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Friday, November 30, 2012

Day 335: A Nightmare On Elm Street

A Nightmare On Elm Street
I hope that's just sweat in the bed

When I was young, I was scared of Freddy Kruger. I mean, he's get the messed-up face, the glove with blades on the fingers, and a horrific cackle. What kid wouldn't be afraid of that? The Freddy Kruger character was revolutionary for horror films. Up until he came out, most slasher villains were unstoppable hulking monsters, hacking and slashing their way through a group of unsuspecting teens. Freddy is different, though, frequently speaking and even toying with his victims. He also went after people with a purpose rather than a random group of people. But what separated Freddy the most was how he killed you; in your dreams. I have previously reviewed the remake to A Nightmare On Elm Street, but I thought I should give the original it's due.

And give Johnny Depp's hair it's due too

A Nightmare On Elm Street is a 1984 slasher film written and directed by Wes Craven (Scream, Last House On The Left). The movie stars Robert Englund (Urban Legend, Wishmaster) as serial killer Freddy Krueger and Heather Langenkamp (Growing Pains, Just The Ten Of Us) as Nancy Thompson. Both Nancy and her friend Tina Gray (Amanda Wyss, Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Silverado) have intense nightmares about a man with razor-sharp knives on his hand chasing them. Tina even wakes up with slashes through her nightgown, but her mother blows it off as her having long fingernails. The next night, the girls go over to Nancy's boyfriend Glen's (Johnny Depp, Pirates Of The Caribbean, Edward Scissorhands) house. Tina's boyfriend Rod also shows up and they sleep together while Nancy and Glen sleep in separate rooms. Tina has another nightmare where she is once again stalked by the hideous figure. In her dream, he finally catches her while in reality, her body begins to levitate around the room and slam into the walls. She calls out the name “Freddy Krueger” before dying. Rod is the only person in the room when Tina is called, and is taken to jail for her murder. While at school, Nancy has another nightmare about the man who taunts her as he stalks. That night she asks Glen to stay awake while she sleeps just in case she looks like she's in trouble. Through her dream, Nancy sees the man go into Rod's jail cell and kill him, making it look like a suicide. Glenn falls asleep and Nancy is almost killed. Terrified of her dreams, Nancy goes to a sleep clinic to be evaluated. She has another dream of the man and is actually able to pull the fedora he wears out of her dream and into reality. Nancy's mother reveals that Freddy Krueger was a child murderer who escaped imprisonment due to a technicality. The enraged parents took the law into their own hands and killed Krueger by fire. Somehow, Krueger has risen from beyond the grave and is now killing the children of the town through their dreams. How will Nancy be able to stop something that isn't even real?

It's the Silly Puddy Killer!

A Nightmare On Elm Street is a special horror movie because it took a popular genre of horror and injected it with new life. It is something completely different from what had been done prior while still being true to the basic tenants of slashers. Like other slashers, the victims are helpless teens and two are killed after having sex. Typical slasher movie with an atypical twist. Rather than just having a faceless, speechless monster as the villain, A Nightmare On Elm Street employs Freddy Krueger. Krueger loves to speak, taunting his victims and playing with their minds. We also see his face for extended periods, something not too common in slashers, even if it is disfigured. Ultimately, the roll works because Robert Englund is just that good. He captures the sinister evil of the character while still showing a deranged flair for his “work”. Other slasher icons like Jason and Michael Myers kill because that is what they do. There is no real purpose, people just happen to get in their way. Freddy kills with a purpose, making the kids pay for the sins of their fathers, so to speak.

Paging Dr. Freud

The movie manages to blur the line between reality and dreams which make the shocks more shocking and the scares scarier. Craven does a good job of never allowing the audience to know just what is real and what is dream. The various kills in the movie are incredibly entertaining in their creativity and variation. With the large amount of violence comes an even larger amount of blood. One scene can accurately be described as a “blood geiser”. Craven captures both the violence and the horror very well, never shying away from either. Krueger is still scary before he became watered down in subsequent sequels, cracking wise and spouting bad puns. Heather Langenkamp is very good as a believable heroine. It's also fun to see a young Johnny Depp before he became life partners with Tim Burton.

"Gimme five!"

A Nightmare On Elm Street is highly imaginative and creative when slasher movies were just about out of gas. It's a smart horror film that doesn't require the audience do dumb themselves down in order to enjoy. There is a good amount of fear and suspense throughout the movie thanks to Craven's solid writing, good pacing, and competent direction. Robert Englund is fantastic as Freddy Krueger giving the character a sadistic glee to his murderous intent. There is a wide variety and creativity in the kills doled out by Krueger, keeping the movie from lapsing into a generic slasher. A Nightmare On Elm Street is well-made and incredibly fun. It's no wonder it's considered a classic.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Day 334: Onibaba

Where's Giant Baba?

And now for something completely different. When you plan to watch over 300 horror movies, you start to run out of movies you want to see. It's not like there's a shortage of horror movies out there, it's just that there's only so many good ones to go around. I've checked off many classics and must-sees on my list and there's a few more outstanding ones still to be watched. I've taken to looking at “best of” to make sure I haven't missed any major movies. Most of the lists tend to have the same movies, just in different order. I did manage to find with with a slew of lesser-known European and Asian movies. Today's movie caught my eye just for being so completely different: a Japanese horror movie from the 1960's that takes place in the 14th century. Yeah, that's something different, alright.

Onibaba (translated as Demon Hag) is a 1964 historical horror drama written and directed by Kaneto Shindo (The Naked Island, Tree Without Leaves). The movie stars Nobuko Otowa (A Last Note, The Naked Island) as Older woman and Jitsuko Yoshimura (The Insect Woman, Pigs and Battleships) as Younger woman. In 14th century feudal Japan, a civil war has erupted between fiefdoms. Through the ravages of war and famine, both woman survive by killing lost soldiers who wander near their home. They hide in fields and when the soldiers come buy, they viciously stab them to death. The women strip the soldiers of their armor and weapons and trade them with a merchant for food. Hachi (Kei Sato, The Human Condition, The Ceremony), a neighbor to the women, returns from war and informs the older woman that her son was killed. Her son was also the husband of the younger woman. Hachi helps the women kill two soldiers and soon beings to seduce the younger woman. She begins to sneak out of her hut at night to have sex with Hachi. The older woman follows her one night and discovers their secret relationship. Afraid that the younger woman will leave her and make killing soldiers too difficult, the older woman begs Hachi to end the affair, but he refuses. One night, a lost samurai wearing a demon masks comes across the older woman and asks her for directions. He refuses to remove his mask, saying he is the most handsome man in Kyoto and that the older woman would be overcome by his good looks. She leads him through a field and he falls into a large gaping hole where the women dump the bodies of their victims. She climbs down and, after struggling mightily, removes his mask, revealing a hideously disfigured face. She dons the mask nightly and terrorizes the younger woman, preventing her from seeing Hachi. What will happen between the women and why was the mask so difficult to remove?

"Touch Of Death, do your thing!"

Onibaba is a beautifully stylistic and artistic movie, rarely if ever seen in horror. Scenes are visually striking thanks to pretty scenery and Kaneto Shindo's incredibly skillful eye. There is a variety of shots at different angles throughout the film which help convey the emotion of each scene. The black-and-white film helps give the movie a more classic look. The movie does have some good social commentary, questioning motives and instinct of survival. The horror of war and the horror of loss are two strong themes in the movie and make you really feel for both woman. The older woman dons the mask, becoming a demon herself. Her selfishness and jealousy has twisted her priorities and her love for the younger woman. It's interesting that both main characters are never actually named. Perhaps that is to allow the audience to project their own tags to them? It's not to lessen or demean them because they are both strong female characters, a constant in Shindo's films.

To be fair, Onibaba isn't a traditional horror movie. While there are sinister hints and questionable actions, the true horror doesn't come in until the last 20 minutes. Prior to that, we have a historical drama focusing on emotions and the struggles of war. It's good, no question, but horror fans will feel very antsy waiting for things to happen. There are a few too many extended scenes of ravenous eating and there is a surprising amount of nudity. The mask used has a traditional look, but it still manages to be unsettling, creating a look of sinister sadness, perfect for the older woman. While it's no Akira Kurosawa film, there is some action and violence in the movie. The main excitement comes from the end when Onibaba actually becomes horror.

"But Halloween hasn't even been invented yet!"

Onibaba would fit in with the art house crowd as well as fans of traditional horror. The movie looks great thanks to beautiful locations and great direction. The acting is very good and makes the story very believable. If there is one problem it's that the movie is very slow and takes a long time to get to any excitement. The blood-splattered horror fans will grow frustrated, but the movie deserves the right amount of patience and thoughtfulness. Onibaba is a good movie if you're looking for something a little different and a little special. It's not for everyone, but to those that appreciate the art of filmmaking and a good overall story, it's a hidden gem.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Day 333: Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch

Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch
I don't remember Halloween being so red

The Halloween movie franchise is Michael Myers. Just like Jason in Friday The 13th and Freddy Kruger in A Nightmare On Elm Street, it's hard to conceive of a Halloween movie without the blank-faced killer. It actually happened, though, believe it or not. The Halloween movie series was planned to produce a different horror story every year under the Halloween name. Michael Myers was never really supposed to be the face of the franchise. The idea wasn't a terrible one in theory as it would keep the franchise from being boring and predictable. It only happened once though. Could the non-Michael Myers Halloween be that bad as to completely throw out the original plan and go back to the slasher well?

Halloween 3 is a science-fiction horror movie starring Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, Night Of The Creeps) as Dr. Dan Challis. On October 23rd, store owner Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry, Re-Animator, The Last Starfighter) is chased down and attacked by mysterious men in suits. He collapses at a gas station , is taken to a hospital, and placed in the care of Dr. Dan Challis. Dan notices that Harry is clutching a jack-o'-lantern mask from the Silver Shamrock toy company. Commercials for the masks have been playing nonstop, advertising some sort of raffle on Halloween night for anyone who purchases a mask. Even Dan's children have the masks. Another man in a suit finds Grimbridge in the hospital and kills him before blowing himself up in the hospital parking lot. Bothered by the incident, Dan begins to investigate the incident with Grimbridge's daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway, The Twilight Zone). They travel to the small town of Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock company. The town is practically abandoned other than the factory and it's workers. One night in their motel, a saleswoman for Silver Shamrock notices a small chip that falls off a mask. The chip shoots a laser into her face, burning her horribly and releasing bugs from her mouth. Dan and Ellie, who slept together the night before, receive a tour of the factory from the owner, Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy, Robocop, Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe). Dan sees the men in suits near the factory and also notices Cochran's secretive “finishing” process for the masks. What does Conal Cochran have planned with his killer masks and will Dan be able to stop him in time?

"No, I'm not happy with my long-distance rates!"

Well, this is a pretty huge departure from the first two Halloween movies. And I mean that in more ways than one. Gone is the slasher theme, the large amount of gore and violence, the pacing, the fear, and just about everything that made the first two Halloween movies so good. I understand the desire to separate the third movie and I don't really have a problem with wanting to do something different. I have a problem with a story that is so convoluted it makes my head hurt. It's as if three or four different horror movies were blended together and someone forgot to have things make sense. I thought the movie was going to be something about supernatural masks that kill the wearers, but instead we have a goofy sci-fi plot with some magic thrown in for the hell of it. Cochran's plan is as confusing as it is silly. I still have no idea why the men in suits were needed in the movie, adding a strange and unnecessary subplot.

The first two Halloween movies had a lot of suspense and plenty of fears. Halloween 3 has neither. The middle is incredibly slow and devoid of atmosphere. There isn't much in the way of scares either. The movie is strictly by-the-numbers and, if not for the Halloween name, would probably have been lost to the campy 80's horror dustbin a long time ago. Co-writer John Carpenter manages to get in plenty of social commentary, taking shots at commercialism, consumerism, and marketing. It's good commentary that makes sense, though it comes wrapped in the extremely annoying theme music for Silver Shamrock's commercial. The acting is ok, but nothing special. Tom Atkins plays his usual tough and gruff self, which would have been fine if his character was a police officer or investigator. Instead, he's a doctor, but never really acts like it. The one truly good thing the movie does is the ending. I don't think I've seen a movie where I hated 99% of it, but loved the last 20 seconds. Those last 20 seconds were everything the movie wasn't. It was intense to the point where I was literally leaning forward in anticipation.

This calls for Green Jelly's "Rock And Roll Pumpkin"

Switching things up in Halloween may have been full of good intentions, but it ended up damaging the franchise to the point where they decided to just stick with Michael Myers. Halloween 3 did poorly at the box office and for good reason. The movie is simply not good. The story is all over the place, a hodge-podge of different ideas that don't work. There isn't a lot of action and almost no suspense or fear. The social commentary is good, but heavy at times. The movie isn't a total loss as the masks are cool to look at and the ending is intense. Sometimes it's good to mix things up, keeping a franchise fresh and interesting. Of course, having a good story helps.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Day 332: Club Dread

Club Dread
Totally worth the risk

I really enjoy the work of comedy group Broken Lizard. You know them from their movies “Super Troopers” and “Beerfest”. They manage to use a good mixture of sophomoric and clever humor, something easier said than done. Usually, comedy movies go for one or the other. For every dick and fart joke, there's a well-crafted joke that requires some thinking. While the movies may be fun, they're not exactly heavy on plot or story. Both Super Troopers and Beerfest are straight comedy movies, so they can get away with it. What happens, though, when Broken Lizard tries to make a horror movie?

Club Dread is a 2004 comedy slasher movie staring the comedy group Broken Lizard and Bill Paxton (Tombstone, Big Love) as aging rocker Coconut Pete. Pete has created an secluded island paradise where guests are encouraged to get drunk and have sex as much as possible. Lars (Kevin Heffernan, Farva from Super Troopers) is the island's new masseur and immediately hits it off with aerobics instructor Jenny (Brittany Daniel, Joe Dirt, Skyline). They are unaware that a masked murderer has just killed three of their co-workers in the jungle and now stalks the island. The next day, the slashed body of worker Cliff is found inside a human Pac-Man maze. All communication to the mainland is cut off and their boats have been sunk. A message warns the staff that only they are being targeted. They try to continue on as if everything is normal, but the bodies begin to pile up. It is discovered that one of Coconut Pete's songs is being used as a map to kill people. Paranoia begins to spread as everyone is a suspect: Dive instructor Juan (Steve Lemme, Mac from Super Troopers), tennis instructor Putman (Jay Chandrasekhar, Ram from Super Troopers), Pete's nephew Dave (Paul Soter, Foster from Super Troopers), and “party police” Sam (Erik Stolhanske, Rabbit from Super Troopers). Even Lars and Jenny become suspects. Juan fears that the killer may also be Penelope (Jordan Ladd, Never Been Kissed, Grace) a particularly strange guest who is infatuated with him. Will Lars and Jenny be able to uncover and stop the killer before it's too late?

"Get the Windex!"

Balancing comedy and horror is never easy. Usually, comedic horror movies just go straight for the comedy and just have an outline of horror. The Scary Movie series comes to mind. If you focus on comedy too much, the horror will suffer and if you focus on horror too much, the movie isn't very funny. Club Dread focuses more on comedy, but doesn't ignore horror. Like Super Troopers and Beerfest, the comedy in Club Dread is a mixture of good timing, clever one-liners, and goofy humor. There are genuinely funny moments throughout the film which caused some legitimate belly laughs. Because the movie has to focus on horror, some of the jokes are hit and miss in the laughs department. There's nothing eye-roll worthy, but some jokes do fall a little flat. Out of the three Broken Lizard movies, Club Dread is probably the least funny, but that's because the other two are so good.

In terms of actual horror, the story isn't half bad. It's your typical slasher movie with a good dose of mystery. Director Jay Chandrasekhar mixes the genres well enough so that nothing feels out of place. The comedic acting is good throughout and even non-comedic actors like Bill Paxton and Brittany Daniel get some good laughs. Having Kevin Heffernan as the hero was an interesting choice considering how great he was as the ridiculous Rod Farva from Super Troopers. The connection between Jenny and Lars seems a little odd when looking at the two, but both actors managed to make it at least passably believable. The action is decent, but for a slasher, there is very little in the way of blood and gore. In true slasher fashion, the killer is very hard to dispose of to the point of absurdity. I know it was done for comedic effect, but I felt it hurt the horror portion of the movie. Again, it's a difficult balancing act. 

Who wants to play "Human Torch"?

Mixing comedy and horror is not impossible, but it's certainly difficult. The comedy was never a concern for Club Dread, but the horror was. Some of the jokes don't work, but overall, it's still a funny movie. The horror is fairly mediocre and there is a serious lack of blood and gore for a slasher movie. The mystery is interesting enough to keep the audience engaged, though the movie did feel longer than it really was. I applaud Broken Lizard for getting out of their comfort zone and creating a movie in a difficult genre. If you're looking for laughs, Club Dread definitely has them. If you're looking for good horror, you may feel a little disappointed.


Monday, November 26, 2012

Day 331: Wishmaster

More like Pissmaster

What would you ask for if you were given three wishes? Besides infinity White Castle, I'd have to say I'm still mulling over my choices. Winning Mega Millions would be pretty nice also. But what if those wishes came with a price? The “evil genie” character appears more in literature than in the movies. Why is that? If anything, having a magical being in your movie allows for almost limitless potential. You can have all sorts of creatures and situations, giving you a freedom that many other horror movies would kill for. Of course, maybe the reason why there are more evil genie horror movies is because of Wishmaster.

Wishmaster is a 1997 supernatural horror movie from executive producer Wes Craven. The film stars Tammy Lauren (The Young And The Restless, Home Improvement) as appraiser Alexandra Amberson. In a prologue, we learn of creatures called the Djinn, creatures who lived in the void between worlds. When one wakes a djinn, they are granted three wishes. Once the third wish is granted, the djinn is freed. In 1127 AD Persia, a djinn (Andrew Divoff, Toy Soldiers, Air Force One) grants the wishes of the emperor, twisting his wishes into hideous monstrosities. The emperor's wizard traps the djinn inside a jewel which is then hidden inside a statue. In present day, collector Raymond Beaumont (Robert Englund, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Inkubus) is receiving the statue when a freak accident causes the statue to fall on his assistant (Ted Raimi, Midnight Meat Train, Spider-Man) and shatters. A worker steals the jewel containing the djinn and it ends up being appraised by Alexandra Amberson. She takes the jewel to her friend josh to analyze it and he unwittingly releases the djinn, who kills Josh by granting him a wish to “release his of his pain”. The djinn grows stronger by granting wishes and taking people's souls. Alexandra shares a connection with the djinn and is able to see his murders. He takes the form of a man, calling himself Nathaniel Demerest and continues his reign of terror until he finds Alexandra and forces her to ask for her three wishes. Will Alexandra be able to stop the all-powerful djinn and send him back to the void before he destroys the world?

"Somebody stop me!"

It's important to mention that Wishmaster is directed by Robert Krutzman, an award-winning make-up and effects artists. His work includes Cabin Fever, Vampires, Night Of The Creeps, and Army Of Darkness. That's an impressive group of movies without a doubt. The monsters and creatures in Wishmaster continue Krutzman's run of great makeup and traditional effects. There is a wide variety of creatures that keep the action interesting when the story fails to do so. One thing I found funny was that characters acted shocked when they saw the djinn's true form. Truthfully, he looked like Jim Carey from The Mask with a little more detail. Beyond the make-up, there is a myriad of special effects, some decent and some clearly steeped in mid-90's computerization.

Of course, the problem then lies with Krutzman's directing abilities and the story itself. The story is all over the place while still managing to go absolutely nowhere. The movie has a lot glaring plot holes that are hard to ignore. In the very beginning, we learn that there are more than one djinn. Shouldn't these things be popping up all over the place? And why can't they get someone to ask for three wishes? It shouldn't be that hard. Why did the djinn bother to take human form? It's not like he was having a problem getting people to wish for things before? The acting is absolutely horrendous and downright painful at times. Tammy Lauren is really miscast as she seems out of place in almost every scene. Andrew Divoff is hilariously over-the-top, practically gnawing on the scenery. It's nice to see Craven stalwarts like Robert Englund and Tony Todd in small roles, but if you're going to have them in your movie, give them more than just 2 or 3 scenes. For a horror movie, there is not a lot of atmosphere and almost no subtlety. 

"You love the 90's? No way! Me too!"

When I decided to watch Wishmaster, I was expecting something at least halfway decent. I knew there were a few sequels, so, like Hellraiser and Puppet Master, I figured the original movie would be great. How wrong I was. Other than some good make-up and a few scenes of violence, Wishmaster has very little going for it. The acting really stands out as being particularly horrendous. The story is pretty boring and the ending seems pretty obvious. I think I've decided on another wish; to erase watching Wishmaster from my memory.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 330: The Changeling

The Changeling

Haunted house movies usually fall into one of two categories: evil spirit and spirit looking for help. Personally, I prefer the evil spirit because they create a true sense of fear and urgency among the inhabitants of the house to get rid of it. Maybe I'm just too jaded, but I feel that if I was in a haunted house and the ghost needed me to do something, I'd just move out rather than trouble myself. You're on your own, ghosty. Many movies see the problem and force the characters to help out (or in the case of American Horror Story, they're just really, really, unbelievably stupid). Whatever the case may be, haunted house movies need to create a wider story than other horror genres because escape is too easy. Sometimes the results are good and other times you're left bored and disappointed.

The Changeling is a 1980 horror movie starring George C. Scott (Dr. Strangelove, Patton) as composer Dr. John Russell. During a vacation in upstate New York, Russell's wife and daughter are killed in a tragic accident. Devastated by the loss, Russell moves across the country to Seattle to teach at a university. With the help of a young woman named Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere, Going Ape, The Hearse), Russell rents a large and slightly eerie Victorian-era mansion. As he slowly puts the pieces of his life together, Russell begins to hear and see strange things in the house. He hears a deafening banging every morning for about thirty seconds that abruptly stops. Doors open and shut for no reason and when Russell tosses his daughter's old ball into the river, he finds it back inside the house. During a seance, it is revealed that the ghost of a young boy named Joseph Carmichael from in the early 1900s. While doing research, Russell discovers that Joseph was a sickly boy and as per the terms of his inheritance, if he died before his 21st birthday, the money would go to his mother's side of the family. Rather than risk losing the money, his father drowned him in a bathtub. Supposedly, Mr. Carmichael replaced his now deceased son with an orphan in order to gain the inheritance. Using more clues, Russell is able to find Joseph's bones in an old well that belonged to the Carmichael family. He tries to reach out to wealthy United States Senator also named Joseph Carmichael about what he has discovered. Scared that the truth will come out, the Senator sends a policeman after Russell, but he dies under mysterious and possibly supernatural causes. Will Russell be able to reveal the truth about Joseph Carmichael and free the spirit from his home?

Oh, balls

The Changeling put me in the interesting position of really liking the horror part of the movie and really disliking the rest of it. The movie pops up on a lot of "Best horror movie" lists and director Martin Scorsese has it on his list of scariest movies of all time. The haunting is quite good with some legitimately scary moments. While a lot of haunting/ghost movies like to bait-and-switch or start off with horror and then sputter out, The Changeling is very up front with it's scary intentions. The fear starts out like a trickle with strange noises and soon becomes a waterfall leading to an intense and slightly bizarre ending. The movie doesn't really rely on any film-making tricks, relying on good old-fashioned storytelling and spooks to get the audience riled up. The house in the film is actually a set which is surprising considering how great it looks. It really adds a Gothic touch to the entire story.

I didn't particularly care for the rest rest of the story though. Most haunting movies involve a family and I found it odd that the story surrounded a single, older man. I think including a family would have allowed the film to be scarier, putting children in danger and such. I also thought it was strange that the police officer sent after Russell was supposedly killed by the ghost while driving. If the ghost is that powerful, why not just go after Senator Carmichael? The back story with the Senator is slightly interesting, though it wasn't enough for me to continue enjoying the story. The movie came out in 1980, but looks more like 1970. Something about the clothes and the quality of the film made it look much older than it really was. The acting is fine, but I wasn't blown away by any particular performance.

  Here's your problem right here.

The Changeling is a good haunted house story, but only a so-so overall story. I wouldn't say it's bad, it just becomes rather boring once the haunting is over. Perhaps the longer-than-usual run time of the film had something to do with it. The movie has some good scares and a nice, creepy feel to it. The sets look very good and help create an appropriate atmosphere. I can see why the movie finds it's way onto a lot of horror lists simply based off it's scares. Beyond that, though, I wasn't particularly impressed with the movie overall. The horror is good, but I wasn't thrilled with back story and felt it hurt the movie overall.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Day 329: In the Mouth Of Madness

In The Mouth Of Madness
Give a hoot. Read a book.

What is reality? Is it what we think and feel or is it something tangible that we can touch and mold? I don't know, I'm not a psychology major. What I do know is that a lot of horror movies like to ask that question. It's mostly used as an excuse to shoot all sorts of crazy things and get away with it? Want the walls to melt? Question reality! Want your main character to rip his own face off? Question reality! Want to see another show staring the Kardashians? Punch yourself in the face AND question reality! Regardless of how you feel in regards to the esoteric questions of life and reality, you have to admit, it allows for some crazy things to happen in a movie.

In The Mouth Of Madness is a  1995 horror movie written by Michael De Luca (Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare, Judge Dredd) and directed by John Carpenter (The Thing, Prince Of Darkness). The movie stars Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon) as private investigator John Trent. Trent is committed to an insane asylum where he is visited by Dr. Wrenn (David Warner, Titanic, Tron) to recount his story of how he ended up there. After solving a case, Trent is attacked by an ax-wielding maniac who asks him if he reads horror author Sutter Cain's (Jurgen Prochnow, Das Boot, Beverly Hills Cop II) work before being shot by police. Trent was hired by Arcane Publishing director Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston, Planet Of The Apes, The Ten Commandments) to track down the now-missing Cane. Cane's work is immensely popular, garnering a rabid fan-base. Fights and riots have broken out by people pre-ordering his latest book, In The Mouth Of Madness. Harglow assigns Cane's editor Linda Styles (Julie Carmen, True Women, Fright Night Part 2) to join Trent in his search. After reading Cane's books, Trent begins to experience very intense and very realistic nightmares of deformed monsters coming after him. Styles explains that Cane's work is known to cause hallucinations and paranoia among his more "unstable" readers. Trent discovers that the covers to Cane's work are actually a map of New Hampshire and show the way to Hobb's End, a supposedly fictional town. Trent and Styles somehow manage to find the town which is laid out exactly how Cane wrote it, complete with a strange black church to the east which Cane described as being the source of all evil. The briefly see Cane who sicks his dogs on angry townspeople who claim that Cane turned their children evil. Trent thinks this is all a publicity stunt and refuses to believe what is happening. Soon, even stranger events occur as people, including Styles, mutate into hideous monsters. Trent tries to escape, but is caught in an endless loop, always returning to Hobb's End. Cane finishes writing his new novel and after reading it, Styles goes insane. Cane gives his novel to Trent so he can distribute his mind-altering masterpiece to the world. What is reality and what is fiction and will Trent be able to stop Sutter Cane?

Taking the Elephant Walk to strange, new places

When movies decide to mess with reality and the audience's perception, they run the risk of being utterly confusing. In The Mouth Of Madness has enough action and scary looking monsters to hide the fact that the story is all over the place. It's essentially a story within a story within a story. Just writing that makes my head hurt. To make matters worse, the story is mostly told in flashback. The story is fairly entertaining, the parts you can follow anyway. The way the story bounces around and messes with the characters can be confusing and tiresome by the end. It's funny how the movie precedes the rabid fans of Harry Potter,Twilight, and now Fifty Shades Of Gray. It can best be described as "Lovecraftian" with it's focus on hideous creatures and man's helplessness to their whims. In The Mouth Of Madness is part of Carpenter's "Apocalypse Trilogy" and fans of The Thing and Prince Of Darkness will appreciate how good the monsters in the film look. They are a heaving mass of twisted and distorted flesh with realistic features and movements. The movie does have it's physical as well as psychological scary moments. The ending is fairly depressing, though the inexplicable rock music over the credits might have you believe otherwise. Carpenter does the music for the rest of the film, giving scenes the proper atmosphere they deserve.

I don't think I've seen a movie with such a big difference in acting quality from the lead to the main support. Sam Neill is great and that's no surprise. He's entertaining in just about everything he does. He gives John Trent the cool confidence needed in the beginning as he is the audience's "eyes" so to speak. We are just as skeptical as he is when he visits Hobb's End. His terror and slow descent into madness is both believable and unsettling. Though he's not in the movie a whole lot, Jurgen Prochnow is quite entertaining as the god-like Sutter Cane. The scene where he appears next to Trent on a bus, telling him his favorite color is blue is very well executed. The problem lies with Julie Carmen. Plain and simple, she is just not good. She just played her part all wrong and really brought down the quality of the film. John Carpenter brings his usual style to the film, capturing some great monster scenes and a lot of emotion.

Gimme a "T"!

Overall, In The Mouth Of Madness is a fun horror movies with some hard-to-ignore flaws. The story is all over the place and may be hard for people to focus on. That's what happens when you have a movie all about twisting reality. The monster look great and their are some genuinely scary scenes, but it's not really enough to get past the meandering story. Sam Neill and Jurgen Prochnow are both very good in their roles, but Julie Carmen is just terrible. If you enjoy John Carpenter's previous work or H.P. Lovecraft, you should be able to enjoy In The Mouth Of Madness for what it is: a mind-bending monster movie.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Day 328: Diary Of The Dead

Diary Of The Dead
Dear diary: AAAAHHHHH!!!

It's no secret that I love George Romero's zombie movies. There's just something about the original Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead movies that he gets so perfectly right. They have the right amount of blood, gore, action, humor, and social comedy. So many movies try to emulate what he has done and about 95% of them fail. While I've reviewed some of Romero's non-zombie horror movies, they just don't compare to his ...Of The Dead series. I was absolutely thrilled when it was announced that George Romero would be making new zombie movies. While Land Of The Dead wasn't as good as the previous three movies, it still had plenty of good moments. Romero stuck by his formula for the most part and was able to squeeze out an entertaining, if flawed, movie. Could the same be said for his found footage follow-up?

Diary Of The Dead is a 2007 zombie movie written and directed by George Romero. The movie stars Joshua Close (The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, K-19: The Widowmaker) as Jason Creed and Michelle Morgan (Stargate: Atlantis, Heartland) as his girlfriend Debra Moynihan. Jason is filming a horror movie with his friends and adviser Andrew Maxwell (Scott Wentworth, Law & Order, She's The Mayor) for college credit at the University of Pittsburgh when the dead begin to reanimate and eat the living. Chaos quickly descends across the land, so the group, sans Francine and Ridley, hop in their RV and heads back to their dorm. Jason finds Debra and they head out of town towards her home in Scranton, taking back roads to avoid danger. Zombies start to fill the road and the driver Mary, a quiet, religious girl, is forced to run them over. Overcome with grief, she shoots herself, but does not die. The group bring her to a hospital, which appears to be abandoned. They encounter multiple zombies and learn to shoot them in the head in order to stop them. Jason continues to film everything with his camera rather than help, infuriating Debra and the rest of the group. They continue on the road until they encounter a problem with the RV's fuel line. They are helped by a deaf Amish man named Samuel, but are overcome by zombies and once again hit the road. Outside the city, they meet armed civilians who take them back to their compound. Jason edits and uploads his footage to the internet, which receives a large amount of views within minutes. Using the internet, they are able to see that the zombie outbreak has spread across the world. On the road, the are robbed of their supplies by National Guardsmen (who are the main characters from the follow-up "Survival Of The Dead"). With the world falling apart around them, how will the group survive and will anyone be around to see their footage?

"Oh no! She shot herself with Raspberry jam!"

Though Diary Of The Dead is the fifth "...Of The Dead" movie by Romero, it is not a sequel to Land Of The Dead. It is, in fact, a reworking of the basic zombie myth. While this could be good for a Romero newcomer, it is a little disappointing that the previous four movies are essentially ignored, in terms of story. There are references to previous movies, such as a news report from Night Of The Living Dead playing in the background. The zombies look good and are thankfully of the slow variety. There is some good violence and plenty of blood and guts. Romero didn't succumb to the trend of sprinting zombies, but he did make the movie in the found footage style. Unlike other found footage movies like Apollo 18 and Paranormal Activity, Diary Of The Dead has some music and quick edits. I give Romero credit for, through Debra's narration, explain why their is music and edits. Most movies would have just ignored that part. While it does give a unique first-person vantage and throws the audience into the middle of the action, it doesn't add much to the story itself and comes off as a rather unremarkable gimmick.

One of the biggest reasons why I love Romero's zombie movies is because of the social commentary. He never pulls his punches and the parallels between zombies and humans is eery and occasionally startling. The problem with Diary is not that it lacks commentary, but has too much of it. I felt dizzy from being bludgeoned over the head with obvious lines and thinly-veiled shots. The big target in this movie is society's love affair with technology and being connected at all times. It's good commentary and has only gotten worse with the explosion of cheap smartphones. There's just way too much of it and it takes away from the zombie part of the movie. It feels like every couple of lines, a character is saying something deep and heavy, when in reality they should be focusing on survival. Zombie movies need a good balance of horrific gory violence and smart commentary. Diary Of The Dead occasionally forgets the violence and makes me feel like I'm having a finger wagged in my direction. The acting is rather weak in some parts and the characters are fairly annoying. Jason is a complete douche from the start, which puts the audience in a weird position considering we're seeing the story through him essentially. Debra isn't much better. It would have been nice to actually like some of the characters. If I was part of their group, I probably would have tossed them to the zombies and booked it to Canada.


Diary Of The Dead retains many of the themes and essence of the traditional Romero zombie movies. There is plenty of fun violence and gore with enough of a story to keep things moving. There is a lot of social commentary which can feel more like a lecture at times. I don't disagree with what Romero was saying in regards to our obsession with technology and always being "plugged in". There was just too much of it. I didn't particularly care for the found footage style of the movie, though it did add a few more scares than if it were a regular movie. The acting is lacking in parts and some of the characters are incredibly annoying. While it's not the best from the "...Of The Dead" series of movies, Diary Of The Dead still has enough good moments to keep the audience entertained.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day 327: Thankskilling

Let's talk turkey

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Even if you're not an American, Happy Thanksgiving. As is Thanksgiving tradition, today we post on Facebook about what we're supposedly thankful for and then take part in the American tradition of eating too much. This is followed by going to stores and trampling people to buy a flat-screen television for $20 cheaper. If I'm thankful for anything, it's that I have loyal readers that enjoy reading my reviews. If it wasn't for you, I would have stopped doing this a long time ago.

There are plenty of holiday-related horror movies that have come out over the years. We have Halloween, April Fool's Day, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, New Year's Evil, and Easter Bunny Kill! Kill!. Soon, we're going to have to make movies about smaller holidays like Arbor Day, President's Day, and Flag Day. The one major holiday missing from the list is Thanksgiving. The holiday itself doesn't seem to lend much to a horror story. It's not a religious holiday and is spent mostly eating and watching football. Terrifying to a select few, but it's not a lot to work with. When the double feature-length movie Grindhouse hit theaters, it included previews of other fake horror movies such as "Machete" and "Don't". One of those previews was Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving". That was the closest thing we had for a Thanksgiving horror movie until a few kids took some initiative and made their own Thanksgiving-themed horror movie.


Thankskilling is a 2009 independent horror movie written, produced and directed by Jordan Downey and Kevin Stewart. A group of five friends head home from college on their Thanksgiving break when they run into car trouble. The group includes Johnny the jock, Kristen the good girl, Darren the nerd, Billy the redneck, and Ali the slut. They decide to camp out for the night and Darren tells them the story of a killer turkey, creatively named Turkie. During the first Thanksgiving, a powerful Native American shaman created the murderous, filthy-mouthed Turkie to kill any white people in it's path during the time around Thanksgiving. Kristen thinks she sees Turkie in the woods, but the rest of the group laugh her off. Turkie, is in fact in the woods and kills the dog of a vagrant named Oscar The Hermit. Oscar swears revenge and tries to track down Turkie. As the group makes their way home, Turkie follows by hijacking a car. He kills Johnny's parents and (sigh) has sex with Ali before snapping her neck. He then kills Kristen's father and wears his face as a mask. The group makes it to Kristen's house where they are unable to see through Turkie's disguise as they look for a book that may help defeat the evil bird. Will they be able to stop Turkie before it's too late?

The creators of Thankskilling dub their movie "the ultimate low budget experience" and boy are they not lying. The movie was made on a shoestring budget of about $3,500 plus a small investment from a distribution company. I can't fault the movie for having little money to work with and I truly do applaud two young filmmakers for having fun and created the film they wanted to make. What I can fault them for is making an unfunny movie. I'm sure this will chap a few asses from the chattering internet-class, but I barely laughed throughout the entire movies. A few chuckles here and there, but nothing really stood out to me as being genuinely hysterical. Some will claim that the movie has a "so bad it's good quality" and sure, I can see that, but I don't agree with it. Turkie itself is just a cheap demented-looking plastic puppet. I wasn't expecting anything special and they delivered. The 12 year-old in me still finds cursing funny, but their comes a point when Turkie just says filthy words just because. It gets old and forced very quickly. Some of the jokes are non sequiturs or have no segways, as if they come out of nowhere. For every half-funny joke, there are about 15 that are not funny at all.

I almost feel bad criticizing the movie, like calling double-dribble on your dog during a game of basketball. I can look past the nonsensical story, I mean, fine a talking turkey that kills people. I've seen crazier things. For all it's ridiculousness, the plot doesn't bother me. The story itself doesn't make much sense and their are some forehead-slapping scenes throughout. I couldn't believe they actually showed the turkey puppet raping Ali. It wasn't funny and really made me dislike the entire movie. To my surprise, the acting is actually passable for such a low-budget film and the direction is fine. There is plenty of violence and blood with a few good kills here and there. As far as horror villains go, Turkie isn't that bad. He's a remorseless killing machine with a sick sense of humor. I suppose it's better than a non-talking killer turkey.

This picture broke my brain

Thankskilling would fit in perfectly with the Troma family of insane movies like Poultrygeist, Dumpster Baby, and Butt Crack. It's cheap and ridiculous which is perfect for some people. Not me, though. I found a lot of the jokes unfunny and sophomoric. Maybe surrounded by drunk friends making fun of it would have made it more enjoyable, but that wasn't the case. What I'm thankful for is that the movie was only about an hour long. The killings are decent and there is a good amount of blood. The jokes aren't too funny and the turkey rape-scene still bothers me. I thought the necrophilia scene in Masters of Horror: Haeckel's Tale was bad, but this may equal it. If you're looking for something crass and full of nonsense, you may actually enjoy Thankskilling. Beyond that, what can I tell you? It's a movie about a killer turkey puppet. What do you expect?


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Day 326: Rosemary's Baby

Rosemary's Baby
Hit me, baby, one more time

Right off the bat, I have to say, “Fuck Roman Polanski”. He is a statutory rapist who ran away to avoid sentencing. Glad to get that out of the way just in case there was any confusion. I probably wouldn't watched today's movie if it wasn't for a slip in my memory that he directed it. On the one hand, I have wanted to see Rosemary's Baby for a long time as it is considered a horror classic. On the other hand, Roman Polanski is a scumbag who committed a crime and has never been punished. It does bring up an interesting and difficult point, though. Can you separate the art from the artist? People love T.S. Elliot but he was anti-semitic. William S. Burroughs was convicted of manslaughter. Some people are able to disassociate the real-life trouble that these artists get into from their art. I have rarely been able to do that, but for you, I'll give it a try.

Rosemary's Baby is a 1968 psychological horror movie based on the novel of the same name by Ira Levin. The movie stars Mia Farrow (The Great Gatsby, Alice) as Rosemary Woodhouse and John Cassavetes (The Dirty Dozen, Capone) as her husband Guy Woodhouse. Rosemary and Guy, a struggling actor, move into an old apartment building called the Bramford. Their old friend Hutch (Maurice Evans, Planet Of The Apes, Bewitched) warns them that the Bramford has a famous and strange history with witches and satanists, but they move in anyway. Rosemary befriends a young woman named Terry who lives in the building with her neighbors, Roman and Minnie Castevet. She is shocked when Terry, who was supposedly a happy woman on the road to recovery from drug addiction, killed herself. Rosemary befriends the eccentric Castevets. Minnie even gives Rosemary a good luck necklace containing something called tannis root. Guy is cast in a role after the man who originally got it suddenly went blind. Rosemary and Guy decide to try to have a baby and on that night, Minnie gives the couple homemade chocolate mousse to go with their dinner. Rosemary insists it has an undertaste and disposes of most of it. She becomes dizzy and passes out on the bed. She dreams that she is surrounded by naked people from the apartment and is raped by a demon. She wakes up with scratches on her back as Guy apologizes for being to rough with her. Soon, Rosemary is pregnant and the Castevet's tell her to go see their friend, Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy, The Awful Truth, His Girl Friday). He prescribes that Rosemary forgoes any vitamins in favor of a natural drink made by Minnie. Rosemary begins to lose weight and has terrible pains. On the day Hutch plans to see her, he falls into a deep coma. He soon dies and leaves Rosemary with a book on witches, leaving a cryptic message, “the name is an anagram”. She is able to deduce that Roman Castevet is actually Steven Marcato, the son of a famous witch and devil worshiper. She suspects that her neighbors are part of a satanic cult and becomes paranoid about all those around her, including Guy. Is Rosemary's baby really the product of a satanic cult and what will happen to her?

Satan has the dreamiest eyes

Rosemary's Baby is an intense, engrossing psychological horror film that wraps around the audience and doesn't let go. You're never quite sure if there really is a cult or if Rosemary is paranoid. This tension becomes unbearable as the audience wants to scream for her to run for her life. Thrills and suspense rage throughout most of the film and is quite exhausting by the end. The beginning of the film starts off slow and quite normal. Minnie Castevet is so wacky, the film might be mistaken for a situational comedy at certain points. For the first half hour, nothing really happens. The horror doesn't begin until the conception where the movie practically flips and switch and sends the audience into a tailspin of fear. We never fully see the demon, just hands and eyes, which I found disappointing. We didn't have to see everything in detail, but I think a little more could have sent the mind reeling.

The biggest reason why the movie succeeds is because of Mia Farrow. She is fantastic in the movie with her emotions laid bare and projected onto the audience. Her line “This is not a dream! This is actually happening” sticks in your brain and makes you feel supremely uncomfortable. She makes the character and the film itself far more believable than one would suspect from a satanic baby film. The supporting cast is equally as good and truly create a sense of horror and dread as the movie progresses. The ending is very good and ends on an uncomfortable down-note. The beginning and ending “la-la-la” music is great, but sparingly used, which is a shame because it could have been as iconic as the music from Halloween and Friday The 13th. While I still hate Roman Polanski, I have to say that his direction helped create a dark atmosphere that hangs like a fog over the entire movie. If I have any complaints about the movie, it's that it is way too long. The 2-plus hour run time could have been cut down in certain scenes for a neater overall package.

Who wants pie?

I was able to separate the artist from the art in order to watch Rosemary's Baby and I'm glad I did. Rosemary's Baby is a scary, uncomfortable horror movie that sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. While overly long, the story is believable while still being supernatural. There is a lot of suspense and thrills with plenty of scares. Mia Farrow is great and gets a lot of help from a solid supporting cast. As I said before, I still hate Roman Polanski and wish to never watch another one of his movies again, but Rosemary's Baby is highly enjoyable.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Day 325: White Zombie

White Zombie
Thunder Kiss '65

Zombies are totally in right now. Thanks to The Walking Dead, a rash of zombie movies, and a few real-life face-eating incidences, zombies are the hip thing. There used to be a time when you actually had to explain to people what a zombie was. Now, even little old ladies know to shoot them in the head. I'm not saying it's a bad thing, it's just hard having your special thing become pop-culture. Thankfully, there are plenty of other zombie-related things out there for the super horror fans to enjoy. As one of those zombie nerds, I've seen a lot of them. Many of the newer ones are just plain terrible, so I'm forced to go back in the past to find a gem. Might as well go all the way back to the first feature-length zombie movie, right?

White Zombie is a 1932 zombie movie starring Bela Lugosi (Dracula, Son Of Frankenstein) as Murder Legendre. In the country of Haiti, Madeline Short (Madge Bellamy, The Iron Horse, Under Your Spell) reunites with her fiance, Neil Parker (John Harron, The Invisible Menace, Street Girl). Set to be married that night, the two travel by coach through the Haitian forest, when the happen upon a burial in the middle of the road. Their native driver informs them that it prevents grave robbers from doing their unholy business. As they travel, they come across Murder Legendre, a local sugar cane baron and voodoo master who supposedly controls zombies. The driver sees these zombies and quickly pushes onward, leaving Legendre holding Madeline's scarf. They arrive at the home of plantation owner Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer, The Three Musketeers, Law Men) who secretly loves Madeline. Desperate to win Madeline, Beaumont asks Legendre for help. Legendre gives him a potion that will give Madeline the appearance of death, only to rise like a zombie at a later time. The potion works and Madeline is soon buried. A depressed Neil later discovers that Madeline's body is missing from her tomb and enlists the help of Dr. Bruner (Joseph Cawthorn, The Taming Of The Shrew, Lazy River) to find out what has happened. Beaumont comes to regret his decision as a zombified Madeline shows no emotion and is a shell of her former self. He begs Legendre to change her back, but is drugged himself. Will Neil stop Legendre from zombifying the entire island and save Madeline before it is too late?

Staring contest! 123go!

White Zombie is widely considered to be the first feature-length zombie film. The story plays out as one might expect, though that is probably due to later films following the movie's lead. There is a good amount of suspense in the film and some tame action. I generally wanted to know what was going to happen to Madeline and Legendre. Legendre is a classic old-timey villain, complete with evil-looking eyebrows. His intentions were a little too vague for my liking and could have used some more attention and detail. The zombies are the traditional drugged and mind-controlled people of voodoo legend. You can't really expect to have corpses rising from the grave and eating people in the 1930s. The zombies themselves tend to look a bit silly, with some extra hair glues to their face. The movie had a fairly small budget and reused many sets from Universal's other horror movies of the time. While the small budget didn't completely hurt the movie, I think a little more money could have gone a long way.

It should be no surprise that Bela Lugosi is the best thing about White Zombie. He often channels his inner-Dracula, using his piercing glare to control his zombies. It was neat to see how the movie focused on his eyes and his hands so much. Never has a movie shows closeups of hands and been so full of tension. Madge Bellamy pulls off her zombified state very well, having a completely blank stare for entire scenes. Her large eyes and doll-like features certainly helped give her a stone cold appearance as a zombie. Both John Harron and Robert Frazer are way over-the-top in the portrayal of their characters. Certain scenes become almost comedic thanks to their overacting.

"Gasp! They're real and they're spectacular!"

Though very tame by today's standards, White Zombie is still an enjoyable horror movie. It's influence was seen in later zombie movies such as "I Walked With A Zombie" and "King Of The Zombies". The story is incredibly simplistic, but good nonetheless. There are some eery moments and a small fright here and there. Bela Lugosi is very enjoyable to watch, especially when he goes into his mind-control stare. Without him, the entire movie would have been a horror footnote at best. The zombies don't look that great, but they serve their purpose well enough. While it is not in the same league as other Universal horror movies like Dracula, The Wolfman, and Frankenstein, White Zombie is still a horror classic and can be enjoyed by many different age groups.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 324: Monster Brawl

Monster Brawl
Where's The Undertaker and Kane?

I admit it. I'm a professional wrestling nerd. I am well aware that the results are predetermined (it's not fake, it's predetermined. Get it right), but I am still wildly entertained by it. I was a huge Hulkamaniac when I was younger, but became disinterested in the mid-90's. It may come as a shock to some that know me, but I pretty much missed the entire “Monday Night Wars”. While professional wrestling was at it's zenith of popularity, I wasn't watching. I felt like it was kid's stuff. I randomly became interested again while flipping through channels and saw that both Mr. Perfect and Big Boss Man, wrestlers from my childhood, were back in the WWE. An occasional watch became a weekly love affair that has extended to this day, going to live events and watching pay-per-views. I know, I'm a dork, but I'm perfectly OK with that. Being a fan things outside the mainstream tend to go together. Comic books, horror movies, heavy metal, wrestling. It was only a matter of time before there was a wrestling horror movie.

Monster Brawl is a 2011 independent horror comedy starring Dave Foley (The Kids In The Hall, Suck) as play-by-play announcer Buzz Chambers and Art Hindle (The Brood, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) as color commentator “Sasquatch” Sid Tucker. An independent wrestling promoter and self-professed horror nerd has gathered eight monsters from across the globe and through time to compete in the ultimate monster battle. The combatants are seperated into two categories: Undead and Creatures. On the Undead side is Frankenstein, The Mummy, Zombie Man, and Lady Vampire. On the Creatures side is Cyclops, Werewolf, Witch Bitch, and Swamp Gut. The battles take place inside a wrestling ring set amidst an abandoned and cursed graveyard. Jimmy “Mouth Of The South” Hart of WWF/E and WCW fame announces the combatants as we are treated to background clips of each monster. Each clip reveals a little bit of each monster. For example, Zombie Man is the product of the army and managed by the maniacal Colonel Crookshank (Kevin Nash of WWF/E and WCW fame, Punisher). UFC referee Herb Dean referees the match to ensure the rules aren't broken, but he is killed in the first match. Which classic monster will reign supreme and prove once and for all who is the baddest monster in the world?

"Say it's fake again. I dare you."

If the above rundown of the movie felt like it was short on story, character development, and all the other hallmarks of a typical movie, you'd be right. Monster Brawl pulls no punches (sorry for the terrible pun) and makes no bones (sorry, another bad one) about what type of movie it is. Like the SpikeTV show Deadliest Warrior, Monster Brawl takes every 7 year-old's question of “Who would win in a fight?” There was really only two ways of doing this movie: lots of plot and story with a little bit of actual fighting or lots of fighting and no real story. They went with the latter and I'm OK with that decision. If you're looking for an actual movie with story, plot, emotions, and love interests, you're going to be sorely disappointed. The little background clips are fun and help break up the dark monotony of the graveyard and wrestling ring.

"We're the real monsters, baby!"

The fights play out like typical wrestling matches with clotheslines, jumps off the top turnbuckle, and occasional outside interference from managers. Each fighter has skill in the ring, some even better than those in WWE and TNA. The movie obviously had help laying out the matches from professionals which is great because they would be a mess otherwise. They have a good amount of psychology and good back and forth action. Each fighter cuts a promo before their match which are fun, but by no means hysterical. Dave Foley and Art Hindle are funny and have good chemistry. Foley channels his inner Howard Cossell while Hindle, dressed similar to Jim Ross from WWE, is more of a typical veteran color commentator. Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead, Millenium) lends his gravelly voice as the narrator during the background segments. Fans of the Mortal Kombat will enjoy the voice-overs during the fight shouting “Excellent!” and “Disturbing!” It's fun to see Jimmy Hart and Kevin Nash, but I would've liked to see more professional wrestlers throughout the movie. I'm sure they could have used the paycheck. Wrestling fans should not be surprised that Nash didn't “do the job” even in a movie. 

What a slobberknocker!

There's not a whole lot to Monster Brawl, but it is still immensely fun to watch. Writer/Director Jesse T. Cook knows exactly what he is going for with this movie. Rather than muddling around with a half-hearted story, he goes right for the action. The final fight is a little long and I felt the ending could have been better in my opinion. The fighting is good as the actors are all skilled and someone with wrestling knowledge clearly helped lay out all the matches. The monsters all look good and there is a nice variety to pick from. If you're not a wrestling fan, you'll still get a kick out of all of the fights, but don't expect much of an emotional connection to any character. For the wrestling dorks out there that also love horror, Monster Brawl is a must see. Regardless of the story (or lack thereof), I was still highly entertained.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Day 323: Maximum Overdrive

Maximum Overdrive
Minimum entertainment

For someone who has had dozens of his stories turned into movies, Stephen King has only directed one. It's easy to forget that when a movie says “Stephen King presents” or “Stephen King's” he's not actually sitting in the director's chair. In the right hands, King's work can be immensely entertaining and incredibly terrifying, such as the Rob Reiner-directed “Misery” and the Stanley Kubrick-directed “The Shining”. In the wrong hands, we get mediocre movies like Cujo and Graveyard Shift. King's work has a wide range in terms of subject matter and pure horror. It takes skill and patience to lay out his works, especially his short stories. With this in mind, you would think that Stephen King's directorial debut of his own story would be great. Keep in mind, this movie came out in 1986. In the book Hollywood's Stephen King, King himself admitted he was “coked out of [his] mind all through its production, and [he] really didn't know what [he] was doing." Great.

Maximum Overdrive is 1986 horror/action movie based on Stephen King's short story “Trucks”. The movie stars Emilio Estevez (The Breakfast Club, The Mighty Ducks) as parolee Bill Robinson. Earth passes through the tail of a rogue comet called Rhea-M, bathing the planet in an eery green glow. Mechanical objects gain sentience with murderous intent. Bridges lift on their own, ATMs have smart-ass remarks, soda machines fire out drinks at deadly speed, and vehicles now drive themselves. The machines start killing humans and animals alike with no mercy. At the Dixie Boy truck stop in Wilmington, North Carolina, a waitress is attacked by an electric knife and a man is killed by an electric shock from an arcade game. The truck stop, containing cook and ex-con Bill Robinson, traveler Brett (Laura Harrington, The Devil's Advocate, Quantum Leap), newlyweds Connie (Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa Simpson) and Curtis (John Short), Bill's boss Bubba Hendershot (Pat Hingle, Batman, Wings), and a group of truckers is surrounded by a caravan of sentient trucks. The leader is a large tractor trailer hauling toys, complete with a giant Green Goblin mask on the grill. The trucks kill anyone who tries to leave and terrorize the survivors inside. Via morse code, the trucks demand that the humans fill them up with gas. Will Bill and the rest of the group come up with a plan to escape and stop the killer machines?

"Can you be a doll and get me some Visine? I've been up for days."

Killer sentient machines have been done many times before. In the abstract, like Terminator, Videodrome, and Westworld, the killer machines are given a “face” and possess some sort of personality. When it's just a regular old machine trying to kill someone, it usually comes off as silly. They tried with the giant Green Goblin mask (the real Green Goblin face, not that Willem Dafoe atrocity from the movie), but it's not really enough. Goofy is probably the best way to describe Maximum Overdrive. If he wanted, King could have actually made the movie scary, but instead of we get mediocre comedy and lots of explosions. The first thirty minutes of the movie are the best as we get to see all sorts of machines wreak havoc on the population. It's when we get stuck at the diner that the movie comes to a slow, staggering death. The movie was far more interesting in a heavily populated area as we see the spectacular crashes from a bridge raising with cars still on it. I'm sure budget had something to do with it, but with $10 million, they could have made it work. The isolated location of the diner allowed for more structural damage, but it's far less interesting to watch. Part of the problem is that there are a lot of people in the diner. It would be fine if a lot of them were killed, but we only get a handful and are stuck with too large a group to focus on and connect with.

The movie actually received two Golden Raspberry Awards nominations for Worst Director and Worst Actor (Emilio Estevez). While the direction is not good, I wouldn't say it's utterly atrocious. I've seen way worse which really says a lot. Certain scenes show a certain amount of style and skill, so it's not like Stephen King is completely devoid of talent. He probably just should have laid off the drugs. Think I'm wrong? Just take a look at this promo for the movie. King looks like a whacked-out Vince Russo ready to hit the clubs. I like Emilio Estevez and I didn't think his performance was that bad. Maybe that's just my Mighty Ducks love talking, but I didn't feel any disgust towards him. The supporting cast is fine, though Yeardley Smith's voice became very grating towards the end. The movie has a good amount of violence and plenty of explosions. There really isn't much horror to speak of as the constant blaring of AC/DC throughout the entire film takes away any fear or atmosphere. It may have helped revive their career, but I just don't care for them and would have enjoyed silence compared to their cock-rock shouts.

I think the movie is trying to tell me something...

I pretty much got what I expected from Maximum Overdrive, which isn't saying much. It was pretty clear that the movie's plot was stretched out to make it a full length. The movie differs strongly from the original short story, focusing more on jokes and action and than actual horror and atmosphere. Despite plenty of explosions and some good scenes of violence, the movie is generally boring and full of plot holes. There are too many characters in the diner and not enough of them are killed. Stephen King's directorial debut was pretty much a flop, but he did show some skill. I really couldn't stand all the AC/DC, both as a fan of music and a fan of horror. Maximum Overdrive is best watched with a group of friends ready to make jokes. Beyond that, it's just a product of the drugged-out 80's.