Movie Reviews 180 – The Exorcist (1973)

April 21, 2014

The ExorcistThat The Exorcist is one of if not the greatest horror movie of all time is hardly in doubt. Just check out any internet ‘best horror movie’ list and it will inevitably be in one of the top spots. What makes it such a great movie is a little harder to figure out. When you think about it, the plot is as simple as it gets. Young girl gets possessed by the devil. Two priests are sent to exorcise her. Climax will determine whether good or evil prevails. We’ve seen it or something close to that plot a million times. Well a million times since The Exorcist was released, as the topic was hardly touched before the movie came along. Since then every hackneyed movie has been trying to replicate its success. Without much success on their own I might add.

So what makes it tick? A large part of the answer is the intricate character exposition and development throughout the movie. The two priests, are a good example. One is a nearly worn out yet stalwart veteran of a former exorcism. He knows exactly what he’s dealing with. The other priest who instigated the exorcism is a younger man questioning his faith and remains deeply unsettled by the recent passing of his mother. Aside from the cloth they share they are almost diametric opposites and yet in the ensuing battle they compliment one another perfectly. Another progression we witness is the cherubically sweet child Regan who slowly turns into the very devil himself before our eyes. A greater contrast cannot be found. Then you have the successful starlett mother living the Hollywood dream who suddenly finds her child morphing before her very eyes and yet nobody, not the doctors, not the psychologists, can tell her what is happening. The clergy are her last desperate resort.

The cast is stellar, especially the performance by Jason Miller as the troubled Father Karras, and Max von Sydow as Father Merrin. Linda Blair was herself the epitome of the innocent child Regan she portrayed when the movie makers got her to utter howling vile language in scenes that remain powerful even today when profanity in films is rampant. Ellen Burstyn as the mother imparts that dread any parent faces when their childs life is at stake, all the more petrifying when dealing with an unknown source of terror.

The closest I could get to experiencing the Exorcist in 1973 was reading the Mad magazine comic parody. If the R rating wasn’t bad enough (hey I was 10), the hype and hysteria surrounding the movie was enough for me to know that this movie wasn’t going to be on TV for a long time and when it did it would have to heavily edited down for TV audiences. Eventually I came across a ragged and dog-eared copy of William Peter Blatty’s novel and managed to slink away to read it until I could someday watch the movie.

When I did finally get to see it I was engulfed by it’s power to not only shock but to be genuinely scary. Even the music score is amazing as well as the photography (that poster pose is in the movie and not just marketing pic). Despite the four decades since it’s release it remains as good a horror movie as ever with just a tad sign of aging. That green pus vomit would have a few other color shades and be a bit more textured today.

I should point out that the Max von Sydow was not the aged denizen he portrayed in the movie and was in fact middle aged at the time they were shooting. That’s all makeup giving him that wise old man look. Particularly impressive as I watched him grow old in real life to transform into the very makeup he wore for the movie. Now That was spooky!

Movie Reviews 179 – Zombie (1979)

April 11, 2014

zombi_2While George Romero‘s 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead” may be the granddaddy of the modern Zombie movie, Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie” ( A.K.A. “Zombi 2”, A.K.A. “Zombie 2: The Dead are Among Us”, A.K.A “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, and finally A.K.A “Woodoo”) is not far behind in terms of influence and setting out the modern lore. Well once you remember all those titles for that one film. If you’re wondering why some of the titles have a ‘2” in them when the film is not a sequel to anything, you’re not alone. Apparently “Night of the Living Dead” was released in Europe as “Zombi” as Fulci’s film was already underway so the producers just tagged it “Zombie 2” in some markets to take advantage of NotLD’s success.

When a mysterious boat is found drifting in the NY harbor a harbour patrol crew investigates only to be attacked by a zombie hidden in the cabin. The boat belongs to a missing scientist last known to have been on the remote island of Matul in the Antilles. The scientist’s daughter Anne (Tisa Farrow) and reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) find a cryptic note on the boat and set out to find her father. Arriving in the islands, they team up with another couple, Brian and Susan, who have a yacht that agree to take them to Matul. Once they arrive on Matul they meet Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) and find out that they are in the middle of some epidemic related to research done by Anne’s father. The epidemic is of course a growing horde of zombies slowly taking over the island.

The movie has a number of memorable graphic scenes, in particular setting the trend of using twitching maggots and crawling bugs coming out of various zombie orifices, now pretty much a staple for any tenable zombie. During the journey to Matul on the yacht, Susan decides to take a skinny dip in ocean where she has an memorable encounter with both shark and then an underwater zombie. Talk about bad luck. The shark is laughable (I guess they were still going afters the “Jaws” crowd) but the underwater zombie is pretty cool. There is an entire back-story with Dr. Menards wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) being cooped up in their house that ends up with an eye catching scene. Well eye spiking would be more accurate. As the makes it’s way to the jungle they also stumble upon an ancient Spanish Conquistador cemetery where the soldiers are just beginning to rouse from their graves. The zombie makeup and effects are phenomenal and the final battle for the island is awesome. Last but not least is the 70′s organ score by Fabio Frizzi. It’s no Goblin score, but good enough to get you in the right mood.

Being another one of the movies on the celebrated “Video Nasties” list banned in England, star McCulloch did not get to see the movie himself until many years later when the DVD was finally released. Also look for Lucio Fulci himself in a cameo (uncredited) as the newspaper editor. Another incidental (yet prophetic) detail of this movie is the fact that both the opening and closing scenes prominently feature the twin towers.

My one beef while watching the movie was the piss poor video transfer and terribly muddled sound on my Anchor Bay DVD. But from a must see point of view, even this will suffice, but just barely. You can find better looking DVD as it was remastered after the Anchor Bay release. But you’ll have to memorize the multiple titles I listed as the better DVDs use various titles. But do watch this movie!

Movie Reviews 178 – Children of the Corn IV: The Gathering(1996)

April 9, 2014

Children of the Corn IVThis fourth installment in the Children of the Corn series comes as something of a surprise as it is given the star studded treatment, but sadly it doesn’t have a story to give the actors anything to chew on.

Aside from B-movie grande dame Karen Black and fixture character actor William Windom, the star is none other than Naomi Watts as Grace, a woman forced to take a break from her medical studies so that she can return to her rural hometown to take care of her ailing mom (Black). Her deteriorating mom is having psychological issues trying to take care of the other two young children in the family. While there, the local doc (Windom) is happy to temporarily rehire Grace in her old job helping out at his clinic. Quite fortuitous as it turns out since the very next day all the town kids come down with a serious fever. She can barely keep up with the sudden patient influx when the fever breaks for all the kids almost as quickly as it came.

But not all kids are unscathed. A family about to depart town for a new life is turned upside down when the mother is suddenly torn to shreds with only her son in the room as the father (Brent Jennings) tries to break down the door, helplessly hearing the carnage. The cops see the father, Donald, as the only possible suspect even though the son is the one who makes a break for the corn fields as the father pleads his innocence. When the boy makes the break, the father and cops hunt him down only to have the cops share the fate that the mother did hours earlier. Knowing that once again the father will be the likely suspect, he nabs the boy and makes his getaway.

Meanwhile at the clinic Grace can’t understand the weird blood sample readings she’s getting from the kids and the doc seems to have disappeared. When Donald bursts in insisting that Grace follow him, he brings her to the home of two elderly women who tell them the strange (and convoluted) old tale of a onetime child preacher named Josiah that used to perform annual revival sessions in town. Only when the citizens realized that something wasn’t quite right with the boy they took matters into their own hands, and killed him. Now Josiah is trying to return from the dead, but to do that he needs a child ‘just like himself’. Turns out that Grace has a secret of her own and that secret fulfills Josiah’s current needs.

While the script is universally week, Black’s character in particular is completely wasted here. The movie has very little to do with any other Children of the Corn movies so far, with nary a mention or chant of “He who walks behind the rows”. Too bad the story and script suck as the acting from the stars and even minor roles is better than the other Children of the Corn movies thus far.

 

Movie Reviews 177 – The Wicker Man (1973)

April 5, 2014

The Wicker ManIt’s hard to take the tagline “The Citizen Kane of horror movies” too seriously, but don’t take it too lightly either. The Wicker Man (not to be confused with the 2006 remake) is a landmark film, and one of the strangest gems you may have overlooked.

The first time I started watching The Wicker Man years ago, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought I was in for a Hammer horror movie, after all, the stars include the great Christopher Lee and Ingrid Pitt. But this ain’t no Hammer horror although it does qualify as a horror in some respects. Brought to us by British Lion, a company still kicking around today despite it’s meager output over the years, the story of how this movie got made and was then unceremoniously dumped by the company is almost as fascinating as the film itself.

Starting off as a simple police investigation on the remote Scottish island of Summerisle, all we know when constable Howie (Edward Woodward) arrives on the island is that he is not wanted and thwarted in every step in his investigation of a missing girl. Replete with phallic imagery, prancing naked women at every turn and group sex taking place out in the open in front of the local Green Man Inn, Howie is besieged by the pagan pageantry paraded before him. His deep Christian beliefs under assault, his disdain for the townsfolk and the island’s leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee) boil to the surface, almost setting aside the crux of his primary investigation. Little does he realize that it is those very pagan rituals are at the heart of the mystery he is trying to solve.

The Wicker Man-Howie

The audience is confronted along with Howie by the film’s brazen depiction of the May pole rituals the kids play and other islander quirks such as the medicinal remedy of putting a live frog in the mouths of children and a pharmacy that boasts a jar full of foreskins and the embalmed fetus of deformed pigs right next to a jar of bubblegum. (Not as intentional but just as shocking are the garish hairdos sported but Lee, both as a ‘normal’ Lord and then in the finale pagan parade. But that’s just a 70’s thing.) The ending addresses every aspect of the crime Howie was investigating, but we are left with one final shocking scene.

The Wicker Man - masks

The one thought that went through my head as I watched was how great a film it could have been with Peter Cushing as inspector Howie (with all respect to Woodward). Imagine my surprise watching the DVD extra featurette “The Enigma of the Wicker Man” to learn that Cushing was offered the part but could not accept due to other film commitments. It’s a fascinating documentary about the trials and tribulations this movie has undergone from inception, fickle release and eventual cult status and should be savored just as much as the movie.

Movie Reviews 176 – The Puppet Masters (1994)

April 3, 2014

kinopoisk.ruNot to be confused with the series of Puppet Master movies by B-movie maestro Charles Band (the first six of which I’ve reviewed here and here), this is the adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 novel. Now I’ll let you know right away that long before this movie came out I was a devoted fan of Heinlein’s and have in fact read most of his novels. All this to say that I was thrilled and had high expectations.

Sadly, this movie is only an adaptation in the most superficial sense possible. It’s is still an alien invasion and the aliens take over human hosts by clinging to their backs and tapping into their nerve systems. The rest is pure Hollywood alien excrement that even a star like Donald Sutherland cannot save. There are more plot holes and things that just don’t make sense that’ll make you cringe for most of the movie.

Unlike many movies that have a plot device where aliens take over their human hosts, there is very little mystery as to which characters are ‘turned’ so that element is hardly part of the plot. Instead we see government forces ‘slowly’ (and painfully) trying to stop the spread of the alien invasion. Despite the evident threat, they seem to track it like it was some bad weather storm instead of putting everything and everyone on alert and advising the public. Even sillier is how the aliens go about reproducing the parasitic flying ray creatures that attack the humans and how the ‘hive’ spreads.

The only few good parts are some of the special effects and the ‘fake saucer’ used at the beginning of the invasion where a evident backup ‘mock up’ saucer run by some kids is actually a human recruiting point. I’m only glad that this movie was made a few years after Heinlein had passed on and he did not have to witness this travesty himself.

Any one of the many “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” movies is better than this. Hell, any one of the Charles Band “Puppet Master” movies are better than this!

Read the novel.

Movie Reviews 175 – Demolition Man (1993)

March 30, 2014

Demolition ManA movie pitting dual dubious thespians Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes in a futuristic Super Cop versus Super Villain showdown makes you want to lick your lips in anticipation right?. Demolition Man sure didn’t appeal to me back in ‘93 and after hearing the inevitable scorching reviews I just forgot that this movie even existed. (It’s called “Motivated forgetting” where your brain protects itself from psychological trauma.)

But when I came across this DVD I must have been in a nostalgic mood as I decided to pick it up despite some remnant instincts putting up an ill fated fight to come back to my senses. And it then took me quite a while after that to once again rouse a mood to view the film. But I have to admit that knowing exactly what I was in for softened the blow and I was actually enjoying the movie, dated action sequences, corny dialog and all. Even learning that one of the co-stars was Sandra Bullock (who I really don’t like as an actress) was not enough to stop me which is saying a lot.

We begin in a near future era in which John Spartan (Sly) is a feisty and aggressive cop battling his arch rival, criminal Simon Phoenix (Snipes). He’s taken hostages and is hiding out in some enormous building complex. All the other cops are wary of doing anything but Spartan takes charge, rushes in and shooting Phoenix’s gang of thugs. Phoenix is captured but has another ace up his sleeve, a booby trap that blows up the building. The hostages are found dead and Spartan is convicted of the crime. Both Spartan and Phoenix end up in cryogenic ice pucks!

That is until Phoenix is reanimated for a paroled hearing in the year 2032, and manages to escape. The world has changed a lot in the intervening years and police work, largely automated, is more accustomed to petty lawbreakers than anything really violent. Phoenix is clearly out of their league so they unfreeze Spartan to hunt him down. Spartan is teamed with officer Huxley (Bullock) all too eager for old-style down and dirty law enforcement. Spartan on the other hand has a hard time adjusting to a society where tickets are handed out for using foul language.

The movie quickly boils down to a bunch of comic sequences where are two combatants are stymied by how society works (or doesn’t work) in the future, all while their battle rages on. It’s all good clean (if goofy) fun, as long as you keep expectations low. Really low.

As I watched this movie I couldn’t get the similarities between Sly as Spartan and another futuristic cop movie he managed to mangle, the beloved character of Judge Dredd in the 1995 titular named movie. At least here, he’s just messing a throwaway character. And ‘throwaway’ is pretty much the adjective that describes this movie.

Movie Reviews 174 – Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

March 28, 2014

Children of the Corn IIIAfter the big letdown that was Children of the Corn II:The Final Sacrifice, I had to regroup my cinematic senses to muster the nerve to plunk in my DVD of Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest and continue my cornfield journey. And what the hell are they implying with the oxymoronic “Urban Harvest” anyhow? It all makes sense if you can swallow a lot logic along with that corn on your plate.

I understand the producers wanting to take the story out of the farm fields and into the city as it could open up a bunch of new possibilities for the story. The problem was that once they did that, they didn’t take full advantage of it and held onto most aspects of the prior CotC movies.

Gatlin farmboy brothers Eli (Daniel Cerny) and the elder Joshua (Ron Melendez) are taken in as foster children to a family in big city Chicago when their drunken belligerent father dies chasing his young ‘uns in the cornfields one night. Yeah, young Eli was responsible for the nasty deed with the help of our familiar friend who simply goes by the name of He Who Walks Behind The Rows. The oddity here is that his older brother Joshua doesn’t seem to know about Eli’s evil ways, and plays role of the innocent protagonist in the film.

As one can imagine, both boys stick out like sore thumbs in their new ‘hood and especially in the racial melting pot of 1990’s inner city high school where the fashion trends of the day featured crimped hairdos, dance leggings and coveralls. Well OK, maybe if the boys wore their coveralls instead of their black slacks and jackets with collarless white shirts it wouldn’t have been so conspicuous.

The antagonism leveled towards Eli from his new foster mother Amanda (Nancy Lee Grahn) begins almost as soon as the brothers arrive. Not only does Eli defy his parents by breaking through the fence in their backyard to access the abandoned building immediately adjacent to the house, he finds an inner open courtyard and plants the corn seeds he’s brought from home. As Eli starts playing games with his mother’s sanity, his relationship with his new father (Jim Metzler) is decidedly more urbane, especially when the father learns of the spectacular properties of the corn Eli is growing. Ever the ruthless capitalist, he envisions dollar signs for the seeds of the corn that seems to be able to grow without much light, water or anything more than dust as a soil bed.

Meanwhile the schism between the brothers grows as Joshua starts adapting, making friends and even falling for a girl. Initially mocked by the entire school, Eli starts recruiting a flock of goth clothed students who soon protect him like the messiah he poses to be, all the while preaching the gospel of He Who Walks Behind The Rows.

The big surprise in this movie is the conflict between siblings Eli and Joshua which does make for an interesting part of the movie. More troublesome (and hard to swallow) was hot Eli actually managed to get converts to the flock. Aside from hearing him ranting in the school hallways and cafeteria, the emergence of the flock, not even mentioning the absolute dedication, seems to come out of nowhere overnight.

In the end it is up to Joshua to bring down his little evil bro and his band of minions.

Despite the flaws, Urban Harvest is a cut above The Final Sacrifice and also provides a clear sequel oriented ending which I will explore when I get around to CotC IV: The Gathering.

Movie Reviews 173 – Art School Confidential (2006)

March 13, 2014

Art School ConfidentialI’ve only seen two other Terry Zwigoff movies before and they were both fantastic movies that I could not recommend more. Both are radically different from one another and yet both are quirky and unusual when compared to their ‘conventional’ counterparts. Another common trait of both films is that they are universally loved by genre fans. The first is the excellent documentary Crumb on the life of legendary comic creator Robert Crumb and his dysfunctional family. The fact that he was even able to convince the reclusive Crumb to make the movie was a coup in itself. The other movie is the adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World. Most people today would call it notable it being one of ‘Scarjo’s’ earliest movies, although truth be told the acting accolades go Thora Birch for that one (and a great Steve Buscemi role). The movie is worthy just to hear the sixties Indian rockabilly song Jan Pechan Ho, but beware you won’t get it out of your head once you’ve heard it.

When I first found Art School Confidential in a DVD cheapie bin the description along with the cover hinting at a comic book angle was enough to entice me to buy it. Upon closer look once I got home I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this was another Zwigoff movie which made it all that better. But imagine my surprise when the opening credits proclaimed that it was written by none other than Clowes himself. Another Ghost World perhaps? Well, not so fast.

While the movie does has some unique, and yes somewhat eccentric aspects, it is certainly a more traditional movie than I’ve come to expect from Zwigoff.  The core story is simply about a new art school student Jerome (Max Minghella) trying to get through his first year, and his infatuation with Audrey (Sophia Myles) a girl that once posed as a nude model for one of his classes. John Malkovich plays a frustrated teacher trying to have his own art show, while praising most of the crap pseudo-art being submitted by some of his students in class. There is also a back story of one particular student who isn’t all he seems to be, and a current murder spree for which our protagonist accidentally becomes the prime suspect, all unbeknownst to himself. Aside from the quirky characters there isn’t anything else unusual or innovative in the presentation that I’ve come to expect from Zwigoff. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, as it isn’t a bad movie per se, but not not as good as the other films I’ve mentioned.

I’m sure art students and aficionados will enjoy it more as the art aspect impinges on everything and everyone in the movie. The ‘making of’ features on the DVD also talks about the art used in the film that was quite interesting.

It is based on a Clowes short comic story in one of his Eightball issues, but I don’t have it in any of my Clowes books. At only 4 pages, I won’t go out of my way to seek it out, but will probably eventually come across in one of his collection books.

 

Movie Reviews 172 – Children of the Corn 2: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

March 9, 2014

Children of the Corn IIChildren of the Corn 2 starts eight years after the events in the first movie where the kids went on murderous spree of ‘parentocide’ and took over the town of Gatlin. The opening scene is a team of emergency responders and cops going into a basement and finding half the town’s adults in varying degrees of decay.  Apparently that couple that escaped the dreaded ‘Corn’ children at the end of the first movie were more responsible than we were led to believe. It seems that they did stop and report to the authorities that all the adults were killed by the kids after all, despite leaving town with smiles on their faces and with nothing but joy in their hearts.

The authorities round up all the kids and put them into a school bus to be processed. But right then and there they state that they are content to just let the kids stay in foster homes, both in town and surrounding areas, despite some of the neighboring adults decrying the kids murderous intentions and fears they will strike again. Sure, they’re only kids right?

This second movie again opts for a pair of out-of-towners rolling in and being setup as the next unsuspecting victims of  those devilish kids. This time instead of a happy young couple it’s a young man, Danny (Paul Scherrer) reluctantly reunited with his dad John (Terence Knox) who happens to be reporter reduced to writing thrash for a tabloid. He drags Danny into town in the hopes of getting a story about the massacre but they arrive just as the roundup fanfare is all over. They do however decide to stay at the local inn where the owner has taken in Micah (Ryan Bollman), one wayward kids herself.

Danny soon falls for Lacey (Christie Clark), one of the only teens in town who isn’t one of the whacked out devil worshipers and who isn’t wearing 18th century clothing. She actually doesn’t wear all that much at all when not in faded jeans and sneaker, but that was a given, right? The kids, now under the rule of Micah are already back to their rituals in the cornfields once again praying to He Who Walks Behind The Rows again and as fast as you can say “Demonic Deity” the adults in town start dropping like flies. Meanwhile Danny’s dad John has fallen for the MILF innkeeper, so you know the father and son, each with their own new gal in tow, become the prime target for the kids.

Not much to hail for for in this film other than a few quite comical modes of dispatching some of the old folks, the notables being the remote control wheel into traffic and the death by house falling. I don’t mean someone falling off a house, I mean a house falling on someone. Trust me, it’s funny.

The acting can be pretty brutal but it is the lack of any meaningful or endearing characters that really plague this film. The one character for who there was even a shred of credibility was the Native American Indian and Historian academic Frank Redbear (Ned Romero), who is researching ancient stone drawings depicting the history and prophecy of both He Who Walks Behind The Rows and the general disregard for the land.

Despite the “Final Sacrifice” subtitle, I will have to sacrifice and endure many more hours to this series as the end is not in sight. Did I mention I have five more films from of this series sitting on my shelves?

Movie Reviews 171 – The Terror (1963)

March 5, 2014

The TerrorOne of the earlier Roger Corman productions and one that he also directed, The Terror is probably better known today as one of Jack Nicholson’s earlier movies. It also features another staple actor in Corman productions, the great Boris Karloff. As it has fallen into the public domain you’ll easily find it almost any DVD cheapie bin and bundled in many collections of horror movies.

The opening sequence certainly gave me a bit of jolt as it shows a man riding a horse along an oceanfront beach shore with the sounds of crashing waves shot from an high outcropping. This scene just screams as a re-shoot of the iconic Planet of the Apes final shot but without the statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand. Sadly, this was as exciting as it got.

The horseman is Lt. Andre Duvalier (Nicholson), a wayward French soldier in the Napoleonic wars. He encounters a mysterious woman on the beach who gives him water and then disappears wading out to sea. Duvalier himself is overcome by the waters and wakes up in an old woman’s hut. Trying to find out more about the beautiful woman, Duvalier is eventually led to a castle perched high along the shore. There he finds Baron Victor Frederick Von Leppe (Karloff) and his Bronx accented butler Stephan (Dick Miller), but all feign ignorance about the woman despite a large portrait of a woman who looks just like her in the foyer.

Slowly, we unravel the story about how long ago the Baron returned to find his wife Ilsa in the arms of another and how he killed killed them in a jealous fury. But for the last two years he has been haunted by her vision and even taunted by her ghost to end his own life so that he can rejoin her in the afterlife.

The sappy love story has elements of witchcraft and other twists (the clincher being downright silly) but it was not easy viewing only part of the problem was the terribly aged and faded print that made some scenes almost completely indiscernible if it wasn’t for the voices. (I wonder if all these public domain movies use the same print on all the DVDs or if some movies have both good and bad prints on DVDs?)

I guess this is for Corman purists alone. You can get much better performances from Karloff in other movies and Nicholson is just a young kid really, not having developed his bad-ass persona yet. The only few good moments was watching those classic stock footage shots of the dark castle and the lighting effects to really get any sense of an old horror story. As another curious note, Francis Ford Coppola was associate producer on this, being a Corman disciple as I mentioned in my review of Dementia 13.


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