Search this blog and The Mike's favorite blogs!

June 30, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #26 - Candyman

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls  Number 27 - Nosferatu
(1992, Dir. by Bernard Rose.)
Why It's Here:
Balancing on the line between the old-fashioned ghost film and the slasher film, Clive Barker's tale of the Candyman always has something unique up its sleeve.  Anchored by Tony Todd's titanic frame and a haunting musical score by renowned composer Phillip Glass, Candyman is a one-of-a-kind horror film.  But it's not all kills and scares, with a focus on urban legends and their place in cultures and societies serving as a fascinating companion to the horror trademarks of the film.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
Any moment in which Candyman surprises a potential victim is worthwhile, but the film's most haunting image occurs when he shows up in broad daylight, beckoning Virginia Madsen's Helen from the other end of a parking garage.  Todd's booming voice should create unease in even the most cynical viewer.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
One of the central themes of the film - as with much of the horror realm - is to be careful what you wish for.  In a roundabout way, it's the same kind of theme as Stan Winston's '80s monsterfest Punpkinhead.  The urban legend comes to life and runs out of control in both films, and the sharp contrast between the settings and characters in the two films should make this double feature an interesting social experiment in poverty, revenge, and fate.

What It Means To Me:
My first blitz into horror of the R-rated variety occurred in the early 1990s, and Candyman stood tall as one of the shining examples of what horror is.  It's an intelligent story that still feels like it came from a campfire tale of terror, and it still packs all of the punch that it did 20 years ago.

June 28, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #130 - Eight Legged Freaks

Hollywood seems to have forgotten that they once made a ton of money on the giant animals subgenre of sci-fi and horror cinema.  It is true that most of that money came in way back in the 1950s - and that the times have changed quite a bit since then - but I still find it a bit odd that the type of film which put known actors and impressive special effects against mutations of science that resemble their real world counterparts has pretty much disappeared from existence.  Especially when you look at the surprising outlier to this equation, the 2002 spider-epic Eight Legged Freaks.
Though the Hollywood "stars" - David Arquette and Kari Wuhrer (the latter of whom seemed to be "the next big babe" for about 6 years running and was fading from prominence at this point) - are unimpressive and the special effects are not always fantastic, Eight Legged Freaks is a film that does not settle in behind its limitations.  Writer/director Ellory Elkayem, who was noticed by the producers thanks to a big bug short film he made a few years earlier, seems completely interested in making this type of film and shows a strong love for the standards set by big bug films gone by.
From the ominous opening warning (turned conspiracy tirade) by Cool Runnings' Doug E. Doug to the barrel of toxic waste and an "origin" scene featuring the great and powerful Tom Noonan, Eight Legged Freaks is rooted deeply in the methods of the classic mutant monster films that came long before it.  There's family drama (Wuhrer plays a single mom, with her teenage daughter played by a young Scarlett Johansson(!), getting her early career "scream queen" on), there's the displaced hero (Arquette, returning to his hometown as an outsider as the outbreak begins), and there's plenty of teeter-tottering between monster action and scenes without monsters in which characters debate the existence of monsters. 
The whole film is written to formula - you could pretty much shake this script out and the pieces would fit into cracks in the scripts for Them or Tarantula almost 50 years earlier - but the fresh coat of paint and some technical prowess do wonders for the film.  Colors pop off the screen, and the color pallete of the film seems to almost emulate a comic book horror tale, with the southwestern USA setting shining under the blazing sun and glistening under a blue moonlight.  Music from talented composer John Ottman adds a lot to the film, and the script manages to balance between eras with its monster action.  In one scene we see an old man attacked in an armchair.  In another, we see dirtbikers stampeded by giant arachnids.  There's a little something for everyone.
Many have listed Eight Legged Freaks as a "horror comedy", and I will concede that there are a few jokes scattered throughout the film.  But I've always felt it was a little unfair for the film to be labeled as such, because it seems like a lot of people come to that conclusion based on the film's sensational premise.  Younger generations aren't accustomed to films that make huge leaps of science and take them seriously, like those giant spider films mentioned earlier, and I think that hurt the perception of Eight Legged Freaks a lot. The film hauled in just 17 million at the US box office - I imagine it covered costs and made a profit with video, but not by much - and a lot of people who did see it labeled the film "so bad, it's good" or worse.
Maybe there's not as much of a market for mutated insects as I wish there was, but I still feel like Eight Legged Freaks is sorely underappreciated. It's got the same small-town charm that Tremors offered, some Gremlins-like scenes of mayhem, and it plays the viewer just like any good matinee monster movie should.  Eight Legged Freaks works as an old-school monster flick, and it adapts to its time well, too.  By the time the town mall and some dirt bikes in underground caverns come into the film, Eight Legged Freaks has established its place as a b-monster madhouse, and I think anyone who's open to the idea of giant spiders in a small desert town will leave the film with a smile.

June 26, 2012

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Low

(2011, Dir. by Ross Shepherd.)

There's something about distance from society that just brings out the horror in people, isn't there?  You can set a horror movie in the middle of a city, sure, but is it really as scary as when the character realizes they have miles around them and no place to go?  You can have all the green hills in the world in front of you, but when there's an aggressor around you and you don't know which way is out...well, you might as well be trapped in a box or cell.

By following those ideas, Low is an exercise in tension that approaches the viewer with only a few resources.  One woman walks into the British countryside for her own reasons. She encounters one man who is wandering the same countryside for his own reasons.  The movie adds a few more characters and a couple other settings, but the focus of the film is directly on three things - the woman, the man, and the rolling green hills.  And - if you're following the definition strictly - none of these three things are innocent.

The less you know about Low's plot will be a definite benefit to the experience.  Though it runs under 70 minutes, the indie feature is packed full of twists - some blatant, some shocking - as we follow the path of Alice (Amy Comper), the scared woman, and Edward (David Keyes), the man who seems to hold her captive in the wide open countryside.
When you take one look at the man, you can tell that Edward is one of those seedy types of villains that only seem to come from England.  Keyes plays the role well, offsetting his delicate frame with bold and vicious explanations of what's going on with him. The words he speaks are direct and ominous, and they sell the man's deadly mindset better than any amount of violence could.  It's a cold performance that's gripping to watch, especially when we start to learn more about why Edward is the way he is.

On the other side of the coin is Alice, who is better prepared for a bullying male figure than Edward might think.  The character seems like the traditional damsel in distress early in the film, but a big reveal about what is going on in her life stands the film on end and makes us think twice about Alice and why she's here.  I won't go into the details of just what she endures through the film - again, the surprise of this film is crucial to its charm - but there was certainly a moment that had me fully shaken from my comfort zone and left me feeling deeply affected by the film's representation of human horror.
The third star of the film - and certainly the aspect of the film that drew me in to the story the most - is the stunning cinematography. I'm not a technophile by any means, so I can't tell you just what the cameras used were or how the picture was achieved, but I can say that the movie looks and sounds phenomenal. Colors pop off the screen just as they would in any big budget film, and the cameras do their best to make the settings look like landscapes out of a dream.  There's something terrifically haunting about a film that looks so beautiful yet contains some pretty unspeakable things, and Low gets plenty of benefit from how beautiful the film looks.

Considering how professional the film appears, it's a bit of a surprise to learn that director Ross Shepherd put the film together over a two week span in 2010, working with merely a three man crew.  I can't imagine the limitations that the filmmaker and company were dealing with, but the final product definitely overcomes most of the shortcomings.  My few complaints were tied to the plot, where a few of the developments seemed a little forced and the characters' motivations occasionally border on silly.
With a plot that keeps the viewer on their toes and some interesting characters, Low plays out like a story from The Twilight Zone.  There are a few leaps of faith to be made, but none are deal breakers.  When you add in how well the film is presented, Low seems like the kind of thriller that's just begging to be found.  If you're a fan of minimalist thrillers that keep the focus on the characters - some modern comparisons would be Vincenzo Natali's Cube or Stuart Hazeldine's Exam - Low is a film that you're going to want to watch out for.

If you want more information, don't hesitate to check out the film's official website, and make sure you check out the trailer below.

June 25, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #27 - Nosferatu

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night  Number 28 - Carnival of Souls
Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens
(1922, Dir. by F.W. Murnau.)
Why It's Here:
NINETY YEARS after its release, the first infamous vampire thriller stands as more of a template for horror than anything else.  An unsubtle adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula (the book, not the one with Gary Oldman...DUH!) from the silent era, F.W. Murnau's film represents just what filmmakers like himself and Fritz Lang were working to do in the early years of cinema.  Through all the wonderful images in the film, it's the everlasting visage of Max Schreck as the Count that stands out. It might be the definitive image of a vampire on film.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
Pretty much anything to do with Schrek's sinister hands, which are captured in shadow form countless times by Murnau and crew.  The scene in which we see the shadow creeping up a stairway is still effective, as is the Count's rise from his coffin, which is a pretty stunning special effect for its time.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
Though most remakes don't belong in the same sentence as their predecessors, Werner Herzog's 1979 version, Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, is an artistic and engrossing retelling of the story with an equally creepy Count played by the ever-villainous Klaus Kinski.  The remake runs a little long, but it's worth the time and was a serious contender for this Top 50 list. 

If you want to be a completist, you might follow up both films with Shadow of The Vampire, which tells the (fictional) tale of the 1922 production.  It features John Malkovich as Murnau and Willem Dafoe in an Oscar nominated turn as Schreck.

What It Means To Me:
I will always give an edge to classic horror. I'm very much of the "We'll never get where we're going if we forget where we have been" mindset when it comes to movies.  But Nosferatu is a visual powerhouse that still packs some shivers, and it's a lot more than just an "honorary" member of this list.  Murnau and Schreck might be the ultimate power duo in expressionist horror - I mean, really, they basically invented it - and I'm going to give them respect on any day of the week.

June 24, 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

(2012, Dir. by Timur Bekmambetov.)

If you're willing to believe that Abraham Lincoln was actually a Vampire Hunter, you're either a fool or a fantastic mind of underestimated brilliance. (It's not my place to judge which, thankfully.)  On the other hand, if you're willing to accept a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter then you'll probably have fun with this one.

I know that sounds like an obvious statement, but I don't have anything profound to say about this adaptation of the Seth Grahame-Smith novel.  Like many of the most ridiculously conceived genre films out there, the film's biggest success is that it offers exactly what it advertises.  We get a tale of the life of Abraham Lincoln, played with a stiff seriousness by Benjamin Walker, and we get the hunting of vampires.  And we get a lot of it.

If you're looking for a historical account of Lincoln's life, this is (again, obviously) not it. The story begins with the future politician's mother's death at the hands of a vampire when he was just nine.  Years later, the young Mr. Lincoln becomes old enough to start hunting for revenge, which leads him to a trainer (Dominic Cooper) and a profession as a vampire hunter.  But being the 19th century's version of Buffy isn't the most interesting task, I guess, so Abe soon makes his way to Springfield, where his political career picks up steam.

There's no escaping his fate, however, as Lincoln and his friends often run across the undead.  And as we move into his presidential tenure and the things he's most remembered for - you know, things like fighting against slavery and that whole Civil War/Gettysburg thing - history gets more than a few re-writes.  In this version we have vampires, led by stodgy Rufus Sewell in his 37th straight villain role and a Victoria's Secret model in a corset, have made a deal with Jefferson Davis and are trying to help the South change the course of history.

With its ridiculous plot covered, the only thing there really is to talk about in the film is the action.  Anyone who's seen director Timur Bekmambetov work before - through either his breakthrough Russian Night/Day Watch films or the big budget Wanted, the latter of which dropped almost exactly four years ago - will be accustomed to the director's frantic style.  There's plenty of slow motion, plenty of people's faces heading directly toward the camera, and someone will probably disappear once or twice.  The director has made his name by being inventive in the way he frames things, and his talent for changing the speed of time as it fits his film doesn't go to waste here. 

The film gets plenty of cool points for the various sequences featuring Lincoln swinging around his silver-tipped axe (These must be werewolf-bred vampires, no?), as the director and his choreographers found plenty of different ways to showcase the weaponry.  The final battle, an unrealistic-yet-fantastic-looking sequence aboard a speeding train on a burning bridge, is a perfect example of what Bekmambetov is all about.  All of the action sequences are entirely foolish from a practical standpoint, but I think the brash disregard for reality just adds to the charm of the film.

As far as I can see, the only major problem with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the premise. I know most people will struggle to take a film that so blatantly turns history into fantasy, as this is certainly one of the biggest exercises in "suspension of disbelief" out there.  As a fan of silly vampire action, Bekmambetov's psychotic direction, and inappropriate re-writes of history, I had fun with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  It's not high art, but I can honestly say it's an entertaining piece of action fluff.  Just lighten up, smile a little, and enjoy the ridiculousness of it all.

June 23, 2012

Exit Humanity

(2011, Dir. by John Geddes.)

With Abraham Lincoln currently slaying vampires on cinema screens, it was the perfect week for the DVD roll out of writer/director John Geddes' Exit Humanity. A zombie outbreak tale that's set in the Tennessee countryside during the years that followed the American Civil War, this is a film that doesn't play like a gimmick-based creation, and packs a lot of pretty effective drama.

The film is retold partially through narration (by wonderful character actor Brian Cox of X-Men 2 and other great films), who reads from the illustrated journal of Edward Young (Mark Gibson), who returns home from the war to find his wife dead, his son missing, and whole lot of zombie nonsense going on around these parts.  Though most viewers these days are going to have a pretty good understanding of what a zombie does, Exit Humanity still takes its time to build the threat, with Cox' narration backing Edward's experiments to figure out just what these creatures are capable of.  The film gets a bit long-winded at times - Cox is always a welcome voice, but his voiceover covers an awful lot of the film.- but it also allows the film to exist in its own universe.  A lot of zombie movies will simply reference zombie movies to explain their events, and it's refreshing to see one that builds its own infection. (Of course, if a movie set in the 1860s were to reference zombie movies, we'd also be talking about a science fiction film.)

The film starts as one man's journey - with Gibson, who's headlining a feature for the first time, carrying plenty of the film's weight well - but the outbreak is a lot bigger than he is.  As he travels, he builds a network of support that includes another war vet (Adam Seybold), a woman (Jordan Hayes) with a secret (someone in every horror movie has one, don't they?), and an old-woman who's been exiled for being a witch (horror veteran Dee Wallace).  He also is told of an unhinged General (Bill Moseley, doing psycho baddie once more and with his usual feeling), who has his own band of men who are intent on curing the zombie "disease" at any cost.  The General's goal sounds worthy, but there's a moral battle to be played out here.

As the story works through the chapters of Young's journal, there are several changes in direction for the film.  Some may balk at the ease with which some topics are introduced abruptly, considering the fact that things like immunity and the cause of the epidemic would generally be the focal point of other zombie based endeavors.  Exit Humanity loses its way at times as it tries to weave a web with its characters, but the film runs a hefty (in horror terms) 113 minutes and doesn't seem like it's filled with sequences or ideas that could have been cut from the film.  Exit Humanity appears to take a lot from the TV hit The Walking Dead in style and presentation, and I imagine Geddes had to struggle to fit all of his ideas into a much shorter time frame than a series offers.

While the film struggles to get all the details explained away, it shines when it lets the characters' emotions through.  The narration is very attentive to Young's internal dilemmas while dealing with the predicament - including the title phrase, which represents his dwindling faith in mankind - and the gruff Gibson is physically commanding as the conflicted man of the film.  The supporting cast is naturally highlighted by the folks we know from other horrors, with Moseley, Wallace, and even Pontypool star Stephen McHattie in a small role - all adding a lot to the process.  The rest of the cast is comprised primarily of folks painted and dolled up as zombies, which show off some great and practical special effects and a solid dose of gore that never goes too far into "splatter for the sake of splatter" territory.

In tone, Exit Humanity reminded me a lot of one of my favorite recent horror films, Jim Mickle's Stake Land.  Like that quasi-apocalyptic vampire film, Exit Humanity does everything in its power to balance the horrors of the dead on Earth and how their presence effects the few people left to deal with them.  Geddes' and the rest of the gang are incredibly deliberate while pacing their film, which allows the cinematography (DP Brendan Uegama does an extraordinary job of using Canadian wilderness as the southern USA backwoods) and the musical score (a soaring addition to the film that peaks in the final moments) to shine.

With the technical aspects in tip-top shape, some good-looking animations sprinkled through the process, and Cox' peaceful narration all in place, Exit Humanity is a calming addition to the zombie scene.  For once, the focus isn't on creating chaos for the viewer.  Geddes and company instead set out to tell a dramatic tale with horror elements, and the manner with which they achieved their goal is the biggest thing I will take away from Exit Humanity.  If you're tired of nu-metal and abrupt camera cuts in your zombie films, Exit Humanity could be exactly what you're looking for.

June 21, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #129 - King Kong Escapes

Though they are most known for their work with Godzilla - or as I call him, "The Big G" - it's no secret that those guys over at Japan's Toho Pictures dabbled in American standards from time to time.  A lot of their borrowings came in the form of actors - Raymond Burr and Nick Adams, for example - but their biggest grab (literally and figuratively) was the original King of the monsters, King Kong
The much debated King Kong vs. Godzilla (look, I know we all want to believe there are two endings, but let's face it - America played the war card and got King Kong the win) is known by most monster fans, but Toho's second film with the giant gorilla is much less noticed.  Thus, I present King Kong Escapes (I should have said "spoiler alert"!), which is actually a follow up to the 1966 Rankin/Bass cartoon series King Kong, not a sequel to the 1962 film.
Released in America in June of 1968, the G rated was helmed by Gojira auteur Ishiro Honda, though some American production materials - including the current Region 1 Universal Pictures DVD - list Rankin/Bass co-creator Arthur Rankin, Jr. as director.  There's an interesting dynamic throughout the film, because the work of the Japanese monster makers is front and center, but the fingerprints of the guys behind Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Mad Monster Party is pretty easy to spot too.  It's impossible for me to know how much of a collaboration between the studios this 45 year old film was - and I've only witnessed the American version - so I'm unsure what changes occurred between continents.  I've never cared too much, because King Kong Escapes is a pretty groovy film to sit down with.
The plot revolves around Kong, of course, but we're in for a whole lot more than a recap of the 1933 classic.  A diabolical Japanese man named Dr. Hu (often confused with Dr. Who, Who he is not), a dangerous dame named Madame Piranha (Mie Hama, who would play a Bond girl named Kissy Suzuki in the same year), and a bunch of henchman design a Mechani-Kong, so they can drill for the deadly and valuable Element X.  In the meantime, a U.N. submarine - led by a chisel-jawed American, a smart Japanese man, and an approximately 3'6" tall female Lieutenant, stumbles upon the real Kong in his natural environment.
 The woman, played by 18 year old American model Linda Miller (who, despite speaking English, was as dubbed as everyone else when the film hit the States), takes on the Fay Wray role in spirit, which is the film's closest tie to that film.  But the hammy script amps it up a notch, with Miller's character quickly becoming able to relate to and even communicate with Kong.  An incredibly stilted scene in which she pleads with Kong to stop shaking the submarine because "I sleep...and I eat...on this ship!" always makes me laugh, and there's a lot of unintentional comedy charm that comes from the diminutive actress and her fashionable bob hair-do.  I've always been of the mindset that the English dubbing makes a lot of these latter Toho flicks more fun to watch, even if it is slightly blasphemous to say.  Linda Miller (and the vocal talents of Julie Bennett) are a prime example of this.
Naturally, these factions criss-cross. One wants to study Kong in his natural environment, and one wants to brainwash him - that's right, part of the film involves the brainwashing of King Freakin' Kong - so he will dig for Element X.  This serves the film's simple purpose - bringing Kong to cultures and battles, because no giant monster movie is complete without battles - but also allows for some kooky late '60s intrigue, with the bad dudes' lairs featuring many abstract sets and visuals that fit the time period.  Like more adult fare of the time period - for example, Danger: Diabolik! or Barbarella - there's some pretty abstract stuff here, from the cool hovercraft to Madame Piranha's silly residence.  (BTW, if you're invited in by someone named "Madame Piranha" and she says "Don't worry, there's no poison in this!" as she offers you a drink...would you drink it?)
King Kong Escapes is very kid friendly (aside from a pretty bloody image late in the film), but it's also a great example of how much fun Toho's monster flicks can be.  If you're expecting a drop off from the quality of King Kong and Gojira you'll find yourself correct - this isn't that kind of spectacle.  It is, on the other hand, a groovy example of what Toho could do to make a picture fun, and the mixture of goofy plot and giant monster battles is a pleasing one.  It won't replace the '33 or '05 versions of Kong (Trash it if you like, but I'll back Peter Jackson's remake forever), but you've got a better chance of having fun with King Kong Escapes than any other Kong flick. 

June 19, 2012

FMWL Indie Spotlight - Entrance

(2012, Dir. by Dallas Hallam & Patrick Horvath.)

Entrance was on its way to being a really good movie, but then nothing happened.

Normally you get the opposite comment about a movie.  In those cases, a movie is making all the right moves and then something catastrophic takes the film off track and leaves the viewer going "Man, what the heck was that about?"  In the case of Entrance, we get a film that is kind of like that toddler who's no good at playing with Legos.  They build, and they build, and they build, and you're sure they have something up their sleeves that's gonna be cool.  Then they show you the finished product and you're like "Oh! It's a....wall. Neat!"  And then you walk away feeling sorry for that toddler.

Entrance, like that toddler, is very particular and very attentive to its process.  The film follows a young woman in Los Angeles and slowly - and I mean SLOWLY - reveals strange things that are happening around her.  Some are subtle - like, "Hey, where'd those glasses go?" or "Hey, the garage door's open" - while some are blatantly creepy. These blatantly creepy things are known to her at times (like the moment when a car is slowly following her and then backs up in the middle of the street when she backs up), while others are shown only to the viewer.  A moment when we see only darkness is broken by the flash of a camera as the woman and her roommate sleep, planting the film firmly in stalker movie territory.

The woman is played by a young actress named Suziey Block, who is quite natural in the role.  Then again, the role basically requires her to walk around and be a woman in Los Angeles, and I'd imagine she's pretty well trained at that.  Of course, the film does build to something, but it's a far more abrupt something than I expected and there's very little pay off - in either tension or gore - for the 75 minutes of build up that precede it.

Part of me wants to say Entrance is an interesting failure, and I think I get where the directors were going with their attempts to study Ms. Block's character.  Maybe Entrance works as a film that follows the life of a young woman trying to make a living in LA, but at the same time it doesn't do anything to really keep us interested in her life.  By the time she's getting nervous and having one night stands just so she's not alone, we're kind of ambivalent to her plight.  Perhaps Entrance is too subtle in its methods. If it thought it was building tension early on, it was wrong.

In the end, the final reveal happens and the film abruptly ends and I'm left with an "Is that it?" feeling in my stomach.  I like the idea behind the film, but I couldn't help feeling the film was terribly imbalanced.  I can't go in to exactly what I mean without spoiling the film, but there's very little to learn from what we've seen.  Like the build up, Entrance ends on an empty note - and the whole thing leaves me thinking that there were some missed opportunities here. 

Entrance is currently on VOD through IFC Midnight, and should see a wide release soon.  I couldn't find a reason to like it, but you can give it a try if you're feeling lucky.  Check the trailer below.

June 18, 2012

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 12: The Basement

When I first heard of The Basement, a "lost" "DIY" (don't worry, if you're new to the place I'll have a glossary coming up soon) horror film shot on Super 8 in the late '80s and unleashed recently in a really cool looking DVD/VHS box set, I expected next to nothing.  In fact, I expected something that the more "hardcore" horror fans would laud as the best worst thing ever - kinda like that Things movie that happened once - and would be stupid and annoying at the same time.
Like, it'd be annoying enough that people would make this face.
Speaking of that glossary, I should point out that the designation of the film being "lost" - which is prominent in the advertising of this "retro" classic - is a bit of a deception.  The film wasn't lost, it was never released.  Per the commentary by director of photography/producer Michael Raso, attempts to sell the film were futile and director Tim O'Rawe gave up on the project, giving the incomplete film to Raso a few months after it was shot.  At first glance, it's easy to see why the film was generally ignored, even if other DIY (that's Do It Yourself, of course, meaning that the productions were generally done by a small group on their own) horrors were being picked up at the same time.
This guy may need to see a dermatologist later.
The Basement is about as raw as you could expect a film to be, but unlike more surreal horror films (like Things), the idea behind the film is pretty straight forward.  The Basement borrows from is inspired by anthology horror films like those produced by Amicus Pictures in the 1970s, with assists from Stephen King (one character can be seen reading a King book) and George Romero (who is referenced directly in one segment).  Four people walk into a basement, meet a ghoulish guy called The Sentinel, and are forced to confess the sins of their futures.  Which is kind of ridiculous, considering the know...hasn't happened yet.  But The Sentinel don't give a toot, so just saddle up and enjoy the ride.
How does a human eating demon that lives in a pool wait 30 minutes after eating when he's already in the pool?
With four future doomed characters, we of course get four segments in the film, which still only runs 69 minutes long.  The first follows a rather annoying and particularly unattractive in her '80s bathing suit woman, who happens to have some sort of hose demon in her swimming pool, which she uses to dispose of folks who deserve to die.  By "deserve to die", she generally means "annoys her while she is reading her Stephen King book" or "happens to be in her backyard by the pool".  This all ends abruptly when a muscly dude with a mullet comes into the story - who also sounds like he has the voice of a whiny Nick Swardson - which is the first absolutely must see character in the film.

(Oh, by the way, all the voices in the film are dubbed after the fact - possibly in the 2010 remaster, though I'm not sure about that - which provides for plenty of unintentionally hilarious moments.  The ridiculous voices we hear - which usually don't match the image or actor on screen - might be the film's biggest redeeming factor.)
He said I do, for better or undead worse.
The second segment of the film is the longest, following a teacher (played by a guy named Dennis Driscoll, who seems to be a better - or at least more committed - actor than everyone else around aside from the dubbing) who is haunted by his dead ex-wife and also hates Halloween.  This leads to perhaps the greatest hilariously bad moment in the history of movies, when his undead wife appears to him on Halloween Eve.  The exchange, roughly translated, is as follows:
Undead Wife - *Sound of really loud gargling/screaming and a spastic motion that looks like the corpse dummy is being electrocuted and or having an epileptic fit*  
Undead Wife - Now do you believe?
Husband - OH MY GOD, IT IS YOU!
I'm not exactly sure what the relationship between these two was, but if an epileptic fit is the only way to prove who you are, you might want to work out something else.  Trust me though - I've watched this sequence a dozen times already, and it still makes me laugh like a hyena.

This segment also includes a gore-soaked daydream in the teacher's classroom and an increasing amount of demonic creatures - which are actually pretty gruesome - that progresses through Halloween night.  Sadly, I'm not sure the teacher learned his lesson. When we see the character after the story, back in the basement with The Sentinel, his first question is "WHEN WILL THIS HAPPEN?" Ummmm...dude? That would be October 31st. You suck at Halloween.
This guy's Halloween costume is pretty darn good.
The final two segments don't quite live up to the gore standards of the second part, but they each have their own laughable moments of foolishness. One follows the director of a zombie film who unwisely says "Fuck Romero!" in a graveyard, while the latter has a horror author in his new dream home, which he bought despite the realtor informing him that it has no power and no water and was owned by a guy who killed a bunch of people and disappeared, leaving it abandoned.  These segments are marred by some awful lighting and a lot of night time sequences, which makes it impossible to make out what's happening at times. The corny performances and silly gore continue, however, and it all wraps up back in the basement with The Sentinel and a grand scale final scene that uses plenty of stock footage.
Just pretend he's not holding his eyes shut. They're TOTALLY missing.

When it really comes down to it, there's no arguing that The Basement is a good movie. But by golly, I laughed and laughed and laughed, and not always in a bad way.  Unlike a lot of modern z-grade indie horror films, there's fun to be had with the plot and the awful performances and low quality images give this production a strange charm.  A lot of times I was laughing at the movie - especially when I listened to the producer's commentary and heard some of the serious comments about the film (my favorite was when they said that this movie "started" the indie horror craze, even though they spend part of the commentary talking about The Dead Next Door, which did the same thing earlier AND got distributed in its own decade) - but there were also some times I felt I was laughing with it.  The Basement surprised me by not being a total waste of my time, and I can honestly see myself throwing this one in again for a laugh or two.

This is zero-budget horror, but it's zero budget horror with a plot and no elements that are completely wrong for the film.  I've seen others try to make movies like this and fail miserably. By that logic....maybe The Basement is on to something.  If you're up for something completely pointless and unintentionally hilarious, it might be the movie for you.

June 15, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #28 - Carnival of Souls

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil   Number 30 - Evil Dead II  Number 29 - Dead of Night
Carnival of Souls
(1962, Dir. by Herk Harvey.)
 Why It's Here:
The low-budget spook show at its surreal finest, Herk Harvey's film has inspired plenty of horror films throughout the years.  Boasting some haunting visuals and a manic performance by Candice Hilligoss some 50 years later, Carnival of Souls is still a fascinating case study that should be a guide to any aspiring horror filmmaker out there.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
When Hillgoss' Mary starts wandering around the abandoned carnival location on the edge of her new town, you know things are about to get funky.  The carnival scene holds plenty of creepy sites, and the folks who arise to terrify her do a lot to make the film great.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
I'm cheating a little bit here, because I first saw this film on a double feature DVD with Carnival of Souls.  But I still think that 1960's Hotel Hell (aka, The City of the Dead) shares an eerie tone with the film, and the doomed female lead is just as helpless as Mary is in Carnival of Souls. When it comes to low-budget black and white horror, these two films stand out as classics.

What It Means To Me:
Endlessly watchable and surprisingly profound, Carnival of Souls is a perfect example of how a little bit of ambition can make up for a laundry list of limitations. Like a lot of younger film folks, I saw this after other similarly constructed films (*cough*THESIXTHSENSE*cough*) - which dampened the surprise of the plot - yet it's the film I'm still thinking about many years later.  Can't argue with that.

June 14, 2012

Midnight Movie of the Week #128 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It's likely that every generation looks back on their childhood and thinks the things they once loved are still awesome. If they don't, they probably should.  Heck, we're at our best when we're kids. We have no idea that there's responsibility in our futures, and all we really care about is getting home from school so we can watch cartoons and play with our toys. It's humanity at its most perfect. 

Back on point - while most generations believe they had it great "back in the day", I'm relatively convinced that those of us who learned about life from the late '80s and early '90s got a pretty fantastic hand dealt to us. And a lot of credit for that - alongside powerhouses like the Transformers and G.I. Joe - goes to four fantastic turtles that provided countless entertainment to us all.  They are, of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - and when they came to the big screen it was pretty much the greatest thing a nine year old could ever ask for.  And we showed up in numbers to see it too, making it the highest grossing independent film ever at the time of release (passing the record set twelve years earlier by Halloween).
22 years later, a lot of things have changed.  The toys are naturally gone - although I think there might be a Leonardo somewhere in my closet - and the animated series is just a distant memory.  I do still have some memories of the first two video games for the NES - as should I, Turtles II was an arcade blasty - and I do still crave pizza pretty much all the time.  But one thing that hasn't changed is that that 1990 live-action film still makes me smile like a madman.
With music video director Steve Barron behind the camera and plenty of product placement - not to mention the underlying fact that the movie is designed to primarily sell toys - the fact that this movie was designed to manipulate us kids can't be hidden.  But we didn't care then, and today I still don't. The film still works as a stand alone story, only briefly covering how these turtles became mutant ninja teenagers, and still packs a ton of entertainment value for folks of all ages.
The simplest key to the film's lasting charm is the fact that the characters are still so fun to watch.  The foursome of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Raphael are brought to life in glorious rubber suits - polished with Turtle Wax, of course - and a talented voice cast - including Brian "Takashi from Revenge of the Nerds" Tochi as Leo and the undeniably awesome Corey Feldman as Donatello - which should endear them to most viewers.  Also becoming human are intrepid reporter and Turtle ally April O'Neil (played by Judith Hoag, who was very "1990 hot" to a nine year old) and the sporting-goods-as-weapons loving Casey Jones.
Jones, as played by future veteran character actor Elias Koteas, is probably the film's shining star to me, and his first appearance in his hockey mask still has me longing for more of the character.  (Considering their choice of facial wear, isn't Casey vs. Jason something that could happen? I'd watch that.)  Koteas gives Casey a bit of a late '80s edge - there are some times when his lack of tact and his vocal tones remind of Keanu Reeves' work from this time frame - which adds perfectly to the film's place in pop culture history.  The turtles needed a human adversary in their live action world, and Casey Jones fits that purpose.
It's probably one of the most PG films I'll ever cover here at the site, and its sci-fi and horror elements (including a reference to the Critters films, which Raphael dismisses as junk) are minimal.  But there's too much fun to be had with a group of ninja turtles that fight a gang of ninjas that are corrupting America's youth, and the folks behind this vision of the comic heroes/cartoon stars capitalized on all of it.  I'm still sold on these righteous turtles, and won't shy away from lauding this film as a great piece of escapist adventure.

June 13, 2012

John Carter

(2012, Dir. by Andrew Stanton.)

Being destined to be known as one of the biggest flops of all time is a destiny that no movie wants.  And yet, here sits John Carter, a completely mismarketed sci-fi adventure that cost more than the New York Yankees and made less than a relief pitcher for the Colorado Rockies. 

Despite the love of first-time live-action director Andrew Stanton and the thought-to-be blooming star power of Friday Night Lights' Tim Riggins Taylor Kitsch, this is a blockbuster that was dead on arrival both financially and critically.  There's a fascinating read on all the things that went wrong with the production here - which was published exactly THREE days after the film was released. (Let's not take some time to make our conclusions, boys!) With mediocre reviews and the production abandoned by its backers (heck, they even changed the title from the proposed John Carter of Mars because people don't see Mars movies, it's easy to see why so many people with casual interest in the film let it pass theatrically.

Here's the thing, and I'm not going to sugar coat it - John Carter's actually a good movie.

I did not mistype that sentence and I will not back away from it.  I realize that this is just my assessment of the film, but when I finally did settle in to watch what unfolds I was completely dumbfounded by the bad reputation that had preceded it.  It is not a film without problems - I only said "good", I didn't throw any of my usual superlatives about it - but it is the kind of stand alone adventure film that seems sorely lacking in Hollywood these days.

Adapted (loosely) from the more than 100 year old series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the film tells how the title character got to the planet that was cut from the title, and then immediately involves him in what is basically a world war.  There's a lot of over-plotting going on - if you don't know the books you'll be expected to quickly learn the names of a bunch of races, Martian places, and even slang terms - and I'm sure that many of the film's detractors will point to this as either a) confusing or b) silly.  I suppose I can understand that to an extent, but if the fact that something creates its own universe is going to take you out of the story, that's your problem.

The worlds and characters will certainly make some think of Star Wars - and more accurately, those awful prequels that shrouded the turn of the century with fear and may have caused the Y2K panic (OK, I made up the Y2K thing, but they were terrible) - which is largely because Burroughs' books were a key inspiration to that George Lucas fellow.  But John Carter stands on its own, and stands apart from the Star Wars 'verse by sticking to one world and only a few characters.  This isn't high drama - it seems funny to consider Star Wars "high drama", but one could make the argument that Star Wars, with its focus on family tensions and spiritual growth, aspires to reach that - and watching John Carter reminded me more of adventure films of the early Hollywood era. The tone of John Carter is more in tune with things like Captain Blood or Gunga Din - adaptations of other authors from Burroughs' time - than modern sci-fi epics, with its closest modern companion perhaps being Stephen Sommers' adaptation of The Mummy.  Again, some may see that as a bad thing - but I think it's a wicked fun flick.

The films I mentioned near the end of the last paragraph inspire a childlike awe in me, and John Carter fits in with them perfectly. Some of the effects are a little hokey - and obviously meant for children's consumption - and I won't deny that I didn't spend a bit of time imagining a John Carter adaptation with Ray Harryhausen's special effects and Caroline Munro wearing the same revealing outfits that "Princess of Mars" Dejah Thoris is required to don.  Gosh, it sure seems like all John Carter does is remind me of things I love about popcorn movies of years gone by, doesn't it?  Wait...that's another good thing.

It's easy to find the reasons why it was a financial "failure" when you consider the budget and the mindset of modern viewers - it's too long, too complicated, too different, too childish for most.  But now - just 3 months after its release - a steady bit of support is growing for the film.  Just today (I'd already started plotting this piece, in case someone thinks I was influenced) I was asked to help support an internet petition to get a sequel made.  How strange is that? A film is produced for nearly 200 million by Disney and marketed as a big deal...and three months later the studio is basically done with it while folks on the internet are begging for a sequel.  We sure do live in a crazy world of cinema these days.  (Sorry guys, I really don't think that sequel's coming any time soon.)

Back to the point, I'm all for John Carter. (I even watched it twice, just to make sure I didn't miss something awful the first time.) It's a vast adventure that has some eye-popping visuals and creates an ambitiously drawn sci-fi world.  The Disney logo has it primed for children, but there's a bit more violence and death than I expected from the film, and a much smarter edge than I expected. The cast isn't great, but they do their job, and nothing about it sticks out like a sore thumb.

I'm not sure if there was a way for John Carter to work as a serious, mass-audience pleasing, blockbuster in 2012 - as one article about the film's floppiness stated, Burroughs' ideas have been pillaged for over 100 years! - but I'm really glad someone made it.  Don't be surprised if words like "cult" start following this one around in the future, because there's a lot of fun to be had with John Carter.

June 12, 2012

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #29 - Dead of Night

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil  Number 30 - Evil Dead II
Dead of Night
(1945, Dir. by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer.)
Why It's Here:
Revolutionizing the horror anthology long before even The Twilight Zone, Ealing Studios' production of Dead of Night might as well be something that is told around a campfire. In a way, it is - thanks to a perfectly drawn wrap-around tale that bridges the gaps between three tales of terror (and one goofy ghost story that provides a late film bit of comic relief).  The film's reliance on the age old desire to tell "scary" stories keeps it from feeling out of date - the same principle that helps things like The Twilight Zone and those awesome Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books we loved as kids - even if it is more than 65 years old.

The Moment That Changes Everything:
I adore Dead of Night as a whole, and have for a long time. But, if we're being completely honest I don't know if the film would have gotten that far if it weren't for the wonderful Ventriloquist's Dummy segment near the end of the film. Again, this is an age-old horror standard - dolls = scariness - but thanks to some wonderful direction and a great Michael Redgrave performance, it meets our fearful expectations and then some.

It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
It's impossible to find something of its era that's quite like it and quite good, so let's just jump all the way forward to the 2007 horror anthology Trick 'r Treat. Creepshow is most likely a better anthology horror flick, but Trick 'r Treat's central theme of old legends and spook stories coming together is more in tune with Dead of Night's personality.

What It Means To Me:
When i start comparing something to The Twilight Zone and the Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books, that's a big deal. Dead of Night gets a special place in my heart because it's completely interested in tapping into fears of the unknown, something that surprisingly few horror tales do anymore. It's not a monster film, it doesn't need blood and gore to make a point - it just wants to make our skin crawl a bit. It meets that goal whenever I watch it.

June 11, 2012

Book Review - The Slasher Movie Book

When you give your book a title like The Slasher Movie Book, you're inviting an army of rabid horror nerds to attack it, rip it apart, and pick at the scraps until they complain about the fatty bits.  Even though I'm merely a passing fan - heck, almost a guilty fan, considering how often I'm all like "Oh man, I don't like slashers; slashers are dumb; slashers are inferior; blah blah blah I'm trying to be intellectual blah" - of the subgenre, I took on the opportunity to review The Slasher Movie Book with a bit of trepidation.  I know enough about horror to know when someone's missing important details, and I didn't want to be that guy who calls out an author over missed points.

So, it is much relief that I can admit that I know much less about the slasher film than J.A. Kerswell, the writer who complied this entirely thorough look at the movement in horror.  Kerswell makes the case that the slasher had its "Golden Age" from 1978-1984, and I must also admit that my mind first thought this to be a surprisingly brief time period.  After all, A Nightmare on Elm Street happened in 1984 and spawned many sequels and knockoffs, and we know that the Friday the 13th and Halloween franchises ran through the end of that decade.  But Kerswell is very thorough in breaking down all aspects of the slasher's lifespan, and the case he makes for the time period listed is entirely reasonable once you get into his analysis.

However, a book on the slasher would not be complete if it only covered a six year span, and Kerswell knows this all too well.  I expected nothing less from the author - who founded and runs the fantastic site Hysteria Lives! - but I equally underestimated the time range that the book would cover. A lot of folks like to trace the slasher back to Psycho - a fair assessment, and I assure you that Hitchcock's film is featured in this book - but Kerswell goes much farther than that. In fact, the book ends up covering a span of time that dates back to (at least) 1897(!) and covers the progress of the slasher straight through recent remakes like Sorority Row, My Bloody Valentine, and of course Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

While chronicling the timeline that runs prior to, within, and beyond the slasher's Golden Age, the author leaves no stone unturned. I was floored to find a chapter on the German "krimi" movement, a precursor to Italy's giallo, that I had frankly never even heard of in my travels through film history. Kerswell also opened my eyes to plenty of other films that predated the tradition slasher, ranging from the obscure - he got me to hunt down 1962's Violent Midnight, produced by fellow Iowan and favorite of mine Del Tenney - to the obvious, like Michael Crichton's Westworld (a movie I've seen a dozen times but never considered as an inspiration to Halloween until just now).  There's also some well deserved recognition for Britain's Pete Walker, and of course an indepth discussion of the giallo the covers Bava, Argento, and the rest of the gang.

But really, the meat-and-potatoes of the book is when Kerswell starts to roll through that Golden Age, breaking down the slasher year-by year and covering the production, reception, and fiscal gains of what seems like hundreds of films.  It was incredibly difficult for me to get through this section - well, to get through most of the book, really - without having to take breaks to look up some of these films on IMDB or Amazon. (Don't worry mom, I didn't break the bank.)  The presentation bounces through the trends in the subgenre and details which films were influential upon which films, creating this big spider-web of knowledge that shows how much these films relied upon the same ideals.

Kerswell's writing throughout the book is informative, if not repetitive (as someone who writes about horror, I definitely understand that there aren't a billion ways to describe some hack-and-slash), and he throws in plenty of interesting tidbits about the cast members and filmmakers behind the horror.  My mind was particularly blown when he discussed the fact that 1984's Fatal Games was made (in part) by the sons of legendary directors Luis Bunuel and Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and his description of some of the sillier slasher films was equally entertaining. Few film descriptions have raised my eyebrows more quickly than when Kerswell revealed that the plot 1982's Blood Beat "seemed to have a seven-foot-tall samurai conjured up by female masturbation", yet Kerswell pulls that one off masterfully.  (No, I did not buy that movie - but it wasn't for lack of trying.)

Packed full of poster/VHS images for all kinds of horror films, The Slasher Movie Book is as good looking to a horror fan as it is informative. I had minor quibbles with some of the choices of page color - black text on a dark red or purple background is a little difficult to read in the darkness of my lair, but I bet overhead lighting would have helped with that - but the presentation is generally fantastic and this could easily shine as a coffee table item for a horror lover's home theater.

Combining all factors together, there's no reason a horror fan shouldn't check out The Slasher Movie Book. There's a lot to be learned from Kerswell's dissection of his topic, and the addition of an index, glossary, review section, and more to the end of the book should make it a nice reference for the horror scholar.  The book is now available through Hysteria Lives or directly at Amazon, and anyone who wants to enrich their understanding of horror's stabby subgenre should jump on the book immediately.

The Mike's Top 50 Horror Movies Countdown: #30 - Evil Dead II

Previously on the Countdown: Number 50 - Happy Birthday to Me  Number 49 - Prince of Darkness  Number 48 - House on Haunted Hill  Number 47 - The Monster Squad  Number 46 - Hellraiser  Number 45 - The Fog  Number 44 - Creature From the Black Lagoon  Number 43 - Zombie  Number 42 - Tales from the Crypt  Number 41 - Bubba Ho-Tep  Number 40 - Phantom of the Paradise  Number 39 - Dog Soldiers Number 38 - Pontypool  Number 37 - Dark Water  Number 36 - Army of Darkness Number 35 - The Legend of Hell House  Number 34 - Poltergeist  Number 33 - The Abominable Dr. Phibes  Number 32 - The Phantom of the Opera  Number 31 - The House of the Devil
Evil Dead II
(1987, Dir. by Sam Raimi.)
Why It's Here:
Though it's obviously a sequel - some would argue that it's a remake - Evil Dead II holds a unique place in horror history. Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell followed up their beloved first film with a most excellent blend of horror and comedy that is still a crowd pleaser today. It might not top the splatter that we saw in The Evil Dead (SPOILER ALERT: Few films do.) but the addition of more blatant comic aspects - and the evolution of Campbell's iconic Ash character - have put this on the short-list of the greatest horror sequels out there.
The Moment That Changes Everything:
Ash goes through a lot through the Evil Dead series, but he might be at his low point during the darkly comic scene in which he joins most of the generally-inanimate objects in that cursed cabin in a bit of hysterical laughter.  I think my favorite side character in the scene is the lamp that dances with Ash for a few moments, but that's not the point I'm looking for. The point is that Evil Dead II keeps finding new ways to surprise, and this is one of my favorites.
It Makes a Great Double Feature With:
One of the most interesting things about the Evil Dead films, at least to me, is that there really wasn't much like them released in the 1980s.  This was the decade of the slasher, the sequel, and the teen horror film - and I'm pretty stumped to find something of its era that matches ED2. If there's anything I've seen that matches the crazy intensity of this film, it might be the recent horror hit and future cult classic The Cabin in the Woods, which not only refers to the Evil Dead 'verse but honors it wonderfully.
What It Means To Me:
It was once just an entertaining diversion, but Evil Dead II has kind of become a case study in horror to me over the years. There's so much in this film series that is without equal anywhere else in horror, and I always seem to find something new and unique about all three films. Evil Dead II has lost a little luster over the years - might be because I've seen it dozens of times and know the gags too well - but it's still a fascinating piece of horror that I can admire any day.

June 9, 2012

The Prometheus Rant

(2012, Dir. by Ridley Scott.)


Seriously, just a disgruntled Gah is all I have right now.

I had such plans for Prometheus, and there were such sights that it was gonna show me.  We were going to be good buddies, hang out sometimes on weekends, and maybe it was even gonna cheer me up when I was blue. Heck, I planned the celebration of my freakin' birthday with my friends around this movie.  And now they all think I'm stupid, because they think the movie freakin' sucked.

And the sad thing is - the movie did kinda freakin' suck. 

On the other hand, the movie was kinda freakin' amazing. You know that feeling when your eyes start to hurt and feel dry while you're playing video games because you're so intently involved that you forget to close them? I had that feeling while watching Prometheus.  It looked so, so, SO freakin' good.  It sounded amazing.  The cast looked good and - with the exception of the terribly annoying Logan Marshall-Green - fit into their stereotypical roles well.  These are the same kind of characters we've seen in the Alien universe before - led by Noomi Rapace's survivor girl, Charlize Theron's icy naysayer, and Idris Elba's incredibly fun turn as the "old-school" captain of the ship - with a few outliers and a few totally unnecessary characters that don't even play into the film. Heck, the crew of the ship totals SEVENTEEN...which is ridiculous. Alien got by on seven characters, and they were all ACTUAL characters. With personalities. And purposes. The folks in Prometheus? They just serve as filler to make the plot go.  I suppose the heavily philosophical robot played by Michael Fassbender is interesting to an extent, but he wears out his welcome as the film goes on too.

The plot is something I'm not even going to talk about, because I really don't understand it. At all.  There is so much random stuff going on in it that it's near impossible to really understand what leads to what and the whole thing gets lost in this mish-mash of science and religious themes and action. For about 90 minutes, the thing works - but then it get so convoluted and keeps making so many weird turns that I couldn't figure out which way was out. More importantly, I couldn't find much of a reason to care.

Alien worked because it was a contained film with a single purpose. Group of people finds monster, monster attacks, battle ensues.   There are like six different monsters in Prometheus, ranging from human to alien and a few things inbetween. And all of the characters and all of the monsters (OK, six is an exaggeration - but not by much) have different agendas and tie in to different parts of the "plot".  Ridley Scott, I know you know how to make a movie - you made Alien, after all - but you have to admit that your stuff was all mixed up on Prometheus, don't you? I mean, am I supposed to accept that your strangely theoretical movie doesn't make sense just because it's from one of the writers of that Lost show that didn't make sense either?

OK. I'm starting to put my calm pants on now. You guys know I'm not usually this way when I write this stuff, it's just that I expected SO much from Prometheus. I adore this franchise, top to bottom, and I was ready to usher in a new chapter that would take my understanding of xenomorphs and the humans and robots who encounter them to the next level.

Which, honestly, is what I got - a gorgeous film that is led by interesting actors and adds to the Alien storyline. The fact that the storyline kinda blows my mind in a bad way and the fact that the actors are basically playing cardboard cutouts hurts the film tremendously, but I know I'll be back to Prometheus later when I'm not expecting the next big thing. For now it definitely has a place on the low end of the new Alien quintilogy spectrum and it kinda makes me feel like Ridley Scott ruined my birthday, but I'll get over some of that.

I won't recommend that you go seek out Prometheus - if I'm struggling to justify coming back to it later, anyone who's not obsessed with all things Alien will certainly struggle with the film even more - and I'm mad as heck at the movie right now. Doesn't mean I can't make up with it later, but right now - I just wanna sit here and be mad at Ridley Scott and whoever the pitiful screenwriters were. This movie should have thrilled me to no end.