Archive for the ‘Horror’ Category
Movie Review #735
Directed by Kurt Neumann. Writer: James Clavell. (Story: George Langelaan.) Produced by Kurt Neumann for Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Uncredited producer: Robert L. Lippert. Starring Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Charles Herbert, Kathleen Freeman, and Betty Lou Gerson. Uncredited cameo: Torben Meyer. Premiered in San Francisco, California on July 16, 1958. Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation in limited release on August 29, 1958. PCA #19036: Approved. Runs 94 minutes.
I guess it’s something about human nature that we all hate flies. For some reason, their very presence is alarming. So 1958′s “The Fly” has a sly and rather manipulative way of grabbing our attention. Especially in the opening credits sequence, the buzzing noise of a fly can be used for a misleading effect. In other cases, it’s also used for suspense. Whichever reason for the buzzing sounds, they’re there, and it’s our natural inclination to freeze our eyes directly toward the screen, or wherever else the sound might be coming from in our viewing environment. Not that any film needs our adrenaline to have our attention, but “The Fly” is a decent movie, because it had my full attention–buzzing or no buzzing.
But let’s be clear that “The Fly” isn’t for just any audience. It’s very much a B-movie, and in fact it’s from the Golden Age of B-movies. The director, Kurt Neumann died just a week before the film’s general release, and he still had three more movies on queue. Maybe he thought it was “just another movie,” but there’s a reason “The Fly” was Neumann’s biggest hit, or a few reasons, maybe. To go for a simple argument, this film is very suspenseful. By the final third, the movie has turned into an eerie, Halloweenish movie, mostly thanks to its music and costume design. (I can definitely see why many claim to be scared to death of this movie, after seeing it on TV as a kid.) The screenplay isn’t exactly the best. You’ll find obvious lines like these are, in fact, the best in stock:
“You said you killed your husband. That means you murdered him.”
But we can’t overlook the fact that the story is interesting, and–despite the appearance of a man with a god-awful French accent in the beginning–the acting is fine, overall. Al Hudison is spectacular as the titular creature; the concept is that a man and a fly became a hybrid through a failed science experiment, and Hudison totally sells that to us. The set which became his lab, however, deserves museum preservation. Maybe the movie itself isn’t, but that laboratory is as classic as the imitating set in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”.
THE FLY IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.
Movie Review #702
Paramount Pictures presents…
Friday Four Films Inc.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by John Carl Buechler. Produced by Iain Paterson. Written by Daryl Haney and Manuel Fidello.
Rated R by the MPAA — violence, sexual content, nudity, profanity, infrequent drug material. Runs 1 hour, 28 minutes. Wide release in the USA on May 13, 1988.
Opening narration by Walt Gorney (uncredited). Featuring Kane Hodder as Jason Voorhees. Starring Lar Park-Lincoln, Susan Jennifer Sullivan, Kevin Blair, and Terry Kiser. Also starring Susan Blu, Heidi Kozak, William Butler, Staci Greason, Larry Cox, Jeff Bennett, Diana Barrows, Elizabeth Kaitan, Jon Renfield, and Michael Schroeder.
“Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” starts out as if it were recapping a TV series. I’ll narrow it down to: “Previously on Friday the 13th…Jason’s mother killed people, then Jason became of age, and proceed to kill people, get killed by people, come back to life, and repeat the cycle.” There’s one or two major technicalities I could give you, but being that this is a review of “The New Blood”, it really isn’t worth it.
“Part VII” is a maelstrom of weak Friday the 13th apparel. What used to be great fun is now so underwhelming that it poses the question to us about what we would do to better it. I sat through the whole title sequence wondering why the music wasn’t in sync with each title, because guess what y’all, that would sound perfect. Of course, that’s just the earliest example I can offer.
“Part VII” has here-and-there camp, and as a result, moments of pure hilarity. All in all, its newfound assessment of Jason’s sprees is a hopeless and boring TV movie. If you truly want to be entertained, wait for October, when AMC routinely airs this (and anything from the series) with well appropriated commercial breaks How I long for another sequel as fun as the first movie–something arguable for half, if not all, of the sequels that lead up to “The New Blood”.
As you might guess, the characters in “Part VII” are very stupid. Though this is the second find we’ve actually gotten some character development that rises above the usual standard. Unlike “Part 6”, there’s only one character who’s developed, and we could have actually done without a described character. Look at ‘er! She’s a walking cliché! She’s telekinetic and schizophrenic. Both thanks to her father’s death, which she wished upon him at a young age, by the way. She’s still bratty and annoying in her teenage years, and it’s obvious that when she has telekinesis and wants Jason away from her, she’ll get her way in the end.
I feel like I’ve seen this movie before, and it’s not just because I’ve seen six other Friday the 13th movies. Very little fun comes from the director not knowing what the hell he’s doing, or the writers not knowing what the [CENSORED] they’re talking about. This movie was released on May 13, 1988, just three days before trash-diving was legalized in California. That’s the only thing keeping me from accusing the “New Blood” writers of taking their ideas from the Hollywood garbage can.
Anatomy of a Psycho
FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VII: THE NEW BLOOD IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.
Movie Review #688
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), controlled by Loew’s Incorporated
Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Excelsior Pictures Corp. (1949 re-release as “Nature’s Mistakes”) – Joseph Brenner Associates (JBA) (1970 re-release)
Spoken Languages: English – German – French
Tod Browning’s Production. (Directed by Tod Browning.) Produced by Tod Browning, Harry Rapf, and Irving Thalberg (all uncredited). Reissue produced by Dwain Esper and Hildegarde Stadie (both uncredited). Suggested by the story “Spurs” by Tod Robbins. Additional dialogue by Al Boasberg and Edgar Allan Woolf (both uncredited). Screenplay by Willis Goldbeck and Leon Gordon (both uncredited). Additional uncredited writer: Charles MacArthur.
Passed by the National Board of Review. Currently unrated by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 4 minutes. Wide release in the USA on February 20, 1932.
Starring Olga Baclanova, Harry Earles, Daisy Earles, Daisy Hilton, and Violet Hilton. Also starring Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Rosco Ates, Henry Victor, Rose Dione, Schlitze, Josephine Joseph, Johnny Eck, Frances O’Connor, Peter Robinson, Olga Roderick, Koo Koo, Rardion, Martha Morris, Zip, Pip, Elizabeth Green, Angeo Rossitto, Edward Brophy, and Mat McHugh. Also featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by John Aasen as a giant.
“The Big Lebowski”, “Clerks.”, “Videodrome”, “The Evil Dead”, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, “Pink Flamingos”, “Fritz the Cat”, “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “A Bucket of Blood”, “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. “Freaks” has existed and maintained a strong cult following longer than any of these films. Released in 1932, still beloved by some today. Seemingly, its time capsule significance is more than just that. This isn’t just a cult film. It’s one of the most influential movies ever made. David Lynch, for instance, would be unemployed without this movie; Twin Peaks, “The Elephant Man”, and “Eraserhead” owe so much to it.
“Freaks” was one of the earliest independent films. That’s not a problem (the film would have no other way of being financed). What is a problem is that this is obviously an indie production. One moment the acting will be solid. Then the actors become disinterested and start line-reading. The technical department does no better on “Freaks”. Film editing is horrible, often cutting out little bits of certain shots. Sound editing is good, but when characters who pitch their voices high can’t be understood, it isn’t exactly great.
Myself hating circuses, I would never expect much of a topical movie like “Freaks”. What I found was an interesting story to surprise me. Tod Browning’s controversial film offers an intriguing inside look at “circus freaks.” It’s a really weird movie, and it did take some warming up to, but I had quite some fun watching it. This black comedy isn’t pointless, either. By the end, “Karma is a bitch” becomes a more than obvious message. “Freaks” is a must-watch for some. For others, I’d advise steering clear. If you’ve gotten this far into my review, I’m guessing you already know which of the two camps you belong to. If not, then it can’t hurt to give it a go anyway. The movie is far tamer than you’d expect for a Pre-Code movie (not to mention, one called “Freaks”), and at just an hour, you’d run into trouble considering it a waste of time.
Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:
Movie Review #675
Paramount Pictures & Skydance Productions present…
…in association with Hemisphere Media Capital & GK Films…
Studio: Plan B Entertainment – 2Dux² – Apparatus Productions – Latina Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Country: USA – Malta
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish – Hebrew – Arabic
Directed by Marc Forster. Produced by Ian Bryce, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, and Brad Pitt. Screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan and Drew Goddard & Damon Lindelof. Screen story by Matthew Michael Carnahan and J. Michael Straczynski. Based on the novel by Max Brooks.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, disturbing content. Runs 1 hour, 56 minutes (Unrated Edition runs 2 hours, 3 minutes). Premiered in London on June 2, 2013; at Champs-Élysées Film Festival on June 15, 2013; and at Belgrade Blockbuster Review on June 18, 2013. Wide release in the USA on June 21, 2013.
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, and James Badge Dale.
“Mother Nature is a serial killer. No one’s better. More creative. Like all serial killers, she can’t help but the urge to want to get caught. But what good are all those brilliant crimes if no one takes credit? So she leaves crumbs. Now the hard part, while you spent decades in school, is seeing the crumbs for the clues they are. Sometimes the thing you thought was the most brutal aspect of the virus, turns out to be the chink in its armor. And she loves disguising her weaknesses as strengths. She’s a bitch.”
–Andrew Fassbach (Elyes Gabel)
You know the story. I can think of a total of nineteen movies, plus TV’s The Walking Dead, that practice the same mythology as “World War Z”, and that’s without really thinking hard. Some call this very tale the “zombie apocalypse” genre. It’s basically a blend of creature feature and disaster movie elements.
“WWZ” wants to invent, though, so it’s not just “zombie apocalypse.” I give it points without hesitation for its desire to put this in war movie/Call of Duty context. The one problem it faces is that the “zombie apocalypse” genre is so specific, so established, so common, that we need significantly more time allotted in the film t adjust to something that seems brand-new. Unless you have absolutely no skepticism of the story–the “war on zombies”–it’s a bit of a trial to get through “WWZ” as a fluent film, unless you have a large bucket of popcorn to take your mind off the occasional dull spot. The film ends assuring us that this is “far from the end,” and in fact, it feels like part one of a continuous trilogy. Doesn’t this mean that director Marc Forster (“Stranger than Fiction”, “Quantum of Solace”) should have waited just a little while before assuming we get what to expect in a zombie-cum-war movie?
Part of me feels like there was initially more explanation that was snipped out. It’s as if Forster covered up the blank spots himself. What I’m getting at is that “WWZ” is well-written. Brad Pitt ever so naturally plays a father who wants to take care of his family more than anything else. Even if the set design looks suspiciously more like the Big Apple, Pitt’s character lives in Philadelphia as a UN employee, and when he’s called to action on day, he has to think of the world as if it were his family. In other words, his job is now to save the world, specifically from zombies. Any transition from these action sequences into the encompassing sentimental drama, or vice-versa, varies between sudden and nonexistent. However that may be, these two tones work great in separation. The drama features believable dialogue all around. We don’t hear the word “zombie,” for example, until the forty-minute mark, and Pitt’s family chats like an actual family. If there’s one thing severely wrong with the action here, it’s that it comes along way too soon–as earl as seven minutes. Everything else about the action, however, is flawless. Robert Richardson’s cinematography makes for most of the excitement. I actually applaud it for maintaining the PG-13 action movie imminent in the veins of “WWZ”, by deftly cutting away from anything that would seem, well, horrifying. A hand-in-hand employment of camerawork and editing (Roger Barton) operates effectively during the title sequence. That opening is a series of newsreels that use contrast between blurry and sharp snapshots to form the impending title.
“WWZ” is based on a satirical novel by Max Brooks. His dad’s Mel, by the way, and such is even more reason to think that this stern approach was practically a rewrite. The dramatic viewpoint was acceptable, but to be clear, I would have much preferred the satire. It’s so much easier to bring in “something else” for the sake of comedy. Brooks Sr. did it all the time. He wouldn’t just go into the historical details of the Spanish Inquisition, he’d bring in a musical number about it. I don’t doubt Brooks Jr.’s zombie book features a likably offbeat inclusion of war themes. I’m just not compelled to read it, because this movie adaptation’s all-too-serious approach doesn’t exactly make for a memorable story.
I can say it three times if this second time isn’t enough: “WWZ” does have some fun action sequences. These zombies are frantic. They truly are (as my friend’s father put it) “’28 Days Later’ on steroids.” There’s zombies throughout the movie, but to be honest, they really aren’t the primary focus of the movie until the climax. Most of “WWZ” is about Brad Pitt’s Good Samaritan character. If that’s what you’re truly seeking, might I recommend “Captain Phillips”, in which Tom Hanks plays a selfless man who will do anything if it means steering his boat and crew out of danger.
POSTSCRIPT: Am I the only one who is especially impressed when Brad Pitt doesn’t play an antihero? Am I the only one who thinks such is rare?
Quantum of Solace
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
Dallas Buyers Club
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Movie Review #673
FilmDistrict & Entertainment One present…
…in association with Stage 6 Films…
Uncredited Studio: IM Global – Room 101
Distributor: FilmDistrict – Stage 6 Films
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by James Wan. Produced by Jason Blum and Oren Peli. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell. Story by James Wan & Leigh Whannell. Characters by Leigh Whannell.
Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – violence, mature themes. Runs 1 hour, 46 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 13, 2013.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shayne, Barbara Hershey, and Andrew Astor. Also starring Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Hank Harris, Jocelin Donahue, Lindsay Seim, Tyler Griffin, Garrett Ryan, Brynn Bowie, and Madison Bowie. With uncredited appearances by Kimberly Ables Jindra and Tim Padilla, as the Bride and the Ghoul, respectively.
When I first watched “Insidious”, I was joined by my maternal grandmother. I’m not usually scared by horror movies, but that one kind of shook me up. Which meant that she, with her heart problem, was scared to death. When the movie was over, she looked me straight in the eyes, her own eyes filled with pure horror. And she spoke a few quivering but no less prophetic words: “They’re going to make sequels.”
I didn’t believe Granny at first. I mean, I believed there would be sequels, but I believed that her fearful state was simply in reaction to the movie. After seeing “The Conjuring”, I was positive that director James Wan had a tightly closed hand on haunted house horror. There was no way in hell he could go wrong with it.
Now, I have to believe that she’s something of an Oracle. Because “Insidious: Chapter 2” is a low-budget movie and a sequel–two great factors that guarantee a box office success. When you know everybody’s going to see your film, it’s just too easy for a director to take a vacation and make money when he comes back for the world premiere.
“Insidious: Chapter 2” is a movie on autopilot. The script is horrible, with constant “I startle, you jump” moments. None of which work, by the way. So much of Wan partner Leigh Whannell’s screenplay is filled with awkward silences. Often times, though, deus ex machina will come to the rescue.
There’s screeching violins in the opening credits. Minimally, minimally scary, and even that is killed off by comedy. That’s what I expect from a horror comedy. “The Cabin in the Woods” opened with virtually that same method. I don’t expect it from a pure horror movie.
If there’s one thing truly obnoxious about what we hear in the movie, though, it’s the sound mixing. There’s so much emphasis on contrasting the loud noises that quite a lot of dialogue is difficult to hear. When the loudness comes suddenly and draws on extensively, headaches ensue.
Pinning “Chapter 2″ at the end of the title doesn’t make much sense. It refers to a book, and I’ve never in my life read a book where the first chapter hooks me and the following chapter is complete, divergent trash. (It’s also pretty much a remake of “Chapter 1,” except where in “Chapter 1,” Dad was possessed, in “Chapter 2,” everyone but Dad is possessed, Mom is obnoxiously psychotic, and Dad stands around, just an asshole waiting for everything to end.)
I guess in some sense, though, “Insidious: Chapter 2” is an acceptable title. Just like a book, there’ll be at least five more chapters before it all ends.
At the midway point everything gets worse. The characters fall flatter than crepes. (This would be when the mother goes psychotic.) Oh and everything that was hilarious in the first half becomes ridiculously boring. How sad that the inevitable twist ending is a precise replica of the last-minute spin in 1978′s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. That’s a twist ending, if you can sit that long. “Insidious: Chapter 2” is barely over an hour and a half long. So that means that I could watch this twice and it still wouldn’t be as long as if I’d have watched “Das Boot” once? I never would’ve guessed.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Movie Review #672
Studio: RKO Pictures – Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Paul Schrader. Produced by Charles Fries. Story by DeWitt Bodeen. Screenplay by Alan Ormsby. Uncredited writer: Paul Schrader.
Rated R by the MPAA – violence, graphic nudity. Runs 1 hour, 58 minutes. Wide release in the USA on April 2, 1982.
Starring Nastassia Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, and Frankie Faison.
Once upon a time there was a screenwriter named Alan Ormsby. This screenwriter was originally planning a National Geographic segment on a woman who grew up with cats.
Ormsby kept Mowglietta and one of such Africa-laden scenes, then proceeded to throw out the rest of his jaguar movie. He even scrapped Morgan Freeman’s narration in the ten-minute sequence that remained, replacing it with segments of the David Bowie song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”. But he didn’t leave it for dead like that. He used this sequence as the opening flashback in his remake-ish of the 1940s B-movie “Cat People”. That flashback is experienced by a woman has in an airport.
Now this isn’t just any woman. This is a woman who is as catlike as any antagonistic woman in the movie. I might mention that the writer has tried to disguise the bad women, but when they have catlike facial features, it eventually becomes obvious that the only good woman in this movie will have a womanly face.
But back to the main character. She’s catlike, and she’s a zoologist, specifically looking after cats who are so terrifying, they can and will rip the arm off a zoologist who’s dumb enough to think that he can taser it. It’s worth mentioning that she’s hired for this job right after finding a cat roaming her house. Strange, right? You’d think the weird “a jaguar is under my kitchen table” experience would lead her to say no, but she accepts the offer and goes on her merry way.
This was the first thirty minutes, which were fine. Suspenseful maybe. Even David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” succeeds in its overuse. The movie gets lazy hereafter. Name anything in Giorgio Moroder’s score fails, other than his “Clockwork Orange” remix during the climax (“Cat People” stars Malcolm McDowell). Talk about lovably misplaced. Visual effects are perfect and the movie looks good, but even with the most noirish tones, the movie’s cruisin’ away downhill, transformin’ interest into boredom gradually.
Actually, this isn’t simple boredom. That boredom is marked by the director’s take on the word “exciting.” If you choose to watch “Cat People” with a friend, please for your own sake make sure he or she is not a sex addict. And I’m half-joking here. The movie scraps a good two-thirds of its plot for the risqué. For some, that’s not exactly a negative. Hell, there’s so much nudity, it’s what makes it watchable. This scene, show McDowell in bed with another woman. The next scene, have the femme fatale run off into the field where she’ll strip and proceed to what’s beyond the field: an African wilderness. Later on, let’s have a woman go skinny dipping on her own. And make that scene like Jaws with cats. Naturally, humans are suckers to nude scenes, which gives Cat People a huge audience. The cast is probably doubling on its own in such scenes, or else there’s little to actually get paid for. So if I ever consider rewatching this, it’s not because I enjoyed it as a movie. It’s because there were nude scenes in such great amount, they made it seem a better movie.
But in all of that I could make a whole different point. The movie is with all skin, no substance.
At least the movie looks good. (I’m talking more about cinematography here than nudity.) And it has a good David Bowie song. Come on, 2009′s “Inglourious Basterds” couldn’t have created such an intense climax without that battle hymn. The movie knows the noir, violence, and risqué. Three determining factors of erotic horror, and it has style on top of that. It’s practically Twin Peaks with African cats, except I can’t believe I actually compared this to David Lynch’s chef d’oeuvre. There’s a story here, but it’s nothing more than what’s in the log line. Nothing changes. Except facial expressions, of course, because Natasha Nastassia Kinski is damn good at that. So I guess “Cat People” has the dramatic depth of a celebrity photo shoot.
P.S.: If you like David Bowie–and yes, you do–stay through the credits to hear the whole song.
Insidious: Chapter 2
Movie Review #666
Studio: Morgan Creek Productions – Dominion Productions
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Renny Harlin. Produced by James G. Robinson. Based on the movie The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty. Story by William Wisher and Caleb Carr. Screenplay by Alexi Hawley.
Rated R by the MPAA – graphic violence, disturbing content, profanity. Runs 1 hour, 54 minutes. Premiere in Hollywood, California on August 18, 2004. Wide release in the USA on August 20, 2004.
Featuring Rupert Degas in an uncredited voice role as the Devil. Starring Stellan Skarsgard, Izabella Scorupco, James D’Arcy, Julian Wadham, Andrew French, Ralph Brown, Antonie Kamerling, Eddie Osei, and Israel Aduramo.
“Beware the ides of January…”
–The Cinemaniac, upon noticing that his 666th review was set for 1/15
“Exorcist: The Beginning” isn’t the subject of my 666th movie review simply because it’s an “Exorcist” movie. It’s also because the movie is so abysmal, it’s as if Satan himself produced it to cast a dreadful curse upon the greatest Halloween classic ever to hit the silver screen. That this 2004 film shares part of that 1973 film’s title is heresy.
The movie cares way too much about shrill violin music, excessive gore, and over mixing its sound effect to go “boo.” In effect, we’re left with but half a story. And that half a story isn’t even interesting. Nobody really cares about Father Merrin’s encounter with Pazuzu. William Friedkin showed us that experience ever so suspensefully, as the ten-minute prologue to 1973’s “The Exorcist”. We don’t need two hours of Father Merrin in his Indiana Jones-esque role. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But that’s not precisely why “The Beginning” is a drag. It has an obvious attention deficit (and it’s telling that so do we while watching it). The preference is at times to focus on romance, perhaps because that markets better with audiences. As if they don’t already know the movie is bound to be successful: 1973’s “Exorcist” remains the all-time highest grossing horror movie, highest grossing R-rated movie, and ninth highest grossing movie overall. Even the characters seem to have already seen the events in that movie, despite this being a prequel, so a box office failure would be shocking.
It deserves a second mention that the sound mixing is downright annoying If anything keeps us from sleeping in “The Beginning”, it’s a migraine. Not one bit of this frightens, so there’s no point in making such a loud, frenetic movie out of it.
But that’s what you get when you have a director who’s totally in it for the money. Director Renny Harlin likely hasn’t seen “The Exorcist”, and if he did, he didn’t appreciate it as a movie with a story. Hell, he probably didn’t appreciate it at all. He’s constantly nodding at other horror movies and trying not to let us notice. Look! There’s a toddler wailing because something’s gone wrong in the Roman Catholic Church! That’s “The Omen” for ya. A moth! A moth! Another moth! That’d be “The Silence of the Lambs”. Ooh look a woman showering! There’s “Psycho”.
Though those are revered horror movies. I must say, what a damn shame that they made it into the god-awful script that became (dare I speak the name once more?) “Exorcist: The Beginning”. It’s the worst possible “Exorcist” movie: where if you do make it to the end, watching the demonic, lustful, profane demon undergo an exorcism is a hoot.
Our Idiot Brother
Movie Review #656
Studio: Haxan Films
Distributor: Artisan Entertainment
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez. Produced by Robin Cowie and Gregg Hale. Written by Daniel Myrick & Eduardo Sanchez.
Rated R by the MPAA – profanity. Runs 1 hour, 21 minutes. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 25, 1999. Limited release in the USA on July 16, 1999. Wide release in the USA on July 30, 1999.
Starring Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, and Michael Williams. Also featuring performances by Bob Griffin, Jim King, Sandra Sánchez, Ed Swanson, Mark Mason, Jackie Hallex, and Patricia DeCou as Mary Brown.
I must start on a question that I had from the beginning until the end of “The Blair Witch Project”. The characters are established, but only by their portrayers. None of the writing gives a clear motive to the titular project. The characters don’t seem to believe the legend, and frankly, they seem to be investigating it for fame. That itself implies that they probably wouldn’t have stayed in the woods for so long, but let’s look a little further: neither outcome of the project is desirable. If they don’t find the witch after enough searching, they’ll give up on looking, which means they’ll give up on filming. No fame. If they do find the witch, yes they’ve confirmed the folktale, but there’s a very small chance of them getting away alive.
But let’s put that aside. I guess it’s a pretty minor plothole in this story, which seems itself to be a folktale. As far as one’s ability to produce a horror that convinces us its events are indeed real, the chances are slim to none. But watching “The Blair Witch Project”, I was at the very least intrigued by the story. We’re told about three college students in pursuit of a legend that floats around Maryland. This is the Blair witch, which only one woman in the town seems to know of; others are clueless and dismiss it as a myth. The students go into the woods with their filming equipment, hoping for a documentary that concludes whether or not this “Blair witch” indeed exists.
My best recommendation is to view the film either on a VHS or not at all. While it looks like a low-budget indie movie on a DVD or Blu-ray, there’s no doubting it looks like a plausible, homemade video on a VHS. It’s just a tip to enhancing a bit of horror factor, even if “The Blair Witch Project” will never have the same effect on you that it had on a 1999 audience. It’s safe to assume that this really spooked film festivals. This was the prototype for horror movie cinéma vérité.
The movie’s primary intention, when not to scare, is to invent. Everything from “REC” to “Paranormal Activity” to “The Last Exorcism” has copied it since, but parts still feel genuine. The budget is daringly scarce. No more than $22,500 was set aside; while the interchanging between grayscale and color was likely forced, I must note that the black and white scenes are eerily reminiscent of “Night of the Living Dead”. Though this isn’t a zombie movie. Who knows whether it’s even about a Blair witch, as 99% of the horror comes from the characters’ constant stressing. No violence is seen, but it’s all implied in the heightening panic. The cast works as if there were no writing, and I mean that as a compliment. Everything seems to scream improv here. There’s a pretty strong cast, regardless of whether we know any of it. They establish their characters solidly. I’ll distinguish kudos to Heather Donahue, whose control freak persona seems natural. Even a few “red herrings” feel pretty unpredictable with their conversational dialogue, and if that doesn’t break ground in a horror movie…well, look at the above.
Movie Review #651
Studio: American Zoetrope – Columbia Pictures Corporation – Osiris Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Spoken Languages: English – Romanian – Greek – Bulgarian – Latin
Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill. Screenplay by James V. Hart. Based on the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker.
Rated R by the MPAA, for sexuality and horror violence. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Wide release in the USA on November 13, 1992.
Starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves. Also starring Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Sadie Frost, and Tom Waits.
There’s no way this is the same Francis Ford Coppola who spent twenty years on the “Godfather” trilogy, and twenty-seven years on perfecting “Apocalypse Now”. “Dracula” is another attempt at large-scale filmmaking, and it’s enough to prove that despite those other masterpieces, Coppola just ain’t the master of the non-DeMillean epic. That significant change he made is pretty much a prologue. A really bamboozling prologue. We’re told that Transylvania is founded in 1462, at the fall of Constantine. Narration, war scenes, the whole nine yards are involved in this prologue. The scene looks like something out of “300”, but at least it tells us why Dracula loves to drink blood. (Done with that culinary subject; now let’s conduct an utterly pointless investigation on why Mr. Hershey loves chocolate.)
Skip ahead to 1897. I’m really not sure what Transylvania is in relation to Great Britain. It’s probably a colony or a territory, since everybody’s acting like they’re straight outta Victorian England, but it’s also possible that Transylvania is a fictitious part of Disneyland. The set design and props certainly say so, with their faux attire.
I won’t bother too much with the film’s location. Whatever mystical land belongeth these homo sapiens, “Dracula” is much less a movie than a filmed stage play. That such semantics actually matters is not a good thing. The movie boasts a great cast, but when Keanu Reeves can’t take himself out of a Hamlet mindset, and Winona Ryder overacts like a hopeless romantic, we’re all the more thankful for a decent Dractor (Gary Oldman). Once Anthony Hopkins appears, an hour has passed. Time for Van Helsing to make this movie watchable!
I have to bitch about Gary Oldman, though. “Just say “no” to your makeup artist!” I could hear a banshee offscreen screaming it. And yes, please. For the love of God. The makeup artist can’t tell the difference between Dracula and the elephant man. The way his hair and face were so distinctly pieced together, I almost shouted, “I…am a human being!”
There’s a lot of romance in this edition of “Dracula”. It begins with two Victorian Valley Girls goss’pin’ away, and it gets, ya know, totally bizarre. Totally bizarre. Like, I’ve read Dracula, and I’d of’en times thank, “Damn, y’know, what on earth is goin’ on!” Mah Jesus.
“Dracula” establishes itself as a strange movie early on. Remember how Janet was so easily aroused by the titular character in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”? That’s every woman here. Neurotic, bipolar sex addicts who wear way too much makeup. If there’s anything scary about “Dracula”, it’s that everybody’s so willing to stereotype the female race so quickly and…weirdly.
I can’t complain about everything here. The leading music is perfect. The cinematography thankfully echoes Coppola’s intended style. The editing is marvellous. But screw it all. I was bored.
Movie Review #641
Studio: Paramount Pictures – Terror Films Inc.
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Tom McLoughlin. Produced by Don Behrns. Written by Tom McLoughlin.
Rated R by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 27 minutes. Wide release in the USA on August 1, 1986.
Starring Thom Matthes, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, and C.J. Graham as Jason Voorhees.
Not that we have many hurricanes where I live, but Sean S. Cunningham’s original “Friday the 13th” is easily the best movie I’ve ever watched while sheltering from an imminent hurricane. Since neither of my parents nor my sister enjoy horror movies, I was told that if I wanted to watch it, I’d have to watch it on the upper floor, where the breeze was playing the windows like flutes. And the AMC’s “Fearfest” was calling to me. It was promising me that I would be laughing myself to death, and maybe a bit scared, since it was ten, maybe eleven o’clock at night.
Fast-forward six years in moviemaking, and just over a year in moviewatching, to “Jason Lives”, perhaps more simply subtitled “Friday the 13th Part VI”. The tagline is “Kill or be killed,” which basically identifies the entire Friday the 13th franchise. Which means that either they’ve just copped out, or the guilty pleasure is at its apex.
Decidedly enough, “Jason Lives” is the latter. It’s so bad that it’s terrible, so terrible it’s good, so good it’s enthralling. (One cannot simply describe the Jason Sensation as “so bad, it’s good.”) We have a gimmicky opening–a really gimmicky opening, to kickstart everything else that happens in this movie. Tommy Jarvis, a returner from “The Final Chapter” and “A New Beginning”, is with one of his friends, driving to go and enact vengeance on Jason for ruining his life. He opens the grave, spears Jason with a metal object…and then a lightning bolt strikes the rod and resurrects Jason. Who, after retrieving his mask, is on the loose once more! But everyone thinks Tommy’s a psychopath; only his recent girlfriend believes him when he says that Jason has been found. How many (and who in particular) will be dead by the time Jason is found and “killed,” making Tommy the hero?
There’s many possibilities for that lightning bolt that jolted Jason back to life. Could it be ’80s cheese? Bad writing? Desire to fit as many special effects into a $3 million budget? Who knows. The movie doesn’t want to be horror anymore, which isn’t exactly bad. We’re at the point in the series where we realize it’s not scares that make a Friday the 13th movie so much fun. It’s everything else. “Jason Lives” succeeds under this epiphany. It doesn’t allot the first twenty minutes for suspense; it cuts right to the chase.
I actually feel like those who worked on “Jason Lives” understand random pop culture, enough that I can tell when they’re acknowledging completely unrelated movies. The combination of music (saga veteran Harry Manfredini), cinematography (Jon Kranhouse), and editing (Bruce Green) amusingly put Jason in his own sort of “gun barrel opening” (i.e. James Bond). These can also combine to create a pretentious music video quality in the film; it’s more fun than it should be, to watch massacres MTV-style. Even if Jason’s umpteenth “death” suggests that maybe he’ll stay dead, I can’t help but point out my bigger thought at that moment: I was reminded of “Jaws” in these final moments.
In a nutshell, these lighthearted killings made me feel like Bart Simpson watching The Itchy & Scratchy Show.
Postscript: For those who love Alice Cooper, “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” plays through the end credits.