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Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Elvira, Mistress of the Dark

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Elvira-Blu-ray-007Monster movie hosts are hard to come by, but their legacy lives on. The tradition of late night television were a ghoulish figure would riff on the absurdity being seen is a dying art on the small screen. In my opinion, there are three recognizable figures that have kept this tradition alive. There’s Joe Bob Briggs of TNT MonsterVision and Joe Bob’s Drive In, Svengoolie (who is still active as of this article) and lastly you have Elvira.

Cassandra Peterson’s TV persona which consists of a low-cut dress, tall beehive hairdo and Valley girl style talk was no doubt a runaway hit. No one could expect this horror host to skyrocket from obscure figure to a brand name every household knows. Her face and big…uhhh, popularity dominated the 1980s and well throughout the 1990s. There were trading cards, comic books, action figures, dolls and even a pinball machine, too. The last thing one would expect from all this is a cinematic adaptation based on the character. And as expected, there is.

1988’s Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is something that’s worth seeing, than actually reading a review about. To describe this feature, I would have to talk about every scene and what happens. There is a plot…well, many to be exact, as the story bounces between a loose thread of scenes tied to a “fish out of water” story-line. But is it enough to hold a character that says one-liners and ghoulish puns? For what it’s worth, I actually think so.

downloadAfter quitting her job due to a perv boss, the hostess is at least delighted to learn one of her relatives died and left a great inheritance in Massachusetts. She travels far, but disappointed to find all she gets is an old home, and pet poodle that can shape shift and a spell book mistaken as a cookbook. The reason for her disappointment is that Elvira hoped to create her own stage show in Las Vegas, but doesn’t have enough funds. Instead of fulfilling the dream, she is stuck with some ancient artifacts with not much use, expect living in the old house.

From there, the rest of the plot is very loose and kind of all over the map. One minute, she is trying to fit in with the locals, gets better accepted by the teenagers of the town, is the envy of  a town moral goodie (played by Edie McClurg of John Hughes movie cameo fame), a warlock (W. Morgan Sheppard) who is after her inheritance and that’s just scraping the surface. There’s so many loose threads that I’m tempted to say this works against the film’s favor. However, while it doesn’t get too complex, you do wonder how a movie can juggle so much weight and still feel simplistic.

MSDELMI EC009In all honesty, I’m fine with movies like this. As long as there are some things anchoring the plot together, I can at least say there is some form of a story going on. Many big screen adaptations like Coneheads or The Flintstones have used this method of story telling which gives a laid back feel or ends up running all over the map. With Mistress of the Dark, I don’t think the movie is that chaotic as those two examples. I’d really compare it more to Wayne’s World. You have a one-note sketch that is well-done and entertaining, but the universe around the character(s) is explored more. They feel less like a couch potato, and it’s interesting to see how they would act in the real world.

The idea of Elvira trying to fit in a small Massachusetts town works in its own way. I’m not saying this because I live near Boston or anything. But for a state that is “head over heels” with things like witchcraft and local legends, it does make sense for this kind of character to enter in a town still stuck on old-fashioned beliefs. The concept of a character out of place with a bright and vibrant town is cliche, but it works in the movie’s favor. You do get to see Elvira try and connect with the locals, despite being turned a blind eye for …well, mostly her looks…which is weird, because why would someone- then again, it was the 1980s and some parents were uptight about sex appeal, so I can let it pass by a hair.

MSDELMI EC012For 90 minutes of your time, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark packs a lot to keep you entertained. There’s some hilarious set pieces like a sabotaged stage-show, cheap monster effects, an origin story of Elvira that is interesting, a climatic duel with an evil warlock, a grand Las Vegas finale and that’s just scraping the surface. I think the reason this movie didn’t do well at the box office (and with certain critics) was how loose the story was. It’s the only element I can see being a problem with some viewers, but certain comedies like Caddyshack and Anchorman have used this way of story-telling before. There are elements that do keep the plot tied together like a hilarious performance by Edie McClurg as the “town moral” who schemes to run Elvira out of town. If you go in with an open mind and leave your brain at the door (surgically), you will be in for a good time.

Also, for a movie based on a famous monster movie host, who knew it could work? At this day in age, how come we don’t see more like this? Heck, I propose an Avengers-style that crosses many horrors hosts together. Wouldn’t that be a box office treat? You could have a league where Joe Bob Briggs is the Nick Fury, Elvira pulling off some “killer moves,” Svengoolie with a bow that shoots flaming rubber chickens and perhaps a “Son of” Zacherley, The Cool Ghoul. Sounds absurd, but I’d pay good money to see it.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Stranger Things (Season 1)

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Stranger Things court NetflixOf all the TV shows that have debuted in recent years, nothing has compared to how much appreciation Stranger Things has gotten. Created by the Duffer Brothers, this grand throwback to everything 1980s feels more a time capsule of the decade. Coming from someone who is an easy prey for 1980s era movies, this series channels every 1980s pop culture trope/reference in existence and somehow weaves perfectly them together. One minute, it feels like Steven Spielberg is directing it, then it pulls something supernatural from a Stephen King story or includes teen drama from a John Hughes movie. For a series that offers so much, I didn’t think all these plot lines would somehow be tied together.

tumblr_inline_oac2ra1nhr1t6ym0o_1280Everything is centered on the disappearance of a kid named Will (Noah Schnapp) whose very vanishing triggers a domino effect of story. One minute, his mother (Winona Ryder) thinks found a way to communicate with her son through electricity, then suddenly the local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) uncovers a bizarre conspiracy linked to Will’s disappearance. Even thought it all sounds complex on paper, this whole thing is easy to follow as we jump from one character to the next. Each plot thread either adds more clues to the odd things happening in town or helps the viewer get more acquainted with the people in the area.

boys-and-eleven-radio-roomThings get more complicated when a group of Will’s friends find a girl named “Eleven” (chilling performance by Millie Bobby Brown) who has telekinetic powers beyond belief and may hold the key to finding their missing friend Will. As expected, this is where most of the Spielberg-E.T. cliches kick in with the creature being hidden in the house as the thing tries to understand the world outside. But, there comes a set of fresh elements to keep it interesting. For one, Eleven looks like a normal girl and has the opportunity to hide within society. It gives the character more open freedom to act among people which is kind of a scary thought. Imagine if Carrie had the chance to mingle in a modern high school and you didn’t know she had these powerful abilities like channeling other worlds or destroying things with her mind. How would a normal human being be able to know she has the will to bend reality when they look like a normal person?

The John Hughes elements are centered around one of the boy’s sisters (Natalia Dyer) who pines for the hot jock and, you can sort of see where it goes. In laws of predictability, there is an outcast of some form she feels bad for, but believes he deserves help and it causes her boyfriend to act like a complete jerk about it-Again, you can clearly see where it goes. However, what you don’t except is the jock to actually turn around and even be some form of help at the end. At one point, he becomes useful in a fight against this bizarre monster near the climax and it shows that maybe he’s not that bad as you think.

21-stranger-things-steve-nancy.w1200.h630That’s what I love the most about this series. It keeps adding all these twists and turns keeping you second guessing about what’s coming next. For every new turn in the story, you just can’t help but wonder how it will all end. Even with things like the “big bad government agents,” which is a tiring cliche, Stranger Things knows how to use this well by showing how more devious they can be. Not since E.T. have I felt this trope can really pose as a huge threat. These are people that will do anything to keep a huge secret, even if it means faking a death or holding a family hostage.

There’s so much more I wish I could talk about, but it’s best for you to see Stranger Things for yourself. With season 2 around the corner, now would be a good time to catch up and see what everyone’s been praising about. For an 8 episode season, it’s really worth your time, If you like small tows with big mysteries like Twin Peaks or throwbacks like Super 8, this is worth the nostalgia trip. I’d go into deeper detail on why so much of it succeeds, but then I would have to ruin a good bulk of the plot your meant to discover. The best I can say is for anyone who grew up on a childhood diet of Spielberg, John Carpenter and Joe Dante with a small pinch of Stephen King’s writing, this is for the older crowd who grew up on those elements.

Stranger Things VHS Blu Ray DVD1On a side note, I should bring to light of the show’s recent Blu-Ray/DVD release. Target held an exclusive “special collector’s” edition where the packaging resembles an old VHS tape. Once the slipcover is removed, the discs are housed in a container that resembles a VHS tape with a “Be Kind Rewind” sticker for added nostalgia. It’s a nifty idea, but there is one major drawback. All you get is the entire first season on both Blu-ray and DVD in a fancy packaging…and that’s it. No audio commentaries from the Duffer Brothers, additional supplements or even a single behind the scenes featurette.

Stranger Things VHS Blu Ray DVD2Fans might be disappointed in the lack of extra material, but at least the first season can be seen in some physical form outside of the digital medium. The other additional plus is for people who don’t have Netflix can actually check this series out. Well for $24.99, it’s not a bad deal seeing this form of packaging is perfect for a show like this. However, it leaves you feeling there should be more to explore after binge watching a show like this. Considering there will be 3 more seasons (including the next one coming this Halloween) afterwards, it leaves one to wonder if there will be this “complete series” release. For now, I’m pleased to had this one in my collection, but this show deserves much better when housed in a grand box like this.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Mummy (2017)

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mummy posterHonestly, there is no reason this movie should be given a spotlight on this blog-a-thon. However, it does tie into the theme of “cult classics” (somehow) and the Universal Studio Monsters franchise is normally watched around Halloween. On top of that, I’m certain EVERYONE had something to say about this dusty turkey. And yet, if I had to toss my two cents in, The Mummy is without a doubt, on my roster, for being the worst movie of 2017.

Let’s back up a little and talk about some history. Universal Studios has been desperate in every way to try and bring new life to their horror themed franchise. Back in the 1930s, movies about Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and many others are what put the studio on the map.  These are iconic pictures that leave a lasting impact upon the public, regardless if one doesn’t like black and white features. There is a glowing haunting impact that is still left from the ideas and building atmosphere.

Universal Studios has been toying with their creature features for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times they tried to get a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake off the ground. Even John Carpenter nearly got the chance to helm it; that is if a certain Invisible Man movie with Chevy Chase didn’t bomb at the box-office. Bottom line, this studio has been trying. They tried a new Wolfman in 2010, it didn’t do very well. They tried to give Dracula an origin story, it did moderately well, yet critics put a stake right into it.

Now, the new plan was to reboot everything and create a shared universe along the lines of Marvel Studios. Not a bad idea, but there is one crucial problem. In order to achieve it, you need to introduce your monsters individual first. Give Marvel some credit, it took time and effort to establish who their superheros were and why are they all connected. It made the debut of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble in International waters) the more satisfying seeing characters we already saw. The concept of a shared universe seemed not needed when you consider there already exists a movie with all the monsters meeting (more on that later in the month).

Come the summer of 2017, a string of sequels and reboots that never seemed to catch on with some exceptions. Arriving to the big screen is The Mummy, a movie Universal Studios is confident will be a huge hit and ignite a massive interest in making a shared universe. And let me tell you, for a movie called The Mummy, it’s sad to see it plays out more like a 2 hour trailer for a franchise as opposed to a standalone feature.

the-mummy3Every problem can be summed up in the opening. First, there is a 30-second flashback to Medieval Times were knights hide a powerful ruby. Cut to modern times where a group of FBI-like agents find a tomb carrying said ruby. Then, it flashes back to show the origin of the mummy and how she came to be. What should be a simple introduction is really a massive exposition dump. There is too much being addressed and it doesn’t know what information is crucial to the narrative. It literally throws everything at you and expects a sense of understanding.

So, now your probably asking how is the rest of the movie? Well, here’s a hint. Notice how the focus of this article is about Universal’s choice to make a franchise. When you boil down to it, there isn’t much of a movie, or a story, to discuss. Tom Cruise is a treasure raider who finds a mummy, mummy curses him in a weird set up that sounds stolen from Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Russell Crowe shows up as Dr. Jekyll to talk about a set of agents who prevent monsters from going loose and that’s it.

the-mummy-russell-crowe-dr-jekyllEverything I summed up in that small paragraph is all you need to know. Sure there are things I didn’t talk about like the performances, a subplot involving a dead friend that is taken from An American Werewolf In London, the complex origins of the mummy that make no sense, the rampage on London near the end and the obvious tie-ins to “future entries.” Honestly, who cares? If Mummy just stuck to one story line, it would have been fine. Instead, it feels like different scripts were bunch into one and then hacked down with a chainsaw. All we get is a set of shreds that don’t add up. Stuff happens, but there is rarely any connection.

I tried to think of anything positive about this movie and I could only come up with two things. Tom Cruise plays the lead and, regardless of ego, he tries to be entertaining. His performance goes for a very goofy-action hero tone that matches Brendan Fraser, but it feels weird knowing he’s more equipped when it comes to spy movies. And for what little we see of Sofia Boutella, she tries to bring a sense of menace to her take of the mummy. Under all the poor CGI effects they paint over her face, she is really trying to stand out. Unfortunately, her presence is literally buried under Cruise’s rampant ego and “too many cooks” trying to steer this popcorn flick.

la-et-film-title-the-mummy-20161205I really can’t even do much justice to recommend this train wreck. Your better off seeing the original 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff. That one was more scary in atmosphere and selling the concept of reincarnation. Why can’t we have a movie like that anymore? A horror film that sells on scaring you with atmospheric tone and concept as opposed to jump scares. I’m certain there are some out there, but I can only imagine how few there are. This movie is pure proof that certain executives can’t keep up with the times on what audiences want. A lesson that is learned again and again as time goes on. Just when Hollywood thinks they know what people want, they come out with a movie too late once that previous obsession has died down. We are pass the bar of shared universes. Some can work, but this one doesn’t.

Avoid at all costs.

 

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Blob (Original and Remake)

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blob_1958_poster_02Without a doubt, The Blob is one of those classic time capsules which get better with age. For 1958, it was rare to think a B movie like this would escape the bonds of being a cheap trick and make its way to Hollywood fame. The premise is simple, almost every character feels organic and it has a lasting nostalgic charm that keeps everything fresh with every view.

A meteor falls into a small town which contains a jelly-like goo that gets bigger with every victim it consumes. And that’s all you need to know. There is more to The Blob with the characters and some raising stakes, but that is about as basic as it gets. This movie was created in a time when monsters were more campy and less scary. Famed creatures, like Universal’s Gill Man or Harryhausen’s Ymir, got born in an age when atomic warfare was more frightening than a rubber monster. Obviously, the tone of horror shifted from trying to scare audiences into something more fun and goofy. Some of them worked while others didn’t. Still, Blob was able to break through the mold of cliche 1950s monsters films.

Steve-McQueenFor one, the characters are actually much smarter than they appear. A group of teenagers actually plan things out and try to be one step ahead. True, they drag race and enjoy a late night scary movie from the local theater, but that’s who they are. If these kids walked around and said stale, brainy dialogue, then we wouldn’t buy it. Everyone speaks with a natural flow and feel like average people we can see in real life. Even the police are more than just the typical “biased adults” who think there is a prank going on. Once in a while, there is an officer that debates wither these kids are telling the truth about a monster giving actual reasons and theories.

Steve McQueen leads on and does a great job being the intimidating yet heroic Steve Andrews. He’s the kind of kid that doesn’t mess around. Sometimes, he enjoys a good race on the road, but is always street smart. He’s the guy you want to root for and see save the day. At times, the delivery of his dialogue is a tad stiff, but I feel it adds to his “tough” attitude. It feels like watching a teenage Charlton Heston for some reason.

MV5BODQ2ODQzZTktYzExNi00N2NiLWJhZDAtOTg4MGE2MDQyNWZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQwOTE2NjE@._V1_The special effects on the blob creature are something to be desired. There is a great range of miniatures and camera tricks to make you believe this monster is pulsating and alive. There’s not too much you see of the monster, but it adds tension. To think years later and silicone gel can make a frightening beast compared to today’s CGI. While primitive, there is something charming to see civilians running from a gelatinous monster who are trying to sell the fear.

blobfest2_600The Blob has been celebrated so much, that my own opinion can’t do much justice. This film has become a staple of classic Americana to the point a yearly festival is performed called “Blobfest” and hosted in the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, one of the original location shoots. The movie gets screened in the local Colonial Theatre ,along with a re-enacting of the scene where moviegoers run out of the theater in terror. Not to mention, the actual gel used for the Blob effects has surprisingly survived over the years and is always on display during the event. It shows there is much love for this simple film which continues to expand from one generation to the next.

1429563662683You would think a modern remake would tarnish and trash the impact of the original. However, there does exist a remake from 1988 which does a great job being its own kind of entertainment. This one reflects the time period when horror movies were gorier and increased the tension. There’s plenty of differences that extinguish both from each other which proves when remaking something, it’s ok to do something different.

The cast of characters are more stock, but there is a tongue-in-cheek feel to it. Ranging from a batch of randy teens to adults with morals, there are characters you still root for. The protagonist duties are switched from a local drag racer to a cheerleader played by Swawnee Smith and feels less like a damsel in distress. They do throw you for a loop at the start when you think her boyfriend is going to be the lead. But there is a nice little bait and switch that feels natural. It starts like the normal story with the goody-goody boy hoping to get the girl, until the story takes a different turn.

MV5BMTljMzIyZmYtYjNjMy00YTg4LWEzMDAtMjdhNGI3ZDI4ZGUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQzOTg1MDM@._V1_The script was a collaborative effort by director Chuck Russell, who also directed The Mask and Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Frank Darabont, best known for directing The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and even wrote some Tales from the Crypt episodes. The tone is self-aware and uses iconic moments from the original while adding new spins. For example, when the creature first crashes, we see this weird rock-like meteor sticking out of the ground. Later on, we see its really a round satellite that hosted the creature with debris on top. It keeps newcomers engaged while adding new twists that never diminish the enjoyment.

the-blob-1988Speaking of which, let’s talk about the updates to the blob. It gets upgraded from alien jelly to a man-made biological weapon that moves quick and packs a gluttonous appetite. A wide rage of stop-motion and animatronics are used to bring this fierce creature to life. It adds more personality to the pink beast as it consumes one person after another changing all sorts of shapes. Again, the effects themselves relate to the time when practical effects were close to becoming a dying art.

audreyiiconwayosIt should be noted some of the blob effects were created by Lyle Conway, who did the Audrey II plant puppets for 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors. Originally, Little Shop ended with the plants taking over the world and eating up New York. The entire finale cost $5 million to produce and ended up getting scrapped for a happier ending. If anything, the scenes where the blob goes on a rampage almost feels like an apology for cutting a entire special effects finale where giant Venus flytraps destroy and scale a miniature Statue of Liberty.

The only thing that nearly ruins it for me is the secret government agents that get involved. The head agent, played by Joe Seneca, really wants to confine this beast and doesn’t care about sparing humanity in the process. It’s not a bad touch, but it feels a little “run of the mile” and cliche. A lot of this movie does play around with classic character tropes, but I almost feel like these agents could have tried to help others out in the process.

the-blob-1988-movie-theatreIn the long run, I love both the original and remake on their own terms. Both Blobs have distinguishing elements to separate from each other while the remake doesn’t stray too far off. The original is your perfect popcorn entertainment, while the remake knows where to improve on things. Both versions reflect the time they were made in and their charm comes from what suits your film appetite. If you want a well-made B movie or a great special effects show from the 1980s, there is a lot of variety here from both.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Night Gallery

Rod Serling is a name many associate with The Twilight Zone. A classic anthology series that dives into the psychological aspect of human kind through science fiction. It made a lasting impact that spans generation after generation with timeless messages and the ability to sneak pass taboo subjects one would never suspect to see. After Twilight Zone‘s run, Serling was itching for another series that would act as an extended successor to his famed sci-fi series. The result was something spine-tingling, but also mismatched and tied with a campy ribbon.

Night_Gallery_Rod_Serling1Night Gallery was a compromise between network and producer control to the point it feels similar to the famed Twilight Zone, but different. Here, the tone of the stories go for more dark fantasy targeting the supernatural and occult. Unfortunately, it never became the series Serling hoped for considering the clashes between the show’s intended psychological tone and Producer Jack Laird wanting to go in a different, lighter direction. There is still enjoyment to be had as a third of the scripts were written by Serling himself and some segments are worth checking out. While none had the timeless feel or haunting flavor of the Zone, Night Gallery offered a good bulk of variety.

Each episode, with the exception of season 3, are an hour-long and each segment varies in length. Some range between 10 to 20 minutes long while wrapped around with 2 to 5 minute comic “blackout” sketches. With the advent of DVD, we have the ability to jump around the see these segments on their own or perform a mini-marathon of the ones we are more curious in.

For those who want a better idea of what Serling’s true vision of the show could have been, it’s best to turn to the full-length TV movie which served as a pilot. The feature length episode harvested three stories which echoed a lot of Serling’s trademarks from the ghoulish concept to the haunting twist ending. The general consensus is that only the first two segments are good, while the last one is really weak. To which I say, they are very right.

nightgallery03The first one titled “The Cemetery” stars Roddy McDowall as a greedy relative that subtly murders his uncle for the estate. However, a certain painting of the house shows a cemetery nearby. Every time the relative passes by, the image keeps changing. Sometimes, it shows a coffin rising up from the grave while other times it shows a corpse walking to the house. The performances in this one are really good as McDowall starts to question his own sanity and it builds to a great double twist.

night-gallery-season-1-0-eyes-joan-crawfordA good start is followed-up with “Eyes” which has Joan Crawford as a shrewd millionaire that is blind and longs to see again. She goes as far to blackmail a doctor to perform an illegal procedure to restore her sight. Not a strong segment, but Joan’s performance as the heartless lady and a lot of the technical work makes this one stand out. Many fans remember it more for being the debut of Steven Spielberg’s directing career. Every shot is just pure eye-candy and handled very well from the lighting and even the build-up when the woman’s sight is restored. And what she gets in the end is so well-deserved, that it must be seen to be believed.

Night Gallery Escape RouteLastly, “The Escape Route” is probably the weakest one to conclude on. A Nazi fugitive is on the run to escape from his brutal past. He engages in some paintings which are used as a literal open window. Somehow, he has the ability to enter one without any given explanation. His sights are set on a painting that allows him to boat down a calm river, but he ends up on a different path. It’s a very paper thing concept that doesn’t go anywhere and it feels underwhelming compared to the previous segments. Nothing is established about this “transportation” power and there’s not much to support it either.

While the TV movie has its share of moments, the series itself is worth a nice binge watch as well. With the clash of different tones, some stories work and others don’t. Sometimes they offer a good shock while others feel like a watered down Charles Addams cartoon. Each one still offer a nice range of variety and some replay value here and there. To give a rough idea of the different macabre Night Gallery has to offer, here is a short list of the episodes I personally recommend seeing:

vlcsnap-2015-06-17-19h47m17s585The Dead Man – A hypnotist has the ability to make a young man look sick with a simple trick. He attempts to use a certain incantation to make it look like he’s dead, but is unable to bring him out of the trance. It also doesn’t help there is an affair going on between the hypnotist and his partner’s girlfriend hinting a possible revenge, until you learn the magic man might not have used the right cue…

night-gallery-season-1-2-the-little-black-bagLittle Black Bag – Burgess Meredith plays a drunk hobo that used to work as a doctor, but is slumming the streets with his money hungry friend (Chill Wills). They come across a black bag from the future that has medical equipment far more advanced than anything in the modern era. The doctor wants to use it for good while his friend prefers to exploit the advance medical kit for fast cash. It’s a great argument over what is best for the greater good and what’s best for your own needs.
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Certain Shadows on the Wall – A brother is haunted by the shadow of his dead sibling who is cast upon the wall. Every time he tries to paint it over, it remains unchanged. A nice twist on the “Tell-Tale Heart” story with some great build up.

 

 

night-gallery-season-1-6-theyre-tearing-down-tim-rileys-barThey’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar – Clocking in at over 40 mins, this is the longest Night Gallery segment, but also the most sentimental of the bunch. Written by Rod Serling, a plastic sales director endures his twenty fifth anniversary of employment with sorrow. Meanwhile, a local bar, he used to attend, is being torn down as ghosts start to form every time the guy passes by. It serves as an open window to what this guy’s life was like as he wishes to revisit the past and do things different. Themes like this have been explored in “better” Twilight Zone episodes like “Walking Distance.” However, this is an exception for the bittersweet ending and some great character moments between our protagonist and the modern world he is not accustomed to.

ngearthquake01The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes – A young Clint Howard plays a boy who has a own TV show where he gets to correctly predict the future. His powers are unlimited as he can address things from upcoming natural disasters to missing people being discovered. But what happens when you get an apocalyptic vision and don’t know how to address it to the world? As far as child acting goes, Clint does a great job playing the charming, yet innocent feel of his character. He knows how dangerous his powers can be and is left with the hard choice of know how to deliver the worst of bad news knowing how consequential it will be.

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Phantom of What Opera? – One of the shorter segments that’s worth seeing just for Leslie Nielsen’s performance as the Phantom of the Opera. His appearance in the series pre-dates his first comedic performance in Airplane! so you can see it first here. Not much else to say except its a short but funny recommendation.

 
Night Gallery 2-3 Flip Side SatanThe Flip Side of Satan – Arte Johnson takes on a one man performance as a disk jockey assigned to a station in the middle of nowhere. He’s given records to play that contain organ music and strange sounds without any indication of who the listeners are. It’s hinted he had an affair with his agent’s wife and contains an ego so inflated to the point he hangs onto his radio legacy dearly. But as it turns out, there’s something stranger afoot when the radio station won’t let him leave…
night-gallery-season-2-5-silent-snow-secret-snow-300x224Silent Snow, Secret Snow – Narrated by Orson Wells, this is one of the most unique adaptations of Conrad Akin’s story about a kid’s fight to keep his imagination alive. He can’t focus in school and feels distant from his family every day. All he can think about is snow and daydreams it constantly. Not one of the easiest stories to adapt, but they nail it perfectly here.

 
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A Question of Fear – Leslie Nelisen takes on a serious role as a man who claims he’s cured of fear. This is taken into a bet where he has to spend the night in a haunted house and faces all sorts of strange events. I won’t say anything else about this one, except that for everything that happens, there is a logical reasoning to its occurance. The double twist at the end will really leave you speechless.

 
night-gallery-season-2-7-brenda-300x223Brenda – One of the most bizarre “Beauty and the Beast” stories about a quirky girl that befriends a monster. The creature looks like a shaggy Snuffleupagus crossed with Swamp Thing, but we feel some kind of a connection between these two. On first watch, I was bewildered by the off tone delivery.  After much thought, I’ve come to see it as a nice metaphor for growing up and entering adulthood. It’s not a good segment by any means and it can get weird, but it ends on a charming note that’s enough to recommend.

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Hell’s Bells – A short but amusing segment were John Astin (original Gomez Addams) plays a hippie who gets in a car crash and is sent to Hell. While in the waiting room, he anticipates the usual fire and brimstone, but is in for a shock to learn not everyone’s view of the dark place is really the same…

night-gallery-season-2-11-pickmans-model-monster-hp-lovecraft-300x224Pickman’s Model – A great adaptation of the H.P Lovecraft story where an artist creates ghoulish paintings of a monster in each of them. A student of his art class grows fond of his macabre style and tries to know him better. This one is notable for the Emmy-nominated special effects as the creature seen here is actually made from the same molds as those used for the Creature from the Black Lagoon costume. A true hair-raiser about the dangerous value of life imitating art.
coolairyo3Cool Air – Another perfect adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft classic. A scientist has found the secret to extend life beyond death, but has a certain problem. The man has a certain condition where he has to be contained in a room that needs to be below 50 degrees freezing. A woman takes fancy of him, despite the cold temperature, and you really feel the chemistry between these two. It makes this segment’s ending all the more tragic when you see the most gruesome reveal on why he’s encased himself from the world outside. It’s beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and concludes in a very bone-chilling manner. My absolute favorite of the series.

night-gallery-season-2-21-the-sins-of-the-father-richard-thomas-300x224The Sins of the Fathers – In one of the most unsettling of the Night Gallery stories, a bunch of peasants in the Middle Ages seeks for someone to be a “sin-eater” for their funeral. Basically, they make a huge feast, in representation of the dead one’s sins, and said “sin-eater” has to consume all the food in front of the dead corpse. It all boils down to a hungry teenager who is unsure how to act it out, seeing he is new to the “business.” And personally, I will just leave it at that. The overall experience of watching this one is really uncomfortable knowing how much famine and plague existed during this time period. And yet, everyone sacrifices what tasty goods they have for this one ritual they entrust their belief in. There’s also a gut wrenching twist at the end which I dare won’t give away that adds to the lesson there are some fates worse than death we are bound to in life. Surprisingly, the cast and crew go out of their way to create such a shocker, even right down to using a lot of money for the sets and costumes. In the end, it’s well worth it. Only recommended for those with a literal strong stomach.

ngcaterpillar31The Caterpillar – A British man wants to escape his boring life, but finds it more dull than before while staying in a Southeast Asian country. He schemes to get a neighbor he lives with murdered, so the “widow” he lusts can be his. Arrangements are made to get a killer earwig placed in his rival’s ear, but unfortunately, the deadly insect ends up with the wrong person. I won’t say who gets the thing, but this segment is a true testament that what scares us are the things we don’t see. There is never an image of what this “caterpillar” looks like, but a great description and tons of gruesome make up work convince us how much pain the victim is going through. This one will make you think twice about the bed bugs at night.

All in all, Night Gallery is imperfect at times. But when it knows to deliver, it really can. What really depends on a good series is a great writing team and creative ideas. I can’t say everything about this anthology series was A+ material, but it knows when to be entertaining. Give this series a watch and judge for yourself.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Munster, Go Home!

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Welcome to a fresh new year with your personal Halloween movie guide! This year, we intend to look at some cult favorites that span from the odd, bizarre and trashy. And what better place to start, but with a childhood favorite…

munster-go-home-1966-519-800x1200The Munsters is a television show I grew up with. The concept about a bunch of monsters living as the ideal mundane family is nothing too new, but leads to some funny ideas. It’s ironic to note this series aired concurrently the same time as The Addams Family and how the two differed in their comedic styles. While Addams Family was to the witty word play of the Marx Brothers, the Munsters were more grounded in Stooges slapstick. With a continuing fan base, you would think a big-budgeted movie adaptation would happen at some point today. Surprisingly enough, there was one theatrical feature which arrived not too long after the show’s end.

Munster, Go Home! is the closest thing to a perfect representation of the TV series in every way. 90% of the original cast reprise their roles (which the exception of Debbie Watson filling for Marilyn), four of the writers from the show created the script and the feature tries to stick close to the original goofy spirit of the series. When creating a big screen adaptation, you have the option to stick close to the source and repeat certain things or go drastic and move in new direction. Munster, Go Home! tries to go beyond the limits of it’s charming black and white sitcom, but at times plays itself a little too safe.

munster-go-home-5-600x323The plot is so easy to follow that you don’t need to be a fortunate teller to figure out the “twists.” The Munsters inherit an English manor overseas and decide to live there once the patriarch Herman is given the title “Lord.” Already, this setup sounds ideal for an episode of the TV show, but it gives the chance for our characters to move out of the suburbs. We are treated to some scenes on their trip to England accompanied with Herman getting sea sick, their son Eddie getting adjusted to the new crawl space he sleeps in and Grandpa facing a dilemma after he transforms into a wolf by accident. This very much sets up the way things are paced in this movie. So much stuff is thrown in that it serves as more of a vignette instead of a narrative.

While that goes on, their inheritance starts to cause a riff with other greedy British cousins who are after the fortune and family title. As excepted, they scheme their way to reclaim the estate by any means necessary. This would be fine if it wasn’t for one problem; the British Munster relatives are normal people and not monsters. I know the series had a running gag with average citizens would view the Munsters as raging monsters, but this presents a missed opportunity. Why not have the British cousins be other monsters? It was customary in the series to have other ‘Munsters’ appear like the Wolfman and even, at one point, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It extends the joke to how the Munsters are related to the Universal Studio Monsters, which makes the “in-joke” more humorous to fans.

munster-go-home-2Still, for a trade up, the Cousins are played by English comedians  like Terry-Thomas (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the voice of Sir Hiss in Disney’s Robin Hood) and Hermione Gingold (1962’s The Music Man). They do a  good job being entertaining, but I don’t recall anything interesting about them. It’s funny to see their characters lament like a bunch of big kids over how they are loosing their fortune to a bunch of outsiders. But outside of their schemes and a money counterfeit plan, I can’t recall anything interesting happening with them. They are your average stock villains and nothing more.

On the bright side, the actors and actress reprising the Munster family have a lot of fun. You can tell they love the characters each one perform giving as much respect to which they portrayed in the TV series. Of course, these are characters that don’t have a complex narrative and are simply defined. You have the goofy father, the mother who acts like a referee, the grandfather with the zany solutions and the next of kin who are nice folks. Everyone works together and easily slips into their TV counterparts without much fault.

What holds the movie together is the Munsters and their ‘fish out of water’ comedy throughout. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The idea of a family made of monsters (Frankenstein monster is the father, the mother and grandfather are vampires, the son is a werewolf while the eldest daughter is the normal one) is a unique concept. To see this strange batch do mundane sitcom storytelling is what gave the show its charm. In the attempt of keeping the running time long, new material is scarce seeing almost every single joke and plot is recycled from the show.

Munster-Go-Home-1966-4However,  we do get to see the make-up job in Technicolor and newcomers, unaware of the series, will be able to adjust with the goofy tone. Die hard fans will be disappointed to notice a lot of recycled material from the show ranging from the Grandpa turning into a wolf, the English cousins dressing up as ghosts to scare the Munsters out (which was done in one episode with some thieves) and so forth. The only reused element I feel is welcomed revolves around a country side race wtih the Drag-u-la. A drag racing car shaped like a coffin that gets a lot of fast millage. This recycled element can be excused, because it was a famous trademark from the series. Everything else is very debatable for fans on the quality of “freshness.”

It should be noted a lot of the “recycling” was done, because this movie was made with only one soul purpose in mind; to sell the show to international audiences. This is something not entirely new. The Monty Python group did the same thing with And Now For Something Completely Different to gain American audience interest. Unfortunately, I don’t think this idea worked entirely. Munster, Go Home! wasn’t a smash hit at the domestic box office and it didn’t make much sense considering the Munsters series debuted a little after the film’s theatrical run. I don’t mind the idea of having a Munsters movie, but this was clearly done with the intention to sell for foreign audiences. Something clearly seen considering the use of famed English celebrities hired on to gain recognition.

Munster, Go Home! is not a bad movie, but it’s nothing special either. The correct term would have to be harmless. This is just harmless fun meant for entertainment and nothing else. I admit, there are moments between Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) and Al Lewis (Grandpa)  that are funny and a running gag with Marilyn romancing a local is sort of cute. On the surface, this is an adaptation that probably would have worked better as a one-hour TV special or a standard episode of the series. It’s not terrible by any means and can serve as an introduction for those new to the show. Die hard fans might be disappointed to see this is a rerun of sorts stitched together and opt to have the entire series better recommended. Personally, I’d take this over the painfully unfunny Munsters’ Revenge (1981) and an adequate sequel series called The Munsters Today. I do feel the original 1960s series is superior in comparison, but it’s nice to see they tried something even if it didn’t work all the way.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon RETURNS!!!!

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That’s right everyone! The Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon is finally back. A mini-marathon of horror movie reviews to serve as your personal home video guide for what to check out. I’ve been trying to keep it as some form of tradition after I first launched it back in 2014. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to factor in how busy my life would be. 2015’s marathon didn’t quite finish and it sort of left me a bit empty.

This time I’m bringing it back, but there are some certain rules I’m applying to accommodate with my new free time and other work I have. Instead of a straight forward 31 blog post, there will be only 13. That calculates to 3 a week with one specially saved for Halloween. I don’t want to overwork myself. There’s a special video in the works for Jaimetud’s “special” Halloween video and one (non-Vaulting related) video I hope to get out next month.

The chosen films will be centered around one basic theme; cult classics. We are digging into the strange and weird abyss of cult classics. These range form ones you never heard of, some you pass by at the bargain bin or perhaps you have no idea these existed. I might toss in a TV series or two for variety, but the whole idea is to really get titles I’m hopeful few have heard of it. If you have heard of them, I’m certain you might want to know my two cents then.

Considering I’m also a contributor to Manic-Expression.com, I will also be posting my Horror-Wood blog posts just for a little share. For those on Manic-Expression reading this, you can get an idea of what the past blog-a-thons were like by heading over to BlockbusterChronicles.Wordpress.com.

13 films within one ghoulish month! The fun begins October 2nd! Tune in….won’t you?

“IT” scary delight

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Last month, viewers got “The Dark Tower.” Basically, a way on how NOT to adapt a Stephen King adaption. The problems lies in how overstuffed and expansive King’s universes really are. After reading his famed novel “IT,” I can see why adapting his books can be a challenge. There’s only so much information you can cram in to justify for a two hour venture. Well, I don’t know how but director Andres Muschietti was able to take a 1,100 page novel and use the right parts to make a good movie.

The basic story is there as a supernatural entity is killing and eating kids in the small Maine town named Derry. A group of kids discover the truth behind the kid’s disappearances in hopes to stop this monster from any more terror. Sounds basic enough, but Stephen King’s novel goes so in-depth that it feels like your reading a history text book at times. To King’s credit, he has good ideas, knows how to build atmosphere and create some memorable characters. Muschietti was kind enough to know what to cut out and what elements were crucial to keep in.

The main meat of this adaptation relies on the child portion of the story. While we get to see them as adults and try to stop “IT” again, all of that is rightfully saved for a possible follow-up. The focus here is on the “Losers’ Club” and who they are. We see what fears they each have which plays a important fact later on. You get the feeling of being a kid again when the world was big and yet you feel defenseless.

All of the kid actors do a good job conveying these characters. Each one bringing to life so much depth and yet few feel like a trope. I feel this has to do with how the setting is changed from being in 1958 to 1989. A time when the teenager was more rebellious and carefree than before. This is reflected with Eddie who is trying to bypass his mother who wants him to remain inside his home. Along with that is more character depth for the bully Henry Bowers who feels more like a threat and less like a generic stock villain with a pocket knife.

The biggest scene stealer is of Bill Skarsgard as the demonic clown Pennywise. From the first scene, there is a hint of something uncanny from the way his eyes look in the other direction and his kind delivery feels more eerie. In a 1990 TV miniseries version, Tim Curry donned the clown make-up and gave a fun performance. I feel Skarsgard easily blew that out of the water. When we see him terrorize the kids, the performance is never over the top or too scary. Skarsgard walks a middle ground that is fun and creepy at the same time.

Those who are afraid of horror movies and want to know how gory it gets should be fine. When I went to see it, there was an 11 year old in the audience who acted fine. However, some moments might be too intense to see from a blood fountain gushing from a sink to a quick shot of Pennywise nibbling on a dismembered arm. Being one whose seen many horror movies, the violence and horrific tone feels more on par with the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, but doesn’t feel too gory or too much. Little kids under 10 might not sit well with some of the ghoulish imagery and running theme of missing kids being eaten by an evil clown.

I was honestly surprised by what “IT” came to offer. This new adaptation was fun as a haunted house while even heartwarming when it needed to be. I do have one or two nitpicks with some of the changes, but they are all the more welcome. When a scene from the book was being adapted, I grew more excited as the scene played out wondering how it would play out. When “IT” was funny, it was funny. When “IT” was scary, you could feel the building tension and creepy atmosphere sinking in. By changing the theme of the story to “facing your fears,” we get not only a movie we can identify with but a journey we wish would never end. If there is a second half in the near future, you can count on this film fan anticipating the next chapter of “IT.”

“Pirates” 5 stale despite lively action

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There are certain franchises that deserve the need to hang their cape and maintain their golden years. I hate to admit it, but I feel Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” is one of them. I recalled fond memories of seeing the first one “Curse of the Black Peal” at my local drive-in theater and enjoying the shear spectacle. As expected, two sequels followed to make a trilogy that were in my opinion mixed but still had some fun. Then “On Stranger Tides” arrived and the wear started to show. Too many complex story-lines, too many convoluted rules and not enough momentum to stay afloat. Now we arrive at the fifth outing, “Dead Man Tell No Tales,” and I feel there’s nothing left to explore here.

Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow but there is nothing new Depp brings here. In previous entries, the rum boozed Captain always knew he had an extra trick up his sleeve when it came to escape or battle. Here, we have seen these character’s actions so much that we are aware of the trademarks. Even worse, Depp feels tired in the role as he walks through like he’s sleepwalking his part. The only time he feels interested is when his character is not talking and partaking in action scenes considering the huge amount of stunt work.

Tossed into the mix are two new characters Henry (Brenton Thwaites) and Carina (Kaya Scodelario) who are trying to be the two new leads of the franchise. Henry is set up as the son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), who we last left cursed to the Flying Dutchman, and is trying to seek a way to break his dad’s curse. It is the basic father and son story but it doesn’t feel developed. On Carina’s angle, she has an interesting concept but it gets easily tiresome. Carina is constantly deemed a witch by her knowledge of the stars which starts as an amusing joke, but gets old by its constant use and one huge plot hole. If everyone deems her a witch, then how come this government is secretly keeping a witch alive for their personal use. If they are using one for their own service, why not use Carina’s methods for their own good instead of trying to execute her.

In the middle of all this, a dead captain named Salazar (Javier Bardem) is out for blood as he tries to hunt Jack Sparrow down for something the booze-hound savvy did to him years ago. To Javier’s credit, he really chews the scenery and acts like he’s having a good time. I’m close to saying he’s the only reason to see this entry for how well-acted and oddly designed him and his ghostly crew are which feel like remnants of a strange Salvador Dali painting.  I like the idea his body moves around like its still floating in water seeing it was the last thing that happened to him when he died. But doesn’t this sound familiar? A supernatural entity that is out for revenge against Sparrow over something he did. Haven’t we been here before?

In fact, the whole movie banks more on the nostalgia of the others and does little to reinvent. Once in a while there is a neat action scene, but it doesn’t last too long to make its impact. Jack finds himself going against a Guillotine blade while being swung around, zombie sharks menace our heroes and old friends return. But there’s much to care about when none of your characters are anchored to a ticking clock or any form of leverage. Certain people could just wonder about without any risk and there still wouldn’t be a sense of care. Even the appearance of old faces like Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) really try to have some fun, but feel this is a tired and repeated premise.

The only reason “Dead Men Tell No Tales” exist is just to see if there’s any life in the franchise along with another reason. I believe after how many fans reacted to the third on “At World’s End,” the people behind this one are trying to make up for those mistakes of a tragic love story and how drawn-out it was. Maybe if this came out 5 years ago, it would have been passable. As it stands, its a swift two hours of swashbuckling that really feels like a fish out of water when your compare it to last week’s Wonder Woman and all the other “better” summer blockbusters that came before it.

“Wonder Woman” is blockbuster fun

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Ever since “Batman v Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” I wondered when DC Comics would finally get their act together and make a fun comic book movie. The only two I recall that worked so well was a bulk of “Superman II” and Burton’s “Batman.” Finally, with a breath of air, I can claim “Wonder Woman” as my favorite DC Comics movie to date. It’s fun, action-packed and does what has been missing the whole time. A bright colorful superhero flick that isn’t afraid to try things.

Gal Gadot plays the Amazonian warrior Diana who is tough but has a human soul. The movie starts off introducing her character in probably the smartest way. We learn who she is and what she wants to gain over the course of the plot. Diana maybe trying to understand the nature of her people, but she wants to know what lies beyond her island home to see if humanity is more forgiving then what her people think. There is no big quest to save her world or big urge for a love interest like Disney’s “Little Mermaid.” The aspect of World War I plays a big factor into her character as she questions if human beings should be saved or left to their own devices.

Helping her out is US spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) who helps Diana understand the world outside her own is not all pleasant. His character works well as the straight man as Steve keeps her curiosity at balance while letting her understand the human element is more complex. There is a love interest hint but thankfully downplayed to let the two work off each other. Pine and Gadot have a fun chemistry that really works in scenes when Steve is trying to have the Amazonian learn about the treatment of women and government law.

On the opposite side, a German general (Danny Huston) plays a red herring in all this as he works with the diabolical Doctor Poison (Elena Anaya) to create a deadly gas bomb. Most of the movie focuses these two are trying to craft the ultimate killing device with much menace. Unfortunately, I found myself more interested in the Poison character. She has a disfigured face which feels like a tribute to William Castle’s “Mr Sardonicus” and seeks to ensure they have the upper hand. While they don’t build her up to the “big evil one,” I felt there was something memorable about her performance and look. In contrast to the iron-fisted general who is just there to win the war.

There is much action to behold as “Wonder Woman” leaps from one colorful action scene to another. Something missing in recent DC adaptions was the value of fun and there is much to enjoy. One of my favorite moments was seeing Diana dash into No Man’s Land and go up against an air full of bullets. There is something awe-inspiring yet enjoyable with the usage of music and energetic visuals.

Even the side characters are a lot of fun too. At Steve’s side is a ragtag of secret agents and sharpshooters who provide plenty of comic relief. But when they are not cracking jokes, there is a sense of vulnerability to these characters that help Diana’s understanding of the human race. One such example is a Scotsman who post-traumatic stress disorder who can be a good shot but also has a heart. While they are aware of how hard the war is, they try to keep optimistic in the best way possible.

And for a movie like this to take on a heavy subject as war, it knows how much to focus on the darker details. Images of injured soldiers, families without homes and dead bodies after a launched gas bomb could have weighed in on the fun factor, but it works. Diana understands the human race is a complex bunch that fight each other, but never feel spite against one another. In a lesson never learned from Superman, you can win on some days but lose sometimes as well. This is an element I see Fieg’s “Ghostbusters” tried but I feel it works better because the main character is trying to know how the world works.

I am close to say “Wonder Woman” is a perfect movie, but there is one tiny flaw that can either make or break the movie. Throughout the story, Diana believes this was is the doing of a god and seeks to end it by killing him. It leads to an interesting concept about belief. Diana is stuck to her mythological history while Steve believes things are a cause of human nature. There comes a moment when it starts to pay off, but unfortunately a twist villain confirms the true nature.

For a moment, I thought it was going in a very smart and very clever direction, but then it felt like we were not ready for something unique and different. The final 20 minutes resort to a final showdown between Wonder Woman and the true antagonist behind the whole thing. Why couldn’t they just do something more brilliant like have Diana’s mother appear in her mind and try to remind her of her warnings or something less cliche. Instead, they play it safe and even if the climatic fight scene is explosive, I just wish it a much stronger element than a twist villain.

But, I can’t rampage on this latest entry. DC Comics and Warner Bros are trying to make a good adaption here and I can see it. They were so close and yet so far from perfection. However, I think I can let them off the hook this time. Even if the ending was slightly lame, “Wonder Woman” still turns out to be fun and engaging from beginning to end. Its finally refreshing to see a good movie from the other comic book brand and can safely say this one is certainly worth your time.