Archive for June, 2012

Quick Cuts Presents: THE SECRET LIVES OF PRESIDENTS

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Aliens, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Gangsters!, Historical Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Quick Cuts, Real Life Frights! with tags , , , , , , on June 29, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER, or The Secret Lives of U.S. Presidents
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Dan Keohane, and Paul McMahon

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With ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER now in theaters, we asked our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters to investigate the secret lives of some of our other U.S. Presidents.

What they discovered is that good old Honest Abe wasn’t the only U.S. President with clandestine abilities. That’s right, the men who have led our country have been one talented lot.  Our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters dug deep to uncover the secret genre lives of our past Commanders-in-Chief.  This is what they came up with:

(It turns out some of our Presidents had multiple covert talents!   Read on!)

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Shocking Relevations Revealed!

L.L. SOARES: Here are a few presidential secrets I have uncovered..

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GEORGE WASHINGTON:  THE FIRST VAMPIRE HUNTER

Almost a full century before Abraham Lincoln took up the cause, George Washington was the first human to wield an axe against the onslaught of vampires. Cherry trees were just for practice, before George went on to chop down many a vampire, striking fear into the hearts of bloodsuckers everywhere. Plus, his wooden teeth could turn into tiny stakes at a moment’s notice!

“I cannot tell a lie,” said George. “I want all vampires dead.”

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WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT:  HOBBIT EATER

It is a little known fact that William Taft, our 27th President, was fond of eating hobbits. He “accidentally” stumbled upon the fact that the creatures are delicious and went on a culinary rampage, intent on broiling, frying and grilling as many of the little bastards as he could. As Taft stated (in private) to a group of fellow gourmets “They are just far enough removed from human kind, so that their consumption shall not considered cannibalism. Which is good, because, once you get a taste of them, they are really quite addictive.”

Hobbit feet, stuffed and preserved, were considered prize trophies for Hobbit gourmands. Taft had a steamer trunk full of them.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT – did our 27th president really get his enormous girth from consuming too many broiled hobbits?

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JFK:  ALIEN BUSTER

When John F. Kennedy uncovers a far-reaching extraterrestrial conspiracy to take over the planet, he has to do whatever it takes to stop them. In desperation, the aliens send their queen, Marilyn Monroe, to seduce him, but that fails. So, unfortunately, they send another alien monster posing as a human, Lee Harvey Oswald, to get the job done.

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JOHN ADAMS, HOT DOG VENDOR!!

Our second president, John Adams, finds a time machine and comes to modern times, but no one will believe who he is. Unable to get back to his own time, he is forced to sell hot dogs in Central Park to earn a living!

JOHN ADAMS…would you like mustard with that?

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DAN KEOHANE: Did you know about….

MILLARD FILLMORE: BUFFALO HUNTER.

The man who would be our thirteenth president—obsessed with destroying the white buffalo terrorizing his beloved kin in the Finger Lakes Region—teams up with young artist George Bingham to track the beast to the ends of the new world.

MILLARD FILLMORE – this president hunted the White Buffalo, when he wasn’t studying the Necronomicon.

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PAUL MCMAHON: Believe it or not! Here’s my revelation:

MILLARD FILLMORE:  DABBLER IN THE NECRONOMICON
While teaching himself to read in a public library, he discovered—and stole—a copy of the Necronomicon by “The Mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred.

As Vice President to Zachary Taylor, he left it unattended one night and President Taylor discovered it and read a passage aloud. Immediately, deep purple eyes grew all over the President’s body as something tried to push through the veil. Vice President Fillmore acted quickly and was able to close the portal, but not before President Taylor’s body withered away.

Fillmore instructed that the public be told Taylor died from Typhus Fever. He also refused to appoint a Vice President out of fear that the Necronomicon would be discovered again.

Fillmore and his wife, Abigail Powers, hid the volume somewhere in the library they built within the White House, where it is believed to remain, hidden to this day!!

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 MICHAEL ARRUDA: More shocking secrets!

Did GEORGE WASHINGTON really have the time to kill vampires, smash trolls, fight the Red Coats and serve as the first President of the United States? Talk about multi-tasking!!


GEORGE WASHINGTON:  TROLL SMASHER.  When he wasn’t fighting off British Red Coats, he was running into the woods using his wooden mallet to crush the heads of trolls who were trying to invade the colonies.

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THOMAS JEFFERSON:  ALIEN INVESTIGATOR.  Fresh back from his trip to a faraway galaxy where he was taught ideas on freedom and liberty which he used to write the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson understands we are not alone and that not all the aliens on Earth are friendly.  He sets out with his weapons of choice, special pens that fire a deadly heat laser, a gift to him from the people of the planet Monticello (so that’s where he got the name!) to destroy all the dangerous space aliens who are secretly living among Earth’s citizens.

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TEDDY ROOSEVELT:  DRAGONSLAYER.   Little do people realize that the true mission of the Rough Riders was to hunt dragons.

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JFK kept the world safe from aliens and sea monsters, when he wasn’t fighting the Cold War.

JOHN F. KENNEDY: SEA MONSTER DEMOLISHER:  During World War II, the Axis powers unleashed a secret weapon to destroy the Allies’ Navies:  deadly sea serpents which could crush both submarines and ships as if they were toys.  Young JFK and his slick super ship PT109 secretly fought the serpents in naval battles across the Pacific using futuristic weaponry created by technologies known only to the U.S. government since the days of Thomas Jefferson.

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RICHARD NIXON…..criminal mastermind??

RICHARD NIXON:  CRIME BOSS!  Joining the ranks of THE PUNISHER, Richard Nixon decides to take the law into his own hands.  As the head of a secret crime organization, Nixon covertly directs a group of highly skilled criminals “Mission Impossible” style, leading them on missions which involve spying, espionage, and—wait a minute, this one really happened.  Oops!

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Michael Arruda

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Suburban Grindhouse Memories: THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2012, Bad Acting, Campy Movies, Giant Monsters, Grindhouse Goodies, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on June 28, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
A VERY Messy Nessie…
By Nick Cato

If there’s anything special to point out about 1981’s THE LOCH NESS HORROR, it’s  the fact that it’s a PG-rated monster movie, yet still qualifies as a grindhouse film (you’ll see why as this column unfolds).  And while I had just started to get into R-rated films in 1981, my life-long obsession with monsters, coupled with the AMAZING poster for this flick, caused me to hit the (now defunct) Amboy Twin theater one Saturday afternoon for a solo viewing, fully aware there’d be little violence and a 99.9% chance of nothing too objectionable.

In an attempt at a scary opening, a man (in 1940) is watching a plane through his telescope when it takes a dive toward a lake.  The man follows the plane down, but instead of seeing it hit the water, the Loch Ness Monster’s head pops into the viewfinder.  It’s an un-dramatic sequence but sets us up for the events to come, which take place forty years later.

A couple of dopey-looking scientists are floating on Loch Ness in a rubber raft with cheap-looking equipment when Nessie sticks her head out of the water.  (NOTE: While the film slows down, I have to give the director credit for these two well-paced opening segments).  Not scared—because, y’know, scientists just don’t scare easily—our heroes decide to dive into the loch and see if they can locate the creature.  What they find are the remains of the forty-year old plane (featuring two pilots whose bodies look like as good as new!) as well as a large egg that we assume belongs to Nessie (it does).  One of the guys is eaten, but the other manages to make it to shore with the egg, where an old man in a mobile camper is waiting.

When they go to sleep that night, Nessie comes out of the water and drags the egg-stealer back into the lake as he screams in his sleeping bag (!), leaving the old man to look on in (poorly acted) horror.  Laughs erupted around the decently-crowded afternoon screening.

After this, THE LOCH NESS HORROR becomes an orgy of incoherence.  I’m assuming the screenwriters only wanted to show off their cheap-looking Nessie costume (that no one told them looked about as menacing as a Muppet), as they bring in several college age-looking characters, for no other reason than to become monster chow.  And for some reason no film critic in the world will ever be able to explain, the old guy in the camper kidnaps one of the college girls.

At this point it should be noted that it’s PAINFULLY OBVIOUS this film was not shot in Scotland, and the actors were most likely friends of the filmmakers who weren’t taught how to speak like Scotsmen and women.  The kidnapped girl has one of the worst Scottish accents you’ll ever hear—but apparently Nessie liked her—because the monster ends up eating the old bag that kidnapped her, picking him up by consuming his whole head (a great little scene that had us all cheering!).

WHEN the crowd cheers for the monster, you know you’ve entered GRINDHOUSEVILLE.  There are several fun monster-eating scenes, and while not graphic, they each brought a satisfied grin to my seventh-grade face.

BACK to the incoherence: we find out the plane that crashed in the beginning was a Nazi craft, and Scotland’s military has been trying to cover up something it was involved with (but again, WHY we’re never told).  NOTHING is ever explained, and thanks to the Nessie-feeding sequences we eventually just go with it and learn not to care.

We DO learn (about halfway through this mess) that Nessie ONLY kills those with low moral standards.  Why?  Who knows!?  Perhaps she’s a Jehovah’s Witness, or an underground Mormon?  Or maybe some bizarre cult financed half the film and wanted this obscure fact thrown in there?

If there’s ONE reason to see THE LOCH NESS HORROR, it’s for a sequence where Nessie’s trying to hide from some soldiers.  She hops out of the lake and hides behind a tree (remember, this is NESSIE, who must be 50-70 feet long) and the soldiers walk right by her without noticing anything!  This is UNBELIEVABLE stupidity at its finest.

There’s also a silly axe murder (don’t ask), a few scenes of Nessie stalking the van holding its egg from behind the bushes (it’s amazing how this huge creature hides behind tiny vegetation while on land) and plenty of Scottish stereotypes (one guy even wears a kilt through the whole film), enough that I’d love to know what Scottish folks thought of this.

This disaster of a film concludes (SPOILER ALERT!) when a bomb planted in the aforementioned Nazi plane goes off, taking out Nessie and the guy who planted it.  One of the college students then drops the Nessie egg into the lake, and the HORROR ends as we hear the baby-Nessie heart beat, promising the Loch Ness Monster will live on (but thankfully there was never a sequel).

Director Larry Buchanan has delivered some real gems in his day (including 1967’s MARS NEEDS WOMEN and 1966’s ZONTAR: THE THING FROM VENUS) but this one has to be in the Top 5 of his worst offerings.

Recommended for hardcore Nessie completists and those who may be on a mission to see every single cheap monster movie ever made.  Everyone else, run away like your pants are on fire…

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

You simply DON’T steal Nessie’s eggs—and cute college girls—and live to tell about it!

The Distracted Critic Visits THE POKER CLUB (2008)

Posted in 2012, Crime Films, Indie Horror, Murder!, Paul McMahon Columns, Secrets, Suspense, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , on June 27, 2012 by knifefighter

THE POKER CLUB (2008)
Movie Review by Paul McMahon—The Distracted Critic

A long time ago, I read Ed Gorman’s short story “Out There in the Darkness.” It’s a quick and gritty tale which hints at a lot more suspense and violence than is actually there. In 2000, Mr. Gorman released a novel-length version of the story, titled THE POKER CLUB. He changed little about the characters and situations and fulfilled all the promise of suspense and violence that the novella laid out. In fact, he stretched the tension in the book tight as a drumhead. The characters do a lot more, and thereby screw up a lot more as well. It’s a difficult trick to expand an older story without making it feel padded, but the novel is excellent and a testament to a great writer.

Why, then, does Tim McCann’s film of THE POKER CLUB (2008), fail to get off the ground? McCann previously directed DESOLATION ANGELS (1995) and NOWHERE MAN (2005), two films that look pretty serious. He treats things here seriously, as well. Maybe too seriously.

Ed Gorman’s novel opens with four friends playing poker, drinking, and passing around skin mags like exuberant ten-year-olds. Neal is late because he’s on neighborhood patrol. Seems their tight little community suffers a lot of break-ins. The friends gamble for a while, and are interrupted when a burglar breaks in. Aaron, who owns the house, cares for Curtis, who’s been attacked, while Neal and Bill catch the burglar and tie him up. Their adrenaline’s pumping, they’re feeling powerful, a little drunk, and are eager to interrogate their prisoner. When the burglar tries to escape, they accidentally kill him. The friends’ power-trip turns to panic. Frightened of losing everything they’ve achieved in their lives, they make the disastrous decision to dispose of the body in a local river. Once that dirty job is done, they go their separate ways, thinking their trouble is over.

Problem is, the burglar had a partner waiting outside. He saw what they did, he knows who they are, and he’s plotting his revenge.

In the novel, the poker club is made up of four basically good guys. They feel guilty over what they’ve done, but are so racked with the fear of losing everything they’ve worked to attain that they repeatedly talk themselves out of calling the cops. Instead, they try to hunt down the mystery burglar themselves, determined to take back their lives on their own. It doesn’t take long before people start turning up dead.

I understand that filmmakers want to change things up when adapting a book into a movie. It gives people who have read the book something different than they expect, with the hope that the surprise will make them like the movie more. In reality, this psychology almost never works. The changes that were made for THE POKER CLUB, for instance, don’t work at all.

Gone is the “Neighborhood Patrol” and the back story of burglaries. These aren’t guys intent on protecting their family and property; these are just overgrown adolescents being asses because it’s what they do. Not a single character on the screen is likeable. Even Aaron, the book’s moral compass, who always tried to coax his buddies into doing the right thing, is revealed to be cheating on his wife. Neal has a cocaine addiction, which he maintains on the salary of a college professor. Bill has gone from being a doctor who deals with terminally ill patients—thus grounding his bullying nature in an interesting context—to being a strip club owner who bullies, it seems, because he enjoys it and because nobody has ever been tough enough to stop him.

Very little is done with the mysterious burglar. Aaron gets phone calls in the middle of the night where the caller doesn’t say anything. In the novel, these events heighten the tension and build suspense because the threat is revealed through Aaron’s inner dialogue. Movies don’t have that tool, so we end up sitting through a lot of barely interesting one-sided conversations.

There are a couple of intense scenes in the book where the friends gather around Aaron’s kitchen table to discuss their situation and what they should do about it. These scenes are poignant and gripping—four guys clinging to their friendship while struggling to squeak through the ugliest, most destructive situation they’ve ever faced. In the movie, these discussions are held in Bill’s strip club and can barely be heard over the pounding music while the camera focuses on pole-dancing nudes. Without subtitles, you’ll have no idea what’s being discussed. These are four guys discussing a problem that could ruin their lives and land them in prison, yet director McCann seems to think we won’t pay attention unless there are topless dancers to watch. Does that speak to McCann’s lack of confidence in his material or his lack of confidence in the American moviegoer.

Ed Gorman’s novel, which THE POKER CLUB is based on.

Michael Risley (SHATTERED, 2007), who plays Neal, and Loren Dean (ENEMY OF THE STATE, 1998), who plays Curtis, look alike and act with identical blandness, making their characters hard to tell apart. Johnny Messner (ANACONDA: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID, 2004), who plays Bill, is a little more memorable, if only because his character is such a blatant ass, he’s hard to forget. Jonathon Schaech (QUARANTINE, 2008), who plays Aaron and co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Chizmar, never emotes during the film. It’s as if he’s still rehearsing and no one’s told him they’re shooting for real.  So, not only are the characters unlikable, the actors portraying them do little to make them even seem alive.

It probably goes without saying that they’ve changed the ending of the story, as well. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone to learn they changed it to a ridiculous degree. McCann tries to surprise the viewer by veering off in a different direction, but his big surprise negates every single hint and foreshadow he’s put in place since the dead burglar’s tarp-shrouded body hit the water. He turns the movie into a shell game where no matter which cup you think the peanut is under, you lose. McCann has tossed it beneath the sofa.

Nothing that worked in the book has made it to the screen. It’s my opinion that the movie version of THE POKER CLUB should be avoided and forgotten. If you come across Ed Gorman’s novel, though, definitely give it a read. There’s a reason the man’s won the Spur Award, the Ellery Queen Award, the Shamus Award and so many others.

I give THE POKER CLUB a single star because the cinematography and sets were pretty good, and am giving it five timeouts. Technically, it was a lot more, but by the time the film wrapped, I was grasping at any excuse whatever to shut the thing off and walk away.

-END-

© Copyright 2012 by Paul McMahon

Me and Lil’ Stevie Go RIDING THE BULLET (2004)

Posted in 2012, Ghost Movies, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , on June 26, 2012 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie

Get Burned From

RIDING THE BULLET (2004)

(Exterior/Night.  Establishing shot of a long, lonesome highway in Southern Maine.  A full moon hangs over the highway, casting long, eerie shadows of pine trees onto the macadam.  We can tell by what’s left of the foliage that it is mid-autumn.  On one side of the road is an old cemetery, with swirls of fog drifting out of the entry way.  Over the cemetery’s stone wall we see a mysterious figure doing some mysterious business.  The figure turns and walks out of the cemetery gates.  It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

LIL’ STEVIE:  You never listen to me.  I told you to do that back before we left the movie theater.  Do you know how unprofessional that looks?  It’s bad enough I have to watch!

PETER:  I’m sorry, okay?!?  Good evening, folks, and welcome to another edition of our little column.  Today we’ll be discussing the 2004 Mick Garris adaptation of Stephen King’s RIDING THE BULLET.  Now, if you haven’t read the story, it’s…

LIL’ STEVIE:  Your fly is still down (rolls eyes comically).

PETER: (Struggles with zipper) …it’s a standard ghost story based on something that sounds right out of urban legend.  It’s the phantom of the guy who died in a car wreck, but has been known to drive around this same stretch of highway on cold October evenings, just like tonight!

LIL’ STEVIE:  Only, when I wrote it, I was dealing with own mother’s mortality, and…

PETER:  When the REAL Stephen King wrote it, he was dealing with some very personal stuff.  But in typical King fashion, he took lemons and made a pitcher of margaritas.  Released back in 2000 (then later again in EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL), RIDING THE BULLET was his transition into the age of digital downloads, and in the first 24 hours, over 400,000 fans downloaded the story onto their computers.  It created havoc.  Servers crashed due to the high Internet traffic.  Unlike the road where we’re standing, where there is no traffic whatsoever…

LIL’ STEVIE:  I was merely trying to point out that RIDING THE BULLET  is more than just a ghost story…it’s a parable about morality and the choices we make when we’re alive!

PETER:  You aren’t alive, pencil-neck.  You’re a puppet.  If I die, you’ll be pretty screwed.  Now, can we get on with the review?

LIL’ STEVIE:  (pouting) Fine!

PETER:  The story concerns Alan Parker (Jonathan Jackson, who played Kyle Reese in the TV series TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNER CHRONICLES), a college student at the University of Maine at Orono (where King attended college) who has been obsessed with death ever since his dad passed away.  The opening of the film is a montage of Alan’s childhood, including a pivotal moment of his life where he and his mom are at the front of the line to ride The Bullet; the big scary roller coaster at Thrill Village, but he chickens out and his mom smacks him for being such a candy-ass.

LIL’ STEVIE:  What a Milk-Sop!

PETER:  I’ll say.  So there he is in college (circa 1969), taking an art class with his gal-pal Jessica (Erika Christensen, FLIGHTPLAN, 2005), and while the rest of the students are sketching the gorgeous nude woman in front of the class, Alan is drawing the Angel of Death standing behind her.  In some weird exposition with Alan and the teacher (cameo by Matt Frewer, a Garris regular we talked about back in our review of BAG OF BONES), we learn that Alan has seen the Angel of Death around ever since his dad died in the car accident way back when.  We also learn that Alan has built this wall around himself, which has kind of hindered his ability to deal with life and have real relationships.

LIL’ STEVIE:  And it’s all hogwash!  None of this came out of my novella.  This always happens!  The story is too short so let’s just invent stuff to fill in time!  In my story, Alan gets the call that his mom had a stroke, and he’s out on the turnpike, thumbing a ride!

PETER:  Calm yourself, Lil’ Stevie.  You always get so angry.  Let’s not jump the gun.  Get it?

LIL’ STEVIE:  Look at your leg.  You’ve got drops on your pant leg.  No matter how much you squirm and dance, the last few drops go down your pants!  Hyuk hyuk hyuk!

(The headlights of an 18-wheeler appear in the distance, heading their way).

PETER:  Wanna go for a ride?  (Holds out Lil’ Stevie in the semi’s path).

LIL’ STEVIE:  Aaarrghh!  I’m sorry!  I’M SORRY!

(The semi goes whizzing by just as Peter pulls Lil’ Stevie back at the last second).

PETER:  That’s better.  Where was I?  Oh yeah.  So Alan is the 60s version of an emo kid, and his desperate plea for help culminates with him drunk and stoned in his bathtub, ready to take his own life with a razor blade.  This is the only compelling scene in the movie, as the Angel of Death shows up, and the giant women’s faces he’d painted on the walls come alive and begin chanting “Cut” at him.  And then Jessica barges through the door with all of his best friends behind her to give him a surprise birthday party.  Which is lucky for him, because otherwise he was a goner.

LIL’ STEVIE:  Never happened!

PETER:  Noted.  What does happen is that a red car that looks incredibly similar to CHRISTINE begins showing up and lurking in all his exterior shots.  At first I thought it was a clever nod to another King story, but as it occurs more frequently, it begins to feel like a rip-off.  And as Alan returns from his hospital trip with his buddies en tow, we learn that Alan is also haunted by a mirror image of himself that serves as his conscience and voice of reason.

LIL’ STEVIE:  Never happened!  God, this drives me crazy.

PETER:  Me too, actually.  I hated the whole dual-persona thing Garris created.  And I really hate how every scene has to play out with Alan’s scary imagined-reality scenarios before what really happens.  It jumbles continuity and kills any chance for real tension to build.

(A mad dog suddenly lunges out of the woods and begins to attack Peter, as Lil’ Stevie Looks on and laughs).

PETER:  What the…

(Then the dog disappears, and it’s as if nothing ever happened).

LIL’ STEVIE:  You mean like that?

PETER:  That was really weird.  Anyway.  We’re getting long-winded, so let’s break it down a little simpler.  Jessica gives Alan tickets to see John Lennon and the Plastic Ono band up in Canada.  Just as he shows his tickets off to his buddies, the phone rings with the news about Alan’s mom having a stroke.  He passes the tickets off to his buds and begins hitchhiking downstate to get to Lewiston, where his mom is in the hospital.

LIL’ STEVIE:  The SAME hospital I stayed in after that jerk-wad ran me over back in ’99.

PETER:  If you were run over, you’d be sent to the firewood pile, okay, Humpty Dumpty?  But you’re right…The real King did stay at that hospital after his accident.  I wonder if he added that intentionally while he wrote this piece.  Anyway, Alan thumbs rides down to Lewiston, all the while shadowed by his annoying double in the backseat, telling him his every move.  First, he’s picked up by some old guy (Cliff Robertson, Uncle Ben in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN franchise) who digs at his crotch like he’s got a urinary infection and rambles on about his late wife.  When the old guy gets into town, Alan’s double tells him to get out and find another ride.  Which isn’t easy, apparently, on this particular Halloween night, where NOBODY is outside doing anything.

LIL’ STEVIE:  I’m really starting to hate Mick Garris right now…

PETER:  I’m right there with ya.  For everything he directs that is semi-decent, he throws a turd like this at us in response.  Is he trying to be mysterious or something?  Do you think he sits around watching this movie on late-night cable and saying, “Gosh, I really nailed this one”?

LIL’ STEVIE:  I’d like to nail him!  We should have saved this one for this year’s Holiday Turkey Shoot!

PETER:  Alan travels on foot for a few miles.  He gets chased by some redneck Mainers with a shotgun into a junk yard.  Then travels a few more miles on foot to the cemetery over yonder, where we’re finally introduced to the ghost that is driving this movie.

LIL’ STEVIE:  About freakin’ time!  In my novella, Alan is already at the hospital.

PETER:  George Staub (David Arquette, Deputy Dewey from SCREAM, 1996) is buried in the plot that Alan stumbles across.  A quick glimpse at his tombstone tricks Alan into thinking the epitaph reads FUN IS FUN, AND DONE IS DONE, and is just certain that his mom has already kicked the bucket…Alan does this through most of the movie, mistaking events as supernatural omens that his mom has died…and it’s annoying as hell.  But he glimpses again, and the epitaph now reads, WELL BEGUN, TOO SOON DONE.

LIL’ STEVIE:  Unlike this movie…

PETER:  Back on the highway, Alan finally thumbs another ride.  And predictably, it’s the red car that looks just like CHRISTINE, and (cue scary music), the ghost of George Staub is driving!  The rest of the flick is George tormenting Alan.  Apparently, Alan will have to choose whether George will take HIS life or HIS MOM’S into the afterworld.  Alan manages to escape, and is somehow transported from Maine to Thrill Village in Laconia, New Hampshire, where Staub will chase him down and eventually get him to ride THE BULLET, thus giving this turd a title.

LIL’ STEVIE:  And Staub will reward him with a pin that says, I RODE THE BULLET, which actually DOES happen in my novella.

PETER:  Of course, none of this really happens, as Alan had accidentally tripped back in the cemetery and knocked himself out on the corner of Staub’s tombstone.  And yet (cue scary music again), he STILL HAS THE PIN!

LIL’ STEVIE:  Somebody shoot me!  No wonder this film got a limited released, then jumped right to cable television.

PETER:  Alan arrives at the hospital, and low and behold, his mom is just fine.  But by this point in the movie, we’ve also been tipped off that Alan’s dad had committed suicide, that mom’s a bit of a lush and cigarette junkie (hence the health problems), that his buddies from school died on the way to Canada, and that emo-Alan, who had tried to commit suicide at the beginning, pussied out and told George Staub to take his mom instead of him.  What a shock.

LIL’ STEVIE:  (holds up tape recorder) Note to self…kill Mick Garris before he damages my career any further.

PETER:  That’s a little harsh.  How about we just say that Garris should focus on one thing at a time?  In this case, he should have let someone else write the screenplay instead of himself.  What began as a neat little novella about a ghost from a campfire story has blossomed into a field of big, stinky flowers.  Garris tried to throw too many ingredients into the stew and ruined dinner.  He tried to put too much icing on the birthday cake.  He…

LIL’ STEVIE:  You really suck at metaphors.  You’ll never be a REAL writer!

(In the distance, we see another 18-wheeler fast approaching behind them).

PETER:  Oh yeah?  Well, what’s FUN IS FUN AND DONE IS DONE!

(Peter tosses Lil’ Stevie into the path of the semi.  Camera switches POV to inside the rig, where Lil’ Stevie’s face is screaming just outside the windshield.)

PETER:  Thanks for joining us, folks.  See you next time… (Peter turns toward an on-coming car and put’s his thumb out to hitch a ride.  We see that the car looks a lot like CHRISTINE as he climbs inside.)

–The End—

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)

Posted in 2012, 3-D, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Historical Horror, Martial Arts, Period Pieces, Revenge!, Vampire Hunters, Vampires with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: The battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Present Day. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES walk through the area.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: This has got to be one of the most somber places I’ve ever visited. You can almost feel death all around you. (turns to LS) Or maybe that’s just you.

L.L. SOARES: No, I know what you mean. I was surprised you chose this place to do our review. Not the usual locale for Cinema Knife Fight shenanigans.

MA: I just thought this location would be the perfect setting to make my point, that today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), in spite of its ridiculous title, is not a comedy. It plays it straight throughout.

LS: It may not be an intentional comedy, but it’s not a reverential piece of historical filmmaking, either. It’s a silly vampire movie! Hardly worth this location!

MA: Perhaps, but it just felt right. The hero of this movie is, after all….Abraham Lincoln!

(Orchestral music plays in the background)

LS (grimaces): What’s with all the seriousness? Man, are you a buzzkill!

MA: Anyway, I hadn’t planned to stay here. Let’s take advantage of the magic of Cinema Knife Fight Land and go to a more appropriate place. (Snaps his fingers, and suddenly they’re in a crowded pub surrounded by folks in 19th century garb.)

LS: Now that’s more like it! But why is everybody dressed so funny?

MA: I dunno. Maybe this is the cast party for the movie. Or maybe we went backwards in time. You can never tell around here.

LS: So why don’t you start the review? I’m going to grab a couple of cold ones from the bar.

MA: Thanks!

LS: Why are you thanking me? Get your own!

MA: Sometimes you make the Grinch seem generous.

LS: The Grinch is a wuss!

MA: Anyway, in today’s movie, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also penned the screenplay, young Abe Lincoln witnesses his mother attacked by a vampire. Years later, as an adult, Abe Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) seeks revenge against the vampire who killed his mother, but not knowing anything about vampires, his attempt at retribution is a complete fail. He is nearly killed, but a stranger (Dominic Cooper) comes to his aid and saves him from the vampire.

The stranger’s name is Henry Sturgess, and he actually had met Lincoln earlier in a bar, a lot like this one, and it turns out Sturgess knows a lot about vampires. He’s a vampire hunter, and Abe Lincoln agrees to be his protégé and learn all there is to know about hunting vampires, with his eventual goal being to avenge his mother’s death.

LS: Excuse me, was I snoring? Must have dozed off for a second.

MA: Aren’t you supposed to be getting yourself those cold ones?

LS: Oh yeah.

MA: Lincoln moves to Springfield, Illinois, where he finds a job working in a general store for an amiable young man named Joshua Speed (Jimmi Simpson), who quickly becomes one of Lincoln’s best friends. It is also here where Lincoln meets Mary Todd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the woman he eventually falls in love with and marries.

When he’s not working or studying to be a lawyer, Lincoln’s busy as a vampire hunter, using his weapon of choice, an axe, to destroy the multitude of vampires living in Springfield. Lincoln learns about these vampires through letters sent to him by Henry Sturgess, who sort of acts as Lincoln’s “mission impossible” contact. You almost expect the letters to self-destruct into puffs of smoke after Lincoln has read them.

LS: Don’t forget, it’s not just a normal axe. It’s blade is coated in silver! The dreaded enemy of vampires. Or was silver the one that werewolves don’t like? I’m not sure. It gets so confusing sometimes. Everyone has their own rules. But in this movie, vampires can go out in sunlight and can do all kinds of cool things you wouldn’t think they could do. But they hate silver. Oh, and they can turn invisible! How convenient!

MA: Yeah, the invisible part was silly, but the hating of silver can be traced back to several of the Hammer Films. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) stabs Dracula (Christopher Lee) with a silver knife in DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972), and in THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (1973) Van Helsing attempts to shoot Dracula with a silver bullet. In both those movies, silver was fatal to a vampire.

LS: In the trailer, when they poured liquid over Abe’s blade, I thought it was holy water, not melted silver. But it’s been a long time since anything religious hurt a vampire in the movies, so I should have known better.

MA: Lincoln and Sturgess eventually cross paths with the vampire leader, Adam (Rufus Sewell, in a deliciously evil performance) who’s been in existence for 5,000 years! He makes Dracula seem like a baby! Lincoln also learns that Adam is using the black slave trade to his advantage, using the slaves as food for his vampires. So, Adam is definitely a proponent of the slave trade and aligns himself politically with the folks in the south.

LS: Rufus Sewell is “deliciously evil” here? Man, you have no clue what evil is all about, do you? He’s a cartoon. And he’s not scary for one instant. I thought Sewell was completely miscast as the king vampire here. But more on that later.

MA: No idea was evil is all about? Pardon me, Mr. Evil Know-it-all!

Lincoln has a personal investment in the welfare of the slaves, because one of his best friends is a free black man, Will Johnson (Anthony Mackie), who becomes one of Lincoln’s closest advisors.

LS: Just to play Devil’s Advocate here—a role I enjoy, by the way—I wasn’t sure whether having slavery and the Civil War tie into the vampire agenda was clever or kind of offensive. It kind of trivializes the real horrors of slavery, doesn’t it?

MA: Not really. Slavery is still horrible. The vampires were simply using it to satisfy their own needs.

Realizing that the problems in the world are too big for just one man, Lincoln throws his hat into politics, hoping to become part of a system that can make a difference in the world. He marries Mary Todd, wins the presidential election, and eventually finds himself fighting vampires on the battlefield, as Adam and his vampires have aligned themselves with the Confederate army.

(LS returns with two beautiful women, one on each arm.)

MA: Aren’t you married?

LS: Not in Cinema Knife Fight Land!

MA: I thought you were getting some cold ones?

LS: I changed my mind and went for hot ones.

(Women bare their fangs to reveal they are vampires)

LS: Oh well, I guess they are cold ones, after all. Care to take a nibble, ladies? I’m sure I’m quite delicious.

(Vampire women each sink their teeth in a side of LS’s neck)

MA: Aren’t you worried they’ll suck you dry?

LS: Not really. This is Cinema Knife Fight Land, and here I’ve got unlimited blood.

(LS smiles and raises a mug of ale and drinks along with the vampires)

MA (shaking his head): The things we do for this column. Anyway, back to our movie.

I fully expected this movie to be a complete turkey, but I have to admit, I liked it.

(LS makes turkey noises in the background)

MA: That said, I still don’t get the concept. Why choose Abraham Lincoln to be a vampire hunter? It still seems almost like a random thing to do. Hmm, who should I choose to be my hero in this alternate history tale about vampires? Stick my hand into a hat and pull out Abe Lincoln!

LS: Makes as much sense as using any other historical figure, I guess.

MA: Of course, Abe Lincoln is one of our most beloved U.S. presidents of all time, and so it’s certainly not a random act, and this affection for Lincoln is one of the things that works to the film’s advantage, but even so, I’m still not ready to concede and call this combination of history and horror a stroke of genius. But I do have to admit, in a strange way, it works!

LS: I dunno, it didn’t really work for me. I thought the title was clever for about two seconds. The concept is mediocre at best. “Let’s take a famous historical figure and turn him into another BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.” Whatever…. (Yawns)

MA: First and foremost, ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER looks terrific. I saw it in 3D, and it pains me to admit it—again because I expected this one to be awful— it’s one of the better 3D movies I’ve seen. The visuals were almost as good as what we saw in HUGO last year.

LS: I saw it in 3D, too. Not intentionally – it was just the best show time for my schedule. But you’re right, the 3D effects were better than we normally see in these kinds of movies. But I wouldn’t go so far as to compare them with HUGO. The 3D here isn’t that good.

MA: I don’t know if it’s because Civil War America is more picturesque than alien worlds or haunted forests, but I enjoyed the look of ABRAHAM LINCOLN better than the look of other movies we’ve seen recently, like PROMETHEUS and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I think director Timur Bekmambetov did a great job at the helm.

LS: The setting was okay, I guess. I could take it or leave it. No way is it as visually rich as PROMETHEUS or SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. It’s all rather drab—which is fine in a vampire movie—but nothing I’d single out as a plus. As for the direction, that’s another kettle of fish entirely.

MA: ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is also helped by its R rating. While the film isn’t scary, there are lots of bloody killings. There’s even some nudity and language. I was surprised, but ABE LINCOLN kinda earns its R rating.

LS: Barely. I actually went into it thinking it was PG-13, and it was a little while before I realized it wasn’t. The nudity happens in brief snippets for the most part. Some of the killings (of vampires) are graphic enough to make me realize it was an R movie. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say it earns its rating.

MA: The look and feel of this movie reminded me of a Disney film for adults. It had that look, that attention to detail, that made it look almost like a richly animated movie. The movie looks like what would happen if you put both Disney and Hammer Films inside one of THE FLY’s machines and had their respective filmmaking genes spliced together.

LS: Yeah, it actually reminded me of a Tim Burton movie, like SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999) maybe. Except SLEEPY HOLLOW is a much better movie. This is no coincidence, though, because Burton produced ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Hell, it might have been a better movie if he actually directed it, since he’s comfortable with this kind of stuff.

MA: Another reason I liked the action sequences in this movie—and again I’ll give credit to director Bekmambetov—is that they were quick. So often in today’s movies, because directors have the technology to do so, the action scenes go on forever, and this becomes boring as the movies play out like extended video games. Not so here in ABE LINCOLN. The action scenes are quick and bloody, and they’re supported by lots of scenes where we get to know the characters.

LS: Quick? Ninety percent of the time they played out in slow motion! It got incredibly tedious after a while. All of the action sequences have the same “by-the-numbers” feel to them. Once you see one, you know what to expect. And the alternating between fast movements and irritating slo-mo ones just bored the hell out of me. And you know what, the action scenes did have a kind of video game look to them! They were so stylized, they certainly didn’t look realistic.

MA: But they didn’t go on and on and on. That’s what I meant by quick.

LS: Not quick enough for me.

MA: There’s also a strong sense of story, and you can tell this movie was based on a novel. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith does a nice job here adapting his own novel, and he achieves better results than his last screenplay, for the muddled DARK SHADOWS.

LS: Really? You thought this was a big improvement over DARK SHADOWS? Well, I’ll agree that at least it doesn’t constantly go for cheap laughs. I really think Grahame-Smith’s screenplay for DARK SHADOWS was the main reason that movie was so disappointing. Here, his script does come off a little better, but I wasn’t all that amazed by it. I’m glad everyone plays things straight, at least. But I didn’t find this movie very exciting.

MA: DARK SHADOWS was horrible compared to this movie.

LS: Let’s face it. DARK SHADOWS was horrible. Period.

MA: I liked that this was a serious vampire story. It wasn’t tongue-in-cheek. We didn’t have to suffer through Abe Lincoln delivering one-liners after every vampire kill. ABE LINCOLN is not VAN HELSING (2004), thankfully. This could have been a very silly movie, but it isn’t. Then again, maybe I just have a soft spot for vampires.

LS: If this movie has anything going for it, it’s that it plays things straight. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to make for a great flick – vampire movie or otherwise.

MA: Speaking of which, I wasn’t too crazy about the look of the vampires in this movie, and their movements were way too fast and very fake-looking. They weren’t bad, but they were just a little too exaggerated for my liking. And like the rest of the movie, they weren’t scary.

LS: No, the vampires didn’t look very good at all, and they weren’t scary. In fact, to go back to a previous point, I found Rufus Sewell as Adam (he’s called that because he’s the vampire all the others come from – oooh! how frightening!) to be a major flaw in the tension. I like Sewell enough as an actor—he was great as the lead in 1998’s DARK CITY, for example—but he’s completely miscast here. He is not intimidating, he doesn’t seem dangerous at all, and he is NOT scary in the slightest. There are so many better actors they could have chosen to play this role. This is the big bad villain, and the character should have real presence. Sewell just doesn’t cut it.

MA: Really? I thought Sewell oozed evil.

LS: Well, he might have oozed something, but it wasn’t evil.

The funny thing is, I found Marton Csokas as Jack Barts— a flunky of Sewell’s Adam—to be much more convincing as a dangerous vampire, and there were times where he even seemed a tad scary. He should have been the lead vampire! I also liked Erin Wasson as Vadoma, Adam’s right-hand woman vampire, who was also more formidable than her “master.” I really hated Sewell in this role, because he was such a damned weak bad guy!

MA: I liked the characters and the performances throughout.

Abraham Lincoln as your main character—how can you not like him? Well, if the lead actor stunk, that’s one way, but Benjamin Walker doesn’t stink at all. He brings Lincoln to life and makes him a very likeable person.

LS: I thought Walker was okay in the lead role. He actually reminded me of a young Liam Neesom at times. He has a similar face. But overall, I wasn’t all that impressed by him. He was okay in the role, but nothing special. Kinda bland, actually.

And as for that fateful trip to the theater at the end—hell, any kid who has read a history book knows what happens then, so it’s not a spoiler—does that mean that John Wilkes Booth was part of the vampire conspiracy? Was he a VAMPIRE HUNTER HUNTER? Something to ponder, perhaps.

MA: Henry Sturgess is an interesting character. As the vampire hunter who trains Lincoln, he’s a multi-dimensional character with a curious back story, which hearkens back to this being based on a novel. Dominic Cooper, who played Howard Stark in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) does a nice job here as Sturgess.

LS: Dominic Cooper is one of the best things about this movie. I liked his performance here very much, even more than Walker’s Lincoln. But this brings up a big complaint of mine. In the movie, we find out how Henry Sturgess was able to acquire his skills and amazing strength—there’s a legitimate reason why he’s so affective as a vampire hunter—but we never once get an explanation as to how Abe Lincoln is so good at it. He does these amazing martial arts moves; he’s able to cut down trees with one mighty swing of his axe (once he gets the hang of it); and he can take on several vampires at once. How? Is he a superhero? Is he from another planet? Not once does the movie explain his “powers,” and for that reason I didn’t buy them for a second. There is no way a normal man can do this stuff. And if vampires are supposed to be much stronger than humans, then Lincoln’s entire story here is actually kind of stupid.

MA: You know, I can’t argue with you on that point, and I’d go so far as to agree with you that Lincoln possessing these powers is stupid, but again, for me, in spite of this, somehow it worked.

LS: For you, maybe. Not for me.

And hell, even if he is superhuman (and he clearly is), his fighting style is impossible for the time period. Asian martial arts just were not taught to Westerners in those days. It was forbidden. But ever since BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992), ever single vampire fighter is an expert in martial arts. It’s kind of embarrassing. And isn’t there any other way to fight except showing off with all kinds of karate/kung-fu moves and fancy kicks? This has become a very annoying cliché at this point. How about making Abe a super-powerful boxer, instead? It would make more sense for his time.

(LS and MA are now sitting at a table, drinking ale, when a shirtless BRUCE LEE suddenly approaches them)

BRUCE LEE: I find this movie offensive. Here I go and revolutionize martial arts in American movies during my lifetime, and now, ANYONE can do what I did. All they have to do is call themselves a VAMPIRE HUNTER.

LS: I can’t disagree with you there.

MA: Come on, it’s only a movie. It’s silly entertainment.

BRUCE LEE: It completely trivializes the years of work and skill that goes into being a true martial artist.

LS: (nods) I dunno, Michael, he has a point. Plus, give me something like ENTER THE DRAGON (1973) over ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER any day of the week. It’s a helluva lot more entertaining.

(BRUCE LEE goes to start a brawl at the back of the room)

MA: I don’t know why he was so upset. It’s just a movie.

Ever since I saw Mary Elizabeth Winstead in SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (2010) I’ve been a big fan. She does an excellent job here as Mary Todd Lincoln, a female character who gets to do more than just be rescued by a male lead. She grows with the story and becomes integral to the plot as the movie goes on.

LS: I like her as well. I don’t think she’s amazing as Mary Todd, and I certainly don’t find her convincing as the former first lady—this is clearly a completely different person than the real Mary Todd—but she’s enjoyable enough when she’s onscreen. She certainly doesn’t contribute to the more annoying aspects of the movie.

MA: Jimmi Simpson as Joshua Speed, and Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, do nice jobs in their respective roles as friends of Lincoln. These characters are multi-dimensional as well, and they are much more than just your average token buddies.

LS: I liked Joshua Speed. He was okay. It’s funny that Jimmi Simpson’s career is actually rooted firmly in comedy, with a recurring role as “Lyle the Intern” on the LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN (from 2008 -2009) and as a semi-regular on the hilarious show IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, as the weirdo Liam McPoyle. It’s good to see him playing a serious role here, and his character was likable enough. As for Anthony Mackie as Will Johnson, I found him rather bland. They don’t really give him an awful lot to do, except hang around with Abe and seem earnest.

MA: I also really liked Rufus Sewell as the main baddie in this movie. His vampire Adam is an imposing adversary for Abe Lincoln and company. Sometimes a movie is only as good as its villain. In this case, Adam is a powerful foe, and Sewell delivers a commanding performance as the deadly vampire who’s been alive since the days of ancient Egypt. He’s one of the movie’s strengths.

LS: If a movie is only as good as its villain, then ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER isn’t good at all. As I’ve already said, Sewell is a very lame villain.

MA: I also loved the climactic battle aboard the train between Lincoln and friends and Adam and his vampires, as this sequence on a burning trestle was very cinematic. Again, a nice job by director Bekmambetov.

LS: I found the climactic battle aboard the train really boring in parts. It went on way too long, and I just didn’t care about any of the characters enough to be emotionally invested in it.

MA: Had this movie been scary, it would have been great.

LS: Well, it would have been an improvement. We’re in agreement that this movie is not scary.

MA: I expected it to be horrible, and so I’m shocked to say that while ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER is not a great movie, it is a very good movie.

It’s better than both the TWILIGHT series and the UNDERWORLD movies because it has something that both those series lack: an imagination. And some good old-fashioned bloody oomph!

(EDWARD CULLEN, the vampire from the TWILIGHT series, approaches their table)

EDWARD: Vampires that don’t sparkle? You’ve got to be kidding me. Who would believe that?

MA: There were tons of vampires before you that didn’t sparkle!

EDWARD: That’s ancient history, old man. I am what today’s generation wants in a vampire. If you want to be cool, then you gotta sparkle. Abraham Lincoln would never be able to stop me.

LS: He may have a point. The sparkly vampires are kind of strong…even if they look like they were caught in an explosion in a glitter factory.

EDWARD: And vampires are more civilized today. I would invite Mr. Lincoln to sit down for a cup of tea. We wouldn’t have to fight at all. Instead, I could spend the time bemoaning how sad I am.

MA: And where is the excitement in that?

(LS snores loudly)

EDWARD: Oh, you’ll never understand me! You don’t even try to!

(EDWARD leaves in a huff)

MA: Wake up! (nudges LS). Where was I? Oh yeah, I was going to give this movie my rating. I give ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, three knives.

LS: I think this movie thinks it is a lot cleverer than it really is. But writer Seth Grahame-Smith is clearly the “flavor of the month” with his DARK SHADOWS script and now this. I can only hope he disappears as quickly as he showed up in Hollywood. This is the same guy who gave us the novel PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which started the whole horror/history mash-up genre, and it’s gotten incredibly tired in a very short amount of time. It’s like a flimsy joke – it may work once, but it won’t have any staying power. Neither does this one-joke genre.

And I think writing should be as limitless as one’s imagination, so it’s not like I don’t think anyone should be allowed to play around with actual history. I think a really talented writer could take this concept and do something interesting with it. But that writer was nowhere to be found when they were making ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER.

And I wasn’t all that impressed with the direction by Timur Bekmambetov here. This is the talented Russian director who gave us the really enjoyable movies NIGHT WATCH (2004) and DAY WATCH (2006). I suggest people check out those movies on video instead, because they are works of art compared to ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER. I give it one and a half knives.

MA: Well, we disagree on this one. I thought it was a handsome production, and I for one got caught up in the look and feel of this movie, and so I happily went along for the ride.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get a couple of cold ones of my own.

LS: Be careful. They bite.

MA: Not those kinds of cold ones. I’m talking the kind that comes in a mug with a frothy head.

LS: Like that one? (points)

(MA looks over his shoulder to see a severed head floating on top of a huge mug of beer on the bar.)

MA: (throws up his arms) I give up! (Exits)

(LS goes over and lifts the big mug and brings it to his lips)

LS: Head for the mountains!

—END—

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

Michael Arruda gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER ~one and a half knives.

Quick Cuts: What’s Your Favorite Science Fiction Movie?

Posted in 1950s Movies, 1970s Movies, 2012, Aliens, Apes!, Apocalyptic Films, Classic Films, Dystopian Futures, Quick Cuts, ROBOTS!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , on June 22, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS-  Favorite Science Fiction Movie
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Mark Onspaugh and Garrett Cook

 

With the recent release of PROMETHEUS (2012), audiences got to watch a big release science fiction movie—the first in a while.

Today our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters is asked:  What’s your favorite science fiction movie of all-time?

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:

Several films jump out at me right away.  Three of my all-time favorite science fiction movies are from the 1950s:  THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956), and THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951), with THE THING probably my favorite of the three.

From the 1960s it’s PLANET OF THE APES (1968), from the 70s it’s ALIEN (1979), and that’s about it.  I realize these are pretty standard picks, but they happen to be the ones I like the most.

My favorite of all time?  I’d probably go with PLANET OF THE APES.  I actually saw it at the movies when I was four years old!  So, it’s been in my consciousness for a long, long time!”

 *****

GARRETT COOK:

My favorite sci-fi movie of all time is FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956). It retells Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” in the space age, and deals with the destructive power of repression and anger. Anne Francis is stunning, Walter Pidgeon is anguished and Leslie Nielsen is a surprisingly effective space hero.

Great monster too.

*****

NICK CATO:

This was VERY hard, but I think I’ve got it!

While not a special effects extravaganza or action-packed offering, FAHRENHEIT 451 (1966), a UK-lensed adaptation of the classic 1953 Ray Bradbury novel, has haunted me since the first time I saw it as a young teenager.

I was captivated with “Fireman” Guy Montag’s struggle to not burn books (as per his totalitarian government’s orders) and his eventual decision to join the rebels who are secretly committing books to memory. The film’s themes of censorship and freedom are timeless, and few sci-fi films offer as much food for thought. The ending has also stuck with me almost as intensely as the conclusion to the original PLANET OF THE APES (1968), despite it not being as shocking.

 

*****

MARK ONSPAUGH:

I have several:

Best All-Around SF: BLADE RUNNER (1982)—Where do I start. It’s  just wonderful.


Best Old School SF: FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) —Robbie the Robot, Anne
Francis, the Krell and a Monster from the ID! That’s SF, baby!

Best SF Comedy: BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) —So funny, such a perfect script,
and everyone gives such a great performance—Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover—never better.

Best SF Horror: ALIEN (1979), ALIENS  (1986) and THE THING (1982, the John Carpenter version with special effect by Rob Bottin)
Runners-up: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (’56 and ’78) and THE FLY
(1986, the Cronenberg version)

Best SF Romance: SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) —So great, from the story by
Richard Freaking Matheson to Chris Reeve and Jane Seymour as time-crossed lovers.

*****

L.L. SOARES:

This one is actually kind of easy. My favorite science fiction movie, and my favorite movie, are one in the same. A little flick called A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) by director Stanley Kubrick. Watching it for the first time, I sat there convinced that I had seen the closest I would ever find to cinematic perfection. The acting, the storyline, the visuals, the music, it all clicked with me. Plus some of it is downright disturbing.

For those who don’t know, it’s the tale of Alex (Malcolm McDowell in an amazing performance), a teenager in a not-so-distant future London where teen gangs dress up in costumes and go around perpetrating the most horrific crimes, seemingly without repercussionsthat is, until Alex is arrested and sent to prison, where he volunteers for a new kind of “therapy” that tries to implant within him a severe aversion to violence. Does the process work? See the movie and find out. (Based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, which also deserves some attention)

Needless to say, Kubrick made another science fiction masterpiece, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), which has its own list of merits to recommend it, but A CLOCKWORK ORANGE always seemed more human to me. More visceral.

Another big favorite of mine is A BOY AND HIS DOG (1975), directed by L.Q. Jones and based on the classic novella by Harlan Ellison. This time we’re brought to another future where the world has been rocked by nuclear war, and for some reason more teenage gangs survive the big drumroll. A young Don Johnson plays Vic, who survives on his wits, and the help of his telepathic dog, Blood.

RUNNERS UP would include: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968, which I already mentioned above), BLADE RUNNER (1982, probably the best Philip K. Dick adaptation to date),  the original ALIEN (1979 – no matter how much I enjoyed PROMETHEUS, it didn’t even come close to Ridely Scott’s ALIEN), and of course 1968’s PLANET OF THE APES, which is just brilliant.

 

—END—

 

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou Takes a Swim in SWAMP WATER (1941)

Posted in 1940s Films, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Crime Films, Fugitives, Killers, Melodrama, Swamp Movies, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on June 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

SWAMP WATER (1941)

Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk-till-dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable—then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes!

It’s ninety-five degrees outside as I write this, and it’s so humid you could cut the air with a knife.  Therefore, the weather is dictating my summer choice of a trilogy of swamp movie reviews over the next month.  What better time to remember the great swamp pictures than when they used to be shown at the local drive-ins, complete with terrier-sized mosquitoes (unless you bought one of those coiled smoke thingies)?

Jean Renoir was the son of famous Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir, and he was also considered France’s greatest living director in the 1930s.  He directed, and most often wrote, one masterpiece after another, films that would still be studied and adored in the next century, films like BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (1932), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1936), LA GRANDE ILLUSION (1937), and LA BETE HUMAINE (1938).  In 1939, he made THE RULES OF THE GAME, a comedy of manners and a harsh indictment against the bourgeois and pretty much any other class system.  The film infuriated the French, who truly take their cinema to heart, and it also disturbed the Nazis, who occupied the country at the time, with its left-wing politics.  The film was a flop, and Renoir decided if he was going to keep making movies, he would immigrate to America, thus escaping the Nazis’ condemnation, while still retaining his director’s chair, only this time in Hollywood.  He arrived in New York City with his wife and the author of “The Little Prince,” Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  Within weeks, he was in Hollywood, signed to Twentieth Century Fox by Francophile Darryl F. Zanuck.  What would be his first film in the United States?  A great war film?  An ant-Nazi drama?  A brilliant, elegant comedy?  No, it was a swamp picture: SWAMP WATER (1941) written by Dudley Nichols, who had just had several hits like BRINGING UP BABY (1938) and STAGECOACH (1939), and based on the Saturday Evening Post pot-boiler by Vereen Bell.

In the Okefenokee Swamp, 700 miles of marsh and cypress, Dana Andrews (LAURA – 1944 and CURSE OF THE DEMON – 1957) is Ben, a young man who loses his dog, Trouble (uh-oh, foreshadowing?) while searching for a couple of missing trappers on the edge of the swamp.  Not finding him, he returns home to his father Thursday (Walter Huston of THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE – 1948 and THE FURIES – 1950) and his stepmother Hannah, played by Mary Howard (LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – 1938 and ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS – 1940).  Trouble hasn’t returned home, but when Ben says he’s going into the swamp to find Trouble, his Pa goes plumb crazy, shouting and telling him if he goes into the swamp he shouldn’t ever come home again.  He would be disinherited (from what, I wonder, the old shack they live in?)  On his way, he runs into Mabel, his girlfriend, a high-falutin’ woman who yearns for a better life, played by Virginia Gilmore of THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942).  He gets supplies at the general store, where we meet the rest of the town . . . Marty, who owns the store (the great Russell Simpson of THE GRAPES OF WRATH – 1940 and SEVEN BRIDES FOR SEVEN BROTHERS-1954), two nasty characters, the Dorson Brothers, on their way to drown a bag of kittens (!) played by Ward Bond (IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – 1946 and THE SEARCHERS – 1956) and Guinn Williams (a heavy in many Westerns, including THE ALAMO – 1960) and a beautiful, wild young woman, the ward (or slave) of the shopkeeper.  Played with a great naiveté by Anne Baxter (ALL ABOUT EVE -1950 and THE TEN COMMANDMENTS– 1956), Julie is a wildcat, a girl abandoned by her father: a convicted murderer who fled into the swamp and is presumed dead.   It’s a rough bunch.

The haunting opening shot from SWAMP WATER (1941)>

Our hero goes on his search for his missing dog into the heart of the swamp, and Renoir actually filmed this on location, unheard of in a film of this time.  The cypress trees, the algae, the water, the sweat, the alligators, and the beautiful play of light on everything is simply gorgeous and stifling.  I can almost feel the fecund air until Ben comes across, who else, Julie’s father, the escaped killer Tom Keefer, played by three time Oscar winner Walter Brennan (STAGECOACH – 1939 and THE WESTERNER – 1941.)  Trouble, it seems, has taken a shine to old Tom, who is hiding out in the deep swamp from the law, but the old man can’t let Ben go back to civilization and reveal where he is.  He ties the boy to a tree and prepares to kill him, but he’s bitten in the face by a cottonmouth, and he falls unconscious.  Ben decides to bury the man, the only proper thing to do, when the old escapee revives.  “If I’da let them things kill me,” he says.  “I’da been dead a long time ago.”  For the young man’s kindness, Tom shows Ben the way out of the swamp.

Fugitive Walter Brennan hiding in the SWAMP WATER.

Meanwhile, local horndog Jesse Wick, played by John Carradine (hundreds of movies) is hitting on Hannah while her husband’s looking for Ben.  His father beats the hide off of him, so Ben takes up in a shack near the general store, where he starts to become closer to the wildcat Julie and makes a living by trapping furs in the Okefenokee.  This, of course, infuriates Mabel, who decides to go to a dance with a Dorson Brother.  Ben accompanies Julie, who cleans up really well!  Ben informs her that her father’s alive, so she starts keeping house for him.

Jesse tries to rape Hannah, but is almost caught by Thursday, who blames his wife.  She can’t say who it is, because she knows Thursday will kill him and she doesn’t want the guilt.  Thursday goes on a quest to find out who his wife is protecting.

It doesn’t take long before the wicked Dorson Brothers and the jealous Mabel get Ben in a headlock and try to drown him, until he tells them Tom is hiding out in the Okefenokee.  Turns out, they know more about the murder than anyone thought, and they go into the swamp to kill Tom Keefer and shut him up.  They’re followed by the sheriff and a posse as well as Ben and Jesse.  The manhunt through the darkened swamp is creepy and quite terrifying.  Will Ben get to Tom in time to warn him?  Will Tom believe the young man or blame him for the men tracking him through quicksand and gator nests?

I won’t give away the ending, but after ninety minutes of dark drama and suspense, it comes out of left field to please wartime audiences.  Zanuck didn’t think anyone would want to see a realistic ending, so he tacked on a sunny bit that seems awfully unrealistic, but it does still work.  Zanuck must have known what he was doing.  Despite his tampering and Jean Renoir’s dissatisfaction with his whole Hollywood experience, SWAMP WATER was one of the five top grossing movies of the year.  Renoir would return to some of the same themes in THE SOUTHERNER (1945 ) and get nominated for an Oscar.

Even with all the cornpone dialog, SWAMP WATER is filled with terrific performances, especially the luminescent Walter Brennan, who just owns every scene he’s in and Anne Baxter, who plays the feral Julie in a way that makes you want to protect her yourself.  Dana Andrews is a bit hopeless at the beginning as an innocent young man, but he evolves into a full grown adult whose heart is too big for the small town he lives in.  The transformation is subtle, but quite wonderful.  John Carradine turns in a performance full of terror and shame, a man who can’t help what he is and is too frightened of life to change.

Dana Andrews comes across an angry Walter Brennan in SWAMP WATER.

The photography is brilliant black and white, with long depths and wavering firelight or dappled sunlight on everything.  Cinematographer J. Peverell Marley (HOUSE OF WAX-1953 and THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES-1939) uses Renoir’s trademark long takes and constantly moving camera.  As beautiful as it is, Marley was a replacement for original photographer Lucien Ballard (THE WILD BUNCH and TRUE GRIT – both 1969), who was fired.  It looks like an art film but it has the Tobacco Road plot of a Southern exploitation hit, so SWAMP WATER is an odd flick, but extremely moving and beautiful piece of Faulkneresque Southern gothic.

Twilight Time has released a limited edition Blu-Ray of this classic swamp picture, and it’s a lulu.  You can see every bead of sweat on every characters mug, every bug flying near the fires in the swamp, every grain of wood on the sad-looking shacks.  It’s a magnificent restoration, and you can even isolate the musical score by David Buttolph (KISS OF DEATH -1947 and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS – 1953), which samples the haunting Red River Valley.  They only made 3,000, so if you want one, you need to hurry.

I give SWAMP WATER three and a half kittens in a bag out of four.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl