Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”
The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.
Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring. I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.
Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.
To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.
Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.
When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.
Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.
If season one was a test, then Season Two of “Tales from the Crypt” sealed the deal with what to expect. The original six episodes made up for a near perfect season with well-directed and well-adapted tales based from the original EC Comics. Now, it was time to expand that and here is where this batch of episodes come in. Clocking in at 18 episodes, it might as well be considered the best season out of all of them. The rank of good episodes are much higher here and the amount of celebrities they obtained go through the roof.
Highlights include an episode directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger who actually does a great job, some well-written gems by horror cult faves Fred Dekker and Tom Holland, some great Crypt Keeper moments and all within a very recurring theme-ish season. I’ll talk about that last part later but it seems they really tested how far they can balance the camp with the horror. This is evident in the opening and closing Crypt Keeper segments which veer towards dark comedy and less creepy. Midway, John Kassir’s voice on the character became more higher pitched resulting in a more enjoyable yet obviously comical performance. While cracking one-liners, this decaying host never loses a laugh but there is something missing about the dark menace from the first season.
Anyway, we got 18 episodes this season and it probably doesn’t get any better. The only nitpick I do have is how much it begins to repeat itself a little by the end. Most of the episodes surround on themes of broken marriages, villains getting their comeuppance, zombies and conjoint Siamese twins. Then again, a lot of the original comics used these elements so it was very common. I’m not saying this makes season two bad but it does get slightly fatigued. Here’s the break down:
Dead Right – Demi Moore plays a gold-digger who meets up with a fortune teller who says she will inherit a large sum of money from the next man who loves her. This “Mr. Right” happens to be a grease ball with a gluttonous appetite as she reluctantly marries him. Jeffrey Tambor plays the disgusting man and the make-up job is surprisingly good. You feel somewhat sympathetic despite his grotesque nature. He just wants to live a normal life even if it is unhealthy. Demi’s performance is good too as she eagerly wonders how her prediction will come true. But as we all know, there’s a fine print to everything as the fortune teller is never wrong.
The Switch – William Hickey is an elderly bachelor who wants to woo a young woman (Kelly Preston) but the problem is that she gets really picky. So he sees a mad doctor who plans to help him switch body parts with a younger man who is willing to go through the operation for money. Its a simple idea that has an ethical yet strong moral about beauty and looks. As the senior goes from switching an old chest to arms and eventually legs, it all builds to a great pay off that is well deserved. Surprisingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed this one and even gets a cameo in the opening segment. He does a really good job behind the camera and shows he is enjoyable as an actor and professional as a filmmaker. It makes me wonder why he never considered jumping behind the camera again…
Cutting Cards – This is a favorite among fans with a simple premise that builds and builds. Two gamblers (Lance Henriksen and Kevin Tighe) go against each other but are bent on seeing the other lose. What starts as a dice game escalates to Russian Roulette and eventually a poker game where they get to lob another’s fingers off. This episode works well with the gamblers because of how devoted they are to winning and seeing the other fail. They push the limits to every single ability in a delightfully dark yet funny episode.
Til Death – A wealthy land owner (D. W. Moffett) tries to woo a rich woman. He consults a voodoo priestess who gives him a potion with a deadly warning. The potion works but when he uses too many drops, the man finds himself in a dilemma worse than death. The only problem I have is how can this guy trust a witch doctor when he’s trying to capitalize on her land. There’s a hinting romance they previously had and it sort of pays off in the end. On the other hand, you you think this guy would know better when consulting with his enemies. The real highlight is the last eight minutes which make up for the episode’s faults and the use of red and blues in the cinematography giving its classic comic book tone.
Three’s a Crowd – Here’s a gem that nobody talks about that much. A couple is down on their luck as their marriage hits a rocky turn. They get invited to a vacation in a cabin by their former best man but the husband (Gavan O’Herlihy) suspects his wife is having an affair. Its a simple premise but the intense atmopshere and the ending really make this one memorable. As the spouse starts to loose his mind, we wonder just what his wife is hiding despite his crazed nature. Again, this episode is worth checking out just for the twist at the end. I won’t ruin it but it really hits you hard. In fact, its probably the darkest twist in the entire series to date.
The Thing from the Grave – Here’s another simple premise story that surprisingly works. Kyle Secor is a photographer that falls in love with a supermodel (Teri Hatcher) who has problems with her overprotected boyfriend. Once the boyfriend catches on, he murders the photographer and tries to punish his cheating lover. Without giving away the ending, he soon learns that even love can survive after death. This episode was written and directed by Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad) and is a slight departure from his normal cult horror work. He really taps into the campy nature of the comic while delivering an eerie yet light episode of undying love. Its well shot, tightly edited and truly delivers.
The Sacrifice – Sometimes a simple premise can’t be strong enough or not well executed. This is an example of that. An insurance agent plans to kill off an obnoxious client and make off with the cash with his wife. However, it gets difficult when someone shows up with evidence of the murder as the two come close to cracking on whether to fess up or keep their mouth shut. This is a pretty forgettable one with a decent twist but it doesn’t feel that interesting. I wish I could put my finger on why but the only thing I can suggest is that not every simple-minded story will be translatable to the small screen.
For Cryin’ Out Loud – Here’s another classic that gets often overlooked. Lee Arenberg plays a rock promoter that plans to make off with the ticket money. But things get complex when a small voice in his ear thinks otherwise of his evil deeds. The biggest highlight that saves this episode is Sam Kinison lending his screaming voice as the unseen conscious. While I’m not a big fan of Kinison’s work, I will admit his signature screaming personality works here as he forces the con man to tell the truth. This is signified further in one of my favorite moments near the end when the man constantly slams his head into a speaker while his conscious yells “Confess!” Also, keep an eye out for Iggy Pop’s cameo.
Four-Sided Triangle – A young farmhand (Patricia Arquette) deals with the abuse of her employers who are a middle aged couple. When the husband attempts to take advantage of her, she suffers a head injury and somehow she thinks the scarecrow is alive. More than that, she thinks the scarecrow is her lover. Its a weird one that is executed in an ok manner. There’s nothing really surprising or “must-see.” But at least its a decent watch. I guess the reveal of the scarecrow is interesting but the rest of the episode just feels standard to me.
The Ventriloquist’s Dummy – Now here is an all-time classic. Directed by Richard Donner but written by Frank Darabont (director of The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), a young ventriloquist (played by the hilarious Bobcat Goldthwait) seeks out his childhood hero (Don Rickles) to improve his craft. Unfortunately, his idol has a dark secret. This is a minor spoiler but it must be addressed. Its revealed that the dummy the man’s hero used was really his tiny Siamese twin brother who is connected to the right hand. The whole episode along with the dialogue feels like one big stand-up act knowing when to bring in the comedy during the darkest moments. It doesn’t take itself seriously and plays it up for laughs. The design of the brother is good too looking like it came from make-up by Rob Bottin (The Howling, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Legend). Its another highlight that knows when to deliver with fun performances and cheesy yet enjoyable effects.
Judy, Your Not Yourself Today – An elderly cosmetic saleswomen (Frances Bay) visits the home of a wife (Carol Kane) who likes to live life at a safe distance. The saleswomen turns out to be a witch that switches bodies with her thanks to a magic necklace as the husband (Brian Kerwin) tries to intervene and get his wife back. But just when you think the story couldn’t go further, it goes in a very interesting direction that is predicable but handled well. Not a bad episode and there are some clever angles it takes. I just wish the first half was stronger as a final 15 minutes leading to a tragic but decent end.
Fitting Punishment – For those with weak stomachs, don’t watch this episode. I say this because the plot revolves around a funeral home director (Moses Gunn) who cuts corners so bad that its really revolting to watch. From cheap ways to process a dead corpse to even using regular tap water instead of embalming fluid, the entire tone is very unsettling and might disturb easy. He soon becomes the legal guardian of his teenage nephew and makes an apprentice out of him. It doesn’t help that this guy is so deep into his cheapness that he abuses his nephew due to the mean spirited nature of his mind. And that’s just scraping the surface. Even the Crypt Keeper gets really disgusted by his actions so much that he has to address it without a gag. Again if you get easily disturbed, this one I say you can skip. The only near saving grace is the “just deserts” punishment this guy gets but that’s really about it.
Korman’s Kalamity – I admit, the premise to this one is interesting but the execution gets way too silly and over the top. An artist working for Tales from the Crypt comics (at least give some credit for the meta nature seeing the show was based from EC Comics) has a hard time doing some cover art. But it changes when his nagging wife won’t stop complaining about their failed love life which somehow causes what ever he draws to come to life. First off, why keep something a twist when we already know what it is? They try to cover it up with another explanation to what makes the inspiration work but it feels tagged on. Also, the concept alone is way too self-aware and meta. Its not bad but it feels really weird when your show already is meant to be light and fun. Here, it gets way too goofy. And as fun as the concept sounds, its full of plot holes. When Korman makes the monsters and after they do their violent way, where do they go? After their big moment, they just disappear and never get heard from again. I guess they really wanted to make an all-out comedic episode but it gets way too silly. And thank goodness the last five episodes save the season…
Lower Berth – In a special “Tales from the Crib,” a traveling freakshow inquires a 4,000 year-old mummy to their act which draws in a huge crowd. This new element also catches the eye of a two-faced sideshow who falls in love with the Ancient queen. When I first saw this back in college, it was my all-time favorite. But upon re-watching it, there isn’t much charm. Fred Dekker returns to write this episode and as always, he knows when to channel the fun horror. He knows its a ridiculous premise but manages to make it enjoyable from the execution in the dialogue. It almost feels like I’m looking at an old-fashioned penny dreadful and it doesn’t take itself seriously. Another fun episode with a really surprisingly twist. If only the effects on the two-faced man where better and some of the story didn’t feel too Elephant Man.
Mute Witness to Murder – Here’s another one that’s worth checking out. A wife sees a murder across from her home and goes into deep shock. Her lose of speaking has her husband call upon a doctor who just happens to be the killer she saw. In hopes she will be quiet forever, the mad man has her sanctioned in his asylum while her husband tries to figure out why she went quiet. A simple idea done right. There’s so much riding on this episode from the wife fighting to speak again to the husband trying to put the pieces together. But the most interesting character is the doctor himself who really channels Hannibal Lector and taps into people’s minds. He’s probably one of the best and most dangerous antagonists in Tales from the Crypt history. The way he gets defeated is a little lame on paper but it works well to its advantage. Its an on-the-edge thriller that is worth seeing.
Television Terror – Here’s another weak on as a tabloid new host (Morton Downey, Jr.) does a live telecast inside a house haunted by the ghost of a woman who axed off seven husbands. At first its all for the ratings, but then things get serious when strange occurrences happen that make our emcee freak and ratings soar. This episode almost works in a pre-Blair Witch way but after so much slow build up, things get worn out. And when it finally starts to get good, it goes the cliched route instead of being creative and interesting as an army of ghouls go after our phony star and tagged on is a strange twist where an executive has a personal vendetta. Only one word describes this one; a mess.
My Brother’s Keeper – Two Siamese twins (Timothy Stack and Jonathan Stark) have a hard time trying to get along due to one small problem. Their are joint to the hip and find themselves stuck together. Where ever one twin goes, the other has to follow. But as it turns out, there is a possible operation that could finally set them apart but the good twin doesn’t want to be apart from his brother. So here are the problems. First, they never address if an organ is being shared so how can a simply operation like that be so risky? Also, why would the good twin want to have his bad brother around when he keeps making the goodie’s life a miserable wreck? Those are the only things problematic but everything else is solid. In fact, the feuding between the two is the really entertaining thing about this episode. Its an epic sibling rivalry that must be seen to be believed.
The Secret – Opening with a humorous segment with the Crypt Keeper lamenting the absence of a twist in Oliver Twist (“And I had such Great Expectations,” he jokingly says), we get an orphan who gets taken in by a new set of parents who are rich and treat him with the best. However, they harbor a dark secret. And if can’t see what the twist is, then you might enjoy the direction this one goes into. Its a decent finale that doesn’t end on a lame note with plenty of decent scenes with the kid interacting with his folks and even the butler (Larry Drake) is a good character too. Its a watchable entry that is sure to entertain.
The DVD: A step up from the Season One DVD but still falls short. I give props for more effort but with a lack of the usual bonuses (audio commentary), the only reason to get the DVD is for the episodes and a few goodies here and there. Not to say you are left empty handed, but you wish more care was placed in. All the menus (with the exception of the special features) are hosted by the Crypt Keeper which is a nice treat. Its a shame they used a cheap puppet instead of dusting off the old one. I guess the previous set was meant to be a continuation as they hint a “bo-tox injection.” On the other hand, its nice to hear John Kassir cracking ghoulish jokes and puns as you make a selection.
Included are two featurettes which are good but both have their pros and cons. The “Shockumentry” gives a behind the scenes look at season two and a little retrospective on the show as well. Its nice to see interviews with Joel Silver talking about the impact of the show and we even get a nice interview from John Kassier talking about how he earned the role. Drawback? The Crypt Keeper hosts it and tries to give a meta retrospect to it. It would be nice to get a decent “straight-forward” look at the making of the show without a jokey gimmick. But I can’t say I was disappointed. This 14 minute piece is still fun to check out.
The other featurette is a look at the short-lived radio drama for the Sci-Fi Channel’s Seeing Ear Theater which aired in 2000 for only eight episodes. Even stranger is how this DVD came out five years after its cancellation and has an entire behind the scenes video dedicated to it. On the other hand, its nice to see Tim Curry recording his performance and how the special effect guys do the live recording. But its a weird promo piece for something that is not being broadcast anymore. I also managed to listen to one of the episodes myself and honestly, I think the idea is there but the stories just didn’t retain the campy spirit. I guess they were going for horror more and it shows with disturbing themes like child abuse.
Speaking of disturbing, I am still wrapping my head around how the opening intros are cut from every episode. It makes no sense. Instead of using them as an opening to the menu, now they are completely gone. Unless this was a mastering error, this mystery really bothers me leaving all the episodes feeling incomplete.
But does it diminish the enjoyment of Season Two? No, there are some really good episodes here. It gets a little redundant mid-way and weak but manages to save itself by the tail end (literally.) With repeating themes of conjoint siblings and zombies, this season should have been called the “Ghoul and Siamese Season.” Even the weakest episodes had at least something to offer even when it didn’t work. Overall, I’d say this is up there with season one but perhaps a bit more lighter. If you were put off by the darker shade of the first season, I’m positive you will have a lot of fun with this one.
BEST: Tough call but I’m going to say it’s between Mute Witness to Murder and Three’s a Crowd for taking simple ideas and really making something great out of them. Also, Cutting Cards and The Ventriloquist’s Dummy are a lot of fun to watch.
WORST: While The Sacrifice and Television Terror had weak/messy execution, Korman’s Kalamity wins this one for a silly yet workable idea that just gets dumb as the minutes toll.
Anthology movies are a rarity these days. The idea that moviegoers would be getting three or four stories for the price of one seems to be something that is not done a lot these days. However, it is a bit of a double edge sword seeing most of the stories will not be fully appreciated. Again, you’ll have a movie like The Kentucky Fried Movie or Twilight Zone: The Movie where it will have some good segments and some that are not as strong as the previous. There’s even the case where a certain idea would have played better as a full-length feature film. But when you think about, the idea of a multi-story feature is actually not bad. There’s many ways to pull it off and creative ways to do this kind of movie. You can have them play separately like a string of vignettes or even try to make a narrative out of it. Though that last one is hard to pull off, there’s essentially no right or wrong way to this kind of movie. Its all about the magnitude of stories and how they hold up. And this is where today’s flick comes in.
I knew at some point I had to give Trick ‘r Treat some limelight. Its one of those movies that never really crossed my mind or even garnered much interest when I first heard it. The trailers and advertising painted it more like a slasher film or something twisted like a Rob Zombie movie and I believe that’s what turned me off more. It also didn’t help that the film was finished in 2007 but kept getting held back for a good two years until it got a very limited release. I have no idea why they would so such a thing as some believe its due to the falling out with Warner Bros. and the film’s producer Bryan Singer who disappointed with the low box-office returns of Superman Returns. Others say is because of the competition at the time, but for whatever reason, I really feel bad this never got a huge nationwide release because this is really good movie to see at this time of year.
The whole idea is that four stories happen around the same Halloween night and somehow interconnect with each other. So its sort of like a cross between a comic book and a jigsaw puzzle. Some have little foreshadowing hints that will happen later while others answer certain questions from the previous segment. To describe this movie in a nutshell is basically like digging into a trick or treat bag full of candy. But each piece of candy has a very distinctive flavor that mixes dark chocolate with something bitter and sweet at the same time. On first watch, you really don’t know what to expect but upon repeated viewings, you start to appreciate how much it connects with the holiday.
Dylan Baker plays a principal in one segment where he gets revenge on a neighborhood bully by means of poisoned chocolate. Worse of all, he has to find a way to hide the evidence from his son and the neighbors next door. On paper, it sounds dark and horrible but again, its all about how it plays out. The first segment really reflects the overall dark comedy that is within. Dylan gives a performance that is chilling yet enjoyable. You can tell his character really relishes the holiday and won’t stop anything to make sure it doesn’t get ruined. You might remember him better as Dr. Curt Connors from the Sam Raimi Spider Man films. He’s so serious and controlled in those movies but here, he’s the total opposite. What makes this entry enjoyable is the pay off near the end which I want to give desperately away. Its one of those “if you stick around and keep watching, you know what’s coming.”
Much of this movie is like that even considering another segment where Anna Paquin of current X-Men fame is a teenager named Laurie out with a group of girls to a surprise party in the woods. There’s much stab at “virginity” here when they have to get dates and we speculate its probably an old-fashion drink and sex bash in the forest. But then things change up a bit with a vampire tossed in who has his sights set on Laurie to the point we wonder what direction it will take. Well, much a story out of a Tales from the Crypt comic, it hits us at the end with a double twist that even I didn’t see coming. There’s so much focus on the girls and the vampire that we wonder just how they will collide. Sure enough when they do, it all comes together and we start to understand from the start where this was all heading.
However, I can’t say all the segments work. Each one tends to dip in darker territory that might turn some viewers off. One notable example is a segment where a bunch of kids plan to explore a lake near a rock quarry to find the destroyed school bus from a “massacre” thirty years ago. The story goes is that a group of mentally ill children in a school bus crashed into the lake but it turns out the parents of those children paid the bus driver to do the dirty deed. Its something that nearly took me out of the movie just by the concept alone. I’ve seen mentally disabled people and even had the notion to see their behavior during my times at school.
The thought of such a horrible act nearly made me turn off the movie. What stopped was the direction it goes in. As it turns out, the kids come back in the form of ghoulish zombies almost similar to the ones in John Carpenter’s The Fog. As the kids try to play a prank on another, they are unaware of what danger lurks right under them. Its intense but again, I felt the idea of mentally ill kids being sent to their doom almost soured it. I understand this is a horror movie and the need to go dark but it really feels like they are attempted to go dark just for the sake of it as opposed to giving a purpose. I was fine with the first segment because there was a reason for the mean spirited vibe. The kid was destroying Halloween decorations and defiling house and he got his “just deserts” as a result. Here, the dark angle just felt tagged on but if you stick around there is sort of a reason why.
The final segment sees Brian Cox as a Grinch-like character that really hates Halloween to the point he scares kids away and steals their candy. But all of that changes when a kid named Sam intervenes and tries to make him change his ways by means of scares and murder. Its an intense segment that really ends on a high finish. After spending so much time about the town, we get to take a story from the man giving out the treats. There’s some scares that are good but at times feel predicable like the cue for a big reveal or a jump scare. What saves it is how the monster of this segment is actually a little kid that wants candy. Not since John Carpenter’s Halloween have this gone this route and gives it a unique take. The character of Sam is basic but feels creepy and fresh. The orange one-suit pajamas and burlap sack on his head with button-eyes feel somewhat iconic. This is easily my favorite of the batch just for its quiet atmosphere and little use of dialogue. It shows that a story can be told with images and sound without speaking.
I still feel bad Trick ‘r Treat didn’t get that full wide theatrical release because this movie deserves it. But since its release to home video, it was able to maintain a strong cult following and was a critical success none the less. I’m honestly glad I was able to see this and I admit its actually a good movie. I like the tone, the fact it takes place on Halloween night and the fact it feels like a horror comic book film like Creepshow but with a darker edge. The only problems I have with it is the narrative structure that seems to have each story loosely connected to each other. At times, one event affects the next segment but at times we jump from one story to the next at a point one might need to get a notepad to keep track of what’s going on. And also the dark humor might not before for everyone’s taste. As said above, there’s some mean spirited jokes that work in its favor and other times where it could leave you unsettled. Overall, Trick ‘r Treat I’m sure will get a bigger reputation as one of the best Halloween movies. But for now, its a high recommendation that’s perfect for the season.