Thursday, October 31, 2013

My Favorite Era: Prince of Darkness (1987)

John Carpenter's 1987 flick Prince of Darkness is my favorite horror film of that year.  A moody, interesting little bit of apocalyptic horror, it takes hard science stuff and blends it with religious horror elements to make a utterly creepy, fascinating horror flick.

An ensemble piece along the lines of The Thing, it concerns a priest played by Donald Pleasence who invites a professor colleague of his and some assorted grad students to investigate a mysterious container that has been stored in an old church in Los Angeles for quite some time.  Turns out said container has an evil force within it that can possess people and turn them into mindless zombies and it is up to everyone to stop it before it gets loose.

We've got a good cast of Carpenter regulars, some nice f/x, an uncommonly smart script and some nice spooky atmosphere as only John Carpenter can do.  Let's take a closer look.
  • As with Phantasm II, I discovered this at about three in the morning on KTLA.  It's part two of what Carpenter considers his "Apocalypse Trilogy".  The other two films are The Thing and In the Mouth of Madness.
  • I like the rather sparse character setups Carpenter goes with, quickly giving ostensible leads Bryan (Jameson Parker) and Catherine (Lisa Blount) a romantic relationship and establishing the friendship between the priest Donald Pleasence plays and Professor Birack (Victor Wong).  We also get the setup to the mystery in the church, all as the opening credits roll.  This is a really well pout together film.
  • Equally good is the overwhelming sense of dread the opening few minutes conjure.  This is more a film about scary ideas than scary imagery and events.  It's a pretty tall order to serve up weighty stuff like metaphysics, the reality of faith and hard science along with a group of zombified homeless people led by Alice Cooper plus all the bugs you could ever ask for.  It's easily Carpenter's most ambitious film if nothing else.
  • Thankfully, Pleasence and Wong deliver the science and philosophical stuff in such a way that you aren't bored or confused.  Actually, this might be my favorite performance from both men.
  • The cool thing about this is film is that unlike most of the other horror films being made and released around the time, the cast is entirely adults.  The closest we get to the usual is the Dennis Dun character and even then he's just scared witless.
  • One little thing I find amusing is how nobody in the film has any problem cursing like a sailor and taking the lord's name in vain in a church right ion front of a priest.  Just something I find funny.
  • The film has a nice, deliberate pace that really helps the story.  If it were a rush job, the inherent complexity of the story would be bowled over, and as it stands you still have to watch it one or three times to really get what the hell is going on.
  • The shared dream aspect is a wonderfully creepy touch and the way the dream itself is realized is very effective.
  • The film really picks up steam about an hour in when one of the researchers who has had a minor injury becomes a vessel for the evil force and undergoes a rather nasty transformation.,  The f/x work is quite good throughout the film.
  • A rather effective bit is Pleasence's character losing faith and trying to get it back.  It's a nice bit of acting from the man, he always delivered the goods no matter what the film was.
  • I also have to say that Dennis Dun and Victor Wong are always fun to watch and here they are just plain enjoyable as hell.  Dun is great as the jerky wiseguy and Wong is simply awesome.
  • I dig the ending sequence where the possessed researcher is trying to pull the evil out through a mirror.  I also love that the first thing the priest does as soon as he sees this is to grab a large axe and go after the evil.
Prince of Darkness is a challenging, fascinating little horror flick that engages the mind first before going for the horror stuff.  It's not 100 % successful (the last act is a bit shaky as the horror tropes kick in) but it's still a really, really good film.

One last note, I strongly recommend snagging the Blu-ray of this movie that was recently released.  It's worth every penny.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Living Daylights (1987)

The 15th Bond film marked the debut of Timothy Dalton in the role as well as the 25th anniversary of the film series.  A classically trained actor, Dalton brought a certain brooding darkness to the role that worked pretty well, though it didn't quite catch on with the general public.  I dig his take on the character, it's a little more grounded than usual and this take was built on (and in some cases refined) by Daniel Craig in his films.

Solid cast of 80's regulars, good action, good music, the only issue is some dodgy story elements.  Let's take a closer look.
  • I have a lot of affection for this one as it's the first one I ever saw in the theater.
  • I always liked the way they introduced Dalton as Bond.  In the pre-credits scene, he;s on a training exercise with two other 00-agents and the other two just happen to bear a passing resemblance to Roger Moore and George Lazenby (the last two guys to play the role).  After one is captured and the other is killed, we get a nice huge movie star close-up of Dalton on a mountain.  It's a really great shot.
  • Equally great is the ensuing chase as Bond goes after the killer who is escaping by truck.  There's some nice property destruction and the scene ends with a nice stunt as Bond parachutes out the back of the truck before it explodes (you know, on account of the ton of explosives in it).
  • I also have to give credit to John Barry for his awesome score.  This was the last film in the series he did music for and it's a hell of a swan song.
  • Pretty good theme song by a-ha, though they fall short of the tune Duran Duran did for A View to a Kill.
  • The overall plot is fun but a little too convoluted for its own good.  As far as I can tell, General Koskov (Jeroen Krabbe) fakes a defection (complete with Bond watching his back and helping him escape) in order to frame his boss, KGB head General Pushkin (John Rhys Davies) for the murder of several agents (mainly the two seen in the opening sequence) and there's also some business about a diamonds for weapons deal he's had Koskov make with arms dealer Brad Whitaker (Joe Don Baker) that Pushkin changes his mind about only for Koskov to take up the deal and pay for the weapons with opium purchased from Afghanistan drug dealers with diamonds.  And he plans on keeping the money.  It's really hard to tell exactly but the film is so light and enjoyable that it pays to just not try to analyze it too hard.  Truth be told, it's really the only flaw the film has though it's a rather big one that keeps it from being perfect.
  • Dalton is quite good as Bond here, giving a performance that is nearly the complete opposite of what Moore did with the character.  He's certainly more serious and a lot more athletic.  Basically he's a more refined version of Daniel Craig's take on the role.  Craig tends to come off as more of a bastard than Dalton.
  • The humor is handled differently as well, less quips and more situational humor.  Dalton handles it pretty well.
  • I like how they weave a little Fleming into the film.  The film proper starts with Bond covering Koskov's escape by shooting at a female sniper who will turn up later.  This is taken from the short story that the film takes its title from.  A nice touch.
  • Krabbe and Baker make for a pretty decent villain team, though neither one is really great.  Krabbe is quite good at playing a total slimeball who is more than willing to screw over even his girlfriend in order (setting her up as a sniper with blank rounds in order to get her out of the way) to get what he wants.  Granted what he really wants is a little vague but still!
  • Joe Don Baker is fun as Whitaker, he's generally pretty good when playing the heavy and he gives the man a nice sneering arrogance.
  • Andreas Wisniewski is also fun as hired killer Necros.  He's a pretty good version of the silent killer trope and his fight with Bond at the end is a highlight.
  • I genuinely enjoy Maryam D'Abo as Bond Girl for the day, Kara Milovy.  Koskov's cello-playing girlfriend, she's my favorite sort of Bond Girl: basically an innocent bystander who is drawn into the over the top world Bond exists in.  She and Dalton have good chemistry and, of course, she's very easy on the eyes.
  • There are lots of little touches in the film I enjoy.  The bit in the safehouse where Koskov is being held and Bond enters with some stuff from him he bought.  The look on M's face when he sees the receipt is fun, as is Bond admitting the champagne on the list he was given wasn't that good.  Dalton is also fun whenever he and Kara have an action scene together.  Being the world's greatest secret agent can't prepare you for having to also keep an eye on a civilian, I would guess.
  • While the action throughout the film is great, I always got a kick out of the boisterous fight Necros gets into with a random agent when he single-handedly abducts Koskov from the safehouse.  It's a nifty little affair that illustrates nicely that Bond isn't the only MI6 guy who can kick ass.  Of course I've always had a soft spot for fights in kitchens, just so many tools of utter destruction to use...
  • John Rhys Davies is always fun to see and here is no different.  Pushkin is a very likable guy and the scene where Bond confronts him in his hotel room is wonderfully played.  Dalton is truly in the zone in this scene.
  • Bond getting to Kara in order to find Koskov is a nice way to get her in the plot (she was also the sniper who Bond was supposed to kill) and we also get the prerequisite big car chase as Bond evades the police in a tricked-out Aston Martin.  It's maybe my favorite scene in the entire film.
  • Apart from the car chase, Bond doesn't have much in the way of gadgets outside of an explosive keyring finder.  Pretty neat and the film weaves into the story in a nice, organic manner.
  • The film is fairly well-directed by John Glen, though the pacing slackens a little in the second act.
  • Felix Leiter turning up halfway through the film isn't really needed, though I do love that he gets Bond to him by having two attractive women bring him in.
  • Art Malik is fun as Kamran Shah, a freedom fighter who Bond teams up with.  Unlike Rambo III, this film uses the late 80's Russian occupation of Afghanistan fairly well.  It also helps that by the time the film came out, the Russians hadn't left the area yet.
  • The huge gun battle on the airbase is nicely done, I especially love the music kicking in as Kara suddenly decides to kick some ass and drive after Bond as he pilots a cargo plane.  Put it this way: a cellist who has no problem stealing a truck and knocking a random solfdier off with a punch and the windshield wipers?  That's my kind of woman!  Is it any wonder she's one of my favorite Bond Girls?
  • Koskov having one of the nastiest plane to car collisions in film history is good as well, though the only explanation I can come up with for him surviving the thing is that he's a cyborg from the future.  Admittedly, that theory could use some work.
  • As good as that sequence it, it is outclassed by the great fight between Bond and Necros on a cargo net while a bomb is ticking down to detonation in the plane.  I remember being wowed by this sequence when I was a kid and I still love it.
  • Bond's showdown with Whitaker isn't too bad, though a little more development for the bad guy would have it a better bit of action.
  • As a sidenote, for some reason all I remember from seeing this as a kid is the plane fight and the skinny guard being gunned down by Pushkin after Bond kills Whitaker.  What can I say?  I was nine!
 The Living Daylights is a slightly flawed but overall enjoyable entry in the series.  Dalton makes for a wonderful Bond, the rest of the cast does fine work and the action is top notch as always.  It's something of a forgotten gem in the series and is worth checking out.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

This is a movie I've had a sort of love/hate relationship with.  Tobe Hooper's debut film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the seminal horror movies of the 70's.  Grim and unbearably tense, it is one of the scariest films of all time.  The sequel went down a different path, however, keeping the tense moments but also throwing in some grisly dark humor.,  The second film is actually more of a  horror comedy than anything else.  Let's take a closer look.
  • The film is one of the three films Hooper did for Cannon, along with his Invaders from Mars remake and Lifeforce.
  • Solid opening with a couple of yuppie jerk college guys annoying the hell out of our female lead Stretch (Caroline Williams) on her radio show and subsequently being gruesomely killed by Leatherface and his family complete with awesome f/x from Tom Savini.
  • Dennis Hopper is fun as always here as the uncle of two of the characters from the first movie, a former Texas Ranger hell-bent on revenge.  He really delivers a solid performance here, proving that even a clean and sober Dennis Hopper can bring the crazy like nobody else.  He has one completely silent scene at a hole in the wall chainsaw store that is one of my favorite bits from him.
  • I like the store owner too, he reacts just about the way any person would react to Dennis Hopper trying out chainsaws.  Amazement with just a little bit of terror.
  • I love that the chainsaw family has gone into the chili business and is locally famous.  That's just awesomely wrong.  The late Jim Siedow was terrific as The Cook, Drayton Sawyer in the first two films, just ghoulishly funny.
  • The extended sequence in the radio station where we meet the talky psycho family member of the day, Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) is a nicely done bit of suspense.  Moseley goes way overboard later on in to a rather annoying degree but here in his first scene he;s nicely creepy.  The makeup job is really good and Leatherface's appearance is a genuine shock.
  • After some decent chasing around, we get a truly odd bit as Leatherface falls for Stretch...sort of.  It's a really goofy bit with some of the most obvious sexual imagery I've ever seen.  Hooper has never been subtle and he isn't here either.  It makes sense to a degree but it's still goofy as all hell.
  • On a side note, Caroline Williams is really good in this movie.  She's pretty, likable and has one hell of a scream.  Lou Perryman is also amusing as Stretch's engineer.  I also enjoy that rather than be totally freaked out and helpless, she just gets pissed and goes after Chop-Top and Leatherface after they leave the radio station.
  • Bill Johnson is also pretty good as Leatherface though he's nowhere near as scary as he was in the first film.  Actually, none of the sequels have really done justice to the character.
  • The production design of the chainsaw family's home is amazing considering the relatively low budget of the movie.
  • The second half of the film is pretty straightforward as Stretch tries to evade the family while Siedow and Moseley ham it up shamelessly.  During this, Leatherface does some skinning, Hopper progressively goes more and more crazy as he looks for Stretch (he meets up with her before they get to the main part of the lair but she falls into a hole) and Tom Savini gets to strut his stuff.
  • The only big issue I have with the movie is the need to re-do the dinner scene from the first film.  This has happened in all but the most recent installment of the franchise, including the crummy Platinum Dunes films and it can never be as effective as it was the first time.
  • Making it better is the entrance of Hopper who proceeds to go on a great, over the top chainsaw duel with Leatherface.
  • Stretch's fight with Chop-Top is decent as well and the film ends on a nice note as she goes nuts on him with the chainsaw, literally and figuratively.
I didn't much care for this when I first saw it but  I've come to appreciate this film for what it is, a ghoulishly amusing horror film with some great f/x and a few nice performances.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Favorite Era: The Fog (1980)

John Carpenter's The Fog is maybe the main film that really made me want to be a filmmaker.  Full of atmosphere, it's a spooky little ghost story about a small coastal town in Northern California that is beset by a mysterious fog.  Naturally, it's related to the town's past and it all comes together fairly nicely.  Needless to say, funding your city on gold stolen from a bunch of lepers you intentionally killed is the sort of thing that will come back to bite you in the ass eventually.

We got a great cast, great directing, great music and great atmosphere in one of the best horror flicks of the 80's.  Let's take a closer look.
  •  Great moody beginning with John Houseman telling the back story to a group of kids around a campfire.  It' a brilliant way to start things as you get the exposition out of the way in the first few minutes.  Carpenter has always been good at lean, efficient storytelling and this is one of his better stories.
  • I love the cast in this movie.  Hal Holbrook is great as the priest with a guilty conscience (his great grandfather was one of the town fathers); Adrienne Barbeau proves it is entirely possible to look sexy as hell dressed in casual wear, Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis are fun in their roles and there is good support from Janet Leigh as the person in charge of the town's 100th anniversary event and Nancy Loomis as her assistant.
  • During the opening credits, there is an extended sequence of spooky things going on at midnight for a few minutes that is handled quite well.  While something like this could easily come off as filler, it is shot so well that it comes off as quite eerie.
  • Back to the cast, the thing that's really cool is that this is an ensemble piece in the purest sense of the term.  Ideally, Atkins would be the male lead in any other film since he does a bit of investigating into a boat that falls victim to the ghostly fog bank that carries a bunch of vengeful ghosts, but Barbeau plays a fairly vital part and Holbrook certainly is important to the story.  Curtis is really the only one who doesn't have a large part, she's just there to scream and be menaced.  Still, any film that has both her and Adrienne Barbeau gets an easy recommendation from me.
  •  I really dig how the ghosts look here.  Designed by Rob Bottin, you never really get a good look at what they look like apart from one shot towards the end but they are spooky as hell to say nothing of just generally murderous.  Bottin is also pretty good as the lead ghost.
  • If it makes me a dork to think that the Jamie Lee Curtis character being from Pasadena is utterly cool, I've never been more okay with something in my entire life.
  • As usual, Carpenter scored the movie and it's another wonderfully creepy soundtrack.
  • The film is very well paced, both maintaining an even, casual tone but also delivering its scares and ghostly goings on with a brisk efficiency.  John Carpenter really gets the most out of the lean 89 minute running time.
  • The location is also great.  I love horror flicks set in quiet little towns, they just always seem to work for me.

 This was another gem from Embassy Home Video.  Carpenter was really hitting his stride with this one and it would continue for the rest of the decade.  The film is wonderfully spooky and even though the story is rather slight and doesn't hold up too well on close inspection, the film still manages to be a fun ride with some good acting, f/x and an awesome atmosphere.  It's a real gem.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

My Favorite Era: Bad Taste (1987)

With Peter Jackson's second installment in his Hobbit trilogy a few months from release, I thought it would be fun to take a look at his first film.  Bad Taste is a lovably cheap, insane bit of splatter that Jackson wrote, directed and acted in.  He was also the DP on it, essentially making him Robert Rodriguez six years before El Mariachi came around.  Released in New Zealand in 1987 and the US in 1989, it's still one of my favorite Peter Jackson films.  Let's take a closer look.

The plot is basically just this: Aliens come to a small village in New Zealand looking for ingredients for their intergalactic fast food franchise.  And by ingredients, I mean humans.  They are opposed by a ragtag group of operatives from The Astro Investigation and Defence Service (Yes, they did go there.  This film isn't called Bad Taste for nothing!).

Even this early in his career, Jackson's knack for impressive camerawork is on display with some really nice shots.  While the pacing isn't quite there, his sense of humor certainly is and it's not too hard to trace the road from this film to his current stuff.

Jackson is pretty funny as Derek, the most mentally unsound of our group of heroes (and given one of the other guys on the team, Ozzy is also a psycho that's saying a lot).  Giggling incessantly, absolutely kill crazy in the nerdiest way possible and nearly unstoppable (he sustains a gruesome head injury that makes his brains spill out but he copes), he's quite the comic highlight.  How can you not love a character who deals with an injury like the one I just mentioned by strapping his belt around his head as tight as he can to keep his brains in?

The gore is the real reason to see this and we get tons of it with exploded heads, the exploding sheep and other gross gags that make this one quite memorable, though not one to watch while eating chili.  Bad Taste is one of the great low budget splatter flicks, right up there with The Evil Dead.  It might not be as polished as Dead-Alive, but I still dig the hell out of it.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

My Favorite Era: True Lies (1994)

With the large gap between Licence to Kill and Goldeneye, the film world was starved for something sort of like James Bond.  Happily, in 1994 James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to give the world a gift.

Said gift is an entertaining, fun thrill ride that combines the over the top stuff you normally find in the James Bond films with a little more humor than usual.  True Lies is basically a remake of a French film called La Totale which concerns a man who has managed to keep his job as a spy a secret from his family for many years, until something inevitably goes awry.  James Cameron has extended the plot into something more grandiose and crowd-pleasing with loads of action, things blowing up, one-liners and fun.  Let's take a closer look.
  • Love the little nod to Goldfinger as Harry Tasker (Arnie) infiltrates a party in Switzerland underwater, surfacing and removing his wetsuit to reveal a pristine tuxedo.  This is the big thing that makes this movie so much fun, it throws in little nods to what came before without being snide about it.  Contrast this approach with something like xXx where the filmmakers were just complete jerks hell-bent on proving themselves better to the point of alienating anyone who might be watching (and failing miserably).
  • Arnold is just wonderfully amusing in this film.  Cool and relaxed, he is much more engaging here than in his previous movie The Last Action Hero.  Funny how the less he tries, the better his performance tends to be.  Weird.
  • The rest of the cast is fun too with Tom Arnold pulling off a shockingly likable performance as Harry's partner; Jamie Lee Curtis is funny as the long suffering wife and Art Malik makes for a nicely nutty villain, though seeing the old stock terrorist tropes these days make this an interesting watch from a historical point of view.  Tia Carrere is also enjoyable as the obligatory femme fatale.  Also amusing is Charlton Heston as Harry's boss.
  • The best thing about this film is just how effortlessly relaxed it is.  The bad guys are planning to blow up some nukes but for the most part, everything is treated with a light touch (this is the closest Cameron has ever come to making a comedy) and you can just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
  • The stuff between the action is pretty damn good too as Harry finds out his wife Helen is having an affair with a guy who turns out to be a used car salesman posing as a spy.  Bill Paxton is hilarious as usual as the aforementioned salesman and the middle portion of the film is dedicated to this subplot.  It works fairly well (though to be frank, Harry is a real dick here) and when the real bad guys come back it ends up being a nice surprise.
  • Action is pretty fantastic with a nice shootout at the beginning, a fun confrontation in a bathroom that leads to a bike vs. horse chase and the last  forty minutes are just Arnold letting loose as he says "To hell with this spy stuff, I'm just gonna shoot as many guys as I can until the film ends!"  The mayhem is topped off by a fun sequence with Harry commandeering a Harrier to save his daughter and save the day.
  • Special credit has to go to Curtis who pretty much owns the middle of the film.  She's funny, sexy and amusingly badass in the last third of the film.
  • I also love the film's sense of humor.  Arnold is funny as usual but even the bad guys have some amusing bits: The battery on a camera being used to tape terrorist demands running out is my favorite.  The rest of the film is equally fun as even the threat of nuclear destruction is treated in sort of a comic book manner.  It works quite well.
True Lies is a witty, thoroughly enjoyable spy action/comedy with a strong sense of fun, good acting and good action.  It's one of Cameron's best, one of Arnold's best and just overall good entertainment.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Favorite Era: Zombie (1979)

While Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (examined in this series earlier this year) was a surreal nightmare with some creepily Lovecraftian overtones, Zombie (known also as Zombi 2 in order to cash in on Dawn of the Dead) is more of a good old fashioned barf bag movie.

The plot is simplicity itself as Italian horror vet Ian McCulloch plays Peter, a British reporter who tries to help Anne (Tisa Farrow, another Italian horror flick regular) find her missing father.  They get help from a young couple played by Al Cliver and  Auretta Gay who have a boat and travel to a mysterious island where Anne's father has been working with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson in a solid character role).  Naturally, something has gone terribly wrong (your island turning into ground zero for the zombie apocalypse generally is a crappy day at the office) and there is much gore, mayhem and the occasional bit of silliness.  Let's take a closer look.
  • I have sort of an amusing history with this one.  I had a great aunt who was even more of a film buff than I am and for some ungodly reason, a friend of hers decided to give her the following: Two Steven Seagal films (Above the Law and Out for Justice), Evil Dead 2 and this film.  Needless to say, she gave me those four in what I would imagine was the easiest decision of her entire life.
  • I love the cast here, it's just the ultimate in terms of Italian horror in the late 70's/early 80's.  McCulloch is a solid lead, Farrow is okay, Cliver plays the dumb guy fairly well and Auretta Gay has a very nice...smile.  We'll go with that for now.
  • Fulci gives us a great opening with a creepy, deserted boat pulling into New York Harbor.  The harbor patrol running into our first zombie is a nice moment as well, f/x whiz Gianetto de Rossi does outstanding work here, maybe even better than Tom Savini's stuff in Day of the Dead.
  • The great thing about this film is how well its paced.  While a lot of Italian horror films tend to go for sort of a slow burn, this one gets you right into things and really does a surprisingly nice job of giving the characters some depth.  It can be a little slow here and there but for the most part, it works just fine for me.
  • On a lighter note, there is a great, cheesy disco song playing at the start of the scene where Peter (Ian McCulloch) meets Anne (Tisa Farrow).  It's "There's no Matter" by Linda Lee and is hideously catchy.  To give you an idea of how it sticks in the brain, I first saw this film in 1999 and I finally discovered the damn thing in its entirety last year.  Maybe it's just me, though.
  • The stuff on the island with Richard Johnson is wonderfully creepy.  He's stubbornly trying to find out why the island natives are dying and coming back as zombies, his wife Paola (Olga Kartalos) is drinking heavily and wants to leave and everybody else is warning him to get the hell out.  It's nicely atmospheric and creepy.
  • Another touch I enjoy is how the film is vague about how much Dr. Menard is to blame for the problems.  About the only thing he's definitely responsible for is the death of Anne's father and that;s just because he dies and turns into a zombie; we see the death both at the beginning of the film and later as Menard explains.  In an interesting touch, the two times this is shown differ in certain ways, an enticing mystery that is never delved into, sadly.
  • Al Cliver and Auretta Gay are fun as Bryan and Susan, the young couple Peter and Anne rent a boat from.  The highlight of the trip to the island is the infamous shark vs. zombie scene.  It's a gloriously silly, ridiculous showstopper (though the shark was more than likely doped to the gills to get the scene done, unfortunately this is par for the course in Italian genre flicks from this period).  I think that's about the only way you could possibly top Susan swimming around topless.
  • Equally impressive is Paola's protracted death scene.  Needless to say, having my face pulls slowly towards a jagged piece of wood until it pulps my eyeball is fairly high on my list of ways I'd prefer not to die.  It's pretty excruciating.
  • The last thirty five minutes or so are a rush of gory zombie attacks as the undead (including the wonderful cover ghoul that became a sort of VHS icon back in the day) make their way to Menard's hospital.  We get tons of gross f/x including the usual gut munching, flaming zombies, bullets to the head, the requisite guy dying because one of his loved ones is now a zombie and he's too dumb to do anything about it (Bryan though in this case he's only bitten and for some reason he is taken along in the escape) and a narrow escape.  We also get numerous instances where it would seem that our natural fight or flight instinct shorts out.  How else do you explain simply standing there getting scared while an undead Conquistador rises from his grave as slowly as possible?
  • The capper is a nice twist as it seems that harbor patrol guy killed in the beginning of the film came back to life and started an outbreak so now, our heroes return to New York only to find the zombie apocalypse has reached the mainland.  I gotta say that having a bunch of zombies on the Brooklyn Bridge as traffic goes past is one hell of a way to end your movie.
Whereas The Beyond is Fulci at his most assured, Zombie is sort of his big, over the top bit of excess to get his feet wet.  It's decently paced, wonderfully disgusting and the acting is exactly what it needs to be.  If Dawn of the Dead is a fine steak dinner, Zombie is the greasy chili cheeseburger with chili cheese fries.  You may get more out of the former, but the latter can be just as rewarding.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My Favorite Era: From Beyond (1986)

After the success of Re-Animator, the team, of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna was tapped by Empire Pictures to put out another H.P. Lovecraft adaptation.  This time, instead of a horror/comedy, they decided to go for something a little more traditionally Lovecraftian: people discovering horrible things that end up driving them totally insane.

Assembling a good deal of folks from the previous film (Dennis Paoli wrote the script for this one as well as Re-Animator and actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton also return along with lots of crew members), Gordon managed to come up with an entirely different type of film that still retains the ghoulish fun found in Re-Animator while also staying true to Lovecraft for the most part (as in there is a female character present, not one of Lovecraft's strong points along with the sexual angle which the author never had any use for evidently).  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, a little side story.  I first rented this as a teenager from the local mom and pop video store (remember those?) as part of my usual weekend renting binge.  Now it might have been that I was going on hour six of said binge, but for the life of me I couldn't stay awake through the whole thing.  I'd nod off and wake to some horrid monstrosity, which is always fun when your imagination pulses with life 24/7.  I rented it one or two more times with the same result.  Now generally I'm not the superstitious type (to me those ghost hunting shows are the modern day offspring of the Bigfoot craze in the 70's), but that was enough to make me hold off on watching the damn thing again until college.
  • Now, to the film itself.  I dig how the overall film has a central color, much like Re-animator.  While the main color (besides red, naturally) was the green glow of Dr. West's formula, here it is a sickly pink hue generated by the machine built by this film's mad scientist.
  • First off, the cast is very good across the board.  Jeffrey Combs is solid as usual as Crawford Tillinghast, our doomed hero, bringing a completely different sort of scientist than he was in Re-Animator.  He does crazy really well.
  • I also enjoy Ken Foree as Bubba, a cop who tags along to keep an eye on Crawford who is sent to a mental hospital after the first scene only to have to face his fears once again.  Foree provides a voice of reason and sanity that the audience can relate to.  Needless to say, he gets eaten midway through.
  • Barbara Crampton is gorgeous as Dr. Katherine McMichaels, a doctor who wants to help Crawford but becomes obsessed with the unknown and Ted Sorel is slimy depravity personified as the villainous Dr. Pretorius who has created a machine that allows people to see beyond what we normally see every day by stimulating the pineal gland.   Since this is Lovecraft material, what people see is really, really screwed up.
  • The first seven minutes of the film actually comprise the entire Lovecraft story "From Beyond" which sees Crawford and Pretorius (unnamed in the short story) turn the machine on,.  Something goes awry and Pretorius' head is twisted off by...something.
  • I like the sort of subtle sense of humor the film has: the house where most of the action takes place is on 666 Benevolent Street.  The pacing is also nicely done as it's about a half hour until the real horror begins.
  • The special effects are fantastic with great gooey monsters from Mark Shostrom and John Carl Buechler's team.  It's a real feast as we get multiple monstrous versions of Pretorius, head-eating leeches and lots of other gruesome nightmares.
  • I really have to give Crampton a lot of credit as she has one hell of a difficult role to play here.  She has to be repressed, driven, obsessive to the point of madness and finally truly insane.,  It's a real tour de force bit of acting.Credit should also go to Combs for going through the second half of the film bald with an enlarged pineal gland that pops out of his head and drives him to eat the brains out of people.
  • Really, the only flaw the film has is that it probably moves faster than the story really warrants.  It pretty much peaks about an hour in and then sprints to the finish line in such a way that it feels a little hollow.
From Beyond is a solid follow-up to Re-Animator with a good cast, great f/x and a nice pace, though that sort of drags the film down in the last third.  Still, it's worth checking out.

About Me

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