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Showing posts from 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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Back in 1999 something I thought would never happen finally came to pass.  16 years after Return of the Jedi, we were finally treated to a new Star Wars film.  Despite what George Lucas tried to pass as gospel truth, he had never intended to run through a trilogy and then present the back story.  This was all pie-in-the-sky ideas that he told the press after the original movie became a hit and The Empire Strikes Back turned out to be an even better movie than the original.

We all know what happened with The Phantom Menace, however, and we should have seen it coming.  Lucas went back and retooled the original films, adding in tons of misplaced CGI and practically neutering Han Solo.  Sure, he did some things right, like getting rid of the Ewok celebration at the end of Jedi and digitally erasing some of the matte lines from around the spaceships, but most of the changes were unnecessary.  Still, in many ways I found The Phantom Menace to be better than the original version of Jedi, de…

Class of 1984 (1982)

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With the recent box set release that contained Penelope Spheeris's 1980 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization, which chronicled the 1979 hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles, it is interesting to again be reminded of how that scene really scared parents and society at the time.  While Decline offered performances and some frank looks at the bands and how they lived (as well as their fans), they mainly came off as misguided youth that you knew were going to be stuck in office jobs after a few years, looking at their safety-pinned jackets with sad nostalgia.

Class of 1984 is pure exploitation of the fear that America had of their youth at the time, despite the fact the film is Canadian.  The city it is in is unnamed (although, being Abraham Lincoln High School, it's hinted that this is supposed to be the United States).  While some may see some parallels with what we see on the news about teenagers of today, the truth is the newspapers and local television stations did t…

Total Recall (1990)

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I remember while Total Recall was still in production that the most press it was getting was because of its budget.  There were a number of articles at the time critical of spending what was then an almost unheard-of amount of money on a movie.  Sure, Arnold Schwarzenegger was at his peak, coming out with one hit after another, but Paul Verhoeven was largely known for the low-budget RoboCop (despite an impressive body of work in his native Netherlands).  The buzz was that this would be a major flop.

And it almost was.  The crew battled constant food poisoning (as well as adverse breathing conditions) while filming in Mexico City, and at first Tri Star had no idea how to market the film.  In addition, the MPAA wanted to give it an X rating for the over-the-top violence.  However, Arnold loved it and pushed for it.  In the end, it truly became Verhoeven's major mainstream Hollywood breakthrough, despite the fact there is little mainstream about it other than its star.

Douglas Quaid…

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

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In my opinion, Captain America: The First Avenger was the best of the pre-Avengers Marvel movies.  I thought Thor was pretty but hollow and didn't swoon over Iron Man like many did (I actually liked Iron Man 2 better).  There was something about a solid origin story and the ability to fit Captain America into the modern world that appealed to me.  I was surprised since this has always been one of the corniest of old-time superheroes.

Happily, The Winter Soldier lives up to the expectations established by the first movie.  Set two years after the events in The Avengers, and meant to bridge the gap between that movie and the recent Age of Ultron, it was wisely infused with a number of classic political thriller elements rather than the rote superhero plot.  There is plenty of heroing happening, but in large part the main characters are in a vulnerable position throughout rather than invincible justice machines.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is adapting to the modern world after being …

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

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It seems like I'm at odds with most viewers when it comes to the Marvel films.  I do find many of them quite enjoyable (so far the first Captain America and Guardians of the Galaxy have been the best), but largely I am getting frustrated at the glut of comic book films.  I have never been a big comic book fan myself, largely growing up at a time when they were considered something you grew out of and, currently, seeing them more for monetary worth than story-wise.

So I admit from the get-go that I know next to nothing about the original stories any of these movies are based upon.  Whenever I get curious, even with something like Watchmen, largely what I see is people in ridiculous Spandex costumes running through the same adolescent plots.  Despite the fact that there are definitely too many of these movies at this point, the one thing I can say is at least they have found a way to make them more interesting to the general public.  Lack of doing so was what made such movies large…

They Live (1988)

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One of the memories of being a teenager is getting my mother to take me to see this movie.  The idea of aliens living among us and controlling us, especially to someone who read 1984 out of general interest when they were in elementary school, was more than intriguing.  I was also starting to learn a bit about which film directors I really liked.

Surprisingly, she liked it, except for the end (no matter how old you are, watching sleazy hotel sex with your mom is not an enticing thought).  It was a movie that stuck with me through the years, and obviously I wasn't the only one.  It's inspired street art and even a clothing line (the irony of which the founder and artist I'm quite sure is aware). 

I've seen it a few times since and, happily, it holds up wonderfully and is an experience I look forward to each time - despite the fact that I'll never see an audience reaction like I did when I saw it in '88, when during the fight scene someone yelled, "Round th…

Death by Invitation (1971)

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When I saw the poster for this and heard the plot I was expecting something along the line of a William Castle film where people are brought to a location and slowly offed in a gimmicky way.  It promised an axe-wielding witch getting revenge for crimes perpetrated upon her ancestors (or possibly on her previous incarnation, or on her, or something).

I can definitely say this is not a slasher movie, but it is a revenge film.  The problem is it typically takes too long to get where it's going, and neither the title nor the description really have much to do with what's in the movie.

In the 1600s a witch (Shelby Leverington) is burned at the stake, largely based on testimony by the head of the Vroot family (Aaron Phillips).  Three centuries later Lise (Leverington) is a woman living in New York who is either the ancestor or reincarnation of the witch that was killed (it's never really stated clearly), and Peter Vroot (Aaron Phillips) is a successful businessman.  Lise become…

The Cosmic Monster (1958)

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British sci-fi films are never without some interesting ideas.  The problem is, as fans of classic Doctor Who and Quatermass can attest, sometimes big ideas can't overcome the fact that you have crepe paper, fingerpaint, some duct tape and a couple hundred pounds from the petty cash drawer in order to make the movie.  I think that is why I like so many of the British sci-fi and horror films.  When you are tasked with doing something grand on the budget of an elementary school Christmas play, you get inventive.

I definitely wouldn't say The Cosmic Monster is anywhere near the best I have seen when it comes to British science fiction films, but it does try harder than many of its American counterparts.  At least there's an actual movie here instead of 20 minutes of narration and stock footage.

Dr. Laird (Alec Mango) is experimenting with altering magnetic fields in order to change the molecular structure of metals.  When one of his experiments ends up injuring his computer …

Blue Sunshine (1978)

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One of the joys of watching horror and exploitation films is that there is no way you can ever have seen them all.  Sure, you may be familiar with all the normal ones that Quentin Tarantino mentions or some of the more obscure titles you used to see at your video store, but there is no way you will have ever seen them all.

I know that Blue Sunshine isn't the most obscure title, but it's one that I had never run into when reading any of the old cult movie books, nor does it come up in many books about horror films.  I guess it was well-known enough in the 1970s that it was projected during many punk concerts (especially the part where a discotheque is attacked), but it is one of those that has faded into obscurity over the years.

Jerry Zipkin (Zalman King) is at a party with friends when a photographer named Frannie (Richard Crystal) suddenly goes crazy after a girl pulls off what appears to be a wig, revealing that he is bald underneath except for a few strands of straggly ha…

Dragonfly (2002)

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I remember when Dragonfly came out it the previews made it look like it was a somewhat more sentimental version of Flatliners.  I also remember getting it constantly confused with The Butterfly Effect since both were mediocre movies with insects in the title.

Since being burned by Kevin Costner in The Postman, I really haven't paid too much attention to many of the movies he has been in sense.  I liked him most recently in History's miniseries The Hatfields and McCoys, but otherwise I often find him an overhyped actor that I can do without.  He has one good movie as a direct (Dances with Wolves) and a few decent ones as an actor (No Way Out), but by and large I remember him for his biggest disappointments (Waterworld, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves). It should have not been a surprise that Dragonfly would be a disappointment as well.

Dr. Joe Darrow (Costner) loses his wife Emily (Susanna Thompson) when the bus she is on is pushed into a raging river by a landslide.  Wracked wi…

In Their Skin (2012)

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Ever spend a good portion of the movie yelling at the main characters for their stupidity?  That is what you will end up doing with In Their Skin, which follows the recent "strangers show up and try to kill you for no reason" formula.  I guess it made enough money for Stangers and Them that studios are just starting to churn this out.

In truth, this whole genre largely goes back to Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs, in which a family is set upon by supposedly "real man" survival types while the weak father (who typically doesn't like violence) has to suddenly defend his family and become a "real man" himself. 

Mark (Joshua Close), Mary (Selma Blair) and their son Brendon (Quinn Lord) visit Mark's family cottage in the woods in order to reboot after the death of their daughter.  Understandably, things are tough between the couple, with Mark feeling responsible for the death and Mary feels the family growing apart.  To make matters worse they suddenl…

Hands of the Ripper (1971)

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I am always happy when I stumble upon a Hammer film that I haven't seen before.  In this case it's one of the later ones, Hands of the Ripper.  In a lot of cases Hammer's quality had taken a dive by the 1970s, but occasionally a pretty good film emerges.

When Jack the Ripper is pursued through the streets of London he retreats to his home.  His wife suddenly realizes what and he murders her in front of their daughter Anna.  Afterward he picks her up, gives her a kiss and abandons her to her fate.

About 15 years later Anna (Angharad Rees) is living with Mrs. Golding (Dora Bryan), a fake medium who uses her for spirit voices and also pimps her out on occasion.  It is on one of these occasions that a member of the House of Commons, Mr. Dysart (Derek Godfrey) gets frustrated with Anna and begins to beat her.  It seems Anna has been entranced with a necklace that Dysart brought for her.  When Mrs. Golding breaks up the altercation and gives Anna a kiss, she hears her father…

Final Destination 3 (2006)

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I got my hopes up a bit during the opening credits.  Truthfully, I really liked the first two installments of this series, and seeing James Wong (who was involved in many of the best X-Files episodes) and Glen Morgan (responsible for a number of my favorite Canadian-based sci-fi series) teaming up on this one I thought I might be in for something more than another cash-grab.  I was mistaken.

Wendy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is taking pictures for yearbook during her senior class's trip to a local amusement park.  When she has a premonition about most of the class dying on a roller coaster ride, she panics, getting off and causing seven others to get off with her.  Everyone thinks she is crazy, but the accident happens, killing her boyfriend Jason (Jesse Moss) and best friend Carrie (Gina Holden), who were unable to get off the ride, as well as several other people.

Soon after the survivors start to die in extremely complex accidents following the order in which they would have die…

Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

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I remember video stores from the 1990s fondly because it was direct-to-video films that largely replaced what would have been drive-in films decades earlier.  Sure, there was the usual milking of a series that should have ended after two or three movies, tons of softcore porn and movies that looked like they were filmed in someone's back yard, but a number of great movies came out during that time that, for whatever reason, didn't see theatrical release.

Return of the Living Dead III is one of those.  It received a very limited release in theaters in the United States, but was largely intended for the video market.  The strange thing is this series really hadn't played itself out; the first one is a classic horror comedy, while the second is largely annoying but still with some good parts.  Since the third decided not to rehash the plot of the other two, and some actual effort went into making it, one would think it would have seen a wider release. 

We find Colonel John Re…

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

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After part three, I was probably one of the few people who actually cared where the Paranormal Activity series was going.  Although it was getting rather annoying watching the same buildup when I already knew from the first that it was a demon related to the girls' family I found the core story interesting enough and was curious to see how things would wrap up.  Unfortunately, part four did absolutely nothing to forward the plot, leaving me thinking that the makers of these movies were totally lost on how to bring the series to an end.

The fact that the next movie was going to be a spin-off, and not even released around Halloween, seemed to confirm it.  Honestly, by the time they got around to making a fourth, they really should have found a way to stop making them found footage, as they had stretched the concept about as far as it could go.  Not too mention everyone wanting to get a movie out on the cheap went in this direction.

Well, it comes as a welcome surprise that, though …

Demons (1985)

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Being the son of one of Italy's most famous directors has to be hard.  Mario Bava had such a particular style, especially after making films in color, that it would be easy to fall into a pale imitation of him to keep the family name going.  And when you decide to team with Dario Argento on writing your film you suddenly have another person whose particular style is known by many.

Fortunately, Lamberto Bava manages to make this film his own.  Some of the primary colors his dad is known for show up, and the movie definitely goes in a number of directions (which is typical of Dario Argento), but in the end Lamberto has his own style.  Despite the different elements he doesn't let trying to get a specific shot overshadow the fact that he is making a horror film, keeping things on track throughout, especially after the action starts.

Which may be where some people have a problem.  He's not trying to create art with Demons, but rather a straight apocalyptic horror film. 

Chery…

The House of the Devil (2009)

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Ah, the Satanic Panic of the early 1980s.  Ritual abuse was going on everywhere.  Rock groups were using backwards messages and hidden meaning in songs to drive our young people into the arms of the devil.  The conspiracy reached to the highest levels as the end times approached.  It was a war for our very souls.

In truth, it was a bunch of charlatans trying to sell their books to gullible Christians.  Judas Priest was definitely not telling their fans to kill themselves (especially in a song they didn't write).  Johnson and Johnson executives were never holding secret sacrifices in their office suites.  Those who claimed abuse were either seeking attention or had false memories implanted by opportunistic psychiatrists. 

Of course, the Warrens were charlatans as well.  That didn't mean we couldn't get some good movies from there supposed exploits. 

The Satanic cult movie had been around for quite a while and, though director Ti West did his best to make this look like an …

City of the Living Dead (1980)

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I need to be quite clear here.  I know many people will be watching this film because they think it is a zombie film or related to another Lucio Fulci film called Zombie which was, itself, an unofficial sequel to Dario Argento's Italian edit of Dawn of the Dead.  It is not.  It is a beginning of a trilogy which also includes The Beyond and The House Near the Cemetery.  Rather than zombies we are dealing with more of what would traditionally be considered ghouls.

That is where I think this movie loses a lot of people.  They are expecting a Romero-style zombie flick, but instead a surrealistically plotted movie about the end times. 

During a seance in New York Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) sees a vision of a priest (Fabrizio Jovine) hanging himself in a cemetery in a small town called Dunwich.  His suicide opens the gates of hell and causes the dead to rise.  This is supposedly because Dunwich was built over the remains of the original Salem, and those that persecuted the witch…

The House at the End of Time (2013)

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Too often when a movie is represented as one thing and later becomes another you end up with nothing but complete frustration.  For instance, I practically have no use for the "schizophrenic" twist when it comes to supernatural thrillers (especially since multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia are two different things - something Hollywood hasn't figured out yet for the most part).  I also despise Scooby Doo-type endings unless someone actually says a line about meddling kids.

Occasionally, though, we get something that is truly clever.  The Others, for instance, was pretty obvious that the main characters were the ghosts haunting the house, but even figuring that out early on in the movie did nothing to spoil it.  Jacob's Ladder comes to mind as another that had enough going on that the reveal at the end was not a giant letdown.  Now I can add The House at the End of Time to that list.

The film begins in 1981, with Dulce (Ruddy Rodriguez) discovering her h…

Pieces (1982)

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This is going to be one of the places where I break from most horror fans.  I have wanted to see Pieces for awhile.  I have a cheap DVD set that it is on, but never watched it because I heard that particular version was horribly copied and cropped to where you couldn't tell what was happening on screen.  So, I waited.

As I waited this kept coming up in discussions as being one of those obscure European grindhouse films that just has to be seen.  Also, it had a reputation as being one of the superior films in the slasher genre. 

Well, the wait is over, and I can definitely say I cringed through most of the movie.  Unfortunately, it had nothing to do with any of the violence.

In 1942 a young boy is putting together a pornographic puzzle.  His mother (May Heatherly) discovers him doing it and threatens to burn it as well as any other "filth" he may have about.  This leads him to chop her into pieces with an axe.  When the police show up he hides in a closet and claims some…

Stake Land (2010)

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Despite the proliferation of cheap movies with cheap jump scares (not to mention just plain garbage trying to mask itself as cult material from studios like Asylum), I would say that we are entering another renaissance for horror films.  The old tropes are still there: zombies, vampires, werewolves, masked killers, etc.  What is changing is what scares us.

This can often be seen down the years more through anthology shows such as The Twilight Zone and Tales from the Dark Side.  The 1950s and 1960s had their share of technophobia, but much of what came across as scary was the civilization the west had striven to attain being destroyed by an outside other than treated us like we treated the lands we colonized.  By the '80s technology was beginning to evolve at the rapid pace that it is now, and many of the old horror staples were brought into the modern day and were often the result of misuse of technology.

Today we have generally come to grips with technological advance and, despi…