Archive for the Medical Experiments! Category

In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

WORLD WAR Z (2013)

Posted in 2013, Apocalyptic Films, Based on a bestselling book, Cinema Knife Fights, Disease!, Horror, Medical Experiments!, The Future, Thrillers, Zombie Movies, Zombies with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: WORLD WAR Z (2013)
By L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

WorldWarZ-Poster

(THE SCENE: An airplane on a transatlantic flight. L.L. SOARES and MICHAEL ARRUDA are in their seats. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT approaches them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Would you gentlemen like something to drink?

LS: A flagon of ale would do nicely.

MA: A “flagon of ale?” What is this, the Middle Ages? You’ve been watching too much GAME OF THRONES.

LS: Don’t worry about it. Just tell her what you want.

MA: Hmm.  I’ve never had a “flagon” of anything.  Make that two, please.

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT walks away)

LS: Welcome, everyone, to a new installment of Cinema Knife Fight. This time, we’re reviewing the new Brad Pitt movie, WORLD WAR Z. It’s based on the bestselling novel by Max Brooks and is yet another movie about a zombie apocalypse.

MA:  I detect an edge in your voice.  Tired of zombie apocalypses?

LS: Hell, yeah. Aren’t you?

MA:  Not really.  I’ve been enjoying the recent explosion of zombiemania.

LS:  Well, I haven’t, and when I first heard about this one, I immediately thought, not more end-of-the-world-with-zombies nonsense. There was a time when I used to say that George Romero’s first three “Dead” films were my favorite movie trilogy, but there have been so many zombie movies in the last decade—and most of them have been pretty bad—that I’m just tired . I’m really getting sick of this subgenre.

MA: I’m not as sick of it as you are.

LS: Good for you.

In WORLD WAR Z, Pitt plays Gerry Lane, a former United Nations envoy, who spent time in several war-torn regions before retiring to spend more time with his family, which includes his wife Karin (Mereille Enos, best known as Sarah Linden on the AMC series THE KILLING) and their daughters Constance (Sterling Jerins) and Rachel (Abigail Hargrove). As the movie begins, they wake up to begin a typical day, but something goes wrong when they’re in the family car later that morning, caught in traffic outside of Philadelphia. Something strange is happening.

There is a sudden rash of attacks as seemingly normal people become violently aggressive and begin to bite other people. This is first suspected to be a rabies epidemic, but it’s clearly something even worse. When someone is bit, it takes only 12 seconds for them to start flopping around on the ground, having convulsions, and then turning into an undead zombie. And the disease, whatever it is, is spreading fast.

MA:  I enjoyed this plot point.  I liked the idea of the dead people turning into zombies so quickly.  That being said, I don’t think the movie used this to any great effect. 

LS:  The Lane family finds themselves in the middle of it all, and try to stay alive, eventually getting helicoptered off of the roof of an apartment complex and taken to an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic. There, Gerry’s former boss, Theirry Umutoni (Fana Mokoena) tries to convince him to help them find out what is happening and why. Gerry is reluctant and doesn’t want to leave his family, but then it’s made clear to him that if he doesn’t help them, he and his family will not be given shelter on the ship.

Gerry goes with a group of Navy Seals and a gifted young doctor to South Korea to follow a lead pointing to a possible “patient zero.” Meanwhile, the zombie population continues to multiply at an alarming rate, threatening to overtake the earth.

Gerry’s travels will take him to Korea, Jerusalem and Cardiff, Wales before he can get any answers and even begin to confront the vile disease that is running rampant.

I have to admit, I wasn’t looking forward to this one. As I said, I’m really sick of zombie movies, and the last one we saw this year, WARM BODIES, wasn’t much of a treat.

MA:  No, that one wasn’t.

(The seat in front of them shakes violently).

MA:  Hey, take it easy up there, will you? 

LS:  What’s his problem?

MA:  No idea.  (Strange grunting is heard)  Maybe he didn’t like his peanuts.  Anyway, you were saying?

LS:  WORLD WAR Z also was getting the reputation of being troubled project, from hiring several writers to polish the script, to going over budget. But I know from experience that this kind of “trouble” does not mean a movie is going to be bad. Both APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) and JOHN CARTER (2012) had bad publicity before they were released, with people complaining about “troubles” during their makings, and both are great flicks.

MA:  Well, APOCALYPSE NOW is, anyway.

LS:  But still, watching this one, it was much better than I was expecting.

MA:  Yeah, I had a lot of fun watching this one.  It actually sold out right after I bought my ticket.  I hadn’t been in a packed sold out theater in a long time.  Of course, the reason it sold out was because unlike the recent blockbuster releases like IRON MAN 3 and MAN OF STEEL, it wasn’t playing on a zillion screens in the multiplex!  It was only one two screens, one in 2D and one in 3D.  I saw it in 2D.  I bet the 3D version didn’t sell out.

Still, a sold-out show is impressive, and the audience was buzzing with lots of energy.

LS:  I actually saw it the first night it came out, which was Thursday for some odd reason. Summer movies have been coming out at odd times this year—THIS IS THE END had a similar early release—and I had just come out of seeing MAN OF STEEL when I realized WORLD WAR Z was playing that night as well, so I bought a ticket. It wasn’t sold-out, mostly because I don’t think a lot of people knew it was opening early, but there were plenty of people there. And I didn’t even know there was a 3D version of this one!

Anyway, back to the review. First off, Brad Pitt is pretty good here. It’s not one of his best roles, like Jackie Cogan in KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) or Tyler Durden in FIGHT CLUB (1999)—Gerry Lane is more passive than either of those characters—but he can definitely carry a movie.

MA:  I agree.  Pitt is very good here. 

And he’d better carry this movie because he’s the only character in the film with ample screen time.  But the bottom line is he does carry the movie quite nicely, as he’s enjoyable to watch.  That being said, there are a number of other characters in this film who I also liked and wish that they had been developed more.

LS:  Yeah, you’re right, there are several underdeveloped characters here. But overall, the whole cast is pretty good. I’m starting to like Mareille Enos a lot, for example. She’s excellent in the series THE KILLING, and while the role of Karin Lane was more of your standard “significant other in peril” type of thing, I’m just happy to see her getting more opportunities to be in bigger films. I thought she was an interesting choice for Pitt’s wife, since she seems more “real” than the usual supermodel type.

MA:  Yes, I liked Enos, too.  I liked Daniella Kertesz even better.  She plays the Israeli soldier Segen who accompanies Pitt’s Gerry Lane for most of his adventure, and loses her hand in the process. 

LS: Kertesz is a standout here. Once her character gets in the thick of things with Pitt, she really shines. She might have been my favorite character in the movie. I want to see more of her.

MA: David Morse enjoys a brief bit as an ex-CIA agent who gives Lane some valuable information, and Fana Mokoena does a nice job as Pitt’s former boss Thierry Umutoni. 

I also enjoyed the entire group of scientists at the World Health Organization.  As I said, there were a number of characters that I would have enjoyed seeing developed more, but that’s not where this one goes.  It’s all about Brad Pitt and the zombies.

LS:  And director Marc Forster —whose resume includes everything from MONSTER’S BALL (2001), THE KITE RUNNER (2007) and the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008)—does a good job of focusing on key scenes that build a strong sense of suspense.

MA:  I really enjoyed Forster’s work on the James Bond movie QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  It was one of the most efficient and fast-paced Bond movies ever, in a series famous for overlong over the top action scenes.  I thought he did just as good a job here with WORLD WAR Z.

There are some key scenes of suspense, especially early on in the movie.  I especially liked the sequence at the beginning on the crowded streets of Philadelphia when Pitt and his family first encounter the zombie threat.  The scenes near the end of the film at the World Health Organization were also very suspenseful.

LS: There’s also that great scene with Pitt and Kertesz trapped on a plane full of zombies! Don’t forget that one.

MA: But better than the suspense, I thought Forster made this one very cinematic.  Pitt’s character travels all over the world, and there’s great use of these locations, or at least it looks that way. I’m sure there’s a lot of CGI involved, as I don’t think they filmed in South Korea or Israel.  But the point is, the film looks good, and there’s a grand sweeping cinematic feel to it.  Most of the time, heavy CGI use looks fake, but I got the sense in this one that I was actually at these places all across the world.

LS:  But the most important question is, no doubt, what about the zombies?

MA:  I don’t think that’s the most important question.  I mean, I love THE WALKING DEAD, but it’s not just because of the zombies.  It’s because of characters.

LS: I agree. But at the same time, it’s the zombies that first grab people and pull them into the theaters. They want to see the zombies in action.

wwz_banner

(FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over and hands them two flagons of ale, then goes to the next passenger in front of them)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: And what would you like to drink, sir.

(PASSENGER STARTS GRUNTING LOUDLY)

FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Oh my God, he bit me! (RUNS down the length of the aisle)

MA: Uh oh, that’s not good.

LS: Excuse me a moment (drinks some ale). What were you saying?

MA: I was saying that it’s bad news when the passengers start biting.

LS: Yes, that certainly is bad.

(Seat in front of them starts shaking violently)

MA (bangs on the back of the seat in front of him):  Hey!  Want to keep it down?  We’re trying to review a movie here!

LS: Rude bastard.

(HIDEOUS ZOMBIE leaps up from seat in front of them and growls at them menacingly.  LS pulls a gun from underneath his seat and shoots the zombie in the head.)

MA:  Nice going, although you really don’t want to be shooting off a gun on a plane.

LS:  Why not?  They explode a grenade on a plane in the movie.

MA: Yeah, that wasn’t one of the more realistic moments in the film.  So what did you think of the zombies in this movie?

LS: Well, it’s a PG-13 movie, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised.

MA:  Really?   I wasn’t.  But continue.

LS:  Some of the zombies are actually kind of cool. The effects, which I am assuming are a mix of makeup and CGI, looking convincing and visually keep your interest. And these zombies are really fast and love to tackle and bite people, which is how they reproduce. At first, I thought they were just contaminated people, but it eventually is made clear that yes, these people are the reanimated dead, and they are incredibly dangerous. It seems though that only people bitten by the zombies are transformed in death. People who die in other ways don’t come back.

They also move in very fast-moving packs. In a scene in Jerusalem, for example, hundreds of angry zombies climb up on top of each other rapidly, like crazed ants, to reach the top of a high stone wall and get over it, to the people inside. These creatures move like a swarm of giant insects, which was just different enough from what we’re used to to make them interesting.

MA:  Yes, I agree about the swarming.  That was different.  But I wasn’t impressed with the zombies here at all, and I actually thought they were the weakest part of the movie.  I like the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD much better, and the zombie kills in that show are much more graphic and squirm-inducing than anything seen in WORLD WAR Z.  To me, if you’re a fan of zombies, you might be disappointed with this one.

LS: I don’t know, when the zombies slow down a bit and are more individuals, they’re kinda scary. I thought the zombies in the World Health Organization complex were pretty cool. The way they look, and their weird movements and sounds. I didn’t think they were bad at all.

Look, it’s PG-13, so they don’t show any gore. For the most part, the zombie killings are pretty bloodless. While I understand the rating is meant to attract a bigger audience (i.e., more money!), I think it was a dumb move. More explicit zombie attacks mean more scares, and more effective zombies. I’m not saying the zombies in WORLD WAR Z are perfect, but they’re better than I expected for wimpified, PG-13 zombies. Hell, if THE WALKING DEAD was a movie instead of a TV show, I bet it would get an R rating for violence. So right off the bat, WORLD WAR Z has a disadvantage. We knew it wasn’t going to be gory or scary enough. That said, the zombies are pretty good here.

WORLD WAR Z is not a home run, but it’s much better than it has any right to be. I give it three knives. And I’m sure, if I was still a zombie fan, I would rate it even higher.

MA:  I disagree.  I think zombie fans might like this one less, because the bar has been set so high recently with THE WALKING DEAD

LS: Look, anyone coming into this movie expecting something as good as THE WALKING DEAD is going to be disappointed. THE WALKING DEAD is like the gold standard for zombie stories right now.

MA: That being said, I liked WORLD WAR Z a lot, and I had a lot of fun watching it, but that’s because it told a convincing story, was helmed by a talented director, and had an enjoyable cast led by Brad Pitt.  But in terms of actual zombies, I just didn’t think they were all that memorable.  They didn’t come close to the zombies in THE WALKING DEAD or any of the Romero movies. They simply weren’t scary enough.  I don’t think I was scared once by a zombie in this movie, and that’s not a good thing.

But there was plenty about this movie I liked, starting with Brad Pitt.  He really is a terrific actor, and it’s rare for me not to enjoy him in a movie.  Here, as United Nations agent Gerry Lane, he comes off as a man devoted to his family, driven by the desire to keep them safe, yet he also easily makes the switch to effective envoy, as he puts his considerable talents to use to do his job and get to the bottom of the zombie pandemic.  Lane’s investigation into finding the origins of the zombie problem, which makes up the bulk of the movie, held my interest throughout.

As we already said, the supporting cast is terrific, as is the direction by Marc Forster, and the screenplay by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof tells a compelling story from start to finish.  While I wasn’t a fan of the actual zombies in this one, I enjoyed the story a lot.

The guy behind me didn’t share my sentiments, however.   As soon as it ended, he shouted out, “That was stupid!”  I didn’t find it stupid.  I found it an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. 

Sure, I would have preferred it to have been scarier, because it’s not scary at all, which is weird when you think about it.  It’s a zombie movie, for crying out loud!  Why isn’t it scary?  But it is suspenseful and engaging. 

LS: Yes, it’s much more suspenseful than scary. But for what it is, it works.

MA: I also give it three knives.

(Things get suddenly very quiet. LS and MA stop talking and look up, to see they are surrounded by hungry zombies clacking their teeth)

LS: Uh oh.

MA: Looks like we’re suddenly on the menu.  (to zombies)  Could I interest any of you in flagon of ale? (holds out flagon)

(Zombies grunt and shake their heads).

MA: Now, what?

(LS lifts a baseball bat and hands MA a hammer)

MA:  What are these for?

LS:  To bash in some zombie brains, of course!

MA:  Things are going to get mighty messy. 

(LS & MA attack zombies, as BATMAN-like signs are superimposed on the screen with the words, SPLAT!, THWRPP!, GURGLE! CRUNCH! and RIP!)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda

Michael Arruda gives WORLD WAR Z ~ three knives!

LL Soares gives WORLD WAR Z ~three knives, as well!

 

 World-War-Z-poster

Transmissions to Earth: DEADLY FRIEND (1986)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2013, Cyborgs, Family Secrets, LL Soares Reviews, Medical Experiments!, Morgue Hijinks, ROBOTS!, Trasmissions to Earth, Twist Endings, Wes Craven Movies with tags , , , , , , on May 30, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

zontar_sage_2
DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Review by L.L. Soares
Deadly-Friend-movie-poster

It’s no secret that I’m not much of a fan of the SCREAM movies by director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson. And I think their collaboration, CURSED (2005), is even worse. But I wasn’t always down of Craven’s films. There was a time when I was actually a fan. Just not lately.

He started out his career with one of the most intense and disturbing horror flicks ever made, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which remains one of my favorite horror films ever. This one had a real edge to it that made it one of the high points of 1970s horror. And after that, Craven made some other solid movies, like the original THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) and the first A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984), which isn’t perfect, but was, as we now know, influential as hell. It gave the world Freddy Krueger.

But once Craven drifted into the mid-to-late 1980s and the 90s, his output wasn’t that impressive. This was the time of movies like SHOCKER (1989), THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991), and NEW NIGHTMARE (1994), which a lot of people thought reinvigorated the Freddy series, but which I didn’t care for, and then, of course SCREAM (1996) and its sequels.

I can’t say all of his output from this period was awful. I am a big fan of his 1988 voodoo movie THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. But for the most part, I just stopped being that interested in what Wes Craven was putting out anymore.

Somehow, I completely missed DEADLY FRIEND (1986), when it first came out. And rediscovering it now, so many years later, I find that it is pretty dated, especially since its plot has a lot to do with computers and robotics. And yet, it has a kind of creative spark and charm to it that is lacking in most of his later films.

Based on the novel “Friend” by Diana Henstell, DEADLY FRIEND is the story of computer nerd Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux, probably most famous before this as Albert Ingalls on the TV series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRARIE), who moves into a new neighborhood with his single mom, Jeannie (Anne Twomey). Even though he’s the age when he should be in high school, Paul is a genius who has skipped a bunch of grades and has just enrolled in the local Polytechnic Institute. And he has already built his first robot, a clunky, goofy bucket of bolts named BB, which he claims has the power to learn. He even calls it an “A.I.” which is pretty amazing, since he’s a kid who built a robot in his basement, and major experts in the field of computer science have not figured out how to give a computerized brain the ability to think on its own.

But hey, that just goes to show you how smart Paul is. Not only has he built a fully functioning robot – which is an achievement on its own – but his can think!

Loveable robot "BB" is fun, playful, and he has a fully functioning mind!

Loveable robot “BB” is fun, playful, and has a fully functioning brain!

Right away, moving into their new house, Paul makes a friend: the local paper boy Tom Toomey (Michael Sharrett), who sees the robot and asks what it is. So much for computer nerds not being social. Paul and Tom hit it off right away, and Tom tells Paul all about the neighborhood he’s just moved into. Other local highlights include the spooky, gated house of the reclusive Elvira Parker (Anne Ramsey, who also played Mama in THROW MAMA FROM THE TRAIN, 1987) who clearly doesn’t want any visitors, and Samantha Pringle (Kristy Swanson, also in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, 1986), who goes by Sam, and who lives next door to Paul with her drunken, abusive father, Harry (Richard Marcus).

So Paul seems to fit in right off the bat. Not only does he immediately find a buddy, but he gets the pretty girl, too. Sam comes over with a housewarming gift of store-bought donuts (explaining that her father wouldn’t let her bake something), and you just know where that’s headed. Paul spends a lot of time with Tom and Sam, but it’s clearly Sam he’s most interested in, and who can blame him. She is the original BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (1992) after all. And Sam seems more than eager to spend a lot of time hanging out at Paul’s house, since it gets her away from her creepy dad, who’s always drinking and shouting, and who comes into her room late at night (we never really see him do anything to her, and she tells him to get out when she wakes to find him hovering over her bed, but, well…).

Then things start to go bad. It begins on Halloween night when they get BB to open the gate to Mrs. Parker’s house, so they can play a prank on her. She comes out with a shotgun and blasts poor BB to kingdom come. So much for Paul’s revolutionary robot. Maybe he should take better care of his toys! Especially if they are scientific marvels!

Then, during an especially drunken binge, Harry Pringle berates Sam for sneaking out of the house on Thanksgiving (imagine that! She would rather have a normal Thanksgiving dinner with Paul and his mom than cower in her room while Daddy drinks and shouts at the television!). He slaps her, and she falls down the stairs, hitting her head against a wall, and dies. Harry tells the police that she tripped.

Paul can’t accept that she’s dead. So when she is taken off of life support, he sneaks into the hospital and performs some quick surgery on her corpse, imbedding the memory chip from good old BB into her brain. He and Tom take her away and put her in the shed behind Tom’s house.

Sam comes back to “life,” but at first she’s little more than a zombie, with big circles around her eyes and limited responsiveness. She has to learn to sit up, stand, and walk around, all over again. Then she sees her father through the shed’s window and learns something new – the desire for revenge. It’s not long before people start turning up dead, starting with dear old Dad and moving on to that cranky old bitch, Mrs. Parker (the scene where Sam kills Elvira Parker by throwing a basketball at her head, and squashing it like a melon, has become a classic). The police are baffled as to who is doing these things, and Tom threatens to go to the cops (he can’t live with the knowledge anymore), but it’s not long after that that the secret is out, and the police are tracking down the resurrected Sam in a parking lot.

You can tell she's the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes.

You can tell she’s the evil reanimated Sam because of the dark circles around her eyes… oh and the stiff robotic movements!

There’s a lot about this movie that is pretty goofy, from the robot BB in the beginning (it’s so cutesy-looking, it looks like a refugee from the movie SHORT CIRCUIT, 1986) to the fact that Sam’s abusive father, Harry, seems more quirky than scary. He almost seems like a comic relief character until you realize exactly what he’s doing to his daughter when the lights are off. Imagine how much more effective this movie could have been if his character was played by an actor who could actually make him as serious and disturbing as he should have been?  You think that maybe the filmmakers here were too uncomfortable to show Harry for what he really was – and then you realize – this is the guy who directed LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!

The science in this movie is pretty laughable, and the computer talk is outdated and just plain silly at this point. But somehow, the movie is still very watchable. The acting, for the most part, is pretty good in this one. Matthew Labyorteaux is goofy but likable as Paul, and he’s believable as some boy genius who’s emotionally stunted. Anne Towmey is equally likable as Paul’s mom, and Michael Sharrett is fine as Tom Toomey.

The real reason to see this one, though, for me anyway, is Kristy Swanson. I’ve always liked her, and her character Sam is extremely likable here, with an awkwardness that comes from constantly hiding family secrets from the outside world. When Paul first meets Sam, he notices a bruise on her arm, which immediately defines her for us, and I was actually bummed out that Sam and Paul never really get to go “all the way” before Sam’s untimely death. Their relationship maintains a kind of odd innocence throughout.

I just wish that the rest of the movie was up to the performances. The script by Bruce Joel Rubin (who also wrote the incredibly sentimental GHOST, and the much more interesting JACOB’S LADDER, both from 1990) is lighter and a bit sillier than it should have been. A little bit darker, and more serious, take on this this subject matter would have helped this become a much more substantial movie. And the light touch Wes Craven uses with the direction doesn’t help. You can tell that this was made during the same decade as THE GOONIES, 1986, and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL). By this point in time, too, you could already tell that Craven was much more interested in making easily-accessible commercial films than the hard-edged movies of his youth (that harder edge would have actually made DEADLY FRIEND much more effective).

I liked DEADLY FRIEND much more than I expected to, and I recommend that fans of 80s movies seek this one out, but I’m also disappointed that it wasn’t handled better. It just seems like a missed opportunity, which happened a lot in Wes Craven movies around this time (which makes THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW all the more fascinating, because it stands out so much from his other films of this period).

Oh, this one also has a “shock ending” which was pretty typical of horror movies from the 1980s. I almost hate to spoil it here, but it’s so damn silly, I have to mention it. After poor Sam dies a second time, Paul goes to find her in the morgue. He pulls out the drawer she’s in and looks down at her, and she grabs him. But it is then revealed that an evil version of the robot BB is underneath her skin and pops out.

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end...

Evil BB makes a shocking appearance at the end…

What the hell?? There is absolutely no logical reason for this ending. I would say it was a crazy dream, but there is nothing to show us Paul is dreaming. How would imbedding a microchip into a corpse’s skull transform it into a complete robot underneath its human skin? This has to be one of the stupidest endings of all time.

But it sure did make me laugh out loud.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

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DARK SKIES (2013)

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Cinema Knife Fights, Conspiracy Theories, Enigmatic Films, Medical Experiments!, Paranormal, Scares!, UFOs with tags , , , , , , , on February 25, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: DARK SKIES (2013)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: The back yard of a small, unassuming house in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. MICHAEL ARRUDA is standing in front of a grill, with an apron that says “Kiss the Chef!” He is flipping burgers, while L.L. SOARES is drinking a beer and talking to some of the guys. We realize they are the only two humans at the cookout, as the rest of the guests are tall, gray alien beings. Oh yeah, and it’s the middle of winter, and there’s snow on the ground.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA (his teeth chattering): This cookout idea really seems to be a success.

L.L. SOARES: I hardly notice the snow at all.

MA: And there’s another big storm coming.

LS: When is winter going to be over already?

ALIEN 1: Hi guys, we’re having a lot of fun. Can I have another hot dog?

MA: Sure! (puts a hot dog in a bun and hands the paper plate to the alien). Here you go.

LS: So I guess we should get started on the review?

MA: I need to get more burgers to cook, and throw on another winter coat. Can you start this one?

LS: Sure.

(MA goes back into the house. LS looks around at all the creepy aliens, who have suddenly turned in his direction)

LS: The movie this week is DARK SKIES.

ALIEN 1: I was wondering if that was any good.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, my kids really want to see that one. How was it?

ALIEN 1: Yeah, tell us more.

LS: Well, this one is brought to us by some of the same producers who gave us the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies and INSIDIOUS (2010), so right off the bat, you can kind of tell what you’re in for. Yet another movie where people in suburbia are tormented by unseen forces. Except this time, instead of the house being haunted by ghosts or demons, the creatures involved are…aliens from outer space!

(ALIENS hoot and holler, pumping their fists in the air)

MA (returns from house and puts more burgers on the grill.): And that’s one of the bigger drawbacks of this one, that we’ve seen this all before The style of filmmaking, quiet scenes in a dark house in the middle of the night, where the audience is just waiting for something unexpected or creepy to happen, is already getting old and repetitive.

LS: The family this time around consists of dad Daniel Barrett (Josh Hamilton, who was previously in the TV series THIRD WATCH and was in Clint Eastwood’s film, J. EDGAR, 2011), an architect who has been out of work for a while, and the pressure is starting to build. He’s gone on a few job interviews, but hasn’t had any luck so far, and the bills keep coming in (but he hides them from his wife). His wife, Lacy (Keri Russell, who most people will remember from the TV series FELICITY, from 1998 to 2002, which pretty much made her a star, and she’s currently on the new and interesting Cold War drama THE AMERICANS on the FX Channel, where’s she’s been really good), is a real estate agent. She tries to remain cheery and supportive throughout this crisis. They have two kids, Jesse (Dakota Goyo), who is 13, feels completely misunderstood, and is discovering girls, and Sam (Kadan Rockett), who is half his brother’s age, and very sensitive to everything going on around him.

MA: Dakota Goyo is the same kid that was in REAL STEEL (2011), the silly robot movie starring Hugh Jackman, which played like ROCKY meets the TRANSFORMERS.

LS: I thought he looked familiar! But I seriously didn’t remember him from REAL STEEL while I was watching DARK SKIES, which might be a good thing, because I thought Goyo played it wincingly, overly cute in that one. Nice to see him turn in a more low-key, believable performance here. Maybe the kid is actually growing as an actor.

Anyway, when things start getting weird, it’s Lacy who finds the signs. First, when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find the kitchen a mess, food strewn all over the floor.

(MA looks down at the ground to see discarded burgers, hot dogs, paper plates, and napkins all over the place.)

MA:  It’s easy to see how that happened.   I guess these gray aliens never heard of garbage cans.

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LS: A few nights later, she wakes up, goes downstairs, and finds the kitchen in some kind of “ritualistic” state, with all of the appliances and other objects stacked in huge, intricate columns, forming geometric shadows on the ceiling. It appears that someone is breaking into their house late at night to do these things.

They try several different ways to solve what’s happening. First, they call the police, but the cop (Josh Stamberg) who arrives seems dead set on the idea that the kids must be behind it, acting out any “issues” they might have with their parents. He suggests they reactivate their burglar alarm (which they let lapse, due to the bills), and they do, but it just adds to the confusion, going off at all hours of the night, with no clear reason. Daniel eventually installs some video cameras throughout the house. And that’s when the movie really gets into PARANORMAL ACTVITY mode. Every day he checks the film, and he starts noticing that certain times at night, around 3:00AM to be exact, the cameras start to malfunction for a few minutes. He’s finally able to get some kind of handle on what’s going on, and it looks like someone might be getting into the house (although the images are blurry and hard to decipher).

MA: I had to laugh during these scenes because he camps out in front of the computer monitor to watch the footage.  Why? He falls asleep anyway and plays back the footage in the morning Why not just go to bed? Why does he have to sit in front of the computer? It’s not like he’s standing guard.

LS: You’re right! It’s just an excuse for him to sit there, in front of a bank of video screens, all night. What’s the point, when he falls asleep anyway?

But there are other manifestations as well. Members of the family are found in weird trances. They have blackouts where they don’t know what happened for large chunks of time. The kids have weird bruises on their bodies (which other people assume the parents are responsible for). Birds fly into the windows of their house, killing themselves for no apparent reason. Lacy does some research online and they find a supposed expert on the subject, Edwin Pollard (J.K. Simmons who was so great as Schillinger on the HBO series OZ, and has since appeared in tons of things, most notably as J. Jonah Jameson in the Sam Raimi SPIDER-MAN movies). Pollard tells them he knows exactly what they’re going through, because it happened to him as well….

For some inexplicable reason, aliens have randomly chosen them, and they are making their lives a living hell. The Barrett family decides to take matters into their own hands and fight back.

ALIEN 1: Tell us that the aliens win!

ALIEN 2: Yeah, I bet we kick those humans’ butts!

(ALIENS shout and pump their fists again)

LS: While DARK SKIES did seem to follow a similar pattern to the multiple “ghost/demon in the house” kinds of movies we’ve been seeing lately, it was still pretty engrossing, and the pacing for this one is pretty good.

MA (laughing): I often wonder if we see the same movies some times. While I generally enjoyed this movie, I didn’t enjoy the pacing. I thought it dragged towards the end, when it should have been building up steam towards an exciting conclusion I thought the ending was blah.

LS: I didn’t think the ending was that bad. DARK SKIES grabs you pretty early on and you’re in suspense throughout, wondering what is going to happen next.

MA: I was interested throughout, but I didn’t find it all that suspenseful. I rarely felt on the edge of my seat.

LS: Director Scott Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay, was also responsible for the movies LEGION (2009), which I thought had an interesting idea, but which kind of fell apart as it went along; and PRIEST (2011), which seemed like just another UNDERWORLD rehash, and which I didn’t like at all; two films I really didn’t enjoy all that much. Stewart acquits himself nicely in DARK SKIES. I thought this one was a big improvement.

MA: I’ll agree with you there. I liked DARK SKIES better than LEGION and PRIEST.

LS: The family is fleshed out nicely. Because of the tensions within the family, mostly due to unemployment, I was able to sympathize with them right away, and grow to care about what happens to them.

MA: I’ll agree with you here, too. I thought the family was fleshed out nicely too, and I definitely bought into their tensions over money and over the dad being out of work. I loved the brief scene where his job interview goes sour. You can just see the pain in his face.

LS: I think most people these days can relate.

MA: The set up to this story works, because as you said, you find yourself caring for these people.

LS: I’ve always been a fan of Keri Russell (she was also great in a little indie movie called WAITRESS, 2007), and it was great to see her in a movie again (while it feels like she dropped off the map for a while after FELICITY was canceled, IMBD.com shows that she’s been working pretty steadily since, mostly in smaller roles, but it’s nice to have her back as a lead.

MA: Yep, Russell is very good here.

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LS: The kids are believable as well, and while Kadan Rockett as Sam was bit too “cutesy” for my tastes, with his lisp and big eyes, I thought Dakota Goyo was really good as teenager Jesse. In this kind of the movies, the casting of the kids is very important, and for the most part, it works here.

The script progression is believable. The family takes an understandable amount of time to come to grips with what they are dealing with (something most people would have a hard time believing for a while, before finally breaking down). There’s some good suspense. I also liked the score by Joseph Bishara, who was recently interviewed in Barry Dejasu’s SCORING HORROR column.

MA:  Yes, there were some scary bits in the soundtrack, a low undercurrent of menacing notes in just the right places.

LS:  And the acting by everyone involved, including those who play friends and neighbors, is pretty good.

MA: I dunno. That’s one problem I had with the story. I thought the dad took forever to buy into what was going on. There’s one key scene where he and his wife are arguing about it, and she’s telling him what she believes, and he tells her he refuses to go there, because the idea that aliens are involved is crazy, and I was just waiting for her to ask him the obvious question: if not aliens, what? What’s your take on all this? And of course, she doesn’t ask.

I also found the scenes with the police officer frustrating. He tells them it’s their kids, and again, I was waiting for some obvious questions, like after the scene where all their photographs disappear, and the officer again blames their kids. The frames are all still in perfect order, none of them askew, none of them looking as if they’ve even been touched- what kid is that particular when removing pictures? Wouldn’t you expect some of them to be moved this way or that, or knocked over? I just expected the parents to push a little harder with their concerns. I mean, there’s some pretty freakish stuff going on, and they let a police officer tell them it’s just their kids. I didn’t buy it.

LS: There are some good creepy moments here. And we really feel what this family is up against. Even when they get a guard dog and some guns, determined to defend their home, we know it’s not going to be an easy fight.

I give DARK SKIES, three knives. What did you think of it, Michael?

(ALIENS cheer)

ALIEN 1: Well, you could have given it a better score, but glad you didn’t trash it.

ALIEN 2: I was a creative consultant on this one!

MA: I liked it slightly less than you. In terms of characterization and set up, it worked for me. I was definitely on board with these folks.

But that’s about it. I didn’t find this one that creepy or suspenseful at all. I think part of it is what I said at the beginning of the column, that this style of filmmaking is already becoming repetitive. It didn’t do anything with the material I hadn’t seen before. To me, it played like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY “lite.”

That’s not to say I didn’t find a lot of what was going on interesting, because I did. There’s a lot going on in this story, and most of it I liked. The strange goings on at night, the birds flying into the house, the weird behaviors and marks on the family’s bodies, all of it caught my attention and held my interest. It just didn’t blow me away, mostly because it never really jumped to the next level, where I was on the edge of my seat or truly scared.

And I thought the ending was kind of dumb, the whole bit where they’re going to defend their family against the aliens, so they buy a gun, a dog, and board up their home. Who does that?

LS: How about people who are being hounded by aliens!

But really, the neighbors must think they’re bonkers!

MA:  I thought they were bonkers at this point!

LS:  Which makes me wonder about something. These people are not living in the middle of nowhere. They live in a densely populated neighborhood. Yet no one else sees these aliens attacking their house? You’d think someone would be curious about what’s going on over there, or someone would at least have insomnia and look at their house late at night. All these crazy things are happening to them, inside and outside their house, and NO ONE ELSE NOTICES?

MA: Especially after that bird scene.  I mean, it’s like a scene out of THE BIRDS (1963), and there are bird carcasses all over the place, and yet, we never see any neighbors come over and ask what’s going on or even offer words of concern or support!  What a tough neighborhood!

LS: Yeah, the neighbors only seem interested when the hazmat crew comes to collect the carcasses. They don’t even seem to be aware towards the end when aliens force their way into the house and shotguns start firing.

It’s kind of laughable, if you think about it too much. Somehow, despite this, I still enjoyed the movie.

MA: It just didn’t ring true to me.  And getting back to my point about the ending, this family has already seen what the aliens can do, and they think a gun is going to make a difference? A dog? I half expected a dark ending where their efforts would backfire and they would inadvertently hurt each other, but DARK SKIES, in spite of its title, isn’t that dark.

And could J.K. Simmons’s alien expert Edwin Pollard have been any more relaxed? He nearly put me to sleep! It’s one of the most important scenes in the movie, when they finally seek out the help of an expert, and Pollard speaks to them in such a soothing laid back voice I felt my eyelids drooping.

LS: I thought he played a guy who was just tired of fighting all the time. Someone who was weary and defeated and felt like there wasn’t a lot he could do anymore. I liked Simmons here.

MA: Don’t get me wrong.  I always like Simmons, but in this case he’s in his tiny low lit apartment sipping tea, I half expected him to start singing a lullaby.

And his help was about as effective as putting a band aid on a bullet wound!  “Aliens are studying you. Beware!” Whatever, dude. I mean, he doesn’t even offer to go to their house with them.

DARK SKIES grabbed me on an intellectual level, but it didn’t win me over on an emotional level. While I was interested throughout, I never felt all that into it. I felt like I was watching a drama about alien possession, not a thriller.

Maybe this one will play on Lifetime. I’m joking. It has more teeth than that, but barely.

I give it two and a half knives.

ALIENS: BOOOO!

MA: Quit complaining!  Two and a half knives is not much different from the rating LL gave it!

ALIEN 1: You clearly didn’t like it. You’re a jerk.

MA: I come out here in the middle of winter and cook you all up some burgers and hot dogs, and you call me a jerk?

ALIEN 2: Jerky jerk!

(The rest of the aliens start chanting “Jerky jerk” over and over)

MA: SHUT UP! That’s it. We’re done here And now that the aliens have had their fill of burgers and hot dogs, maybe we can finally eat something.

LS: Good luck with that There’s nothing left.

MA: Yeah, it’s all over the yard (turning to aliens) What’s up with you folks? Don’t you know how to eat?

ALIEN 1: Oh, we don’t eat burgers and hot dogs We just like to throw them around.

ALIEN 2: Yeah, for us, food is like toys.

ALIEN 1: Look I made a replica of the Death Star from STAR WARS out of buns!

ALIEN 2: Cool!

MA: Thanks for telling us! What a waste of food!

ALIEN 2: But it’s so much fun!

ALIEN 1: And you know what’s even more fun than throwing food around? Stomping on it!

(Aliens jump and down, stomping, hooting, and howling, as MA & LS walk away shaking their heads.)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives DARK SKIES ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives DARK SKIES ~three knives.

SIDE EFFECTS (2013)

Posted in 2013, Cinema Knife Fights, Compelling Cinema, Medical Experiments!, Plot Twists, Psychological Thrillers, Steven Soderbergh, Thrillers with tags , , , , , , , on February 19, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SIDE EFFECTS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A hospital room.  MICHAEL ARRUDA , wearing a white lab coat and holding a chart, addresses a young woman.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  My chart says you’re feeling depressed.  Is that true?

WOMAN:  You’re the one holding the chart.  Shouldn’t you know what the chart says?

MA:  No, I meant, is it true that you’re depressed?

WOMAN:  Yes.  I’m depressed something awful.  It’s so bad that I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

MA:  Are you married?

WOMAN:  Yes.  Here’s a picture of my husband.  (Hands MA a picture of a shirtless hunk of a man.)

MA (looking at picture of hunky husband):  No wonder you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.

WOMAN:  Can you help me?  Can you give me some pills or something?

MA:  Well, I’m supposed to, but we’re such a pill dependent society, I really wish we could try some natural remedies first.

WOMAN:  Do these natural remedies work?

MA: Well, no.  But these pills, they just have so many— side effects. (CUE dramatic music.)

WOMAN:  The last pills I took made me drowsy and I couldn’t stay awake.

MA:  Oh, that won’t happen.  My partner and associate can take care of that for you.

(Door bursts open, and L.L. SOARES enters the examination room, also wearing a lab coat.)

L.L. SOARES (looks at woman):  Is this the patient?

MA:  Yes, she’s afraid the pills will make her sleepy.

LS (leans closely into her face):  Look at me.  Take a good look at my face! (contorts his face into a horrifying scowl, causing the woman to recoil in terror.)  If you find yourself feeling sleepy, you’re gonna see my face!  Do you want to see my face?

WOMAN:  N-no.

LS: The second you start nodding off, I’ll be in your room, and you’re gonna have to deal with the likes of me!  Are you sleepy now?

WOMAN:  No!

LS:  Are the pills gonna make you sleepy later?

WOMAN:  Nooo!!!

LS: Good.  You’re cured.  You can go home now.  We’ll bill your insurance.

WOMAN:  Gee, thanks.  (Exits)

LS:  I should’ve been a doctor!

MA (shaking his head):  No, you shouldn’t.  Anyway, that was our last patient of the day.  Shall we review today’s movie?

LS:  Why, of course!  You start.  I need to wash up for this afternoon’s operation.  (starts washing blood off his hands.)

MA:  Operation?  Anyway, no matter.  Welcome folks, to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  Today we’re reviewing SIDE EFFECTS (2013), the latest thriller from director Steven Soderbergh, and rumor has it this will be Soderbergh’s last movie, as it’s been said that he plans to retire after this.

Not sure why.  Soderbergh’s not an old guy. He just turned 50.

LS: I think he has other interests and wants to pursue things other than movies. Which is too bad, because he’s so good at it.

MA:  I don’t know.  I’m hot and cold with Soderbergh’s body of work, mostly cold.

LS:  Not everything he does it great. But he does so many different kinds of movies—he’s just really interesting. You know you’re not going to always get the same old thing with Soderbergh.

Oh, and some people may notice that SIDE EFFECTS came out in theaters a week ago in most places. We would have reviewed it earlier, but we were buried under several feet of snow last weekend in New England, and some of us even lost power.

MA:   But you can’t keep a good Cinema Knife Fighter down!  So, here we are a week later with our SIDE EFFECTS review.

LS: Anything, so long as I don’t have to review BEAUTIFUL CREATURES.

MA: SIDE EFFECTS (2013) opens with a young woman Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) getting ready to re-start her life with her husband Martin (Channing Tatum, MAGIC MIKE himself), who has just been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading.  She should be ecstatic, right?  But she’s not.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite, as she finds herself dealing with serious depression, so serious that she attempts to kill herself by driving her car into a cement wall.

LS: Ouch!

MA: In the emergency room, where oddly, she has only received minor scratches and bruises, she meets psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law).  When she tells him about her depression, he agrees to treat her.  He prescribes an antidepressant medication for her, and when that doesn’t work, he decides to learn more about her history by contacting her former psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones).  Banks also happens to be a paid consultant for a new anti-depressant medication on the market, and he eventually puts Emily on this new medication.

One of the drawbacks of the medication is it makes Emily sleepy, and she sleepwalks.  No big deal, until the day when in a sleepwalking stupor she stabs and kills her husband.

LS: Oops, sorry honey!

MA: From this point, the movie switches gears dramatically.  First it deals with how responsible Emily may or not be for the crime, given her mental and drug induced state, and then, when the story breaks that Dr. Banks was the doctor who prescribed the medication for her, it moves towards the pressure Banks feels when suddenly everyone and their grandmother is painting him as an irresponsible psychiatrist.  Banks loses his job, his consulting gig, and eventually his wife and stepson leave him.

Finally, the film swerves yet again when Banks begins to investigate all that has happened, and begins to discover that things aren’t as they seem where his former patient is concerned.

LS: Yeah, this one definitely took some turns I wasn’t expecting. The first half or so of the movie seemed almost like a Public Service Announcement about the way this country over-prescribes medications for illnesses like depression, and how doctors are enticed by offers of big money to push specific brands. Also, you know those commercials for medications where they list side effects that go on for half an hour? That seemed like the inspiration for this movie. With all the side effects everything seems to have—it’s a wonder we trust any drugs at all.

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MA: SIDE EFFECTS is a thriller that had me early on but lost me midway through as it became more and more convoluted with an intricate plot that just didn’t work for me.  I liked the initial workings of the story, when it seemed this would be a tale about medicine gone wrong, and just who bears the responsibility for such a thing: the patient, the doctor who should have known better, who should have known exactly what it was he was prescribing, or the drug companies who produced the drug in the first place.  These thoughts are firmly rooted in reality.  We really are a drug dependent society, and this plot, had it remained firm to its roots, would have been a compelling drama.

But screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who also penned the screenplay for CONTAGION (2011), another Soderbergh thriller I didn’t like all that much, takes it in a different direction.  People suddenly have sinister ulterior motives, and these motivations and actions become more and more farfetched, to the point where near the end of the movie, I really didn’t believe everything that was going on.  The story definitely loses credibility towards the end, and as a result, its edge.

LS: Yeah, we’re in total disagreement on this one. The first half – for me – was kind of a drag. I mean, Emily’s story was kind of interesting, but overall, I felt like I’d seen this kind of thing before, and I was worried it might become a preachy diatribe against the pharmaceutical industry. That didn’t seem all that compelling to me.

Then, when things start to change and we realize there is so much more to the story—all of this deception and the twists—and it’s really a completely different kind of movie than we thought – that’s when I started to perk and the movie hooked me. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, and how Jude Law’s Dr. Banks was going to recover his life and reputation after such a devastating event.

MA:  I didn’t find it preachy at all.  I found it interesting.  I guess I was enjoying the drama and wish it had played out that way, rather than turning into a thriller, which I found less realistic.

LS: I didn’t say it was preachy. I said, it seemed to be going in that direction. Then it didn’t.

MA: Well, another problem I had with SIDE EFFECTS is I didn’t like the characters.  Dr. Banks is probably the most likeable character in the film, but he grows less likeable as the movie goes on, as the methods he uses when he tries to clear his name are just as bad as those used by the people he’s trying to expose.

LS: I found him believable, because he based his decisions on logical reasons. His motivations made sense. This kind of thing could ruin his career completely, and yet, instead of just accepting his downfall, he is determined to do something about it, and I found that intriguing. I liked that he wasn’t completely likable. It made him seem more human to me.

MA: Emily isn’t likeable at all, and it’s hard to feel sympathy for her husband Martin who was convicted of insider trading and looks for all intents and purposes as if he’s about to follow the same path yet again.

LS: I think she’s likable early on, and kind of sad. She doesn’t stay as sympathetic, but I liked Rooney Mara’s performance.

MA: I agree with you there.  I liked Rooney Mara’s performance too.

And Jude Law is fine as Dr. Banks, but I enjoyed him more early on when I liked his character better.  Once he starts investigating Emily and her motives, he fluctuates between being obsessed and crazed. It’s hard to get excited about his efforts when he teeters on being psychologically imbalanced himself.

LS: But by seeming unbalanced it added to the dilemma. Is he a trustworthy protagonist? Should we be rooting for this guy? I liked that question mark, and I think Jude Law is, for the most part, a rather underrated actor. He’s good here.

MA: I enjoyed Rooney Mara best, and thought her performance as Emily was the strongest one in the movie.  It’s really difficult to read her.  Early on, she’s sympathetic, but later, like Law’s Dr. Banks, we’re uncertain what to make of her, and she’s less likeable because of it.  Still, it’s a strong performance, and while it’s not as compelling as her work in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011) she succeeds in creating in Emily a woman who at first seems unstable but later is revealed to be very calculating.

LS: Yeah, let’s not say too much about that, but Mara is an actress to watch. I loved her in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, and this role was very different, and I liked seeing her play someone so removed from Lisbeth Salander.

MA: On the other hand, Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance as Dr. Victoria Siebert did nothing for me.  I didn’t buy into her character or her motivations.

LS: I disagree. I think Zeta-Jones is really a master when it comes to playing stone-cold ice queens who obviously want to control everything around them. I didn’t think her character was sympathetic, but then, she wasn’t meant to be. She was meant to be formidable, and in the scenes where Dr. Banks butts heads with her, Dr. Siebert is a believably formidable foe.

MA: She’s a corpse.  That’s how much life she gave her character.  I saw and heard her motivations, but I didn’t believe them.

Channing Tatum barely makes an impression as Emily’s husband Martin.  If anything, he succeeds in creating a character I didn’t like very much.

LS: I think Tatum is very likable as an actor, and I think that comes through here as well. But you’re right, he’s not given much to do, and it’s a mostly underwritten role.

MA: This movie did remind me somewhat of Soderbergh’s earlier effort CONTAGION.  Like that movie, there’s a disconnect here that prevents it from really resonating.  There’s also something sterile about the whole production, like a hospital room, that extinguishes any sort of passion one might feel towards its story and its characters.

LS: I didn’t see CONTAGION, but I think Soderbergh is a very capable filmmaker, whether he’s making multi-character blockbusters like TRAFFIC or smaller, tightly-wound thrillers like SIDE EFFECTS. I think he’s a really gifted director, and I hope he reconsiders his “early retirement” from the medium. I think the sometimes “sterile” feel of the movie actually added a tone and feel to the proceedings that worked for me. These are medical professionals who want to keep things “sterile” and safe for themselves, so that didn’t bother me.

MA: I enjoyed the first third of SIDE EFFECTS, but after that, the film started to lose me, as its plot became more convoluted and less believable.

LS: Yep, I think the opposite. I found the first half of the movie to be functional, but not very exciting. When things start to slowly reveal themselves, I found myself drawn into this smart, well-plotted thriller. I think a lot of our readers would really like this movie.

MA: I still say that SIDE EFFECTS starts out promising but doesn’t last, and like a medicine that doesn’t work, you won’t want to stay with it very long.

LS: I would prefer to describe it as a strong, effective medication that takes a little bit to get into your system and work. But once it’s activated, it keeps you glued to the screen.

MA: I give it two knives.

LS: I give it three knives.

MA: So that’s done. What should we do now?

LS: I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the hell out of here. Last time I checked, impersonating doctors is frowned upon.

MA (looks around):  Yeah, let’s get out of here.

(They run toward the elevator)

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SIDE EFFECTS  ~ two knives!

LL Soares gives SIDE EFFECTS ~three knives.

THE COLLECTION (2012)

Posted in 2012, Cinema Knife Fights, Disturbing Cinema, Elaborate Murders, Extreme Movies, Gore!, Killers, LL Soares Reviews, Madness, Medical Experiments!, Mutilation, Psychos, Sequels, Torture with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 10, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT Presents:
THE COLLECTION (2012)
Review by L.L. Soares

The Collection (2012) Movie Poster

(THE SCENE: an abandoned hotel full of cobwebs. L.L. SOARES is climbing the stairs using a flashlight)

LS: I’m starting to think MICHAEL ARRUDA isn’t here at all. I’m sure this is all a prank.

(His cell phone rings, playing Bernard Herrmann’s music from the shower scene of PSYCHO)

LS: Hello?

MA: LL, is that you? I’ve been waiting for an hour now.

LS: What are you talking about? I’m here now, at the Argento Hotel, just like you told me. I can’t find you anywhere.

MA: Oops, I meant the Argento Steak House. My bad.

LS: That explains a lot.

MA: Well, while I have you on the phone, how was that new movie, THE COLLECTION?

LS: I was just going to start the review. I guess I have to do this one solo.

(SWITCH to Michael Arruda in a restaurant. A waiter brings a delicious meal to his table)

MA (making noises with his mouth): Oh no, I’m having phone problems. LL are you there? I can’t hear you?

LS: Yes, I’m still here.

MA (makes more noises): Oh no, you’re breaking up. I’m going to lose you. (MA shuts off his phone)

LS: Dammit! I hate bad connections. And it always happens when I’m in spooky places like this.

So where was I? Oh yes, I was going to review the new movie THE COLLECTION. I guess I’ve got nothing better to do.

(LS sits down on a comfy chair in the hallway of the old hotel. He brings the flashlight up to his face, turning it on, making himself look spooky)

LS: Gather round the fire, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the spooky story of THE COLLECTION. First off, it’s the sequel to the 2009 movie THE COLLECTOR, which was also directed by Marcus Dunstan.  He also co-wrote the screenplays for SAW IV (2007), SAW V (2008) , SAW VI (2009) and SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER (2010) as well as FEAST (2005) and its sequels, with his writing partner, Patrick Melton. This is a busy guy.

Anyway, in case you didn’t see the first one, it was a about a thief named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who breaks into a house to steal some money and valuables, and instead finds a house of horrors. Someone else has gotten there first, and has turned it into a booby-trapped filled torture chamber, and the family (who was supposed to be on vacation) suffers horribly at the hands of a masked murderer known only as The Collector. They call him that because, whenever he attacks someplace, he kills everyone except one person, who he kidnaps for his “collection.”

The first movie ended on a suspenseful note, as Arkin was captured by the Collector, and then the end credits rolled.

The new movie, THE COLLECTION, continues where the last one left off. Sort of. This time around, we find out that the Collector has been up to lots of mischief since the last time we saw him. Not only is he making random home invasions, now the number of people he’s killed is off the charts, and the police have no clue how to stop him. The city is in a panic. So what does teenager Elena  (Emma Fitzpatrick) do? She goes to a rave of course, in an abandoned building that no adults know about. When she finds out that her boyfriend is cheating on her, she runs away from the dance floor to an empty room, with a trunk in the middle of it.  She’s crying when suddenly the trunk moves and starts to make noise! There’s someone inside it. As we know from the previous movie, this is the Collector’s calling card, and if you open a trunk, it puts all kinds of horrible things in motion. So of course, she opens it, letting out Arkin (Josh Stewart again), our hero from the first movie. Only this time he is bloody from having been tortured for weeks.

His being set free sets all kinds of weird traps and pullies in motion, and a giant wheat shredding blade descends on the partiers, chopping them all to mulch. Another group of people, including Elena’s friend, Missy (Johanna Braddy) get locked up in a cage where the ceiling is crushing down on them.

Somehow Arkin escapes, and Elena gets nabbed by the Collector before he can save her. She is the only survivor of the massacre, and, as we know, the Collector always takes one victim away from the crime scene alive.

(LS gets up from the chair, just as a huge metal spike drops down from the ceiling and stabs where he was just sitting)

LS: Arkin wakes up in the hospital, where he is interrogated by a guy named Lucello (Lee Tergesen), who appears to be a cop, but isn’t. He works for Elena’s rich father (Christopher McDonald) and will stop at nothing to find Elena and bring her back to her father. Even if that means forcing Arkin to retrace his steps to find where Elena is being held (he has marks carved in his arm to determine where he was taken to last time).

Lucello and his team of Black Ops agents then invade the Hotel Argento (get the funny homage to horror director Dario Argento?) where the Collector rules over victims driven insane by their horrible treatment and who have been turned into crazed zombie-like creatures. Oh, and there are tons of booby traps and mazes and bear traps and time bombs. Let’s just say that Lucello has no idea what he’s in for, and poor Arkin is forced to go along for the ride, even though he’s endured these particular horrors before.

There are also lots of “collections” throughout the hotel. From the usual butterflies and insects in frames, to giant tanks full of bizarre sculptures made from human body parts.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

There are bizarre sculptures made from human body parts throughout the hotel, like this one.

(LS continues walking down the hallway. Hatchets are hurled at him and keep missing him.)

LS: THE COLLECTION is in limited release and its official release date was December 1st, except that week it was only playing in obscure movie theaters out in the ‘burbs, so I couldn’t see it. This weekend, it got a slightly wider release and made its way into the city. Because I enjoyed the first movie, I was looking forward to seeing this one, so I made sure to check it out before it disappeared.

Let me state something for the record. I like “torture porn.” That might be the first time you have ever seen a critic say this out loud in public, but the truth is, when the genre is done right, it can be pretty compelling. I think the first two HOSTEL movies, for example, are terrific. I was less-than-enthusiastic about all the SAW movies, because I had a problem with the Jigsaw character.

You see, our old friend Jigsaw had this agenda where his elaborate murder scenarios were meant to give the  bad people who survived them a second chance. He was  trying to change their lives. He was trying to redeem them, by making them thankful to be alive. This was all a bit hard to swallow, and I’m sure you found this all to be as much bullshit as I did. Also, Jigsaw didn’t like to get his hands dirty and watched the violence from a control room. His “victims” had to make decisions about which door to open, or which lever to pull, while he watched from safety.

The Collector isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. He is more than happy to resort to hand-to-hand combat when his more elaborate methods don’t finish everyone off. He’s a skilled fighter, knows his way around a knife fight, and is lethal as hell. And there’s no pontificating about changing people’s lives. The Collector simply thirsts for blood and uses his weird,  elaborate killing methods to quench that thirst. Plus, he wears a cool, black Mexican wrestler’s mask to keep his identity a secret. Let’s just say that the Collector would kick Jigsaw’s ass in a fight.

THE COLLECTION is gory as hell. It pushes its R-rating to the limit. And it’s very suspenseful. You never know what is going to happen next, and who will die. Which is just the way a good horror movie should  be. Sure, not all of it makes sense, and you really start to wonder how anyone can set up as many crazy booby traps as this guy does throughout  the hotel—it just doesn’t seem possible—and then you realize, “hell, it’s just a movie.” And there are lots of blockbuster action movies that make even less sense.

And the cast is top-rate for this kind of thing. Josh Stewart, who was so good in the first movie, does an equally good job here, reprising his role as petty thief  and “Collector expert” Arkin. Emma Fitzpatrick is tough and unflinching as Elena (she reminded me a bit of Natalie Portman). Lee Tergeson (who you might remember as Beecher from the HBO series OZ) is solid here as Lucello, and his team of mercenaries includes Andre Royo, who was so great as the homeless guy Bubbles on another excellent HBO series, THE WIRE (it seems like more great actors have come out of OZ and THE WIRE than any other TV shows put together). Believe me, the actors involved are above-average for this kind of thing.

And the ending is actually pretty satisfying this time around. So make sure you stay in your seat until those end credits roll, because there’s a kick-ass epilogue to the story.

(LS stops in front of a doorway, and a pie hurtles at him, hitting him in the face)

Beware! The Collector wants to add you to his COLLECTION.

Beware! The Collector just might want to add you to his COLLECTION.

LS (wipes cream off his face and licks): Mmmm, banana cream!

Sure there’s horrible violence. Sure, people get tortured. There’s blood and body parts galore. But it works. There’s this incredibly sadistic bastard trying to kill as many people as possible, and a group of people trying their best to stop him. If it’s “torture porn,” and it certainly fits the bill,  then it’s one of the better examples of the genre. Unfortunately, the genre itself is in decline, no doubt thanks to all of those SAW movies that amounted to a great big example of overkill. They milked that cash cow as long as they could. So there’s a good chance THE COLLECTION might be the end of this particular franchise.

I am not expecting THE COLLECTION to be a big hit. In fact, I’m sure it won’t do very well at all, especially since it’s in such limited release. But I’m telling you, if you’re not squeamish about this kind of stuff, you might just enjoy the hell out of it. I know I did.

I give THE COLLECTION ~ four bloody knives.

(LS dials his cell phone, and Michael Arruda picks up on the other end, enjoying his steak dinner)

MA: Hello?

LS: I know you gave me the wrong info on purpose. I hope you’re enjoying your dinner.

MA: Er…I am.

LS: And I hope you enjoyed the ground up glass in the mashed potatoes.

MA (touches his mouth and coughs up blood): NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

LS: What? I can’t hear you. We have a bad connection.

(FADE TO BLACK)

© Copyright 2012 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE COLLECTION ~ four knives!

In the Spooklight: THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2010, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Deformed Freaks!, Drive-in Movies, In the Spooklight, Mad Doctors!, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Twisted with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by knifefighter

The following IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2010.  Look for it and all 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in the IN THE SPOOKLIGHT EBook due out from NECON EBooks later this year!
 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:
THE INCREDIBLE TWO-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971)
By Michael Arruda

 

Are two heads really better than one?

Not when one head belongs to an insane murderer, as is the case in THE INCREDIBLE 2- HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971), a lurid little film which for some strange reason I happen to like a lot.

Bruce Dern, one of my all-time favorite film crazies, is cast against type as Dr. Roger Girard, a scientist who has devised a method to create two-headed beings.  Why?  I have no idea, and the movie doesn’t really give us a reason either.

I wish they had.  It would have made things really interesting.  I mean, think of the things you could do with two heads:  read twice as fast, eat your meal and dessert at the same time, drive while texting, and kiss your wife while flirting with the blonde at the next table.

When an insane killer named Cass (Albert Cole) breaks into Roger’s home, attacking his wife Linda (Pat Priest – Marilyn from TV’s THE MUNSTERS!) and murdering the gardener, Roger and his assistant fight back, and the assistant shoots Cass.  Before the killer dies, they attach his head to the hulking body of Danny (John Bloom), the simple-minded son of the slain gardener.  Nice going!

What is it with mad scientists in the movies?  Why do they always settle for less?  If you were on the verge of some amazing medical breakthrough, wouldn’t you want only the best materials for your experiment?  In this case, these guys have been planning for months to construct a two-headed person, and they choose for one of the heads a murderer?  Don’t you think they could do a little bit better?

Our two-headed friend eventually breaks loose from the lab and goes on a murderous rampage, as the movie becomes a straightforward “monster on the loose” story during its third act.

If you can get through the horrible theme song—a song so bad it makes you wonder what racy photos the songwriter and singer had of the director—you’ll be rewarded with a deliciously lurid movie that will tickle your horror movie funny bone.

Bruce Dern is always worth watching, even in movies as bad as this.  And John Bloom who played the giant Danny actually went on to appear in many genre films.  He played the Frankenstein Monster in another infamously bad low-budget shocker, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1971), and he also appeared in HARRY AND THE HENDERSONS (1987) and STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991).  He passed away in 1999.

And hey, Casey Kasem plays the hero in the film!  That’s right, the Casey Kasem, of America’s Top 40 fame, and the voice of Shaggy from the SCOOBY DOO cartoons.

He has two heads, but only half a brain!

The screenplay by James Gordon White and John Lawrence never rises above standard low-budget 1970s horror fare, but that’s part of the fun.  Believe it or not, these same two guys also wrote the screenplay for THE THING WITH TWO HEADS (1972) (starring Ray Milland and Rosie Grier!)

Director Anthony M. Lanza does an adequate job with the material, but his idea of a scary scene is the 2-headed monster fighting chain wielding biker dudes.  This is the type of movie best watched at the Drive-In Theater.  You can go for the same effect by watching it at home late at night on a hot summer evening with the windows open.

The special effects are pretty bad.  You’ll laugh at the long shots of the obviously fake rubber head bouncing up and down on John Bloom’s shoulder.  It looks like something out of a Monty Python sketch.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT isn’t really all that incredible, unless you interpret “incredible” to mean unbelievable.  But it is an entertaining little piece of 70s horror cinema, and it’s a nice reminder of what low-budget horror movies were like back then.

—END—

© Copyright 2010 by Michael Arruda