Friday, February 21, 2014

Rats: Night of Terror (1983)

A couple hundred years ago, the world was devastated by nuclear war. A biker gang living on the surface comes across a deserted town. Thinking they've hit the jackpot, they find themselves at the mercy of killer vermin. Who doesn't love a good "man vs. nature" story? Some of the all time greatest films, like The Birds and Jaws, use this concept. There are also a lot of lower budgeted, so bad their good movies involving killer critters out there.

In the 1980s, a lot of Italian filmmakers tried to capitalize on successful American film trends. Why do you think so many zombie films came from there? Sometimes they would even do crossover films, such as Zombie Holocaust. The late Bruno Mattei was famous for making films borrowing ideas from others. Combing elements from Mad Max, Night of the Living Dead and Willard, he made one of the more memorable killer animal movies of the 80s. It doesn't reach the heights of say Troll 2, but it's still good trashy fun.

The first great thing to stand out I think is the score. The title theme for example is really cool and awfully catchy. One thing Mattei films are not known for is great acting. None of the cast members were going to win an award, but they give their all here. It's neat to see a pre-Demons Geretta Geretta play a completely different role. Though there's little meat to the roles, the actors make them stand out and each wears a unique costume.

This film is a lot of things, but cheap looking isn't one of them. The sets are fantastic and really enhance the atmosphere. The same goes for the cinematography, which is just gorgeous. The building where most of the film takes place is actually pretty eerie. Also surprisingly of good quality are the effects. The level of gore is low, but we still some nasty and realistic looking wounds and dummies.

I'm not sure it wasn't intentional, but there is plenty of camp value to be found here. For example, there are shots of the rats where it's obviously toys on a conveyor belt. The performances are also amusing at times since the actors tend to go over the top. The film is never dull and despite the ridiculousness of it all, it ends on an eerie note. It's a shame they never made a sequel, because this just screams for one.

As fun as Rats is, it's impossible not to see it's many faults. Like the director's other films, this one is severely lacking in plot. The characters get to the city, find out something happened there and then get attacked; end of story. There's also a lot of really bad dialogue spewed by the actors, not to mention some awful dubbing. At least Geretta Geretta gets to speak in her actual voice.

As I said, most of the effects are actually quite good. However, the ones involving the rats such as the conveyor belt are embarrassing. The biggest problem with the film however is the second half. The first half is quite engaging, but the film loses some steam after the halfway point. Not that the film becomes a total bore, but it does drag at times. Though not as fun as some of Mattei's other works, Rats is still great junk.

6/10  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top 10 Best and 5 Worst Films of 2013

Well, a new year has begun and so I figured this was a good time to give my list of my favorite and least favorite films of 2013. There's a good chance they will change a bit since there are many films from the year I have yet to see, but here they are as of now:

Top 10 Best Films of 2013:

10. Man of Steel
9. Oz, the Great and Powerful
8. The Wolverine
7. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
6. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
5. Evil Dead
4. Carrie
3. Gravity
2. The Conjuring
1. Pacific Rim

5 Worst Films of 2013:

5. Identity Thief
4. World War Z 
3. Texas Chainsaw 3D
2. A Good Day to Die Hard
1. Mama

Thanks for reading and I hope everyone has a fun and safe 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Black Christmas (2006)

The sisters of Delta Alpha Kappa are about to go their separate ways for Christmas. However, their plans are foiled when a blizzard forces the roads to be closed. To make matters worse, an escaped maniac who once lived there has returned. After several remakes of classic horror films, it was no surprise when Black Christmas was given such treatment. What was surprising was how different the new version is from the original. Whereas that one emphasizes suspense, this one is gory and more revealing.

The story of the making of Black Christmas '06 is an interesting one. Apparently, writer/director Glenn Morgan wanted the tone to be much like it's predecessor. The studio, in this case Dimension Films, had other ideas. Looking at their track record, the fact that there was tension between both parties is hardly a shock. The structure of the film was changed and new scenes were shot without Morgan's knowledge. He was devastated that he hasn't directed a film since.

Though not a Box Office failure, the film wasn't a hit and the critics ripped it apart. Most fans weren't too thrilled with the final result either. If compared with the original, the film does greatly pale in comparison. On it's own it may not be a classic, but it's far from unwatchable. In fact, considering the issues during production, this is actually a really fun modern slasher flick. It's very reminiscent of the great ones from the 1980s.

One thing they did differently here was cast actresses who are college age in real life. All of them, plus the rest of the cast, do a great job. Some of them aren't given much to work with, but they make the most of it. It's so cool Andrea Martin, who plays Phyllis in the original, was brought back and she's very likeable in her role. It helps that they had a good director in Morgan, who makes this one eerie ride.

One thing setting this apart from Bob Clark's film is the gore. There's a lot of it and the effects guys did an amazing job of making it look real. There are also plenty of kills, many of them inventive and always hard to watch. Seeing all this carnage with a Christmas backdrop is pretty striking. The film is beautiful to look at thanks to the cinematography and production design. In fact, it feels even more like Christmas here than in the other film.

The makers of the original opted to keep the killer's identity a total mystery. The opposite is the case in this film, which shows us how he came to be. Though it's too much, the back story is certainly interesting, not to mention disturbing. It gives the film a meaner edge the original didn't have. However, unlike some recent remakes, there is humor to be found here. Like the original, the humor is dark rather than over-the-top.

Clocking in at around 83 minutes, the film moves at a brisk pace. The structure of the film is a bit awkward, but there's never a dull moment. This goes especially for the final act where the remaining characters face off with the enemy. You may have to suspend disbelief, but what transpires is still a lot of fun. I don't want to spoil to much, but let's just say the killer doesn't go down so easy.

One thing seriously lacking that the original has in spades is suspense. You can see a lot of things coming a mile away. There are also a number of things brought over from the original, like the phone calls, which aren't as effective. Here it just feels like they were used just as wink at the fans of the original. There are also some plot holes and underdeveloped characters. Not all, but some of them are rather unlikable and therefore hard to get attached to.

If the original had been made in the 80s, it might have turned out like this. It certainly is in the spirit of slasher films of that time. But unless you hate gory slasher films, then you'll likely have a great time. It's a shame Glen Morgan didn't get to make the film he wanted, but the outcome isn't a failure. It's pure, irreverent fun that's a great alternative to the many sappy Christmas movies out there.

7/10

Black Christmas (1974)

The sisters of Pi Kappa Sigma are gearing up for Christmas break. Their plans are dampened by a missing person and obscene phone calls. Seems an intruder is lurking, ready to strike at any moment. There has been much debate about what is the first slasher film. Some claim it to be Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which undoubtedly influenced many. There are those who say it's Halloween, but this too would be false. Just four years earlier, a Canadian film crew made something that would inspire that 1978 classic.

A great many slasher films are more about tits and blood than anything else. A lot of them are fun to watch, but don't leave a huge impression. There are a select few that eschew blood and guts in favor of atmosphere and suspense. Black Christmas may feature a murdered, but there is a serious lack of blood and an abundance of true terror. The film is very grounded in reality and is more about what you don't see. For these and many other reasons, it's one of the greatest horror films of our time.

It's hard to believe that the man who would give us A Christmas Story nine years later, directed this. Bob Clark not only directed this film, he did it exceedingly well. It's atmospheric, deliberately paced and plenty suspenseful. The actors, mostly made up of women, is also in top form here. It's also great to see such a diverse group, from the drunken Barb played by Margot Kidder to the uptight Jess played by Olivia Hussey. They all do a great job of getting us to be sympathetic with their plight.

From the beginning, this film is filled with moments to make ones hair stand up. The phone calls, the death scenes and brief glimpses of the killer are some that stand out. The film also a real feeling of dread, which is a change for a Christmas movie. The score, which is minimal, and sound effects also help in upping the chill factor. Don't worry about this being a deadly serious movie however, because it isn't. It's not a horror/comedy, but there are humorous situations and lines.

There are a good number of twists and turns in the film. For one thing, they've made it a whodunit and a pretty good one too. Keeping the killer in the shadows was also a very smart thing to do. On the technical side of things, the film is quite beautiful to look at. The cinematography and production design both help in making the film look lovely and eerie at the same time. There's also plenty of decor to make it feel like Christmas time.

The biggest issue I can see with this film is that it's a bit dated. Some of the hair and clothes, plus the way they try and track the calls, age the film. This however does nothing to diminish how truly amazing this film is. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I didn't see this film until seven years ago when the remake came out. I'm glad I finally did and now see why it has such a loyal following. Instead of a  forgettable, by-the-numbers effort, this is a fun, funny and terrifying masterpiece.

10/10

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Poltergeist III (1988)

Believing her gifted, Carol Anne's parents have sent her to a special school in Chicago. Her aunt, uncle and cousin don't know what to make of her ordeal. It's only when the nightmare begins again that they accept the truth. Hollywood just loves milk urban legends to death. How did Marilyn Monroe really die? Is Elvis still alive? There aren't any as bizarre and tragic as the "Curse of Poltergeist."

Like other major studios in the 80s, MGM wasn't above sequels. Poltergeist II: The Other Side had been a big enough hit to make them want more. Talk of the films being hexed didn't seem to deter them one bit. The third installment however had it's own share of problems. Understandably, the film almost wasn't completed after the passing of Heather O'Rourke. The end result flopped at the Box Office was panned by critics.

As successful as I and II were, the third film has been the most controversial. There's even a website, poltergeistIII.com, dedicated to the film. The film's production history is pretty fascinating. There's tons of information about a much talked about "original ending." The movie itself isn't a masterpiece like it's predecessors. It it however, in my humble opinion anyway, better than it's made out to be.

It is a bit hard to take when realizing some cast members didn't return. The good news is that the newcomers hold their own. Also, both O'Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein's parts have been expanded and both shine. There are some interesting new characters and dynamics as well. The Dr. Seaton character is a jerk, but his being a skeptic adds some dimension. It's great fun watching him and Rubinstein bounce off each other.

Something else new and pretty great is the urban setting. It allows the filmmakers to try all kinds of new things. The parking garage sequence for example is a real powerhouse. Another cool thing is that they did all the effects live. More than twenty years later, they've held up rather well. A couple are even pretty gross, so squeamish beware.

Another shocking change was that Jerry Goldsmith was not brought back to do the score. His replacement, Joe Renzetti, does a nice job though. The music is quite eerie at times, particularly the title theme. The film is also pretty chilling at times. The sequence involving multiple Kane's being my personal favorite. There is also some suspense. You just never know what's lurking or about to happen next.

After II, the stakes were raised even higher this time. Having Carol Anne alone is pretty nerve racking to watch. Also, the weaker family unit helps in making her more vulnerable. Fortunately, her journey is a compelling one. The film is never a bore and moves at a good clip.

The first two films feature things 80s, yet have aged well. The same however can not be said for III I'm afraid. The hair and clothes on all the teen characters are 80s to the max. The biggest problem however is the ending. One story is they finished it, bur weren't happy and the other is they didn't finish before O'Rourke died. Whatever the case, it's anticlimactic and contradicts the point of I and II.

It seemed pretty clear that the terror was over at the end of II. But they say evil never dies and I for one am glad they made another. Unlike some sequels, it doesn't simply rehash what came before. It takes chances and the risk pays off. Sure, it doesn't match the brilliance of say The Exorcist, but it's not trying to. An imperfect, but underrated conclusion to the series.

9/10

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Popcorn (1991)

A female film student has had a recurring nightmare since childhood. She and her classmates are hosting a horror marathon, which attracts a mysterious stranger. Her friends start dying and secrets from her past are revealed. There's nothing like going to the movies; buying popcorn, kicking back and being entertained for two hours. It's a great pass time, but also safe since what happens on screen stays there. But what if somehow life started to imitate art?

There have been a number of films made about the love of cinema. Matinee is the probably the most well known of these. A couple years earlier came a film with a similar concept, but with a darker edge. Like Joe Dante's film, it pays tribute to b horror and science fiction films of the 50s. It's a pretty good film, but has an even more interesting history. 

Alan Ormsby, friend and collaborator of the late Bob Clark, was Popcorn's original director. Weeks into production, both him and the lead female actress were let go. They were replaced by first time director Mark Herrier and the lovely Jill Schoelen. The reasons why this happened have never been made clear. However, despite these and more problems, the finished film is quite good.

The best thing this film has going for it is the concept. Demons had done the movie-within-a-movie thing already, but here they pay tribute to this film and the force of evil is entirely different. The cast, a mix of veterans and fresh faces, is also really good. Some of the actors aren't given a lot to do, but make the most of their screen time. Though there are better, the film's score is quite effective. The bit playing during the "Possessor" scenes is especially creepy. 

The special effects on display are all quite good. The film isn't gory, but some of the make-up work is pretty grotesque none-the-less. The film is also pretty freaky at times. The scene where Dee Wallace goes to the theatre is the stuff of nightmares. It helps that the voice of the villain is so chilling. 

There is quite a bit of humor to be found here as well. Some is from the script and the rest from some of the cast. For the most part it hits the bulls eye. The films they show at the festival provide many of the laughs. They're also really clever, like other things in the film. The death scenes for one are pretty inventive.

Popcorn turned out rather well considering the production woes. However, that doesn't mean that it's flawless. Both some of the characters and the concept are underdeveloped. The supporting actors do a great job, but most don't get much to work with. There are also some really missed opportunities. For example, the audience is oblivious to what's going on rather than also being in danger.

The tone of this film is a bit uneven, perhaps due the project's problems. The director does an all right job, but doesn't balance the humor and horror greatly. What he and uncredited original director Ormsby did however was create a fun, at times funny and scary romp. Despite it's faults, it's absolutely worth a look if you love film and particularly horror, then you're in for a treat.

7/10

Friday, November 15, 2013

Legend: Director's Cut (1985)

A young man in love with a princess, takes her to see a pair of unicorns. A goblin gang kills one of them, plunging the world into a dark, harsh winter. Now this boy must fight their evil lord in order to save the kingdom and the love of his life. There's just  something special about fantasy films of the 1980s. Labyrinth, Willow, The Neverending Story are just a few examples beloved to this day. Then there's Legend, a film that for years was treated like a red-headed stepchild.

There have been so many films butchered in the editing room. As a result, the final product would be a mess and have only a few shining moments. Over the years, there have been a lucky few original cuts to see the light of day. For almost twenty years, Ridley Scott's sole fantasy film was only available in the US in an 89 minute cut. Then in the early 2000s, a 114 minute cut was found and released to the public. It's not perfect either, but is a far more satisfying filmgoing experience.

This was Ridley Scott's fourth feature film and once again he did an amazing job. He nails both the light and dark moments, the latter of which there are more of. The pace of the film is also good, though slower than most films of this kind. Then there's the cast, which all around is excellent. Tom Cruise and Mia Sara do well and have great chemistry as the two lovers. Tim Curry and the actors playing the other baddies all succeed in being terrifying.

One major difference between the cuts is the score, both in composer and style. Like many other fans, I love the Tangerine Dream score, but Jerry Goldsmith's is a bit more appropriate. One great thing both versions share though is how visually pleasing they are. Cinematographer Alex Thomson, who won an award for his work, excels in making the film look beautiful and bleak. The scenes inside Lord Darkness's castle have an especially eerie look and feel.

The special effects in the film, done by master Rob Bottin, are fantastic. You can't tell even just a little that it's Tim Curry under that make-up. Same goes for Robert Picardo in one of the film's most memorable sequences. Also nice to look at are the costumes, especially Princess Lili's dress and Jack's armor. Mia Sara also gets to wear a stunning black dress for her "evil" scenes. Speaking of which, there are many standout moments throughout the film.

If you've seen a few fantasy films and read a few fantasy books, then you'll be familiar with this story. It would have been nice if they had strayed a bit from the formula, but it doesn't ruin the film. The more damaging flaw is the thin plot and characters. The actors breathe life into their roles, but many don't have much to do. Had these things been more developed, Legend could be as good as other fantasy flicks of the decade. It's still a great effort though and it's really nice to finally see it the way it was meant to be.

8/10