Tag Archives: cult classic

Caligula – Review

31 Oct

Throughout the years, there have been films that redefine what’s possible when it comes to film making and how to tell a story. In the past, there were classics like Citizen Kane and Lawrence of Arabia, which can both be seen as sweeping epics in their own ways. More recently we’ve had films like Inception or The Revenant. Both of these movies are unconventional in their means of telling a story and also offer visual spectacle that will be remembered for decades to come. Movies are a window into worlds that may otherwise never exist, and there are so many that so fully succeed into taking us away from our everyday lives and somewhere all together magical… and then there’s Caligula.

1287552772

In 37 AD, a young Caligula (Malcolm McDowell) is the next heir to the throne in the Roman Empire. His uncle and adoptive parent, Tiberius (Peter O’Toole), still is in control however, despite his growing physical and psychological sicknesses. After Caligula visits his uncle and sees the power he wields and is also almost assassinated by the sick man, Caligula decides to take fate into his own hands, along with the head of the Praetorian Guard, Macro (Guido Mannari), kills Tiberius. Now at the head of the empire, Caligula proposes many changes to the Senate and all seems to be going pretty well. The decline begins once a love triangle starts with himself, his sister Drusilla (Teresa Ann Savoy), and his new wife Caesonia (Helen Mirran). As if that isn’t enough, Caligula starts to grow paranoid of the people around him, which results in multiple arrests and executions, which forces certain members of the Senate and the Guard to plot to remove Caligula as Emperor.

Just look at that cast. You have Malcolm McDowell, Peter O’Toole, and Helen Mirran amongst some others. Don’t let that fool you like the producers fooled some of these actors. O’Toole had no idea that this movie would turn out the way it did. What could I possibly mean by this? Well, Caligula is the one and only film produced by Penthouse Films. You know…like the magazine. If you go into this movie expecting a historical epic that accurately portrays the reign of Caligula and the effects it had on the Roman Empire, than you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I like to think of this movie as the most expensive midnight movie you’ll ever see. There are hardly any redeeming qualities to this movie, but I’ll certainly give it a try. The performances by O’Toole and Mirran are both really good, while McDowell gives a fantastic performance as Caligula. You also can’t say that this movie shirks on showing the depravity that happened in the Empire. This kind of exploitation can go too far, however, and it goes way too far in this movie. I also have to give credit to some really amazing sets for the actors to perform in. It takes a lot to make this movie believable, and the sets can occasionally help.

caligula-four-disc-imperial-edition-20071010020537743-000

Let me just say that most of the critiques that I give Caligula, I do with a smile on my face just for the sheer absurdity of what I saw. Like I said before, this film was produced by Penthouse Films and the magazine’s creator, Bob Guccione, so be prepared for lots of sex and nudity. You can hardly get through a scene without some sort of nudity or sexual activity going on. It really starts to wear on you after awhile, especially when there are completely out of place sex scenes that can go on for about 10 minutes. When I  heard how controversial and graphic this movie is, I thought maybe a few scenes were the cause for such upset. I was wrong. It’s pretty much the whole movie. The way the story is told is also completely off the wall. The story’s filled with ridiculous and often clichéd symbolism that won’t add to the drama, but more so add to the unintentional hilarity. Don’t even try to follow the plot using any logic because the movie’s messy and troubled editing phase shines in a timeline filled with continuity errors and a failure to show the passage of time. You can’t even get a good historical retelling since this movie takes the term “dramatic license” and really runs with it.

Reading about the making of Caligula has really become part of the whole experience for me, because I can’t think of a bigger cinematic disaster story. From pre-production through post-production, this films was plagued with one catastrophe and betrayal after another. The original screenplay by Gore Vidal was bought and changed to the point of destruction that Vidal completely disowns it. The same can be said for Tinto Brass, the director, who was banned from the editing room so that Guccione had the control he needed. Even some of the actors had no idea what this movie was supposed to be and regret being seen in the final piece. McDowell even asked people in interviews not to see the movie. How could a movie that was this much of a problem amount to anything? Well, Caligula did amount to something. It became one of the most infamous cult classics ever made.

Caligula has completely earned that title of infamy. It’s a two and a half hour long disaster that could have been so much more if it wasn’t for a producer who had his own agenda, while the film makers and actors had a completely different one. For people who are interested in the goods and bads of cinema or people who have a fascination with movies as awkwardly weird as this one, it’s worth seeing for the history and legacy. For everyone else, keep far away from Caligula and save your sanity.

Final Grade: D-

Advertisements

May – Review

30 Sep

With October being right around the corner, I can finally say that the Halloween season is upon it. I love this time of year just as much as I love watching all kinds of horror movies, so it makes sense to celebrate one with the other. I got this year started with a little horror flick by Lucky McKee that I’ve never seen before called May. It was a movie that always looked interesting to me and after hearing about the cult following it had, I was even more curious to check it out. Now that I’ve got around to seeing it, it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, in fact it was better than what I was expecting. May is an underrated gem of a horror film that left me laughing and cringing all at the same time.

may_movie_poster

Ever since childhood, May (Angela Bettis) has had a tough time making friends and just interacting with people in general, with a large reason being a very noticeable lazy eye. This has led her to be a loner as an adult with a strong desire to just make one friend that isn’t her doll that her mom gave her for her birthday when she was a kid. One day May notices a mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), at work, but she takes special notice to his hands. With some newfound confidence unwillingly given to her by her coworker, Polly (Anna Faris), May tries to start a relationship with Adam, which works for a time, but ultimately and horribly fails. With this failure happening after coming so close to touching the sun, May realizes that if she can’t find any friends, she can make one instead, so she sets out to find the perfect pieces she can use to make her new companion.

So I really had no idea what this movie was all about or what its style was or anything for that matter. Much like what May is trying to do with creating a new friend, the movie May feels like an homage with references of its influences stitched together to form a whole. There are a lot of references to Argento films and giallo horror movies, which is appropriate because the look, story, themes, and atmosphere feel very much like a giallo film. I get this feeling especially from May’s room which is painted red and has dolls in various states of disrepair all around the room. I also see inspiration from movies like Frankenstein and the Universal films to Stephen Kind and his story Carrie. While there are plenty of references and inspirations to choose from, McKee uses them respectfully and has created a psychological horror movie for horror movie fans, and I certainly appreciate that.

kygnihakopqgze3ot9milz2ro1_500

While May could have been just a straight up horror movie, there’s some creative bits that turns it into a little something more. Amidst all the scares and creepy atmosphere is a very sad, dramatic movie that also succeeded at making me laugh at times. There’s a lot of really funny, dark humor that is almost so pitch black you have to look and listen hard enough to even notice it. May’s character is such an innocent and naïve person at first, and some of the things she says are so outlandish, and that’s just hilarious at times. As for the other end of the spectrum, this is where the movie sort of reminds me of Carrie. May is just such a different and misunderstood person for a large part of the movie, and it’s sad to see people walk all over her. I in no ways condone her actions in the later part of the movie, but because of how upsetting it is seeing her get bullied or mistreated, or at least how she perceives that she is, there’s more depth to back up her actions and give them a point.

None of what I’m saying would mean anything if the character of May didn’t work, and thankfully Angela Bettis has scary control over her. This is a fantastic performance and one that I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by. It’s rare that a horror movie has a performances that’s as great as this, which makes this one all the more memorable. Her small ticks in her hands and her face and even some of her vocal inflections indicates a character that is fully realized and is then brought to life on screen. This makes every laugh and moment of sadness all the more effective since I firmly believe in her character.

I gotta say, May really surprised the hell outta me. It works great as a stand alone psychological horror film, but also does a great job at honoring the classics and showing that without those movies, we wouldn’t have some of the modern day horror classics that deliver the chills when we need them the most. Other than the horror, this film has a great sense of humor, true life drama, and a lead performance that is under appreciated even though it is startlingly realized. For those reasons and maybe some that I haven’t realized yet, I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

Starship Troopers Series – Review: Part 1

15 Sep

Science fiction is one of my favorite genres of film, and when you add the themes of war and militarization along with the enemies being giant bugs from another planet, I’m completely on board. This makes the Starship Troopers movies right up my alley, but not all of them have gotten much praise. Based off of a 1959 novel by Robert Heinlein, the story of humanity in a utopian, yet oddly fascist, world in the 23rd century who go to war against a race known as the Bugs provided a lot of heavy handed messages that the author believed in. It seems pretty ripe for feature film story telling, and in some ways it worked. This series, like many others, certainly has its fair share of ups and downs.

Let’s start with Paul Verhoeven’s original cult classic from 1997, Starship Troopers.

starship_troopers_dvd

By the 23rd century, the Earth is now classified as a federation that is ruled in a fascistic and militaristic way. It’s a strange utopia that condones violence to survive and the only way to become a citizen is to serve in some branch of the military. That’s exactly what Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) intends to do once he graduates high school. Along with his friends Carl (Neil Patrick Harris), Carmen (Denise Richards) and Dizzy (Dina Meyer), Rico joins the military and is assigned with Dizzy to Mobile Infantry. After a race of giant insects called the Bugs shoot an asteroid across the galaxy and completely wipe out Buenos Aires, the Mobile Infantry and the Federation’s air fleet mobilize to the Bug planet of Klendathu, where a bloody war begins for the survival of the human race.

When it was first released, Starship Troopers was not met with too much success critically and the box office return was less than what was expected. Over the years, however it’s gained a status as a cult classic. When the film first begins and a lot of time is spent at the high school and basic training, I was worried that this would be an uneven mess with a disappointingly low amount of action. The first 45 minutes seemed to drag, but when the action does begin, I became thankful for all the time setting up the characters’ personalities and relationships. This makes the war scenes all the more impactful, and when someone gets hurt or is killed, I really felt like something was lost. Believe it or not, this is not a mindless movie and does evoke some real emotion, even though the acting is less than stellar.

Let’s face it, though, this is a sci-fi war film, so let’s get into the real nitty gritty. Paul Verhoeven may have had some missteps as a film maker, but it’s much easier to remember his films like Starship TroopersTotal Recall, and RoboCop. This movie stands as one of his achievements. The special effects are out of this world for the time and were even nominated for an Academy Award. When the Bugs swarm the soldiers, the movie gets so intense and action packed, which is where it really shines. There’s also lots of what I like to call “Verhoeven gore,” which, if your like me, adds some fun to the movie. He just seems to love blowing people up. Finally, this film works great as a satire of fascism and blind love and devotion to the military. The 1959 novel this film is based on got a lot of flack for seemingly glorifying a Nazi-like utopia. Verhoeven used this, flipped it on its head, and created bitingly funny satire that’s the backbone of this entire movie.

While I was planning on not really liking this movie when it first started up, I ended up loving it as the credits began rolling. It’s such a fun movie loaded with action, great special effects, and hilarious satire that starts in the very first scene. I was even surprised with how much I cared for the characters, despite some rather tone deaf performances. This is a movie I wish did better when it was first released so Verhoeven would have returned for a sequel. Nevertheless, it is what it is and this particular movie is a total sci-fi blast.

Final Grade: A-

I feel like I was just talking about direct to video movies with my review of the Darkman films, and here I go again. The original Starship Troopers was the only film to make it to theaters, and all the sequels went right for the home viewers. Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation premiered on Encore (now known as Starz Encore) in 2004, and then went on DVD a few months later. The reasons can not be more clear.

starship-troopers-2-movie-poster-2004-1020257941

The war against the Bugs has been raging for nearly 5 years, and while the humans are victorious in many places, there are fronts where the Bugs have the clear upper hand. On one such planets, a group of troopers are overrun by a swarm of Bugs and are forced to retreat to an abandoned outpost called Hotel 1-8-5. With their commanding officer, General Shepard (Ed Lauter), missing, the squad is under the new leadership of psychic Lt. Dill (Lawrence Monoson) and Sgt. Rake (Brenda Strong). As the Bugs find the outpost and prepare to attack, Pvt. Sahara (Colleen Porch) releases an imprisoned officer, Captain Dax (Richard Burgi), in the outpost to help fight against the swarm. What these troopers don’t know is that the Bugs can now infect people and infiltrate squads from within, which spells danger for these soldiers confined to this small area.

With Hero of the Federation, we go from the knock out action, special effects, and satire from the first one and just downgrade it to what comes close to the lowest it can possibly get. I understand that a t.v. movie isn’t going to have the budget of a Hollywood feature film, but my goodness this movie looks hideous. Aside from the fact that it was shot on HD video, it’s just a dark and colorless film. All of the exterior shots are filmed at night with only a small area lit or sand completely covering up any scenery that could’ve given me an idea of where everything was taking place. Once the soldiers get into Hotel 1-8-5, things remain dark and colorless, but everything now just looks old and gross. I give the film makers credit for the claustrophobic feeling, which is nailed really well, but this is just not an easy movie to look at.

Phil Tippett, who is known for his special effects work on Jurassic Park and the first Starship Troopers, returns to direct this film which helps in a lot of ways. For one thing, for a t.v. movie that’s then released right to DVD, the special effects are really good. They aren’t stunning, but there are some scenes that had really impressive practical work. I can’t really say the same about his work with the actors. The acting in the first film really wasn’t anything special, but this is a different story completely. There are some line deliveries that made me either cringe or burst out laughing. The fact that this isn’t a big budget film really isn’t much of an excuse since I’ve seen t.v. movies with impressive performances. I feel like the ambition of this project just didn’t meet the standards of what was actually possible in making a good movie.

Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation is more than a disappointing sequel. It hardly even registers as a sequel. Not only was it released almost 8 years after the original, but it was also a t.v. movie that loses a lot in translation to the small screen. The acting is subpar, the cinematography is bland, and the only saving grace is some cool special effects and an action filled ending. If you want to watch a movie with close to the exact same storyline, watch The Thing, or forget this storyline and just put on the original Starship Troopers.

Final Grade: D

So far we have a one great movie and one that really bugged the hell out of me, pun definitely intended. We still have a few more movies to go with this series, but that review will be coming soon. For now, stick with the original.

Darkman Trilogy – Review

4 Sep

The super hero genre is more alive than ever before nowadays, and that’s both good and bad. It’s good because most of them are very entertaining, and bad because it’s flooding the market. A name that goes hand in hand with super hero films in my opinion is Sam Raimi. Raimi successfully brought the webslinger to life in Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (not so much Spider-Man 3). Before any of this, however, Raimi created a character named Darkman, a dark super hero based on characters like Batman and The Shadow, but also inspired by the old Universal monster movies. This idea spawned a trilogy of movies called the Darkman Trilogy. While two of these movies are direct-to-video with differing qualities, it can’t be denied the first film has become a cult classic.

Let’s start in 1990 with the original film, Darkman.

Darkman_film_poster

Peyton Westlake (Liam Neeson) is a brilliant, but completely underfunded scientist who is on the verge of developing a new synthetic skin. Even with the hidden variables making this project difficult, Peyton still has the support and love of his long time girlfriend Julie (Frances McDormand). Julie is a district attorney who is close to uncovering illegal business dealings by a major developer named Louis Strack (Colin Friels). Another party is interested in this incriminating evidence, a violent gangster named Robert Durant (Larry Drake). Durant breaks into Westlake’s lab to look for the evidence, and in the process destroys his work and severely burns and disfigures Westlake. Now thought to be dead, Peyton hides himself in a condemned factory where he rebuilds his machines that can construct any face he needs to disguise himself with, and soon begins to take revenge on Durant and his henchmen as the face changing vigilante Darkman.

Since it was first released in 1990, Darkman has become something of a cult classic. It’s over the top style and direct influences from Universal monster movies of the 1930s mixed with dark superhero action is a fantastic combination. In many ways, Sam Raimi hit the mark with Darkman, and in some ways it doesn’t quite stick. Where the movie slips up is the pacing of the story. This is an origin story, and origin stories can be tricky, especially when they aren’t based off of any real established lore. The character of Darkman came right from the head of Sam Raimi into the form a short story, so the film makers had to create a way to start the tale of Darkman. The first half hour of this movie goes frightfully quick, and it didn’t give me a chance to really care about the characters or their situations before Peyton’s transformation happens. The rest of the film goes on pretty good, with some odd speed bumps along the way, but the ridiculously fast pace of the beginning makes the character development suffer.

The movie really gets good whenever the action picks up or Sam Raimi does what he does best and goes crazy with the camera and the stylistic editing. This is a really cool movie to look at with the camera jumping all over the place and colors really popping in certain scenes. Raimi also knows how to direct action with his use of outstanding practical effects, stop motion, and blue screen to create a unique looking movie that only early-90s movies could do. Neeson also gives a pretty expressive performance as Peyton/Darkman, and it’s equally impressive given the huge amount of makeup and bandages on his face throughout most of the movie.

Darkman is a really cool, yet minor movie in the superhero genre. It’s not going to be a classic like Raimi’s later Spider-Man entries (excluding the third), but it does have a following of people that will defend it to their last breaths. While I definitely enjoyed the movie, the flaws that crop up throughout the film are very noticeable, and it’s clear that the production of this movie was pretty bumpy. Still for fans of oddball filmmaking and dark superhero tales, Darkman is a movie that deserves another look.

In 1995, Universal Studios released their first ever live action direct-to-video movie. That honor(?) goes to Darkman II: The Return of Durant.

darkman2-mca1 (VHSCollector.com)

Years after being horribly burned and disfigured, Peyton Westlake (now played by Arnold Vosloo) still dons the title of Darkman and is still working hard to perfect his formula for synthetic skin and make it last longer than 99 minutes. What Westlake doesn’t know is that while he’s been working, Durant (again played by Larry Drake) has been alive in a coma, and he has just recently gotten out of it with plans to take over the city’s crime scene using a new super weapon designed by a mad scientist named Hathaway (Lawrence Dane). After Durant is responsible for killing the one man that may have had the secret to the synthetic skin problem, Darkman once again begins a mission of revenge against the sadistic crime lord, and this time he means to end things once and for all.

Whenever something’s released direct-to-video, I have some measure of fear that I’m about to watch a really awful movie and throw an hour and a half of my life out the window. That being said, Darkman II: The Return of Durant certainly feels like a direct-to-video movie, but it also was still a pretty entertaining film. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. For one thing, Durant’s plan of using a super weapon designed with plutonium is way out of left field. His main goal is for a group of gun happy vigilantes to get rid of the competition so Durant will reign supreme. What? There’s so many plot holes there that it hurts to think about. The side characters in this movie are also completely useless and almost don’t even need to be in the movie at all. Most of them are just a testament to awful B-grade acting. Of course the cheesy screenplay adds a lot to that, as their characters and dialogue weren’t written well in the first place.

That being said, Darkman II is not a complete waste of time, in fact it felt like a pretty good sequel in terms of style and action. It still has this pulpy kind of fun that relishes at being way over the top. Believe it or not, I think Arnold Vosloo is a great replacement for Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, his performance is a little stifled by make up that doesn’t quite match the make up done on Neeson in the original. The only returning member from the first film is Larry Drake as Durant, and he hasn’t missed a beat in his performance. It’s still fun and easy to hate his character and he gives Darkman a villain worth defeating.

While this is definitely a step down from the original, Darkman II: The Return of Durant is not an awful movie. In fact, it’s a pretty entertaining movie that kept me watching for it’s entire run time. There are some really ridiculous plot holes and the acting is less than acceptable, but it’s B-grade minor entertainment that would be interesting to see for fans of the first Darkman. Just don’t expect anything great.

One thing these movies didn’t need was a third entry, but alas, we now have a trilogy. In 1996, the third film was released direct-to-video titled Darkman III: Die Darkman Die.

darkman3-mca1 (VHSCollector.com)

Still trying to find the secret to permanent synthetic skin, Peyton Westlake accepts to offer of Dr. Bridget Thorne’ (Darlanne Fluegel) help to not only fix his destroyed nerve endings, but also allow him to use her laboratory. During his time there, Westlake finds the secret, but is betrayed by Thorne, who is actually working for a crime lord named Rooker (Jeff Jahey). Rooker wants to extract whatever it is that makes Westlake so strong, so that he can synthesize it and inject it into his henchmen. These super soldiers of Rooker’s will then go on to assassinate the district attorney and give Rooker unlimited power over the city. Feeling vengeful towards both Thorne and Rooker, and feeling an overwhelming desire to protect Rooker’s innocent family, Westlake becomes Darkman again to now save the city, a task more important than saving himself.

So here we have the second direct-to-video release of this trilogy, and boy have we really gone downhill. Darkman II: The Return of Durant was a pretty ok, pretty standard B-movie that had some problems, but was ultimately entertaining. Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is a complete train wreck of a movie. There is such little action, hardly any humor, and a story that is so boring and out of place that I lost interest before the halfway mark was even close to hitting. The whole plot of Rooker not spending enough time with his family, and Westlake disguising himself to take care of them is so stupid I almost can’t even handle it. There’s so much bland family drama with cringe worthy lines said by a terrible child actor that I was almost embarrassed watching it. How can a cool superhero action movie turn into this?

Arnold Vosloo is back playing Peyton Westlake/Darkman and he’s still a good substitution for Liam Neeson, but his role is written really poorly in this entry. He’s either grunting with pain, screaming with anger, or being overly sentimental with Rooker’s family. Darkman’s entire story of trying to fix his skin is also too played out by this point and the amount of stock footage from the second film just goes to show how repetitive this whole movie feels. The only positive I can think of is Jeff Fahey’s performance as Rooker. He’s an over the top, smug villain with a face that you just wanna hit. He seems to be having a good time oozing evil, so the entertainment I did have with this movie came from him.

Darkman III: Die Darkman Die is an insult to the first film and a disappointment to its ok sequel. It walks a fine line of being way too familiar while also straying uncomfortably far from the source material. The story could have easily ended after the second film, which makes this third movie feel like someone just thumbtacked it on to the canon that was already present. Do yourself a favor and do something better with your time. Spend an hour and a half tying and untying your shoes. It’s more fun than watching this mess.

So there you have it. The Darkman Trilogy is a pretty uneven group of movies. Nevertheless, the first film is a super cool dark super hero film and the sequel really isn’t all that bad considering the casting changes and its direct-to-video status. The only one to stay away from is the third film. Stay far away from that. If you haven’t exposed yourself to the dark anti-hero that is Darkman, I suggest you give it a try.

The Fog (1980 & 2005)

18 Aug

Watching a master working in his prime area is a joy to behold, so watching another horror movie written and directed by John Carpenter is always a lot of fun. Today, I want to look at his 1980 horror cult classic, The Fog, and it’s unfortunate 2005 remake. The history of The Fog is almost as interesting as the movie itself, with this being Carpenter’s horror follow up to his classic Halloween, but the way the story is told and the images he uses is what makes it a memorable movie. The same can’t really be said for the remake, but that isn’t all too surprising. With that, let’s dive right in.

Let’s go back to 1980 and take a look at the original version of The Fog.

fog_ver2_xlg

It should be a time of happiness for the small coastal town of Antonio Bay, which is celebrating its 100th birthday with vigils and town parties. Unfortunately for the residents, an evil force is lurking just over the fog covered horizon. When a small ship is terrorized and its occupants murdered, the threat soon becomes more real. The only person who knows the truth is the town priest, Father Malone (Hal Holbrook). As the fog rolls further inland, more paranormal events start happening to the town, which prompts the town’s radio station host, Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau), to report on the direction the fog is moving as certain member of the town work to lift the curse that has befallen them.

Following the overwhelming success of Carpenter’s independent hit Halloween, studios were eager to grab the talent (along with Carpenter’s co-writer and producer Debra Hill) and use it for themselves. That being said, The Fog is what I consider to be Carpenter and Hill’s true follow up to Halloween, and while it doesn’t quite stand up to that film’s excellence it still stands as a strong entry in Carpenter’s filmography. The biggest thing that drags this film down is the fact that it isn’t quite long enough. There’s a lot of time spent building up the mystery surrounding the town’s past and building up the cast of characters that not enough time is spent with the evil lurking in the fog. While this does act as a complaint, I will say that it also means the characters are much more three dimension than a lot in the horror genre of this time and it also gives the story a sense of urgency and depth.

1373667612_8

It’s worth noting the excellent cast of The Fog that brings the characters to life. Adrienne Barbeau, who was Carpenter’s wife at the time, is a good protagonist with an interesting task that makes her feel like more than just a target of the vengeful spirits. Hal Holbrook is great as Father Malone as he brings a real sense of fear to his archetypal character. Finally, it was cool to see both Janet Leigh and John Houseman have a small role in a John Carpenter film. The only person who seems underutilized in Jamie Lee Curtis, who doesn’t do a whole lot but tag along with Tom Atkins’ character.

While The Fog certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s best film, it’s still become something of a cult icon. The men standing in the fog, or even the fog rolling in from the distance to the little town has become images seared in the history of the genre, and taps into some deep, dark fear that we all have. If more time was spent with what was in the fog and the actual horror that happens in the third act, this would have been a perfect little horror film. Unfortunately, more time is spent building all that up that the climax feels less than what it should have been. Still, this is a horror movie well worth checking out.

With the new millennium came the trend to remake both foreign and domestic horror movies, and 2005 finally brought the highly unanticipated remake of The Fog.

timthumb

Life never seems to get too difficult in the small Oregon town of Antonio Bay. It’s a peaceful town with a good tourist attraction and a close knit attitude where everyone seems to know each other. This easy going way of life quickly comes to an end when an impossibly large fog bank rolls in from the sea and beginnings killing people in the town and destroying property. This grabs the attention of Nick Castle (Tom Welling) and his girlfriend Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), who start an investigation as to what could have caused this kind of paranormal occurrence. It doesn’t take long to figure out that the town they live in has been cursed by bloodshed since it’s founding, and the victims of the founder’s violence are returning to seek their revenge and to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

In terms of story, the remake of The Fog follows the original pretty closely. The main plot about specters coming in the fog to reign terror down on Antonio Bay is all there, but this movie makes some very odd and, dare I say, stupid narrative decisions. At the beginning of the movie, a whole slew of characters are introduced, which led me to believe that they would all have something relevant to do at some point. Well that was just wishful thinking, because the only people that matter are Welling and Grace’s character, and to some extent Selma Blair’s, who plays this version’s Stevie Wayne, but even this character is left with very little to do and is easily forgotten by the end of the movie. That may be one of the hugest problems this movie suffers from. It’s almost as if the writers were just making stuff up as they went along and forgot about things they wrote earlier on in the screenplay.

fog1

Speaking of screenplay, the writing for the characters is completely derivative, both in how they speak and the dimensions they are given. There was one weird joke in the beginning that got under my skin so bad because it’s the kind of joke that only that really annoying person you know says. This whole movie is made up of characters that I really don’t like saying the most asinine things with complete sincerity. The final thing I have to say about the writing is the ending, which I won’t spoil but have to mention. It’s a completely different ending from the original film, which is fine, but it also blew me away with how stupid and unplausible it was. It’s seriously something that has be seen to be believed.

A bigger budget doesn’t necessarily make a better movie, and the 2005 version of The Fog is a perfect example. There’s obviously more money that was put into it, but the writing, the characters, and the acting were all so subpar the movie ended up just boring me to tears. I couldn’t take anything in this movie seriously, and that’s a big problem for a movie that’s meant to scare you. There’s to many jump scares and not enough actual fear. This is a waste of a movie and is best left to be forgotten.

Just to recap, I can say wholeheartedly that any fan of the horror genre should at least take a look at the original version of The Fog. It plays out like a campfire story or old urban legend happening right in front of your eyes. As for the remake, don’t pay any attention to it. It isn’t worth it.

Escape from New York & Escape from L.A. – Review

27 Sep

To me, John Carpenter is an amazing film maker. He’s made some of my favorite horror movies, like Halloween and The Thing amongst others. He’s also known for more action oriented movies like Assault on Precinct 13 and the comedic Big Trouble in Little China. One of his most respected action movies, and in fact one of the most respected movies of his career, is the 1981 film Escape from New York. This was a dark, dystopian thrill ride that was a major hit with audiences and critics alike, which is surprising that it took 15 years for the sequel, Escape from L.A., to finally be produced and released. While both of these movies have something good to offer, Escape from New York is a far superior film than its sequel… depending on what you’re looking for.

Let’s start with Escape from New York.

escapefromnewyork

In 1988, crime in America rises by almost 400% (remember this was made in 1981) forcing the government to create the United States Police Force and also convert Manhattan into a giant maximum security prison surrounded by giant walls. When terrorists force Air Force One to crash land inside the prison walls, the president (Donald Pleascence) finds himself stranded. Luckily for him, there’s a new prisoner about to be admitted, the notorious soldier and gunslinger Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell). Before all of the formalities can even be completed, Snake is tasked by New York Police Commissioner Bob Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) to infiltrate Manhattan and save the president and in return all of Snake’s crimes on record will be cleared. As an added incentive, Snake is injected with a small explosive device that will detonate in 22 hours. Now with no other choice, Snake wages a one man war with the inmates of Manhattan.

What really grabbed my attention first was how Escape from New York looked. It is a minor visual masterpiece that perfectly sets the tone. From beginning to end, this movie is enveloped in darkness and fog and destruction. It’s exactly how a dystopian film should look. Of course, this was also done in a time before CGI, so this destroyed version of Manhattan is all just brilliant set design, miniatures, and matte painting. Speaking of design, I can’t go through this review without mentioning the iconic anti-hero, Snake Plissken. Kurt Russell growls his way through the movie and succeeds at playing one of cinema’s cult badasses. Not to mention that he was Konami’s main inspiration for Solid Snake in the Metal Gear video game series.

escape-new-york-0

There’s a simplicity to the story that has also grown on me. While there is something of a message behind the story of the film, the main focus is always Snake rescuing the president. There is a pacing issue that happens about 20 minutes into the movie where it sort of grinds to a halt, but it picks up speed soon enough and I was right back into the action. The movie is a little bit dated, but there are plenty of reasons not to forget it. The cast that I’ve mentioned before, along with Ernest Borgnine, Isaac Hayes, Adrienne Barbeau, and Harry Dean Stanton are all great as always. The film is also just an achievement visuals, character, and the fact that you don’t need a huge budget to make an influential movie. Escape from New York truly deserves its recognition as a cult classic.

After a sequel was written in 1985 and quickly dismissed as being “to campy” by John Carpenter, the official sequel was finally released 15 years later in 1996.

ESCAPE_FROM_LA_1996_SS_C8_lg

After an earthquake in 2000 pretty much levels all of Los Angeles. The island that is created as a result is turned into a prison when a strict theocratic president (Cliff Robertson) is elected and implements a moral code that is enforced throughout America. When the president’s daughter, Utopia (A.J. Langer), is influenced by a terrorist in the L.A. prison, Cuervo Jones (Georges Corraface), she steals a device that can be used to control satellites orbiting the entire earth with the capability to shut down all forms of power sources on the planet. After once again being arrested and facing a life sentence in L.A., Snake is recruited to go into the prison, retrieve the device, and eliminate Utopia and Cuervo in exchange for his freedom and an antidote to a virus that has been injected into his bloodstream.

Think of this movie as the Joel Schumacher Batman movies compared to Tim Burton’s, except not as disastrous as Batman and RobinEscape from New York had a dark and brooding atmosphere, whereas Escape from L.A. is brighter, louder, and much more excessive. That being said, there’s some really fun action sequences, but there’s a lot missing from this movie. For one thing, Snake is pretty much turned into an indestructible hero, which pretty much takes away all sorts of suspense. The special effects in this movie are also… pretty awful. I mean, Independence Day also came out in 1996, so there’s really no excuse the effects in Escape from L.A. should be so weird. I can’t even say it’s because it had a low budget because it was a $50 million production.

tumblr_inline_mndqcmidLN1qz4rgp

There’s still a lot of imagination behind a lot of the different prisoners and sets. Also, besides Kurt Russell and Cliff Robertson, there’s also cameos and supporting roles for Bruce Campbell, Pam Grier, Peter Fonda, and Steve Buscemi. It’s just really unfortunate that all of this imagination and great actors is sort of drowned out in excessive special effects, a lack of suspense, and noise. While the story does move a lot faster than its predecessor, I really missed the style, suspense, and tone of the first film. It’s also worth mentioning that the whole story is almost a perfectly recycled version of Escape from New York.  Escape from L.A. isn’t an awful film, but it’s far from being any real form of good.

John Carpenter’s Escape from New York and Escape from L.A. are two very different movies. His first film is a cult classic, and rightfully so, while the second one bombed when it was released and it’s still considered a bomb today.

Fright Night (1985) – Review

30 Aug

Imagine a world where vampires were still not the bud of jokes. Lets face it. Vampires are overused in the horror genre, and also have bled (no pun intended) into genres that they don’t even belong in. That isn’t to say that all modern vampire films aren’t cool, but they can be few and far between. Making light of the over usage of vampires can actually be a fun thing, too. Just look at Tom Holland’s 1985 film Fright Night. This movie has become a cult classic in the horror genre, but to call it purely horror would be a lie. It’s an excellent blend of comedy and horror mixed with a true love of everything terrifying, and is proud of its roots in classic Hammer films and anything worthy of a scream.

frightnight

Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) is nor stranger to horror movies, with his nights spent staying up late to catch cheesy horror movies on t.v., hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), an aging actor in Hammer-esque horror movies. You’d think that given the opportunity to face the supernatural would mean a lot to someone like Charley, but when his new neighbor, Jerry (Chris Sarandon), turns out to be a vampire responsible for dozens of murders, he is anything but thrilled. Charley doesn’t find any help with the police or his family, but his friends Amy (Amanda Peterson) and Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) gives him the benefit of the doubt and convinces Peter Vincent to help Charley, who has the utmost faith in the t.v. star’s ability to hunt vampires. What happens next is Charley’s and Peter’s showdown with the supernatural that won’t end pretty.

Sometimes I’ll watch a horror movie and enjoy it immensely for what it is. Most of these movies serve to startle or create some sort of reaction of fear with the audience. On the other hand, there are some horror movies that just seem to be made for fans of horror movies. What I mean by that is that there are some movies that are just so full of in jokes, references, allusions, and recreations that will make any horror dork squeal with delight. This is the case with Fright Night, Much like Tom Holland’s later film Child’s Play, this film is purely meant to bring joy to fans. It isn’t a particularly scary movie, but it’s one of the most entertaining “horror movies” you’ll ever see. I’d even go so far as to say that it’s a comedy more than it is a horror film.

_1391696849

I’ve written quite a bit of reviews on Hammer horror films, and have firmly stated that they are some of my favorite examples of how to make a scary movie. It seems that Tom Holland feels the same way, as this movie quite literally looks and feels like a Hammer film from the 1960 or 1970s. Even the name Peter Vincent is not only a nod to Vincent Price, but also Hammer icon Peter Cushing. There’s another scene that takes place in Peter Vincent’s apartment where the room is filled with horror memorabilia. There’s a painting of Bela Lugosi in Dracula, a bust of Count Olaf’s head from the remake of Nosferatu, and if you look hard enough you can see the mask that Roddy McDowell wore in Planet of the Apes. There’s another scene that carefully recreates an iconic scene from The Exorcist. What I’m saying is that part of the fun of watching Fright Night is spotting all of the homages that Holland wrote in, but that’s not all, folks.

Where this film really succeeds, though, is putting it all together. It’s a fantastic combination of horror and comedy that can actually be a tricky thing to pull off. I’ve heard people say that all horror has a touch of comedy since laughter helps keep people unafraid, but Fright Night is legitimately hilarious. The acting is good across the board, but Roddy McDowell and Chris Sarandon (whose character I refer to as the Vampire Humperdink, thanks to The Princess Bride) really own their roles. You can see how much fun they’re having in the way they perform their roles. They both ham things up quite appropriately. Finally, while there may not be too many special effects shots, all of them are memorable and some of the make up is just downright fantastic.

Fright Night is an example of exemplary horror film making. While there was really only one scene that made me jump, it’s still incredibly well made altogether. What has to be remembered is that this film is a horror/comedy and is meant to be laughed at. For fans of horror, it’s a must see for so many different reasons. Hell, even if you hate horror movies, this one may just be worth your time.