Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE EXORCIST (1973)

The only thing backwards looking about the film is
Regan herself....
“Where is Regan?"
“In here. With us.”

1) One of the reasons this film is so brilliant--and the scare scenes so shocking--is how Friedkin approaches it almost as a police procedural.  The clinical way in which the story unfolds, and the way it progresses, mirrors a mystery story.  Hell, it’s probably the only reason Lee J. Cobb’s Lt. Kinderman is in the film!

2) Part of the reason the key scenes continue to shock decades later is that these scenes are shot with an almost documentary-like clinicalness and without music.  What Friedkin seems to be doing is forcing us to realize these things are happening just because awful things happen to everyday people, and they happen without drama or elaboration....and that elevates what should be a shocking effects scene into something that feels all the more grotesque.

3) Supposedly Friedkin wanted Jack Nicholson for Father Karras, and Stacy Keach had been cast.  Thank God he changed his mind and cast Jason Miller.  In a film full of great faces, Miller’s is the best.  His craggy features and sad eyes speaks volumes of his inner conflict and his past before he even utters a word.  And when he utters those words, it makes us sympathize with him immediately.
There is no way any of the other, more famous actors could
do better than Jason Miller.

4) Yes, the film can be a little plodding in the first act--but I love how Friedkin uses the parallel structure contrasting Ellen Burstyn’s Chris’ life of leisure and her loving relationship with Linda Blair’s Regan and Father Karras’s more austere life and complicated (but no less loving) relationship with his mother.  Friedkin doesn’t judge or come out one way or the other when examining these two lives, but allows us to decide who is using their time on earth more wisely.

5) Okay, I’ll call it--there’s no reason for that beginning sequence in Iraq and connecting Regan’s possession with it.  If anything, it detracts from the concept that this horrible thing is happening at random.

6) As I watched the Extended Director’s Cut, I can safely say I didn’t care for the spider walk sequence.  It seems to detract from the very gradual and subtle turning of Regan into a vessel for Pazuzu, and doesn’t have nearly the impact the other scare scenes have.
One of the single most iconic images in 70's cinema...

7) You have to give Blair credit.  Yes, she’s a limited actress (something we cannot write off due to her youth once you take into account her full body of work), but she does work to make the bond between her and her mother, and her physical acting as she slowly falls under Pazuzu’s control is very effective.

8) As scary and disturbing as the scenes of Regan possessed are, the single most uncomfortable scene for me involves the spinal tap and encephalogram.  The sheer quietness of the scene makes her cries of pain sound like rifle shot.

9) One of the things Friedkin excels at (and still excels at, as witness from some of his recent efforts) is making the best use of limited spaces.  So much of this movie takes place in a single bedroom--hell, there’s really only two or three sets where most of the action takes place--that it needs someone of Friedkin’s spacial creativity to break up the visual monotony.

10) Reasons This Film Could Not Be Made #57: The bittersweet ending, where Father Karras knowingly sacrifices himself by damning himself to Hell, would never stand. And because it would never stand, the film’s ambivalent nature would collapse in on itself in an instant.

Overall...still pretty hard to watch after 40 years, a seminal movie for students of horror.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)

"I am the Devil, and I endorse this message."
"Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle."

1) I am loathe to call this a horror movie, even though there are horrific things within these 91 minutes.  The combination of Neil Jordan’s surrealism, the source material by Angela Carter and the unconventional narrative structure makes this something singularly unique that has to be experienced so that each person can determine what it is to them.

2) And speaking of horrific things--I don’t care how much it’s obviously an animatronic, the transformation of Stephen Rea’s Young Groom into a wolf is absolutely grotesque, and pure nightmare fuel.

3) Of course, one of the amazing things about this film is how Jordan took a feminist sociological text and turned it into a film that thoroughly disguises that it’s an anthology film with big heaping piles of dream logic woven in.

4) Casting Angela Lansbury as Granny was a masterstroke.  Lansbury is able to walk the thin line between being a kindly relic of an older age (even in the medieval setting her segments occur in) and being a very sinister presence.  Thus we sort of agree with Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen’s mother that the girl spends too much time with her, but also feel awful when the fate we know is coming for Granny comes.
"Crackd mirror on the wall/who's the wolfiest of them all?"

5) I’ll be the first to admit that the dream-within-a-dream-where-stories-are-told structure makes the narrative unclear--but that might be exactly what Jordan intended.  He wants us to be disoriented and confused, just as we would be if we were dreaming this narrative.

6) Just as I think Lansbury’s casting was genius, so do I think the casting of  Sarah Patterson as Rosaleen is brilliant.  She is able to convey that weird mix of awkwardness, innocence and confidence of a girl on the cusp of womanhood, and manages to reflect what others try to feed her--thus she becomes a miniature of Granny when interacting with her mother, and her mother when interacting with the boy in the village who is courting her.  It’s a tiny little complex performance that is a perfect fit for what Jordan and Carter are trying to achieve.

7) I think every movie could be vastly improved by having Devil Terence Stamp rock up in a Rolls Royce driven by a female albino chauffer holding a skull to hand out gifts.
/"Nightmare FUUUUUEEEEEL!"

8) For a film with a number of werewolf transformations spread out over its various stories, I am struck by how Jordan makes sure each one is unique in and of itself.  While most people would remember the ‘wolf out of the mouth’ transformation that became the film’s poster, the one that’s the most visually striking is the mass transform taking place in a shattered mirror.  That Jordan was able to give us this variety in a film that’s obviously low budget is amazing.

9) A lot of the main thread was shot on set, as were key scenes of the individual stories....and I think this once more feeds into the dream-like tone Jordan is going for.  When the skies are colored just a little bit wrong, you have to accept that you’re not in anything close to reality.

10) The last story, featuring Danielle Dax, is so sad thanks to Dax’s physical performance.  And even though the story says more about the teller than the character within, it provides an excellent coda to the film and a rationale for Rosaleen’s decision at the end.

Overall...a singularly original piece of work that weaves a number of disparate elements to produce something that stands out from other horror films of the period.  I cannot recommend this film enough.

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

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
"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.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY II (1997)

"I'm an angel and I oppose Chris...when do I get my check?"
“Ironic, isn't it? An archangel needs a monkey to get a vision from God."

1) Wow....not even ten minutes into this less-than-ninety minutes sequel and two of the more three dimensional characters get written out--one just gets a voice over before bursting into a CGI flock of birds.

2) You remember how I praised the original film for taking the time to create a credible mythology and backstory for their angelic war?  Well, forget that.  This whole film has a strong whiff of ‘just go with it’ from beginning to end; everything, from the way Christopher Walken’s Gabriel returns to Earth to the way he is defeated, seems made up on the spot.

3) Jennifer Beals’ Valerie fares a little bit better than Virginia Madsen’s Katherine from the previous film--but that might be because there’s a lot less required of her.  She’s much more reactive than proactive, and admittedly there are some moments toward the end where Beals acquits herself quite well, including the final confrontation between her and Gabriel.
"So there are angels and they're at war...when do I get my

4) Here is where Walken just dives right into Full On Walken Mode--his Gabriel this time is all quirks, wisecracks and callbacks.  Even though he does spend some time paying lip service to his jealousy of humanity, the script by Matt Greenberg and Greg Spence has robbed a lot of that jealousy of the poetic nature originator Gregory Widen gave it in the first film.

5) I find it fascinating how all the life and humor of Steve Hynter’s Joseph has been sucked out of him in his one scene where he rants at Valerie and fills in some of the backstory.  My impulse is that Joseph was turned into a grump solely to make Gabriel the most vivid character in the film.

6) ....and that’s further borne out by how freaking dull the other angelic characters are.  Russell Wong’s Danyael, who is supposed to be the male lead of the flick, is colorless and without life (his most distinctive characteristic is his nationality, which sticks out amongst the all white angelic hosts), and Eric Roberts’ Michael is so sonombulistic that you can imagine Roberts watching the clock the whole time.
"So we decided to tear it down and put up a Galleria..."

7) So, ummm....that’s Eden?  I guess someone took the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ literally.

8) I think nothing shows this film’s inconsistency--not only with its predecessor, but with itself--as much as Britney Murphy’s Izzy, who is supposed to be Gabriel’s companion in the way both Adam Goldberg and Amanda Plummer were in the first film.  The script is extremely fickle with Izzy--she acts all tortured and resistant like Goldberg and Plummer did when the script needs her to, and makes her act like a full on accomplice when it needs that.  It robs her of the little shading these previous characters had.

(Although admittedly, she has the best laugh line in the film.)

9)  Given how this is pretty much confined to Los Angeles proper (although I suspect a large portion of the film is Vancouver-Pretending-To-Be-LA), the film doesn’t have the beauty the first film had.  Quite the opposite--there’s a real sense of tawdriness and cheapness to the way it looks and feels.

10) Even though I have no idea whatsoever how the film ended up there (and I hated the last shot, which had that ‘nudge in the ribs’ sort of overobviousness), I did like the fate of Gabriel...and it’s one of the few times in this movie where Walken underplays the role.

Overall...even with a few rare grace notes, this makes all the mistakes the original avoided.  Probably best to avoid unless you’re committed to watch the whole series.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ten Statements About....FRAILTY (2001)

This may not look like a weapon of divine retribution...
“You're my son, and I love you more than my own life. But you know what's funny about all of this, Fenton? I'm afraid of you."

1) One of the brilliant things in a film filled with brilliant things is Bill Paxton’s performance as the unnamed patriarch of the Meiks clan....because he is able to convey that he’s a good father even as he becomes obsessed with his new calling in life.  This makes his decision midway through the film thoroughly logical (even as that decision may have led to both his fate and the fate of his sons).

2) I have to wonder if writer Brent Hanley is a fan of writer Jim Thompson; not only does the film have a narrative feel similar to Thompson’s work, part of the film’s resolution seems to quote an aspect of one of his most famous (and twice filmed) novels, The Killer Inside Me.

3) I am so grateful that Paxton knew that the violence in the film needed to be implied.  If we actually saw the ax murders on screen it might distract from the fact that this film is purportedly a psychological character piece about how one person copes with the rest of his family being, in his mind, thoroughly and utterly insane.
...but this man would disagree....

4) One thing I did not care for is how Hanley cements the bulk of the film as happening in 1979.  Given the universalities of the themes this film explores, the way the film stops so Adam and Fenton Meiks can debate about whether they should go see Meatballs or The Warriors or who’s the funniest character on The Dukes of Hazard distracts from the story while adding nothing.  The script would have been better served to keep the time frame ambiguous, to give the past segments more of a ‘fairy tale’ feel.

5) God bless Powers Boothe.  He’s one of those rare actors who can look like he’s working both sides of the fence in the same damn flick and never look like he’s faking one or the other.

6) You know why Matthew McConaughey is so perfect as our narrator?  His eyes have such a haunted look to them throughout the film.  Even though Paxton makes it pretty clear early on that this is an unreliable narrator film, McConaughey manages to make us forget it every time we look into his eyes.  After all, there’s so much pain in them, how can we not believe that he went through the horrific moral quandary depicted in his tale?
Sometimes family advice is not good advice...

7) This film would not work without the effective performances by Luke Askew and Jeremy Sumpter.  The twist that fuels the third act would not have worked without one of them creating enough of a resonance with McConaughey’s performance that we take something said in the present day as gospel.

8) I guess one of the reasons I found the twist so effective is how Paxton makes sure to make the trappings of Pa’s obsession seem so ordinary. When these three divine weapons turn out to be an axe, a pair of workman’s gloves and a lead pipe, we tend to downgrade the grandiosity of his delusions.  And by downgrading him, we are taken off guard when we realize the nature of what is really happening.

9)  I’m sure a lot of people balked at the supernatural element that’s introduced in Act Three...but even though Paxton gives us reasons not to believe there is the supernatural in this world, at no point does he ever definitively say there is no supernatural.  When the presence of the superatural is revealed, the moments where it presents itself in the first two acts do not contradict this new information.

10) I don’t know which is goofier--the dream that results from moonlight shining on a trophy, or the dream that shows a fully armored angel emerging from the undercarriage of an auto....but maybe that goofiness is intentional, and plays into the impact Paxton wants the big reveal to have.

Overall...a very nuanced horror film that addresses the concept of morality emphasizing atmosphere over gore, cleverly directed and well written.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Ten Statements About....THE PROPHECY (1995)

"I'm a tweety bird...CAW! CAW!"
“Do you know how you got that dent, in your top lip? Way back, before you were born, I told you a secret, then I put my finger there and I said "Shhhhh!"

1) I love the care and attention with which director Gregory Widen maintains his mythology for this film, especially his ‘biology’ of the angels within.  Something as simple as the way the preferred state of rest for angels is perching like a bird adds a degree of otherness that gives the film something extra.

2) Yes, this film is carried mainly by Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken...but the intriguing thing is that this is Walken at the beginning of that phase in his career.  As such, Gabriel is a fully rounded character full of rage, pride, arrogance and jealousy with only peeks of the Walken-as-Walken quirkiness coming through (I’m looking at you, trumpet lessons scene...)

3) What I wouldn’t give for a film which has Viggo Mortensen’s Lucifer front and center.  Every second he’s on screen in the third act, your eyes are drawn to him.  And thankfully the script never loses sight of how Lucifer is motivated solely by selfish reasons.

(Hell, what I wouldn’t give for a film where Mortensen’s Lucifer and Peter Stomare’s First Of The Fallen from Constantine hang out together....)

4) I honestly don’t know if the whole Amerind aspect of the story has any point whatsoever.  I suspect you could take out everything related to the reservation and still have a full story.  Maybe it’s because Widen had cast Moriah Shining Dove Snyder (who should be called Shining Teeth considering how bright those choppers are) in the central role of Mary.  Given how limited Ms. Snyder’s acting range is, maybe the film would have been served better to have gone with a different actress and dispense with the gratuitious Amerind Ritualizing.
"He ain't human...so I ain't taking him to Mendy's!"

5) The thing that always bothers me about Elias Koteas as a leading man is how generic he is.  There’s nothing wrong with his performance per se--there are a couple of moments where he acquits himself quite well, in fact.  But he tends to melt into the background and remind me of other, better actors.  In this film in particular he keeps blurring into a sort of lumpen version of Adrien Brody crossed with Robert deNiro.

6) This film needed Steve Hynter’s Joseph.  The first half of this film is so dour that we needed someone like him to provide much needed comic relief.  Hynter plays Joseph well, as someone secure enough in his intelligence that he can goof a bit...and if the facts are the facts, he won’t disbelieve that.

7) I don’t know who the person was who thought Virginia Madsen would look good as a brunette is, but he needs to be stopped.

8)  ...although I wonder if my response to Madsen is due not to her appearance, but because her character Katherine is all over the place.  Widen’s script seems to force so many aspects on her--she’s weirdly placed in the role of surrogate mother to Mary, she’s got this teacher thing going, she has to be the love interest, she has to be an exposition dump--that she becomes diffuse.  Unlike Koteas’ Thomas, who does have a single strong throughline, Katherine is everything to everyone, and becomes nothing to no one.
"And then David Cronenberg snuck up behind me and
whispered 'Boo!'  He does that a lot."

9) I don’t know how I feel about Eric Stoltz’s Samuel.  I get the impression he’s trying to be a bad ass at times, and he fails...but there are other moments where he’s called on to be a manipulator, especially when he reaches Chimney Rock, and there he excels.  If Widen had lessened the former and emphasized the later, we might have ended up with a more effective character.

10) It’s kind of sad that this was Widen’s only theatrical film as a director.  Throughout this film, there are lots of striking visual moments that indicate that he could’ve been a real contender, even if he stuck to genre filmmaking.

Overall...a rather striking horror film both visually and narratively in spite of its flaws.  Granted, I wish that Dimension hadn’t tried to force a franchise out of this one little gem (four sequels!), but taken on it’s own it’s worth a watch.