Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Hopper’

Movie Reviews 330 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

January 26, 2018

Tobe Hooper really raised the bar when he directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre which arguably is one of the best horror movies ever produced. The introduction of the dysfunctional family of cannibals rewrote the book on horror movies and became an instant classic.

Being one of his first movies Hooper went on to have a decent run of genre movies during the following years but never eclipsed TCM. I don’t know what motivated him to do this follow up, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a dozen years after the first but one thing that is clear is that he did not just go back to familiar ground despite this story being presented as events and characters that supposedly follow the original TCM but takes place a number of years after.

Gone was the profound darkness and drama, biting edge horror and human depravity. And in came the … comedy?

The family, now identified as the Sawyers, are led by Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow) who promotes the family’s swine meat business across the state driving his winnebago while sons Bubba ‘Leatherface’ (Bill Johnson) and Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) man their cavernous underground bunker home hidden under an abandoned amusement park.

When two drunken frat boys driving their way to a college football game decide to call in to the local radio show to mess with DJ “Stretch” (Caroline Williams) during her overnight show, the Sawyer boys saddle up to them on the road for a little deadly fun. The ensuing carnage is all caught on tape in the studio and Stretch begins to investigate. Her path soon crosses that of Lieutenant “Lefty” Enright (Dennis Hopper) who has been on the Sawyer trail since the disappearance of his nephew, the wheelchair bound boy in the first movie.

At Lefty’s urging Stretch plays the explicit audio tape on-air which brings Leatherface and Chop-Top to the station where they kidnap her and her engineer L.G. (Lou Perryman) and bring them to their hangout. It is up to Enright to come and save the day as the Sawyer hold a family feast with Stretch as the guest of honour.

The comedic elements include Leatherface being taunted for having a girlfriend when he becomes reluctant to do the family’s bidding and when ‘grandpa’ who can barely move is awarded the privilege of dealing the death blow to Stretch. When Enright arrives it becomes one giant multi-chainsaw battle of wits and twits (siding more on the latter) with labyrinthine chases within the hodge podge architecture of the abode. Part of the charm in this film also lies in the elaborately decorated sets, the feature being the Sawyer ‘home’ and it’s many tunnels, funnels and garbage strewn decor. The makeup and special effects are also particularly impressive under the hands of master Tom Savini.

Don’t get me wrong this is a fan favorite for many and taken on it’s own it is a fun movie. But fun is the key word and those who watch it expecting the gruesome horror of the original will be disappointed.



Movie Reviews 315 – Blue Velvet (1986)

September 22, 2017

David Lynch‘s unique and often disturbing storytelling style was already well established when he wrote and directed Blue Velvet. After his debut Eraserhead had patrons scratching their heads he briefly turned to mainstream cinema with the highly successful Elephant Man and then followed that with the disastrous Dune adaptation. Blue Velvet was his triumphant return to his personal twisted turf, garnering accolades as much as controversy.

The tale of how a small town local returns when his father suffers a heart attack, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) stumbles upon a bloody human ear in a field. The local police detective effectively turns him away from the investigation, but the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) proves to be much more insightful and leads him to spying on a woman (Isabella Rossellini) in a nearby apartment building. Breaking into her apartment one night Jeffrey discovers that Dorothy is being tormented by someone, but the reasons are unclear, and only later does he learn that she is being abused and debased by a Frank (Dennis Hopper), a crazed drug lord holding her family hostage.

Dorothy is a nightclub singer whose signature song is Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet with Frank being regular patron for her performances, always clutching and salivating over a piece of blue velvet fabric that he has cut from her housecoat. When Frank encounters Jeffery he strong-arms him into joining him and his motley crew of thugs who are nearly as insane as Frank into a night of audacious whorehouse and bar visits. All during this time Jeffrey is vying for Sandy while being seduced by a masochistic Dorothy who is never fully hinged.

Lynch’s suburbia noir, rumoured to be a partial biopic, is equally repelling and viscerally fascinating. A movie that begins with sunny white picket fences transitioning to Dorothy’s dark dingy crimson apartment, and then back again. Hopper’s portrayal of Frank is equally bipolar, one minute a sleazy screaming brute who regresses into a babbling baby when seducing Dorothy, only to snap back if she so much as looks at him directly. Dorothy’s torment goes beyond mere abuse and at her lowest point dazedly walks the evening streets fully unclothed, one of many scenes eliciting scorn from critics for having Rossellini put through such an ordeal. The fine line between art or exhibitionism is razor thin.

Marking the triumphant return of Dennis Hopper to Hollywood after a stint in rehab, Blue Velvet really must to be seen to be appreciated. Full of nuggets and subtleties like the organ music score playing as Sandy explains her dreams of robins to Jeff with street view of a church as a backdrop. The film never explains how and why Dorothy’s family got into the predicament with Frank in the first place, but this ambiguity and other non-traditional indiscretions to film storytelling ‘rules’ enhances the mystery of the film and part of what make them ‘Lynchian’.

No review of Blue Velvet is complete without mentioning Angelo Badalamenti fabulous score which aside from Vinton’s song equally effectively uses Roy Orbison’s “In dreams” hauntingly being lip synched by Dean Stockwell.

My MGM Special Edition DVD contained a documentary made a number of years after the movie that I found to be almost as mesmerizing as the movie itself and further mystifying the enigmatic director. He reportedly found the brutal rape scene uncontrollably funny and laughed throughout the filming. Another surprise addition was the wildly divergent review by Gene Siskel and Robert Ebert from one of their old “At the Movies” episodes, which really completed my time machine viewing experience.

Movie Reviews 135 – Waterworld (1995)

August 9, 2013

WaterworldWaterworld provided watershed moment in the history of cinema. It cemented the downfall of the once mighty Kevin Costner as king of the box office after a few years of some pretty remarkable movies. But the failure of this movie was more about the oversized budget and the lack of a proportional return on investment once the movie hit the big screens. Its failure was headline fodder for years and forever soiled the once bank worthy Costner name. The sad part of all this is that it isn’t really that bad movie and suffered more than it should have because of all the negative publicity at the time.

Set in a post apocalyptic world where the Earth is entirely covered by the ocean and denizens (are they even really denizens if they do not belong to any landmass anywhere?) live on boats and giant floating fort flotillas cobbled together by bits and pieces of whatever solid matter is available from the past. Think of ‘Mad Max’ on water.

Some people talk about some mythical land but people don’t even seem to be sure that the planet once had land before the ice caps melted. They trade and barter on the high seas where both soil and fresh water are valuable commodities. Sad looking potted plants offer up the occasional fruit or vegetable and, as one can imagine, piracy is problem. The biggest worry are attacks and pillages by an organized gang of ‘smokers’ led by Deacon (Dennis Hopper). Replace motorcycles by Seadoos and you get and idea of what their runs are like. The smokers also have a massive, nearly depleted oil tanker as their main ship.

Keeping to himself for the most part, the sailor simply known as the Mariner (Costner) enters one such floating fortress to make a few trades one day when he runs afoul of some of the nastier elements. The confrontation leads to a surprising disclosure about his identity which ends up with him being imprisoned. But a timely smoker attack allows his to escape but with the added burden of two extra passengers on his intricately designed catamaran. Also unfortunate for the Mariner is the fact Deacon is specifically seeking out one of those passengers as she is reputed to have the secret to finding ‘land’. The movie slowly notches up the action as streetwise savvy (without the streets) Mariner outfoxes sea pirates, nutcases and Smokers.

The challenges of filming almost entirely on water proved to be a bit too much and the sinking of a city block sized set midway through filming sealed the fate of the movie. Even today, I find most reviewers are overly harsh. It is a more than just a simple action movie in that it has something of an interesting and novel premise (if you don’t over think the logic of it all) and aside from decent (if subdued) acting by Costner, decent (if over the top) acting by Hopper, we have also have Jeanne Triplehorn (Mickey Blue Eyes) as the damsel in distress.

Not a fantastic movie but entertaining enough.

Movie Reviews 130 – Land of the Dead (2005)

July 6, 2013

Land of the DeadLand of the Dead was George Romero’s fourth Living Dead movie in the series after a 20 year hiatus following Day of the Dead. While DofD showed a pretty barren world nearly overrun by zombies and devoid of humans except for the odd handful here and there, Land of the Dead gives us an entire city of ramshackle survivors and featuring Fiddler’s Green, a private luxurious downtown highrise where the privileged inhabitants are nearly oblivious to the goings on outside.

The catch is that the resources keeping Fiddler’s Green afloat and keeping these rich folk nice and cozy comes at the hands of the poverty stricken refugees lingerings in the outskirts of the building. The goods are acquired by scavenging crews that go out in the zombie infested countryside to see what can be salvaged from the remnants of houses and commercial enterprises. They go out to feed and shelter the down and out living around the city, but selling the best of what they can recoup to the Fiddler’s Green head honcho, Mr. Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) and his acolytes.

One of those grubby scavengers pandering to Kaufman is Cholo (John Leguizamo). Eager to please, he not only delivers necessities but also the occasional fine champagne and cigars. He figures that with the money Kaufman owes him for a few years of service he’s ready to buy himself his own spot in the building. He’s actually part of a whole crew of Dead Reckoning, the name given to a Zombieproof hell on wheels. A souped up and fortified assault vehicle fully equipped with guns, radar, fireworks (I’ll explain that in a sec)  and even missile launchers. The crew is run by Riley (Simon Baker or as I know him, The Mentalist guy) who isn’t so enamored by the Fiddler’s Green folk and just wants to feed and protect the miserly people.

The twist in this movie is that the zombies are starting to act a bit differently. Right out of the gates in the first scene in which the Dead Reckoning crew hit a few houses, they are confronted by one particular zombie, a former gas pump attendant, who doesn’t quite follow the mindless mindset. This particular zombie can put two and two together and make some sound decisions. This is not good for anybody but especially the humans who rely on the fireworks to keep the zombies distracted whenever they need cover for Dead Reckoning forays. Fireworks seem to distract the zombies for a few minutes at least. But this one Zombie ignores the fireworks and before long other zombies follow his example. Could the zombies be developing intelligence?

When Cholo learns that ‘his kind’ are not welcome in Fiddlers Green and never will be no matter what, he leads a renegade group to commandeer Dead Reckoning and threatens to blow up the building lest his demands are met. Why Riley is no fan of Kaufman and the rest of the elite holed up there, he knows that losing Dead Reckoning is too important to everyone else, so he and his loyal crew have to stop Cholo.

Now there are plot holes aplenty in this film, the silliest being the use of money as something of actual value in world gone to hell. Even worse is making demands for huge sums of it. And I’m sure that a lot of people will take offense at the notion of zombies acquiring intellect. But the movie is not total garbage as there is a decent amount of action and while silly, its is somewhat interesting to watch zombies with a sparkle of a few working brain cells. We also have the introduction of a new recruit to the Dead Reckoning crew in the form of Slack (Asia Argento) who captures Riley’s eye. Watch out for cameos roles for Simon Pegg and his “Shaun of the Dead” co-writer and director Edgar Wright and FX makeup guru Greg Nicotero.

Not quite worth a 20 year wait, but its Romero zombies so I’ll take it.