Tuesday, November 21, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Bloody Pit Of Horror (1965)

A few thoughts: Luckily I knew what I was getting into before I started this one, otherwise we very well might have an 'F' on our hands. As it stands, this is merely a pretty lousy movie with some unintentional humor and a good deal of delightfully over-the-top torture devices that are never believable enough to be even remotely scary. Storywise, I wouldn't even be able to tell you what this was about because it honestly stopped being interesting to me pretty fast. Bad acting and writing took over immediately, but I was reinvigorated during the second half, where bloody torture started to occur. While the movie does take its time to get here, some of the goofiness found in the latter half makes it worth sitting through to an extent, but only because of how stupid it all is. There's a particularly bizarre device that involves a giant fake spider, a web, and a bunch of arrows. It makes very little sense, but it's sort of fun to watch. It's too slow and dumb for its own good, sucks as a horror movie, but is campy enough to be mildly amusing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Lost Boys (1987)

A few thoughts: After rewatching 'Near Dark', it was only natural for this to be one of the next movies for me to see. Easily one of the most entertaining vampire movies ever made, riddled with all the campiness and hilarious one could expect from Schumacher in his prime. Everything about this movie is calculated greatness, from the crazy hair and fashion, to the vamp faces and flashy action scenes. Though I find it hard to call this a horror movie, if the label fits I would have to consider it one of my favorites of the 1980s. The sort-of theme by Gerard McMann (cryyyyy little sistahh!) is one of my favorite movie songs, too, so the movie succeeds in that way as well. I'm not going to pretend this is a perfect movie by any means, but I've seen it a dozen times and it's never less than entertaining. I enjoy the cast, the levity, the setting, the style...it's one of many great cult films of the 1980s, and for me it's easy to see why. It's never boring, it's well-paced, and just overall a lot of fun.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Haxan (1922)

A few thoughts: A thoroughly unique experience, this psuedo-documentary about witchcraft tackles various scenarios with actors playing them out, many of which involving witches (of course), witch hunts, and the Devil himself. It's a visual masterpiece with some of the most incredible sets, costumes, and overall production I've ever seen in a silent film, rivaled only by 'Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari' and other similarly striking movies. Though the film doesn't have an overarching narrative, the way the film is laid out gives it plenty of opportunity to tell stories while also handling larger themes -- sort of like an anthologized 'Reefer Madness'...but good. While it's definitely a hard movie to sit through at times, the experience is incredibly memorable, and anyone with any interest in witchcraft from a historical perspective should consider this essential viewing. As far as silent horror goes, it's in a category of its own. This film is dripping in atmosphere and can't be compared to nearly anything else, past or present.

200 Items Or Less: Creepshow (1982)

A few thoughts: A horror anthology with 5 short stories and an overarching one, all of which written by Stephen King and directed by George A. Romero. Normally I wouldn't feel the need to point out the fact that a movie has only one writer and director, but with an anthology, this is definitely something I see value in. Though not all 5 of these stories are equal in terms of quality, the production of each are fairly equivalent. There's a childlike nature to most of these segments, even though the film is rated R, which is very much a Stephen King-like thing. I love the lighting found throughout this movie, utilizing very Italian style visuals reminiscent of Bava, and the cinematography is pretty wonderful as well. With especially memorable performances by Hal Holbrook and a particularly sinister Leslie Nielsen. It's uncommon seeing Nielsen playing a non-comedic role like this, and he does it remarkably well. It's overall a pretty silly movie, but a good deal of fun, even if tonally it is a bit strange.

Friday, November 17, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

A few thoughts: One of the first of the wonderful Corman/Price Poe adaptations, and also one of the best. Sort of a midway point for Price's performances in 'House Of Usher' and 'The Masque Of The Red Death', this time getting to play both the nebbish "victim" as well as a deranged killer, which is a good blend for him, even if I prefer when he goes full evil. Just like the rest of this unofficial series of films, the visuals (set and costume design, cinematography, all that fun stuff) are terrific and make up a good part of the appeal. Storywise, I don't really think this is an actual adaptation of the Poe story, but who really cares? As far as Corman goes, this is right near the top of the list, several steps above most of the pulpy trash he made at the time. This is a pretty big and impressive production, a well-lit and beautiful looking gothic castle serving as the setting throughout. Though it's not as sinister as 'Masque' or as haunting as 'Usher', there's still a lot to love here, and as far as '60s horror goes, it is among my favorites.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Time After Time (1979)

A few thoughts: Being a fan of sci/fi, fantasy, and horror, I knew upon reading the plot description of this movie that it was one I was going to have to see. H.G. Wells has to chase Jack The Ripper through time (on his time machine, of course) in order to stop him from killing in the future? Well that's a just the kind of craziness I prefer! Sadly, after the initial buzz wears off, there isn't much left of this movie to keep it afloat. Despite Malcolm McDowell and David Warner's best efforts, their characters never quite take off, and the relatively generic paths the story takes by the third act keep it from ever hitting its stride and rising to meet its potential. While I have to say I was slightly letdown, there is still a lot of fun to be had with this movie, and like I said before, those two actors really do make the most of what they're given. It uses a few too many fish-out-of-water jokes and seems endlessly concerned with complaining about how evil people are, but it was still entertaining enough.

Five Favorite Films of 1952

My weak point of the 1950s, these are all still good movies, but not all of them feel like "me" movies (e.g., not enough horror and sci-fi). Oh well, they're all still very much goodly. Have fun perusing.

5. Forbidden Games

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Near Dark (1987)

A few thoughts: One of several super cool horror movies of 1987 (it was an awesome year), this Kathryn Bigelow-directed vampire thriller is maybe not the horror classic some consider it to be, but has more than enough going for it for me to consider it distinctly above average. Not only do I like the western setting, but I find the whole atmosphere and visual style quite excellent. Maybe I wouldn't put this on par with 'The Lost Boys' as far as family-of-vampires movies are concerned (that one is just too entertaining), but they feel like they might be related to one another -- 'Near Dark' being the more serious of the two. I particularly enjoy Lance Henriksen here, though that should come as just about no surprise at all, seeing as how he's one of the best things about virtually everything I've seen him in. Bill Paxton is an overacting bore. Most of the rest of the cast are fairly average, but it's really the way they all work together that sells this movie. It isn't "scary", but it's very much entertaining as a sort of road thriller with a horror edge.

200 Items Or Less: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

A few thoughts: Okay, so I knew going in that this was going to be nowhere near as good or fun as the original (William Castle & Vincent Price are a difficult director/actor combo to beat), but the level to which this movie sucked did catch me slightly off-guard. While Geoffrey Rush did his best with what little he was given, he couldn't carry this one on his own and virtually no one else seemed to be too interested in helping things along. A disgustingly underused Jeffrey Combs sits in the background while the spooky scary CG and fast edits take up a majority of the screentime. Just when I thought the movie was getting good, it turns off its brain and throws more thrills at you by making loud noises and having things pop out, screwing up what little it had going for it by abandoning any sense of logic or decent storytelling. It's hard to go into detail on what doesn't work about this movie without taking up more time than this, but I think that says enough. It's a garbage remake that totally misses the mark.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Five Favorite Films of 1951

Definitely a tricky year to make a top 5 of, but here we are! As always, these are my personal favorites. Take a look if you so desire.

5. Death Of A Salesman

200 Items Or Less: Lust Of The Vampire (1957)

A few thoughts: Not at all what I expected it to be, this early Bava (he only *kinda* directed it) film was neither a horror movie nor the vampire movie I expected it to be. How this gets labeled as horror is beyond me, considering how much of a crime/police investigation story it is. So right off the bat, it sort of lost me. But what really bothered me was in how dull the story itself was. I lost interest pretty quick, and with nonstop dialogue and nothing to grab ahold of you, my eyes started to glaze over. Without thrills, a strong story, and only decent visuals, I find myself already running low on things to say about it. With Bava working as co-director and the cinematographer, I can say the look of the film is the highlight, but without complete control, you can definitely tell he was held back and not given enough opportunities to get creative with it. There are a few aspects that work pretty well, but when all is said and done, this is a miscategorized movie that doesn't hold up as particularly good within any assigned genre.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Burning (1981)

A few thoughts: One of the many post-Friday The 13th summer camp slashers of the '80s, this one is particularly notable for the fact that it's probably even better than Friday The 13th itself. Giving plenty of time to establish the villain and the other characters, 'The Burning' never moves too fast or goes too slow. Everything feels well-developed and that makes the subsequent deaths and mutilations all the more effective. It's a lot easier to care about characters you're familiar with, a rule I wish more modern horror movies would follow. It's weird seeing a young Jason Alexander, but just like the rest of the cast, he plays his part well. There's a decent amount of humor to be found here, and enough nudity to keep things fun for any grown-up children in the audience. As is always the case in a movie with makeup effects by Tom Savini, the gore here is pretty great, with the camera unafraid to show off some nastiness. It's nothing overly grotesque, but effective. Overall, this is a pretty solid and enjoyable slasher.

Five Favorite Films of 1950

I'm not gonna make a huge production of these, I just like making little lists and putting them on my site. Keep in mind these are my personal favorites, so don't get all crabby if you don't like my choices. Although honestly, I can't see many complaints about this top 5... Pretty standard stuff. Eeeenjoy.

5. El Hombre Sin Rostro

200 Items Or Less: Castle Freak (1995)

A few thoughts: A slightly forgotten Stuart Gordon film about a family moving into a castle in Italy where strange goings-on go on, and it's up to Jeffrey Combs and a blind girl to get to the bottom of it. From the first half, it seemed like a fairly standard movie, but after the story really took off and layers were revealed of the family dynamic and their past, I found myself fmuch more invested than I had originally presumed. As is redundantly the case in virtually every movie he appears in, Combs does a great job in the lead, a character who at first seems level-headed, and slowly but surely is driven bonkers by the situation and the fact that no one will believe him. It's the kind of "someone is in here but when I look they disappear" movie that could have become very irritating, but instead it's just weirdly amusing. The overall quality of the production is pretty poor, but it's a B movie, so what could you expect? It isn't particularly scary or creepy, but it's entertaining and surprisingly solid dramatically.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Fido (2006)

A few thoughts: A hilarious and clever horror comedy set in an idyllic 1950s Mayberry-esque town that just so happens to be filled with electronically altered, tame zombies. People keep them as pets, servants, and even lovers. I usually don't feel the need to include plot details in these little reviews, but this is a movie that does a lot with a concept that easily could have been stupid and mismanaged. It's hilarious, the set design, costumes, and visual style is wonderful, the cast is great, and some of the physical comedy is quite impressive, particularly from Billy Connolly who plays the titular "Fido". Though it has no connection to it at all, this movie is a sort of spiritual successor to 'Shaun Of The Dead', picking up its story very similarly to how 'Shaun' left off. While I would hesitate to put this on par with that movie, I do enjoy this one quite a bit and feel they would make for a fun double feature. I get tired of zombie movies that feel the same, and this one is a total departure from the norm. Tons of fun.

Friday, November 10, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Doctor Mordrid (1992)

A few thoughts: Jeffrey Combs, bless his heart, has the ability to make nearly anything he's in good. That's not the case here, but he does try, and I feel that's worth noting. Even in an objectively silly and bad movie like this, he delivers a solid performance and manages to make the most of this weak material. That being said, yes, this is still a pretty dumb movie. But it's a charmingly bad type of film that's hard to hate, from its consistently terrible effects to the simple and underwhelming good vs. evil story. There is nothing atypical about this movie, apart from maybe the high aspirations it had, which is infectious in an innocent sort of way. Most of the supporting cast are pretty weak, but as I said before, Combs does a solid job in the lead, even with an underwritten character. At roughly 70 minutes, it flies by pretty fast, so in the very least it doesn't overstay its welcome for too long. It's dumb, but it tries hard to entertain, and I can appreciate that.

200 Items Or Less: Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)

A few thoughts: A ridiculous nonsensical action horror movie that exists for the singular purpose of pitting two of the greatest slasher villains of all-time against each other. And if you're a fan of the tongue-in-cheek silliness often found in films of these two franchises (Elm Street and Friday the 13th, assuming you don't already know), odds are this won't be a disappointment to you. While Freddy movies did start to become a little too goofy there for a while (the 6th was total dumb crap), I feel the set-up here warrants a far less serious appearance by him, and the way they throw Jason into the story is both fitting and fun. The script is totally stupid, constantly explaining itself to all the stoners in the audience who can't keep up, all the while having fun with the crazy concept and giving said stoners plenty to laugh and cheer at. This is a party horror movie, not meant to be taken seriously at all, which is a good thing. It was mostly pretty dumb, but I had fun with it, and enjoyed some of the practical effects.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

A few thoughts: The third and final (?) entry in the Combs-starring Re-Animator series, 'Beyond' is definitely the most unique -- for better or worse. Set almost entirely in a prison, the plot doesn't give Dr. Herbert West total free reign as in the previous films, but with the way the plot moves along it's hard to remember he's incarcerated at all. There's plenty of funny and goofy moments here, and Combs is his usual wonderful self, but I still found myself wishing I was watching the original instead. The gore effects are fun and sometimes pretty awesome, and the acting is mostly pretty weak, but you don't watch a movie like this for the acting. Combs is more than enough on his own, but you also have the Warden, who does some pretty great stuff in the final act. As the end of a sort-of trilogy, this isn't a disappointment, but part of me does wish they'd followed it up with something better. Fun, but forgettable. Oh, and don't forget to stay through the beginning of the credits -- it's...definitely something.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Bride Of Re-Animator (1990)

A few thoughts: Okay, for starters, there was no way this sequel could stand up to the first one. I consider Re-Animator one of the greatest horror-comedies ever made, and while Brian Yuzna clearly has a good feel for the tone of this series (he produced the first one, after all), he could never top what Stuart Gordon did. That being said, this is still a very entertaining, albeit top-heavy sequel. What do I mean by top-heavy? Well, Jeffrey Combs, and the final 15 minutes or so are the obvious highlights. Yuzna knows his body horror, him previously directing 'Society', a similar type of movie that relies far too much on the ending. It's gooey, graphic, and some of the creepy stitched-together freak experiments are pretty awesome if you're into that sort of thing, but you just don't get to see enough of that stuff. It isn't a "slow" movie, but it takes a little too long to get into the meaty parts that are really great. Still, it's great seeing Combs back in this role, one of the all-time great mad scientists in film.

200 Items Or Less: Would You Rather (2012)

A few thoughts: One of those "how far will people go for money?" movies that's just about as typical as you could get. With a cast full of solid actors and also Sasha Grey (a porn star whose acting abilities are about as good as you might expect), the story sets itself up and goes through the motions until eventually ending on a note that could have been great, but didn't fully deliver. As usual, Jeffrey Combs steals the show, as he's given a majority of the best material, with most of the rest of the cast delegated to little more than screaming and trying to "outsmart" the game in rambling pseudo-monologues. The dialogue is mostly pretty weak, but again, they seemed to reserve all decent material for Combs, who thankfully delivers in the way he always does when offered a lousy script. It wasn't as funny as it should have been, nor was it clever or unexpected in its execution -- only one scene was even mildly surprising. It wasn't particularly gruesome, though I might expect non-horror fans to disagree. Overall, pretty underwhelming.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Ghosts Of Mars (2001)

A few thoughts: I generally consider John Carpenter a really great filmmaker. If I were to sit down a week ago and make a list of my favorite directors, he might land in the top 10. But after watching this, I have begun to doubt just how great he actually is. Sitting through this mess of a movie, it felt like watching something by the most amateurish filmmaker imaginable. It was like he'd never seen a movie before, let alone made so many great ones. I don't get what happened. Even with schlock like 'Escape From L.A.' there were moments of genius, but here everything went right out the window. The editing, music, writing, and - yes - direction were all so poor, nothing felt like a match. I would say it was like a glued together mess, but it didn't even feel glued together, since it all came unraveled with no real resolution or point. I just finished it and I wouldn't be able to tell you what it was about, what happened, or anything about any of the characters. It was bland, but in an aggressive way. Seriously, what the hell was this?

Monday, November 6, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Reptile (1966)

A few thoughts: One of the lesser known Hammer productions of the '60s, this is a relatively standard movie for the company, minus the heavy use of prosthetics, which definitely helps set it apart. As could be expected of one of their movies, the set design and costumes are a major highlight here, but without any really great performances to suck you in, you wind up looking at the backgrounds far more often than you probably should. A majority of the film is spent building up into the final 20 minutes or so, which finally reveals the reptile makeup. Sadly, there isn't much tension as it goes along, the story and everything it attempts to build being a foregone conclusion. There aren't many twists, and by the time certain facts are revealed, you'll probably be slightly bored or uninterested with how it ends. This really isn't a bad movie (I do enjoy watching it) but it doesn't take any unfamiliar steps, the plot being very paint-by-numbers and formulaic. Not top-tier Hammer, but the visuals are still cool.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

A few thoughts: A reasonably entertaining but entirely dated horror comedy that throws the comedy duo into the mix with Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, and (VERY briefly) The Invisible Man. If you enjoy these Universal monster mashes as much as me, you'll find it fun to see Bela Lugosi back playing Dracula (even if the script doesn't allow him much to do other than cover his face with a cape) and with Lon Chaney, Glenn Strange, and the Vincent Price cameo, I can't help but to feel this could have been a great final 'House Of' title, but the Abbott and Costello gimmick sort of drags it all down. Whether you enjoy their brand of comedy or not, the goofy slapstick and fast-paced '40s banter doesn't always work in a movie surrounded by these horror icons that beg for more material of their own. It's a cluttered experience that is never as funny as it should have been, even if it is considered a comedy classic. I enjoy it enough, but it should have been 'House Of The Wolf Man' and excluded the titular pair. That could've been great.

200 Items Or Less: The Shrine (2010)

A few thoughts: A gooey, bloody, demony cult movie with a few surprises up its sleeve, there's nothing particularly mindblowing about this little horror thriller, but it's still a solid bit of indie entertainment. While the low budget can definitely be felt in certain crucial scenes (weird green screen and set design limitations), where the production really impresses is in how well it handles the practical effects. The makeup and gore are pretty great here, with some cool flashes of impressive prosthetics that never feel shoved in your face to impress you -- being a film directed by the same guy who did 'Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer' I would've expected nothing less. The acting is pretty ho-hum, and the setup is more than familiar, but as previously mentioned, the plot has a few twists that keep it from playing out exactly as you might expect from a low budget horror movie like this. I enjoy the ending, and how the movie doesn't feel the need to throw bonus jump-scares at you just because it wants to be super spooky. Solid movie.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Death Race (2008)

A few thoughts: This movie is a weird combination of being both way too much and also very little. The original Death Race was a very clever and wonderfully over-the-top satire and commentary on society's glorification of violence, with the exaggerated action being used as a tool to drive this point home, whereas this movie takes away all commentary and goes straight into "isn't this action so cool? Look at the explosions!" territory. There's no humor, no layers, and about 3000 explosions to fill these gaps. There are no moral complexities, with the hero being a good guy and the bad guys being bad. The overall production might be good, but the constant zooms and EDITING EDITING EDITING make it hard to notice whether or not the movie would/could even look decent. The action is relentless, and while I do enjoy this in some movies, I feel it was handled here with too little humor, creativity, and self-awareness to make it really work. It's not a totally horrible movie, but it's kind of a waste of time and far too busy for all the more it has to say.

Friday, November 3, 2017

200 Items Or Less - Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985)

A few thoughts: Following up on one of the best dystopian action movies ever made can't be an easy thing to do. Bit that doesn't excuse this disaster. Sure, it's quotable, and sure, it has a few good scenes, but 75% of this movie is spent wasting time around a bunch of stupid kids with idiotic hair hanging out in lost boys land. Does this develop the world? Not as much as you'd hope, considering how long the movie drags us through this irritating boredom. I enjoy most of the sets and scenery, several characters have stuck with me my whole life (Master-Blaster, mainly), but the amount of time spent on the aspects that actually work is staggeringly low. Not to mention the fact that this is the third entry in a series of R-rated movies, only this time it's been neutered and given a PG-13 rating. Incredibly stupid, and devoid of the grittiness of the first two, nothing about this movie is able to completely work for me. There are 4 Mad Max movies now, and this is the only one that I don't think is really good. Instead, I think it's pretty weak.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Road Warrior (1981)

A few thoughts: One of the coolest action movies of the '80s, but still impaired by some of those gloriously awful Mad Max cliches, like the stupid monkey kid with the dumb hair. Does this take away from the movie? Not much, but yes, actually. Time wasted on idiotic supporting characters like this slows the pace of the film and distracts from the main story, which is simple but effective. If you enjoy dystopian action films, odds are you've either seen this already or seen it mimicked dozens of times, as this first sequel to Mad Max is the most popular in the original series, and helped pave the way for countless dystopians to follow. Stripped down and focused on a tight story, this movie has one of the greatest chase sequences ever put to film, even if the more recent Fury Road does one-up it in pretty much every way. For a relatively low budget Aussie film with very little story, this sure did influence the genre a lot. Maybe it's not the best action movie of its time, but it's a great piece of '80s pop culture that still holds up really well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Mad Max (1979)

A few thoughts: The film that made Mel Gibson a star and spawned several of the most well-loved and acclaimed dystopian action sequels of all-time. While the praise gets heaped onto this movie from pretty much every direction, I'm slightly more tempered in my reaction, as I appreciate it for what it accomplished, but still can't see myself considering it among the greatest sci-fi/dystopian movies ever made. I like how this movie shows a civilization on the verge of collapse setting the tone for the wild sequels, in that limbo where some of the greats belong (RoboCop and A Clockwork Orange, for example). Probably the last great car/chase movie of the 1970s, this isn't like 'Vanishing Point', relying entirely on the stunts for the movie to work, but instead features chases and action sequences sporadically and with purpose. I was surprised at how the movie approached the revenge aspect of the story, never falling to the lows of exploitation. This is an impressive and effective movie that balances a lot of genres and ideas well.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Re-Animator (1985)

A few thoughts: One of the three great zombie movies of 1985 (AKA one of the best ever years for film), Re-Animator doesn't go as much for comedy as 'Return Of The Living Dead', social/political commentary as 'Day Of The Dead', but instead goes into body horror territory. With its re-purposed 'Psycho' soundtrack, gory violence, neon hypodermics, and an amazing performance by Jeffrey Combs, this Stuart Gordon directed splatter Frankenstein-esque (loose) adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's work is an entertaining and over-the-top horror movie never slows down. Entertaining in some of the most macabre ways, this movie breaks down all sorts of expectations and offers up some awesomely gooey visuals that will make any body horror fan happy. As I've mentioned before on this post as well as others before, I am a pretty big fan of Combs and his performance here, a perfectly exaggerated bit of acting that balances genius with madness in a hilarious and still somewhat grounded way, but there is much more to this movie than just him. It's fantastic all the way through.

200 Items Or Less: Necronomicon (1993)

A few thoughts: Horror anthologies are almost by definition a bit of a mixed bag of half-baked ideas and uneven execution, and seeing as how the 1990s saw a sort of lull in classic horror movies, I definitely went into this one with lowered expectations. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be a huge understatement, because I thought this movie was pretty awesome. Not all of the makeup is the greatest on everyone, but a majority of the effects in key scenes are done really well, with a ton of cool variety in strange and disgusting moments that managed to actually shock and disturb me -- to an extent. With three self-contained segments and one wraparound story involving Jeffrey Combs (playing H.P. Lovecraft), none of these parts is weak at all, and each of them provide a unique and visually awesome story, with melting human bodies, giant shape-shifting octopus monsters, and other cool and creepy concepts. Maybe this isn't a game-changer, but for pure horror entertainment, this is pretty great stuff.

Monday, October 30, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Hocus Pocus (1993)

A few thoughts: Do you remember the '90s, when movies were fun? I do, because I was alive during the '90s, and I remember fun movies of the time. This is not one of those movies. In fact, it's an incredibly dumb and desperate movie that spends a majority of its runtime giving the three witches (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) nonstop opportunity for mugging. Every scene is just packed with lousy acting and characters making goofy faces at the camera, because isn't it so funny? I laugh, I laugh at funny faces. I didn't care for this movie much when I was younger, and now that I'm older - even with nostalgia on my side - all I see is a pretty weak movie with a generic story, lousy acting, and tons of non-jokes. I enjoy some of the campy effects, and I've always been fond of movies set around Halloween, but apart from these few surface aspects, this is just a poor movie. I'm sure kids could still enjoy it, and people who 'member the '90s, but for the rest of us who enjoy movies for actually being good...nah.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Brides Of Dracula (1960)

A few thoughts: The second Hammer Dracula film, and the last one that features Peter Cushing until the '70s. While some people might complain that this one doesn't have Christopher Lee, the amount of great material given to Cushing more than makes up for it. I love Terence Fisher movies, and this one is one of his best, but it still has some goofiness to it -- mainly, the vampire teeth are ridiculous. As far as the production goes, this is one of the best looking of the era. The lighting, cinematography, and set design (Bernard Robinson was the best) are all tremendous, every frame of the movie looking great from beginning to end. While the first Dracula is overall a better film, the visual style of this one might be an improvement. I love the way the story progresses, with characters developing and dying off unexpectedly. It's not the most unpredictable movie around, but the twists it takes are pretty great and the story holds up well. It lacks a great villain like the first movie, but the heroism of Van Helsing makes up for it.

200 Items Or Less: Joe (1970)

A few thoughts: A sharp and angry movie with a message that could easily be misunderstood, this is one of the first ever films produced by Cannon, and an unconventional now-cult film about lower-middle class aggression. It's strange watching a movie like this now, seeing how much and how little has actually changed, but trying to picture something like this coming out now is almost impossible to imagine. This is too biting and controversial in an unconventional sense for modern audiences to fully get it, which is a real shame. Peter Boyle is great as the titular Joe, an angry racist who latches onto a rich man (who accidentally killed a drug dealer) and uses him as an inspiration to take on the system he hates in a more direct way than just sitting in a dingy bar shouting about how the world has gone to the dogs. A strangely assembled film with bizarre cuts and plenty of unexpected turns, but the main point is the showcase for this character. Very dark and violent -- even when there isn't any actual violence.

Friday, October 27, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Death Proof (2007)

A few thoughts: One half of the cult double feature 'Grindhouse', this Tarantino-directed chase/slasher movie about a demented stuntman who gets his jollies by killing women with his pimped-out stunt car is an incredibly uneven experience. The first 40 minutes does nothing but slowly develop characters we don't care about, as they sit around talking with an overly '70s grindhouse aesthetic. That's the first half of the movie, followed by a brief and violent death scene, which then shifts to different characters -- at which point the '70s look burnt film look pretty much disappears. Russell is the consistent in this movie, and even though he doesn't have a *ton* of material, he's pretty much perfect. I love him in his, and the crazy car chase at the end is the other best thing about it. The characters of the second half of the film are much more well-developed and easy to root for, making the chase scene all the more fun to watch. It may have started off slow, but the movie ends with a bang and leaves a strong impression.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

200 Items Or Less: House Of Dark Shadows (1970)

A few thoughts: I only ever watched the Dark Shadows soap opera in passing when the re-runs were airing on PBS years back, but I always found myself intrigued by it. A late-'60s gothic soap opera with vampires and time-travel? How could I not be intrigued? So, needless to say, this has been on my watch list for a while. Based loosely on several stories within the soap, this movie follows the re-emergence of Barnabus Collins (who didn't appear in the show until over 200 episodes in), a vampire who ingratiates himself with the living members of the Collins family and tries to woo a potential bride. Storywise, this is still very soapy but much tighter, and infused with some blood and violence to keep things from becoming too melodramatic. Jonathan Frid does a great job as Barnabus, and the rest of the cast are solid, but even more than this lead performance, the movie works thanks to the gothic setting and production design. The final scene in particular looks amazing. This isn't a scary horror movie, but it's an atmospheric one.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Lifeforce (1985)

A few thoughts: A wacked-out sci-fi/horror/fantasy hybrid from Cannon that has me convinced Tobe Hooper had more to do with the creative and visual direction of 'Poltergeist' than most people will give him credit for. This has been on my to-watch list for a long time now, but now that I've seen it, part of me feels like I'll need to watch it again shortly. What a headtrip! I am a huge fan of practical effects, and this movie has some of the gooeist and weirdest gore, dummies, and makeup I've seen -- which is saying something when you consider just how much weird crap I've watched. As for the movie as a whole, there are more than a few bizarre flaws and bland patches, a framework that allows for plenty of opportunities for crazy visuals and cool moments, but doesn't have a ton of meaningful story or character development of any sort. This is something you watch for the style, not so much for conventional (or narrative) reasons. Was it good or bad? I honestly don't know. But it was definitely special, and something I for sure need to see again.

Monday, October 23, 2017

200 Items Or Less - X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

A few thoughts: The third X-Men is one of the worst superhero movies I've ever seen in my entire life. I didn't realize this right away, but as it wore on I found myself continuously assaulted with lousy effects, a misunderstanding of its characters, clunky dialogue, a nonsensical script, and endless mindless action. After the first two movies - which had their fair share of flaws but were still entertaining - it's almost impressive how much this movie messes everything up. With a cast of great characters with cool powers, this movie dumbs everything down and often forgets who the characters are and what they can do with them. The betrayal of characters like Magneto and Wolverine in particular stand out, and many other characters just feel plugged in without any regard for their actual nature. The action is totally brainless, with lousy special effects smashing into each other in clunky scenes that lack any depth or purpose. 90 things are happening at once in this movie and none of it matters or makes sense. This is just an unpleasant mess.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

200 Items Or Less - X2: X-Men United (2003)

A few thoughts: An incredibly entertaining and significantly less cheap-looking sequel to X-Men, X2 is pretty much a perfect follow-up to the original, as it expands the characters, introduces others cleverly, and really improves on the action sequences. Though I don't find myself quoting this movie as much as the first one (which I mostly do in a mocking way, but still), this movie does have better dialogue, even if the script is weaker overall. I love the addition of Brian Cox as William Striker, one of my favorite actors in a role that is perfectly suited to his calm, menacing demeanor. But even over the great action and Brian Cox's performance, the real highlight of the movie is a scene involving Magneto's escape from his plastic prison. There are a few logic gaps with this movie, but they're never big enough to matter in the long run. We still get plenty of great scenes, less dumb lines of dialogue, better action, more character development, and just overall higher quality entertainment. A fantastic superhero movie that's aged very well.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

200 Items Or Less: X-Men (2000)

A few thoughts: Superhero movies are usually a little too mainstream for me to talk about here (I'm more concerned with genre/cult films), but this being one of the first (and corniest) in the new wave of superhero movies, I'll give it a few sentences. Though this was by no means low budget, the action (both CG and stunt) has aged about as well as something with 1/10 The overall budget of this. Ironically, this is an action movie that works in pretty much every way apart from the action itself. The acting is largely pretty weak, but there are three big exceptions to this; Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, and Hugh Jackman, the trio of performances/characters that carry the movie -- as well the sequels. It's easy to nitpick aspects of this movie now, but watching it is a blast from the past and a lot more entertaining when you choose to approach it like the '90s Batman sequels. The screenplay is pretty tight, though the dialogue is largely cheesy. I feel I appreciate this one a lot more now than when it first came out. But the sequel is still better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Dracula A.D. 2015 (2015)

A few thoughts: Being the Hammer horror fan that I am, I was more than pleased at the opportunity to watch this hour-long homage to the classic horror studio's Dracula films. Very clearly low-budget (high frame rate and unpolished editing, lighting, cinematography, etc.), this film is infectious more for its passion than it is particularly good in its own right. Instead of just being a fan recreation of a film, it does try its own thing, which I can appreciate. It may not be an impressive screenplay, but at least it had one that wasn't ripped from a quick Google search. There is an inherent silliness to much of this film, and watching the cast play it straight makes it work all the better. Instead of constantly making terrible jokes, they instead let the visuals and thematic references provide the humor. Recreating scenes and moments from the classic films woven into the story was a nice touch, particularly the finale which apes the ending of the '58 Dracula quite wonderfully. No, this isn't some sort of masterpiece, but I enjoyed it and found it charming.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Mummy's Hand (1940)

A few thoughts: A slick and entertaining mummy film from Universal that doesn't try to recreate or one-up the 1932 movie (thankfully), but functions independently from it, has its own story, characters, and - perhaps most importantly - a different mummy. The first appearance of Kharis, the overlooked mummy who was the subject of the wonderful 1959 Hammer film, has a familiar set-up involving a group of archeologists looking for a princesses tomb, accidentally uncovering a living mummy who seeks revenge on anyone who disturbs the sleep of his eternal love. Unlike Imhotep (from the '32 and '99 movies), Kharis isn't his own master, functioning as a henchman who kills people off one-by-one like a slasher villain. It's differences like this that keep this movie fresh and fun. Great makeup and post-effects on the mummy, the lighting and sets are good, and the movie runs at just under 70 minutes, so it never overstays its welcome. This is a very entertaining movie that has some decent comic relief and plenty of mummy action.

Monday, October 16, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1978)

A few thoughts: There's a stigma attached to remakes, and rightfully so. They're often cash grabs that miss the entire point of the original, ultimately offering a cheapened version of stories that didn't need retold at all. But back in the '70s and '80s we saw a decent number of memorable science fiction/horror remakes that were able to stand on their own feet as well as do justice to the source material. A few notable examples are 'The Thing', 'The Fly', 'Little Shop Of Horrors' (though that's slightly different) and...well, this. Super eerie and filled with memorable scenes and moments, this is much more of a horror movie than the original, and equally as paranoid and visually appealing. The performances are all pretty great, with Nimoy standing out in one of his more notable non-Spock roles. There's a genuine feeling of dread and suspense to this movie, which is escalated by the mistrust and skepticism both the characters and the audience must face in regards to who has been body-snatched. Very cool and very tense.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Rodan (1956)

A few thoughts: After the huge success of Godzilla, Ishiro Honda basically had the rest of his career set out for him, starting this next step with an entirely new monster who would continue to appear in future Toho projects for decades to come. While I appreciate the fact he took a different approach with this movie, it's also pretty clear that he hadn't quite figured out how to make these into fun movies at this point, as Rodan is an incredibly dry movie lacking any humor. Even at only 70 or 80 minutes, this movie drags along at a snail's pace, and honestly, features a much less interesting monster than future installments would offer. What stands out most about this movie is the set design and attempts at creating something new and totally unique from Godzilla. Instead of going for an easy clone, Honda and co. developed this idea in a movie that I feel is much more important than it is watchable. It's short and easy enough to find time to watch, but the pacing is poor and the execution is too humorless to entertain a crowd.

Friday, October 13, 2017

200 Items Or Less - Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2008)

A few thoughts: Being a big fan of body horror, practical effects, and creative monster movies, this movie should have been right up my alley...and it was! Watching this movie, I found myself wondering why Robert Englund had so little success outside of the horror genre. With a performance that ranges from mild-mannered and nebbish to violently manic, he nails this role with comedic physicality and remarkable spryness. As for the titular hero, I was also quite impressed. Not only was Trevor Matthews funny and believable, he also had the unlikely heroism and charm of a franchise character -- comparisons to Ash from Evil Dead are almost a given. I loved the effects in this movie, particularly in the finale that showcases a genuinely unique looking creature, and enough blood, goo, and action to make it well worth the wait. But even though all of the monster slaying was done in the last 15 minutes, I never found myself impatient or bored. Funny, creative, and well-paced, this is one of the more underrated horror movies of the 21st century.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Silver Bullet (1985)

A few thoughts: I always find myself thinking of Stephen King adaptations as more child-friendly, and with a little kid main character (Corey Haim) this movie didn't change that. But it's rated R and is very violent, so I don't know what to think. That pretty much sums up the movie, though, trapped in between childish and adult, but not in a way that ever fully works like 'The Lost Boys'. The cast is pretty solid, with Gary Busey being a particular standout, but it's always nice to see Terry O'Quinn show up, even in smallish roles. The werewolf bits are fun enough, but a tad goofy looking and not particularly amazing. I've seen worse werewolf effects, at least. While the story isn't bad, the script features all the signature King tropes, so fans of his work are likely to enjoy it. But for someone like me - who is largely indifferent towards King - I find it all very typical and generic, but entertaining in a harmless sort of way. There's nothing particularly great about this movie, but it's still worth checking out if you're a lycanthrophile.

200 Items Or Less: Maniac (1934)

A few thoughts: Holy crap, I love the fact that films like this exist. 50 minutes of pure joy and absolute insanity, this is one of those ingeniusly inept and exaggerated movies that is so baffling constructed and ridiculous in every way, it's hard not to laugh. The acting is like if every character were played by Dwight Frye (doing Renfield) and Tod Slaughter, only without any sort of depth. Every few minutes they bring up a wall of text meant to explain various mental illnesses, but with lousy grammar and spelling, and total nonsense science. What instantly threw me off about this movie was how raw it was. Gory, violent, and even features some barenaked boobies, it reached a point where I wouldn't have been surprised had they dropped a few F-bombs. Pre-code movies were so wonderful, weren't they? This movie is a huge pile of dog crap, but oh my was it fun to watch. Totally crazy, and consistently hilarious.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Daybreakers (2010)

A few thoughts: Usually post-apocalyptic vampire/zombie outbreak movies are told from the perspective of the few surviving humans, but this one goes a different route, showing the vampires and the struggle they face when the supply of blood diminishes. It's a promising set-up, but quickly chooses to take the familiar route of focusing on small group of surviving humans...I know, I was pretty bummed about it. Apart from the concept, the visuals are the main appeal of this movie, with a very slick Tony Scott-esque color scheme and some great gore moments. Sadly, the movie misuses its cast, with Willem Dafoe playing one of the weakest roles of his career, some ex-vampire southerner with obnoxiously folksy dialogue. Ethan Hawke is extremely under-written, his love interest(?) is barely even a character herself, but Sam Neill is pretty solid -- he just isn't given much screentime. It's a good looking movie that sabotages itself before it ever has a chance to become something special. Also, the resolution/"cure" is almost remarkably lame.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

200 Items Or Less: Rollerball (1975)

A few thoughts: A disappointingly straight-laced dystopian sports drama, Rollerball is neither wild enough to be funny, nor dramatic enough to be taken completely seriously. Since this film came out the same year as 'Death Race 2000' (a longtime favorite of mine), I was expecting a similarly crazy experience, so that probably affected my opinion. I enjoyed the action scenes, shot skillfully around a bloody and incredibly violent sport, and while James Caan does a great job with the dramatic material, at over 2 hours long the movie does wind up wearing itself out. Focusing on the political side of a future centered around this sport, the satirical elements are often quite dry, letting the violence speak for itself. Sadly, even though a good deal of this movie works, it needed about 30 minutes cut from the final product, and was in desperate need of some genuine laughs. Satire and social commentary of this variety often works better when it's presented comedically, but itwas still a solid movie with some good acting.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

200 Items Or Less: The Innocents (1961)

A few thoughts: A psychological ghost story based on Henry James' "The Turn Of The Screw", this is one of the most popular horror movies of the 1960s and an amazing acting showcase for Deborah Kerr. The setting and visuals are excellent, a sort of gothic thriller with beautiful cinematography, heavy use of shadows, and all those other wonderful black and white film traits. The other actors in this movie are mostly forgettable, but the little boy is exceptionally bizarre and good, with the sister often screaming her way through scenes in an excruciatingly obnoxious way. It's pretty lopsided having two great performances and one that's almost nothing apart from annoying, but it all works together well. I love how well this movie balances mystery with the supernatural, never fully giving you answers for the questions that will undoubtedly be burning inside of you. Often compared with 'The Haunting', and while I would definitely give that one the edge, this would still make for an excellent double feature and is a very solid horror film on its own.

200 Items Or Less: The Witches (1990)

A few thoughts: A Jim Henson produced fantasy/comedy directed by Nicholas Roeg, starring Angelica Huston? Even though it looked silly, I knew I needed to see that, because it's a truly weird combination. Well, it's very silly, and obviously intended for younger audiences, but that doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by adults, too. The Henson effects and makeup are exactly what you might expect, and Huston was clearly enjoying herself a ton in this super over-the-top role, but that's sadly pretty much where the positives with this movie end. Most of the performances are pretty weak, particularly the child actors, the script is full of generic kids movie cheesiness, and the music, cinematography, etc. is all incredibly standard for darker youth fantasy. But for movies of this era and genre, you'd be better off just sticking with 'The Neverending Story' or 'Labyrinth'. Those are more competent, imaginative, and visually appealing. Huston is ultimately what works best here, but she's had much better roles than this, so it's by no means essential. Lighthearted disposable fun.