Starring: David Carradine, Richard Dysart, Dennis Farina, Charles Haid, David Morse, Jan Michael Vincent, Howard Hesseman
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
This past Christmas I received a book written by acting great David Carradine. His memoir titled “Endless Highway” talks about his life, his career and his spiritual journey. Many people know Carradine as the main character from the hit 70s show “Kung Fu”. Today’s younger generation would remember him as the titular title character from Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies. After reading his book, I ventured into his film catalogue to watch some movies he was in. One of the films I came across in his resume was a made for TV movie that sparked my interest. The movie was titled “Six Against the Rock”.
Not to be confused with the film “Escape From Alcatraz”starring Clint Eastwood which was about the only successful escape from the prison, this film portrays the 1946 failed escape attempt by six inmates which leads to a hostage standoff that lasted three days. Carradine plays Bernie Coy, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence for robbery and the architect of the escape. The other accomplices in the plan include Joseph ‘Dutch’ Cretzer (played by Howard Hesseman), Marvin Hubbard (played by David Morse), Miran ‘Buddy’ Thompson (played by Jan Michael Vincent), Sam Shockley (played by Charles Haid) and Dan Durando (played by Paul Sanchez). The plan was to escape through ‘C Block’, which was the largest unit on the rock by capturing the guards posted there and using the yard key to make their escape where they would head to the shipyard and get on a boat that would take them to San Francisco. The plan fails when the inmates cannot find the yard key among all the keys in their possession. When they try to use other keys as an alternative, the lock jams leaving them stuck in the block with the guards. Coy decides to use the guards as hostages and use them as leverage for a negotiation with the prison’s Warden. Warden James Johnston (played by Richard Dysart) refuses to negotiate and instead tries to find a way to stop the siege and rescue the guards. He calls upon the local military for help. Now surrounded by military rifles and other hardware, the inmates only option is to fight it out. Would they survive the fight?
Direct by Paul Wendkos, who was known in the business as a “prolific specialist in made for television movies, this is indeed a tightly made film that accurately depicts the events that unfolded during those three days at Alcatraz in 1946. The majority of the movie takes place in one location so it gives the movie a claustrophobic feel. When the plan fails, the inmates are left to improvise with little to no help from the other inmates. As the hours and days go by in the siege, the inmates get tired and desperate. They begin to turn on one another.
There are some solid performances in this film. First I’ll discuss the inmates. David Carradine and David Morse work great together as Coy and Hubbard. Coy is very logical with his planning and he is quick to improvise when the original plan fails. He keeps his leadership intact with force and reasoning. Morse adds ferocity and patience to the group. Despite the plan slowly unraveling, he does his best to encourage and motivate the team to not lose hope and keep their minds focus on the objective. Hesseman and Haid portrayed the vicious and unstable characters in the movie, Cretzer and Shockley. They end up being more of a liability to the team rather than an asset. They become paranoid and desperate to the point where they start to take out their frustration on the guards being held hostage against Coy’s orders. They want to show they mean business. Jan Michael Vincent who plays Buddy Thompson in the film is quiet and composed, yet he takes his orders from Cretzer. The moralist of the group is Dan Durando, portrayed by Paul Sanchez. He was convicted of murder at age sixteen and is currently serving a ninety-nine year sentence. He is hesitant about escaping from prison in the beginning of the film and ultimately gets dragged into the situation once Coy releases him from his cell. As the events are unfolding, Durando keeps his distance from the others and prevents Cretzer and Shockley from killing the guards.
Richard Dysart plays Warden Johnston who is grasping with the situation that is unfolding in his prison. His main focus throughout the film is the safety of the guards that are held hostage. The design of the prison works against him and has to rely on the military to come up with a way of diffusing the situation.
There’s not much action in the movie other than the inmates rounding up the guards and defending themselves during the onslaught of the military trying to take back the block There’s an ample amount of violence from the beating of the guards to Carradine shooting the guards in the leg at the Watch Tower. There’s enough going on to keep you on your feet.
“Six Against The Rock” is an intriguing story that tells a historic event that has been overlooked due to the only successful escape from Alcatraz that took place in 1960. It’s a movie where its characters are not just people, but of The Rock itself being a character. The movie reminds us that a plan that looks good on paper, but it may not work in real life. This movie may have been made for the small screen, but it leaves you with the feeling that you just watched a big masterpiece.
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, William Sadler, George Carlin, Joss Acklund
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
In 1989 movie audiences were treated to a new original concept adventure movie about the fate of the future lying in the balance of two high school musicians passing their history exam. That movie was called “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. It was a surprise success that not only launched Keanu Reeves into a mainstream star, but it also spawned a cartoon show and a sequel. Recently, both stars Reeves and Alex Winter appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and announced that a third movie was officially in production. It would be the first time in twenty-seven years since we last saw the two rockers from San Dimas. With the news I decided to go back and watch the second film in the series, which was 1991’s “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey”.
The movie takes place five years after the events of the first movie. A man from the future by the name of DeNomolos has created two evil robot versions of Bill & Ted and sends them back to their time to disrupt the next phase in their destiny, which is winning the Battle of the Bands and being one step closer to the Wild Stalyns changing the world with their music. The present day Bill & Ted continue to struggle at being good musicians, even with the help of their other band members, their girlfriends they rescued from 15th Century England. They encounter their evil doppelgangers when they arrive at their apartment and tell them that they are here to help solve their problems. Instead they take Bill & Ted to a desert and throw them off a cliff killing them. Now in a state of limbo, Bill & Ted must figure out a way to come back to life and stop the evil robots from accomplishing their mission. After two failed attempts at warning their parents about what happened, they are banished to Hell where they go through trials from their childhood until they are confronted by the Grim Reaper who states they can return to the physical world if they beat him in a contest. After defeating Death in a contest……or in the case several contests, they go to Heaven and ask God for assistance in beating the evil robots. They are directed to a creature named ‘Station’ who is considered the most brilliant scientific mind in the universe. With Station’s help, they create two good Bill & Ted robots to counter the evil robots. They return to earth just as the Battle of the Bands begin and engage in a confrontation with the evil robots and DeNomolos for the fate of the future.
The sequel was as successful as the first movie, but fans are divided as to which of the two movies was better. Some fans believe “Excellent Adventure” was the superior of the two. Other fans believe “Bogus Journey” was the better film. After watching the film, I think “Bogus Journey” is on an equal peddle to “Excellent Adventure”. I would use the analogy in another Keanu Reeves movie, “The Matrix” to describe the two. They are two radically different films, but when they are put together they equal out. It’s a great idea to go from Bill & Ted having a positive and “Excellent” adventure to having a negative and “Bogus” journey, hence the equal concept.
The story is good although I think the script could’ve been fleshed out a little more and could’ve used a better third act. Reading the Behind the Scenes of this movie, writers Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon admit that the original third act was ripped up and they were struggling to come up with an act that would satisfy viewers and bring the story of Bill & Ted full circle. I’m not sure what the original third act entailed with the exception of a trivia note at the bottom. With the exception of a few returning characters the only other reminiscence of the first film that are shown in the second are the phone booth which is found in only a few scenes and you get a glimpse at the future where is a harmonious utopia thanks to the protagonist and their music.
The only returning characters in the second film are Bill, Ted, Ted’s father, Missy and George Carlin, who reprises his role as Rufus, although his role has shrunk from the first film. All the other characters are new. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter play dual roles as not only the dim-witted heroes, but the evil robot versions of them. The evil robots are stronger and smarter, but they are programmed to speak and act just like their human counterparts which I found funny. Their master DeNomolos, played by legendary character actor Joss Acklund I found to be a very weak villain as he appears only in the opening scenes, a few scenes where he is checking up on the robots’ statuses and the final confrontation. Not much is known about DeNomolos other than the fact he was Rufus’ old teacher and that he despises the society that Bill & Ted have created and goes on a crusade to destroy them so he can reshape the future into his ideals, which could be perceived is having a Marxist ideology. Acklund didn’t have much to work with and his acting and body language gave me the impression that he didn’t want to be in this movie, which is a shame. I’m sure he was thinking to himself, “How do I go from playing an evil South African diplomat in “Lethal Weapon 2” to playing a villain having to babysit two robots in “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey?” I guess we’ll never know what his mindset was.
The real star of the film and without question the best performance goes to William Sadler who plays the Grim Reaper. His portrayal of Death starts out serious and then goes completely one-eighty when he spends more time with the heroes. When Death first encounters them just as they died, he is prepared to take them into the afterlife, but they distract him and give him a “Melvin” in order to escape. It’s only when they are in Hell that they summon Death and accept his challenge of playing him in a game to return to Earth (I won’t tell you what game or games they play, but they were my favorite scenes of the film). When Death joins Bill & Ted he becomes more of a nuisance rather than a helper. He’s always looking attention and feels left out when Bill & Ted don’t give him credit for things that he supposedly did. The accent Sadler uses is Slovakian which gives him range and power, but also makes it funny especially when during his angry outburst moments in the film.
As far as the rest of the film in terms of special effects and settings, it’s interesting to see the film’s vision of the future where everyone wears highlighter colored clothing which reflects well with the lighting in their classrooms. You see a small glimpse of Evil Bill and Evil Ted pulling their skin off to reveal their robot form which is colorful and high-tech for the time and the vision of Hell in the film is depicted as a never-ending industrial corridor with infinite doors and the Devil instructing the damned to “Choose their Eternity”.
“Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey” is one of the few sequels out there that matches up to its predecessor. Matheson and Solomon rolled the dice and took their chances of not repeating the same concept of the first movie and it paid off. Watching it again after all these years, it holds up strongly in comparison to other sequels that came out in the early 90s. I’m looking forward to seeing what the third film has to offer. Hopefully it will be a great finale and send off Bill & Ted into movie immortality.
The guitar solo before KISS’ “God Gave Rock And Roll To You”, is performed by guitar legend Steve Vai. The footage had already been shot, and the world premiere was a week away, when he was asked to do it. He also contributed various music in the film, including “The Reaper Rap”, which features on the end credits.
When Bill and Ted go to Missy’s séance, you can see Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, the creators and writers of Bill and Ted. They’re the only men that are attending the séance. (Chris is the guy with the white shirt, and Ed is the guy with the glasses.) They also say “Ed and Chris rule the world” backwards
The original title was “Bill and Ted go to Hell” but was changed because of American objections to the use of the word “hell”.
The “Riddance of Evil” book that Missy uses to send Bill and Ted to Hell, is actually a re-dressed copy of the Stephen King short-story collection “Four Past Midnight.” She opens it to a page in the story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which can be read clearly in a few frames of the film.
During the séance scene, the chant to send Bill’s and Ted’s spirits, can be read backwards as “Ed and Chris will rule the world.” Ed Solomon and Chris Matheson being the movie’s scriptwriters.
The mountain, to which Bill and Ted are brought to be killed by the evil robots, is the same mountain Captain Kirk climbs in Star Trek: Arena (1967), which Bill and Ted watched in their apartment.
Joss Ackland said in a Radio Times interview, he only did this project, because of a bet between him and a family member
In a deleted sequence, the Evil Robots use devices to re-create Bill’s and Ted’s’ personal Hells (Granny Preston, the Easter Bunny, and Colonel Oats) and send them after the heroes. Bill and Ted end up having to face their fears to get rid of them. Bill gives Granny her kiss on the cheek, Ted calls his brother and apologizes for stealing his Easter candy, and both boys treat Oats with kindness and friendship rather than terror.
Director Peter Hewitt has a cameo in the film. He plays the smoker in the Builder’s Emporium to whom Death says, “I’ll see you soon.” In the cast credits The Smoker is credited as “Max Magenta”.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight year old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film “The Rookie”.
Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with very different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates in order to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.
I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found “The Rookie” on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.
Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he has to “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.
Charlie Sheen’s performance was pretty mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood has to bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also has to deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.
The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined. When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.
A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens which brings a sense of authenticity. One particular scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.
The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right hand woman is toying with a tied up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.
The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two hour movie. It’s pretty fast paced with everything going on. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.
Overall “The Rookie” is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the “Lethal Weapon” movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick……..or maybe not.
According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.
Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)
Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of “Gremlins” in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green lit to be a “sister” film to “Gremlins” was the movie, “Critters”.
Released in 1986 “Critters” is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff. Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.
“Critters” was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo DiCaprio (“Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being “Nightmare on Elm Street”. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.
The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in “ET” plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in “The Jerk” and Harrison Ford’s boss in “Blade Runner”. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help. Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into. A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive. The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. “Critters” includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of “Insidious” fame playing Sal the dispatcher.
The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteer work. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a “Rio Bravo” like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges like moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed ET doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.
This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”, “The Mighty Ducks” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus”. I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography. He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Browns as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.
As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to “Gremlins”. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.
Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial ) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters 
Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.
John Carpenter is my all time favorite filmmaker. There’s no denying he is an auteur in film. His influence has spread to generation after generation of new filmmakers. Despite the majority of his movies not being big box office successes, they’ve had a robust longevity due to the cultural impact his movies have on today’s world. Unfortunately his career started to slow in the 90s due to the decline of audience’s interest in horror movies. By the end of 2001, Carpenter quit Hollywood and stayed in exile until 2010 when he returned with a small independent horror movie “The Ward”. Since then Carpenter has been focusing more on his music, which has been a staple of his movies since he writes and perform his own music. He’s toured all over the world. This year he is returning as an Executive Producer in a 40 year anniversary ‘Halloween’ Remake/Sequel.
I could review any of my favorite movies from him, but that would be too easy. I decided to review the movie that made him throw in the towel as a director. I’m talking of course about 2001’s “Ghost of Mars”.
The film takes place on Mars (hence the title) in the year 2176. The planet is close to being a hundred percent teraformed. It focuses on a small group of Martian police. They are assigned to go to a mining village called ‘Shining Canyon’ and pick up a prisoner for transfer. The prisoner they are picking up is notorious criminal James “Desolation” Williams. When the team arrives at ‘Shining Canyon’, it is completely inhabited. The team splits up. One team searches each building and finds bodies hanging upside down in the ceiling, all kinds of wires and mutilated body parts. Another team heads to the holding cells where they find Williams and a few other survivors. One of the survivors, who is a researcher and head of the mining operation reveals that they found an enclosed tomb buried under the Martian surface and let out a spiritual force that possesses any living being in its range. If you kill the host, the spirit is released and will head to the next host. One of the team members searches further into the mining field and sees the miners acting bizarre and violent. He witnesses a leader performing ritual killings. What became a simple prisoner transfer now becomes a fight for survival. They must not only escort the survivors to safety and take them out of the village, but they must find a way to stop these spirits from reaching the next big city on Mars.
I don’t think this movie is as bad as everyone claims it to be. Yes, there are a bunch of issues which I’ll get to in a minute, but I think the biggest issue was the misconception of the film. The movie was marketed as a horror movie. When audiences went to see it, there wasn’t a lot of Horror to be seen. I didn’t like this movie at first because I didn’t think it was a Horror movie. I decided to give it a few more viewings and my perception changed because I realized that this wasn’t a Horror movie at all. For me, “Ghosts of Mars” is more of a Sci-Fi Western. It borrows a ton of elements from many Western films including one of Carpenter’s first film, the 1976 Urban Western Suspense Thriller “Assault on Precinct 13”. While the setting is on Mars, you can tell from the sets and the red sand, that it has a Western feel to it. You have five members of the police force slowly making their way through the town in a way of cowboys and outlaws do when they arrive into towns on their horses. The ghosts and the monsters in the movie represent the American Indians in Western movies. The ghosts represent the spirits of an ancient Martian tribe who were on the planet long before any human beings and the monsters they inhabit is their physical essence as they are going around killing the townspeople. They see the humans as “savages” and invaders of their territory, which Joanna Cassidy brings up in the film when asked about what their objective is, which preserve is and defend their land. Another element that is commonly found in Western movies that appears in “Ghost of Mars” is the last stand scenes. The remaining survivors are held up in the Shining Canyon police station and barricade it from anyone trying to get in. They set up a plan to defend themselves until the train arrives to pick them up. You have the monsters trying to get in by use of a battering ram. As soon as they break through, the fighting begins. It’ lifted straight from “Assault on Precinct 13” (minus the battering ram portion). There’s nothing wrong with that. I like movies where you have to use your surroundings and use what you have inside to protect yourself from the enemy. You’ll see plenty of action during this scenario with guns, explosives, hand to hand combat, limbs flying all over the screen.
Another positive of the movie is the music. Once again the music is composed by Carpenter himself. The opening credits contain Carpenter’s simple bass synth sound. However, he did get some assistance this time with the help of Scott Ian from Anthrax and the legendary guitarist Buckethead. The music is heavily layered with guitar riffs, especially during the last stand fight. It’s loud and booming and fits well with the action sequences.
I also enjoyed the special effects, especially the scenes where you see the ghosts from a first person perspective. There are scenes where an infected human gets killed either through self infliction or being shot at. Once the host is dead, the ghost is released and looks for another human host. The camera goes into a first person view with blurry orange/yellow colors representing the ghost. When they enter a host, they don’t speak. They begin to physically harm the host through self mutilation. I’m not sure if the ghost is trying to feel pain or feel human. It’s not explained in the movie.
The problem that this movie faced was the milquetoast acting and bad editing. I’ve already talked about the concept, so we’ll go to the acting. The film stars Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall and Liam Waite. Ice Cube plays Desolation Williams. Ice Cube has the look of a tough hardened criminal and kicks plenty of Martian ass in the movie, but he doesn’t really act like it throughout this film. He comes off as being mellow, not giving a crap about what’s going on and playing the sorry for yourself role when he talks about there’s nothing for him on this planet. You can’t really sympathize with a character unless you know their background, which the movie fails to do. All they mention about Williams is how he’s beaten the rap several times, but they don’t go into his history nor does he explain why he acts the way he does and why he feels everyone is out to get him.
The police force (Henstridge, Statham, Grier, DuVall and Waite) have no chemistry together. Stahatam is the comic relief in the film and he at least tries to build up a relationship with Henstridge, but not in a professional manner. He comes off as cocky, arrogant and trying to use his silver tongue to seduce Henstridge to “dance” as he would say in the movie. He is definitely the best actor in the movie. Henstridge comes off as bored and exhausted (which I found out in the Trivia she fell ill during this movie since she started immediately after finishing work on another movie) but she makes up for it with her pretty face.
The Bad Actor Award goes to the Martian Leader. His dialogue is literally gibberish. Although I found out in the trivia that the prosthetic was so large for his mouth he could only make vowel sounding words. He used that to developed his language, but still it comes out gibberish. You could take someone off the street, put them in a costume and randomly speak gibberish (which I’m sure is what they did).
What also bothers me about this film are the flashback scenes or the looping scenes as I call them. When a person starts to explain something, we are taken back to a scene we’ve seen and are shown it again, just to know what the conversation refers to. It’s almost as if Carpenter was doing this to fill time needed since the film was too short or it was just lazy editing. Speaking of editing, there are a lot of wipe screens in this movie. Whomever the editor was, must’ve watched “The Phantom Menace” too many times and thought the wipe screen was a cool effect and convinced Carpenter that it should be used on his movie.
Lastly without trying to spoil anything was I thought the plan they had to destroy the ghosts was implausible While their plan succeeding in killing the physical host, how do you kill something that is in a spirit form? Someone in the team failed to bring that up. It would set up events in the ending that are all too familiar with some of Carpenter’s notable apocalyptic movies.
John Carpenter admitted in an interview a few years after this movie came out that he was emotionally burned during the making of the movie and that he lost his passion for film making. Unfortunately that spilled over into the movie. “Ghost of Mars” isn’t a bad movie at all. It’s a decent B-Movie, but you can tell that the emotional drainage spilled over into the movie. It really affected the story, the acting, the sets, editing, etc. Luckily there’s enough action, special effects and humor to keep you from falling asleep. It’s a shame that this was the movie that put Carpenter into hibernation not wanting to make movies again. Although he has reemerged, I hope he can provide me and all his loyal fans with one big memorable movie that will cement his already immortal legacy in film.
The original script was intended for the third movie in the Snake Plisskin series, “Escape From Earth” with Kurt Russell reprising his role as Plisskin. Due to the box office failure of “Escape From LA” in 1996, the movie was rejected and Carpenter rewrote the script and changed the title to “Ghosts of Mars”.
The prosthetics that the main bad guy wears were rather too large for his mouth and resulted in most of the “ghost-speak” having only the “a” vowel sound.
Much of the location shooting was done on a gypsum mine near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The gypsum, which is almost pure white, was sprayed with a biodegradable red food dye to give the appearance of a Martian landscape.
Natasha Henstridge replaced Courtney Love (the original choice) at the last minute. Love left the project after her boyfriend’s ex-wife ran over her foot in her car while she was in training for the picture. Michelle Yeoh, Franka Potente and Famke Janssen were briefly considered. Henstridge was suggested by her then-boyfriend Liam Waite, and was able to join the cast just a week before production began. The actress found the experience to be very harrowing, due to the heavily physical nature of her role and the difficult working conditions.
Jason Statham was originally hired to play James “Desolation” Williams, but was replaced by Ice Cube for star power.
In a 2006 interview, Ice Cube nominated this as the worst movie he had appeared in, calling it “unwatchable in many ways. John Carpenter really let us down with the special effects on that one – it looked like something out of a film from 1979”.
Production had to shut down for a week when Natasha Henstridge fell ill due to extreme exhaustion (she had just done two other films back-to-back before joining the production at the last moment).
John Carpenter revealed that he had become burnt out after he had made this film and made the decision of leaving Hollywood for good. It would not be until nine years later that he made a full feature film, which was The Ward (2010).