Archive for the 1990s Horror Category

tHe rEaSsEssmENt FiLes: THE FACULTY (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Aliens, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2013 by knifefighter

THE FACULTY (1998)
A Reassessment File
By Paul McMahon – The Distracted Critic

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For a long time, THE FACULTY had the unofficial title of “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Once.” I don’t recall the specifics of when I first watched it, other than it was a rare occasion that I could turn off all the lights and unplug the phone and let myself get completely swept away. The movie wasn’t designed to win awards or revolutionize the horror genre. It was designed to be a haunted house on film, a monster-infested roller coaster that genuflected to INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS. The novel actually gets a mention during the course of the film. THE FACULTY has always existed in my head as a 3 1/2 star film. Time to see if that rating holds up.

We open with Coach Willis (Robert Patrick, TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, 1991) abusing and insulting his football team like any good stereotypical football coach. After he chases off his team, he is approached by someone we don’t see, and when he turns around his attitude softens. We shift into the school, where Principal Drake (Bebe Neuwirth, Lilith on TV’s CHEERS) shoots down requests for new computers, educational field trips, and this year’s musical because there’s not enough money. Of course, the football team will get their new jerseys and jock straps and helmets because that’s what the school board and the parents want. After the meeting, Principal Drake returns to her office, where Coach Willis is waiting for her. He attacks, and Principal Drake defends herself with a pair of scissors. Finding the doors of the school locked, Mrs. Olson (Piper Laurie, CARRIE, 1976) helps her escape and re-lock the doors, trapping Coach Willis inside. Then Mrs. Olson attacks Drake with the scissors. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she says.

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their "Game Face."

Coach Willis teaches his boys to put on their “Game Face.”

School day. We’re treated to a smorgasbord of assault and battery, aggravated assault, assault with intent to maim, and assault with a deadly weapon, all of which are simply called “bullying” on school property. The main victim is Casey (Elijah Wood, THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY, 2001 – 2003). While he is beaten by Gabe (Usher Raymond, SCARY MOVIE, 2013), he is scorned by classmate Stokes (Clea Duvall, IDENTITY, 2003). Elsewhere, Stan (Shawn Hatosy, BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL – NEW ORLEANS, 2009), captain of the football team, is telling his girlfriend Delilah (Jordana Brewster, FAST & FURIOUS 6, 2013), captain of the cheerleading squad, that he’s quitting the team to focus on academics. Delilah does not take the news well. “What am I supposed to do while you’re on this yellowbrick quest for a brain?” she asks. Meanwhile, Zeke (Josh Hartnett 30 DAYS OF NIGHT, 2007) drives himself to school, roaring past school busses and screeching around the parking lot. Students leap this way and that to keep from getting run over. He immediately starts selling pens full of white powder out of the trunk. Ms. Burke (Famke Janssen, X-MEN, 2000) comes to scold him, and while she reminds him that she is the authority figure, it’s obvious she’s not up to the task. Further still, newcomer Marybeth (Laura Harris, DEADWEIGHT, 2013) is trying to find the office. With her southern drawl, she compliments one of the kids on her nose ring. “It really brings out your eyes,” she says.  In the teacher’s lounge, we meet the school nurse, Ms. Harper (Salma Hayek, SAVAGES, 2012), and the irony is thick because she’s got a cold that won’t go away.

Having met most everyone, we rejoin Casey, who is now having lunch at the top of the deserted football stands. As he starts back to the school he finds something large and slug-like in the grass. Curious, he brings it to his Biology teacher, Mr. Furlong (John Stewart, I don’t need to introduce you to THE DAILY SHOW, right?), who doesn’t know what it is. With the help of Zeke, who is far more brilliant than you’d believe for someone repeating his senior year, they determine that it’s a new organism. They drop it into an empty aquarium at the back of the class, because all Biology labs have full but fishless aquariums “just in case.” The slug sprouts red tendrils and swims around, and an excited Mr. Furlong dreams about calling the university.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

Later on, the plot thickens when our heroes find the aquarium empty.

The teachers begin to act out of character. Principal Drake begins to call students to the office for an “ear exam.” Coach Willis keeps his cool when Stan finally gets up the nerve to tell him about quitting. Soon after, in the locker room shower, Stan is surprised by Mrs. Brummel, the school’s oldest teacher. She  begs Stan for help, and patches of her hair and skin tear free when Stan tries to push her away. A little later on, Delilah, who is also the editor of the school newspaper, takes her star photographer, Casey (because somehow the school bullies don’t attack him when he’s wearing a camera), into the teacher’s lounge to dig up a cover story for the next issue. When Coach Willis and Mrs. Olson surprise them, they hide in a closet and watch the pair attack Nurse Harper. Then the corpse of Mrs. Brummel falls on them from the back of the closet….

Robert Rodriguez (SIN CITY, 2005, GRINDHOUSE, 2007, MACHETE, 2010, SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and MACHETE KILLS, both 2013) directed this one. Say what you want about the man, he makes a ton ‘o fun for the big screen. This project was one of his early films, and only the second that he didn’t write himself (the first was FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN, 1996, which was written by Quentin Tarantino). He has a great time with this idea, and his enthusiasm infects the cast, as well. It plays like everyone is having a great time with their roles. The scenes are busy and detailed, and infused with enough comedy to keep things light without overpowering the monster story.

"Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

“Somebody missed the memo that warned against getting these things wet.

There’s a little continuity slippage about what this creature can and cannot do. This is mainly apparent in its inconsistent ability to heal its host’s body. A more serious flaw is how Rodriguez has stretched the compare-and-contrast between the normal school and the infested school. The violent scenes of the pre-infested school feel too over-the-top for a suburban school like this one. The shenanigans that go on seem more suited to a prison yard– some of it rivals the pre-Joe-Clark Eastside High School of LEAN ON ME (1989). It does set up an interesting dilemma for the students, though, making them decide if they really want things back the way they were.

I’ve got to say, I enjoyed this one all over again. The only change I’m making is to upgrade its unofficial title to “My Favorite Monster Movie I’ve Only Seen Twice,” but I suspect it won’t hold that title for long because like the best roller-coasters, I want to go again.

Original rating: 3 1/2 stars.
Reassessment: THE FACULTY keeps its 3 1/2 stars easily.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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The Reassessment Files takes a second look at THE PROPHECY (1995)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Angels, Christopher Walken Movies, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic with tags , , , , , , on June 12, 2013 by knifefighter

THE PROPHECY (1995)
A “Reassessment File” by Paul McMahon, the “Distracted Critic”

P - VHS coverIt will come as a no-brainer to anyone reading this that I’m into horror movies. I have favorites outside the genre, of course, as well as a brother who is a full-fledged movie buff who has introduced me to a great many films I would not have chanced without his urging. One memorable night a number of years ago, he showed up at my place waving a VHS box at me. “I have a horror movie you’ve never heard of!” he said. At the moment I would have snickered at his folly, he dropped THE PROPHECY in my lap. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel. You’re gonna love it!”

The movie held my attention throughout. At the time, I was reading a great many books on the philosophy of religion, comparing theologies between Sky Father faiths and Earth Mother beliefs. While THE PROPHECY didn’t delve into this head-on, it did bring the two together in an interesting way. Not interesting enough for me to remember the specifics, though. Whenever discussion of the movie has come up, I’ve remembered that I watched it, but couldn’t recall anything beyond Christopher Walken playing a bad angel.

Looking back, I don’t remember anything significant about it, so I’d retro-actively rate it a single star. Recently, due to the urging of another friend, I dug up a copy and popped it in to see if I’d missed some deeper worth years ago.

We open with a voice over tale of the first war of Heaven and the banishment of Lucifer along with a third of heaven’s legion of angels. God’s elevation of man over angels precipitated the second war of Heaven, which split the remaining legion in half, leaving the sides locked in a stalemate that has kept the gates of Heaven closed since the beginning of time. The Angel Gabriel has come to Earth—where angels are mortal—with a plan to break the stalemate by stealing an evil human’s “dark soul” and making it fight for his side, thus breaking the stalemate and winning Heaven.

From here, we are dropped into a church. There is Latin, clouds of incense, a Cardinal, bishops, and deacons awaiting Ordination as priests. We’ll choose to ignore the major movie goof of a completely empty church behind them– ordinations are typically SRO.  Deacon Thomas is called. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with Sunday School knows that a character named Thomas in a religion-themed movie will lose his faith. As Deacon Thomas lies prone before the feet of the Cardinal, he is assaulted by visions of bloodied angels that make him cry out and turn away. In the very next scene, Thomas is a LAPD detective standing on a rooftop and looking down at the city—taking in an angel’s perspective, if you will.

Now it’s time for more exposition as the Angel Uziel drops in on the Angel Simon, who has been sent by God to keep the dark human soul from Gabriel. Simon throws Uziel out of an apartment window, where he is crushed by an out-of-control automobile that is barreling down that exact dead-end alley at that exact time. By the reactions of the investigating officers, they never expected to find anyone behind the wheel and aren’t at all concerned that no one’s there.

Here comes Deacon Detective Thomas. He pokes around Simon’s apartment and finds an obituary for a Colonel Arnold Hawthorne from Chimney Rock, Arizona; a theological text that Thomas himself wrote back in the day; and an ancient, hand-written Bible that contains a twenty-third chapter of the Book of Revelations. “There is no twenty-third chapter,” he tells the medical examiner. After Gabriel incinerates Uziel’s body on the floor of the morgue, leaving nothing for the medical examiner to investigate, Thomas decides to head to Chimney Rock, because apparently the LAPD has no budget to telephone law enforcement in Arizona to follow up on leads, and, apparently, there are no jurisdiction lines in this movie, so Thomas’s LAPD badge gives him carte blanche across state lines.

Simon steals and then hides the dark soul in a school girl who was nice to him, because nothing displays eternal gratitude like jamming the soul of a cannibalistic war criminal into someone’s head. Gabriel finds Simon and tortures him, but Simon will not reveal the location of the soul. Thomas enters Hawthorne’s apartment and discovers a trunk full of evidence that the deceased Colonel is a Korean War criminal, because criminals like this keep mementos of their crimes out in the open for easy access on the off chance that an out-of-his-jurisdiction cop will show up without a warrant to poke through their belongings. Shaken, Thomas enters a local church to contemplate his situation. Gabriel appears in the pew behind him and freaks him out by knowing things about him that he shouldn’t. Then Gabriel disappears, forgetting to warn Thomas off the case, or fooling him with a false trail, or anything else

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man-- when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Proof that Gabriel is an angel and not a man– when he gets lost he actually stops to ask for directions. (His assistant here is played by Amanda Plummer, PULP FICTION (1994).

Gregory Widen, best known for writing 1991’s incredible firefighter movie BACKDRAFT, wrote and directed this one. He does everything by the numbers here, using tried and true camera angles throughout and taking no risks, thereby failing to put a personal touch on the work. The writing is circular and hollow, silly in places, and doesn’t hold up to the slightest theological scrutiny.

When the movie ended, I remembered my brother’s words from so long ago. “It’s Christopher Walken playing a bad angel,” and that is part and parcel of this film. In fact, that’s what they should’ve written on the back of the VHS box. Walken acts creepy and delivers his lines in that halting, oddly emphasized way of his. There’s a feeling of “That was cool” when the final credits roll, but nothing more substantial than that. Walken has made a career out of this unique delivery, utilizing it in such films as THE DEER HUNTER (1978), BILOXI BLUES (1988), PULP FICTION (1994), SUICIDE KINGS (1997) and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS (2012)…. He’s got 123 titles listed on IMDb, and all of them have in common the “Walken Mystique.” I’ve heard it said that if you’re a casting director in Hollywood and you need to fill the “Walken Type,” you are stuck with having to cast Christopher Walken or re-define the type. This is his movie, plain and simple.

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he'd had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Viggo Mortensen and Elias Koteas share a moment in THE PROPHECY. If he’d had more screen time in his surprise role, Viggo would have stolen this movie from Christopher Walken

Elias Koteas, (LET ME IN, 2010), plays Thomas Dagget. He does a good job with the role, but with 82 titles beneath his name, he hasn’t exactly created a “Koteas Mystique.” Eric Stoltz,(MASK, 1985 and also PULP FICTION), shines as the angel Simon. He’s been in 115 movies, and what little I can find of a “Stoltz Mystique” is not very flattering. As the film rolls along, there’s a surprise role played by Viggo Mortensen, known mainly for playing Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY (2001-2003) and Tom Stahl in David Cronenberg’s HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). With only 55 titles to his credit, Viggo is well on his way to establishing a “Mortensen Mystique.” Virginia Madsen plays Katherine, the school teacher who teams up with Thomas to protect the possessed child from Gabriel. She will be best known as the protagonist of CANDYMAN (1992). She also played Tommy Lee Jones’s love interest in 1988’s GOTHAM. There is definitely a “Virginia Madsen Mystique,” but it may only affect me….

Altogether, watching this one a second time after so long, I was slightly more impressed with it story-wise, however it still felt like there was way more unsaid and unexamined than showed up on the screen, and I don’t mean that in a good way. Still, there was a lot of interesting acting from both Christopher Walken and Viggo Mortensen, and I’m always interested in watching Virginia Madsen grace the screen. If your aim is to watch any of these actors do their thing, you could pick far better showcases for their work. The story here remains uncompelling and unmemorable.

Original rating: 1 star.

Reassessment: 1 star.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Me and Lil’ Stevie have finally found IT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, All-Star Casts, Based on a Classic Novel, Demons, evil clowns, Evil Spirits, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV Miniseries with tags , , , , , , , on May 7, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Have Finally Found

IT (1990)

IT

(INTERIOR/NIGHT.  Establishing shot of the Derry, Maine standpipe…a central hub for the town’s main sewage line.  There are channels dug into the floor where gray water travels to and fro, leading off into different paths and corridors.  Somewhere in the darkness, we can hear an evil laugh echoing just over the incessant plop-plops of dripping water.  Camera makes quick pan toward one channel, where a paper boat is sailing along with the current.  It whisks through the channel swiftly, and when it passes off into one of the darkened chambers, a figure emerges.  It is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Peter:  Greetings, Constant Viewer, and welcome to another chapter of our beloved column.

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s right, folks.  Twenty films reviewed so far and ZERO “Cease and Desist” letters!

Peter:  If you’ve been watching the Cinema Knife Fight page on Facebook, you already know that we’ve been…ahem, dying to review today’s film.  But our DVD has been missing for a long, long, time now, so we were going to once again skip Tommy Lee Wallace’s 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s IT.  That is, until the boss intervened on our behalf.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean L.L. Soares actually bought us a NEW copy?

Peter:  Oh, hell no!  I was talking about Mrs. Dudar.   Thanks, Hon!

Lil’ Stevie:  Who’s the REAL dummy around here…?

(In the background, we hear the sound of a toilet flushing.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (pointing at something floating by in the sewage) Heh heh…Look, they all FLOAT down here!

Peter:  How did I know that was coming?  Let’s get started.  This film was a two-part miniseries that originally aired back in 1990.  It concerns an ancient evil that has inflicted itself on Derry, Maine…King’s second most infamous fictitious town right after Castle Rock.  This ancient evil can manifest itself in the form of whatever nightmares the children of Derry are afraid of, but it mostly takes on the form of Pennywise the Clown (Tim Curry, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975).  IT uses the standpipe and its sewage lines throughout the town to lure in and kill children to feed upon.  The monster has been doing this on a cycle of every 30 years or so.  Of course, the town itself is poisoned and turns a blind eye over and over again until 1960, when…

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting the movie’s chronology all wrong.  The movie begins in 1990, when another tricycle-riding tot is lured in and murdered by Pennywise.  And as the police investigate, the town’s librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid, Television’s Venus Flytrap from WKRP in Cincinnati) shows up to make his own inquiries.  Mike remembers the summer of 1960, when his friend Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas, Television’s Jon-Boy Walton from THE WALTONS) lost his little brother Georgie to the town’s malefic horror.

Peter:  Pretty good so far.  Mike Hanlon is the cornerstone of the film.  He’s the movie’s narrator; the one member of the “Loser’s Club” they formed as kids that remained behind in Derry after his childhood friends all moved far, far away.  Likewise, he’s the beacon that draws the other members back.  After this latest murder, Mike begins a string of phone calls that interrupt the successful lives of all the other members, reawakening the childhood terror that has remained dormant in their minds ever since leaving their hometown behind.  Bill Denbrough is a beloved horror novelist (big surprise, huh?) who has temporarily moved abroad to do some screenwriting for his beautiful wife Audra’s new film.  Getting the call whisks him away to the memory of him being deathly sick as a child, and sending his kid brother Georgie out to play in the rain with a paper boat he’d made.  And, of course, that was the last time Bill saw George.

Lil’ Stevie:  The other members of the Losers Club all follow suit.  The first part of the miniseries is all setup.  It’s all about introducing the individual characters, sharing their own childhood terrors at the hands of IT, and getting them on track for a reunion.  Only, they aren’t returning to reminisce and see how each other’s lives are going, they’re returning on a childhood oath that if IT ever came back, they would all come back to fight it and kill it.

Peter:  To expedite things a bit, Ben “Haystack” Hanscom (John Ritter, Television’s Jack Tripper from THREE’S COMPANY) is a successful architect.  Beverly Marsh (Annette O’Toole, Television’s Martha Kent from SMALLVILLE) is a successful clothing magnate.  Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson, Television’s Judge Harold T. Stone from NIGHT COURT) is a successful comedian, Eddie Kaspbrak (Dennis Christopher, Television’s Bellegard from DEADWOOD) owns a successful limousine service, and Stan Uris (Richard Masur, Clark the creepy dog-handler from THE THING, 1982) is a successful…um, did they ever say what his occupation was?

Lil’ Stevie:  Holy cow.  He was a real-estate mogul.

Peter:  Oh, yeah.  Thanks.  I have to confess, it’s been about 20 years since I’ve read this novel.  I should hope you’d cut me some slack.

Lil’ Stevie:  Yeah, no!  If you’ve forgotten, you should have reread it.

Peter:  Thanks, Dad.  Anyway, like we were saying, the first part of the film is all setup, laced with flashbacks to each character’s respective trauma and how that summer drew them together.  For Ben Hanscom, it was about dealing with himself and his mom being forced to move in with his aunt after his father’s death in Korea.  His relocation to Derry was difficult enough, but upon his first day at school he found himself at odds with town bully, Henry Bowers, and his buddies.  Ben is instantly smitten with Bev Marsh, who is the unfortunate daughter of the school’s drunken and abusive school janitor.  They make friends quickly, but it’s obvious that Bev has her heart set on “Stuttering Bill” Denbrough.  Bill is cute and brave, and looks super cool on his boss bicycle that he calls “Silver” after the Lone Ranger’s horse.  In a serendipitous chain of events, Ben meets up with Bill and Eddie down in the barrens, where the two are trying to flood the creek.  Being a bit of an engineering whiz, Ben will show them (along with the rest of the gang, who conveniently show up all at once) how to build a real honest-to-goodness dam.

Lil’ Stevie:  The rest of the gang, except for Mike.  He’s the town’s other new kid.  Only Mike is African-American, and immediately meets with intolerance from bigoted Henry and his buddies.

Peter:  The Loser’s Club end up rescuing Mike from Henry and the bullies in a rock war inside the old quarry.

Lil’ Stevie:  You mean they had a battle of the bands?

(Peter tips Lil’ Stevie upside down and dangles him over the filthy water.)

Peter:  Do you have any more stupid questions?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’m sorry!  I’ll be good!

Peter:  (fixes Lil’ Stevie upright again) That’s better.  To answer your question, the Loser’s Club has had enough of Henry and his shenanigans.  They’re dealing with a child-eating monster, after all.  So when they see Mike getting chased, they immediately “Dummy Up” with heavy rocks and begin an assault on Bowers and his hoods.  And they win their first real victory, thus cementing their kinship of “Lucky Seven.”

Lil’ Stevie:  Did ya catch that?  That’s important, y’all…

Peter:  It is, because Stan Uris, the non-believer in anything “empirically impossible” is also a huge coward.  By the end of part one, Ol’ Stanny is in his bathtub slitting his wrists rather than jumping the next available transit back home to Derry.  Their “Lucky Seven” dies with him.

(In the background we hear the sound of an evil clown laughing).

Pennywise:  He Floats Down Here…and soon, YOU’LL FLOAT, TOO!

Peter:  Part two begins with the Loser’s Club all returning to Maine, and each member dealing with their childhood horrors on an adult level.  Being away from Derry for so long has robbed their memories of a lot of stuff, and there are a lot of blanks to fill in.  Each member returns to their respective homes and hangouts, only to discover that Pennywise is constantly trying to turn them back and scare them away.  Fortunately, they brave these terrors and eventually reunite over a dinner of Chinese food, where Mike helps them remember the rest of what happened that summer, and how they eventually beat IT the first time.  Only, they didn’t kill IT completely, so now it’s back to feed again.

Lil’ Stevie:  So the Loser’s Club have to convince themselves and each other to fulfill that promise they made so many summers ago, and destroy IT once and for all.

Peter:  With the scope and length of this story, we seemed to sum it up pretty handily, wouldn’t you say?

Lil’ Stevie:  That’s a good thing.  It took me forever to write IT.

Peter:  Har har.  Let’s get a bit more in-depth about the good stuff and the bad stuff.  Let me begin by saying that time has NOT been good to this film.  The teleplay by King, Wallace, and Lawrence Cohen does leave a lot of stuff from the novel out of the movie, but that serves as utilitarian in keeping the movie at a reasonable length without being mired down by dull moments or unnecessary exposition.  Gone is that whole bit about the Edge of the World and the story of the Turtle which I, for one, never understood.

Lil’ Stevie:  You really ARE a dope.

Peter:  What’s left is a nifty little fright flick that elevates a lot of made-for-television actors into a very dark and creepy world.  Everybody turns in a rock-solid performance (although I must admit, Harry Anderson comes off as very whiny and self-absorbed).  And Tim Curry as Pennywise is absolutely perfect.  He’s just terrifying with his murderous antics and that lecherous scowl that turns into the mouthful of razor-sharp teeth at any given moment.

Lil’ Stevie:  Either you are the world’s biggest hypocrite or you have a really bad memory!

Peter:  Why do you say that?

Lil’ Stevie:  Because you just lambasted King’s STORM OF THE CENTURY a few episodes ago over Andre Linoge suddenly sprouting a mouthful of fangs.  In fact, you blamed that movie for being too Mick Garris-ish because Garris did the same thing in SLEEPWALKERS.  How easily we forget…

Peter:  Are you ready for that swim?

(Lil’ Stevie pulls his head down so that his mouth is hiding beneath the collar of his shirt).

Peter:  No more warnings.  And in fairness, this movie preceded those other two, so it gets rightful props.  This movie is beautifully shot and it does deliver the chills, all the way up to the end where Wallace drops the ball. Everything that happens once the adult version of the Loser’s Club enters the standpipe falls apart.  The monster finally appears in its true form as a gargantuan spider with “Deadlights” in its belly.  The spider looks so ridiculously fake that it kills any credible suspense the movie had been building up to.  It’s a massive letdown.  But not enough that I’d advise fans not to watch it.  It really is a beautiful movie that captures the love of childhood friendship and the paranoia of small-town living, where grown-ups would rather mind their own business and not get involved when bad things happen.  And if you look at how the internet has changed our society, it almost feels prophetic.  I loved the book because I felt like I belonged in the Loser’s Club.  Most of us do.  The film captures a huge part of that, and it really is wonderful to watch.  There’s a scene where adult Mike takes adult Bill out to the shed where Mike has been keeping Bill’s old bicycle.  Reid and Thomas act the scene out wonderfully, with the two fixing the flat tire and Bill is suddenly reunited with not just his bicycle but with his childhood.  It plays out with the two grown men speeding back and forth on the bike to some old Smokey Robinson tune, and it feels absolutely bittersweet.  The entire cast brings that magic to the film, making it a very pleasant experience.

Lil’ Stevie:  What the film DOESN’T capture is the depth of the children’s loss of innocence in order to combat the evil they face.  In my book, Bev actually winds up having sex with each of them as a ritual of preparation.  In the movie, they all take a tug off Eddie’s asthma inhaler.  Totally lame!

Peter:  What do you expect from prime-time television?  Besides, knot-head…you didn’t write it!

(More laughter from the corridor ahead)

Peter:  I think Pennywise is coming to pay a visit!

(Another figure steps out of corridor, only it’s L.L. Soares).

L.L.:  Hey, your column is LATE!   What’s taking so long?

Peter:  You came all the way down here just to harass us?

L.L.:  Actually, someone clogged the toilet.  You don’t have a plunger, do you?

Peter:  Here…use this!

(Peter takes Lil’ Stevie off his arm and tosses him over).

L.L.:  Thanks.  I’ll make sure he doesn’t get cleaned before I send him back.

Lil’ Stevie:  No!  NOOOOO!  Not the swirlies again!!! Please!

Peter:  Thanks for spending your time with us once again.  See you next month!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

Pennywise (Tim Curry) is coming for you in IT!

The Reassessment Files Look at EVENT HORIZON (1997)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Compelling Cinema, Ghosts!, Outer Space, Paul McMahon Columns, Reassessment Files, Science Fiction, Space with tags , , , , , , on March 20, 2013 by knifefighter

EVENT HORIZON (1997)
A Reassessment File
Review by: Paul McMahon

eh - poster two

There was a stretch of time after I got my own place that I reveled in free weekends. Such weekends didn’t happen often, but when they did I would celebrate by hitting the video store to load up on movies. Usually I crammed six movies between Friday night and Monday morning. I first saw EVENT HORIZON during the last of one of those marathons.

The movie didn’t stand out for me back then. It struck me as excessively weird and illogical in its execution. I’ve always regarded it as a broken film that should’ve been a whole lot better. The production values were impressive, however, and though at the time I wasn’t filtering my cinematic opinions through a ratings system, I imagine that if I had been, I’d have given it half a star. At the time, I walked away and didn’t give it another thought.

Fans of the movie exist, though. I’ve met a few of them. One or two were quite rabid in their defense of it, which made it a prime candidate for a reassessment. I toyed with the idea for a while, and recently stumbled across a copy buried in a $5.00 MOVIES box at the front of my grocery store. I took it as a sign that the time had come.

(Disclaimer: As with other Reassessment Files columns, this movie came out so long ago that I feel no need to avoid spoilers. If you haven’t seen it in the past fifteen years, I recommend you check it out before reading on.)

The movie kicks off with a text backstory detailing the history of the space ship EVENT HORIZON. She was launched in 2040 to “explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy,” but disappeared just beyond Neptune. We’re told it’s 2047.

Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill—star of one of last year’s Reassessment subjects, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, 1994) suffers a nightmare featuring the EVENT HORIZON and awakens surrounded by dozens of photos of the same woman. “I miss you,” he tells one of the pictures, and we know immediately his mental train’s running with at least a few wheels off the track. He boards a rescue ship, the Lewis and Clark, and the movie’s characters begin tucking themselves into stasis for the long trip to Neptune.

To float in stasis grav tanks, perchance to dream.

To float in stasis grav tanks…perchance to dream.

Once “the Clark” reaches its destination and the crew awakens from their grav tanks, Captain Miller (played by Laurence Fishburne, who recently completed a stint as Dr. Langston on CSI, and is cast as Perry White in the upcoming MAN OF STEEL, 2013) calls a meeting so Dr. Weir can fill the crew in on the real story behind the Event Horizon. “… it’s the culmination of a secret government project to create a spacecraft capable of faster-than-light flight.” Making this impossibility possible is Dr. Weir’s “Gravity Drive,” a device he himself designed and built. Problem was, when they activated it back in 2040, the Event Horizon disappeared without a trace. Now, apparently, it’s back and stuck in a decaying orbit around Neptune.

The Clark attaches to the Event Horizon and some of the rescue crew board to search for survivors. There are none. In some areas of the ship there are greenish blobs floating in the zero gravity. “There’s been a coolant leak,” says Justin (Jack Noseworthy, U-571, 2000) as he makes his way toward the engine to restore power. The Gravity Drive, a spinning gyroscope of metal plates, seems to liquefy and then sucks Justin inside. This causes an explosion that rips through the Lewis and Clark’s hull, compromising its atmosphere. The entire crew is ordered to suit up and board the Event Horizon. Meanwhile, Justin reappears from the gravity drive unconscious and unresponsive, though his vital signs remain stable.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you're in hell.

The Gravity Drive:- round and round and round it goes, and when it stops, you’re in hell.

Work begins on trying to repair the Clark for the trip home, but when the gravity drive begins draining power from the Event Horizon, Dr. Weir climbs into the bowels of the machine to attempt a repair. As he tries to locate the problem, he hears a woman’s voice calling his name, and then the lights go out. “Captain Miller? I’ve got some problems here!” he yells. The lights blink back on and the woman from all the pictures at the beginning of the film is only inches away from Dr. Weir. “Be with me, Billy,” she says. “Forever!”

The cast is impressive. Laurence Fishburne is a former Oscar nominee for his portrayal of Ike Turner in 1993’s WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. He gives a stellar performance here, as you would expect. Kathleen Quinlan (THE HILLS HAVE EYES, 2006) plays Med Tech Peters. She is also a former Oscar nominee for her work in 1995’s APOLLO 13. The rest of the cast includes Joely Richardson (THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, 2011, as well as the TV show NIP/TUCK), Richard Jones (COLLATERAL, 2004 and SUPER 8, 2011), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy in the HARRY POTTER series), and Sean Pertwee (DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). All of them give great performances.

The movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson of RESIDENT EVIL and ALIEN VS PREDATOR fame. Apparently, Mr. Anderson turned down the opportunity to direct 2000’s X-MEN, opting instead for this “The Shining In Space” tale and the chance to deliver an R-rated horror movie. He handles the material very well, building suspense throughout while delivering subtle homages to popular haunted house movies, including THE HAUNTING (1963), Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980), and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (1979).

For my part, I accepted that re-watching the film with an eye toward glimpsing what people like about it would create the possibility that I would change my mind. I did not expect that my opinion would change as much as it did. I have completely re-written this column five times now. Every time I think it through, I find that I like the movie even more. I’ve watched it three times in the past week, letting other chores and expectations fall by the wayside.

I do recognize where EVENT HORIZON fell apart for me fifteen years ago. By the time Weir enters the workings of the Gravity Drive, other members of the crew have been reporting strange occurrences. Weir has scoffed at all of them, insisting that their experiences are imaginary. The moment fear enters his voice inside the Gravity Drive, we get that “Told You So” tingle because the skeptical fool is being confronted with the same phenomena he’s been discounting all along. In the very next scene, though, he’s back to insisting that nothing unusual is happening. Such an unexplained and illogical character turn leads to questions, such as: Has Weir been taken over by the ship? Has he been driven completely mad? Has he suffered such a traumatic shock that he’s blocked out the experience altogether? Or, remembering the nightmare that woke him in the opening shot, does he have some kind of psychic link with the ship? I think this psychic link is what the writer and the director were going for.

Also, with today’s technology it doesn’t take much to pause the film during the “glimpses of hell” montage so you can gape and squirm at the brilliant and intense practical make up effects that zip past the screen. Much of it betters horror images being released today.

This film surprised me completely. I remembered it as something very different, and I find myself wondering how I missed so much goodness back in the day. Maybe cramming so many films into a single weekend wasn’t the best choice after all. Be that as it may, I’m changing my rating of the film to an embarrassing degree.

Original assessment: half a star.
Reassessment: 3 and a half stars.

I’m not ashamed to say that I’m going to watch this at least once more before I move on to the next film.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, ESP, Faux Documentaries, Horror, Indie Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Murder!, Mystery, Plot Twists, Secrets, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2013 by knifefighter

Transmissions to Earth:

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THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

LastBroadcast_DVDcover

Review by L.L. Soares

With the recent boom of fake documentaries (otherwise known as “found footage” movies), especially in the horror genre (the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, CLOVERFIELD, THE LAST EXORCISM, etc.), THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT (1999) constantly pops up in conversation as the influential flick that started this all. And it deserves the attention. The flurry of excitement that surrounded BLAIR WITCH when it first came out was sure to inspire a lot of would-be filmmakers. But a year before BLAIR WITCH, we got THE LAST BROADCAST (1998), which dabbled in this style first, and also shares a lot of similarities with a certain Blair Witch.

Directed and written by Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, THE LAST BROADCAST begins with filmmaker David Leigh (David Beard) introducing himself and his movie, which is made up of footage from several sources, starting with a cable access show called “Fact or Fiction,” starring Steven Avkast (Stefan Avalos), who also goes by “Johnny,” and Locus Wheeler (Lance Weiler). Their show explores paranormal phenomenon, but it didn’t really get much in the way of viewers until they decided to hook up a voice response system to their computer, so people could type questions and the voice would speak them aloud on the show. This little bit of audience response is enhanced by the fact that the computerized voice that reads the questions sounds rather spooky. One of the viewers, through this system, suggests they investigate the legend of the Jersey Devil.

Steven and Locus get the idea to film a live show in the middle of the New Jersey Pine Barrens; their plan being to exploit the Jersey Devil legend for big ratings that will maybe get the show out of cable access and into the big time. To help them out on their little camping trip into the middle of nowhere, the hosts bring along sound man Rein (pronounced “Ryan”) Clackin (Rein Clabbers), and a “psychic” that Rein knows named Jim Suerd (Jim Seward), who is sensitive to the “spirits” of the woods.

We learn early on that Jim Suerd has recently died in prison when THE LAST BROADCAST begins, where he was serving two life sentences for murder. We also learn that he was a bit of a loner who was obsessed with the Internet and magic tricks. The implication being that his “psychic” powers were fake, perpetrated by someone with a rudimentary knowledge of magic, and that Suerd was a bit unbalanced to begin with.

Fake "psychic" Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Fake “psychic” Jim Suerd. Did he commit the murders in the woods?

Suerd finds the other guys the “right spot” in the middle of the barrens, and they set up camp. There’s a disagreement at one point, when Rein is picking on Jim about his “psychic powers,” which turns into a shoving match (which becomes important later). Then the guys broadcast their show from deep in the woods.

But something goes wrong. Rein and Locus are murdered. Steven Avkast disappears (but they find his hat and a lot of his blood), and Jim Suerd calls the police (his 9-1-1 call begins the movie) to report that something has gone horribly wrong in the woods.

A year or so after the events in the woods, and right after Jim Suerd has died in prison under mysterious circumstances, David Leigh receives a strange package in the mail. Inside is a mostly destroyed VHS cassette, and a lot of loose tape. Leigh brings it to a data retrieval expert , Michelle Monarch (Michele Pulaski) to analyze. Through painstaking work on her computer, Michelle is able to isolate sections of the tape and recover the images, which turns out to be previously lost footage of Steven and Locus’s final broadcast in the woods. The more she deciphers, the closer she gets to revealing the true identity of the murderer.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

With the concept of a group of people in the woods, filming themselves, and the exploration of a local legend, you can see the parallels between this movie and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. And THE LAST BROADCAST is just as compelling. In fact, I found myself getting pretty engrossed in the story, wanting to know more as it went along. The acting here is all believable (and I wonder how many cast members were actually professional actors), and the central mystery is very compelling. I really liked the cast of this one, which includes a bunch of other “talking heads,” people who knew the film crew, including the psychologist who met with Jim Suerd as a child (Dale Worstall), a film editor for the prosecution in Suerd’s trial (Mark Rublee) and a director who was hired by the “Fact or Fiction” team, who formerly directed soap operas and who looks a lot like Phil Spector, named Sam Woods (Sam Wells). All of the “witnesses” who talk on camera are interesting and help move the story toward its creepy conclusion.

In a time when the Internet’s domination of us all wasn’t as profound, THE LAST BROADCAST is notable for having both the Internet and videotaped footage play major roles in the film. For the most part, the videotaped footage works very well.

My only complaint is that there’s a coda at the end of the film that feels tacked on. For the most part, the points of view in the film make sense, and are believable. The movie should have ended at a scene where two characters come “face to face” (if you see the movie, you’ll understand what I mean). But instead, there’s a last segment that suddenly breaks the rules of the “point of view” format that was used up to this point, and this final part almost ruined the movie for me. Almost. It’s not completely disastrous, but I found it unnecessary (and who is filming it?) In trying to creep the audience out, it goes a little too far to explain everything (instead of trusting the audience to “get it” at the scene where I think it should have ended).

LastBroadcast_secondcover

THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT might get all the credit for starting the “found footage” genre, but THE LAST BROADCAST, a film that isn’t as well known, clearly got there first. In a lot of ways (especially because of its amazing marketing campaign at the time), BLAIR WITCH is the more memorable movie, the one that influenced so many other filmmakers to follow in its footsteps, but THE LAST BROADCAST is just as effective, and deserves more credit than it gets.

Also, at several points, when the “Fact or Fiction” guys discussed tracking down the Jersey Devil, I kept wondering, “Why don’t they explain what the legend of the Jersey Devil is all about.” Well, this is not addressed in detail in the movie, but after the end credits, there is a short, related film that does just that – explaining the Jersey Devil myth pretty well.

I liked this movie a lot, and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the “found footage” genre.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares

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Me and Lil’ Stevie Survive the STORM OF THE CENTURY (1999)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, 90s horror, Demons, Magic, Me and Lil' Stevie, Peter Dudar Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE
Survive the
STORM OF THE CENTURY
(1999)

storm

(Interior-Night:  Establishing shot of a town hall-style meeting room, where the citizens of Little Tall Island have convened to both ride out a nasty Nor’easter blizzard and to decide what to do about the scary stranger that is holding the citizens hostage.  The crowd is buzzing with nervous tension as the clock on the overhead wall tick-tocks away.  The sound of a gavel banging on the podium at the front of the room makes everybody jump, and then a wave of silence fills the room as everybody turns to look at the man calling the meeting to order.  Camera pans to the podium where we see a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  (banging gavel on the podium) Oye, oye!  This meeting will come to order.

(An unruly woman in the crowd starts shouting.)

Sheri White:  Boo!  I just talked about this movie in my HORROR-MOM column.  Why don’tcha pick out something else to watch?

Peter:  Someone get her outta here!  Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another episode of our little column.  As you may or may not know, New England just got dumped on by a blizzard named Nemo; a collision of two storm fronts that left most of New England (and some of New York) buried under several feet of snow.  Pee Wee and I decided that maybe we should spend the storm chilling out and watching the Craig R. Baxley adaptation of the made-for-television screenplay by Stephen King and report back on it.

Lil’ Stevie:  I love ham-handed segues….hey, a portly gentlemen in the back has a question.

L.L. Soares: A “made-for-television screenplay” is called a teleplay, the last time I checked. And isn’t it true that this is a rare original teleplay by King, and is not based on a previous work?

Peter: Yes, Mr. Know-it-All. That is correct. Can I go back to what I was saying now? Or will there be more interruptions?

(The room falls silent)

Peter: Admittedly, Baxley is not a well-known director, but the guy has had his hand in the movie business for a lifetime, working as a stunt coordinator and then as a second-director and producer on an enormous number of made-for-television films and programs.  That said, I feel the urge to point out that watching this miniseries again after seeing it way back in 1999, I could almost find myself believing that Mick Garris had actually helmed the project.  It just has that feel to it.

Lil’ Stevie:  What…are you cursing it right out of the starting gate?

Peter:  Absolutely not!  This was not a bad film, and Garris HAS put out some great stuff.  I’m just talking stylistically.  Can we get started?

Lil’ Stevie:  Hang on a sec…(takes gavel and smashes Peter on the forehead with it).  Okay, we’re good!

Peter:  Ouch!  What was that for?

Lil’ Stevie:  Born in sin…Come on in!

Peter:  (Rubbing forehead) STORM OF THE CENTURY begins on Little Tall Island, a township of several hundred people on an island off the coast of Machias, Maine.  Fans of King will note that Little Tall Island is also the setting for his novel DOLORES CLAIBORNE (1992) and its respective film adaptation from 1995.  The film starts with a voiceover narrative from Michael Anderson (Tim Daly, television’s WINGS, 1990-97), Little Tall Island’s constable and local general store owner, who is about to tell his tale of horror and sorrow over the course of the three-part series.  “You pay as you go,” he tells us in his soliloquy about Island Life as we’re given a montage of lobstermen and boat skippers, all unloading their catches and mooring their vessels in preparation for the big storm.  We see other citizens in the process of hunkering down for the storm, all chatting away about what a doozy they’re in for as the ominous clouds roll in.  And this, of course, includes little old lady Martha Clarendon (Um…holy cow!  IMDB doesn’t have the actress’s name listed!).

Lil’ Stevie:  Hahahaha…she’s so old she forgot to write her name down for the credits!

Peter:  That’s terrible!  I had to Google her name, but the actress is (or was) Rita Tuckett (AGNES OF GOD, 1995).  Anyway, Martha’s parked in front of her television set watching the weather report when the doorbell rings.  She gets up and answers it, and then is quickly clubbed to death by a dark stranger for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Lil’ Stevie:  Hit her so hard her eyes popped out!  Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk.

(Peter snatches gavel and whacks Lil’ Stevie on the noggin, forcing his eyes to pop out and then comically spring back into place).

Peter:  Hey, that IS pretty funny.  The stranger then parks himself in the chair where Martha HAD been sitting and begins watching the news and grinning strangely to himself.  We jump across town to Anderson’s General Store where all the citizens on Little Tall are frantically making their last minute purchases before the storm.  Mike is waiting on people and making small talk with the citizens, basically to establish to us viewers that he is a swell guy and that we should like him.  And here we encounter one of my biggest difficulties with this film.

Lil’ Stevie:  I just knew you couldn’t get through this without bitching and complaining.  What’s your beef this time?

Peter:  You’ll notice that a lot of King’s characters, particularly in this movie, don’t just have that colorful Maine Yankee slate of colloquialisms, but they also feel a need to announce the character’s full name in conversation.  As in, “That’s a hell of a storm they’re predicting for us, huh, Mike Anderson?”  – “Sure is, Tess Marchant.  Do you need more sausage links?”  A lot of this has to do with the size and scope of the story, and the need to present an island full of people you want the viewer to care about over the next three nights.  But after a while it’s annoying and it doesn’t sound natural.  It strains the story for me.  And this story has so many characters in it that I can’t keep half of them sorted out anyway.  The important players in the story are all we need to know.  This movie could have a drinking game called, “Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?”  That line gets said over and over again!

Lil’ Stevie:  I’ll drink to that!  (Hoists a bottle of beer and drinks).

Peter:  To get on with the review, young Davey Hopewell (Adam Zolotin, ZEROPHELIA, 2005) is heading home, dribbling his basketball and imagining he’s the next NBA star.  He passes Mrs. Clarendon’s house and sees her walker on the front lawn and her door wide open, and…

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks again).

Peter:  …decides to investigate.  He sees the old woman dead on her hallway floor, hears the dark stranger speak to him, and then bolts off screaming bloody murder down the street.  He’s nearly run over by the town manager, Robby Beals (noted King character-actor Jeffrey DeMunn, THE GREEN MILE, 1999).  It’s obvious from the onset that Beals and Mike Anderson have some kind of pissing contest going on, mostly due to Robby’s overblown sense of self-importance.  Beals takes it upon himself to go to Martha’s house to investigate, and…

Lil’ Stevie:  Ish Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks AGAIN).  I love you, man!

Peter:  Will you cut it out?

Lil’ Stevie:  Born in vice?  Say it twice!

Peter:  Beals finds Martha’s body, and likewise encounters the dark stranger who tells him some terrible secrets about himself that a stranger isn’t supposed to know.  Robby bolts out like a coward and finally calls Constable Anderson on the CB.  The radio announcement goes off  in Anderson’s General Store, where half the populace is doing their shopping and can hear for themselves that Martha Clarendon is dead.  (Glances at Lil’ Stevie).

Lil’ Stevie:  Continue…

Peter:  You know you want to say it.

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?  (Drinks AGAIN).  Best. Game. EVER!

Peter:  Mike Anderson and deputy (and best buddy) Alton “Hatch” Hatcher (Casey Siemaszko, STAND BY ME, 1986) grab their guns and head on out to the old lady’s house, where we’re finally officially introduced to Andre Linoge (Colm Feore, THOR, 2011).  Linoge submits to arrest without incident, although we ARE given flashes of his morphing black eyes and mouthful of CGI fangs that never really look real (a Mick Garris staple if ever there was one).  He’s taken to a holding cell in the back of Anderson’s General Store, where he offers more humiliating insights into the sinful pasts of the town folk.  I find the concept of that to be terrifying, don’t you?  How would you react if strangers just showed up and started blurting out your worst secrets?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a celebrity, I get that all the time.

Peter:  You’re a puppet.  Nobody talks about you once the column is over and I drop you back in the corner of my office.  Let’s speed things up.  This is getting longer than I wanted it to be.  Linoge is kept in the cell for a good amount of time, where he uses his dark magic to manipulate the town folk into committing murder or killing themselves, each time leaving a death note reading, GIVE ME WHAT I WANT AND I’LL GO AWAY.  This happens for what feels like hours, where characters we really haven’t come to know (other than having their full names repeated over and over again) bite the dust, causing terror and chaos among the citizens.  The snowstorm worsens, and people are forced to abandon their homes for the storm shelter set up, conveniently, in the basement of the town hall.  Everyone is drawn together, with the exception of Mike, Hatch, Beals, and the other deputies who offer to help guard Linoge in the holding cell behind the General Store.  In truth, though, this is all very reminiscent of King’s novel, NEEDFUL THINGS (1991), where dark stranger Leland Gaunt arrives in Castle Rock and manipulates the residents into killing each other.

Lil’ Stevie:  I thought for sure you wouldn’t notice that…

Peter:  It’s a little familiar…just saying.  Linoge finally reveals himself for who he is; an ancient demon with long hair and strange vestment robes.  He escapes the holding cell in grand fashion, admonishing the guards once more to “Give me what I want and I’ll go away,” before slipping out into the blinding storm.  More chaos ensues between the town  folk as citizens ‘disappear’ without a trace, and then the eight children of the town suddenly begin acting strangely as they are manipulated by Linoge’s terrible magic cane.  Now, on this whole island, it seems very improbable that there are only eight children (each being the same age), and that none of these children seem to have siblings. How on earth can you justify THIS?

Lil’ Stevie:  Anderson’s store ran out of condoms during the STORM OF THE DECADE, which happened five years prior to the STORM OF THE CENTURY!  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?

A cryptic message

A cryptic message

Peter:  You’re impossible!  So, after the first two nights, we’re finally told what it is that Linoge ACTUALLY wants; he wants one of the children to take as his own child.  Thus begins the heart and the conflict of this story.  This is all one big morality play that almost mirrors the Grimm’s fairytale of Rumpelstilskin.  Linoge is actually a demon who…

Lil’ Stevie:  It’s pronounced “daemon.”

Peter:  Say what?

Lil’ Stevie:  My monster is a “daemon.”  It’s different than a demon.

Peter:  Fine!  Linoge is a “daemon” that wants a child to raise as his own, and teach all of his terrible “daemon-y” secrets to.  And if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’ll lay to waste the entire island, just as he had with the town of Roanoke, Virginia centuries earlier.  And here is where the storytelling behind this miniseries actually rises to what it is SUPPOSED to be…We’re given a microcosm of society that is cut off from the rest of the world, and how this microcosm becomes symbiotic in order to survive.  The people are mostly good, even if they do have their terrible little secrets, but the reality is that ALL of us have those terrible little secrets.  But how far are they willing to go to save themselves, versus how far will they go to stand up for what is right?  And in that battle for virtue, in that fight for GOOD, Mike Anderson is a lone voice.  And when it’s over, this will cost him everything.

Lil’ Stevie:  I couldn’t have said it better, Peter Dudar.

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

Peter:  Sadly, though, it took two whole episodes of ho-hum to get this captivating bit of drama. The first two episodes never quite capture the urgency we feel once the children are involved.  Linoge could have told us what he wanted way back in part one and saved us a lot of time.  I think it was a mistake to film this beast as a three-part series.  There are points in STORM where it feels like King is just throwing things in to fill time.  It’s frustrating.  Had this been written as a novel rather than as a screenplay, I think he could have done a better job with story arcs and building characters.  That’s where he shines in his writing.  I also think under more capable directing, it could have been paced better.  I think someone with more vision and experience might have been able to stand up to King and make appropriate adjustments rather than film the script exactly as it was written.  And that’s a shame, because this really could have been a killer with less filler.  We could have done with fewer primary characters as well, so we could focus on the important players rather than trying to keep tabs on the whole town.

Lil’ Stevie:  So, in other words, bigger ain’t always better.

Peter:  Precisely.  And I think it’s worth pointing out that we’re probably going to be seeing this same structuring problem when King’s miniseries of UNDER THE DOME airs later this year.  But we’ll jump off that pier when we get to it.

Lil’ Stevie: A prediction! You heard it here first, folks.

(Peter stares at Lil’ Stevie, who shrugs)

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?

Peter:  Enough already.  That’s getting really annoying.

Lil’ Stevie:  Give me what I want and I’ll go away.

Peter:  (Sighing) What do you want?

Lil’ Stevie:  (Grabbing the gavel and smashing Peter’s nose with it).  I want you to know just WHO is in charge of our little column.  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month!

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

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Me and Lil’ Stevie work the GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Animals Attack, Horror, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Rats, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , on January 30, 2013 by knifefighter

ME AND LIL’ STEVIE

Sweat It Out On The

GRAVEYARD SHIFT (1990)

Graveyard Shift

(Interior/Night)  Establishing shot of the basement of a textile mill, where a hundred years of old furniture, debris, and other miscellany have been carelessly scattered about, forsaken and forgotten.  In the dank dinginess of the basement, we can hear the drip, drip, drip of water, and the hair-raising squealing of rats as they scamper about in the dark.  Somewhere in the distance, in the blackened heart of the basement, we begin to hear the snarl of something monstrous and menacing, and the camera begins to zoom in, trying to find the source of the sound.  There’s a light up ahead, and in the light we see the silhouette of a figure hunting our unseen monster.  The figure turns toward the camera, and we see that it is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie:  Rats!

Peter:  Yeah, they’re everywhere.  Pretty creepy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  No, I meant “Rats, I just broke a fingernail!”

Peter:  (Sighing) Good evening, Constant Viewer.  Me and Lil’ Pansy, here, are going to be discussing Ralph S. Singleton’s 1990 adaptation of King’s GRAVEYARD SHIFT.  Now, this was Singleton’s film directorial debut, but he HAS worked extensively in the motion picture industry as a unit production manager and assistant director, so he does have some knowledge and credibility in the field.  Choosing to adapt a King story for filming seems like a logical choice in terms of career building and turning a quick buck.

Lil’ Stevie:  Nothing packs ‘em in like a good monster movie!

Peter:  Well, that remains to be seen.  The story itself was originally published in Cavalier magazine, and then republished in…you know, it seems like you published a lot of stories in spank magazines.  What’s up with that?

Lil’ Stevie:  You do what you have to do to keep food on the table, ya know?  Besides, GRAVEYARD SHIFT isn’t the most literary work I ever put out.  It’s pretty elementary.  It’s the classic “submarine story,” where the protagonist and antagonist are compressed into an escapeless microcosm together.  It’s also a nifty little campfire tale, inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s THE RATS IN THE WALLS (1923).

Peter:  Maybe, but screenwriter John Esposito (THE WALKING DEAD) deftly follows the trend of previous screenwriters by taking your elementary little story and expanding on it to fill 90 minutes of celluloid.  And based on previous films we’ve reviewed, that isn’t always a winning formula.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Rolling his eyes comically) Alas.  I hate it when they do that.  They always have to add a love story or a coming-of-age angle that muddies and detracts from the story’s original impact.  My original story was strictly protagonist, antagonist, and monster rats and bats.  There weren’t any female characters in it whatsoever!

Peter:  Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, okay?  The story begins inside this very building we’re standing in, just a few floors above us, where a hapless worker falls into a giant metal-toothed cotton separating machine after being bullied by a horde of rats.

Lil’ Stevie:  Didja notice the name of the mill?  It’s the Bachman Mill, named after my alter-ego.

Peter:  Quit interrupting!  Naturally, after the fiasco, there is a job vacancy to be filled.  Enter our protagonist, John Hall (David Andrews, HANNIBAL, 2001), a drifter who somehow has made his way up to Gates Falls, Maine after bumming around the country for a while.  Of course, the townies don’t really care too much for the new guy in town, and they don’t mind showing it as he shows up at the local café (just when their graveyard shift is ending) for a bite to eat.

Lil’ Stevie:  I really wanted to point something out here.  The town of Gates Falls, Maine is fictional, but it IS based on Lisbon Falls, Maine…the very town where WE live!  And right down the street from us is the Worumbo Mill, where I used to work when I was younger.  It’s where I got the idea for the story!

Peter:  You mean, where the REAL Stephen King used to work.  And that’s a huge bit of information to throw out there.  Got any proof?

Lil’ Stevie:  As a matter of fact, I do!  On page 23 of George Beahm’s biography, STEPHEN KING: America’s Best-Loved Boogeyman, it tells all about his experiences there during his high school years, and how he used to spend his downtime throwing cans at the rats that would watch him working.

Peter:  (Picking up the book and leafing through it) I’ll be darned.  It DOES say that.

Lil’ Stevie:  Why would I lie about ME?

Peter:  You’re NOT you.  Er…You know what I mean.  You’re just a puppet.  Anyway, Hall goes and talks to the foreman, Mr. Warwick (Stephen Macht, THE MONSTER SQUAD, 1987) about a job.  Warwick is obviously a sleazebag, with his anti-union bullying of the employees and “fishing off the company pier” with his secretary (Ilona Margolis, FLATLINERS, 1990).  Warwick has his hands full with the Bachman Mill, with goals and demands to meet from the mill owners, the misbehavior of the surly employees, and the growing rat problem.  Warwick has already employed an exterminator (Brad Dourif, CHILD’S PLAY, 1988) to flush out the varmints, a job that he seems to love and obsess over, but there’s just way too many for one man to deal with.

Lil’ Stevie:  Of course, there was no exterminator in my original story.

Peter:  Granted.  And Dourif’s character does seem a bit over-the-top.  He appears in several scenes where he goes off on his little soliloquies, but they seem contrived and unnecessary and do nothing to make his character remotely likeable.  As the story unfolds, and the Workplace Safety Inspector arrives at the mill threatening to close it down, Warwick HAS to do something to keep the mill operational.  So he pays off the inspector to come back in a few weeks, promising he’ll get the mill up to code and the basement cleaned out over the Fourth of July holiday.  More mysterious deaths ensue (led by the monstrous thing lurking in the basement), and when Warwick puts his cleanup team together, Hall and company have no idea what they’re in for.

Lil’ Stevie:  In the meantime, Hall starts getting a bit comfy with coworker Jane Wisconsky (Kelly Wolf, LESS THAN ZERO, 1987).  Jane regales him with her woe-is-me story about being a hometown girl stuck in her going-nowhere job after her divorce, and blah-blah-blah, yadda-yadda-yadda.  In my story, Wisconsky was a dude who whined a lot.  Why they turned her into a hot chick for the movie, I have no idea.

Peter:  Story building.  Plus, it adds the whole “date movie” element.

Lil’ Stevie:  Well, I don’t like it!  Nosiree Bob, this is supposed to be a horror story, not a cuddle-fest!

Peter:  Look at the size of that rat over there…

Lil’ Stevie:  (Gasping) Hold me close.  I’m scared!

Peter:  (Chuckling) You big sissy.  Well, Warwick manages to bribe some of the non-union workers into the cleanup detail with double pay.  Other workers get bullied into it.  And come evening of the Fourth of July, the crew meets at the mill and proceeds down into the basement to begin cleanup detail.  It goes smoothly at first, with most of the conflict shifting between pain-in-the-ass coworkers who get into a scuffle as debris is removed and the intruding horde of rats get blown away by a high-pressure fire hose.

Lil’ Stevie:  Again, most of these shenanigans never even happen in the story.  No love interests, no employee brawls, just workers who go down into the basement to clean it out.  But there IS one conflict that transitions from my story to the movie, and that’s the conflict that occurs between Hall and Warwick.  There is enormous mistrust between these two characters, stemming from a notion of right and just authority.  Warwick is clearly a villainous tool.  Hall counters this with a kind of stand-off of wills and wits, pushing his antagonist deeper down into the basement to find the source of the rats’ nest.

Peter:  That’s good stuff.  Back to our movie…The cleanup crew does proceed deeper into the basement, and when the nimrod with the fire hose accidentally blasts debris off a trap door, they discover a sub-basement that leads them down deeper into the darkness, into a world that seems almost ancient and long abandoned.  And here we feel that sense of Lovecraft’s ghost playing in.  By this point of the film, we’ve already been introduced to the weird giant bat that has been roosting in the bowels of the mill (and feasting on hapless victims), and here is its domain.

Lil’ Stevie:  In my story, we don’t meet the monster until we get to its lair.  What I DO treat the Constant Reader to is rats the size of puppies and mutant bats, which are plenty disturbing if you ask my opinion.

Peter:  The conflict between Hall and Warwick escalates the further they go into this sub-basement.  One of the hired hands will fall through the floor into ANOTHER sub-basement where the river flows.  Other workers are attacked and killed by the monster bat.  And ultimately, Warwick will turn on Hall and Wisconsky in order to try and save himself.  I don’t want to give too much more of what happens away, in case you were planning on seeing the movie, but I can tell you this much, the monster bat is cool as hell to look at.  He’s a show-stealer!

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a scene stealer.

The monster bat in GRAVEYARD SHIFT is a show stealer.

Lil’ Stevie:  (Sighing) And, of course, the ending is NOTHING like the ending of my story.  My tale is a dread-inducing denouement that puts this ending to shame.

Peter:  I think that’s a matter of opinion.  This ending works for the treatment they rewrote in the screenplay.  Overall, though, this movie is a bit of a throwaway.  In more capable hands, this could have been infinitely more unsettling than just a “date-movie” horror flick.  From the starting gate, I disliked Dourif’s exterminator character immensely, I found Macht’s Mainer accent to be absolutely ridiculous (for a much better Maine accent, see Fred Gwynne’s Jud Crandall in PET SEMETERY, 1989), and most of the other characters involved seemed cartoonish and stereotypical.  But giving Singleton his due, the scenery is authentic (it was filmed in Harmony, Maine), and the mill with its labyrinth of tunnels and caverns is brilliantly designed and filmed.

Lil’ Stevie:  And rats are always creepy.  Especially in big hordes like in this film.

Peter:  Agreed.  The monster-bat is just gorgeous.  As a fan of horror, I would die to have this thing perched outside my house on Halloween night.  It reminded me of the monster from ALIEN (1979), and had that “submarine-movie” concept you brought up earlier.  The horror of this tale doesn’t happen in OUR world as much as it does in the world of the Monster-Bat, in the labyrinth under the mill.  And sadly, that horror is muddied by supplying the film with characters we care very little about.  Aboard the Nostromo, we see a crew that is fairly unified and happen to need and rely upon each other.  In the Bachman Mill, we see a group of macho idiots who  hardly get along, and almost deserve it whenever one of them bites the dust.  Which group would YOU be rooting for?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d be rooting for the RATS!

Peter:  This story would have been much better suited for adaptation as a segment for CREEPSHOW.   The King short story has the same ambiance as the old E.C. Comics stories.  That would have been a much better vehicle to capture the same dread and creepiness.  I’d have loved to see how Romero would have treated this one.

Lil’ Stevie:  He’d have turned the victims into zombies.  You’d have hated it.

Peter:  RATFOODSAYSWHAT!

Lil’ Stevie:  What?

(Peter tosses Lil’ Stevie onto the ground and a horde of rats race over to begin feasting on him.)

Lil’ Stevie:  Arrrgghhh!  I’ll get you for this!

Peter:  (Laughing) Be sure and let me know when you get passed!  Goodbye, folks.  See you next month.

-THE END-

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

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