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Horror-Wood Blog-a-thon: Spongebob Squarepants – The Legend of Boo-kini Bottom

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1033445-first-look-spongebob-squarepants-gets-stop-motion-treatmentWe had some very lackluster Halloween specials this year. Michael Jackson’s Halloween proved to be one of the most head-scratching in years while SNL’s The David S. Pumpkins Halloween Special didn’t really do much for viewers (personally, I thought it was ok.) But between these two, how come no one is talking about the recent Spongebob Squarepants Halloween special? Yeah, of all the things to come out this month, how is it that Nickelodeon’s cartoon about a sea sponge actually got it right? It’s full of Halloween imagery, surrounds itself on the spooky holiday and its all made with stop-motion animation…well, partly, but we’ll get to that.

SpongeBobBookiniBottom03Spongebob (voice by Tom Kenny) is not a fan of being scared and likes to make merry on the holiday, not understanding the true meaning completely. His buddy neighbor Patrick Star (a starfish voiced by Bill Fragerbakke) manages him to confuse him into thinking the scariness of the holiday is meant to be taken funny. They visit a couple of haunted houses and it causes Spongebob to feel more comfortable with the new found philosophy while laughing all the way. However, the Flying Dutchman (voiced by a hilarious Brian Doyle-Murray) thinks otherwise as he plans to scare the giggly sponge by any means necessary.

Tom+Kenny+Nickelodeon+SpongeBob+SquarePants+7_NXI8OzDB8lI just want to get this out of the way, I friggin’ love the stop-motion animation here. I loved this animation as a kid and I’m still fascinated by it to this day. The studio Screen Novelties, who also did the Christmas special in 2012, do a great job bringing these characters to a three-dimensional state while also fitting in with the nonsensical tone of the show. CGI animation would have been too easy to use as the animation here has a strange charm to it. The animators even go as far to match the strangeness of jokes like a close-up of Patrick’s teeth or the movement of certain characters. I’d arguable say the show’s concept and animation style are an odd match for the two.

Stop-motion itself was always a laborious process, but it really pays off in the end. There’s behind the scenes videos out there showcasing how difficult the animation is while also being a marvel. The sets on the Flying Dutchman’s ship are great to look at and it’s cool to see the undersea world of Bikini Bottom turned into a full dimensional place. Also, there are times when they don’t use animation. Sometimes, they will use live-puppetry for certain effects which is kind of neat. There’s a good mix of hand puppets and wire marionettes which have this near creepy vibe to them. Even famed animator Sally Cruikshank provides a great piece, known for her psychedelically surreal pieces like her short Quasi at the Quackeradero.

1c277-the-scare-song-spongebob-squarepants-the-legend-of-boo-kini-bottom-halloween-stop-motion-animation-special-nickelodeon-nick-sbsp_2The best highlight for me is easily the “Scare Song” sequence. The Dutchman takes Spongbob and Patrick on this creepy ride which is almost adjacent to Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. There’s puppet ghosts everywhere, strange creatures running about and at one point, our heroes get launched into a pinball machine. It just literally screams out Halloween every time I see it.

The message of Boo-kini Bottom is that’s its ok to be scared, even when you don’t like it. This comes in very well near the final third and it works well to its advantage. So at least kids will be ok with a nice message about the holiday. For adults, there’s plenty of good visuals and funny jokes along the way. Part of me wishes it was a little longer, but it still has a lot of rewatch value for the 24 mins we get. If your not a fan of the show, that’s fine, but I still recommend checking it out for the technical craft. I honestly can’t think of another modern Halloween special like this. It shows how fun Halloween can be while also presenting some nice tricks and treats.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: The Blob (Original and Remake)

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blob_1958_poster_02Without 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.

Steve-McQueenFor 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.

MV5BODQ2ODQzZTktYzExNi00N2NiLWJhZDAtOTg4MGE2MDQyNWZhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMzQwOTE2NjE@._V1_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.

blobfest2_600The 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.

1429563662683You 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.

MV5BMTljMzIyZmYtYjNjMy00YTg4LWEzMDAtMjdhNGI3ZDI4ZGUxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTQzOTg1MDM@._V1_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.

the-blob-1988Speaking 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.

audreyiiconwayosIt 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.

the-blob-1988-movie-theatreIn 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.

“Kubo” powerful, emotionally moving and beautiful

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After finally seen it, I have to admit how much I regret passing up “Kubo and the Two Strings” the minute it arrived to theaters. Laika Studios deserves better attention for how impressive their stop-motion animated features are. Even more unique is how they are made for the budget of a simple $60 million. A movie like this almost appears more than that. And yet, much was well spent with great characters, a powerful story and an overall movie-going experience that swept me away. In a sense, I’m tempted to put this on my list of all-time favorite movies. But perhaps, it will in due time once its greatness is more recognized (I’m looking at you Oscars.) I would go as far to say its a great anime (seeing its set in ancient Japan) considering the style and tone does feel like one.

The character of Kubo is highly identifiable. Not because he is a kid, but how imaginative and caring he can be. It’s about as realistic as a typical kid with innocence can get. In the first part of the movie, we get an idea of his surroundings and his limits. How protective he is others and how creative he can be. Gifted with a magic shamisen, Kubo uses this to bring origami to life and tell stories to the local village. A clever way to set up the remainder of the story as Kubo can draft heroic characters and monsters, but sadly stuck on an ending.

His life changes when two witches are after him and has to find three pieces of armor to save him and those around him. Accompanying his journey is a no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and a cursed samurai warrior trapped as a humanoid beetle (Matthew McConaughey). And let me tell you, I loved these characters and greatly cared for them. I loved how the Monkey was motherly at times, but knew when to be a fighter and protector. I adored Beetle and how he could provide comic relief for his bad memory as well as his heroic attempts. When one of them was in danger (especially little Kubo), there was a sense of danger and risk that we might loose these heroes. And that’s what I found more intriguing compared to the other summer films this year; there was a sense of care for our characters.

Again, I feel tormented I didn’t see this one sooner to really appreciate its beauty. Watching this was like “Wolf Children,” a movie about growing up and learning its difficulties along the way. To know when to let go and find your place in the universe. That to me is really what this movie was in a nutshell, but more. The lesson at the end is to make your own story and live it. Telling legends are good, but don’t forget to live your tale to the fullest. And even when it ends, those who heard it will remember your story and how important it can be. Few movies this year are able to convey such a heavy message in a unique way.

Thus at the end, I found myself in tears. Tears at the beauty of the animation and the way it concludes. Sometimes, you don’t need a big epic fight to bookend your movie. And that’s something missing from most good vs. evil tales. Without spoiling HOW it ends, violence can defend, but it can’t serve a happy ending in this kind of world. And they way this “alternative” was offered was so powerful and emotional that I had a hard time holding back every tear.

The only thing I do have to nitpick is the use of CGI. To its credit, there are times when it blends perfectly into the environment and obviously animating water in a stop-motion flick is near to impossible. Sometimes the CGI effects can stick out while other times it can blend seamlessly into this colorful world. I even found myself marveling at certain sets and blades of grass wondering what was really there and what was digital. Not to mention there is a great amount of effort and creativity in things like a giant skeleton (which is a big puppet as shown during the end credits) and an array of monsters. Each one feels like they were taken from Japansese folklore in design and poetic movement.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” is a movie I can’t recommend enough. It’s up there with “Coraline” as my favorite film from Laika. There is action, humor and plenty of heart. Not a single frame feels wasted and everything feels perfectly paced. The dark moments feel earned, the quiet moments are put in the right spots and when it gets theoretical about topics like death and what lies beyond, it’s executed in a way that is subtle and executable. So much that even little kids won’t have a hard time with the some of the harsher elements because they will be assured their story will live on even at the end. But it breaks my heart to see not many have given this one the love and respect it deserves at the box-office. I beg of you, see this on the big screen. Because if you blink out on this one, you will miss out on a powerful experience.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Frankenweenie

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The original classic

The original classic

Tim Burton is a very interesting name to discuss these days. Regardless on if you like or dislike his films, his style is certain different from anyone else. That Gothic twisted look to his films and the dark color palette presents an other worldly feel to his movies that appear like demented fairy tales. Surprisingly, his style didn’t start that way as being well-known. He worked as an animator for Disney and had highly mixed feelings about it. However, he was giving the opportunity to create some short films under his personal creative control. One of these shorts was a movie about a boy and his dog called Frankenweenie. This short gained some infamy with Disney studios for being too dark and Tim wasting their efforts financially. It was never released to US theaters but thankfully made its way to home video.

Victor’s mom puts the final touches on Sparky in one of the short’s many comedic touches.

Barret Oliver plays young Victor whose dog Sparky gets tragically killed in a car accident. After feeling low, he gets the inspiration to resurrect his dead dog through the power of electricity just like in the Frankenstein story. And much like in the story, the resurrected dog causes much trouble in the neighborhood leading people to think Victor made a monster. As one would guess, this was a straight-up parody and homage to the original Frankenstein movies and takes plenty of creative liberties.

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern confront the neighbors about a monster on the loose

Instead of setting it in a period piece setting, Burton cleverly sets it during a 1950s style that almost looks akin to the suburban town in Edward Scissorhands. At close to a half hour length, the story was simple and easy to follow. Despite being a tad dark at times, the short knew when to inject some humor in the right places like when milk leaks out of Sparky’s stitches. Another great scene is when the Frankenstein family invites the neighbors to see the resurrected Sparky. The dad, played by a surprisingly unrecognizable Daniel Stern, tries to joke around with the nervous patrons but only gets deep stares. There’s a lot of emotion riding here when Sparky has to prove he isn’t evil to the people and sure enough, we do get a happy ending. The moral is basic that something you love is never lost. I can connect highly to that seeing how big of a dog lover I am and understand Victor’s sadness. It’s certainly one of Tim’s best that shows how much a small story can impact you.

The remake

The remake

Now, let’s talk about the 2012 remake. First off, I’m glad to see Tim Burton was able to helm this one and make his own vision. I know the case “don’t fix what isn’t broken” is tossed around but this movie had potential. I loved the boy and dog aspect from the short and figured that is what would be the main focus. When I heard it would be in stop-motion animation, I was floored. I love stop-motion and how rare films are using it these days. Even when it was announced it would be in black and white, I was still intrigued. I thought maybe this could be that one movie that could help return Burton back to his roots like Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I know he didn’t direct but was a huge influence behind it). Then I saw the movie. Where do I begin?

I should off the bat that I don’t hate this new take. There are aspects of it I do admire. I’m glad they kept the boy and his dog angle. That was the main focus of the short. Scenes where Victor interacts with his resurrected dog are cute and the animation allows more to do like a funny running gag where some of Sparky’s parts fall off. The character designs are interesting too with some of the class mates resembling classic monsters or Frankenstein archetypes. There’s a kid how looks like Igor and another who feels modeled after Boris Karloff.

The "interesting" cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

The “interesting” cast of Frankenweenie (2012)

So the look of the movie is fine and the basic story is there. The stuff they add in tries to have some relevance to the plot. A new character named Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) is unique being the wise mentor while showing kids the dangers and thrills of experimenting in science class. He may look creepy but has a soul in a later scene when he explains to Victor how crafting from the heart is more important. The character is nice but the message they add in feels too syrupy even for Burton’s standards. I get the message is that creating something from your own self is more important but it comes off feeling weird. I thought the idea of the short was to show those you loss are never gone. I think that is a more stronger morale than something they try here.

The last half of Frankenweenie is a doozy to discuss. All the kids find out about Victor’s secret and try to make their own dead pets come to life. It makes for one heck of a climax but something doesn’t feel right. How did we go from a boy and the appreciate of his dog to this? I guess the finale when the creatures they make attack a fair is fun but it feels bloated and goes on for a bit too long. And while I know its a movie, I do question the disturbing nature of kids attempting to resurrect their dead pets. I know the short made a clear point about dealing with loss but this takes that idea into a different context that leads me feeling unsettled.

A boy and his undead dog

A boy and his undead dog

In fact, this subplot is what makes a good bulk of the movie feel unpleasant for me to watch.  I know Frankenweenie is trying to pass off as entertainment for all ages but it just leaves me wondering what kids will make of it. I’m sure they will like the idea of a boy bring his dead dog back to life that he loves so dearly. But the elements with the class bringing back their pets or making new monsters out of them leaves me feeling disturbed. I know family films tend to have a dark edge but feels way too much. Maybe its the animal lover in me being defensive but I can’t say this movie is all-out bad. But my thoughts overall are just really a mixed bag. There are some elements I do admire like the animation and the design. I just wish the heart of the story had more focus on what it wants to be. Not one of Burton’s worst but certainly not one of best. My recommendation is to stick with the 1984 live-action short. I feel its heart is in the right place there.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: King Kong (1933)

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October is here and its time to open up the vault once again. The Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon is back to give you more chills, thrills and oddball titles for the Halloween season. All October, you will get 31 posts for the next 31 days on some personal recommendations or some that deserve a good tearing. Some you wouldn’t guess would fit in with the Halloween season. And others that seriously may need a re-write. Consider this a “Personal Movie Gudie” for the Halloween season and feel free to agree, disagree or marvel at what I got in store. Instead of focusing on a theme, each day will be a special surprise. It could be a movie from the 1930s or a modern piece of trash. As with tradition, the last day of October will be specially reserved for a movie that I feel is underrated and deserves a watch on the spooky season. For now, let’s start off with the king of the monsters … or at least he is a king where he comes from.

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

If Universal Studios started the monster craze, this one perfected it!

Its hard to think of a world when King Kong wouldn’t exist. Many can argue It was the turn of the horror genre or the first blockbuster. But I feel it was the movie that perfected the horror genre. You had a monster, a damsel that was adored, everyday heroes and a tragic end. All the beats of a horror movie but done with flare. Its no wonder some tend to use this for the Halloween season and I can see why.

Robert Armstrong gives a great performance as Carl Denham, an eccentric Hollywood director that is all about action and adventure. His next film is to take place on an unknown island but is forced to add romance under studio pressure. The minute we get introduced to Carl, we love him. He can be egotistical but persuasive. A little melodramatic but very street smart. He’s not a villain and far from the kind of person that is in it for the money. He makes films for viewers to enjoy as opposed to profit from and that is the heart of the character.

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Carl Denham directs Ann Darrow (Lance Armstrong and Fay Wray) in this classic scene

Apparently, this new movie he’s working on needs a lead and manages to convince a shy Ann Darrow (ultimate scream queen Fay Wray) to join on the venture of a lifetime. Ann maybe the damsel but at least we sympathize with her. I feel with many of the remakes that we get, they always try to add more personality to her character and that’s fine. I do feel the Ann character can be a weak element of the story but Fay’s performance adds a lot of charm. One must remember this is the 1930s and before a time when creating strong female characters were the norm. I admit, I do feel a bit bothered that Ann doesn’t stand up to Kong or do more than just scream. But we spend so much time with her, prior to meeting the giant ape, that we still don’t want to see harm come to her.

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Fay and Bruce Cabot make for the perfect odd couple

Aboard the ship is Cpt. Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) who is the romantic lead. Of course, we do get that whole thing where he doesn’t want anything to do with Ann but later warms up to her. Its funny how the director of King Kong, Merian C. Cooper, added a romance subplot to this film after a string of successful jungle trek films. Supposedly, this was done to please the executives at RKO Pictures to do something different other than a jungle adventure film, which were still all the rave at the time. The chemistry between Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot would be a staple for future odd couple romances. They would at first have nothing in common, then start to see a connection and then one would try to fight for the other. That usual schlock would continue on in films to this day. I would argue to say this is a chick flick in disguise but that would be taking it too far.

Once we get to the island, things really kick up. We get treated to a group of natives that worship a strange god named Kong, which let’s be honest look a tad silly by today’s standards. Once they notice the beauty of Ann, they use her as a

Beauty meets the Beast!

Beauty meets the Beast!

sacrifice for Kong and sure enough, we find out that their god is really a giant ape. But like with most monster movies, the creature takes a liking to the beauty yet the beauty would rather run away than spend a life with the beast. Again, these are cliches and tropes we would see in later films but King Kong was there first. We sympathize with Kong because we know how rocky the chemistry is even if the ape doesn’t see it. Its almost like how a kid would play with a doll and if that doll came to life. Would the kid appreciate how he has something to cherish and would that toy bring back that appreciation? The bigger tragedy here is how cold the relationship is. Again, in later remakes, they would adjust this to give more heart and something for Ann and Kong to connect with. Honestly, I feel the way things play out is more interesting and adds a sad layer to Kong’s character. Past the fur is a lonely creature who wants companionship even when he doesn’t get the love he wants in return.

Also interesting is the special effects which are performed in stop-motion animation courtesy of Willis O’Brien. You can tell there is a lot of care and craft in trying to make you believe Ann Darrow is in Kong’s hands or that she is in the middle of a fight between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus rex. The island gives way to showcase a huge cornucopia of  effects work as sailors try to fight off dinosaurs and Kong struggles to get through the jungle just to make it to his home. For 1933, this was ground-breaking. Today, we know the tricks of the trade but we don’t care. The execution makes it all the more believable. As actors look on in horror, we are convinced of the horror they view as well.

Kong on Broadway!

Kong on Broadway!

In a nutshell, this is a movie driven by emotion and special effects. The biggest highlight of course is the ending when Kong is taken to New York so he can be on display and goes on a rampage through the city. There is a wide range of shots and tricks to convince us that Kong is on Broadway or trying to fight biplanes on the Empire State Building. Even a giant head and arm had to be made for some scenes and close-ups to convince us that huge monkey is in front of us. Despite the simplicity, we can’t up but admire just how much effort is being tossed in to convince us something is real and on the screen. Even the musical score by Max Steiner complements this. Back then, having a musical score throughout a movie was new at the time and even to this day feels powerful and matches the movie perfect. It knows when to raise the tension of a scene like Kong tossing sailors off a log and when to be quiet and have us enjoy a dinosaur fight or raise the drama during Kong’s last stand. With the elements of sight and sound in play, it keeps us engaged.

And to be honest, its no wonder to see how big of an impact this movie left its viewers. For 1933, this was something new and exciting. Odd how an idea like this didn’t sit well with RKO executives until they saw how well it did at the box-office. Nobody knew Kong would have such a huge impact even during a time of Great Depression. It was something that would go down as pure American history and last through the ages.

One of the many "offending" scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann's dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

One of the many “offending” scenes where Kong tears off bits of Ann’s dress and tickles her. Trust me, its not as bad as you think its. Eventually this and many others would be restored to the film later on

Not even censorship from the MPPC could stop its legacy. Yeah, there was a time when King Kong had to be heavily edited for stuff deemed inappropriate. Much of the “offending” scenes consisted of the Brontosaurus attack, Kong eating people or squishing them with his foot, a sequence where Kong rips off some of Ann’s dress and tickles her (yes, you read that right) and a chilling scene where Kong thinks he sees a lady that looks like Ann but then rejects her by means of dropping her from the building he was clinging on to. Thankfully, the missing scenes where found sometime in the 1960s and restored. But do the age of the censored cuts, one would view this material from a very grainy and scratched quality. Luckily, a print was found in Britain with no cuts made and was used for the 2005 DVD release (which I might add was the first release of the movie on DVD!).

A still from the iconic lost "Spider Pit Sequence"

A still from the iconic lost “Spider Pit Sequence”

And of course, I should talk about the infamous deleted scene that also made the movie famous. Apparently, there was supposed to be a sequence where the sailors would go against a horde of giant insects and monsters. Dubbed “The Spider Pit Sequence,” there has been much debate as to if this cut scene still exists. Rumor has it, that the reason for its removal was after a preview screening where viewers were horrified over after seeing actors getting munched on by giant stop-motion bugs. However, evidence was later discovered that it might have been cut before any preview screening under Merian C. Cooper’s direction, who felt the scene slowed the movie down despite being hailed as O’Brien’s best work. Stills and concept art have surfaced but fans might want to check out a special documentary on the Kong DVD that involves a recreation of the scene crafted by Peter Jackson. Not only is it worth it to see their hard effort pay off but how it was created. Seeing him and the gang make monsters and film stuff the “old fashioned” is a nice treat to watch and gives an idea of how the movie’s special effects were achieved.

"Twas beauty who killed the beast..."

“Twas beauty who killed the beast…”

I am also aware of the many films and remakes that were spawned from it. I would do a whole retrospective if I could about those films ranging form remakes to pitting Kong against Godzilla, but I feel there is not much a purpose. De Laurentiis’ version from 1976 isn’t too bad but a couple of elements null it from being considered a pure classic. Peter Jackson’s take in 2005 feels more like a tribute which had some good stuff despite the unfortunate 3 hour length that nearly kills it. And with more Kong movies planned down the road, only time can tell how well those movies will do for the king. Will they pay a perfect homage to monster lover’s favorite ape or cause disgruntled furry? At this point, we should be reminded of the lasting impact this movie gave us. I’m positive those who are in the movie industry can cite King Kong as an excuse for its innovative special effects, engaging story and unforgettable characters. For in the end, beauty may have killed him but Kong lives on thanks to the public and its fans.

Rental Corner: “Boxtrolls” underwhelmingly unpleasent

Eggs and his adoptive family of Minions...I mean, Boxtrolls even if he is human

Eggs and his adoptive family of Minions…I mean, Boxtrolls even if he is human

I have this theory with Laika Studios. Every new movie that comes, the animation gets a huge improvement. But for every new movie, there comes a price in its quality. Coraline is the one that started its journey with memorable characters, amazing animation and a story with many twists, turns and wonders. With the bar so high, ParaNorman only half succeeded in my opinion. Sure the animation got better but with a visual atmosphere that looked unappealing and characters that were either interesting or too mean, it thankfully picked up in the second half to at least save its hide. “The Boxtrolls,” however, takes a back seat so high in the balcony that all we have left to marvel are the visuals and wish the story wasn’t so cliche, slow and brash.

Set in the Victorian era, a small town that has a fascination for cheese and rank social class by tall and colored hats has a problem with creatures known as boxtrolls. Apparently, an urban legend spreads that these monsters come out at night to eat people and took a baby for a late night snack. But as it turns out, these mischievous creatures only scavenge for loose parts for a city they build underground and that’s it. Instead of giving these cute monsters a distinctive personality they feel more like Minion and Gremlins clones voiced by Frank Welker.

But they are not alone as a small boy named Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) lives with the boxtrolls to the point he is one. In a Tarzan, Lord of the Apes manner, he guards them like a band of brothers or tries to when a batch of exterminators plan to rid the town of these cutesy creatures to the pleasure of the town. I’d want to say there’s something interesting about the Eggs character but there unfortunately wasn’t.  He just bored me throughout. A typical fish out of water that is raised by a different set of creatures. We never get to understand his role with these beings that much or even get an idea of his understanding between the world above with the humans and his world with the boxtrolls. There’s no support to show what he wants in this story. He only exists as a plot element for a predicable twist later on.

Ben Kingsley smugs it up as a fun villian with ... some... kind of a motive...

Ben Kingsley smugs it up as a fun villian with … some… kind of a motive…

The only thing that is sort of entertaining in this movie is the villain, Archibald Snatcher. Ben Kingsley voices this twisted brute as he plans to capture every boxtroll in the town just to gain higher authority by means of a white tall hat and access to eating all the cheese he wants. The only thing I found at least amusing is the personality. This is the kind of villain I can laugh at for his slick and over the top movements and Ben is a good fit. But the biggest flaw is his motive. All he wants to get higher respect and even then, he has a huge allergy to cheese that makes him look so distorted and gruesome that in comparison The Elephant Man looks like a Saturday date. They also give him this dual cross dressing role but it doesn’t pay off in the end. It just leads to some one note jokes about a man in female’s clothing that I did get a chuckle out of but that’s really all it serves.

The main plot, that is if you can call it one, has Eggs trying to save his underground family from the hideous exterminator and his befundled henchmen (voiced by Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost and a surprisingly unrecognizable Tracy Morgan) who keep questioning if they are good or bad to the point we ourselves wonder what kind of movie it wants to be. Most of the time, it tries to be sweet and innocent like the underground dwellers but there isn’t much of a motive for them. They exist to be cute and act Minion-like as they babble nonsense and hit one another for slapstick. The next minute, it tries to be this dark kid’s film with its grimy sets and ugly character designs but nothing really comes together. One minute, the citizens keep talking about how boxtrolls have piles of bones and rivers of blood (even a whole song dedicated to it) while the next minute some of the adult characters feel like cut-outs from an episode of The Simpsons.

I appreciate the effort....at least....

I appreciate the effort….at least….

I guess the morale of “The Boxtrolls” is “be what you want to be,” but it gets lost under so much complex storytelling and predicable cliches that really drag the film down. With Coraline, it was a simple story that kept getting bigger and bigger without the need for any complex character work. ParaNorman did have some harsh beats but made up for it at the second half with its message of don’t judge a book by its cover. If there was a stronger story and better character motives while being light on the gross and macbe humor, maybe I wouldn’t feel so harsh on The Boxtrolls but so much potential was lost. Here, there’s too many underdeveloped characters and underdeveloped motives that don’t pay off and its form of comedy is so bizarre and strange that it made me scratch my head wondering what this was all building to. Why is the town obsessed with cheese? Why the higher class ranking done by hats? If this was building to a certain point at the end, I fail to see what it was building to in the first place in its weird and unpleasant sense of comedy. The only thing that barley redeems it is the animation and the mechanics behind it but in an animated tale, visuals accompany the story. And here, a weak story can’t be saved. By the time it kept going on and on even throughout the credits when they show how the animation is done in a one-note joke, I just wish it would end or at least have a stronger conclusion. This is probably the first stop-motion film I’ve seen since Corpse Bride where I asked myself just what went wrong behind all those crafted sets and mounds of tiny figures to make me feel so irked and disappointed.