Monday, December 14, 2015

Quick update

Done posting for the year but next year, things will hopefully be more active.  Got a big project in mind that is sort of a sequel to the My Favorite Era series.

Until then, happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Spectre (2015)

After three years, Bond is back.  This will be a quick, spoiler free review with a more detailed look to come next year when the film hits Blu ray.  The 24th Bond epic is just that, a blisteringly paced (for the most part) 148 minute blast that sees 007 going to to toe with classic series enemy SPECTRE, the ruthless terrorist organization not seen since Sean Connery had the role in Diamonds are Forever.

Bond begins on a personal mission in Mexico (complete with a gorgeous tracking shot that reminds me of a John Carpenter movie) and proceeds to be pulled into a plot by the nefarious organization to more or less control the intelligence operations of the entire world.  Teaming up with the prerequisite beautiful girl (played nicely by Lea Seydoux), he goes up against an enjoyably tenacious henchman played by Dave "Guardians of the Galaxy" Bautista and Christoph Waltz as the head of SPECTRE who also has a personal tie to our hero.

Overall, the film is one hell of a fun ride.  Performances are good with the regulars Craig and the bad guys coming off best.  There's a fantastic car chase with a gadget-laden Aston Martin (sort of which makes the scene even better); a bone crunching showdown between 007 and Bautista, a gaggle of fun jokes from Q and some great stuff from Waltz who once again shows that when you want a villain who enjoys himself, he's your man.

Spectre is not without flaws.  The main title song is lame and the pacing seems odd in places but apart from that, this entry is another winner.  Check it out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

52 Pick-Up (1986)/Hero and the Terror (1988)

Given the recent DVD release of a fantastic new documentary on Cannon Films, I thought it would be fun to indulge in a double feature.  For the record, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films is fantastic.

Up until Get Shorty in 1995, 52 Pick-Up was the best display of the wonderful world of Elmore Leonard on the silver screen.  Partially adapted in the company's 1984 Robert Mitchum flick The Ambassador, this 1986 John Frankenheimer film is a tough, gritty, grimy little thriller starring Roy Scheider as a Los Angeles (because shooting in Detroit is more expensive or something, I guess) businessman who is being blackmailed by a slimy jerk played by John Glover and his goons.

Glover has footage of Scheider cheating in his wife (played nicely by Ann-Margret) and he quickly ups the stakes by framing the man for the murder of the woman he's been sleeping with.  Scheider retaliates with the usual table turning and pitting bad guy against bad guy and the end result is a solid but unexceptional thriller.  Good acting, a decent script and some nice direction help things work, though a more energetic pace with more of Leonard's dark wit would have been welcome.

I'm actually a little surprised at how much I enjoyed this rather middle of the road Chuck Norris film.  Chuck plays a heroic cop who is haunted by nightmares of the psycho killer he brought in, only to have to face his fears up close when said psycho escapes from prison and begins killing again.  Chuck is okay here, Steve James is typically underused (par for the course) and Jack O'Halloran is adequate as the huge, unstoppable killer.  Action is muted but solid, the pace is decent enough and while its quite stupid, it never gets to the point where it pisses me off.  Hero and the Terror is a perfectly acceptable rainy day movie, just have one or two actual good movies to bookend it with.

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for more very soon.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Esoterica XII: Random acts of movie watching

Time for another round of general mayhem from yours truly.  Here some brief reviews of flicks I've seen recently that either don't really warrant the full treatment or about which I just have very little to say.

 Scarecrows is a nifty low budget horror movie about a bunch of thieves who end up stranded at an abandoned farm in the middle of nowhere when one of their own turns on them.  In addition to dealing with him and some local hostages, they also have to deal with bloodthirsty scarecrows who have a knack for gruesomely killing the hell out of anything in their area.  The film is pretty solid with some nice gore and interesting characters though for such a short film, it does sort of drag in one or two spots.  Still, its well worth checking out.

 The teaming of two legendary actors was the key selling point for this one but really, it just doesn't quite play.  Jack Nicholson is fine as a cattle rustler looking to earn a living as he fights against a rancher whose daughter he's fallen for but everything grinds to a halt whenever Marlon Brando shows up as a bounty hunter hired to kill Jack and his friends.  It's a real tour de force, completely bonkers and over the top and while it's not exactly right for the movie, it at least keeps it interesting.  Not often you see Marlon Brando sporting a thick Irish accent and a dress sinking a nasty looking weapon that is more or less a multi-bladed Frisbee from hell into Harry Dean Stanton's brain.

 If you like cheesy Italian horror movies (reading this sight, I'm betting you do), this is... Well, it's one of them.  A ham radio enthusiast and his girlfriend end encountering a ghost girl and her evil clown doll in a haunted house.  Some good kills and a reasonable amount of 80's cheese make this an okay viewing but really, you can do a hell of a lot better than this and probably should.  The Rifftrax on it is good, though.

 Been getting into Italian crime pictures and this one is pretty solid, though a little off in some areas.  Mario Adorf plays Luca, a small time pimp wrongfully suspected of stealing mob money (in fact, local crime boss Adolfo Celi is the real culprit) and he is targeted by two American hit men played by Henry Silva and Woody Strode.  His wife and daughter are killed which sends him on a roaring rampage of revenge and there are some nice action beats including a good foot chase.  Performances are solid with Adorf and Silva coming off best.  It's a tough, gritty meat and potatoes 70's action movie.

 Better is this offbeat action comedy starring Tomas Milian as tough guy cop Nico (a role he would reprise several times) who is out to bust a purse snatching ring led by Jack Palance.  Milian and Palance are fun in their roles; the action is pretty good and it's also nicely funny in places.

That's all for now, until next time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Exterminator 2 (1984)

Cannon Films was always at their best when just going for simple, good old fashioned exploitation trash.  In 1984, they were at their most successful with a solid business model (changing it up would lead to their demise) and they decided to make a sequel to the 1980 vigilante flick The Exterminator.  The first movie starred Robert Ginty as a Vietnam vet who is out to avenge the brutal death of his friend, played, ironically enough, by future Cannon fave Steve James.  The film was a grindhouse hit with such sights as a mobster being dropped into an industrial meat grinder and a flashy poster featuring the hero wielding a huge flamethrower which he never uses in the film.

I can only imagine the pitch for this one involved the sentence "This time, he will use the goddamned flamethrower!"

A troubled production, this was taken out of the hands of original director Mark Buntzman (who helped make the first one) and due to a lack of availability, Robert Ginty only appeared in the dialogue scenes, save for one scene where he dons the mask he wears when doing his thing.  The result is that the hero goes through virtually every action scene wearing a big, clunky protective suit while wielding a big, clunky flamethrower.

That's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bad, yet oddly amusing things in this movie.  The main bad guy is called X because the director was unsure of a good name for him.  Mario van Peebles does what he can with the role (not that much) and I'm sure there have been less believable bad guys in movies but what we see here makes me doubt it somewhat.  X is nicely insane but to be honest, the actors just doesn't have the voice for a good bad guy.  Granted, his usual outfit of a mesh t-shirt and shoulder pads from an Italian Road Warrior cash-in does a little to balance things.

Very little.

Ginty goes up against X and his gang, meeting and falling for a dancer who is  crippled and later murdered (though in the original cut, she lived) as well as befriending a friendly garbage truck driver played by Frankie Faison.  Said driver is also killed which spurs our hero to do an A-Team number on the truck, fortifying it with armor and machine guns.

Part of the problem the film has is that first time director Buntzman makes it achingly clear that this is his first shot at directing.  Pacing is off, the performances are iffy (Faison is fun though and while he's not believable, van Peebles is energetic enough), and the action has a rather static feel to it that drags things down.  The music is also rather bad with only one bit of music that doesn't fit the film its in and is used constantly.

That being said, Exterminator 2 is rather enjoyable to watch.  The film is bad, yes, but there is enough mid-80's cheese and general oddness (Cannon had a real thing for break dancing and brightly attired gangs) and to an extent, this sort of plays out like a less sadistic and mean spirited Death Wish movie (sort of).  There are also some fun logic gaps relating to just how the hell the gang not only found out where Ginty's girlfriend lived but his first name as well.  It's a bad movie, but reasonably entertaining, illogical trash as well.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

They Came From Within (1975)

Ah, nothing like a three month break to recharge the old batteries!  Finally got around to seeing this one, and it's... Well, it's pretty good.  David Cronenberg's first feature film is an interesting, fairly disgusting tale about parasites that infect the population of a Montreal apartment complex, turning them into sex/violence crazed maniacs.

Sporting a rather nicely low key atmosphere and some great set design (the apartments we see are awesomely 70's in the best way, not often I look at something from that era and it looks sort of cozy), Cronenberg makes good early use of his usual themes of transformation (in this case, he sees it as a positive though as usual, your mileage may vary) and we get some nicely gruesome moments such as a carrier of several parasites gradually breaking down and a real cross-your-legs moment as one parasite gets inside horror legend Barbara Steele while she's in the tub.  While the sex and gore seems a little tame by today's standards, I can totally see how some folks in 1975 would be horrified by it.  And in all honesty, there is one horny old lady in it that creeped me out even more than that bathtub scene and the frankly disgusting parasites.

While the film is rather light on characterization (the doctor hero and his nurse are decent enough but sort of bland) and the dialogue isn't exactly the best in film history, this is still really, really good early Cronenberg.  I like some of his more recent stuff (A History of Violence is very strong) but for me, he was at his best with those low budget Canadian tax shelter flicks.  Hell, I don't even mind the downbeat 70's ending.  At least here it serves a purpose other than just shock value.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Update

Due to just being too busy and generally uninspired, I am putting the blog on a hiatus for the time being.  It's not going to end, I just need to recharge my creative batteries.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Esoterica XI: Comics Strangeness

Sorry for the lack of updates, outside factors have taken up most of my time.  Now then, a super-sized super special look at some weird/enjoyable comics I've gotta talk about just a little.  As George Carlin once said on one of his albums, these are the kind of thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools.*

*Actually, Chapman University is a fine institution but sometimes the comedy gods demand a sacrifice and if it means throwing a really good school under the bus, so be it.  Given that I will be paying off my student loans until I'm in my sixties, I think I can take some liberties with them if I like.

There are some franchise crossovers that make sense, some that make no sense and some that just feel right.  Teaming up Star Trek: TNG with Doctor Who (the  Matt Smith version) is just about the right blend of the two shows with the characters staying true to their portrayals and in general, quite a lot of fun moments as we not only get some fun interplay beween the characters in these franchises but also an amusing flashbhack to the crew of the original TV series meeting the Tom Baker Doctor.  It's not a perfect story, but it's a fun ride to be sure.

Not all crossovers are created equal, however.  Sometimes they get bizarre...

 What makes me chuckle here is how fairly accurate to their peronalities the SNL cast reactions to John Belushi going after a super villain in his samurai character gear are.  Dan Aykroyd is cheering him, being his best friend and all.  Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner are shocked as one would expect, as is Garrett Morris.  Laraine Newman is oddly absent, though given that she didn't like to stand out on the show this sort of works and Bill Murray... Well, I'd say that he probably saw a crazed John Belushi going nuts at least once or twice in real life so his reaction of casual interest on the cover works perfectly.  Come to think of it, he might think it's totally normal.  As for Belushi, I'd say doing this in real life might have been rather refined for him, given how nuts he could get.  I could see Aykroyd doing it too, to be honest.

The funny thing is, this one is actually a pretty decent story.
 
 The rather cheesy 80's version of The Avengers appearing on Letterman however... Not so much.

 I can only hope the new version of Star Wars from Marvel Comics has anything as brilliantly stupid/insane/awesome as this issue which has Han and Chewbacca teaming with a giant green bunny rabbit, a crazy old man who thinks he's a Jedi whose name is a pun on Don Quixote and some others. I don;t generally advocatre heavy drug use but it seemed to work well enough for comics in the seventies.

But for comics that make you realize the creators must have had access to some killer weed, you have to go back.  Way back, in fact.  We will end with one of the more bizarre stories I've ever had the chance to read.

Ah, leave it to the Silver Age of comics to come up with something that just makes you shake your head in amazement with maybe a slight tinge of disgust.  For sheer WTH entertainment, I give you "Lois Lane: The Crybaby of Metropolis".  The fact that eventually turning Lois into a baby to teach her a lesson about self control (at least I think) and more or less showing her off to his former flame Lana Lang is not the most dickish thing Superman has ever done is saying something pretty incredible and this isn't even close to being the weirdest thing this particular book did.  The story was also adapted for the daily newspaper strip that was around at the same time.

I think we've had enough for one evening.  Stay tuned for more soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Update

Sorry for the recent lack of content.  Updates will resume shortly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Get Shorty (1995)

With the fantastic series Justified ending a brilliant six year run this month, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the adaptations of Elmore Leonard's work.  Leonard was a genius at writing darkly comic crime novels full of snappy dialogue, crazy situations and memorable characters.  For some reason, most of the adaptations of his work have not gone as well as one would prefer, due to many of the usual reasons films don't work.  Sometimes its the studio, sometimes its the script, sometimes its something else entirely.

We'll begin with the film that kicked off the real trend of good Leonard adaptations.  Before 1995,there were a few good ones but for the most part, his work had been relegated to one-off TV movies.  In 1995, however, he blasted back to prominence with this genuinely funny, entertaining comedy.

Get Shorty stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who is in the middle of a petty feud with Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) who he ends up working for.  Palmer tracks the owner of a dry cleaners who owes some money to Vegas and while he's there, he's also sent to get some money out of a B-movie producer in Hollywood.  Being a movie buff, Chili becomes enamored with the film business and the ensuing comedy is both a sly satire of the business and a perfect adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel.

Travolta is top notch here, right in the middle of his 1994 comeback, cool and funny but also sort of tough which is perfect for the character.  Hackman is equally funny as the sort of dumb, utterly full of crap film producer and Rene Russo is fun as Karen, an actress Chili falls for.  The rest of the cast is fun too.  Dennis Farina is quite funny as Barboni, as is Delroy Lindo as a thug looking to get into the film, business as well and Danny DeVito is great as an utterly ridiculous actor.  You can tell he, along with everybody else in the movie (there are so many good character actors in this thing that to name them all would stretch this review to an unreasonable length) is having a blast.

Barry Sonnenfeld does a fine job directing things and as noted, the cast is great but what really sells the film is the script.  Scott Frank stays true to the original novel, using the dialogue and letting it have that little flair Leonard always puts into his work.  It's just plain fun and one of the best Leonard adaptations out there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Nature Calls (1985)

I'm not the hugest Troma fan out there, truth be told most of their stuff bores me to tears (shock comedy tends to have this effect on me though I do kind of like the first two Toxic Avenger films) but every now and then you will find a good one.  When Nature Calls is a clever spoof of wilderness adventures in the same vein as Airplane! and The Naked Gun.  Really no actors of note except for early parts for David Strathairn and Gates McFadden of Star Trek: TNG.  She's in the second of three fake trailers that run before the movie, the other two being a Scorsese parody and a gangster film called Baby Bullets where the lead is an infant and against all odds, this ends up being pretty damn funny.

The second trailer is a visual gag involving a new gimmicks called Blind-O-Vision and the theater gags continue throughout the movie as well.  The plot is as bare bones as it can get (and in this case that's a major plus) as a typical New York family called the Van Waspishes decides they've had it with the big city and decide to live in the woods.  The usual stuff one would expect occurs with wild animals, the aforementioned David Strathairn as a friendly Indian, tons of gags that come at you a mile a minute and just an overall sense of gleeful silliness.

Charles Kaufman, brother of Troma head Lloyd wrote and directed this one and he has a nice deft touch here, firing the gags at the viewer as fast as possible so that they hit, you either laugh or don't and then there's another gag up for consideration.  It's not quite as smooth as the more notable spoofs I mentioned earlier and pretty crass in parts, but it's still pretty damn hysterical in places.  If you can find it, give it a look.  It's well worth your time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1994)

I've covered prime Cannon era films but haven't really delved too deep into their late output.  As in what they were doing right as the doors were closing.  American Cyborg: Steel Warrior was one of their last films and in fact was their very last film to get a theatrical release.  Released in 1994, it is your basic garden variety post-apocalyptic action film about a lone warrior who must escort the last fertile woman on the planet across the wasteland while a cyborg emissary from their robot overlords tries to kill them.  It's rather frightening to think that it's entirely possible someone at the studio saw Hell Comes to Frogtown and thought "Let's cash in on that!" and then tossed in The Terminator for the hell of it.

Joe Lara plays our hero, Austin, your standard wasteland warrior who ends up protecting Mary (Nicole Hansen) from unstoppable cyborg John Ryan (not the Cannon regular known for hamming it up with relish, this is a British guy who sort of looks like him).  Their goal is to get her unborn fetus in a jar (No, I'm not making this up!  Stop looking at me like that!) to a ship bound for Europe where the after affects of World War III are slightly less crappy and really, that's about as much plot as there is.  There's a damn good reason this is a double feature post.

The bulk of the movie is given to non stop action scenes where the android fires off hundreds of rounds of ammo from his huge machine gun (where he gets all that extra ammo is a mystery that is not delved into) and the bad movie fan in me really wishes I would have seen this in the theater just so I could say I did.  I kind of feel the same way about that awful second Universal Soldier film from 1999.

We get tons of gun battles that are just as repetitious as those in the above mentioned Universal Soldier: The Return; radioactive cannibals, Joe Lara at his most blandly heroic, an odd twist where it turns out Lara is also a cyborg, this is one of those films you watch with a pizza and beer and forget as soon as you're done watching it.  While it's stupid fun (they don't release crap like this in theaters anymore), one does get the sense that at this point Cannon had just thrown up their collective hands and said "Okay, just end us!  We're ready to die!"  It's middle of the road crap with not much in the way of good acting or humor, but not in an entirely horrible way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enter the Dragon (1973)

There are lots of icons in action films.  In the 80's, guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger led the way while the Chuck Norrises, van Dammes and Steven Seagals operated on the second tier of action film stardom.  In the 70's, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds ruled the roost but aside from them, one man was making an innovative splash with martial arts films.

Bruce Lee.

Enter the Dragon is his crowning achievement.  A briskly paced, fantastically entertaining blend of spy caper and martial arts revenge film, it pits Bruce against an evil martial arts master named Han (Shih Kien)who holds a deadly tournament on his private island.  Bruce must go there, not only to extract a British undercover agent but also to get revenge as one of his henchmen (Bob Wall) is responsible for the death of his sister.  Needless to say, our hero has all the motivation he needs to tear every bad guy on that island a new orifice before the film is even twenty minutes old.

Given that the plot is awesome simplicity in itself, let';s move on to the real great stuff.  First off, the cast is top notch,.  Bruce Lee was really a hell of an action star.  Charming, good looking and utterly cool, he strides through the movie with a quiet, playful sense of confidence that leads to some nicely funny bits that also are totally badass.  Put it this way, it takes a special sort of person to dryly remark to a guy smashing a board inches from his face that "boards don't hit back".

The rest of the cast is equally cool with John Saxon turning in a fun role as an unlucky gambler who is entered in the tournament (Though it's probably a bit of a stretch that he can easily beat the crap out of the baddie played by Bloodsport's Bolo Yeung.  Even van Damme had to work for his victory a little more); Jim Kelly is pretty terrific as Williams, a cocky young fighter who of course ends up being our obligatory sacrificial lamb and Shih Kien is fin as Han, giving the villain a classy aura of menace.

While the cast is good, everybody watching this film is here for the action.  This is one of those rare occasions where every single bit of action from, the demonstration fights to the huge epics (as in Bruce going through guards like they're made of paper) is top notch.

While the fight with the guards is a marvel of cinematic violence (one of the unfortunate baddies is a young Jackie Chan) to such a degree that even the bad guy comments on how awesome it is, I think my favorite bit of business is the absolute trashing Lee gives Bob Wall.  Wall's character is, as noted above, responsible the the death of Lee's sister and I think he gets in maybe half a hit while being completely stomped (literally at the end) by our hero.  The difference between this and the typical Steven Seagal fight scene is that you actually like Lee which helps a lot when he only gets a few scratches on him during the final fight with Han.

That end fight is pretty cool too with a mirror maze sequence and some nice direction from Robert Clouse who does a fine job with the rest of the film.  Enter the Dragon is a seminal achievement in action cinema.  It's fast, funny and has some of the best action scenes caught on film.  You gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Assassins (1995)

Sylvester Stallone goes to the "morose hitman who wants out of the business" well for the first time (and not the last) in this rather silly, overly long thriller from Richard Donner.  Assassins stars Sly as Robert Rath, the aforementioned morose hitman who just wants out but first he has to contend with rival assassin Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas) whilst also protecting potential target Electra (Julianne Moore).

The plot is a bit too muddled and predictable for its own good with Moore possessing sensitive information on a disk; Bain trying to kill her and Rath trying to keep her alive which would be fine if the film had a better sense of pace.  For some reason, the film matches Rath's general mood: sort of mopey with occasional bursts of energy that last for a brief period and then are just gone.  There are some endearingly dumb bits like Bain surviving being blasted out of a window by an explosion that end up being muted because the movie stubbornly tries to be a serious thriller.

 Rath's contractor betrays him and hires Bain to kill him and Electra and it turns out said contractor is a Russian friend who Rath thought he had killed fifteen years previous.  The reveal isn't really too much of a shock and fails to make much of an impact since the actor really only has about two or three minutes to make an impression.  The fact that this thread is wrapped up rather quickly, after which Rath kills Bain and goes off with Electra in the span of about five minutes doesn't speak too well for the quality of the film either.

The action is okay and Stallone and Banderas have some amusing moments but what really kills the film is Richard Donner's direction.  The guy is usually pretty good (the first Superman film and the Lethal Weapon films are all varying degrees of good action movies) but for some reason he just doesn't bring his A game to this one.  Here though, we get an extended forty minute sequence at the end as Rath waits to transfer some money he and Electra will use to disappear while being stalked by Bain.  It's not terrible but when the weather in the locale is doing more to set up the tension than the actual film (three sweaty actors with Stallone probably being on a high protein diet, the lunch breaks must have stunk like hell) something has gone wrong.

It's a shame because Banderas is quite good and while he's not the best dramatic actor, Stallone doesn't embarrass himself.  Julianne Moore is... Well, she's cute.  That's about it, really.  Her character exists in the time and space of the film and is just sort of there.

Assassins came right in the middle of Stallone's comeback on the heels of Cliffhanger and Demolition Man in 1993.  He followed it up with the enjoyably awful The Specialist, Judge Dredd and this film.  Honestly, I'm not really shocked he faded out again after 1997 and Cop Land (though that film is actually quite good).  As for this film, it's a perfectly average action movie that is fine as background noise but not a really good thriller.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Curse (1987)

We go back to the world of H.P. Lovecraft adaptations with the 1987 horror flick The Curse.  Based on Lovecraft's short story The Colour Out of Space, it tells the tale of a farmer (Claude Akins) and his family, featuring Wil Wheaton as the lead kid, as a strange meteorite lands nearby and affects first the farmer's crops, followed by the animals, then farmer himself and his family.  Things go haywire at a rather gradual pace (for an 88 minute movie, this film takes way too damn long to get to the point) and eventually, Wheaton has to protect his younger sister while also avoiding the other family members who are starting to mutate.

The Curse is an interesting idea poorly executed.  The family is, to be perfectly blunt, a bunch of unlikable redneck assholes with the father and older son Cyrus coming off the worst.  I'm sure there have been more unlikable redneck characters in film but these two are right up there.

Claude Akins is actually pretty good as the strict, religious father but the kid playing Cyrus makes him such a drooling buffoon (I'm too polite to just up and call him a retard) that even the sight of him simply watching a football game on TV is more shudder-inducing than any of the horror stuff that comes in the second half of the film.  To be fair. it is rather fun seeing him nearly get trampled by one of their horses as it goes insane.

The rest of the family is okay with Wil Wheaton actually coming off rather well as the kid desperately trying to save his family.  The mother and daughter are okay too, though really all they get to do is gradually decay into a low rent Evil Dead demon and get pecked by pissed off chickens respectively.  John Schneider is also okay as a local state official who tries to help.  The poorly written script, however, does not help.  Characters are thrown in and dropped with no explanation, the house collapses on itself at the end for no apparent reason and the family, as I said, generates about as little sympathy as possible.

The idea is that something in the meteorite gets into the eater and crops, making the family go nuts but two fifths of the family are already unlikable to the point where you just want to see them get an axe in the head before the damn space rock even touches down.  It's sort of hard to feel much in the way of horror at seeing a family slowly torn apart by madness from outer space when you realize that the space rock actually makes them slightly less unpleasant simply because they're not reciting bad dialogue.

Production wise, the film is quite meh.  Actor David Keith (forever cursed to be confused with actor Keith David) does an acceptable job directing things and the special effects range from cheesily acceptable to not quite so cheesily acceptable but the score is really what shoots the overall mood of the film to hell.  Generally, it's sort of hard to pull off a slow build with tension permeating every scene when you get the feeling the composer did most of his work sitting lazily on his porch, twanging his guitar casually on a hot summer afternoon.  There are some music beats with the meteorite that are okay but for the most part... No.  Just no.

The Curse is not an especially good movie.  There are some cheesy moments of fun here and there but it says something quite bad that the three in-name-only sequels that came out afterwards are more or less better.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Addendum to previous post

Quick update to the update.  I think I'll just be revisiting 1995-1999 with additional reviews from those years as I initially intended to do.  Really don't want to get bogged down in lists again. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

A quick programming update

Since I've been going over some films from the latter half of the 90's, I've decided to re-do the lists from 1995-1999 I did last year as I'm honestly not that happy with them as they are right now.  Probably won't do the same for the 2000-2014 range, though.

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Runaway Train (1985)

Cannon Films didn't always produce grade B exploitation fare and lower.  Sometimes they had loftier goals.  Sometimes, they actually managed to get something truly good.  This is one of those times.

Based on an screenplay by Akira Kurosawa (see what I mean by loftier goals?), this is actually a pretty decent thriller starring Jon Voight and Eric Roberts as a pair of hardened criminals, Manny and Buck respectively, who escape an Alaskan prison and end up on an out of control train manned only by a young woman played by Rebecca DeMornay.  Hot on the trail is the nasty warden, played by Cannon regular John P. Ryan who turns in a fairly sedate performance that is honestly a nice change from his usual scenery chewing.

Voight and Roberts get the majority of that duty and they acquit themselves admirably.  Kenneth McMillan also chews some scenery as a railway operator trying to avert disaster.  Kyle T. Heffner and T.K. Carter are his underlings and while Carter is okay, Heffner is just grating with his thoroughly unlikable tech whiz character.  It's generally not a good sign when the evil warden slams a guy's head into a toilet he's been peeing in and the audience can sort of dig where he's coming from.

Runaway Train benefits largely from the solid lead performances (Roberts is good as Buck and Jon Voight is solid as Manny, though he's an actor I generally don't enjoy that much); some nicely staged action scenes in and on the train and some amazing Alaskan scenery.  Director Andrei Konchalovsky does a good job of keeping things moving, though the film does descend into some murky, somewhat pretentious symbolism regarding the nature of man that probably would have been done better if Akira Kurosawa had gotten to direct it (he was planning to in the 70's but couldn't get the funding).

It only really mars the ending which goes for something a little more lyrical then the train crashing and while it works for the story, by the end of the movie you do sort of want to see it get smashed up real good.  There are also a few annoying side characters as I noted above working to stop the train, but they don't hurt the overall effectiveness of the movie that much and you do get to see the most annoying one be on the receiving end of a toilet dunking.

The film is an intelligent, effective thriller that works about as well as one can hope a thriller could work.  Cannon didn't always succeed when they aimed for respectability, but this is one of the rare instances where they hit the mark just fine.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Esoterica X

Time for a tenth round of various odd and ends.

We begin with this gem, the book that honestly made a horror fan out of me at an early age, along with the next item below.  This is a rather cheesy guidebook to monsters that really benefits mainly from the good photos within and the "What to do if you meet" entry for reach subject.  Not often you hear advice on avoiding the aliens from War of the Worlds given out simply as "sneeze on them".  To be fair, that would totally work... Provided you don't get zapped by the death ray.

This is another book that set me on my path, focusing mainly on British horror films.  Lots of great photos from most of the major UK studios: Hammer, Amicus, etc.

I get a real kick out of the 1989-1994 She-Hulk comic, especially the issues done by John Byrne.  In this run, the heroine has a tendency to compulsively break the fourth wall and the overall tone is light and energetic,.  Great art, some delightfully odd bits (there's a guest spot for the cast of an obscure comic called US-1 that Marvel tried and failed with) and in general, its just a fun read.  Sadly, the first eight issues of the five year run are the only ones currently available in trade paperback, but one can always hope.

 I absolutely love this bizarre comedy from Alex Winter.  Winter stars as a spoiled former child star who ends up being roped into promoting for a sleazy corporation, only to be turned into a hideous freak by redneck mad scientist Randy Quaid.  An eclectic cast (Keanu Reeves as a dog boy; Mr. T as a bearded lady and Bobcat Goldthwaite as a guy with a sock for a head?), great special effects and a warped sense of humor make this one a fun treat if you're willing to go along with a stupid comedy.

Not sure who the hell came up with a scream queen exercise video, but that person is a warped genius.  It starts off like any normal exercise tape only with the lovely Linnea Quigley taking the place of Jane Fonda (a step up already) and gradually, it just turns into a pseudo-horror film as our hostess encounters zombies and a slasher during a slumber party who turns out to be Ms. Quigley herself.  Essentially just an excuse to ogle a 5'2 scream queen as she does various stretching exercises and such, this is one of the weirder things I've seen.  It's, well, it's one of the few things she's in where she doesn't die... so there's that.

I have no way to top that at the moment so that will be all for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Dirty Harry Chronicles: Dirty Harry (1971)

Like his Man with No Name character from the Dollars Trilogy, Clint Eastwood's performance as Dirty Harry has become iconic.  Starting off as a rather brutal take on the police procedural, the character eventually was morphed into another tool for Clint to have fun with his persona.  We'll get to that in the other movies, for now let's get right into pure, raw, unadulterated Dirty Harry Callahan.

  • Opening scene with Scorpio (Andrew Robinson) gunning down a random lady at a swimming pool is nicely done.  The opening credits (and the rest of the score) by Lalo Schifrin are also pretty nice.  Good 70's action music.  I think it may also be the most regular police work we see Dirty Harry do in the series.
  • Right from the start, this is Clint Eastwood's movie.  He's spot on in just about every scene and he manages the task of making a fairly brutal cop into someone we can root for and to an extent, sympathize with.  Giving him a scene where he talks about his dead wife helps greatly, a plot point that would become a cliche rather quickly when it wasn't being simply tossed to the side in order to have a borderline sociopath as a hero (some of the Italian cash-ins that followed)
  • The first aspect of Eastwood's performance I want to touch on is the humor.  Clint's best roles generally have at least a faint strain of dark, subtle humor to them and this one is no exception.  Like The Man with No Name, Harry isn't one for small talk Clint gets some entertaining facial reactions here and in the rest of the series whenever someone around him is being a general pain in the ass.
  • The iconic bank robbery scene comes about ten minutes in and is just a wonderfully staged bit of business by director Don Siegel.  In terms of sheer character building, you get pretty much everything you need to know about our lead (the scene preceding it in the mayor's office does this too) as he orders lunch, notices a robbery in progress and reluctantly foils it in typical brusque fashion.  In general, Clint is just a total badass in this film.  Cool, funny and tough as one would expect from the man.
  • The film more or less establishes the tropes future action movies would use with an independent-minded cop who goes by his own rules; the unwanted partner who eventually comes through in the end, the angry chief (in this case, it's an angry mayor played nicely by John Vernon, Harry's actual boss is a little more mellow) and of course, the rather conservative viewpoint on stopping crime any way one can. The difference here is that Clint helps make and keep things palatable just by being likable.
  • On the other side of the law, we have Andrew Robinson in a role that both made and broke his career.  Scorpio is a splendidly nasty piece of work: cold and ruthless but also violently psychotic.  The film doesn't get too much into why he's doing what he's doing which in most cases would be a flaw but here, it makes him even creepier.
  • Action is pretty solid as well with some nice stunts including a leap onto a moving bus that Eastwood did himself.  The final showdown with Scorpio is also a nice, more tense callback to the robbery scene in the beginning.
  • The film is not without flaws, some aspects of the film are rather badly dated (though its forgivable) and to be honest, the scene where Harry tortures information on a kidnapping victim from Scorpio is probably a bit much but apart from that, the film is simply a fun, smash mouth 70's action film.
  • I also really don't want to get too much into the politics of the film as frankly, I sort of feel the film doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the critics took it when it came out.   It certainly is nowhere near the level of the Death Wish films which seemed to seriously feel vigilante behavior was okay.  Dirty Harry tends to take matters in his own hands when doing the job the right way doesn't cut it but there's always a sort of wink to the audience which I will go more into as we continue to the sequels.
Clint Eastwood really hit it big with Dirty Harry and in the ensuing sequels, the character would morph slightly, as would the amount of creative input from Clint.  It's an iconic film, though not the best of the series.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Matrix (1999)

For better or for worse, The Matrix was probably the most influential action movie of the 90's.  While things like Terminator 2 early in the decade made big breakthroughs in special effects, The Matrix took things to an entirely new level.  In the years since the film was released the action genre has sort of been depleted a little by overuse of CGI, erratic editing and just a general sense of "been there, done that" to things.

That's not to say there haven't been good action movies, it's just that most of the really good ones I've dug have decided to go against the style that our feature today made so prevalent.  With that in mind, I thought I'd take another look at The Matrix to see how it holds up.  Not bothering with the sequels (because I like myself too much to watch them again) so let's get in the wayback machine and travel back to 1999.
  • Quick rundown of the plot for those who haven't seen it: Keanu Reeves is destined to be the chosen one in a battle to free humanity from the grip of a bunch of computers that have enslaved the planet.  Laurence Fishburne is on hand in the mentor role and there are stacks of inventive f/x sequences amidst an interesting cyberpunk storyline.
  • Fantastic opening sequence with Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) escaping from some cops along with a few villainous Agents led by Smith (Hugo Weaving).  Weaving is terrific as the bad guy and I gotta say that even after it's been done to death by parodies and cash-ins, the way the Wachowskis shoot the action sequences is still fantastic.
  • Unlike a lot of the stuff that followed, there is a clear sense of geography to the sequences in that you can tell where the hell the people are and what the hell is going on while still maintaining the kinetic pace the film relies on.  Good thing too since the story, while entertaining, isn't exactly original.
  • Keanu Reeves was actually a rather brilliant casting choice.  Neo is supposed to be a rather bland programmer by day-hacker by night type and if there is one thing Reeves can knock out of the park, it's coming off as ordinary.  He's also a rather good action star when given the right material and directors (or directors in the case of this film).  It also helps that he spends most of the movie observing and learning, not really doing any true action stuff until the last thirty minutes.
  • The rest of the cast is solid with Fishburne doing a good impression of Yoda is he were as huge bald guy with cool shades and Joe Pantoliano having fun as a traitorous slimebag.
  • Interesting philosophical stuff in the script though to be honest, I think the film is a little too obtuse for its own good.  There are some interesting things, mainly from the Oracle character played by the late Gloria Foster but the payoff is rather muted, though that could just be that when it comes time for the payoff, the film suddenly remembers its a Joel Silver production and it ends to up the action quota.  Not complaining at all really, as the action scenes are really well done.
Outside of some pacing issues (the relative lack of humor sort of hurts it as well), the film still holds up pretty well today.  It's a relatively smart science fiction/action movie and it can be watched quite easily without one feeling the need to slog through the sequels.  The stylized filmmaking, complete with wire work-assisted action scenes and some decent enough CGI makes it certainly one of the more energetic action films of the late 90's.

More importantly, The Matrix changed the way blockbuster filmmaking was carried out with more of an emphasis on special effects wizardry (which is saying something considering what has been going on since the late 70's) and a more stylized feel to everything.  The Matrix had a decidedly huge impact on the action movie that is still felt today to an extent.  The sequels may be forgettable, but the original is still a damn fine piece of movie magic.

Monday, January 26, 2015

2010: The Year we Make Contact (1984)/The Kindred (1987)

Starting things off this week with an 80's double feature.

 Not a huge fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey (the film looks amazing but the pacing is truly bad) but the 1984 sequel from Peter Hyams is surprisingly good.  Roy Scheider stars, playing a character from the first movie who is investigating the events of the previous film as well as a new monolith that has been discovered.  Hyams keeps things moving at a nice, brisk pace and the special effects work is nicely low key and effective.  I also get a kick out of the cast as we get not only Scheider (who I always liked) but also a nicely understated turn from John Lithgow and Helen Mirren as a Russian cosmonaut also heading an investigation.  2010 is not a perfect movie by any means but it's about as good a sequel to the first film as anyone could ask for.

And we finish things off with something I've been wanting to review for a long, long time.  The amount of crap I've had to go through just to view this cheesy little nugget is just incredible.  From defective video tapes (to give an idea of how long I've been trying to see this one) to bad timing on my part, the road to me seeing The Kindred is... Well, probably more interesting a tale than the one the film tells but not as much fun.  Regardless,we're deep into the low budget 80's monster movie jungle here with this tale of genetic experiments, gooey monsters, family secrets and Rod Steiger doing what he does best.  Making you wonder how the hell he got a rep as a good actor.  Actually to be fair, he's pretty fun in this one as a mad scientist but he did have his fair share of terrible performances.

A genetic scientist, on her death bed, implores her son to destroy all the files pertaining to her work, particularly one involving his "brother" Anthony.  Anthony turns out to be this big, slimy tentacle laden monster created from his brother's living tissue and that's just the tip of the iceberg in this fun monster movie.  We get gooey mutants, Amanda "Leviathan" Pays turning into a fish creature, Rod Steiger with a bad toupee, some decent gore splashed around and enough slime to fill the Grand Canyon.  If you can find it online, check it out.  It's well worth the effort.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stephen King From Book to Screen: The Dead Zone

Thought I'd try something a little different and compare some Stephen King novels to their cinematic adaptations.  To start off, let's go back and see what happens when a bold Canadian director and a certain writer from Maine with an impressively active imagination team up with Dino DeLaurentiis.

 
With The Dead Zone in 1979, Stephen King proved he could do more than just scare the crap out of readers with ghosts, ghouls and other horrible things.  He could also get inside your head with more or less a straightforward dramatic piece with some supernatural elements thrown in for good measure.

The film and book tell the same tale: A young man named Johnny Smith is involved in a horrible car accident and after being in a coma for several years, he wakes up to find he can now see the future of any person he touches.  King gives us a pretty nice slow build to the accident, going into intricate detail on the subject of Johnny's date with Sarah, the love of his life before literally throwing a truck at us as it smashes into the cab Johnny is taking after getting Sarah home.

After being in a coma for nearly five years, Johnny awakens to find that he has the aforementioned ability and the rest of the story moves along in episodic fashion as he helps catch a serial killer in Castle Rock who turns out to be a local deputy; helps a rich kid graduate high school and finally, meeting a shady politician who he becomes obsessed with to the point where he decides he must kill the man before he starts World War 3.

The Dead Zone is probably the strongest of King's 70's output (though in terms of sheer scares, The Shining still tops them all as well as most of his subsequent output over the ensuing decades) with an intriguing story (Who the hell else has made a failed assassin into a sympathetic character?), sharply written characters (the good guys are interesting, in other words) and one of his better human villains in Greg Stillson.

Old Greg isn't a subtle man (Then again, King has never been the most subtle of writers); possessing a nasty temper, creepily effective charisma and a bunch of bikers acting as a personal goon squad, he leaps off the page whenever he appears and is very easy to hate.  The one real flaw the book has (that the movie corrects) is that Greg doesn't get his comeuppance 'onscreen' as it were.  Rather we are left to assume that his career is screwed after he uses a kid as a human shield while escaping Johnny's attempt on his life.

The slight cop-out at the end aside, The Dead Zone is a damn fine read that still resonates nicely today as it did in 1979 when it was released.

Now for the movie.

Released in 1983, the film version of the novel is a handsomely mounted, well acted and directed thriller.  The script by Jeffrey Boam distills things quite nicely, making Sarah more of a presence once Johnny wakes up (she appears sporadically in the book) by having her work on Stillson's campaign.  Not the first choice I would have made to keep her and Johnny in the same general area but it works well enough, especially having her kid be the one Stillson uses as a shield at the end.

Performances are solid across the board but the two highlights are Christopher Walken as Johnny and Martin Sheen as Stillson.  Walken has become something of a joke as an actor but this film does well in reminding us that he's not just a bizarre voice and mannerisms, he's also an immensely talented performer and here, he turns in a terrific, somewhat low key performance.  We get what we expect now from the man but it has context and focus and makes the overall effect of his work quite strong.

Martin Sheen is equally strong as he tends to channel something a little different whenever he plays a bad guy.  Not to say he hams it up (though he just a little) but he definitely goes to a much different place as an actor than when he's the President on The West Wing.  I also enjoy Tom Skerrit as the sheriff, Brooke Adams as Sarah and Herbert Lom as Johnny's doctor though they have relatively little to do.  Really, the only bit of odd casting is Anthony Zerbe as the father of the kid Johnny tutors towards the end but really, that's just because I sort of envisioned somebody a little more slick when reading the book.

The film has a nice, wintry atmosphere to it and Cronenberg handles things with a subtle, effective touch though it does get a little slow in places and the third act feels rushed (while Sheen is very good, he really isn't onscreen all that much).  It has none of the over the top visuals he's known for (even the one really gory bit where the killer deputy kills himself with a pair of scissors is taken from the book) but keeps the solid character work and funnily enough, predicts the way his career would go in more recent years with slightly more sedate fare... For him, at least.  This isn't one of my favorite King flicks (honestly, it's a film I like but don't love) but it is a solid thriller nonetheless.

The Dead Zone is fine as both a book and a movie.  Neither one is on the top of my favorites list when it comes to Stephen King but there are tons that are worse.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Zardoz (1974)

Before we begin, I want to give props to the fine folks at Her Majesty's Secret Podcast not only for inspiring me to write about this movie but also the other Connery films I've covered in recent months.  And now, for the third and last entry in this look at the cinematic choices of Sean Connery, prepare to have your mind blown right out the back of your head.

Submitted for your perusal (because approval might be asking a little too much), one of the most bizarre pieces of 70's sci-fi I have ever seen.  Zardoz is one of those movies that makes you just stare at the screen in amazement at what you're seeing.  It's... It's just bizarre on a level that even David Lynch would say "That's frigging weird."

Directed by John Boorman of Deliverance fame, Zardoz is a baffling, utterly bizarre, sort of tedious yet fascinating sci-fi film with some deep, pretentious aspirations which are more or less muffled by simply being too bizarre for words.

The plot, in a nutshell, involves a post-apocalyptic society that has been divided into an upper class of immortals called Eternals; a working class called Brutals and a bunch of Exterminators who... Well, they exterminate.  Connery is an Exterminator named Zed who one day finds out their god Zardoz, personified by a ginormous stone head that flies around is just a sham put on by an Eternal.

Disillusioned, he ends up with the Eternals, led by Charlotte Rampling and the ensuing events are part self-discovery, part fulfilling a prophecy and all incoherent.  The basic gist is that Zed has been allowed to find out the truth about the world and out an end to the lie in the most roundabout, pretentious way possible.  To put it bluntly, a bunch of immortal hippies get tired of being bored in their self-imposed exile and decide to annihilate themselves in the most Rube Golbergian way they can think of.  A word of advice, if you need to resort to genetic manipulation to find a way to off yourselves, you're over thinking things just a wee bit.

John Boorman has gone on record as saying he's not really sure what he was going for and I gotta say, he's not lying.  The film is a mess for the most part with a vague plot, desultory performances (though Connery manages to have one or two decent moments just by being Sean Connery) and a final half hour that would be explainable if the necessary drugs needed to make it coherent were legal anywhere on this planet.

Another issue, and this is just my personal sense of taste here, is the abundance of nudity on display.  I have no problem with the female form, however I do prefer it to not be that skinny, pale, underfed 70's look that was popular in... Well, the 70's.  It's sort of a good news, bad news thing.  Good news is that there are plenty of naked women.  Bad news is that most of them look in dire need of a cheeseburger.  It's rather hard to find a woman attractive when you're worrying she's about to keel over from starvation any minute.

That being said, there are some genuine merits to the movie.  First off, it's quite nice to look at with some really nice locations in Ireland.  Second, and this is really where I get a chuckle from this hunk of strange, is the utterly bizarre way the film throws images at you.

From the giant floating stone head that barfs guns and lectures on the evils of reproduction to Connery turning into a grunting caveman every now and then to the completely odd way the Eternals function and operate, this movie is a smorgasbord of weirdness that will either have you giggling with amusement or staring slack jawed at the screen, wondering how the hell you'll get that 106 minutes of your life back.  The revelation that Sean Connery's sweat is pure concentrated adrenaline is maybe the most amusing twist the film tosses our way.

I sort of fall in the middle on this one.  The first 75 minutes or so are actually pretty damn intriguing but once it gets into the last thirty minutes it just falls apart.  Instead of a satisfying conclusion, we are given a typical 70's "everyone dies" type ending along with a montage of Connery and Rampling as they age and turn into skeletons.  Not exactly 2001, and even in that case I have some issues.

Zardoz is worth seeing at least once, just so you can say you saw that weird film with Sean Connery running around in a red diaper and knee high boots.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie (1990)

Based on the enjoyable 80's horror anthology series George Romero produced, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie is a fitfully effective, sometimes ghoulishly fun horror film with a decent wraparound story and three perfectly acceptable horror tales, one of which is from Stephen King.

The wraparound is a pretty nice structure for the film as rock star Debbie Harry plays a cannibalistic suburban witch planning to make a meal out of a young kid played by Matthew Lawrence.  Lawrence is the one telling the stories in order to stave off becoming the main course and both performers do their jobs fairly well.

The three stories are equally competent.  "Lot 249" is based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story and it is more interesting for the cast than the rather typical revenge tale composing the story.  Steve Buscemi is a college student who has been screwed over by a dumb jock and his girlfriend (Julianne Moore) who happens to be the sister of his roommate, played fairly well by Christian Slater.  Buscemi is a collector of rare artifacts and has come into possession of a mummy, complete with the scroll to bring him back to life.  Needless to say, he gets his revenge.

The second and best story is based on a Stephen King short story called "The Cat From Hell" and concerns a hit man played by David Johansen who is hired by a rich, mean old bastard played by William Hickey (who was one of the best when it came to playing mean old bastards) to kill a cat that has been steadily taking revenge on him for the 5,000 cats he killed while perfecting the drug that made him his fortune.  It's a nicely done, taut little story with good acting and a nice gross-out gag at the end.

"Lover's Vow" is the last tale and it is a fairly plain romantic tragedy as James Remar plays an artist who has an encounter with a gargoyle who spares him if he promises to never tell anybody about it.  Shortly thereafter, he falls for a beautiful woman played by Rae Dawn Chong and if you can't see where this one is going, I really will need you to hand in your movie viewer card.  The acting is fine, funnily enough, Remar always seems to play guys who just can't help but make dumb life decisions whether it's charging a pissed off Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs. or pissing off a gargoyle as he does here and the gargoyle is great looking but as I said, the payoff is rather obvious though nicely done.

Tales From the Darkside: The Movie is an adequate enough horror anthology film with solid acting, great KNB f/x and a brisk pace that helps it not overstay its welcome.  The first and third stories are rather pedestrian but the middle one is enough of a gem to warrant at least one viewing.

Doctor Sleep (2013)

Not too many Stephen King novels lend themselves well to sequels (the number of people who want to know what happened after Firestarter ended is probably rather low) but The Shining is one of the ones that does.  Doctor Sleep starts off with a nicely creepy prologue that reintroduces us to what is left of the Torrance family.  Wendy and Danny have gotten a rather decent settlement from the owners of the Overlook Hotel but Danny is still haunted by ghouls from the first novel.

We jump forward to Dan in more or less the present day, now a recovering alcoholic (the description of his rock bottom point might be more squirm inducing than anything overtly supernatural that goes on in the rest of the book) who works at a small hospice where he offers comfort to the dying.  He ends up developing a psychic bond with a young girl named Abra who, like Dan, also has psychic abilities (to the point where she's even more powerful that Dan) and as a result, is being targeted by a roving band of pseudo-vampires known collectively as The True Knot.

The members of the group are both one of the novel's biggest strengths and also a bit of a weakness as while they're adequately monstrous (they torture kids with psychic abilities to get an essence called "stream" from them which keeps them young and healthy) the few times they go up against Abra and Dan, either separately or as a team, the end result is a bit of a curb stomping from the good guys.

Even the climax counts as the last member of the group is rather easily shoved off a cliff after putting up what I would call a bit of token offense given that she's going up against a psychic who has already wiped out her entire group in one move.  I do like the touch of them rapidly dying off because their last victim had measles. It's a neat bit and makes perfect sense.

Issues with the finale aside, there is plenty in the book to enjoy.  This is old school King in terms of plot mechanics (kids in peril, vivid descriptions of things designed to make you lose sleep) with the focus and control he's developed over the last few years.  King really gets into the meat of Dan's alcoholism (being a former addict himself, King can speak from experience) and keeps you interested without ever smashing you in the head with it.  That, as usual, he saves for describing gross stuff which is always fun.  The other characters are pretty solid as well with Abra coming off the best and for the most part, main villain Rose though as I said above, she does sort of go down like a punk at the end.

For the most part, this is a fine sequel to the original with some nice callbacks (there is a subtle cameo at the end I will leave to you to discover) and some great passages though the subplot about Dan helping the dying could have been fleshed out a little more (his nickname is Doctor Sleep and he basically just psychically comforts people until the end) and the climax, while pretty fun is a bit of a letdown.

Still, Doctor Sleep is one you should probably make an effort to not miss.

About Me

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