Dracula (1974)

MAY 26, 2014


Now that my child is here*, I just have to count the 7-8 years' worth of days until he's old enough to watch horror movies with his old man, giving me a lot of time to think about what I'll show him and when. One thing I definitely want to do is make sure he sees stuff "in order", so that when he sees this pretty good adaptation of Dracula, it will be BEFORE he sees all of the movies (including Coppola's) that ripped off one of its new ideas: retrofitting Lucy (or Mina) into a reincarnation of Dracula's long lost love.

Indeed, since Coppola's film was one of (possibly THE) first one I saw adapted from Stoker's novel, I had assumed it was part of the story until I actually read it in college (especially when obvious inspirations, like Vampire in Brooklyn, carried over this concept). But unless my research has failed me, the idea started with this 1973 film from Dan Curtis, who was basically melding his own Dark Shadows ideas with the source material (way to branch out, buddy!). Coppola also ripped off the Vlad the Impaler idea, so for a TV movie that's premiere got preempted by a real world event (Spiro Agnew resigning), it's had remarkable impact on the undying, always strangely plotted story of a young man who travels to Transylvania and proceeds to disappear within the narrative.

Harker's even more backgrounded than usual here; Arthur Holmwood takes on the bulk of his role (including joining Van Helsing for the final battle), leaving Harker an afterthought before the halfway point. They also skip the Demeter almost entirely, opting for a "5 weeks later" title card and a single shot of the beached ship, so the already clunky shifting of protagonists is even more of an issue as Harker just all but disappears as a result (he briefly returns as a vampire). A voiceover only briefly explains the Demeter's significance ("No one on board", etc), but since I, like probably everyone (maybe even my son - I think I'll start with the Langella/Badham, if not the original Lugosi/Browning) has seen multiple Dracula movies, my mind filled in the blanks and kind of just went with it. Sort of like when you're watching one of the Harry Potter movies and mentally filling in the little side stories and character beats that weren't actually in the film.

Otherwise (and again, this is an issue stemming from the book; it's an ensemble piece where only 1/3 of the characters are worthy of the limelight) this one's pretty good. Maybe a bit TOO straightforward at times, but having just rewatched Nosferatu (Herzog version), I appreciated that element - I don't DISLIKE that film but I have to be in a certain mood to watch a bunch of folks walking around endlessly and what not. Jack Palance also made for a fine Count; I quite loved him in the "human" scenes (i.e. talking to Harker about Carfax), as he brought a fine weariness to it without being all creepy or weird. Another thing about Nosferatu - the makeup is awesome but Harker is way too OK with this bat-ghoul thing talking to him, so it's nice to see this scene play out sans distraction.

The rest of the cast was solid as well. Penelope Horner made for a fetching Mina, and I liked that Nigel Davenport as Van Helsing looked more like a gruff constable than a proper gent like Cushing (or kook like Hopkins). Curtis didn't rope in any of his Shadows stars (at least, none that I'm aware of), so even though he's borrowing some of Barnabas' character beats, I didn't think about that show too much. If anything I was more reminded of Hammer films - their style (sets, colors, lighting, etc) were clearly an inspiration on Curtis here, and since Hammer was kind of floundering at this point it's kind of funny that another group entirely was making something more up to their standards.

MPI released the film on Blu for the first time this week, offering a new transfer that is quite good - it's either funny or sad to see a television production given better treatment than some megabudget Hollywood films (I have a pristine 2K transfer of this but I'm stuck with a non-anamorphic DVD of The Abyss?). There are a few extras as well, obviously from a previous release as both Jack Palance and Dan Curtis both died in 2006, but their interviews are enjoyable all the same. Palance talks about his hesitance to take the role and how he approached it; it's a little dry but it's rare to see this sort of thing with the Oscar winner (though it does seem to be cribbed from a longer, career-spanning interview. Curtis' interview is even shorter but more thorough - he mutters about being ripped off by Coppola and keeps trashing it (when he comments about werewolves, it seems he's just taking another shot at the 1992 film's transformations), so it's pretty amusing. A collection of outtakes and, hilariously, a bunch of TV edits are offered as well (I had to laugh in the latter's case since NBC's Hannibal season finale just topped most R rated fare in the blood department), along with the trailer. The film's subtitles are also a bonus feature of a sort; I had them on frequently (volume low so as not to wake the baby when applicable - this took a few sittings to watch, obviously) and I was consistently delighted that the score was described. "Eerie music" "Sad, romantic music", etc. It's a good score, I should mention - it's even advertised at the end of the movie, rare for a television production.

On that note, I assume this was a theatrical release in some territories; honestly it could have played in theaters here too - it's a bit workmanlike, but again, sometimes it's nice to see a Dracula movie that's just "Dracula", not Dracula in space, Dracula in New York, Dracula turns into a CGI Mantis, etc. And I've never shined much to Curtis' body of work, so I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did.

What say you?

*I know I said I wouldn't be reviewing anything here for a while, but for some reason I thought this Dracula was from 1979 and planned to do a piece on Badass about all four of that year's Drac films (the Langella, Love at First Bite, and Herzog's Nosferatu being the others), but since this was 1974 that wouldn't work. So that piece (minus this one) will go up as the next Crypt, and you guys get a bonus review after all! Everyone wins very little.


A New Beginning comes from Final Chapter's end, or something

MAY 22, 2014


Last year, when I retired the daily part of Horror Movie A Day, I gave all of you wonderful folks a bunch of reasons why: getting a bit tired of repeating myself, wanting to explore other avenues, reduced amount of time, etc. But there was another one I didn't really share publicly (to my memory): I wanted to start a family. I've been married for almost 10 years now and while we've talked about kids a lot, we never quite found the best time to do it (with that couple at the beginning of Idiocracy constantly in my head). But around August of last year we started "trying" (not a single joke involving my wife and a euphemism for sex "A Day", please) and one night in October she surprised me with the good news.

According to both of our OBGYNs (the first one wasn't very personable) our little guy was due around June 14th, which scared me because if he came a day early it'd be FRIDAY the 13th, and thus of course I'd have to endure every lame "Surprised you didn't name him Jason!" joke under the sun for the rest of my life. Well, apparently the kid wanted to make sure it wasn't even close, and after a night of what we thought was just the obvious discomfort of being well along in her pregnancy, my wife went to the hospital just to make sure it was normal, only for the nurse to tell us that she was fully dilated (!) and thus we'd be going home with our baby.

90 or so rather shell-shocked minutes after arriving at the hospital (with my wife not even wanting the wheelchair!), William "Will" Robert (named after my uncle and father, respectively) Collins was welcomed into the world by a very confused mom and a dad who had to sadly inform his horror trivia teammates that he wouldn't be able to make the game that night.

I joke, but it's truly surreal how many emails and phone calls I had to make about things I had planned over the next few weeks (some might say I was "going all out" while I still could - I even had requested a press pass to that Great Horror Campout thing in 2 weeks - the request was approved right around the time I was finishing my first diaper change), as everyone told us the first baby was usually late, if anything. I should note that he had reached full term of 37 weeks on that day (May 22), so while he's a little smaller than he'd be if he popped out on time, he's perfectly healthy and has passed all of his tests so far. His main problem is that he looks exactly like his goofy dad (I know people say that, but check out the comparison photo my sister made) and had to come home to an apartment that wasn't quite ready for him (luckily the bassinet and changing table WERE set up, as was the car seat).

So why am I telling you all of this? Well it's been 3 days and this post took 4 sittings to write. I'm sure some of you have kids and thus totally understand, but for those who don't - you truly can't comprehend not only how time consuming the little guy can be, but how you can't even think about what you're not doing anymore (I guess the new X-Men is great, but I can't even be bothered to read a review to know what I'm missing). I know I didn't do as many updates as I originally planned when I "retired", but even THAT much seems an insurmountable task at this juncture. Some folks are smart enough to have family nearby when they have a baby - our moms, siblings, etc are all 3000 miles away. Long story short, I'm afraid this site is going to get even quieter for a while. Even if I managed to find time to watch something beyond my Netflix assignments (which are nice for the paycheck, but more often than not are awful movies I can barely finish, let along find the energy to write about even BEFORE my bundle of joy arrived), the odds of finding time or even the brainpower* to write about it are so slim that it's not even worth the optimism. I don't even know if I can continue doing my New Bev screenings - I might just do the intro and then rush back home, if that.

But I'll be (hopefully!) still doing my Collins Crypt articles for Badass to keep from getting rusty, and when things settle down(ish) I'd love to pop in and surprise whoever's still reading this site with a fresh review. And since they take 20 seconds (and I can hold my phone with one hand while the baby's in the other) I'm still tweeting my usual nonsense (as is Will - follow @BabyCollins23 for some silliness), so at least I'm around in some capacity. But for now, my main concern is raising a kid who won't make the same mistakes I did, and by that I mean he'll appreciate Halloween III the first time he sees it instead of joining the "Where's Myers?" bandwagon. Wish me luck!

*Ask me how many times I couldn't remember why I was in a particular aisle when I went to the grocery store... for 3 things. I also went to Babies R Us to take advantage of a buy one get one free sale, and picked up 3 of the items in question leaving the second free one behind.


Godzilla (2014)

MAY 16, 2014


I, like every single person with a brain cell that is living on planet Earth, thoroughly disliked the 1998 Godzilla, and as a result I wasn't inspired to watch any of the originals that I had missed along the way. I had seen bits and pieces of a few of them thanks to Sunday morning cable broadcasts, but even now, 16 years later (Jesus that makes me feel old) I've seen very few of them. However, this new Godzilla (2014) has corrected that, as it was not only enjoyable on its own but helped me understand WHY people love these movies so much, and using my good friend Evan's guide that he posted, will be doing my best to catch up over the next few months - maybe I'll even review a few of them for y'all!

The main thing that makes this movie work as well as it does, oddly enough, is a "lack" of giant monster action. Don't worry, several cities are destroyed by the time it ends, but it's not "disaster porn" like most big budget movies of this type are nowadays. Director Gareth Edwards is smart enough to know that audiences have seen enough buildings get knocked over in the past few years, and so he keeps that sort of "Let's pull back and admire the view of what is assuredly causing massive casualties of innocent people!" thinking to a minimum. Like any good big monster movie, he teases us with glimpses of his creation, but even after G has been revealed in full, he keeps things grounded, always showing us what's going on from the perspective of someone on the ground. One of the (many) problems I had with Pacific Rim* was that it was often impossible to get a good sense of the scale (especially during the underwater final battle, where they're fighting what's supposedly the biggest Kaiju yet but it looked pretty much the same), but that's never the case here. Whether it's from one of the hero characters or just some anonymous guy who opted to stay in his office, we always see it through a human's eyes, which means we can't usually see the entire beast at once. It's a tail, or a scale on his back, or a foot... we're always in awe of truly how massive this thing is.

Of course, this might lead to some impatience for audience members who are children (technically and/or mentally). There's a good 40 minutes or so before anything gets destroyed, and Edwards doesn't want you to be numb to his money shots before the final battle. Again, we stay with humans, so when G faces off against a "Muto" (a bat/spider thing that serves as the movie's true villain/obligatory other monster for Godzilla to fight, another thing Emmerich and Devlin bungled), we only see it for a couple seconds before the human being we're with (Elizabeth Olsen, in this case, perhaps cast to soften the blow in this exact moment - it's hard to argue with keeping a camera pointed at her) ducks inside and obscures our view on the monster bashing. We also see television footage of destruction or aftermath more often than not - again, this isn't a movie obsessed with showing us shot after shot of CGI debris crumbling down around us. So for the final battle, when Edwards lets them at each other in full widescreen glory, it's something WE HAVEN'T REALLY SEEN YET, a concept that is forever lost on Bay, Emmerich, etc.

It's ironic, then, that he succeeds by sticking with the humans more often than not that the movie works despite the characters not being particularly interesting. Aaron Johnson is the main star, and for the life of me I can't see what this guy's appeal is; he's got a Hanksian everyman look to him, which is fine, but he's just not that exciting to watch (I couldn't help but think of his Savages costar Taylor Kitsch; he's a much more interesting presence to me, and it's a shame HIS shot at starring in a big budget invasion movie was the lousy Battleship). His character also lacks any real purpose beyond a knack for mirroring the monsters' journey from Japan to San Francisco; he's one of those bomb-defusing guys (like in Hurt Locker) but the movie never has him defuse a bomb - he's SUPPOSED to do one but something gets stuck and he just helps the older soldiers go with Plan B, which is taking out to the ocean and letting it detonate away from the populace. The ability to just say "OK let me help" and do what everyone else is doing is a skill even I possess, so I'm basically just as qualified to be the hero in this movie (incidentally, the opening titles are fantastic and way more inventive than anything I would have come up with). There's also a bit where he and like 15 other soldiers parajump onto Godzilla (you've seen the sequence in the trailers), but bizarrely we lose track of all of them except Johnson, who lands expertly despite, you know, not being a parajumper, as far as we know. Why not have someone land on the big guy and have to clamber his way down or something? Why even bother with the jump if they're just going to cut to everyone elsewhere later on anyway?

Then again maybe this stuff was shown and just edited. It's about two hours long, which is all it SHOULD be, but that counters the thinking of every big studio action movie of late, which demands that these things be 145-150 minutes no matter what. Olsen's role has seemingly been trimmed as well; at one point she's inside the hospital helping people, and then the next time we see her she's for some reason out on the streets, about to run away from the giant monster she already knew was rampaging around - why did she go outside? (FIRST ACT SPOILER AHEAD!!!!) But the real bummer is Bryan Cranston; I don't think we lost much of his role, it just didn't seem to be that big to begin with; his entire character arc relies on proving to the world that there's a SOMETHING out there, and once they know he's right, well... let's just say he doesn't need to be in the movie anymore, and thus, er, *leaves*.

Johnson does figure into one of the movie's best (and scariest!) scenes, where he's on a train with a nuke and has to go with a couple other soldiers to investigate the bridge's integrity before proceeding. Naturally, one of the monsters shows up, leading to a pretty tense bit where they're trying to avoid detection and also keep the monster from destroying the bridge so that they can continue on their mission to kill it. If we're comparing to Jurassic Park, this would be akin to the first T-Rex sequence in the jeep, with lots of "stay still" and unnerving closeups (and of course, a device that could blow their cover; the flashlight there, a crackling radio here). Bizarrely (SPOILER, SORT OF, AHEAD), the movie isn't interested in offing any of its human characters after the first half hour or so, so there isn't much tension for any of the action sequences, but this is an exception (Johnson's fellow soldiers being fair game). This is actually one of the only things that it has in common with the 1998 piece of shit; there's a bunch of characters that could have died to justify their existence, but they're all left standing at the end.

That said, there are two interesting characters here; one is Ken Watanabe as the obligatory scientist who knows better than the military folk. He lost his father at Hiroshima, and thus takes it personally when the army guys want to nuke the monsters to hell. His much more crowd-pleasing option is of course, the right one - "Let them fight". I dunno HOW he knows this, but he knows Godzilla will wake up from wherever he is, kick the shit out of the Mutos, and then go back to sleep after, which may result in some destruction (it's not like Godzilla CARES about the humans, after all) but will at least prevent more nuclear chaos. The other good character is Head Military Guy, played by David Strathairn with his usual stern authority, but what I liked about him is that he wasn't the usual gung-ho asshole that laughs at the science folk - he actively seeks out their advice and is legit torn between the two options. On that point, while they didn't have much to do, I liked that Johnson and Olsen's characters were a happily married couple, not the usual estranged one that uses this horrific disaster to realize they still love each other and should give it another chance.

The FX are, unsurprisingly, incredible - Edwards did a great job on his own computer for Monsters (which I hope more people are checking out, now), so with 200m at his disposal they should be among the best ever, and he doesn't disappoint. In addition to just LOOKING great, the monsters have a weight to them that most big budget action movies often lack (the Transformers films are notoriously awful for this); when one of them stumbles you can feel the impact, and they aren't graceful, another problem with most CGI beasties that move too perfectly to ever be believable. So you should do the filmmakers and FX wizards a favor and NOT see the film in 3D, as it's pretty bad and most certainly not worth the extra dough (and I say this as someone who likes the "gimmick" when it's properly applied). It's a post-conversion, and while I'm never truly impressed with any of them they have improved over the past 4 years, but this is susceptible to all of their usual problems: strange glitching whenever people run past the foreground, flat faces giving off a "pop up book" look to the proceedings, and (more than often) an obvious difference when a CGI effect is in the shot with an actor (as the CGI can have the 3D effect properly applied, unlike the traditionally shot live action portion). And when nothing is going on, you won't even notice any effect at all anyway, something that wouldn't be the case if it was shot with 3D cameras, as even the "boringest" shot will offer something impressive when properly filmed. The DP for the film has urged people to see it in 2D, saying that they didn't shoot planning for the extra dimension later like some converts are, and he is 100% correct.

The emphasis on small-scale action as opposed to toy-selling "hero" moments might mean the kids are a bit bored, but I for one walked away quite impressed that Warner and co. opted to aim their giant monster movie at adults. It was only a year ago that they made the kids' version (Pacific Rim), so there's nothing for them to complain about. If you want mindless action for your inner or actual 9 year old, you have that movie. If you want something a little more impressive and "adult", but still quite fun (I cheered two or three times; there's a Godzilla fire breath moment that should make ANYONE applaud, even if this is their first Godzilla movie and they weren't aware that it was something he could do), they got you covered, and have done a fine job of wiping away the stink of the last remake AND the summer's previous big budget action spectacle ("He shot at me he lied to me....").

What say you?

*I enjoyed it as a decent summer time-killer, but I expected much more from Guillermo.


Rosemary's Baby (2014)

MAY 11/15, 2014


OK, The Exorcist, you're pretty much the only one left. Any list of the "Top 5 horror movies of all time" would likely include Rosemary's Baby, and now it (like fellow "greats" The Omen, The Shining, Halloween, and Psycho*) has been remade, albeit as a TV miniseries. Usually I'm pretty lenient when it comes to remakes, especially when it's a "remake" of a film that's based on a novel - my philosophy is, you don't consider any Dracula movie that comes along to be a "remake" of a Bela Lugosi film, so why should it be any different for The Thing or whatever? But the Polanski version of Rosemary's Baby (based on a book by Ira Levin) is unusual in this field in that he stayed almost precisely with the original text, not being aware that it was OK to change things, as it was his first adaptation. So that, in addition to the movie's much deserved stature as one of the best horror films of all time, makes any attempt at a redo rather puzzling: why bother? They can't use the "we're sticking more closely with the book" excuse (usually a bullshit one) that others can get away with, and it's not Polanski screwed anything up the first time.

To its credit, the filmmakers behind this version DO try to make their own movie; in addition to the new plot points and characters the extra hour affords them, they've changed the locale (Paris), the jobs (Guy is a writer now), and even the dynamic with regards to the Castavets (more on that later). Unfortunately, the movie they made is dreadfully dull and almost entirely suspense-free; I spent most of the time watching wondering who exactly the audience for the movie was, as it seemingly couldn't possibly intrigue fans of the original (or the book) OR newcomers. Fans would be annoyed by the changes, drawn out plot points (if you watched it live you had to wait 2 hours just for the "This is really happening!" moment, at which point you'd have to wait four days to see what happened next since that was the break point in this two-parter), and general "They don't GET it" feeling it will provide, while newcomers will merely be bored, watching without being armed with the knowledge that things eventually get more interesting.

Indeed, part 2 was an improvement over part 1, but by then it was too late anyway. The first half was a complete disaster; I can happily look at Zoe Saldana all day normally, but director Agnieszka Holland (an odd choice; I guess they thought this story should only be adapted by Polish directors?) and screenwriters James Wong (NBC's shortlived The Event) and Scott Abbott (Queen of the Damned) turned this into a chore, tossing her around various Paris locales and having her occasionally freak out or faint, or going from sickly and miserable to cheerful and trusting of her neighbors with no rhyme or reason. Abbott and Wong did not write it together it seems (dropping some trivia on y'all here: their writing credit is denoted with an "AND", which means they worked separately, an ampersand "&" would mean they wrote together), but I began to wonder if one man actually rewrote the other, or if they both wrote their own versions and Holland just grabbed pages from both at random to assemble her film.

See, as I mentioned earlier, the dynamic between Rosemary & Guy and the Castavets is different from the original; the John Cassavetes version of Guy found his neighbors to be weirdos at first, but gradually depended on them more and more, and while he seemed to harbor some regret over his actions at the very end (when he turns away, post birth), he was with them until that point, as Rosemary grew more and more mistrusting. Here, there's a period where he's at odds with Roman (Jason Isaacs); there's a baby shower scene where Rosemary is all grateful to them, but he's cold and has a face-off with Roman in the bathroom - this momentarily gave me hope (well, as much hope as I could muster three hours into the damn thing) that they'd do something really different and, even if it didn't work, give us a new experience for the grand finale. But alas, before long he's back on their side with her against them, and the movie's final 20 minutes or so play out almost word for word as the 1968 one did, save for a useless epilogue.

Oh, and (spoiler) a few shots of the baby, something Polanski left up to our imagination. This isn't a "he did it so you must do it too!" thing that I'm annoyed by (if anything I like remakes that do as much different as possible while retaining the basic story), but it's just dumb, because they retain the "He has his father's eyes" thing and when we see the baby it's just that the eyes are really blue. It's not a cheat, as the actor playing the Devil has striking blue eyes (indeed, he is credited as "Blue-eyed man"), but it's a giant shrug of a "reveal", and again, I can't imagine who'd be satisfied with this. The credits say that the movie is based on both the original novel and Levin's batshit sequel "Son of Rosemary" (where the now grown baby has 12 disciples and a betrayer named "Judith"!), which I kept hoping would actually play into the movie somehow, but ultimately, it just does the same thing as the original, albeit in nearly twice the time (again, with commercials).

So what do they do to fill up that other time? Well, lots of dream sequences, a friend for Rosemary (who meets her end in a scene that MUST have come from Wong's part of the script, as it's a Final Destination-y sequence of accidents resulting in a gruesome/funny demise), and other stupid stuff like that, plus a lengthy portion at the top where we have to get Rosemary and Guy into the building next to the Castavets. Rather than just have them move in so they can, you know, get on with the goddamn plot, first we meet them in LA, where she has a miscarriage. Then they go to Paris, and live in a dinky apartment. Then Rosemary gets robbed, and finds another wallet, which leads her to the Castavets, who invite them to a party and give them a cat, and then their apartment catches on fire, so finally THEN, some 40 minutes or so in, our protagonists move next door to the antagonists so we can start the part of the movie anyone who knows the story knows is going to happen. Going into prequel territory can actually work sometimes (it's working out great for Hannibal, which was bizarrely not advertised very much during the movie even though it should attract the same audience), but none of this really has any weight, because it's all just getting pieces into place and delaying the inevitable without giving us anything to really chew on in the meantime.

Another baffling choice was to cast Jason Isaacs as Roman. I love the guy, but unlike the original version of the character, you'll never understand why Rosemary OR Guy would ever trust him - he's Lucius goddamn Malfoy! He LOOKS sinister and even acts it, with his acts of generosity always coming off in the same way a mobster might when he offers to protect your business, before reminding you that you owe him. I kept thinking that they were just trying to fool us; maybe he'd turn out to be a mole within the group or something (or just doing like Snape, acting evil just to gain the real threat's trust), but no. It's just yet another of the many decisions that I don't disagree with just on principle, only on execution.

And that's the thing - I was actually kind of intrigued by the idea of doing a modern update of this story. All of my favorite horror movies (Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw, and even Carpenter's The Thing, sort of) have been remade, so it's not like I can get mad about one I quite like but probably wouldn't place in my top 50 all time favorite films (just horror, sure, but spanning all genres - there would probably only be like 10 horror films in there, actually). Plus, it's 46 years old at this point; we live in a world where we get remakes in under 20 years sometimes (or less if you go beyond horror; Amazing Spider-Man came along a mere 10 years after Raimi's version), so it's not like they were jumping the gun on anything. Also, and maybe this is most important (so of course I'll bury it at the end of my review), my own son will be born in just four weeks, and it's getting to the point where I get choked up over even the SLIGHTEST upsetting parent/baby issue in a movie or show because I'm so excited/worried about the upcoming arrival. So there's never been a better time for me to get taken in by this story, but it was so flat and uninvolving, I barely ever even made the connection. I think the extent of my identifying with the movie was noting that having a baby shower on a ship was a weird idea since they'd have a lot of gifts, remembering that it took me a while to bring ours in from the car. That's just a total failure on their part.

Based on the ratings, you all skipped this thing, and I doubt they'll rerun it anytime soon. I'm sure it'll end up on disc someday, but I urge you to avoid it unless you're a Saldana completist. It's possible that someone can update the story and do a great job with it, something even the people who consider Polanski's version to be their favorite movie of all time can at least respect if not love, but this certainly ain't it. Even the TV version of The Shining managed to get a few things right; this is just a complete waste of time that seems hellbent on reinforcing purists' belief that it was an awful idea to even try.

What say you?

*Silence of the Lambs is probably safe for a while as well thanks to rights issues; the TV show might do a VERSION of it, but it'll be without Clarice.


Doc Of The Dead (2014)

MAY 5, 2014


If a documentary's worth was measured in the number of A-list talking heads it got to discuss its subject, then Doc of the Dead would be a must-see. Over 80 or so minutes you get to hear Bruce Campbell, George Romero, Stuart Gordon, Simon Pegg, and even Alex Cox give their thoughts on the surging popularity of the zombie sub-genre, its history, and how their own contributions fit into this particular world (Campbell stresses that zombies and Deadites are different, but that the Evil Dead films have both). Unfortunately for its filmmakers, this is NOT how we judge a doc (or, at least, we shouldn't), but rather by how well it explores its topic or presents a new take on the subject - and in this regard it falls flat.

Now to be fair, I've read more on this topic and seen more films in the zombie sub-genre than the average person, so I don't go in expecting to learn much or even find out about an older film I missed along the way, though it's always a nice bonus if I do. For example, Going to Pieces explored the slasher sub-genre, which I'm even MORE "tuned into", and there were still a few nuggets of info I never knew before, and it was the first time I heard about Pieces, funnily enough. But apart from some indies that don't look all that exciting, there was nothing here to discover; if anything there were some major oversights - not sure how Plague of the Zombies (1966, i.e. a couple years before NOTLD) got skipped over, or why Zombieland wasn't given any credit for helping to bring them to the mainstream. To be fair, it's more of an exploration of all kinds of zombie culture (books, the popularity of "zombie walks", etc), but when they spend time going into non essential elements like the Big Daddy zombie from Land of the Dead, it's strange to see such glaring oversights when they're specifically focusing on how zombies made the transition from voodoo-driven "drones" in films like White Zombie to the overexposed phenomenon they are today.

But that's also part of the problem - the movie lacks focus, attempting to cover far too many things within a 90 minute feature. Worse, there's no flow to the topics at all; they will just suddenly drop one topic and go into another. I get why you'd want to get to footage of (blockbuster) World War Z as soon as possible, but why do they bring up the real world voodoo practices (one of the film's better segments) long after they discuss White Zombie and the like? Wouldn't it make more sense to segue from the real world practices to the films that drew from these traditions, instead of going back nearly a half hour later? And why does the entire last 20 minutes or so focus on zombie survivalist folks, a topic likely to bore an audience that was drawn in by the likes of Romero and Pegg (who barely appear at this point)? It's funny to see Tom Savini dismiss them for being "prepared" for a zombie outbreak with their supplies and bunkers, but for rational thinking folks, all this does is give them an excuse to shut the movie off prematurely.

And again, by jumping around so much, they can't really dig deep into any given topic, so I'm not even sure who the audience for the movie is. I joked on Twitter that it was probably for the people who still need that scene in a zombie movie where they have to "figure out" that a shot to the head is the only way to do them in (usually, with respect to Return of the Living Dead), but that's actually kind of true. If you've seen maybe one zombie movie or heard good things about Walking Dead (which, unsurprisingly, is given lots of attention), it might be an OK primer for what is a very expansive topic, but they don't make a strong enough case for why they've endured, or why any of the specific things are important. Italian zombie movies are skipped entirely, so if you didn't know better this movie would have you believe that George Romero's Dead films were pretty much the only ones that existed between 1968 and 2002 (when 28 Days Later and Resident Evil came along), and they barely even make a case for why HIS films are so significant (Dawn in particular is glossed over). There's very little in the way of critical analysis of the sub-genre's heavy-hitters; if the movie is aimed at complete n00bs on the subject, fine - but why aren't you making an effort to explain why so many people worship at the altar of Dawn of the Dead?

See, that's my problem with these "jack of all trades, master of none" style documentaries - it's fine to show that there's more to zombies than just some old movies and an AMC show, but when you're just scratching the surface, there has to be something in there to convince the audience to dig deeper on their own. Had I not known anything about the undead, and just watched this movie, I'd walk away with the understanding that people sure like zombies, but precious little explanation WHY. And due to all of the topic skipping, I wouldn't even know where to start to learn more - they don't even differentiate between the value of something like Day of the Dead and the XXX Walking Dead parody (which features Rick convincing Carl to fuck a zombie). Speaking of clips, it seems the director didn't take advantage of the fair use law when it comes to making his points; how else to explain why his examples of werewolf and slasher films are Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory and Scream Bloody Murder - hardly the sort of "go-to" examples one would use unless all they had their disposal was a Mill Creek budget pack. Also, not for nothing, but getting Max Brooks for your film and showing clips from World War Z without going into how much different the film is from his book just seems like a giant wasted opportunity.

That's actually the movie in a nutshell: there are so many topics that could probably make for a good doc on their own, and Doc of the Dead glosses over them in favor of just throwing more shit at us (like Campbell officiating a zombie wedding). It's fun at times, but by refusing to spend more than 5 minutes on anything before abruptly jumping into another topic, it serves no real purpose. It's basically 90 minutes of scattered anecdotes; if you are still inclined to check it out, know you can hit the chapter skip button (or just shut it off after a while) and you won't really miss out on anything of significant value.

What say you?


Blood Glacier (2013)

APRIL 30, 2014


Halfway or so through Blood Glacier I realized something kind of amusing: it was a better remake/prequel of The Thing than the actual one we got in 2011. It's an ecologically based monster instead of an alien, but it's impossible to ignore the similarities: a research team in the middle of a frozen nowhere is besieged by a variety of monsters with almost no chance of escape, and there's even a scene where three men are awkwardly sat on a couch listening to another talk, framed exactly like the one in Carpenter's film (albeit without such a glorious punchline). Oh, and dog lovers might want to steer clear or at least keep a finger near the fast forward button if watching at home, just fair warning. A bit of The Mist creeps its way in as well, making this a feast for monster movie fans - it draws from the best while still giving us something we haven't seen before.

The title is kind of misleading, however - the titular glacier is not the real menace of the film, but instead where it originated. I had visions of a Blob like glacier terrorizing our heroes (sort of like THIS!), but what happens is, the "blood" that oozes from the glacier infects people and wildlife, which is why we get a variety of creatures - director Martin Kren offers us something different in nearly every big sequence, from insects to slug like things to a giant condor like thing. Any one of these infected creatures would make for an intriguing movie villain, but by offering them all (and others) it keeps you on your toes and pumps up the variety in a surprising way. It's sort of like Frogs in that regard; they were hardly the only antagonist (or would it be protagonist?) in that movie, letting turtles and snakes and whatever else get in on the action.

Another thing I appreciated was that it doesn't get too preachy with the ecological message. Some text at the beginning is the most direct the film gets to placing blame anywhere; in the narrative itself it's an issue they have to deal with, and nothing more. We get an explanation for HOW it's formed (infected blood mixing in the stomach with other things the host body ate, producing a new organism - it's awesome), but no specific party is to blame for the toxin (and it's HUMANITY'S fault that the ice has melted enough to set it free). Had they gone the Prophecy (bear, not angel) route and introduced a human villain specifically responsible for the monster, I don't think it would work nearly as well as it does. That said, I would love to see more eco-horror; the 70s produced its fair share of them, but there haven't been many since. With all the issues we deal with now (and more scientific proof that they're not just theoretical fears), I think the sub-sub-genre can really thrive, but it needs something bigger than a German-language monster movie (or a found footage movie dumped by Blumhouse) to really come to prominence. Maybe Godzilla can kinda sorta pave the way?

But really, the film's strength is that it does things right. The glacier is found within the first ten minutes, after we've been introduced to some (not all) of our protagonists. There's a bit of humor, some suspense, some suspense WITH humor (I don't know if there's an award for best pissing scene in a horror, or best punchline to said pissing, but if so this movie's got a lock on the win), and a big cast of folks (of different ages, but thankfully no kids) that Kren isn't trying to kill seconds after their introduction, putting this firmly alongside Tremors as the best kind of monster movie. You don't want to see anyone die, and the filmmakers let them escape the monsters time and time again, peppering a few deaths along the way to keep the stakes high, but never reducing it down to people you know will live.

And the scenery keeps changing as often as the monsters, as we divide our time between the group at the science base and a motley group making their way there (including the ex wife of one of the base guys, giving it some human drama that, shockingly, actually benefits the movie instead of dragging it down, though to get into specifics would be spoiler territory). So you'll get some time at the base, maybe a quick scare, and then it's off to the others who are dealing with their own problems (read: different monsters). They don't all meet up until almost the one hour mark, which works splendidly - by then we are invested in the situation that spending the rest of the time in one spot isn't an issue. In fact, I only had one issue of note, but it's at the very end and thus I can't get into it for fear of spoilers (it's a payoff to the human drama thing I mentioned earlier, but a very odd one that should result in too many questions from the other characters).

That's it though! Everything else worked as intended, and I had a damn fun time watching - even the appearance of the title was enjoyable! Kren's previous film, Rammbock, was enjoyable but too slight (64 minutes with credits) to really make an impression, so this is a much better showcase of his talents, offering an exciting story in a sub-genre that isn't overused, some unique monsters (a blend of CGI and practical), and a few deaths that rival the best of the Feast series. IFC is putting it out, which means you probably won't be able to see it theatrically unless you live in a big city - but if you're one of those lucky folks grab a bunch of friends and enjoy on the big screen. Otherwise just settle for VOD or whatever; it's worth the cost.

What say you?


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