Monday, August 27, 2012

My Favorite Era: Pulp Fiction (1994)

It can be said, quite accurately, that if Jaws kicked off the blockbuster era of filmmaking for the next twenty years, Pulp Fiction helped kicked off the more indie spirited films in the nineties.  Like Jaws, much has been written about the movie to the point where a simple analysis of the thing is redundant.  Quentin Tarantino really his one out of the ballpark here, making a ghoulishly funny dark comedy (look at how many laughs come out of the situations that in any other movie would be deadly serious) that somehow, some way manages to make two and a half hours feel like ninety.

I saw this beauty twice in the theater in 1994, here are some thoughts...
  • The opening scene with Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer is a wonderfully plain and simple introduction to the wild world of the movie.  Roth is always good and Plummer is her usual eccentric self.  An amusing side note: I've noticed from watching her in a few other things that no matter what the role, her accent is a cross between Cockney and Irish...and she's a born and bred New Yorker.  Odd.  Even stranger is towards the end where is goes from her normal voice (relatively) to Cockney to Southern and back to her regular voice.  Like I said, she's a tad on the eccentric side as a performer.
  • The fifteen minute sequence with Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta is an impeccably built scenes of tension with the amusing conversation in the car leading to a double homicide (for the moment).
  • The nonlinear way the story unfolds is great as the juxtaposition between the first Travolta/Jackson scene where they're in nice suits and the less than cool attire they're seen in next is a great laugh as well as a nice hook for the audience.  The intro of Bruce Willis into the piece is also a nice piece of lean storytelling.
  • The long segment that follows is a nice showcase for John Travolta that helps remind the viewer why the hell he became popular in the first place.  It also gives us a nice look at Uma Thurman's talents.
  • The chemistry between Travolta and Thurman is quite amusing as Uma plays it casually sexy and Travolta, in an amusing change of pace is subtly nervous...especially after the story he;s heard from Jackson in the first scene.
  • The Jack Rabbit Slim's sequence is a marvel of detailed set design.  Tarantino generally fills the locations to the brim but here he really outdoes himself.
  • I get a kick out of Steve Buscemi's cameo.  This may be one of the few times in film where he hasn't had to be either sleazy, creepy or psychotic.
  • The adrenaline needle scene is still one of the tensest, uncomfortable moments I have ever seen.  Even when you know its coming, it's still a guaranteed "Squirm till you look impaired" moment.
  • The Christopher Walken monologue coming right after the OD sequence is a great tension relieving laugh riot as Walken starts off with a touching story a bout a watch that turns into an amazingly inappropriate tale about the journey it has been on.  Only Walken could sustain something this out there and not lose the audience.
  • Bruce Willis is great in this film.  Coming off the failure (though I still dig it) of Hudson Hawk he was in dire need of something good and he certainly delivers the goods.  He's tough, cool and just a little bit vulnerable.  It's a real tour de force.
  • Travolta getting shot 93 minutes in is still one of the best surprises in the movie.  Both times I saw it in the theater there were audible moans of disappointment.
  • Ving Rhames is also great, giving his crime lord a wonderfully intimidating demeanor.
  • Four words you never want to hear any place, any time: Bring out the gimp.  Man, that scene is still one of the most twisted things I have ever witnessed!  I don't know why the hell two rednecks have a pawn shop in Los Angeles, I don't want to know...some things are best left secret.
  •  Butch considering which weapon to use before he goes in to kill the rednecks is ghoulishly funny in the best way.
  • I love the little Twilight Zone riff that plays at the end of the Bruce Willis sequence.  Talk about the music fitting the moment!
  • The last forty minutes of the movie are a great blend of dark comedy, philosophical soul searching and some great scenery chewing from Harvey Keitel.  In only a few minutes of screen time, Keitel damn near walks off with the entire movie with one of the most hilariously deadpan bits of character comedy I have ever seen.
  •  Samuel L. Jackson truly owns the last scene of the movie.  As great as he is when he's losing his temper and shouting like a maniac, he's equally great when he is calm and calculating.  And yes, the reveal of his wallet is frigging hilarious.
  • The way the first scene and last scene dovetail into each other is a very satisfying moment.
1994 was a hell of a great year for movies and this is the best of the year.  Tarantino improved on his 1992 effort Reservoir Dogs by a wide margin with a fast, darkly funny, gloriously energetic piece of filmmaking that stands as one of the best movies ever made.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fangoria Flashbacks: 1987

And Fangoria flashbacks returns!  It's been a while but I think there won't be as much of a delay from now on...but don't quote me on that.  There will be a bit of a format change as I think I would prefer to focus on maybe a few specific issues for the year with some general notes about the others and horror in general thrown in.

Let's get to 1987, one of the best years for horror movies and an interesting one for the magazine.

1986 gets off to a decent start with issue #60.  Most of the issue is an impromptu tribute to The Exorcist with coverage of some late 1986 releases such as Little Shop of Horrors, the Wes Craven stinker Deadly Friend and more on From Beyond thrown in.


Issue 61 has a little 1986 wrap-up content but it also kicks off a nice pair of interviews that look at the old days of horror with former Hammer Horror boss Michael Carreras and Sam Arkoff of A.I.P.  As tends to be the case, both interviews are fantastic.  Two other highlights are interviews with Fango regular Dick Miller and Jeffrey Combs.
Here's where the fun begins as #62 is one of my favorite issues of the entire run. Here is where the magazine really puts itself into overdrive as in the editorial section, we learn that there will be a new editor starting next issue.  In the relative brief span of 68 pages we get not one, but two big Friday the 13th tributes including a look at all the gore cut out of the sixth movie.  And if you've ever seen that one, you know it's the slasher equivalent of a dry county.

We also get looks at Evil Dead II and the third Nightmare on Elm Street film.  And that's just four articles!  Even the Dr. Cyclops column is fully loaded with the U.S. cut of The Beyond, Howling II (my favorite bad movie of all time) plus a few other good flicks.

In addition to a few other articles including the conclusion to the Sam Arkoff interview, we get a quick Vincent Price interview.  This is one hell of an issue.

While the content of issue #63 is the usual fantastic stuff, the real thing to talk about with this one is the promotion of Anthony Timpone to editor starting with this issue.  Timpone started with the magazine in 1985 and his tenure as editor will last until early 2010.

As for the magazine itself, in addition to the continuing coverage of Evil Dead II and Nightmare 3, we get a good interview with Italian b-movie star David Warbeck; a preview of the fantastic Angel Heart (which I will get to at some point), a piece on The Haunting of Hamilton High (better known as Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II), an article on the quite terrible My Demon Lover and the conclusion of the Hammer horror interview from two issues ago in addition to a few other pieces.

Another solid issue as the magazine enters, for me at least, its heyday.
1987 continues with more retrospective articles and continuing coverage.  There is also a little more variety as we get interviews with authors John Skipp and Craig Spector as well as one with comics artist Bernie Wrightson.

There are also previews of Creepshow 2 and House II as well as one last piece on From Beyond as Mark Shostrom and others talk about their excellent work. 
We jump ahead to issue #68, (sadly missing out on coverage of Predator, Hellraiser and The Lost Boys) but happily we get another great issue.

Retrospectives articles on Creature From the Black Lagoon and the career of Albert Band (father of Charles Band), part one of a look at the guys who played Jason Voorhees, a look at the entertaining action/horror flick The Hidden, the first in a long line of articles tracking Pumpkinhead (we'll be talking about this well into 1988), the conclusion of an interview with Larry Cohen (that's the thing that sucks about not having all the issues, you sometimes get the end of something cool), a great interview with Rick Baker and an unintentionally hilarious preview of the crappy thriller The Unholy which, in spite of there being a demon who disembowels priests...sports a director who doesn't feel it's a horror movie.  The mind boggles.

We end with #69 and it really sends the year out on a high note.  Highlights are an interview with British filmmaker Norman J. Warren, an interview with John Carpenter about Prince of Darkness, more on the Jason Voorhees performers, a look at Brain Damage-Frank Henenlotter's latest film, Stan Winston talks Pumpkinhead and my favorite, a nice interview with Scream Queen Linnea Quigley.

The Running Man is also previewed which brings us to the end.

1987 was a fantastic  year for the genre with some fantastic movies.

Stay tuned for 1988.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Favorite Era: Intro and Jaws

Welcome to a new feature for the site, a somewhat in depth (because there are limits to how large a shovel I can wield sometimes), personalized look at some of the best in horror, sci-fi, action and comedy from 1975 to 1994.  Why the specific stretch of time I mentioned?  Basically, we're starting with our subject today and ending with Pulp Fiction.

When I think of my favorite stretches of time in film history, this period is generally what comes to mind.  In this series, we will be looking at 100 of the best in the four genres I have mentioned with the occasional diversion into thrillers and straight dramas here and there. These won't necessarily be traditional reviews.  In some cases, everything has already been said so I'll instead point out some things that I personally am amused/entertained by.

To begin, let's take a look at the movie that truly kicked off this era with a bang... Maybe that should be chomp.
What better way to kick things off than with this legendary horror/adventure movie that I'm fairly certain every person on earth has either seen or heard of.  I don't think I really need to get into a plot synopsis, and in terms of analysis pretty much everything has been said ten times over so let's just get on with some of the stuff that I feel makes this movie great.
  •  The casting and direction is pitch perfect.  You would never guess it was only Spielberg's second movie based on what he delivers and the performances across the board are great.  From our three main guys (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) to the Martha's Vineyard locals they used as extras, everyone does their job impeccably.
  • The soundtrack from John Williams is a wonderfully sparse, tense work that does a great job of building tension and suspense.  Williams has always been one of the best composers of all time and this is one of his best soundtracks.
  • The shark attacks are simply awesome.  The first one is a great scare scene that still works today; the kid getting munched is one of the most horrific things I've ever seen (not often you get a PG movie where a little kid is bitten in half by a shark) and Quint's death is still one of the most unnerving death scenes I have ever seen.  Robert Shaw really aimed for the bleachers with those death screams.
  • The last hour or so is one of the best extended third acts in film history.  The hunt for the shark has everything a good movie should have.  Character development, action, scares, a few laughs.  Just great.  Robert Shaw's speech about the Indianapolis is still one of the most hypnotic bits of acting ever.
  • A little thing I dig about the end credits is how the last note hits just our heroes make it to shore in long shot.  That's a little touch that really makes a movie like this worth watching over and over.
I am, and always have been an unabashed Spielberg fan.  Does he always hit a home run?  No, no filmmaker does.  Jaws is one of his best movies and it still holds up today.  It's still exciting, still scary, the shark is still effective (sometimes a mechanical disaster can be a blessing in disguise) and the new Blu-ray that came out recently is stunning.  It is what I would consider to be a perfect viewing experience.  There will be several other movies in this series that resemble that remark.  But that is a story for another day.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A little something different...

Just a quick announcement that I will be starting a series on the best of action, sci-fi, comedy and horror from 1975-1994 very soon.  These will be closer to serious film pieces than the usual lighthearted fare we get here.

Hercules (1983)


What happens when you take the myth of Hercules, throw in a dash of Superman: The Movie and send it over to Italy to be distributed by Cannon Films?  Well, you get 99 minutes of sheer madness the likes of which could only come from...Well, what I just described.

Lou Ferrigno is Hercules (dubbed) and spending roughly twenty minutes or so on an origin story (not just for our hero, but existence in general), we follow him as he tries to rescue his kidnapped fiancee Cassiopeia from the evil genius King Minos (William Berger) and his partner in crime Adriana (Sybil Danning).

That's the simple version.  What makes the movie great is the insane madness that greets us from the very first frame.  As with most Italian sci-fi/fantasy movies, the starscapes are gloriously cheesy and since Zeus and his fellow gods live on the moon, we get to see a ton of them.

Hercules fights a bear (or a dude in a bear costume at any rate) and throws it into space (where it becomes a constellation) to defeat it; Minos has laser shooting robots, there is a vague attempt to do the "Labors of Hercules" routine, sword fights break out and overall it's a huge, cheesy mess.

Mere words cannot express how awesomely cheesy and fun this movie is.  In fact, I was actually considering doing this movie and its even more insane sequel for The Agony Booth but I had no idea where to begin.  It's one of those movies that may actually be too weird to describe in a logical manner.

Ferrigno is a strong physical presence (though the guy dubbing him must have a crippling Valium addiction) and Sybil Danning is great as usual.  The director is an old favorite of mine, Luigi Cozzi and he does things with his usual competent flair.  It's pretty much what you would expect from an Italian b-movie from this period.  Loud, colorful and utterly insane.  If you like that kind of movie (which I do), this is a can't miss.

Hercules is a bizarre, truly baffling experience that really has to be seen to be believed.  It gets an 8/10 just for sheer audacity...And it only gets weirder in the sequel.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Charles Bronson returns in the third Death Wish movie and while some of the rather unpleasant brutality of the second film still remains, it is balanced out by the outlandish comic book excess the majority of the film indulges in.

Vigilante Paul Kersey returns to New York to look up an old friend only to find him a victim of a ruthless gang of psychos that have taken over the small neighborhood the friend lived in.  The cops are virtually helpless, despite the guy in charge, Shriker (played by Ed Lauter) who seems to be a passive aggressive fan of Kersey's brand of justice.  Put it this way, he throws the guy in jail after provoking a fight and then lets him go, saying he can kill as many bad guys as he wants to provided he works with the police.

Paul does just this as an immense body count is racked up, mainly in the last third of the movie when he finally has had enough.  The gang itself is your usual mish-mash of guys with a few familiar faces amongst them as well as some notable innocent victims.  Alex Winter of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure fame is one of the thugs and Marina Star Trek: The Next Generation Sirtis also has a small part.

The film is the usual hilariously reactionary crap the franchise doles out with the bad guys being ridiculously evil, the cops being ridiculously impotent and Kersey being a stoic badass.  Performances are not really worth mentioning as Bronson sleepwalks through his part and Gavan O'Herlihy hams it up as lead bad guy Fraker.

The film is actually pretty dull until the last twenty minutes when all hell breaks loose.  The finale is a nicely over the top protracted war between the gang and the other residents that manages to sens the body count to Rambo levels.  It's quite fun to see Bronson running around with a huge machine gun and a hand cannon.  That, plus the rocket launcher he uses to dispatch Fraker makes it one of the most memorable finales in an 80's action movie.

Having said all that, the film is still not all that good.  The script is lousy, performances are bad (even an old pro like Martin Balsam can't be bothered to give a damn), the characters are mostly broad stereotypes and there is an overall sense of unpleasantness that mars the film.  Maybe not to the level it gets to in the second one, but until the last twenty minutes it is a bit of a slog.

On an amusing note, for some reason, director Michael Winner decided to shoot the film in England and if you have ever been there, well... Let's just say that England and New York are very different locations.  It works towards the unintentional humor of the film though, so it gets a pass from me.

Death Wish 3 is my second favorite of the series.  I prefer the fourth film simply because it's more fun and I find a lot more to laugh at.  Still, the third film is an essential film for lovers of bad action movies.  Good soundtrack by Jimmy Page too.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Expendables 2 (2012)


8/10

Ah, finally it's here: the sequel to The Expendables!  The whole gang is back, this time going up against a terrorist  named Jean Vilain (Jean-Claude van Damme and yes, that's really the character's name) who has access to a ton of plutonium and no moral compass when it comes to selling it.  After one of their own is killed, Stallone and company embark on a roaring rampage of revenge with help from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis who appeared in the first film briefly and Chuck Norris as a fellow mercenary named Booker who is a one man army.

That's pretty much all the plot you need as the majority of the movie is action scene after action scene and badass moment after badass moment.  Stallone and Statham are great together as they were in the first film and Dolph Lundgren gets maybe the best laugh of the movie during a chat about last meals.  Let's just say that if Mr. Lundgren invites you to dinner, make sure you find out the menu before you RSVP.

Van Damme is also a highlight as he takes a rather underwritten role and gives him a sleek, cocky streak of viciousness that really makes you want to see Sly beat his brains out.  Norris is also fun as his usual silent man of action.  Arnold and Bruce are also fantastic in their roles as Willis always brings the quiet menace well and it's really, really nice to see that the former Governator still has the touch.  Best of all, he's got a new movie coming out in January that I will definitely check out.

Action is great, as one would expect, with a dynamite opening assault on a military base and a great finale that sees tons of highlights, caped off with a fantastic brawl between Stallone and Van Damme.

There are a few downsides though as the majority of the characters are underwritten and one character in particular is introduced in such a way that his fate (which for the benefit of those wanting to stay spoiler free I will not mention) might as well be posted on a huge neon sign over his head.

That little matter aside, the movie is a fitting follow-up to the original and while it lacks the fresh feel of the first one, it still delivers the action goods.  Great action, some good laughs and a great cast.  Check it out, it's well worth it.  It's basically a Cannon film on steroids, and that's a very, very good thing.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Joe Bob Briggs-Dead in Concert (1985)

I'm a pretty big fan of comedy, cheesy movies and the 80's... as you might have noticed given all the other stuff on my website...and as a result, I am also a huge fan of Joe Bob Briggs.  In college I loved tuning in to  Monstervision on TNT, just something about having a cheeseball horror film introduced by a cowboy makes it seem more entertaining, I guess.

Joe Bob's actual name is John Bloom and he started using the character as a way to get reviews of drive-in movies into the Dallas newspaper he worked for.  The character proved to be controversial (Bloom has a distinctly unrefined and politically incorrect sense of humor) and while he gained tons of fans he also ended up getting fired after mocking the "We Are the World" song (sort of, his column just changed over to another company) in 1985.

This led to him doing a standup tour that started in Cleveland and our video today is from that tour.  The set itself is okay as Joe Bob, while he is charismatic and funny now isn't quite ready for prime time here.  The material is fairly standard: jokes about his childhood, Texas, race relations, relationships with some songs sprinkled in here and there, nothing really innovative but then again it doesn't really set out to be.  The success of the tour led to a job at The Movie Channel and later Monstervision on TNT.  TNT cancelled the show in 2000 and to be frank, cable television has been a little more boring ever since.

The video is a fairly dull show that is an adequate hour of mild comedy.  He's not real proud of this video as it was a very, very early appearance in front of an audience for him.  Happily, Bloom would refine his character to where he actually worked on camera.  It's not an essential thing to see if you like the guy...actually it's the sort of thing your kid brother would talk you into renting on a hot summer afternoon with the parents away for the weekend.  And right afterwards you'd end up chasing him around the house with a Wiffle Bat, yelling at him for wasting your time.

Joe Bob himself put it best: "Yes, it does exist".

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lifeforce (1985)

Before we begin, a little site news.  As you might have noticed, there are several posts on the site with multiple titles given brief capsule reviews.  In the interest of making the best use of my available resources, I will be doing full reviews of some of the ones I have already covered.  It started the other day with Avenging Force and it will continue here.

Lifeforce is one of the great forgotten gems of the 80's and one of the best things to come out of Cannon Films.  Now granted, that is a little like saying a barehanded punch in the face is better than a punch with an iron glove but bear with me for a moment.

The film, the first of Tobe Hooper's three films for Cannon, concerns a space expedition to investigate Halley's Comet that leads to the discovery of three space vampires who feed on the life force of their victims rather than just their blood.

Complications arise (naturally) and an epidemic breaks out in London that leads to the main vampire (played by the beautiful and constantly naked Mathilda May) switching bodies a few times (leaping into Patrick Stewart at one point in a great extended cameo), the victims of the vampires rising up as deranged zombies, lead astronaut Ted Carlsen-played by Steve Railsback going looney (you know, as opposed to his other roles where he's totally sane), and a baffling ending that can only be called one of the few times a battle between earthly good and cosmic evil ends in a tie.  It's really quite amazing how insane this thing gets.

Now, to be fair, even with the 8/10, this is definitely a bad movie.  The script is somewhat convoluted (Dan O'Bannon was always a good writer but he often ran into filmmakers who had trouble putting his words into images), despite the pulpy tone the film takes on it's somewhat humorless and as much as I dig it, it probably does run a little longer than it really needs to.  But it is a bad movie in the best possible way as Hooper keeps the pace quick (even with the 116 minute run time), Steve Railsback is always entertaining, the special effects are amazingly good given the studio producing it and, of course, no movie that has a naked space chick wandering around for the entire duration can be all bad!

Lifeforce was sadly overlooked when it was released in the summer of 1985, butchered to an incoherent 101 minute running time.  It's been released by Vestron and MGM/UA (the current rights holders) and is definitely worth a look if you enjoy loud, over the top b-horror movies.  Tobe Hooper has had a hit-and-miss career, but this is definitely one of his better films.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Avenging Force (1986)

Note: This was originally part of a multi film article.  I always felt I short changed it a little by not singling it out.

Let's talk a little about one of the best Cannon films not available stateside.  Avenging Force is, unless I am mistaken, meant to be a sequel to the Chuck Norris classic  Invasion U.S.A.  Michael Dudikoff plays Matt Hunter (Chuck's character in the former) who ends up trying to protect his friend, politician Steve James, and said politician's family from a group of insane white supremacists led by Glastonbury, played by giant ham, and sadly departed, John P. Ryan.

Ryan was one of those actors who could give a subdued and layered performance, but it's so much more fun to see him cut loose and overact.  Let me tell you, he does this like few others I have ever seen.  Baring his teeth, snarling, whooping like a nut, shouting madly, the man hams it up in a way that is simply awe inspiring.

In addition to being racists, the bad guys also like to hunt people for sport in the swamps near their hideout so of course we get a little Most Dangerous Game thrown in along with the usual action.  I love this movie beyond words.  It's simply insane in how over the top it is.

Generally, you would expect the Steve James character to lose maybe a family member before joining up with Hunter to kick butt in the final showdown.  Here?  Not really.  First off, one of the man's three kids is killed in the beginning sending him on the requisite butt-kicking outings with Dudikoff.  About an hour later, the other two kids along with with his wife go down and then, he goes down!

I swear, this is a movie that just does not give a damn about character conventions!

James is his usual cool self and I've already spoken about Ryan which leads us to our hero for the day.  Michael Dudikoff does pretty well, though his emotional range is somewhere between Chuck Norris and Dolph Lundgren.

Happily, this isn't a movie where you really need to act as we get loads of action and stacks of inventive killings throughout.  If there is a downside to the film (apart from Steve James dying), it would be the rather odd open ending the movie goes with.  Clearly they wanted a franchise out of this thing but for whatever reason, it never happened.

Avenging Force is, sadly, unavailable on Region 1 DVD.  You can get it in Region 2 but unless you have the right equipment or want to splurge for the VHS, you're sort of screwed.  I'd love for this to score a stateside release, it's truly one of the best 80's action flicks and one of Cannon's finest.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

Extreme Prejudice is a very good, sadly underrated 1987 gem from director Walter Hill.  Taking place in Texas near the border, it revolves around the rivalry between former friends Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) and Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe).  Benteen is a Texas Ranger while Cash has gone down a different path, becoming a ruthless drug dealer and killer.  Between them is, naturally, a sexy young woman Sarita (Maria Conchita Alonso) and just to make things even more complex, we get a group of reportedly dead soldiers led by the great Michael Ironside who get involved with a bank heist scheme that sends the former friends at each other full tilt.

The plot is wonderfully intricate with a few twists here and there and the action is brutal and bloody.   Walter Hill has always been an expert at character driven action movies and here, he may be at his best.  Nolte and Boothe serve up two great layered performances that let you get inside the characters and Alonso also is good.  The real highlight for me though is the team of soldiers, basically a smorgasbord of character actors: Michael Ironside is in charge and also in the group are Clancy Brown, William Forsythe and a few others.  All of them are fantastic with Ironside and Brown really standing out.

The film is also beautifully shot with the cinematography giving you a real grimy, humid feeling.  It helps give the film the feel of a modern western, which it truly is.  More folks should know about this one, it's really, really good.

About Me

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