whatever, but here they don’t even hint at the film’s legacy, despite having the same (very well-known title) and dropping Romero’s name in there for good measure. It’s also not a very good trailer. Maybe that’s why the movie tanked. Then again, The Blob bombed too – maybe folks back then just didn’t want to see color remakes of their late night cable staples.

It’s not as successful as Dawn’s remake, but it’s certainly better than the 2008 version of Day of the Dead, and it’s one of the few horror films from the 90s that I actually enjoyed revisiting. I wish Savini had made another feature, but oh well. Give it a chance if you haven’t seen it yet; thanks to the much maligned “30th anniversary” version as well as the 2006 3D remake with Sid Haig, its cred just continues to improve.

What say you?


Night Of The Living Dead: Re-Animated (2009)

FEBRUARY 21, 2011


Last summer, I realized that there were enough versions of Night Of The Living Dead for me to make an entire week’s worth of content for HMAD, considering the 1990 remake was the only one (besides the 1968 original, obviously) that I had ever seen, and it was so long ago I couldn’t remember much beyond “I liked the new ending”. So I planned a NOTLD-only week, but didn’t get around to it until now. So hopefully you like the story, because that’s pretty much all I’ll be talking about this week, starting with Night Of The Living Dead: Re-Animated, an art gallery in cinematic form.

The concept, and even a good chunk of the execution, is pretty awesome – using the original movie’s soundtrack, the entire film is recreated via a series of edited together animations and drawings from over a hundred different artists. Stop motion, flash, cell based, video game style CGI, puppets, Barbie dolls, even some Furbys are used to tell the story, shot for shot. Due to the film’s unfortunate status as a public domain staple, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with a passing interest in horror that hasn’t seen the film already, so it lends itself nicely to such abstract interpretation, and free of any potential lawsuits to boot.

Unfortunately, far too much of the film is devoted to still images. Not to critique the art itself – I’m certainly no art critic, and like everyone else in the world, there are certain styles I just don’t care for in general – but a still image is not animation to me. Even when I didn’t care much for a certain artist’s animation (just throwing a bunch of filters over the actual movie – so what?), at least it fit the “Re-Animated” part of the title. It’s really jarring to go from a really interesting animation style (one guy essentially depicted everything with squiggles, sort of like the Tony/Ridley “Scott Free” production company logo) to a series of still frames, sometimes 2-3 for the same shot. While it’s cool to see different interpretations of say, the Bill Hinzman cemetery zombie in rapid succession, I’d much rather something more fluid. Here’s the drive to the cemetery done with miniatures and stop motion; here’s the death of Johnny in flash, here’s Barbara’s run to the house in stick figures, etc. I loved the idea of doing different styles, but they switch far too often and far too randomly. Some animations are only on-screen for a second or two, cutting to still frames or something before you get a chance to fully appreciate it.

The potential of DVD hasn’t been utilized, either. Why not have two cuts of the film – one with genuine animation and another with still frames? That would be far less jarring for the animation, and would allow for more submissions for the still frame artwork. Also, why not provide a subtitle track that informs us which artists’ work we are looking at, at any given moment? There’s an “artists call-in” commentary with about 20 of the artists talking briefly about what they contributed, over still frame examples (even if they provided full blown animation) , and a rapid fire roll call of each artist with a frame of their work (5 seconds each), but it would have made more sense AND been more helpful to have it over the film itself. Say I liked the animation over the scene where Ben and Cooper have their brawl – I’d have to click through every artist to figure out who it was in order to check out his or her other work. But if it was over the movie, I could just cue up that scene and find out instantly. I also would have loved more from the NOTLD “Maniac Mansion” style adventure video game that we see once or twice, as it’s obviously part of a larger whole (instead, we get a random, largely incoherent clip of a Pac-Man style game based on the movie).

This is even more of a bummer when you consider how jam-packed the disc is with stuff that few will care about, such as a promo for one of the websites that was pimping the film, random short films by a couple of the artists that have nothing to do with NOTLD nor do they provide any context (i.e. “This is the short that got (NOTLD:R-A ‘curator’ Mike Schneider’s attention” or something), and a full hour (!) of a generic zombie panel from some con, where you can barely understand anything being said because the audio is so muffled. There’s also a half hour devoted to a guy showing off his collection of NOTLD box art. I mean, yeah, it’s cool to see how many different ways the movie has been packaged over the years, but wouldn’t a still gallery make a lot more sense? Glad the guy’s such a die hard, but I don’t have the patience to listen to him wax nostalgic about each cover, especially when there are so many more interesting things that could have been on the disc. For example, there are some “making of” pieces with a couple select artists, and they explain how they pulled off their animation. At the end of one, they show their animated scene alongside the original footage – this would have been great for the entire movie (via a picture in picture option – use that damn “angle” button for once!). Again, NOTLD is in the public domain – you can do pretty much whatever you want with it, but footage from the film is surprisingly scarce on the disc.

Of most importance are the two commentary tracks: one with Schneider, the guy who runs the distribution company for the DVD, a horror journalist, and author Jon Maberry, who wrote the awesome “Patient Zero”; the other with Schneider again along with a filmmaker and some website guy. Both tracks are kind of arrogant in tone, and poorly recorded to boot (it’s kind of fitting for this particular movie though, I guess), but they do make a good case for the project, and explain part of the process of how it was all put together (apparently there were a lot of flakes). Some of their comments are a bit insulting, however – they take a few shots at the movie and at one point Schneider defends a complex 360 degree shot of the group that does not appear in the original movie, claiming Romero probably would have done the same if he could. Do not assume what a legendary and gifted filmmaker would or wouldn’t do, please (especially one that works as an editor, considering how grating this film’s editing can be). They also allude to art that has been removed or reduced in the film, but Schneider absolves himself of any blame, claiming that anything he removed from the film was based on comments from a few “test screenings” conducted at conventions.

So if you really dig art/animation, you’ll probably enjoy this to some degree. It’s not exactly something you’d want to watch as an actual movie (I expect to see it on a loop at the next hipster bar I go to around Halloween-time), but there’s a lot of great stuff on display. Just a shame the “curator” didn’t think to make it easier to know who was responsible for it. He claims it’s an art gallery – an actual art gallery doesn’t just give you a list of all the artists and ask you to figure out who did what.

Tomorrow: Savini’s 1990 remake!

What say you?


Maniac (1980)

FEBRUARY 20, 2011


One of the several thousand bonus features on the two disc blu-ray for Maniac is the full Q&A session from a screening at the New Beverly, conducted in March of 2008. For the life of me I can’t remember why I didn’t go, but I assume I was stuck at work – same as I was a few months ago when it played at the Nuart (both times with director Bill Lustig in person). As for why I hadn’t already seen it before those screenings happened anyway, well I have no excuse. It’s just one of those movies that I never put my foot down and finally saw. Until now!

Unfortunately, I HAD seen the trailer a couple times, and that shows pretty much every kill in the movie, which would be fine for something like Scream, because there’s still a lot of story and plot twists to enjoy. But Maniac? There’s really not a lot to it beyond the death scenes. The story is thinner than even Halloween’s, the heroine doesn’t really enter the movie until the 3rd act, and worse, it’s cripplingly repetitive at times. Perhaps if Caroline Munro’s character was introduced earlier, there could be some fun at the idea of him trying to have a normal relationship with her in between scenes of him killing folks, but that isn’t the case. Instead, her scenes come so late, and their friendship so out of nowhere, it just seems like you’re watching a different movie all of a sudden. Even Joe Spinell’s performance changes; throughout the movie we have seen that he doesn’t really have the ability to converse normally with anyone (especially women), but all of a sudden he’s a charmer, making self-deprecating jokes, buying stuffed animals... it’s just really jarring.

But it’s also the best part of the movie. Until she arrives, it’s just an endless series of scenes where he kills someone, and then talks to himself/their “corpse” (a mannequin with their clothes and, in at least one case, their scalp) for a while, before heading out to kill again. He doesn’t seem to have any sort of job, no clueless friends, nothing. And it’s padded as all hell; at one point he chases a girl into a bathroom, and there’s a full THREE minutes of her just sitting in the stall hoping he will give up. There’s a difference between stretching out the tension and simply stalling, and this movie’s scare scenes often fall into the latter category. And, like I’ve said a million times, when you introduce a character right before they are killed, there’s not a lot of suspense there for me (even without the trailer having ruined it anyway), and with the exception of Munro, I don’t think a single character in this movie besides Spinell appears in two non-consecutive scenes. But unlike say, Friday the 13th Part V, the murders are too cold and gruesome for any of it to be any fun, so they don’t have that going for them either.

The craftsmanship seen on the kills is great, obviously, thanks to the efforts of Tom Savini in his prime. He recycled a lot of stuff from his other shows (look for Mrs. Voorhees’ bloody stump in the finale), but so what? They were great FX, why not reuse them? I particularly loved the opening kill with the guy on the beach, with loads of blood splashing over the sand (plus a nice throat garroting), and Savini’s head being blown apart is terrific as well. On that note, I won’t get into it too much, but it’s kind of ironic that all these women’s group protested the movie saying Maniac’s existence was simply an excuse to kill women, but the most iconic kill in the movie is that of a man.

I also dug the old-school New York vibe, as I did with Basket Case and some other indie horror films of the period. It’s not as prominent as in some of those other films, more or less confined to the first few scenes, when Maniac picks up a hooker, but it still makes me wish I had a time machine so I could go visit the city when it wasn’t as overrun with hipsters. The rest of my enjoyment largely stemmed from things that probably weren’t meant to be funny, like when Spinell tells Munro that she’s the most beautiful woman he has seen since his mother. The two cops at the end of the movie killed me too; they rush in, see him lying in a pool of blood on his bed, and simply shrug and leave without checking the body, looking around for any potential victims, or even calling it in.

Whether you love or hate the movie (or just think it’s OK and a bit overrated, like me), you have to be impressed with the supplemental package that Blue Underground put together here. Even the first disc is pretty impressive; the 2nd disc is just icing on the cake (and maybe a bit of overkill). The main draw on disc 1 is probably the pair of commentaries, one recorded in 1995, another recorded last year. Lustig appears on both, he’s joined by Savini and some others on the 1995 track but the other two guys don’t say much, and one of the co-producers on the new track. He repeats a lot of the same information, so overall I’d say the older track is more essential since Savini’s comments are far more valuable than the producer’s on the newer track. However, on the newer track, he points out that the end credits style was stolen (font, layout, even crew order) from Halloween! Other than the sting-heavy score, this is one of the few post-Halloween slasher films that doesn’t really seem influenced by that film in any way, so it’s kind of funny that they copied the credits instead of the structure or setting or whatever.

Then there are four new featurettes; one with Munro (who doesn’t think much of the film, but loves Spinell), one with Savini (where he tells a pretty funny story about two young kids asking him to watch some footage from the movie they were working on – the kids were Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert; the movie was The Evil Dead), one with the composer (where even HE chimes in about the film’s controversy with women’s groups), and a goofy little piece where Lustig goes to talk to the songwriters behind the song “Maniac” (from Flashdance) and gets the real story on the myth that their song was based on the film. All told, this stuff, plus a promo reel for Maniac 2 (which, as far as I know, was an in-name only sequel, with Spinell playing another guy), totals about an hour. Add in the commentaries, plus the usual trailers and TV spots, and you’re looking at nearly five hours of bonus material on the disc.

And then there’s disc 2! The big draw is “The Joe Spinell Story”, a 50 minute doc about Joe’s life, featuring anecdotes from a ton of folks – his sister, Lustig, Robert Forster, Exorcist star Jason Miller, etc. Don’t look for a lot of “dirt” here, because everyone seems to have the same opinion of Joe – he was a great, extremely loyal guy. At least three times on the set we hear how the “set” for Maniac’s apartment was built by a Russian guy that Joe was trying to help out, and there’s also a story about how he turned down a well paying role in one movie because he promised Stallone he’d do Rocky (for free). Then there’s about two hour’s worth of archive material from the film’s release, including Lustig’s appearance on something called Movie Madness (48 minutes), a cable call-in show (inexplicably in black & white) that is prone to feedback noise and other technical glitches, not to mention some morons calling in that proves that “talkbacking” always attracted trolls. I was most entertained by a selection of news broadcasts from the time of the film’s release, with footage of protesters and even Gene Siskel weighing in, claiming that all slasher movies are intended to tell women to “stay in their place, don’t go outside or a man will kill you”, and also ponders whether or not showing scenes from the movie can be considered disturbing the peace. There’s also an Easter Egg of Spinell doing standup, which... well, Joe sure was a nice guy, huh? Anyway, all in, disc 2 will take you about another 3-4 hours to go through. Again, some of it is overkill (the news broadcasts are all pretty much the same; the trailers don’t really differ much), but you gotta respect the effort here, and with the exception of maybe deleted footage or makeup tests (if any exist), there really isn’t anything else you could want from this package.

Ultimately, I appreciate the movie more than I enjoy it. Grats to everyone involved for putting something so extreme (and yet relatively well made) into mainstream theaters, when many films of this extreme nature (i.e. Henry) more or less went straight to video, but it’s hardly a great film. If anything, I enjoyed the bonus material more than the movie, which is kind of ironic – the movie’s only worth a rental but the wealth of bonus material makes it worth a purchase.

What say you?


Alien Vs. Ninja (2010)

FEBRUARY 19, 2011


I wasn't a big fan of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, but I figured I'd give the "From the producers of Tokyo Gore Police!" genre another try with Alien Vs. Ninja. But the real reason is, it was the only new movie I skipped on the main screen at Frightfest last year, so I wanted to end 6-7 months of wondering "Should I have watched it instead of going off to drink at the Phoenix?"

Well, probably not. The Phoenix is a great bar and my new London friends are wonderful folks that I wish I could have spent MORE time with, not less. However I wouldn't have been ANGRY if I stuck around to watch the film; it's painfully slow going at first, but once the alien finally shows up around 25 minutes in, it becomes a fairly delightful and surprisingly splattery romp. And in retrospect, I would have welcomed such a film at the festival; so many of the offerings were dark/depressing tales involving rape and/or torture, the levity AvN offered would have been most welcome.

It's also a sleep-proof movie for the most part, meaning you can doze off for a while (or go make a sandwich, smoke, whatever your poison) and not really miss much while you're gone. Once everything is established, there's hardly even any real dialogue, let alone important plot points - it's just a non-stop action account of what is promised in the title. Some folks die, obviously, but otherwise there's no way to get "lost" in the movie, and if anything taking a break would be beneficial, because the movie gets fairly repetitive after awhile - one of our ninja heroes spots an alien (or is ambushed by one), and they have a fight. More often than not, the ninja wins.

There are some wrinkles to the plot in the 2nd act, such as the "possession" angle in which the aliens control some of the humans via a slimy baby alien thing rammed into their throat. But unlike say, poor Kane from the Nostromo, these folks can be saved! All that's required is someone else pulling the thing out of their throat, which is as gross/funny as it sounds. But this allows for some brief human on human fighting, giving the main aliens a break. And that's fine, because (somewhat disappointingly) all the aliens look the same. The one at the end of the film sprouts wings (paying off the fact that their heads look like pterodactyls), but otherwise they're all pretty much the same type with the same abilities.

But such is a "limitation" of putting a guy in a suit instead of rendering the alien with CGI! For whatever faults the movie may have had, I LOVED that the CGI was largely confined to stunt actions (swords and shurikens being thrown about), with the fighting usually just good ol' human being vs. another human being stuff. I don't know about you, but I find it far more satisfying and entertaining to see a guy in a suit kicking or punching a ninja than seeing some swirling mass of poorly rendered pixels flying around or shooting ANOTHER mass of poorly rendered pixels at a ninja.

And the splatter! At first I was sort of surprised at the movie's total lack of blood (during the opening ninja on ninja fight), but they more than make up for it once the alien arrives. Three "redshirt" ninjas are quickly torn apart by the thing, and then the fights contain plenty of grue, especially when a ninja dies. AvN must hold some sort of record for number of stomped on heads in a single film. Add in the bodily fluids and general ickiness involving the throat "controllers", and you have a perfectly "wet" affair.

In short, what I'm saying is, I should have skipped whatever movie played BEFORE AvN (Red Hill, which was a great western but not a horror movie anyway) and gone to the pub, gotten drunk, and went back to enjoy this nutty movie in its proper context. It's not like the DVD has a lot of excellent bonus material that I would have otherwise missed out on (I don't care how much I love a movie; I never have time to rewatch anything anymore so my DVD buying habits have been reduced to "Oh it's on sale for five dollars on Black Friday? OK."); the only extra is a fairly standard 20 minute making of that walks us through some of the more notable kills, and also has the actors talk about their characters, which is rather extraneous for this particular film. I would have preferred a music video for the awesome end credits song, which is in Japanese but the guy occasionally dips into English for the chorus.

Unlike Frankenstein Girl, which was overloaded with pointless subplots and a clunky presentation (poor editing, bad dubbing, etc), this one was pretty fun and refreshingly straight-forward. A little more variety to the proceedings (either with different types of aliens and/or some location-based fights beyond "the forest" or "the cave") wouldn't have hurt, but it held my attention and made me laugh and go "Whoa! Hahaha, YES!" every now and then. And it was only 80 minutes, which automatically made it more attractive to me. Fun stuff.

What say you?


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