Welcome to Four Horsemen Films!

Here at Four Horsemen Films, we're dedicated to some of the very best and worst cinematic masterpieces you know, love, and despise. Think of us as Bad Movies for Bad People, or as a liaison to the inner sanctum of cinema. Or, just think of us as quick and entertaining reads. That's what Four Horsemen Films is all about.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Eegah (1962)

Eegah (1962)
Written by: Bob Wehling

Directed by: Nicolas Merriwether (Arch Hall, Sr.)

Starring: Arch Hall, Jr., Richard Kiel, Marilyn Manning, William Watters(Arch Hall, Sr.)

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
When attempting to review, discuss, or even think about a movie like Eegah, one must step back and attempt to admire the film for how poor it truly is. One must also reconsider their assessment and make sure not to intrude or infringe on the work of Mystery Science Theater 3000. What once was a 40-year old movie just considered bad is now a cult classic that sits atop its own plateau as downright awful. Easily one of the top 5, worst films ever made, Eegah just out and out blows.

Here’s the idea in a nutshell: Eegah is a prehistoric caveman living in the desert who seemingly minds his own business each day. Life is what we might call simple for this humongous eyesore, that is, until he comes across teenagers after a raucous party on one ill-fated evening. Suddenly, and without warning (even to the viewer, who by this point, can simply start hating life), Eegah is smitten with a young woman named Roxy, whose father just so happens to be some sort of expert in the field (of cavemen?) and will attempt to study the creature. Throw in a jealous boyfriend for some extra laughs and we’ve got all the instruments of destruction needed to compile on fecal cocktail.

Roxy’s father Robert has encouraged his daughter to act as if she truly loves Eegah so he can further his research and hopefully keep them both safe (CAVEMAN WANT ERECTION, NO SUBSTITUTES!), but things do eventually go awry as the two escape back to civilization with Flintstone hot on their heels. Meanwhile, and as if all of this isn’t enough of your daily schlock dosage, Roxy’s actual boyfriend Tom is in the midst of a huge rockabilly career that parallels the likes of the Honky Tonk Man and Jeff Jarrett. If I have to explain that joke to you, then I apologize. It’s a wrestling thing. Look it up.

His singing, like most things in the film (including the hand-drawn credits) is just another heaping helping of terrible, this time combined with unintentional hilarity. By the time more of these beach party, go-go dancing teens show up (to give the feel of those swinging sixties), Eegah is mighty pissed off and out for revenge (CAVEMAN SMASH!). What follows is a tale of one man’s lust for modern-day boobs in a world he doesn’t quite understand, nor does he even attempt to comprehend. Throw in a few incestuous sequences between father and daughter, more issues on the editing room floor (WATCH OUT FOR SNAKES), and even an appearance by the notorious Cash Flagg, and you’ve got a great waste of 90 minutes.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Arch Hall, Sr. seemingly refuses to go by his own name during the production of this movie as he has not one, but TWO different pseudonyms he’s credited as having in the film. Not only is this a cinematic travesty, but he’s creepy as hell when onscreen with his “daughter.” Anyone else think Marilyn Manning was banging the Director?

Best Name in the Cast: See Above. Wincest.

Quote of the Film:
“Watch out for snakes!” -Arch Hall, Sr. (how does he do that without moving his mouth?)

Final Thoughts: Go ahead. Try and sell me on the schlock value of this movie as some sort of art piece that stands out as an avant-garde section of cinema. I respond with this humble, yet somewhat understated piece of wisdom: Caveman movies suck. Think about the short list of movies that were written about a caveman, and you’ll discover a lot of low cards in that hand. Well, with the exception of Encino Man, they’re almost all low cards. Man, Encino Man is a great movie. Why couldn’t I review that?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)
Written By: Tim Ryan

Directed By: William Beaudine

Starring: Bela Lugosi, Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo, Charlita, Muriel Landers, Mickey Simpson, Steve Calvert

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Late in his career, movie megastar Bela Lugosi had the wheels come off. While he finished up with Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space (joining the ranks with Gene Kelly in Xanadu and Joan Crawford in Trog as starring in one of the worst last films of a career ever), he was in a bit of a spiral once he left the genuine horror business that made him so successful. Perhaps the best example of this downward depression is the 1952 “classic” Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla.

Yes, that’s the name of the movie, apparently penned to drum up ticket sales by making damn sure that you knew Bela was the star. He played Dr. Zabor, and, in a true stretch of his acting abilities, was a mad scientist. That’s right, Bela fell back into yet another typical device of the time, typecasting. The studio wanted to cast this action-comedy with Bela in his typical evil role, but since it was supposed to have humor, they planned to have Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis play the buddy role on the opposite side.

Movies of this time were a lot like this. Many buddy pictures were thin on plot and budget, but managed to showcase the stars in a manner that made the whole “good” feature of a film a moot point. The only issue was Martin and Lewis had no desire to film this one. So rather than scrap the project altogether (a wise decision, maybe?), it fell into the hands of “America’s New Comedy Team” in Duke Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo. Two young, veritable unknowns to the Hollywood community and community at large, they were carbon copies cast to sound, act, and even appear, as if they were Martin and Lewis. There is even some speculation that the two characters were to be named Martin and Lewis. Clever.

So anyway, these imperfect clones find their way onto an island in the South Pacific, where, by some stroke of dumb luck, they encounter a lovely native princess in Nona and the evil Dr. Zabor. Duke falls head over heels for Nona, but he’ll have to contend with the dastardly tactics of Zabor, who also happens to be in love with the princess. What would usually follow is some kind of murder, but once again, since this is a comedy, Zabor instead decides to turn Duke into a stammering, singing gorilla. Oh yes, a man in a gorilla suit. This is fucking gold.

From here on out, we are subjected to some very, very bad humor and awkward racism as Sammy attempts to rescue his friend, animal pals, and why not Nona as well in an epic conquest that can only be described as, well, bad. Duke and Sammy are terrible onscreen and have very little chemistry as buddies. They stutter through one-note jokes and neither understands the majority of their blocking. It is even written in that Zabor, who, again, if you forgot, is played by Bela Lugosi, looks “familiar” to Duke. This tongue-in-cheek humor is just another plot point that they chose to bring up over and over rather than move past in just a few seconds.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, I must refer once again that the movie is called Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, and yet, Lugosi is playing a character. So the movie might as well be "Bela Lugosi Fucks Your Mother" and it will have just as much significance.

Member of the Crew Who Should’ve Been Fired: Sammy Petrillo takes the cake for being so overbearingly annoying that he not only overshadows his partner Duke Mitchell but he makes you want to rip your ears off and stick them in the doom sphere. I mean, if you haven’t figured out that he’s ripping of Jerry Lewis by every mention already, just read the back of the DVD case. He is listed as having a “flawless” imitation. It was so “flawless,” in fact, that the case neglects to mention he was sued by Lewis for stealing the character. Lewis won.

Best Name in the Cast: Steve Calvert is a God among men in regards to typecasting. He’s played the man in the gorilla suit in nearly every film he’s ever been in, including this one, and The Ape.

Quote of the Film:
“This looks like Death not only took a holiday, but he got a hangover from taking it.” -Sammy Petrillo

Final Thoughts: This movie really pisses me off. Seriously, I’ve been calm and collected (for the most part) whilst reviewing this over-ambitious escapade that plays more like a crappy tourist’s guide than an actual art piece, but I can’t hold my emotions in when watching, or discussing, Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. The plot sucks. The acting (mostly) sucks. The writing sucks. The print sucks. The editing sucks. The Gorilla sucks. Lugosi made this film after a notorious comment about wanting to be in more comedic pictures. If he were still alive, I’d like to see what would happen when Lugosi stars in a follow-up that I’d write, entitled "Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Beatdown." Hilarity ensues, I’m sure.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Ape (1940)

The Ape (1940)

Written By: Richard Carroll and Curt Siodmak

Directed By: William Nigh

Starring: Boris Karloff, Maris Wrixon, Gertrude W. Hoffman, Henry Hall, Gene O’Donnell

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
With the prospect of this being Old School Month around the website, I took it upon myself to start the show off right with an induction so positively bad that it was “can’t miss” in more ways than one.

If you’ve never heard of The Ape and yet you were familiar with the names attached to it, you would naturally assume that the film was just that: “can’t miss.” It should have been an instant success that would rival the monster movies of the 30’s like no other. After all, it had Boris FREAKING Karloff playing the lead role and was co-written by Curt Siodmak, who penned The Wolfman years earlier. Can’t miss, right? Wrong.

Back during a time when actors and actresses were contracted by different studios (rather than the freelance vigilantes they are today), Boris Karloff grew increasingly pessimistic that he would renew his current contract in the late 30’s with Universal Pictures. He had already become a star due to the Universal masterpieces he was in while playing Frankenstein. Though he owed much of that success to on-again-off-again rival Bela Lugosi (who Karloff owes his career success to after Lugosi rejected the Frankenstein role), the two did not exactly see eye to eye and neither did Karloff with Universal Pictures. When his contract expired in 1939, he become one of the most sought after free agents in all of Hollywood. However, his stock plummeted upon one of his first post-Universal releases, that being The Ape.

Though we have become accustomed to the synopsis review of films from the modern era, it must be refreshing to know that The Ape provides us with just as awful a plot as anything coming into theaters nowadays. Karloff plays a somewhat humbled, somewhat mad scientist in search of a polio vaccine (at that time unheard of, see: Roosevelt, Franklin Delano) for a young woman. He requires human spinal fluid for his experimental procedures to uh…proceed, but has yet to make much procession (Damn that sentence was awful). Now, by this point, I know what question is just burning in the back of your brains: where the fuck is “the ape” character we spoke of for the movie called The Ape?

Turns out that “the ape” is an escaped primate from a local circus who has more than his fair share of run-ins with Karloff throughout the movie. As injured patients show up at Karloff’s doorstep (and he fails miserably to help them or to cure polio correctly), he has no choice but to clash with the ape itself in what should be a terrifying and bone-chilling sequence of cinema history. This, however, is not even remotely the case. For the first time ever (at least on this website), we have an ape who is nothing more than a man dressed in a generic gorilla suit. I challenge you to find the realism in this, but hey, it was 1940, and time was tight to churn out 60-minute epics like this one.

The majority of the film is spent with the most clueless townspeople either guessing where the ape could be hiding or simply becoming his next victims. When the film reaches its dramatic “swerve” ending, Karloff gets to due his favorite things in all of his movies: die. Truth be told, Boris really does get off on a death sequence and soliloquy before the final frame. Maybe I spoiled it a bit by telling you that he buys the farm, but if you know anything about Karloff, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Maris Wrixon might be the worst actor in the all of the 1940’s. Her portrayal of a polio victim isn’t so much sad because of the polio, but rather the fact that it doesn’t kill her quicker. That would make for some entertaining schlock.

Best Name in the Cast: It’s hard to be so successful when you are not mentioned in the original credits for the film. Yet for I. Stanford Jolley, the “ape” trainer of the film, life sure has to be sweet. I’d like you to remember that the ape used in this film was nothing more than a man in a suit. Did he train the man to walk around in the suit? Or to fling his arms like an ape, or better yet, the way a man in an ape suit would fling his arms like an ape? How did he stay on the payroll for this movie? (Truth of the matter, his character was the ape trainer, but I found his death to be not nearly as comical as pondering what he trained.)

Quote of the Film:
“But you never could lift them before!” -Boris Karloff responds to his patient’s (bound in a wheelchair) revelation about her legs not lifting. Very subtle.

Final Thoughts: You know for a movie that calls itself The Ape, I didn’t get to see a whole lot of, well, ape. In fact, the ape in question shows up for less than 10 minutes onscreen, and the majority of it is spent thrashing about in an awkward and clunky suit. Karloff breezes through as the only actor in the film who can, you know, act. In fact, he puts so much into this picture that you can visibly see he’s out to prove that he never needed Universal Pictures or Bela Lugosi to make him a star in the first place. While he excels marvelously in his efforts, he fails to recognize that the people surrounding him both on and off the scene just tear the movie down to new levels of diabolical madness. Karloff’s demostration of overacting and overreacting (again, death sequence) makes for some funny fodder, but he certainly proved why The Ape isn’t mentioned in the same breath with Frankenstein during his career, that is, unless that breath is the statement: “The Ape sure was a hell of a lot worse than Frankenstein.”

Friday, November 21, 2008

Fatty Drives the Bus (1999)

Fatty Drives the Bus (1999)

Written By: Mick Napier

Directed By: Mick Napier

Starring: Scot Robinson, Joe Bill, Ken Manthey, Dave Adler, Mike Coleman, Susan Messing

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
When I originally posted the poll to determine just what films would make it into reader request month, I thought including this Tromatic-gem (that’s right, it’s a Troma Team Release all over again) would be taken more as a joke and would bottom out in the voting. Thanks, everyone, for once again proving me wrong and making me review a movie that, by all accounts, should be totally unwatchable.

That said, Fatty Drives the Bus is the kind of movie that you can take something away from. Forget about the multi-million dollar success flicks you’ve seen in the past or plan to see soon. In fact, scrap all movies that both the Academy and the MPAA recommend. If you get the chance, take a seat, present an open mind, and be delighted at the wonder that is Fatty Drives the Bus.

This movie features no actors you’ve ever really heard of. Director Mick Napier’s other screen credits include: NOT A GOD DAMN THING. He’s done veritably nothing with a few writing credits on television shows not even the purest fans would watch. And, if that’s not enough, and as if you couldn’t feel anymore detached from this film from the onset, you get one of the most absurd and outstanding (as in out standing in the rain) plots in the history of cinema. Picture this: Satan sits in his lair, assuming that this day is just like any other. However, when he is informed that a bus full of tourists that was supposed to crash in Chicago has had its course altered because Jesus is in town, he becomes enraged and decides to pay a personal visit to the surface disguised as the bus tour guide. Jesus hears of this news and attempts to thwart the demon’s crusade towards annihilation throughout the course of the day. If that doesn’t sell you, stop reading right now.

Though I could spend all day telling you in detail about the passengers, rest assured that there is not a single character someone could not either identify with or pray gets smashed to bits by the climax. We’ve got a broken down scientist who worked on experiments with puppies, a pair of blissfully negligent parents, the world’s most abusive mother and her emotionally unprepared daughter as well as their cross-dressing girlfriend, a pair of post-modern schlock artists in it for their kicks, and, in case I neglected to mention anyone pivotal the whole shebang, a duo of guys who are optimistically idiotic. I tell you now, a stage adaptation leaves room for nearly a dozen desirable parts.

Anyway, the majority of the 90-minute movie is spent with sight gags, overdone jokes, and terrible filmmaking played intentionally for laughs. Seriously, this movie is about as low budget as it gets, complete with Ed Wood-esque re-cuts, reuse of footage, and visible crew or equipment. As the movie ambles all across the Windy City (literally, we get to see a great depiction of Chicago), we begin to wonder just what hand fate has dealt these souls that Satan is attempting to fill his quota with. Once we have a final confrontation brewing, the literal unthinkable happens.

Yes, Jesus and Satan do meet up just moments before imminent doom, and sit down to a friendly game of chess. The final five minutes of the movie interpret not only the outcome of the game, but the entirety of existence both fictional and non-fictional. Rather than spoil the whole damn thing for you, I’d rather allow you to sit back and enjoy this surprise twist with a keen sense of understanding and recollection that sometimes, this is what makes B-movies worth watching: they try harder, and are terribly charming all around.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: None. I refuse to acknowledge that given how poor everything was (and was intended to be) in this movie that anyone did their job any worse than anyone else. If anything, all members should be rewarded with promotions. BIG FAT PROMOTIONS.

Best Name in the Cast: Not that any name stands out here either, but just for argument’s sake, Matt Walsh does make an appearance in this movie before moving on to a career playing bit parts in almost all of the “Frat Pack” films. I guess that’s an accomplishment, right?

Quote of the Film: For the first time ever, we have a two-way tie!
“Good Morning, Satan! Want a donut?” -Jim, Satan’s humble assistant
“You know, most people fly to Heaven. But Fatty, he drives the bus.” -The Narrator

Final Thoughts: This review is shorter than most, and with good reason. I can’t review this movie with any serious analysis to speak of. Simply put, it’s a light and frothy romp through the inner city with a surprise moral hiding in the outskirts of the plot that lunges forward just when things can’t get anymore outrageous. Fatty Drives the Bus is the kind of movie you can watch over and over again and not get sick of the style it is made in. If the biggest directors in the world saw this movie, they’d react just like the normal folks in the crowd do. A simple tip of the cap and appreciation that, no matter how bad it may be, you can make a movie this well (or unwell) too. Without anything really witty to end on, I’d like to reiterate that “most people fly to Heaven. But Fatty, he drives the bus.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon (1980)

Written By: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

Directed By: Mike Hodges

Starring: Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Ornella Muti, Max Von Sydow, Topol, Timothy Dalton, Mariangela Melato, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde

Country of Origin: United States of America (though based upon the cast, you could guess any country in Europe and be spot on)

The Idea:
When the voting procedures completed and all votes were tallied, I was surprised to see that you requested a review (in larger than expected numbers) of Flash Gordon. I’ve reviewed campy films before, some of which became camp fodder years after their original release. Night of the Demons, Sleepaway Camp, and Batman & Robin fall into the category of better known reviews, while certain pictures, like The Toxic Avenger and Leprechaun 4: In Space, fall by the wayside when we observe their camp value on this site. Now that I’ve provided you with links to many classic examples of “so bad its good” films, you should be well versed in what you’re looking at with my dilemma on Flash Gordon.

When it was proposed, produced, filmed and released, Flash Gordon pulled no punches about its cinematic purpose: it was intentionally campy and was made as such to hark back to the days of the comic strip it was printed on as well as more classical examples of science fiction. Though we’ll examine old school pictures like that in our December lecture series, we could easily have seen Flash Gordon as one of those movies despite its release date occurring several years after those movies. The tribute and parody we’ll see in this movie create quite the impossible task: reviewing a movie that could easily be summed up as “intentionally bad.” If you’re content with that estimation, stop reading right now. If not, I humbly implore you to continue reading as we delve into the cinematic synopsis of Flash Gordon.

From start to finish, Flash Gordon is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most over-the-top exhibition of science fiction/fantasy flicks in the history of motion pictures. Despite any other films that claim (or even appear) otherwise, this is the patron saint of bad, campy movies. Within the first five minutes of the picture, we, the objective viewer having never heard or seen anything related to this Flash character or his escapades, are bombarded by comic strip flashbacks and ripping chords from Queen. Hey, we even get to see bright switchboards that flicker faster than you can say epilepsy with phrases such as “Hot Hail” on them. I question, and in fact, defy you to explain what purpose an evil genius could have with HOT FUCKING HAIL. If it’s hot, it isn’t hail. It would melt and thus this precipitation would be rain. HOT RAIN. Hot hail seems to more imply that a volcano is just dispersing with a new form of heated snow, but I digress.

Moving to our actual plot and series of events that we call a movie, title character and avid self-promoter Flash Gordon (whose shirt also says Flash in case you somehow didn’t remember his god damn name) is, through a series of strange and bizarre events, transported to the base of Ming the Merciless in outer space with his associates. Not surprisingly, Ming intends to build from his home planet of Mongo (what a name for a planet, by the way) where he is emperor onto the universe. Earth, the next planet in his path of world domination, has been somewhat of a spot of bother and its up to Flash Gordon to save the world. Thankfully, Flash is in great shape to tackle the job, as he was doubling as quarterback for the New York Jets. No fucking joke. Flash Gordon, apparently predating a real superhero in Brett Favre, was the quarterback for the New York Jets, and his first name is Flash. This review could be nine pages long with statements about the sheer stupidity of everything going on in the movie (including Flash himself taking a steel ball off the forehead and break-neck speed), but that would get pretty redundant, don’t you think?

Flash (along with the others, but who cares about them) eventually falls into disarray in Ming’s quarters and is presumed dead until he is saved by one of Ming’s accomplices, Princess Aura. Her fascination with Flash leads him to a massive conflict where he will have to choose between the feminine desire she presents and his dedication to his comrade Dale (a woman, by the way). Meanwhile, Ming the Merciless is determined to marry Dale as part of an insidious plot to continue his conquest, yet his own world has fallen to shambles as an intergalactic crisis is on the horizon and the fate of the universe depends of this very conflict. Obviously, Ming has never played Risk or Axis and Allies and is therefore completely hapless in his mission.

Much of this movie takes place in the far off locales previously described, some of which look like a cross between Endor and any treetop level in Donkey Kong Country. Despite the lack of, well, coherence this film gives the media literate, it delivers some very nice makeup, costuming, and special effects as well as impressive scenery. That’s right, I’m giving the movie some much needed praise through all of its audacious butchering of common sense. In fact, the entirety of the movie is solidly invested behind these visual idiosyncrasies and makes for quite an entertaining romp for the senses. Combine it all with that awesome soundtrack from Queen and we are astounded as an audience.

Nothing more I could say could help you fully understand this incredible movie unless I told you to simply watch it. I recommend watching each and every film I review, and this one is at the pinnacle of that mountain of information. After all, even as the movie concludes, we are left with one more campy element of suspense that trumps all others. What could possibly conclude a movie like this so perfectly that it is the most clichéd bit of cinema in history. Well, that’s simple. One screen graphic that shows the following statement verbatim: “The End?” Nothing tops that.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Anyone involved with the stunts and the stunt coordinator/choreographer should not just be fired, but imprisoned for their acts against humanity. As cheeky and fun as some of the fight sequences can be in this movie, one particular duel takes the cake. In his greatest moment as a football player, Flash attempts to fight off Ming’s troops through various incarnations of sporting plays. In case you’re wondering how this could possibly give anyone a pink slip, I have included this link to better illustrate the lunacy.

Best Name in the Cast: Sam J. Jones went on from this breakout role as Flash Gordon to star in more forgettable television shows and scripted films than David Naughton. His horrible acting, often rumored to have been dubbed over after a disagreement with the director, is just the start of his inclusion on this dubious list. He has opened the door for several others following him to do the exact same thing: make one big time movie (regardless of quality) despite never having believably acted before. A short list of model followers includes Hayden Christensen and directorially, Roland Emmerich.

Quote of the Film:
“As I was going under, I started to recite Shakespeare, the Talmud, the formulas of Einstein, anything I could remember, even a song from The Beatles. It armored me, girl! They couldn’t wipe those things away. You can’t beat the human spirit!” -Doctor Hans Zarkov, and seriously, WTF?

Final Thoughts: Commercially, Flash Gordon was a total failure that suffered backlash and criticism for intentionally wasting an audience’s time with an almost spoofy and clichéd version of science fiction cinema. Many considered it neither fun nor enjoyable, and rather, disregarded it as a simple exercise in ridiculous ends to a once purposeful means. Still, Flash Gordon is heralded almost 30 years later as one of the only classic examples of an intentional camp film that fulfilled its own legacy and became a cult cinema must for film aficionados. 30 years from now, when this film is a senior citizen, I expect that movies like Snakes on a Plane will follow in key because of their absolute absurdity. I myself, am an absurd mind, and I plan to watch this movie again, more than likely this week. Most people don’t get the absurdist enjoyment of movies like Flash Gordon or others in the genre, but then again, seeing as how it is absurd, isn’t that the point in the first place?

Friday, November 7, 2008

Batman & Robin (1997)

Batman & Robin (1997)

Written by: Akiva Goldsman

Directed by: Joel Schumacher

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
When I opened up my doors to the viewing public for an opportunity to make their voices heard on a broad list of films for this month’s “Reader Request” theme, I was overwhelmingly bombarded by requests to see a review of the following piece of cinematic history. Over 76% of the voters, an astoundingly large mark in comparison with other films, chose to see a review of what is recognized as one of the worst movies in the categories of super heroes, sequels, releases of 1997, releases of the 90’s, action flicks, and, in case that’s not enough, all time releases.

The movie in question, obviously, is Batman & Robin has directed by Joel Schumacher. Unsurprisingly, Schumacher’s idea for the fourth installment in the Gotham crusader’s escapades was to capitalize on the success he had with the former film, Batman Forever. Keep in mind that the majority of Batman Forever was played with a satirical nature not found in Tim Burton’s first two movies, and it was also accompanied with unrivaled special effects and over the top action and characters. No wonder Jim Carrey received such praise. He could have been dressed as a garbage man with a sign that read “Riddler” and people would have bought it.

When it came time for Batman & Robin to become reality, the producers, writers, and Schumacher (of course) thought they should go bigger and better than their last exploit. What they inevitably did was front-load the cast of characters with some of the “greatest” of all time, ignoring that the script sucked and that Schumacher himself was not very good at his directing job. They also figuratively and literally raped the Batman franchise for 10 years. That’s right, even with the socially redeeming Batman Begins, it took 10 years, upon the release of The Dark Knight to critical acclaim, for the movie world to finally forget about Batman & Robin. That was, until you all suggested dominantly that I review it. Thanks.

This movie is the epitome of a super hero cartoon on Saturday Mornings, except that instead of being literal animation (thus suspending belief at the onset), it progresses ever so slowly for two of the longest, boobless hours in history. Batman & Robin is the story of Batman (no fucking shit?) and his trusty sidekick Dick Grayson (that’s Robin) fighting a new menace to Gotham City in the form of Mr. Freeze. A tortured soul, Freeze is played laughably by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a pre-Governor stage of his career. Freeze finds that he can only survive by infesting his suit, vehicle, and hideout (a freezer, real original) with large diamonds, most of which he steals from various Gotham gatherings. Sooner than later, Freeze is accompanied by Poison Ivy, a sexy spit of woman out to destroy Gotham City so “Mother Nature” can take its course. She too has a sidekick in the form of Bane, a steroid-induced freak that was once a convict on death row. I hope you’re following all of this, because there will be a quiz.

The majority of the movie is spent jumping from one pointless action scene to another with Freeze’s lackeys trying to overcome Batman and Robin while they fight amongst themselves over the seductive Poison Ivy. Oh sure, there’s the whole side plot about Alfred being on his death bed due to a rare disease that Freeze’s wife also has, but that only has significant for five non-sequential minutes of the movie, four of which are spent introducing us to Batgirl. Seriously, is there a fucking union on sidekicks in Gotham?

Ambling (aimlessly might I add) towards the climax, all of the characters brawl until the good guys get the advantage and send the bad guys off to the loony bin, but not without convenient resolution for Freeze and Ivy. Not that this is surprising, but this Batman movie does more to point out the old cliché of gadget and plot “convenience” for the lead characters. Sure, Batman doesn’t have his “Carousel Reversal Spray” but its pretty damn close. In the first ten minutes, its evident that he didn’t know what he was matching up against in Mr. Freeze. Hell, he didn’t even know who that was until Chief Gordon told him so, yet sure enough, and in a pinch, when he clicked his heels together, Batman’s boots sprouted ice skates. Fucking ice skating in a Batman movie. I know I should avoid the overused “Batman On Ice” jokes, but it is way too hard. During the same sequence, he’s got heat lasers able to zap off any ill effects from being frozen, because unsurprisingly, the boy blunder suffers that very fate. At least I haven’t attacked the homosexual convenience of nipples on suits and constant shots of BATMAN’S ASS. Soft core pornography isn’t this bad, EVER.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: While this is another classic example of cinema that is an indictment on everyone involved, if I had to pick one (instead of the bailout answer of everyone) crew member to give the axe, I’d wield it smoothly and rapidly towards writer Akiva Goldsman, who scripted a total piece of shit with bad lines, bad story, and incredibly over the top puns. If Arnold says Freeze one more time, my television will commit suicide all by itself. For a better example, click here.

Best name in the cast: How about that cameo appearance by former professional wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse “the Body” Ventura? Just a few years before Ventura’s “We shocked the world” campaign, he was a simple and gullible guard at Gotham’s famed Arkham Asylum. He also dies in the movie. There’s a payoff.

Quote of the Film:
“That's right, Dick. I want them so much, I can taste it.” -Bruce Wayne, giving us another line that, while delivered deadpan, is perfect fodder for the sheer stupidity of it all.

Final Thoughts: I know, we’ve already gathered that this movie sucks and you should all be ashamed of yourselves for forcing me to review it. But, through all of the complaints, at least we know that we’re (or at least I’m) not alone in the constant flood of hatred for this film. While The Dark Knight makes huge bank because Christopher Nolan “gets” the Gotham City regime, Joel Schumacher’s career has never recovered from the hits he got in his Batman directing prowess. Schumacher moved on to becoming something of an enigma himself, showing up every once in a while to direct films like The Number 23. Oh, guess what? That movie sucked, too. Maybe he should quit his day job. I’ve watched this movie dozens of times. I mean really, dozens of times, and I can safely say that it gets worse every single time I see it. How bad does a movie have to be to get worse each time you watch it? It’s like a contest in endurance, but even when the credits roll, I feel like I’m always on the losing side.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Written By: Tommy Lee Wallace

Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Before I begin to completely decimate and shred any piece of dignity that Halloween III: Season of the Witch possibly had left before making its dubious way to my website, I’d like to take this time to share with you a simple history lesson and perspective analysis. I, like many others, have watched the majority of “slasher” picks with waning degrees of interest, mainly because each one in the like follows along the same lines of perpetual stupidity. There’s a killer on the loose, he’s going to kill you next bitch, don’t run upstairs you dumb bastard. That’s the basics of Slasher 101 for ya. That being said, the Halloween series is a completely different (and altogether original) set of films that don’t follow this same formula nearly at all.

John Carpenter is, simply put, a genius. His masterful works in the genre include the original film as well as its sequel, Halloween II. Taking place during the same time and on the exact same evening, they are the perfect and ideal example for suspenseful chillers from the early 80’s that predate the infatuation with Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and yes, even Ashley J. Williams. The characters, whether they be scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode or even the menacing Michael Myers (really just a William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask after all this time), were simplistic enough that you could understand what their primary conflict was yet they required a minimum two films just to battle through it all. With ingenuity in both his technique and directorial skills, Carpenter crafted very intelligent writing amongst the blood and guts we expected (and were often appalled by) to see.

Carpenter’s final contribution to the series was when he determined it show go in a new direction. John had fashioned out an idea that Halloween, the name at least, should apply to a broader spectrum as an anthology series, chronicling several different eerie happenings on October 31st. The idea itself seems well and good, but when its very first script was green lighted for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the ship capsized after striking more obstructions that a silver ball inside a pinball machine on tilt.

I should have known that reviewing this movie, or simply watching it again, was a bad idea. I should have noticed the signs. What signs, you may ask? Well, how about the signs that indicated that my cheap DVD copy of the film refused to play nearly six times in three different players before finally succumbing to my shitty movie lust. By the time it finally played, I had forgotten why exactly I wanted to watch it in the first place. Within 15 minutes, I was reminded about just how this movie has changed the process of sequel making for better and worse.

The story is all about a corporation, Silver Shamrock, who is on top of the Halloween costume business with their three uniquely different masks available in stores nationwide. Each mask comes with a seal of authenticity (an important button for the plot in the future) and each is encouraged to be worn during a live Silver Shamrock broadcast on the night of Halloween. Though this all seems innocent enough, strange happenings occur and introduce us to the always lovable Tom Atkins as Dr. Dan Challis. Dr. Challis is chilled by the recent disturbances these masks are causing, and upon investigation, he learns the shocking truth: Silver Shamrock is an evil corporation set to destroy America’s youth via subliminal advertising and messages in their nighttime screening that will (and I kid you not) squish every kid’s head into a pile of bugs and, presumably, kill them. I couldn’t make that up if I tried, or even through darts at an idea board. To fully understand just how awful it all is, watch this for best results.

Apparently, everyone in the good ol’ USA has bought one of these killer masks and has no idea just what destruction they can cause, so Challis sets out to rectify the situation by eliminating Silver Shamrock and everyone behind this insidious plot. Even with the constant bewilderment such an awful, awful plot has to offer, it also presents an important sociological sidebar on how consumers are driven simply by advertising and rarely look at the harmful side effects of the products they have purchased. Granted, this line of thinking is taken several steps further with the inclusion of mass murder, but we’re not far off with the kind of materialistic society we’ve become. That Tickle Me Elmo might as well be a bomb, and you’d never know, either.

No amount of intelligent subtext can cover up for the sheer audacity that the movie presents as we reach the not-so-thrilling climax and conclusion. Dr. Challis, along with some much needed help (read: gratuitous tits) thwarts the corporation with the very technology they are using against society, but his efforts fall on deaf ears when one television station refuses his demands and plays the deadly, seizure-inducing commercial as the credits roll. So much for saving the world as a renegade on Halloween.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Today we’ll go with Dan O’Herlihy, the evil and demented creator of Silver Shamrock’s deadly masks. If for no other reason than his character is a benign tumor in the throat of life, his character’s name is Conal Cochran, and that’s a really stupid fucking name.

Best Name in the Cast: Tom Atkins, and not just for being born on the same day as this oft-humbled reviewer. Atkins as a knack for sizing up these roles, as he often plays a washed up cop, doctor, detective, etc. against the world. The man nips from the bottle more times onscreen than Andre the Giant at a wine tasting convention.

Quote of the Film:
“The night no one came home.” -Selected from the trailer and tagline of the movie specifically for its foreshadowing connotation. The first movie featured the tagline: “The night ‘he’ came home,” referring to Michael Myers. Ironic that “no one” came home for part three, considering that he makes no appearance in the film’s plot or continuity. Marvelous.

Final Thoughts: The financial and critical flop that Halloween III: Season of the Witch became left movie producers with no other option. If they were to continue this franchise for lucrative sums, they would have to resurrect Michael Myers, something that they literally did 6 years later for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Through incredibly baffling events, he came back and ended up just as shameful as any other horror movie pioneer. At least Halloween 4 delivered what its tagline promised, instead of what we got from this movie, in which it delivered, well, I guess a third installment to a once successful and dignified series. Too bad that didn’t last, not like it ever does.

Friday, October 24, 2008

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)

Written By: Peter Barsocchini

Directed By: Kenny Ortega

Starring: Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale, Lucas Grabeel, Corbin Bleu, Monique Coleman

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
I am anticipating hate mail for this one. Why, you may ask, would anybody voluntarily pay to see this movie, let alone review it on a sight clinging to what little credibility it has left? Well, if you haven’t found the answer to this question on your own, then you clearly don’t know me very well. I’m digging deep this time to write a different sort of review, especially since this is the first movie I’ve reviewed that is still in theaters. Years down the road, if that’s the answer to a trivia question, you’ll be just as embarrassed that you knew the answer was High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

We’re talking about the Disney phenomenon that started as a made for TV movie, and after millions of dollars made from ratings and merchandising, Disney finally made the logical decision to take their game to the big time with a full-blown cinematic debut. Bigger budget, bigger musical, bigger bank. That’s the simple philosophy we have to follow when subjecting ourselves to the uber-cool society of East High School and our six pack of leads on the home stretch. High School Musical 3: Senior Year is about to help us get our heads in the game.

Before we begin, I humbly implore you to take this review for what it is as I shameless shill for the Disney Company. If you are displeased with this entry, I encourage you to read other entries, like Bordello of Blood, Demon Knight, and if you like musicals, Shock Treatment.

Not surprisingly, our story begins with the same basic plot, following the lives of the East High Wildcats throughout the end of basketball season (as documented in the solid opening number “Now or Never,” which borrows lyrical elements from Cameo’s “Word Up”) and onward to the upcoming Spring Musical and Senior Prom. Everyone is familiar with just what goes down during their final stanza in high school, but rarely do we see it presented with such flash and pizzazz. We meet up again with Troy and Gabriella, each of whom are planning their prospective futures at separate colleges. In case you’re wondering why I single out these two (and you’ve never heard of High School Fucking Musical), its because 92% of the movie is about just what they’ll be doing after they graduate. Whether one will be taking scandalous photos of themselves for the other has yet to be determined.

Other students are eager to leave to, but each has found themselves, in their own way, more or less focused on the Spring Musical and the fate of Troy Bolton. Troy is the basketball stud with aspirations of a full athletic scholarship, but it will leave him thousands of miles away from his beloved Gabriella who plans to attend Stanford. Troy also begins to battle with the decision of going even further away when he learns that scholars from Julliard are willing to offer him a free ride if he impresses them. Tell me, who in the world is this fucking talented?

To be fair, High School Musical 3: Senior Year drags along in points that seem endless and at least five of the musical numbers are weaker than they were in the first two movies. Granted, we get to see a very revealing outfit on Ashley Tisdale during much of these proceedings, and the costuming in general is fabulous, but the movie more or less feels like, well, a made for TV movie. Maybe that’s because even with a bigger budget and all the hype of mainstream media, its still the same old movie as the first two, and that doesn’t make it very good for theaters across the country. At times, you’ll be so stifled by the onscreen antics that you’ll be spotting interesting anachronisms, like how Corbin Bleu is clearly too old to be in this role considering he has a five o’clock shadow.

While it is just as fun and cheeky as the first two movies, new characters and added conflicts do little to bolster this and make it a serious strike on the big screen. Though it will get far with fans of the series and casual moviegoers alike, it hasn’t got much legs beyond that unless you look far beyond the surface to Zac Efron’s performance.

Call me crazy, but Efron’s third time around as Troy Bolton is his best. He’s in an all-too-realistic struggle to decide on a future for himself, all the while knowing that he will be letting down his father, friends, and countless others if he simply chooses what he wants. His frustrations bellow until the swan song, “Scream,” is performed. This song, in any musical in the world, is a passionately driven masterpiece that does more than just serve as passable. “Scream” is the only portion of the movie that transcends the screen and speaks directly to all of us who were torn apart by the choices our futures presented following the learning experience. I won’t spoil his final decision, but seeing as how it’s a Disney movie, you should see it coming.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Wow, I could name a lot of them, but I think I’ll go with lead writer Peter Barsocchini, who managed to neglect several side-plots that he himself created in this third installment. Granted, it is pretty late in the series to create new characters, conflicts, and even relationships, but if you’re going to do it with a hugely adjusted budget, at least you could go all out. I had questions unanswered, damn it!

Best Name in the Cast: Matt Prokop makes his debut in the franchise as a new character known for most of the movie as Rocketman, a basketball player and general burnout who, whether or not we choose to accept it, is a scene stealer every time he’s in it. Prokop clearly has the same charisma that Zac Efron stumbled into and will likely be a name to remember as Disney’s next pet project.

Quote of the Film:
“It’s the night of our nightmares.” -Ensemble during the song A Night to Remember, and I bet you couldn’t agree more.

Final Thoughts: You know, I do honestly hope this is the last one of these movies to be made, and not just because of what it is. From a purely objective viewpoint, too many times do film companies, actors, producers, directors, writers, and anyone else in showbiz create excess sequels in an effort to swindle me out of more of my hard earned money. You already got a minimum of 10 bucks out of me just because I went to theaters to see this movie. Isn’t my shame enough of a price to pay, then to have to sit through another series that should simply be a trilogy and not anything more? It doesn’t get more definitive than Senior Year, unless we have High School Musical 4: GED Equivalency on the horizon.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Written By: Bob Gale, Robert Zemeckis, A L Katz, Gilbert Adler

Directed By: Gilbert Adler

Starring: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, John Kassir

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
Face it: when you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re Bordello of Blood, you’re definitely not. With Tales from the Crypt on seemingly its last legs on HBO and the attention of the five pioneer executive producers being harnessed by their new project, Perversions of Science, TFTC was beginning to feel like a horror afterthought. With only a handful of episodes left in its arsenal, the show was making one last gasp at staying as hip as it had been since the late 80’s. That final shot, or better yet, stab (I’m not counting puns this time), was made with the release of Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood in 1996.

First of all, you can’t simply compare this movie to its predecessor, Demon Knight. The first flick in what was scheduled to be three was a superb effort that was entrenched with a real Tales-feeling in it. Demon Knight also performed quite well as it was released on a horror weekend for films (a Friday the 13th), often recognized as a cheap ploy by movie companies to rake in more dollars. Cheap as it may be, that ploy is pivotal to the fledgling flick we have in front of us. You see, Bordello of Blood was supposed to see a release just like that. You know, around Halloween, or on one of those mystery weekends. Yet, when Universal Pictures stepped in to produce the movie, they chose to move it to the Summer of ‘96 to fill their cinematic quota. That timing, combined with a film that was, overall, not all that good, left us with a bitter taste in our mouths while watching the second big screen attempt to keep Tales from the Crypt alive.

In another somewhat original horror plot, Bordello of Blood is all about a sect of vampires that have been resurrected by a mysterious relic (the very same key from Demon Knight) to do the bidding of their master. That bidding is actually to work for the Lord Almighty and exterminate sinners at a heavenly speed. How, exactly, will these blood-sucking vermin be doing such? Why, they’ve disguised themselves as loose women with loose inhibitions in their very own brothel. I often wonder how much better the box office take would have been for this movie if they simply titled it Vampire Whorehouse.

The lead role of a washed-up detective (a type of character we will see often in b-grade horror) is played by Dennis Miller, who began his personal war with me (that he is as of yet unaware of) by attempting to insert a one-liner in every situation. Though the character is something of a lush, he does have the best intentions at heart: rescuing the brother of his newest (and sexiest) client Erika Eleniak while also diving deep into the darkness of the Bordello. In order to fully rid the society of this plague of blood-sucking (among other things, I’m sure) vixens, he’ll need the help of the preacher Jimmy Current (J.C., how clever) and a slew of others to destroy the head vampire, an especially nasty bit of crumpet named Lilith.

While the premise is a classic Crypt play on morals and values, it still seems a little far-fetched. What kind of ministry would employ the agents of Satan to further their own supposed “godly” agenda? No body of committee or government would ever hire their sworn enemy to exterminate another group in the name of a utilitarian decision, would they? Isn’t that unrealistic? Whoops, I’ve said too much.

Before I continue to take apart this movie, I should consider the pluses. Angie Everhart is delightful as Lilith, the queen bee in this vampire den. Though her role is often demanding of a very dry, deadpan style humor that can be overshadowed by sex appeal and yes, horrible fucking puns, she shines through it and easily steals the movie away from Miller and Eleniak, whose on-screen romance drags the film down like an anchor. Chris Sarandon is also the epitome of a saintly, evangelical minister when dawning the character of the Reverend J.C. His transformation from seedy preacher to bible bruiser is often hilarious given its satirical nature. And, as mentioned before, the plot of the movie is well done given all of the typical twists, turns, and moral questions raised from something with Tales from the Crypt stamped on the front cover.

But all of that simply isn’t enough to cover up for the glaring issues in Bordello of Blood. Maybe it had too much to live up to with Demon Knight, or maybe it just isn’t too terribly well executed. In fact, this is a disposable horror movie that, by the end of it, you find yourself rooting to see your protagonist Miller get killed. He’s seriously annoying, and his brand of humor would have been better presented had he been the first victim claimed. I don’t even want to bring up the evil little person in this movie, because if you’re going to watch a movie with evil people that aren’t too terribly tall, I recommend something like this, because they’re all going to be bad.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Despite Dennis Miller’s incredibly annoying voice, face, jokes, and character, he’s not nearly as frustrating as Corey Feldman. Feldman, who used to be suave, cute, and productive, is none of these things as he gets a big role in yet another vampire movie. Stick to The Lost Boys, for the love of Christ.

Best Name in the Cast: And for the second film in a row, the cameo made by William Sadler as the Mummy in the opening and closing scenes of this film make it all worthwhile. Skip the 85 minutes in between (you know, the actual movie) and watch his sequences with the Cryptkeeper over and over again. Never boring.

Quote of the Film:
“Two, Four, Six, Eight! You can watch me masturbate!” -Lilith, cheering in a vision to Rafe (Dennis Miller). Just another quirky seduction of the vampire’s lust.

Final Thoughts: I mentioned previously that Universal Pictures pushed up the release date of this movie for their own personal agenda to be fulfilled. That decision caused Bordello of Blood to bomb astronomically at the box office, and plans for a third Tales film, as well perhaps a revitalization of the franchise and more TV time, were scrapped. The third film was shelved indefinitely and a fourth film, Ritual, was produced and directed straight to video with a Tales logo forcefully slapped on it, despite having nothing to do with the series or this movie. The new series, Perversions of Science, was canceled during its first production run. Tales from the Crypt ended with Season 7 on television one month prior to this movie’s release. Bordello of Blood is just average enough to make some money if it were released around Halloween or on any of the aforementioned “horror weekends,” but it’s a sub-par film to be released in the Summer, and it killed the franchise for years to come. In closing: Fuck you, Universal Pictures. Fuck you hard.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995)

Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (1995)

Written By: Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris, and Mark Bishop

Directed By: Ernest Dickerson

Starring: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, CCH Pounder, Thomas Haden Church

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
It isn’t hard to pinpoint the staple of my childhood bloodlust. From nearly age two, I received the honor and privilege of staying up late on the weekends to watch HBO’s original programming known as Tales from the Crypt. Somewhere during my adolescence, my parents were even kind enough to tape a six-hour Tales marathon for me that I still have in my possession. Sure, the episodes were primarily from season 3 (which explains why I know every line in that particular year of shows) and featured topics that I didn’t always understand, but I cherished them for a long, long time.

With a warm embrace, the show made the jump to the big screen in January of 1995 with the following movie, titled Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight, or just Demon Knight for short. Little did I know that at age 7, I was experiencing my favorite horror movie of all time. That’s right, I put no others in front of Demon Knight as being top of the pops in the gory genre that I review most often. In fact, it seems almost a misprint when I discuss films that don’t feature some sort of blood and guts appeal. So, in order to keep pace, I present to you one of the finest B-grade horror films ever (and also one of the most original), and not just because it was based on one of the best television shows known to man.

The place is New Mexico, and the plot is rather simplistic at first glance. Brayker, a rebel on the run, is protecting a mysterious relic that contains the power to bind and constrict the demons of the night from overtaking the realm of Earth and destroying mankind. He is pursued furiously by The Collector, a nasty minion of Satan that is (mind the pun, it is a TFTC Review) hell-bent on stealing the relic, or “key” back for the dark side. Short on time, options, and now, innocence (Brayker has caused quite an accident for the local police to clean up), our fleeting protagonist shacks up inside a rundown roach motel with several others who are typical residents. Turns out Brayker is going to get these folks into more trouble than they bargained for as the Collector shows up and all hell (Pun #2) breaks loose, beginning with a fist through the face of the Sherriff of this crummy little town.

Put your mind at ease, Dear Reader, because if all of these shenanigans seem to be too far fetched, then you’re in for a real surprise. While most of the early scenes in this movie are used to build characters and side-plots (a rarity in the horror business), they also mount the tension behind the whereabouts of this key and the protection Brayker is trying to provide. Yes, this is a story about death and demons, but its also a story about everyday people allowing their defenses to be lowered and their vulnerability to consume and corrupt them. We’ll get to that in more detail in a little bit.

For now, we return to the basics, as a fed up Collector takes out his rage by unleashing demons to take the house from the humans. While the characters survive the initial onslaught, the Collector is a crafty veteran that utilizes the art of seduction to get what he wants. Played aptly by Billy Zane, he uses a soft whisper to indulge in carnal desire with the characters inside the building, and though he himself cannot enter (due to a blood seal placed around the complex), he manages to find a way in by stealing the souls of the enchanted. This is where things take a turn for the worst, as some of the characters begin to die off in nasty ways, and others find themselves risking (and losing) life and limb to escape the clutches of the demons that are now polluting the house. While Wally, a former mail clerk is the first to be eliminated, Irene, the desk assistant for this rented out apartment complex takes it the worst. She has her arm ripped right out of socket and proceeds to go the remainder of the film with half an arm. Let’s give her a hand for that (Pun #3).

As Demon Knight continues, so does an ongoing story about the origin of the key, demons, and conflict taking place in real time. Turns out, this isn’t your typical demon possession movie (take that Night of the Demons). These demons have been scouring the Earth since Genesis in search of seven keys that, when formed in a circle, bring back the darkness of the universe and their reign of evil. While we learn of the descendants of this, the last remaining heavenly key, we are also exposed to more religious allegory than most films, not just horror, will ever provide.

This is where Demon Knight really excels, by providing the audience with an easy to follow yet incredibly immersive back story that, while a bit far-fetched, fit’s the story perfectly. While very few people will point to this film as a prime example of what a truly creepy horror movie should be, I’ll stand up and proudly exclaim that your movie is only as good as the history behind it. When I encourage you to watch a movie, I attempt to avoid the spoilage of the climax and ending. Trust that I will again be doing that for this movie, as I don’t want to lose my head (Pun #4, related to the Cryptkeeper) by going overboard in this review.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: I previously mentioned a character named Wally in this review. Well, if you’re unfamiliar with the work of Charles Fleischer before his portrayal of Wally Enfield, failed postal worker in this movie, then listen up. He voiced Roger Rabbit and Benny the Cab in Who Framed Roger Rabbit less than a decade earlier. While most people would call that versatile, I feel that Fleischer sold himself short by accepting the role of a bumbling fool who you are happy to see bite it early on.

Best Name in the Cast: Not surprisingly, the winner is William Sadler, who, as of press time, has appeared in more episodes of Tales from the Crypt than any other player that was not a regular (John Kassir). He was in the very first episode, The Man Who Was Death, as well as an appearance as Death (of Bill & Ted fame) in a later season. Talk about a guy who’s dying to stay with the show (Pun #5). Sadler narrowly won the category of the Patron Saint of B-Movies, Dick Miller.

Quote of the Film:
“God Damn it, get that pussy off the table! …I meant the cat.” -Irene, mistakenly addressing the neighborhood bicycle Cordelia.

Final Thoughts: I’ve been pretty generous to my favorite horror movie of all time, which is not surprising in the least. Demon Knight is not without its flaws, but it doesn’t have too many for the standard horror film made in 1995. In fact, if you ever want a thought-provoking original story that has just enough gore, violence, and yes, that tricky bastard religion spliced in, then you should look no further than this Tales-produced gem. The finished product might seem corny in hindsight, but that won’t stop you from keeping your own pun count with all the deadpan delivery that Demon Knight distributes.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Written By: George A. Romero

Directed By: George A. Romero

Starring: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger, Gaylen Ross

Country of Origin: United States of America (as presented to an Italian audience)

The Idea:
Now hold on just one minute. How can someone claiming to be an enthusiast of b-movie schlock possibly review a movie like Dawn of the Dead? After all, it is the second in the line of quintessential living dead films from George A. Romero, and furthermore, it remains one of the most popular horror films of all time amongst critics and fans. It also happens to be the masterpiece of special effects cinema as present by King of Gore Tom Savini, so again, we must ask, how can you do this film justice by reviewing it, or even discussing it in the same disappointed breath as movies like Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things?

Well, folks, the truth of the matter is that I can’t review Dawn of the Dead. Nothing I could say about the movie would give you any new insight that you didn’t discover on your own. But, as a technical loophole, I am at liberty to discuss with you the Italian cut of the film, as presented internationally by Dario Argento. You see, by all logic, even though the characters and plot are the same, the film Zombi: Dawn of the Dead (English translation) is far different from the 1978 masterpiece of Romero.

Let’s start with the important things first: when the original Dawn premiered in the United States, it was a critical success and George Romero had himself another winner for the genre. The movie quickly gained cult status, and why wouldn’t it? It is outstanding, and frankly speaking, in a league of its own in regards to zombie pictures. What the original Dawn of the Dead offers to audiences is more than just gore and brutality. Oh sure, there is plenty of that to go around as Tom Savini could show you (and did) on the screen. After all, Savini was quickly hired to work on Friday the 13th following his triumph in Romeroland. But the movie was so much more than that. It was an epic work of art that provoked the cerebral cortex almost as much as the gag reflex. George A. Romero challenged audiences to think about a post-apocalyptic society with commentary leaps and bounds ahead of its time. Romero set the standard for films after this by doing one incredibly important thing: he created a zombie movie that wasn’t about zombies.

Fast forward to nearly nine months later, and we have the Italian (and pretty much every foreign country) release of Zombi: Dawn of the Dead from Dario Argento. Argento was no stranger to horror himself. Having mastered his craft in films like the ever-so-creepy Suspiria and lesser-known Tenebre, Argento understood how to get to the international audience. When he took the helm for this project, he would revolutionize Euro Horror (or EuroShock) in ways that no one could ever have anticipated. It is for this reason that we are documenting this movie and showing up all film students around the world. So now, without further ado, we stop all this flogging and make with a review.

Zombi: Dawn of the Dead is essentially the same story you’ve heard about before. As a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn picks up in a world of chaos. Local TV stations (centralized this time in the Northeast) are running low on both time and resources as the plague spreads further and faster. Francine is our first major player, and she’s attempting to flee the town just as quickly as everyone else. She’ll meet up with her helicopter pilot (how fortunate) of a boyfriend Steven quite soon. Meanwhile, just across town, military reinforcements have been sent to break up a complex of militant immigrants and have been given orders to destroy any in their paths. That train is quickly derailed when many of the illegal residents are themselves already among the dead. Here we are introduced to SWAT team members Roger and Peter, each of which worked for different units on the building and are now more or less “all alone.” They decide to join forces and know of a plot to leave town using the air as their playground. That’s right, they’ll be meeting up with Francine and Steven as soon as possible.

Right about now, I could speak to you at great length about the importance of Peter, an African-American character played aptly by Ken Foree. Though Foree is best known nowadays for cameos in numerous horror films (including this remake), he helped to redefine film schema by playing a black protagonist, as was common from George Romero at the time. Though he claims it was unintentional to cause such a splash in Night, Romero more than likely made Peter the strongest character in this movie as another subtext of the overall plot. Black or white, Peter is the most intelligent and relatable character in the whole movie.

As time passes, our heroes find themselves low on fuel and patience until they stumble upon a seemingly deserted shopping mall. Left with little options elsewhere, they decide to overtake the complex and stowaway until they can formulate a bigger plan (or until our fantastic government finally makes a breakthrough). While they do find serenity for a long while in the mall, all good things must come to an end, and they do. One by one, the characters find themselves in hardly favorable situations and motorcycle renegades, along with ever multiplying hoards of the living dead take back the city. Eventually, the surviving protagonists (which I will attempt to save so as not to spoil anything) must decide whether or not they should stay or seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Now that we’ve gotten all that out of the way, its time to understand just what makes this a different movie. Well, from the very start, Argento removes much of the playful banter and dialogue amongst characters in order to build a faster-paced, action-oriented flick. Character progression and background is sacrificed in short order for balls-to-the-wall action and suspense. In fact, by handling many of these situations in the film like this, any and all societal conflict that Romero intentionally wrote into his script has been erased. In its place is a movie that shoots from the hip at all times.

The movie is also bolstered (as most media is) by additional music from the band Goblin, and while this soundtrack is hailed to be one of the greatest of all time, it is often far too righteous for the events on the screen and can be overwhelming or even inappropriate in certain areas (not to mention it has dated horribly after 30 years). Gone is much of the dark, cheeky humor that kept Dawn of the Dead at the top of the political food chain for its message and statement. In its place is, well, really nothing replaced those elements of the story. There are a few extra scenes of gore (that were not passable in the US) that help to showcase what a master magician Tom Savini is, but nothing concrete past that.

Perhaps the most glaring evidence of these omissions from the film occurs after it is all over. Rather than see the US ending, in which the zombies skitter about the mall to the hilariously understated song “The Gonk,” we get nothing but a black screen with blaring rock music and the closing credits. What a jip.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Though its hard to pick just one name out of the hat for such a masterpiece, the winner, without a doubt, is the editor of this version, Dario Argento. Several times writer and director George A. Romero stated that he believed Argento just “didn’t get” the concept of the movie, hence all of the re-cuts that eliminated any message the film was trying to send other than “here ya go, zombies eat people’s insides. Much fun.”

Best Name in the Cast: Not only was Tom Savini the incredible wizard behind makeup and special effects, he also managed to cast himself as a machete-wielding biker on a tear to make the civilian’s (most notably Peter’s) lives a living hell. And hey, if that isn’t enough supremacy for you, he even reappears over 20 years later in Land of the Dead as the same guy!

Quote of the Film:
“This isn't the Republicans versus the Democrats, where we're in a hole economically or... or we're in another war. This is more crucial than that. This is down to the line, folks, this is down to the line. There can be no more divisions among the living!” -Dr. Millard Rausch, establishing a fundamental assessment that everyone can certainly understand. Though this line was on the cutting room floor in different versions, it holds too much pertinence for me to look away.

Final Thoughts: When Dawn of the Dead came out it was a masterpiece of modern horror and managed to stand the test of time years later. It was revolutionary to American cinema from both a filmmaking and a film watching perspective. However, when Zombi: Dawn of the Dead was released to the international market, it created a completely different kind of revolution. Up until its release, European horror directors, particularly those in Italy, were virtually unaware of the zombie genre and would never stab at a quick buck for one of these films. Though it broke the mold for European horror as well, this “re-imaging” of Dawn served as an unattainable prototype for years to come as wave after wave of terrible Italian horror schlock followed its release. Nobody ever came close to recapturing the original charm or action of Dawn, but damn it all to hell if that didn’t stop them from trying year after year. In the future, I’ll be discussing several of these European flicks for their downright awfulness, and its all because they were created by students of the game who admired what they saw in Zombi: Dawn of the Dead, even if what they saw was a complete misinterpretation. So for all you film students out there now, think twice (or three times) before you get on your soapboxes and act as almighty priests. You may want to be a household name, but so is shit, and it stinks when you don’t flush it either.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers (1988)

Written By: Fritz Gordon

Directed By: Michael A. Simpson

Starring: Pamela Springsteen, Renee Estevez, Brian Patrick Clarke, Walter Gotell

Country of Origin: United States of America

The Idea:
In the brief time that has passed since my review of the original Sleepaway Camp, the movie has grown on me rapidly and given me a far different perspective of the genre it was infringing on upon its creation. Sleepaway Camp is, mind the pun, “campy,” and serves as great horror schlock that allows for you and yours to create your own serious of hilarious in-jokes. Right now, I could peer at a complete stranger, and then, upon examination, turn back to my friends and simply say “man, oh man!” Within moments they would connect that to Sleepaway Camp and understand I was referring to the size of that stranger’s breasts. Fun, huh?

When the time finally came to sit down and watch Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, expectations ran much higher than they had for the first film. And even though the sequel can’t compare to the original in any form whatsoever, it maintains a lot of the spirit of the original film throughout its horrible acting, bad dialogue, and questionable “camp” experience. I have never been so thankful to have missed out on summer camp as I was when I watch these movies.

A little history lesson to set the scene: Angela Baker is now something of legend and Camp Arawak is long forgotten. If you’re unfamiliar with all of this, brush up by reading the original review. Anyway, we’ve reconvened at Camp Rolling Hills, where the story of Angela Baker has been passed around from person to person as a campfire tale. However, nobody seems to put the simplest of concepts together when their “letter-of-the-law” counselor Angela tells them to stop telling ghost stories. Yep, she’s the same one, but none of them are bright enough to solve the mystery.

In all fairness, that isn’t even the most mind-boggling storyline in the first 15 minutes. You see, the story seems to relay the message that despite killing dozens of people, Angela, then a minor, was sent to years of psychotherapy where she received a full-blown sex change (making her hoo-hoo dilly into a cha-cha) and was then released. Even OJ couldn’t have gotten away that easy, but I digress.

After setting all of these wonderful guidelines down for the innocent and often assumed moronic viewer, the film moves rapidly (just under 80 minutes) with Angela offing each camper for their various indiscretions, all the time maintaining that they violated some sort of camp rule and had to promptly be sent home. This is the film’s strongest point, and probably only strong point thus far. One of the most redeeming factors of the Sleepaway Camp series is the innovative and often uncomfortable methods of murder. Whereas characters met their demise with curling irons and beehives in movie one, movie two executes the use of a power drill, barbecue grill, and, lest we forget, a port-o-potty. In one of the silliest and by far worst scenes in slasher history, Angela stuffs a female camper into the inner sanctum of defecation and begins to prod at her until she is consumed by gallons and gallons of shit. Often times, I have stopped in these reviews by concepts I find to be stifling in their nature, but even I don’t know how to explain what the writer, director, and actors were thinking when they determined that this sequence, in total a good 5 minutes, needed to be kept in the film. Sometimes, I wish Angela would just use a machete to give a sense of tradition.

The other all-powering factor of this series is that few, if any of the main characters are redeeming. You really, really want Angela to win by film’s end. Sure, there’s a romance blooming between two characters who we could almost root for and our muscle-crotch counselor has been replaced by a mullet-sporting douche bag, but beyond those characters, the rest are faceless drones who occasionally flash some tits or ogle some tits. The first film had zero incidences of nudity. This one had at least twelve. It just goes to show that the ability of sequels to match their predecessors often fall on deaf ears when they fall backwards on old staples like exposed bosoms.

Member of the crew who should’ve been fired: Now would be a very good time to blame Stan Wakefield, Jerry Silva, and Michael A. Simpson, the executive producer and producers, respectively, for presenting this movie as a “fun” horror film. If you’ve watched any of the trailers for Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers, you’re well aware that all of the serious tone of the original has been removed in order to give it the sleek new look of the 1980’s, complete with nudity (again) and upbeat synth-pop. I wonder why the original creators of Sleepaway Camp refuse to acknowledge this in their canon.

Best Name in the Cast: I’ve never had a harder choice in this department, but when both Emilio Estevez’s sister and Bruce Springsteen’s sister star in one movie, you know you’ve got a real noodle-scratcher. In an effort to be objective, the nod goes to Pamela Springsteen, who did one other film of note after this one: Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland. Oh yes, its coming soon.

Quote of the Film:
“Listen, you don't have AIDS or anything, do you?” -Ally, the titanic twat after sex with an underdeveloped young man. Mother fucking genius.

Final Thoughts: While scoping out films in my local DVD store, I stumbled across a copy of the aforementioned Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, and I was giddy to watch. Why? Because even though these films range from moderate to atrocious, they are all incredibly entertaining and hold enough esteem in the dignity department to keep me interested. That, and there’s only three of them. It’s not like I’m buying 11 films about a hockey-mask wearing monster. Just three about a trans-gendered hotness with a hard-on for killing.