Archive for the ESP Category

THE CONJURING (2013)

Posted in 2013, Based on a True Story, Cinema Knife Fights, Demonic Possession, Demons, ESP, Evil Spirits, Haunted Houses, LL Soares Reviews, Paranormal with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: THE CONJURING (2013)
By L.L. Soares

246460id1c_Conjuring_INTL_27x40_1Sheet.indd(THE SCENE: A house that has been plagued with paranormal disturbances. The doorbell rings and the family’s FATHER opens the door to see L.L. SOARES standing on the front steps)

L.L. SOARES: You called for a demon specialist?

FATHER: Yes, I did. You sure got here fast.

LS: Yes, I hopped on my broomstick, er, I mean I hurried right over.

FATHER: Don’t you have a partner you do these paranormal investigations with?

LS: Professor Arruda? He’s busy right now on the astral plane. But fear not, I will have the situation under control in no time. What happens to be the problem?

FATHER (pulls out a list): Well, there’s a whole bunch of things. People having their feet grabbed late at night; we’re hearing spooky voices; there are birds slamming themselves into the windows; ugly faces keep popping up in mirrors; mothers are being possessed by demons so that they can kill their children…

LS: Hold up! Not so fast. You sound like you’re reading off a list of haunted house clichés. Are you sure this has all happened to you?

FATHER: I swear it. This is based on a true story.

LS: Very well. Let’s deal with these things one at a time, shall we? But let me move around the house first and see if I feel the presence of any spirits.

(LS stands in the middle of the room and closes his eyes)

LS: I feel it! I feel it!

FATHER: You sense the ghosts?

LS: No, I feel my hay fever coming on (sneezes)

You know, this dilemma of yours sounds an awful lot like a movie I just saw called THE CONJURING. Have you seen it yet, by any chance.

FATHER: Err, no, I’ve never heard of it.

LS: I can tell you’re lying, but no matter. I will pretend as if I believe you and I’ll tell you a little about it.

FATHER (looks around): Okay, I guess.

LS: THE CONJURING is the latest movie about a family that moves into a house that is haunted by ghosts. Except, it’s not ghosts. It’s demons! And if they move somewhere else, the demons will follow them. We saw pretty much the same exact plot in everything from the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies (which began in 2007) to INSIDIOUS (2010) to every other recent haunted house movie.

THE CONJURING begins with an interesting scene where two women talk about a doll in their house that was possessed by a demon. The doll is actually pretty friggin weird looking, and they keep showing its face in close-up. The women’s story is pretty good, too. But then we learn this movie isn’t about them. They’re just part of a film that paranormal investigators Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are showing a class full of eager students of the supernatural.

Instead of this cool story about a crazy-looking doll, we have to sit through yet another normal American family moving into a house where things start getting weird. One girl wakes up every night when someone grabs her foot and tries to pull her off her bed. Another girl has an imaginary friend who just might be a spooky demonic creature. The family’s mother is on the verge of being possessed by an evil spirit. This would all be interesting, if we hadn’t seen this exact same thing a hundred times before.

Sure, THE CONJURING has a few nice, original moments. I really liked the part about the clapping game, where the kids, five girls of various ages, run around their spooky new house playing a game of hide and seek, where one of them is blindfolded and can demand that the others clap their hands when she gets near. The fact that a spooky supernatural creature decides to play along is actually pretty effective.

I liked that one of the kids finds a strange music box where, if you wind it up, it plays music and a swirling hypno-wheel mirror spins around. If you stare at it long enough, you’re supposed to be able to see a spirit over your shoulder. It’s a fun prop. There’s also a very cool room in the Warrens’ house where they keep supernatural souvenirs from all of their case studies, including that creepy doll I mentioned earlier that sits on a chair in an air-tight glass case. I wanted to know more about this room, and explore its contents more. But we only get to see it a few times briefly. I was much more interested in that room than I was about what was going on in the Perron family’s house.

I also like a lot of the people in this movie. Like Lili Taylor. Over the years, she’s been in a lot ofgood movies like SAY ANYTHING (1989) and DOGFIGHT (1991) and Abel Ferrara’s THE ADDICTION (1995). She was Valerie Solanas in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (1996) and was in John Waters’ PECKER (1998). She’s been in tons of good independent movies, and it’s good to see her in this movie, too, in a role that’s more than just another supporting character. Except, despite this one having a little more meat than her usual Hollywood roles, she’s really just…another supporting character. The movie isn’t really about her. It’s about Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are supposedly real-life demonologists. This movie is “Based on a True Story” after all.

FATHER: That always scares me when a movie is “Based on a True Story.” That means it’s real, right?

LS: Actually, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a trick to scare dumb people.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are really good as the Warrens. I’ll give them that. Wilson has been in some good movies like HARD CANDY (2005). LITTLE CHILDREN (2006) and was even Nite Owl in WATCHMEN (2009). As for horror films, he was also in the previously mentioned INSIDIOUS, which a lot of people seemed to like. INSIDIOUS was also another movie about a house haunted by demons that was directed by James Wan, who also directed THE CONJURING. Wilson is also going to be in INSIDIOUS 2 later this year.

Ron Livingston is also here as the family’s father, Roger Perron; I’ve liked Livingston ever since he was in OFFICE SPACE in 1999, even though he’s not given a lot to do in this movie.

As for Farmiga, she first got noticed in dramas like THE DEPARTED (2006) and UP IN THE AIR (2009), but has been doing a lot of horror-related stuff lately as well, like ORPHAN (2009) and she’s been great as Norma Bates, Norman’s mother, in the new TV series BATES MOTEL. Farmiga, as the clairvoyant Lorraine Warren, is the best thing in this movie. Like the kid in THE SIXTH SENSE, Lorraine “sees dead people” and once she gets to the house where the Perron family lives, she starts to see spooky dead kids and witches hanging from trees and lots of other things no one else sees. I really liked her character, and wished the movie was even more about her. Why do we need this family that’s being tormented anyway? Why not have Lorraine Warren go head to head with that spooky doll from the beginning of the movie?

Well, the main reason is because if they don’t introduce the family and the haunted house, then they can’t go through the checklist of haunted house clichés that are recycled yet again in this movie. If you’ve seen any of the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies, you’ll know them all by heart. The ugly, ghostly creatures that pop up out of nowhere, the tons of fake scares to keep you hopping until the real ones arrive, the speech about how “it’s not ghosts that are haunting the house, it’s demons that are haunting you!” The thing is, despite the fact that there are some interesting characters here, THE CONJURING really offers nothing new to the latest paranormal troubles trend. We’ve seen it all before.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can't save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

Vera Farmiga is the best thing in THE CONJURING, but even she can’t save this movie from the mountain of cliches.

I would have loved to see the Warrens in a story that was more original, that wasn’t so damn predictable. There was a woman behind me in the theater who screamed at the top of her lungs every time something “scary” happened in THE CONJURING, even though we all knew it was going to happen before it even did. I felt like asking her “Haven’t you ever seen a PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie before, lady?” Or, better yet, “Shut the hell up, you big mouth.”

THE CONJURING is directed by James Wan, as I mentioned before. He directed the similarly-plotted INSIDIOUS, but you might also remember him as the guy who directed the first SAW movie back in 2003. Wan also directed DEAD SILENCE about creepy ventriloquist dummies and the vigilante movie DEATH SENTENCE, both in 2007. I like a lot of these movies, and I likeWan. I don’t have a problem with him, really. Except that he seems to be in a rut lately. He keeps trying to cash in with these movies that take the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and remove the “found footage” aspect and just present things in a straightforward movie way. But it seems like he’s making the same movie over and over. His next one, INSIDIOUS 2, which will be about yet another house haunted by a demonic presence, comes out later this year. Enough! Come up with something new already!

It irritated me that they couldn’t come up with a new spin on this material. Even the scene where Lili Taylor is possessed by the demon witch and has to have an exorcism, is business as usual. She spits up blood, she levitates, she throws people across the room. Ho hum. It’s just the same old thing.

So I didn’t really love this one. I felt like the script was by the numbers, even if it did have some characters that were more interesting than usual. The movie pretty much squanders any chance it has to do something new with this subgenre. Even if there is a mention of another “haunted” house in Long Island toward the end (can you say Amityville?).

THE CONJURING could have been great, but instead it’s just so-so. I give it two and a half knives.

FATHER: Well, that’s all nice. But I thought you were here to get rid my demon!

LS: Yeah, yeah. I’m done with my review, so you can stop badgering me. Just show me where the evil sucker is.

(FATHER takes them through a living room full of kids, all sitting around a TV set watching old reruns of THE BRADY BUNCH and leads LS to a door that leads down to the cellar)

LS: Yet another story where a demon is down in the basement. I bet something really bad happened down there once.

FATHER: Yup. A murder.

(CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC)

(They go down the stairs, where a demonic presence awaits them, rocking back and forth on a rocking chair, with its back toward them)

FATHER: Can’t you help us?

LS: Certainly I can.

Turn and face me, oh demon. Turn and meet your master!

(MICHAEL ARRUDA turns around in the chair, wearing a shawl)

MA: There you are! I’ve been waiting forever for you to show up. And it’s really damp down here!

LS: I thought you said you were going to practice astral projection. Who knew you were the demon haunting this house.

MA: Demon, schmemon. I’m just scaring this family because I was bored.

LS: Fair enough. And they are pretty stupid.

MA: Let’s get out of here and get a pitcher of beer. I’m buying.

LS: Sounds good to me.

FATHER: Hey, where are you going?

LS: I’m done here. Oh, and by the way, I’ll send you my bill in the mail. I guarantee, when you see my fee, it will scare the living hell out of you.

MA: Then maybe you should pay for the pitcher.

LS: Be quiet and get up those stairs!

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE CONJURING  ~two and a half knives.

 

Screaming Streaming Movie Review: THE GIFT (2000)

Posted in 2013, ESP, Ghosts!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Paranormal, Sam Raimi with tags , , , , , , on March 8, 2013 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Streaming Video Movie Review:  THE GIFT (2000)
By Michael Arruda

The Gift poster

With Sam Raimi’s OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) coming to theaters this weekend, I decided to check out one of his earlier movies, THE GIFT (2000), currently available on Streaming Video.

THE GIFT is a tale of psychic phenomena, murder and the supernatural, set in the Deep South.

Annie (Cate Blanchett), a widow who’s raising her young boys on her own, is a psychic working out of her home in the back woods of rural Georgia.  She treats various clients who are looking for answers regarding their future and their past.

Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), for example, is a disturbed young man who is searching for clues to his troubled past, as he’s haunted by an image of a sinister blue diamond.  Annie also treats Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) who is stuck in a dead end relationship with her violently abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and Donnie is none too happy about his wife seeking Annie’s services, and as a result he threatens both Annie and her children.

When a woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) disappears under mysterious circumstances, the woman’s fiancé Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), the principal where Annie’s children attend school, turns to Annie for help when the local sheriff (J.K. Simmons) fails to find any leads.  Annie’s visions lead her to suspect Donnie, and the evidence supports her visions.  Donnie is arrested, charged with murder, and brought to trial by the district attorney David Duncan (Gary Cole), who it turns out has secrets of his own regarding young Jessica King.

As the trial goes on, Annie begins to doubt her initial visions regarding Donnie’s guilt and soon finds her life threatened by those who can’t afford to allow her to use her gift to uncover the truth.

I liked THE GIFT a lot, and my favorite part of this thriller was its first-rate cast.  Leading the way is Cate Blanchett as Annie.  Blanchett comes off as softer and more vulnerable here than in most of the roles I associate with her, in movies such as THE AVIATOR (2004), INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (2008) and, more recently, HANNA (2011).

As the psychologically disturbed Buddy, Giovanni Ribisi delivers the best performance in the film.  I like Ribisi a lot, enjoying him most recently in GANGSTER SQUAD (2013).  Here, he plays a very troubled guy who values his relationship with Annie, as she’s the only person who is willing to listen to him and lift a finger to help him.

The rest of the cast is also excellent.  Hilary Swank is perfect as the young wife who should take Annie’s advice and leave her abusive husband, but as she tells Annie, she can’t leave Donnie because she has nowhere else to go and feels as if she’s nothing without him.

Keanu Reeves comes on very strong as the impulsive and overly violent Donnie, perhaps too strong.  He plays things over the top throughout, making Donnie completely unsympathetic, a total jerk, and in the process one-dimensional.

On the other hand, Greg Kinnear is sufficiently sympathetic as the grieving fiancé, while Katie Holmes shines as the volatile young vixen, Jessica, who doesn’t think twice about cheating on her man or laughing in his face.  Ouch!

Both J.K. Simmons as the sheriff and Gary Cole as the district attorney add fine support to the proceedings.

THE GIFT was Sam Raimi’s last film before he ventured into the SPIDERMAN trilogy with Tobey Maguire.  It’s a fine thriller and a completely different animal from the campy and over the top EVIL DEAD movies, but a compelling drama all the same.  There’s a chilling subtlety to it that reminded me a lot of Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN (1998).

Interestingly enough, the screenplay to THE GIFT was written by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton.  Thornton, of course, starred in Raimi’s A SIMPLE PLAN.  For the most part, the story works.  I did have a problem with the ending for a couple of reasons.  For starters, I saw the conclusion coming ahead of time, and secondly I’m not sure I completely buy the story as it plays out.  It involves a ghost, and this ghost does something I’m not completely sure ghosts should be able to do.

But I liked the characters in the movie, and I especially cared for Annie and Buddy.  I would have preferred it had Keanu Reeves’ Donnie been a little less one-dimensional.  He’s not sympathetic in the least, and the local authorities would be fools if they didn’t suspect Donnie of the crime.

The main murder mystery is okay, although it really isn’t much of mystery.  If you pay attention, you can figure things out ahead of time.

I did like the scene where Donnie threatens Annie’s son, and Buddy arrives to intervene and save the boy.  I found Buddy’s storyline particularly disturbing, especially when he finally solves the mystery from his past regarding the meaning of the blue diamond. This revelation takes place in a very sad, chilling scene.

I did struggle to believe that Katie Holmes’s hot and sexy Jessica would be at all interested in Greg Kinnear’s quiet, conservative school principal, Wayne Collins.  Of course, Jessica explains in one of her tirades that she’s only interested in Wayne because of her father, but why her father wants her to marry a school principal is beyond me.  It’s not like Wayne is wealthy or politically connected.  This plot point seemed forced to me, an obvious set-up to the “surprise” conclusion which, as I said, you can pretty much figure out ahead of time.

But overall I really liked THE GIFT.  It would be hard not to like this one, given that it has such a solid cast.

So, to wrap things up— heh heh—THE GIFT is a better-than-average mystery thriller with a very strong cast, a decent story with characters I liked and cared for, and a talented director, Sam Raimi, at the helm, pretty much doing his thing.

I give it three knives.

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives THE GIFT ~ three knives!

Transmissions to Earth Intercepts THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

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

Transmissions to Earth:

zontar6

THE LAST BROADCAST (1998)

LastBroadcast_DVDcover

Review by L.L. Soares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

Things go bad int he barrens in THE LAST BROADCAST.

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

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

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

LastBroadcast_secondcover

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

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

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

© Copyright 2013 by L.L.  Soares

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JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Bizarro Movies, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Dark Comedies, ESP, Fun Stuff!, Heightened Abilities, Highly Stylized Films, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, LL Soares Reviews, Monsters, Plot Twists, Psychic Powers, Something Different, Twisted, Unusual Films with tags , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: JOHN DIES AT THE END (2013)
By L.L. Soares (with a guest appearance by Michael Arruda)

John-Dies-at-the-End-poster

(THE SCENE: An all-night Chinese restaurant at midnight. DAVID WONG —looking a lot like actor Chase Williamson—sits in a booth. MICHAEL ARRUDA and LL SOARES enter and sit down across from him)

WONG: I didn’t think you’d make it.

LS: We’re professionals. Of course we made it.

WONG: Did anyone follow you?

MA: No, I made sure to drive erratically to throw anyone off our trail.

LS: You drove like that on purpose?

MA: Of course I did.

LS: Yeah, sure.

WONG: Enough of your bickering. I only have a limited time to tell you all about the soy sauce and the creatures from another dimension and the remarkable Dr. Albert Marconi.

LS: No need. We just saw the movie. We’re all up to date.

WONG: Are you sure? Did you watch the right movie?

LS: Of course we did!

MA: Calm down. Why don’t you tell him what you saw?

LS: Okay, sure. The movie JOHN DIES AT THE END is the tale of David Wong, who looked just like you…

(WONG nods)

LS: Wong is in a restaurant, just like this one, telling his tale to a reporter named Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti). It’s about how he was pulled into a secret plan to save the Earth, along with his friend John (Rob Mayes), who sings in a punk rock band called Three Armed Sally.

Wong’s story begins with a chance meeting with a Jamaican guy at a party named Robert Marley, who tells David several things he should not know. Later that night, or rather the next morning at 3am, David is awoken by a call from his friend John, begging for help. He goes to help John battle some supernatural baddies and then ends up in a police station where a detective tells him that the night before, a bunch of people went to the trailer of a certain Robert Marley after a party and four are missing, the rest are dead, and John is a suspect. David has no clue what is going on, but a phone call from John (that was made the night before but just reaches him now) tells him he needs to get out of there. But he has to fight a man who appears to be a cop (but isn’t) first.

To explain beyond this (early) point would be kind of pointless. JOHN DIES AT THE END isn’t that kind of linear, straight-forward movie that caters to an easy synopsis. Suffice to say that David Wong goes on an adventure that involves a girl named Amy (Fabianne Therese) who has one prosthetic hand, her dog Bark Lee, Dave’s friend Fred (Jimmy Wong), a white rapper wannabe named Justin White (Jonny Weston), the world-famous magician Dr. Marconi (Clancy Brown), and John, who dies early on in the movie, but doesn’t exactly stay dead.

The catalyst for all this is a drug called “soy sauce” (because that’s what it looks like). When you take it, either it creates vivid hallucinations or opens your mind to realities we aren’t normally aware of. I’m not saying which. It’s also alive and when ingested it either kills you, or uses you for its own purposes. And those purposes ultimately involve a plot by people in an alternate world who worship a living machine called Korrok (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson), and their desire to enter our plane of existence and make our world like theirs—a horrible place that lives only to serve Korrok.

The movie was based on the novel by David Wong…

(WONG nods)

LS: …this is getting a little confusing.

The movie is pretty good. mainly because you’re never sure what is going to happen next. I liked the fast, witty repartee in this one, and the rapid-fire pacing. A lot of times critics compare certain movies to amusement park rides, like roller coasters, but this movie lives up to the comparison.

It was directed by the great Don Coscarelli, who also gave us the classic PHANTASM (1979), THE BEASTMASTER (1982) and BUBBA HO-TEP (2002), and he does another cracker jack job here, bringing the novel to life.

The cast is pretty solid. I liked Chase Williamson as Wong a lot, he was a strong central character here…

(WONG nods)

LS: And the great Paul Giamatti rarely gives a bad performance. He’s good here, too, but his character is mostly around so Wong can tell him his story (and in the process, tell us). Rob Mayes, who plays John, might be familiar to some people from TV shows like the new version of 90210 and THE CLIENT LIST. And Clancy Brown, as the all-powerful Marconi, has been in tons of stuff from THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BONZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984) to THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) to STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997) and lots of television shows. I thought he was especially good in the sadly short-lived HBO series CARNIVALE (2003 – 2005), where he played Brother Justin Crowe.

Other recognizable faces include Angus Scrimm (the “Tall Man” from the PHANTASM movies) as a priest named Father Shellnut. And Doug Jones—mostly known for roles where he’s not so recognizable, including Abe Sapien in the HELLBOY movies, the Faun and the Pale Man from PAN’S LABYRINTH, 2006, and the Silver Surfer in FANTASTIC 4: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER, 2007—plays a strange alien being named Roger North.

The cast is really good and the story gives us a good mix of thrills and laughs. The sheer unpredictable nature of the movie is what makes it so unique and enjoyable. Not everything is perfect—but for the most part I thought it worked really well. I give it three knives. People should check this one out.

WONG: Just three, huh?

LS: Errr…Tell him what you thought of it, Michael?

MA: I didn’t see it.

LS: What are you talking about? Of course you saw it. You were telling me all about it in the ride up here.

MA: Sorry. You must be mistaken.

(MA begins to make strange noises)

WONG: I think there’s something wrong with your friend.

(MA suddenly turns into a gooey monster with writhing tentacles)

LS: That wasn’t Michael at all! I’ve been tricked!

(WONG pulls out a gun and blasts the creature, which disintegrates.)

LS: Whew. That was a close call.

WONG: Your mission has been compromised. They’re on to us.

LS: I guess that means I better leave, huh?

WONG: Do what you want, but I’m out of here.

(WONG disappears)

LS: Wow. Neat trick.

(LS waves waitress over and lifts a menu)

LS: I’ll have number 4 and number 15 to go, and make it quick. Okay?

WAITRESS: Right away, sir.

LS (to audience): Well, at least this wasn’t a total loss.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives JOHN DIES AT THE END ~three knives.

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