Hiatus

Hello everyone!

I apologize for not posting reviews lately.  I’ve been busy with a lot of things: work, vacation, other personal matters.

I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to take a small hiatus from posting reviews. I have some personal events coming up in September that need my attention.

However, I will be returning in October to do a month long review special review in lieu of the Halloween season. I’m going to be reviewing my “Most Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies”.  I will be dedicating the spare time I have in September to watch and review five horror movies that fit this category. I will post one a week up until Halloween. I’ll be spending the time next month watching, researching, analyzing and of course picking out some hilarious clips.

I want to say Thank you to all you viewers out there. I appreciate all of you who have supported this blog. I hope you have enjoyed reading these blogs as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I’ll see you soon.

Leviathan

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Leviathan

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Adventure, Horror, Mystery

Director: George P. Cosmatos

Writers: David Peoples (Story & Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)

Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Meg Foster, Hector Elizondo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 1989 was the year of the underwater Sci-Fi films. First, you had the highly anticipated “The Abyss”, namely because it was a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most advanced effects at the time which would evolve in Cameron’s follow up film, “Terminator 2”.The second film was the obscure “Deep Star Six”, directed by famed “Friday the 13th” creator Sean S. Cunningham. Finally you had “Leviathan” directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing two Sylvester Stallone movies, “First Blood Part II” and “Cobra” (the latter was my very first review for this blog still available for your reading pleasure!) All three movies did not do well at the box office. “The Abyss” made $90 million, but it had a budget of over $50 million so while it made a teeny profit, it was very underwhelming considering the magnitude of the film. “Deep Star Six” sank as fast as the Titanic. “Leviathan”debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. While underwater Sci-Fi films were nothing new, it seemed the audience wasn’t all that invested into those concepts. As we approach the 30thyear landmarks for these films, I decided to re-watch “Leviathan” again.

The first time I watched it, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again in hopes of it appearing on this very blog, I went into it with no expectations and erased all those feelings I had the first time around. After watching it the second time, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of “The Abyss” along with two other iconic Sci-Fi Horror films “Alien” and “The Thing”, it was entertaining. I liked it so much; I began playing it several times. As a matter of fact, I have it playing in the background as I’m typing up this review. Before I get into the nitty gritty of the film, I’ll brief you on the plot.

“Leviathan” tells the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver in the Atlantic Ocean. The team consists of eight members, Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Willie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). They are lead by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to the CEO of Tri-Oceanic Corp, Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (who are working as punishment for an altercation), Sixpack falls of a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan’ with Sixpack inside with some sunken treasure. As the crew looks through what was lost in the ship, Doc uncovers a video tape. It’s a tape containing a warning by the Capitan of the ‘Leviathan’. Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring too. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka found in the ‘Leviathan’ only to finding out after tasting it that Beck had switched the bottles and they have water instead of vodka. Unbeknowst to the crew, Sixpack hid a separate canteen filled with the vodka that was recovered and he and Bowman have a drink. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and flaky skin. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers the doc to perform tests on the rest of the crew. When Bowman sees Sixpack, she decides to take her own life rather than succumb to the illness. As the crew tries to throw the bodies away, the mutation fuses together and attacks the crew. A part of the creature manages to sever itself from the body and develop into a whole new being which goes on to attack the crew and grow by consuming human blood. The crew declare an emergency but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.
I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He is in charge of the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he does and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in “Robocop” groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew with the exception of Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. I think all the performances were good with the exception of Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in “They Live”. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.

The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in “Alien”. Wouldn’t surprise me if he was influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it.  The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.

Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. The movie does a good job taking the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster and letting the audience until the second half of the movie. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either come into contact with or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the “Hellraiser” movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park” and the Alien Queen in “Aliens”. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.

Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put “Leviathan” second behind “The Abyss”. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes.  Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching over and over again. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining.

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • 50 to 60 spec drawings of the potential look for the creature were submitted to director George P. Cosmatos. All the drawings were combined for the final definitive look for Leviathan which was a huge, fish-headed beast with dagger like teeth with the ability to absorb recognizable characteristics from its victims.

 

  • There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look. With most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on sound stages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.

 

  • Audio from this film is sampled in the song “Reptile” featured in the Nine Inch Nails album “The Downward Spiral.”

 

  • According to the sleeve notes on the DVD, a dry for wet lighting test by Alex Thomson used an old army tank for the wreck of the Leviathan,and some make shift diving suits were made using

 

  • Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.

 

  • Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

Sushi Girl

Sushi Girl

Release Date: Novemeber 27, 2012

Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Kern Saxton

Writers: Kern Saxton, Destin Pfaff

Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Before I go into the review, I would like to take this time to apologize for not posting weekly. I’ve had some personal tragedies in my life that took me away from various projects. In addition, I wanted to take some time off and rethink the concept of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review”. When I first started this blog, the concept was to review movies that I particularly liked that perhaps only a small cult would enjoy. I started to find myself digging into movies that have already been done before. I took a seat back and took notes on how to keep this blog going but make it appealing to the viewers. I decided that I would focus on movies that the mainstream movie goer may not have heard of before or movies that may be seen as bad by the general public, but I enjoy.  I know there will be people out there (even you the reader) that may have seen the movie I’m reviewing before, but my goal in reviewing these underrated movies is to attempt to capture a new audience. As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this.  With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s “Sushi Girl”.

The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table.  Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.

I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled “Sushi Girl”. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about “Sushi Girl”, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.

The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick “Reservoir Dogs”. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. “Sushi Girl” follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like “Reservoir Dogs”, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).

The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than “Candyman” which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.

Clocking in at 98 minutes, “Sushi Girl” may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.

 

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

 

  • While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.

 

  • The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.

 

  • This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.

 

  • Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.

 

  • One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).

 

  • Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Six Against The Rock

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Six Against The Rock

Release Date: May 18, 1987 (TV Movie)

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Action

Director: Paul Wendkos

Writers: John Gay (Teleplay), Clark Howard (Book)

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.

TRIVIA (N/A)

 

AUDIO CLIPS

 

My Name Is Bruce

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My Name Is Bruce

Release Date: April 13, 2007

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Bruce Campbell

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Bruce Campbell is undeniably the King of B-Movies. He’s catapulted to the top of the genre in large part to his recurring portrayal as chainsaw wielding, boomstick carrying, demon killer Ashley Williams from the ‘Evil Dead’ movies. His career has spanned for over thirty years. In the last ten years he’s had more mainstream appeal largely in part to his role in the Espionage series ‘Burn Notice’ and his return to the Evil Dead world as Ash once again in the Starz TV Series ‘Ash vs. Evil Dead’ (which sadly has been cancelled). Bruce Campbell portrays characters that make the audience feel like they are a part of the ride. He is not afraid of getting downright goofy as much of his acting was influenced by ‘The Three Stooges’. In 2007, he came out with a movie that pokes fun at not only himself, but his career. That movie was called ‘My Name Is Bruce’.

As the title suggests, ‘My Name Is Bruce’ is a tongue in cheek film about Bruce Campbell, his popularity and the blurred line between fiction and reality. The film is about a Goth teenager named Jeff, who happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan. Him and his friend meet up with two girls at an abandoned gravesite in the small mining town of Goldlick, Oregon. Jeff finds a circular object placed in front of what looks like to be a collapsed tunnel. Removing the object, Jeff accidentally summons the spirit of Guan-Di, who is the Chinese God War and an early settler of the town. With Guan-Di unleashed and killing it townsfolk one by one, Jeff decides to track down the one person he believes could defeat the evil spirit…..yep, you guessed it. Bruce Campbell.

While the events in Goldlick are happening, Bruce is in a movie studio shooting a sequel to the B-Movie Sci-Fi film ‘Cave Alien’.  Frustrated by the lack of quality roles, being turned down by women and crushed over a divorce, Bruce threatens to fire his agent, Mills Toddner (played by Tem Raimi in one of three roles he plays in the film). Mills tells him that he has a surprise for him on his birthday. Bruce shrugs it off and heads back to his trailer for a night of drinking and calling his ex wife. Bruce hears a knock on his door and Jeff appears. He asks him to come with him, but Bruce refuses. Jeff resorts to knocking him out and putting him in the trunk of his car. Jeff drives back to Goldlick and lets Bruce out. After Bruce gives a lecture to the townsfolk about kidnapping a movie star, he is informed by Jeff that he called his agent and was told he was free. Bruce believes that this is the surprise Mills was talking about and believes he’s part of a new movie. Bruce plays along with it unbeknownst that the townspeople are serious.

After a hero’s welcome that is filled with food and drink, Bruce leads the townspeople to the cemetery. There he encounters Guan-Di. Realizing that this is not a movie, Bruce tells the people to retreat. From there he cowardly escapes from the town to let the townspeople deal with Guan-Di. The next morning Bruce receives a call from Jeff saying that he is going to fight Guan-Di himself since he is ultimately responsible for releasing him. Now Bruce must decide if he wishes to help Jeff or let him deal with the spirit himself.

This film is hilarious. While this will appeal to the most diehard Bruce Campbell fans, I think viewers who aren’t familiar with him or his work will get a kick out of this. There’s plenty of jokes that will keep the average comedy movie fan in their seats.

You can tell throughout the film that Bruce Campbell enjoys parodying himself. The fact that he depicts himself as an arrogant, cocky, selfish, womanizing and drunken actor who lives in a trailer and is getting burned by horrible acting parts. It’s the polar opposite of the typical Hollywood actor. You get into his head of what he deals with on a daily basis from crazed fans to slimy agents. He doesn’t skip a beat with his line delivery, his physical expressions and his candor. He does show a moral compass during the film as he gets to know Jeff and his mother, Kelly whom he immediately has an attraction for despite her shunning his advances and thinking he’s nothing more than a phony.

The rest of the cast is pretty small as it primarily centers around Bruce and the relationship he builds with Jeff and Kelly. Grace Thorsen plays Kelly. She turns in a decent performance although it didn’t find her convincing that she immediately felt an attraction for Bruce especially after berating him about he thinks the situation is a joke to him, but to the townspeople it’s not. Jeff is played by a kid named Taylor Sharpe. This is his only acting performance to date (according to IMDB). I can see why it’s his only performance. He definitely plays his role like a newcomer.  He sounds dull and not too concerned about what has happened. The character of Jeff itself is strange. One minute he is all dressed up as a Goth kid and then the next he’s a regular kid blending in with the town. Eventually his Goth persona would become his hero alter ego when he makes the decision to battle Guan-Di.  I will give him props for knowing his Bruce Campbell trivia and his collection of Bruce Campbell memorabilia in his room. Other than Campbell, the other best performance of the film goes to Ted Raimi who plays three different characters. Besides Mills Toddner, he plays the town painter who gripes about having to change the population number of the town and uses lazy methods to change it and he also plays Wing, the last descendent of the original Chinese immigrants that founded the town. Radical leftists will more than likely cry that his performance stereotypes Asians, but I didn’t see it that way. I found it funny that he warns the people about Guan-Di and begins to taunt them. He only appears in a couple scenes, but he would provide something that will help them in the battle with the Chinese God of War.

Speaking of Guan-Di, I think it was an interesting monster that Bruce had to deal with. He looked like a giant puppet that dangled on strings. I’m pretty sure it was the film’s intention to make the monster look cheap as it fits in with the B-Movie concept. Nevertheless it was good to see a little innovation in the bad guy and not make him another vampire or zombie.

After watching this film again, I would easily place this in my Top 10 Bruce Campbell movies. Yes, this film will largely appeal to his fan base, but there are those out there that will enjoy it if they are a fan of B-Movies. If you can show this movie to someone who has never seen a Bruce Campbell movie, you might be able to turn them into an immediate fan. If you’re able to do that, then it will be a testament to the power that this film really has.

TRIVIA (According to IMDB)

  • The exteriors for the town of “Goldlick” were actually shot on Bruce Campbell’s property where a back lot was built with the exteriors of all of the buildings. The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.
  • According to the DVD commentary, most of the Bruce Campbell memorabilia in Jeff’s room was real, including a spare Brisco County Jr. costume that Campbell owned. A few fake items, such as a poster for “The Stoogitive,” were made to fill up space.
  • There are many mentions and references to Bruce Campbell’s other films. Examples are phrases ‘sugar baby’, ‘groovy’ and ‘boomstick’ along with name checking of people like Sam Raimi (director of the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy).
  • The rude man in the wheelchair was based on a real person Bruce Campbell met

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Critters

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Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek

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.

 

TRIVIA

  • 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 [1982]) 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 [1986]
  • 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.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Ghosts of Mars

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Ghosts of Mars

Release Date: August 24, 2001

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror, Action

Director: John Carpenter

Writers: John Carpenter, Larry Sulkis

Starring: Ice Cube, Natasha Henstridge, Jason Statham, Pam Grier, Clea DuVall, Liam Waite, Joanna Cassidy

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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.

TRIVIA

  • 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).

 

AUDIO CLIPS