Certain things need to be enjoyed on a Sunday morning sitting on the floor while eating a bowl of Fruit Loops or perhaps Apple Jacks. The collection of serials from 1936 titled Flash Gordon: Space Soldiers is one such. You need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy these. If you are looking for great acting and nuanced performances you should probably be watching On Golden Pond but if great over the top dialog pleases you then you have come to the right place. If you want jaw dropping special effects such as only computers can generate you should go looking for your Transformers DVD. However if you have an appreciation for practical effects put together with shoe strings and some gum and can appreciate the pure genius behind some of the visuals such as the Cloud City or even the look of the ray guns then you will smile. If you like your women so thin you can see the striations on their collar bones and your men so jacked on steroids that they can no longer bend their arms you will not be pleased. If, on the other hand, a naturally beautiful woman who doesn't believe in self starvation can turn your head or a man who is built not by chemicals but by doing a million push ups and jumping jacks impresses you, then you will be happy. Set aside your cynacism and your cares for 20 minutes and you will be treated to an adventure it would take a modern movie maker 2 hours to tell. A tale of Good vs Evil where good triumphs and justice is done.
Netflix Status: Currently Streaming
Spent a quiet afternoon last weekend in Uppsala, a small city some 70 kilometers north of Stockholm. The place is about three times as old as anything built by white folks in the US. In more recent years Uppsala is where the UppCon Manga & Anime-convention takes place. The BIG Manga & Anime Event in Sweden if you ask the local Nippophiles.
Everything you always wanted to know about werewolves but were always afraid to ask...
I grew up on the Universal Monsters. While the other boys on my street were talking up Jason and Freddy, I was tuning into AMC every Saturday afternoon to watch the black and white classics. Eventually it seemed like I had seen them all. So on one Friday afternoon sometime in the early 90s, my dad, brother and I went down to the video store in search of anything to watch besides Dracula for the 40th time. After what seemed like hours we left with The Monster Squad. Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, Wolfman, Mummy, and Gillman all in one movie and in color. My mind was blown. I must have watched that VHS tape four times that weekend, and for years my memory would go back to it. When it was finally released on DVD in 2007, I immediately went out to pick it up, desperately hoping that thing I hadn't seen in 15 years would hold up. Did it? Absolutely.
One could accuse The Monster Squad of being Goonies minus pirates minus "The Spielberg Touch" plus Monsters. They'd mostly be right, but the movie certainly has a charm all its own. Dracula has once again risen from the grave, this time he's in America to hunt down an amulet he can somehow use to take over the world, and he's bringing a who's who of the monsters from the Universal era with him. A group of kids who love classic movie monsters are drawn into things, and given their extensive knowledge on the subject, are the ones best suited to stop Drac and his minions.
Though it's clearly a love letter to the Universal pictures, this is not a Universal film, so the interpretations of the monsters needed to be a little different. Luckily they got none other than Stan Winston to reimagine them, and the character designs and effects still look really great. It's tough to follow in the footsteps of a makeup job that's as iconic and definitive as Boris Karloff's monster, but this one still works really well. The Mummy and Creature are great, too. This also falls into what I call "80's kids on an adventure" territory, complete with many of the hallmarks of that genre. They curse, one of them smokes and spies on a girl getting dressed, but the kids are pretty funny. They're also very quotable. Not only will The Monster Squad show you what happens when you try to blow Wolfman up with dynamite, but it will answer the even bigger of question of whether or not he has nards.
The Monster Squad has become a perennial favorite of mine, it's what I kicked my Halloween movie binge off with this year and I'll likely end up watching it again before the season is over. It's one of those too rare movies that are spooky and good for kids (as long as you're not prudish about a few things) and it's still a total blast for adults who enjoy that kind of Goonies adventure thing and deserves a place amongst similar, more well known movies like it. It's also on Netflix now, which seems weird to me given how hard to find it was for so many years.
Just don't call the fat kid "Fat Kid."
SCARE RATING: 1/5
OVERALL RATING: 4/5
Ba ba...DOOK DOOK DOOOOOUUUUHHHHK
I can count on one hand the number of horror movies made in the last 15 years (though it's probably more than that) that I actually like. After watching The Babadook, that count is still going on one hand though it is one higher.
This is a movie about a widow, Amelia, and her deeply trouble son, Samuel. The kid has nightmares, is aggressive, and generally not well liked by anyone around him other than his mother. The film does a fantastic job of putting you right at the level of stress that his mother is at right from the get go. One night Samuel (don't call him the boy!) takes a book off the shelf for his mother to read to him called Mister Babadook. What a mistake. It's a nightmarish rhyme about a terrible creature called the Babadook that, once you let him in, you can't get rid of him and you're going to die. It's like the work of deranged Dr. Seuss. Samuel's nightmares get worse and he seems to start seeing the Babadook while awake. Amelia tries to convince him it's just a book, it's not real, but everything really goes to shit when she starts to think that there really is something more sinister at work. The less said from this point, the better.
Horror films don't often have the luxury of things like a solid cast and a clear, well executed artistic vision, but The Babadook does. On that level it joins the lofty company of movies like Alien, The Shining,and Rosemary's Baby, a film I think it has quite a bit in common with. They're both slow-burn horrors and they both do this wonderful thing where for much of the movie you question whether or not what the characters think are happening really are. You sit there thinking, "Are they going crazy?" and the film does little to persuade you otherwise. Even when it becomes clear as to what's going on your thoughts shift slightly to the realm of, "No, this can't be happening." I find this storytelling trick to be infinitely admirable, keeps you on edge, and in the end is exhilarating.
While The Babadookhas been critically praised, it still seems to have receive mixed reactions from viewers. I find that to be sad as this is exactly the kind of movie horror needs right now. Its vision is so fully realized, the performances are top notch and there are sequences that are truly chilling. The "horror" here is universal, anyone could fall victim to Mister Babadook, and it's this sort of thing that brings this genre to the height of its possibilities.
SCARE RATING - 3/5
OVERALL RATING - 4/5
Ki ki ki...ma ma ma
Introducing Johnny Depp.
I think it's safe to say that I share a birthday with A Nightmare on Elm Street. I was only two days ahead of it, close enough in my book. Going back to where I can remember things clearly and vividly, I was aware of Freddy Krueger. On my way to the Real Ghostbusters toys at the local department stores, Freddy was there. On the posters announcing the new arrivals at the video store, Freddy was there. Running the streets the first time I remember going trick or treating, adorned by one of the older kids in the neighborhood, Freddy was there. Thirty years later, he's still here and is sure to come back. The character, with his signature red and green sweater, fedora, and razor-fingered glove, has become ingrained into our cultural DNA. Whenever a character hits that level of recognition, it's easy for it to lose its power. This day and age, you'd be hard pressed to convince anyone over the age of 10 that Frankenstein and Dracula are scary. Allan Moore says we're currently turning that corner in which Lovecraft's creations cease to have any effect. Freddy and the Elm Street series has certainly been driven into the ground, but the strength of the first entry still stands.
One of the wonderful things that horror can do is change the way you look at something, be it the full moon, the girl at school nobody talked to, or the old house at the end of your street. One of the lasting strengths of A Nightmare on Elm Street is its premise: Freddy Krueger stalks a group of kids in their sleep. While the rest of the slasher genre was intent to keep terrorizing misbehaving teenagers, Wes Craven brought the genre to a universal place in which no one is safe. The horror taking place in dreams opened the door to some inventive film making, an opportunity that did not go to waste. There's some imagery here that is downright iconic. The silhouette of Freddy walking towards his prey, his elongated arms outstretched, the knives on his fingers screeching alongside the wall. The girl in the bloody bodybag being dragged down the sterile, white halls of the high school. The practical effects still hold up rather well. I caught myself holding my breath at the end of scene where Freddy makes his first kill. The first time I watched it I was left wondering how the hell they did it, and even now, knowing it was filmed in a spinning room, it still looks amazing.
If anything is working against A Nightmare on Elm Street, its the acting. The dialogue isn't always exactly sharp, but the delivery is what really sinks it. Nancy's father plays his role well enough and Nancy herself isn't half bad either. It's her mother. The orange lady. You know who I'm talking about. The part where she says, "I've got something better. I'm going to get her some help." Just the worst. I know horror movies don't usually fetch Oscar-worthy performances, but what makes it so unfortunate is that everything else it firing on all cylinders, it feels like it deserved better.
It does have this Johnny Depp kid in it though, but I'm not sure if he's really going to make it big.
SCARE RATING: 3/5
OVERALL RATING: 4/5
There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it.
As much as I criticized A Nightmare on Elm Street for its subpar acting, there just might be such a thing as a movie being more well-crafted than it needs to be. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre might be one such example.
The dialogue is largely the fairly normal, throwaway kind of things that people say. By extension, the acting, while certainly not phenomenal, is entirely passable. It's shot like a documentary, further adding to the natural feel to it. The score, if you can call it that, is sparse and would more comfortably fall into the category of "ambient noise." Finally, the effects, the sort of thing that you might see and for a split second on some level of your subconscious wonder how it was done, are next to non-existent. What I'm getting at here is that once the terror ratchets up in this thing, there's nothing there to pull you out of it to remind you that it's only a movie. The last 20 minutes is exhausting. For starters, so much is left up for your imagination. There is no gore. The antagonists of the movie, Leatherface and his cannibal family, get no explanation, no motive, and aside from this brief glimpse inside their sick, sadistic lives, you're left knowing nothing about them other than that they exist. The last scenes are dizzying. The claustrophobia-inducing camera work, the metallic shrill of the soundtrack, the non-stop shrieks of the family's "dinner guest," and the set design that leaves your eye feeling like there is no safe place linger. It is an all-out assault on the audience.
While I certainly do not enjoy this kind of cruel, malicious horror film, I cannot entirely dismiss it either. While similar movies, even ones of the same era, rely on pushing the envelope and grabbing you by the hair, forcing you to see that they're pushing it in order to shock and disturb, TCM utilizes legitimately solid film making to achieve the same results. I went back an read what reviews I could find from the time in which it came out. All of them mentioned how gory and bloodsoaked it was, which is entirely not true. The outrage that this movie caused while essentially showing nothing is, to me, the mark of true craft. I don't necessarily have to like the movie to praise it.
SCARE RATING: 4/5
If I'm going to watch just one movie in the Evil Dead series, I typically reach for the original. It's a movie I admire to no end. It makes no illusions to try and convince you that there's much of plot or that any of its characters are developed, it's simply out to drench each of its participants in an outrageous amount of blood. The final sequence is an utterly brilliant combination of camerawork and sound, made all the more impressive given how little of a budget it had and the meager means in which it was achieved. It's such a pure experience, and despite never making a horror film myself, no one movie inspired me more when I was in my film student days.
Yet I've always thought that Evil Dead 2 was the better movie. After all, it's more in line with what we all enjoy about both Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Sam's love for The Three Stooges and his willingness to put that slapstick humor in places it usually wouldn't belong is at the forefront here, and of course you've got Bruce doing what Bruce does best. You can quite literally watch the transition to the actor we all know and love as the film goes on, and I don't just credit that to the inclusion of his so-bad-they're-good one-liners (which is more of an Army of Darkness thing anyways). I really do think he comes into his own here.
It had been a few years since I last watched Evil Dead 2, and what really stuck me this time around was something I had somehow missed the dozens of times I'd seen it before. That crazed, frenetic energy that you only see at the end of the first movie is present all throughout in the sequel. It's not just the black humor, it's the camera techniques, angles, editing and sound as well as the inventive situations that always make you want to scream just as much as they make you want to laugh. It really does come across as the work of a complete madman. My favorite scene is where the entire cabin starts laughing at Ash. It descends into a "if you can't beat 'em" moment, and Campbell plays it perfectly. It's just so surreal, it sort of perfectly encapsulates what makes this movie so great, and because Raimi's at the top of game here, you feel about as ready to "join 'em" as Ash is.
SCARE RATING: 2/5 (could be more depending on how squeamish you are)
OVERALL RATING: 5/5
What a terrible curse!
That house is not fit to live in.
I don't know what it is with the ghost stories this Halloween season, but they're really clicking with me in a way they never really have. Much like how folks feel about The Babadook if they have kids of their own, maybe owning a house and having been alone in with so much space to myself makes these kinds of stories all the more effective. I don't much believe in the afterlife and I've certainly never witnessed anything to encourage me to even entertain the possibility of ghostly activity, but hearing even the slightest of strange noises in the house when I'm by myself will set me on edge every time.
Which brings me to the only criticism of The Changeling. After John Russell's wife and daughter are involved in a deadly accident in upstate New York, he decides to move Seattle where he goes on to buy THE BIGGEST OLD HOUSE ON THE PLANET. Why one person, especially one who is dealing with loss and the ensuing loneliness would move into a place guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable whenever the floorboards even think of creaking is beyond me.
I'm treating this review pretty lightly so far, but the truth is that I found this movie to be thoroughly chilling. I don't want to spoil too much for those who haven't seen it, but this is a haunted house movie and a first rate one at that. It's best enjoyed with the lights out and either alone or with one other person at the most. I've talked about acting in horror films in previous articles, but it's absolutely top notch here. It needed to be. The cast is very believable, and because of that, when the paranormal elements kick in, those are believable as well. The scene where John discovers the truth about the house he's living in and why it's haunted has to be one of best scenes I've ever seen in a horror film. For lack of a better word, it's haunting and is an image you won't soon shake from your memory. The movie does change gears in the third act, becoming more akin to the last act in a mystery, but the finale firmly reminds you that this is a horror film, and in a movie that's already given so much atmosphere and memorable imagery, manages to leave you with even more.
This is exactly the kind of movie that you should be watching this time of the year.
The home stretch...
Everyone's entitled to one good scare.
That's what makes Halloween work so very well. Set up.
In one of several homages to Psycho, Halloween opens up with the viewer taking on a first person voyeuristic role. We move around the house, past the Jack-o-Lantern, around the bushes, taking a look in the window. To us it's obvious what the two teenagers we're spying on are about to get up to, and thinking about it now, I think our vessel here knows it, too. We look around, up at the upstairs window. The light goes out. We move back around the house, go inside and flip the lights. The kitchen. We open a drawer, draw a large butcher knife, and raise it above our head. After seeing the boy leave, we find something on the floor. A mask. We put it on. And there it is, ladies and gentlemen, the set up. Our introduction to that heaving breathing. It's a sound we'll be hearing a lot more of throughout the film, almost as if its a signal that it's time to tune out all the inane, teenage banter and to pay attention.
Isn't that all Michael Myers wanted anyway? To be paid attention to?
That's not the only set up there though. When we jump 15 years ahead in time, we no longer see the film from that first person perspective. Yet once we start following the lives of Laurie and her friends (who really are jerks, for the record), just as Judith Myers and her boyfriend were in the first scene, they, and us by extension, are being watched. That's really what keeps the tension going throughout Halloween, that these girls, in nearly every scene before the inevitable body count starts, are consistently being watched. Stalked. Hunted. And for as much of a Trekkie as I am and the joy that James Kirk has brought to my heart over the years, that pale white William Shatner mask staring at you from across the street is completely unnerving.
One scene after another, Halloween is a collection of exceptionally well set up and well executed moments, enabling it to rise well above its shortcomings and slasher genre cliches. It's another one of those rare horror films that hardly shows a drop of blood, instead using things like light and shadow or a figure in the distance to send shivers down your spine. Some of it is rather subtle, like that quick shot of Annie opening her car door without her keys after we just saw her try to open it and it was locked. And the sound. The John Carpenter score is of course nothing short of iconic, having become ingrained into our pop culture DNA, but that breathing sound really is the star of the show here. I suppose it's successful due to more than just the set up, but that's where it starts.
Is it the ultimate Halloween movie? Of course not, I don't think any one movie could make that claim. This season is full of too many wonderful, terrible, and wonderfully terrible things for any one film to fully encapsulate. Yet it has become an essential part of my Halloween viewing, and every year I return to it and remember why that is.
Oh, you're so cool, Brewster!
Demons aren't gonna ring the doorbell!
We've all become God's madmen, all of us.
Who's next? Perhaps...you?
You play a good game, boy, but the game is finished, now you die.
All witches, all skeletons, all Jack-O-Lanterns, gather 'round and watch. Watch the magic pumpkin.
Welcome to the first installment of my revamped monthly comic spot here on the Fortress!
There are few car chases. There are no gun fights where hundreds of rounds are fired but nobody is hurt. There isn't a different femme fetale crossing the screen every week attempting to lure our hero off the path of virtue. In short, this is a British show where the pacing is a bit slower than you might be used to. The stories told in this series take their time and build slowly. It's a show to be watched with a cup of tea not a can of Red Bull. Each season, which is only 4 episodes long but each the length of a feature film, we follow the life of Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle as he solves crimes in the south of England during World War 2. He is joined by Sergeant Milner, a man wounded in Norway, and his driver Samantha "Sam" Stewart. The stories are well written and even have you guessing as to who the true culprit is which is almost unheard of in today's police dramas. What I find especially great in this show, outside of the top notch acting, is the way in which the war is presented from the perspective of the home front. It isn't infantry assaults and artillery barrages. It's more subtle in the way it twists the morality of those not on the front lines. I also like that things that are largely forgotten by most people, in America anyway, are given the type of importance civilians at the time actually gave them. Who in America remembers the botched British invasion of Norway? Who remembers that a German invasion of England was viewed as almost a certainty as was the eventual defeat of Britain? This show makes me glad of Netflix which fills it's roster with programs you might not have ever heard of otherwise and in this case it's a great one.
Netflix status: Currently Streaming
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