Archive for the 2009 Category

THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO!

Posted in 2009, Animated Films, LL Soares Reviews, Wrestlers with tags , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2010 by knifefighter

DVD REVIEW: THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO (2009)
by L.L. Soares

THE HAUNTED WORLD OF EL SUPERBEASTO (2009) had a long journey to DVD, reminding me a bit of the troubles Rob Zombie had with his first live-action movie, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003). That movie was rejected by its original studio, and almost did not make it to theaters. But eventually things worked out and the movie launched his directing career.

EL SUPERBEASTO, Rob Zombie’s first full-length cartoon, is another project that has been getting buzz for years, but seemed like it was never going to get released.  It’s available on DVD now. Where I am, it got one midnight showing in a small theater before the DVD came out. Similar one-night showings happened in other cities. That was the extent of its theatrical run.

So, after years of anticipation, I finally had a chance to see the finished product. Does it live up to the hype? Not really.

EL SUPERBEASTO isn’t completely horrible. It is what it is. A silly, “adult” cartoon (i.e. lots of boobs and butts)  in the spirit of movies like Ralph Baski’s FRITZ THE CAT (1972). It’s entertaining enough, but nothing all that special, and definitely not the ground-breaking cartoon that a lot of people were hoping for.

Based on the comic book of the same name, EL SUPERBEASTO is the story of a world famous masked wrestler named El Superbeasto (voice by comedian Tom Papa), who has become a kind of multi-media mogul all by himself. He makes porno films, he does commercials, he’s supposedly loved by millions. He’s also a crime fighter, with his sidekick, the sexy Suzie X (Sherie Moon Zombie, who has the sex kitten persona down pat). The joke is that Suzie does all of the actual fighting, and El Superbeasto finds ways to avoid getting his hands dirty. Suzie also has a sidekick of her own – her robot Murray (Brian Poesin), who is kind of a “transformer,” since he can turn into a car, a rocket, etc. He also has a mad crush on his creator.

The villain of the piece is the bitter Dr. Satan (Paul Giamatti), who grew up a nerd who had a crush on Suzie back when she was a high school cheerleader and El Superbeasto was her jock/bully stepbrother. Of course, El Superbeasto was the kid who gave Dr. Satan wedgies, so he became a supervillain to get revenge. Dr. Satan has a gorilla sidekick, Max, who has a “smart screw” screwed into his head and gives him the vocabulary and manner of a high-class butler.

The plot, as it is, involves the mark of the beast (for those of you who forgot, that’s “666”) which, as a birthmark on the backside of one lucky lady, marks her as the future bride of Satan. Dr. Satan that is. If he finds this girl and marries her at the stroke of midnight on the day when all of the planets are aligned, he will become a gigantic demonic monster capable of destroying the world.

The mark happens to be on the butt of stripper Velvet Von Black, a trashy beeyotch who is nothing but trouble. Dr. Satan has Max kidnap her, and his plan goes into action. El Superbeasto and Suzie X have to stop him. There are also zombie Nazis complicating things (when we first see Suzie, she’s stealing the disembodied head of Der Fuhrer and the zombies want it back).

There are some laugh-out loud moments, but for the most part, the jokes are just so-so. The characters are interesting enough, but this is by no means a great movie. If you’re a diehard Rob Zombie, it’s worth seeing, but it’s definitely a rental.

Comedian Tom Papa (who actually had a great, short-lived network sitcom a few years back that wasn’t given a proper chance) is a really funny guy, and does a good job as El Superbeasto. In fact, all of the voice actors are terrific. It’s the script that’s rather weak. I just wish it was more wild and wooly than it is.

© Copyright 2009 by  L.L. Soares

In the Spooklight: GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO

Posted in 2009, Aliens, Giant Monsters, Godzilla, In the Spooklight with tags , , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by knifefighter

Since my fellow CINEMA KNIFE FIGHTER L.L. Soares and I will be reviewing SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD this weekend, my mind has wandered to movie battles I’d rather be seeing. I’ve chosen this column from 2009 for that reason, so here’s my “In the Spooklight” column on GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1966), featuring everyone’s favorite kick-ass giant monster, Godzilla, kicking more giant monster butt.  Enjoy the destruction!

—Michael Arruda, 8/13/2010

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO
by Michael Arruda

He’s the biggest, baddest monster on the planet.  Yet, just how seriously can we take Godzilla?  And how seriously can we take a film with the title:  GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1966)?

These days, we can take Godzilla very seriously.  For the last 20 years, the Godzilla movies have become increasingly more adult.  But, alas, this wasn’t always the case.

In the 1960s and 70s, Godzilla was reduced to a friendly super monster, battling “bad” monsters and saving the human race from all sorts of evils time and time again.  Many of these movies were downright silly, including today’s “In the Spooklight” feature, GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (also known as MONSTER ZERO).

Can such a movie be anything more than fun for the kiddies on a rainy Saturday?

Let’s find out.

In GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, beings from another planet seek Earth’s assistance in defeating the evil monster King Ghidrah.  The aliens request that we give them the monsters Godzilla and Rodan to help them destroy Ghidrah.

But these aliens wear funny dark goggles and never smile, sure signs that they shouldn’t be trusted, and they soon turn all three monsters against humankind.  Not to worry, the resourceful humans find a way to break the aliens’ hold on Godzilla and Rodan, setting the stage for a climactic battle between these monsters and Ghidrah.

GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO is one of the few Godzilla movies in the series to include an American actor, Nick Adams, whose scenes weren’t inserted later, a la Raymond Burr in the American release of the original GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1954).  Nick Adams was actually in Japan and actually appeared in the Japanese version as well.  Adams also starred in the Japanese Frankenstein film, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD (1965).  Adams is quite entertaining here as the token American tough guy.  Tragically, Adams died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in 1968 at the age of 36.  He was a fine actor who appeared in several genre films, including the Boris Karloff movie DIE MONSTER DIE! (1965).

The special effects in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO are OK.  There’s been better in the series, and there’s been worse.

It’s also directed by the man who directed the original GODZILLA movie, Ishiro Honda.

But what about Godzilla?  How does the “big guy” fare in this flick?  Well, for starters, he could have used more screen time.  More Godzilla and fewer aliens would have been a good idea.  His fight scenes are entertaining enough, as he gets to share the “good guy” role here with flying buddy Rodan.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO is one silly movie.  So, why in the world would you watch this movie?  Why would I watch it?  Why did I watch it?  And heck— why am I writing about it?

Because Godzilla is a gigantic part of horror movie lore.  If you’re into horror movies, you just can’t ignore Godzilla, or at least you shouldn’t.

Plus, there’s no denying that there’s something fun about watching Godzilla kick some bad monster’s butt.  And hey, you’ve got to dig those mini toy tanks that teeter along those miniature roads in those miniature cities!

So, how seriously can we take Godzilla?  Well, in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO, about as seriously as we take Scooby Doo and Shaggy throwing cheeseburgers with the works at some masked phantom.

But that’s okay.  Sometimes you have to kick back and be a kid again.

So grab yourself an ice cream soda and some candy and indulge in the battle for giant monster supremacy in GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO.

—END—

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda


THIRST (2009)

Posted in 2009, Asian Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Vampire Movies with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2010 by knifefighter

MINI-REVIEW OF “THIRST” (2009)
by L.L. Soares

THIRST is the new movie by Park Chan-wook, the director who gave us some recent classics like OLDBOY (2003) and SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE (2002). He can be a top-notch filmmaker, so when I heard he had made a vampire movie, I was eager to see it. The movie, THIRST, is an uneven affair that involves self-sacrificing priest Father Sang -hyeon (Kang-ho Song) who allows himself to be a guinea pig for a vaccine for the Ebola Virus. Out of 500 subjects, he is the only volunteer who survives the ordeal and is instantly a celebrity of sorts (his “followers” see him as a healing priest).Sang-hyeon goes back to his priestly duties, expecting his life to go back to the way it was, but it’s not that easy. It turns out the reason he survived the testing was because he got a transfusion of vampire’s blood  (something that is never explained), and he thus turns into a bloodsucker himself. The symptoms of the virus return to ravage his body, and the only way he can cure himself is through regular quantities of blood. He begins by taking small amounts from coma victims, but is clearly having a moral dilemma with all this.

The vampire blood also brings out his suppressed passions, which include his overwhelming lust for Tae-ju (Ok-bin Kim), the wife of a patient he supposedly “cured” of cancer by prayer. While visiting the man at home, he becomes obsessed with Tae-ju and eventually gives in to his desires, which results in her becoming a vampire as well.

THIRST is a little slow in the first half, and I wasn’t a big fan of the priest character. But once Tae-ju becomes a vampire, the movie shifts into high gear. All her life she has been treated like a dog – ever since she was left with another family when her own abandoned her at the age of 3. With her newfound powers, she no longer has to grovel through life and really takes joy in her ability to decide between life and death for her victims. Lacking the moral conscience that torments Father Sang-hyeon, she is able to fully enjoy her new “life.”

Whatever problems I have with the movie disappear once Tae-ju becomes a vampire. She  is a revelation and the main reason to see this movie. She is so good in THIRST that it’s one of my favorite performances of 2009. So, despite its flaws, I liked it more than enough to recommend it.

© Copyright 2009 by  L.L. Soares

PANDORUM

Posted in 2009, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Science Fiction with tags , , , , on March 29, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT – PANDORUM (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

FADE IN.

(THE SCENE: a vast spaceship. Thousands of humans are in metallic coffin-like pods, in suspended animation. For the most part, the huge craft is silent and deserted. MICHAEL ARRUDA wakes, gasping, as his pod opens)

MA (gasping for breaths): What the hell? Where am I? Where is everybody else?

(L.L. SOARES enters the room, eating a giant meatball sandwich)

LS: I’m here. It’s about time you woke up!

MA: Who am I? Where are we? And where can I get one of those sandwiches?

LS: You don’t have time to eat. We’ve got a movie to review. (Takes a bite) Which is too bad. This sandwich sure is good.

MA: A movie? I feel disoriented. What a headache! I feel like I’ve been sleeping in deep space hibernation for years! (Belches).

LS: How many beers did you drink last night?

MA: Just a couple.

LS: Yeah, right. Are you ready for the review or what?

MA: Sure. Let me just get my wits about me. Why don’t you start?

LS: Yeah, yeah. This week our movie is PANDORUM from 2009. Somehow, we missed this one when it was released in theaters, but it’s come back on Comcast OnDemand (and DVD) to get the CKF treatment anyway.

It’s basically the story of a spaceship, called the Elysium, sent into space by a dying earth. Our planet is overpopulated and at the verge of destruction.  The Elysium is the last chance for human kind as it surges toward the earth-like planet Tanis, in another galaxy, to give mankind its big second chance.

When ship’s engineer Bower (Ben Foster) wakes, he finds himself strangely alone in the recovery bay. Other pods stand silent around him, and there’s no sign of the previous shift of workers who he’s supposed to be replacing. It’s as if the ship computer just awakened him randomly. He doesn’t remember who he is, or where he is, at first, but it slowly dawns on him. He’s not sure what has happened, but it’s clear something is wrong.

Soon after, his superior officer, Lt. Payton (Dennis Quaid) is also revived, and has many of the same questions. They’re supposed to be revived in shifts during the long, intergalactic journey, but the men see no sign of previous activity on the craft. There’s also a power outage in some parts of the ship (although the sleepers seem to be unharmed by this).

MA (returns): I thought these early scenes were very creepy and enjoyable. There was a deep sense of mystery pervading them.

LS: Determined to find out what has happened, Bower and Payton try to find a way out of the recovery bay (with the power outage, the doors won’t work, and Bower has to squirm through a ventilation duct and out into the body of the ship), to find out what the problem is.

While exploring the ship, Bower finds lots of strange sights, including two humans who have reverted back to an almost animalistic/savage state, Nadia and Manh (Antje Traue and Cung Le), and strange, violent creatures who have become predators aboard the ship, hunting down human prey. Are they aliens, or have some of the sleeping human somehow mutated into these horrific things?

MA: The creatures reminded me of souped- up Nosferatus. Bat people from hell! Not that they were vampires, but they looked like NOSFERATU was their great, great, great, great granddaddy!

LS: They reminded me of the monsters from the spelunking horror film THE DESCENT (2005), except they wear body armor and wield spears. But they move and look a bit like THE DESCENT’s cave creatures. They’re cool monsters and work well enough as the major threat in this movie.

MA: I didn’t find them so cool, but more on that later.

(Cannibalistic CREATURE is suddenly breathing menacingly over MA’s shoulder.).

MA: On the other hand, the cannibalistic creatures had their moments.

(CREATURE growls, dripping drool)

LS: I don’t think you’re off the hook yet.

MA: Um, Nosferatu is a famous horror movie icon, and you reminded me of him. How’s that?

(CREATURE nods, pats MA on head, and exits).

LS: Meanwhile, Payton, still trapped in the room he woke up in, eventually finds another human in the ventilation duct named Gallo (Cam Gigandet), the lone survivor from the previous shift of security officers, who has some disturbing secrets of his own.

That sets up the storyline. From there, it’s just a matter of gradually finding out what is going on, and how to save the last hope of mankind from cannibalistic monsters.

MA: I thought the story was very good. There were actually several things going on at the same time that kept the story fresh. It wasn’t just about the strange, violent creatures on board. It was also about the characters fighting to remember what they were doing on that ship and what their mission was, as well as the issue of pandorum, or space madness, that sets in for people on long deep space missions.

LS: Hey, I was getting to that! Some people traveling long distances in spaceships just seem to go insane over time. Not everyone, but like a lot of other illnesses, it’s unpredictable where and when it will strike, which just adds another layer of tension to the proceedings. Which characters are struggling to stay alive, and which are losing their minds due to PANDORUMMMMMMM?

(The word “PANDORUM” echoes throughout the spaceship)

LS: Hey, that’s cool!

There’s definitely an ALIEN (1979) vibe going on here. Like that film, we have a handful of humans going up against strange, murderous creatures in the body of a huge spaceship. But this movie, while interesting and well-acted, is nowhere near the same league as Ridley Scott’s classic.

MA: No, it’s not. Visually, it’s nowhere near as impressive as ALIEN, and the creatures themselves are nowhere near as memorable as the acid-bleeding Alien.

LS: True enough. Ben Foster, as Bower, turns in a good performance. He’s a young actor who has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and this movie is more proof that he’s more than capable of handling a lead role. I still think he looks a lot like Screech from SAVED BY THE BELL, but despite that, he’s got good acting chops and his career will just continue to grow. He got a lot of recognition recently for his role in the more “mainstream” film THE MESSENGER (about soldiers whose job it is to tell families their loved ones have died in war), but he has had previous genre roles like the crazy prisoner in the jail cell in 30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) and The Angel in X-MEN 3: THE LAST STAND (2006).

MA: And don’t forget my favorite performance turned in so far by Foster, the crazed gun-slinging villain in the Russell Crowe/Christian Bale western, 3:10 TO YUMA (2007).

LS: Another good one! Dennis Quaid is good as Lt. Payton as well, although he’s played a lot of similar crusty superior officer-type characters before. It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch for him. But he sure has been in a lot of genre movies lately (most recently, LEGION, which we reviewed in January). He can be relied upon to put in a decent acting job, but he never really seems to hit the ball out of the park. Maybe because many of his characters are so much alike.

MA: I would agree with that assessment.  I actually liked Quaid better in LEGION, which I thought contained one of his best performances in a while. He was really good in that one.

LS: Relative newscomers Cung Le and Antje Traue (who are Vietnamese and German, respectively) are good in their roles, and the fact that English is their second language probably adds to the feeling of distance/confusion their characters exude so well. We also saw Cam Gigandet in some recent genre fair like THE UNBORN (2009) and TWILIGHT (2008).

(A blood-curdling horrifying shriek rings out).

MA: Shh! Don’t say that word so loud.

LS: What? Twilight?

(Another bone-chilling scream.)

MA: You know what that word does to our audience.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, that was YOU doing all the screaming.

MA: What can I say? The contagion is growing. And to think, the third installment of that series is on its way to theaters later this year.

(More screaming.)

MA: That time it was YOU.

LS: Okay, okay.

MA: Anyway, back to PANDORUM. I was less impressed by these supporting actors. I thought they were just okay and didn’t do anything to make their characters all that memorable.

LS: There’s also an interesting turn by Eddie Rause as Leland, a loner survivor who is locked away in his own part of the ship, and who perhaps has gone a little mad, being alone for so long with those creatures outside, trying to get in. He reminded me of an emaciated Benecio del Toro, and he’s an interesting addition to the mix.

MA: He didn’t do much for me either. While I thought Foster and Quaid were fine, the rest of the cast didn’t wow me.

LS: Like I said, I thought Rause’s character was interesting. But yeah, he didn’t knock my socks off or anything. And yeah, I’d probably say the same for Le and Traue. Nobody gives an awful performance that ruins the movie, at least.

Overall, I liked PANDORUM. It was better than I was expecting, and the acting was good. I found it pleasant enough for a movie I ordered on cable, but I’m glad I didn’t pay the price of a ticket to see it in a theater.

MA: I was definitely on the fence with PANDORUM, and I went back and forth as to how I felt about it.

I thought the story was excellent.  I liked it from start to finish. I thought the opening with Bower and Payton waking from their deep slumber with little or no memory, confused, disoriented, and finding themselves in a dark, barely functioning spaceship, which is a behemoth of a ship by the way, was creepy and a very compelling way to get the audience interested in the story within the film’s first few minutes.

LS: The ship wasn’t anything new. We’ve seen this kind of scenario before. But yeah, it works well enough here.

MA: I also liked the idea that they knew their full memories would return later, but that it would take a while, which opened the door for gradual revelations throughout the movie. Again, this was a good plot device. It helped move the story along.

The fact that Bower and Payton are separated from each other almost immediately adds to the suspense. Right off the bat, you’ve got just two characters on board this crippled mammoth ship, and then within minutes, they’re separated from each other, so now they don’t even have each other to rely on. You’ve got two solo characters dealing with their own fears alone, only able to communicate with each other through electronic means. I thought this also was very effective.

Now, the strange violent creatures on board the ship that Bower discovers, at first, I found scary and cool, but it was the case where the more I saw of these things, the less I liked them. And that really is the problem with PANDORUM, and a huge reason why it doesn’t measure up to a movie like ALIEN. The visuals and the special effects to me were fair at best, and were nowhere near as well done as the story itself.

I thought the creatures, once you got a good look at them, were rather fake-looking, and not all that impressive.

LS: I didn’t think they were that bad, for the most part. Y’know, I actually thought the child monsters were scarier than the adults. They looked weirder.

MA: I don’t know.  The child monsters reminded me of those pictures of “Bat Boy” which show up every few years or so on the cover of supermarket tabloids.  You know, the kid with the oversized bald head and big bat ears, under the headline “Half boy, half bat, all monstrous!”

LS: That’s not just any supermarket tabloid. That’s from THE WEEKLY WORLD NEWS, the King of Tabloids.

MA: There were also lots of dark scenes that I found difficult to see. I would imagine that these scenes would have looked better on the big screen, but in my living room on DVD, they were dark, which made many of the action sequences hard to see.

LS: Yeah, I’ll agree with that. Usually, this kind of thing is done when someone doesn’t have the budget to do special effects as well as they’d like to. The darkness hides the shortcomings. I’m sure that was the intention here.

MA: But I really liked the story, and I think screenwriter Travis Milloy should be commended for writing an intricate and compelling screenplay. I’d give lower marks to director Christian Alvart. While the visual aspects of PANDORUM are okay, they didn’t impress me all that much. I thought the special effects and the visuals, like the ship itself, were fake-looking and reminded me of the Sci Fi Channel’s Movie of the Week.

LS: The visuals and effects aren’t groundbreaking, but they work for the story. I think you’re exaggerating a bit to compare this to Sci-Fi Channel movie. It’s not THAT bad. Besides, it’s called the SyFy Channel now.

MA: You would have to point that out.  SyFy.  It looks like somebody texting SuperFly.  SyFy instead of Sci-Fi is like the New Coke.  Remember that?  Nobody does, because it wasn’t good!  Here’s hoping Sci-Fi returns one day.

LS: Here’s hoping their movies get better.

MA: So while the story is excellent, in that it presents a very compelling mystery, it’s the technical aspects that hurt PANDORUMMMMMMMMM.

(The word PANDORUM echoes throughout the ship again)

LS: I still say that’s cool.

MA: In a nutshell, PANDORUM is an intriguing story hampered by so-so production values. You certainly could do a lot worse, but a movie with a good story like this, had it had better special effects and a set of threatening creatures that looked more authentic, it could have been a really good movie. As it stands now, it’s only okay.

But overall, I’d have to say I liked PANDORUM, and for me, what finally sold me on this movie was that I liked its ending. I thought the ending had a sense of wonder and awe that’s needed in a science fiction thriller like this.   So often, the ending of the movie is a major disappointment for me. Not so with PANDORUM, and as a result, it won me over.   Was the ending groundbreaking?  Was it amazing?  Certainly not, but it was solid, and it didn’t screw up all that came before it.

LS: It was okay. It worked. I’ve seen a lot worse movies.

MA: So, I’m going to recommend PANDORUM, but just barely. While visually it’s not all that exciting, I liked its story enough to overlook this flaw.

LS: I can live with that. It’s an entertaining movie, but nothing spectacular. I think you liked the movie more than I did, in some ways. But I think I liked the monsters more than you.

MA: There you have it. Okay, we’re done with the review. Can I have one of those meatball sandwiches now? I feel like I’ve been asleep for decades.

LS: Sorry, this was the last one. There’s no more food.

(CREATURES chuckle in the background)

CREATURE:  That’s what you think!

MA:  Um, are you referring to us?

(A bunch of CREATURES emerge from the darkness, drooling and licking their lips)

MA:  I think it’s time we say so long and get out of here quick.

LS (Finishing last bite of sandwich):  I hate to eat and run, but if we don’t (points to creatures) they will.  Until next time, folks.

(MA and LS flee with CANNIBALISTIC CREATURES in pursuit)

FADE OUT.

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

SORORITY ROW (2009)

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Remakes, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , , , on March 8, 2010 by knifefighter

(NOTE: The DVD for SORORITY ROW came out recently (on February 23rd) and it is also currently available on OnDemand on cable television)

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SORORITY ROW (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares


FADE IN

(THE SCENE: a wild party on graduation day on campus. As we can tell from the symbols outside the big, old house, it’s the Theta Pi Sorority House. College girls gyrate to the music, covered in soap bubbles – someone put bubble bath in the Jacuzzi again – while frat boys chug beer that’s poured down big rubber funnels into their mouths. Loud dance music permeates everything. L.L. SOARES puts the funnel in his mouth and kids pour beer into it.)

COLLEGE KIDS: Chug! Chug! Chug!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA pushes through the crowd and makes it to them. He taps LS on the shoulder)

LS (Stops chugging): What is it?

MA (Shouts): I don’t know what you’re doing, but we’ve got a movie to review.

LS: I was enjoying myself. This is a party, isn’t it?

MA: C’mon, you’re not a kid anymore!

LS: Damn (to kids) Sorry, but I’ve got to go.

(COLLEGE KIDS hiss and boo.)

(MA and LS go down the hall to the big, stainless steel kitchen area. They are alone, and it’s fairly quiet here. You can just faintly hear the percussion of the party music.)

LS: Gee, thanks a lot for making me look like a wimp back there. I could have out-chugged all of them.

MA: Yeah, yeah. You can drink beer anytime. How about our review of SORORITY ROW?

LS: Okay, okay, keep your shirt on.

The 2009 movie SORORITY ROW is yet another slasher movie remake. This time, it’s a do-over of the 1983 movie HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, written and directed by Mark Rosman. I hadn’t seen the original film before, so I checked it out the night before I watched the new movie.

For those who never saw it, HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW is the story of a group of seniors, sorority girls, who are having one last big house party after graduation. The night before, they decide to play a prank on their domineering house mother, Mrs. Slater (Lois Kelso Hunt), involving a gun. When the prank turns deadly, the girls have to get rid of Mrs. Slater’s body, stashing it in a filthy pool no one uses. The following night, when they have their big party at the house, a mysterious killer begins knocking the girls off, one by one. Is it Mrs. Slater, come back from the dead for revenge, or is it something even stranger?

I have to admit, I found this movie to be a little dopey. The gun prank was a very extreme and unfunny joke to begin with, and seemed guaranteed to end badly. Then, when the girls realize they are being stalked, they handle it in such a stupid fashion, they’re practically begging to be killed. However, the strange ending was a little creepy (if cliché, after movies like HALLOWEEN and FRIDAY THE 13th (1980))  and almost redeemed it in a way. All in all, a minor league addition to the 80s slasher craze, but not without a few good moments.

MA: We’re reviewing the new movie.

LS: I know, but I’m comparing the two of them. So we’re giving the people two reviews for the price of one. What was I saying? Oh, in comparison, the remake, now just called SORORITY ROW, makes the original look downright terrific.

This time we’re treated to a totally different, but equally stupid prank. When one of the sorority girls’ boyfriends cheats on her, the girl, Megan (Audrina Partridge) plans a prank with her sorority sisters to get revenge, by making her boyfriend think he accidentally killed her. While trying to find a way to get rid of the body (the sorority girls pretend to try to help the guy out), things get ugly and Megan is murdered for real. Terrified that this will ruin their future lives (I mean, they just graduated after all!), the girls hide the body in a mine shaft and swear each other to secrecy.

MA:  I’m glad you used the word stupid here to describe the prank. The word was practically flashing in big red bold letters on my television screen!  I had less of an issue with the actual prank than with the events which follow as soon as the prank goes awry.

Still, the prank itself was none too smart. You could see what was going to go wrong from a mile away. Talk about not thinking things through, to allow what happened to happen.  Let’s leave our friend who’s pretending to be dead alone and helpless. You’d think someone would have stayed by her side.

LS:  But then, there wouldn’t be a movie.

The problem is, they stretch the prank out way too long. They should have said “gotcha!” way before they do.

MA: Then, afterwards, I don’t believe that not one of these people calls the police. I didn’t buy the whole “sworn to secrecy” bit of the sorority sisters. For such a scene to work, for people to decide to just toss the body into a mine shaft, you have to have more realistic characters, and not the cliché ones we have here.

LS: And how weird was it that the guy they were playing the prank on was one of the other sorority girl’s brother?! And still she goes along with “teaching him a lesson.”

MA: Nice sister!  Jeesh!  I can believe that people make stupid moves. We’ve all done it. But this is not a Coen brothers movie like BLOOD SIMPLE (1984), where realistic characters make realistic bone- headed moves, and you feel their pain as they get sucked along down the inevitable road to doom. Here, things are cliché and just plain stupid.

LS: I love BLOOD SIMPLE, but it’s way too good to be mentioned in this review.

MA: The girls talk about not ruining their future, and sure, if you’re convicted of murder, your future’s not too promising!  But isn’t it just as risky to try to make someone disappear?  To just hide a body and hope no one finds it?  Granted, they could come to the conclusion that hiding the body is the way to go, but the scene as performed and as written doesn’t satisfy.

LS: Hiding the body is an immediate, short-term solution to the problem. Nobody thinks things through here. But the real problem with this whole scene – that sets the entire tone for the rest of the movie – is that no one seems all that upset that they just were involved in the murder of one of their best friends. All they care about is how it affects them. That’s why this scene stinks. Didn’t anyone genuinely care about Megan at all? The girls are as superficial as this entire movie is.

MA:  And had they been realistic characters, I wouldn’t have minded as much. I would have said, this is a story about selfishness, about characters who only care for themselves, and what happens to these characters later. Unfortunately, what happens to them later makes no sense.

LS:  I’m getting to that part. The movie then skips to eight months later. It’s Graduation Day and they have a big final party at their sorority house to host. Then, someone starts killing them.

You know the drill.

The killer uses a kind of modified tire iron with blades, which is fitting because Megan was originally killed with a tire iron. So we’re kept guessing. Is it Megan back from the dead? Or is it someone else with an axe to grind.

MA: Bad pun. (College coeds jump up and down in background with their thumbs pointing down.)

COEDS:  Boooooo!

MA:  We’re actually getting booed.

LS:  They’re just sore because I can drink them under the table.

The sad thing is, there’s a lot that’s bad with SORORITY ROW. Starting off with that elaborate prank which goes on for too long and seems incredibly dumb. As they whip the boyfriend into a panic over what’s happened, they’re just asking for trouble, and they get it. Strangely, it seemed even stupider than the dumb prank the girls played on Mrs. Slater in the original movie.

Overall, the acting wasn’t that bad.

MA:  But it wasn’t that good either.

LS:  You’ve got all the archetypes, though, from the bitchy sorority president , Jessica (Leah Pipes), who is planning to marry the son of a senator, to the wimpy one, Ellie (Rumer Willis – the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore), who just whines all the time, to the slutty one, Chugs (Margo Harshman) who seems to have sex with anything that moves, to the tough, heroic one, Cassidy (Briana Evigan), who leaves the sorority right after the Megan incident, and who has come back for the final party, more out of obligation than anything else. The rest of their group is rather forgettable.

While the acting wasn’t horrible, for the most part, the script was pretty lame, and when these characters have decisions to make, you can bet they almost always make the stupidest choice.

I actually had a big problem with the fact that Chugs was the first of the girls to die, mainly because I thought she was the most interesting character.

MA:  I would agree with you there.

LS:  There’s also a house mother in this one as well. This time it’s Carrie Fisher as Mrs. Krenshaw, who turns out to be tough as nails and wielding a shotgun when she needs to be. This is a sad, sad point in the career of the woman who used to be Princess Leia, though.

MA:  Very sad.

LS: I never thought she was much of an actress to begin with. She actually belongs in a movie like this.

MA: Still, I have to admit, if there was one scene at all that I actually enjoyed in this movie, it was the sequence when Fisher goes around with the shot gun in search of the killer. It was the one sequence that actually had an edge to it. Though truth be told, it didn’t blow me away.

(Door opens and CARRIE FISHER enters the room, dressed as Princess Leia and wielding a shotgun)

FISHER: Who said I wasn’t much of an actress?

(LS and MA point to each other)

FISHER: Damn you! You don’t want to mess with me!

(She fires and shatters the chandelier above their heads. Two men dressed as Storm troopers rush in and take her away)

MA: That was interesting.

LS:  The absolute worst part of the movie, however, is its long, drawn-out ending.

MA:  I thought the worst part was the lame idiotic Friday-the-13th style murders. Ho-hum.

LS:  Not only are there red herrings galore, but the real killer’s identity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and is a complete letdown. As the end credits rolled, I just found myself thinking that I just sat through 90 minutes of worthless celluloid.

MA:  That is true. The identity of the killer makes no sense at all. It was as if screenwriters Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger—.

(The lights dim, a wall moves aside, and suddenly a night club band with a sexy lady in a tight dress appear on a revolving stage, the woman singing, “Goldfinger!  He’s the man, the man with the golden touch.”  LS and MA applaud. The stage rotates, the woman and band move on, and the wall closes again.)

LS: That explains a lot! Of course this movie would be torture to sit through – it was written by a Bond villain!

MA:  I wonder what it’s like to go through life with the name Goldfinger?

LS:  Well, it’s better than Goldmember.

MA:  True. Anyway, back to the identity of the killer, it’s as if the writers just decided to pick the least suspicious character to make as the killer, without thinking it through.

LS: Without thinking at all!

MA: Yeah, the choice makes no sense at all.

LS:  Michael and I missed this one when it was originally in theaters. At the time, I was glad, because the trailer pretty much gives the entire plot away, and left me really not wanting to see the actual movie. But things have a way of circling back on us here at Cinema Knife Fight, and of course we’ve ended up reviewing it after all.

I’m sorry we couldn’t have missed this one completely. It’s not even worth watching on cable, or as a rental. Avoid this one. You’d be better off renting the 1983 original, which is still pretty bad, but head and shoulders above the remake.

Another thing that surprised me – and this might just be the old school horror movie fan inside me talking – was that neither version had much in the way of nudity in it. I mean, you hear a title like SORORITY ROW and you expect to see some skin in between the gore scenes. And it is in very short supply. Even the original was very skimpy on the skin.

MA:  I thought there was sufficient nudity in this one, even though, unlike you, the fact that a movie has nudity in it doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me, in terms of how much I like the movie. We could have seen naked sorority girls running around for ten minutes straight in this one, and I don’t think it would have saved the movie for me.

LS: Maybe not, but it would have at least kept my attention. Gore and nudity go together like peanut butter and jelly.

MA:  But I completely agree with you about SORORITY ROW being awful and not even worth watching as a rental or on cable. This movie is horrible!  The worst film I’ve seen in some time.

To me, the biggest problem with this flick is with how unrealistic it is. Let’s start with the opening shots of the sorority party, with college girls covered in soap bubbles and college males looking like they walked off the set of the NEW MOON werewolf club. What college is this?  Playboy University?

Yes, college parties can be wild, but this didn’t look like a college party. It looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie pretending to be a college party.

Like you, I thought the acting was OK, but it could have been better. I mean, other than Carrie Fisher in her one shot gun scene, nobody else really made an impression on me. I thought Justine Wachsberger as Katie, the sister of the murdered girl, had an interesting look, and her character had the potential to be more compelling than the other girls, but things don’t really pan out that way.

LS: I agree, Katie could have been a much better character, and I liked Wachsberger’s scenes, because she constantly pisses the prissy Jessica off!

MA; I thought the murders were all cliché and over the top, gore for gore’s sake, and oh so boring. There’s even a shower scene!  Talk about overused murder locations!

LS: There’s almost no nudity in the shower scene, too. Just some “blink-and-you’ll -miss-them” flashes. Now that’s just wrong.

MA: True, but it’s not like there wasn’t any nudity at all. There was some. I mean, if there was none at all in an R rated shower scene, then I’d find that strange.

LS:  As for the gore being over the top, did we see the same movie? I didn’t think this movie was all that gory. It was actually pretty wimpy in that respect too, except for a couple of scenes. But nothing I’d call “over the top.” This isn’t Peter Jackson’s DEAD ALIVE (1992)!

MA:  I meant “over the top” in the sense that the gore was phony, like shoving large objects down people’s throats, for example. Compare a silly scene like that to the meaningful “knife in the hand” scene we saw last week in the superior THE CRAZIES. But no, it wasn’t too gory.

The killer is about as interesting as a college chemistry textbook. His look, with a hooded graduation gown, is dull and uninspiring. And what college uses graduation robes that look like they belong to Anakin Skywalker?  I kept expecting to see the Emperor from the STAR WARS movies show up and beg everyone to join the dark side!

(A kitchen cabinet pops open and YODA peeks out )

YODA: Awful, this movie is. My money back, I would like, or angry, I will be.

LS: Shut up, you stupid muppet!

YODA:  Mouth you watch, or ass I will kick.

MA: The bottom line is I didn’t like any of these characters, and when you don’t like the characters, you’re not going to like the story. I thought these characters were rather despicable, and certainly not the kind of people I’d want to spend 90 minutes with.

LS: I’ve said this before, but I have no problem with characters being unlikable. There are a lot of unlikable people in the real world.

MA:  Yeah, but if you’re going to give us unlikable characters, at least make them convincing. Don’t give us both unlikable and superficial.

LS:  What bothers me is when characters are just plain boring. And for the most part, the characters here aren’t very interesting. Even if some of the actresses do give it the old college try!

(COEDS cheer!)

That said, I didn’t find every character boring. I still think Margo Harshman as the nymphomaniac Chugs had potential. And she had a real warped sense of humor. This is just a pet peeve of mine, but I have a problem with the “slutty” one always being killed off first. The first to be punished. Why is sex always viewed as so evil in these films? And it’s always the virginal one who finds reserves of strength she didn’t know she had. This is a tired old formula that needs to be retired.

MA: The heroine in this one wasn’t so virginal, but that’s neither here nor there.

LS: I didn’t say the heroine. However, the wimpy one who can’t get boys (the funny thing is, she’s pretty attractive when she’s not wearing her glasses), does have a defining moment near the end. Poor Chugs didn’t have the chance to prove herself.

MA:  Director Stewart Hendler does little with this mediocre material. There’s nothing visually striking about this movie, the pacing is off as the ending drags, and the murders are flat and uninventive.

LS: Even the tire iron with blades isn’t used interesting enough to make it that memorable. Another lost opportunity to take a mediocre original film and make a superior remake. Hendler completely drops the ball on this one. So why even bother making it?

MA: SORORITY ROW is horror movie making at its worst. Read a good book instead.

YODA: Agree, I do (he goes back inside cabinet and closes the door).

LS: You go read a good book, I’ve got a beer contest to win.

MA: See you next week everyone!

FADE TO BLACK

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2

Posted in 2009, Cinema Knife Fights, Remakes, Sequels, Slasher Movies with tags , , , , , , , on February 18, 2010 by knifefighter

(NOTE: This review of HALLOWEEN 2 is the last of our Fear Zone reviews to be reposted here at the official Cinema Knife Fight Web site. We had a great two-year run there, and it’s weird that the very first movie we reviewed for Fear Zone was Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN, and the last exclusive review we did for them was the sequel, HALLOWEEN 2. After that, our very last Fear Zone columns: ZOMBIELAND, THE FOURTH KIND and NEW MOON were published simultaneously on Fear Zone and on this site. You can now find all of the Fear Zone columns here).

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HALLOWEEN 2 (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

FADE IN

(LL SOARES is dressed in a white hospital gown, sitting on white sheets on a white bed in the middle of a bright white room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA enters the room, also dressed in white, pulling a rope attached to a white horse)

LS: Wow. What’s with the white horse?

MA:   It’s my attempt to inject fancy highbrow symbolism into this review.  It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t make sense, because hell, it looks artsy and creative.

LS:  Huh?

MA:   Actually, I found it outside. Someone just left it there.  Three guys who looked suspiciously like Moe, Larry, and Curly.

LS: Weird.

PA Voice:  Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.

MA: As much as I’d like to go out there and see what they’re up to, I guess I’d better stay here and review Rob Zombie’s new movie, HALLOWEEN 2, with you.

HORSE: Yeah, get to it Wilburrrr!

LS: Okay, okay.

Our movie this time is Rob Zombie’s new one, HALLOWEEN 2. As you remember way back in August of 2007, in our very first Cinema Knife Fight review for Fear Zone, we reviewed Rob’s remake of HALLOWEEN. I think we had a very mixed reaction to that one.

MA: I think we hated it.

LS: Hate’s a strong word. But yeah, I’d say we were both very disappointed with it. John Carpenter’s original was pretty damn good, and it did not need to be remade. But Rob Z had shown some interesting filmmaker chops with his previous two movies, and I, for one, thought he could pull it off. His first HALLOWEEN was ambitious and had some interesting parts, but on the whole, it just couldn’t hold a candle to the original.

MA (Holding a lit candle): I’ll say!  I’ll also say that while I too love John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN, I’m not against it being remade.  I think there is a place for remakes, for someone to give their stamp on an earlier movie.  That being said, back in 2007, I thought Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN pic was a muddled mess from start to finish.

LS: Now, rumor has it that Zombie had some restrictions placed on him by the studio when he made HALLOWEEN. So while he could deviate from the original story a little, he couldn’t change things too much. So he focused a lot on Michael Myers’ childhood and how he became the monster he would be as an adult. I thought he had an interesting take on the character, and the first half of the movie was fleshed out well, but the second half was kind of tedious, as the adult Michael went on his rampage.

It also didn’t work for me that Michael Myers seemed a lot more human in Rob Zombie’s version than he did in Carpenter’s original. In the Carpenter version, Myers was clearly a supernatural being. A homicidal boy who grows up to become the real Boogeyman. In Zombie’s version, he delved much more into Michael’s psyche, and sought to explain what made him tick. I missed the more supernatural aspects of the character.

Well, HALLOWEEN 2 kind of changes this.  The movie begins a year after the first one. Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) still has constant nightmares about the fateful night in Part I where she was terrorized by Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). Since her parents were killed by him, she now lives with the local Sherriff, Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif), and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris).

She works in a coffee shop run by an old hippie named Uncle Meat (Howard Hesseman in a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” cameo), with her two other alt/goth pals Nancy (Mary Birdsong) and Mya (Brea Grant), and they’re all making plans for Halloween, which is just a few days away (they’re planning to go to a party dressed as three characters from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW). Of course, since this also represents the anniversary of the awful events in the first movie, Laurie is getting very anxious as the big day approaches and spills her guts to her psychiatrist (Margot Kidder in another cameo) about it.

Meanwhile, flashbacks to that fateful night a year ago show us that Michael Myers isn’t exactly dead. Even though he was shot several times in the first movie, and the EMT’s lifted him into the back of the meat wagon, he rises from the dead (presumably, if he was really ever dead at all) after the ambulance he’s in collides with a cow.

MA:  Wow, that’s realistic!  When was the last time someone hit a cow?

LS:  Er…that was kinda hard to swallow.

Then Michael wanders the countryside, randomly killing people, as he makes his way back to Laurie Strode, who we learned in the first movie, is really his sister.

MA:  What a surprise.  You know, going all the way back to the original series, this is one plot point which never worked for me.  Who the hell cares if Laurie Strode is Michael Myers sister or not?  If you watch John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN, it seems as if the driving force behind Myers’ maniacal desire to kill is an absolute hatred of women, all women, not just his sister.

To Rob Zombie’s credit, he does attempt in this movie to give this plot point some value, with his silly white horse flashbacks.  There’s definitely a strong sense that the Myers family is wacko, dark, and evil, and so, if Laurie is also part of this family, what does that mean for her?  Like brother, like sister?  Unfortunately, this kind of logic is simplistic and stale.  Hey, Laurie Strode, Michael Myers is your brother!  What are you going to do about it?  Sadly, the answer the film provides isn’t all that original or satisfying.

LS:  Another storyline deals with Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), the psychiatrist who treated Michael in the insane asylum as a boy, and who claims to be an expert on serial killers because of this. He has a new book coming out about the case, and has become quite a nasty and egotistical creep since we last saw him. He doesn’t think twice about exploiting the case for his own benefit, and is constantly shouting at people, during his big book tour, who seem to have a problem with that.

MA:  I liked McDowell as Sam Loomis, a lot.  I liked him in the first movie as well, and I enjoyed this new take on the character, that he’s kind of a jerk exploiting the case.  Sadly, he’s not on screen all that much, and when he is, even though he’s an interesting character, his scenes aren’t all that good.  The scene on the talk show with Weird Al next to him is supposed to be funny, I guess, but it comes off as forced and unrealistic.  Part of the problem is the Loomis character in his brief screen time is reduced to cardboard jerk, and as a result, we don’t really get a good feel for him.  Is he really a jerk exploiting the misfortunes of others?  It seems so, but he does something later on in the movie that if he were really a selfish jerk, he wouldn’t have done.

LS:  Of course, all of these characters will eventually converge.

Y’ know, I’ve been a fan of Malcolm McDowell for a long time. Going way back to his early films with Lindsay Anderson like IF (1968) and of course Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE in 1971.  His Loomis has some fun moments, but he seems to be a one-note character. And I didn’t think the talk show bits with Weird Al were as funny as they obviously thought they were.

MA:  I’m a big Malcolm McDowell fan as well.  He was cast against type as H.G. Wells in the science fiction classic TIME AFTER TIME (1979), which rates for me as one of his best performances.

LS:  By the way, even though there’s a sequence in the beginning of the movie that takes place in a hospital, this is not a remake of the original HALLOWEEN 2.

MA:  Thankfully.

LS: And while Zombie supposedly had a lot more freedom with this movie, it doesn’t seem any more creative than the first one, or more extreme for that matter.

The Michael Myers storyline is a bit confusing, too. Supposedly he escapes outside of town when the ambulance has an accident, but it then takes him a year (!) of wandering around before he finds Laurie again in the same town that he just left?

MA:  I was wondering the same thing.  What the hell has he been doing the past year?  Now that would have made an interesting movie!

FLASHBACK BEGINS:

(MICHAEL MYERS is dressed in a fast food uniform flipping burgers.

MANAGER:  Let’s go, Myers!  We got line a mile long in the drive-thru!   Move your ass!

MYERS clunks Manager over the head with the spatula.)

FLASHBACK ENDS

LS:  And a lot of this movie has to do with dreams.

MA:  TOO MUCH of it has to do with dreams.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right. Laurie has at least two long dream sequences, and as you expect, they feel like rip-offs. You get caught up in these long segments, only to have Laurie wake up screaming. And you feel cheated. And what about those visions Michael has? He constantly see his dead mother (Sherrie Moon Zombie) dressed in white and leading a white horse. And he often sees the child version of himself (Chase Wright Vanek) with her as well. In fact there is so much about dreams and these visions that they start to bleed into the “reality” of the story, so that the entire movie takes on a strange, surreal quality.

While I hated the fact that some scenes turned out to be dream sequences, I guess I liked the surreal atmosphere of the movie over all.

And the “mom dressed in white and the white horse” seemed so odd. I couldn’t tell if it was unintentionally amateurish (it was the kind of heavy-handed symbolism a student filmmaker would use), or if it was truly subversive (I was definitely laughing a few times, knowing this kind of imagery would piss a lot of people off).

MA:  I thought it just slowed the movie down.  This is a horror movie, for crying out loud!  Why are we watching slow-moving scenes of a woman in white leading a white horse around the countryside?  You might as well make the darn thing a unicorn!

And I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a very long suspense sequence in this movie, in which the audience invests a lot of time, and after this sequence, it’s revealed that it’s just a dream!  Come on.  That’s the lowest trick in the book.  I still can’t believe it was done here.

LS: Exactly. It’s like that episode of the old show DALLAS, where a whole season turned out to be a dream. It’s aggravating.

MA: You mention Chase Wright Vanek as young Michael Myers.  While he’s good, I missed Daeg Faerch who played the role last time.  He had been my favorite part of that movie.

LS:  The violence was mostly random. Unlike killers like Jason and Freddy, who seem to have a revenge motive or a “moral” one  (killing people who have sex, etc.), Myers seems to have no rhyme or reason why his singles out his victims in this movie. What usually happens is he stumbles upon someone, they hassle him because he looks like a homeless bum (he wears a hooded sweatshirt all the time and has a heavy beard) , and then he puts his mask on and turns into a killing machine. This is kind of funny because, even if people think he’s a bum, he’s about seven feet tall, so you think people wouldn’t mess with him.

MA (shaking his head):  You think?

LS: Most of the people he kills seem to be redneck lowlife types. But until he zeroes in on Laurie, there doesn’t seem to be much logic to his killing. I have to admit, though, that I found this refreshing in a way, because it illustrates the whole “randomness of fate/death” concept  that I’ve always liked.

There is also a kind of griminess to the whole movie. Everyone seems to have long, messy hair. Everyone seems to live in dirty houses strewn with debris that have graffiti on the walls (and would a sherrif like Dourif’s character really have no problem with Laurie having a poster of Charles Manson’s mug shot above her bed?). And there are a lot of filthy looking characters (the aforementioned rednecks). It all adds to the unwholesomeness of the movie. The whole thing feels dirty and unsettling.

But once again, this constant grimy imagery seems to work on some level.

I have to admit, I was confused about this one. When I left the theater, I still wasn’t sure if I liked HALLOWEEN 2 or not. There were some things about it that I liked. And a lot more that I didn’t, or that I wasn’t sure worked.  This doesn’t happen very often, but I was really on the fence about this one.

What did you think, Michael?

MA:  I think you need to take a nap.  You liked it, you didn’t like it, you’re not sure what to think.   Doesn’t sound like you.  I think you’re overtired.  Let me help you fall asleep. (Cracks LS over the head with a frying pan.  LS falls onto bed, sees cartoon birds circling his head, and falls asleep).  Now, if I had been Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s vision of HALLOWEEN 2, I would have smashed LL over the head about 20 more times with this frying pan, and that would have constituted Zombie’s vision of horror here.  (Looks back at LS)  You really asleep?

LS (opens eyes):  Nyah, nyah.  I’ve got my eyes closed.

MA:  You doofus!  Anyway, I didn’t like HALLOWEEN 2 all that much. It started early on for me, with a beheading scene.  That is definitely my pet peeve these days.  If I have to see one more grisly beheading scene shot in graphic detail, I’m going to pick my nose and smear it on the screen!  Enough with beheadings already!

LS: YUCK! Now that’s gross.

MA: HALLOWEEN 2 is a very brutal movie that offers little else to offset its brutality.  I mean, if you’re going to go this route, give us something more, and I’m not talking about women dressed in white walking white horses!  Michael Myers also kills and eats a dog in this movie.  Now, he does the same thing in John Carpenter’s original, but you don’t see it in that movie.  You see it here.  Not my idea of fun.

HALLOWEEN 2 is in desperate need of a strong character.  Michael Myers isn’t it, nor is Laurie Strode.  She spends too much of her time screaming, swearing, crying, and acting like the messed-up teenager that she is.

LS: She’s actually pretty annoying and hard to sympathize with. I didn’t like her that much.

MA: Exactly!  Me, neither!  My favorite character was Sheriff Brackett, who’s a character from the original series, played back in 1978 by John Carpenter favorite Charles Cyphers.  Here, he’s played by Brad Dourif, and by far, he delivers the best performance in the movie.  Heck, when you come right down to it, HALLOWEEN 2 is Brackett’s movie.  He’s pretty much the closest thing the movie has to a hero, much more than Dr. Loomis.

LS: I’ve always liked Brad Dourif. He’s a great character actor.

MA: As I said earlier, I also liked Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis, but these two male characters aren’t the leads, and the movie isn’t designed for them to carry it.  So, when they’re not on screen, which is a lot, the film is desperately lacking for a strong presence.

Also, for a movie called HALLOWEEN 2 that takes place on Halloween, it doesn’t feel like Halloween at all.  That was one of the strengths of the original Halloween series.  It really made you feel like you were there on Halloween night.  Not so here.  There aren’t even any Halloween movies playing on TVs in the background or any kids seen trick or treating, except for that one little kid who asks Michael Myers if he’s a giant, which reminded me of a similar scene in the 1939 classic SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.  In fact, with his huge bulk and hood over his head, Myers reminded me somewhat of the Frankenstein monster in this movie.  There are several film versions of the Mary Shelley tale where the monster wears similar garb.

But by far, the worst part of HALLOWEEN 2 (and Zombie’s first HALLOWEEN pic suffered from a similar flaw), is the horrible pacing.  Can a movie move any slower?  Things move about as briskly as an old lady with a walker.  Based upon what I’ve seen in his two HALLOWEEN movies, Rob Zombie has no idea how to pace a horror movie.  The Michael Myers scenes are brutal, but not suspenseful.  They play like one random event after another.  There’s no build-up to something more.

LS: And here’s a dilemma I had. I really liked Rob Zombie’s first two movies. I thought his debut, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES, was flawed but over all very entertaining. And his second movie, THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, is one of my favorite movies of the last decade. I had such high hopes for his career as a filmmaker. And then he went and made two very disappointing movies in a row. Now I don’t know if DEVIL’S REJECTS was a fluke, or if he just didn’t care that much about the HALLOWEEN movies.

MA: Zombie’s idea of horror is having Michael Myers pummel someone to death over and over again.  Now, this is violent, this is loud, but this is definitely not suspenseful, nor is it scary.

HALLOWEEN 2 is filled with brutal violence, but Rob Zombie forgot one key component, or perhaps he didn’t forget but just doesn’t know how to do it:  he forgot to make it scary.

To me, the last straw was the scene where one of Laurie’s hot friends was about to have sex in a van with this guy…

LS: Wolfie! The guy in the Wolfman mask!

MA: Yeah, and you have this really sexy build-up, and all sex aside, a damn interesting scene, you actually have characters engaging in dialogue that’s refreshing — it’s borderline pornographic dialogue, but hey, it’s refreshing— which then goes absolutely nowhere because Michael Myers shows up and brutally kills them out of the blue just like that.  In fact, right after that scene, two guys behind me up and left the theater shouting, “This movie sucks!”  My sentiments exactly.

What happens in this scene is pretty much the point of the movie.  Big giant Michael Myers viciously murders everyone in his path.  That’s it, folks.  That’s the bottom line.

Also absent from this movie is the original John Carpenter HALLOWEEN music, that is until the end credits, but by then, it’s way too late to have any impact.

It’s a no brainer folks, HALLOWEEN 2 is one of the worst horror movies of the year.  It’s just as bad as Zombie’s first HALLOWEEN effort, and once more doesn’t come close to generating the suspense and chills of John Carpenter’s 1978 original.  I think it’s time Zombie moved on to something else.  If there are to be any more HALLOWEEN remakes or “reimaginings,” let someone else be at the helm.

LS: I wish he’d go back to working on original characters. He hasn’t had a good track record with other people’s stories so far. And now I hear he’s going to remake THE BLOB next. Which just fills me with dread. ENOUGH WITH THE REMAKES!

I was on the fence for a long time after seeing HALLOWEEN 2, and I think I’ve figured out my reaction to it. I liked the feel of it, the atmosphere. The surreal quality and the grittiness of it. And the randomness of the violence kind of appealed to me. But, the story itself was very weak, and it had no real meat to it.

So I can’t really recommend it.

(MICHAEL MYERS suddenly appears in the white room, dressed in a white tuxedo)

MYERS: Come on, guys. I thought you liked me.

MA: We do.  You’ve just been stuck in two crappy movies in a row.

LS: Hey, I didn’t know you could talk.

MYERS: I can dance, too.  (starts tap dancing)(“Puttin’ on the Ritz” plays in the background.)

MA:  Maybe Mel Brooks can handle the next “reimagining.”   Years later he can turn it into a Broadway musical.

LS:  No more horror musicals!

(MICHAEL MYERS tap-dances and slams into wall.)

MEYERS: Ouch!

LS (pushing button by his bedside): Hopefully the nurses will get him out of here.

MA: Okay, visiting hours are over, and I have to get this horse back to the props people.  Otherwise they’ll have to pay him overtime.  Union rules.  (Opens door and calls out)  Hey, Moe!  Looking for your horse?

(Voice off-camera):  Why you—!  I’ll murder ya!

MA:  Until next time.

FADE OUT.

(First published on Fear Zone on 8/31/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

DISTRICT 9!

Posted in 2009, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on February 17, 2010 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DISTRICT 9 (2009)
by Michael Arruda and L. L. Soares

FADE IN:

(MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES are inside an alien shanty town. In the background, soldiers move around, questioning aliens, attempting to get them to sign eviction forms, while a camera crew films the proceedings.)

MA (talks into the camera):  Welcome to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. LL and I are inside this alien shanty town today to review the new science-fiction thriller, DISTRICT 9.

LS:  I thought we were here to try some of that alien grub?

MA:  Do you always think with your stomach?

LS:  Only when I’m hungry. (Eyes open wide)  Ah, here we go! (Picks up a severed alien claw).

MA (horrified):  What are you going to do with that?

LS:  Dip it in melted butter. This makes a lobster claw look like a fish stick!

MA:  Well, while you’re feasting, I’ll start the review. DISTRICT 9 is a new alien thriller presented by Peter Jackson. It’s written and directed by first-time director Neill Blomkamp, though he shares screenwriter credit with Terri Tatchell.

LS: Jackson produced it, and obviously they’re playing up his name so that the movie gets serious attention. But it’s basically Blomkamp’s vision.

(Behind them, elves, hobbits, trolls, wizards, and King Kong stroll by carrying signs which read “Peter Jackson Rocks!” and “Lord of the Big Budget Movie!”).

MA: The movie is presented in documentary style, and immediately reveals that years ago an enormous spaceship appeared out of the skies and settled over the city of Johannesburg, South Africa, where it remained hovering without doing anything more. Eventually, the authorities decided to enter the ship. What they find is not at all what they expected:  a broken down interior loaded with sick and weakened aliens.

It presented the South African government with a political nightmare, and they quickly had to act, to find a place to house the thousands of aliens suffering on the ship. The most immediate answer was to locate them to a temporary shanty town, which is where they remain for many years.

LS (Chomping on alien arm): Twenty.

MA: Huh?

LS: When the movie opens, they’ve been on earth for 20 years.

MA: Well, it’s years later, and the government has hired a militaristic corporation, Multi-National United (MNU), to control the alien population. MNU plans to relocate the aliens to a larger, more improved living space, and this is where the present day action in the movie takes place. We follow the man chosen to enforce the mass eviction of the aliens, a sort of anti-hero named Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley).

LS (Melted butter dripping from chin): A more improved living space? More improved for whom? They’re being moved from tin-roofed shacks to rows and rows of flimsy tents surround by barbed wire. The idea is to get them far away from the human population, who wants nothing to do with them. So the relocation is certainly not a step up for the aliens. It’s just moving from one slum to another.

MA (Leans over and wipes LS chin with a napkin):  Hey, I’m doing a plot summary here, do you mind?  Obviously, I know they’re being moved from one slum to another, but in the movie that’s the reason the authorities are giving for the mass eviction.

LS:  And Wikus is not an anti-hero. He’s pretty much an idiot.

MA:  Yes, he is an idiot.  I agree with you there.

LS:  The only reason he gets to lead MNU’s relocation effort is because his wife’s father is the head muckity-muck. The father-in-law chooses him because he knows he can control him easily. He’s a pawn. As opposed to a “prawn.”

MA: Wikus leads a camera crew and soldiers through the shanty town of District 9 attempting to get the aliens to sign eviction notices. When the aliens don’t cooperate, Wikus finds other infractions on which to base the evictions, infractions such as making weapons, for example.

LS: This part baffled me a bit. There are something like 1.8 million aliens living in this ghetto. And they’re going to give them all eviction notices in time to move them out 24 hours later? Sounds like a pretty tall order. And, as we see, it’s a very slow process. The aliens either don’t understand – or pretend not to – and many put up a fight.

MA: When Wikus becomes infected with a strange alien liquid, he becomes an alien hybrid, and his arm turns into an alien claw.

LS: You should probably explain that, while rooting around a shack, looking for weapons, Wikus finds a vial that accidentally sprays him. That’s how this all begins. As usual, it’s an accident that gets the clumsy Wikus involved in the action. But hey, I like the claw. It’s cool. I wish I had one.

MA: You do. You’re eating it.

LS: You mean I ATE it (tosses meatless bone on the ground). Yummy!

MA: When Wikus seeks medical attention, he finds to his horror that MNU wants to use him as a lab subject. The company has long been interested in the weaponry the aliens brought to earth, weaponry that only the aliens can operate because of their DNA. When MNU discovers that Wikus with his hybrid claw can now operate the weapons, they decide to dissect him to harvest and study his hybrid parts.

LS: It’s cool how every weapon and tool that the aliens brought with them are tied into their genetic code. It’s like everything around them is alive.

MA: Wikus manages to escape and seeks shelter back in District 9.

LS: I think it’s funny that how the evil corporation in charge gets people to turn on Wikus while he’s a fugitive is to spread a false rumor that he got his alien arm because he had sex with aliens. In one scene, someone is reading a tabloid which even shows an “artist’s rendition” of that. These things sure are ugly, but I bet in real life someone would still have a fetish for them.

MA: Like I was saying, Wikus flees to District 9 and there befriends the very same alien who had bottled the mysterious liquid in the vial.  The alien explains that if hey can get the liquid back, he can use it to both start the mother ship to go back to his home planet, and also to change Wikus back into his human form. Wikus and the alien then team up and attempt to steal back the vial of precious alien liquid, as the last half of the movie moves from documentary science-fiction tale to action-adventure/ science-fiction melodrama.

Now, I liked DISTRICT 9 a lot. I thought this was a very ambitious movie, that tackled a lot of serious issues, and actually played for most of its 112 minutes as a serious drama rather than an alien movie. But, even though I enjoyed this movie, I found it very depressing, one of the more depressing movies I’ve seen in awhile. But this is in large part why I liked it. I thought the filmmakers did a remarkable job of capturing just what this situation would be like, and they made it seem very real. In other words, if something like this were to happen, chances are it would go down in a very similar fashion to the way events unfold in the movie.

LS: What’s wrong with depressing? Why does everything have to be peaches and cream? There are lots of things about life that are depressing. Why can’t movies explore these without being criticized as being “downers?” Personally, I prefer something more depressing than a dumb movie that’s overly upbeat.

MA:  I’m not criticizing the movie for being depressing.  I’m just saying that it was.

(An ALIEN comes over and taps LS on the shoulder. The two converse for a bit)

MA: What did he want?

LS: He was asking how much to buy you. He thinks you’re cute.

MA: I certainly hope you didn’t humor him.

LS: Of course not…..Besides, he turned my offer down.

MA: The first half of the movie really plays like a documentary. This style worked for me. I’m not sure how it will work for mass audiences out there. They may be put off since this film holds onto this style almost throughout, and people may not be expecting a documentary about aliens. But I liked it.

LS: Dude, this isn’t the first genre movie to use a documentary style. You must be getting old. Don’t you remember CLOVERFIELD? That wasn’t too long ago. And before that, we had THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. Filming a science-fiction or horror movie as a documentary is nothing new. But I have to admit, this is probably the best one yet.

MA:  Of course I remember CLOVERFIELD!  But I find major differences between the style of DISTRICT 9 and both CLOVERFIELD and THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  While CLOVERFIELD was supposed to be shot from the point of view of a character in the movie holding a video camera, and while the characters in BLAIR WITCH set out to make a documentary, this movie actually plays like a real documentary! I mean, watching it, especially the first part, is like watching a professionally shot documentary.  You half expect to see Michael Moore walking around the shanty town somewhere.

(MICHAEL MOORE pops up behind them)

MM: Did someone call for me?

LS: No, go away. This is our gig!

MM: Oh is that so? (Camera crew leaves MA and LS and stands behind him)

LS: What a bunch of traitors.

MA: Okaaay.  (MA and LS shuffle to a new spot in the shanty town). I also liked the way the story unfolds immediately. All the pertinent background information is explained clearly within the first few minutes of the film, and as a result, this movie grabbed me right away.

LS: Yeah, it does a great job setting up the story, and how things came to be. This is probably in part because it started as a short film, that was expanded into a feature film. All of the details were probably already there.

MA: The lead character, Wikus, is like you said, an idiot.  When you watch him early on leading the eviction party, it’s painful, the way he and the soldiers talk down to the aliens, treating them in a patronizing manner, and completely ignoring their dignity as a species. They call the aliens “prawns” and treat them as such, like giant shrimp.

LS: The “pawn and prawn” thing again. I disagree with your earlier comment that Wikus is an anti-hero. An anti-hero knowingly crosses moral boundaries and doesn’t care. Wikus cares too much. He thinks it’s wonderful he’s been promoted and he agrees to run the eviction proceedings because he’s too dumb to realize how messy it will be, and how easily he can be blamed for anything that goes wrong. Early on, he seems very clueless about a lot of things, even though he supposedly has a lot of experience with these aliens. And he only goes along with the abuse of the aliens by the soldiers because he doesn’t want to look like a wimp.

He only seems to gain any kind of intelligence at all once he is infected. It’s only then that his eyes are opened and he sees what is really going on. Only when the pawn becomes a prawn.

MA: I think you give Wikus too much credit.  I don’t think he cares too much at all, especially early on.  I think he’s more than clueless.  He doesn’t give a damn about the aliens.  It’s not until his life is threatened that he starts paying attention, and even then, his actions are driven by purely selfish motives- he wants to survive.  He doesn’t care about the aliens, until the end.

LS: Either way, actor Sharlto Copley does a terrific job as Wikus. He makes the character totally believable.

MA: That he does! District 9 is a horrible place. It’s a decrepit shanty town ravished by poverty, populated by aliens who seem more like animals than intelligent beings. It’s patrolled by a paramilitary corporation, and gang lords freely operate “food-for-weapons” businesses.

LS: Oh, the Nigerian gang lords are easily the scariest things in the movie. Much scarier than the aliens could ever be. The fact that they have no fear of these strange, ugly beings right off the bat, and immediately exploit the situation, shows how ruthless they are. And, with their total disregard for life – human or alien – they intimidate the aliens right away.

MA: Writer/director Blomkamp based this story on his experiences with South African apartheid.  Watching this movie brought back memories of anti-apartheid movies from the 1980s, movies like CRY FREEDOM (1987) and A WORLD APART (1988). But it also reminded me of more recent tumultuous events.

I kept thinking, would a government be this unprepared and this short-sighted in dealing with a plan as massive and important as housing all these aliens?  And sadly, with images of George W. Bush and Iraq in mind, I had to answer yes.

LS: It made me think a lot about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, too. How totally unprepared the government was to deal with a huge catastrophe. The situation in DISTRICT 9 is nothing if not a catastrophe that is exploited by every human involved.

MA: Current events dictate that if something like this were really to happen, it could happen just like this.

LS: That is why this movie is so brilliant. It’s not some dumb-ass escapist movie. It’s smart and it has some real points to make.

MA:  Once Wikus becomes an alien hybrid, the movie switches gears and becomes much more of a straight melodrama. Still, it manages to retain its depressing feel, and I for one was uncertain as to how this movie would end. I was on edge throughout.

LS: “On edge throughout,” huh? Sounds like a ringing endorsement to me.

(A Hobbit skips by with another sign “Lord of the Ringing Endorsements!” LS throws a rock at him.)

(They enter a deserted shack and find empty cans all over the floor)

MA (picks one up): Yummy Cat Cat Food! Oh yeah, the aliens in this movie are totally addicted to cat food. As someone explains in the movie, aliens react to cat food the way cats react to catnip. They love it.

LS: Hey, don’t knock it til you try it! It is funny how the aliens trade all kinds of weaponry and important stuff to the gang lords for cans of cat food, though. Kind of sad, actually.

MA: I really enjoyed the relationship between Wikus and the alien he befriends, and the alien’s son.

LS: Despite the language barrier and the fact that these creatures look truly grotesque, like giant bugs, Blomkamp does an excellent job of making us sympathize with them. By the end of the movie, you really care about these creatures, and that’s what makes their plight all the more powerful.

I also found the alien child to be a pleasant surprise. Not once in the movie did I feel they were making him cutesy. He’s no E.T.. Instead, he’s one of the smartest aliens of the bunch.

MA:  The best scene in the movie comes when the main alien discovers that humans are using his race as medical experiments. Think PLANET OF THE APES in reverse.

I also absolutely loved the image of the enormous ship hovering in the sky over Johannesburg. This has the potential for becoming an iconic movie image for years to come.

LS: I agree. That ship hovering above Johannesburg is a terrific image.

MA: As much as I loved this movie, it’s not without flaws. For example, it never makes clear why the majority of the aliens act more like dumb beasts rather than intelligent beings. Why is it that only the one alien who Wikus befriends has the capacity to make an escape attempt?

LS: Actually, the movie does explain that. The theory is that the ship contained worker drones of their species who were being shipped somewhere, when something went wrong. They are used to taking orders and doing what they are told. Without a leader to guide them, they have reverted to an animalistic state.

MA: I’m sorry.  I must have missed that when I blinked.  It was also unclear at first whether or not humans were able to understand the foreign alien language, which was interpreted for audiences with subtitles. Eventually, this is made clear, as Wikus does understand the language, but it takes a while for this revelation to be made.

LS: The language thing is a bit daunting. How are we able to communicate so easily? But I know it’s like this to make the story move along, and they have been on earth for 20 years, so it’s not that big a flaw.

MA: Wikus’ father-in-law is one of the major villains in the movie. Yet, he disappears for most of the second half. Also, I found it somewhat difficult to believe that Wikus could escape from the lab so easily. There’s like a million soldiers around, and yet he still manages to make it all the way to District 9. I thought that was too easy.

LS: Yeah, I agree. But then he does fight back unexpectedly and catches them with their pants down, and he does have alien weaponry at his command, even if he’s not completely sure how to use it. We could probably make a whole list of plot holes, but a great movie makes you ignore the flaws and enjoy the ride. I felt this way about DISTRICT 9.

MA: I thought the alien special effects were exceptional. The interaction between humans and aliens was seamless. I wasn’t thinking CGI, and I wasn’t thinking man in an alien suit- I was thinking, man here, alien there. It looks incredibly real.

LS: I thought the aliens looked terrific. Nothing cute or silly. They truly are ugly to behold, and yet believable. I actually thought the effects were pretty excellent, except for scenes where a bunch of aliens all gather together. Then they looked a bit too CGI – like video game images. But for the most part, they were very well done.

MA: I liked DISTRICT 9 and highly recommend it, but I wonder how well it will be received?  It is certainly not the most uplifting story, nor is it told in a conventional way. I don’t see it as a crowd pleaser. However, it is one incredibly well-made movie, one that I think people should get out there and see. What did you think?

LS: Well, I think it’s obvious that I loved it, too. It wasn’t just the effects or the look of the thing. It actually had meat on its bones. It seemed like a truly fresh concept. Sure, the “aliens-trapped-on-earth” thing has been done before in movies like ALIEN NATION, but this time the idea just seemed original and very well done.

Easily the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2009. And the best science-fiction movie I’ve seen in years.

MA: Wow.  You liked it better than I did.  While I highly recommend it, I wasn’t blown away by it.

(An ALIEN approaches and attempts to communicate with them.  He sounds angry.)

LS:  I told you, (points to MA) he’s not for sale!

MA (gulps):  Um, I don’t think he’s the same alien.  Look!  (points to ALIEN’s arm- he’s missing his left claw).  I think he wants to know what happened to his claw.

LS (burps):  Ooops.  (offers ALIEN a can of cat food).  Even trade?

(MA & LS flee from shack with ALIEN in hot pursuit.)

MA & LS:  Until next time—–!

FADE OUT

I like Cinema Knife Fight even better than cat food!

– – – – –

(First published on Fear Zone on 8/16/2009)

© Copyright 2009 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares