Archive for the 80s Horror Category

Transmissions to Earth: BAD DREAMS (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2013, 80s Horror, Cult Leaders, Evil Doctors!, Ghosts!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Religious Cults, Slasher Movies, Trasmissions to Earth with tags , , , , on May 2, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH presents:

zontar6

BAD DREAMS (1988)
Movie review by L.L. Soares

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Like a lot of horror films from the 1980s, 1988’s BAD DREAMS feels like a missed opportunity. The first film by director Andrew Fleming (who went on to give us THE CRAFT, 1996, the Steve Coogan vehicle HAMLET 2, 2008, and episodes of TV shows like ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT and FRANKLIN & BASH), it’s kind of a take on cults like the Manson Family and Jonestown. You would think with a name like BAD DREAMS it might venture a bit into Freddy Krueger territory, especially since Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) had been a horror movie hit just a few years before and was still fresh on everyone’s minds. But strangely, the title is misleading, since the killer here does not kill people in their dreams.

The leader of this particular cult is simply called Harris, and is played by the great Richard Lynch, who was in tons of movies since the 1970s, including such memorable ones as SCARECROW (1973), Larry Cohen’s classic GOD TOLD ME TO (1976), and his last appearance, in a small flashback as Reverend Hawthorne in Rob Zombie’s latest film THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013). (Sadly, Mr. Lynch died in 2012.)

We see Harris gathering his faithful in an old house on a hill, baptizing each member with gasoline before setting the house on fire. This is kind of (painfully) ironic, since actor Lynch really had set himself on fire in Central Park in 1967 during a bad LSD trip, and, after he became scarred during the accident, he was many directors’ go-to-guy to play various villains in horror films and in TV shows.

But back to the movie. Everyone in the cult dies in the fire, except for Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, the striking actress who was also Edie Segewick in Oliver Stone’s THE DOORS, 1991, and whose first movie was A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, 1987, strangely enough) who gets saved from the flaming house, but spends the next 13 years in a coma.  When she wakes up, it’s a media circus. Not only is it a big deal she woke up after such a long time, but everyone wants to know what happened inside the cult house the night it exploded in flames. Unfortunately, poor Cynthia doesn’t remember anything about that night.

Her doctor, Dr. Berrisford (character actor Harris Yulin, who has been in over 100 movies including SCARFACE, 1983 and TRAINING DAY, 2001), tells Cynthia that she should see a psychitatrist, because after such a long coma, not only does she need physical therapy to get her motor skills back, she also needs to “heal her mind” and learn how to cope with life 13 years later (she was just a teenager when that fateful fire happened). So Cynthia is turned over to Dr.Berrisford’s assistant, Dr. Alex Karmen (Bruce Abbott, who you might remember as Dan in the Stuart Gordon classic RE-ANIMATOR, 1985), and becomes part of his group therapy sessions. Of course, this being the 80s, the therapy group is made up of various quirky oddballs, some of which are clearly meant to be funny – and aren’t. These include wisecracking Ralph (Dean Cameron, also in SUMMER SCHOOL, 1987, ROCKULA, 1990, where he also played a character named Ralph, and lots of TV shows, including ALF, 1989 – 1990); shy Lana (Elizabeth Daily, who was also in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, 2005 and has done tons of voices for cartoons); a tough-talking lady reporter who’s always smoking; a middle-aged couple that is obviously having an affair; and an annoying teenage black girl named Gilda (Damita Jo Freeman) who keeps saying cryptic things that make you wonder if she has a direct line to Harris. Sometimes, these people seem a little too over-the-top (it’s not like this movie was striving for realism, sadly).

At first, Cynthia only remembers the peace and love platitudes that cult leader Harris laid on them back in the day, but then she slowly remembers how the man eventually lost his mind and set fire to all his followers, and suddenly, she’s traumatized all over again. Even more traumatic is the fact that Harris keeps popping up when Cynthia least expects it (as she remembers him, and later as a burned-up version), first showing up in a crowded elevator (this makes her go bonkers), and then slowly killing off every member of the therapy group (by drowning, tossing one person out of a window, and throwing the middle-aged lovebirds into a giant fan). Cynthia tries to tell Dr. Karmen and anyone else who will listen that Harris is doing all these things, but no one believes her. There’s also a cop, Detective Wasserman (Sy Richardson, who might be best known as Lite in the cult classic, REPO MAN, 1984) who is very suspicious of Cynthia’s cult member past and is sure she is somehow responsible for the deaths.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

Cult leader Harris appears to Cynthia both as she remembered him alive, and as this burned up version post-fire.

The twist ending in this one is very disappointing, and doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering past events. But hell, at least it doesn’t end with Cynthia waking up from her coma at the end, and it being all a “bad dream” – which I was dreading from the get-go, considering the title. When we do get to the surprise revelation (which I won’t spoil here), we find out that this is a movie is kind of a letdown. If only they had just delved more into Harris and his cult, and given it more resonance, this could have been the beginning of a franchise of its own. But no such luck. Instead, things get wrapped up in a tidy (and completely underwhelming) bow by the end.

Rubin is good here as Cynthia. Abbott is a little stilted sometimes, but has a few good scenes as Dr. Karmen (especially a great scene where he imagines running over Dr. Berrisford with his car!) and Lynch is perfectly cast as the Jim Jones/Manson-esque Harris (but he needed more screen time!). The direction by first timer Fleming is okay, but nothing amazing, and the screenplay by Fleming and Steve E. de Souza (based on a story by Fleming, Michael Dick, P.J. Pettiette and Yuri Zeltser) has some good ideas, but never fully delivers on them (and imagine, it took all those guys to come up with this one!)

Not one of the 80s best horror films by any stretch, BAD DREAMS at least has some good moments. But man, it could have been so much better!

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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Me and Lil’ Stevie: CREEPSHOW II (1987)

Posted in 2013, 80s Horror, Anthology Films, Ghosts!, Me and Lil' Stevie, Monsters, Peter Dudar Reviews, Sea Creatures, Stephen King Movies with tags , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2013 by knifefighter

Me and Lil’ Stevie
Periodically Enjoy
CREEPSHOW II
(1987)
By Peter Dudar

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(Exterior-day:  Establishing shot of quiet Maine town by morning.  There is a little boy sitting on his bicycle just outside the local newsstand, waiting for a very special delivery.  An old army-style canvas-covered delivery truck adorned with comic book graphics pulls up, and the little boy sits up tall on his bike.  The truck parks, and then there is a figure rummaging around the back of the truck, sorting through bundles of magazines.  The figure tosses a bundle out onto the curb, and the boy goes to reach for it.  Suddenly, the boy stops and looks up at the figure in the back of the truck.  The camera pans upward and we see that the figure is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King.)

Lil’ Stevie:  I wouldn’t do that, son…I really wouldn’t.

Peter:  Why not?  Little Billy, here, just wants the very first copy.

Billy:  Yeah!  It’s all mine!  I got here first!

Peter:  Go ahead, Billy.  Open it up.  You’ve earned it.

(Billy opens up the package.  Instead of being filled with comic books, the package is filled with autographed pictures of Justin Beiber.)

Billy:  Nooooooo!  (abandons his bicycle and runs away screaming).

Lil’ Stevie:  Hyuk Hyuk Hyuk…they fall for it every time!

Peter:  Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another fun-filled episode.  Today, we’ll be discussing Michael Gornick’s 1987 film directorial debut, CREEPSHOW II.  Gornick, like a lot of other directors that have cut their teeth on Stephen King projects, has a long history of working in the cinema, serving as a cinematographer, production manager, camera and sound engineer, actor, and producer.  He is equally steeped in made-for-television projects as well.  So, when George Romero (director of the original CREEPSHOW, 1982) passed on the project, Gornick stepped in (he was cinematographer on CREEPSHOW, and was familiar with the spirit of the project).

Lil’ Stevie:  And the fans of CREEPSHOW rejoiced!  Boo-ya!

Peter:  Not exactly.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  As you already know, Constant Viewer, we examined the original CREEPSHOW back in episode 7, and we happen to consider it a favorite of ours, so we want to treat this entry as fairly and unbiased as possible.

Lil’ Stevie:  Which means we sat our butts down and re-watched it, for old time’s sake.

Peter:  The film begins pretty much as we’ve established with the delivery truck, turning Little Billy’s wraparound segment into an animated storyline featuring him and “The Creep” (Tom Savini, special effects maestro and character actor, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, 1996).

Lil’ Stevie:  You’re already getting it wrong.  The Creep is played by Joe Silver (RABID, 1977).

Peter (sighing): Silver provided the voice.  Now, quit interrupting.  It bears mentioning that the original film was constructed with comic book panels and artwork interspersed with the live action sequences.  It made the movie feel like a comic-book-come-to-life, which was an enormous part of the campy charm that made the original so cool (not to mention comic art veteran Bernie Wrightson’s stunning contributions).  All of that is traded off for “The Creep’s” animated spookshow-host narration.  I found this to be an annoyance more than an upgrade.  At the time of this film’s theatrical release, HBO was already knocking ‘em dead with their “Crypt Keeper” in TALES FROM THE CRYPT.  This feels like a bad rip-off.

Lil’ Stevie:  Can we talk about my stories?   My stories are what bring the movie to life!

(Peter reaches down and snatches up an autographed photo of Justin Beiber)

Peter:  Here, this is for you.  Aren’t you his “Number-one fan?”

(Lil’ Stevie turns aside and throws up).

Peter:  Holy cow!  How are you doing that?  You’re a puppet.  You can’t throw up!

Lil’ Stevie: (Dragging his sleeve across his mouth) Oh yeah?  Well, you can’t write for beans!

Peter:  (Shaking his head).  You disgust me.  Anyway, the REAL Stephen King provided three stories for the film; OLD CHIEF WOOD’NHEAD, THE RAFT, and THE HITCHHIKER (with THE RAFT being the only one of the three segments to appear as a published story.  It was released in Gallery magazine in 1982, and then in the collection SKELETON CREW in 1985).  The first story, OLD CHIEF WOODN’HEAD, concerns Ray and Martha Spruce (George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour).  The Spruces (a loving nod, perhaps, to Tabitha King’s family) are an elderly couple who own and operate the only general store in Dead River, Arizona.  The town, it seems, has washed up and blown away, and its few remaining citizens (most of them being Native American) are in debt to the Spruces.  Ray Spruce doesn’t seem all that concerned, though.  He’s done very well over the years, and feels obligated to give back to the people that supported him.

Lil’ Stevie:  The beginning of the story sees Ray outside his store, painting new war stripes on Chief Wood’nhead; the cigar store-style Indian statue that stands on the store’s front porch.

Peter:  While he’s working, his neighbor, Benjamin Whitemoon (Frank Salsedo, MAGIC IN THE WATER, 1995) pays him a visit.  Whitemoon brings a pouch of Native American jewelry that he has collected from his people as a kind of promissory note to pay off the debts his people have incurred.  “I’ll guard it with my life,” Ray promises.  He tries to convince Whitemoon that prosperity is in the air and that the town is going to come back, but he and Whitemoon already know this isn’t to be.  The pouch is the only payment he is going to see for his kindness, and by taking it, he allows Whitemoon’s people to remain borrowers rather than beggars.

Lil’ Stevie:  You NEVER promise to guard something with your life.  You just don’t do it.

Peter:  That’s right.  Because Whitemoon’s nephew Sam (Holt McCallany, GANGSTER SQUAD, 2013) and his buddies want that wampum.  They hold up the store, taking what little cash the Spruces have, but Sam has his eye set on the pouch of jewelry.  The heist quickly turns into a killing spree, with Martha gunned down while her husband watches helpless, trying to talk Sam out of what he’s about to do.  When Ray refuses to let go of the treasure he promised to guard with his life, he, too is murdered and the pouch is pried from his cold, dead hands.  And then Sam and his buddies are racing off to leave Dead River for new digs in Hollywood.

Lil’ Stevie:  Not if Old Chief Wood’nhead can help it…

Peter:  Precisely.  In E.C. Comics-style vengeance, the Chief (Dan Kamin, MARS ATTACKS, 1996) comes to life and goes on the warpath against the hooligans who killed the folks that took such good care of him.  The siege doesn’t end until all three are dead, with Sam’s scalp (which he treasured) clutched in his hand as he finds rest at his original post outside the store.  The Chief is the real star of this story, and the makeup effects for the statue come-to-life by Gregory Nicotero and company deserve mad props.  This film is one of the last of its breed; the kind with guys in rubber suits and prosthetic appliances providing the scares rather than CGI.  It pays off as you watch the Chief’s subtle facial movements and statuesque body motions.

Lil’ Stevie: …and the blood shots, squirting all over the walls as the Chief swings his tomahawk.

Peter:  On kind of a funny off-note, I’d always believed that Rodney Grant played Sam Whitemoon.  Grant is the Native American actor that portrayed Wind In His Hair in 1990’s DANCES WITH WOLVES.  It turns out that Holt McCallany isn’t even Native American.  Crazy, huh?

Lil’ Stevie:  Hilarious.  You’re an imbecile.

Peter:  (pulls out a tomahawk and crunches it into Lil’ Stevie’s head.)  Heh.  That’s funny, too.  The second story, THE RAFT, is about four college kids who race off to a lake after the summer season has ended to go for a swim in the lake’s secluded waters.  A joint is passed around as Deke and Randy drag their best gals, Laverne and Rachel, to the lake in Deke’s bitchin’ Camaro.  They arrive at the lake with the radio blasting terrible 80s music, and the boys race right into the lake and begin paddling toward The Raft.  The girls follow reluctantly, and as they are swimming, the boys notice a weird, oily membrane floating on the water (the membrane eats a duck alive, to their horror).  Once they are all up on the raft, the kids are held hostage by the membrane, which now seems to move and have a mind of its own.  Rachel buys it first, gently prodding the membrane to see what it is, only to have the membrane snatch her off the raft and eat her up.  Deke dies next, as the membrane slides effortlessly between the raft’s slits and begins chewing away his flesh.

Lil’ Stevie:  Randy and Laverne manage to survive all night, but thanks to Randy’s randy hormones, Laverne falls prey to the membrane.  As the gelatinous blob eats her alive, Randy decides to make a break for it and swim to the shore…but will he make it out alive?

Peter:  This was my favorite segment of the film, and Gornick’s cinematography skills really shine in how this was shot.  It’s beautifully done, the way the camera floats past the kids on the raft at eye-level.  It’s great stuff.  Again, all that’s missing is the neat comic book panels from the original film.

Lil’ Stevie:  The acting was a tad weak in this one.  None of these kids had star quality, and none of them had any meteoric rise to fame because of this movie.

Peter:  Sad but true.  The last segment, THE HITCHHIKER, stars Lois Chiles (MOONRAKER, 1979) as Annie Lansing, the wife of a successful attorney.  Lois has been throwing her husband’s hard-earned money at her favorite gigolo for sex, but in spite of her infidelity, she’s terrified of being home one minute late from the affair as it will anger her husband severely.  So, after an evening of wanton sex with her lover, she notices she’s late and will never be home on time.  She floors the pedal of her BMW in her bid to get home, and in the process, she accidentally runs over some hapless hitchhiker (Tom Wright, BARBER SHOP, 2002) holding a sign reading DOVER.

Lil’ Stevie:  Stephen King cameo!  King plays a truck driver, who happens to be the first on the scene after Annie Lansing disappears in her BMW.

Peter:  The shaken adulterer speeds away, trying to convince herself that she can always turn herself in if she can’t live with the guilt, but the guilt has already begun to manifest itself.  It seems the Hitchhiker isn’t really dead, and will haunt her ride home.  The corpse seems to turn up over and over again, until Annie is literally running his body into trees, and then driving back and forth over the poor guy’s remains until he is the nastiest road kill you’ve ever seen.

Lil’ Stevie:  We really ramped up the gore on this one.  Like the first segment, this tale is all about revenge.

Peter:  It’s really all about guilt.  We don’t honestly know if the Hitchhiker is really haunting her, or if she’s injured her head in the accident and is hallucinating the whole thing.  But Annie eventually makes it back home and parks her totaled car in the garage, where the Hitchhiker visits her one last time…

Lil’ Stevie:  And her husband finds her dead body in a haze of carbon monoxide.  Maybe she couldn’t live with the guilt after all.

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Peter:  A couple of things about this movie…Putting aside the lack of comic book panel framing, this film’s stories verge more on the serious side rather than the campy side that the original movie had.  The first film’s characters were more like caricatures, more stereotypical than typical.  This film opted to play it straight, leaving the comedy to the goofy animated “Creep” segments, and that detracts from the overall impact of the movie.  It’s no wonder that so many King and Romero fans were disappointed with this film (and that’s taking into consideration that Romero wrote the screenplay based on King’s stories).  The stories are very stripped down and one-dimensional, making them predictable in their outcomes.  But they work.  They are entertaining stories built on morality plays.  What would you do if you accidentally ran someone over and killed them?  What would you do if you and your friends were stuck on a raft with something trying to eat you?

Lil’ Stevie:  I’d make sure you got eaten first!

Peter:  Thanks.  I can always count on you.  I guess my final word on this one is that it falls under the category of “What could have been…”  This could have been great if it stuck to the formula that made the first movie so great.  It could have been great if they left out “The Creep” and stuck with the nifty comic book with its pages flapping in the breeze.  It could have been great with a bit more campy humor.  And it could have been great with one or two more stories.  The three tales (and the wraparound story with Billy getting chased by the bullies) just don’t offer a satisfying meal for us to feast on.  Two vengeance tales and a badly-acted hostage story fall short of a complete anthology film.

Lil’ Stevie:  Unless you’re Mario Bava.  BLACK SABBATH (1963) rocks!

Peter:  In the meantime, we’ll keep hoping King and Romero get it together and put out a legitimate CREEPSHOW III, unlike the one that was released in 2006 that had nothing to do with either of them.  Agreed?

Lil’ Stevie:  Agreed.  Well, boils and ghouls, we’ll be slaying ya…er, seeing ya next month! Bwahahahaha!

(Peter leans down and picks up Billy’s bicycle and climbs on, setting Lil’ Stevie on the handlebars.)

Peter:  Thanks a lot, Billy…thanks for the ride!  (Pedals away).

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

The Ghost of Christmas Past Presents: ELVES (1989)

Posted in 2011, 80s Horror, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, HOLIDAY CHEER, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , on December 21, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:

ELVES (1989)

“They’re not working for Santa anymore.”

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

Ah, Christmas . . . a time to relax on the couch with a cup of warm cocoa (with mini marshmallows, of course), a time to bring the family together to view one of the great holiday films from yesteryear that always brings a tear to your eye and a lump to your throat. What is it to be this year? IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)? MIRACLE ON 34th STREET (1947)? The Mexican atrocity SANTA CLAUS (1959)? No, this year good cheer and warm cockles will be brought to you via the 1989 horror/fantasy film, ELVES. You’ve never heard of it? Well, there’s a reason. Several reasons, in fact.

During a typical Christmas movie title sequence, I discover the star is none other than Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty (Haggerty was the star of THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS from 1977 – 1978). This does nothing to instill confidence in the director’s choice, but he does sort of resemble a coked-up Santa with his bulging belly and golden beard.

Next, we meet three typical 80’s chicks, complete with big hair, Spandex outfits, and candles. Their leader, Kirsten, played by Julie Austen (EXTREME JUSTICE – 1993) claims they’re the Sisters of Anti-Christmas, and they decry the holiday as a commercialized, media-driven event. Well, duh. Kirsten displays a piece of nearly pornographic art called ‘The Virgin of Anti-Christmas,’ and they try out a satanic ceremony so one of the girls can obtain the attentions of a boy. They hurry home as a thunderstorm approaches (at Christmas-time?), while something scrawny and wrinkled and rubbery tracks our naughty artist to her home, where she’s bitch-slapped by her German grandfather (Borah Silver, who played Prince on the KOJAK television series from 1973 – 1978). It’s his spell book the girls were using. In the stark lighting of the home, we can plainly see this ‘girl’ is at least forty years old. We also meet her mother, played by Deanna Lund (Valerie on THE LAND OF THE GIANTS TV show from 1968 – 1970), who looks both younger and prettier than her daughter, and she threatens to clean out the girl’s baby-sitting money from her bank account. Cue shower scene, where little brother peeks on Kirsten. When discovered, Sis calls him a pervert. He calmly replies, “I like looking at naked girls. And you’ve got f—-g big t—ts, and I’m gonna tell everyone what I saw!” Meanwhile, the rubbery creature conjured out of the ground watches as sister and brother make up and wrestle inappropriately on her bed. What is with this family?

Anyway, the elf creature breaks a window with its wobbling little rubber fist and we’re treated to two minutes of blurry elf-vision until the gremlin rip-off straddles the foul-mouthed kid brother. Sadly, it doesn’t kill him.

Our hero, Mike McGavin, played by Haggerty, walks into the local department store after giving a few shekels to the Salvation Army outside, so you know he’s a good guy. Due to the prevalence of elf-vision POV shots, we ascertain the creature is following Kirstin to her work in the department store cafe. Behind her, Mike is pleading with the store manager for a job, any job. I think we all see where this is going. The ‘teenaged’ girls get in line and wait to sit on Santa’s lap, where Kris Kringle cops a feel up her leg and talks dirty. Back at home, Mom drowns her daughter’s kitten in the toilet. Why? Just to be mean, that’s why! Joan Crawford had nothing on this evil witch!

Santa’s mild gropings get him fired, and he is promptly castrated by a rubbery knife in a little rubbery hand while he is snorting cocaine. Merry Christmas, everyone! Slay bells ring!

Kirsten arrives home and says, “It was a rough day at work. Santa got murdered.” Grizzly Adams—I mean, Mike—arrives home to his trailer and finds it padlocked. When the girl sees a little monster peeking in her window, her grandpa goes crazy and interrogates her. He speaks to his daughter in German and she screeches, “Don’t start in on those elves again!” Again? Is this a typical conversation in ANY home?

Mike makes friends with Kirsten at the department store, and he’s spotted by the manager. Soon, he’s the new Santa, getting peed on by infants and with a changing room with a bloody chalk-outline on the floor. Luckily, he used to be a detective, so he can investigate the death of the previous St. Nick.

Grandpa has another German friend from the old days, Ruebenkreutz (I’d love a Rueben with kraut, please) who gets really excited when he finds out Grandpa’s granddaughter has been “chosen” by the elf. Grandpa, however, seems less than thrilled.

It’s not Will Ferrell. It’s an ELF from the 1989 movie ELVES

After investigating in the local library (“Section 666”), Camel-smoking Mike discovers a link between the Nazis and the murder. You see, Hitler ordered his scientists to create a race of supermen (feeble little rubbery guys?), but they must mate with a virgin to achieve their true superpowers. Mike heads back to the store, where he plans to sleep, and the trio of girls break into the place for a party in the lingerie department. Yowza! Three boys show up to join the party. So now we have three bubble-headed, big-haired girls in fancy underwear, Grizzly Adams, an oversexed boy band, and the Elves of the Third Reich all in the same cheap location. Trouble is definitely brewing. And this is before the house detective is killed and three robbers in bad suits (also Nazis) show up. Several people are killed, and the store manager declares “It’s Christmas Eve tomorrow. You think anyone’s gonna want to shop here with blood stains on the floor?”

Back home, Gramps is determined to protect Kirsten from his wheelchair, but Mom doesn’t believe in any of his “stupid myths.” Mike enlists the aid of a professor who provides all the exposition necessary . . . and it deals with Noah’s Ark, God, and elves. He’s smart, you know, because he smokes a pipe. He even says about the Nazis, “If you ignore their brutality, they were just a bunch of crackpots.” What?

Mom goes a bit crazy when her daughter says she wants her father. “Go down to the study,” she screeches, harpy-like. “He’s your grandfather and your father!” I waited for the slapping to start (“He’s my father. He’s my grandfather. He’s my father.”) Gramps explains how Mom wasn’t harmed at all, that he needed to sleep with his daughter in order to produce a Kirsten – a receptacle for elf sperm. (All I can say is. . . Ewww!)

Mike tracks down another exposition-spouting John Waters look-alike professor to explain the very last pieces of the elf puzzle to him, and he’s off to the rescue. Racing to Kirsten’s house at an amazing forty miles per hour, his car is possessed by an elf spirit (what the what?) and blows up just as he leaps from the vehicle. But will he make it in time to prevent the master race from being created or even to stop the elf from getting his floppy hands on Kirsten’s virgin (Ha!) body? You’ll have to watch till the ludicrous apocalyptic ending to know for certain, but I really wanted to shout out “Oh, mighty Isis!”

Grizzly Adams himself (Dan Haggerty) is humanity’s only hope against ELVES!

Dan Haggerty must have been in his pre-Betty Ford Clinic days when he made this. He slurs his lines in a barely intelligible manner that sounds like Brando with a bag of marbles in his mouth. He’s pretty bad, seemingly bored out of his probably stoned skull.

And let’s take a moment to talk about the Elf himself. Despite his crinkled, scary face, the little beastie doesn’t look like he could chase down a double amputee. He’s weak, powerless, and if the elf-o-vision POV is any indication, he’s nearly blind. All he can do is sneak up on the clods in this move and attack them by surprise, because these schmucks don’t even try to fight back. At one point, the elf is actually frightened by a wind-up plush toy pig. They look like the kind of thing you can pick up at any Halloween City to decorate your lawn. Some poor P.A. is probably under it moving it around a bit. And what’s with the plural nature of the title of the movie? There’s only one damn elf in it!

Despite all these problems, ELVES moves quickly from point A to point B, with plenty of quotable dialogue, ugly violence, pretty girls with giant hair and 80’s slang, an extended nude scene by Deanna Lund in a bathtub, a throbbing synth score, car wrecks, scary faces inside Christmas trees, drugs, bad puppetry, and some seriously messed-up family situations. It’s never boring! With a bit of help from a few alcoholic beverages, this would be a laugh riot to watch with friends during the holidays. Peppermint Schnapps would probably be perfect.

More good lines:

“What’s going on? Are we going to be all right?” “No, Grandpa’s a Nazi.”

“Now that Hell is full, I wonder where you will go?”

“Santa said oral.”

A sick and twisted no-budget movie that’ll have you in stitches, this little wonder of ickiness is a cool antidote to all the syrupy Christmas films available, but I wouldn’t rush out to try and locate a copy. Good luck if you do, because it is tough to find.

I give it two incestuous Nazis out of four.

© Copyright 2011 by William D. Carl

Cinema Knife Fight’s Monstrous Question: BEST ACTOR/ACTRESS WHO NEVER MADE IT

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 50s Horror, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, 90s horror, Campy Movies, Grindhouse, Hammer Films, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Monsters, Monstrous Question of the Month, Movie History, Paul McMahon Columns, Universal Horror Films, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  MONSTROUS QUESTION
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, William D. Carl, and Paul McMahon

MICHAEL ARRUDA:   Welcome to this month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Today we’re asking our panel of Cinema Knife Fighters:  Who’s your favorite actor, or actress, in a horror/science fiction movie who didn’t make it big?

In other words, that person who never quite became a star, yet in this one movie or perhaps movies, you just loved him/her.  Name the actor, the movie, and what it was about his/her performance that you liked so much.  You can also comment on why you think this person never became a star.  Of course, in some cases, it’s obvious (the person died suddenly, for example).

So let’s get started.  William, let’s start with you.  Who’s the actor or actress you most wished had made it big?

WILLIAM D. CARL:  Thanks, Michael.  I’m going with Deborah Foreman, who burst onto the screen in the hot VALLEY GIRL in 1983, but she almost immediately gravitated toward the horror genre.

PAUL MCMAHON:  Cool.  Deborah Foreman was one of my picks too!

CARL:  Well, she was a terrific comedian, with a beautiful face and bod to match the bubbly personality; she nearly always played the perky girl next door type who got into some kind of trouble.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

Deborah Foreman in VALLEY GIRL.

In DESTROYER (1988), she faced a crazed Lyle Alzado in an abandoned prison where she was to play the lead in a women-in-prison film. In 1988, she played ‘the girlfriend’ in WAXWORK, facing off against vampires and her own sexual urges when confronted by De Sade!

L.L. SOARES:  My kind of woman!

CARL:  SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT (1989) found her in another thankless girlfriend role, but she held her own against Bruce Campbell and David Carradine. Later that year she played, yes, another girlfriend in the comedy/horror film LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS. In my heart, however, the lovely Deborah Foreman will always be the twins Buffy and Muffy from 1986’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY, a fun slasher comedy that is buoyed by her dual performance to a point where it makes the movie’s ludicrous twists (almost) palatable.

Foreman had a real knack for comedy and scares, and she knew when to be the growling animalistic twin and when to be sweet and innocent, as she was in most of her roles. I think if someone would’ve let her play something other than the girlfriend, she could have really become a huge star in either comedy or horror. Somehow, she never made it. After a few TV episodes (hello MACGYVER!), she’s disappeared from the scene. Nowadays, she’s a graphic artist and she makes and designs custom furniture.

Sigh.

In my heart, she will always be the beautiful, but mussed Muffy, attacking the last guy alive with one wickedly huge knife. Deborah, we miss you!

MCMAHON:  We certainly do.

ARRUDA:  I miss the Lobster Man from Mars.  Whatever happened to him?

SOARES:  He’s selling fish and chips in New Bedford.

Anyway, my favorite actor who never made it big would have to be Seamus O’Brien, who played Master Sardu in the 1976 movie BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. He is brilliant in the film, and has been described as a kind of a “poor man’s Vincent Price.” But I thought he was so much more. By turns spooky and darkly funny, his performance is nothing short of inspired.

The late great Seamus O'Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

The late great Seamus O’Brien in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS.

Born in London in June of 1932, his short film career includes only one other movie credit: a small role in 1975’s THE HAPPY HOOKER, but he also was a stage actor, and was performing in an off-Broadway production of “The Fantasticks” when he died.

And how did he die? He “was stabbed to death while trying to hold a burglar at his apartment on May 14, 1977,” thus ending a promising career in horror/exploitation cinema.

He was only 44 years old.

ARRUDA:  That’s sad.  Some of my picks had tragic ends as well, but we’ll get to those in a moment.  Paul, you want to weigh in?

MCMAHON:  Sure.

The one actress I’ve never been able to forget is Deborah Foreman, who William spoke about a couple of minutes ago.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL'S DAY.

Deborah Foreman in APRIL FOOL’S DAY.

As he said, Foreman played Muffy/ Buffy in the original APRIL FOOL’S DAY (1986). It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but I remember her having a screen presence that flipped from inviting to evil and back again. I always thought she deserved a more meaningful acting career than WAXWORK (1988) and LOBSTER MAN FROM MARS.

While we’re at it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Emily Perkins from STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990) and the GINGER SNAPS TRILOGY (2000 – 2004).

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

Emily Perkins in GINGER SNAPS

ARRUDA, SOARES, CARL:  Yo, Emily!

MCMAHON:  Where the heck did she go?

SOARES:  She ran off with the Lobster Man, and they had little Ginger Lobster babies.

ARRUDA:  Really?  I thought the Lobster Man from Mars had a thing for the DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (1954)?

SOARES:  That was just a fling.

ARRUDA:  Oh.  And here I was thinking Mars was just this ANGRY RED PLANET (1959).  Who knew there was so much lovin’ going on?

MCMAHON:  An actor that leaps to mind is Kevin J. O’Connor, who played Joey in DEEP RISING (1998) and Swann in LORD OF ILLUSIONS (1995). In both roles he disappeared into his character and commanded your attention whenever he was on screen. He works only sporadically now, and doesn’t usually get much to do. I’d love to see him find a role to carve himself into everyone’s memory.

Kevin J. O'Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Kevin J. O’Connor in LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

SOARES – Wait a minute here, what’s with all the choices? The question says “Who’s your favorite actor, or actress,” so I obviously assumed it meant one person.  No fair!

ARRUDA (dressed as the Joker): Wait til they get aload of me.

SOARES: Did you say something, Michael?

MCMAHON (ignoring them): Topmost, though, I have always been, and will probably always remain, stymied at the lack of respect for Jeffery DeMunn. DeMunn displayed a hell of a lot of talent as the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo in the underrated CITIZEN X (1995).

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

Jeffrey Demunn is probably best known as playing Dale on THE WALKING DEAD.

I saw the remake of THE BLOB (1988) afterwards, and DeMunn impressed me again, playing a Sheriff who genuinely cares for every member of his town. He was given a small role in THE X FILES: FIGHT THE FUTURE (1998), in which he had nothing to do.

Lately, he seems to have found favor with Frank Darabount, landing roles in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994), THE GREEN MILE (1999) THE MIST (2007), and most recently as Dale on THE WALKING DEAD, but I think the guy deserves a lot more. He’s a top-tier talent who’s been overlooked far too long.

And a bonus…

SOARES: Another one? WTF?

MCMAHON: Brian Yuzna’s first film SOCIETY (1989) featured some of the wildest, most outrageous make-up designs I’ve ever seen. The job was credited to “Screaming Mad George.” His real name is Joji Tani, and while he worked off and on for a while after that, his trail evaporates after 2005.

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Special effect genius, Screaming Mad George

Where the heck did he go?

SOARES: To be honest, he’s not an actor, so he really doesn’t count as an answer to this question, but I still have to agree with you. I’m a huge fan of SOCIETY, a completely underrated movie. And I used to look forward to seeing “Screaming Mad George’s” name in movie credits. He was terrific at making cool effects, and for awhile, you’d see his name everywhere. He was even in the creature effects crew of the original PREDATOR (1987). Where did he go?

ARRUDA:  That’s a good question.  A lot of folks just disappear from the scene.  Often they simply leave the business and continue on with their lives in other careers.

I’ve got a bunch of choices today.  Most of them are well-known, I think, but not as leading actors.

SOARES: A bunch??

ARRUDA: Robert Armstrong, for example, in KING KONG (1933) is quite famous among movie buffs for his role as Carl Denham, and while Armstrong was in fact a very successful character actor, appearing in over 160 movies, he never really made the jump to leading man.  He’s great as Denham in KING KONG, and I’ve always wished he’d played the lead in more movies.

Robert_Armstrong

From the Universal movies, I’m going with Dwight Frye.  Sure, Frye is known today for his scene stealing performances as Renfield in the Lugosi DRACULA (1931) and the hunchbacked assistant Fritz in the Karloff FRANKENSTEIN (1931), and you can find him in bit parts in other Universal monster movies, but that’s it.

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Dwight Frye in his most iconic role, as Renfeild in DRACULA (1931).

Watch him as Renfield in DRACULA and you can’t help but wish he’d gone on to bigger and better things.

He died young, just 44, of a heart attack, in 1943.

SOARES: Dwight Frye was terrific! Also check him out as Herman Glieb in THE VAMPIRE BAT (1933), another memorable role. He also had a small role, as Wilmer Cook, in THE MALTESE FALCON (1931). He really deserved to become a leading man/villain in horror flicks. He’s better than Lionel Atwill or George Zucco, who got their shots as leads!

ARRUDA: And speaking of DRACULA, I’d also go with Helen Chandler in DRACULA (1931).  She’s often and obviously overlooked in this movie because of the presence of Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, and Edward Van Sloan as Professor Van Helsing, but she makes a terrific and feisty Mina.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931's DRACULA.

Helen Chandler as Mina in a famous still from 1931’s DRACULA.

After a successful stage career, she never quite made it in the movies.  She lived a tragic life, struggling with alcohol and sleeping pill dependency, becoming disfigured in a fire, and eventually living out her days in a sanitarium.

From Hammer Films, I’ve always liked Francis Matthews, who appeared as Peter Cushing’s young assistant Hans in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958), and as heroic Charles Kent in the second Christopher Lee Dracula movie, DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966).  He’s been described as an “ineffective” leading man, but I’ve always found his performances topnotch.  Sure, he sounds just like Cary Grant, but so what?  I would have liked to have seen him hit it big.

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Francis Matthews with Peter Cushing in THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN

Then there’s Andrew Keir, who appeared with Matthews in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, as Father Sandor.  Keir was a very successful character actor, but as Father Sandor, the lead hero in DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS, he dominates his scenes, as he would again in arguably his most famous role as Professor Quatermass in FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  But he never reached the level of a Peter Cushing or a Christopher Lee in these movies, but based on his performances, he certainly could have.

Andrew Keir

Andrew Keir

Into the 1970s, I’d go with Jason Miller from THE EXORCIST (1973).  He’s great as young Father Karras.  I would have loved to have seen him act in many more movies, but he kept himself busy as a successful playwright.  He died in 2001.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

Jason Miller as Father Karras in THE EXORCIST.

SOARES:  I agree about Jason Miller, too. But I’ve got a problem. Bill Carl and I totally followed the rules and chose one person. I thought Paul was bad, but you’re listing so many people it sounds like you’re writing a book on the subject. What’s going on here?

ARRUDA: Where have you been?  We always get carried away with these things.  This is nothing new.  Why haven’t you been paying attention?  Have you been busy writing novels or something?

SOARES:  Yes.

ARRUDA:  There you go.

And from today, I’d go with Idris Elba.  He’s starred in a bunch of movies, including PROMETHEUS (2012) and THOR (2011), but mostly in supporting roles, which is too bad because he’s great in every movie I see him in.  He’s busily acting today, so there’s still time for him to make it big.  This guy needs to make it as a lead actor, and I’m hoping he does.

Idris Elba

Idris Elba

SOARES: Another one! But I have to agree about Elba, he’s great in everything he does. He is more appreciated in his native England, by the way, where he plays the lead in the compelling TV series LUTHER (worth checking out on BBC America). In America, he was pretty memorable as Russell “Stringer” Bell on the HBO series THE WIRE (2002 – 2004), but he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He was even turned down for the lead role in the recent movie ALEX CROSS, so that the role could go to “bigger name” Tyler Perry, who was awful!

ARRUDA: And that’s all we’ve got.

SOARES: Finally! I thought you were doing your dissertation or something!

ARRUDA:  Now that you mention it, it would be a fun idea for a book.

SOARES:  So, until next time, remember that there’s always something new here at CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Tell all your movie-loving friends to check out the site!

ARRUDA:  That’s right.  Well, thanks for joining us for this week’s MONSTROUS QUESTION column.  Good night, everybody.

—END—

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: HIDE AND GO SHRIEK! (1988)

Posted in 1980s Movies, 2012, 80s Horror, Grindhouse, Horror, Kinky Killers, Nick Cato Reviews, Slasher Movies, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , , on November 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 58:
Generic, but FUN
By Nick Cato

The late 1980s were a semi-sad time for grindhouse aficionados. The VHS craze had left theaters a barren-wasteland for horror and exploitation film fans. But every once in a while something interesting was granted a theatrical release: 1988’s slickly-titled, late-to-the-game slasher outing HIDE AND GO SHREIK was one of them.

I took a solo-trip to the (now defunct) Fox Twin Theater around Thanksgiving of 1988, as most of my friends were either in college or passed out drunk somewhere by this stage of the game. Despite being opening night, the theater was relatively uncrowded. I noticed several other people my age (all guys) in attendance, and there was that certain “I hope this doesn’t suck” expectation on all their faces. Be it desperation or some act of otherworldly celluloid intervention, by the time the film had run a mere five minutes, the place was applauding and cheering on this low budget stalk-and-slash fest like we were at some kind of sporting event.

The “plot” here is simple: a bunch of high school graduates (who, of course, look 10 years older than high school graduates) decide to celebrate by having an overnight party at one of their father’s furniture stores (yes…you read that correctly). The humongous, multi-floored store features mostly beds, so I’m guessing this was one of the guy’s ideas. In fact, this place could easily have been called BED DEPOT. After some drinking and horsing around, someone suggests they play a game of hide and seek, and everyone agrees (I’m guessing alcohol clouded everyone’s judgment here). Naturally, there just happens to be someone else in the store who begins to kill those he finds. Most of the cast are typical big-haired 80s types, as well as your token nerd. (NOTE: we DO learn earlier that an ex-con is living in the building as one of the stock workers, so naturally he’s the prime suspect. You have to give the boss of this place a hand for helping out those trying to readjust to society. One scene of this guy cooking dinner had the audience laughing out loud…he really made those veggies his bitch!).

There are plenty of goofy sexual situations (none too graphic), so it’s safe to assume the director was as inspired as much by PORKY’S as he was FRIDAY THE 13th. One strip-tease seduction sequence is laughably bad, and one poor guy is insulted for not “lasting” long enough. There’s not much nudity but most of that can be blamed on the film’s poor lighting.

Then there are the kill scenes (which, after all, is the main reason to see a slasher film), but unfortunately about half of the teens survive the ordeal. Our killer does manage to off the few he catches in inventive ways (one is deep-sixed by a mannequin arm, and one poor girl loses her head via elevator in the most crowd-pleasing scene).

Like any classic low budget 80s slasher, HIDE AND GO SHREIK has its moments of confusion (the killer dresses in drag in one scene, then in S&M leather in the next) and the opening sequence of him raping and killing a hooker left everyone dumbfounded. I’m guessing they had to explain his craziness somehow? And despite its R-rating, the gore level is kind-of low and the language used by annoyed teens is laughable (perhaps the screenwriters had an aversion to profanity?). Either way, “teenagers” haven’t spoken this calmly since LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. There’s also an attempt at the killer blaming his actions on someone else, which leads to a showdown finale that has been done a zillion times before (it’s sort of like SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983).Sort of. Kind of. Trust me on this one).

With all this one has going against it, it’s hard to pin-point why it manages to work. Perhaps it’s the setting; what horny teenage guys wouldn’t want to spend the night in a huge bed warehouse with a bunch of cute babes? Or maybe it’s some genuine suspense seldom seen in films of this type: a few stalk scenes build solid tension and lead to gut-cringing murders (one girl has her head smashed into a sink, filmed from the bottom of a see-through prop!). There are also several shots of mannequins staring at you that bring TOURIST TRAP (1979)to mind and further increase the film’s spooky atmosphere. Either way, HIDE AND GO SHREIK is one of the last of the truly fun 80s slasher films, complete with a very latent gay theme and a rare appearance by the beautiful Annette Sinclair (Google her).

While this was released on VHS, an official DVD release is still eagerly awaited by we legions of the obscure…but ah, the memories.

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

What’s a slasher without issues? HIDE AND GO SHRIEK’s has plenty!

 

Quick Cuts: Favorite Movies by DAVID CRONENBERG

Posted in 2012, 70s Horror, 80s Horror, Body Horror, Classic Films, Cult Movies, David Cronenberg, Disease!, Disturbing Cinema, ESP, Evil Kids!, Hit Men, Indie Horror, Parasites!, Telekinesis with tags , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2012 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS Presents: THE MOVIES OF DAVID CRONENBERG
Featuring: Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

Director David Cronenberg has been giving us nightmares for over 40 years.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  With the release of David Cronenberg’s latest movie, COSMOPOLIS (2012), we’ve decided to take a look at our favorite Cronenberg movies.

*****

L.L. SOARES: David Cronenberg is such an iconic director, and has made so many great films to choose from. But, without a doubt, my all-time favorite Cronenberg film is CRASH (1990), which happens to be based on one of my all-time favorite novels (of the same name) by J.G. Ballard. With an amazing cast that includes James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette, and Elias Koteas as charismatic anti-hero Vaughan, it’s the story of a man (Spader as “Jim Ballard”) who experiences a traumatic car accident and then discovers a strange cult-like group of people that fetishizes (and just about worships) car crashes. Cronenberg captures the cold, antiseptic feel of Ballard’s very bleak novel, and the movie was pretty controversial (like a lot of Cronenberg films) when it first came out.

(Not to be confused with the Paul Haggis film “Crash:” from 2001)

Cronenberg has made so many great movies. But my other favorites include:

DEAD RINGERS (1988) —With Jeremy Irons in one of his best performances ever as twin gynecologists who share a relationship with one woman (Genevieve Bujold), who can’t tell them apart. Then things start to get violent.

VIDEODROME (1983)—With James Woods as a man who finds a very disturbing cable TV channel that changes his life in scary ways. Including the famous scene where Woods has a VCR slot in his stomach. Also starring Blondie lead singer Deborah Harry.

THE BROOD (1979) —the first Cronenberg film I ever saw, and still a favorite, with little monster kids created from the rage of Samantha Eggar. With Oliver Reed.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) —The underground classic novel by William S. Burroughs was considered unfilmable, but that didn’t stop Cronenberg from bringing it to the big screen. He makes it coherent by mixing a lot of Burroughs’ wild imagery with biographical incidents from the writer’s life.

*****

JENNY OROSEL: I have a soft spot in my heart for CRASH (1990), seeing as I got my driver’s license in a CRASH t-shirt (I got my license late—I’m not that young). The humor was lost on my tester.

NAKED LUNCH (1991) blew me away because I had no idea how anyone could turn that book into a movie, and I think he pulled it off the only way possible.

*****

 

NICK CATOSHIVERS (a.k.a. THEY CAME FROM WITHIN) (1975) is my personal favorite Cronenberg film. It’s a genuinely scary tale of a parasite that turns the residents of a luxury condo into possessed sexual predators. It’s not his best technical achievement, but it gets the goosebumps going better than most standard horror films.

While I’d like to list VIDEODROME as my second favorite, that honor goes to CRASH (1996). Only Cronenberg can take such a bizarre subject (people turned on by car crashes) and make it a film that holds up amazingly well to repeat viewings. It’s unlike any film before or since.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Without doubt, my favorite David Cronenberg movie is THE FLY (1986), which is one of my favorite horror movies from the 1980s, one of my favorites of all time, and certainly one of my favorite remakes.  I love the performances by Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, the gruesome special effects, and how this film captured how it would really be to have your DNA mixed with the DNA of a fly, a concoction that would occur at the molecular level.  Cronenberg is masterful at the helm here.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I’m also a fan of VIDEODROME (1983) and THE DEAD ZONE (1983).

*****

 PAUL MCMAHON:  It feels traitorous to choose only a single Cronenberg film as my favorite, so I’ll pick two.

First, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005). Its brilliance starts with the emotionless opening sequence of random cruelty that mirrors our fears. The film moves you through the realization of a specific act of violence and explores the way that one event changes the people involved. Violence shoves its way into your life and grows roots. No matter how you try to hide from the memory of such a traumatic event, it never goes away and never lets you forget. Cronenberg’s movie dramatizes this brilliantly, and is very uncomfortable to watch.

Second, and I’m just realizing this is another brilliant representation of trauma —THE BROOD (1979). This time the violence comes from divorce and the ensuing custody battle over a young daughter. THE BROOD features a progressive psychotherapist who has developed a way to make his patients’ internal and invisible pain manifest physically, where it can be seen and acknowledged. Cronenberg himself was struggling through just such a divorce while he directed this movie, and his pain bleeds through the screen. Like the patients of Dr. Raglan, David Cronenberg crafted a physical representation of his inner turmoil. He has said that it’s the one film of his that he cannot bear to watch again.

*****

MARK ONSPAUGHSCANNERS (1981) —So audacious and amazing! I remembered hearing something about this movie and my wife and I were at a theater where they showed a red band trailer. I whispered, “I think this is the movie where people’s heads blow up,” knowing she’d want to look away —she didn’t hear me —man, did she shriek when that happened! For months after it came out, a friend and I kept repeating Michael Ironside’s line, “I’m gonna suck your brain DRY!”

THE FLY (1986) —It was Cronenberg who layered in the romance into Charles Pogue’s script, elevating this movie from mere creature feature to a masterpiece of horrific tragedy. I don’t think Jeff Goldblum or Geena Davis have ever been better.

So many to choose from, including EASTERN PROMISES (2007), HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) and SPIDER (2002). If you want to take what amounts to a class in cinema, watch SPIDER with the director’s commentary – I don’t want to spoil it for those who didn’t see it, but there is a major change in the movie I didn’t even detect, at first – brilliant.

*****

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  And that about sums up David Cronenberg.  Thanks, everyone!

L.L. SOARES:  And thank you, readers, for joining us today!

—-END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Nick Cato, Paul McMahon, Mark Onspaugh, and Jenny Orosel

Me and Lil’ Stevie Get Lost in THE DEAD ZONE (1983)

Posted in 2012, 80s Horror, David Cronenberg, ESP, Killers, Me and Lil' Stevie, Near-Death Experiences, Peter Dudar Reviews, Psychic Powers, Stephen King Movies, Supernatural, Thrillers with tags , , , , , on August 7, 2012 by knifefighter

Me And Lil’ Stevie
Get Lost In
THE DEAD ZONE (1983)
By Peter N. Dudar

(Exterior: Night. Establishing shot of a gazebo on a lakeside park. Camera slowly zooms toward the gazebo, where a grizzly scene is taking place. We see a young girl being charmed by a stranger into thinking she’s safe, until the stranger pulls her close and produces a set of medical scissors, which he handily uses to stab the girl repeatedly. While this is occurring, there is another figure huddled in the far corner of the gazebo watching all of this take place. As the camera zooms in, we see the figure is a man holding a ventriloquist dummy in the form of Master of Horror, Stephen King).

Lil’ Stevie: This is terrible! Somebody should do something about this!

Peter: Welcome, Constant Viewer, to another episode of ME AND LIL’ STEVIE. Today, we’ll be examining the 1983 David Cronenberg film, THE DEAD ZONE.

Lil’ Stevie: Which, I’ll have you know, is based on my 1979 novel…My FIRST book to reach #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Ka-Chow! Who’s your daddy?

Peter: It also happens to be the first Castle Rock story. Fans of Stephen King are already aware that Castle Rock is King’s signature fictional town; the Norman Rockwell-esque portrait of Everywhere, USA. Castle Rock and its characters transition over several other novels and short stories, including CUJO and NEEDFUL THINGS. But for now, let’s just focus on THE DEAD ZONE (1983), and the tragic tale of Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, SLEEPY HOLLOW, 1999). Johnny is a school teacher in Castle Rock, living a perfect, happy life with his plans to marry his sweetheart, fellow schoolteacher Sarah Bracknell (Brooke Adams, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1978). The movie begins with a glimpse of the young couple finishing off their Friday at school, only to slip off on a date to a local amusement park to ride the roller coaster.

Lil’ Stevie: What the hell is going on with Walken’s hair? He looks like the goofiest nerd you ever saw. What a Poindexter! Nobody on the planet would believe a hot chick like Brooke Adams would fall for him.

Peter: No argument here. Walken, fresh from THE DEER HUNTER (1978), is geeked out to the max with his goofy hair and glasses. But he and Sarah look very happy together and very much in love, which is exactly what King and Cronenberg want to convey. That’s the essence of this tragic tale…that fate can be so cruel to one man that everything he loves will be carried away, until the only thing he can tangibly call his own is his privacy, and he can’t even have that after his accident.

Lil’ Stevie: You mean he wets his pants?

(Peter hauls off and slaps Lil’ Stevie, forcing his wooden head to spin around comically on his body).

Lil’ Stevie: What’d you do THAT for?

Peter: You know very well what I meant by “accident.” Johnny and Sarah ride the roller coaster, and in the middle of the ride, he begins to feel a terrible pain in his head. His little joyride gives a touch of foreshadowing of what is to come. The ride is quickly over, and Johnny takes Sarah home. A rainstorm comes out of nowhere, just as he is kissing Sarah goodnight. Sarah offers to let him stay the night, wants him to not go home, but the unusually prudish Johnny tells her that “some things are worth waiting for” before kissing her one last time and heading back to his car…and driving off to meet his true destiny.

Lil’ Stevie: Time-out! In my novel, Johnny’s “destiny” actually begins way back during his childhood, when he fell and bumped his head on this frozen lake we’re standing beside, and had his first bout with extra-sensory perception. If you’ll recall the whole “Wheel of Fortune” incident at the beginning of the book…

Peter: Calm yourself, Lil’ Stevie. As always, we’re not concerned with the book. Your point is duly noted, but the movie is self-sustaining as it is. For us, Johnny’s “gift” is revealed after his accident while driving home in the rainstorm. An 18-wheeler, piloted by a sleepy driver, provides all the bad luck that destiny can throw at him. Johnny’s car crashes into it, and he is consequently plunged into a five-year coma. When he awakens five years later at the Weizak Clinic, he’s lost and confused. He’s baffled over the fact that there’s not a scratch on him, until his parents and his doctor, Sam Weizak (Herbert Lom, Chief Inspector Dreyfus from THE PINK PANTHER films) break the news to him that he was asleep for all that time.

Lil’ Stevie: And that everything he had is now gone. “Sarah’s turned her back on ya…she now cleaves to another man, a husband” his rabidly Christian mother informs him.

Peter: Yeah, what the hell is up with that? Nobody talks like that. It sounds so silly it’s almost irritating. That’s one of my bugaboos about this near-perfect movie: There’s some very bad dialogue in some of the scenes that left me wishing I could rewrite the screenplay. But it’s forgivable. What King is trying to convey is that Johnny’s mother is, indeed, a stern Christian woman.

Lil’ Stevie: It doesn’t quite build the same level of conflict I was trying to create in my novel. I was going for the whole “ESP as a blessing and a curse” vibe.

Peter: Again, it’s not necessary for the movie. We already get that through the tragedy of Johnny losing his love, and the psychic episodes he’s about to begin having, that leave him feeling like a part of him is dying. His first episode comes in the form of a vision he has when one of the nurses tries to comfort him. He sees her daughter huddled in the corner of her burning bedroom. The vision is striking, with Johnny stretched out in the little girl’s bed, watching the flames quickly consuming the house as the little girl screams out in terror. Windows break. The fishbowl boils over until it, too, shatters. Even the bed Johnny is lying in has flames growing off the blankets. It’s frightening and intense, and when it ends, Johnny screams at the nurse that “It’s not too late!” And, of course, the scene continues with the nurse pulling up outside her burning house, just as the firemen carry her daughter out, alive and badly frightened.

Lil’ Stevie: See? It’s a gift!

Peter: But it’s a gift that he doesn’t want. Or understands just yet. The REAL Stephen King is fascinated with psychic phenomena. We’ve already witnessed it with CARRIE (1976), and will see it again later in FIRESTARTER (1984). I think it’s the same appeal that many folks have with superhero stories; where the average person (or the “nobody”) has their world turned upside down with supernatural powers and abilities. THE DEAD ZONE almost feels like an allegory, only the hero never preoccupies himself with using this ability to better his own lot in life. Johnny draws a parallel between himself and Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” about being “a bachelor and in debt to no one, nobody troubled their head about him.” “It’s what I want,” Johnny concludes, meaning a life of anonymity.

Lil’ Stevie: And that’s the curse. Once people hear about his psychic episode, they all want his help for their own selfish, personal reasons.

Peter: And that includes Sheriff George Bannerman (Tom Skerritt, ALIEN, 1979). Sheriff Bannerman shows up at Johnny’s home and asks for help in tracking down the Castle Rock Killer, who has been murdering young girls during the five years he was in a coma. Which is what brings us here to this gazebo.

Lil’ Stevie: I could have very easily made this the focus of my novel. The Castle Rock Killer is both frightening and intriguing.

Peter: Yes, but its Johnny’s story. If you look at how this movie is presented, it doesn’t appear to be laid out in a three-act play. Rather, it’s broken down into smaller sub-chapters that run consecutively. Each of his “episodes” plays out like a self-contained television show. The Castle Rock Killer is only one small portion of the complete story. The same with Johnny’s episode with his student, Chris Stuart (Simon Craig, CONCRETE ANGELS, 1987), where he has a vision that Chris and some of his friends will fall through the ice and drown…a fate that Johnny slowly begins to realize he has the power to change.

Lil’ Stevie: And this ability is what gives this story a title. THE DEAD ZONE is the part of the psychic visions where the outcome is not certain. It’s a blind spot, and that blind spot is that place where Johnny can alter the outcome. The whole “Wheel of Fortune” thing I mentioned earlier isn’t just a carnival game that Johnny wins thanks to his psychic ability. It’s a metaphor for life. Johnny’s gift is that he can interfere with the “Wheel of Fortune” as it spins.

Peter: Okay, that’s kind of deep. But again, we don’t need the metaphor on the big screen. Whatever exposition we need comes through in the action parts of this movie. And in the moments of dialogue between Johnny and Dr. Weizak.

(From somewhere nearby, we hear the sound of a brass band playing patriotic songs. A crowd has gathered in what looks to be a political rally).

Peter: What the hell is going on over there?

Lil’ Stevie: That’s the final piece of this puzzle. Greg Stillson is running for the US Senate. Of course, Stillson (Martin Sheen, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, 2012) is just as deranged and dangerous as the Castle Rock Killer, only in a much grander fashion. By way of a huge coincidence, Dr. Weizak had his life hugely altered by the Holocaust, where he was separated from his mother during the raid of their European town by the Nazis. We all know the historical significance of Hitler’s reign. And through a vision Johnny has while shaking Stillson’s hand, we see that Stillson will one day achieve the office of the President of the United States, and will ultimately start a nuclear war.

Peter: Yeah, Sheen is terrific as the evil Greg Stillson. And when all the pieces of this puzzle are in place, we see Johnny finally realizing that what he thought was a curse is actually a gift. The morality behind Johnny’s character and all the struggles he’s endured since his accident are what make this story so effectively compelling. John Smith isn’t a superhero, but he is a hero for the everyday man, in the struggle of good versus evil. Where Cronenberg shines as a director is utilizing the psychological portions of the story to display how Johnny evolves as a human being. There are times when his psychic gift feels more like a terminal disease, or at least a terrible weight that Johnny has to carry. The emotional blows to his life, and the permanent limp that handicaps him, begin to seem trivial compared to the weight of having to decide if he should give up his own life to save the world. It’s just excellent storytelling.

Lil’ Stevie: And in the end, this still comes across as one of the most faithful adaptations of my work, even if they DID cut back and compress everything about Johnny’s childhood.

Peter: (Rolling eyes), I keep telling you…YOU didn’t write anything.

Lil’ Stevie: I knew you were going to say that.

Peter: Would you shut up so we can wrap this up?

Lil’ Stevie: I knew you were going to say that, too.

Peter: What makes this movie stand out in terms of good, successful adaptations is both the excellent screenplay by Jeffrey Boam and Cronenberg’s fiercely unyielding vision as a director. Cronenberg’s oeuvre as a filmmaker is nothing short of impeccable. SCANNERS (1981), VIDEODROME (1983), THE FLY (1986), and A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2005) are all amazing, disturbing films. What Cronenberg offers with THE DEAD ZONE really underscores the beauty beneath the tragedy. It is a story of unrequited love, and of ultimate sacrifice in the name of love. And it’s accomplished in bursts of violence and darkness and death. I loved this movie, and would put it in my Top 5 Stephen King adaptations.

Lil’ Stevie: It’s amazing what a difference a competent director can make. With no popcorn-scares and no CGI, THE DEAD ZONE is dark and disturbing and atmospheric.

Peter: What’s also amazing is how much this particular title has become a part of our pop culture. Like with cell phones, when we drop a call because we somehow wandered into a DEAD ZONE. They even use it in commercials.

Lil’ Stevie: Not to mention THE DEAD ZONE was also adapted into the cult fan-favorite television show of the same name (2002 – 2007), starring that goofy kid from SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984).

Peter: Long Duk Dong?

Lil’ Stevie: No, the other goofy kid…Anthony Michael Hall.

Peter: Of course, horror fans will also recognize the title of Bev Vincent’s column NOTES FROM THE ZONE, which runs in Cemetery Dance Magazine, and deals with the life and fiction of Stephen King. And Mainers will recognize the call-letters, WZON, the radio station OWNED by Stephen King.

Lil’ Stevie: It’s everywhere!

Peter: I knew you’d say that.

Lil’ Stevie: Cut it out!

Peter: I knew you’d say that, too.

Lil’ Stevie: You’re really annoying.

Peter: Yep…You’re almost predictable.

(Lil’ Stevie whistles over to the Castle Rock Killer, who is kneeling down next to the dead girl on the gazebo floor).

Lil’ Stevie: Hey, Frank…My friend here says you kill young girls because you’re impotent and you like dressing in your Mommy’s underwear.

(Frank stands up and turns his scissors towards Peter).

Peter: Oops…Well, folks, thanks for joining us. See you next time.

The End

© Copyright 2012 by Peter N. Dudar