Monday, December 31, 2012

Fangoria Flashbacks: 1995

1995 was a fairly bad year for the genre as the promise that late 1994 showed petered out quite rapidly.  Fangoria pressed forward though with a solid run of issues plus a fairly big cosmetic change.

We kick things off with issue 140 and it's fairly well-packed with stuff on the big screen debut of Tales Fr\om the Crypt in the form of the pretty fun splat fest Demon KnightLord of Illusions coverage continues along with coverage of Candyman 2, an interview with Jeff Goldblum, an interview with John Carpenter concerning In the Mouth of Madness and his Village of the Damned remake, a fun piece on horror-themed pinball games, results from the third Chainsaw Awards show and a few other neat things.

Issie 140 is a solid beginning to the year.

141 presents us with a bit of a format change as the magazine switches over to square binding, Starlog did the same thing around this time as well.  It will last until 2001.

As far as actual content goes, we get a solid batch of articles (given how lame the year's lineup is this is nothing short of miraculous) covering new stuff like
Hellraiser IV (dear lord); adaptations of Stephen King's The Mangler and Dean Koontz's Hideaway, Showtime's revival of The Outer Limits, more on the continuing saga of Lord of Illusions and a look at the Dustin Hoffman flick Outbreak.

The highlight though is a nice retrospective on the Lucio Fulci classic The Beyond.  Thank god for that and the video game column otherwise I might have thought the issue was some sort of prank.  The magazine is good this year but the slate of films sure as hell isn't.

Things get better (in theory) with issue 142 with some more X-Files coverage, a good retrospective piece on Alligator and a decent article on Tales From the Hood.  There are a bunch of other films covered, most of them low budget flicks...Another trend we will see in this run.  It's a good issue, though. 
We enter the spring with 143 and on the plus side, the new John Carpenter film makes the cover.  The downside it that it's his rather crappy Village of the Damned remake.  The coverage is good though as is the first look at some of the summer horror flicks like Species and naturally, more X-Files stuff.  I swear, if it wasn't for that show half the issues in this year would have been padded with ads.
The summer slump hits us full in the face with 145 as Species gets front and center while the issue is padded out with stuff on Judge Dredd, Congo  and Batman Forever.  Now I will grant you, there are certain circumstances where watching one or more of those three movies could be considered horrifying (though I kind of dig them in their own ways) but here they just come off as blatant filler.  Thank goodness the articles are good.
145 is not much better as we get little in the way of horror stuff outside of Species but we do get some pretty good Godzilla coverage (his latest film at the time was actually pretty good) and an early look at the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn.  Yes, one of the highlights of the issue comes from the damned coming attractions bit on page 8.  Have I mentioned what a bad year for horror 1995 was?

I...I think you can guess what I'm going to write about this.  Good, well written articles; tons of filler, X-Files, random Clive Barker articles. 

You would think things would get better with a piece on the latest Halloween movie and it is good...But the overall debacle that the film turned into sort of takes away from the quality.  There's some good TV coverage and a look at the fourth Texas Chainsaw Massacre film.  There is one great element though as producer Charles Sellier (The Boogens and Silent Night Deadly Night) goes over his career.  It's a great piece and damn near saves the issue.

The year is salvaged though the next two issues.  148 has an awesome article on From Dusk Till Dawn as well as the latest Stuart Gordon flick Castle Freak.  More X-Files coverage and a cover story on the awful Eddie Murphy/Wes Craven team-up Vampire in Brooklyn fleshes the issue out.
The year comes to a merciful end with a great cover story on From Dusk Till Dawn; more on Castle Freak and a batch of articles on Eurohorror (can't go wrong with a little Argento).

1995 was, to be blunt, an awful year for the genre.  Happily though, Fangoria stayed fairly solid though the summer needed some serious padding (as it will next year).  1996 will be better though as the genre will come roaring back.

Coming Soon: Fangoria 1996

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite Era: Slap Shot (1977)

Along with The Bad News Bears, Slap Shot set the template for raunchy sports comedies in the 80's and 90's: A down on their luck bunch of flakes, losers and wackos (with some capable guys thrown in for texture), usually led by a crusty coach against an opposing team of complete and total jerks.  Sometimes they'd win, sometimes not but they would always do things their way.

In Slap Shot the sport is hockey; the team (a minor league team called the Chiefs) is led by Paul Newman in one of his best performances (to say nothing of underrated) and the team goes from the cellar to the top by way of embracing the inherent violence and mayhem, of the sport.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The film is brilliantly directed by George Roy Hill who also teamed with Newman for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.  Equally spot on is the script by Nancy Dowd.  Fresh, funny and vulgar it's one of the best written sports films.
  • The first scene is rather clever in that it gives the viewer a few hockey terms that pop up, even more clever is that all the moves referenced are dirty.
  • I also have to love the late seventies hairstyles on display.  Good lord, huge mutton chops and white guys with Afros.  Classic.
  • The first game sets things up nicely.  You know your team is down and out when even doing something right prompts jeers from your fans.
  • Strother Martin is fantastic as the amazingly cheap owner who makes his players appear in fashion shows in order to drum up publicity.
  • Performances are uniformly excellent with Newman of course turning in a great, funny, likable performance.  Michael Ontkean is also good (though the character is a little annoying) as Ned Braden, the team's star player who is also the obligatory "square guy who learns to let his hair down a little".
  • The comic highlight though is the presence of The Hanson Brothers: three siblings who are hockey goons in the most hilariously violent and over the top sense of the term.  I love that the movie puts forth the notion that the key to success is winning through pulverizing violence.
  • Given that this is a 70's film, there is more of an emphasis on character and story than gags and the comedy comes out of that.  Works damn well too.
  • Newman's behind the scenes wheeling and dealing to keep the team afloat is amusing, it helps to have the great character actor M. Emmett Walsh on-hand as the reporter he uses.
  • If there's anything I can complain about, it's the pacing.  The film runs a little over two hours and probably could lose ten minutes or so without hurting things much.  More hockey and less off the clock stuff would improve things a little.
  • You gotta love a movie that has the game won after the star player does a striptease.
Minor pacing issues aside, Slap Shot is an entertaining, funny comedy with solid performances, some  bone crushing violence and a nice, likable feel to it.  It's one of the best sports movies of all time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Robo Vampire (1988)

As I wrote in my American Ninja 2 review, the 80's were a time in cinematic history when ninjas were running rampant.  On the high end of the spectrum were the Cannon flicks (a sentence that should make you tremble with fear) and on the low end were a ton of cheap films produced and directed by the likes of Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai and Tomas Tang who tended to team up (assuming they weren't all pseudonyms for one amazingly untalented hack filmmaker).  Their M.O. was to take an unfinished  crappy Hong Kong action film, stick some white dudes in it along with some gaudily attired ninjas (usually wearing headbands that read "NINJA" on the front), "edit" it into something "coherent", find the worst folks possible to dub the things into English and then crap the end result onto the VHS market.

Given that this was during the big home video boom, you can guess that it worked out better than they could have ever imagined as there are scores of hilariously awful ninja movies to be found providing you know where to look and have a high pain threshold.

On the tail end of the trend came our subject today, a solo effort from  Mr. Tang that takes the basic premise of Robocop, tosses in some Chinese vampires (the key difference is that they get around by hopping which is actually pretty creepy if you think about it) and is maybe the most impossible-to-review movie I have ever come across...And that will stand until the next review of a crappy movie from a 50 movie pack I do.  First off, the release date seems to be a little up in the air as I've seen both 1988 and 1993 given.  Based on the quality of the f/x work I'm going with 1988 but that's pure conjecture on my part.

As you might have guessed from the rating, I'm at a loss, simply at a loss as to how the hell to grade this thing let alone review it.  The plot...and I'm sure calling it that is supernaturally inaccurate, tells the tale of a DEA agent named Tom who is targeted by drug runner Kull who decided to have a Taoist priest (I think) he knows send vampires after him.  I'm not actually 100% sure who the guy playing Tom is supposed to be, it only really becomes sort of clear when he's finally turned into a robot.

That's about all I can really say for certain as the rest of film is quite haphazard with such bizarre sights as drugs being smuggled inside the vampires; a vampire that's actually some guy in a gorilla mask who's in love with a ghost woman, the usual assortment of bad actors and dialogue, an out of nowhere rescue mission (because we need a female lead and the film needs to padded out to 90 minutes) with an entirely different character doing the rescuing along with an abrupt change on tone (cheesy fun to dead serious), and just an overall sense of weirdness and insanity.

Robo-Tom himself is as out there as everything else with his hilariously loud footsteps, the bad "robot" suit that looks more like one of those foam suits used to train attack dogs, the fact that he can be blown up and put back together easily and the fact that he's maybe the slowest law enforcement robot I have ever seen.

Make no mistake, this is one of the worst films ever cobbled together.  The plot is incoherent, the acting and dubbing is terrible, the f/x work is shoddy and the action is mediocre at its best.  Having said that, this is sort of entertaining if you're in the right frame of mind.  It's really, really bad but also quite unintentionally hilarious in parts.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favorite Era: Die Hard (1988)

And now, the best Christmas movie ever made.  Sure, A Christmas Story warms the heart and It's a Wonderful Life appeals to the older folks.  But how many Christmas flicks have a guy jumping off the roof of an exploding building, huh?

Seriously though, Die Hard is one of the seminal action movies of the modern era.  By this point, I think everyone knows the setup (Bruce Willis trapped in a building with terrorists on Christmas Eve) so let's get to the good stuff.
  • The first thing I want to bring up is how well constructed the screenplay by Steven de Souza is.  Everything is set up perfectly in an unhurried manner.  It's truly nice to see a movie willing to take its time.  Within the first fifteen minutes or so, every single key cast member is either introduced or referenced.  We know our hero is a cop with a marriage on the rocks; he's a fish out of water to an extent at a Christmas party in Los Angeles and by the fifteen minute mark we've even seen our bad guys...Well, their van at any rate.
  •  Also good is the direction from John McTiernan. 
  • Bruce Willis is fantastic as our Everyman hero for the evening.  John McClane is tough but realistically so, a nice change from the Rambo template most action heroes of the 80's went off of.  He works well with Bonnie Bedelia as Holly McClane who could easily have come across as unpleasant and shrewish given the circumstances.  Instead, she plays a driven but decent carer woman who's trying to make the best of a bad situation.  The tension between the two characters works well because neither one of them is shown to be clearly in the wrong which keeps them both sympathetic.
  • Of course, the performance highlight has to be Alan Rickman as the bad guy Hans.  Rickman is classy, vicious when he needs to be and also quite amusing.  It's a real tour de force.  I especially like his confrontations with Holly's boss (James Shigeta) which ends quite badly for the man and his scene with McClane where he puts on a rather decent American accent to try and come off as a hostage.
  • Alexander Godunov is also enjoyable as Hans' right hand man Karl.  The fight between him and John towards the end is a fantastic bone-crusher of a fight.
  • Two side characters I get a kick out of are William Atherton's jerky reporter and Robert Davi's small role as a jerky FBI agent.  Atherton was the go-to guy in the 80's for smarmy a-holes (fellow jerk Paul Gleason is also on hand as a hapless cop on the scene) and he does his usual quality job that really makes you want to see him get punched in the face.  As for Davi, he's a guy I've always enjoyed and here he delivers his lines in a dry sort of way that just makes me chuckle.
  • The action is fantastic with multiple shootouts, some nicely gory moments (it is, after all a Joel Silver production) and some great one-liners from Willis.  There are some really great stunts such as John climbing around in the innards of the building and the iconic rooftop leap as Hans decided to blow the roof up to try and get rid of the hero once and for all.
  • If there's anything I can honestly say sort of hurts the movie it might be that {Paul Gleason's cop is a little too dumb to be believed.  Still, it's a relatively minor thing and it does to lead to some funny exchanges with McClane and Sgt. Al Powell (Reginald Veljohnson), the one link to the outside John has.
  • A few words about the sequels:  For the most part, I feel they are certainly more consistent than the Lethal Weapon sequels which after the classic original had one great entry (LW2); one okay entry (LW3) and one that I see as sort of a guilty pleasure (the fourth one which has no right to be as enjoyable as it is).  As for the Die Hard sequels, the second is good but a little too much of a remake of the original.  The third is fun as it tries something a little different (the script was initially supposed to be a Lethal Weapon sequel) and the fourth one is merely okay.  I'm looking forward to the fifth one coming out next year, though.
Die Hard still stands as one of the crowning achievements in action films.  It's tense, violent and impeccably put together, and it still works even today.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Favorite Era: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

I must confess an addiction to you today.  A chronic, hopeless addiction that has no known cure...Well, all right, there is a cure but only insomuch as it involves simply not watching what I will be writing about here which would make the entire endeavor of thinking up, writing, editing and posting this piece would make it entirely irrelevant and therefore nonsensical to even bring up.

Having said that, Monty Python and the Holy Grail is one of the comedy team's finest hour and thirty two minutes.  I think at this point anyone who has spent any measurable amount of time on the web has been inundated with references to the bloody thing so getting into plot dynamics and that sort of thing would be redundant and quite frankly about as compelling as a golf match in slow motions.  In light of that, I'll just list five of my favorite bits from the film.

  1. The opening credits: From the bizarre moose fixation to the constant interruptions, this never fails to make me chuckle.
  2. Black Knight: Naturally, this is going to be on the list.  John Cleese and Graham Chapman always made a good comic duo and their playing off of each other works just as well as it did on the TV show. 
  3. John Cleese as Tim the Enchanter: John Cleese is funny to begin with.  Give him a cheesy Scottish accent and some pyro?  Good lord, it gets even better once the killer rabbit appears.
  4. The French castle: Actually, my favorite part of this is not the insults, the Trojan Rabbit or the use of livestock as weapons but a smaller, more subtle element.  The main French knight is played by Cleese and of course, he is clad in armor.  The gloves however are designed in such a way that they flap around quite a bit.  It's a minor element but for some reason it just makes me laugh.
  5. Terry Gilliam in general: The only American member of the team is not only a fantastically talented (if shockingly unlucky) director, but he's also a bit of an ensemble dark horse (as he was on the show).  As usual, he's playing a rather scrofulous character (Chapman's assistant and the bridge keeper) and in both cases he is dryly hilarious.
This is one of the classic comedies of the last forty years.  It's brisk, funny and clever and the Pythons work together wonderfully as usual.

Monday, December 10, 2012

My Favorite Era: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

Not every movie in this series will be a traditional 'good' movie.  It's all well and good to have a stellar cast, an impeccably written script and a true cinematic vision...But sometimes you don't want a nice cut of prime rib, you want a greasy chili cheeseburger with chili cheese fries and a beer.  American Ninja 2 is just such a dish, just about the finest thing Cannon Films out out in 1987 (they also released Barfly which actually got some Oscar nominations so you can't dismiss that).

The great thing about this movie is that unlike the first one (reviewed right here on this site a while back), this one dispenses with such silly things like plot and acting and just gives you 90 minutes of pure cheesy insanity.  Michael Dudikoff and Steve James are back and this time, they're helping out some Marines on a tropical island who have been losing some of their men to a band of ninjas.  There's some silliness about creating super soldier ninjas but for the most part, this is just a fun action romp.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Of course, this is a part of the ninja craze of the mid-80's.  In fact, one could say this is really the last ninja movie worth watching.
  • Things start off well with a cool soundtrack by George S. Clinton.  The setup is also entertaining, though I really, really hope that in real life a couple of trained Marines wouldn't get the snot kicked out of them by a couple of schmucks in a bar...Even if one of their own is in on the operation.
  • Another part of the setup I love, the Marines on this island are trying to keep a low profile so they tend to dress like your standard beach bums with khakis, sunglasses and surfboards.  It sort of makes me wonder if the initial idea was to have the two leads protecting a hotel resort.  Weirder things have happened.
  • Dudikoff and James are in fine form with a good, natural chemistry.  While Joe is just as wooden a character as he was in the first film, this is offset nicely by Steve James as Jackson, showing just how enthusiastic a man can be while kicking the poop out of stuntmen.
  • I get a kick out of the base commander's second-in-command who seems to exist merely to be a grumpy, miserable jerk.
  • The action is quite good with an extended beach fight and the huge climax being the highlights.
  • The plot (what little there is) is the best kind of comic book stupidity with a scientist and a drug dealer (played by co-screenwriter Gary Conway) teaming up to somehow make mutant super-ninjas using abducted Marines from the base.  Yeah, I don't get it wither.  All I know is that it's an excuse to have a huge body count by the end...And that's a good thing.
  • Of course, the scientist has a pretty daughter who falls for Joe.
  • As in the first movie, the local government is also involved in the plot, in this case the police chief.  In fact, this film as well as the third one can be seen as essentially structural remakes of the original film.
  • Sam Firstenberg does a decent enough job directing, with all the action films under his belt he certainly should be good by this point.
  • I love the huge bar fight midway through.  Steve James is truly in his element here, clearly having a blast.  You just don't see that level of enthusiasm in action stars anymore.
  • Equally entertaining is the scene a few minutes later as Joe has to evade the most tenacious ninja ever.  Seriously, the guy is dragged behind a truck for at least a few miles in terms of actual travel and even then he still keeps coming.  Awesome.
  • I love how the bad guy goes on about his super ninjas and then presents a demo of them in having his man henchman who is just a regular ninja decimate the super ninjas.
  • The climax is great as Steve James once again steals the show, blasting bad guys with a huge gun and then going to town with two huge machetes.  There is a classic moment where he gets a gut to stay down simply by yelling at him.  Awesome.
  • Equally funny is the showdown between Dudikoff and the main ninja.  I never knew a sawed-off shotgun was part of the typical ninja arsenal but there you go.
The second American Ninja movie improves on the second one simply by not having as much plot to get in the way of the action.  It's fast paced, funny and action packed (as in a huge brawl about every ten minutes or so) with a light, cheerful tone that makes it imminently watchable.

Friday, December 7, 2012

My Favorite Era: Gremlins (1984)

When it comes to Christmas movies, my tastes run a little differently than most.  Sure, on those winter nights you can pop in It's a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Story but I have to say one of my favorite Christmas movies of all time is the 1984 Joe Dante/Steven Spielberg collaboration Gremlins.

I think pretty much everyone has seen the movie so a plot recap is sort of redundant (just in case, a bunch of monsters invade a small town around the holidays) so let's get to the fun stuff.
  • First off, I love that this film, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are responsible for the PG-13 rating.
  • Front and center is the great direction by Joe Dante.  Dante has always been solid but here he really keeps things moving nicely and achieve a good balance between humor and horror.
  • Chris Walas contributes some great f/x with the cute Gizmo and the fantastically ugly gremlins that he ends up spawning. 
  • Hoyt Axton is quite warm and amusing as the inventor father.
  • Like the remake of The Blob, the opening credits give a fantastic sense of idyllic small town life...The perfect setting for a monster movie.
  • Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates are a likable couple as Billy and Kate in this flick.  I especially like Cates who at this point was at the height of her sheer cuteness.  She also gets one of the best moments with a darkly hilarious Christmas story.
  • Dick Miller is fun as always and happily, he has a little more to here than usual (and in the sequel which we'll get to later).
  • Polly Holliday is wonderfully nasty as the obligatory cranky old weirdo in town who hates pretty much everything.  It's quite satisfying when the monsters come for her.  On a similar note, I also get a kick out of Judge Reinhold as Galligan's smarmy supervisor.  Just an amazingly entertaining prick.
  • I love Billy's mother going to town on the gremlins in her kitchen.  It's just a gruesomely awesome sequence with the microwave bit being especially great.  The ensuing scenes of the little monsters wreaking havoc are also great.
  • Gotta love the awesomely gross climax where Stripe, the last gremlin standing gets a Dracula-esque death scene in the sunlight.
  • Jerry Goldsmith also contribute one of his more enjoyable scores with a great main title theme.
Gremlins is  a fun, cheerful, gross summer blockbuster that is one of the few horror comedies that actually works as both.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Golden Child (1986)

After the success of Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy was well and truly the king of comedy who could do no wrong.  One can find no clearer evidence to this fact than watching the rather predictable movie he chose to follow up his 1984 hit with.

The Golden Child is an action/comedy/fantasy about Chandler Jarrell, a social worker who is hired to rescue a kid with mystical powers known as "the golden child" from the evil demon from hell Sardo Numspa (Charles Dance).  Apparently it was initially supposed to be a more serious piece starring Mel Gibson but it ended up being a comedy with plenty of improv from Murphy.  This is probably for the best since it works far better just going for comedy than it does in the moments where it tries to be serious.

The film is a gloriously silly, cheesy roller coaster ride with Murphy in firm control the entire way, mugging and ad-libbing endlessly as he goes from the rough streets of Los Angeles to the mountains of Tibet.  Performances are generally what they need to be with Charles Dance making an entertaining villain and Charlotte Lewis performing ably as the token love interest.

Most entertaining for me is the presence of character actors James Hong and Victor Wong in supporting roles.  Both men are very solid actors and in an amusing coincidence, both appeared in Big Trouble in Little China the same year.

ILM also provides some good f/x work (in addition to being co-producers on the project) with a really good demon that Charles Dance turns into and some other typically good stuff.

The success of the movie is all thanks to Murphy who, as I said earlier, delivers a funny and energetic performance that helps the movie get through the rather cheesy and predictable plot.  It's not a great movie by any means, but it's certainly a fun one.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Favorite Era: The Long Good Friday (1980)

The Long Good Friday is possibly my favorite gangster film, second only to The Godfather.  A neat little British film from 1980, it stars Bob Hoskins as Harold Shand, a nasty little bulldog of a criminal who runs the London underworld.  The movie follows him as his life gradually goes to hell after a misunderstanding with the local chapter of the IRA.  Great acting, a lightning fast pace (for a 114 minute film, that's quite good) and a clever script make this one hell of a great movie.  Let's take a closer look.
  • I wrote about Handmade Films in the Water post and they are behind this one as well.  It was their third release.
  • Just a technical note, I'm fairly certain the U.S. VHS release was from Thorn EMI and later HBO Video.  Theatrical distribution was done by Embassy.
  • To the movie, the score by Francis Monkman is great with a pounding main theme.
  • I love how the plot is set up with Colin (Paul Freeman) running an errand and flirting with a guy at a pub while a series of what will out to be IRA hits go on.
  • Bob Hoskins is truly the center of the film here.  He's always been good (even in the bad films) and here he presents a ferocious, ambitious criminal who desperately wants to be seen as a big shot.  He also adds a layer of humanity (as much as one can when hanging rivals from meat hooks and stabbing people with broken wine bottles) to the man as he slowly begins to crumble.  It's a simply fantastic performance.
  • Equally good is Helen Mirren as Victoria, Harold's lover.  She acts as an anchor for him, keeping things in order and letting the audience see a more tender side (well, sort of) of him that is essential if the movie is going to work.
  • I'm also amused by the early appearance of Pierce Brosnan as a silent IRA hit man.  We first see him knifing Paul Freeman's character to death and he pops up in the last scene as well.  It's nothing you could really call a great performance but he certainly shows the presence that would net him some pretty choice roles later on.
  • The events of the film unfold while Harold is trying to court some American mobsters, namely Charlie (Eddie Constantine).  I sort of feel the movie is a bit of a dark comedy in parts with all the running around, trying to reassure Charlie everything is all right.
  • It's honestly a little hard for me to really talk a bout this one since the real pleasure of the movie is going into it blind and simply watching it unfold.  The script is constructed magnificently and John Mackenzie does a fantastic job directing it.
  • The final shot of the film is an amazing closeup of Harold as he realizes just how screwed he is.  It's a brilliant bit of silent acting from Hoskins, subtle and effective.
 The Long Good Friday is one of the unsung classics of British cinema and film in general.  Great acting, a clever script and endlessly watchable, it's one you should definitely seek out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Favorite Era: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Sorry for the delay, turkey hangover.  I'll try to have a few more posts in the next few days.

 I'm not a huge fan of Star Trek, truthfully I think most of it is rather silly and poorly thought out but the one piece of Trek I do have a genuine love for is the second movie.  Star Trek II is an example of what I like to call a perfect viewing experience.  This is a movie that engages the mind as well as pressing the internal fun button with reckless abandon and works on every level it is supposed to work at.  Other films I feel this way about are Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Spy Who Loved Me and more recently, the new Bond epic Skyfall.

As for Star Trek II, it moves away from the stodgy, drawn out theatrics of the first film and gives the audience a balls to the wall adventure with good acting, a superb villain and spectacular f/x that are used properly, as opposed to the way they took over the previous outing.

The crew of the Enterprise is on a training run when they are targeted by an old enemy from the original series, Khan (Ricardo Montalban) who has lucked into information about a science experiment for creating life on barren planets that could be used as a weapon.  Khan gets control of a Federation ship (with Paul Winfield as captain and Chekov as second in command) and after putting some mind-controlling space slugs in their ears (one of the great gross-out moments in the series), Khan sets out to get revenge on Kirk.

Virtually everything about this movie works.  Acting is good all around with William Shatner and Ricardo Montalban really standing out.  Montalban has a blast hamming it up as Khan and Shatner turns in a very nice, layered performance.  Kirk is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, feeling old on his birthday and this proves a nice emotional arc for the story.  He also does get to ham it up a bit here and there but for the most part, he gives a solid, low key performance of a man getting older who just happens to be James T. Kirk.

The rest of the cast is solid as one would expect with Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley giving Spock and McCoy their usual blends of humor and intelligence.  Kirstie Alley is also decent as Saavik, a Vulcan recruit on board.  If there is a weak link to be found, it would be with Bibi Besch and Merritt Butrick as Carol and David Marcus, the mother and son duo behind the project as well as Kirk's former lover and son respectively.  Besch is fine but Butrick is more than a little annoying.  Granted, he's supposed to be a bit of a mistrustful little turd but a little goes a long way for me,.  Still, it's not enough to hurt the film.

Nicholas Meyer directs everything with a sure hand, not letting things get too bogged down in tech stuff or blathering sentiment and speechifying.  He replaces these thing that will plague future movies with a blistering pace, fantastic space battles done up like classic naval battles and the sentiment is replaced with genuine emotion as Spock makes the ultimate sacrifice at the end to save the crew.

Star Trek II was one of the big releases in the summer of 1982 (one of my favorite summer movies seasons) and it still holds up today with good f/x, a great James Horner soundtrack, good acting and a smartly written script that works for both Trek fans and non-Trek fans alike.  Truly a great film.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Water (1985)

Water is an interesting little oddity from 1985 that stars Michael Caine as the governor of a small island in the Caribbean that is still under British rule.  The Brits are looking to relocate the populace and use the island as a nuclear waste dump; an American oil company (headed by Fred Gwynne) has discovered a fount of high-end spring water worth a fortune (turns out in addition to tasting great it also acts as a mild laxative), Caine's marriage is a mess and the scent of revolution is in the air...As long as you consider two guys looking to bring about freedom by way of music to be a revolution.  France and Cuba also get involved as does Valerie Perrine as an environmental activist looking to ensure the safety of the island's bat population.

As you can tell, Water is rather jam-packed with characters and subplots and the fact that it works at all is nothing short of a miracle.  Caine is solid as usual, providing the film with a much-needed anchor as he plays the rather lackadaisical but good-hearted governor who maintains a dry sense of humor while pretty much everybody else is running around like a bunch of manic nuts through a plot that peters out about an hour in.

Scottish comedy legend Billy Connolly is funny but woefully underused as a revolutionary who has vowed only to sing until the island is free (Connolly used to be a folk singer and he contributes a song or two to the soundtrack.

Apart from him, the rest of the cast is solid enough for what the material requires.  Fred Gwynne is amusing as usual; Jimmie Walker has a small role as the local radio DJ, Brenda Vaccaro is rather hammy as Caine's wife, Leonard Rossiter is entertainingly clueless in his final role as the British official trying to get a share of the water rights by financing Connolly's revolution and the overall feel of the movie is pleasant.

The cast isn't enough though, as the film gradually loses steam as it wears on.  There are too many plots and not enough care went into making them into a cohesive story.   The climax is an impromptu concert for the island at the UN featuring Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and a few others while Caine tries to stop a French incursion that comes out of nowhere (they're pissed that Perrier has competition).  Not a real gut buster of a finale.

Water was made by the production company Handmade Films, co-owned by former Beatle George Harrison.  They've put out some interesting movies over the years such as this one, a couple Monty Python films and the awesome crime drama The Long Good Friday.  Water is a pleasant but uneven and jumbled comedy that has some funny bits, a typically good Michael Caine performance and is an amusing satire of British colonialism and American big business.  It's worth checking out for Caine's agreeable performance providing you're not expecting the second coming of satire.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

My Favorite Era: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a fantastic comedy starring a brilliant comedian in Steve Martin and an all-around brilliant actor in Michael Caine.  It tells the tale of a bet between small time con man Freddy Benson (Martin) and big time con artist Lawrence Jamieson (Caine) to see who will stick around and fleece the wealth of the French Riviera and who will have to get out of town.

Expertly directed by Frank Oz with a clever script and a fantastic cast, it is one of the all-time great comedies.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The film is basically a remake of a rather bad David Niven/Marlon Brando film called Bedtime Story that plays out more or less the same way.
  • The first scene (as well as the first ten minutes in general) sets up Lawrence and his style impeccably.  Caine is always good (even when the film isn't) and here he plays maybe the most likable slime ball you are ever likely to meet.
  • Steve Martin is the perfect comic foil to Caine's suave, stylish look with the rather cheesy and obvious Freddy.  Martin has always been good at playing sly but dumb guys and here he is just great.
  • Anton Rodgers and Ian MacDiarmid are also fun as Lawrence's accomplices.
  • Steve Martin is also a gifted physical comic as we see when he is in prison trying to remember Lawrence's name.
  • The key to a good comic duo is chemistry and happily, Caine and Martin have tons of it and then some.  They play off each other magnificently, my favorite instance being the setup of their partnership.
  • The team scam they pull is quite funny with Martin giving his role as Caine's rather deranged brother a manic quality that's just priceless.
  • The dissolving of the partnership leads to the main con, taking a very rich young woman (Glenne Headley) for $50,000.  Headley is quite likable in her role, playing a sympathetic character quite well.  The twist with her at the end where she turns out to be another con artist (the one Lawrence is worried Freddy is) is a nice payoff to the film.
  • The manner in which they try to take Janet (Headley) for her money is quite hilarious as Martin poses as a crippled Navy man and Caine acts as a noted German psychologist.  The sheer malice Caine brings to his scenes with Martin during this stretch are hilarious.
  • The twist at the end is great (though a little predictable) and well thought out.  I especially enjoy how Caine goes from his suave voice to his normal speaking voice in the middle of the reveal.  It just fits the man he's playing.
 Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was released in December of 1988 and was a reasonable success.  It still holds up today as a classy, funny comedy with a clever script and good acting and directing.  Definitely one to seek out.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Skyfall (2012)


This just came out so there will be no spoilers.

After four years of financial woes which caused delays, the new James Bond is here just in time for the 50th anniversary of the franchise.  Skyfall is just about as close as we are likely to get to a perfect Bond film.  In this adventure, we follow Bond as he tries to stop deranged former MI6 computer whiz Silva (Javier Bardem) before he completes a personal vendetta he has against M (Judi Dench).

Bond is assisted by fellow agent Eve (Naomie Harris) as well as a new Q, played by Ben Whishaw.  First thing I want to mention is the script by Josh Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.  Together, they have managed to craft a smart, tense, expansive spy thriller that still manages to have a rather intimate feel.  It's certainly better thought out than the previous film Quantum of Solace which fell victim to the writer's strike in 2007.

Performances are also very good with Craig his usual cool, deadly self.  Judi Dench puts in maybe her best performance as Bond's boss (it helps she actually plays a role in the story) and there are a few surprises revolving around her that are handled very well.

Even better is Javier Bardem as the deranged Silva.  he really hams it up nicely here, sinking his teeth into every line and laughing insanely every now and then.  He also has a rather alarming tendency to refer to M in a way that suggests some serious Mommy issues as well as a scene where he gets a little closer to Bond than Bond would probably prefer.  Bardem is, as anyone who has seen No Country for Old Men can attest, very good at playing creepy nut jobs and he really makes you shiver whenever he turns up.  Granted, it also helps that he has a rather gruesome physical trait that is just ghoulish.  Let's just say that if I ever need to take a cyanide pill, I really hope it works.

The rest of the cast is also solid.  Naomie Harris is sexy and funny, Ralph Fiennes is fun as a bureaucrat, Ben Whishaw is fun as the new Q and Albert Finney has a nice though underused supporting role.  To say more would veer into spoiler territory.

The action is also top notch with the highlights being a rooftop pursuit on motorcycles, an insanely over the top stunt with a train, a few nice shootouts and an extended finale that is surprisingly intimate even as it goes over the top.

If the film has anything maybe resembling a flaw, it sags just a little bit in the third act.  Apart from that, the latest Bond film is simply outstanding.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Favorite Era: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

While Roger Moore's first two outings as James Bond were decent enough in terms of his acting (though neither one is anywhere near the top of my list), his third turn is where he really made the role his own.  This, along with a larger than life script pitting Bond against a Stromberg (Curt Jurgens), a deranged nut hoping to set off World War III and some great f/x (to say nothing of one iconic villain) makes the 10th 007 epic one of the very best.  Let's take a look...
  • Love the score by Marvin Hamlisch, it's very 70's but not in an obnoxious way.
  • Great pre-title sequence as Russian baddies (one of whom is the Bond Girl's lover) chase Bond in a ski chase that is capped off by one of the most amazing stunts I have ever seen.  The fact that a guy did a ski jump off a mountain for real just makes it even more impressive.
  • I also like how the general setup for the plot is also laid out, introducing us to our Bond Girl Anya (Barbara Bach) as well.
  • Bach is pretty good in the role though she only uses her Russian accent about half of the time.
  • Carly Simon's man title song "Nobody Does it Better" is another great aspect of the film.
  • Moore is fantastic here, as I said.  While he was a little too forced in the nastier scenes in his first two efforts, his third film allowed him to relax into a suave, classy yet quite lethal interpretation of Bond.  He may be a lighter Bond than Sean Connery, but that doesn't make him any less of a killer as we will see.
  • Stomberg's first scene is a nice bit of villainy, the only thing that would have is better is if the filmmakers could have used Blofeld and SPECTRE as the bad guys.  Thanks to a lawsuit, they were unable to which has an effect in one crucial moment but for the most part doesn't affect things too harshly.
  • The intro scene is also notable for the introduction of Richard Kiel sad the hulking steel-toothed henchman Jaws into the franchise,.  Kiel is quite good, using his sheer mass to intimidate and he makes for a very effective villain.
  •  I would also be an unconscionable turd if I didn't mention Caroline Munro in her small role as helicopter pilot Naomi.  She's sexy as hell (as usual) and it twill almost be a shame when she leaves the movie.
  • One of my favorite small moments in the franchise comes when Bond is in Cairo to meet with a man who can introduce Bond to the holder of a microfilm relating to the sub disappearance that kicks off the film.  He is seen in silhouette in an archway and it is simply one of the coolest shots I've ever seen, just pure Bond.
  • The ensuing fist fight with one of Stromberg's goons is equally cool, as is the wonderfully cold way Bond dispatches him after he give our hero the information he needs.
  • There is a nice eerie quality to the sequence at the pyramids, helped by the bit with Jaws showing what he's all about.  It's bad enough the guy is freaking huge, but the fact that he dispatches his victims Dracula style just makes him extra freaky.
  • Bond and Anya meeting up and bantering back and forth as they track Jaws is very entertaining as the two actors have good chemistry together.  Her briefly ditching him is also great, as is the M meeting where they are teamed up about an hour in.
  • The next awesome bit is the fight between 007 and Jaws on the train.  Bond had always has good fights on trains and this one is just great as he just barely manages to stave off the beast before tossing out of a window.  I always got a kick out of how Jaws just brushes off whatever horrific injury he suffers and keeps going.  It's funny (and overdone in the next film) and also a little creepy.
  • The coolness keeps going as Bond is given his new car, a tricked-out Lotus Esprit that can turn into a mini-submarine.  The huge car chase later on between the Lotus, a few enemy cars and Naomi in a helicopter is just stunning.
  • The meeting with Bond and Stromberg is a good one and one can only imagine how great it could have been if it was Bond vs. Blofeld instead given that in the sixth film Blofeld kills Bond's new bride on their wedding day.
  • Now is as good a time as any to mention the fantastic set design.  Stromberg's home base and super tanker are simply astounding.  I can only imagine how great they must have looked on the big screen.
  • As I said, the car chase is good and so is the underwater action that ensues to round the sequence off.
  • The reveal that Bond killed Anya's lover is a pretty damn good scene, though Moore's acting is a little more spot-on than Bach's.  It's a nice dramatic scene that give some nice insight into Moore's portrayal of the character.  He accepts murder as part of the job and makes no apologies for it.  The tension between the two for a while after this works rather well.
  • Stromberg's plan is appropriately grand, as is the rest of the movie.
  • There are few things that bring a smile to my face faster than seeing Bond spring into action and create utter havoc in the bad guy's lair.  The orgy of violence Bond kicks off to begin the last act action is a marvel as I'm pretty sure he racks up a body count here along the lines of the average Stallone movie.  My favorite bit is when he shoots two guys with one harpoon.
  • The big gun battle in the tanker is wonderfully over the top with huge explosions and some of the most enthusiastic stuntmen you are likely to find anywhere.
  • Bond's final confrontation with Stromberg is great as he ruthlessly dispatches the guy in about as nasty a manner as you could get away with in a PG movie at the time.  As with a few other moments, having the baddie be Blofeld would have made the scene ever better.  Put it this way, blowing a guy's balls out his ass and then putting two in his chest for good measure is not how one usually offs a random nut job.  But the man who killed your wife?  I rest my case.
After the massive letdown that was The Man with the Golden Gun, the franchise needed a big hit which they got.  The Spy Who Loved Me was released in August of 1977 and was one of the big hits that summer, along with a little sci-fi flick directed by some guy named George something-or-other.  It's one of the best Bond films of all time and still holds up today as an awesome action film.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Raiders of Atlantis (1983)


Ah, you gotta love the Italian film industry in the 80's.  This gem is set in the far-flung future of 1994 where based on the cheesy theme song it would seem disco is alive and well, and concerns an invasion by a gang of cultists descended from the lost continent of Atlantis who want to kill everyone in order to reclaim their rightful place in the world after the continent surfaces in the Caribbean.  Actually, I think the idea is that the rising of Atlantis triggers the souls of the descendants in random people, which is just insanely odd.

With such a daffy yet awesome premise you would expect the movie to be 90 minutes of sheer cheesy joy.  Happily, this is exactly the case for the most part as director Ruggero Deodato of Cannibal Holocaust fame manages to create a stunningly entertaining piece of crap.

Our heroes are two mercenaries, Mike and Washington (Christopher Connelly and Tony King respectively) and Dr. Cathy Rollins (Gioia Scola) and our villains are led by a guy known only as Crystal Skull (Bruce Baron), thanks to the alleged crystal skull mask he sports.  I say alleged because to be brutally frank, it looks like plastic.

The majority of the film takes place on a small island our heroes end up on and while it takes a while to get to the good stuff, the film has plenty of hilariously bad dialogue and acting to tide a person over.  The  cheese flows think once we get to the island though with the Atlantean biker gang; some decent gore shots (as one would expect from a trashy 80's Italian movie), stunt work that probably is less than safe-I especially like the bit where a flaming arrow gets about an inch from an actor's face, made even better that he stays in character to put out the fire-and best of all, a really great decapitation.

Eventually, Cathy is captured and taken to Atlantis and Mike has to go after her, using an artifact from Atlantis she was brought in to study to lead the way.  After more mayhem, we get a baffling conclusion having to do with the souls of trapped Atlanteans being released or something.  All I know is that the bad guys lose.

Raiders of Atlantis is not a good movie.  It really isn't, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.  Cheesy, mindless entertainment with tons of action, bad acting, bad dialogue, bad set design and  general strangeness.  Love the VHS sleeve too, just great.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

My Favorite Era: For Your Eyes Only (1981)

With the Halloween stuff out of the way, now we can get back to drooling with anticipation as the U.S. release for Skyfall draws closerI'll be examining a few of my favorites from the series over the next week or so and eventually, I will end up reviewing all of the films in the series.

For now, we're starting with For Your Eyes Only, film number 12 in the series and Roger Moore's fifth.  It's a more down to earth story, much needed after the admittedly entertaining excess of Moonraker, providing a straight-up spy thriller loaded with action and cool moments as 007 tries to get to a bit of military hardware before the Russians do.
  • First off, you gotta love that poster.  It's just awesome in its simplicity.
  • Bond enters the 80's with a great gun barrel theme done by Bill Conti.  I dig the score of the film more than most seem to.  It's pretty heavy on the synth but it's still a very good bit of work.
  • Love the pretitle sequence with Bond hanging on for dear life to a remote controlled helicopter.
  • Great main title sequence with Sheena Easton doing the song.
  • After the over the top stunt sequence, the film settles nicely into a relatively dark thriller kicking off with the sinking of a British spy ship carrying our MacGuffin for the evening and the brutal murder of the Havelocks in front of their daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet).
  • The film is very well directed by John Glen who also edited and did second unit work on a few other films in the franchise.  Glen also directed the other four Bond films released in the 80's.
  • The action in the film is simply awesome with my favorite being the ski chase fifty minutes into the film.  there have been a few skiing sequences in the series but this one is the best with Bond being chased around a resort being used for Olympic training.  Naturally, he ends up on the bobsled run at one point.
  • I also enjoy the car chase about twenty five minutes in which sees Bond's usual gadget laden vehicle blown up, leaving him to escape in Melina's distinctly less flashy compact car.
  • Julian Glover makes for a fine villain, the sneaky and cold-blooded Kristatos.  I especially like how he is at first set up as an ally, pointing Bond in the direction of Colombo (Topol) who turns out to be an old rival with a grudge against the man.
  • Topol is also fun as Colombo, giving a very likable performance.
  • Roger Moore is great here as he keeps the light touch he normally has while also throwing in a few moments to remind you that 007 is a killer, first and foremost.  Best of all is his cold dispatching of the man who has already killed one of his friends as well as Colombo's girlfriend Lisl (the late Cassandra Harris who was married to Pierce Brosnan at the time of filming).  Kicking a guy's car off a cliff while he's in it?  Damn good stuff.
  • The film is paced quite well though I do feel it sags a bit in the last act.  There is a great keelhauling sequence after Bond and Melina are captured and the mountain climbing finale is visually impressive but the overall effectiveness of the film is somewhat lessened.
  • I do like Bond destroying the MacGuffin at the end rather than handing it over to the Russians.  It's a nice touch.
Overall, For Your Eyes Only is a very strong entry in the series.  It's fun, action packed with good performances and apart from a third act that sags a bit, it's  a great flick.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Favorite Era: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

We reach the end of our Halloween Countdown with not only my favorite George Romero zombie film, but also my favorite horror movie in general.  Dawn of the Dead is quite simply one of the best horror movies ever made.  Good acting, great Tom Savini f/x, a plot that manages to deliver the horror goods while still acting as social commentary (Romero tends to be a little heavy handed in this regard but here it works fine) and a great score by Italian rock group Goblin combine to make one hell of a two hours.
  • This is the first collaboration between Romero and Italian director Dario Argento whose brother Claudio co-produced the film.  Their next collaboration, Two Evil Eyes is...Not as good, to put it politely.  Actually, it's not that bad but the difference between Argento and Romero circa 1978 and them two of them in 1990 is pretty glaring.
  • First off, there are three cuts available: the 127 minute U.S. version that I'll be going from; the 137 minute extended cut that played in foreign market and the Dario Argento edited 118 minute Italian cut.  All three have their merits but I love the 127 minute version as it's what I grew up watching.
  • The first few minutes are great at showing just how chaotic a zombie apocalypse would be.  What's brilliant is that it is done from the perspective of the media trying to cover the events rather than having our characters just get attacked by zombies from the beginning.
  • Francine (Gaylen Ross) and Stephen (David Emge) make for a fairly likable couple.
  • The next stretch of film is awesome as it not only sets up our other two main guys, SWAT officers Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott H. Reiniger), but also gives us a heavy dose of the in your face f/x Tom Savini delivered.  Exploding heads, gory zombies, I'm so glad Romero decided to release this into theaters unrated.  It did well too, earning around 5 million which in 1978 for a movie that couldn't have a lot of advertising thanks to the lack of a rating is pretty amazing.
  • Matters of storytelling and gore aside, the sequence is also just a damn good action scene by itself.  Romero has always between good at this sort of thing and in fact, I consider his 2005 flick Land of the Dead to be basically just a post apocalyptic action movie with zombies.
  • The sequence leading up to the mall is great as a lean, fast form of character building.  This might be the best paced two hour long horror film I have ever seen, especially considering you are basically thrown right into the action.
  • The mall is just plain cool as a location.  It's a great, huge 70's mall...disgustingly 70's, in fact which was probably Romero's point.  What makes this movie so great is that it works great as a horror/action film but also as social commentary.  In this case, Romero is taking on consumerism and I won;t get too deep into it since there are other places you can find that sort of thing and it will be done better than I ever could.
  • The thing that hooked me on this film is the long "cleaning out the mall" section which takes up a good portion of the film, nearly an hour.  Savini really shines with his legendary machete to the head; screwdriver to the ear, the f/x work is just awesome and it's simply a horror fan's dream.
  • Romero handles the change in tone well as this section of the film goes from fun action to grim contemplation as the outside world is falling apart.
  • Roger's death and return as a zombie is wonderfully tense, heightened by a TV broadcast as a scientist type is speaking to an angry audience.
  • The quiet idyll the film settles into works well, especially the end when the biker gang (led by Tom Savini who also did stuns for the movie) comes in and lets the zombies back in.
  • The finale is gruesomely awesome.  My favorite is the one gang member who for some inexplicable reason keeps going back to a blood pressure test machine...Oh yes, he does get munched real good.
  • David Emge makes a great zombie in terms of his physicality.
  • I love the music at the end when Peter decided he wants to live and fights his way to the roof to escape with Fran.
I honestly don't have much more to say.  The film is simply fantastic.

Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Favorite Era: Fright Night (1985)

Fright Night is a great example of a good old fashioned fun house style horror movie done 80's style.  William Ragsdale plays Charley Brewster, a young man who has found out that his neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire.  His girlfriend Amy, played by Amanda Bearse thinks he's crazy, the cops think he's wasting their time and even his weirdo best friend Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) thinks he's got a screw loose.  After some fretting, he enlists the aid of washed up horror actor Peter Vincent (Roddy  McDowall) who eventually learns that the things he fought in the movies can also turn up in real life.

Fright Night is just plain fun with great acting, great f/x from Richard Edlund (who also did the stuff for Ghostbusters the previous year)  and great directing from Tom Holland.  Let's take a closer look...
  • I love just how bad the Peter Vincent movie Charley is watching in the beginning looks.
  • Maybe it's just because I've seen a ton of Married...With Children episodes but it's harder than hell to not watch Amanda Bearse in this film and not just picture Marcy yelling at Al Bundy.
  • The first act is essentially Rear Window with a few differences.  Voyeurism, something bad going on next door, give William Ragsdale a broken leg and a stutter and he's pretty much Jimmy Stewart.
  • Stephen Geoffreys is both annoying and amusing in his role.  Ed is a true weirdo outcast and it;s no shock he ends up being controlled by Jerry.
  • Chris Sarandon and Johnathan Stark are great as Jerry and his buddy Billy Cole respectively (a bit of subtext revolving around that guy to be sure).  Sarandon has always been good and he makes Jerry both charming and creepy.
  • Jerry's first scene threatening Charley is a real showstopper as we get a good idea of just how strong and ugly this particular vampire can be.
  • Roddy is great as Peter, snide and sarcastic, realistically scared (as anyone with half a brain would if they learned vampires were real) but also brave when he needs to be.  It's a wonderfully hammy bit of work that fits perfectly with the rest of the film.
  • Another good Jerry scene is the nightclub scene...because nothing impresses quite like ripping one bouncer's face open and choking the life out of another one.  Making off with the hero's girl is just icing on the cake.
  • While the first seventy minutes of the film are very good, it's the last half hour that really makes this film a classic.  A dissolving ghoul, a werewolf, Jerry taunting our heroes and turning into a bat.  It's just nearly thirty solid minutes of spectacular horror and special effects.  Great stuff all around.
  • Also, gotta love Amy's vampire makeup at the end.  Very scary.
  • The song by The J. Geils Band at the end is a great, kind of cheesy way to end the movie.
Fright Night is, as I said earlier, just plain fun.  Good acting, great f/x, it's a real winner.  Heck, even the sequel is worth checking out...though I'd avoid the recent remake.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

My Favorite Era: Phantasm (1979)

Now this one is really special for me as it's one of my favorite horror films of all time.  I first saw this with my brother and it is, quite simply one of the best surreal horror films I have ever seen.  Written and directed by Don Coscarelli, it tells the tale of two brothers who live alone in a small town in Northern California that is being slowly wiped out by a creepy old dude known only as The Tall Man (Angus Scrimm).  We've got brotherly bonding; blood spewing, yellow goo, flying silver spheres that drill into heads and shoot blood out, killer Jawas, everything a horror movie should have.

The film came out in 1979, one of the best years for the genre as it saw not only this but the release of Alien and the first issue of Fangoria.  Using a cast of unknowns (Okay, he knew most of them from other films he had done), Coscarelli managed to create a movie with an almost dream-like atmosphere as Mike (Michael Baldwin) and Jody (Bill Thornbury) try to figure out what the hell is going on as The Tall Man and his gang of robed dwarfs harvest the local cemetery.

Acting is about what you would expect with Scrimm and Bannister as Reggie, a guitar playing hippie who owns an ice cream truck standing out from the rest of the cast.  Bannister is quite funny and laid back as the voice of reason and it's no shock he's since become something of a favorite amongst horror fans.  As for Angus Scrimm, he turns in an utterly creepy performance along the lines of something Boris Karloff would have come up with.  Appropriately since Karloff was a primary influence on the man's performance.  The Tall Man has become an iconic figure of horror, right up there with Freddy and Jason.

The other great iconic thing from the film is the flying silver sphere.  A very cool element of the film, this little ball of death and mayhem features in the best scene as it chases Mike around a mausoleum before embedding itself in the head of one of the Tall Man's goons.  It drills in and proceeds to exsanguinate the poor schmuck, making for a very memorable moment in modern horror.

What really makes me love the film even today is the sheer surreal nature of it all.  You're not exactly sure if Mike is dreaming all this or not, even a scene at the end where he wakes up is a bluff.  Surreal horror is pretty hard to pull off but Don Coscarelli manages it on a level that would make Lucio Fulci nod in approval.  It's a great little mind-screw of a movie and the sequels, for the most part are equally solid.

Phantasm is awesomely creepy, surprisingly smart and a little touching in places.  It also achieves a very nice balance between creepiness and gross-out moments which makes for a fantastic viewing experience.

Friday, October 26, 2012

My Favorite Era: Halloween (1978)

Not really sure how much more I can say about this one as pretty much everything that can be mentioned has been covered so this may be a briefer piece than I would normally throw out.  Then again, that never stopped me from trying so let's take a closer look at one of the best slasher films of all time to say nothing of one of John Carpenter's best films as well as one of his best collaborations with producer Debra Hill.  Odd that I've waited this long to do a full review of one of his movies since he;s one of my favorite directors but there you go.
  • Sort of odd to realize that I am the same age as this movie.  And by odd, I mean soul-shatteringly depressing.
  • Even now, the main theme is still one of the creepiest compositions I've ever heard.  John Carpenter is just as good a composer as he is a director.  The rest of the score is equally solid.
  • Speaking of the man's directorial skills, that one opening tracking shot is simply awesome.  It just works and is still amazingly suspenseful.
  • I have to say here how much I love Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis.  The man was always a brilliant actor who could play hysteria like few others and here he does a bang-up job of playing an obsessed, determined, probably slightly unhinged man.  It also helps that he gets all the best lines.
  • The scene where Michael Myers escapes is another well done bit of business.
  • As with the remake of The Blob I wrote about the other day, the town and main characters are set up nicely and the characters are, most importantly, likable.  Of course Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is sweet given that she'll end up being the hero of the piece but Annie (Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (P.J. Soles) are quite likable, though a bit on the smart-assed/horny side.
  • On a more personal note, part of the thrill of this film for me is that most of it was filmed in Pasadena, CA and South Pasadena, CA which by sheer coincidence is where I live.  The thrill I felt when I watched this and recognized my high school as well as the street I've walked down hundreds of times was quite strong.
  • I've always been impressed by how well Carpenter was able to make Southern California look like rural Illinois.
  • I love how Carpenter keeps Myers more or less hidden to where you don't get a really great look at him for the most part (aside from a few profile shots and lower torso angles until the second half) but always a presence, even in the daylight.
  • I appreciate how the kill scenes are geared more towards suspense than anything else.  Annie death, the great double kill of Lynda and her boyfriend, all three are set up and executed for the maximum level of suspense.  Contrast this with Friday the 13th two years later which focused more on gore (though there was a little suspense here and there).
  • I do get a morbid kick out of how Annie's babysitting charge Lindsay goes through most of her scenes staring blankly at a horror film on TV.
  • I also enjoy the irony of Carpenter having The Thing From Another World playing in the background considering what movie he made four years later.
  • The entire last twenty minutes or so with Laurie vs. Michael is one of the best extended suspense sequences in horror history.  Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic as usual and she plays being scared out of her mind quite well.
  • One last bit of fun before we end this, the film was one of the earliest VHS releases, put out by Media (initially Meda as Charles Band named the label after his wife).
It's been said before and I'll say it again but Halloween is a landmark in horror cinema and film in general.,  Well directed, well acted and still effective, it spawned legions of fans and cinematic knock-offs to say nothing of its own sequels and remakes.  It's still one of the great horror films.

Fangoria Flashbacks: 1994

And now we come to a run of full years.  The next three editions of this series will cover the full run of issues Fangoria put out.  1994 was a bit of a slow burner in terms of good horror films.  There was a little in the first half and things pick up the last quarter but for the most part, it was a another slow year for the genre.  Lots of low budget stuff is covered along with a little more in the way of television coverage.

As far as the magazine goes, there was a bit of downsizing as 1994 saw the last of the Bloody Best... and Horror Spectacular special issues.  They still did the occasional special movie magazine but for the most part, it's just Fango all by its lonesome from here on out.  I may get into a little of the special stuff at some later date.

Issue 130 starts us off and it's not too bad considering the drought the genre was in at the time.  A nice cover story on Phantasm III and a tribute to the recently departed Vincent Price highlight this one.

Other good articles are another retrospective piece on The Exorcist, an interview with Danny Elfman and a look at Spanish horror flick Accion Mutante.  Overall, a decent start to the year.
Thing stay on a fairly even keel with 131as while the upcoming Wolf starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer may get the cover, the bulk of the issue is given to small productions and other side aspects of the genre.

Highlights are an interview with Brazilian horror icon Coffin Joe; low budget flicks such as Skeeter and Body Melt, the aforementioned first look at Wolf, an article on Leprechaun 2 and a retrospective of an early Tom Savini outing called Deranged, based on the real life story of Ed Gein.  We also get the debut of a new column on horror video games.  Essentially a video game-centric version of the Dr. Cyclops section, the debut reviews a few Dracula tie-in games as well as the second in the Splatterhouse series.

Issue 131 is a good template for how the rest of the year will go.  More of a focus on smaller films as the big studios are taking a bit of a breather; a wide variety of articles covering the entire width of the genre and an overall polished feel that really makes for a great issue.

Issue 132 could easily be called the ultimate low budget Fangoria issue.  With the exception of news on The Stand (the massive 4 hour mini-series that's quite good) and a retrospective on The Hills Have Eyes, all of the articles are on smaller films and the issue is still a knockout.  No honest to god highlights as the entire issue is just plain solid.  Good stuff.
133 is pretty much more of the same with some good coverage of The Stand and The Crow (Brandon Lee's last film) along with more articles on smaller films.  My favorite is an article on the f/x house used by Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures.  Another solid issue.
With the summer now in full force, the magazine goes a little mainstream with its big 15th anniversary issue.  Another werewolf special, this has coverage of Wolf; a look back at Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf, Howling VII (dear lord) and of course, an interview with Spanish werewolf star Paul Naschy.  In terms of non-werewolf content, there are filler articles on the underrated The Shadow and an interview with Phantasm co-star Reggie Bannister and first news on the new Nightmare on Elm Street flick.  It's very good issue.

135 is a return to the style of the first few issues of the year as we have an impromptu second Lovecraft issue as the new John Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness (great movie sadly delayed until early 1995), Charles Band production The Lurking Fear and the anthology Necronomicon which stars Jeffrey Combs.

The issue is another winner as besides the aforementioned articles, we also get some international goodies such as an interview with legendary composer Ennio Morricone; pieces on New Zealand and Australian horror and some other goodies.

136 is a blend as we get a little more mainstream content.  In the fall of 1994, two big studio films were put out: Mary Shelly's Frankenstein (directed by Kenneth Branagh) and the adaptation of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire starring Tom Cruise.

We get first news on Frankenstein here along with more on In the Mouth of Madness; a first look at God's Army (retitled The Prophecy), news on a fourth Texas Chainsaw Massacre film, a chat with character actor Richard Lynch and a major highlight in the form of an interview with the legendary Jack Nicholson.  It goes without saying but this is easily the best issue of the year.  Hell, I haven't even mentioned the X-Files coverage that also turned up last issue.  Simply a fantastic issue of Fangoria.

137 brings in the Interview with the Vampire coverage but the real big draw is the return of Freddy Krueger in Wes Craven's New Nightmare.  Also on tap is more coverage of Frankenstein; news on the Tim Burton bio-pic Ed Wood, a little on The Shawshank Redemption and a look at an Italian horror movie called Dellamorte Dellamore which is an oddball take on the zombie film.  Overall, a very good issue.

Aside from the continuing coverage of Interview with the Vampire, New Nightmare and Frankenstein, we get more on Ed Wood, the beginning of a production diary on Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions (yes, just like Nightbreed they're going to ram this one down the reader's throats with similar results) and a huge retrospective piece on the John Carpenter classic Halloween.  Another very good issue.
We close out 1994 with another strong issue as 139 brings us more Interview with the Vampire coverage in the form of an interview with Tom Cruise and a chat with Stan Winston on his f/x work for the film; more Lord of Illusions and Frankenstein, news on the direct to video Darkman sequels plus some other goodies such as an interview with Robert Englund and a tribute to the recently departed Peter Cushing.

1994 was a very, very good year for the magazine as the genre had a bit of a rest for most of the year.  Longer articles, more variety, this is a great year of Fangoria.

Coming Soon: Fangoria 1995

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My Favorite Era: The Blob (1988)

There are some movies in this series that are legit classics and some that are just plain fun.  The 1988 remake of The Blob falls into the second category as it takes the premise of the 1958 original and amps it up with some awesome special effects, a likable cast and a nice no holds barred attitude to the storytelling process.

Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith star as Brian and Meg who will end up being our heroes and Donovan Leitch is also on hand as Meg's boyfriend Paul.  I'm also happy to see Art LaFleur back on the site as Meg's father and Joe Seneca, improv legend Del Close and Paul McCrane are also good in supporting roles.  It's a truly solid movie, let's take a closer look at what makes this sucker tick.
  • The first thing I love about this film is the script by Frank Darabont and the film's director Chuck Russell.  As I said earlier, they take the original movie and tweak it enough to where it fits in its time period but not so much that it's a remake in name only.
  • Another great thing is how well the small town feel is set up.  It just plain works and gives the movie a sort of retro feel to it.  It's one of those movies that's interesting to watch with the color turned down on your TV so it looks like a black and white film.
  • A cool thing the film does it to set up Paul as our male lead only to have him be one of the Blob's first victims.  It's a real great shock scene too as Tony Gardner and Lyle Conway did great work creating the f/x for the film.
  • Equally cool is Kevin Dillon playing essentially an 80's version of Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  He has great chemistry with Shawnee Smith and they make for one of the more likable 80's horror movie couples.
  • That's the key to why this movie works, the characters who need to be likable are just that.  There's nobody in the film who is disagreeable just for the sake of bring a prick.  Hell, even Paul McCrane as the jerky deputy has some redeeming qualities.
  • I appreciate how the film takes its time in setting things up.  The scene with the bum getting attacked comes after most, if not all of our main characters have been set up.  Hell, the monster doesn't really kick into action until about twenty six minutes in.  When it does though, the film really takes off.
  • The attack scenes are very nicely done with my favorite being the guy at the diner who's trying to fix a clogged sink...only to get pulled into the drain (ouch!) after which there is a nice chase scene (in the remake, the monster is fast) and another good kill as a nice waitress gets stuck in a phone booth.
  • Del Close is quite good as the local reverend and his gradual mental breakdown is pretty effective.
  • Equally effective is the redux of the movie theater attack scene as Meg races to save her kid brother and his friend.  The brother makes it.  His buddy?  Well, I did say this movie had a no holds barred attitude.
  • I like the twist of the monster actually being a bio-weapon the military has lost control of.  Joe Seneca is good as the slimy team leader willing to sacrifice an entire town and like any good bad guy, you really want to see him get munched in the worst way.
  • If I can complain about anything in the film, it's that the f/x towards the end are a little dodgy here and there.  The technology wasn't quite good enough to have the monster oozing down the main street eating folks but what we get is good enough.
  • Shawnee Smith is quite good in an uncommonly strongly written role.  Cute and tough, she definitely is easy to fall in love with.
  • I also appreciate that the usual "Nobody believes the kids" routine is dialed down to a bare minimum.  That's always been a thing that's bugged me as it requires too many characters to be stubborn idiots for too much screen time.
The Blob is a fun, cheerful 80's horror film that takes everything that was great about the original and enhances it.  It's well thought out, well made and definitely worth a look.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

My Favorite Era: Poltergeist (1982)

I love a good ghost story and Poltergeist is easily the best one to come out of the 80's.  An awesome pairing of Steven Spielberg as writer/producer and Tobe Hooper as director, it's a marvelously tense and creepy tale about a family in a small California housing tract beset by ghouls.  Good acting, fantastic special effects from ILM and a few moments that still legitimately scare the crap out of me make this one of the horror flicks of the 80's.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, just to get this out of the way, I believe that Tobe Hooper was the sole director of this but Spielberg did have quite a bit of input.
  • To the movie, I love how Hooper sets up the television right off the bat, giving it an almost spooky quality...not hard when you're just looking at a gigantic closeup of indistinct images.
  • The first act is very well done as you really get a comfortable, suburban small town feeling that lulls you into a false sense of security very well.  You really want to live in that house...pants-wettingly-terrifying haunting aside.  We get a nice, normal family in a nice, normal house...just the right set of folks for the audience to sympathize with as they get the ever-loving crap scared out of them.
  • Before we get too deep into things, I just want to point out how great Jerry Goldsmith's music is, especially the creepy main title theme.  The fact that it is so mellow and sweet makes it even more creepy than it should be.
  • The first act, as I said does a great job setting the tone and as a nice bonus, every single scare comes from something seen during this stretch of time.  God, early Spielberg just rocked!  Even when not directing!
  • I love that it;s a full 23 minutes before anything overtly supernatural happens.  It's nice to see a horror movie that takes its time and uses that time well.
  • All the acting is great here from Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams as the parents to the kids.  Hell, even the dog has good screen presence.
  • I get a kick out of how casually Williams takes the supernatural stuff at first.  Having a laugh at the kitchen chairs arranging themselves, the floor turning into essentially a gravity hill, it's a nice (though to be honest, really dumb if you stop and think about it) detail.  Equally fun is Nelson taking charge.
  • The scene almost immediately after this where the son is nearly eaten by the tree is just a marvel of effects, music and cinematography, as is the concurrent sequence of the little girl being pulled into the closet.
  • I'd like to say you can tell which stuff came from Spielberg (the sweet family stuff) and which stuff came from Hooper (the gut punch horror stuff), but you need to remember Steve decided to end Raiders of the Lost Ark with exploding heads and melting faces not to mention the rather high level of blood in the entire film...And he got a PG rating for the flick.  As far as gore goes, Hooper has dabbled a bit here and there but not that much at this point.  I think his highest gore level was in the second Texas Chainsaw Massacre film and in that case, he had Tom Savini on hand.  Well, you don't hire Savini and not let him throw some blood around!
  • That being said, this is one of the most messed up PG rated films I have ever seen.
  • Back to this movie, the entry of the paranormal investigators into the film is rather amusing when seen today with the glut of ghost hunting shows on cable now.  If I can find any flaw with the movie, it would be that it takes the subject a little too seriously.  That being said, this element does help the scare scenes.
  • Nelson's unimpressed reaction to one of the investigator's stories and his subsequent reveal of why they keep the kid's room locked is both funny and creepy.
  • A little over an hour in, we get the one scene that absolutely freaked me the hell out when I was a kid: the guy hallucinating that he's tearing his face off.  I think between that and the arm wrestling scene in The Fly, it's a wonder I became a fan of horror later on.  Great scene, though.  These days I'm more impressed with the steak moving across the counter.
  • I enjoy James Karen as Nelson's boss.  He brings just the right amount of smarm to the part (given that he built a housing project over an old Indian burial ground, it's needed) but he never becomes so bad you want to see him dead.  It's a nicely nuanced piece of acting.
  • Zelda Rubinstein as Tangina is one of the best things in the movie.  She takes what could have been a ridiculous character and makes her someone who when she shows up, you know she's there to take charge and get the job done.  It's sort of like Tommy Lee Jones' first scene in The Fugitive in an odd way.
  • Speaking of which, one of the most amusing things concerning the vaunted "Poltergeist curse" revolves around the late Ms. Rubinstein.  I saw a documentary on the subject a few years ago and pretty much everyone gave their take on the subject in slightly wordy but thoughtful sound bites.  Zelda though?  She just looked into the camera and intoned "Bullshit" when asked about the curse.  Priceless.
  • I tend to agree with her statement as well.  It's an interesting theory to talk about but at the end of the day it's slightly disrespectful to the dead if you really start buying into it.  And given what the plot of this movie is about...
  • The first climax with the rescue is a really great light show with one nice scare when the giant skull pops out.
  • The second one is ever better as we get nasty ghosts, creepy clown dolls, decaying bodies and a house imploding on itself.  Good stuff.
  • The joke at the end with Nelson moving the TV set out of the motel room is a nicely funny way to end the movie.
 Not much else to say, really.  I love this movie, it's one of the best horror films of the 80's and still works today.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.