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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Firestarter (1984) - Mark Lester

Firestarter is a science-fiction horror film released in 1984 and directed by Mark Lester. It serves as one of the many Stephen King adaptations released by the Dino de Laurentiis Company. This one is based on the 1980 novel of the same name. The film stars David Keith, a young Drew Barrymore, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen and a miscast George C. Scott. The soundtrack is expertly provided by the eighties progressive rock band, Tangerine Dream. I had seen this movie a number of times before. But this was the only time that I actually sat down to review it. I am watching the Google Play version of the movie.

Andy McGee and his daughter Charlie are on the run from a secret government organization known as The Shop, that is seeking them out in order to lock them up for experimentation. Andy and Charlie both have a secret psionic ability. Andy can manipulate your mind, but Charlie can set things on fire just by looking at them. Quite a dangerous power for such a little girl to have. The Shop employs a mercenary, John Rainbird to hunt the pair down with the promise of obtaining the little girl for his own… uses.

This is a decent enough picture. It has a good story and the characters are all presented fairly well. George C. Scott is terrifying as John Rainbird, but he feels miscast. It’s weird since his character is literally the scariest part of the movie. There is a scene with Rainbird talking about hunting down Charlie McGee and getting inside of her… it’s just gross. It makes all the scenes of him lingering around her creepy. His breathy perseverance is perverse. It’s disgusting. Drew Barrymore was more convincing. It was annoying to see her cry and whine so much, but I liked the character of Charlie. She had good development, as that seemed to be the main focus of the film. Her relationship with her father is a good vehicle for growth.

The fire effects are pretty amazing for the time. But it doesn’t do much to make the viewing all that exciting. The showdown scenes are entertaining, but all the filler with George C. Scott hunting/tricking Charlie are boring and not very exciting. The editing was poor and direction is all over the place. John Carpenter was originally tapped to direct, but The Thing didn’t do very well at the box office, and he was replaced by Mark Lester (Roller Boogie and Class of ‘84).

Firestarter had always been a kinda guilty pleasure of mine. When I first watched the movie on television, I was too young to care about the Stephen King connection or the poor production. But as I got older I appreciated the loose threads to the Castle Rock universe. I began to understand that the movie was poor, but it still told the story and provided deep lore into Stephen King’s world. It’s best enjoyed in a marathon of bad King movies like Cat’s Eyes, Children of the Corn or Sleepwalkers. It’s not the best movie, but it’s not a bad way to kill an hour and forty-nine minutes.

This movie ties into other Stephen King works with the inclusion of The Shop. They are a government agency responsible for a lot of big events in the universe. They created Lot 6, an experimental drug that gave psychokinetic powers to Andy, Vicky and Charlie in Firestarter. This organization is responsible for unleashing the creatures in The Mist and Dreamcatcher. In The Stand, they were tasked with getting the superflu Captain Tripps under control. They failed. While not explored further, they are an interesting part of this shared universe.

Director: Mark L. Lester
Producers: Frank Capra, Jr. and Martha Schumacher
Writer: Stanley Mann
Starring: David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Freddie Jones, Heather Locklear, Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Art Carney and Louise Fletcher
Music: Tangerine Dream
Cinematography: Giuseppe Ruzzolini
Studio: Dino de Laurentiis Company
Release Date; May 11, 1984
Budget: $10 million
Box office: $17.1 million
Did ya know: George C. Scott wears an eye patch over his left eye during the final half hour of the film which was due to the infection caused by the contact lens used earlier in the film. The eye was not quite healed and had to wear it to complete the filming of his scenes.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

The Woman in Black (1989) - Herbert Wise

The Woman in Black is a made-for-television supernatural horror movie from 1989. It had originally broadcast on iTV on Christmas Eve and did moderately well in the ratings. The program was distributed by Granada Television and directed by Herbert Wise. It is based on the novel of the same name, written by Susan Hill. The book was published only a few years before. It is rumored that Ms. Hill was on the set, and wasn’t very keen on the slight changes the studio had made.

Taking place in England during the Edwardian Era, Mr. Arthur Kidd is a solicitor sent to settle the estate of a friendless old widow, Mrs. Drablow. Who had recently passed away. He takes the train to Crythin Gifford, the town in which the widow had resided and died. Arthur is warned about the strange dealings and going-ons that take place in the dreary and mysterious Eel Marsh House. Arthur is warned by the people of Crythin Gifford, to leave and return to London. However, he stays and intends to complete the job he was sent to do.

The artistic direction is pretty good. It’s set sometime around the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, so costuming is a huge part of the production. I really dug the costumes even if they felt too flashy and new. While the movie did a decent job of presenting the setting, they still had a pretty limited budget. I guess they worked well with what they had.

The scares in the movie are simple. They are events based in the supernatural. But they don’t jump out at you or slather your eyeballs in crimson corn syrup. Instead we have ghosts creepily haunting the picture. Bringing a slower and more deliberate fear to the forefront. It’s something that can't be replicated by any run of the mil slasher. This kind of terror is what Hammer Horror films delivered magnificently in the sixties and seventies.

The Woman in Black is terrifying. I can really appreciate a good creepy ghost woman. I also love the more subtle and psychological scares that the movie delivers. There is a scene done in fog that relies on heavy sound. It’s intense. In fact the entire movie relies heavily on sound. This is a great for movie buffs that want to find something more rustic and worn for a good Halloween playlist. It’s definitely a fall movie.

Director: Herbert Wise
Producer: Chris Burt
Writer: Nigel Kneale
Starring: Adrian Rawlins, Bernard Hepton, David Daker and Pauline Moran
Studio: Granada Television
Release Date: December 24th, 1989
Running time: 103 minutes
Country: England
Language: English

Alien 3 (1992) - David Fincher

ALIEN³ is a sci-fi horror film from visionary director David Fincher. It was released on May 22nd, 1992 by 20th Century Fox to lukewarm reviews. No doubt this movie has a different feel than the previous entries. It’s far more bleak and depressing. The setting is different but the formula remains the same. Alien 3 marks another return to the franchise by actress Sigourney Weaver, returning to her role of the bad-ass, Ellen Ripley. Other actors include Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Paul McGann, Lance Henriksen and Holt McCallany.

Following the events of the first two films, Alien and Aliens. Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, Corporal Hicks, Newt and synthetic human Bishop are jettisoned from the Sulaco in an escape pod after a fire threatens the ship. The group are in stasis when they crash land on maximum security prison planet, Fiorina 161. Otherwise known as Fury 161. Unfortunately and controversially, Ripley is the sole survivor of the crash. Killing off the fan favorites and setting a dark tone for the remainder of the movie. The prisoners here on Fury are all male and have mostly all sworn to abide by a life of celibacy. Needless to say they don’t take to kindly to this woman that fell from the sky. Not to mention the horror that she brought with her in that escape pod.

Alien 3 was plagued from issues right from the start. It didn’t have a finalized script for a good portion of the production time. This caused a lot of frustration and confusion all leading to the original director, Vincent Ward, being replaced by newcomer, David Fincher. Fincher had been known for music-videos and short-films at this time. So, this movie would be a huge step in his career. However, the studio couldn’t keep out of meddling in the project. A huge sign that the producers didn’t have any confidence in this newfound director. Ultimately, this is why the movie has such a bad reputation. It’s also the reason why David Fincher had denounced the picture. The movie’s poor performance at the box office sure didn’t help things.

Growing up, I had seen this movie dozens of times on cable television. I remember watching it frequently, but being disappointed quite a bit. It bothered me that Hicks and Newt had to die. This is a big issue that this movie had suffered and continues to suffer from on review websites and from critics. It kills all momentum that the franchise had going forward and almost certainly killed the franchise altogether. You also don’t get much on-screen time with the Xenomorph. That always bugged me.

There are some really cool elements that this movie introduces. The setting is cool. Fiorina 161 is a cool concept, and I appreciate the effort in expanding the already interesting Ridley Scott Universe. I also really liked the prisoners. Sometimes it felt weird that so many inmates were from England, but after a bit - it felt natural. The Xenomorph in this one is one of my favorites. A Xenomorph/Dog Hybrid is badass, the few times you get to see it. I didn’t like the CGI parts. Most of the time is looked unnatural and off putting. But the practical effects were really well made.

Alien 3 is the worst of the original Quadrilogy. While I really like the idea of expanding the Scott Universe, the poor decisions and studio meddling hurt the movie and left a bunch of gaping holes. I really wish this feature turned out better than it had. It has entertaining scenes and a cool concept, but it was executed poorly and couldn’t maintain the quality that the first two movies had done. I suggest watching this along with the other movies Alien, Aliens and Alien: Resurrection.

Directed: David Fincher
Produced: Gordon Carroll, David Giler and Walter Hill
Screenplay: David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson
Story: Vincent Ward
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany and Lance Henriksen
Music: Elliot Goldenthal
Cinematography: Alex Thomson
Editor: Terry Rawlings
Production Company: Brandywine Productions
Distributed: 20th Century Fox
Release date: May 22, 1992
Running time: 114 minutes (Theatrical Cut)
145 minutes (Assembly Cut)
Country United States
Language English
Budget $50–55 million
Box office $159.8 million

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991) - Dean Tschetter


Pretty great Buddy Cop horror movie

Director: Dean Tschetter (as Alan Smithee)
Writers: Tom Tully and Dean Tschetter
Stars: Jake Dengel, Joe Sharkey, and Susann Fletcher
Rated: R
Country: USA
Language: English
Release Date: 2 May 1991 (USA)
Also Known As: Picking Up the Pieces
Budget: $250,000
Did ya Know: Joe Blocker's apartment is located in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, with the recognizable landmark statue of the Doughboy just outside the building.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Mr. Sardonicus (1961) - William Castle

Mr. Sardonicus is a curious little story from William Castle that involves an impressive tale propelled by an enticing cast. Oskar Homolka was engaging in a truly weird way as the man servant Krull. He tortures a young woman by hoisting her up by her thumbs and then putting leeches on her feet and face. He is cold and merciless. Definitely a strong secondary villain. But, Guy Rolfe as Mr. Sardonicus is frightful as fuck. He is a great villain. Sardonicus appears to be haunted by ghouls and discusses his displeasure with them in long discussions. His demeanor is intimidating and gloomy. He uses this emotionless mask that makes him even more frightening. 

Baron Sardonicus brings the world's leading surgeon to his home to fix his freakish appearance. Sir Robert Cargrave has been brought in to the estate for this purpose. If he doesn’t do the surgery, then Sardonicus will make his wife's face appear like his own. Oh, Cargrave has been making night eyes with our evil hosts wife. Shades of the convenient Old Dark House trope come into play. 

The film examines the Sardonicus' back-story and depicts him, somewhat, in a sensitive manner. Basically, Sardonicus used to be identified as Marek Toleslawski. He was poor and worked frantically to make money. His father had picked up a lottery ticket (#7707). However, he died the night that he bought it and was buried with it in his waistcoat. It turns out that Marek’s dad had won the lottery but was accidentally buried with the ticket. So Marek digs up his dad’s corpse. Except that when his fathers body is uncovered it shocks him so much that it transforms his face. It turns him into the freakish ghoul with the tight disfigured mouth. I appreciated getting some backstory. I always applaud additional world building. 

It’s William Castle so you know that your going to get a good amount of jump scares. Those combined with the torture/leeches scenes and Sardonicus’ mug make for a pretty decent horror movie. It’s nothing a preteen should lose any sleep over. The gimmick that Castle takes advantage of for this movie is the Punishment Poll. This is a part of the movie that was supposed to feel like audience participation. However, it was nothing more than another gimmick from the king of shock cinema. 

Technically Mr. Sardonicus is a really sound movie. I don't have many gripes or concerns about the picture. However, I do feel that some of the low-budget techniques showed through a bit. For example, it would have been expensive to show Sardonicus mouth moving. So to remedy this, Guy Rolfe was barely seen on screen when talking. Sometimes they would film him from behind to get away with hiding the mask. 

Mr. Sardonicus was good. I admired the curious tale and direction. I would have killed to see this in the movie theater during the sixties. William Castle was recognized for his odd tricks and gags during the screenings of his pictures. This feature had some great reveal moments and jump scares. Perfect for the Castle experience. I found the film to be striking but not necessarily scary. The scariest parts were Sardonicus’ disguise and mutated face. His featureless mask was the criterion for creepy. I am so sure that Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween owe a great deal of inspiration to this one.

Of course I would have to recommend movies like Phantom of the Opera. That movie seems like the most obvious suggestion. But this picture has also invoked nostalgia for films like Mystery of the Wax Museum, the Peter Lorre classic Mad Love and the Tom Cruise drama Vanilla Sky

William Castle

William Castle

Ray Russell

Oskar Homolka
Ronald Lewis
Audrey Dalton
Guy Rolfe
Vladimir Sokoloff
Erika Peters
Lorna Hanson

Columbia Pictures

Release Date
October 18, 1961

United States

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tower of Terror (1997) - D. J. MacHale

The Tower of Terror was an episode of The Wonderful World of Disney, which appeared in 1997 on ABC Network. It’s a fun movie that makes a creative connection to a ride in the Disneyland California Adventure theme park of the same name. Tower of Terror truly has the Disney look and feel. It fits right in line with a movie like Hocus Pocus or Haunted Mansion. In fact, do yourself a favor and set-up a little marathon. Those movies aren't great but it’s a fun way to pass a late October afternoon.

Tower of Terror follows Buzzy, a single dad (Steve Guttenberg) taking care of his daughter Anna (Kirsten Dunst) in Hollywood, California. Buzzy is a tabloid reporter that desperately wants to start writing legitimate material again. Abigail Gregory had tapped Buzzy to investigate the Hollywood Tower Hotel. An infamous haunted hotel that had been gained popularity for some righteous parties. However, the disappearance of five people in 1939 on Halloween is what it is known for. The group had been in an elevator when the hotel was struck by lightning. This kick-started some sort of black-magic that swallowed all passengers of the elevator that night. Buzzy agrees to help and starts his investigation. Everything points to a witch among the original group from ‘39. However, mysteries start to unfold. Guttenberg is on the case!

The actors did as good as they could be expected too. Obviously, Steve Guttenberg is the lead actor here. And with good reason. It’s pretty much just him. Kirsten Dunst does alright but her character doesn’t evolve much. Michael McShane is the next best. He is always funny. He is a master at timing and physical comedy. The other actors are kind of blah. The beginning of the movie shows us 1939 and the night that the people disappeared. However, it never really feels like ‘39. It looks like a poor interpretation of what a shined up version of the thirties would look like if it were made in 1997. The actors are too peppy. The thirties are too shined up. It’s too happy. Nothing looks real.

The movie isn’t necessarily scary. Tower of Terror has supernatural elements that are constrained in this neutered made-for-television short film. But that shouldn’t serve as a distraction. The movie still works on a number of levels and younger viewers will appreciate the minor scares. In fact, it might be too much for the very young and meek. Don’t let the fact that it’s a Disney movie fool you. You won't have any singing birds or other doe-eyed forest folk here. This movie exists solely as a minor thriller for pre-teens.

This movie was one of the first VHS tape that I had found when I started collecting. I think I found it sealed at a thrift-store for twenty-five cents. You have to love old media like VHS. It’s such a classic format. Of course this movie is more-than-likely available in higher resolution. However, watching it on VHS brings a sense of nostalgia. It’s a kind of nostalgia that belongs with a movie like this. It’s that warmth that Disney strides for.

Director: D. J. MacHale
Producer: Iain Paterson
Writer: D. J. MacHale
Starring: Steve Guttenberg, Kirsten Dunst, Michael McShane, Melora Hardin and John Franklin
Studio: Zaloom/Mayfield Productions, Walt Disney Television & ABC
Release Date: October 26, 1997
Country: USA
Did ya Know: Most of the tower footage in the film, both interior and exterior, were shot at the actual Tower of Terror attraction at the Disney's Hollywood Studios. Every time the hotel is seen from the outside, the Hollywood sign is seen behind it. In the 1939 sequence, the sign reads "Hollywoodland" which was the what the sign said back in those times. Steve Guttenberg and Nia Peeples would co-star in another TV movie together with 2015's Lavalantula.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Pit (1981) - Lew Lehman

The Pit (AKA. Teddy) is a dreadful horror film. The usual tropes exist. The list is loaded. But this poor horror movie has something all the other poor horror flicks don't have. Sammy Snyders. Snyders plays the annoying lead antagonist. Who am I to complain? This role is what brought the film to cult status. The other elements lack but Snyders' work is what remains the most notable. That's not a good thing. The picture looks interesting enough. But, doesn't take long for the picture to derail. It's just so damn curious. The box art is pleasant and weird. It's not the best art but at least it was created by hand. I hadn't heard of the movie before discovering it online. I can't think of seeing this movie on the racks at the video store. And seems to be pretty forgotten. I believe that makes it pretty rare. 

The plot revolves around a kid going through puberty in the worst way. I am not one to mince words. He acts like a strange little creep. His name is Jamie, and he isn't normal. Jamie flies off the handle at the slightest bump in a social setting. It's understandable that he would be bullied. But Jamie has a weapon for those bullies. A hole in the forest. Jamie had come across this hole deep in the woods. Inside of the hole are these weird goblin  things called Tra-La-Logs. These creatures need meat to survive and Jamie appears to be their only friend. One day he just starts pitching folks down into this pit. Anyone that had wronged him. Later he literally lets the Tra-La-Logs out! But that's when the horror movie really begins. It's not just about some awkward little asshole. 

Sadly, the movie takes a great deal of time to show Jamie lusting after his babysitter Sandy (Jeannie Elias). She is at the center of his perverse attention. Jamie clearly makes his intentions known while playing dumb the entire movie. It's annoying. Sandy denies his advances and he goes into full dramatic Emo mode. I would like this movie much more if Sammy Snyders wasn't in it. It's the worst. His annoying voice just rips across each scene thoroughly. I had to take a break. His antics infuriated me. 

There are small pockets of attempts at horror. I believe that this must have looked great on paper. But the movie doesn't genuinely deliver and I wouldn't want to watch it again. The ending is so mishmahsed that it becomes too unusual for it's own good. The sleaze, the gore and tone in the second half of the movie feel like a Roger Corman picture. Ordinarily that would be a good thing. In this case it just boils down to bad film-making. I can't say that I recommend it either. I can see why people would subject themselves to something like this as a cult feature. I would like to cast this movie into a pit. 

Director: Lew Lehman
Producer: Jennet Fode/John F. Bassett
Writer: Ian A. Stuart
Starring: Sammy Snyders and Jeannie Elias
Studio: Amulet Pictures/Ambassador Film Distributors/New World Pictures/Embassy Home Entertainment
Release Date: October 23, 1981
Country: Canada