Monster movie hosts are hard to come by, but their legacy lives on. The tradition of late night television were a ghoulish figure would riff on the absurdity being seen is a dying art on the small screen. In my opinion, there are three recognizable figures that have kept this tradition alive. There’s Joe Bob Briggs of TNT MonsterVision and Joe Bob’s Drive In, Svengoolie (who is still active as of this article) and lastly you have Elvira.
Cassandra Peterson’s TV persona which consists of a low-cut dress, tall beehive hairdo and Valley girl style talk was no doubt a runaway hit. No one could expect this horror host to skyrocket from obscure figure to a brand name every household knows. Her face and big…uhhh, popularity dominated the 1980s and well throughout the 1990s. There were trading cards, comic books, action figures, dolls and even a pinball machine, too. The last thing one would expect from all this is a cinematic adaptation based on the character. And as expected, there is.
1988’s Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is something that’s worth seeing, than actually reading a review about. To describe this feature, I would have to talk about every scene and what happens. There is a plot…well, many to be exact, as the story bounces between a loose thread of scenes tied to a “fish out of water” story-line. But is it enough to hold a character that says one-liners and ghoulish puns? For what it’s worth, I actually think so.
After quitting her job due to a perv boss, the hostess is at least delighted to learn one of her relatives died and left a great inheritance in Massachusetts. She travels far, but disappointed to find all she gets is an old home, and pet poodle that can shape shift and a spell book mistaken as a cookbook. The reason for her disappointment is that Elvira hoped to create her own stage show in Las Vegas, but doesn’t have enough funds. Instead of fulfilling the dream, she is stuck with some ancient artifacts with not much use, expect living in the old house.
From there, the rest of the plot is very loose and kind of all over the map. One minute, she is trying to fit in with the locals, gets better accepted by the teenagers of the town, is the envy of a town moral goodie (played by Edie McClurg of John Hughes movie cameo fame), a warlock (W. Morgan Sheppard) who is after her inheritance and that’s just scraping the surface. There’s so many loose threads that I’m tempted to say this works against the film’s favor. However, while it doesn’t get too complex, you do wonder how a movie can juggle so much weight and still feel simplistic.
In all honesty, I’m fine with movies like this. As long as there are some things anchoring the plot together, I can at least say there is some form of a story going on. Many big screen adaptations like Coneheads or The Flintstones have used this method of story telling which gives a laid back feel or ends up running all over the map. With Mistress of the Dark, I don’t think the movie is that chaotic as those two examples. I’d really compare it more to Wayne’s World. You have a one-note sketch that is well-done and entertaining, but the universe around the character(s) is explored more. They feel less like a couch potato, and it’s interesting to see how they would act in the real world.
The idea of Elvira trying to fit in a small Massachusetts town works in its own way. I’m not saying this because I live near Boston or anything. But for a state that is “head over heels” with things like witchcraft and local legends, it does make sense for this kind of character to enter in a town still stuck on old-fashioned beliefs. The concept of a character out of place with a bright and vibrant town is cliche, but it works in the movie’s favor. You do get to see Elvira try and connect with the locals, despite being turned a blind eye for …well, mostly her looks…which is weird, because why would someone- then again, it was the 1980s and some parents were uptight about sex appeal, so I can let it pass by a hair.
For 90 minutes of your time, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark packs a lot to keep you entertained. There’s some hilarious set pieces like a sabotaged stage-show, cheap monster effects, an origin story of Elvira that is interesting, a climatic duel with an evil warlock, a grand Las Vegas finale and that’s just scraping the surface. I think the reason this movie didn’t do well at the box office (and with certain critics) was how loose the story was. It’s the only element I can see being a problem with some viewers, but certain comedies like Caddyshack and Anchorman have used this way of story-telling before. There are elements that do keep the plot tied together like a hilarious performance by Edie McClurg as the “town moral” who schemes to run Elvira out of town. If you go in with an open mind and leave your brain at the door (surgically), you will be in for a good time.
Also, for a movie based on a famous monster movie host, who knew it could work? At this day in age, how come we don’t see more like this? Heck, I propose an Avengers-style that crosses many horrors hosts together. Wouldn’t that be a box office treat? You could have a league where Joe Bob Briggs is the Nick Fury, Elvira pulling off some “killer moves,” Svengoolie with a bow that shoots flaming rubber chickens and perhaps a “Son of” Zacherley, The Cool Ghoul. Sounds absurd, but I’d pay good money to see it.
Of all the TV shows that have debuted in recent years, nothing has compared to how much appreciation Stranger Things has gotten. Created by the Duffer Brothers, this grand throwback to everything 1980s feels more a time capsule of the decade. Coming from someone who is an easy prey for 1980s era movies, this series channels every 1980s pop culture trope/reference in existence and somehow weaves perfectly them together. One minute, it feels like Steven Spielberg is directing it, then it pulls something supernatural from a Stephen King story or includes teen drama from a John Hughes movie. For a series that offers so much, I didn’t think all these plot lines would somehow be tied together.
Everything is centered on the disappearance of a kid named Will (Noah Schnapp) whose very vanishing triggers a domino effect of story. One minute, his mother (Winona Ryder) thinks found a way to communicate with her son through electricity, then suddenly the local police chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) uncovers a bizarre conspiracy linked to Will’s disappearance. Even thought it all sounds complex on paper, this whole thing is easy to follow as we jump from one character to the next. Each plot thread either adds more clues to the odd things happening in town or helps the viewer get more acquainted with the people in the area.
Things get more complicated when a group of Will’s friends find a girl named “Eleven” (chilling performance by Millie Bobby Brown) who has telekinetic powers beyond belief and may hold the key to finding their missing friend Will. As expected, this is where most of the Spielberg-E.T. cliches kick in with the creature being hidden in the house as the thing tries to understand the world outside. But, there comes a set of fresh elements to keep it interesting. For one, Eleven looks like a normal girl and has the opportunity to hide within society. It gives the character more open freedom to act among people which is kind of a scary thought. Imagine if Carrie had the chance to mingle in a modern high school and you didn’t know she had these powerful abilities like channeling other worlds or destroying things with her mind. How would a normal human being be able to know she has the will to bend reality when they look like a normal person?
The John Hughes elements are centered around one of the boy’s sisters (Natalia Dyer) who pines for the hot jock and, you can sort of see where it goes. In laws of predictability, there is an outcast of some form she feels bad for, but believes he deserves help and it causes her boyfriend to act like a complete jerk about it-Again, you can clearly see where it goes. However, what you don’t except is the jock to actually turn around and even be some form of help at the end. At one point, he becomes useful in a fight against this bizarre monster near the climax and it shows that maybe he’s not that bad as you think.
That’s what I love the most about this series. It keeps adding all these twists and turns keeping you second guessing about what’s coming next. For every new turn in the story, you just can’t help but wonder how it will all end. Even with things like the “big bad government agents,” which is a tiring cliche, Stranger Things knows how to use this well by showing how more devious they can be. Not since E.T. have I felt this trope can really pose as a huge threat. These are people that will do anything to keep a huge secret, even if it means faking a death or holding a family hostage.
There’s so much more I wish I could talk about, but it’s best for you to see Stranger Things for yourself. With season 2 around the corner, now would be a good time to catch up and see what everyone’s been praising about. For an 8 episode season, it’s really worth your time, If you like small tows with big mysteries like Twin Peaks or throwbacks like Super 8, this is worth the nostalgia trip. I’d go into deeper detail on why so much of it succeeds, but then I would have to ruin a good bulk of the plot your meant to discover. The best I can say is for anyone who grew up on a childhood diet of Spielberg, John Carpenter and Joe Dante with a small pinch of Stephen King’s writing, this is for the older crowd who grew up on those elements.
On a side note, I should bring to light of the show’s recent Blu-Ray/DVD release. Target held an exclusive “special collector’s” edition where the packaging resembles an old VHS tape. Once the slipcover is removed, the discs are housed in a container that resembles a VHS tape with a “Be Kind Rewind” sticker for added nostalgia. It’s a nifty idea, but there is one major drawback. All you get is the entire first season on both Blu-ray and DVD in a fancy packaging…and that’s it. No audio commentaries from the Duffer Brothers, additional supplements or even a single behind the scenes featurette.
Fans might be disappointed in the lack of extra material, but at least the first season can be seen in some physical form outside of the digital medium. The other additional plus is for people who don’t have Netflix can actually check this series out. Well for $24.99, it’s not a bad deal seeing this form of packaging is perfect for a show like this. However, it leaves you feeling there should be more to explore after binge watching a show like this. Considering there will be 3 more seasons (including the next one coming this Halloween) afterwards, it leaves one to wonder if there will be this “complete series” release. For now, I’m pleased to had this one in my collection, but this show deserves much better when housed in a grand box like this.
Honestly, there is no reason this movie should be given a spotlight on this blog-a-thon. However, it does tie into the theme of “cult classics” (somehow) and the Universal Studio Monsters franchise is normally watched around Halloween. On top of that, I’m certain EVERYONE had something to say about this dusty turkey. And yet, if I had to toss my two cents in, The Mummy is without a doubt, on my roster, for being the worst movie of 2017.
Let’s back up a little and talk about some history. Universal Studios has been desperate in every way to try and bring new life to their horror themed franchise. Back in the 1930s, movies about Dracula, Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera and many others are what put the studio on the map. These are iconic pictures that leave a lasting impact upon the public, regardless if one doesn’t like black and white features. There is a glowing haunting impact that is still left from the ideas and building atmosphere.
Universal Studios has been toying with their creature features for a long time. I can’t tell you how many times they tried to get a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake off the ground. Even John Carpenter nearly got the chance to helm it; that is if a certain Invisible Man movie with Chevy Chase didn’t bomb at the box-office. Bottom line, this studio has been trying. They tried a new Wolfman in 2010, it didn’t do very well. They tried to give Dracula an origin story, it did moderately well, yet critics put a stake right into it.
Now, the new plan was to reboot everything and create a shared universe along the lines of Marvel Studios. Not a bad idea, but there is one crucial problem. In order to achieve it, you need to introduce your monsters individual first. Give Marvel some credit, it took time and effort to establish who their superheros were and why are they all connected. It made the debut of The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble in International waters) the more satisfying seeing characters we already saw. The concept of a shared universe seemed not needed when you consider there already exists a movie with all the monsters meeting (more on that later in the month).
Come the summer of 2017, a string of sequels and reboots that never seemed to catch on with some exceptions. Arriving to the big screen is The Mummy, a movie Universal Studios is confident will be a huge hit and ignite a massive interest in making a shared universe. And let me tell you, for a movie called The Mummy, it’s sad to see it plays out more like a 2 hour trailer for a franchise as opposed to a standalone feature.
Every problem can be summed up in the opening. First, there is a 30-second flashback to Medieval Times were knights hide a powerful ruby. Cut to modern times where a group of FBI-like agents find a tomb carrying said ruby. Then, it flashes back to show the origin of the mummy and how she came to be. What should be a simple introduction is really a massive exposition dump. There is too much being addressed and it doesn’t know what information is crucial to the narrative. It literally throws everything at you and expects a sense of understanding.
So, now your probably asking how is the rest of the movie? Well, here’s a hint. Notice how the focus of this article is about Universal’s choice to make a franchise. When you boil down to it, there isn’t much of a movie, or a story, to discuss. Tom Cruise is a treasure raider who finds a mummy, mummy curses him in a weird set up that sounds stolen from Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce, Russell Crowe shows up as Dr. Jekyll to talk about a set of agents who prevent monsters from going loose and that’s it.
Everything I summed up in that small paragraph is all you need to know. Sure there are things I didn’t talk about like the performances, a subplot involving a dead friend that is taken from An American Werewolf In London, the complex origins of the mummy that make no sense, the rampage on London near the end and the obvious tie-ins to “future entries.” Honestly, who cares? If Mummy just stuck to one story line, it would have been fine. Instead, it feels like different scripts were bunch into one and then hacked down with a chainsaw. All we get is a set of shreds that don’t add up. Stuff happens, but there is rarely any connection.
I tried to think of anything positive about this movie and I could only come up with two things. Tom Cruise plays the lead and, regardless of ego, he tries to be entertaining. His performance goes for a very goofy-action hero tone that matches Brendan Fraser, but it feels weird knowing he’s more equipped when it comes to spy movies. And for what little we see of Sofia Boutella, she tries to bring a sense of menace to her take of the mummy. Under all the poor CGI effects they paint over her face, she is really trying to stand out. Unfortunately, her presence is literally buried under Cruise’s rampant ego and “too many cooks” trying to steer this popcorn flick.
I really can’t even do much justice to recommend this train wreck. Your better off seeing the original 1932 Mummy with Boris Karloff. That one was more scary in atmosphere and selling the concept of reincarnation. Why can’t we have a movie like that anymore? A horror film that sells on scaring you with atmospheric tone and concept as opposed to jump scares. I’m certain there are some out there, but I can only imagine how few there are. This movie is pure proof that certain executives can’t keep up with the times on what audiences want. A lesson that is learned again and again as time goes on. Just when Hollywood thinks they know what people want, they come out with a movie too late once that previous obsession has died down. We are pass the bar of shared universes. Some can work, but this one doesn’t.
Avoid at all costs.
Without a doubt, The Blob is one of those classic time capsules which get better with age. For 1958, it was rare to think a B movie like this would escape the bonds of being a cheap trick and make its way to Hollywood fame. The premise is simple, almost every character feels organic and it has a lasting nostalgic charm that keeps everything fresh with every view.
A meteor falls into a small town which contains a jelly-like goo that gets bigger with every victim it consumes. And that’s all you need to know. There is more to The Blob with the characters and some raising stakes, but that is about as basic as it gets. This movie was created in a time when monsters were more campy and less scary. Famed creatures, like Universal’s Gill Man or Harryhausen’s Ymir, got born in an age when atomic warfare was more frightening than a rubber monster. Obviously, the tone of horror shifted from trying to scare audiences into something more fun and goofy. Some of them worked while others didn’t. Still, Blob was able to break through the mold of cliche 1950s monsters films.
For one, the characters are actually much smarter than they appear. A group of teenagers actually plan things out and try to be one step ahead. True, they drag race and enjoy a late night scary movie from the local theater, but that’s who they are. If these kids walked around and said stale, brainy dialogue, then we wouldn’t buy it. Everyone speaks with a natural flow and feel like average people we can see in real life. Even the police are more than just the typical “biased adults” who think there is a prank going on. Once in a while, there is an officer that debates wither these kids are telling the truth about a monster giving actual reasons and theories.
Steve McQueen leads on and does a great job being the intimidating yet heroic Steve Andrews. He’s the kind of kid that doesn’t mess around. Sometimes, he enjoys a good race on the road, but is always street smart. He’s the guy you want to root for and see save the day. At times, the delivery of his dialogue is a tad stiff, but I feel it adds to his “tough” attitude. It feels like watching a teenage Charlton Heston for some reason.
The special effects on the blob creature are something to be desired. There is a great range of miniatures and camera tricks to make you believe this monster is pulsating and alive. There’s not too much you see of the monster, but it adds tension. To think years later and silicone gel can make a frightening beast compared to today’s CGI. While primitive, there is something charming to see civilians running from a gelatinous monster who are trying to sell the fear.
The Blob has been celebrated so much, that my own opinion can’t do much justice. This film has become a staple of classic Americana to the point a yearly festival is performed called “Blobfest” and hosted in the town of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, one of the original location shoots. The movie gets screened in the local Colonial Theatre ,along with a re-enacting of the scene where moviegoers run out of the theater in terror. Not to mention, the actual gel used for the Blob effects has surprisingly survived over the years and is always on display during the event. It shows there is much love for this simple film which continues to expand from one generation to the next.
You would think a modern remake would tarnish and trash the impact of the original. However, there does exist a remake from 1988 which does a great job being its own kind of entertainment. This one reflects the time period when horror movies were gorier and increased the tension. There’s plenty of differences that extinguish both from each other which proves when remaking something, it’s ok to do something different.
The cast of characters are more stock, but there is a tongue-in-cheek feel to it. Ranging from a batch of randy teens to adults with morals, there are characters you still root for. The protagonist duties are switched from a local drag racer to a cheerleader played by Swawnee Smith and feels less like a damsel in distress. They do throw you for a loop at the start when you think her boyfriend is going to be the lead. But there is a nice little bait and switch that feels natural. It starts like the normal story with the goody-goody boy hoping to get the girl, until the story takes a different turn.
The script was a collaborative effort by director Chuck Russell, who also directed The Mask and Nightmare on Elm Street 3, and Frank Darabont, best known for directing The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption and even wrote some Tales from the Crypt episodes. The tone is self-aware and uses iconic moments from the original while adding new spins. For example, when the creature first crashes, we see this weird rock-like meteor sticking out of the ground. Later on, we see its really a round satellite that hosted the creature with debris on top. It keeps newcomers engaged while adding new twists that never diminish the enjoyment.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the updates to the blob. It gets upgraded from alien jelly to a man-made biological weapon that moves quick and packs a gluttonous appetite. A wide rage of stop-motion and animatronics are used to bring this fierce creature to life. It adds more personality to the pink beast as it consumes one person after another changing all sorts of shapes. Again, the effects themselves relate to the time when practical effects were close to becoming a dying art.
It should be noted some of the blob effects were created by Lyle Conway, who did the Audrey II plant puppets for 1986’s Little Shop of Horrors. Originally, Little Shop ended with the plants taking over the world and eating up New York. The entire finale cost $5 million to produce and ended up getting scrapped for a happier ending. If anything, the scenes where the blob goes on a rampage almost feels like an apology for cutting a entire special effects finale where giant Venus flytraps destroy and scale a miniature Statue of Liberty.
The only thing that nearly ruins it for me is the secret government agents that get involved. The head agent, played by Joe Seneca, really wants to confine this beast and doesn’t care about sparing humanity in the process. It’s not a bad touch, but it feels a little “run of the mile” and cliche. A lot of this movie does play around with classic character tropes, but I almost feel like these agents could have tried to help others out in the process.
In the long run, I love both the original and remake on their own terms. Both Blobs have distinguishing elements to separate from each other while the remake doesn’t stray too far off. The original is your perfect popcorn entertainment, while the remake knows where to improve on things. Both versions reflect the time they were made in and their charm comes from what suits your film appetite. If you want a well-made B movie or a great special effects show from the 1980s, there is a lot of variety here from both.
Rod Serling is a name many associate with The Twilight Zone. A classic anthology series that dives into the psychological aspect of human kind through science fiction. It made a lasting impact that spans generation after generation with timeless messages and the ability to sneak pass taboo subjects one would never suspect to see. After Twilight Zone‘s run, Serling was itching for another series that would act as an extended successor to his famed sci-fi series. The result was something spine-tingling, but also mismatched and tied with a campy ribbon.
Night Gallery was a compromise between network and producer control to the point it feels similar to the famed Twilight Zone, but different. Here, the tone of the stories go for more dark fantasy targeting the supernatural and occult. Unfortunately, it never became the series Serling hoped for considering the clashes between the show’s intended psychological tone and Producer Jack Laird wanting to go in a different, lighter direction. There is still enjoyment to be had as a third of the scripts were written by Serling himself and some segments are worth checking out. While none had the timeless feel or haunting flavor of the Zone, Night Gallery offered a good bulk of variety.
Each episode, with the exception of season 3, are an hour-long and each segment varies in length. Some range between 10 to 20 minutes long while wrapped around with 2 to 5 minute comic “blackout” sketches. With the advent of DVD, we have the ability to jump around the see these segments on their own or perform a mini-marathon of the ones we are more curious in.
For those who want a better idea of what Serling’s true vision of the show could have been, it’s best to turn to the full-length TV movie which served as a pilot. The feature length episode harvested three stories which echoed a lot of Serling’s trademarks from the ghoulish concept to the haunting twist ending. The general consensus is that only the first two segments are good, while the last one is really weak. To which I say, they are very right.
The first one titled “The Cemetery” stars Roddy McDowall as a greedy relative that subtly murders his uncle for the estate. However, a certain painting of the house shows a cemetery nearby. Every time the relative passes by, the image keeps changing. Sometimes, it shows a coffin rising up from the grave while other times it shows a corpse walking to the house. The performances in this one are really good as McDowall starts to question his own sanity and it builds to a great double twist.
A good start is followed-up with “Eyes” which has Joan Crawford as a shrewd millionaire that is blind and longs to see again. She goes as far to blackmail a doctor to perform an illegal procedure to restore her sight. Not a strong segment, but Joan’s performance as the heartless lady and a lot of the technical work makes this one stand out. Many fans remember it more for being the debut of Steven Spielberg’s directing career. Every shot is just pure eye-candy and handled very well from the lighting and even the build-up when the woman’s sight is restored. And what she gets in the end is so well-deserved, that it must be seen to be believed.
Lastly, “The Escape Route” is probably the weakest one to conclude on. A Nazi fugitive is on the run to escape from his brutal past. He engages in some paintings which are used as a literal open window. Somehow, he has the ability to enter one without any given explanation. His sights are set on a painting that allows him to boat down a calm river, but he ends up on a different path. It’s a very paper thing concept that doesn’t go anywhere and it feels underwhelming compared to the previous segments. Nothing is established about this “transportation” power and there’s not much to support it either.
While the TV movie has its share of moments, the series itself is worth a nice binge watch as well. With the clash of different tones, some stories work and others don’t. Sometimes they offer a good shock while others feel like a watered down Charles Addams cartoon. Each one still offer a nice range of variety and some replay value here and there. To give a rough idea of the different macabre Night Gallery has to offer, here is a short list of the episodes I personally recommend seeing:
The Dead Man – A hypnotist has the ability to make a young man look sick with a simple trick. He attempts to use a certain incantation to make it look like he’s dead, but is unable to bring him out of the trance. It also doesn’t help there is an affair going on between the hypnotist and his partner’s girlfriend hinting a possible revenge, until you learn the magic man might not have used the right cue…
Little Black Bag – Burgess Meredith plays a drunk hobo that used to work as a doctor, but is slumming the streets with his money hungry friend (Chill Wills). They come across a black bag from the future that has medical equipment far more advanced than anything in the modern era. The doctor wants to use it for good while his friend prefers to exploit the advance medical kit for fast cash. It’s a great argument over what is best for the greater good and what’s best for your own needs.
Certain Shadows on the Wall – A brother is haunted by the shadow of his dead sibling who is cast upon the wall. Every time he tries to paint it over, it remains unchanged. A nice twist on the “Tell-Tale Heart” story with some great build up.
They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar – Clocking in at over 40 mins, this is the longest Night Gallery segment, but also the most sentimental of the bunch. Written by Rod Serling, a plastic sales director endures his twenty fifth anniversary of employment with sorrow. Meanwhile, a local bar, he used to attend, is being torn down as ghosts start to form every time the guy passes by. It serves as an open window to what this guy’s life was like as he wishes to revisit the past and do things different. Themes like this have been explored in “better” Twilight Zone episodes like “Walking Distance.” However, this is an exception for the bittersweet ending and some great character moments between our protagonist and the modern world he is not accustomed to.
The Boy Who Predicted Earthquakes – A young Clint Howard plays a boy who has a own TV show where he gets to correctly predict the future. His powers are unlimited as he can address things from upcoming natural disasters to missing people being discovered. But what happens when you get an apocalyptic vision and don’t know how to address it to the world? As far as child acting goes, Clint does a great job playing the charming, yet innocent feel of his character. He knows how dangerous his powers can be and is left with the hard choice of know how to deliver the worst of bad news knowing how consequential it will be.
Phantom of What Opera? – One of the shorter segments that’s worth seeing just for Leslie Nielsen’s performance as the Phantom of the Opera. His appearance in the series pre-dates his first comedic performance in Airplane! so you can see it first here. Not much else to say except its a short but funny recommendation.
The Flip Side of Satan – Arte Johnson takes on a one man performance as a disk jockey assigned to a station in the middle of nowhere. He’s given records to play that contain organ music and strange sounds without any indication of who the listeners are. It’s hinted he had an affair with his agent’s wife and contains an ego so inflated to the point he hangs onto his radio legacy dearly. But as it turns out, there’s something stranger afoot when the radio station won’t let him leave…
Silent Snow, Secret Snow – Narrated by Orson Wells, this is one of the most unique adaptations of Conrad Akin’s story about a kid’s fight to keep his imagination alive. He can’t focus in school and feels distant from his family every day. All he can think about is snow and daydreams it constantly. Not one of the easiest stories to adapt, but they nail it perfectly here.
A Question of Fear – Leslie Nelisen takes on a serious role as a man who claims he’s cured of fear. This is taken into a bet where he has to spend the night in a haunted house and faces all sorts of strange events. I won’t say anything else about this one, except that for everything that happens, there is a logical reasoning to its occurance. The double twist at the end will really leave you speechless.
Brenda – One of the most bizarre “Beauty and the Beast” stories about a quirky girl that befriends a monster. The creature looks like a shaggy Snuffleupagus crossed with Swamp Thing, but we feel some kind of a connection between these two. On first watch, I was bewildered by the off tone delivery. After much thought, I’ve come to see it as a nice metaphor for growing up and entering adulthood. It’s not a good segment by any means and it can get weird, but it ends on a charming note that’s enough to recommend.
Hell’s Bells – A short but amusing segment were John Astin (original Gomez Addams) plays a hippie who gets in a car crash and is sent to Hell. While in the waiting room, he anticipates the usual fire and brimstone, but is in for a shock to learn not everyone’s view of the dark place is really the same…
Pickman’s Model – A great adaptation of the H.P Lovecraft story where an artist creates ghoulish paintings of a monster in each of them. A student of his art class grows fond of his macabre style and tries to know him better. This one is notable for the Emmy-nominated special effects as the creature seen here is actually made from the same molds as those used for the Creature from the Black Lagoon costume. A true hair-raiser about the dangerous value of life imitating art.
Cool Air – Another perfect adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft classic. A scientist has found the secret to extend life beyond death, but has a certain problem. The man has a certain condition where he has to be contained in a room that needs to be below 50 degrees freezing. A woman takes fancy of him, despite the cold temperature, and you really feel the chemistry between these two. It makes this segment’s ending all the more tragic when you see the most gruesome reveal on why he’s encased himself from the world outside. It’s beautifully shot, brilliantly acted and concludes in a very bone-chilling manner. My absolute favorite of the series.
The Sins of the Fathers – In one of the most unsettling of the Night Gallery stories, a bunch of peasants in the Middle Ages seeks for someone to be a “sin-eater” for their funeral. Basically, they make a huge feast, in representation of the dead one’s sins, and said “sin-eater” has to consume all the food in front of the dead corpse. It all boils down to a hungry teenager who is unsure how to act it out, seeing he is new to the “business.” And personally, I will just leave it at that. The overall experience of watching this one is really uncomfortable knowing how much famine and plague existed during this time period. And yet, everyone sacrifices what tasty goods they have for this one ritual they entrust their belief in. There’s also a gut wrenching twist at the end which I dare won’t give away that adds to the lesson there are some fates worse than death we are bound to in life. Surprisingly, the cast and crew go out of their way to create such a shocker, even right down to using a lot of money for the sets and costumes. In the end, it’s well worth it. Only recommended for those with a literal strong stomach.
The Caterpillar – A British man wants to escape his boring life, but finds it more dull than before while staying in a Southeast Asian country. He schemes to get a neighbor he lives with murdered, so the “widow” he lusts can be his. Arrangements are made to get a killer earwig placed in his rival’s ear, but unfortunately, the deadly insect ends up with the wrong person. I won’t say who gets the thing, but this segment is a true testament that what scares us are the things we don’t see. There is never an image of what this “caterpillar” looks like, but a great description and tons of gruesome make up work convince us how much pain the victim is going through. This one will make you think twice about the bed bugs at night.
All in all, Night Gallery is imperfect at times. But when it knows to deliver, it really can. What really depends on a good series is a great writing team and creative ideas. I can’t say everything about this anthology series was A+ material, but it knows when to be entertaining. Give this series a watch and judge for yourself.
That’s right everyone! The Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon is finally back. A mini-marathon of horror movie reviews to serve as your personal home video guide for what to check out. I’ve been trying to keep it as some form of tradition after I first launched it back in 2014. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to factor in how busy my life would be. 2015’s marathon didn’t quite finish and it sort of left me a bit empty.
This time I’m bringing it back, but there are some certain rules I’m applying to accommodate with my new free time and other work I have. Instead of a straight forward 31 blog post, there will be only 13. That calculates to 3 a week with one specially saved for Halloween. I don’t want to overwork myself. There’s a special video in the works for Jaimetud’s “special” Halloween video and one (non-Vaulting related) video I hope to get out next month.
The chosen films will be centered around one basic theme; cult classics. We are digging into the strange and weird abyss of cult classics. These range form ones you never heard of, some you pass by at the bargain bin or perhaps you have no idea these existed. I might toss in a TV series or two for variety, but the whole idea is to really get titles I’m hopeful few have heard of it. If you have heard of them, I’m certain you might want to know my two cents then.
Considering I’m also a contributor to Manic-Expression.com, I will also be posting my Horror-Wood blog posts just for a little share. For those on Manic-Expression reading this, you can get an idea of what the past blog-a-thons were like by heading over to BlockbusterChronicles.Wordpress.com.
13 films within one ghoulish month! The fun begins October 2nd! Tune in….won’t you?
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.
With Halloween upon us (or was by the time I wrote this), I pondered just what was it that made Hocus Pocus so popular these days. It was a movie Disney made in 1993, released in the summer (weird choice) and while it did ok at the box office, the film never made a huge splash like in the $100 millions. But now in days, this movie is like a virus on the Halloween season. Hear me out, people at my retail job talk about the film and how it airs to the equivalency of popular water bubble conversations. It gets a huge respect and love at Witch’s Woods, my other Halloween job, with even getting played at one of the haunts. And when I went to look for a copy at my local video store, there was only one Blu-Ray of it left on the shelf. That’s how huge the respect this movie gets around this time of year. So rather than review it, just what about Hocus Pocus does everyone go rapid and joyful for?
Is it the story? Well, not really but granted it does have an interesting concept. A group of witches called the Sanderson Sisters (get it? Sounds like Anderson Sisters?) are put on trail for their crimes in old Salem. They plan to say young and youthful but sucking out the souls of little children to ensure they will live forever. After their hanging, 300 years later, a kid named Max blindly lights a magic candle in their abandoned home causing them to come back and bring chaos. A typical good vs. evil story mixed with some fish out of water elements.
As the witches try to make sense of the new world, being 1993 in the movie’s case, they find Halloween is nothing but a holiday now with trick-or-treaters and technology has been updated. Does this get used to the advantage of the movie? Not fully. There are a couple of fun scenes where they interact with televisions, try to mingle at a Halloween party complete with a song and ride around on mops and vacuum cleaners. But that’s sort of about it. In a sense, I can see this working. The idea of witches resurrected and trying to fit in with modern times but it feels underplayed most of the time.
The more important thing is how Max takes their magic spell book (which by Disney’s standards is nicely designed and very Evil Dead-lite) which has a certain recipe for their soul sucking potion. While the three bewitching sisters try to hunt them down, Max has to relay on his typical sister, a would be girlfriend and a talking cat who is really a teenager cursed to help stop them. So yeah, for a 90 minute movie there is a lot going on here. In fact, there is so much plot going on that one wonders how things don’t get too complex. I can’t say its too hard to follow seeing the fish out of water elements feel like a break from the story but again, its a basic good vs. evil ploy that has been used since Disney’s time.
If that’s the case, do the characters make the movie so well-known? Again, not exactly. The main characters are sort of your run of the mill tropes and cliches. You have the awkward teen that gets bullied, the girl that will become the love interest, the sibling that is between annoying yet has a good heart, the goofy parents, the townsfolk that are deaf to their warnings and the bullies that act like they are hip and cool when they are not. Its very much a big bag of cliches that we have seen before and are written like beings we would see on a TV movie. Which is ironic seeing this movie was originally going to be a Disney Channel Original until executives thought other-wise.
There’s also that talking cat named Binx who has an interesting back-story (voiced by James Marsden, human body performed by Sean Murray) and knows much of the Sandersons. But that’s sort of about it. There is also the question of times when he can talk and times he can’t. If Binx can speak English so well, what is he doing roaming about the old witch house? And if these kids are in trouble, wouldn’t it be more interesting to help convince others of what’s going on? If there was a deleted scene that explained that plot hole, I would be fine but there isn’t. He could have been a more helpful ally but just only resorts his duties to the main characters. We also get a zombie that tries to be the lackey of the Sandersons and has this funny running gag of loosing his head. But again, there’s not much to his character outside of comic relief. And that sort of sums up a good bulk of the main things. There’s not really that big or unique to them. While not bad concepts or ideas for that matter, they don’t feel fully developed.
Another thing I will address before I move on is that some people feel bugged by the whole “virgin” element. If you don’t know, the plot of the curse involves a virgin to set off these chain of events to happen. And Max just so happens to be that said “virgin” who is picked on and doesn’t fit in with the New England town. To be honest, I really wasn’t bugged this. If they flat-out bullied him because he didn’t have sex, then there would be some problems. But for the first half, most of that bullying is just toward him not fitting in and stuff like that. I can barley think of a scene where his character is made fun of just for his virginity aside from maybe one scene and the closing line. But its very underplayed.
So if this movie isn’t really that big of masterpiece then why does it keep drawing new viewers? One answer: The Sanderson Sisters. These are probably one of Disney’s best villains to date. They have have the most fun and the actress portraying them have a lot of scene-stealing moments that really add on. True they are masked by basic quirks like Bette Midler being the annoyed leader Winnie, Kathy Najimy as the child-hungry but very bumbling Mary and Sarah Jessica Parker as the sultry and boy-crazy Sarah. Every moment they are in the movie, you can tell these three are having the time of their life. I love the way their get their eyes widen and just how expressive they can be. Even when they are given little to work with or play off of, they really try.
In fact, I wonder what it would be like if Hocus Pocus was just about them? In a time when self-centered villain movies are being the talk of the town, I would actually like to see maybe a sequel or even a reboot that just focuses on them only. It would be kind of fun to see a bunch of Shakespearean characters try to live in modern times. Heck, there’s even a stage show about them that recently opened up at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Obviously, they are the strongest element in the movie and if you took that out, Hocus Pocus would have been this basic and simple film.
So with that, your probably wondering how I feel about Hocus Pocus overall and where do I stand with it. For starters, I did grow up watching this movie as a kid and enjoying it. But not for the plot or the characters, just for the witches themselves. I can’t really say if that is a good thing or a bad thing but a part of me does feel this movie holds up in some way. Granted, its not a perfect movie by any means or really a masterpiece like say the Wizard of Oz but there is sort of a way I can describe why it got so popular over the years. Because its the one movie that dips itself into holiday tradition more than any other Halloween movie. Of course, movies today like Trick R Treat are starting to catch on (which arguably is a better movie) but there is one big reason why THIS movie is getting more attention to what its doing.
A good example of this kind of movie is A Christmas Story. For those who don’t know, the movie was released and didn’t make a big impact. But over the years, everyone keeps talking about it and watching it like its some kind of Christmas classic. It honors the Christmas traditions we went through as a kid and exploits them in some form of an adult twist. While Hocus Pocus doesn’t do that entirely, it does honor some Halloween traditions like trick-or-treating, urban legends, witchcraft and even discusses darker elements of the holiday that few Halloween family films would even tackle.
So for what it is, I do enjoy Hocus Pocus. Not for the story and not for the characters but what for it does to the holiday. Granted, it could have been a stronger movie if it was placed in different hands but I can’t think of anything too bad or ethically unclean. I know this movie already has a strong fan base and still growing one. But I do warn for newcomers to watch with low expectations. I know there are a good handful of people that don’t find much joy for the story, characters and few things here and there which is understandable. As for me, I don’t mind defending this one even if it is flawed. The witches are fun, the special effects surprisingly still look amazing and its one bewitching flick I always look forward to around this time of year.
We are not done yet! All week long, we are catching up on more horror goodness for that bag of leftover candy you got. Stay tuned creeps!
I often find R. L. Stein interesting as a person. He’s constantly writing books, exploring the world once in a while and always carries a unique story to tell. In his recent biography for kids, named “It Came from Ohio,” he often wrote comedic magazines pioneered independently, had an interesting sense of humor and all around fun guy. From teaching seals to dance and work on Eureeka’s Castle, “Jovial” Bob Stein will be better remembered for his work on the book series Goosebumps. Sort of Tales from the Crypt for kids, I recall reading these in middle school and enjoying them. While they weren’t scary to me, I fondly thrilled at Monster Blood and taking a day in Horrorland. To make a movie based on the nostalgic property alone is a challenge but they tried. In the end, what we get is a film that probably should have come out 20 years ago but still better late then never.
Dylan Minnette is Zach, a high schooler that moves into Delaware after his mother gets a job as a vice principal at his new school. As with this kind of character, we go through the whole phase of him being new in the area even if its brief and add some baggage with a deceased father. This is fine alone and does give some development but it feels like a typical teenager with problems. Not to say it’s a bad thing but I do wish more was written better. You still get to sympathize and thankfully that material is not forced in so I can’t complain.
Zach finds that he is neighbors with a girl his age named Hannah, whose not that bad either. Odeya Rush’s performance is thankfully a step up after last year’s The Giver where she was cold and flat. Here, Rush is given more to work with especially in the later half when a huge twist about the character comes up. Like the character Zack, Hannah is written as a teenager with a simple motive to break out and not be boxed in. The characterization is very simple without too much depth tossed which is good and bad at the same time. You do get chemistry thanks to the performances but wish these people were written with more depth at times.
What stands in the way of Hannah being more social is her dad who is revealed to be R.L. Stein played by Jack Black. Ironic how the real Stein is a fan of Black and even got to work with him a bit behind the scenes to get a variation of Black’s take. The film version of Stein is more sinister and comes off as a cross between Doc Brown from Back to the Future and Dr. Loomis from the Halloween films. Black’s take adds a level of fun and thrills without overdoing it. At times, he does get a little “over the top” but you know this comedian will give it his all no matter what he will be in.
The reason why Stein is locked up in the house is because of how powerful his Goosebumps manuscripts are. Apparently if one were to open then, said monster would pop out and raise havoc. This is evident when the Abominable Snowman of Pasadena appears setting up the rules and tone of the film. The only way to get the creature is to simply get the thing back in the books. Simple enough, but it gets complicated when an evil ventriloquist dummy named Slappy (also voiced by Jack Black) escapes and plans to raise chaos on the small town with all the Goosebumps monsters. Not only does he steal the manuscripts and opens them, but also burns each one ensuring the monsters can’t be sucked back into the pages they came from.
Already the premise sounds familiar and I’m positive you can figure out if you will enjoy this movie or not. Personally, I liked it even when the humor did get awkward or the story got predictable. Once the town gets overrun by lawn gnomes, werewolves, a giant mantis, zombies and many other things, that is when Goosebumps was engaging to me. Sure the stuff in the first third had decent build up but it felt standard and simple. On the other hand, that is what Goosebumps is. The stories of the books never got too in-depth or too complex. They were simple stories that existed to entertain as oppose to frighten and shock.
For what it was, I got what I expected and enjoyed it. However, this isn’t a perfect movie by any means. Some of the special effects can be a tad mediocre and the comedy of characters like a cool wannabe named Champ as well as an aunt that has a strange obsession for bedazzling clothes. Though I can’t think of a time when the humor felt too forced (as I did chuckle at how lame Champ was) and there isn’t any bad messages that is being said. Even effects like the puppetry work on Slappy the evil dummy is surprisingly good considering the low $58 million budget this movie has. In a sense, I do wish there was more edgy as it could have been a great family film but I’m glad I enjoyed what I saw. There are times when it does feel like a tribute to R. L. Stein paying homage to not only his books but even his style as well. Little facts like how he always used a typewriter for his work and the placement of bear traps in the basement add to what kind of person Stein was. A man who never wanted to be taken seriously and just wanted to let his readers have fun with his work.
Now if silly, goofy and campy is not your cup of tea or if your not a fan of the books, then Goosebumps might be the movie your looking for. I’d say this is more like a Disney movie along the lines of Hocus Pocus or Honey, I Shrunk the Kids without the edginess. In fact, much of the film does get thrilling but misses out on the scares. Had this been harder along the lines of Gremlins or Coraline, I do wonder if it would have been a better movie or play it off as too frightening. Seeing these kinds of movies as a kid, I was fine with that I saw but wish there was more to it. Its not that bad to say its the worst but its not perfect either. I just feel it was a good family film that I know kids will enjoy and might be split with the older crowd. If you want to play it safe, rent it. But for anyone else curious, I’m sure you will be fine. There’s plenty of thrills and twists that will keep you engaged and a great watch for the Halloween season. A modest recommendation at best. Just keep in mind to beware, because your in for some ghoulish fun.