RocketMan

RocketMan_(1997_film)

RocketMan

Release Date: October 10, 1997

Genre: Comedy, Family, Science Fiction

Director: Stuart Gillard

Writers; Oren Aviv, Craig Mazin, Greg Erb

Starring: Harland Williams, Jessica Lundy, William Sadler, Beau Bridges, Jeffrey DeMunn

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

When we think about Disney, we think about Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. When we think about Disney movies, we think about all those fairy tale adaptations such as “Snow White and The Seven Dwarves,” “Peter Pan,” and “Sleeping Beauty” (and many more). When we think about Disney today we think about how they’ve dominated the film industry with its acquisition of Marvel and the Star Wars Franchise. One thing most people don’t think about is some of the original movies they’ve released throughout their tenure. Disney releases original family-oriented movies and they’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been alive. As a kid growing up in the 90s, many of these movies came out and at the time I found them to have all the elements of a Disney movie. They were funny, heartfelt and had an underlying positive message. There’s too many of these movies to name here, but for this next review I went back in time to the 90s to find a Disney movie that I really enjoyed. The one that stuck out is considered a cult classic by many. That the 1997 Sci-Fi Comedy film “RocketMan!”

Not to be confused with the upcoming Elton John biopic movie, “RocketMan” tells the story of Fred Z. Randall (Harland Williams) who is a computer programmer for a NASA Contractor. As a boy he always dreamed of being an Astronaut, but this is the closest he could get into the space program. He developed the Lander Program for the astronauts who are using it to train for their upcoming mission to Mars. After a confrontation with the astronauts concerning that the program has a glitch due to it miscalculating their landing trajectory, one of the astronauts is wounded in a freak accident. Putting the Mars mission in jeopardy, the mission’s Flight Director Paul Wick (Jeffrey DeMunn) enlists Randall to test along with another astronaut to join the Mars crew which consists of Captain William Overbeck (William Sadler), Julie Ford (Jessica Lundy) and Chimpanzee, Ulysses. After passing each test (which included breaking Overbeck’s records in each test), Fred is chosen to join the team. With that, there becomes one hiccup after another during the trip to Mars and when they arrive on Mars, much ado to Fred’s curious and clumsy nature. Will they make it out of Mars with their mission completed and return home safely?

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Released in 1997, “RocketMan” broke even at the box office reclaiming its reported $15 million budget. Reviews for the film were mixed with Roger Ebert giving it three stars out of four calling it “a wacky comedy in the Jerry Lewis-Jim Carrey mold”.  The film is more slap sticky in the Jerry Lewis sense rather than the Jim Carrey sense. The movie is silly with plenty of jokes and gags that will drive younger audiences bonkers. The older generation may not find this movie laughable and flat out stupid, but again this movie was intended for kids.

If you’re not familiar with Harland Williams, he has been a standup comedian since the early 90s with his outlandish improvisation style. His first film appearance would launch him into notoriety as the State Trooper in the Farrelly Brothers smash hit “Dumb and Dumber” who pulls the duo over for speeding and proceeds to take a drink of their opened “beer”.  He would go on to appear in longer roles in the movies “Down Periscope,” “Half Baked,” and the Tom Green disaster flick “Freddy Got Fingered”.  “RocketMan” would be Williams’ first leading role. His improv skills are on full display in this movie as the protagonist, Fred Randall. Williams plays Fred like a manchild. He’s thirty years old (almost a full-grown man in a quip with his mother) and like a child, he’s pure, heartfelt, clumsy and innocent. When he causes an accident, he responds the same way a child would, “It wasn’t me!” He gets easily excited when he sees the astronauts and other members of NASA and knows their specialty. It’s like he’s seen a movie star. He’s very curious and is on full display with his head movements and attention span. Above all, Fred finds ways to keep himself amused like waiting for his clearance badge or finding ways to make time fly during the isolation chamber test in a hilarious scene. Despite his quirkiness, Fred is a computer genius (he has to be if he’s working for NASA). It’s shown during the trip to Mars and through the climax of the movie. Williams provides moment after moment of silly over the top laughter in not just physical comedy, but also with his words and facial expressions. It would not surprise me if he deviated from the script.

The supporting cast is top notch and is doesn’t play a backseat to all of Fred’s screen time. William Sadler plays Mission Commander William Overbeck, the man who is destined to be the first person to step foot on Mars and into history immortality in the way Neil Armstrong did when he was the first man to land on the moon. Overbeck is not amused by Fred even objecting to the Flight Director about his qualifications about joining the Mars team. Bill has some fun at the expense of Fred by getting him drunk before his training, cranking up the speed in the Centrifugal Force Machine and initiating the artificial gravity on the rocket when Fred is floating and making bird noises. Unfortunately, he becomes the brute of Fred’s carelessness (and bodily functions in perhaps the most notable scene in the film). While not known for being a comedic actor, except for his performance of Death in a previous “Guilty Pleasure Cinema Review” film “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey,” Sadler is perfectly fitted for this role and playing it grounded and straight laced.

Jessica Lundy as Mission Specialist/Geologist Julie Ford is Fred’s love interest. She is determined, strong willed and is a bridge between Fred and Bill. She too is not amused with Fred’s actions but as the movie progresses she has a change of heart and sees that Fred does care about his role in the mission and cares about the success of all of them.

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Beau Bridges is another crutch for Fred as Bud Nesbitt. He gives Fred encouragement when Fred starts to get cold feet about getting into the rocket.  Their collaboration is key during a debate about landing on Mars when the weather patterns change from their earlier projections and Bud, attempting to avoid another disaster like the Apollo 13, tries to convince his boss Wick to reconsider the mission, much to no avail considering that Bud’s reputation at NASA is not credible by the others (they put the blame on him for what happen to Apollo 13). Bud is resilient and does what he can to ensure that the crew gets home safely.

Finally, we can’t forget about the chimpanzee, Ulysses. Played by a three-year-old chimpanzee named Raven, Ulysses has been trained to find fossils on Mars. He’s also Fred’s roommate. Him and Fred develop a special bond with each other, even when Ulysses plays pranks on him such as switching his food and taking his hyper sleep chamber. He’s as scared as Fred when they’re on the rocket, but Fred provides him a sense of comfort and calm. He provides as many laughs as Williams does throughout the movie.

The movie was directed by Stuart Gillard, whose mainly been a television director, but he has directed another kid friendly movie, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” from 1993. Gillard carried that experience over to this movie. He did a great job keeping the film family friendly and focused. There’s no real unique or Dutch angle shots in the movie, which is fine. Kids aren’t focused on shots, they’re focused on what is happening in the movie with the characters and their locations. Speaking of location, I think they did a great job with the look of Mars. As stated in the trivia, the Mars scenes were shot in Utah. The red rock and lack of vegetation gave Mars the look of being distant and lonely.

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“RocketMan delivers plenty of laughs from ten years olds and adults. Not a single joke or physical gag is overused (except for Fred trying to point the blame on someone else). The pacing is fast which is a good thing. You don’t have to worry about scenes being drawn out for substance or trying to establish the characters. And like all Disney movies, “RocketMan” has not only heart, but morality. It shows that despite the personality differences between the crew, by working as a team they accomplish much. They stick together during their time in Mars and when trouble starts to come during the nerve wracking climax, they don’t leave without each other.

I would easily put “RocketMan” in my Top 10 Non-Disney Animated movies. This is a movie that has become a must watch at my household from time to time. It’s a movie that families will enjoy, and parents won’t have to worry about their children being exposed to violence or sex or other mature subjects. It’s a clean wholesome film that carries with you as you continue to grow old. There’s never a bad time to pop in this movie and enjoy the viewing experience with your loved ones.

TRIVIA (per IMDB)

  • When Randall is singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands” on the world broadcast, he starts faking singing in foreign languages. Ironically, he says in French: “Je suis le papillon sur la table”, which translates to “I am the butterfly on the table”.
  • For the surface of Mars, the filmmakers shot in Moab, Utah, where they found giant cliffs, red rocks, a lack of vegetation, and the overall scale of what could be a distant planet.
  • The filmmakers spent nine weeks at the Johnson Space Center, in Houston, Texas, shooting at the famous Rocket Park (the gargantuan Building 9 that houses all of the spacecraft mock-ups for the ongoing shuttle missions) and Building 32, which houses the world’s largest thermal vacuum chamber and simulates all conditions of outer space (except zero gravity).
  • To prepare for their roles as astronauts, the three stars attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, riding in simulators and participating in other activities.
  • The working title for this film was “Space Cadet”.
  • At one point in the film, the commander tells Randall, “Have fun.” Randall replies with “Fun is my Chinese neighbors middle name.” Disney was afraid that the joke would offend Chinese viewers. However, many Chinese fans actually found the joke to be very funny.

AUDIO CLIPS

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Quick Change

Quick Change

Release Date: July 13, 1990

Genre: Comedy, Crime

Directors: Howard Franklin and Bill Murray

Writers: Jay Cronley (Book), Howard Franklin (Screenplay)

Starring: Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid, Jason Robards

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

 

Do you ever flip the channels on your television and find a movie you’ve never seen nor heard of, but decide to check it out? I’m sure you have done that as many times as I have, but did you watch it all the way through and at the end you really enjoyed it and wonder why you’ve never heard of it before? That happened to me about fourteen years ago. I came home from school, turned on the television and flipped it to Comedy Central to see what was currently playing. The first image that appeared was Bill Murray dressed up as a clown. “What Bill Murray movie is this?” I asked myself. I’ve seen practically every Bill Murray movie that had been released at the time except for “Lost In Translation”. After the first commercial break, the Comedy Central logo appeared in the corner along with the ‘Now Watching’ header underneath. The name of the movie that appeared next was “Quick Change!”

I watched the movie all the way through and thoroughly enjoyed it. I talked about it the next day with my friends and they were amazed that they never heard of that movie either. Fourteen years had passed, and I completely forgot about seeing the movie until I found it on DVD at the local store I go to where I pick up most of my movies. My eyes were filled with delight as those memories of the first watch through being to fade in and out trying to remember it. I picked it up and watched it again. I forgot how great this movie was from a plot standpoint and an execution standpoint.

Released in 1990 “Quick Change” is based off the 1981 novel of the same name by Jay Cronley. Murray plays a man named Griff who is fed up with his life and the way things are going. Together with his lover Phyllis (Geena Davis) and his dimwitted best friend Loomis (Randy Quaid), they decide to rob a Manhattan bank. Griff, dressed as clown sets up a hostage situation and slips away with $1 million dollars. The robbery is smooth and goes as planned. Next comes the getaway where the plan is to escape to the airport and fly to Fiji where they will live out their days in paradise. However, the getaway becomes a nightmare as the trio get involved in untimely situations that stall their plan. It takes pure luck and convincing from Murray to get out of the jams they find themselves in. In addition, they are being pursued by the New York Police chief Walt Rotzinger (Jason Robards) who is using every resource he can find to capture them before they escape and cause another blemish on the force that is scrutinized by the media and the public. Will Griff and his pals finally reach their destination, or will their luck run out when they are finally captured by Rotzinger and the New York Police?

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Despite not being a commercially successful film in theaters, “Quick Change” received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its cleverness, execution, cast and plot. It’s a film that can be relatable in the real world since there’s robberies that happen almost every day, some with success and some with failure. Like its title, the film changes pace and situation in a seamless transition. Yes, the trio of Murray, Davis and Loomis commit a criminal act, but there is some heart in the movie, especially during some points where Griff decides to put his pals’ feelings over his. It keeps you on the edge and gives the audience the choice of whom they want to see succeed.  Do they want to see the robbers succeed or do they want to see the cops succeed?

This film was Bill Murray’s directorial debut as he co-directed with Howard Franklin, a man whom he would collaborate later in his career. Some people criticized the direction of the film due to the fact there are two directors. Having two directors is quite common in the film world. It’s all about collaboration and that the two directors have an ideal vision of what they want to achieve. With this film, Murray’s directorial involvement is with his character, his friends and the situations they are in, which is fine. Bill Murray knows what Bill Murray wants.

I enjoyed the cast of the movie. I felt the trio of Murray, Davis and Quaid got along great. Murray is his typical smartass self as Griff. He manages to stay cool under enormous pressure during the many u turns they have as they desperately try to get out of the city. Like its title, all three characters go from being ecstatic that they pulled offed a seemingly flawless heist to slowly dissolving in misery, desperation and fear. Their trust in each other melts slowly as they continue to be stuck in the city trying to find their way to the airport to make their escape. Murray’s smartass quips and razor-sharp delivery are a staple of this movie as they’ve been in many of his appearances throughout his career.  Davis, not known as a comedic actress did very well in this. She has some funny moments in the film, but plays it straight laced overall. You feel the love she has for her partner; Griff and their relationship gets put to the test throughout the second half of the movie. And of course, there’s Randy Quaid, who plays the typical goof as you’ve seen him play throughout his career. Loomis reminds me of the character ‘Mugsy’ from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He’s dimwitted and makes tiny mistakes that jeopardize the plan. Quaid becomes the more desperate of the characters as he starts to cry and howl about wanting to get out. There is a great scene involving him and a taxi driver as they try to reach their destination.

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Finally, there’s veteran actor Jason Robards who plays New York Police Chief Rotzinger. Robards provides somewhat of a calm demeanor to the craziness unfolding throughout the movie. He methodically uses his police skills to track where they’re at in the hopes of catching them before they escape. There is one thing Rotzinger has in common with the three runaways. They all have a disdain for New York City. There is a moment in the film where Rotzinger is looking out the window and wonders what he could’ve been or how did he end up in New York City for practically his entire career. It’s a reflective moment indeed.

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Besides the main cast, look out for some notable faces throughout the film that have small appearances. Those faces include Phil Hartman, Jamey Sheridan, Stanley Tucci, Kurtwood Smith and Tony Shalhoub, who has the longest screen time of the above-mentioned people. He’s quite funny in his performance although I think his screen time could’ve been cut down significantly because the audience gets the point of his character and what he is all about.

The plot is lightweight in comparison to other films of this nature like “Dog Day Afternoon.” Don’t let that take you away from the rest of the movie. This movie works with the limitations it provides in terms of characters and setting. It’s incredible how the characters can dodge bullets when they get trapped in a situation where the audience believes they can’t get out of. Fate and luck work within the characters’ favors. No time is wasted through its 89 minutes in duration of adding plot points and characters that are unnecessary to the overall theme and concept and no joke is overplayed or overused throughout the movie. Credit goes to Howard Franklin for focusing on the source material of Jay Cronley’s book to write the screenplay. He manages to make a heist film “likable”, which is very hard to do.

“Quick Change” is truly an underrated comedy film. To me, it ranks high up there in Bill Murray’s filmography. It’s a movie that doesn’t need the bright light promotions or the mega box office money to be considered a success. It’s a successful film in terms of its smart writing and clever filmmaking. It’s an homage to a lot of cat and mouse movies from earlier film periods. You may have a hard time finding this movie in video stores, but there’s a reason why eBay, and Amazon were created. You need to check this movie and out and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed in this. It’s a break from all the mundane comedies that are currently out today.

 

 

TRIVIA

  • This is the only film directed by Bill Murray
  • Bill Murray once said of this movie in an interview: “Everyone will enjoy this movie. But New Yorkers will enjoy it especially because they know how bad their city really is.” In another later August 2010 interview with Dan Fierman of GQ Magazine, Murray said: “It’s great. It’s a great piece of writing. And how about the cast? You couldn’t get that cast together for all the tea in China right now. I mean, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub…”.
  • When original director Jonathan Demme became unavailable, writer Howard Franklin and producer Bill Murray couldn’t agree on who would be a good director for the project. So, they decided to do the job themselves.
  • The Mexican flower woman at the airport who cries “Flores! Flores para los muertos!” is a tribute to A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) in which a Mexican flower woman cries the same phrase outside Stanley Kowalski’s apartment. It also could be a reference to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), another film about a bickering couple.
  • Ron Howard was approached about directing the film, but he turned it down. Howard declined directing the movie because he felt there was no character to root for.
  • The name “Loomis” would have to be considered unusual, if not rare. It is odd then that Randy Quaid played Loomis in this movie but had previously played a character named Sheriff Loomis in the 1986 movie, “The Wraith”, starring Charlie Sheen.
  • The watch that the bank employee tries to give Grimm (Bill Murray) is “an Audemars Piguet, Moon Phase, 18-karat gold, alligator band” watch. He states the value is $12,000 but appreciates daily. It may be a coincidence, but in Bill Murray’s SCROOGED, he is wearing the same watch, which can be seen when he checks the time in the restaurant (before the waiter lights on fire), expecting to see his first foretold ghost.

AUDIO CLIPS

Night of the Creeps

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Night of the Creeps

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first “Predator” movie and more recently writing and directing the new “Predator” movie with Dekker). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of “Tales From The Crypt” in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following “The Monster Squad” and the utter failure “Robocop 3”. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is “Night of the Creeps”!

“Night of the Creeps” starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

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I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had “Day of the Dead” and “Return of the Living Dead” which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in “The Fog”, “Creepshow” and his most memorable role as the protagonist in “Halloween III”. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called “Night of the Creeps” his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sediment.

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The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

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Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special, so you don’t want to miss it. Check back on here Halloween night!

 

TRIVIA

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!”. The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

 

AUDIO CLIPS

Sleepaway Camp

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Sleepaway Camp

Release Date: November 18, 1983

Genre: Horror

Director: Robert Hiltzik

Writer: Robert Hiltzik

Starring: Felissa Rose, Jonathan Tiersten, Karen Fields, Christopher Collet, Mike Kellin

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Alright, we are at the halfway point in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. Time for Movie #3.  This next movie review is one of the more controversial underground horror movies to come out of this list. This movie came out in 1983, but I wasn’t aware of the film until about 2014. It was this past summer where I watched it for the first time at a local discount theater where they were playing “Summer Themed” horror movies. It’s a movie like the previous two films in the special where I’ve watched repeatedly and enjoyed it on so many levels. The next film on this list is the summer camp slasher film “Sleepaway Camp!”

“Sleepaway Camp” is the story of two cousins, Rickey and Angela who are about to spend their summer at Camp Arawak. Rickey is a seasoned veteran at the camp while this will be Angela’s first time. Angela is quiet and shy. She is also suffering from a post traumatic event involving her father and brother being killed in a boating accident. Angela is disliked by the other campers for obvious reasons and only seems to talk to Rickey. She does strike up a conversation with Rickey’s friend Paul and become close throughout the movie. As the summer camp begins its annual season, a series of murders start to happen that has everyone on edge. Who is committing these murders and what is the motive?

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“Sleepaway Camp” was a surprise hit at the box office. It grossed over $11 million dollars with a reported $300,000 budget. It has a huge following and Felissa Rose became a member of the “Scream Queen Sorority”. The movie is known for its infamous and controversial ending that still shocks the viewing audience today (It sure did shock me). People like to debate which was the better slasher film, this or “Friday the 13th”.

Right off the bat, “Sleepaway Camp” gets your emotions charged. You see the traumatic event that will shape the story and the character of Angela throughout the film. When you see Felissa Rose appear on screen for the first time she is quiet and reserved. She barely makes eye contact with her aunt and stays close to her cousin Rickey. The camp counselors (well…most of them) are aware that this is the first time Angela will be away from home and they give her sympathy and comfort to make sure she enjoys her time. Her unwillingness to socialize with her roommates nor participate in any camp activities draws the ire of Judy (Karen Fields), the supposed popular girl at the camp and Meg (Katherine Kamhi). Rose gives a cold frightening performance with her constant stare downs. It’s a very intimidating look although the rest of the counselors don’t feel intimidated by her. She doesn’t utter her first words until she is confronted by Paul, Rickey’s fried who attempts to engage in conversation with her. From there you see her shyness melt away as she spends more time with Paul.

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Besides Rose’s iconic performance, the other performances were good. Each actor and actress played their character as they were written. Jonathan Tiersten’s performance as Rickey was hilarious. He loves to stir up trouble through his trash talking and constant profanity. He does a great job protecting Angela. He’s like a big brother to her rather than a cousin. My other favorite performance is the camp owner, Mel played by veteran actor Mike Kellin, who sadly passed away before the film’s release. Mel does his best to keep his reputation by trying to spin what is happening to the people that are dying in the film. He has a hilarious scene where he appears wearing lime green pants and a yellow jacket in anticipation for a hot date. There’s also a small appearance from Robert Earl Jones as the chef, Ben. He is the father of legendary actor James Earl Jones.

The gore is minimal in comparison to “Friday the 13th”. The killer uses the surrounding environments to take out its victims one by one. You’ll notice a pattern of whom the victims are. You may think to yourself you already know who the killer is, but the movie uses a bit of trickery to throw off your assumptions. There is a small body count throughout the movie until the very end where the volume doubles.

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“Sleepaway Camp” balances the kills with some humor. There are plenty of hilarious moments throughout the movie including Rickey and his bunk mates playing tricks on one of their own, the male campers going skinny dipping and some funny mustache miscues. The cop in the movie has a mustache in his first appearance, but when he appears near the end, you can tell the mustache is fake and uneven. The reason for that being is the actor that played the cop had shaved his mustache off after he was done shooting his part but was called back due to additional shooting. Since he couldn’t grow one quickly in time, they had to improvise.

This is the only film writer and director Robert Hiltzik made. He made a career change and today he is an attorney in New York. For what it’s worth, he made a really good slasher film. It’s a movie with a ton of replay value that you can watch repeatedly. You don’t need to be watching it in the summer to enjoy it as it is a film you can watch in any season.

With that the third film in the “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special has concluded. Stay tuned next week for the fourth review!

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • The original artwork for the Sleepaway Camp Survival Kit boxed set, which included the unauthorized sequels, was recalled after complaints were made by the American Red Cross.
  • Some of the campers seen getting off the buses at the beginning of the film are relatives of the cast and crew.
  • Jane Krakowski, who played Cousin Vicky in ‘National Lampoon’s Vacation’ was originally cast to play Judy.
  • Mike Kellin’s final film. He was sick during filming but did his best to conceal it from everyone and passed away in August 1983 from lung cancer, three months before the film’s release.
  • Willy Kuskin who plays the character of Mozart, one of the bullied camp boys, was genuinely bullied during filming. Frank Trent Saladino who played Gene, Mozart’s camp counselor, had to step in to protect Willy at times when the other members would take it too far.
  • Felissa Rose and Jonathan Tiersten developed a puppy love type romance during filming but broke up soon after.
  • Jonathan Tiersten was given the role of Ricky after an unusual audition where the writer/director, Robert Hiltzik, asked Jonathan to cuss him out.
  • As a child, writer/director Robert Hiltzik actually went to the camp which was used in the film.
  • One of the inspirations for ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic’s “Nature Trail to Hell,” along with Friday the 13th Part III (1982), referencing the cutting up of Cub Scouts and an ending you have to see to believe.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

Basket Case

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Basket Case

Release Date: April 2, 1982

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Frank Henenlotter

Writer: Frank Henenlotter

Starring: Kevin Van Hentenryck, Terri Susan Smith, Beverly Bonner, Robert Vogel, Diana Browne

 

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Hello readers! Welcome to the second week of my “Guiltiest Pleasure Horror Movies” special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until Halloween. This next movie review is a movie I’ve been dying to watch for a long time but could never find a copy of it. It was out of print on VHS and was released on Blu-Ray a few years back. I ended up watching it on a streaming service and it exceeded my expectations. This week’s review is the 1982 underground flick, “Basket Case”.

Released in 1982, “Basket Case” is the story of a twenty-year-old boy named Duane Bradley who arrives in New York City with a backpack on his pack and holding a big wicker basket. Inside the basket is brother Belial who is Duane’s deformed brother. It turns out they are Siamese twins separated against both their wishes. Duane and Belial seek out the doctors who separated them and plan to kill them in revenge. During his stay at a cheap sleazy hotel, he befriends his fellow tenant, Casey, who is a prostitute and develops a love interest with a receptionist named Sharon who works at the office of one of the doctors that performed the separation on them. Duane and Sharon spend a day together getting to know each other. After a moment of embrace, Duane begins to have severe headaches. This is the result of him being telepathically linked to Belial (they talk to each other using their mind). Belial can sense Duane and when he realizes what he is doing, he goes into a screaming frenzy destroying everything in their room. Belial is not only afraid that Duane will leave him, but he is also angry at the fact that he cannot enjoy the pleasures of being with a woman due to his deformed state. The brothers start a tug of war with each other that carries on through the remainder of the film and it would not only jeopardize their objectives but jeopardizes their relationship.

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The movie wasn’t a huge hit in mainstream theaters, however it obtained its success through midnight showings at Drive-In Theaters (remember those?). The film was enjoyed by the audience that it was played as a midnight movie for the next several years. It has become a cult classic and one of the best B-Movie Horror films ever made.

The film was written and directed by Frank Henenlotter. He’s made several horror movies in his career including the three “Basket Case” movies, but he never considered himself a Horror movie filmmaker. Rather, he prefers to be known as an “exploitation” filmmaker. He loved exploitation movies because they “have an attitude more than anything, an attitude that you don’t find with mainstream Hollywood productions. They’re a little ruder, a little raunchier, they deal with material people don’t usually touch on, whether it’s sex or drugs or rock and roll.” (1) “Basket Case” was filmed with a budget of around $35,000 which was extremely low for any exploitation movie at the time. Despite the low budget, Henenlotter was able to make a special film that dealt with human biology, science, family and social interaction with humans topped with insatiable mounts of blood and gore.

The movie was shot on 16MM film, however there were problems with the post production which resulted in the film being very dark in light and having a murky look. Because of this, the film had to be converted to a different aspect ratio. This was something Henenlotter did not have control over. Nevertheless, the lack of lighting and the graininess of the film gives it a more unsettling look. When you add that with the spacey music, it heightens the atmosphere and tension as you tremble in anticipation as to what is about to happen on screen. There’s no skimping of blood or gore in this movie including a kill scene that seems to use every item in the room. There is an origin scene through the middle of the film which gives the audience more insight on Duane and Belial’s relationship and how dismissive their father is of Belial and how no one seemed to love them expect each other and their aunt.  The origin scene shows the separation of the boys and is filled with sounds of Velcro and duct tape to mimic the sounds to cutting tools. The use of sound effects and visceral blood during that sequence including the uneasiness of Duane makes it the most squeamish scene in my opinion. I couldn’t get through watching it without closing my eyes which is something I haven’t done in a very long time (extra award for that).

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The acting is decent for an uber low budget movie. Kevin Van Hentenryck plays Duane as a person who keeps to himself and has little interaction with others. He is very protective of his brother and is willingly going along with Belial’s plan of seeking revenge on the doctors. When Belial gets into grouse some situations with his victims, Duane does what he can to cover up so that no suspicion falls on him. He is very protective of his brother, yet he can’t seem to separate himself from him even when he pleads with Belial to let him have time for himself. Terri Susan Smith, who plays the love interest Sharon, plays it as a naive ditzy woman with a weird hairdo (obviously a wig due to the fact her head was shaved in real life because she was in a punk rock group. Frank Henenlotter was not happy about this because she had full hair when she was brought in to audition for the role). She quickly grows interest in Duane and develops feelings for him. She gets concerned for him when they go back to the hotel he is staying at and starts to freak out when the police arrive after reports of screaming and a dead body found at the hotel (thanks to Belial). The other performances I enjoyed include Robert Vogel who plays the hotel manager, Diana Browne who plays Dr. Kutter, one of the doctors that separated Duane and Belial (she looks like Sigourney Weaver’s doppelganger) and Lloyd Pace who plays the goofy looking and paranoid Dr. Needleman.

And now we get to discussing the star of the movie, Belial. If you were to describe him today, he looks the Pokémon, Geodude. He is a blob of flesh with eyes, razor sharp teeth and arms. As I mentioned before, he talks to Duane via telepathy. He’s like a spider as he can crawl from one room to the next using windows and can grip on walls in part due to his large fingers. Despite his stature he is physically strong as he can throw dresser drawers and papers across the room and lift the leg of a bed as shown through a well done stop motion sequence. He’s the mastermind behind the plot to kill the doctors for good reasons. In addition to vengeance, Belial is growing frustrated with the inability to experience sexual pleasure with a woman and the fear of Duane leaving him for Sharon. The only way he can experience the desires he craves is through immoral ways as is depicted near the end of the movie. Belial keeps Duane in check and his presence is a reminder to Duane that they’re with each other until the end.

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It sure did take a long time for me to watch “Basket Case”, but it was a great viewing experience. It’s a movie that I’ve put on constant rotation these last few weeks in preparation for this review. I’m contemplating watching the sequels, but I’m sure those will be as big of a challenge as the first movie in obtaining copies for my viewing pleasure. This movie cemented Frank Henelotter as a great exploitation filmmaker as he desired to become. If you enjoyed this movie, check out his other films “Brain Damage” and “Frankenhooker” in addition to the two sequels to this film as I mentioned.

See you readers next week with the third film in the “Guiltiest Horror Movies” review special.

(1) “In Search of Hotel Broslin”. Basket Case DVD special features.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Most of the credits that appear at the end of the film are fake. The crew was very small and, rather than repeat the same names repeatedly, they decided to just make up names.
  • To try to make the film appeal to a comedy crowd, the original distributor cut all the gore scenes out of the film. They were eventually put back in and re-released in theaters with the subtitle “The Full Uncut Version!”
  • In addition to providing a face cast for the Belial puppet, Kevin Van Hentenryck also performed the mutant twin’s voice effects.
  • When Duane checks into the Hotel Broslin, he takes out a wad of cash. According to director Frank Henenlotter, that money was the film’s entire budget.
  • Duane’s streaking scene was shot without permits on a cold winter’s night. To shoot the scene, the crew would first clear the sidewalks of any objects that might hurt Kevin Van Hentenryck if he stepped on them. He was then let out of a heated van on one side of the block and met on the other side by another heated van. Once picked up, the van would drive him to another block. This was repeated until they got the desired amount of shots.
  • Film critic Rex Reed’s quotation to describe the movie, “This is the sickest movie ever made!” was used in the film’s promotion despite not appearing in a printed review. Reed had sought out the film after hearing negative reviews and was asked his opinion after emerging from the cinema. Unbeknownst to Reed, the person who asked him was director Frank Henelotter. Initially furious that his comment was used to promote the film, Reed eventually relented and granted permission to allow Henelotter to use it to promote the film.

AUDIO CLIPS

 

 

 

Hiatus

Hello everyone!

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

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

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

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

I’ll see you soon.

Leviathan

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Leviathan

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Adventure, Horror, Mystery

Director: George P. Cosmatos

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

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

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

AUDIO CLIPS