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August 29, 2011

Lost in the 2000s - Final Destination 3

(2006, Dir. by James Wong.)

Some might say that it's hard to really say that a film which was birthed into a franchise that is up to five entries has really been "lost" in the five years since its release.  Maybe it is.  Then again, maybe it isn't, because the Final Destination series might be the most surprising five film franchise in the horror realm.  None of the films garnered overly positive reviews (though the latest entry is just barely "fresh" at Rotten Tomatoes), and U.S. audiences haven't gone too crazy for them (the fourth entry tops the series, but made a mere $66 million domestically).  So why the heck have they made 5 of these things?  Because they're cheap to make and because that fourth entry - The Final Destination - inexplicably made nearly $120 million overseas.  (I've been telling you guys for years - a THE matters!)

To me (read as: a dude who hasn't seen the newest movie in the series), the third FD has always been the high point in the series.  That's not to say I'm a big fan - I've never considered the series too deeply - but Final Destination 3 seems to be more at peace with its schlocky nature than the films that came before it were.  The film's set up lends itself to this, as there's a little more cheese to be found in a freak roller coaster accident than a plane explosion or a freeway disaster.
Final Destination director James Wong returned to the series for this film, and the resulting film shows less of an emphasis on understanding Death as an entity.   The film still lets our lead spend a bit of time trying to figure out the reason behind what's happening (including a couple of ill-conceived references to the Lincoln assassination and the events of 9/11), but Wong is content to let death's actions speak louder than words.  Mary Elizabeth Winstead - who would go on to gain fame in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and will headline this fall's The Thing prequel - is a welcome heroine in this role (she might be the best actress to ever step foot in this series), but I think it's safe to say that most of us aren't watching this series for the acting.

I mean...haven't you always wanted to see what happens when a roller coaster goes haywire?  The decapitating smashes and the flying cars and the hanging from those padded bars that you never trusted in the first place?  I know I have, and THAT is why I'm watching Final Destination 3 again.  I know Wong's vision of the demon coaster accident is heavily enhanced by CGI, but it still pumps up the morbid horror fan in me.  The rest of the film's kills - highlighted by a ridiculous hardware store segment and a tanning bed barbecue - match the inventiveness - if not the gore - of the first two films. 
With a little less gore in the film, and the playful tone that comes from the film's carnival opening, Final Destination 3 plays a little more like a drive-in spectacle than the other films in the series.  There's a very tongue in cheek nature to the proceedings, which I've always felt made the film easier to swallow than the other entries in the series.  It's a stretch, but the viewer could make a connection between this film and the work of schlock masters like William Castle.  There's something playful about FD3 - which is illustrated by the Choose Your Own Adventure inspired version on the DVD - and I can't help but smile about it.

In a decade that seemed devoid of truly campy mainstream horror, Final Destination 3 is a welcome diversion.  It's stupid as can be, features worthless characters played by worthless actors, and doesn't really make sense - but it's charming in a twisted way.  There's a place for cheap horror sequel comfort food, and that's the place where I'm gonna keep Final Destination 3.

August 28, 2011

The 30 (Horror) Movies, 6 Words Each List

Ah, lists. One of my favorite Midnight Warriors, E from Shredded Cheddar, introduced me to a simple 30 movie meme that made me think quite a bit.  Of course, I made the thing a little more difficult than it needed to be...because I made the list (which was designed for all genres) all about horror movies.

Oh, and I only got to use six words on each movie. To a rambler like myself, that's kinda torturous.  

So, here's thirty movies in thirty categories. I tried to pick movies I haven't covered extensively here...most of the time.  Take a gander, and steal freely if you like!

 The 30 Movies, 6 Words Each List
#1 -- One of Your Favorite Movies
(But Not Your Favorite Favorite)
The Exorcist
Overrated? No. As good as advertised.

#2 -- A Movie You Hate
(Or Just Plain Really, Really Don't Like)
Halloween 2
Zombie's insulting vision makes me rage.

#3 -- A Movie You Watch With Friends
The Monster Squad
The ultimate in monster fan adventure.

#4 -- A Movie That Pleasantly Surprised You
Tired of zombies, but had fun.

#5 -- A Movie That Disappointed You Terribly
The Haunting
Was 18, not smart enough yet.

#6 -- A Movie from Your Childhood
The Phantom of the Opera
Learned of monsters, learned to read.

#7 -- A Movie from Your Childhood That You Hated
Slow, bad acting. Better with age.

#8 -- A Movie You Watched on a Date
A Perfect Getaway
Well, I still dig the movie.

#9 -- A Party Movie
Unpredictable and silly, provides many laughs.

#10 -- An Action Movie
The Mummy
Better than Karloff? In a way.

#11 -- A Comedy
The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini
Everything a drive-in party flick needs.

#12 -- A Romantic Comedy
Night of the Creeps
A girl with a flamethrower? Schwing!

#13 -- A Thriller
Serial Killer 101 with great actresses.

#14 -- A Sci-Fi/Fantasy Movie
The Last Man on Earth
Less science than Matheson's masterful book.

#15 -- An Indie Film
Humanoids from the Deep
Corman produced trash. Slimy, vile, fun.

#16 -- A Documentary/Biopic
Halloween: 25 Years of Terror
Fine tribute to the real Myers.

#17 -- A Musical
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Coulda been my "surprised you" pick.

#18 -- An Adaptation of a Book, TV Series, Etc.
The Dead Zone
Walken in a telepathic wonder land.

#19 -- A Movie Made before 1967
Creature from the Black Lagoon
Gill man versus ladies swimwear? Sweet.

#20 -- A Worthy Sequel/Remake/Reboot
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
Dokken, Langenkamp, Fishburne, Dokken, Arquette, Dokken.

#21 -- A Sequel/Remake/Reboot That Wasn't Worth the Celluloid It Was Filmed On
Day of the Dead
Nothing worth praising. Nothing at all.

#22 -- A Movie That Made You Cry
The Mist
No tears, actually. But emotionally draining.

#23 -- A Movie You Walked Out Of
(Or Straight Up Stopped Watching)
I think I'm allergic to pretension.

#24 -- A Movie You Watch for Comfort Food
Horror of Dracula
Lee and Cushing, beauty and chills.

#25 -- A Well-Liked Movie That You Don't Care For
Can't believe people fell for that.

#26 -- A Movie You Love That Many Do Not
The Devil Rides Out
Heroic Christopher Lee versus the occult.

#27 -- A Movie You Can Quote Extensively
Army of Darkness
Hail to the King, Midnight Warriors.

#28 -- A Movie with a Celebrity Crush
Dracula A.D. 1972
Caroline Munro, you complete The Mike.

#29 -- The Last Movie You Watched
Final Destination 3
Stupid, but William Castle would approve.

#30 -- Another Favorite That's Not Your Favorite Movie
The Blob
Like I wasn't gonna say that.

August 25, 2011

Midnight Movie of the Week #86 - The Sentinel

The Sentinel is a horror movie that kind of gets lost in the shuffle when mainstream folks talk about the horror of the 1970s, and I can't fathom a reason why.  Oh wait, yes I can.  It's because there are things in The Sentinel that can't be unseen.  Naked things. Old things. Naked, old things.  A young version of a beloved comic actress diddling herself in a frantic manner things.  Walk-ons by the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Tom Berenger, and Richard Dreyfus that don't let them be kooky things.  Chris Sarandon's weird 'stache thing.
But when you get past all of those things - which does take a considerable effort - there's a lot of awesome to find in The Sentinel.  Cristina Raines stars as New York City fashion model Alison Parker, who isn't quite ready to marry Sarandon and his collection of magic posters and his 'stache, and thus decides to get an apartment of her own.  She finds just the place - a fully furbished pad with a city view and Ava Gardner as the landlord - with only one catch: there's an old blind priest who stares out the upstairs window day and night.
The place gets a little less attractive when Alison meets the neighbors, led by a charming cat and bird lover (played by lovable ol' Burgess Meredith) and a pair of odd ladies who like to fondle.  Worse, Alison soon starts to faint in public and have weird dreams...and then things really get interesting.
Death Wish director Michael Winner - the studio's second choice after the legendary Don Siegel - builds The Sentinel on a mystery that isn't too much of a mystery when you consider the film's title and not-so-cryptic Catholic opening.  But the journey to the final reveal - complete with Polanski-esque dream sequences and random zombie nude old people coming out of the woodwork - is kind of a crazy blast.  The gorgeous Raines is a fine paranoid lead (a positive parallel could certainly be drawn between her performance and the one Jessica Harper gave in Italy around the same time in Suspiria) and the many of the known actors around her do their best to surprise the viewer.
Of course, it's those surprising supporting performances that provide the moments that can't be unseen that I've already warned you about.  And they are probably the film's strongest legacy, because these unsettling moments give a lot of power to the film.  Though the film's story is strong on its own - like most '70s religio-horrors, The Sentinel comes from a book (by Winner's co-writer Jeffrey Konvitz) - but Winner's willingness to show the viewer things that most people don't want to see on screen is a testament to how much faith the writer and director had in the material.  Some scenes do come off as weird for weird's sake, but when the story reaches its tense conclusion it becomes pretty obvious that there was a reason behind the film's madness.
There are times when I feel like I'm overvaluing The Sentinel by saying it deserves to be mentioned alongside "The Unholy Trilogy" of Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen.  Winner's film doesn't have the flair that those films have, and there's something in the film's presentation that makes it a little less powerful when it reaches its boiling point.  Maybe it's all the awkward stuff, maybe it's the fact that there are a few lulls that take too much time fleshing out the mysteries of the building with Sarandon or the priests played by Jose Ferrer and Arthur Kennedy while Raines' excellent paranoiac is kept off screen.  Heck, maybe it's the fact that the coolest thing in the film just might be a birthday party for a cat.
I don't know what it is, and I'm done trying to think about it. The Sentinel is a fine tale of terror, and it doesn't need to match up to more famous films to be that.  There might be a better movie trapped inside The Sentinel, but the film's ability to make the heroine and the viewer feel a genuine unease is unmatched.  It takes a special talent to show some of the odd and disgusting things that make up the film, but it's most likely those things that have pushed the film into its slight cult status.  The Sentinel is certainly not for the masses - especially if they're absolutely opposed to naked old people and Beverly D'Angelo masturbating and Chris Sarandon's goofy lawyer 'stache - but the open minded horror fan (who hasn't just eaten a big meal) might find some real chills.
Just know that you'll see things that are even more awkward than this.


August 23, 2011

The Horrors of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

When I was 13, my world was changed in a new and exciting way that surpassed anything young teen The Mike had seen since Tecmo Super Bowl happened in 1991.  That change was precipitated by nothing less than the Super Nintendo system and the classic sports game Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.
You could probably guess that this version of The Mike was a bit of a sports nut, and you'd be right.  Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball - or, as I like to call it GRIFFEY! - took the league's biggest star and put him front and center so every young buck who loved baseball (which was still cool at the time, before the strike) would buy this game.  And we did.  But there was a catch - the makers of the game didn't have the rights to anyone else in the Major League Baseball Players Association's names.

Despite this, the makers of Griffey Baseball put real statistics of every MLB player and real jersey numbers and real attributes and relatively real appearances (plus a bit of a G.I. Joe effect, in some cases) into their game.  What wasn't named Nolan Ryan still hurled fastballs like Nolan Ryan, what wasn't named Todd Hundley was still a couple years away from his supper-slugging season for my dear 'ol Mets, and what wasn't named Mark McGwire still looked like he'd taken a few performance enhancing drugs.  All the makers of the game needed....were names.
It also had funny headlines during the post game recap.
So it came to pass that every team in the game picked up 25 fake names that fit a certain theme.  Members of the Kansas City Royals were named after U.S. Presidents.  Members of the Boston Red Sox took on the names of the characters from Cheers.  The Baltimore Orioles players were partially named after John Waters movies - with Waters' name being used for legendary shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr. And the Colorado Rockies - well, the Colorado Rockies roster was filled with famous names from horror movies.

Let's take a look at the starting lineup....
Yes, you're reading that right. Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, is the pseudonym of lead off hitter and center fielder Alex Cole.  He's followed in the number two spot by Peter Lorre, who sits in for catcher (and current New York Yankee manager) Joe Girardi.  The meat of the order consists of Boris Karloff (doubling for slugging right fielder Dante Bichette), Lon Chaney (as first baseman Andres Galarraga, the team's representative on the National League All Star team), and Christopher Lee.  Lee subs for veteran third baseman Charlie Hayes, who was one of my favorite "grunts" in baseball at the time.  It's funny that little 'ol The Mike - who probably didn't really know who Christopher Lee was at the time - ended up playing with this team just because of Hayes a few times.

The rest of the starters are Peter Cushing in left field (replacing Jerald Clark), Oliver Reed at shortstop (for Freddie Benavides) and "Tony" Perkins at second base (for a young Eric Young, who went on to a long MLB career).  Perkins bats last among position players - even though the actor once played a baseball star in the 1957 psycho-thriller Fear Strikes Out.
The bench is a conglomoration of behind the scenes and A-list names.  The top bat of the bench is the oddly named "M. Ripper", which is the one member of the Rockies batters that confuses me. Is this supposed to be a Jack the Ripper reference, or am I missing something?  Other backups include American International Pictures schlockmaster Samuel Z. Arkoff (who's from Iowa, BTW), the legendary Roger Corman, Stephen Freakin' King, KURT RUSSELL! (who is the team's worst hitter, sadly), and Hammer maestro Terence Fisher.  Oh, and some guy named H. Alfred.  Hmmmm....I wonder who that is.  The suspense has mastered me.

As if that's not cool enough, let's check out the team's pitching staff, which includes some great names and some surprising obscurities....
The biggest surprise is the team's top starters, which include Ray Dennis Steckler, who is most famous for directing The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies, and Ted V. Mikels of The Astro-Zombies fame.  They're joined by gore master Herschell Gordon Lewis, George A. Romero, and Wes Craven in the starting rotation.
You have to kind of wonder why the likes of Steckler and Mikels are given the top spots above those more loved filmmakers, and I have two theories on this.  The first, and more optimistic, theory is that the people who made the game just happened to really like the films of these two men.  Heck, it's possible. Nerds like video games, nerds like B-movies - it makes sense.  My second theory, which also kind of makes sense, is that the Rockies - due to their mile high altitude and expansion team status at the time - are generally known as the team where pitchers really, really stink.  So maybe the makers wanted stinky filmmakers atop the Rockies' pitching staff? The world may never know.

But hey, check out our bullpen!  Available for relief duty are Tom Savini, William Castle, T. Hopper (who I assume is supposed to be Tobe Hooper), and Sam Raimi (who had just made Army of Darkness at the time the game was being made). Oh, and our closer....the incomparable Vincent Price.
I don't get why the Colorado Rockies - who went a less than stellar 67-95 in their first year as a team - were chosen to represent horror in Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball.  But hey, I also don't get why it's still frickin' impossible to hit the ball well consistently with my beloved Mets
I'm not entirely sure what the point of this post is...except that the fact that these horror icons (and some who aren't so iconic) were immortalized in this manner just gives me a nerd buzz.  You never know when your horror heroes are gonna cross the streams with some other cool thing in this new world of cyber nerdiness. And the fact that Ken Griffey brought them into my home years before the world was this nerdy - at least to me - is pretty freakin' cool to The Mike.

And if you disagree, I've got one thing to say to you.....

August 22, 2011

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Ghost From The Machine

(2010, Dir. by Matt Osterman.)

There are few emotions that can sell a horror story as well as grief can.  Grief has long been one of the key motivators in horror cinema, because pretty much everyone out there has had to deal with loss at some point in their life. Ghost From The Machine (previously known as Phasma Ex Machina) takes on this simple horror staple with a twist on the classic "Monkey's Paw
 tale that mixes science and the supernatural wonderfully.

Written and directed by Minnesota-based filmmaker Matt Osterman, Ghost From The Machine focuses on two men - a son named Cody, and a husband named Tom - who are very interested in the paranormal.  While the older man who lost his wife to cancer has moved on in his life, the young man who feels responsible for the loss of his parents becomes obsessed with bringing them back into the family home.

To complete that task, he needs a complicated mechanical device that went way over my non-scientific head.  As far as I can tell, the machine harnesses electricity to use EMPs, because most hauntings occur in places with lots of electrical stuff, or something like that.  My mind is not capable of "getting" this scientific stuff, but the film sells the idea well.  I wasn't sure what it was saying, but I understood what it meant.

The machine's results are much less confusing, because it isn't long after Cody's machine is running that Tom sees his dead wife hanging out in their kitchen.  These events aren't played for scares - the young woman is polite and pleasant - but they certainly make the viewer a bit uneasy.  Cody and his brother aren't so lucky.  They do start to experience strange visitors - but they're pretty sure it's not their parents.

Ghost From The Machine certainly isn't a scare-a-minute thrill ride, but it doesn't need to be thanks to the human drama at work in the film.  The acting helps - Sasha Andreev as Cody and Matthew Feeney as Tom stand out - but the film works mostly because it's so easy to relate to the characters.  This is a calm, grounded film with characters who seem like people we'd meet in our everyday life.  At times, I even forgot that this was supposed to be a horror movie.  And that made the film's surprises that much more effective.

In fact, there's a moment near the middle of the film where our lead characters talk about how paranormal phenomena affect someone, singling out the hairs raising up on the back of your neck and other physical reactions.  As the film revealed its sinister side, I found myself experiencing this exact feeling, and even found myself gasping out loud at one unexpected reveal.  The ominous entities that we see are shocking and memorable, but the film doesn't rely on special effects to create them.  It's a fantastic representation of the dangers that arise when we tamper with things we don't understand because it's both unique and believable.

Ghost From The Machine's slow pace and focus on the family may lose some horror fans who want more action, but I was enamored by it completely.  And, unlike most films that get FMWL's Indie Spotlight, this one is a) already out on DVD and b) has already been sold to Universal for a Hollywood remake.  So there's no reason you shouldn't seek out Ghost From The Machine, a great piece of paranormal drama that brings some good chills and keeps the viewer thinking.  It might not be the scariest horror film of the year, but it might be the most endearing.

For more info, head on over to the official site, or just go save the film to your Netflix queue or just go buy the darn thing.  If you like intelligent and original horror, you should be in for a treat.