Archive for January, 2012

THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)

Posted in 2012, Anthology Films, Midnight Movies, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 31, 2012 by knifefighter

THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011)
Midnight Movie Review by Nick Cato

Horror anthology films are usually hit or miss, from the Karloff/Bava classic BLACK SABBATH (1963) to TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and THE VAULT OF HORROR (1973), right up to recent titles such as TRICK OR TREAT (2007).  The one that worked on every level and kept tightly to its theme was George A. Romero’s CREEPSHOW (1982), a fan favorite that has stood the test of time.  In this A.D.D. generation, I’m surprised there aren’t a lot more films comprised of several shorts, but regardless of their scarcity, I’m always excited whenever a new one is released.

I attended the latest anthology offering, THE THEATRE BIZARRE (2011), at NYC’s Landmark Sunshine, as it opened to midnight audiences in several cities on January 27th.  With a theatre full of hardcore horror fans (not to mention one of the stars, producers, and directors in attendance), I couldn’t ask for a better way to screen this much-hyped film that spent 2011 touring the film festival circuit.

THE THEATRE BIZARRE begins when a young woman can’t stop staring at an abandoned-looking theatre across the street from her apartment.  She is drawn to it, finds the front door unlocked, and takes a seat among other scattered patrons.  A humanoid automaton (played by cult film legend, Udo Kier) pops out of a box and begins to address the silent crowd, introducing the first (and five following) stories.

A couple vacationing in the French countryside wander into an occult shop in THE MOTHER OF TOADS (directed by Richard Stanley of HARDWARE (1990) fame).  This one has the best atmosphere of the lot, is genuinely creepy, and manages to tell a monster tale in a non-campy manner.  Catriona (THE BEYOND, 1981) MacColl is perfect as a witch who allows our American antagonist to take a peak at a genuine copy of the Necronomicon.  It’s a nice blend of Lovecraftian terror and Argento-like cinematography, and a great opening piece.

Next up is I LOVE YOU, directed by Buddy Giovinazzo, the man responsible for the grim Vietnam veteran classic COMBAT SHOCK (1986).  A paranoid husband discovers that his paranoia was warranted; his wife has become unhappy over the years and has been sleeping with every man she could.  Told in sharp time-shifting edits, the ending can only be described as beautifully disgusting.

WET DREAMS (directed by and featuring Tom Savini as a psychiatrist) tells the tale of an abusive husband who’s erotic and violent dreams cause him to visit a shrink.  He’s taught how to talk himself out of bad dreams, but finds out he’s no match for his battered wife who has had enough (the wife is played by Debbie Rochon, here in one of her finer roles).  I usually don’t go for “dream” type horror stories, but this one’s done in a fresh way and the ending will make you cringe.

Just when I thought every story would be dealing with couples, along comes director Douglas Buck’s THE ACCIDENT, a heady piece about a young girl asking her mother why people have to die while traveling in their minivan.  An older biker passes them, then a younger one.  A few miles up the road, they discover the younger biker has crashed by hitting an elk and died as the older biker looks on from the side of the road.  Seen through the eyes of the young daughter (played by impressive Canadian newcomer Melodie Simard), THE ACCIDENT is a haunting and artistically shot piece that I actually found out of place in this anthology; it’s a bit more serious than the other films and—sandwiched in-between two of the more extreme stories—sort-of slows things down.  It’s one of the better offerings, but I felt it didn’t belong here.

Karim Hussain’s VISION STAINS turned out to be my favorite of the lot.  Kaniehito Horn plays a writer who lives among homeless junkies.  She has discovered a way to obtain these people’s memories, and logs them to preserve their history.  At the moment of death, the nameless writer injects a syringe into the victim’s eyeball, and then injects the vitreous fluid into her own eye, allowing her to see the person’s entire life, which she then frantically writes down.  Her room is loaded with volume upon volume.  Things take a dark turn when she decides to take the fluid from the unborn baby of a crack addict.  What happens changes her life and brings an unusual closure.  The special effects are difficult to watch if this isn’t your thing, but with a story this good it’s hard not to look away.

Closing things out is the strangest of the bunch.  SWEETS (directed by David Gregory), features a couple who share a massive addiction to cake and candy.  Estelle (played with over-the-top glee by Lindsay Goranson) breaks off her fling with Greg (the hysterical Guilford Adams—you’ve seen him on TV).  In a twist on the Hansel and Gretyl theme, the conclusion finds Estelle at a party with like-minded sweets addicts (headed by scream queen legend, Lynn Lowry) who turn out to have a taste for more than candy.  This is a darkly comic horror romp that ends things on a gruesome—but comical—note.

The woman who has viewed all these shorts now falls under the spell of Udo Kier’s transforming host, ending THE THEATRE BIZARRE with a hint of more to come.

While I didn’t find things as graphic as I had heard, the film does feature some disturbing moments, but not many scares.  SWEETS was the only short I’d consider bizarre, and as mentioned, THE ACCIDENT was too much of an art film to be considered horror and was simply out of place here.  The four other tales are solid slices of genre filmmaking, with new and classic actors popping up in the mix.

THE THEATRE BIZARRE is no masterpiece, but a good, well-made collaborative film worth seeing, as it offers something for most horror fans.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Nick Cato gives THE THEATRE BIZARRE ~ THREE knives!

Kaniehito Horn plays a writer on a mission in "Vision Stains," one of the finer segments in THE THEATRE BIZARRE

Cinema Knife Fight: THE GREY (2012)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Animals Attack, Cinema Knife Fights, Disaster Films, Man vs. Nature with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE GREY (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: A vast snowy wasteland. L.L. SOARES is warming his hands by a crackling fire, while a wolf turns on a spit. MICHAEL ARRUDA looks disgusted)

MA: Do we really have to eat a wolf? It smells awful!

LS: Are you kidding? I’ve got a bottle of STUBB’S Real Texas barbecue sauce right here. It makes any meat taste great.

MA: How’s it on skunk?  Anyway, what are you doing with a bottle of barbecue sauce in the middle of Alaska? Are we doing commercials now?

LS: Hell, I bring it everywhere! Makes meat taste better. You’re lucky I’m not eating YOU after that big plane crash.

MA: And that’s supposed to make me feel better?  Just make sure you fill your gut with plenty of wolf meat so you satisfy that voracious appetite of yours.

LS: I dunno.  This cold air is making me plenty hungry.

MA:  That’s what I’m afraid of.  We’ll just find you a nice supply of berries, nuts, and pine cones.

LS:  I’m not eating that crap!

MA:  Put some of that magical barbecue sauce on it, and it’ll taste just fine.  You said it makes everything taste great.

LS:  No, I said it makes any meat taste great!

MA: Anyway, how about we get off the subject of food, and you take a break from cooking and start our review of the new Liam Neeson movie, THE GREY?

LS: Okay.

THE GREY is a movie about a team of guys in Alaska who are working for an oil drilling corporation. Liam Neeson plays Ottway, a guy who was hired to shoot wolves if they get too close to the workers. He and a bunch of other guys take a plane to Anchorage for some R&R and it crashes.

MA: Yeah, that crash scene is pretty intense.  I loved the way it was shot, entirely from the inside of the plane, so you’re feeling like you’re right there with the passengers, and we’re spared any potential fake-looking CGI planes crashing into the ice.  It’s a riveting sequence that takes full advantage of people’s fear of plane crashes.

LS: Yes, it is rather intense, isn’t it? I thought the crash was very well done.

Anyway, after the crash, Ottway wakes up in the middle of nowhere, covered in snow. He goes over the next hill and sees the plane in pieces and only a few guys alive after the crash.

There are bodies everywhere, and Ottway, being an expert in the local animals, takes charge and instructs everyone in what to do to stay alive. Some of the people question his authority, until the wolves start hovering around.

The movie becomes a quest for survival, as Ottway and the rest of the survivors struggle to stay alive. Knowing that the chances of a search party finding them are slim, they decide to keep moving. This entails not only keeping an eye out for vicious wolves, but also struggling to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, and trying to maneuver through knee-high snow (with blizzards on the way). It’s rough going, and even though these guys survived the plane crash, there is no guarantee they are going to live to see civilization again, especially with those wolves constantly on the edges of the darkness, waiting to pick them off, one by one.

I really like Liam Neeson, and he’s been on an action movie roll lately, with starring roles in films like this one, and TAKEN (2008) and UNKNOWN (2011). Neeson is starting to become a one-man industry all by himself, regularly turning out interesting action movies. Sort of like another entertaining actor, Nicolas Cage.

MA:  I tend to enjoy Neeson a bit more than Cage, but I think you’re dead-on about Neeson becoming a one-man industry.  People I talk to always cite Neeson as one of their favorite actors, and I know the theater I was in last night was packed.  I’m guessing they were Liam Neeson fans.  It’s not like this movie had a lot of hype or an amazing trailer.  If anything, the trailer was rather boring.

LS:  Yeah, I didn’t think much of the trailer for THE GREY and I was bummed out that we had to see this one. I went into that theater with zero expectations.

MA:  Me, too.  I was ready to call THE GREY, “The Blah.”

LS:  I just expected another by-the-numbers action movie. But I was completely wrong. THE GREY was something completely different. And it captured my imagination.

MA:  Ditto.  I really didn’t think I was going to like this movie, but I ended up liking it a lot.  And again, I have to agree with you about it capturing the imagination.  That’s what made this movie work so well.  It really was a step above your standard action movie, thanks largely in part to a well-written script by Joe Carnahan, who also directed, and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, based on a short story by Jeffers called “Ghost Walkers.”

LS: Carnahan is a pretty interesting director. He gave us some quirky action/crime flicks in the past, like NARC (2002) and SMOKIN’ ACES (2006). He also directed the recent movie version of THE A-TEAM (2010)— which also featured Neesom in the ensemble cast. Carnahan does a terrific job with THE GREY.

(FROSTY THE SNOWMAN approaches the guys)

FROSTY: Hey guys, I’m really c-c-cold out here. Mind if I come sit by your fire?

LS: Sure thing, Frosty, take a load off.

MA: Is that really a smart idea?

FROSTY: What do you mean? Are you trying to say you don’t want me to join you guys?

MA: No, no, not at all. It’s just that you’re made of snow and….

FROSTY (sits down next to fire): Ahhhhh! This is the life.

(FROSTY promptly falls asleep.)

MA: You know he’s not going to last the night.

LS: Are you kidding. He won’t last the hour! I just added a lot more kindling to the fire. Frosty isn’t the brightest bulb in the tulip patch.

(MA and LS laugh)

MA: Ultimately, THE GREY is about death and how we face it.  As you would imagine, in a movie about a small group of plane crash survivors stranded in the brutally frozen Alaska wilderness, hunted by a pack of wolves that are upset because these survivors have landed too close to their den, there’s a lot of death scenes in this movie, and so there is ample opportunity to address how people deal with death.

It gets into faith in God vs. faith in the here and now, and a recurring theme is not being afraid of death.  It’s about meeting death on your own terms, because you know what?  It’s inevitable.

LS: It also washes over you like a warm wave, if Neeson’s character is to be believed. He tells a character this early on who is about to die.

MA: Yes, early on in the film, there’s a scene where one of the survivors is bleeding out, and Neeson’s Ottway tells him straight out, you’re going to die. Ottway then guides him, in the gentlest yet confident way, to his death, asking him who he loves and telling him to let that person take him to where he’s going.  It’s a poignant scene, and sets the stage, thematically, for the rest of the movie.

LS:  It is a poignant scene. And not what you’re expecting when you sit down to watch an action movie. I have to admit, that I really started to care about these characters, especially Ottway, as the movie continued.

Another thing about Neeson is, the movie opens with his character trudging through the snow at night, and a voiceover where he’s talking to us. Normally, I hate that kind of thing, but when Neeson does it, it’s strangely reassuring. Like “this is a Liam Neeson movie, and you’re in good hands now.”

Along with Neeson, there are some great performances by Frank Grillo (some people may remember him from TV shows like PRISON BREAK and he was the father on the short-lived, but pretty good, supernatural series THE GATES)—in THE GREY he plays a hard-ass ex-con named Diaz who is Ottway’s nemesis for a lot of the movie, and he steals several of the scenes—and Dallas Roberts (from shows like THE GOOD WIFE and the AMC series RUBICON) as Hendrick. The supporting cast is actually quite good here, but it’s clear from the start that Neeson is the main attraction.

MA:  I liked those two guys a lot, too.  I also enjoyed Dermot Mulroney as Talget.  The scene where Talget, a man who is afraid of heights, has to cross a high cliff on a wire to reach the tall trees for safety, is another exercise in intensity, well-executed by both the actor and the director.

LS: That is a great scene. This movie is full of them. Scenes that could have been generic action sequences, but because of character idiosyncrasies or fears, they’ve been turned into something more personal.

MA: Joe Anderson is also memorable as Flannery, a guy who seems to have a negative comment about everything and quickly gets on his fellow survivor’s nerves.  Anderson was even more memorable as Deputy Russell in THE CRAZIES (2010).

I liked that for the most part, these actors were unrecognizable.  It added to the believability of this tale.

LS: Yeah, I really could not identify who they were until the end credits rolled. Aside from Neeson, nobody looks very familiar here.

MA: And speaking of believability, I agree with you that Neeson is the main attraction, mostly because he is so believable.  After the crash, Neeson’s Ottway immediately takes charge, and like the audience, several of the survivors initially question why Ottway is qualified to lead them. Ottway professes his knowledge of wolves and survival, and Neeson makes us believe every word and action that comes from this guy.

LS: Yeah, at first some of the other guys are like, “Who the hell are you to tell us what to do?” But it’s gradually clear that he’s the only one who really knows what he’s doing, and Neeson does seem like a natural born leader.

MA: There’s a great scene where Diaz challenges Ottway, and Ottway decks him and knocks him on his ass, and he gets in his face and tells him straight out that he is not going to put up with his crap.  It’s a commanding moment, and Neeson pulls it off without a shred of doubt.

LS:   Yeah, not only is Ottway the smartest guy in the group, he can also kick ass when he needs to.

My one complaint about THE GREY is that the movie does move a little slow in spots. A few scenes seem to last a bit longer than they should. But, as it progressed and developed its own odd rhythm, it really won me over.

MA:  Yep, there were some slow parts.

LS: Even the way it’s paced isn’t like a normal action movie.

I found the odyssey of these guys in their struggle for survival to be really compelling. I also found some of the more personal moments involving Neeson’s character to be especially moving, since they deal with the character’s loss of his wife, something that Neeson experienced himself not too long ago in real life (his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died in 2009 after a skiing accident). The scenes where Neeson thinks back about his wife really have a strong kick to them. You believe that he is a man in pain. In fact, at the beginning of the movie, before the plane crash stuff even happens, Ottway contemplates suicide. And yet, when they’re struggling to stay alive in the aftermath of the crash, Ottway is also the one guy who most desperately clings to staying alive.

As the movie progressed, it drew me more and more into the story of these characters. And by the end, I really grew to like this movie a lot.

MA:  Same here.  Like you, I really enjoyed  Ottway’s personal story, and I thought Neeson handled this terrifically.  Although I liked Neeson in UNKNOWN a lot, I thought his performance here was better, deeper, and richer.  He makes so many movies we tend to forget just how good an actor this guy can be.

As much as I liked the entire package of THE GREY, I found myself liking Neeson the most. But the whole film is great.  Director Joe Carnahan creates several memorable scenes in this movie.  The aforementioned crash scene is about as riveting a crash scene I’ve watched in a long time.

I loved the sequence where they have to cross over the cliff to the pine trees on a makeshift line. The scene where Hendrick falls into the river is another nail-biter.  And then, pretty much any scene where the wolves were involved.

LS:  The scenes with the wolves are well done, and suspenseful. You never know when they are going to strike. They almost take on a supernatural aspect as the film progresses, as if they’re everywhere.

And that scene with Hendrick in the icy river – man! That might just be the most intense scene in the whole movie.

MA:  I liked the look of the wolves in this one.  They looked much better than the CGI werewolves we’ve seen in the movies the past few years.  Sure, one of the reasons they look so good is the scenes they’re in are so damn scary, but another reason is we hardly ever see them clearly.  We see them at night, or in the snow, or in a mist, and this isn’t a cop-out, but an effective use of special effects to really make the wolves a credible threat in this movie.

LS: Yeah, you won’t soon forget those glowing eyes in the darkness. And you’re right. The wolves in this one are scarier and more threatening than anything in the TWILIGHT Saga, or the latest UNDERWORLD flick we just saw. This is the way scary wolves should be done!

MA: The wolf scenes are genuinely unnerving.  I really believed the men’s lives were in danger from these animals, and I found myself looking behind these guys, expecting a wolf to come out at any moment.  The wolf scenes in this film were that good.

(Behind MA & LS, run a pack of WOLVES followed by a SHEEP.)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Are we there yet?

WOLF:  It’s right around the corner.

SHEEP:  I’m starving. What’s on the menu?

WOLF:  You— I mean, you’ll see.  (to LS):  Hey mister, can we borrow your barbecue sauce?

LS:  Are you kidding me?  Have you seen what I’m roasting?

WOLF:  Gulp!  Forget I asked.

(WOLVES flee, followed by the SHEEP)

SHEEP:  Wait up guys!  Hey, was that man back there roasting a wolf?  That sounds good!  (Looks at camera and smiles, revealing rows of mega-sharp silver teeth.)  What?  You think all sheep are herbivores?  Think again!  (Exits)

MA: That was freaky.

LS:  Well, it’s time for us to give our ratings. By the end of this film, it had won me over completely. I give THE GREY ~ three and a half knives.

MA:  I liked this one a lot too, and enjoyed it from beginning to end.  That being said, I wasn’t overly crazy about the ending.  It was a little bleak.

LS: There you go again with your “I can’t stand bleak endings” attitude.  What a wuss.  Here.  Put these on.  (Puts a pair of Mickey Mouse ears on MA’s head.)  Go smile and wave at little kids.

MA:  I didn’t hate the ending.  I just wasn’t crazy about it.  I’d go on, but I don’t want to give anything away.

LS:  That’s good, because I don’t’ want to talk about the ending too much either, but I will say that what happens stays true to the movie up to that point. This isn’t an easy movie where everything magically falls into place. There’s a certain honesty to it—another thing that sets it apart from your typical action movie. And the ending harkens back to a poem Ottway’s father had written when he was a kid and that he knew by heart.

A lot of the movie was like this—little powerful moments spread out throughout the journey—just a really good script.

MA:  And the title of the movie, THE GREY, aptly describes the tone and themes of this film.  THE GREY is rather gloomy, albeit exciting.

But all in all, like you, I liked THE GREY a lot, and I’m giving it three knives.  I almost gave this one three and a half knives, but the dreariness factor prevented me from doing so.

LS:  I still say you’re a wuss, Mickey.  Anyway, we done?  I’m hungry.

MA:  Yeah, we’re done.  How’s that wolf coming along?  Well-done enough for you?

LS:  Dammit!  I got so carried away with the review I forgot to check on the wolf.  It’s burnt!  Oh well, lucky thing I got my STUBB’S.

MA (steps in a puddle): Where did this come from? I almost slipped in that mud.

LS: That is our good friend Frosty!

MA (laughs): Here, have a pine cone appetizer (tosses him a pine cone)

Well, folks, that’s it for now.  We’ll see you next week with a review of another new movie.

LS:  I wonder if you can smoke this thing?  (Lights pine cone and takes a puff.)

Not bad!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE GREY ~ THREE knives!

LL Soares gives THE GREY~THREE AND A HALF knives.

Friday Night Knife Fights: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON VS. THE HOWLING (Conclusion)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Classic Films, Friday Night Knife Fights, Werewolf Movies, Werewolves with tags , , , , , on January 27, 2012 by knifefighter

FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS:  THE HOWLING (1981) vs. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
PART 3 (Conclusion)
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh and Nick Cato

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome back everyone to the third and final installment of our HOWLING vs. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON debate.  For the past two Fridays, our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters has been trying to determine which one of these werewolf classics is the better movie.  I’m joined, as always, by L.L. Soares; and L.L., our bout between these two films has become somewhat lopsided, as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF won the past couple of rounds and now leads THE HOWLING by a score of four rounds to one.

L.L. SOARES:  I’m not surprised.  While I like both movies a lot, I think we’re going to find that AMERICAN WEREWOLF is the better movie of the two.

MARK ONSPAUGH:  Don’t count your werewolves before they transform!  THE HOWLING is every bit as good as AMERICAN WEREWOLF and then some, and if you guys would listen to me, you’d understand why.

LS:  Be quiet, you!  We haven’t even introduced you yet!

MA:  That’s right.  L.L. and I are joined once again by Mark Onspaugh and Nick Cato.  Thanks, guys, for being here on three successive Fridays.  Having fun?

MO:  Definitely.

NICK CATO:  Always a pleasure to talk about these movies.  And it’s a cheap date.

LS:  What?  No flowers?  No beer?

MO:  It’s been awesome, except my movie THE HOWLING hasn’t been doing that well in our debate.

MA:  That’s okay.  There’s still plenty of time left.  On that note, let’s get back to the business at hand.  It’s our final segment tonight, so before we go home this evening, one of these two movies will emerge as the winner.

On to Round 6.

The question is:  Which film is scarier?  Nick, let’s start off with you.

NC:  I found THE HOWLING much scarier than AMERICAN WEREWOLF.

MO:  Way to go, Nick!

NC:  But then again AMERICAN WEREWOLF was a dark comedy of sorts, so I’m not sure how scary it was trying to be.  But THE HOWLING is scarier.

LS:  I didn’t really find either movie all that scary, but I guess THE HOWLING is the more visceral story. There’s a clear-cut representation of good and evil. In AMERICAN WEREWOLF, that line is more blurred, and the movie also balances out horror and humor extremely well.

I think THE HOWLING is more scary in a “meat and potatoes” way. AMERICAN WEREWOLF, however, is more satisfying over all, in my opinion. But I give this one to THE HOWLING.

MA: I’m with you in that I honestly don’t find either film all that scary, and to me, that’s a weakness of both movies. I’d call it a draw, here.

MO:  THE HOWLING is definitely scarier.  Even if some of the characters weren’t werewolves, they’re not people you’d want to be stranded in the woods with.

MA:  That’s true.

Well, believe it or not, THE HOWLING won this Round as all three of you cited it as being the scarier film, and I called it a draw.  Round 6 goes to THE HOWLING.

MO:  Aaaawwwoooo!!!  THE HOWLING is coming back!

MA: Yep, it has closed the gap somewhat, but AMERICAN WEREWOLF still leads 4-2.

On to Round 7.

Which film, if any, belongs in the same conversation as older classics like THE WOLF MAN (1941) and Hammer’s THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)?

LS:  Well, I think AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON definitely belongs in the same class as the older classics. It’s one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Even superior to something like CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1962).

MA:  Whoa! Hold onto your wolfsbane!

Better than CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF?  I don’t think so.

Oliver Reed in CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961), a great werewolf movie, but it really has nothing to do with this debate.

LS:  Who asked you? And since when is CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF such a cinematic titan?

MA:  Well, when ranking werewolf movies, I think it’s topped only by THE WOLF MAN.

LS:  That’s the problem  – you’re thinking again. As usual, you’re wrong.  I like CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but both of the movies we’re discussing tonight are just as good, if not better.

MA:  I disagree, but that being said, since AMERICAN WEREWOLF is a contemporary, updated tale with a devilish sense of humor, it is the more entertaining movie of the two, but I like the werewolf make-up on Oliver Reed so much more than the werewolf in AMERICAN WEREWOLF.  It’s just the better werewolf movie.

LS:  AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON blows CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF out of the water.  Besides, what do you know?  Has HAMMER FILMS ever made anything you didn’t like?

MA:  I’m sure I could come up with one if I thought about it long enough.

MO: Hey guys, isn’t this a battle between AMERICAN WEREWOLF and THE HOWLING? 

LS: Yeah, since when did this turn into a debate about CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF?? If you want me to tear apart what’s wrong with CURSE, just say the word, because it’s far from a perfect movie.

MA: That’ll be a debate for another night.  Okay, let’s get back on topic.

LS (to MO):  You really like THE HOWLING, don’t you?

MO: Yes!

LS: And I have to say, I don’t want to completely bash THE HOWLING. The truth is, I like it a lot, too. While I think AMERICAN WEREWOLF is better, I think THE HOWLING is still a classic of the werewolf genre and belongs in the same group with THE WOLF MAN, too, especially if Arruda is including CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF in that group. So I would say that both THE HOWLING and AMERICAN WEREWOLF fit the bill as genre classics.

YAAARGH!


MA:  Well, regarding the two movies we’re discussing today, I strongly prefer AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF.   However, I’m not sure I’d include it in the same conversation with THE WOLF MAN or CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, which are my two favorite werewolf movies.

And I feel the same way about THE HOWLING.

The main reason?  The weakest links of both these movies are the werewolves in them.  Without decent werewolves in either movie, I can’t consider either one as a classic werewolf movie.  I think AMERICAN WEREWOLF is a notch below THE WOLF MAN and THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, and THE HOWLING is several notches below.

So, my answer is neither.

MO:  I completely disagree with you.

Both films pioneered makeup effects, and both have a tragic protagonist.  If you are having a conversation about important werewolf movies (as opposed to the dozens – it seems – HOWLING sequels or VAN HELSING) then you need to include both of these.

MA:  I think our answers just cancelled each other out.

MO: You’re killing me, man!

NC:  I’d include both, too.

MA:  Well, I say neither, and the three of you say both. So Round 7 goes to both movies.

LS: Give them each a point!

MA: Okay, so now AMERICAN WEREWOLF leads THE HOWLING 5 to 3.

It’s time for the Final Round, when we ask: All things considered, which one is the better movie?

Now, remember, just like in real boxing, even though one fighter may be ahead on points, he can still be knocked out in the final round.  So, there’s still hope for THE HOWLING.

MO: And how would that work exactly?

MA:  In this round, we’re picking which one is the better movie, and so if we all picked THE HOWLING, that would be considered a knock-out.  Mark, why don’t you get this final round started?

MO:  Except for Baker’s awesome transformation, the make-up on the victims (including a terrific decapitation) and Griffin Dunne’s hilarious portrayal of undead best friend Jack, I have to give it to THE HOWLING.  If the final werewolf in AMERICAN WEREWOLF had been better with more screen time—.  Naw, I’m still going with THE HOWLING.

NC:  Despite being a fan of horror comedies, I think THE HOWLING is the better werewolf film, as AMERICAN WEREWOLF is slowed down by a couple of non-wolf side-plots. So, like Mark here, I’m also picking THE HOWLING.

LS:  I think AMERICAN WEREWOLF is the better movie, hands down. But THE HOWLING has a lot going for it, too. I think the two films make a great double-feature.

MA:  No surprise here, I’m going with AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.  It has the better script, the more memorable characters, and I like its story much better than the one told in THE HOWLING.  Both movies attempt to update the werewolf story to modern times, and both succeed, although AMERICAN WEREWOLF succeeds more.
Had AMERICAN WEREWOLF been able to include a scary, ferocious, and realistic looking werewolf in its movie, it would be one of my all-time favorite werewolf films.  I love everything about it except for the actual werewolf.

LS: Yeah, I gotta agree that the final werewolf is a letdown.

MA: So, our Final Round is a draw, as Mark and Nick chose THE HOWLING, while L.L. and I chose AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. So each one gets another point.

That means that our final tally is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON –  6  and THE HOWLING – 4.

Which means the winner of tonight’s FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHT is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON wins! Hurray!

LS:  As it should be.  It’s the better movie.

MO:  Nope.  It’s THE HOWLING, but I’ll concede that AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF OF LONDON is very good, and I can see why you guys chose it.  You’re just wrong.  (laughs).

MA:  Well, before we come to blows here, it’s time to say so long, because we’re out of time.  So for the final time tonight, thanks guys!

NC:  You’re welcome.

MO:  Any time.

LS:  Any place!  Especially if it has a bar!

MA:  I’m Michael Arruda, and on behalf of L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh, Nick Cato and myself, thank you all for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you next time on FRIDAY NIGHT KNIFE FIGHTS!

Good night everybody!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Mark Onspaugh and Nick Cato

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: DEATHSTALKER (1984)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, Bad Acting, Barbarian Movies, Grindhouse, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Sword & Sorcery, VIOLENCE!, Warriors with tags , , , , , on January 26, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES PRESENTS:
DEATHSTALKER: Conan…Without Class!
By Nick Cato

I spent most of the time during the second half of my sophomore year in high school daydreaming about movies.  While horror preoccupied 90% of my mind, other exploitation films took about 8%, and the final 2% was dedicated to all things CONAN.  From the early Marvel comics to the 1982 Ah-Nuld film version, I was always a big fan of the sword & sorcery genre.  And while the success of CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982) spawned several rip-offs, none were as memorable as the 1984 schlock-fest DEATHSTALKER, which happened to be released as I trudged through the tenth grade.

Picture—if you will—a group of fifteen year-old male teenagers managing to get into an R-rated action film with no problem.  Now picture—if you will—that same group of ecstatic fifteen year-old teenagers giggling with glee as the sword & sorcery epic unreeling before them turned out to feature some of the worst acting, fakest-looking creatures, and massive amounts of jiggling boobs this side of a PORKY’S film.  Even one-time sex symbol Barbi Benton appears as a princess, although she was better off taking another cruise on THE LOVE BOAT than accepting whatever peanuts she was offered for her forgettable role here.

Besides the gratuitous boobs and brutal fight sequences, what truly made DEATHSTALKER such a joy to watch was the title character himself.  Deathstalker was played by stuntman/actor Rick Hill, and is far less noble a warrior than Conan: he’s a conscience-less murderer and rapist, taking any woman who even looks at him as he walks by with his bulging biceps.  And in what tries to pass for a plot, a king asks Deathstalker to try and redeem himself by rescuing his kidnapped princess daughter from a tattoo-headed tyrant.  Like any social misfit, Deathstalker basically tells the king where to go, then proceeds to eat (yes, EAT) half of the king’s poor dog!  At this point, you either buckled your seatbelt and prepared to enjoy the trash that followed, or you left the theater and spared your brain any further damage.

I stayed.

There was mumbling around the theater wondering  just why this king asked a known, savage rapist to rescue his daughter, and why he even cared if the guy redeemed himself.  But such are the mysteries of rip-off, grindhouse cinema.

In one scene that drove the audience wild, a brawl goes down where one burly man (with his gigantic mallet) smashes his opponent into a bloody pancake.  Popcorn flew around the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theatre in appreciation, and at one point I started to hope some of the older guys in attendance didn’t get any ideas after the film, out in the parking lot.

Between more bouncing boobs and heads getting lobbed off, there was talk of Deathstalker also having to find three objects that were allegedly part of the world’s creation (I remember one being a sword, which he finds, but can’t recall what the other two were…and you probably wouldn’t, either).  Deathstalker eventually rescues the princess (who actually looks like an old sea hag) and takes the sword of creation from the clutches of Munkar, the aforementioned tattoo-headed tyrant (and MAN did his head-tattoo look fake!).  Just WHY Deathstalker went ahead and did what the king asked —after saying he wasn’t interested—is anyone’s guess.

The remainder of DEATHSTALKER features our anti-hero joining a tournament where warriors battle other warriors to the death—sort-of like a sword & sorcery tribute to the Bruce Lee classic ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  Here the blood flows deeper than your standard slasher film, as arms, legs, and heads fly, bodies are impaled; all the while Munkar looks on with a smirk, thinking everyone who stands in his way will eventually kill themselves off, leaving him to rule the world.  MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

But as fate would have it, Deathstalker manages to kill the final opponent, a goofy-looking pig-faced warrior beast, and eventually destroys Munkar and the mystical objects of creation.

Unlike CONAN THE BARBARIAN, or better rip-offs such as THE BEASTMASTER (1982), DEATHSTALKER’s sloppy script and countless plot holes will cause even the most jaded fan of grindhouse cinema to shake their head in disbelief.  But, if you’re looking for a real GUY/party flick, full of hot babes, endless bloodshed, and acting so bad you can’t help but yell back at the screen (even if you’re watching it at home), DEATHSTALKER is a prime example of a so-bad-it’s-amazing film.  Most mind-boggling: this cinematic abortion was followed by three sequels, with Rick Hill returning in the title role for the fourth installment.  None were half as good (or bad) as the original.

Deathstalker (Rick Hill) battles a pig-faced beast during the exciting conclusion of DEATHSTALKER (1984)

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Me and Lil’ Stevie: CREEPSHOW (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Anthology Films, Classic Films, Family Secrets, George Romero, Horror-Comedies, Just Plain Fun, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2012 by knifefighter

Me And Lil’ Stevie

Feel Right at Home at the

CREEPSHOW (1982)

EXTERIOR/NIGHT.

(Establishing shot of a lone house in Late October.  There is a Jack O’lantern burning in the front window.  From inside the house we hear the sounds of a father berating his son for reading comic book-style horror magazines.  Camera pans up at the full moon hanging directly over the house, and then pans downward again at the figure of a frightening, maniacal skeleton lurking about just outside the boy’s bedroom.   The skeleton laughs and waves at the boy in a display of intimate understanding, and then the skeleton lifts its hand and pulls off its costume, revealing underneath a man with a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I can’t breathe in this thing!

Peter:  Greetings, and welcome to our latest edition of Me And Lil’ Stevie.  Today we’ll be discussing the 1982 George Romero sleeper hit CREEPSHOW!

Lil’ Stevie:  It was MY hit too, ya know!

Peter: …And since most of you are fans of horror, George Romero needs no introduction, but for the rest of the uninformed heathens, Romero is the mastermind behind the LIVING DEAD zombie series as well as a multitude of other beloved horror gems.

Lil’ Stevie:  Really?  What else has he done?

Peter:  C’mon…you really need to ask?  Romero filmed THE CRAZIES (1979), MARTIN (1976), MONKEY SHINES (1988), and THE DARK HALF (1993), which is also based on a story by Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the man’s got some taste!

Peter:  As well as talent and style.  But CREEPSHOW seems to be a stand-out favorite among us horror fans, and for good reason.  Romero and the real Stephen King teamed up specifically on this picture, with a concept for an anthology-style film that celebrated the campy fun of the old E.C. Comics of yesteryear (VAULT OF HORROR, TALES FROM THE CRYPT, etc.).  The result is five independent stories, book-ended by a story concerning the boy above and his stern, overbearing father who doesn’t want him reading trashy horror comic books.  If you didn’t know, the boy in the movie is actually played by King’s real-life son Joe!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who now goes by the name Joe Hill, and writes kick-ass horror stories just like ME!

Peter: You don’t write anything, Splinter-Chin!

Lil’ Stevie:  Do SO!

Peter:  Really?  Well maybe you could help me write up an Ebay ad for a used ventriloquist dummy…

Lil’ Stevie:  (moping) I’ll be good!

Peter:  The first story is called “Father’s Day”, and it appears to be a tongue-in-cheek nod to all the other horror films around that time that were based on some holiday or other gone horribly awry (HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH,  etc). The story concerns the posh, snobby heirs of Nathan Grantham (Jon Lormer, THE BOOGENS, 1981), whom congregate every Father’s Day to remember their patriarch on the anniversary of his death…murdered by dear Aunt Bedelia after the old man drove her crazy.

Lil’ Stevie:  Bashed his head in with a marble ash tray!  Of course, he had it coming after he murdered Bedelia’s suitor in cold blood.

Peter:  Grantham had made the family fortune by bootlegging whiskey.  So when Bedelia visits his graveside with a bottle of booze and accidentally spills some on his tomb, the old man comes back from the dead to extract vengeance.  There seems to be a lot of extracting vengeance in this pic…but I think that mirrors the style of the old pulp comics.  There’s a moral code in their somewhere, and it’s delivered in all its bloody tongue-in-cheek fun.

Lil’ Stevie:  Leave it to Romero to lead off with a zombie story first!  I wanted to lead off with “Jordy Verrill”…

Peter: …Which leads us to the second story, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill”.  This story is one of the two in this movie that are based on pre-existing Stephen King stories.  This particular story is based on “Weeds”, which was published in Cavalier magazine in May, 1976 (and remains unavailable in any subsequent King story collection).  It is a retooling of the story, “The Colour Out Of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft, and concerns Jordy Verrill, a rube farmer who finds a meteor on his land.  Verrill is played by none other than…

Lil’ StevieMEME!  I played Jordy Verrill!  Wasn’t I stupendous?

Peter: ….the real Stephen King. Not you! Verrill finds the meteor, and dreams of selling it to the local university (to the Department of Meteors, to be specific) and pay off his outstanding bank loan.  When Verrill douses the meteor with water to cool it off, the meteor breaks in two, killing his plans immediately.  Of course, Verrill has already touched the meteor and been infected by whatever alien growth it contains.

Lil’ Stevie:  “Meteor shit!”

Peter:  You can’t swear like that.  L.L. will censor us again!

Lil’ Stevie:  “That’s the Verrill luck for ya!  Always in…Always bad!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Anyway, the rest of the story is Verrill’s downward spiral as the alien plant growth slowly consumes him.

Lil’ Stevie:  Easily the best story in the movie!

Peter:  The third tale is called “Something To Tide You Over”, and with the title alone we see more of that ironic, tongue-in-cheek wordplay that makes this movie such fun.  This is another vengeance tale, concerning crazed millionaire Richard Vickers (Leslie Nielson, AIRPLANE, 1980), who is bent on murdering his adulterous wife, Becky (Gaylen Ross, DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978), and her lover, Harry Wentworth (Ted Danson, who played Sam Malone on the hit television show CHEERS, ’82-’93).  Richard shows up at Harry’s house and informs him that he knows what’s been going on.  Harry tries to play it cool, but when Richard informs him that Becky is in peril and that if he wants to see her alive again, he’d better do as he says, Harry allows himself to be led out to Richard’s beachfront property.  There is a hole in the sand waiting for him there, and Richard (while holding him at gunpoint), tells him to get in and start burying himself.

Lil’ Stevie: Of course, the tide is just starting to come in…

Peter:  Once Harry is buried up to his neck, Richard sets up a television and video player, right there in front of him, so that Harry can watch how Becky drowned, just as he is about to, with the return of the tide.  Of course, the two dead lovers are reunited by the sea, and come back from the dead to extract further vengeance on Richard.

Lil’ Stevie:  Not as compelling as “Jordy Verrill”.

Peter:  Or sandpaper!

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re so mean to me!

Peter:  The fourth story is “The Crate,” and it is the other piece that is a pre-existing Stephen King tale (and like “Weeds”, it doesn’t appear in any subsequent King collection.  You can find it, however, in the Arbor House Treasury of Horror & The Supernatural, 1980 or Great Tales of Horror & The Supernatural, 1981.)  The story concerns Henry Northrup (Hal Holbrook, THE FOG, 1980), a college professor who is forever cowed and browbeaten by his obnoxious, overbearing wife, Wilma (Adrienne Barbeau, also in THE FOG).

Lil’ Stevie:  Adrienne Barbeau!  Rowwwrrrr!

Peter:  Um, yeah…not in this picture.  In this story, Wilma (“Just call me Billie…everyone else does!”) appears to be the consummate pain-in-the-ass significant other; drinking, complaining, and verbally emasculating Henry at every opportunity.  So when Henry’s colleague and best friend Dexter Stanley (Fritz Weaver, MARATHON MAN, 1976) shows up at his home rambling incoherently about a crate that has been found at the university, and the monster inside that devoured the janitor who found it (as well as one of the school’s brightest students), Henry begins hatching a scheme to murder his ball-and-chain and be rid of her forever.

Lil’ Stevie:  Some things are just better off left alone…particularly if they are chained and padlocked and hidden away in a college basement!

Peter:  This segment was my least-favorite in the movie.  Adrienne Barbeau is a hottie, and to see her in this role really, unfortunately, changed how I feel about her.  She embodies the role with such efficiency that whenever I see her I instantly correlate her to the character she portrayed here.  And that’s a drag.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s her job, you idiot!  She’s an actress!

Peter:  I’m sorry, I’m sorry!  And yeah, when Billie finally falls prey to the beast in The Crate, I did feel a sense of huge satisfaction.  I guess maybe it’s because I just don’t care to see people get brow-beaten, especially in public places.

Lil’ Stevie: And did you notice the personal nod I gave to my wife Tabby in this one?

Peter:  Yeah, one of the secondary characters is named Tabitha…and unlike Billie, she’s polite and well-mannered.  It seems almost like an inside joke that her name appears in this piece.  On to the final story, “They’re Creeping Up On You!”  This tale concerns another eccentric millionaire, Upson Pratt (E.G. Marshall, 12 ANGRY MEN, 1957), a germaphobe who has turned his upscale penthouse suite into a colorless, sanitized-white protection bubble.  Pratt hides away from the rest of the world in this bubble, where he can be a ruthless tycoon that makes business dealings that destroy other peoples’ lives without ever having to face them.  Through his personal interactions over the telephone, we get a glimpse of a man that has reduced the rest of mankind to being nothing more than pesky insects, which he loathes.

Lil’ Stevie:  So, of course, we have to call in the cockroaches and sic them on him!

Peter:  This piece is not for the squeamish.  Thousands of roaches invade the apartment, and before it is over, the dead Upson Pratt’s body literally erupts with insects as they burrow and tunnel their way through his corpse.  It’s an amazing scene to watch, with props to special effects master Tom Savini for making the body infestation so life-like you’d swear it was real!

Lil’ Stevie:  And you should note that Savini makes a cameo appearance as a garbage man at the end of the movie.

Peter:  In all, CREEPSHOW really is a standout King movie.  Even if this movie isn’t the scariest thing that either King or Romero has put out, the tagline on the poster reads “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared,” and that still holds fairly true, even 30 years later.  With the screenplay written by King, the all-star cast, and the great comic book animations and panel-framing, this movie is a celebration of all things dark and macabre…more like a film for summer camp than for the Cannes film festival.  It is a treasured homage to those horror-themed comic books we dug on in our childhood, rather than reading Boy’s Life or Y.M..

Lil’ Stevie: Just out of curiosity, if you could pick any five of my stories for a CREEPSHOW sequel, which would you choose?

Peter:  Wow, that’s a tough one…you’d want to go with the ones that are visceral enough to paint that comic book sense of grue while maintaining that almost moralistic come-uppance at the same time.  Off the top of my head, “Grey Matter” really stands out.  As does “Home Delivery” and “The Monkey”.  Of King’s more recent works, I’d say “In The Deathroom” or “Mute” would be cool.  Then again, I’d also hope that King would make the effort to write some new stories specifically for the screenplay.  The REAL King, of course, not your sorry ass. 

(Lil’ Stevie’s eyes roll back in his head, and then the dummy lunges forward, mouth wide open, and begins biting Peter’s face off.  Peter screams in agony as the blood begins to spray in comic book gushes of blood.)

Lil’ Stevie: (At the camera, with blood all over his wooden face), Goodbye, folks!  See you next time!

The scene fades into an animated sequence of Lil’ Stevie devouring the rest of Peter as camera pans out.

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

Geisha of Gore Review: DEMON WARRIORS (2007)

Posted in 2012, Art Movies, Asian Horror, Colleen Wanglund Reviews, Demons, Foreign Films, Geisha of Gore Reviews with tags , , , , on January 24, 2012 by knifefighter

GEISHA OF GORE REVIEW: DEMON WARRIORS (2007)
By Colleen Wanglund

When I say “religious-based horror” what do you think of?  In Western horror, it’s usually movies like THE EXORCIST (1973), THE OMEN (1976) and ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968).   In Thailand, one of the predominant religions is Buddhism, and that is the basis for the 2007 movie DEMON WARRIORS.

Written and directed by Thanakorn Pongsuwan (and co-written by Yutnathorn Kaewthong) DEMON WARRIORS (or OPAPATIKA in Thai), tells the story of a battle that breaks out between humans and the opapatika.  A narrator explains that in the Buddhist tradition there are three types of natural birth.  One is sangsethaca, in which life comes out of rot and decay, like worms and maggots.  The second is anthaca which is birth from an egg.  The third is chalaphucha where life comes from the womb, like humans and animals.  There is a fourth, but unnatural, birth called the opapatika which can only occur through suicide.  These opapatika, or demons, are supernatural beings with un-human-like powers.  It is also explained that there is a price to pay for these powers, because suicide is a sin.

Techit (Leo Putt) is a private detective investigating the demons.  He is turned into an opapatika by Sadok (Nirut Sirichanya), who employs Techit to find four particular demons.  Techit is assisted by Thuwachit (Pongpat Wachirabanjong), Sadok’s human henchman (and the narrator).  The two are sent out with armed mercenaries to find the four particular demons and bring them to Sadok.  Techit is also told to follow a woman named Pran (Khemupsorn Sirisukha), whom the opapakitas seem to be drawn to.

The four opapakitas that Sadok wants brought to him are very powerful.  Paison (Shahkrit Yamnarm) is an assassin who is scarred with the lethal wounds he inflicts on others.  Ramil (Athip Nana) is an adrenaline junkie who can project a powerful and deadly spirit to do his bidding.  Arut (Ray MacDonald) is an invincible and ruthless fighter at night, but is weak during the day and has no memory of what he did the night before.  Finally there is Jirat (Somchai Kemglad) who is immortal, but he considers this a curse.

Techit and Thuwachit, along with many paramilitary types, spend a good deal of the movie tracking down the opapatikas and trying to subdue them.  That isn’t so easy.  We also eventually discover that Sadok is rotting away and will die very soon.  He needs to feed on the hearts of the opapatikas to prevent his death and give him their individual powers.  The woman Pran—who may be a demon—seems to be attempting to talk Jirat and Paison into giving themselves up, with the promise of relief from their suffering.  There are flashbacks to Paison’s life before his suicide and they include his wife’s rape and murder.  Consumed with a need for revenge, Paison killed himself to gain the power to exact that revenge.  This also has allowed him to fall in love with Pran and protect her.  Pran is seen with Jirat many times but he doesn’t trust her.  Jirat thinks something is not right about Pran and tries to warn the others.

Each of the opapatikas gains a super power when they die, but, as I mentioned earlier, there is a price to pay for that power.  The opapatikas, with the exception of Jirat, can be killed by other opapatika.  They also discover that they still suffer the grief that led them to commit suicide and seek out their present plane of existence.  In addition to this suffering, there are consequences to using their power.  Techit’s power is intuition, or reading minds.  Every time he reads someone’s mind, however, he loses one of his five human senses.  Arut, as stated earlier, is an unstoppable fighter when the sun sets but is weak during the day.  And whenever Ramil sends out his monstrous spirit, he becomes physically uglier.

While DEMON WARRIORS has an interesting story, I have major issues with its execution.  As far as the characters go, the only one who has any depth is Paison.  We see bits of his past and what spurred his choice of suicide in the first place.  We know nothing of the other opapatika, except the prices they pay for their strengths.  We don’t even know why Techit became an opapatika.  There is a brief exchange between Techit and Sadok where the detective tells Sadok that he’ll hunt down the other opapatikas as long as Techit gets what he wants….but what does he want?  We don’t know.  Later in the film, Sadok tells Jirat that he envied his gift of immortality.  We are also told that Jirat has no memory of a life prior to becoming a demon.  Was he more than just a man who committed suicide?  No idea but that could have made for an even more interesting story.  Why did the others commit suicide to become demons?  We are never informed.  The characters, for the most part are flat.  Jirat gets a bit intriguing for the pain that his immortality causes him, but even that fails epically.

During the same early conversation between Techit and Sadok we are informed that no human can kill an opapatika.  So why send all of those mercenaries to their deaths?  There are a massive amount of bloody deaths in this film, but it crosses the line into overkill.  I love a good fight scene, but after a while they just become tedious exercises in wasting time.  The fight scenes and wild shoot-outs are effectively pointless, since the human mercenaries cannot do any real harm to the demons.  And what a huge waste of money for Sadok, who must pay to arm them!  It’s just silly.

I also had an issue with the portrayal of the opapatikas.  They were dead but could still interact with the corporeal world around them.  They could be seen by others as regular humans and even have sex, and yet there never seemed to be anyone around when the fighting was going on.  And what about other opapatika?  Surely there are others….aren’t there?  If it is in fact a parallel existence then how could Paison be an assassin-for-hire and Ramil be involved in drag races?   The demons can kill humans and yet there is no real physical distinction being made.   There was some confusion, as well, when it came to Techit.  If he used his mind reading power he would lose his five senses, one at a time.  Techit lost his hearing first, but I didn’t see where this was detrimental to him.  Even when he supposedly lost his sight, he didn’t remotely seem blind.  What was up with that?  Karma may be a bitch but in this flick she’s a pussycat.

Then there is the character Pran.  We do ultimately find out who this woman really is, but for most of the movie we, as well as the opapatika are clueless.  She spouts a lot of philosophy in her quest to get the demons to work together for….what?  She promises relief from their painful existence, but what does this relief entail?  Paison has projected his feelings for his dead wife onto Pran and wants to protect her.  Jirat finally tells them not to trust her, but it’s too late.  Pran, like most of the characters in DEMON WARRIORS is two-dimentional.  There is no substance what-so-ever.

I had anticipated a decent movie when I started watching, but I ended up bored and unimpressed.  DEMON WARRIORS was a mess, in my opinion.  It ran too long, used fight sequences too often, left far too many loose ends and didn’t use special effects very effectively.  I also found it far too preachy on the subject of suicide.  Of course it’s a bad thing, but the movie tries too hard to hit you over the head with its message.  DEMON WARRIORS is rambling and muddy.   I wasted an hour and forty-five minutes of my time so you won’t have to waste yours.

© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Cinema Knife Fights, Hot Chick Movies, Just Plain Bad, Vampires, Werewolves with tags , , , , , on January 23, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(The Scene: An Expo inside a huge conference building, demonstrating the latest in 3D technology. The room is full to capacity.)

LEAD ENGINEER: Ladies and gentlemen, prepare yourself to be wowed. This is truly a historic day. I present to you the newest phase in 3D entertainment. Watch. (Points towards movie screen behind him. Aims remote control device at his laptop.)

(Voice from behind the screen—a man crying out— “Get away from there! What are you doing? Wait— no. No! NO!!!)

(A screaming man bursts through the screen, obviously having been thrown against his will. The audience gasps, and the man lands in the lap of a beautiful woman in the first row. The man quickly stops screaming.)

(L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA step through the huge rip in the screen, dragging a wheeled cart full of cream pies, which they promptly throw at the LEAD ENGINEER and his associates.)

L.L. SOARES (to audience): Yep, folks, the latest in 3D technology! So life-like you’ll swear it’s real! Impressive, ain’t it?

MICHAEL ARRUDA (to audience): Aren’t you glad you’re finding this out now, before you have to shell out the big bucks at the movies?

LEAD ENGINEER (wiping cream pie from his face): Not funny!

MA: Neither is paying extra for 3D.

LS: Stop ripping us off!

(Audience applauds)

MA: Nicely said. Let’s go review our movie. (They leave Expo and head out onto the street.)

LS: I’m surprised you didn’t pick some futuristic setting of our review of today’s movie, UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING (2012).

MA: That was one of the problems I had with the movie. The setting wasn’t all that vivid. In fact, I hardly remember it. These city streets will suit us just fine.

So, today we’re reviewing UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING, the fourth movie in the UNDERWORLD sa—series, (Yikes, I almost said “saga.”) chronicling the latest adventures of the vampire warrior Selene (Kate Beckinsale), as she continues her fight against both werewolves and humans.

When this one begins, Selene has been frozen inside a huge laboratory in a state of suspended animation for the past twelve years. She’s being studied by a group of scientists led by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea). Of course, if she were to remain in a frozen state, we wouldn’t have a movie, and so she awakens, kills a bunch of humans, and promptly escapes.

LS: Actually, this one begins with a future where humans have finally discovered that werewolves and vampires exist after the first three movies, and have been steadily exterminating them. So the vampires fight the werewolves, and both of them fight the humans armed with “ultra-violet and silver” weapons. Then it goes into the whole “suspended animation” storyline.

MA: So, yes, even after 12 years of suspended animation, Selene wakes up to find that the secret battle between vampires and werewolves is still going on, even though the humans deny they still exist. Secret battle? These creatures have been battling for centuries and humans have never seen them until now? That’s because, in this series, humans must be blind. Carnage is everywhere, but no one notices anything.

(In an alley behind them, a werewolf mauls a screaming man, unnoticed by MA & LS.)

Anyway, the plot point in this movie is Selene discovers she has a daughter, Eve (India Eisley), a vampire/werewolf hybrid, who also escaped from Dr. Lane’s lab. In fact, it was Eve who awakened Selene from her frozen beauty sleep. Selene must protect her hybrid daughter from werewolves who want to kill her, humans who want to study her, and other vampires who want to give her up to get the werewolves and humans off their backs. What’s a vampire mom to do? Well, this vampire mom’s answer to everything is to shoot everybody in her way, which is entertaining for about one or two action scenes, but for an entire movie? I don’t think so.

I didn’t like UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING at all. To be honest, I’m amazed that an action movie can be this boring. I mean, we’re rivaling TWILIGHT boredom here. I know why that series is boring. Nothing happens in it. But here, we have a lot of action scenes, so how can that be dull?

LS: I was wondering that myself. This movie is about 90% action, and yet I still had to pinch myself a few times to stay awake. What is your theory, oh Jedi?

MA: I think it’s because the actions scenes aren’t imaginative. There’s nothing cinematic about them. As I watch Selene battle werewolves and men in body armor, I feel as if I’m watching a video game. That gets old real fast.

LS: I don’t know what it is. I normally love vampires and werewolves. But in these movies, I just couldn’t care less. Here are a few signs I noticed about when a movie with vampires and werewolves suck:

1)      When the vampires and werewolves are rival gangs always fighting each other. Whenever you see this in a movie, run. It means there’s no horror aspect involved and what you’re watching is just a glorified gang movie, and not necessarily a good one. (And just guess who the “Bloods “are in this gang war?)

MA: I agree. I’ve yet to see a vampire gang vs. werewolf gang storyline I haven’t hated.

LS: 2) Whenever you see a movie where werewolves are referred to as “Lycans,” run the other way. They do this in the TWILIGHT SAGA too. It’s become a trendy nickname for werewolves in all of the worst movies. Obviously short for lycanthropes, the first time I remember hearing it was back when role-playing games were all the rage. And that’s part of the problem. As you noted, these kinds of movies seem more like video games than movies. Screw lame-ass Lycans – I want my werewolves back!

MA: The movie also tells a boring story. The whole rival gang thing again. Vampires vs. werewolves vs. humans. Who cares!

(A vampire and a werewolf step out in front of MA & LS.)

VAMPIRE: We care!

WEREWOLF: Why don’t you care? Audiences love vampires and werewolves! What the hell is wrong with you guys?

MA: That’s a big part of the problem. Vampires and werewolves make up so much of movie history. You guys have a lot to live up to, and you’re just not doing it.

WEREWOLF: Why not?

LS (to WEREWOLF): Part of the problem is you look like a 3D Scooby Doo, you goober!

WEREWOLF: Hey! I thought we looked scary in this movie.

LS: Well, at least you’re not just oversized animated wolves like in the TWILIGHT movies. At least you look like a cross between wolf and human – the way friggin werewolves SHOULD look. But you’re still pretty hokey and not very scary-looking. Let’s face it, in the UNDERWORLD movies, the werewolves still look incredibly fake.

MA: A bigger part is your writers aren’t giving you anything memorable to do, other than fight, fight, and fight. Yawn!

VAMPIRE: How sad.

LS: Now get out of our way. We have a movie to review. (Vampire and werewolf sadly walk away, hanging their heads in shame.)

MA: As I was saying, it’s a boring story. If you’re going to tell a story about these creatures, can you at least make it interesting? Give us some memorable characters, some decent motivations, something that will enable the movie to make an impression.

LS: Which brings to mind the HBO series TRUE BLOOD. This show is also about vampires and werewolves (and lots of other supernatural creatures), and yet it doesn’t suck. Why? Well, a big part of it is that we have memorable characters. We have believable motivations. We have three-dimensional people here, who we care about. TRUE BLOOD is the exact opposite of crap like TWILIGHT and the UNDERWORLD movies.

MA: What do we know about Selene? She likes to kill. She was in love with a werewolf hybrid. She has a daughter who she fights to protect. Okay, this isn’t bad. We know a little bit about her, but it’s not enough to make her interesting. Why does she like to kill? Is she sadistic? Wronged? She’s fighting to protect her daughter. Why? Because that’s what all mothers do? She seems pretty happy running around blowing away werewolves and humans with guns. Why would she want a teenage girl following her around?

LS: Her motivations are clearer if you’ve seen the other movies, but not by much. For me, the worst aspect of the UNDERWORLD films is that I like Kate Beckinsdale a lot. She first caught my eye back in 1998 in Whit Stillman’s indie drama, THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. I think she’s hot as hell. I think she’s a good actress. The idea of her being the star of a horror movie should fill me with joy. But it doesn’t. Because these movies are so damn AWFUL. There’s just something about poor Kate that doesn’t work in horror movies. Remember, she was also in the 2004 special effects crapfest, VAN HELSING (which you just know would have been a 3D crapfest if it came out today). Wait, let me rephrase that. For some reason, there’s something about Kate that doesn’t work in BAD horror movies, and unfortunately that’s the only kind she gets to star in. And as long as the UNDERWORLD movies continue to rake in the dough, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

Kate Beckinsdale could easily have been one of my favorite actresses. She’s the complete package. But her movie choices have been abysmal. And every time I see an UNDERWORLD movie, I curse the direction her career has gone in.

MA: Wow, you must really like her.

LS (wipes a tear from his eye): It’s a sad business, I tell you.

MA: And why does Dr. Jacob Lane keep Selene and other vampires frozen for more than a decade? Why is he studying them? He’s looking for a cure? For what? Shouldn’t he be in DAYBREAKERS (2009) then? Why not just kill the vampires? Why not go into private practice?

LS: Because Dr. Lane has a secret. And it’s such a pulse-pounding, shocking secret that it has us on the edges of our seats……NOT. I won’t reveal the secret here, but most viewers will see it coming a mile away, and it sucks. Stephen Rea was another actor with a brilliant future ahead of him. This is the same guy who starred in indie classics like THE CRYING GAME (1992) and the underrated THE BUTCHER BOY (1997). A real actor’s actor. And now he’s in dreck like this. Hell, he was even in a very good werewolf movie once – Neil Jordan’s 1984 flick, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES. It’s just too sad to see such talented people reduced to such garbage!

MA: The other characters, including young Eve, Selena’s daughter, I just didn’t care about. And the werewolves and vampires, they’re like the Storm troopers in the STAR WARS movies. They’re there just to be killed.

LS: I actually liked Eve. She’s not very well-developed as a character, either, but when she gets mad she turns into something that looks an awful lot like “Demon Bobby” from the 1977 TV-movie, DEAD OF NIGHT (Mark Onspaugh reviewed that one last August). I thought it was kind of cool she didn’t become just another CGI werewolf.

India Eisley as Eve in UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING

"Demon" Bobby from the 1977 TV-movie DEAD OF NIGHT!

SEPARATED AT BIRTH?

MA: As you would expect, the 3D effects add nothing to this one other than a few extra dollars to the admission price. Sure, the movie looks good in 3D, but you know what? It would have looked just as nice in 2D.

LS: Dude, you saw it in just 3D? Lucky you. The best showing time-wise for me was an IMAX 3D version. Cost me $18!!

MA: Wow. I thought I had it bad!

LS: Did it look good? Yeah, sometimes. The 3D effects weren’t always evident – let’s face it, the 3D in this movie sucks – but it was on a nice big screen with Dolby sound. I’m sure that made me hate it a little bit less – but it wasn’t worth the outrageous effin’ price. Because a turd covered with bright lights and whistles is still, unfortunately…..a turd.

MA: I also wasn’t impressed by the special effects. The werewolves are nothing to write home about. Yes, I agree that they are better than what we’ve been seeing in TWILIGHT, but that’s not saying much. CGI werewolves look like cartoons.

LS: Yep. Although I have to say one thing here. There is a scene toward the end where Selene is up against a gigantic werewolf, and even though the monster looks fake as hell, I kind of enjoyed that battle. Maybe it’s the IMAX talking, but that scene rose above the rest for me.

MA: Yeah, that was a decent battle, but by that point in the movie I was scraping the bottom of my popcorn bag in search of un-popped kernels.

LS: And at the same time as that fight, the cool-looking “Monster Eve” gets to fight with Rea’s character (who has since revealed his shocking secret). I dunno, that whole sequence was the only time in the movie when I felt I was even close to enjoying myself.

(A GROUP OF TOURISTS approach MA and LS, taking pictures. One of them steps up close to them)

TOURIST 1: Yes, these are the two guys who jumped out of that 3D movie back at the Expo! They still look so life-like. I feel like I could reach out and touch them!

LS (slaps her hand away): Keep your paws off us, you damn dirty ape!

TOURIST 1: I’m not an ape! What is he talking about?

TOURIST 2: Bad acting, that’s what I say.

(LS and MA start throwing pies at them again, and they run away)

MA: UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING was directed by Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein. It took two people to direct this movie?? Are you kidding me? Even better, it took four people to write it. The screenplay was written by Len Wiseman, John Hlavin, J. Michael Straczynski, and Allison Burnett. Wiseman has lots of experience on this entire series, because he directed the first two movies in this series and received story credit for all four of them. That’s nothing to be proud of, let me tell you!

LS: Oh my God. J. Michael Straczynski helped write this? He actually has some talent. How the hell did he get suckered into this thing?

MA: I hadn’t seen any of the movies in this series until last week, when I rented the first UNDERWORLD (2003) to try to get a flavor for the series. That flavor was boredom. The first movie was also an uncreative snooze-fest. I’m almost insulted by the lack of imagination that goes into these movies.

LS: Lucky you. You only watched one other movie. I’ve seen all of the movies in this series. I guess I just always end up having to review them for some reason. And they all suck. They’re all boring. They all blur together and congeal like a giant blob of boring mucus. And I keep tricking myself when a new one comes out. I tell myself – hey, Kate Beckinsdale is in it. She gets to wear a form-hugging latex bodysuit. She’s one of the most beautiful actresses out there. How bad can the movie be? I always forget how bad the previous ones were and go anyway, and I am always disappointed. It’s just a revolving door of shame.

MA: Yep, the only redeeming value to UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING is that Kate Beckinsale is hot in her shiny costume. She’s got that Emma Peel thing from the THE AVENGERS – 1960s British TV-show going for her. She’s VERY easy on the eyes. Of course, everything in this movie is CGI created, so who’s to say we’re even looking at her real body? They just could have tacked her head onto an animated one. The things you think about when you’re bored in the movie theater!

LS: And, let me make another comment here. There is a scene where Kate escapes from a chamber where she’s been frozen for 12 years. She’s naked. She slithers out from a frosted up glass tube (frosted, so we can’t see anything worthwhile) to fall onto a floor covered in icy mist. In other words, she’s nude, but we don’t get to see anything! I’m not saying she has to show us the goods. But these movies are so friggin bad, it would have at least been a nice treat to see something that would have redeemed the ticket price! Throw us a friggin bone at least for sitting through this crap!

MA: So, yeah, Beckinsale is hot in this one, but she was actually so much better in CONTRABAND (2012) which I saw last week. That was a movie where she was actually allowed to act. Here, she just looks good and struts around shooting werewolves. But even her hot gun-carrying strut grows annoying after a while.

And I agree with you that Stephen Rea, an excellent actor, is completely wasted here as Dr. Jacob Lane, as well. It’s a dull role, and even someone with the talents of Rea can’t do anything with it. Nobody else in the cast did anything for me, as they all played like cardboard video game characters.

UNDERWOLD: AWAKENING is mind-numbing. I give it one knife, and it gets one knife as opposed to 0 knives because Beckinsale looks so good, and I don’t mean that to be a sexist comment. Her Selene is attractive and for a short while she’s fun to watch, but not for an entire movie with nothing else to offer. As both an action movie and a horror movie, UNDERWOLD: AWAKENING is an epic fail.

LS (imitating MA’s voice): “Beckinsdale looks so good, and I don’t mean that to be a sexist comment.” Look at you—Mr. Politically Correct. I’m not ashamed to say it’s not a sexist comment—it’s a friggin true comment.

MA: I agree it’s a true comment. I just don’t want to sound like I’m saying Beckinsale is only good because she’s hot. Although it doesn’t hurt that she is! (laughs).

LS: And—surprise! —I gave it the same rating. For the exact same reason. Kate is the only thing to recommend about this movie, and even that is self-defeating – because if people go see this movie for Kate, it will make money, and she will be condemned to make more bad movies that are beneath her considerable talents!

I also give it, one solitary knife.

One more thing. Sitting in the theater, watching this one in 3D and IMAX, it reminded me of the last time I’d seen an IMAX/3D flick, the last RESIDENT EVIL movie, RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE (2010). And it amazes me that the more I think about it, the more it seems like it’s the same exact series. They both feature hot chicks shooting guns (in Jovovich’s case, it’s her indestructible character, Alice). They both have awful scripts and seem more like video games than movies. And both that last RESIDENT EVIL movie and this new UNDERWORLD movie end at a point where we are forced to endure the damned TO BE CONTINUED moment, where it’s clear the whole movie has just been setting us up for the next sequel. We’re like a room full of suckers playing the “find the ball under the cup” shell game, and wondering why we keep losing.

The only difference is, the RESIDENT EVIL movies are actually a tiny bit more fun, and I don’t hate them as much. But really, these are the same exact thing, except in UNDERWORLD it’s vampires and werewolves and in RESIDENT EVIL it’s zombies and the mysterious Umbrella Corp.

Which leads into the revelation that the next RESIDENT EVIL movie will be coming out this year as well. It’s just déjà vu all over again.

MA: Yeah, and as if to rub it in, the theater played the trailer for the next RESIDENT EVIL movie before the new UNDERWORLD movie started. Lardy-flippin-dah! Though I agree with you that the last RESIDENT EVIL movie was better than this movie.

Well, that’s it for now. See you next time here at Cinema Knife Fight!

LS: And remember, an inflated ticket price is a terrible thing to waste.

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING ~ 1 knife!

LL Soares also gives UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING ~ 1 knife!