Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ten Statements About....CHRISTINE (1983)

Just a reminder--someone drove this car while it was on fire!
"Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I'll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that's what we have."

1) The first thing that strikes me is how quiet this film is for a Carpenter film.  The music cues are few and far between during the first hour, and we don’t hear that signature Carpenter synth whine until that hour is almost over.

2) Good ol’ Keith Gordon.  It’s obvious that Arnie is something of a nothing role, and the script is very confused as to whether he’s meant to be a dupe of Christine or a willing co-conspirator (something we never get resolved, even up to his ultimate fate), but Gordon does everything he can with this role.  What little there is that elevates Arnie from a series of stereotypes is all Gordon.

3) This is another film which is specifically meant to be a period piece (it’s set in 1978), but is not enhanced in any way by its setting.  I suspect Carpenter does this to remain ‘true’ to the novel, but there’s nothing in the novel that demands that period be used.  And given how almost everyone is styled in the 80‘s (check out the hair on Alexandra Paul’s Leigh!), it’s a pointless exercise.
"But Mr. Kot-tah said I could beat on the nerd...."

4) You know, I would accept the seriousness of the bullies in this movie if they weren’t played by a bunch of goofballs.  William Ostrander’s portrayal of Buddy, in particular, is laughable; the man comes off as Cosplay John Travolta.  Thankfully, their presence is limited and their tickets punched before they get too annoying.

5) You wanna know why I love practical effects?  Because there’s an immediacy to these set pieces you just can’t get with CGI.  When you realize that at one point in this movie an actual human being drove a car that was set entirely on fire after another human being blew up an actual gas station, you appreciate what you’re seeing all the more.

6) I really liked Robert Proskey’s Darnell.  While he comes off as very antagonistic, it’s obvious that he’s not.  This makes his death after Christine’s killing spree an indicator of how evil ‘she’ is, as he’s drawing his shotgun to get at the perceived thief, not the car itself.
"Stupid movie...I'll become a director and show everyone how
to direct with style....stupid movie...." 

7) Some people just have old faces...right, Harry Dean Stanton?

8) I find it fascinating how Carpenter has Gordon visually go through different levels of classic 50‘s rebellious teen.  He goes from typical geek to the windbreaker of James Dean to the leather of Marlon Brando the deeper into his mania he gets.  It’s like Arnie becomes symbiotically linked with Christine and is pulled backwards in time psychologically by her.

9)  I’m not sure if Carpenter resisted the urge for Alexandra Paul’s Leigh and John Stockwell’s Dennis to grow romantically close in the third act (it’s been years since I read King’s novel, but my gut says he did pull the trigger on this)...but it never quite works out.  Now granted, this might be because of Paul’s rather stilted performance, but there’s still a whiff of ‘it’s in the script’ to this development.

10) I think that the film benefits from Christine being established as evil right on the assembly line, as it throws out all the ambiguity of the book’s reasoning for her becoming this steel-and-glass ghost.  By just letting us know that Christine is a malevolent entity right from the start, she becomes a motorized version of Michael Meyers, and we accept that its malevolence just exists.

Overall...not the greatest of Carpenter’s films, and arguably the beginning of his decline, it still has some merit thanks to the practical stunt work and the performance by Gordon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY: FORSAKEN (2004)

For some guys, this might actually be a fantasy....
1) This film automatically gets a few points over its predecessor by the use of Tony Todd as the main villian Stark.  With his literal hawk-like features, smooth voice and imposing figure, he is exactly what we need instead of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch and a shape-changing demon.

2) ...and speaking of Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m somewhat pleased that John Light has a) less screen time, b) isn’t made out to be a heroic figure and c) acts kinda sinister at points, starting with his first act in the film.

3) If I was irked by the way writer/director Joel Soisson tried to force his story into the continuity of the first three films, I’m not as annoyed here--but still annoyed.  While I like the idea that angels can also be killed by shooting them through their third eye, there are other additions that bugged the crap out of me, particularly the hierarchy of hell Jason Scott Lee’s Dillon rockets through at one point and the revelation that the voices inside Alison’s head is a specific personage from the first film.
Sometimes in Heaven you need a neckband....

4) I’m sorry, but Kari Wuhrer’s Alison this time seems to be an entirely different person.  Yeah, I’m pleased she actually displays more than one emotion this outing, but the way she goes on about her history as a theology student and faith and all this seems at odds with the broken girl we met in the previous film.  And when the film suddenly decides she’s an action heroine, well...it’s a disconnect.

5) Once again, I appreciate how this film decides not to hide that it’s shot in Rumania, but even more so than the last one there’s no reason why this movie has to take place in Rumania.  Hell, given the fact that our heroine is from Chicago, it’s to the film’s advantage not to be set in Rumania.

6) So we’ve got Jason Scott Lee playing a hitman named Dillon because...a supernatural thriller about warring angelic factions needs a hitman?  It certainly does detract from the otherworldliness of the angels, as it reduces Stark to the same level as a mafia don.

7) You know, introducing these lesser angels called ‘drones’ doesn’t make the film scarier; it actually lessens the awe of the angels from the previous films.  The only thing the angels needed up until this film were humans at the brink of death, and only then to operate technology they don’t understand.  By having the angels here rely on what amounts to badly dressed zombies, Soisson doesn’t enhanced or open up the mythology.  On the contrary, he diminishes it.
As if I needed more evidence that Twinkies are the devil's
handiwork....

8) Soisson still hasn’t learned to avoid cliches.  There are long stretches where I was able to predict both the action and the dialogue of the movie exactly.  This extends to the ending, which is supposed to be chilling but ends up bland.

9) Given what we learned about the biology of angels, there is no way that Alison is what she is revealed to be.  If she was, the back story revealed in the previous film (which is called back to here) could not happen.

10) I have to wonder if the idiots who made Legion saw, and was inflenced by it more than the earlier, better entries in the series.  There’s a scene set in a seemingly abandoned church in the middle of a graveyard that mirrors that entire film.

Overall...marginally better because of Todd’s presence and a better performance by Wuhrer, it still stands as a pretty terrible film and a bad coda to what started out as a promisingly great film series.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ten Statements About....PATRICK (1978)

He's got...Marty Feldman eyes (and one Hell of a unibrow)...
1) While it’s obvious that this is notorious Australian producer Anthony Ginnane’s rip-off of Carrie, let’s give screenwriter Everett DeRoche and director Richard Franklin an A for effort in doing their best to make it something unique in and of itself without losing sight of what they’re supposed to be doing.

2) Boy, are all the guys in this film dicks.  Whether we’re talking the husband who tries to play rape Susan Penhaligon’s Kathy or the Cosplay Jim Carrey boyfriend who brags about their sex life to a cop or the doctor who casually kills a frog to make a point, they’re an unpleasant assortment of characters.

3) The spitting angle is unintentionally silly, and is thankfully downplayed when Kathy unintentionally speaks one of the film’s funnier lines.  Besides, the angle where Robert Thompson’s Patrick communicates with Kathy via the electric typewriter is way creepier.

4) While I don’t think it’s as much of a liability as in other horror films, this is a very long, very slow moving film.  Franklin seems to be more interested in creating atmosphere than moving the story along, resulting in some grinding of the plot.  If it lost roughly five to ten minutes, it might be improved.
Somebody used that Real Doll a bit too hard....

5) ...and my nominee for what could be lost are those involving Rod Mullinar’s Ed being stuck in an elevator.  It happens suddenly at the beginning of the second act, and we’re frequently treated to cutaways of him sitting around in this elevator with his hands bandaged thanks to a previous burn scene.  Those scenes take up what seems to be an awful lot of time in that third act, and could be cut as many of the scenes around them conveys the problem Kathy faces in locating Ed.

6) It’s a little thing, but those weird, almost comical sound effects that sometime accompany the manifestation of Patrick’s powers distract from the film as a whole.  The sound effect accompanying Robert Helpmann’s Dr. Roget trying to take an axe to the door of Patrick’s room is unintentionally in its ‘boingcrackle’ hilarity.

7) Keeping in mind that Franklin probably never expected his film to be viewed in a high definition format, some of the practical effects just don’t hold up.  There’s a dummy in particular, the after effects of an electrocution, that looks like, well, a not very convincing replica of the woman who is electrocuted.

8) I really have to wonder how much of Patrick is Robert Thompson, and if there was a dummy involved.  Thompson is only required to move/react for maybe two minutes and the rest of it is Patrick lying in bed literally staring into space.  If that performance is all Thompson, it is impressive.
Don't try to win a staring contest with Patrick...

9)  Okay, I get that Penhaligon was English, and Ginnane and Franklin tried to make the film sound less Australian for international markets....but she sounded Australian, which made the whole ‘first time working in this country’ thing make no sense.

10) While I’m sure Franklin intended the electrocution death to be the big scare, the one moment that made me jump was much more subtle, involving Dr. Roget and a frog.

Overall...a fairly interesting film (and a historically important one given its place in Ozploitation history and the career of Franklin) that may be deliberate in its pace but does manage to entertain.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY: UPRISING (2004)

"Yes, Watson--I mean Alison--making this sequel was
elementary."
"God created the Earth in seven days.  This is the eighth."

1) So we go from Vigo Mortensen’s wonderfully quirky and creepy Lucifer in a key supporting role to....Cosplay Bernard Cumberbatch in what amounts to a starring role.

Not to evoke a cliche, but O, How The Mighty Have Fallen.

2) This is so obviously a stand alone horror film retrofitted to become a Prophecy sequel, and no amount of references to ‘monkeys’ and an AIM Chat with ‘Joseph_1995‘(Really, movie?  REALY?) will convince me otherwise.

3) I’m one of the few men of my generation who doesn’t get Kari Wuhrer and actually doesn’t find her attractive at all.  And her Alison doesn’t quite work.  She’s required to be this broken woman, and the most Wuhrer manages is to appear half asleep.  She’s barely a type, let alone a character.

4) The reason the revelation concerning John Light’s Reigert doesn’t work is simple--writer/director Joel Soisson tips his hand waaaay too early, relying on our assuming things based on the original trilogy to hide his real identity.  Plus, you know, he’s the only guy who wears all black, so there’s that.
This pretty much is all Kari Wuhrer does throughout the
whole film....

5) While I give the film credit for actually setting their Rumanian shot film in Rumania, there’s no reason for it to be set in Rumania....especially given that one of your main characters is American, and the other two are British (what, Lucifer doesn’t know how to speak Rumanian?).

6) Okay, I get that there could be body swapping demons in this universe because the mythology never said they didn’t exist.  But it’s obviously a cost cutting measure (you know, like shooting in Rumania) to avoid any sort of special effects....

7) You know, Soisson was involved in the original trilogy.  So he has to be aware of how, in his effort to force his film into Prophecy continuity, he contradicts some of the mythology of those films.  Justifying how the demon Belial kills people by ripping out their hearts because ‘the heart is the seat of the soul’ only muddles what was established in the original trilogy.  And deciding suddenly that angels don’t have bodies and have to grab ‘skin suits’ is insanely silly.
Yep...pretty much how I felt watching this crap....

8) So why exactly did you hire Doug ‘Pinhead’ Bradley and shove him in a nothing role just so you can have him have a short conversation with Cosplay Benedict Cumberbatch?  It’s not like the conversation is, you know, interesting or anything.

9)  Especially given that the first film concerned ‘the original Bible,’ you know what would be an interesting MacGuffin for these last two films?  Anything but another crazy supernatural Bible.

10) I think the biggest problem with this film is that it seems to toss away the themes of faith and religion in favor of what amounts to a haunted house story and the way the tragedy contained within the house affects the children.  All the Prophecy gewgaws draped over the film can’t hide how gratuitous and inconsequential they are.

Overall...an awful, badly written and directed film that tries to hide its lack of ideas and characterization behind the name of a much more intriguing film.  Pretty much the bottom of the barrel.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ten Statements About....PHENOMENA (1984)

It's Jennifer Connelly playing with a blog...there's a fetish for
that, isn't there?
1) You want some proof that Dario Argento is interested solely in the moment and not in the story?  Look at how the killer turns out to be a character who literally appears in the beginning, disappears completely from the film, only to reappear in the third act to behave totally in opposition to how her behavior was in that long ago first scene.

2) Supposedly, Argento intended this to be ‘a fairy tale for adults’....and once you know that information, you can see the Brothers Grimm influence throughout, from the evil house in the woods to the kindly old wise man to the guardian spirit saving our heroine.  Okay, granted the guardian spirit in this case is a mass of bugs, but still....

3) You know, people always focus on the weird gore when it comes to Argento and they don’t realize the man has a real eye.  There are a number of compositions in this movie that use color to draw the eye.  Some of the shots of Jennifer Connelly’s Jennifer walking through these vast fields really pop because of Argento’s decision to have Connelly wear an Alice-In-Wonderland-style all white dress.  And speaking of Connelly....
"So I'm going to slash Daria Nicoldi and bite Jennifer
Connelly's thumb...anything else, Don?"

4) ...for someone assaying her second film role in a movie whose director is notorious for putting his female leads through the wringer, Connelly really acquits herself amazingly well.  She manages to both be creepy and otherworldly while also keeping the audience empathy, primarly through the genuinely sweet interactions she has both with Donald Pleasance’s  McGregor and Federica Mastroianni’s Sophie.

5) What a freakin’ weird soundtrack, switching from heavy metal songs to long time Argento collaborators Goblin to cues from the original Dawn of The Dead.  Admittedly there are moment where this strange Frankensteined things works, but there are other times when you know the soundtrack should be underplaying things and Argento has chosen to have Lemmy from Motorhead screaming in your ear.

6) It’s interesting how Patrick Bauchau looks vaguely sinister even when he’s playing a good guy cop who’s actively interested in helping Jennifer.  Of course, this being a film set in Argento’s Universe, he ends up being not so competent, and dies in the third act.
It's a woman's head going through plate glass....there's a
fetish for that somewhere...oh, yeah, in Argento's house!

7) It’s obvious that even though Tenebrae was made between this and the two ‘Mother’ films, this movie is much more influenced by the look and feel of Suspiria and Inferno.  Argento is still exploring monochromatic compositions and unconventional set-ups, and his sometimes infuriating habit of throwing stuff in not because it strengthens the story but because it contributes to the feel he’s trying to achieve (I’m looking at you, sleep walking Jennifer Connelly) is very much in the forefront here.

8) Even though she slashed Daria Nicoldi and bit Jennifer Connelly’s thumb, I am struck by the performance of Tanga as McGregor’s chimpanzee assistant Inga.  Whether through intelligence or manipulation by her owner, Tanga manages to convey actual emotion, especially affection towards her master and rage at his killer.  And while we can see Inga as one of Jennifer’s protectors, we also realize that she is acting out of grief for the man who showed her care and affection.

9)  Considering what Argento has his then-wife Nicoldi do, and what happens to his daughter Fiore...well, he must have conflicted feelings about his family.

10) You know, given how much is made of how sinister Dalila Di Lazzaro’s Headmistres is and how antagonistic she is to Jennifer, having her literally drop out of the picture whole makes no sense.  She doesn’t even have enough screen time to qualify as a red herring.

Overall...one of those films that made Argento’s reputation before he went diving in the shit barrel, it’s an essential view for people interested in what we all see in the man, and for people curious about seeing Jennifer Connelly at her very beginnings.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY III: THE ASCENT (1999)

Yep, Chris....you're born to be wild, alright...
“Last night, I dreamed the end of one history and the beginning of another. The darkness was met by the coming of a great warrior. I dreamed of you. You look smaller in person."

1) As cheap as The Prophecy II  looks in relationship to The Prophecy, this film looks cheaper still--in fact, it looks exactly like a microbudgeted direct-to-video sequel with almost no money for special effects or continuity (or, judging from the ‘What Does God Cares’ sign, to repaint a banner).

2) The fundamental flaw in this film is simply this: we don’t have any real point of view character to identify with.  Not only are the two leads only sketched in in the vaguest way (Steve Hynter’s Joseph gets more characterization than either David Buzzotta’s Danyael or Karyn Ann Buffer’s Magdelena), they don’t have nearly enough screen time for us to give a damn about these ciphers.

3) Boy, is Vincent Spano’s Zophael a boring ass villain.  At no point is he threatening or scary, and he simply doesn’t have the gravitas to convey the contempt for the ‘monkeys’ that Christopher Walken’s Gabriel had in the first two films.  He is never convincing as a threat, and the moment where he tries to swerve Magdalena does not work because he never comes off as sincere.  And the big bad he works for, Scott Clevedon’s Pyriel, is such a wuss Spano doesn’t even get the rub of being the lackey of someone cool.
"What do you mean I'm a boring bad guy?  Look at the size
of my rod!!!:

4) You know who does manage to actually fashion a character?  Brad Dourif.  Dourif’s unnamed character (he’s referred to simply as ‘Zealot’ in the credits) is little more than an extended cameo, but his one sorta monologue brings an incredible amount of nuance and energy that this film sorely needs.  Pity he’s given his pass outta here when less than ten minutes are up.

5) You know that this franchise is being forced to sustain itself beyond its sell-by date when they make the villain the hero...and with very little provocation.  Walken’s Gabriel is seen as Danyael’s Guardian Angel just because, and becomes redeemed in the end just because.  Admittedly, he has some of the better lines (and sells those lines with a skill Spano wishes he had), but his purpose in this film seems weirdly counterintuitive to how Gabriel has been portrayed up until this point.

6) I will give this film credit, though--for roughly ten minutes in the third act, director Patrick Lussier breathes a little life into this lifeless film.  It’s not surprising that most of this ten minutes involves tying in this mess with the first film and ends abruptly with the appearance of Pyriel.

7) I truly detest scripts that alternate between the worst cliches (“I’m not afraid of you.” “You should.”) and clumsy attempts at glib wit (“Genocide.  It happens now and again.”).  And this script by Joel Soisson and Carl Dupre seems to revel in its alternating between the two.
"Look at me!  I'm standing on top of a pile of bodies
while cosplaying Christ!  I must be bad ass!  Right?  Right?"

8) There’s a lot of choreographed fighting that I can’t help but think it’s just a punchy punchy run run....which draws more attention to how lightweight the plot of this film is.

9)  I can’t emphasize enough how dumb Pyriel is.  The big reveal of what he is is spoiled by an earlier scene of Joseph doing research, he’s given all this apocrypha without much explanation...and when he does appear, all he does is engage in a quippy conversation with Danyael and seemingly jumps onto the spear our ‘hero’ liberated from Zophael.  The guy does not justify being the ultimate horror that a trilogy of movies was built around.  Having Scott Clevendon portray him doesn’t help; when the thoroughly generic hero comes off as more vibrant than you, you’ve got a problem.

10) If you ask me, Karyn Ann Buffer was not cast for any acting skills--she doesn’t need any, as Magdelena is barely a stereotype or a cliche--but because quite frankly she has a spectacular ass that looks great in the jeans.

Overall...while there are glimmers of life in this cheapjack sequel, it’s overall a very aggravating slog even at less than ninety minutes.  At least it tries to wrap up the story neatly....

What do you mean I got two more sequels to get through?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE BLOB (1988)

"Hey...someone threw up in the center aisle...a LOT!"
“All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that's all I saw."
“The thing on that man's hand killed him and then it killed Paul, and whatever it is, it's getting bigger!”

1) Jeez, Chuck Russell....you sure take your time with starting this party.  That first couple of scenes start out sooooo slowly that I almost gave up on it.  Luckily I remember liking it when I saw it in college because things pick up.

2) I have to give this film props for the sheer ruthlessness of its body count.  While I certainly understand the Janet-Leigh-ification of Donovan Leitch’s Paul, I did not expect the film to follow through with the murder of a number of supporting characters I expected to see last the night--including one child!

3) Maybe it’s me, but I never quite bought Kevin Dillon (who, oddly enough, looks like what would happen if Kevin Bacon and Matt Dillon had a child) as the rebel Brian.  It’s obvious that he is aping Steve McQueen from the original, but there’s something missing that robs him of that quality.

4) I always thought Shawnee Smith was hella cute, but I’m struck by how, even at this early juncture,
Scream, Shawnee Smith...scream like the wind!
she has some real acting skill.  Meg could have been a nothing, cliched character, but Smith does give her life, nuance, and something of a backbone.  As such, she manages to cover for Dillon’s shortcomings and becomes the de facto central character.

5) This film’s major twist would never have worked without Joe Seneca.  Seneca plays Dr. Meadows very, very cagily; I love how, as we peel away the layers to find out what he truly is, we never quite lose the kindly doctor we first meet--and that makes him all the scarier.

6) And speaking of that twist--while I will certainly agree that it’s a reflection of the times in which this remake was made, I do think it’s a great swerve for people familiar with the original, and is another sign of All Bets Being Off.

7) God bless the 80‘s for giving us a horror film that focuses primarily on teenage characters with enough grue and grotesqueness that it garners an R rating.  You know that the studios would never allow that to stand today.  And speaking of the grotesqueness...
There' a phallic symbol joke just begging to be told here....

8) Given that we’re talking about the era of practical effects, this Blob is seriously scary.  It’s got an even more organic look than the original that’s positively disturbing.  Sure, there are a couple of clunky shots (including the one that was used on the film’s posters), but overall there’s a sense of immediacy to the creature.  Even when it switches to being somewhat obviously blue-screened in, it evokes fond memories of Ray Harryhausen.

9)  You know, I sometimes balk at how some horror films aren’t horror films, but are action movies with horror elements.  An argument can be made that this film slides into an action movie with horror elements in the third act...and yet, thanks to the script by Russell and Frank Darabont, I did not mind it.  Hell, I loved the way it sort of mimicked those 50‘s sci-fi films where it boils down to man beating the crap out of a giant monster.

10) Even though the small town is pretty much a cipher--I don’t think the place is even named--but the casting of some major character actors like Candy Clark, Art La Fluer and the great Del Close in key roles help flesh out the world by giving the populace a life of its own.

Overall...a fun, effective and gruesome update on a classic B-movie that’s been unjustly forgotten.