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.
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.
Welcome to a fresh new year with your personal Halloween movie guide! This year, we intend to look at some cult favorites that span from the odd, bizarre and trashy. And what better place to start, but with a childhood favorite…
The Munsters is a television show I grew up with. The concept about a bunch of monsters living as the ideal mundane family is nothing too new, but leads to some funny ideas. It’s ironic to note this series aired concurrently the same time as The Addams Family and how the two differed in their comedic styles. While Addams Family was to the witty word play of the Marx Brothers, the Munsters were more grounded in Stooges slapstick. With a continuing fan base, you would think a big-budgeted movie adaptation would happen at some point today. Surprisingly enough, there was one theatrical feature which arrived not too long after the show’s end.
Munster, Go Home! is the closest thing to a perfect representation of the TV series in every way. 90% of the original cast reprise their roles (which the exception of Debbie Watson filling for Marilyn), four of the writers from the show created the script and the feature tries to stick close to the original goofy spirit of the series. When creating a big screen adaptation, you have the option to stick close to the source and repeat certain things or go drastic and move in new direction. Munster, Go Home! tries to go beyond the limits of it’s charming black and white sitcom, but at times plays itself a little too safe.
The plot is so easy to follow that you don’t need to be a fortunate teller to figure out the “twists.” The Munsters inherit an English manor overseas and decide to live there once the patriarch Herman is given the title “Lord.” Already, this setup sounds ideal for an episode of the TV show, but it gives the chance for our characters to move out of the suburbs. We are treated to some scenes on their trip to England accompanied with Herman getting sea sick, their son Eddie getting adjusted to the new crawl space he sleeps in and Grandpa facing a dilemma after he transforms into a wolf by accident. This very much sets up the way things are paced in this movie. So much stuff is thrown in that it serves as more of a vignette instead of a narrative.
While that goes on, their inheritance starts to cause a riff with other greedy British cousins who are after the fortune and family title. As excepted, they scheme their way to reclaim the estate by any means necessary. This would be fine if it wasn’t for one problem; the British Munster relatives are normal people and not monsters. I know the series had a running gag with average citizens would view the Munsters as raging monsters, but this presents a missed opportunity. Why not have the British cousins be other monsters? It was customary in the series to have other ‘Munsters’ appear like the Wolfman and even, at one point, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It extends the joke to how the Munsters are related to the Universal Studio Monsters, which makes the “in-joke” more humorous to fans.
Still, for a trade up, the Cousins are played by English comedians like Terry-Thomas (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the voice of Sir Hiss in Disney’s Robin Hood) and Hermione Gingold (1962’s The Music Man). They do a good job being entertaining, but I don’t recall anything interesting about them. It’s funny to see their characters lament like a bunch of big kids over how they are loosing their fortune to a bunch of outsiders. But outside of their schemes and a money counterfeit plan, I can’t recall anything interesting happening with them. They are your average stock villains and nothing more.
On the bright side, the actors and actress reprising the Munster family have a lot of fun. You can tell they love the characters each one perform giving as much respect to which they portrayed in the TV series. Of course, these are characters that don’t have a complex narrative and are simply defined. You have the goofy father, the mother who acts like a referee, the grandfather with the zany solutions and the next of kin who are nice folks. Everyone works together and easily slips into their TV counterparts without much fault.
What holds the movie together is the Munsters and their ‘fish out of water’ comedy throughout. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The idea of a family made of monsters (Frankenstein monster is the father, the mother and grandfather are vampires, the son is a werewolf while the eldest daughter is the normal one) is a unique concept. To see this strange batch do mundane sitcom storytelling is what gave the show its charm. In the attempt of keeping the running time long, new material is scarce seeing almost every single joke and plot is recycled from the show.
However, we do get to see the make-up job in Technicolor and newcomers, unaware of the series, will be able to adjust with the goofy tone. Die hard fans will be disappointed to notice a lot of recycled material from the show ranging from the Grandpa turning into a wolf, the English cousins dressing up as ghosts to scare the Munsters out (which was done in one episode with some thieves) and so forth. The only reused element I feel is welcomed revolves around a country side race wtih the Drag-u-la. A drag racing car shaped like a coffin that gets a lot of fast millage. This recycled element can be excused, because it was a famous trademark from the series. Everything else is very debatable for fans on the quality of “freshness.”
It should be noted a lot of the “recycling” was done, because this movie was made with only one soul purpose in mind; to sell the show to international audiences. This is something not entirely new. The Monty Python group did the same thing with And Now For Something Completely Different to gain American audience interest. Unfortunately, I don’t think this idea worked entirely. Munster, Go Home! wasn’t a smash hit at the domestic box office and it didn’t make much sense considering the Munsters series debuted a little after the film’s theatrical run. I don’t mind the idea of having a Munsters movie, but this was clearly done with the intention to sell for foreign audiences. Something clearly seen considering the use of famed English celebrities hired on to gain recognition.
Munster, Go Home! is not a bad movie, but it’s nothing special either. The correct term would have to be harmless. This is just harmless fun meant for entertainment and nothing else. I admit, there are moments between Fred Gwynne (Herman Munster) and Al Lewis (Grandpa) that are funny and a running gag with Marilyn romancing a local is sort of cute. On the surface, this is an adaptation that probably would have worked better as a one-hour TV special or a standard episode of the series. It’s not terrible by any means and can serve as an introduction for those new to the show. Die hard fans might be disappointed to see this is a rerun of sorts stitched together and opt to have the entire series better recommended. Personally, I’d take this over the painfully unfunny Munsters’ Revenge (1981) and an adequate sequel series called The Munsters Today. I do feel the original 1960s series is superior in comparison, but it’s nice to see they tried something even if it didn’t work all the way.
Last month, viewers got “The Dark Tower.” Basically, a way on how NOT to adapt a Stephen King adaption. The problems lies in how overstuffed and expansive King’s universes really are. After reading his famed novel “IT,” I can see why adapting his books can be a challenge. There’s only so much information you can cram in to justify for a two hour venture. Well, I don’t know how but director Andres Muschietti was able to take a 1,100 page novel and use the right parts to make a good movie.
The basic story is there as a supernatural entity is killing and eating kids in the small Maine town named Derry. A group of kids discover the truth behind the kid’s disappearances in hopes to stop this monster from any more terror. Sounds basic enough, but Stephen King’s novel goes so in-depth that it feels like your reading a history text book at times. To King’s credit, he has good ideas, knows how to build atmosphere and create some memorable characters. Muschietti was kind enough to know what to cut out and what elements were crucial to keep in.
The main meat of this adaptation relies on the child portion of the story. While we get to see them as adults and try to stop “IT” again, all of that is rightfully saved for a possible follow-up. The focus here is on the “Losers’ Club” and who they are. We see what fears they each have which plays a important fact later on. You get the feeling of being a kid again when the world was big and yet you feel defenseless.
All of the kid actors do a good job conveying these characters. Each one bringing to life so much depth and yet few feel like a trope. I feel this has to do with how the setting is changed from being in 1958 to 1989. A time when the teenager was more rebellious and carefree than before. This is reflected with Eddie who is trying to bypass his mother who wants him to remain inside his home. Along with that is more character depth for the bully Henry Bowers who feels more like a threat and less like a generic stock villain with a pocket knife.
The biggest scene stealer is of Bill Skarsgard as the demonic clown Pennywise. From the first scene, there is a hint of something uncanny from the way his eyes look in the other direction and his kind delivery feels more eerie. In a 1990 TV miniseries version, Tim Curry donned the clown make-up and gave a fun performance. I feel Skarsgard easily blew that out of the water. When we see him terrorize the kids, the performance is never over the top or too scary. Skarsgard walks a middle ground that is fun and creepy at the same time.
Those who are afraid of horror movies and want to know how gory it gets should be fine. When I went to see it, there was an 11 year old in the audience who acted fine. However, some moments might be too intense to see from a blood fountain gushing from a sink to a quick shot of Pennywise nibbling on a dismembered arm. Being one whose seen many horror movies, the violence and horrific tone feels more on par with the first “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie, but doesn’t feel too gory or too much. Little kids under 10 might not sit well with some of the ghoulish imagery and running theme of missing kids being eaten by an evil clown.
I was honestly surprised by what “IT” came to offer. This new adaptation was fun as a haunted house while even heartwarming when it needed to be. I do have one or two nitpicks with some of the changes, but they are all the more welcome. When a scene from the book was being adapted, I grew more excited as the scene played out wondering how it would play out. When “IT” was funny, it was funny. When “IT” was scary, you could feel the building tension and creepy atmosphere sinking in. By changing the theme of the story to “facing your fears,” we get not only a movie we can identify with but a journey we wish would never end. If there is a second half in the near future, you can count on this film fan anticipating the next chapter of “IT.”