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

 

 

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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

 

 

Leprechaun 3

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Leprechaun 3

Release Date: June 27, 1995

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror

Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith

Writers; David DuBos (Story), Mark Jones (Characters)

Starring: Warwick Davis, John Gatins, Lee Armstrong, John DeMita, Caroline Williams, Michael Callan

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

In 1993 movie audiences were introduced to “Leprechaun”, a horror movie in which a Leprechaun searches for his lost gold and kills anyone in his way.  The film was a box office success and launched the career of Jennifer Aniston and showed Warwick Davis’ diverse range of acting after only being known as playing Wicket the Ewok in “Return of the Jedi” and playing Willow in the film of the same name. A sequel was rushed to theaters in 1994 and was just as successful as the first film. It launched a new horror franchise that spawned six films and are played regularly on St. Patrick’s Day on the Sci-Fi Channel. One of the films that is a favorite of the fans (and mine) is 1995’s “Leprechaun 3”.

“Leprechaun 3” continues the tale of the Leprechaun searching for his gold. The first film he searched in North Dakota. The second film he searched in California. For the third film, he searches where else but…..Las Vegas. The film chronicles an eighteen year old kid named Scott who is on his way to college and happens to drive through Vegas. He stumbles upon a buxom blonde named Tammy whose car has broken down and needs to get to her job at the Lucky Shamrock casino. In exchange for his kindness, Tammy agrees to sneak Scott into the casino under the condition that he doesn’t gamble. Scott, the impressionable college boy that he is decides to gamble by cashing in a $23,000 check from his parents to cover his first year. And of course, he loses it all playing Roulette. He heads to a pawn shop across the street looking to sell his watch to get some extra cash. As he walks into the Pawn Shop, he sees the shop owner dead and finds a single gold schilling on the table. There is a video on leprechaun folklore playing on the computer and Scott watches the part where the narrator states that you can have one wish if you have the leprechaun’s gold. With the gold schilling he wishes that he were back at the casino on a winning streak. Sure enough his wish comes true. However, it begins a chain reaction of events to come as the characters in the film each get their hands on the gold coin and the Leprechaun is right on their trail looking to reclaim his schilling and get revenge on those who harbor its power.

This was the first “Leprechaun” movie to be released straight to video. Turns out it was a rental success becoming the highest selling rental of 1995. This is my favorite movie of the “Leprechaun” series. The setting of Las Vegas is perfect for the film since it symbolizes luck, temptation, magic, money and greed. All the qualities of the Leprechaun character from the film series. Plus it’s great to see the Leprechaun gamble and constantly win! The film is also an omage to the story “The Monkey’s Paw”.  As each character in the film gets their hands on the gold coin, they make their wish and it comes true. However, their wish comes with a reversal of fortune, thanks to the Leprechaun.  That reversal of fortune involves some creative death scenes. As for Scott, he has other issues to deal with. During an altercation with the Leprechaun where he gets bitten, he stabs the Leprechaun in the head with a knife. His green blood gets mixed in with the bite wound and he slowly starts turning into a human leprechaun who wants all the gold for himself. He has to make a choice between destroying the gold and returning to human form or keeping the gold and forever stay as a leprechaun. It’s a choice that is not easy for him since he has developed magical powers for himself and is consumed by acquiring the entire pot of gold. It’s a good character struggle to complement the overall theme of the film.

Once again Warwick Davis is front and center in this movie and continues to be a source of comedy and menace. When he appeared in the first “Leprechaun” movie, he shed his good guy image and with the success of the movie, he proved to everyone that he could play a diverse range of characters. He is solidified with the Leprechaun franchise, but he’s comfortable with it. From the delivery of his Irish limericks to his impersonation of Elvis to his magical kills, you can tell in this movie he is having a blast playing the character. He still has a hard time nailing down the accent. It’s not really Irish, but it’s passable. Davis even admits it. His antics are the highlight of this film.

The rest of the cast is every trope you could imagine. First you have Scott, played by John Gatins. He’s an overly excited, curious and impressionable college student. As soon as he meets Tammy it’s like he immediately falls in love at first sight. He is naïve and unaware of the risks involved with gambling. Gatins acts like he’s too excited even in the most mundane situations. I do have to give him credit for doing a good Irish accent when he slowly transforms into a leprechaun. He tells a limerick to a waitress in the casino restaurant that is pretty dirty, even from limerick standards. I think he does a decent job dealing with the struggles of his leprechaun transformation and his temptation for keeping the gold when it’s revealed the only way to turn human is to destroy the gold.

Next you have Tammy, played by Lee Armstrong. Tammy is a Magician’s Assistant for the great (not really great) Fazio at the Lucky Shamrock. She gets herself into a situation that is out of her control due to a wish being granted by the gold coin. When she snaps out of it, Scott comes to her rescue. She would stick with him throughout the movie trying to help him overcome the leprechaun curse. This was Armstrong’s final acting role, not because she died, but the fact that…she can’t act. She is very dull and emotionless. There’s a scene where she is supposed to be over the top, but she plays it like how a little baby acts. It’s ridiculously bad. One thing that she has going for her is the outfit she wears throughout the movie. It’s definitely a redeeming quality.

Finally you have the rest of the small cast with Michael Callan playing Mitch, the Casino Manager who plays it like a stereotypical mobster, John DeMita who plays Fazio, a failed magician and Caroline Williams who plays Loretta, who works the Roulette table. All of these characters aren’t very likable. They’re all self-centered egotists who are battling each other over the most trivial of things. Each of them get their turn making a wish with the gold coin and they all have to do with improving themselves and each of them will get their dates with death courtesy of the Leprechaun. All of them acted like they didn’t want to be in this movie. I get it, but if you’re a working actor, you take what is given to you and you should try to make an effort no matter how bad the script could be. I’m surprised there wasn’t at least a little more effort from Caroline Williams considering she is a Horror vet having played the heroine Stretch in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2”.  They’re the middle men in the story since it revolves more around Scott and the Leprechaun.

As I’ve mentioned several times already the death scenes are creative. I won’t spoil what they are. There’s enough gore to satisfy a viewer’s appetite. You can’t go wrong with blood and gore in a horror movie. The special effects in the death scenes weren’t anything crazy mainly in part to another low budget. One of the famous kill scenes in all of the Leprechaun movies you can tell they exploded a cake to make it look like a human body.

There’s not much more to say about “Leprechaun 3”. It’s indeed a guilty pleasure movie and the strongest in the franchise. While it follows the same plot of the first film, it makes up with the appropriate settings and symbolism. Every St. Patrick’s Day is now a traditional day to watch the “Leprechaun” movies. If you can only watch one this upcoming Saturday, then I recommend “Leprechaun 3”. You might enjoy it even more when you’re drunk on all that green beer you consumed!

 

TRIVIA

  • Highest Selling Direct-to-video film of 1995.
  • Filmed in 14 days.
  • Warwick Davis has publicly stated this is favorite “Leprechaun” film of the series.
  • Lee Armstrong who played Tammy quit acting after this film.
  • As Scott is entering the casino, Warwick Davis can be seen making a cameo without make-up playing a slot machine.
  • The check Scott carries around in the casino is signed by the director of the movie, Brian Trenchard-Smith.
  • John Gatins, who plays Scott, would go on to be a screenplay writer. He wrote the screenplays for “Coach Carter”, “Real Steel”, “Power Rangers” and “Flight”, the latter receiving him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Evolver

evolver

Evolver

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic sci-fi and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie ‘Evolver’.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who wins a contest based on the game ‘Evolver’. ‘Evolver’ is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO and the creator of ‘Evolver’ Russell Bennett (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its only primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in ‘The Lawnmower Man’ (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an ‘Evolver’ VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver is supposed to have some kind of limitation.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from ‘Man vs. Food’ because he looks just like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the ‘Evolver’ game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister and Evolver does he show heart and how the dangers of Evolver after affecting them. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of being just a gamer.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennett. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial ‘Q’ from The Next Generation series. For those who are Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in ‘Breaking Bad’. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Finally, there is the character of Evolver. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as WH Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with?

This movie is a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. ‘Evolver’ takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, ‘Evolver’ is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on there, perhaps in my Top 5. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an ‘Evolver’ VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the ‘Evolver’ movie from a straight to video cassette into movie immortality!

 

TRIVIA

  • N/A

 

AUDIO CLIPS