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.

About Me

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