The Road (2011)

APRIL 30, 2012


I don’t usually look at the director’s filmography before sitting down to watch a film, because I figure if it meant anything to me I’d remember. Luckily, while Yam Laranas’ name rang a bell, I couldn’t quite place it until after I had come home from seeing The Road, and saw that he was behind Sigaw as well as its remake The Echo, two films I quite liked. So it’s a good thing I was ignorant - had I known that, I may have been more excited for this one, and thus would have left even more disappointed than I already was.

The Road is broken up into three parts (each taking ten years apart), which gives it a bit of an anthology feeling. The first takes place in 2008, and focuses on three youths who find themselves on a deserted road and menaced by what appears to be ghosts as they attempt to get back on the main road. It’s the best segment, in my opinion, as the characters are likable and the scares are at their most effective – the ghosts are creepy as hell, in fact. Their heads are covered with bloody plastic bags, and they have a tendency to appear in impossible places (under the gas pedal!), which raises the tension nicely as our three kids are seemingly never safe. Plus, of course, we don’t really know what’s going on, so there’s additional panic from that.

Unfortunately, the 2nd and 3rd parts go about explaining that, and the more we know, the less interesting the movie becomes. In part 2 (1998), two OTHER girls around the same age are traveling that road, and run into car trouble. Being a horror film, the first person they see and ask for help is also a killer, and then we’re treated to 20 minutes of two girls screaming and getting smacked around. But we know they’re goners because of the present day scenes, so it lacks the tension of the first part, and gets far too repetitive to boot – I just wanted it over with so we could get to part 3.

Sadly, if anything part 3 is even MORE of a chore, because now we’re in 1988 and seeing why our killer from part 2 is so evil, almost trying to make him sympathetic. Even if this was interesting it would still be an awkward way to tell the story, but it just comes down to the usual motive lifted from Psycho – his mother was a deranged woman who thought all females were filthy, locked him in a closet, made him clean up her messes… everything but the cross-dressing, really. Also, considering the way the 1998 segment ended, by now any good horror fan would have figured out the film’s central twist, which seems to be the only reason for this particular structure. Thus, much like Intruders (which I saw in this same screening room, oddly enough), you have a movie with an alienating construction that serves to hide a twist that is far too easy to figure out – not exactly the best approach for me. I’d rather not know anything than know everything long before I’m supposed to.

Not only was I too ahead of the movie, I was also getting restless - this sucker is LONG. A lot of Asian horror flicks run closer to two hours than the American standard of 88 minutes, but it's not an issue if the story's compelling. However, when there's not a lot to it, you start to feel every minute of the 110 minute runtime, and several things drag. The second act in particular could be trimmed down, unless you haven't yet grown tired of girls screaming while being held against their will. I was also starting to get pretty tired of seeing the damn road over and over - it's not a particularly long stretch, and it's blocked off for reasons that are never explained (they over-explain everything else, why not this?), which makes it feel like a contrivance for contrivance's sake. And yet, if the editor was a bit more vicious, I might have been too caught up to notice.

But I'm glad to see that a foreign language horror film is getting a decent theatrical release here in the US - it's been quite a while. Also I should note I'm in the minority; lots of pals and critics I trust have enjoyed it. I also couldn't help but think of Wind Chill, which not only also dealt with a strange road and ghosts, but was a movie I really didn't care for the first time around only to enjoy it a little more on video. So maybe this will play better a second time around - I'd certainly like to watch the first part again at any rate. We'll see.

What say you?


The Unnameable (1988)

APRIL 29, 2012


If you remove Stuart Gordon’s entries, there really aren’t a lot of Lovecraft adaptations out there, which is odd because his vague writing style would seemingly inspire more filmmakers to use his stories as a springboard, as opposed to Stephen King or Clive Barker. Their novels are often too vast and specific to properly adapt in one movie without making major changes, but with Lovecraft it seems you can meld his ideas with your own without getting his fans too upset. Then again, when movies turn out like The Unnameable, it’s easy to see the money men might not be too interested in backing his stories.

It’s a decent enough time-killer I guess, but the movie is somewhat obnoxiously bland and awkwardly structured (and has seemingly been forgotten for the most part). Most of the movie takes place in a big ol’ decrepit mansion, but our main characters don’t actually show up there until the 3rd act, making it hard to get too involved with the 2nd act, where four classmates of little to no importance to our main guys wander around the mansion and (slowly) die one by one. This also makes the movie needlessly repetitive; the first act has a guy exploring it by himself, then these guys show up, and finally our heroes come and ALSO wander around – 75% of this movie consists of people wandering down hallways. When your third act begins with your main characters more or less re-enacting the same stuff you already saw in the first hour, it makes it a bit hard to get too wrapped up in the movie, at a time when you should be at your most engrossed.

This also keeps the movie’s best character off-screen for far too long. Mark Stephenson plays Carter, and he’s basically a less dangerous version of Herbert West from Re-Animator. He’s arrogant and doesn’t care too much about the human life around him, but he’s also dryly hilarious, and has fun chemistry with his co-star, much like West’s relationship with Dan in Gordon’s classic. they even have the same approach to names – everyone refers to him by his last name and his pal by his first: (Randolph) Carter and Howard (Damon), (Herbert) West and Dan (Cain). But he barely appears in the film’s 2nd act, and even in the 3rd, when the two of them come to the mansion, they split up and we spend more time with Howard. It was a surprise to discover that this movie had a sequel, but not so much that it seemingly focuses on his character (the movie is titled The Unnameable II: The Statement Of Randolph Carter).

Besides him, there are really only two reasons to watch the movie, possibly with the fast forward button handy. One is the occasional death scenes; clearly knowing part of what made Re-Animator a classic, director Jean-Paul Ouellette delivers some gory goods, particularly for a guy that gets his head repeatedly slammed into a floor until the wood is covered with blood. It’s not played for laughs, nor is it very splatter-y, but it works well, and there are a few other choice gags to enjoy – I particularly liked the face ripping during the climax. Scenes like this make up for the film's oft-clumsy editing and direction, with head-shaking moments like when someone says "We should keep moving!" and they walk out of frame, and then we cut to a shot of them standing completely still in another room. Smooth.

The other perk is the title creature, because they actually did a pretty good job of living up to the fact that it’s supposed to be an indescribable “thing”. It’s got goat type legs and is clearly female, but otherwise it’s hard to describe, and one could probably name a dozen animals that it shares a trait with (while being humanoid, and totally white, and sort of demon-ish, and…). And they use it just enough – fleeting appearances throughout the film followed by a big showing in the finale, where the hero laughably keeps trying to kick its ass even though its injured and more or less ignoring him. Like it’ll howl and just sort of stand there, and the hero will run over to get another whack in, only for the Unnameable to smack him across the room yet again. Just leave it alone, dummy!

Shame that the movie has never gotten a DVD release in the US, apparently. Netflix is streaming a full frame and not particularly good transfer, though I am pretty sure it’s uncut at least (read something about the head smashing being cut from some versions). The sequel is available on DVD, oddly enough, but that too is full frame and probably shit because it’s a mid-00s release from Lion’s Gate, all of which seem to be awful, VHS transfers. It’s not a great movie, but it’s worth seeing properly to appreciate the creature design and practical bloodletting. Also to hear the film’s amazing end credits theme song, which sounds like a Ric Ocasek ballad. I leave you with it.

What say you?


The Moth Diaries (2011)

APRIL 28, 2012


Maybe I should just stay away from "literary horror" for a while? Just a day after being bored into a near-coma by The Raven, I take in The Moth Diaries, which is not only based on a novel (one that predates "Twilight", I should mention) but is about a girl who thinks the events in her life are paralleling "Carmilla", a novel that incidentally predates that OTHER famous vampire novel ("Dracula" - heard of it?) and is pretty much directly responsible for the "lesbian vampire" sub-genre that this movie flirts with but never commits to. But it never commits to anything, so that's not really a surprise.

The main problem with the movie is that it's practically an 80 minute montage. The passage of time is vague at best, and nothing is given a chance to really develop before the situation changes. The plot is about how this new girl in school has driven a wedge between our main character Rebecca and her best friend Lucy, but we only see them together for about a minute or so before they meet the new girl (Ernessa), and after what only seems like a day or so passes, they're already "drifting apart". And this sort of thing carries throughout the entire movie - at one point a girl leaves for spring break, when it had only been about 5 minutes and a handful of brief scenes since they had all returned from the holidays.

Thus, it's hard to take any of the drama seriously, because it just seems like Rebecca is over-reacting to Ernessa's "influence", and Lucy is supposedly dying all of a sudden when she just started showing signs of illness. If this was some historical epic with 58 characters, sure - you can deal with some shorthand, but when it's essentially about two girls fighting over a third, set entirely in one location, it feels really awkward to be constantly given the Cliff's Notes version of the story's events. The runtime is also suspect - it's not like 82 minutes with credits is bloated; they could have had another 10-15 minutes to flesh these things out, spend some time with the girls before Ernessa's arrival, etc. Why are they racing through a character based thriller?

See, the idea is (I think) is for us to wonder if Rebecca is just being paranoid or if Ernessa is actually a vampire. There are a lot of metaphors at play here (possibly too many); the natural drifting apart of close friends as they get closer to womanhood, the conformity of a private school stripping one of her identity, vampirism as a drug, etc, etc. Again, all in 82 minutes! PICK A THEME, MOVIE. But anyway, with some focus this could have worked, and there are times when it DOES, particularly when a girl is found dead on the ground outside her window. It's chalked up to a suicide or accident, but of course Rebecca suspects that Arnessa pushed her in order to get her out of the way, same as she had given one of the other girls some drugs that caused her to freak out and toss a chair through her window, resulting in expulsion. Stuff like that is always fun to puzzle through, and despite all of its problems I was sort of enjoying it for a while (at least, as much as I can enjoy a movie aimed at teen girls that have tired of Twilight).

But it never really escalates, and the film's refusal to focus just gets worse as it goes - when a major character suddenly dies I wondered if the editor accidentally deleted a ten minute chunk of the film right before he output it for its final mastering. And while they give enough evidence to "prove" that Arnessa is a vampire (or a ghost of some sort, at least), we never really get a full blown reveal - just a weird scene where her and another girl are scene floating before turning into moths, which seems like one of the film's many dream sequences. Ultimately, director Mary Harron seems to be suggesting that it doesn't matter, and that the point of the movie was to show how Rebecca learned to get past the death of her father, but again - the film's overly generalized approach to plot and character development prevents us from latching on to her. Ultimately, we only care about her because the camera's on her more often than anyone else, not because of anything she actually DOES.

Oh, and can we call a lifetime moratorium on scenes where an English teacher talks about some book and it happens to parallel the plot of the film we're watching? It works in Halloween because the book is made up (and it refers to the general idea of fate), but this movie (and presumably the book) seemingly spends half its time comparing itself to "Carmilla" and even a bit of "Dracula", which is not a good idea when things are so uninvolving. "Hey, I could be reading one of those, or at least watching one of their adaptations, instead of watching this" is what any sane person would start thinking after a while. Plus it's just so cheesy in general; it's gotten to the point where as soon as we cut to the class for the first time, we're basically going to get a spoiler for the movie as soon as we know what book they're reading. "Oh, Hamlet? I guess we're in for a Pyrrhic victory." On that note, I'd actually like to see a comedy where someone is reading "The Odyssey" and then wonders why their own life isn't mirroring Homer's tale.

Oh, and it's not scary. For an R rated movie, nothing happens on-screen; this may be the first vampire movie that doesn't have anyone being bitten. There's a tame, very brief lesbian tryst that MAY involve biting, but, you know, some people just do that - we don't see puncturing, at any rate. People bitch about the Twilights not really being horror; shit, at least we see them transform, and get at least ONE true fight in each film (hell, the 3rd one had the sparkly bastards dying left and right at the end). I assume they were interested in making more of a drama, but since they failed so miserably in that department it's a shame they couldn't make up for it by being a little exploitative or graphic every now and then.

As I said, it's aimed at teen girls, and I'm sure they will find it entertaining because they can identify with fighting with their best friend over stupid shit that they think is much more important than it is, or swooning over one of their younger male teachers or whatever. However, the R rating will theoretically prevent them from seeing it until they're old enough to realize it's empty trash, so the target audience is girls with parents who don't care much about what they're seeing, but if that's the case then they might as well just watch Hammer's The Vampire Lovers, which is also based on "Carmilla". Or Harron's American Psycho, her last feature length genre effort in which she managed to make a serial killer yuppie douch more likable and compelling than she did our innocent heroine here.

What say you?


The Raven (2012)

APRIL 27, 2012


The "a madman is using an author's writing as the inspiration for their killing spree" idea has been done several times, but I think The Raven is the first to actually put the author in the middle of the story as a character. So even though I've already watched a Poe-inspired serial killer film before (Dead End Road), I was intrigued by the idea of Poe himself helping to solve the crimes, with the added intrigue of offering up a solution for his death as it took place during the last few days of his life.

Well hopefully in 20 years when it comes time to remake the movie, they do it right. The intriguing concept is done no justice by James McTeigue and his crew, as they have delivered one of the most lifeless and least compelling serial killer thrillers I can recall. Many of the murders are off-screen and none are of victims we know, which means the film amounts to little more than 105 minutes of Poe (John Cusack) and a cop (Luke Evans) poring over corpses, or Poe writing the stories the killer is demanding in order to keep providing them clues as to the whereabouts of Poe's fiance Emily. Not that I need copious bloodshed in order to enjoy a film, but with a plot this weak and largely uneventful, anything to break up the monotony could only be a blessing. Sadly, such distractions never occur - the entire movie is filler.

It's also miscast. Cusack has three modes in the film, none of which seem befitting of the tortured soul we know Poe to be. One is basically Robert Downey Jr. from Sherlock Holmes; a pompous but charming smartass who is constantly inspiring those around him to want to punch him. This version we don't see much, which is fine because it's ill-fitting and adds nothing to the story (though I was a bit surprised since the trailer is cut to make it look like a complete ripoff of that series). Then there's the Nicolas Cage version, who shouts lines for no reason (an out of nowhere shouting of "EMILY!!!!" is destined to be an oft-played Youtube clip) and basically just engages in some of that mega-acting that we've come to expect from Cage. And then there's just plain John Cusack, putting no effort at all into portraying one of the genre's most beloved icons. Maybe I'm spoiled after having seen Jeffrey Combs in "Nevermore", but I think anyone would agree that this is most certainly NOT one of Cusack's best efforts as an actor.

But even if he was delivering an award-worthy performance, it wouldn't help the fact that the script gives him almost nothing to do. He is called in because apparently no one in Baltimore has read his stories, and thus he needs to be brought along to every murder scene so he can be like "That's from Cask of Amontillado!" or whatever. Later he puts his detective skills to use, but since we have a detective with as much screen time as Cusack, it's clunky - the detective character should have been kept to a minimum, because if Poe can figure these things out, what purpose does the detective serve? Shouldn't he be more of an adversary, suspecting Poe of the murders as Poe goes rogue in order to clear his name?

Anyway, after a couple of murders they "make it personal" by kidnapping Emily, but it has almost no effect on the way he operates. Perhaps if he had no interest in helping the cops until that point it would add some semblance of intensity to the proceedings, but it's barely a factor - he just yells a little more often. It doesn't help that Emily is a total nothing of a character; we don't see them together much since he is hated by her dad (Brendan Gleeson, whose only character trait is completely reversed at random at the end of the second act), and she's played by Alice Eve, who may be the least interesting actress on the planet. Occasionally they cut to her trapped in her coffin trying to get out, but these scenes are suspense-free and dragged out for an eternity - even when she seems to be close to escape I never felt compelled by any of it.

Speaking of her kidnapping, it has to be one of the most poorly edited sequences I've ever seen in a studio-released film. Poe and Emily are dancing when suddenly a guy on a horse rides into the ballroom, causing a panic. We see Poe and Emily seek cover together as the rider is shot. As he is surrounded by the police, we discover that he's a decoy for the real killer, which makes everyone look around quickly, scanning the crowd for anyone that didn't belong. And then... boom! We're in the next scene, Emily has been taken and the killer has gotten away (the decoy character is never seen or mentioned again). Huh? How did he manage to get Emily away from Poe? How did no one see this? I honestly thought the movie had skipped a chapter or something, but poor editing is quite common in the film - a later action scene in the rafters of a theater is equally puzzling, and many scenes seemingly start (or end) in the middle. There's no flow or semblance of time passing, which is a big problem for a movie that has a deadline built into it (Emily running out of air). Even the climax, where the hero takes the villain down, occurs confusingly and off-screen despite building up to it with a random trip to Paris - the movie literally goes out of its way to frustrate its audience.

And then there's the mystery itself, which is almost laughably weak. Figuring out who the killer is in a Halloween sequel is more exciting than the reveal of the murderer, who is a nothing character of no significance and delivers a motive that makes no sense at all (something Poe actually says to his face; a rare moment in the film where I was on board with the script). To give them credit though - at least they didn't hire a recognizable actor to play the role, because then it would be even more obvious - I had my eye on another useless character for a while until they pointlessly have him in a scene where the killer is clearly elsewhere. On that note, three early scenes eliminate just about every other potential suspect in the movie, which is another example of how botched this script is and how little McTeigue did as a director to make up for it.

Hell even the end credits suck. Built around a crazy robotic raven of some sort, the letters are all split apart and thus hard to read. Maybe they just wanted to try to keep anyone from knowing who to blame. I did make out that one of the screenwriters is named Shakespeare, however, which is a delightful slice of irony. And even though it was late (after 2 am) I kept watching the credits, hoping that maybe there would be a Wild Things-esque collection of scenes during the credits that explain some of the movie's confusing story points, but alas. The Raven ends just as it began; awkward and lifeless. Easily the biggest disappointment of the year.

What say you?


Warlock Moon (1973)

APRIL 26, 2012


If you follow Cabin In The Woods chatter online (don’t worry if you don’t – I’m not going to spoil anything), you’ve probably come across the phrase “Vampires circle the moon”, which refers to a now legendary Rex Reed review of the film where he simply made everything up. After my 2nd viewing of the film, I noticed that his nonsense was even funnier because, as I said, “it’s the only horror movie in history that doesn’t even SHOW the damn moon”, which I was sure was not accurate but sounded funny. So it’s great that a few days later I see Warlock Moon, which also goes through its runtime without ever one showing the moon, despite the fact that it’s in the title.

It also lacks a Warlock, though there is a blood sacrifice/ritual that I guess could be considered witchcraft, and there’s a guy involved, so maybe he’s a warlock and just doesn’t talk about it much. The ritual is mainly conducted by a woman, but Witch Moon would just be silly, I guess. Also the ritual has to occur at midnight, when the moon would be out, so it’s just a really abstract, “gotta think about” title. Like Syriana.

Anyway, it’s a fun little B movie; the sort of thing I’d be delighted to find on a budget pack but probably wouldn’t want to buy on a dedicated release for more than a couple bucks. It’s slowly paced and riddled with plot holes, but it’s got a breezy charm that so many movies lack, and it more than makes up for its problems. You also can’t dismiss a movie that combines ghosts, witchcraft, AND cannibalism, plus a random ax wielding mute (who looks like Rob Zombie!) for good measure. Even better, it actually gels together, more or less – it doesn’t seem like writer/director Bill Herbert is just making things up as he goes along, or pulling a Pieces and inserting elements into his movie at random because a producer wants it in there.

It also has great chemistry between the two leads, Joe Spano and Laurie Walters. After engaging in the creepiest and over-elaborate “meet-cute” I can recall ever seeing in a movie, they take off on a little road trip and end up at our main location – an isolated, run down spa (!) somewhere in California. Oddly, after spending some time there and getting spooked, they leave, and end up going BACK a few days later in order for Spano to write a story about the place for his newspaper. Now (spoilers), I actually noticed this was kind of goofy, but it wasn’t until a bit later that I realized Spano was actually one of the villains and it was all a setup. It’s the sort of thing I should have seen coming right from the start, but their flirty, charming chemistry actually distracted me enough to not think about it too much. Well played, Herbert.

Or should I say, HOBLIT? According to the commentary by Joe Bob Briggs, it is impossible to find any real information on Herbert (who used a different name for the screenplay), but Spano once mentioned making a low budget horror film with Gregory Hoblit, and has appeared in many of his more respectable films like Hart’s War. Seems to me someone would have figured it out for sure by now, but I like to think it’s true. It would make up for Untraceable.

Briggs’ commentary is a hoot, by the way. He’s a fan of the film, but has no problem pointing out its many puzzling elements (such as why the ax wielding guy is trying so hard to kill her when they need her to willingly enter a magic circle before they can do their ritual) and mocking Herbert’s/Hoblit’s less than ace directing skills. There’s a bit where Walters is supposedly falling victim to drugged tea, but the camera stays behind her most of the time, so we can’t see her being affected by ANYTHING. I was also tickled by the fact that she seemingly has to poison herself, as the lady serving the tea insists she put sugar into it (or maybe it would mask the taste of the poison – but either way, why didn’t she just do that herself?). He also provides some bibliographical info on the actors, and points out some fun trivia (like that they shot part of Tron in the same area), so it’s definitely worth a listen whether you liked the movie or not. The trailer and an alternate (and mute) opening sequence is also included, but curiously not the 6-10 minutes of footage that is missing from the film itself. For reasons unknown, even though this is a “special edition”, the film has a few scenes shortened or removed, including one with two cops that sounds kind of important.

Speaking of the cops, they appear in the film’s closing scene, which actually occurs under the end titles. It’s quite odd, I’ve certainly seen post-credits scenes (Nick Fury joke), but this is like the credits just didn’t want to wait around anymore and thus start playing while the main narrative is still finishing up. Then they finish and the movie keeps going as if nothing happened, leading to the best closing shot ever (one of the movie’s many awesome freeze-frames). Just part of the movie’s odd charm though. Recommended!

What say you?


Hell's Labyrinth (2007)

APRIL 25, 2012


For most of Hell’s Labyrinth (formerly Carnivorous), I was watching under the assumption that our characters were trapped in a video game, so the bad FX and repetitive action scenes weren’t really bugging me – I thought it was part of the point. So when we learn that it’s not a game (which was just my random theory, by the way – it wasn’t hinted at in the actual film) but another dimension and that our heroes were keeping ancient demons at bay so they didn’t enter our world, I had to take one of the few things out of this movie’s “Pro” column and put it under “Con”.

This entire movie (save 2-3 brief scenes at the beginning and end) was shot in front of a greenscreen, not unlike Sin City or Sky Captain. When done well, it can give the film a unique and highly stylish look, and add to its value. When done poorly, it can look like this movie, which suffers from poor compositing and lighting throughout, so that the effect is nothing more than a constant distraction with no in-film payoff (i.e. if it was a video game or at least something that was SUPPOSED to be fake). The characters are lit completely different than their (often bland) backgrounds, and on more than one occasion the actors are clearly walking at a different speed than the computer generated background has been programmed to shift. To use the technical term, it looks like ass.

The editing is also problematic, which is funny because the movie is 7 minutes shorter than the back of the DVD promises (yay!). So many scenes go on forever when they were barely necessary anyway; there’s this lengthy montage of our final two heroes planning their final battle when all it amounts to is opening a door and waving a stone around. At one point the heroine looks at the hero as if he was saying something really important (or about to tell him as much), but nothing happens – they just stare awkwardly at each other for 30 seconds before they return to the task at hand. There’s no romantic angle or anything, so I have no idea what this is about. Even establishing scenes go on too long – I would imagine that a real editor would have produced a cut of this movie that ran no more than 60 minutes, so they simply left in a bunch of filler and let everything drag just to make their promised runtime. And they still came up 7 minutes short!

Another problem is the creatures, which all look alike and aren’t even that interesting to begin with. Again, if this was a game it’d be OK – all video games have rather uninspired looking monsters that you have to fight again and again (think The Heartless in Kingdom Hearts, or maybe the generic zombies in Ghosts n Goblins), and you can’t really complain about it – it’s part of the territory. But the plot of this movie is more or less one long chase scene, which means that the only thing that can really distinguish one from the other (since the backgrounds are 95% “ugly brown/gray hallway”) would be a variety of creatures, but no! Not only are they all the same things that sort of look like Blackheart from the Ghost Rider comics (except with yellow eyes instead of red), but director/writer/editor (etc, etc) Drew Maxwell even seems to be recycling shots of them running in closeup down one of those damn hallways. Christ, at least give them varying colored eyes from scene to scene or something so that a viewer could mentally process a difference. Even at the end, when you assume you’ll see something new, we’re just given a BUNCH of them at once, plus one that I think is just a bigger version but it might have just been a poorly scaled shot.

And it’s a bummer because the concept is actually kind of fun – it’s basically Saw II, except instead of Jigsaw’s whims, these folks have been sent to this dungeon as a sacrifice to keep these demons’ bloodlust in check so that they don’t break free of their dimension and start hunting folks on Earth. And like Saw II, we get the impression that our main characters aren’t exactly model citizens: a junkie, a thief, a young kid who murdered his sister (?!?!), etc. Oddly, our main character isn’t given the benefit of such strong characterization – her car breaks down and the “Guardian” guy takes her (maybe I just missed something there?). Obviously the idea that our heroes are being used to keep even worse things from getting us is a valid one (if you’re a good genre fan you know what I’m referring to), but the above problems keep the movie unfortunately planted in “good idea, bad execution” territory.

At least the kills are decent. After yesterday’s ode to off-screen carnage, it was nice to see a movie that breaks up its monotony with a scalping, a few impalements, a beheading… nothing that would make you forget the kills in Hatchet or anything Savini’s ever done, but reasonably well staged and bloody, and pretty much the only highlight the movie really offers. It’s funny though – yesterday’s movie was shot in 3D and had no reason to be – THIS one might have been a bit more enjoyable with the gimmick enabled. Even as a convert, it would at least make up for the nonsensical background/foreground separation, and it actually had some on-screen action. Not to mention depth in the rare bits of non violent action, such as when our remaining heroes have to cross a bottomless (?) pit via a bunch of swinging chains (you can see why I thought this was all a video game) – it would have added to the “thrill” with seeing the chains in different spaces along the Z axis. But alas, no.

As the credits rolled, I noticed that Maxwell had a crew of maybe 4-5 other folks for pretty much every other important role on the set and in post (at least, the ones he didn’t do himself). It’s an ambitious film for that small of a crew, and I laud them for even getting it finished – but there’s a reason that most movies have dedicated crew members for each major role instead of wearing five or six hats each: they can focus on doing the best possible job on that task, instead of dividing their energy among several. Granted, in a small independent-ish production, that might not always be possible, but just because they were able to do this with a small crew doesn’t magically make the movie that more enjoyable or satisfying.

What say you?

P.S. One of the few credits not attributed to the core team was for a behind the scenes documentary – it’s not on the DVD, however. A pity; the film itself is junk but I would love to watch how it came together with such a small group.


Hidden (2011)

APRIL 24, 2012


Like Tom Jane’s ill-fated Dark Country, Hidden is a 3D production that has been sent to disc in a 2D only version (its IMDb title is actually Hidden 3D), stripped of its main selling point without fanfare. But at least that one still had some Tom Jane nuttiness and a fun Ron Perlman cameo – Hidden doesn’t offer a damn thing beyond a few attractive female cast members (can’t vouch for the dudes – main dude seems handsome enough though) and a mercifully brief 81 minute runtime with credits.

In fact I actually spent a good chunk of the movie wondering why it was in 3D to begin with; not since My Soul To Take has there been a film less suited for the process, and that was a post-convert created by bean counters trying to cash in on a trend. To the best of my knowledge, Hidden was actually shot in stereoscopic 3D, despite the fact that nearly the entire movie consists of people wandering around corridors and being killed off-screen. There’s a few obvious “comin at ya!” type effects (usually with the film’s villain – a swarm of insects), but otherwise only the occasional hallway shot would seemingly benefit from having the illusion of depth.

Let’s get back to two things I just mentioned. The off-screen deaths run the gamut from spooky (as in “is someone in the group offing them?”) to obnoxious, to “is the DVD broken or did these jerks actually make an entire movie – in 3D no less – without showing us a goddamn thing?” I’ve seen daytime television edits that offered up more carnage, which is insulting for an R rated (actually “not rated”, but it would be R if they had tried) horror film that’s supposed to be delivering spectacle. Making things even more frustrating is that every kill plays out exactly the same – behind a closed door. At least if there was some variety to the proceedings (maybe someone falls/is pushed out a window and drops out of frame, or screams toward the camera as a large object careens toward them and crushes them), I could ALMOST forgive the lack of actually seeing anything. But no, it’s just an endless series of doors.

Then there are the insects, which kept reminding me of Michael Crichton’s "Prey", a decent junk book that has surprisingly not been turned into a movie (a Syfy original miniseries would be a good fit). They fly around in poorly rendered CGI swarms usually, though occasionally one will break free and allow the animators to really show off how lousy they are at compositing (but again, if this was 3D it wouldn’t be as big of an issue since they’re SUPPOSED to look separate from their background). The other villains are a group of kids who have faces that resemble any J-horror remake you can imagine (you know, big hollowed eyes, mouths twisted open, etc), which could have been creepy if director M.R. (yep) bothered to use them in any meaningful way. Instead, their appearances are just as repetitive as the kills; people will walk into a room, have a conversation that seems designed to put the viewer to sleep, and then they’ll walk away as the camera pans down to the floor or over to a corner as we see a limb of one of the kids come into view. Yeah, this sort of “oh shit, someone was watching them!” scare can work once or twice, but when it’s all they offer? Not so much. Imagine if every scare in Halloween was like when Michael appears next to camera after Laurie drops off the key (“I wish I had you all alone… just the two of us…”), and that’s what Hidden is like.

At least, until the end. Surely this has been a slow burn and things are going to get crazy now, right? Nope. The villain appears, delivers their villain speech, and then the hero takes her AND all of the zombie children out with one move, literally moments after she explains that she’s a host and they’re all connected so if she dies they’ll all die too. So he swipes at her and the kids just sort of fall over. That’s our climax. Even though it’s only been 72 minutes or so (because of course there’s an idiotic, sequel-plugging epilogue), I was angry that the movie had wasted so much of my time building toward what amounted to nothing. I could have watched 1.5 episodes of Fringe! Not only would the FX be better and the monster scarier, but I’d also get some choice Walter rambles about shakes or pie or something.

The biggest shame is that it’s actually a good location for a movie – a giant, state of the art but empty research facility. You still have the usual operating rooms and basements, but there’s some modern architecture and a big brightly lit main hall that would be a fun contrast for some real horror. If this was a widely released movie, it could actually be used as the basis for a good haunted house/maze at Universal Horror Nights (or the theme park equivalent of your choice), because the villains were just generic ghoul type things that can pop out anywhere, and most of the movie is just people wandering around hallways anyway – it might as well be a home video of someone walking through the “Hospital Of Horror” at Knott’s Scary Farm. Except with cheaper FX.

Oh well. Nice to see Exit Humanity’s Jordan Hayes again, as well as actor Devon Bostick, who managed to play two characters in the Saw franchise (though he’s just a random clinic patient in IV, not really a “character”). But Exit Humanity isn’t out yet, and I doubt anyone cares about Saw continuity these days, so I have no idea what YOU might be able to take away from this chore. But someone call me when it shows in 3D somewhere – curious if it makes any difference whatsoever.

What say you?


Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1974)

APRIL 23, 2012


Not long after I watch one of the most disappointing efforts in the Hammer canon (To The Devil A Daughter), I stumble across one of their most surprisingly enjoyable. Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter has a goofy title and none of their usual players, so I wasn’t expecting much, but it’s actually one of their best vampire movies, and a must-see for any vamp OR Hammer enthusiast.

A big draw is that it’s actually kind of a procedural mystery; there’s a vampire sucking the youth out of locals and Kronos is called in to figure out who or what is doing it. The mystery works well, giving a few options for the main villain’s identity, and Kronos makes for an enjoyable hero not unlike Robert Downey Jr’s turn as Sherlock Holmes – part asskicker, part detective. It almost feels like an adventure movie at times, as Kronos is quick with a sword and enjoys fighting a few guys at once, but there's enough vampire action and scares to keep it rooted in horror. It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, but writer/director Brian Clemens does a fine job where many others have stumbled.

It also offers lots and lots of “Hammer Glamour”. Caroline Munro alone would be enough eye candy for any warm-blooded male, but the rest of the ladies are quite lovely as well – a pity the plot demands that they turn into old crones and/or dust, sometimes only moments after their introduction. And it’s no dull affair for female viewers either – Horst Janson has got a bit of that romance novel hunk look to him (and awesome 70s hair!), which I’m sure was a bit more of a draw for the ladies than Peter Cushing at this time.

I also enjoyed Kronos’ partnership with John Cater as Grost, who aids him during fights and when trying to figure out the case. He also has a hunchback, which is pretty interesting – it’s a film where Renfield assists Van Helsing instead of Dracula. There’s a nice bit where some jerks at the pub are mocking him for his deformity, and Kronos doesn’t miss a beat as he defends his friend’s honor and then kills the shit out of all three of them in one swing of his blade. It’s a great little moment; a sword-based version of a pistol duel, where you get a lot of rising tension and closeups of handles and then BAM! It’s over.

It could have used some trimming, however. 91 minutes isn’t exactly a laborious runtime, but the story isn’t that complicated, and certain scenes seem to go on longer than necessary. The climactic sword fight in particular could have been cut in half – you know how it’s going to go, and they don’t really move around much (plus there was a more exciting one not too long before, giving it a touch of repetitiveness). Apparently they planned to make a Kronos franchise, so I can’t help but wonder now that it’s over if they were purposely holding back a bit figuring they would need to up the ante later. We don’t get to know too much about Kronos or Grost, and the movie even ends with them riding off to find another adventure. The movie’s poor box office performance killed any chance of a sequel, which is a pity.

But Hammer is back! I know they were talking about resurrecting the character back in 2010 (before Let Me In came out), and I hope that is still under consideration, especially now that they’ve finally had a huge hit with Woman In Black. I can’t think of a better property to revive; not only did he never get his chance back in the day (which should limit any fanboy whining), but there’s a bit of Van Helsing feel to this movie, and thus they have a chance to do that movie properly. I mean, that movie is a colossal piece of shit, but the idea was solid (and it too was supposed to be a franchise, oddly enough). A guy like Clive Owen or maybe Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington (if they wanted to go younger) could be great in the role, and with Sherlock Holmes doing so well it seems a no-brainer to fast track this potential franchise.

Until then, watch the original! Long as you can deal with the pace (which isn’t that much slower than any other Hammer film – it’s just that it could use some tightening, and also the action/adventure vibe it has probably makes it feel a bit slower than it is), you should find it quite enjoyable if you’re even a casual fan of vampire movies. And again, if you’re a Hammer aficionado I can’t possibly see you finding too much fault with this one.

What say you?


The Fields (2011)

APRIL 22, 2012


I thought for sure I'd have the screening of The Fields to myself, because surely anyone else that shows up to watch some unknown horror film at 1pm on a Sunday (when it's coming out on Blu-ray two days later) is my soul mate, or a homeless person who snuck in to get out of the sudden heat in LA. But alas, just as the movie began, two normal looking folks walked in a few seconds apart: a guy about my age or so, and a lady that looked a bit older. Didn't get as good of a look at her because she walked out after about 20 minutes. Maybe she was homeless.

Anyway, this movie's theatrical release is more fascinating than anything on-screen. Granted it's as limited a release as I've ever seen (seemingly only on this one screen, and only once a day), but even that is more than Inside or Trick R Treat ever really got, and there is nothing about this movie that demands to be seen on a 50 foot screen, so what gives? Did the excess star power of Cloris Leachman AND Tara Reid prove too much for the distributor to ignore when deciding whether to book theaters or simply wait the few more days until it hit DVD? The mind boggles.

Now, it's not that bad of a flick, really - it's just a very unfocused and frustrating one. At its best it reminded me of The Reflecting Skin, as it was also a strange, horror-lite period piece and involved a young boy with a big imagination who may or may not be in danger from a monster. In that film it was a vampire, as well as a group of hoodlums that had taken an interest in him - here it's... well, Charles Manson. See, early on he hears about Manson's downgraded sentence (from the death penalty to life with the chance of parole), and is convinced that Manson will get out of prison and come kill him (pretty big ego on the kid, really - they don't even live in California!). It doesn't help that he keeps seeing hippie girls around town that resemble Manson Girls, and also there's a guy named Eugene who speaks in Manson-esque babble (something about squealing pigs). In other words, he's subconsciously making sense out of these weirdos he can't understand by assuming they are involved with Manson, which is a perfectly decent backdrop for a coming of age/horror thriller hybrid.

Except Harrison Smith's script can't focus on that, and tosses in a whole bunch of other nonsense that never pays off. A deserted fun park, a trio of weird (inbred?) cousins, some shady secret about his father's upbringing, a "Hotel" that we keep hearing about, a missing girl... it's like they crammed an entire season of a mid 90s Twin Peaks ripoff into one 100 minute movie. I kept waiting for these elements to be explained, or at least tie into the narrative in some way, but they never do, save for a radio voiceover in the film's final scene that tells us that one character from the film (now deceased) is believed to be the one who killed the missing girl. Well, thanks for clearing that up, but no one cared about the missing girl! She was never mentioned directly, she didn't appear to have any connection to the characters - her entire "back-story" is limited to a "Missing" poster on the general store door, which no one pays any attention to and is on-screen for all of five seconds. If you looked down at your phone for a second, this epilogue would be entirely meaningless. There's a difference between paying close attention and simply being underdeveloped, and this movie is the latter.

And that's a problem, because 99% of the audience for this film is going to see it at home, where cell phones and iPads and what not will distract away from the not-very exciting events on screen. It's a very slow and largely uneventful film, the sort of thing that doesn't seem to demand your complete attention - I expect a lot of "What the hell?" type threads on its IMDb over the next couple weeks, because even I, paying complete attention, feel like I missed a few things. Like, what was with the tub full of ripped George Washington faces? Why was the kid's beloved Godzilla toy in pieces at one point? Any why was Grandma so racist???

Speaking of Grandma, Cloris Leachman is by far the best thing about the movie (except her out of nowhere racism). Foul mouthed and addicted to public domain horror movies, she gives the movie some much needed spark, and even though she swears she avoids being an obnoxious and tired distraction like Betty White. There's a wonderful bit where her harried husband comes home with the birdcage he thought she asked him to get, and in instant both characters won me over - I cared more about them than the kid or his parents (Reid is his mom). Speaking of the horror movies, I like how they mirrored the movie's events - she watches Carnival of Souls and then the next day the kid finds himself in a creepy amusement park; after Night of the Living Dead their farmhouse is besieged by unknown entities. But like most other things in the film, there's no payoff - it's not even clear that the kid is watching them, so if it's supposed to be his overactive imagination behind these things, where did he get the ideas? He wasn't even watching! Reflecting Skin had similar problems, but there was a hypnotic, almost Terrence Malick style approach that drew you in - this film doesn't have that going for it. Every time it starts to come to life it unravels again; it takes effort to get through it, but offers no reward.

Ultimately you can sum up this movie's problems with just a single scene. Our hero (obnoxiously called "Boo-boo" by his grandfather, though his name is Steven which has no phonetic relation to Boo-boo) is tossing sticks into the cornfield out of boredom, and tosses a final one in before heading off frame to do something else. The camera holds for a beat or two, and then a stick comes flying back. All they had to do is cut here and leave us unnerved, but instead, Steven comes back, inspects the stick, looks at the cornfield... essentially killing whatever creepiness we might have felt. And then, of course, we never know who threw it back, so they ruin what could have been a cool little moment by drawing too much attention to it, and then never follow up on it. That's pretty much The Fields in a nutshell.

What say you?


Bloody New Year (1987)

APRIL 21, 2012


Most directors’ final films are pretty disappointing for one reason or another, but if Bloody New Year proves to be Norman J. Warren’s swan song (he’s still alive, but appears to have retired), I think it’s a pretty decent capper on a career filled with some wonderfully batshit horror films. In some ways it’s one of his nuttiest – the term “kitchen sink” will certainly come to mind as you watch – but it’s also pretty accessible. And it’s just plain fun, which is all I really ask for out of this sort of stuff.

After a prologue in 1959, we meet our protagonists, who are enjoying a trip to the beach when they suddenly decide to go to a local fun park. There, they get into a fight with two hoodlums and a carny, engage in a minor chase, and get on a boat, which springs a leak and leaves them stranded on a nearby island, where the actual plot of the movie begins, nearly 20 minutes later. It’s like one of those Simpsons where there’s a tangent to the tangent to the actual plot, except it takes almost the entire length of a Simpsons episode. In other words – it’s pretty damn random, and it sets the stage nicely for the insanity that follows.

What follows is basically a haunted house movie, which is new territory for Warren. Granted I’m no scholar on the guy, but of the five films I’ve seen from him, none belong to the same sub-genre, and I admire that. The quality was questionable on a few (some say all), but it’s great that he keeps you on your toes not only within the narrative of that film, but over his career as a whole. Too bad he retired before torture porn got invented!

Anyway, the kids aren’t there long before all hell breaks loose. People jump out of movie screens, objects fly around, toy Santa Claus robots turn on, our heroes are menaced by a vacuum cleaner, and all manner of ghosts and zombie like figures attack with respectable frequency. It’s also got a lot of abstract ideas, such as a typical “everything in the room flies at our heroes” scene (complete with a paper towel roll unspooling in their direction – oh no!), which is immediately followed by everything reforming and going back in its place. There’s a time travel (or timewarp – the original title is Timewarp Terror) element to the film that I never quite understood, so I assume this has something to do with it.

But that’s nothing on the scene where two of them are terrorized by what can only be described as a laugh track ghost. They/we don’t see anything, but we hear this very sitcom-y canned laughter as Warren basically rips off Sam Raimi and sends the camera whooshing past our heroes, stopping at a tree, and then turning around and whooshing by them again, over and over for like 3 minutes. All the while with the laughter. It’s pretty easy to see that he was inspired by Evil Dead for some of the movie’s nuttiness, but what’s weird is that it actually feels more like the more manic Evil Dead 2, which wasn’t out at the time he made this (the film premiered at Cannes in May of 1987, right around when Evil Dead 2 was seeing its own release). I guess it’s possible he got wind of it and rushed through this, but I’d to believe that two nutty guys simply had the idea to make gonzo haunted house movies in 1986 or so.

I was also charmed by the carny character who keeps popping up to mess with our heroes. His reasons for disliking them are odd to begin with – he basically sides with the punks who are walking around on his tilt-a-whirl ride and harassing the paying customers, and then joins them in chasing our heroes around when they’re the ones who were causing the problem. But he goes above and beyond, chasing them out of the park and even somehow appearing on the island, though I guess that might just be one of the ghost’s tricks.

A shame that whoever put this disc out (Salvation or Redemption, I can’t figure out which is supposed to be the company logo) didn’t do a better job with the transfer. It’s full frame, which is a shame (assuming that the IMDb’s listing of a 1.85:1 original ratio is correct), but it also seems like they didn’t convert it from PAL properly for this NTSC release, so everything looks slightly sped up and jerky. It’s quite distracting, and for a stand-alone release kind of a drag – this is forgivable for a budget pack release, but at full price they could have tried a little harder. It also lacks any extras whatsoever, which would be OK if I could find any info about the film online, but it seems to be a bit of an obscure release in every way. Don’t know why, it’s honestly the most enjoyable of Warren’s films that I’ve seen, free from the odd pacing of Prey or Terror, and without the misogyny and unpleasantness of Inseminoid. I’d love to see this in one of the later slots at the next New Bev all-nighter! Someone find me a print, dammit!

What say you?


Killer Nun (1979)

APRIL 20, 2012


With a title like Killer Nun (or Suor Omicidi, its Italian moniker), I was expecting something a little more exploitative and fun than the film actually delivered, and I hope someone can point me to a better "nunsploitation" movie to enjoy - with only a year of HMAD left, I can't imagine the opportunity or drive to see too many others in this most peculiar sub-genre will arise. But a man shouldn't go through life without seeing one really good nunsploitation movie. Jesus even said so.

Now before anyone gets on my ass for making a sacrilegious joke, I will remind you that I went to Catholic school for 8 years; uncomfortable shirt, ugly green tie, excessive mass going... the works. I was also referred to as an idiot by one of the nuns because I was/am left-handed, and one of them whipped a piece of chalk at me for an offense I can no longer recall, but most certainly didn't involve risking injury to another human being. In other words, I understand and respect the religion and those who devote their lives to it, but let's just say I wasn't exactly enamored by my perception of it during my formative years.

Thus, I was excited about the idea of a movie where the nun actually was the villain I perceived a few of them as, instead of a "sub-antagonist" like in Silent Night Deadly Night, where Mother Superior is a horrid nasty woman but it's really the killer Santa that may kill a character we care about. But alas, the movie is actually more a giallo, where the killer may or may NOT be our main character, Sister Gertrude (Anita Ekberg), who had a brain surgery early on and is hooked on morphine. Is she killing people in a drug induced haze? Is someone trying to frame her? More importantly: will this movie ever get entertaining enough to care?

Well, yeah, in the last 20 minutes, when this movie's version of a killing spree finally begins. Until then it's just an endless and snail-paced account of Gertrude more or less losing her shit, which gets tiresome after a while as there's really nothing else to the plot. There aren't any interesting characters, there's very little mystery (it's obviously either Gertrude or one other character), and even the occasional interesting bits go on for so long that they just become as obnoxious as everything else. At one point a crippled guy is relieved of his crutches and has to make his way up the stairs, and this goes on for what seems like 4 full minutes. Even if this was our hero it would be in dire need of an edit; that he's a rather anonymous character just makes it all the more excruciating.

It's also a very disjointed film; plot points are introduced with a shrug, other things (like the guy on the stairs) go on forever when they could have been cut entirely. Writer/director Giulio Berruti never worked on another narrative film after this as far as I can tell, and it's not hard to see why he wasn't much in demand. It's technically proficient, I guess, but there's no soul to it - it's just THERE. The most interesting elements are subdued - the religious angle doesn't even really have a bearing on anything; it might as well have been set in a hospital or nursing home, since that's what it resembles anyway.

Indeed, the old folks that Gertrude is supposed to be caring for provide the best parts of the flick. The highlight of the film is when she yells at one for taking out her dentures at the dinner table and proceeds to smash the things into bits as the old lady cries - THAT'S the sort of behavior I expect from all nuns, let alone one named a Killer by the film's title! A few of them get knocked off in the final reel, where Berruti finally remembered what kind of movie he was making and offs like 4 people in 20 minutes, with some of that Giallo flare that had been absent throughout the film. Even though it didn't make a lick of sense, I quite liked when Gertrude looks above her and sees a corpse dangling, blood dripping over her as she screams. And of course, the rope holding the body snaps and the body comes down. Alas, Berruti than haphazardly cuts to the next scene, killing the moment.

See that's the thing - it's like he figured the title (which translates to Sister Murders - close enough) and maybe a scene or two were enough for an audience to accept the film. No! You gotta commit to your killer nun movie! I mean, if you cheat on your diet, you don't just nibble some cake or an Oreo - you eat half a goddamn pie and wash it down with a milkshake. There's only enough bad taste and depravity here to justify maybe 20 minutes of boredom, when there's close to 75. But at the same time, those bits of nuttiness keep this from ever being taken seriously, so it just ends up satisfying me on either level.

I was happy with the interview with Berruti, however. In the disc's sole extra, he talks a bit about the cast and how the movie WAS actually based on a real person; a nun who was stealing from the old folks she was hired to care for. He also tells a funny anecdote about how they tricked a real convent into letting them film there by showing them fake script pages, and fiddling with lights and camera setups if a priest came over to see what they were doing (so he'd just get bored and leave). He's not as candid as some of these other Italian guys; he has nothing but nice things to say about everyone - the closest he gets to "dishing dirt" is saying that one of the supporting actresses didn't understand some of her character's actions, which is nothing. But it's a good interview nonetheless, and I'm glad Berruti has opted to stick to documentaries as he seems much more comfortable doing those (though it's odd none of them have found their way to his IMDb page, which stops which this film).

What say you?


Cat People (1982)

APRIL 19, 2012


A remake of a much lauded horror film starring Malcolm McDowell is the last thing I could imagine wanting to see again, however Cat People is one of those movies that I’ve long wanted to see, but not because it was a horror film. No, it’s actually one of the first films produced by none other than Jerry Bruckheimer, before he hooked up with Don Simpson and changed the way we look at explosions. It’s actually the only genre film on his resume, really – some folks have claimed the Pirates films are horror, but come on. There are enough actual horror movies in the world to last a lifetime (or 6 years anyway); we don’t need to pretend that comedic adventure films count just because they occasionally have a skeleton or something.

Anyway, it’s not really recognizable as a Bruckheimer production, though it DOES give off a similar vibe as The Hunger, which was directed by future Bruckheimer collaborator Tony Scott. Not only does it have a Bowie connection (he did this film’s theme song), but both films are highly sexualized romantic dramas set against the backdrop of a traditional monster. The Hunger had vampires, but Cat People is sort of like a werewolf movie, complete with a transformation scene and the obligatory “guy wakes up naked covered in blood” bit. The only difference (besides the obvious wolf/leopard change) is that our “werecats” were born this way, not bitten and changed.

This actually provides the bulk of the story’s main thrust, which surprised me as I thought it was just going to be a sexed up version of the original. The Malcolm McDowell character has no equal in Val Lewton’s original – he plays the brother of Nastassja Kinski's Irena (rest of the important characters’ names are the same), and reveals to her how their curse works. Basically if they fuck they become leopards, and they have to kill someone to turn back into human form (which would be an amazing “problem” for a handsome superhero – he could bang a lady, go out and kill some supervillain, and pretty much have the best life ever). Her only other option is to sleep with her brother (hey-o!), which will remove the need to kill but keep her as a leopard forever. Basically, it’s a shit deal no matter what, because going through life without getting it on is hardly an enticing thought either.

What’s cool is that this still allows the film to more or less follow the basic plot of the original, in that she meets Oliver (John Heard) and falls in love with him but can’t consummate their relationship. She also gets antagonistic toward Alice (Annette O’Toole), Oliver’s coworker – though here they are zoo wardens instead of architects, which gives them a more central presence in the story of a loose leopard killing hookers (that would be McDowell). The passage of time can be a bit vague – at one point Kinski appears to leave New Orleans for months but it might have just been a few days – but I like that they kept the two tied in smaller ways while overall being a very different movie.

Well, with one exception. I liked that they kept in the “love triangle” and such, but the attempt at redoing the pool scene was a misguided choice. Not only does this version not suffer for scare scenes (an early one with Lynn Lowry is quite creepy), making it less essential in the overall scheme of things (the pool scene was one of only 2-3 scares in the original), but it’s also rushed and simply not scary. Plus it’s extraneous; at this point Alice and Ollie hadn’t really shared that connection like they did in the original, so Irena had no reason to be jealous yet. O’Toole disrobes in the process (who DOESN’T swim naked in a public pool?), taking some of the weight off of Kinski (who appears nude for most of the film’s second half, it seems), but apart from a show of equality it doesn’t really fit, nor does it measure up to a scare from 40 years ago. Hopefully when they remake this again in 10 years they’ll either get it right or just not even try. It’s like the Chainsaw remake – they knew better than to try to do a dinner scene.

I actually liked this one’s ending more (spoilers for 30/70 year old movies ahead!). In the original they leave it ambiguous if Irena was a cat person or not, but there’s no such mystery here – we see her in early stages of transformation, even. But instead of dying, her and Oliver make love one last time, and then we cut to sometime later where he and Alice are now together but Irena is confined in their zoo, presumably not allowed to kill anyone and turn back. Oliver feeds her and looks sad – it’s a melancholy but undeniably romantic ending, and resolves everything. Nothing against ambiguous endings in general, but in the original there wasn’t really a lot of action or suspense, as it focused more on the love triangle. This one is a little more well-rounded, is what I mean.

And the score! Loved it. Bowie’s theme was quite good, but Giorgio Moroder’s cues were just incredible, and made me want to run home and pop in my Over The Top DVD to enjoy his work there all over again (but alas, I had to keep watching the films on the list for the next Chiller special I’m doing). And the print was beautiful as well, so the themes weren’t marred by missing frames and warped soundtracks like some older films might suffer from. Universal very rarely delivers anything less than a great print to the New Beverly, and for that I laud them, especially in these increasingly dark times where the studios are ditching their 35mm vaults in favor of inferior digital copies.

It’s a bit long and some of the storytelling is a bit clunky (particularly McDowell’s introduction), but overall I found it to be the right kind of remake, where the concept is the same but it’s otherwise a very different film. You could watch the two back to back and enjoy them both for different reasons, unlike say Psycho where the only reason to watch the remake is to either torture yourself or simply conduct some sort of experiment. A couple years ago I remember reading that a bunch of Lewton’s titles were sold to a new company with the idea of remaking them – not sure if this was in that bunch and/or if that is still in the works, but I’d love to see a few others reinterpreted in a similar manner, where the respect for the source material is carefully balanced with the need to deliver something fresh.

What say you?


Movie & TV Show Preview Widget