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“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.

“Madea Halloween” scarily unfunny

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I think I just saw a movie. Then again, I’m not sure if I should call it a movie. The more the minutes lingered, “Boo! A Madea Halloween” felt more like an out of body experience desperate to find at least some humor. One joke to hang onto despite a soulless effort to make use of the holiday. Tyler Perry stated in interviews he’s not a fan of ghosts, witches or anything creepy crawly. A shame as the trailers advertise scenes of everyone’s favorite granny punching clowns and running away from zombies. If one thinks this will be a big “monster mash,” you will be disappointed to find its really a lame pumpkin smash.

The main plot relies on Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) and his inability to control his bratty daughter. He crushes his daughter’s plan to go out and party at a nearby fraternity by having Madea watch her. As expected,  Brown’s daughter sneaks out and the granny is not happy. Armed with her two friends and brother, Madea seeks justice in a plot that really goes nowhere. I shouldn’t be surprised as that tends to happen in most of these movies. There seems to be a spark of an idea but somehow gets lost in a sea of meandering subplots and running jokes.

First, we get the fraternity and their big Halloween bash as every teen acts like a stereotype from Animal House or a watered down gang that boozes on beer and sex. While we don’t see any beer glasses touch lips, the writing for these characters gets irradiating with a one sided view on the modern teenager. The kind who is constantly saying a bunch of suffer talk in a masculine way, but acts all tough. The only time the fraternity got interesting is when they try to wise up (say if, someone under-aged appears at their party) and take responsibility. But even then, this action would immediately backfire when they decide to do something completely irresponsible like intense pranking.

This leads into one of the biggest problems of the whole movie. It seems to be really centered on the idea that a prank gone too far can have serious consequences. And honestly, I’m ok with stuff like that. The way its being handled is what I can’t tolerate. Without spoiling too much, certain characters will go out of their way to do these elaborate pranks against each other wither it be staging a zombie apocalypse or the death of a main character. I understand the morale value behind this subplot, but it wears the welcome too much. It even trails into an unnecessary 15 minutes near the end which completely contradicts the “other” main message.

And that is the other big problem I have which is the main theme of parenting. Most of the Madea movies center on a certain theme from second chances to dysfunctional families. “Madea Halloween” tries to examine the idea of what is good parenting and bad parenting. But it gets a set of mixed messages when you have jokes about how to beat a child up wrapped around a climax when Brian finally gets the idea of how to discipline your kid. I’m all for the idea of show and even discussing the limits of child discipline. Yet everything goes back and forth on key jokes like Brian talking to Uncle Joe about a time when Joe tossed him off the roof to learn a lesson. Material like this is not funny and bogs down the message to the point it will feel like a beating to the head or exhaust itself.

I can’t remember a single character I liked from this movie. They were all annoying, irradiating and even some that got under my skin a lot. Madea was never funny or interesting to me. I get the reason why people love this character, but I always find her to be too mean spirited at times. And it doesn’t help when you have her force out this morale message of kids respecting parents when immediately afterwards has a entire sequence when she does something mean to others. I know the purpose why she does (I can’t say without spoiling), but it sort of goes against those moments when the character has a heartfelt morale to say.

As for the others, I really couldn’t care less. Uncle Joe is the perverted senior that’s always trying to say some kind of catchphrase or dirty joke. Aunt Bam has this running gag about being able to legal smoke marijuana which gets old. Hattie is the comic relief with the annoying voice that keeps mispronouncing words just for a gag. The biggest offender I found was really Brian and his daughter. I get they are trying to build this arc over how he can’t manage to connect or even maintain control of his daughter. But when we get to their moment when they recoup, it feels manipulated after a slew of exposition on why Brian is inept over taking charge. And for someone his age, Brian should at least be able to know his daughter this well.

There were only two times I actually did snicker during “A Madea Halloween.” Once at a gag when Bam steals candy from kids and a comment from Uncle Joe about Madea having a prostate. Those jokes only worked because of the delivery of the humor and the ideas behind these two jokes. Everything else I recall is material about being harsh on child discipline and fraternity boys learning responsibility the hard way. There is nothing else I can remember that was remotely investing outside of the advanced technical work giving us the ability to see three Tyler Perry characters in one shot. I know there is an audience for Madea, but I’m not one of them.

“Boo! A Madea Halloween” left me feeling empty and dumb down to the point my mind felt numb. The morale is mixed between cynical humor and taking responsibility to the point it feels kinda calculated. Tyler Perry said his movies were meant for entertainment and not to be thought too heavily on. My criticism to that is when you force a morale like that amidst jokes of spanking and child beating, there will be mixed signals. There are better things to watch this Halloween season and this movie is no treat. I wouldn’t even recommend a single frame to anyone. The only positive about this whole thing was that I saw this Madea movie at my local cinema on Bargain Tuesday for $6. Because it would have been a whole lot scarier if I paid to see this for full admission price.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: New Nightmare

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Just when you thought the sequels got campy...we get the mother to end all Nightmares...

Just when you thought the sequels got campy…we get the mother to end all Nightmares…

If it wasn’t for Wes Craven, horror fans wouldn’t have a boogeyman to fear and thrill over. Freddy Krueger was the brainchild of Craven from his own childhood so it made sense when it came for Wes to do his Nightmare sequel, he would be given proper care. However, this vision he had didn’t come to light because New Line deemed it too risky. But like most ideas, they never go to waste. This concept of doing a Nightmare sequel in a more cerebral context was used for the seventh film in the franchise. It was looser, not faithful to the original themes present in the first movie and far darker than any of the other films. Despite praise from critics, this Nightmare wasn’t a huge box-office hit despite taking in a modest gross. However, it wouldn’t be till over time this one would be recognized better through home video as one of the best.

New Nightmare is an all together different movie because it doesn’t continue any of the storylines from the Nightmare films. Wes gives this one its own spin and becomes more of a commentary on movies and the impact they leave. The stardom they craft and the negative things that surface. Heather Langenkamp plays as herself; the Nightmare franchise has her labeled so deeply that she can’t avoid it. So much that the studio begs her to do another sequel under her reluctance. Throughout the whole movie, she experiences twisted nightmares of a much different Freddy who kills the actors of the Nightmare franchise and brings a far more deep menace than the cartoon he eventually became.

Right off the bat, this is not your average movie but filled with so many fourth wall moments that it feels more like a mirror. We get to see the impact of what these movies do for not just the audience but also the people who play a part in them. Instead of seeing them as glamorized and star struck, they try to cope with the fame and live a normal life. This is evident in Robert Englund’s scenes as he enjoys every moment being Freddy for the kids and signing autographs but yet senses a dark cloud on the horizon when taking up painting. This is one of the few movies where I feel it states that those in the business are people too. We know some can take the fame to their head but others just see it as a job or something to pass through life.

Nancy her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) spend some quality time with Rexy

Nancy her son Dylan (Miko Hughes) spend some quality time with Rexy

But more important is the commentary on the effect of horror and its audience. Heather has a son in New Nightmare named Dylan (Miko Hughes) which leads to more curiosity to the interviews when asked if the movies she is are are safe to expose to her kid. Its that common morale question of how much an impact something like Freddy has made to our culture for audiences of old and new. At this point in the franchise, Freddy is seen as a one linear spewing clown and that’s the side audiences want to see more than anything.

Real Freddy. Not as fun as you think he will be...

Real Freddy. Not as fun as you think he will be…

New Nightmare, however, gives us two Kruegers for the price of one. While Robert prances around in make-up for the kids, we also see a more darker take (also played by Robert Englund). This darker variation is the Freddy we know exists but don’t wish to. A more sinister take that plays with audience’s fears than enjoyment. I must applaud Wes for giving us this different version that was originally closer to what was intended for the first film. This Freddy doesn’t clown around. He is a vicious killing machine that inhabits our deepest fears. The design is so different from the one we are used to that it almost feels terrifying to look at from skeleton-like claws and a darker color for his clothes.

As Heather is plagued with visions, so do we question what is the real world in this movie and what is the fantasy of the film. The line is burred so well that we keep questioning it or just don’t care and let the film enrich us. In order to describe what I mean, I would have to ruin the final 30 minutes as the film world of Elm Street invades Heather’s reality. In a struggle to choose, she eventually decides to face the monster that she was cast in one last time in order to bring reality to order. The whole tone of the movie is so surreal that it almost does have a dream like quality. Even right down to using fairy tale cliches to contrast with the moral question. If we let kids read dark Grimm tales like Hansel and Gretel, then what is holding us back from showing an R rated movie?

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“… when the time comes, you’re gonna have to make a choice….Whether or not you will be willing to play Nancy one last time.” – Wes Craven

Its funny how this movie came out right before Scream would later take the stand as seeds of it can be seen in New Nightmare. Scream, however, takes what New Nightmare did and attempts to perfect it into a narrative film. New Nightmare I feel is the better movie. Sure it gets crazy in the last third but its very engaging. And its director Wes never talks down to his viewers or tries to paint them in a negative light. He shows both sides and lets us make our own decision based on what he gives us. New Nightmare is more than just a great entry that deserves a watch. But a love letter to horror movies, the audiences that love them and the people who lend a hand in making them. And nowhere is that prominent than in this grand outing.

“Terminator Genisys” underwhelms despite its upgrades

NEgSueP3RCEYkk_1_bOn October 26, 1984, James Cameron gave us “The Terminator.” A unique “technoir” about man vs. machine and the fight for the control to the future. While a critical and box office success, no one could underestimate the possibilities in making a franchise out of it while also being the vehicle in making Arnold Schwarzenegger an action star. The sequels came and while one proved to be the best of the batch (Terminator 2: Judgement Day), the others failed to live up to the promise and thrills of the first film.

On November 22, 1989, Robert Zemeckis gave us “Back to the Future: Part II.” A different kind of sequel that gave us the ability to revisit the first film in different ways. Considering the concept of time travel, viewers got the advantage to literally see key moments from the original but from different perspectives. It was a fresh idea at the time and proved to be a commercial success. What does this have to do with “Terminator Genisys” you ask? Stick with me and you will find out.

It seems the Terminator franchise was dead in the water after “Judgement Day” pushed the limits of what could be done for a sequel. But even after wrapping up and destroying all traces of Skynet, someone had to sneak in and unravel the loose ends that were tighten. “Genisys,” on the other hand, tries to be two movies in one. It attempts to be a fresh new start while also visiting moments from the first film. While it does fine recreating certain scenes from the first two movies, the fault is in the new story it tries to craft.

Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) gets sent back to 1984 but this time, he find to be placed in an alternate timeline. How? Its never clearly explained. We just except that the film tries to give some form of explanation but none is given. Once plopped in scenes from the first film, the recreations end once Emilia Clarke as Sarah Conner literally crashes in. Apparently, another Terminator was sent back to when she was a kid and programmed to protect her. Dubbed “Popps,” this machine is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger who is 67 years old and tries to prove he can still fire a gun and perform stunts.

The first half of the movie begins as a recreation of events which are done fine but not effective to the point we marvel at them. When the film tries to have a story, its not only rehashing elements from the previous films but even goes as far to bring in more plot holes as we go along. Without giving too much away, let’s just say our heroes somehow have a way to travel further into the future and try to attempt in destroying Skynet. The element of Skynet is done in a manner that tries to be a commentary on social media like Facebook and network apps but it doesn’t pay off.

I feel bad this entry didn’t leave much of an impression because it feels like it wanted to. I was ok with the idea of rewriting the past events of the first film and it almost felt like it was going in that direction. Moments like Lee Byung-hun playing a T-1000 liquid terminator in the 1980s are fine even if they feel stale in execution. But when it tries to do a new story, it gets caught in holes within the story that it ignores them like a crack on the street. Exactly how many terminators do they need to send back in order to secure the future? And furthermore, why does Skynet want to wipe out human existence when it creates something that is robotic yet close to the point of being human? Its a problem I had with “Terminator Salvation” that gets carried over and sticks like a smeared bar of chocolate at the windshield.

There are some good things to recollect. J. K. Simmons is given a fun role and its nice to see Arnold back cracking one liners. The action scenes are fine but I feel there are times when it exists to outdo the ones from the original. From a helicopter dog fight in the Los Angeles city to demolishing a hospital, they are well staged but I can’t say they leave much of an impact. “Terminator Genisys” attempts to provide “a new path” but in a sense doesn’t work. It feels more caught up in doing new things the other sequels never attempted to make it fresh then rather give a new story. Then again, how much more can you do when there’s so much air that can’t be used. Earlier in the summer, “Jurassic World” was proof a sequel can be fresh and unique by taking an element  from the first film and working off it. This one decides to take already used elements and reheats them while giving a different action. The result is an entry that screams rental than it something to see in theaters. And if they make a sequel to this one, chances are I won’t be back to see it in theaters.

“Jurassic World” thrills expectations

Jurassic-World-poster-MosasaurusAs the first shot of an egg hatching was shown, I felt “Jurassic World” would be a different movie all together. Compared to the awe of seeing a baby Raptor hatch, the feeling here is more terrifying and unsettling. For those who knew what happened in the first film, we expect chaos and destruction like Pandora’s box opening again to the world. Sure enough, this entry raises the stakes with plenty of action and adventure to keep you on the edge of your seat. However, for every good movie, it has those rough spots.

The first half of the movie focuses on building its main heroes but it feels between rushed and cliched. Brothers Zach and Gary are sent off to visit their aunt who runs the new theme park. Needless to say, I would be thrilled to be going to a place full of extinct creatures but it seems like Writing 101 is taking the old “siblings who want nothing to do with each other” routine. Even more awkward is exposition of a possible divorce that really comes out of nowhere.

Bryce Dallas Howard is their aunt Claire who lets them run almost freely around the park as she makes her usual rounds. In a sense, I should be annoyed how this character acts for the first 20 minutes as they play the workaholic card but at least it doesn’t last too long. But midway, a jarring transition of her character turns into an aunt that cares while trying to one up Chris Pratt in being the dominate action hero.

jurassic-world-pratt-howardBeyond that, everything sails on fine as it builds and builds to a satisfying roller coast ride. First implication is Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, an expert on Velociraptors who trains them to act like dolphins at SeaWorld. He easily commands the screen while trying to show how smart of a character he can get. He’s not just some animal trainer but understands animal instincts enough to know how they work.

Second implication is the new I. Rex who is really a hybrid monster of many “mystery meat” parts. While some of these aspects get revealed in the final act, they mystery of this monster is still intact by never describing what animal genes are in this beast. Needless to say, when ever he is on, you already feel a frightening presence that matches that of the Predator as the creature remains one step ahead. Unlike the first film, when someone gets munched and it looks cool, the body count is so high that it really brings a darker stride which only makes things more complex.

jurassic-world-super-bowl-10Instead of 5 or 8 visitors in the park, we get thousands of theme park customers who only wish to have a good time from seeing predatory attractions being fed to a small petting zoo full of baby dinos. These moments are so good its hard not to laugh and appreciate the creativity. In a sense, this feels more like a commentary on animal amusement parks and less about tampering with science. Yet, its set in a new direction as we question just how much effort does one have to go to bring a dead dream to life and see it all crumble again.

I guess I was easy to forgive the faults of the first third because things get better. As I. Rex stomps around and tears the park a new one, we wonder just what is going to be offered that we haven’t seen in the previous films and no stone is left turned. The problem with the sequels I feel is that they tried to offer something new but either had little characters to care for or a story that didn’t have enough meat on it. Here, we get so many twists and turns that we wonder how it will all end.

Sadly, I wish I could describe the satisfying conclusion that so easily vanquishes the sequels. It doesn’t trump the power of “Jurassic Park” but enough to show the franchise will be in good hands. As we get such an epic display that makes up for the lackluster entries and makes us question why didn’t the writers come up with something like that. It is this reason alone that makes me give it a high recommendation to see.

Jurassic-World-12As I walked out of the theater, I almost felt like a kid again with my love and appreciation for the first move and its creative whim. Here, nearly every thing was satisfying and didn’t miss a beat. Had the first half of “Jurassic World” focus more on developing characters as opposed to the environment they get placed in, it would have been a grand sequel. But still, there’s enough material to at least let me say its an explosive popcorn film that snowballs into an unexpectedly entertaining summer blockbuster. Already this and “Mad Max: Fury Road” are in a good run for its money to who is the better summer film. If you can, I best say do a double feature with both and you will get your ticket money worth. As John Hammond would say, spared no expense.

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at the “Jurassic Park” Franchise – Part II

MV5BMTYxNjY1NjE2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNzE0MDc4._V1_SX640_SY720_So now we come to the sequels. First off, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was actually based on a sequel Michael Crichton wrote but bears some heavy differences. I remember seeing this movie and hyped for it after seeing the teaser in a theater. I loved the T. Rex and the park so I had high hopes. One night, it was paired at the local Tri Town Drive-In Theater (which sadly doesn’t exist anymore) along with Warriors of Virtue. Say what you will about both, the fact that I saw movies outdoors from my parent’s car is good enough nostalgia.

I was lucky to stay awake for both films. I remember being ok with Warriors but really excited for Lost World. And when the second film finally started, I was hooked from the opening scene after than came eye candy. However, once we drove away as the end credits rolled, I just kept thinking to myself about the dinosaurs in the movie rather than if I enjoyed it or not.

It wasn’t till years later when I was 11 or 12 that I would finally get the first two movies on DVD, as it coincided with the third film. I always made this tradition to watch Lost World on Memorial Day and Jurassic Park on its release day in June as a way to commence summer vacation. I kept doing this until the idea of getting up early in the morning to pop in a movie got old and tiring. But I still remember watching Lost World and admiring the scope while appreciating the action scenes. However, something kept me from saying it was better than the first movie and I didn’t know why.

When I was in high school, I finally got around to reading the original Michael Crichton novels both movies were based on and surprised at the huge differences. While I have nothing against Crichton and will admit he is a unique writer, the only drawback was how the science elements were described like a biology textbook. It seems like in my view he didn’t want too much suspension of disbelief and kept adding explanation after explanation to patch up plot holes.

After examining both, I admitted to appreciating the film adaption of Jurassic Park over its novel for various reasons. The biggest being how Hammond’s character is made out to be a greedy jerk and not the kind man that just wants to create something unique and grand. The Lost World, on the other hand, I found more interesting in its novel than I did with its film. There were certain ideas and aspects I find more unique than what as attempted in the movie and wished it was closer to the source.

With the advent of the Internet, I would later discover just how much hate this sequel gets dumped on. Left and right, there would be a mixed opinion or someone slashing into it. It wasn’t like riding on the bus and talking about it while giving a sigh that the same person appreciates what you like. This was all over the world. So, I decided to re-watch the blockbuster I still had a heart for and see how well it held up. I can confirm that its nowhere near as good as the first but I still can’t find the fire to say its a bad movie like everyone else. However, what I can admit is that after watching it again, my feelings towards Lost World is leaning towards between average and mediocre.

Z3The whole story revolves around another island where Hammond (Richard Attenborough returning for a cameo) bred the dinosaurs free from human interference. Dubbed “Site B,” he hopes to show the good value of preserving the island compared to his greedy nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) who wants to exploit the site for his company’s profit. It’s here we get a bizarre environmental message that doesn’t feel fleshed out. At first, the idea of observing the dinosaurs on the island seems like a good solution but it gets thrown out the window when Ludlow’s group steps foot on the island to capture the prehistoric beasts for a zoo in San Diego.

It already sounds like a promising idea but then we get characters that just feel uninteresting or feel out of place. Jeff Goldblum returns as Ian Malcom and they do something I find weird with his character. Instead of the awkward theorist, they try to make the character some form of action hero and it doesn’t work. I think Jeff is better when he is doing characters with big egos like in David Chronerberg’s The Fly or just basic comedy. Here, he has to sprout one liners and perform these stunts we would see better suited in a Die Hard entry. I can understand the difficulty of jumping through a building or performing in a chase scene, but it feels like Goldblum is having a hard time trying to be the next Bruce Willis than do his own thing. Once in a while, there is a funny line while other times it feels phoned in.

The rest of the characters I could barley remember. Vince Vaughn is in there somewhere, Pete Postlethwaite is very entertaining as a hunter with a character arch that doesn’t pay off as much and everyone else I barley can recall that much. Its a shame because I like the idea and even the novel spent a great deal going over the technical aspects and flaws of Site B. Here, its just a standard jungle adventure film.

JPTLWRexRoarSanDiegoThe positives that hold me back from being mad is the technical work and the action scenes. When watching the scene with the T. Rex couple attacking the van, I flashed back to when I first saw it at the drive-in and thinking how menacing it was seeing two rexes for the price of one. It’s a well shot movie seeing Steven Spielberg returned to the director’s chair but there are moments when he feels uncertain about the direction of the story. One good example is the ending. Originally from what I heard, a Pterodactyl attack at a helicopter was to occur but instead changed to have a T. Rex running down the streets of San Diego. Even today, I will admit its still an epic ending but it feels off with the jungle feel of the movie.

The dinosaurs are back but there isn’t much awe to them. They act like monsters running about and feel more of a danger than a wonder. Every time I think of this movie, I feel it focuses on the predators more than the herbivores. Most of the movie is shot at night and there are these green jungle color palettes throughout the movie that rob the original’s light blockbuster affair. There are times it feels like a 1990s remake of the famed silent film The Lost World where explorers visit a new island, see dinosaurs and bring one back for civilization but runs amok. I feel Spielberg was trying to create an action film along the lines of that but still trying to keep the darker material of the novel. It was a noble attempt but I can’t say its the worst. Bottom line, its a guilty pleasure.

Jurassic_Park_III_PosterJurassic Park III is the one I don’t have too much to say one because I never saw it in theaters. So my nostalgic view is from when I got the DVD as a Christmas gift. Keep in mind, 2001 was not a good year for blockbusters and it shows from Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake. But, it was our first DVD player and it was nice to have a few new movies about for our first foray into digital home video.

As for JP III itself, there’s aspects of it that just don’t work for me. I’m glad they got Sam Neil back to repirse his role as Alan Grant but his excuse to return to the island doesn’t work. He’s tricked into helping a divorced couple find their lost son who apparently found himself on the island after a parasailing incident. William H. Macy and Tea Loni play the separated parents and their chemistry didn’t gel for me. They just argue most of the time and show little romance between the two. I understand they are supposed to be divorced but you could at least do something interesting with it.

It also doesn’t help they are stuck on Site B which frustrates Alan seeing he’s never been there. Even more, they load more dinosaurs along with a Spinosaurus to replace the T. Rex (literally) and raptor with feathers on his head. Compared to the previous movies, nothing really stood out to me. It was the same old thing as these creatures get treated like something out of a B movie and less like animals acting on instinct.
While it has a shorter running time, Jurassic Park III just doesn’t have a reason to exist and its obvious throughout the whole movie. But I can’t say its a complete lost. Once in a while, there can be a cool scene like with the Pteranodon cage but others just build without pay off like the first Spinosarus chase. It tries to be heavy and big but comes off as stale and anti-climatic by the end. I remember thinking how much they couldn’t end this series with an entry like this coming off as lazy than passable.

JP-WhenDinosaursRuledAs I write this, the new Jurassic World is already out and I’m sure people have a lot to say about it. If some say it will save the franchise or be another dumb entry, I’m still hyped to take another venture into the park. At the moment, I would like to give out my thoughts on what I expect from this entry considering how dear this franchise is to me. I hope we get dinosaurs that are awesome but awe-inspiring at the same time. Characters that are fun and have a great amount of development packed into them. And of course, chaos. Pure crazy chaos. If it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll still appreciate the experience. Because that’s what going to the movies is all about. Being with a great audience and sharing what you remember the most. I think that is what I take away from this franchise the most. As skippable as the sequels are (with the exception of Lost World being ok in my books), I will never forget my first venture to the park and how grand of a roller coast ride it was remembering a simple time in my childhood when dinosaurs really ruled the world…

A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at Jurassic Park (and its sequels) – Part I

1.-Jurassic-Park-OriginalSummer of 1993 was a big year for cinema history. It was a turning point for moviegoers when film could push further boundaries with the available technology and transport them to new worlds. From into an action movie or deep into an alternate universe, audiences were given a great opportunity no matter how good or bad these movies got. And then Jurassic Park happened and changed everything.

Now you can have a smart blockbuster and still cram as many action scenes as you wish. The ability to blend practical effects with digital work seamlessly. While smart and unique characters along with a solid story is a constant issue, we still get a rare gem once in a while like last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and my personal favorite Guardians of the Galaxy. But when you really think back, a lot is owed to Jurassic Park for pushing that momentum. Sure, a lot of summer movies before the dino-flick where big hits, but when you really think about it, this Steven Spielberg classic perfected it.

To understand how much this franchise means to me, let me take you back to a time when I was young and into dinosaurs. Everyone at that time was just insane for these prehistoric creatures and we didn’t know why. Some say it was the leftover B-movies of the 1980s, many could point to Don Bluth’s Land Before Time as sparking interest while others say it was the ABC sitcom Dinosaurs. Regardless, I remember being curious about these extinct monsters and wondering how they would have lived back then.

My only view to this was in children’s movies like Land Before Time and We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. There were cartoony with the exception of Land Before Time skewing for drama. But most of what I saw had walking and talking dinosaurs as opposed to the beastly beings I was eager to see. It wasn’t until I was 5 years old that I finally would see the popular dinosaur blockbuster and my mind was blown.

At last, I could finally view these long gone creatures in their primal view and marvel at them. True, it was no kid’s film but I knew at the time it was only a movie considering what I watched for a while. It was a huge change of pace and I always wondered how they were able to use animals that don’t walk the Earth. Well, as I got older and began to appreciate movies, I was amazed to see the technical craft they put into making the film. Keep in mind, CGI was new at the time and the never ending possibilities were growing. In my teen years, I began to appreciate the effort more than the movie and just how the blend between an anamatronic T.Rex and a digital one were edited so seamlessly.

Well, 20 years after seeing this movie for the first time and after a revisit, I can proudly say this is my “Star Wars.” Of course, the space epic holds a place in my heart as much as everyone, but Jurassic Park is to me a movie that really grows with you. As a kid, you wonder at the magic and question how it was done. As a teen, you start to see behind the curtain and appreciate the craft. As an adult, you marvel at not just how well done the special effects hold up but also the characters and story.

Helicopter-Ride-to-Jurassic-ParkI think my favorite character has to be John Hammond played by Richard Attenborough, the elderly tycoon who put together the idea of creating a theme park island full of dinosaurs. Many could argue he is a Scottish Walt Disney that is chasing the dream and even point to Frankenstein as a person who wishes to bring something back to life. Today, I actually see him more as a sane Dr. Moreau. Really think about! A man who crafts these creatures on an island for all to see, he has a set hosts that question the morals of what he is doing and still believes in the idea even his guests think otherwise.

The biggest difference here is that Hammond is not trying to break new ground or is even greedy. My favorite scene I always point to for evidence is when he talks to one of the paleontologists about his feelings for the park and how he once had a fake flea circus in the past. He goes on to explain how his flea circus was mechanical and fooled the kid’s into thinking it was real. It shows a sympathetic side but even a tragic one. No matter how much he wants to give back with something believable, he doesn’t realize the damage in front of his eyes. From extinct creatures in a new world to even placing people in harm’s way, he chases a dream that keeps getting hampered by reality.

Jurassic-Park_Kitchen2Two paleontologists, Alan Grant and Ellen Sattler  (Sam Neil and Laura Dern) act as our focus of reality. Like the viewer, we delight in seeing these creatures in awe as much as they convince us the power of seeing a brachiosauraus in front of our eyes. But when we learn how the dinosaurs are crafted thanks to cloning and using frog DNA for missing spots, we start to question John Hammond’s morals along with the disadvantages of dinosaurs in a zoo. And surprisingly, we see all these elements play out from not knowing what type of plants are safe to even understanding the animistic instinct of a T. rex. Even before things get out of control, we already see that things are from a sick Triceratops and worker casualties trying to get the Velociraptors in containment.

The rest of the characters hold up as well with some exceptions. Jeff Goldblum plays a mathematician named Ian Malcolm whose theories range between interesting to questionable when going on about chaos theories. The only thing that makes him entertaining enough is Jeff’s awkward performance as he proposes on theory after another and either laugh how ridiculous they are or at the skeptical nature of the character.

Then, we have Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim. Yes, I am aware they were in the Michael Chrichton novel this is based from, but both characters are ok. I don’t have a huge qualm with child acting as long as it’s done right. These two have quirks that get used later on from a dinosaur expert and a computer whizz. Though at times, I feel like they are there to attract the kid audience but it still works. Some viewers might be bothered to see two youngsters in danger but they make up for it by having them be smart and not dumb cliches like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.

Honestly, there is so much to talk about this movie that even this blog post can’t do much justice. The dinosaur effects are incredible and still hold up to this day along with key set pieces. The T. Rex attack is classic but my personal favorite has to be when the Velociraptors chase the heroes around the main building. It starts off intense and just builds and builds as we change from one room to another as our leads try to outsmart these clever predators. Bottom line, this movie really knows how to put you on the edge of your seat and engaged at the screen.

jurassicpark_BIGJurassic Park meant a lot to me as a kid and still does as an adult but in a different light. Back then, it was the first movie I can think of that realistically portrayed dinosaurs in their own habitat. No cheesy monster movies and no cartoons. I didn’t care much for the story and plot but found myself enjoying everything around it. A smart decision was having the T. Rex attack and Dennis’ encounter with the Dilaphosaurus play without background musical score. It really adds to the awe factor as we don’t know if we should take this is a mesmerizing moment or quiver with fear on the sofa.

As an adult, it’s almost like returning to your favorite amusement park and reminiscing about the rides you went on while discovering something new. There’s really no reason to keep explaining why I hold this movie so dear to me and is one of my top favorites. We get likable characters, amazing monsters and a unique premise that is cheesy but plausible on the big screen. I loved it as a kid and will cherish more as I grow older. But little did I know…there was more to come…

TO BE CONTINUED!

“Fury Road” excels expectations

What a lovely film!

What a lovely film!

For not one second did I look at my watch. My eyes were glued to the screen as I saw the adrenaline rush and visual splendor. Critics praised it and it rightfully deserves it. Of all the blockbusters, I wish “Mad Max: Fury Road” came out sooner in an era of cinema when we were desperate for a movie that was rich in atmosphere and grand in scope. No need to worry now. George Miller returns in the director’s chair and delivers the goods giving a satisfying entry. Miller was there from the first film and seeing him return is a delight. He knows how to please audiences of new while delighting fans of old with small cameos from Max’s old car to the outfit he wears. Every frame and every scene doesn’t boring or unsettling.

The plot, however, is so simple that one could debate if its paper thin. A one-armed rebel named Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is on the run to a promised place of green in a rusted gas tanker. Along for the ride is Max (Tom Hardy) who barley says a single paragraph as he joins on. The chemistry is almost akin to a male and female version of Han Solo fighting at each other while working off one another. However, they already know one can’t survive alone in the desolate wasteland and reluctantly trust each other. I like how Furiosa is able to put her own life on the line as much as Max when it comes to saving characters of great importance. Not to mention, her mechanic skills become an interesting character trait later on when she has to teach the survivors aboard how to run the place.

The survivors in question are the wives of bad guy Immortan Joe, who can be described as the Darth Vader of the movie. With a plastic muscular chest covering his frail body and buck-teeth oxygen mask, he stops at nothing to see his property in his hand. The menace Hugh Keays-Byrne gives is memorable as each action he creates shows how much dominance  he posses on the world. Joe’s design is so iconic it matches the personality of the character with such a powerful presence covering a weak body.

“Fury Road” is a visual wonder taking the vast dune desert and turning it into a Salvador Dali painting. One minute, we trek into a sandstorm that looks right out of a level of Hell and then nightfall seems peaceful but still has that menace. It complements the world of Mad Max as no one can be trusted and those who do are under reluctance or seeking promise to a fortune of nothing. Not since last year’s “Guardians” has there been a movie that combines visual wonder in a summer blockbuster wizz-bang fest of enjoyment.

The biggest surprise for me was not the practical effects and on-set stunt work. But rather Nicholas Hoult as Nux, a boy warrior that seeks to please his master the Immortan Joe but ends up following a different journey. This character is given a story arch almost similar to Golumn from “Lord of the Rings” but end up sympathizing more for his innocence. One minute, he follows his faith from the religion he is brought up on and the next minute questions it. Under all the pale make-up and chapped lips, Hoult gives such a wonderful performance of insanity and tragedy to this character that it makes me wonder where all this was when he performed in “Jack the Giant Slayer.” No doubt, my favorite character this year is Nux.

As said before, CGI effects are used as minimal possible while all the car chases and stunts are done in camera (well, almost after reading an article from Fxguide). Its refreshing to see so many live cars crashing and hunting down one another that each vehicle almost feels like a character itself. It shows how alive the world is as these mechanical monsters ravage the dune sands while trying to go against every obstacle of the land. For all the crazy designs and over the top ideas like a guitarist flamethrower, I never questioned the oddity.

The only flaw of “Mad Max: Fury Road” is the character Max himself. He is present a lot and moves the story along but it feels like more could have been done. With the few lines given, Tom Hardy still makes an impact with his portrayal compared to Mel Gibson’s years ago. But I wish there was more lines and time spent diving into this character’s psych.

Regardless, “Fury Road” is one movie you have to see on the big screen. With much action and visual appeal, this is one movie that will keep you on the edge and give you the money worth. Now, there are points of violence and some intense spots but it never gets too graphic or too unsettling to ruin the fun. People who rent movies like this claim they have seen it. They are dead wrong. A movie is meant to be seen in a theater to appreciate its grand appeal. If you even plan to skip this one and deem it a rental, you have no idea what your missing out on this summer.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Halloween franchise (Part 6: The Curse)

Horror-wood

 

The one we got answers and more questions...

The one we got answers and more questions…

After the disappointing Halloween 5, viewers had to wait six years for another installment. Apparently, the writers crafted so many ideas for the next one but yet some complications came afoot when certain cast members like the original actress who played Jamie Lloyd wouldn’t return due to a money dispute and even during production key scenes would be dropped or re-written entirely. Apparently, this is not the first troubled sequel to do something like this. Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man had dialogue by Bela Lugosi as the Monster that got cut and Alien 3 has so many production problems that you could make a movie out of it.

Heck, there’s not one but two versions of this movie that exist. One that producer and Halloween franchise “shepard” Moustapha Akkad wanted and one that was forced to be recut by the Weinstiens who ran the Mirimax studio when the film was being made. By the time the final product was delivered, viewers would get many questions from the last entry answered and still be unsatisfied. Having not seen The Curse of Michael Meyers in theaters, I knew what to expect so there wasn’t much disappointment. At least till I saw the theatrical cut.

I’ll go into my explanations of the two cuts later but let’s take a look at the story first. It begins with J. C. Brandy as Jamie Lloyd escaping from an asylum where a cult is trying to kill off her newborn baby as a sacrifice. Michael Meyers goes after her for the child but is unsuccessful. The baby is later discovered by a grown up Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd in his first film role) who tries to take care of the boy as he delves into his Michael Meyers research. His character in the first film was one of the original kids Laurie babysat is now traumatized by Michael to the point he is obsessed with the famed serial killer and researches a lot of stuff on him. In a way, he’s almost like the next Dr. Loomis but you tend to question his sanity at times. Many would find this creepy and unsettling but I think it works seeing there is potential for a character to be so well-resourced with an infamous killer.

Kara Stode trying to make sense of all this (and so are we)

Kara Stode trying to make sense of all this (and so are we)

Across from his house is the Strode family who weirdly decided to move into the Meyer’s house. Apparently, the explanation goes is that it wouldn’t sell and John Strode (Bradford English) secretly moved in with his wife. Its weird but I guess they needed to come up with a reason for why Michael returns to Haddonfield. Living among them are Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan) who is trying to take care of her eight-year old son Danny who has constant nightmares of the “Man In Black” and Micheal. Its basically Laurie Stode all over again as Kara fights to keep her son alive from the wraith of the infamous killer and her distant parents. I should explain that Bradford’s performance of the father John is easily disliked. He doesn’t hold back and really makes you hate his character. That’s not what I want to expect. We love to hate characters and villains alike for how fiendish they can be as opposed to how nasty and mean they act to others. It just makes us want to see them die more instead of understanding who they are.

Paul Rudd as the grown up Tommy Doyle who is out to stop Michael as much as Dr. Loomis is in Donald Pleaseance's final role

Paul Rudd as the grown up Tommy Doyle who is out to stop Michael as much as Dr. Loomis is in Donald Pleaseance’s final role

On a bright note, Donald Pleasence returns as Dr. Loomis who is retired at first but then starts delivering his “evil is here” speech when he finds out Michael is back. The performance feels tired but that’s what you would expect from someone who has appeared in so many sequels. I should address this was his last movie as he died shortly after filming was completed and before the reshoots began. Many of the crew members said he stood to his guns no matter how aged he was and it shows. He doesn’t have much to work with but Donald is such a respected actor and never disappoints. This is the near saving grace of both versions that I’ll get into later.

Well, as said before, The Curse of Michael Meyers tries to explain that the infamous killer is under the influence of a cult which is believed to have him under the “Curse of Thorn,” which is a thorn symbol that appears in the sky and is part of a Druid inspired cult. It should also be noted this symbol is on his arm as well. What is explained is that Michael is influenced to kill by means of sacrificing his next of kin for the sake of Halloween worship. I guess it explains why he’s after his bloodline and some of his supernatural abilities but what about the other people he killed on the way. On top of that, having Michael as the pawn to a cult is just low. It removes the mystery of the murder but not in a good way like Halloween II.

Shame Barry is wasted....seemed like a good character

Shame Barry is wasted….seemed like a good character

Even there are some ideas here and there which seem to work but only if there were fleshed out better. Leo Geter plays Barry Simms, a trash-talking radio talk show host that tries to exploit Haddonfield and its “banning of Halloween” as well as the Michael Meyers myth. Apparently, Haddonfield stopped celebrating the holiday after its Michael kills but even that doesn’t make sense when we see trick or treaters walking about earlier in the film. You could argue they are going to other cities or celebrating it in their way but it still gets never explained. Anyway, Barry is probably one of the many entertaining characters as he plays up like a spoof of Howard Stern. He gets his “just deserts” but something doesn’t feel right. We are introduced to him by means of audio from the radio but never see him till later on. If this character was played out more, it would have been something unique. Instead, it just comes off as a moment that comes and goes.

Now, I have to talk about the two different versions and why they are so distant from each other. So if you haven’t seen any of these cuts, get ready for some big spoilers. I’m not holding back. The original cut is called “The Producer’s Cut” because it’s the one Moustapha Akkad wanted. Unfortunately, after some disastrous test screenings, major reshoots where done and even some drastic editing was made to “salvage” the film in any shape or form. What was done I believe really hampered on what could have been a really intense entry.

The Producer’s Cut has a soft pace that is not too slow or fast. In this one, Jamie Lloyd gets to survive a bit more while in the theatrical cut, Michael Meyers kills her on a set of drills. Its graphic but at least in the Producer’s Cut, we spend more time with her even if they do kill her off anyway later on. At least her death scene in the original version is subtle and less graphic. Speaking of which, the theatrical cut adds a lot of gore in spots trying to up the ante as usual. For example, in the original cut, John was to be electrocuted by Michael Meyers and just die after 1.21 gigawats to the body. In the theatrical cut, they added a special effect to have his head explode. Its crazy but feels over excessive.

The infamous "stone ending" from the Producer's Cut. Its ridiculous as it sounds.

The infamous “stone ending” from the Producer’s Cut. Its ridiculous as it sounds.

Probably the biggest difference has to be the ending. In the Producer’s Cut, we learn the father of the baby and its not pretty. Jame’s baby is revealed to be a forced inbreeding with Michael Meyers. You read it right. Michael Meyers was forced to have sex with his niece. I can’t say I was too shocked as I heard about this twist before but it opens too many questions. What did the Thron cult achieve by doing this? And if he is supposed to kill his bloodline, why didn’t he kill Jamie on the spot instead? The original version really seemed to build and build to something big and I expected it. But its a shame to see how well engaged I was to its conclusion that just tosses everything in the air for a possible entry. It doesn’t try to be climatic. Tommy performs an spell with stones to stop Michael (which surprisingly works leaving the killer frozen in place) and Loomis is passed on the Curse of Thorn leaving him to possibly take care of Michael now. First, the stone idea is very disappointing seeing how much intense the film was already. Second, I think it would have made more sense if Tommy got the curse instead of Loomis. I understand they wanted the character to stick around for more films but even the character was already too old as was Donald Pleasance. It makes sense seeing how much Loomis knows of Michael by why pass the curse to him at an old age.

Well, for the theatrical cut, they tried to fix that but it fails on so many levels. Michael goes from a pawn of the cult to just straight up killer. In fact, he axes off each member of the Thron cult for no reason leaving me wonder what did they want with Michael anyway and was their purpose to stop Michael or did they think they still had control? Uncle Meyers being the daddy is gone and the stone ending is scrapped. Instead, its vaguly hinted that Jamie’s baby was from gene-splicing stuff and Michael is killed off by many blows to the head with a pipe. Its baffling for me to see why they kill him off this way after seeing Michael getting gunshots to the head. Its a better-ish ending but its still worse than the other one. It answers little but raises more questions and succeeds in new dumb ways to make me tear my hairs out. Also, there’s a weird drum solo score they added for the finale that sounds like Animal from the Muppets having a heart attack while doing an epic drum solo. It doesn’t fit the tone the first 2/3 of the movie seeing the new footage is obvious to point out from its neon lit colors that look like dailies from Batman Forever.

But the biggest thing I have to address is how less of Dr. Loomis we see in the theatrical edit. He’s a big character and the only one from the original films that is carried over. Seeing him in the final cut makes me feel like its a cameo rather than a big role. He’s played up more in the Producer’s Cut and at least it feels like he has more to do. Again, he maybe just running about and trying to figure things about but its nice to see Donald take on the role one last time and it feels a tad more respected here. Its a shame because I want to say the Producer’s Cut is the better film but that has too many faults as well. I do admire the atmosphere and pace in the editing compared to the fast and unneeded ADHD editing of the theatrical cut. It shows which version had more care, but I feel another re-write could have improved this one a bit. Both cuts are bad and heavily flawed but at least the Producer’s Cut has some redeeming qualities to make me recommend it. But I can’t guarantee it will be to everyone’s taste and that goes for the theatrical cut too. The only positive I can think of for the theatrical cut is the songs on soundtrack which is generic 1990’s rock but at least Brother Cane’s “And Fools Shine On” is a good track to listen too. However, I feel its inclusion here was more needed for something like The Crow and not a whacked out, production fault like this one.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Evil Dead Saga

Horror-wood

 

 

Sam Raimi at his best here and by far, defined a horror legend...

Sam Raimi at his best here and by far, defined a horror legend…

To describe the Evil Dead franchise in one word would have to be cheese. Good, old-fashioned cheese that ages over time to be appreciated by a new generation. Its unlike any other film series that gets gradually different in its sequels even if there is two and one recent film that is both a reboot and remake while having some connection as  a continuing entry. While the tone of the series does change within each installment, each one goes from different and fresh ideas while straying away from the uncanny valley of degrading the series like Teenage Mutant Ninjia Turtles or the RoboCop films. Instead, the tone of the film is downgrading but still keeping that enjoyable energy that existed in the first one.

The Evil Dead started as a short film made by Sam Raimi in hopes of expanding it to feature length. It certainly drummed up interest with investors and as a result, we got one of the most important horror films of the genre. Sure the plot is basic but what makes it scary is how the terror progresses. Its the traditional group of college students that go to a cabin in the woods for their spring break. But what they find there is a book called the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis that is said to be the Book of the Dead. As it turns out a professor was trying to analyze it but ended up releasing a gruesome batch of evil spirits upon the woods. Well as you can imagine, these five university fall victim to the demons that lurk in the small house as one by one they get possessed and try to survive till morning.

The center of the movie is a character named Ash played by Bruce Campbell who would later be known for this series and many other films to numerous to name. It was this series that jettisoned his career as a B-movie king of the 1980s and 1990s. Its also interesting to note the journey his character goes through from each film. Here, he is a basic student that is trying to make sense of what’s going on and attempt to stop the evil. We do root for him seeing how big of a leader he becomes near the end when stuff hits the fan.

The biggest highlight are the scares and boy, does it get frightening. I’m tempted to compare how terrifying it is to today’s standards but it basically Diet Coke to Rob Zombie’s movies. Back then, it was really pushing. The gore goes straight to the jugular without being subtle like a pencil to the ankle to one getting molested by a tree. And yes, you heard me right. A character gets groped and….well, it would be too much to describe in words but I think you get the picture. The whole movie is one fest of twisted scenarios that seem like they would come from your deepest nightmares. Sure the movie was shot with a low budget and on 16mm film but the way its executed feels very gritty and brash like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Its like watching a grindhouse movie that’s been washed off with Windex while being dipped in dark chocolate. It doesn’t feel too polished nor too amateurish.

"Guess again, bonebag!" I couldn't resist. This one does get campy but still packs bite

“Guess again, bonebag!” I couldn’t resist. This one does get campy but still packs bite

As impressive as this entry is, I often don’t find myself turning to it a lot. Instead, I often jump to its sequel Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and I think I have a good reason why. Rather than be straight-up horror, it goes for some camp vaule to keep the series fresh and new. And it was in this direction the series would take in being goofy popcorn fun but the good kind. It picks up where the last one ended as Ash is still stuck in the cabin but this time the group of demons labeled as “Deadites.” This entry is split into two as the first half focuses on the Ash character trying to survive the horrors of the cabin while the second half is set on a new character. The professor’s daughter Annie returns with extra pages from the Necronomicon but finds that the whole party is dead with the doctor’s wife resurrected into an ugly hag of a Deadite in the cellar.

Ash has to face new problems now as the two try to stop the evil that lurks in the woods, Ash’s possessed girlfriend and at one point his own hand. I’m not kidding. His own hand gets too evil to the point he has to lob it off with a chainsaw. To keep this from being two gruesome, the fights between Ash and his dismembered hand play off like a Tom and Jerry cartoon as he chases it down with a shotgun but his hand literally keeps getting the “upper hand.” What keeps this from being darker like its predecessor is how it goes for comedy and less horror. There are some scares but its played up for laughs more. For example, there’s one scene where a Deadite’s eyeball is knocked out of its socket and lands into someone’s mouth. On paper, it sounds gross but the execution makes it funny. We embrace its fake strings and how ridiculous it looks to the point we can’t help but laugh at how poorly constructed it looks but how they convince it as being serious makes it funny.

The one EVERYONE knows and doesn't hold back the camp!

The one EVERYONE knows and doesn’t hold back the camp!

But the one fans known the best has to be Army of Darkness. Of all the entries in the series, I feel this one gets easily recognized a lot when you consider its premise and again, the tone it goes for. Like Evil Dead 2, it goes for horror comedy but its far more campier and obviously Stooge influenced. Again, it picks up from the last installment where Ash somehow gets transported back to the Middle Ages and is hailed as a hero after a Deadite encounter. Yes, apparently the place is amok with Deadites as they try to take over King Arthur’s castle. Ok, he’s known as “Lord” Arthur but why not? Its meant to be a crazy take on A Confederate in King Arthur’s Court with demonic zombies.

Ash demands to go home as his hero stasis goes from every man to reluctant hero. He’s told there is a copy of the Necronomicon in this time period which has the ability to take him back home but in obtaining it, he unleashes the evil spirits within the process. Now, he can’t return home until he puts the demonic beasts to rest and this is where things really get good. The climatic finale is a huge highlight as an evil version of Ash (long story, don’t ask) resurrects an army of decaying corpses and skeletons to take siege on the castle. There’s a wide variety of special effects and stop-motion animation that give it a Ray Harryhausen feel when the animated skeletons ram a log at the front doors or when they are sword fighting. Even though its obvious, the way the actors treat this as something serious makes it enjoyable and it feels like everyone is having a good time without being too self-aware.

There’s a director’s cut of this film with 15 minutes of extra footage that I highly recommend checking out. There’s more character development, more humorous scenes that got cut from the theatrical version, more battle footage I’m surprised to see got trimmed and even an alternate ending. Like Little Shop of Horrors, its bleak in concept but hilarious considering how you know the character Ash is easy to mess something up like the instructions of drinking a potion to get him back home. In the theatrical version, its changed so he gets home safe and still be a hero of his time. I’m honestly fine with both endings but part of me likes the one in the extended version slightly more just for how absurdly funny it is. But I can’t say this version is all around perfect. It goes use alternate takes of certain moments that I feel play down the campy quality. The infamous “Good… bad…I’m the guy with the gun” is swapped with a line that is less effective. There’s at least two instances where it does that surprisingly downplay the silly tone. Its hard to describe why but I feel those moments really add to the comedic quality Army of Darkness goes for.

Finally! A horror movie that brings us the best of both worlds

Finally! A horror movie that brings us the best of both worlds

Now of course, I have to talk about the new film because it has some connections to the old films or at least there will be in the future. The 2013 entry titled “Evil Dead” serves as a reboot and a remake while acting like a new entry. To compare, there was the 2011’s “The Thing” which was meant to be a prequel to John Carpenter’s film but at times felt confused if it was meant to be a remake of the classic or fill in the loose holes that I felt didn’t need to be. “Evil Dead,”  however, avoids that trap by going in a fresh direction that pays homage to the series while giving it a new spin. Most critics treat this with a positive to mixed reception but I feel this is a superior entry that doesn’t tarnish what the franchise has done.

Sure it rehashes the teens going to the woods to party but with new twists. Instead, they go there to help one of their friends to quit her drug addiction in hopes of reconciling with old friends. This is a bit of a nitpick but why take someone like that to a desolate place in the woods is beyond me. You could argue they are trying to keep her away from things like social interaction with druggies via in person or by phone but it feels a little off when you think about it too much. Either way, the group comes across the Book of the Dead and this time a wide variety of horrid things in the basement. These are images I will tell you know that still haunt me like animal corpses in the basement or how freaky the Deadite act when they posses a victim. Even the infamous “tree scene” is one-uped with such a subtle yet disgusting concept that is far too frightening to describe here or even talk about.

In short, “Evil Dead” lives up to its advertising moniker as being “the most terrifying film you will ever experience.” It goes straight for the horror and doesn’t hold back. It makes John Carpenter’s The Thing look like a whoopie pie in comparison to the truckload of blood and gore. Its not too bad to the point where it feels like a snuff film. I’m not talking about guts getting torn out or sick stuff like that that. But the violence is so over the top to the point we are more fixed on how realistic it feels and less laughing about the cheesy execution in the effects. Its like a Tom Savini wet dream of special effects. Think George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead but a tad extreme. I am happy to see that all of the special effects are 90% of the time practical. Director Fede Alvarez confirmed in an interview that most of “what you will see is real, which was really demanding… There’s a reason people use CGI; it’s cheaper and faster, I hate that. We researched a lot of magic tricks and illusion tricks.” Its a true testament to what practical effects can do. And I mean a true testament. Everything looks and feels real with we see an arm getting lobbed off with an electric kitchen utensil or a Deadite getting split in half vertically with a chainsaw. Its an insane film but I have a hard time recommending it for others.

And when I mean others, I mean those who really have a weak stomach. What I feel is missing is the humor that made the previous sequels all the more enjoyable. This soaks in its horror and doesn’t step back. From beginning to end, its an intense adrenaline rush that might turn some viewers off. I know from experience seeing I saw this with my sister and mother. While my sister enjoyed how insane the violent scenes where, I felt more bad from my mother who kept looking at her smartphone hoping the gory scenes would end. And it doesn’t help either that she’s not on top of movies like this so I best recommend this one with a warning. For those who can really stomach such much hard violence and like a gory film, you won’t be disappointed. Those with weak stomachs, might want to stick with Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness. Even though Evil Dead II can get violent, its never to the point of being gory and is more played for laughs.

Its funny to see a film series where I barley can think of an entry that I honestly disliked. Maybe the magic of this one is just how each entry acts like its own film to the point we treat them different varieties of chips or soda. Even Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness open with a recap while changing things around so viewers can be enlightened on what they missed. It really adds on to the fun factor of each one as they kept pushing the cult campy tone while show just how fun these movies can really become. It shows you can make a horror movie with mindless laughs and fun concepts that I feel are missing from some of today’s movies. All in all, I highly recommend checking out all of them with the exception of the new “Evil Dead” in case you want something different but still keeping with the roots of the series.