LOOK OUT! SPOILERS AHEAD!
With a new adaptation in the works, it’s about time to take a look at the two Addams Family movies from the early 1990s. Originally based on Charles Addams’ famed cartoons, the Addams Family were part of a one panel gag for the New Yorker magazine. Addams’ style of humor was to satirize the modern lifestyle in a macabre way. His characters were so popular, they have been brought to life more than once through the famous 1964 TV series and a couple of Saturday morning cartoon incarnations. The one people seem to remember the most are the live-action theatrical films directed by Barry Sonnenfeld and for good reason.
Both The Addams Family and Addams Family Values are the closest thing to a perfect take on the New Yorker cartoon and TV show. I say that because both movies have their own set of positives and negatives. And yet, the negatives themselves can be overlooked for enjoyment value. The cast and crew is having a good time and there is a lot of good writing behind capturing why we love this creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky family.
First, let’s talk about the cast, seeing some of them return to reprise their roles the sequel. This is hands down as good of a perfect casting as it will get. Raul Julia is passionate as Gomez, Anjelica Huston is lovely as Morticia, Christopher Lloyd is zany as Uncle Fester, Christina Ricci’s menace to Wednesday is memorable, the list just goes on. Everyone takes a part and really breathes a lot of life into these characters. The chemistry between Julia and Huston is so sexy that you feel like these two have been together through Hell and back. They soak in this lifestyle of dark and misery to the point they relish in it. Everyone’s performance is so good that you almost believe these characters are real.
The only difference in the casting of both films is that for some reason they don’t use Judith Malina for Grandmama Addams in the sequel. Carol Kane takes on the role and honestly, I think her performance is more animated. No offense to Malina as she does a good job, but Kane’s take is more lively and funnier. That’s not to say Malina is bad as she has a lot of funny moments. It’s a personal preference, but I think both actresses do a good job.
Even the look of the movie is good too. The cinematography and sets do a great job noting when to allow the amount of color. When we see the family out in the real world, their Gothic garb stands out as everything is bright and vibrant. When they are home, it feels perfectly bleak and gloomy. These are movies where you could spend hours looking at the sets and marveling at the detail.
Another huge positive is the comedy. Both movies are equally hilarious respecting the campy nature of the 1964 TV series and the darker Charles Addams cartoon. There are jokes and gags that nearly push the barrier of comfort, but still don’t go too far. Some gags are rarely uncomfortable and it’s never taken as being mean-spirited. In the sequel, a villain reveals her family history through a slideshow right before she tries to kill the whole Addams clan. Now that is a clever idea. We see pictures of her killing her husbands in action and it’s played for laughs as oppose to adding the fear factor.
The movie environment also has the ability to push beyond the limits and restrictions of previous incarnations. A prime example is the use of the family’s pet Thing, who is very a disembodied hand who likes to help around the house. Originally seen in a box, we actually get to see the helpful hand run about the whole place and it feels more like a full-moving character. Special credit goes to Christopher Hart who has to perform with his own hand. I can imagine something like this is not easy to do and I give high marks on it.
So your probably thinking with good things plugging into the production, surly there is a good story to go with all these positive things? Well, as you have noticed, it’s the last thing I think about when remembering these movies. Story is sadly the weakest link in both movies. With the exception of the first one, at least Addams Family Values tries to improve and be more of a plot-driven film. But alas, even Values falls into the same traps as the first.
Let’s begin with the first one, because that one feels like the more problematic of the two. Uncle Fester is missing, because of an fight he had with Gomez years ago, and Gomez greatly regrets it. While that’s going on, Gomez’s lawyer (Dan Hedaya) knows of a great fortune the family has and schemes to get it so he can pay off a loan shark (Elizabeth Wilson). As it turns out, the loan shark’s son (Christopher Lloyd) looks eerily similar to the lost brother and plan to disguise him as Fester in order to gain access to the family’s vault. And as expected, the Addams are fooled, but as time goes on, the “impostor” starts to feel right at home with the odd folks. Oh, and there is this added twist where the loan shark plans to double cross the laywer, but it’s only mentioned once never making much of an impact later on.
So, the story is really all over the map here. In fact, we forget about the con and just focus on the family more than the plot. This results in us staying around the house and getting to know these people more. Once in a while, they do head out into the real world to engage in a public auction or, later on, try to fit in with modern life. The scenes of them trying to act within a “normal” society carry the most laughs as folks, opposite to the Addams’ lifestyle, have a hard time gelling with their darker interests. I won’t give too much of the scenes away for new viewers, but it does lead to a lot of hilarious scenes.
But when we jump back to the plot, all the fun and gags take a hard break. When we want to see more of the family, we have to be reminded something is going on and it will lead to a split with the folks. The only positive aspect from this is one crucial change from the cartoon and TV series. In the movie, Fester is actually Gomez’s brother, where-else he’s Morticia’s uncle. This is one thing I do feel is the strength of the movie as Gomez tries to bond with his “brother” who doesn’t seem to warm up to the bizarre oddities.
It’s a shame story is not a crucial as our only carry through the movie are a series of scenes. And these are really well-written. My favorite one is when Morticia gives “Fester” a tour of the graveyard showing the family history. It’s eerie but bittersweet seeing all the tombstones of dead relatives. Everything about it is so pitch perfect. The atmosphere, the mood and even the music is perfectly scored.
I feel bad the story is not that interesting and yet, we get a pile of really good moments struggling for connection. There’s even a set piece of a sequence where they perform a big dance sequence called the Mamushka. Here you have a scene where they pause the plot to do all these stunts and sing. It’s a show stopping moment that makes you wish there were more like it. Ironic as the Mamushka was intended to be longer, but a test screening audience felt the scene was too much resulting in it being cut-down. While no footage has surfaced of the complete Mamushka, you can hear the full version on the movie’s soundtrack. It’s a prime example of when the movie stops to do something with the Addams, it gets interesting.
And yet when we have the villain come in, it’s not that interesting. She poses as a psychiatrist and tries to convince the family he is the real Fester. On top of that, there’s this “Norman Bates style” motherly relationship she has by trying to maintain a grip of control on him. It’s not that interesting and it’s kind of cliche, because you will know where it were end up. The payoff to her demise is all the more rewarding, but I just felt the villain wasn’t that memorable or posed a huge threat. I just felt Addams Family succeeded more when it just focused on the family.
And rightfully so, as Addams Family Values decided to have more focus on the family giving each one more screen-time and a set of subplots. It was darker, funnier, the villain was livelier and improved so much. But it also fell into the same problems most sequels would do and even some from the first movie as well.
Don’t get me wrong, this is much different from the first Addams Family in plot and tone. However, it shares many similar beats, but thankfully it provides enough different ones to avoid being a complete clone or copy and paste. The family gets a new baby named Pubert, who is to the envy of Wednesday and Puglsey as they try to get rid of the new child. A new nanny is hired, a hilarious performance by Joan Cusack, and she immediately has her sights on Uncle Fester, who also has a huge puppy love crush on her. However, it turns out the nanny is really a serial killer named the “Black Widower” that kills her husbands just for their money. Her focus is on Fester’s cash, as opposed to his awkward romance, and plans to kill him off in order to get a share of the Addams fortune.
Yeah, haven’t we been here before? Someone is after the Addams fortune and is using Fester as a prawn to somehow get it. First off, is there another interesting story line to go by? The plot thread with the new baby is interesting, but it’s put aside for Fester to take center stage again. Second, why do these movies have plots centered around Uncle Fester? Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware he’s a popular character, but why not let another Addams take the spotlight. When you boil it down, both movies are really revolving around Uncle Fester. Everything that happens is because of Uncle Fester. And while I really love Christopher Lloyd as the bald-headed and electricity loving kook, I would have appreciated to see more of the family involved. Couldn’t Lurch do something like become a singing celebrity for teens, Cousin Itt losing his hair or Grandmama Addams getting arrested for fortune telling? (Fun fact: Those two storylines are real episodes from the 1964 series)
While this may sound a little contradicting, the second movie does allow more for the family to do, but only when they are given the chance. Wednesday and Puglsey get more screen time as they get sent away to a summer camp so bight and chipper that makes you want to puke. It gives the two kids more to do as they have different mindsets compared to the more bubbly and air-headed kids attending. I won’t go too in-depth with this subplot, but I will say it does lead to one belly laugh of a payoff. And with Peter McNicol and Christine Baranski playing the harsh, but always happy faced camp counselors, you will love what kind of a “just desserts” payback they get.
Another improvement is just how darker the humor gets. While the first movie trends the campy nature of the TV series, one can compare the sequel more with the Addams cartoon. The jokes are more macabre from the children trying to kill off the newborn, through a Wilie E Coyote and Road-Runner set up, to a prostitute accidentally baked in a bachelor’s party cake. Again, these jokes are handled in a very light way without pushing the envelope. It might get some sensitive viewers bothered, but it’s not overkill.
Joan Cusack is definitely a lot of fun to watch as she goes from sweet and innocent to all out psychotic. It makes it all the more humorous when she has to charm her way to the corpse-looking Fester and seems easier than she planned. It’s clear Cusack is having a blast saving her manic energy for the last act. Thought I do must question why she thinks there is a way to kill an Addams? I mean, isn’t the Addams clan already dead?
Aside from the flaws, you can tell they were trying to make a better movie here. Even director Barry Sonnenfeld seems to have a more comfortable experience, compared to the production stories I heard on the first one. Sadly, Values wasn’t a huge hit at the box-office, but critics did agree it was an improvement in many ways. I do admit, there is much fixed, but I still have some problems with the slight plot rehashing and some family members getting small screen time. But does that mean I hate it? Absolutely not!
Both Addams Family and Addams Family Values are equally entertaining and equally flawed. Again, I can overlook the problems to find a lot to be entertained with. It’s popcorn entertainment, but the good kind. I can forgive a lot of the story problems as everyone is really doing a great job bringing these characters to life and having a good time with it. It’s hard for me to say which is the better one as again they have a slightly similar plot and their own pros/cons. Regardless, I love these two movies and without a doubt give my highest recommendation to see them. If you haven’t had the chance, then stop reading and get watching!
Tobe Hooper is one of the most interesting horror movie directors. He knew how to get that really gritty and dirty feel with his movies like in his famous entry, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Since then, most of his movies have been laid in a middle ground of absurdity or be moderately scary. Lifeforce, on the other hand, is so out there that it’s a wonder to know Hooper was behind it. This one is a testament to his style of taking a B-movie premise and just flying with it.
The story has so many tone shifts that the entertaining value really comes from how many movie tones it channels. First, it concerns a group of astronauts, aboard a space station called the Churchill, who find a floating craft holding a bunch of well-preserved alien, yet human looking bodies in suspended animation. Three of them are taken aboard and then the astronauts go missing. After the Churchill crashes, a rescue mission finds the alien bodies in tack and takes them in at a research center.
From there, the movie kicks into full gear becoming a part-zombie and part-vampire feature. One of the creatures awakens and starts draining the life energy from scientists. The more life energy it consumes, the younger these creatures get. If the creatures can’t find a fresh host, they explode into a matter of dust. The special effects are highly commendable as one corpse-looking body rejuvenates into a naked woman played by Mathilda May.
In regards to these alien creatures, I guess the correct term to use here is “space vampires.” The scary thing about these monsters is how they have little to no weaknesses outside of killing the head vampire. Lifeforce takes on a lot of the original tropes and cliches of vampire movie mythology, while adding some “fresh blood” to it. Unfortunately, Lifeforce was greatly re-edited in America to avoid any connection to the blood sucking creatures for some weird reason. Thankfully, the International cut restores a great bulk of the vampire references and is currently available in all home media releases.
There is an interesting idea here I really like where one of the Churchill astronauts, played by Steve Railsback, turns up alive and has a strange connection to the head space vampire. Apparently, he has a physic link that causes him to lose control and be used as a Renfield-like ploy. This is handled in a more erotic manner where the guy is seduced to the dark side, while he struggles to fight against the creatures. You can’t tell if he is with the humans or trying to help the space vampires.
There is one scene I have to bring up, because it must be seen to be believed. Patrick Stewart plays the manager of a psychiatric hospital and has the alien trapped in his body. At one point, they hypnotize the alien inside him to talk and he causes the astronaut to make their bond “stronger” by kissing him. Let THAT sink in. Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation has a kissing scene with an actor who played Charles Manson in a 1976 TV miniseries called Helter Skelter. It’s a surreal moment. Again, this too was changed in the US theatrical cut, so it looks like the tortured man is kissing the head vampire instead. This is why I prefer the International cut more when it comes to a movie like this.
The final third of Lifeforce is just downright insane. After channeling Alien with the outer space scenes to a little of The Terminator, everything just goes out of control as it becomes an doomsday apocalypse movie. The alien gets loose and starts affecting everyone in London. Left and right, pedestrians get their lives drain out of them while the movie turns into a zombie movie on acid. It just comes out of nowhere and rockets into an epic finale.
There is nothing else I can say. Lifeforce must be seen to believed. Even Leonard Maltin was speechless giving it a mild recommendation for it’s crazy detours. I do agree with him on how this movie jumps from many different film tones and that’s where most of its charm comes from. It keeps you wondering what direction it will take not knowing how bonkers it will become by the final reel. It maybe inconsistent with the tone its going for, but it results in a lot of entertaining vaule.
Do Uncle Morgan a favor. Buy this movie, invite a lot of friends over for Halloween night, order some pizza, play the full International cut of Lifeforce and get ready for one wild night with space vampires and bewildered viewers. It will make for a great evening full of “what the $%*# am I watching?!?” God…I love this movie…
Tales from the Crypt was a breakthrough on cable television for ramping up the gore and sex. Based on the infamous EC Comics, it was perfectly cartoony without overstaying the fun. The anthology show was a runaway hit on HBO and made the Cryptkeeper (voiced by John Kassir) an iconic image on 1990s cable television. The property was perfect ripping for a theatrical franchise, but where to start? Previous incarnations like Creepshow, a 1972 British adaptation and its follow-up The Vault of Horror were rooted in being an anthology themed feature. You would get a magnitude of stories for the price of one. It was a nice little concept that fits within the show.
Instead, the decision was to make a trilogy of movies that would have been a nice Halloween staple. Not a bad idea, but what made the show perfect already was how much it could host in 30 minutes. Being an anthology series itself, the series had the power to host a variety of tales with the Cryptkeeper book-ending each one. You could practically do a marathon of the show’s episodes and it would still qualify as a feature. On top of that, producers Joel Silver and his crew had a hard time trying to find a script perfect for the first film. Original suggestions From Dusk Till Dawn and Peter Jacksons’ The Frightners found better life as stand-alone movies or just felt too good to be qualified as a Tales from the Crypt feature. Eventually, a script arrived at Silver’s way which executives thought had more potential to use, which to an extent I agree.
Demon Knight has these qualities as a drifter (William Sadler) is on the run from a demonic entity known as the Collector (Billy Zane). The drifter ends up at a boarding house where he fights to help everyone survive the night as the Collector arrives to take back a certain item he carries. There’s demonic possessions, an army of monsters that invade the house and plenty of gloppy special effects to keep anyone entertained. Everything about this entry is just plain fun. The premise is a little more complex than a normal Tales from the Crypt episode, but it does work. The concept of demons fits in with the show’s horror aspect and pushes the boundaries further delivering something fun and scary.
Everything going into this movie just works. The performances from people like William Sadler and Jada Pinkett Smith are perfect for this story as they tread a line between campy and dark horror. Even Billy Zane is having a blast playing the villain who can be funny and terrifying at the same time.Once in a while, you get a goofy performance from someone like Dick Miller as one of the residents, but I feel they are there to lighten the tone considering it tackles a subject few horror movies do. To give a broader idea of what i’m talking about, think Exorcist if it was more comic book in tone.
While Demon Knight is not a masterpiece, it’s basic popcorn entertainment for the Halloween season. Take what makes the Evil Dead series fun and give it a darker spin. The bookend segments with the Cryptkeeper are also funny too as we see the ghoulish host trying to direct his first movie. There is a moment where they use CGI at one point to make it look like he’s a full bodied character and it looks really bad. Thankfully, he remains the animatronic puppet we know and come to love. It clearly sets up the tone and what kind of fun viewers will have.
If one were to watch the end credits of Demon Knight, a small teaser appears at the end for an upcoming installment called Dead Easy (it also went by the title Fat Tuesday.) It was supposed to follow afterwards, but sadly the movie never got made. From what I heard, the plot dealt with zombies in modern New Orleans, but there were some problems getting it off the ground. There’s two productions stories I keep hearing on why it got never got made. One suggests they kept rewriting the script to a point it felt less comedic and more horror orientated. According to the Bordello of Blood audio commentary with screenwriter and producer A. L. Katz, another reason is that the executives at Universal Studios felt it was a little “un-PC” and pulled the plug at the very last minute.
Regardless, I do know that Bordello of Blood was made with only one option; to keep Robert Zemeckis with Universal Studios. Universal executives were afraid to loose one of their big names to then new Dreamworks Studios and asked if there anything they could do for him. Zemeckis pulled out a script from his college days and asked for it to be made into a full-length feature. The rest was cinematic disastrous history.
The plot centers around a funeral home disguised as a brothel homing a bunch of sultry vampires. They get sent new visitors every night for a little feast and fun of their own. Right off the bat, you can tell this is something written by a guy from his college days. Points for creativity, but why hide a secret bordello at a funeral home? There’s something about it’s placement that just feels weird.
Take From Dusk Till Dawn, a movie that came out the same year as Bordello. It had a brothel set in the middle of nowhere, so there was no communication close by. When the vampires came out, you felt trapped in this place with next to no available help. Here, it’s deep near a forest and close to a local city where folks can seek for assistance. That is something one lady does (Erika Eleniak) as she reluctantly hires a P.I. (Dennis Miller) when the police are no help.
Now, every Tales form the Crypt story will have that one standout celebrity who will drive the whole plot in an enjoying experience. In this case, we don’t get that. Miller feels disinterested while Eleniak takes things too seriously. Oddly the worst of the two is Dennis Miller who surfs through with one-liners and doesn’t really care about how he acts.
There is where some of that “behind the scenes” destruction plays in. Dennis Miller was hired on as suggested by Joel Silver who saw some potential in him, Miller refused at first, until they offered him a million dollar paycheck. He didn’t like the script, never got along with anyone and constantly ad-libbed his lines. A good amount of his improvised lines ended up rewriting over a lot of written material that shared connections to the plot. Now, actors who shared scenes with him were confused, because they had lines in connection to what was written in the script when he was going completely off-script. In short, Dennis Miller just didn’t care.
Nobody had a good time making this movie. It was only created for the sake of studio power and that was all. The only two who appear to be giving a care are Corey Feldmen as one of the first victims and Angie Everhart as the head of the vampires. They seem to be more relaxed and know what kind of movie they are in. It’s a shame, because everyone else looks so lost or acts like they are trying to sabotage the production so they can get out.
The only time Bordello ever comes alive is during the last third. It doesn’t save the movie entirely, but when you have characters attacking vampires with super soakers full of holy water, what is there to complain about? I just wish the whole movie was as fun as that last third. It even gets worse when Miller quips, “it feels like I’m in a bad episode of Tales from the Crypt” and no one cuts the line out. Even the Cryptkeeper segments are lazy as ever recycling a routine from The Assassin episode where he plays “Rock, Paper Scissors” with a mummy. It only goes to show you just how much “care” there was during production.
There is a third movie that got made called Ritual, but it was released only to home video in 2006 and bears no connection to the proposed trilogy. I’ve only seen the Cryptkeeper segments and they are dead unfunny. The puppet looks not as slick as the previous versions and the jokes are just lame as the corpsey host cracks on about sex appeal and Jamaican stereotypes.
To think, a would be trilogy got derailed by the disastrous Bordello. I feel bad nothing else was done with this franchise outside of some Saturday Morning TV shows. With the endless possibilities, I’d say its time to resurrect this as not a TV show, but maybe a reboot film series. As old Cryptie once said, “At first you don’t succeed, die and die again!”
However, I do recommend getting both movies on the Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release. Both films have been given the right amount of attention and detail when it comes to their video transfers and great amount of bonus material. Scream Factory is a horror division of the Shout Factory, who also deliver the goods on pop culture shows like Mystery Science Theater 3000 and too many to count. Both Blu-rays contain documentaries detailing the production and creation of this short-lived franchise. I even would go as far to say Bordello is worth getting alone just to hear the terrible production stories. At least it shows there are some folks out there who care about the treatment of certain “cult classics.”
You know the movie you are about to see will be bad when you can’t find any behind the scenes trivia on it. Further more, its worse when you can’t find any information on whether this was released to theaters or straight to home video. At this point, it doesn’t matter. Because when you have a movie like Monster High, you start to question what kind of viewers it was made for. Was the target audience for those who likes dumb teen comedies or really bad movies? Because this one tries way too hard to be jokey and dumb, when it should have just focused on being a movie.
So here is the plot. Two bald-headed aliens, with the voice of Fred Figglehorn, steal a doomsday device and escape to Earth. The device is shaped like a basketball and inside is a living embodiment of destruction named Mr. Doomsday. The captive being bursts out of its prison and causes havoc at a local high school. He does so by transforming mundane things into monsters and killing hot teenagers who think less with their brain and more with…their libido or something.
And that’s really about as stupid and basic as it gets. I wouldn’t mind its stupidity if it wasn’t for a lot of things. The whole tone is trying to be self-aware like Airplane! or The Naked Gun, but here is this is what made THOSE movies work. The Zucker Brothers take the most mundane and silly of situations and play them up as epic action scenes. If there was any “winking to the viewers,” we would be lost on the joke. Here, everyone is over the top and hamming it up to where it comes off as annoying.
Even the jokes are by far the worse. Something simple as “waking up from bad dream” is used constantly to where it doesn’t feel not funny anymore. They keep repeating previous gags to the point there is no reason for it to exist, while some are the most bizarre. Highlights include a nerd playing a computer game where he’s a space penis shooting at Christianity crosses, aliens rapping about female genitalia, a gargoyle brought to life and rages about his tiny member, a gremlin-like monster birthed from a dead teenager’s shoes, Mr. Armageddon taking a long time to unzip his fly and that’s only a fraction. There is a golden rule I go by certain comedies where if I laugh less than three times, then I decree the humor is flat. And honestly, I don’t even remember if I did laugh at all in this one.
Even the movie itself thinks the audience is dumb enough not to understand what is going on. There’s moments where we cut back to this alien who is the ruler of the universe and is watching the movie with us while having sex with his secretary. However, the most baffling of all is the inclusion of a narrator. I’m not making this up. They have a narrator talk over certain scenes to clearly spell out what is going on when we already know what is happening. It will speak over character dialogue and silent moments when its clearly not needed. What’s the point of telling us what is happening when we already can see it?
I almost feel like I’m watching a movie made for the Playboy channel considering the low budget and the way its shot feels like one. With all the constant sex jokes, I’m just expecting someone to erupt into an orgy with the dumpster bin of sex humor here. There is nothing original or anything delightful about it. There’s a juvenile sense which gets really irritating.
Oh and guess how the day is saved? Everyone gets together and has a big basketball game which determines the fate of the world. There’s no new twists, nothing to keep it fresh or original and even the main characters cheat their way to win. Though I admit, I do remembering laughing at one joke during the climax and its when the lead character makes his final shot into the hoop. The ball keeps rotating around for a good 5 minutes as other characters look on in disbelief. At least that was kind of funny, but it’s not enough to save this movie.
After watching this travesty, I have a small appreciation for Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzerberg. I’m not saying their movies are good, but at least there are times when I can see they were trying to make jokes or do something. Monster High doesn’t even attempt a good laugh at all. It’s shot clumsy, edited clumsy and the plot is everywhere. It is without a doubt, one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot. Sad seeing how it came on a DVD 4 pack with The Craft, the original Fright Night and Brainscan. Why must these three other suffer with the inclusion of this crap Hollywood calls a movie? Even if you like bad movies, don’t even bother or think about this one. Why waste your time with a failed exercise in horror and humor when you can seek elsewhere?
I really want to say Transylvania 6-5000 is smart and clever, but there are too many cons that hold me back from doing so. The concept is something I can get behind. A bunch of “monsters” are sighted in this Transylvanian village and two tabloid reporters are sent to make a cheesy report about it. I like the idea of how its taking the famed monsters and turning the mythos on its head. However, once the movie is over, I can’t help but realize there is a lot of room for improvements here and there. And I mean a lot…
Let me talk about the pros first, because there is some good stuff which makes the experience redeemable. Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. are not too bad as the reporters. They can have a funny moment once in a while and surprisingly have good chemistry. While its not too iconic like Abbott and Costello, they still try to make the material they are given usable for laughs.
Even some of the side characters are memorable, too. I still remember how crass their boss (Normal Fell) is and how much he expresses his love for “crap” news. The first scene he is in clearly sets the tone for how much it doesn’t care what damage it does to the monster mythology like calling the Frankenstein monster “Frankenstein.” Jeffery Jones plays the mayor and, as always, he will give a fun performance no matter what he’s in.
Perhaps the ones I remember more are the butler Fejos (Seinfeld‘s Michael Richards) and the servants (Carol Kane and famed voice actor John Byner). Fejos is always showing off his comedic shtick even when its not needed. One minute, he’s using fake legs for a door injury, riding on a kiddie ride for no reason or playing around with puppets. The character is unpredictable. I also like the two servants, because both actors have a lot of funny scenes like trying to one up each other. Its such an odd pairing to have Kane and Byner, yet something just works so well with those two.
Another good thing is some of the funny set pieces. There’s a hilarious highlight where the reporters go to a local hotel and one of them asks if they have seen the Frankenstein monster. The attendants take this as a joke and keep riffing on how they believe in monsters. It’s the best laugh in the whole feature, aside from comedy 101 with Micheal Richards. There’s other little scenes here and there which are funny too. But not as big of a belly laugh as two reporters getting awkward laughs from an entire hotel staff.
And from there, it all goes downhill. What doesn’t work for me is the rest of the movie. It takes about an entire hour, until something interesting happens. And because of that, a lot of our attention is on Goldblum and Begley Jr’s characters. It’s sad because even some of the material they are given is not enough to work with. There’s drawn out moments where they look about the castle or try to figure out what is real. And for the most part, the movie just drags.
Afterwards, the plot kicks back into gear when we are introduced to a mad scientist, played by Joseph Bologna, who is keeping a bunch of “monsters” with him for experimentation…or that’s how it seems. It’s a very funny performance as Bolonga switches between a kind and caring man to a ranting lunatic. What makes this a negative is how we have to wait so long for a kooky character to be introduced to finally break up the clutter. We spend so much time with the reporters to a point even their material gets sort of thin.
There’s also some jokes that don’t seem to work or have a bizarre setup. For example, there is this fortune teller that recites lines from the original Wolf Man, who ends her routine by “going to rest” and whacking her head on the table leaving a big hole. It’s amusing at first, but then the joke gets tiring when we see it again and get the idea this is part of her shtick. It doesn’t really make much sense outside of the painful thought of why this woman doesn’t have a concussion yet. There’s even a brief moment when someone who looks like the Wolf Man calls Goldblum a “communist” for no reason. It just comes out of blue.
But the biggest thing that really ruins for it for me is the ending. I won’t spoil a whole lot, but I get the joke. These outcasts who look like monsters are not really monsters and the doctor has been trying to cure them this entire time to be normal. It’s not bad, but its executed in this really lame way. Wouldn’t it be more funnier if they were real monsters instead of people who look like them?
Sure, it does lead into a funny gag where Begley Jr. tries to manipulate an angry mob by acting as different mob members. But, it just becomes a disappointing conclusion to know the monsters are not real and it’s all one big misconception. Again, that joke can work, but it’s not done right. I feel the idea of revealing the Wolf Man as a really harry guy or the Frankenstein monster is just literally stitched back up together. However, there’s a lot of lost comedic potential here. Even a young Geena Davis sporting a skimpy outfit and acting as a vampire is not enough to save it.
On the whole, I’m not too disappointed in Transylvania 6-5000, but I do wish it could have been better. Occasionally, there is a very funny and quotable line along with a humorous scene or two. But I feel so much of the enjoyment rides on just how you view the way it concludes. Do you feel it needs a big Scooby-Doo ending or would it be funnier if they didn’t take this safe road? I can’t say for sure this is looked at too negatively and it does have a cult following. Heck, this movie was a small hit at the box office, despite some harsh reviews including an infamous one by Leonard Maltin. This is another case of watch and judge for yourself. Some of it does work, but I feel a great bulk of the movie lags under how it treats the concept. And if you want a true monster mash-up,stay tuned Halloween day for a special review on that.
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.