The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (2006)

JUNE 30, 2008


The credits for The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde offered not one, not two, but THREE Hatchet veterans – Tony Todd (star), John Carl Buechler (director here, makeup/cameo-er on Hatchet) and Andy Garfield (music), which perhaps raised my expectations a bit. And to be fair, it’s far from a bad movie, but like many of these films, suffers greatly from a lack of resources/money. I guess it’s a crapshoot – you can write whatever you dream up and hope that your money covers it, or you can write knowing your limitations and thus restricting your imagination (and most likely end up with a lousy script to boot). Buechler and co. clearly chose the former, though the script could have used some work as well.

At least the cast is good. In addition to Todd as the title character(s), you get Tim Thomerson (in a far too brief role) and Carpenter regular Peter Jason as two of the many cops who populate the film. Unfortunately, Tracy Scoggins is wasted here. Not because she’s a good actress, because she’s actually not very good at all, but she’s usually smoking hot (see: Otis, for absolutely no other reason) and thus provides necessary visual flair. But the makeup person botches this notion by giving her truly hideous and unflattering eyeshadow that makes her resemble Amy Winehouse, one of the most hideously ugly and horrible women to ever defile the planet. Also: VERNON WELLS. Anyone well versed in 80s action cinema has to appreciate a movie that gives him a sizable role.

And Buechler provides many a nice touch I appreciated. For example, in the film’s first kill scene, we get the standard POV shot of Mr. Hyde stalking the girl. Usually this is followed by a shot of the girl spinning around and seeing nothing, and THAT is usually followed by me yelling “How the fuck did he get out of her line of vision so fast?!?!?” Well here, we actually see the POV shot suddenly jerk to the left as Hyde makes his way behind a corner. Why he is hiding makes no sense, but it’s a good idea nonetheless.

I also particularly liked how silly the movie got at the end, as Hyde suddenly transforms into a monkey man. This means that we get alternating shots of Todd wearing a ridiculous ape mask, or a CG head is badly mapped to the actor’s body. Either way, you have a giant monkey running around all of a sudden, and that is awesome.

Sadly the CG is terrible here and in the other scenes it is used. It’s sparse, to be fair, but uniformly bad nonetheless. That, along with not very good digital video and the editor’s strange habit of badly zooming in on shots (resulting in blurry/grainy footage that doesn’t match anything else in the sequence) gives the film a very cheap feel, and while it’s not likely they had much to begin with, these type of things make it feel even cheaper than it probably was, which is a shame.

Garfield’s score is also pretty good, if a bit overbearing at times. It’s almost like they forgot to tell him that the movie had no money, so his sweeping, big orchestra-sounding score feels a bit off when played during a scene that looks like it cost 12 cents. Still, it has a very classic horror feel that is appropriate given the subject matter. I was a bit disappointed that the film had no musical numbers, given that Buechler IS the director of Troll, a film with one of the most deliriously hilarious musical numbers in film history.

Having never read the source material, I don’t know if some of the dialogue is taken directly from it, but either way, there are lines that don’t quite fit right with the rest of the film. It’s mostly kinda hokey and fun, but every now and then (especially in the final 10 minutes or so), Buechler gives Todd and a few others some lines that sound like quotes from “Philosophy for Dummies” instead of from the script they have been following for the bulk of the film. Still, Todd gives it his all, and provides more proof that he should have had a more successful career in Hollywood. He got a few meaty roles in the 90s (like in The Rock) but nowadays he’s mostly stuck in stuff like this. He’s not exactly Oscar caliber, but he’s definitely a presence, and it’s nice to see him get to have some fun with a dual role.

I dunno, worth a look on a lazy Sunday I guess. Could have been better, but everyone makes do with what they have. I've seen far worse, but sometimes mediocre is less desirable - it's only been a few hours and I'm already forgetting most of the movie

What say you?


Humanoids From The Deep (1980)

JUNE 29, 2008


I have seen the trailer for Humanoids From The Deep about a dozen times (including once or twice at the New Beverly itself), and always thought it looked amazing. Rapist fishmen attacking bad actresses on the beach? Sign me up! But I had a sneaking suspicion that the film would not live up to the trailer, and now that I’ve finally seen it, I know I was right. Before the film, we were told (by the film’s editor and co-producer) that the film was made, and then Roger Corman (bless him) decided it needed more exploitation type elements, i.e. nude girls being killed. Another director went back and added these scenes, the bulk of which were the ones used in the trailer, and the result is a film with MPD.

In reality, the movie is almost Crichton-like in its execution: we have a few assorted science and doctor and everyman types banding together to study/fight a common enemy, in this case, rapist fishmen. There’s also (sigh) a real estate subplot that adds to the fairly serious tone of the film. Hell, even the actors are pretty respectable – Vic Morrow, Doug McClure, etc.

But the film’s real draw is, of course, the kills. And those scenes are great in that sleazy, Grindhouse-y way. But they are so few in number, and jarringly edited into the narrative, that they only remind you how dull the rest of the movie is in comparison. It’s not that the original movie elements were BAD; they just aren’t as amusing as the newer stuff. You almost wish that Corman pulled a Warner Bros and had Renny Harlin (or whoever this particular new director was) reshoot the entire film.

That said... it’s still worth a look. Rob Bottin’s rapist fishmen makeup is fantastic, and the score is by none other than James Horner, long before he began winning awards and composing nearly identical scores for every big epic movie that Hans Zimmer or John Williams are too busy to do themselves. And even though there’s not a lot of rapist fishmen action, there’s plenty of other stuff, like a great bar fight and a ridiculous explosion.

It’s also curious how straight it is. It’s almost like they were trying to make a serious movie, which is not uncommon for Corman, but you still gotta wonder why he didn’t order more nudity/violence right from the start. No one goes to a Corman movie for the intellectual benefits, and by this time (1980) he should have known that. Had the whole movie reflected the ridiculous and exploitative nature of the reshoot scenes, this movie could be a masterpiece. But the insistence on being, you know, a real movie at times, ultimately weighs it down. A shame, really.

Also: the end sets up a sequel, which we never got. Curses!

What say you?


Special Effects (1984)

JUNE 28, 2008


Last week, fellow horror movie nut and loyal HMAD reader B-Sol wrote up a list of 10 major missteps from promising horror filmmakers. As with any list, I didn’t agree with some of the choices, but I can only assume that he just never saw Special Effects from Larry Cohen, because in my opinion it deserved the number 1 spot: it’s actually hard to believe that the guy who made It’s Alive and The Stuff could make a movie this dull, badly acted, and just plain lousy.

The plot is almost like something out of Hitchcock – a director kills a woman on film and decides to make a movie around the footage. Pretty awesome in theory, but the way this film is carried out, it almost seems like Cohen (who also wrote) was almost going out of his way to execute the story as badly as possible. The director’s scheme is needlessly complicated (involving framing a guy and then paying for his bail moments later, some nonsense about a rose, bringing in a cop to watch the dailies... all sounds exciting, huh?), which doesn’t help. Maybe at 75 minutes this would merely be disappointing, but 105 for a thriller in which only 2 people are killed (without any sort of suspense leading up to either) and nothing else of note happens until the final 10 minutes (rounding UP) is way too much to ask for, especially when the actors are as bad as they are in this.

Eric Bogosian (the director) is pretty amusing at times, but that is to be expected. But even he fails to keep viewer interest (in fact he himself looks bored at times). But the other two leads have to be the absolute worst I’ve ever seen in a major motion picture. The actress in particular, Zoë Lund (playing two roles), manages to ruin just about every moment that, despite being poorly written to begin with, would have carried at least SOME weight. You know when you’re flipping around the channels and you come across a soap opera and someone is saying “I found out who the father of your baby is!” and you decide to watch and find out, even thought you don’t know who anyone is? THAT is more compelling than any one moment in this entire movie.

I honestly cannot think of a single reason to watch this movie. It’s too dull to be “so bad it’s good” entertainment, and it’s too long to use as a time-killer (if you have THAT much time, you should be watching something good). The only thing I got out of it was an understanding why I had never heard of it before adding it to my queue.

Also, I know I have been offering the trailers lately, but I couldn't find one for this. I assume they couldn't figure out how to take a minute of the film and make it look interesting and thus never bothered to cut one.

What say you?


She-Wolf Of London (1946)

JUNE 27, 2008


You know, it’s bad enough that the Wolf Man collection only has two actual Wolf Man movies, but if they are going to toss other crap on there, at least have them be movies with actual werewolves in them! Christ! I don’t care if I am spoiling it for anyone, She-Wolf Of London does not actually contain a werewolf; just some old broad killing folks and blaming it on her niece. She could at least wear a werewolf costume or something.

At least it’s a decent movie otherwise. The mystery is actually pretty good (two red herrings!) and at 61 minutes it certainly doesn’t waste much time getting going. The very nature of the reality of what’s going on means we don’t get any onscreen murders (even the killer pretty much kills herself when she trips on some stairs), but there’s still some nice suspense scenes. It also has a delightfully odd moment when two of the women (there’s hardly any dudes in this movie) discuss the fact that one of them has broad shoulders. OK.

I also like the tendency for characters in these movies to get all excited about news in order to deliver exposition. At one point, someone says, apropos of nothing, “Oh, did you hear? A man was killed in the park!” It’s good to know that back in the day, there were so few murders that when one occurred it was on everyone’s mind. I can’t imagine going home and saying “Hey, some dude got stabbed in Echo Park last night!”, even if I was the one who did it.

The star of this film is none other than June Lockhart, who you all know as the old nut in Troll (plus I guess she was on some classic TV show called Lassie or something). It’s very rare to watch one of these old Universal monster movies and see an actor that is even still alive, let alone working, so that made me happy. Would have been happier if she was a werewolf though. Seriously, what the fuck!

What say you?


School Killer (2001)

JUNE 26, 2008


With such a generic and lazy title, I wasn’t expecting much out of School Killer. I certainly didn’t expect it to be so damn convoluted and dialogue heavy. I also go to the school of “the actor listed first has the most screen time”, so I was a bit bummed to see that top-billed Paul Naschy only appears in the film for about 10 minutes total.

Before I talk about the movie itself, I want to make a few notes on the DVD itself. In addition to not providing a scene selection menu (what is this? Corpses?), the main menu is in Spanish, even though the title is English. I can sort of figure out what "Promosionales" and "Comienzo" mean, but again, this is a movie called School Killer – my brain has already been turned off. In addition, there is no subtitle menu, so if you are using a rather half-assed universal remote that doesn’t have a subtitle button, you are shit out of luck. Come on guys, little effort here.

I bring up the subs because the biggest problem with this movie is that no one ever shuts the fuck up for more than 5 seconds. Some of the dialogue is just your standard modern slasher shit, i.e. referencing other horror movies (strangely, they namecheck Scream 3, not, you know, one of the other two which actually have scenes set in schools), and assorted banter. That’s fine. But I’d say at least 2/3 of the dialogue in this movie is just explaining, overexplaining, and even RE-explaining every goddamn plot point. It’s not enough for someone to see a light and wonder how when the electricity should have been turned off (its an abandoned school). No, in School Killer, we get countless exchanges like this:

Guy: A light!
Girl: How can that be? The power has been turned off.
Guy: No, the permits haven’t gone through yet, it might still be on.
Other guy: But look, the line is cut.
Guy: That’s not the main line. The light we saw may be separate.
Other girl: No, look, the main line has been stolen! (huh?)
Guy: Maybe it was a gas or battery powered light.
Girl: No, the light was definitely from an electrical source.

I am not making this up, that is almost word for word an exchange in this movie. And we get one for just about everything that occurs in the film; a cell phone not working, how the tire got flat, why someone hasn’t come back from the bathroom yet, etc. It’s almost sort of comical how determined the screenwriters are to keep the audience from saying “Oh come on!” about any particular horror movie cliché occurring in the film – they will offer at least a half dozen explanations to choose from.

Another issue is a nearly half hour long flashback in which we see what happened to another group of kids about 30 years before, including one of our main group’s father. Apart from the ridiculous length, it’s just a giant waste of screentime, because we already know they all die except for the father. And at first it seems like we are about to watch an entire movie’s worth of their story, as we see them enter the school, joke around, etc, just like the stuff we just saw 20 minutes before with our original group. The only difference is that they don’t reference any horror movies.

Plus, it’s not really a good trade off to lose nearly a half an hour’s worth of suspense in order to provide 2-3 minutes’ worth of exposition. Also, a few of the scenes involve things that occurred where no one present has survived – how does our hero know what happened? That said, director Carlos Gil did a damn fine job casting and dressing the flashback group – they look like a traditional early 80s slasher group, and even the film stock itself seems older – you can almost imagine that this is footage from a genuine movie from the era.

And finally, the music. It is fucking terrible. It sounds like its on a loop and reminds one of the library stuff one would use in a film school project. Awful. Occasionally we get some Spanish punk music that doesn’t fit either, but at least it’s not as generic.

Otherwise it’s OK enough as a slasher. The look of the film is nice, and the cast is good (none of them are really annoying either, another plus). Naschy is a great villain in his few scenes (though he also suffers from an abundance of dialogue – before killing one girl in the flashback sequence, he asks how she was able to sneak out at night, and we are told her dad is on a business trip and her mom gave her permission to go out with her friends – all of this for a girl we already know is dead). And it’s nice to see one where they sort of know they are in danger almost all the way through, as opposed to the circular nature of some of the Friday the 13th movies, in which two kids go off, die, two more go off, die, etc, until our heroine realizes that all dozen of her friends have vanished.

So in short – the technical aspects are fine, the acting is good, but it’s all for nothing due to the overwritten script (except for the ending, which is as abrupt as any film I’ve ever seen). Here’s hoping the Gil and his crew get a better script and composer (and DVD release) next time.

What say you?


X-Cross (2007)

JUNE 25, 2008


When I was putting together the “quote banner” for the site, I came across a guy who liked Horror Movie A Day, but that it lost points because I “dislike Asian horror”. This was written a year or so ago, when I had very few Asian films reviewed here, and yes, most of them negative. But I hope that guy is still reading, because I have given several high marks to Eastern fare since, and X-Cross (aka XX (Ekusu Kurosu): Makyô Densetsu) certainly continues that trend – it’s actually one of my favorite movies of the year.

The setup is what really makes the film. It’s like Saw III and IV combined, in that the first part of the film shows you one character’s journey through an event, and then the 2nd part shows the other girl’s adventures. And each part has its own horror sub-genre feel – the first is a suspenseful girl in the woods type thing, and the 2nd is a one on one battle between a girl and a romantic rival who has gone insane and taken to running around dressed up in a costume and wielding giant scissors. But then the 3rd part is where the movie truly takes off, as the girls reunited and face their enemies together, culminating in a huge bloodbath via a batshit insane 4 way fight.

And that’s what makes the film work so well. We start off with suspense (suspense that actually works for that matter), then go into some light survival/”torture” elements, and finally just the gonzo type of stuff that director Kenta Fukasaku is known for (he did Battle Royale 2, for example). It works much better than you might think, and the way the film keeps elevating is admirable to say the least.

Plus I always like those sort of ‘two sides to a story’ movie setups. You see a broken light swinging around in one story, and the second story explains how it got that way. It’s not an easy thing to pull off – you run the risk of making the first part of the story incomprehensible because there is too many pieces that won’t be filled in until the next part, but Fukasaku and screenwriter Tetsuya Oishi do a good job of providing a lot of these type of “ohhhh.... that’s how that happened” moments without sacrificing story coherence.

Sadly, no US release is planned for this one yet, though since it’s been released in Japan and other countries, perhaps those among you who know their way around a region free DVD player can figure out how to get their hands on a copy. And then tell me how, because I can’t make heads or tails of that stuff.

Note - you may notice my review is rather vague compared to usual. That's because I think the movie is best when you go in totally blind, as I did. But because I like to serve, here is the (too long) trailer for the movie nonetheless. Watch at your own risk (of not enjoying the movie as much as me)!

What say you?


The Lost Boys (1987)

JUNE 24, 2008


NOTE – As you read this review, please have the following Youtube clip running (on a loop if necessary). It’s part of the Lost Boys experience.

Even as a kid I don’t think I ever actually watched all of The Lost Boys in a single viewing. My horror movie memory is pretty good but I honestly do not recall ever sitting down and watching it, instead just sort of catching parts of it on cable and eventually realizing I had seen it all. My last experience with it was about 7 years ago when I went over a friend’s to watch it and promptly slept thru the entire movie (I never even saw the Frog Brothers, and I think I might have caught a glimpse of Kiefer in between snoozes). And true to form, I even dozed off again tonight, but I borrowed a friend’s DVD for the extras and thanks to Joel Schumacher’s commentary, I was quickly able to re-view what I had missed.

Also, let the record show that this is the only time I would like to say “Thanks to Joel Schumacher” without being sarcastic.

I’m not sure why I didn’t spend more time watching the film as a kid. It’s got everything I liked then – “cool” monsters, a rock soundtrack, kid characters who were badasses (between this, Goonies, Stand By Me, and Gremlins, I realize now that Corey Feldman had pretty much the best fictional life a bored dude like me would ever want to have), etc. And I certainly liked it, but not enough to warrant a start to finish viewing for some reason. Christ, I even gave that much respect to Look Who’s Talking Too (twice!) when I was 11.

And now I like it just as much, albeit mainly for different reasons. Since I had no real nostalgia to draw my enjoyment from, instead I had a blast with the movie due to the things I love now, 20 years later. These things include unabashed homoeroticism (Corey Haim’s bizarre bathtub scene and poster of Rob Lowe are mighty suspect), comic book nerd dialogue, and ridiculous 80s fashion:

Also, still, the soundtrack. Shit is awesome. I never realized that Thomas Newman was the composer of the film. Newman is best known today for his sweeping, schmaltzy scores for movies like The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, and my personal favorite, Meet Joe Black (the 10 minute opus “That Next Place” from the soundtrack will accompany my funeral, in fact!). Plus the rock songs aren’t too dated, then again half of them are covers anyway. Still, it’s not like we have to deal with Wham or A-Ha like several other films of the era. Echo and the Bunnymen are timeless, dammit!

If there’s anything about the movie that doesn’t hold up, it’s the relative simplicity to the whole thing. It’s essentially a two act film stretched out to cover the lack of a third. They go to the town, meet the vampires, almost immediately turn on them, there’s a fight, and the movie’s over. A little more plot complication would have been nice (not to mention at least ONE other possibility as to who the lead vampire was). Also, the final line of the film, while hilarious, suggests something I actually would be interested in seeing explored – the idea that folks know that the town is overrun with vampires and look at it as a sort of nuisance.

Still, minor quibbles for what is otherwise a solid horror movie, and one of the very few purely FUN vampire films of the past 20 years or so. From Dusk Til Dawn is about the only other one I can think of, since all others tend to be moody and serious (Near Dark), or just plain shitty (Forsaken). There isn’t much in the way of gore (or even violence – it’s almost PG-13 in fact), but the cast and pace is hard to argue with, and the only thing that dates it is the style (both of the characters and the filmmaking itself), which is always preferable to a film that is no longer relevant due to its themes and plot. A solid effort all around.

The DVD is pretty packed. Schumacher’s commentary is OK, there isn’t much to it other than him praising the cast and offering the occasional anecdote (“the Coreys were mad that they didn’t get to drive the car here”). The deleted scenes collection is pretty extensive (20+ minutes!) but you cannot select individual scenes or even skip from one to the other, which is a bit odd.

There is also select “visual commentary” by the two Coreys. Haim just narrates everything and says how great it was to shoot the particular scene, and Feldman just sort of rambles like a drunk about Haim’s wardrobe and his acting choices. He also points out that Alex Winter was once in the movie a lot more but it was all cut, but Winter doesn’t appear at all in the deleted scenes, so who knows if this is just delirium or a half-assed deleted scenes selection. The pair also reminisces about how they met and why they ‘broke up’ after Dream A Little Dream 2, which I had forgotten existed. Another interactive piece is about all of the real vampires in the world who are apparently walking around waiting to kill us all. Cool. It’s worth noting that North America apparently has no vampires (though there are some in the British Isles – look out, Canada!).

Then there’s the usual recollections by the creative team and whatever cast they could assemble (why is Kiefer – the only one with a career – the only vampire to show up for this stuff?). Like most movies that were produced pre-DVD, the behind the scenes stuff is rather slim, and with everyone having perfect memories of the shoot, there isn’t really much to excite here. Come on, surely Jason Patric and Keifer came to blows over who was more of a badass, right?

I should note that Feldman introduced the film, and afterwards he brought out PJ Pesce, who is directing the upcoming DTV sequel Lost Boys: The Tribe. They showed us a clip, and quite frankly it seemed kind of weak – the vampire run like The Flash and it seems like they have replaced fun with gore, but without context I shouldn’t judge. Hopefully it will at least be a moderately entertaining vampire movie on its own terms, because there’s no way it can live up to the spirit of the original (or expectations of fans who have waited 21 years for it).

What say you?


Alive Or Dead (2008)

JUNE 23, 2008


By now, there’s not much that can be done in the way of originality in the “Girl’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and she runs afoul of a mutant or two” genre, but bless writer/director Stephen Goetsch for trying in his film Alive Or Dead (aka Inhospitable, a fact that is provided to us right at the beginning of the film in one of the oddest legal language screens I’ve ever seen:

On a basic level, absolutely nothing new happens here; the entire film plays out just like any of the millions of others over the past 30 years. But there’s just enough originality, or at least peculiarity, to warrant giving this one a pass, despite its many flaws.

For starters, the film begins with a girl having phone sex with her boyfriend – as she drives on Old Horror Movie Road. And when she reaches the point where a vibrator is necessary, she uses her cell phone charger instead (the cigarette lighter port end – not the phone end, you sick bastard!) when the vibrator falls under the seat. THEN, as her phone dies, we can assume that her... business makes the thing short out when she tries to use it for its intended purporse, thus providing the most unique reason for a dead cell phone I can recall. The vibrator is also used in another horror movie staple: the dead flashlight. When the flashlight dies, like it always does, she uses the vibrator’s battery to get it going again. What a resourceful sex addict.

After this we actually get a good solid 10-15 minutes of cat and mouse suspense, and the reason it works is because we still don’t know if this girl is our heroine or not. It’s a long standing tradition to kill off someone in the opening reel, and since the girl is a complete unknown, it’s not quite clear whether she is our heroine (and safe) or our first kill (and thus a goner). Once it becomes clear she’s the heroine, the movie loses some of its steam in terms of suspense, but it keeps the randomness coming at a steady clip.

Along the way to its conclusion, we get a castle in the middle of nowhere (instead of the usual shack or rotted house), a guy who loves ice, a monk delivering long exposition rambles in a Shakespearean manner, an incredibly overplotted backstory, a rare reference to the film First Knight, and a redneck who looks like Mark Boone Junior dressed up as the killer from Antropophagus.

So all that is good, but the movie is far from perfect. For starters, the consumer grade digital video does the movie no favors – there isn’t any goddamn detail in any of the imagery! A closeup of a girl’s face should reveal pores, individual strands of hair, etc, but not here. It’s all a blurry mush, looking hardly better than Youtube. They also forgot to color time it, and the sound is quite often noticeably dubbed in later. All of this makes the film feel cheap and lazy, and since obvious effort went into making the film stick out from the others, it would have been nice if the technical aspects followed suit.

Not all of the problems are technical related though. For example, our heroine is one of the dumber in recent memory, as evidenced in the scene where she hides as close as possible to another girl that is chained up inside a bus – hide as far AWAY from her as possible, so when the killer makes his way to the back to get at her, you can escape! Dumb broad. It also gets very padded at times, and even at 80 minutes with credits, feels like it could stand to lose about 10 minutes or so.

The extras are pretty worthless; the commentary track is loaded with gaps (and they pretty much mute the film’s audio, so you’re literally listening to dead air half the time) and the making of is as dull as any other. Strangely, Lionsgate’s usual 4.5 hrs of trailers at the top of the disc include several for films that have been out for ages, like The Descent and Devil’s Rejects. Maybe this is a good sign though; perhaps they are going to return to focusing on quality instead of quantity.

OR, are simply ignoring horror in favor of Tyler Perry. Either or.

What say you?

(Trailer here - they wouldn't let me embed!)


Otis (2008)

JUNE 22, 2008


I was particularly harsh to Captivity, a film without any sort of plot, character to care about, decent photography, etc. And yet, I’d rather watch it a 2nd time than do the same for Otis, even though Otis is technically better. The difference is, Captivity was just awful all the way through, and thus would make for a good drunken movie night with pals, whereas Otis is actually decent for the first hour, only to fall completely apart.

Like Captivity, Otis focuses on a fat guy with glasses who kidnaps a blond girl he calls Kim (and hey, in Captivity, WE call her Kim, because she’s better known as Kim Bauer!) and chains her in a dungeon with some torture devices. He’s got a brother who may be even more of a wretched human being, and the cops looking for her are pretty inept. But this movie offers another angle to the proceedings – the girl’s family, who go from grief to vigilante over the course of, I dunno, two scenes.

And therein lies the main problem with the film – it’s tonally all over the place. The “torture” scenes are presented as creepy and fairly understated, and the family stuff goes from broad to satirical and back seemingly at random. It’s actually like the Halloween remake in that regard – there are great scenes here and there, but overall it’s like watching three films combined into one mess. I hate to admit, most of the best stuff is just the dungeon/kidnapping scenes, due to the aforementioned creepiness. He’s not a particularly violent guy; she takes a slug or two and that’s about it. But he dresses her in a cheerleader outfit and has her cheer, rear projects a highway and pretends he’s taking her for a drive, etc. These scenes are pretty unnerving at times, and accompanied by a truly great soundtrack and score. There’s also a nice bit of underplayed foreshadowing involving her bra that I appreciated – nothing worse than a completely obvious hint about something that will be important later (see Untraceable for the absolute worst offense of this sort of screenwriting, EVER). But once she escapes, the rest of the movie is just pretty awful, as her suddenly vengeful family tries to get him back for what he did, only to mistakenly torture Otis’ brother Elmo (Kevin Pollak).

The humor does not work at all in these scenes. It’s supposed to be over the top and ridiculous, yet making a point, and yet its all so clichéd and generic. For example, the mild mannered dad (Daniel Stern) is about to plug in a torture device, only to discover the cord isn’t long enough to reach the outlet – a gag that has been used in full on comedic films as well as a moment of levity in full blown horror ones (Hostel II comes to mind). “Ha. Ha.” This gag goes on for a full minute. The worst offender is Jared Kusnitz, as the girl’s brother. His character is yet another disassociated youth who does reprehensible things that pass for character development. Ignoring the fact that some of the stuff he allegedly does should put him in jail, it’s just completely idiotic that we are expected to believe he does ALL of it – sells porn of his sister, deals drugs, MAKES drugs, nails frogs to the principal’s office door, plus apparently plays video games all day (and more). The actor is annoying as well (think an emo version of that Chris Marquette kid), which doesn’t help at all. Plus, the family switches so instantly, it’s hard to believe that they are so bloodthirsty – it comes off as impulsive behavior, but they are fully prepared for their act. Worse – they look nothing like a family at all; there’s no way in hell I buy Illeana Douglas and Ashley Johnson as 2nd cousins, let alone mother and daughter (the brother doesn’t look like anyone either).

The only actor who pulls it off is Jere Burns as the lead cop. He’s an idiot, but thinks he’s clever, and while it’s not exactly an original character, he at least got a few laughs out of me due to his completely inappropriate bluntness (one of his best lines is in the trailer). Also worth a chuckle is Tracy Scoggins (still hot!) as a newscaster who tells a missing girl’s parents that their daughter is probably dismembered. According to the commentary, this is supposed to be a satire on the media as well, but since Scoggins only has about 2 minutes of screentime, it’s kind of hard to really sell the idea – it comes off as just a quick gag rather than as any sort of commentary.

The same writer and director are also responsible for Sublime, a film that also suffered from half-assed attempts at social commentary and an uneven tone. Their commentary is full of pretentious babble and occasional obnoxious bickering (they argue over whether an actor had gum in his mouth at one point – riveting!), instead of explaining why their film looks like a soap opera. Oh, because they shot on video. Maybe instead of hiring well known actors to play a family, you can get unknowns that actually look alike, which would not only perhaps help sell the “family bond” idea in the film if the viewer can actually believe they are related, but also allow you to shoot on fucking film so your movie doesn’t look like ass on top of it. There is also an alternate ending that, true to form, doesn’t fit the tone of the film very well, and is also apparently missing a scene or two leading up to it, as it doesn’t make any sense in the context of what is in the final cut.

I hate to say that the best parts of a film feature a girl being psychologically tortured, but that is sadly the case. A film like The Cottage managed to blend the gore (and even a kidnapped blond!) with the slapstick-ish comedy rather well, so I know a. it can be done and b. I can enjoy it, but this one just didn’t work for me.

Incidentally, I should note that right before I watched Otis, I finally watched Juno, a film I took a personal vengeance against last Christmas when the Arclight took the 21+ screening of Gremlins away and put Juno in its place, forcing me to watch Gizmo and co. completely sober. I wasn't much interested in the film anyway; I loved Jason Reitman’s first film (Thank You For Smoking), and most of the cast are aces in my book (Jason Bateman, JK Simmons, Allison Janney), but Ellen Page looked like she would annoy me, and since she was the star, I figured that would be kind of a dealbreaker. But when my colleague Spooky Dan got a quote on Otis by saying its “Juno for the horror set” I figured I would get myself in the right frame of mind to enjoy it as much as he did. And to be honest, I didn’t hate Juno, I just hated Juno herself. While she bugged me (the girl can't say 4 words without one of them being an obscure reference. JUST TALK!!!), the rest of the characters were genuine and spoke like human beings for the most part (though I am growing tired of Michael Cera’s one mode of performance – can the kid do anything BUT play soft spoken introverts who inexplicably draw the attraction of girls nothing like him?), and I laughed out loud several times. Plus at its heart it was a simple, sweet little character comedy/drama, and there's nothing wrong with that. Bateman's character in particular was one I could definitely relate to (I too have a room in which to keep my personality!). So if I can more or less enjoy a movie I wanted to hate (I DID hate the soundtrack though - but keep in mind I consider the Shocker soundtrack to be the finest of its kind), I should have been able to enjoy Otis, a movie I wanted to like, right? Oh well.

What say you?


The Serpent And The Rainbow (1988)

JUNE 21, 2008


Until Night of the Living Dead, “zombie” movies were usually about voodoo, not flesh eating. Since then, it’s been rather uncommon that a zombie movie deals with the “real” facts about zombie-ism, so I was hoping that The Serpent And The Rainbow would be a fine attempt at making a modern “old school” zombie movie, but sadly it’s mainly just a giant bore.

The main problem is the script itself. Unlike many of his peers, Wes Craven is a guy who rarely dips into the world of adaptation. With the exception of Scream, he wrote all his best films himself. But not only is this film based on a book, it's also adapted by two folks who aren't Craven. So it just doesn't really feel like one of his movies. The only thing in this film that connects to any of his other work is a scene where our hero is attacked by a chair, something he also explored in Shocker. But yet, his contributions to the genre forever give his name more weight than some no-name director, and thus more is expected out of him.

Another problem with the film is the complete lack of danger. Bill Pullman narrates the film, so his survival is fairly obvious, but also, he goes back home (to Boston!) a couple times in the film, which breaks what little tension the film has built up from the “stranger in a strange land” scenario. If he can just hop a plane whenever he feels like it, what’s the danger? If not for the finale and the endless nightmare scenes (another slight connection to Craven’s other work), it would come off more as a ripoff of Medicine Man* than a horror movie.

Pullman’s good though, in a rare straight lead role. He’s not all dark/moody like in Zero Effect, but he’s not the lovable 2nd banana from his romcoms either. It’s a role for a more traditional A-lister, and if the film was more successful, it’s easy to see that he would have gotten more leads (instead of being part of ensembles). The supporting cast is also good, particularly Brent Jennings as a con man who turns out to know what he’s doing. It’s just that the script by Richard Maxwell (based on Wade Davis’ novel) gives them nothing to do. There’s no rising action, no real feeling of danger, and the political uprising subplot that plays a heavy role in the film’s finale practically defines “shoehorn”. The whole movie is just treading water until the final 10 minutes, and by then it’s too little too late.

This film is sandwiched in between two of Craven’s most delightfully silly movies (Deadly Friend and Shocker), so it’s nice to see him trying something more serious. But honestly, I think in the end it would have worked better had it not had horror type elements at all, and was just a straight up mystery/adventure type deal.

On a more positive note - I beat Grand Theft Auto IV today! It's the first one I have ever finished, having usually gotten bored with doing the same things over and over. Bless the Xbox achievement points system for inspiring me to press on and complete it (plus do lots of side quests). Now, on to Alone in the Dark!

What say you?

*I know Medicine Man came after this movie, but a. I saw it first and b. it's way more awesome. No one in this movie yells "I FOUND THE CURE FOR THE 20TH CENTURY AND NOW I'VE LOST IT!", for example.


Let The Right One In (2008)

JUNE 20, 2008


After the superb film Let The Right One In (aka Låt den rätte komma in) ended, I joked to my two friends that it “...was great. Let’s remake it!”, since it was in Swedish, didn’t have any big stars, and focused more on atmosphere and mood than violence and gore, and thus would not appeal to the average alleged horror fan in the States. So imagine my non-surprise when I went home and discovered that a remake was already in the works. *sigh*

Since it’s not made yet, I can’t really trash it, but while I am OK with remakes of older films that could use a fresh coat of paint (even if not entirely successful, I am perfectly fine with the idea of remaking something like Exorcist, in which the entirely different public attitude toward Catholicism today could be used for an interesting angle), I have zero interest in remaking a film simply because it’s “foreign”. It just suggests that Americans are idiots, especially when there is nothing in the film that we couldn’t identify with due to the fact that its characters are in a different country. Something like Shutter is a decent example – it plays on the rather commonplace idea of spirit photography in the East, but here we don’t really believe in that stuff on the average. So remaking it in English and having the characters learn about the idea – fine. Shitty movie, sure, but fine enough idea. But there’s nothing of the sort in Let The Right One In – its themes (adolescent love, bullies, protecting one’s children) are universal.

I love how quiet the movie is (something the remake will likely replace with Fall Out Boy); entire scenes go by without dialogue, or even music (that said, the sparse score is beautiful), relying on the two young actors to sell the ideas of the scene. Both actors are terrific, which helps. This also intensifies the “horror” scenes, as they are relatively shocking in many cases. I mean, the movie’s ostensibly about a little girl who happens to be a vampire aiding her friend, who is being bullied by classmates. What do you think is going to happen?

Between this and Frostbitten, it’s safe to say that the Swedish are at the top of the modern vampire movie game. So many modern films attempt to differentiate themselves by simply rewriting the rules (“our vampires have reflections!”) rather than simply make a good movie, but that is not the case with either of these films (that said, this one doesn’t have any real dealings with garlic or crosses that I can recall). I can’t wait to see this one again, and also to see if the remake “gets” what makes this one so great in the first place.

What say you?


Needful Things (1993)

JUNE 19, 2008


It’s ironic that nearly all of the Stephen King books I have read have actually NOT been turned into films, when it seems like just about everything he has written has been adapted. Of the 20 (give or take) full length novels I have read, only five have been films: Shining, Green Mile, Dead Zone, It, and Dreamcatcher. I don’t know why it works out that way, but worth noting, I guess.

Anyway, Needful Things is one of those unread novels (I own them all I think), so I don’t know how close the film is to the book, but all I know for sure is: the film suffers greatly from not being able to decide whether it wants to be a pitch dark comedic tale, or a gory supernatural thriller. I am sure that the book doesn’t have this problem.

Then again, maybe the movie originally didn’t either. As I discovered afterwards, over an hour was hacked out of the film (it occasionally airs on cable in its long version, apparently), something the DVD’s only extra also gives away (the trailer, half of which is not in the film). It’s pretty evident in the film as well; most notably, a blond woman who keeps appearing in scenes without saying anything. She’s too noticeable to just assume she is an extra (and she’s sort of famous – it’s Lisa Blount, the hot broad from Prince of Darkness), but it’s not until the very end of the film where its casually mentioned that she is in fact the mother of the resident teenager character. Obviously her role was once far more significant.

And speaking of the kid – this story takes place in Maine and the kid is a Yankees fan? What the fuck kind of bullshit is that? Since King wrote it, any Yankee fan should be a horrible villain, not an innocent kid. I assume this was a boneheaded move on the scriptwriter’s part.

Another critical flaw is that Ed Harris, the film’s star, disappears for about a half hour. There are two problems with this. One, Ed Harris is one of the greatest actors of all time and thus should be in the film as much as possible, and two, after initially proposing to his girlfriend (Bonnie Bedelia, of “Whatever happened to Bonnie Bedelia?” fame), we never see them together again until the film’s 2nd act climax, in which they fight about whether or not Max Von Sydow is evil. Kind of hard to really get attached to the main character’s storyline when it’s presented almost as an afterthought.

The film’s lone bright spot is, of course, the late great JT Walsh. Apart from being the only one in the film who seems to get that this is supposed to be funny (in a dark twisted way), he’s simply a delight in every one of his scenes, and just makes me miss him even more. At the time it was one of his biggest roles to date, and probably helped get him the even meatier roles in films like Breakdown and Pleasantville (which were among his last films, as he passed shortly after completing work on Pleasantville). It’s not easy to stick out when you’re playing all your scenes with Ed Harris and Max Von Sydow, but he managed effortlessly.

Harris, of course, is playing Sheriff Pangborn, who also appeared in the same year’s Dark Half (where he was played by Michael Rooker). That has to be the only time in cinematic history where two actors played the same unique character (not counting generic characters like “The Devil” or “Dracula”) in a single year. It’s certainly the only time two great actors were completely wasted playing the same unique character in a single year*.

If memory serves, this film was the very first Hollywood feature to be edited digitally. Surprisingly, it doesn’t really show. One might think that the easy access to wipes and fades would result in a Lucas-esque flurry of moronic scene transitions, but nope. A few standard fades and I think one wipe. Nice restraint!

What say you?


From Beyond (1986)

JUNE 18, 2008


I have an odd affliction that keeps me from watching a film if I get an inkling that the film has been edited (note – this doesn’t apply to films I’ve already seen before I knew better, such as the Friday the 13th films). For example, one of my favorite movies of all time is Sling Blade, and yet I have yet to see Billy Bob Thornton’s followup, All The Pretty Horses, because I know Miramax cut it in half. The same thing kept me from ever seeing From Beyond until now, as I read, years ago, that the MPAA cut out pretty much everything considered gory (might have been when Stuart Gordon was discussing Castle Freak). Anyway, once the DVD became available, I bought it, and finally got around to watching it today, thanks in part to a recommendation by HMAD reader JJ Fancybears.

I didn’t dislike the film by any means, but I wasn’t particularly engaged by it either. I didn’t even take notes, because nothing stuck out as particularly amazing (other than the effects/makeup work by John Buechler and some others – but that’s like pointing out that the shower scene in Psycho is pretty good), or bad. It was just there, being pretty good, and I nodded along in general approval.

I do think that maybe they just didn’t have the money to film everything they wanted to. For a movie in which sexual depravity plays such a large role, there is actually quite little of it on display. Whether characters or sequences were dropped, I dunno, but it all feels like it’s sort of over before it has really begun. That said, any movie in which the villain is revealed to be impotent during the big climactic battle is automatically at least a B.

I should admit that I’m not a big fan of Lovecraft, who wrote the short story that serves as the prologue to the film. I read a few of his stories and they all seemed the same to me, and, like this film itself, the design (description) of the creatures was all I really got excited about; not really caring about the human characters (one exception – "The Outsider". That story fucking rules). Then again, it didn’t stop me from really enjoying Dagon, so I dunno.

The extras on the DVD, however, got me all excited about the movie. In addition to a great commentary track (with Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Barbara Crampton, and Jeffrey Combs), there’s a nice, if short, piece on the restoration of the film, as well as a general retrospective. Gordon is the only one seen in new interviews (other than the restoration guys) for some reason, but that’s OK. Plus, he’s filmed inside Dark Delicacies, a store any Los Angeles horror fan should know (and shop at). And the stuff revealed on the commentary is pretty interesting, such as the fact that they shot Dolls before this film, even though Dolls was released second. Indeed, other than my annoyance with MGM putting their logo before every extra feature (do we need a full logo for a piece that lasts 72 seconds?) I actually had more fun watching the bonus material than the movie. I dunno, maybe I just wasn’t in the mood.

It’s also another horror movie to deal with the Pineal gland, but it’s pronounced differently than I am used to (and as usual, has a different function than it did in other horror movies). I’d like to see a horror movie in which a group of scientists get together to debate what exactly the Pineal gland does, only to discover that it’s not even an actual thing. Then they are murdered by a wizard who happens by.

Note – I was actually going to watch another Gordon film today, one I had rented titled King of the Ants, only to discover that it wasn’t a horror movie. Score another one for Blockbuster’s half assed genre tagging!

What say you?


Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

JUNE 17, 2008


The trailer for Exorcist II: The Heretic is one of the most breathtakingly ridiculous trailers ever made. The techno music, the “what the FUCK?” selection of shots (chanting voodoo folk, cheesy “mind machines”, lots and lots of bees and locusts, etc)... it all leads you to think that the film is just a completely bonkers fever dream; a complete 180 from the clinical and cold original. But sadly, that is not the case – they attempt to COMBINE those things with the dry documentary feel of William Friedkin’s film, resulting in one of the most unfocused films I’ve ever seen.

Apparently, the original script was good enough for Linda Blair to sign on, after she initially refused to do a sequel. But that script was heavily rewritten and she was unable to back out (luckily, everyone else stuck to their guns all the way through). And Christ, does the rewriting show. Scenes and story ideas come and go without ever really being developed; Regan gets ESP and healing powers – goes nowhere. Regan sleepwalks and almost plunges to her death – goes nowhere. Ned Beatty shows up – goes nowhere. There’s no such thing as a completely bad Ned Beatty movie, but to waste him is unforgivable. They are all explained, but in a very clumsy (and quick) manner, as if a line of throwaway dialogue was enough to justify an entire unrelated sequence.

And there’s no goddamn exorcism! Hell, it’s not even clear if Regan is possessed again anyway – there are two of her during the climactic (and only) battle, not sure what that’s all about. But she doesn’t show any of the signs of being possessed (no urinating, no swearing, etc). She passes out during a tap dance recital and draws a guy on fire, and that is the extent of her “problems”. Yet everyone is seemingly more concerned for her health this time, trying to “help” her when we aren’t even really seeing her in any sort of danger. Whatever. There’s actually no real horror/action in the film at all until well over an hour into it; the first hour’s sole “spectacle” is a brief fire sequence, which is hilarious. The fire is small and contained in a small box, but in the process of trying to put it out, our hero manages to set about 6 other things on fire. Nice work dude.

And poor Richard Burton, who has the majority of the film’s silliest moments all to himself (including the fire). His trip to Africa results in him wearing a “native” silk shirt under his priest coat for the film’s final act, and that is the least of his problems. Speaking of “Africa”, it is the absolute worst set I have ever seen. Supposedly this was the most expensive movie in Warner’s history at the time it was made, but it certainly doesn’t show. I half-expected to see a few grips or maybe a studio tour walking around in the background whenever they show us the little African village in flashbacks that take up far too much time in the film (then again, maybe since I know that the 4th film deals with this “prequel” story, it feels a bit pointless in the here and now).

It’s also just blatantly obvious that certain characters that SHOULD have been in the film are not due to the actor not wanting to come back (this is back when recasting a character was taboo). Ellen Burstyn is ridiculously absent – she’s supposedly shooting a movie, but she can’t come back and be with her child during this time of extreme stress/danger? Where is Father Dyer? Oh, the actor didn’t come back, so now we have Burton’s character in the same capacity. Kinderman? Lee Cobb died, so he’s not even mentioned at all (neither is Father Karras, for some reason, even though HE is the one who actually exorcised Regan, not Merrin). And since Blair returned but refused to do makeup again, we have an obvious standin for possessed Regan, giving the film even MORE of a knockoff feel. Even odder, Max Von Sydow, the one actor who you wouldn’t expect to return, actually does, for flashbacks.

Still, it’s not entirely without merit; after all, an uneven film has to have good points as well. The film gives Louise Fletcher one of her rare sympathetic roles, and the basic concept is fine (the priest is investigating Regan to see if her exorcism was warranted, as Merrin is being blamed for heresy). And the finale, baffling as it may be, is pretty exciting, and features the sad death of a character we have come to really like. With some more focused writing and maybe the complete removal of Merrin’s flashback sequences (10-15 min to tell us what we already know – that Merrin performed an exorcism), this would actually be pretty good. No one was expecting it to surpass the original, but there’s no excuse for the quality to drop this low.

The disc’s extras are disappointing, just the amazing trailer and an “alternate opening sequence”. I wasn’t expecting a tell-all doc or even a commentary by John Boorman, but there’s an entirely different ending, plus other scenes, that were released on video before, so why they are not included here is just strange, especially since it’s in the deluxe box set. Oh well. On to part three!

What say you?


Funny Games (2007)

JUNE 16, 2008


After a nearly year long attempt to rent (or even find) the original version of Funny Games, I decided to make an exception for my “watch the original first” rule when I saw that the remake was now on DVD. I figured it was a safe risk – by all accounts it was the exact same movie, shot for shot; and with the same director to boot. And once the film had concluded, I was quite thankful that it was the same thing, as it will spare me another wasted 110 minutes of my life.

The problem with this pretentious drivel is that writer/director Michael Haneke assumes that the only reason people go to see horror movies is to see people killed, graphically. No, asshole, we go for the suspense, and yes, STORY when applicable. I am sure that the success of Hostel and the Saw films led to him being able to remake his 1997 film, but the irony is that those films have better stories, more interesting characters, and more noble intentions in mind than simply mocking their audience. I’m not going to lie and say that I am not curious as to what sort of traps Jigsaw has come up with for us every October, but if the movies were as plotless and boring as this one, there’d be no such thing as Saw II, let alone V.

And fuck any movie that has a “rewind” sequence. Yes, I get the point – it’s “not the movie you came to see, you WANT to see the bad guys kill the good guys, blah blah”. Again, fuck you – your goddamn movie is long enough without spending 5 minutes showing us something and then rewinding it (rewinding it too far in fact) for a “do over”. At 75 minutes all of this could have been a bit easier for me to digest, but after an hour or so I am not hoping for someone to get violently killed because I’m a gorehound; I’m just sick of watching underdeveloped and snooty characters sit around doing nothing while two other underdeveloped and snooty characters talk to them. This might work as a play, but even then I’m not sure (it's worth noting that it doesn't work as a black comedy either).

Also, since one of the killer guys talks directly to the camera a few times, telling us that we want to see the good people die, it’s sort of a foregone conclusion that they all do. So there goes any suspense.

That said there are occasional moments where I was actually enjoying the film. There’s a great bit in the kitchen, with Naomi Watts walking back and forth with a doorway in the background. Having just watched Halloween again the night before, it’s easy to see where the idea for this scene came from; at some point, you’re expecting to see someone standing there watching, only to disappear the next time the camera passes. It’s suspenseful (it occurs before the guy talks to the camera), and well shot as well. Later, there’s a shot that’s something like 7 minutes long, detailing Watts’ attempts to free herself of her binds. It’s not particularly suspenseful this time around (this one’s after the 4th wall break), but on a technical level it’s pretty impressive.

There are also two things I flat out loved. One – despite like 5 production companies listed, only one has an animated logo at the top of the film. THANK YOU! The movie is long enough, thank Christ we are spared another two minutes of self-fellating logos. Second – there’s a scene where Watts runs out of the house and sees a car coming up. This scene always goes one of two ways in a horror movie: the heroine waves the car down, and it contains the villain, OR, her attempts to wave it down fail and the car keeps driving. But for once they do something different. She hides from the car to see who is driving before approaching it. She fails, and then of course the next car has our villains, but hey, it’s a start. But again, the movie is just shy of 2 hours long – it has to offer more than a handful of impressive moments and appeal to my hatred of logos in order to maintain my interest.

The irony, of course, is that the film has almost zero onscreen violence. The kid and the father (Tim Roth, NOT playing a hardass for once) are killed offscreen entirely, and Watts is merely pushed over the side of a boat. Oooh, so clever! I really wanted to see a kid’s head blown off, but instead I only got to HEAR it while I watched the other killer calmly fix himself a sandwich! Such brilliance!

(Actually, I DO want to see the kid get shot, if only to explain how the blood splatter from a kid barely four feet tall managed to have a central point located about 7 feet up on the wall. Was he diving through the air at the time?)

I dunno, maybe since I am neither a critic of “torture porn” nor someone who gets off on seeing such things, I’m just not the target audience for the film. I enjoy being held in suspense in the context of a good story with well written characters (at least for horror “films” such as this – if we’re talking popcorn junk, I just want to be entertained, a la Shocker), something Haneke and crew clearly weren’t interested in achieving. Romero and Cronenberg’s movies say something – but they work on an entertainment level as well. Making a pointless film to make a point (one that isn’t even totally valid to begin with) is just idiotic. In a way, it reminded me of that steaming shitpile Crash (not the Cronenberg one), albeit not as insulting or vapid. Still, the similarity is hard to dismiss; both films are trying to make a generalized and obvious point (and at least Crash’s point – “racism is bad!” - is actually true), and using a generic, dull film as a vessel of making it. I’m surprised Games didn’t win any Oscars.

What say you?


Non Canon Review: Christine (1983)

JUNE 15, 2008


In an old Fangoria (not from when the film came out though – maybe 10 or so years after), John Carpenter said that he felt like “a ho” when he directed Christine, as he did it for the money and without any real feeling for the material. He simply wanted to make something different that might not be hated, like his previous film was (The Thing – because 1982 audiences were apparently all fucking stupid). But it’s a testament to how good a filmmaker he was in his prime that even knowing that his heart wasn’t in it, it’s actually still one of his better films.

It’s also one of his longest (if not THE longest) at 110 minutes. But it doesn’t feel long. Like Stephen King’s Stand By Me, it’s not so much about the horror but about the nostalgia and well acted character dynamics. In fact, horror/violence only takes up maybe 15 minutes of the entire film (most of that in the climax), the rest is just detailing Arnie’s withdrawal from his old life, becoming, for lack of a better word, possessed by his own car. He ignores his best friend, freaks out his girlfriend so much that she eventually dumps him, and slaps around his own dad. Watching Arnie transform from the pathetic nerd in the first part of the film to the tragic and terrifying guy at the end is far more interesting than watching a car run over a fat dude in an alley.

And that adds even more the irony of Carpenter’s somewhat dismissive feelings on the film – it’s his only King film, and he’s gotten it right more than almost any of his peers. Hell even Darabont, great as Shawshank and Mist may be, felt like he was phoning it in on Green Mile (granted, the source material was far from King’s best either, but still – it’s a mechanical and overlong film no matter what). In the lengthy history of King adaptations on screen, it may not be the most faithful (in the book, the ghost of the owner was actually in the car with Arnie), but it’s one of the very few that successfully showcases an oft-forgotten fact about King – his characters are very real and easy to identify with, which is what makes the horror elements so compelling in the novels. This “boring” character stuff is usually the first thing to get tossed out in the films, in favor of the monsters and supernatural visuals. But Carpenter (and screenwriter Bill Phillips) went the other way – you almost get the idea that they would have left out the murders entirely if they could (indeed, all but one are offscreen), as the focus is on the three main characters (four if you count the car).

It’s also interesting how the two main stars have gone on to be filmmakers in their own right. Keith Gordon has made mostly smaller, independent films (including A Midnight Clear, one of the best war films ever, period), while John Stockwell has helmed a trio of recent water based movies, such as the underrated Turistas. And I dunno if Alexandra Paul has ever directed a film, but she’s certainly not IN enough of them, because, as we discover in the film’s bonus material, she’s still super hot.

Speaking of the bonus material (which I watched when I got home – like The Fog, I had never gotten around to any of it before), this may be one of the most packed special editions for a pre-laserdisc/DVD movie ever. There’s the usual Carpenter commentary, which is also much better than usual for him, since he is joined by Gordon, who was sort of his protégé. It may not be as funny as the Carpenter/Russell tracks, but it’s still a worthy listen. There’s also 3 featurettes that total about 45 minutes, with just about everyone (except King) contributing new interviews. Why they are broken up is not very clear – one focuses on adapting the book, which is fine, but another one is about the music and the film’s reception from critics, as well as how they feel about it today – why not include this material with the other piece (which talks about everything else: casting, shooting, effects). Weird. There are also 20 (!!) deleted scenes, totaling about as many minutes. Most of them are worth seeing out of context, but in the film I can see how they would slow things down. Definitely watch the longer version of the bullying sequence in shop class though – in addition to a surprising character detail about Stockwell (he laughs a bit when Arnie is being humiliated), Buddy’s taunts are just hilarious, and features more of his peculiar Travolta-esque acting.

I’m glad Sony put together a special edition for the film, giving it some of the respect it deserves in the process. It’s definitely worth re-evaluating, and even though it’s a 1983 movie that takes place in 1978, it still doesn’t feel very dated. The basic themes are still easy to relate to, and like The Thing, the effects work holds up better than almost anything else of the period. It's almost insane that he thinks less of this film than his last couple - anyone who thinks Ghosts of Mars is a better example of his talent is just a goon.

What say you?


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