Q: The Winged Serpent

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Q: The Winged Serpent

Release Date: October 29, 1982

Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: David Carradine, Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, Richard Roundtree,  James Dixon

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We have reached the half way point in our Larry Cohen Tribute Month. Thank you to everyone who has been sticking with the special since the first movie. Still plenty more to come. For this week’s review, we are going to be looking at one of Larry Cohen’s most popular movies. It’s an homage to the early monster movies such as ‘King Kong.’ It takes place in New York City (like King Kong), but instead of seeing the monster on top of the Empire State Building, you’re going to be seeing a monster on top of another landmark building, the Chrysler Building. This week we’re going to be reviewing 1982’s ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!”

As the title suggests, ‘Q’ is a flying monster that has made its home on top of the Chrysler Building. It flies through the skies of New York City snatching up people for food.  No one knows where this creature came from or how it got here. As the monster roams the skies, two separate stories are going on. The first story you have is Police Detective Shepard (David Carradine) who is assigned the case of finding the monster and killing it. He believes the monster has something to do with a series of ritual killings he’s also been investigating. Along with his partner Powell (Richard Roundtree), they link the killings and the monster to a secret Neo Aztec cult. The second story involves Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty), a cheap two-timing crook who is an excellent piano player who is involved in a botched diamond heist. He makes his escape by hiding inside the Chrysler Building where he discovers the creature’s nest atop complete with a giant egg. Jimmy uses this knowledge of the creature’s location to lure his fellow mob pursuers to their deaths at the hands of the creature and to extort the city of money and immunity from prosecution in exchange for giving up the creature’s hideout.

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Larry Cohen wrote and shot this movie in a little over two weeks. He was working on a project called ‘I, The Jury’ until he was fired by the studio (he is credited for writing the script to the movie). Not wanting to leave his hotel room that was paid up, he assembled a small crew from the aforementioned project and started shooting all around the city. It took Cohen six days to write the script for ‘Q’. The cast was not aware of what they were making when they received a short telegram from Cohen to arrive in the city and be prepared to work.

When I first watched ‘Q’, I was thoroughly impressed with the look and style of the movie. It reminded me of the Godzilla movies that I used to watch as a kid on television. There was a look and feel to them that stuck in my brain and this movie did the same thing. It had me engaged from the first scene and I was on the edge of my seat to see how it was going to play out. I was familiar with Larry Cohen’s work at the time, but not enough to know how he shot films and how he edited them.

‘Q’ has an excellent cast filled with character actors and method actors. I’ve always been a fan of David Carradine and I was ecstatic when I found out he was in this film. He doesn’t disappoint. He plays Shepard as a traditional detective, trying to find all the clues and piece them together. When he comes up with his final report, it is rejected by his superiors. Carradine continues to believe what he has uncovered and is willing to do what it takes to stop the monster and save the city. His partner, played by Richard Roundtree is a little rougher around the edges. If interrogators were playing ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ with a suspect, Roundtree would easily be the ‘Bad Cop.’ There’s even a scene where he plays that on Jimmy Quinn. Speaking of Jimmy Quinn, he’s the surprising hero of the movie played brilliantly by Michael Moriarty. When he first appears on screen he is desperate to get back in the game of stealing. When the diamond heist goes bad he starts to get edgy and paranoid. As the movie progresses you see that Jimmy grows a brain and develops a plan to get rid of the people who are looking for him and a way to set himself up for the failed heist. Many critics and fans have hailed Moriarty’s performance as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen and I echo that sentiment. He pours emotions filled with anger, despair and cockiness. This was the first collaboration between Moriarty and Cohen and it wouldn’t be the last as they would work together on five more movies.

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Like all of his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture.

Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun.

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There’s not much more I can say about ‘Q: The Winged Serpent’ without giving too much away. It’s one of the best B-Movies to come out within the last forty years. It continues to have an impact and has inspired other filmmakers to make their own monster movies using this concept. I rank this as my second favorite Larry Cohen movie only to the one movie which I will be reviewing next week. If you want to find out what movie I’m talking about then stay tuned next week! You may be surprised (or may not be surprised)!

 

 

 

TRIVIA

  • A young Bruce Willis wanted to star in David Carradine’s role but wasn’t a known name at the time that Larry Cohen could depend on to be bankable. Bruce later met Larry again when Moonlighting (1985) was a hit.
  • Pre-production for the movie lasted just one week. The film was conceived after Larry Cohen was fired from a big budget film shooting in New York. Cohen, determined not to waste the hotel room he had paid for, hired the actors and prepared a shooting script within six days.
  • In an interview on NPR’s “Fresh Air”, Michael Moriarty described the scene in which he auditions as a piano player. The music he played was a self-composed and unrehearsed improvisation, and the dog’s reaction was genuine.
  • The building in the opening scene of the movie is the Empire State Building. In this scene, a window cleaner loses his head to the monster. His name is William Pilch, and was the actual window cleaner for the Empire State Building at the time of the movie’s filming.
  • The French movie poster incorrectly shows the monster covered with feathers, a wavy dinosaur frill along its back, and with large white teeth. This is because it was illustrated and printed up before copies of the film were imported into France.
  • David Carradine agreed to play Shepard even though he didn’t receive a script to read prior to his first day of working on the film.
  • The jewel store that the bad guys rob in the early part of the film is called “Neil Diamonds” a pun on the name of Neil Diamond.
  • Cohen stated about the monsters death at the ending, “It’s the exact same scene as the end of the $150 million Godzilla picture. Gee, if I had that money I could have made 150 movies.”

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Back Again Creep

You’re Not The Only Action In Town

Jimmy Plays The Piano

Equal Share Equal Chance

I’ve Been Afraid Of Everything

Who’s Got My Lunch Pail?

Evil Dreams

The Feathered Flying Serpent

I Better Take My Birth Control Pill

Eat Him

Being Civilized

Drag Me Here So You Could Do Pushups

Becoming Quite A Bird Watcher

If You Know Something

Nixon Like Pardon

Get Rupert Down Here

Fry Up 500 lbs of Bacon

Stick It Up Your Small Brain

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God Told Me To

 

God Told Me To (1976) aka Demon Directed by Larry Cohen Shown: Poster Art

God Told Me To

Release Date: October 22, 1976

Genre: Crime, Horror, Sci-Fi

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Tony Lo Bianco, Deborah Raffin, Sandy Dennis, Sam Levene, Mike Kellin, Richard Lynch

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re now on to the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. For this review, we’re going to be looking at a social commentary quasi science fiction movie about religion. It looks at how religion can influence the minds of those who believe in the scriptures. It influences them so much that they go out and do horrible things. It’s a movie that was not a success when it first came out, but over the years grew into an important film tackling this kind of subject. This review we will be looking at 1976’s ‘God Told Me To!’

The movie begins with a man on top of a water tower who opens fire on people walking the street with a .22 caliber rifle. His actions result in the death of fifteen people. Detective Peter Nicholas (Tony Lo Bianco) is called in to stop the sniper. He climbs the water tower and talks to the sniper about why he is doing what he is doing. The sniper responds by telling Peter, “God told me to!” before jumping off the water tower to his death. The incident would be the first of many random murders to come throughout the movie all with the suspects seemingly implying that they were told by God to kill. As Peter investigates these strange acts, his clues lead him to a man named Bernard Phillips (Richard Lynch) who is the leader of a religious cult who according to the members has psychic powers and is controlling the minds of people to commit murder. Peter pursues Phillips through various avenues where he will be shocked about what he has discovered not only about Phillips, but about himself.

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This is perhaps Larry Cohen’s most bizarre and controversial movie as it deals with religion and religious extremism. Cohen deals with the rationalization believers go to in order to follow “the word of God.” There is extremism in every religion. You have people killing each other in the name of religion. Everyone believes their religion is one true religion and that those who practice something else is a heathen, infidel, unbeliever, etc. The movie also deals with cultism as the antagonist is the leader of a cult who is controlling the minds of others to kill people to spread his message. It’s relatable to this day with all the numerous cults that are out today. You could compare this film today to the rhetoric of Scientology.

Cohen brings in a cast of well-respected veteran working actors to assist with his vision with Tony Lo Bianco playing the lead as Detective Peter Nicholas. Lo Bianco doesn’t look like a lead actor, but he is the meat and potatoes of the story. In addition to dealing with these crimes and looking at the religious aspect, he is also dealing with his own beliefs. Peter Nicholas is shown throughout the movie as a devout Catholic. You see shots of him in a Church praying, talking to his wife about going to confession and begins to question his faith as these random murders continue. He’s also conflicted in his ranks as he feels that he is on his own with the investigation, not receiving support from his fellow police officers. The supporting cast features Deborah Raffin as Casey Forster who is Peter’s mistress, Sandy Dennis as Peter’s wife Martha whom is on the verge of divorcing him, Sylvia Sidney as Elizabeth Mullin who becomes a central figure in the film and has a connection to Bernard Phillips and Mike Kellin of ‘Midnight Express and ‘Sleepaway Camp’ fame as the Deputy Commissioner who is desperately trying to get the situation under control. Finally, you have the antagonist Bernard Phillips in a chilling performance by Richard Lynch. He appears in all gold and glowing, kind of like Jesus (which is what Cohen based Phillips on). Everything he does in the movie is to get Nicholas to come to him for which he makes a shocking revelation to Nicholas and unveils his master plan.

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As is customary in a Larry Cohen movie, Cohen fills the scenes with stolen shots and unplanned sequences which gives the movie a realistic tone. Cameras are placed all over the city to get many intriguing shots of the city and the everyday people who walk and commute in it. The most iconic scene in the movie is Cohen shoots the St. Patrick’s Day Parade filled with thousands of New York City Police Officers and features a cameo from comedian Andy Kauffman dressed up as an officer. Again, they didn’t have permission to shoot the parade so there are many shots of the police overhead, the Mayor and city officials and of course Kauffman. It’s great to see the unscripted reactions of fellow officers when they recognize Kauffman. They though Kauffman was doing another one of his typical jokes.

While Cohen was unable to return legendary film composer Bernard Hermann to score this movie after previous scoring ‘It’s Alive’ due to his untimely death, Cohen brings in Frank Cordell to the music. Cordell provides booming biblical tones which adds another dimension to the movie. The music is placed appropriately through tension scenes and plot reveals.

The pacing of the movie starts out quick and gutsy. By the time the second and third act come around things start to slow down creating a feeling of unbalance. The events and situations seem to jump around. I think this is in part to the condensed schedule that Cohen had when making this film.

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‘God Told Me To’ was not well received when it first opened. Critics including Roger Ebert vivisected this film. However, as time went by, critics revisited this movie and like its premise, it’s become a cult film. Rolling Stone listed it as one of “20 Scariest Films You’ve Never Seen!” [1] If you’re a fan of movies with crazy and weird plots, this movie is for you. You could even joke with people that ‘God told me to watch this movie!’

That concludes the second movie in the Larry Cohen Tribute Special. Next week we continue the special with another film of his that has had widespread acclaim and legacy. Don’t miss out!

TRIVIA

  • Composer Bernard Herrmann, Larry Cohen’s first choice to score the film, died that night after seeing the film without music. The film is dedicated to Hermann in his honor.
  • Larry Cohen did not have a permit to film the scene at the St. Patrick’s Day parade, but he did it anyway.
  • According to Larry Cohen, during the St. Patrick’s Day Parade scene, he was organizing the crew, only to see Andy Kaufman, dressed in his policeman’s uniform, antagonizing and making faces at the crowd. Some of the crowd members then attempted to jump the barricades and beat Kaufman, and Cohen had to hold them back.
  • Tony Lo Bianco accidentally broke actor William Roerick’s rib performing CPR in the heart attack scene.
  • Many years after the film’s release, a 70-something year old Larry Cohen stated in an interview that a young French filmmaker had asked him if he could remake the film. He couldn’t remember who this guy was, but he had left some of his films for Cohen to see, and when he took them out, that young French filmmaker turned out to be no other than Gaspar Noé.
  • When Larry Cohen asked composer Miklós Rózsa to score this picture, Rozsa replied, “God told me not to.”
  • Tony Lo Bianco replaced Robert Forster.

AUDIO CLIPS

Police Debrief

God Told Me To

How Would You Like To Be Mugged By A Detective?

You Confess Everything To The Priest

The Irish Have Waited All Year For This Day

People Like That Got No Business

Say It

You Have No Pity

Come On That’s Crap

Discipline Through Fear

Religious Editor Is On The Second Floor

He Truly Believes

Fight Him

Women Claim That They Were Laid By The Almighty

He Can Make Us Know What He Wishes

All My Life I Felt So Close To God

You’ve Tested Yourself

The Private Files Of J. Edgar Hoover

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The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Release Date: December 1977

Genre: Biography, Drama

Director: Larry Cohen

Writer: Larry Cohen

Starring: Broderick Crawford, James Wainwright, Michael Parks, Dan Dailey, Jose Ferrer, Celese Holm

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Recently, the film world lost an original and innovative auteur. Larry Cohen was known in the industry as a guerrilla filmmaker. He made his movies outside of Hollywood with no permits, no permission and no rules. His films tackled many issues from African Americans in society, to marketing and consumerism, from hidden agendas, to the effects chemicals and pollution have on human beings. He was a pioneer in the Independent film industry. You can easily tell a Larry Cohen movie by the style and substance. His movies have lived on to this day with legions of fans continuing to watch them.

For the month of May, ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ will be looking at five of Larry Cohen’s movies. Some may be familiar to fans of certain genres. Others are overlooked gems that don’t get much attention in his filmography. Although Larry Cohen is most famous in the world of horror, I did my best to not make all five movies horror based. The first movie I will review is one that doesn’t get much attention in the discussion of Cohen movies. It’s a semi-biographical film about the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, J. Edgar Hoover and how he molded and shaped the United States Government’s biggest investigative agency that is effective yet controversial. The first film in the Larry Cohen Tribute Month is 1977’s ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover.’

‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’ is a well-crafted semi-documentary style drama about the United States’ top chief law enforcement. For his nearly fifty-year career, Hoover was the top cop in Washington. He served under eight United States Presidents starting with Calvin Coolidge and ending with Richard Nixon.  He became the nation’s ‘Top Cop’ at the age of 29. The film shows him taking on mobsters, communists and people within his own government. His brash and unorthodox style of tackling crime earns him a reputation that is feared not only by criminals, but people within the government. Anyone that would dare test his power would be subjected to wiretaps and blackmail. With the power came suspicions and paranoia which is shown through several scenes throughout the movie, especially when he is a room alone with a woman.

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The title of the movie comes from the files that Hoover was known to have kept regarding his adversaries. He was known to have information on everyone from his subordinates to Presidents. Larry Cohen depicts how Hoover deciphered the information he had on people and used it to discredit them or ensure that his power remained unchecked. The best example of this is a scene involving Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. (played by Raymond St. Jacques). Hoover is determined to unmask Dr. King as a fraud which creates a tension filled moment when the two confront each other in the offices of the FBI.

Academy Award Winner Broderick Crawford stars as the titular icon that is Hoover. Crawford is the spitting image of Hoover on screen. He is stoic, and stone faced throughout the movie as you follow along with him as he goes deep into his head thinking, planning and executing his strategies. Everything he does from his tone of dialogue to mannerisms are all associated with the real J. Edgar Hoover. Crawford nails Hoover’s slumped forward posture and authoritative voice. It’s an incredible work of method acting I haven’t seen since Peter Weller’s performance in ‘Robocop’ or Michael Moriarty’s portrayal of Jimmy Quinn in another Larry Cohen film, ‘Q: The Winged Serpent!’ James Wainwright plays Hoover in his early years in the department and he is as exceptionally good. Wainwright’s Hoover deals with taking on the mafia, mainly pursuing John Dillinger and engaging in a popularity struggle with Melvin Purvis, the man who would take Dillinger down.

In addition to Crawford, there are some great supporting performances most notably from Dan Dailey as Clyde Tolson, Hoover’s right-hand man and most trusted confidant. They are joined at the hip and seem inseparable which sparks the rumors from the press about their relationship being more than professional. Jose Ferrer plays Lionel McCoy another trusted liaison in Hoover’s inner circle is the quiet one of the bunch, but carries out the rules and regulations of the department as Hoover demands and Celeste Holm has a small performance as Florence Hollister, the wife of an ambassador whom tries to seduce Hoover which backfires as Hoover will not do anything that could leak to the press nor destroy his reputation at the bureau.

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If you read my review of ‘Black Caesar’ (another great Larry Cohen film), I mentioned that on of the things that makes Cohen stand out from the rest of filmmakers is his ability to ‘steal shots’. Cohen shoots his movies on location and without permission. To avoid getting caught by authorities, he would place cameras out of plain sight and shoot what was there. When the movie first began production, Cohen shot in the streets of Washington. They wanted to shoot inside several government buildings including the FBI. They were easily rejected when the request to shoot came up. However, first lady Betty Ford intervened when she found out who was in the movie. Mrs. Ford was a former dancer and was a huge fan of actor Dan Dailey, who plays Hoover’s eventual successor Clyde Tolson in the movie and invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch. At the luncheon Dailey and Crawford explained how they were here to make a movie. When they told her some of the places they would like to shoot, President Gerald Ford gave Cohen permission to shoot inside the FBI. With that permission, Cohen was able to shoot scenes inside the FBI (including Hoover’s office and offices of others) as well as the FBI Outdoor Training Grounds. What you saw in the movie was the real deal. No sets, no shooting in other locations, nothing.

The only thing that stood out to me in terms of the negatives of the movie is the casting. Most of the actors cast in the movie didn’t look or act like the character they were playing. Michael Parks plays Robert Kennedy who doesn’t look anything like him however he did give considerable effort getting that thick New England accent down. Howard Da Silva as FDR, William Jordan as JFK, Andrew Duggan as LBJ and Richard Dixon as Nixon (Funny right?). None of those men had the look or personality of the president they were portraying. If Jon Voight as FDR, Martin Sheen as JFK, Bryan Cranston as LBJ and Frank Langella as Nixon are considered the Coca-Cola of presidential portrayals, these guys in this movie would be the Diet Rite version.

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If you’re looking to start watching Larry Cohen movies, you may want to watch this after you’ve seen some of his more popular work. When you get to ‘The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover’, you may look at biopic films in a new light. I personally believe this is a better representation of Hoover than Clint Eastwood’s movie ‘J. Edgar’. Crawford’s performance keeps your attention focused at everything he does and how he became the most powerful person in government. With that power comes corruption and there’s plenty of things that show it in the film. It may change your opinion on Hoover depending on how you feel about him today.

With that the first review in the ‘Larry Cohen Tribute Special’ is now complete. I will be posting a new review each week until the end of the month. For updates on postings, please be sure to follow my page here on WordPress or you can follow me on Twitter @GPCRMovies. I’ll see you soon with the second review in our special.

 

TRIVIA

  • Director Larry Cohen wanted to film at various authentic locations but was repeatedly turned down for permission. However, when First Lady Betty Ford – a former dancer – found out that Dan Dailey was in Washington to make a film, she invited him and Broderick Crawford to the White House for lunch, as she had always liked Dailey’s films and work. Larry Cohen then started calling locations such as the FBI’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia, and said that he wanted to film there but couldn’t do so the next day because the cast was having lunch at the White House; likely supposing that the film had official backing, every location soon made themselves available.
  • Several people who were real-life acquaintances of J. Edgar Hoover are featured in the film, including the barber who regularly cut his hair and his regular waiter at the Mayflower Hotel.
  • This was Jack Cassidy’s final film, issued one year after his death at age 49.
  • The film cast includes three Oscar winners: Broderick Crawford’, Celeste Holm and José Ferrer; and three Oscar nominees: Rip Torn, John Marley and Ronee Blakley.
  • The film had a formal screening at the Kennedy Center, but members of both parties in the largely political audience were irritated by the film’s unflattering depiction of not only Republicans such as Richard Nixon, but also Democrats such as the Kennedys and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Going To Miss Having My Room Searched

Hoover’s Entry Into The FBI

The Boy Scout

Just A Clerk

Top Cop

There’s No Romance In A Dead Rat

I’ve Always Kinda Liked Post Toasties

You’re Always There

Why Don’t You Come In And Ask Her To Dance?

You’re His Boss

I Needed The Exercise

His Time Has Passed

Got A Lot Of Important People To Spy On

Now They Call Me A Senile Old Man

They Haven’t Got Us Out Yet

Couple Old Ferries

We’re Spying On Everyone

The ‘Burbs

 

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The ‘Burbs

Release Date: February 17, 1989

Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Thriller

Director: Joe Dante

Writer: Dana Olsen

Starring: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 There’s no arguing that Tom Hanks is one of the greatest actors to appear on the big screen. He’s brought to life some of the most memorable characters of the last thirty plus years. He’s played iconic fictional characters Andrew Beckett in ‘Philadelphia’ to Forrest Gump in the film of the same name to Woody the Sherriff in the ‘Toy Story’ franchise. He’s also portrayed living heroes such as Jim Lovell in ‘Apollo 13’, Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger in ‘Sully.’ and Walt Disney in ‘Saving Mr. Banks.’ Hanks started his career in the field of comedy before he became a serious actor. Most of the films he was in during that era are considered cult classics. For this edition of ‘Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review’ I decided to re-watch one of his movies from the 80s that is perhaps my personal favorite, which is 1989’s ‘The ‘Burbs!’

The film is a comical satire of life in a suburban neighborhood. Hanks plays Ray Peterson, who is on vacation from his job hoping to come back to work with a clear head. Despite the requests from his wife Carol (Carrie Fisher), he decides to stay home during his vacation. Along with his neighbors, former military serviceman Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) and next door mooch Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommum) they begin to investigate their new neighbors the Klopeks. No one in the neighborhood has seen them nor have met them. Strange things start to happen to only add to their curiosity such as massive power surges coming from the Klopeks’ basement, giant bags of garbage being dropped off in the front and digging up the backyard on a dark rainy night. Art tries to convince Ray that the Klopeks are part of a Satanic cult. And when one of their neighbors disappears leaving his dog behind, they are convinced that something has happened to him considering he is next door to the Klopeks. Art, Ray and Mark team up together to uncover what the Klopeks are hiding.

Directed by Joe Dante, best known for his films ‘Gremlins,’ ‘The Howling,’ and ‘Piranha’, this movie is radically different from his known work. Fans of Joe Dante have nothing to fear as he creates something that is original, simple and funny. This movie was a test for him to get out of the horror label (even though he is considered one of the Masters of Horror) and he passed with flying colors. There’s not a dull moment in this movie.

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‘The ‘Burbs’ is not so much about the plot (which is admittedly thin and which the critics are too concerned with) as it is about the characters who become entangled within it. The plot is simple where you don’t need to read between the lines as to what is happening. Instead Dante makes the audience focus on the action that is taking place. The pacing provides gives the audience plenty of time to laugh and take a breather before the next scene.

The movie doesn’t rely on special effects or any other tricks as the comedy is unfolded through not only physical effects but the dialogue and situations they are in. The writing is credited to Dana Olsen who had worked as a writer in television before getting her big break in writing for Hollywood with this movie. Olsen wrote a clever and relatable script as she based it off her own experience with strange neighbors she was surrounded by when she was growing up.

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The cast is terrific and contemplate each other well. Obviously, Hanks is the lead in this movie. He plays Ray Peterson as an over stressed family man who seems to be the reasonable one in the neighborhood. As the movie progressed, so does his curiosity about the new neighbors. His curiosity turns into paranoia thanks to the thoughts that Art puts in his head. Hanks provides plenty of laughs, both physical and verbal comedy. Bruce Dern as Mark Rumsfield was a surprisingly delightful performance. He is a man who can’t get over his life serving his country and continues to portray that all throughout the movie. His years in service come in handy as he provides devices such as infrared scopes and advanced walkie talkies to stakeout the Klopek’s home. Dern is not known for playing comedic parts, but his antics and dialogue provide many laugh out loud moments. The award for Best Performance in this movie goes to Rick Ducommum as Art. He plays Art like Kramer from ‘Seinfeld.’ He is obnoxious and loud and is always coming up with a scheme to find out who the Klopeks are and prove his theory that they are part of a cult. He fills Ray’s head with delusional thoughts about them through his fast tongue. I can’t find a moment in the movie where Ducommum wasn’t funny. It’s a shame that this movie would be the only big role for him as he would spend most of his acting career playing bit roles until his untimely passing in 2016 due to complications from Diabetes. As for the remaining supporting cast, Carrie Fisher is a nice surprise as Ray’s wife Carol. She sheds her Princess Leia image to that of a concerned wife who grows weary of Ray’s antics and tries all she can to snap him out of his obsession with the Klopeks. Corey Feldman plays Ricky Butler, a teenager who is seen throughout most of the movie either painting his house or inviting friends over to watch Ray, Art and Mark snoop on the Klopeks. He even remarks at one point in the movie that this is better entertainment than going to a movie theater. Wendy Schaal plays Mark’s wife Bonnie, who is half his age and seems to play along with Mark’s shenanigans.

As for the characters of the Klopeks, they remind me somewhat of the Munsters. There are only three of them in the movie and each one has a personality different from the other. The first one to appear is Hans played by Courtney Gains, best known for playing Malachai in ‘Children of the Corn!’ Gaines keeps his natural red hair and adds pale skin and unbrushed teeth to his figure. He is shy and quiet. When he grabs the newspaper or takes out the trash, he is cautiously looking around to see if there are people staring at him. The next family member to appear is Reuben Klopek played by Brother Theodore. He appears as the neighbors finally introduce themselves. Like Hans he is quiet, but when he talks, it is in a thick German accent. His appearance reminds me of Billy Crystal’s character in ‘The Princess Bride.’ Finally, you have Werner Klopek played by Henry Gibson. He is the most normal and accomplished member of the family as he is a doctor at the local university. He speaks in a softer German accent and is more hospitable than the other members of his family.

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There’s not much more to say about ‘The ‘Burbs’ only then it’s perhaps one of the most overlooked movies of the 80s. If you were to separate Tom Hanks’ performances by categories, I would put this as one of his top comedic movies.  It’s relatable to all of us as I’m sure you have some weird and colorful neighbors where you live as does yours truly. It’s almost as if you’re watching your neighborhood being depicted on the big screen for the rest of the movie going audience to see.

 

TRIVIA

  • Walter’s toy poodle Queenie, was played by the same dog that played Precious in The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
  • Prop Master Mark Jameson was charged with making fake dog poop when the actors complained that they didn’t want to step in the real thing. The mixture included canned dog food and bean dip. It was loaded into caulking tubes and squeezed out where needed.
  • Early in the movie, when Cory Danziger is eating breakfast, a box of Gremlins cereal can be seen on the kitchen counter in the background. Joe Dante also directed Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990). Corey Feldman was in Gremlins (1984).
  • Final film of actor Gale Gordon.
  • Last appearance of Brother Theodore.
  • Ricky Butler’s (Corey Feldman’s) house is the house formerly used by The Munsters in The Munsters (1964). This is probably why you never get a really good look at it, as it would be too recognizable as that house.
  • Everyone in the cast and crew had a good time working on the film so much so that Tom Hanks, personally bought everyone sunglasses and left a personal thank you note to everyone in the cast and the crew.
  • The filming location of The ‘Burbs set was also used for another Tom Hanks film, Dragnet (1987) for the character Connie Swail’s house.
  • Before climbing the fence to investigate the Klopek’s backyard, Art (Rick Ducommun) dresses up as a powerline technician and cuts the power to disable the security system. However, he ends up disabling the power to the whole neighborhood as well, according to Ricky Butler. In the movie Die Hard (1988), Rick Ducommun played a powerline worker for the city who was ordered by the FBI to disable the power to the Nakatomi Tower.
  • In the scene at the Klopek’s house, Bruce Dern is fascinated by one of Dr. Klopek’s paintings, turning it upside down. That painting appeared in the opening sequence of an early episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1969).

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Staple His Ass Shut

A Hideous Raging Inferno

Why Don’t You Go Say Hi?

Bad Karma

Prank On Ray

Acting Like A Guy On Vacation

You Are A Garbage Man

A Soldier’s Way Saves The Day

Unconscious Chanting

Can’t Come Out

This Is Walter

A Fine Christian Name

9 On The Tension Scale

Red Rover

I Really Like Your Hair

Art On The News

Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

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Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama

Release Date: January 29, 1988

Genre: Comedy, Horror

Director: David DeCoteau

Writer: Sergei Hasenecz

Starring: Linnea Quigley, Andras Jones, Robin Stille, Brinke Stevens, Michelle Bauer

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Most filmmakers are lucky to have a handful of movies they’ve done in their career. Some are even lucky to at least get one. For example, my favorite director John Carpenter has twenty one film credits to his resume. Another filmmaker I love, Frank Henenlotter has ten. Where am I going with this? I was reading some information about a B movie filmmaker by the name of David DeCoteau. He got his foot in the door in the movie business at age nineteen working for Roger Corman and quickly worked up the ranks to where he was directing movies. According to IMDB, DeCoteau has one hundred and fifty directing credits! The movies he directs ranges from horror to science fiction to even Christmas family movies made exclusively for television. To answer as to how DeCoteau has been able to direct so many films is according to Charles Band, filmmaker and founder of such b movie horror companies as Empire Pictures, Urban Classics and currently Full Moon Features is that DeCoteau is, “hard, fast and stays under budget.” DeCoteau has directed many films for Charles Band throughout the years. His most famous film is “Puppet Master III: Tulon’s Revenge” which is regarded as the best movie in the Puppet Master franchise (I concur. It’s my favorite). For this edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” we’re going to look at another popular movie of his that has had a huge cult following for the last thirty years. That movie is 1988’s “Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” (try saying that five times fast)!

I know what you’re thinking about the title and let’s get this out of the way now. This is not a softcore adult film! This could be described as a sexy horror comedy that bounces all over the walls, or in this case bumpers. The story is about three nerds who sneak over to the Tri-Delta Sorority House. They are watching the initiation of two new members getting spanked by the head of the chapter named Babs. The boys enter the house and watching the initiates hose down after getting a whipped cream spraying. Essentially they are caught by Babs. As punishment, they have to go with the two initiates named Lisa and Taffy to steal a bowling trophy from the local bowling alley. If they retrieve a trophy, the boys will not be reported to the police for their voyeurism and Lisa and Taffy will get into the Sorority. Unbeknownst to them, Babs’ father runs the mall where the bowling alley is at so she and the other sisters can watch their every move through the security cameras. Inside the bowling alley they come across a biker looking punk named Spider who is stealing money from the register and the arcades. Spider uses her crowbar to break the chain into the trophy room. From there, the boys and the pledges grab the biggest trophy on the shelf. On accident, the bowling trophy falls to the ground and breaks. Smoke beings to come out from the trophy and out appears an imp. The imp thanks them for releasing him and grants wishes to the group. A couple of them take advantage of this offer. Turns out their wishes would be fake and the imp starts his night of terror among the group by turning two of the sisters into she-demons and electrifying all the doors in the alley to prevent anyone from escaping. Now the survivors must figure out how to either escape or defeat the imp.

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This straight to video movie stars Linnea Quigley in her first starring role as Spider. She is another scream queen legend as fans will recognize her from her supporting roles in “Return of the Living Dead,” “Night of the Demons” and “Silent Night: Deadly Night.” The rest of the cast features Andres Jones as Calvin, Hal Havens as Jimmie, John Stuart Wildman as Keith (the three nerds), Robin Rochelle (Stile) as Babs, Kathi O’ Brecht and Carla Barron as Rhonda and Frankie, the other sisters in the sorority, Michelle Bauer as Lisa and Brinke Stevens as Taffy. There is a special appearance from George “Buck” Flower as the janitor of the Bowl-A-Rama. Flower is known for always playing the hobo in such films as the “Back to the Future” movies and in many of John Carpenter’s movies such as “The Fog,” “Escape From New York,” and “They Live!”

“Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama” is as much of a punk film as Linnea Quigley’s appearance in this. It breaks a lot of rules and lacks consistency. It makes up for it with its sheer delight of goofiness, beautiful looking girls and gore. There’s not much logic in this movie as to why the imp turns two of the girls into demons with one of them a copycat of the bride of Frankenstein and how an imp got stuck in a bowling trophy, although the explanation as to how the imp came to be and its purpose is told through a story by the janitor. If you can ignore all that, you’ll enjoy the movie a little better. DeCoteau made this movie in reportedly nine days which would show why he continues to get directing work.

The imp is a tiny little blue creature with a giant mouth filled with teeth. It reminds me of the donkey from “Shrek” voiced by Eddie Murphy. Speaking of the voice, the imp does sound a lot like Eddie Murphy. I’ve heard people say he’s sounds like Barry White, but it’s not really a deep of a voice. You don’t see the imp move around. He appears in the same shot for most of the movie with the exception of a few scenes where he is tripping Jimmie or he’s behind the bowling alley taunting Babs. His dialogue and jokes are as stereotypical as they can be.

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Speaking of stereotypes, they are in each character. You have two of the nerds (Calvin and Keith) who wear thick glasses and goofy hair and you have Jimmie who reminds me of a mix between Chris Farley and John Candy without the physicality. You have Lisa and Taffy the gorgeous pledges and you have Babs who is the prissy and mean girl of the sorority having her fun at humiliating the pledges. And then you have Spider who you know right away is going to be the heroine of the film. She’s tough and doesn’t have time for games. However, as the movie progresses, Spider shows a sense of vulnerability and confiding with Calvin as to how they are going to get out. That’s a credit to Quigley and the characters she has played previously before this film.

With Quigley being the star, the rest of the cast were decent given the material they were given. You can tell they are playing to the script and the concept of the movie. The dialogue is pure 80s cheese with many one liners and zingers coming from Quigley. Buck Flower also provides comedic relief as he spends much of the film trying to get himself out of a room he locked himself into and when he comes across Spider and Calvin gives the hilarious story of the imp and the person who summoned him.

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As I mentioned earlier, the film is not a softcore porn movie, but it does have a lot of sexual overtones. Yes, you have naked women in the beginning and the middle of the movie, but it’s much more than that. First you have Babs spanking Lisa and Taffy and getting a kick out of it. You have the lonely (and presumably virgin) nerds who get a pleasure out of the sheer sight of watching Lisa and Taffy taking a shower. You have the setting of the movie, a bowling alley. There’s so much sexual imagery and thought with the setting. You have bowling balls, bowling pins, gutters……well you get the idea. Finally you have Keith who makes a wish to hook up with Lisa and gets more than what he wished for. What he thought would be exciting in fulfilling a dream becomes a horrible nightmare.

With the exception of the flaws I mentioned earlier the only other gripes I have about this movie is the pacing. It starts to slow down during the third act of the movie. I started to get a little bored and was eagerly waiting for the climax of the movie to be done with. Also, I felt the creative death scenes in the movie could’ve used a little more depth. There’s not much blood and gore in this movie, which is ok. However, you should see the death scene go all the way through. One death scene kicks into another scene just as the victim is screaming for her life.

If you’re looking to watch an 80s horror movie that is out of the ordinary, look no further than “Sorority Babes In The Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama.” If you’re lucky to find this get a group of friends together along with a few six packs or other preferred drinks of your choice and enjoy this wild and over the top movie. You won’t need to get drunk to understand what is going on in the movie. Don’t be one of those people who tries to use their brain to figure out what David DeCoteau is trying to get out of this movie. You’ll end up giving yourself a headache. Think of it a rule breaking, stereotypical piece of horror comedy that you may end up liking. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. You can blame me. At least I tried to convince you to watch something unconventional.

TRIVIA

  • In the Static-X’s song “I’m With Stupid”, Linnea Quigley’s line from the movie “Yeah, it was…very stupid.” is sampled.
  • Director David DeCoteau wanted to work with Linnea Quigley so much that he handed her the script and told her she could play any character she wanted. She eventually decided on Spider.
  • Shot in twelve days.
  • The budget was too low to rent the bowling alley during peak daytime hours, so the cast and crew had to wait till the bowling alley closed at 9pm and shoot all night till 9am.
  • The movie was released in the UK on VHS under its original title, “The Imp”.
  • The janitor tells a story about a man named Dave McCabe. This was director David DeCoteau’s alternate name when he directed adult films.
  • The trophy, although appearing to be metallic, is actually made of balsa wood.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Felta Delta

Babs The Dominatrix

Should Consider Prison Work

We Were Only Looking

Saw That In A Movie

Midnight Whimp Bowling League

Don’t Panic

What’s Your Name?

He’s A Big One

Ain’t No Freakshow

Anything Your Fat Little Heart Desires

I Crack Me Up

I Have Your Pants

Very Stupid

The Imp

We’re Trapped In Here

Listen For Us

Mr. Stitch

Image result for mr. stitch

Mr. Stitch

Release Date: August 17, 1996

Genre: Sci-Fi

Director: Roger Avary

Writer: Roger Avary

Starring: Wil Wheaton, Rutger Hauer, Nia Peeples, Ron Perlman, Michael Harris

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

For those that have followed this blog from the beginning, you might recall a review I did for a Sci-Fi Channel original movie entitled “Evolver!” If you haven’t seen the post before, don’t worry you still can. All my posts are archived 😊 It’s one of my favorite made for television movies. The movie represented a time in the 90s when the Sci-Fi Channel was really coming up in the cable world and its popularity would spawn its own original movies. Another movie I recall seeing when it first came out that I discovered again was a movie called “Mr. Stitch!” I remember seeing the trailer for it where it was just a man all wrapped up in giant bandages in front of an all-white screen. As an impressionable pre-teen during the day I was overwhelmingly excited to see this. I don’t recall watching it when it premiered, but I remember I was quite fond of the idea, concept and execution. Watching it again not too long ago I double down on my comments. For a movie that is twenty-three years old, it still holds up despite some moments of outdatedness. With that let’s get to the synopsis of “Mr. Stitch!”

“Mr. Stitch” stars Wil Wheaton, best known for playing Ensign Wesley Crusher in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as an androgynous human made from body parts and skin from various donors and chooses to be a man despite not having the sexual organs of one. He was created by a group of scientists led by Dr. Rue Wakeman (Rutger Hauer). He’s referred to only as ‘Subject 3.’ Later he chooses a name for himself. He is now ‘Lazarus’ after the biblical character.  At first, Lazarus is obedient and follows commands and performs his tests.  As Lazarus learns more about himself he begins having memories and nightmares from the lives of his donors. They offer clues as to the identities of those who inhabit his body while simultaneously torture him. This creates a rift between his relationship with Wakeman. Wakeman realizes he is losing control over Lazarus as he is developing independent logic and feeling. Lazarus realizes that Wakeman is hiding secrets from him causing him to no longer want to work with him. Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth English (Nia Peeples) is assigned to help Lazarus deal with his tension between Wakeman and deal with his nightmares and with it develop a sense of trust with other humans. They start to get close until Lazarus mentions a phrase that triggers English as it is a phrase that said to her from her deceased science partner and lover Dr. Frederick Texarian (Ron Perlman). Lazarus starts to be overwhelmed by being trapped in the ward and requests to see the outside world which is immediately rejected by Wakeman. He sneaks out and investigates Wakeman’s true intentions with him. Lazarus understands what his purpose is and must find a way to stop Wakeman’s plans as well as make amends with English.

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Written and directed by Roger Avary, “Mr. Stitch” is essentially a modern day retelling of “Frankenstein.” You have the Scientist who is looking to create a human being from dead (in this case created by tissue and organs of deceased humans) and you have the monster, which in this case is aware, functional and intelligent compared to the monster of the classic tale. It has the same elements in terms of the scientist creating this new life and teaching it how to interact with others and how to function with the purpose that is only known to them. You have the monster that is trying to learn, but starts to become resilient and unbalanced. The two will clash into this tug of war over power and control.

About ninety percent of the film takes place in this ward where everything is white. The scientists wear white suits and Lazarus is bandaged in all white. To me it represents both the first light we see when we are born as well as a state of purgatory where we are trapped in this area and are waiting to get to the outside of what lies ahead (for Lazarus this would be the outside world). We don’t see the outside of the ward until the near climax of the movie and several flashback scenes that Lazarus experiences as nightmares. Only other color we see in the movie is a black couch similar to a top hat that acts as Lazarus’ bed and the snot colored goo that comes out from a giant eyeball called the Observation Eye that watches Lazarus’ every move and from a device that measures and records his brain wave pattern when he is asleep (both are destroyed by Lazarus in a fit of anger).

Rutger

The look of Lazarus is comprised of numerous pieces of skin from all different colors of humans (Black, White, and Brown). His eyes have different pigments of color. His hair is long and frazzled, almost like a witch. Although he is androgynous, he identifies himself as man due to his strength and anger that is to be more in common with a man than a woman. I give the makeup department credit for creating a creature like this to represent that we are all human begins regardless of race, color, sex and creed.  I think that was Avary’s intention as well.

“Mr. Stitch” has some unique shots and visuals. What stood out to me are the choice of lenses that were used in certain scenes. For example, the “think tank” office of the scientists is shot like they are working inside a bubble. To me, the bubble represents the inner circle of those who are in it as to their research and their plans as to what to do with the research they are developing. The climax scene is deep underground and has a glossy watery effect that surrounds the confronting characters. Based on your impressions it gives you either a dream like effect or an effect if someone where high on drugs.

The pacing is a little uneven, but it doesn’t take away from the plot. Music is incorporated in practically every scene and it’s appropriate for what is happening in the scene. There is heavy metal during Lazarus’ bouts of anger or paranoia. There is a dreamy soft guitar sound during a hypnosis scene. Each piece of music sets the tone for what is happening.

The movie contains a very small cast with the majority of screen time belonging to Wil Wheaton and Rutger Hauer. Both of them I felt did a good job with their performances despite some flaws in the script. Wheaton starts out as very calm and compliant as he performs the tests that Hauer has him do. He’s quite intelligent by quickly developing his self-awareness and heightened sensibility. He is hostile to the scientists, but finds a soft and calming nature when he is around Dr. English. He develops a deep sense of trust and in some cases, love when they are together. Wheaton is able to channel his emotions of the character in the appropriate scenes throughout the film.   Hauer portrays Dr. Wakeman as a teacher and somewhat of a father figure to Lazarus. He is cautious with his responses to Lazarus’ questions and steers him away from anything he sees as a threat to his control of him. Hauer was very unhappy with the writing of the movie that he disregarded the script and began to improvise his scenes to match what he felt was more logical of his character and the story. I honestly can’t tell you that I was able to pick out which scenes he improvised, but that’s what makes him a great established actor was that he knew more about the character than what Avary had on paper.

Nia

The rest of the cast includes Nia Peeples as Dr. Elizabeth English who is brought in to help Lazarus deal with his dreams and nightmares. She builds a rapport with Lazarus during their sessions together. As they get to know each other, she becomes slightly distraught at what she discovers about him. Her feelings for him come full circle in the climax of the film. Peeples is very attractive and gives a soft touch to the films constant hostility between the two main characters. The other main performance comes from Michael Harris as General Hardcastle, who is the head of a secret government organization called ‘The Outfit’ and is in charge of the project. He shovels billions of taxpayers’ dollars to Wakeman and his team with the goal of creating a superior human being that could be used not only in warfare but to take down the bureaucrats in Washington so he can remodel the government in his own vision. He is the real antagonist of the movie. This was perhaps the weakest and most laughable performance of the movie. His dialogue reminds me of something a professional wrestler would say, but he gets what’s coming to him and it’s very satisfying. There is also small appearances from Ron Perlman as Dr. Texarian, the original team leader of the Stitch Project, Taylor Negron as Dr. Alan Jacobs who replaces Dr. English and gets a not so warm welcome by Lazarus and Make Up Effects Guru Tom Savini as a scientist.

“Mr. Stitch is available to watch on YouTube since it’s hard to find any video copies. I think you would enjoy watching this made for television movie. It’s a creative take on an original monster story. It doesn’t drag and keeps your attention with every scene. I wish the Sci-Fi Channel would make more of these compelling films than cheap monster movies involving five headed sharks or a yeti with the speed of a greyhound dog. Really makes you miss the 90s.

 

TRIVIA

  • Part way through production, Rutger Hauer completely discarded the script and refused to do any scenes from it. The majority of his scenes were improvised by the actor. Later, Roger Avary was forced to rewrite the remaining script to match up with Rutger’s footage.
  • This movie was the first “original” aired by The Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy). It would be a few more years before they started advertising their made-for-TV movies as “Sci-Fi Originals”, but they did advertise this quite a bit as new and never-before-seen.
  • Was meant to be a pilot for a proposed television series. After Rutger Hauer gave up on the movie, the series was sunk.

AUDIO CLIPS

Story of Frankenstein

Do We Have Any More Weights?

Reference To A Word I Have No Meaning

I Do Seem To Have A Knack For Fisticuffs

An Improvement of Nature

I’ve Chosen A Name

Residue Thought

Feet First

Classified Territory

I Dream About An Elephant

Happy To See You

I Will Skin You Alive

I Want To See The Outside

Should Be Teaching Preschool In Florida

Jacobs Tortured

Get Out Of The Car

General Hardcastle’s Speech

Ironclad

Ironclad_(2011_movie_poster)

Ironclad

Release Date: July 26, 2011

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Jonathan English

Writer: Jonathan English (Story & Screenplay), Stephen McDool (First Screenplay), Erick Kastel (Co-Screenplay)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Derek Jacobi, Charles Dance

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Here at “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review,” I’m always searching to find movies from a genre I have yet to tackle. The majority of movies I’ve reviewed since I started this last year are Horror movies (mainly because I watch them more than anything else), but my focus this year is to try to find movies from a variety of genres and eras. Throughout the coming months I plan on diving into numerous movies from the Universal Monster Movie era to Westerns to Dramas, etc. As we approach the end of another decade in the 21st Century, I would like to review movies that have come out within this time frame. With that being said, I found a movie that was released in 2011 that I found on accident and after watching it was entertained. It’s an Action/Drama film set in medieval times that is loosely based on a historical event.  The movie is called “Ironclad.”

“Ironclad” takes place in England in the year 1215. The rebel barons have forced King John to sign and seal the Magna Carta, a document which upholds the rights and freedom of the people. Within months, King John refuses to abide by the terms of the Magna Carta and seeks to reclaim England under his rule with the assistance of Danish mercenaries. The barons, with the help of a small group of Knights Templar head to Rochester Castle, located near the coast which the King can bring in goods and supplies to the country. From their they make their last stand against King John and his army until reinforcements from the French arrive. Will they be able to withhold the army and survive or will King John prevail and punish those who defy his rule?

The movie features an ensemble cast. Paul Giamatti plays the ruthless King John. James Purefoy plays Thomas Marshal, the leader of the Knights Templar. Brian Cox plays Baron William d’Aubigny who leads the rebel group into Rochester. Derek Jacobi and Kate Mara are the royal couple of Rochester castle, Baron Reginald de Cornhill and Lady Isabel and Charles Dance makes a small appearance as Archbishop Langton, who gives the blessing of the group taking a stand against King John and uphold the terms of the Magna Carta.

 

Ironclad_Paul_Giamatti_as_King_John

Let me start by saying this. “Ironclad” is a historically flawed film. Without saying too much that could reveal key plot points, there are a lot of inconsistencies between the movie and the historical time line of events. The army that is depicted in the movie that defends Rochester Castle is significantly smaller than the army that was documented. Other inaccuracies include the Danish army that King John uses in his quest to take back Rochester, the promises that were made to the Danes and the timeline of when the French would be arriving to assist the barons with defeating King John. I don’t know how much research the writers did when it came start the screenplay for this movie. Judging by the timeline and sequence of events, it sounds like not a lot of in depth research was done.

Putting all that aside, the movie is enjoyable to watch. Director Jonathan English manages to blend historical and period notices with blood, gore and mud. The first thing that struck me while watching this movie is the recreation of 13th century England. I was taken back by the beautiful landscape and beaches. The overcast weather with periods of rain and cold adds to the tension of the movie and is heightened by the stone-cold look of the castles. I’m not sure if the castles were real or if they were built sets, but they were as realistic as I’ve seen in a medieval themed movie.

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The acting is a little over the top, especially Giamatti’s performance as King John. He really did his best to portray King John as brutal, vengeful and spite who will stop at nothing to reclaim his “birthright” as the ruler of England. Some of it is laughable, but he puts in a good enough effort to where I’m not going to be too critical of him. Jason Purefoy is the strong, silent Templar leader Thomas Marshal who lives and dies by the rules of the Catholic Church. His oath is put to the test not only throughout the conflict, but by the seductive tactics of Lady Isabel. Speaking of Lady Isabel, Kate Mara does a decent performance. She is not very fond of her husband as she is in a forced marriage with no privileges. She becomes quite smitten with Thomas for his heroics and leadership. Brian Cox was my personal favorite performance as William d’Aubigny. He commanded each scene with passion, purpose and sometimes with a little humor. He feels a sense of responsibility to ensure the people of England are entitled to the freedoms bestowed by the Magna Carta and has a personal animosity towards King John since it was his hand that forced King John to sign the Magna Carta.

What “Ironclad” is known for is the constant battles that is amped up by huge quantities of blood, gore and mud that’s ever graced a screen. You’ll see limbs, body parts, people split in half and even a tongue cutting through the film’s 121 minute run time. There’s so much visceral and bodies piling up throughout the screen it would put “Saving Private Ryan” to shame. Some of the battles are hard to enjoy due to the headache inducing shaky cam techniques. That was the huge problem for me. This is in large part to director Jonathan English’s amateur experience in filmmaking. This would be the third movie he directed and the second major feature only to the 2006 European Horror film “Minotaur.”

ironclad3

I can continue to nitpick other things about this movie including costuming, lighting, but we’ll leave that for another movie. Overall, I enjoyed “Ironclad.” Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. That goes back to Jonathan English’s inexperience, but you can only get better at your craft the more films you make. If you can suspend disbelief about the historical timeline of this movie, you’ll enjoy it even more.

Is a great movie? No. It never quite delivers on its promise, and though extremely competent it just can’t quite produce that true magic that better films can. It is, however, a highly competent and interesting historical drama. I have some quibbles with costuming etc; but that kind of goes with the territory.

 

TRIVIA

  • Paul Giamatti filmed his role in seven days.
  • After the first attempt by King John’s army to take the castle, King John (Paul Giamatti) can be seen eating a peach in his tent. When the real King John died in October 1216, his death was attributed to poisoned ale, poisoned plums, or a “surfeit of peaches”.
  • According to director Jonathan English, Daniel O’Meara really did eat a beetle during the starvation portion of the siege, but he’s not sure the actor swallowed it.
  • Richard Attenborough, originally cast as Archbishop Langton, convinced the film’s creative team to utilize Wales’ Dragon Studios as the primary shooting location. However, he was forced to cancel his involvement with production after suffering a debilitating fall down the stairs of his home, complications of which led to his death.
  • Angus Macfadyen was initially cast in the role of Jedediah Coteral, but dropped out when the project was re-financed. He was replaced with Jamie Foreman.
  • Depicted as pagans in the film, the Danes were Christianized by that time. The bulk of King John’s mercenaries were not Danes but mostly Flemish, Provençals and Aquitainians.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Templars Without Tongues

King John

Forced Upon Me

Rebellion Or Revenge

Asking The French For Help

You See How He Talks To Me?

I’m No Soldier

Are You Sorry For What You Have Done?

Not Tolerate Drinking

With The Pope’s Blessing

You Better Hit Harder Than That

My Husband’s Appetite Doesn’t Include Me

England Belongs To Me

Great Deal Of Thinking

Goddamned Devils

Damn Your Templar Vows

Take This Castle

King John’s Speech