Archive for the TV-Movies Category

SHARKNADO (2013)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, Action Movies, All-Star Casts, CGI, Garrett Cook Articles, Sea Creatures, Sharks, SyFy Channel Movies, TV-Movies, Visions of Hell with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by knifefighter

SHARKNADO
Movie Review by Garrett Cook

PHvf6lEANnmQyD_3_mThe lifeblood of any narrative is conflict. Without conflict, you have a bunch of people standing around staring into space, waiting. When they start waiting, conflict occurs. The conflict being, uninteresting as it is, that what needs to happen hasn’t happened yet. Good conflicts make good stories. The more you throw at your hero and the hero has to get out of, the better and more exciting their situation. But what do you do when competing with the Hollywood event picture and Sundance Channel juvenile delinquency/Palm D’0r-grubbing adversity porn, who have cherry picked the worst things to happen to everyone? WAGES OF FEAR (1953) . SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982). FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC (1987). THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW (2004). Those are big, juicy conflicts.

SyFy’s solution? Revive the giant bug/giant shark/giant alligator/giant problem movie. Sharktopi, Dinocrocs and Supergators have a way of knocking the wind out of a crying Meryl Streep for an hour and a half or so, and, if you’re looking to unwind after work, they’re generally more fun. They are by no means good by any conventional standard, but at least they have that going on.

Recent SyFy spectacle SHARKNADO took this principle and really ran with it. A hurricane off the coast of LA picks up 20,000 sharks. JAWS (1975)? One huge shark. OPEN WATER (2003)? A few sharks. These situations presented gigantic problems for the heroes who had to make it out of them alive. But 20,000 sharks? That’s a real problem. Not just for the heroes, but for you, the reader/potential SHARKNADO viewer. 20,000 sharks are dangerous enough to kill 90210’s Ian Ziering…oh, 20,000 times and enough of a spectacle that they leave you, potential SHARKNADO viewer, in danger of making what might be a terrible decision.

Is it a terrible decision? That’s what you’ve probably clicked on this article to find out. You want to know if it’s worth trading 100 minutes of your time for the experience of Ian Ziering and Tara Reid having to deal with sharks falling from the sky. Some of you, having seen the premise of the film restated will now stop sitting on the fence and decide to go watch SHARKNADO. Good. SHARKNADO was unequivocably made for you, thesis statement/pitch line enthusiast. But you might need actual info. Person who keeps reading to gather more data, SHARKNADO might be a little more challenging for you.

SHARKNADO begins with a corrupt sea captain, who you will never see again, brokering a deal with a shady Asian man to sell him 20,000 sharks. Does this deal precipitate the sharknado (no very dry pun intended)? No. Maybe. The shady Asian man and the captain are killed, the Asian man by the captain, the captain by the very sharks he sought to sell. Which actually makes you wonder if Anthony Ferrante and Thunder Levin (the director and writer of the film, respectively) stopped to make a sanctimonious finger wag at the practice of eating shark fin soup. Because right after we see mankind treating sharks badly, the sharks get caught up in a hurricane and start to be blown around, as if God himself were an angry shark.

This scene leaves you wondering whether SHARKNADO believes that the sharks are justified in their attacks because of our consumption of shark fin soup, whether the director has some sort of divine justice in mind, and whether this movie was made by poets or naifs. It is hard to tell. This is not the only time this occurs and of course, it’s a common phenomenon in really awful movies, like SHARKNADO, which is a movie that sucks.

This intro transitions into scenes introducing our hero, surfing bartender Fin (groan), played by 90210 non-favorite Ian Ziering (the blonde guy who looked like he’d been held back seven grades). He bartends, and he surfs. His Australian friend Baz (played by Jaason Simmons, whose name’s extra A stands for Awesome, because he is, in spite of this material) surfs with him but does not do much bartending. Possibly none. Adorable waitress Nova (the wooden, but sublimely hot, Cassie Scerbo) pours drinks for non-hot but adorable drunk, George (played by John Heard, from HOME ALONE (1990), C.H.U.D. (1984) and serious films from the early 80s), and life looks good, save for Fin’s estrangement from ex wife April (Tara Reid). I say good riddance, but as Flaubert writes, “the heart wants what it wants”. Fin and Baz go surfing, Baz is bitten by a shark and Fin sees signs that there is a hardcore hurricane on the way and he should get his daughter and son to high ground. He returns to the bar, calls up April, who says not to bother and that her slimy new boyfriend takes care of the family now. Fin decides maybe he’d better go save his daughter.

His intuition proves right when he sees that the hurricane is getting stronger, picking up sharks and dropping them on people. Which is a tremendous problem. It’s a big, juicy conflict that does not involve cancer, drug addiction, Nazis or Kryptonians. At least give it that much. George, the loveable drunk, is killed, Nova reveals that she is skilled with a shotgun and Fin and Baz kill many sharks. It’s a pretty intense scene, the sharks are pretty well rendered and it establishes a sense of urgency. It also begins to wag its finger at the harshness and lack of consideration that LA can have.

Arriving at his ex wife’s place of residence with her slimy L.A. boyfriend, Fin is reprimanded by her, her boyfriend and his sullen daughter, Claudia (Aubrey Peebles), who is sullen because she’s a teenager and it’s a liability. Due to a prodigious flood, the problem quickly swims up and bites the boyfriend in the ass for being an LA phony. It is hard to tell whether the writer and director believe that Hollywood is unsympathetic or think that America believes that Hollywood is unsympathetic. This question might seem moot, but is actually very important in determining whether SHARKNADO has shades of GLEN OR GLENDA (1953) bad- film-with-a-heart brilliance or whether it is actually pandering just as badly as one would have to assume it is.

Either way, Los Angeles is facing sharky judgment and Ian Ziering needs to find his son, who it turns out is in flight school. This initiates the film’s second act, which is weirder and more judgmental of Los Angeles culture and by extension, the film industry. In an abandoned flooded cityscape full of sharks, the movie takes on an air of “MULHOLLAND DRIVE meets BIRDEMIC” that might make this movie worth watching for curious film geeks and Bizarro fans. You see a bus driver who has come to town to be an actor and ends up being eaten for it, and hear a weird rant from a paranoid shopkeeper. There is something off kilter about these scenes in a way that transcends bad dialogue. Are these weird grains of sincerity shining through?

During these scenes, you get to experience the thing I really like about SHARKNADO, or just the idea of SHARKNADO. Tornados of sharks are spinning around Los Angeles eating people and a man has taken it upon himself to resolve this. The biggest, most senseless conflict imaginable and Ian Ziering will brave it to reach his son and save a city that the movie implies might not be worth saving. SHARKNADO parallels the experience of being a small budget filmmaker, a person dealing with a ubiquitous shitstorm using only courage and ingenuity and sometimes chainsaws. Saddled with a less than stellar premise, a talentless cast and a sub blockbuster budget, these filmmakers had to create something people would enjoy. Does Fin do a better job of it than the directors, writers and cast of SHARKNADO? Yeah. But that’s why we create heroes.

Somehow in quixotic combat with hopelessness, the hero wins the day, making this the most recklessly optimistic film ever made. “Will people watch a film called SHARKNADO with the least popular 90210 actor at the helm? YES!” “Can a man take on a Sharknado? YES!” “Can a coherent film be made about a Sharknado?” “YES!” These guys do Ed Wood proud. With the negativity, the cynicism and the constant barrage of bad news around us, a little optimism is a good thing. Sometimes too much optimism is a good thing. If enthusiasm is more important to you than success, you ought to watch SHARKNADO.

But you probably shouldn’t, anyway. SHARKNADO sucks.

© Copyright 2013 by Garrett Cook

Farewell to RICHARD MATHESON

Posted in 2013, 60s Movies, 70s Horror, Appreciations, Based on a Classic Novel, LL Soares Reviews, Movie History, Obituaries and Appreciations, Richard Matheson Movies, Steven Spielberg, TV Miniseries, TV-Movies, Vincent Price with tags , , , on June 30, 2013 by knifefighter

richard-mathesonWriter RICHARD MATHESON died this week. I can’t imagine anyone who’s a fan of  horror or science fiction who hasn’t been touched in some way by Matheson, even if they didn’t know it was him. From writing classic episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (he wrote 16 episodes between 1959 and 1964, including such standouts as “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel“), to scripts for tons of movies including the classic original TV-movies THE NIGHT STALKER and TRILOGY OF TERROR, and many of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies of the 1960s, to writing classic novels like I AM LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, HELL HOUSE, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME, STIR OF ECHOES and many more, several of which were adapted into movies, Matheson seemed to be everywhere when I was growing up in the 70s, and I for one was pretty thankful that he was so prolific. Every new Matheson project, whether it was a book or a movie or a TV episode, was a reason to celebrate.

Hearing earlier this week that he had passed away on June 23rd at the age of 87, was awful news. But he has left us with so much to remember him by.

Just some of the movies that he either wrote the screenplays for, or which were based on his fiction, include:

  • THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) – he wrote the screenplay based on his novel, “The Shrinking Man”
  • THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960) – the first of many Edgar Allan Poe adaptations that Matheson would write for director Roger Corman, this one, like many of them, starred the great Vincent Price.
  • MASTER OF THE WORLD (1961) – based on the novel by Jules Verne, also starring Vincent Price.
  • THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961)
  • BURN, WITCH, BURN (also known as NIGHT OF THE EAGLE) (1962) – Matheson’s screenplay was an adaptation of the novel “Conjure Wife,” by Fritz Leiber.
  • THE RAVEN (1963)
  • THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963)
  • THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) – the first movie version of his classic novel, “I am Legend.” He also wrote the screenplay, using the name “Logan Swanson.” This one also starred Vincent Price.
  • THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968) Based on the novel by Dennis Wheatley
  • THE OMEGA MAN (1971) – the second adaptation of Matheson’s “I am Legend,” this time with the vampires swapped out for mutants, and starring Charlton Heston.
  • DUEL (1971) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his story. This was the first feature film by Steven Spielberg.
  • THE NIGHT STALKER (1971) – the TV-movie that introduced the world to reporter Carl Kolchak, played by Darren McGavin.
  • THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) – TV-movie sequel to THE NIGHT STALKER.
  • THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) – feature film based on his novel, “Hell House.”
  • TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) – TV-movie based on three Matheson stories, the most famous segment was the last, “Amelia,” based on Matheson’s story “Prey,” about a “Zuni warrior figurine” that comes to life. All three stories starred Karen Black.
  • THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES (1980) – TV miniseries based on the classic book by Ray Bradbury
  • SOMEWHERE IN TIME (1980) – Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his novel, “Bid Time Return.”
  • WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998) – based on his novel of the same name
  • STIR OF ECHOES (1999) – based on his novel of the same name
  • I AM LEGEND (2007) – the third film to be based on Matheson’s novel, and arguably the least successful. Starring Will Smith.
  • REAL STEEL (2011) – based (sort of) on his short story of the same name

He leaves a large and wonderful legacy behind.

Farewell, Mr. Matheson.

~LL Soares

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 - June 23, 2013)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

GHOUL (2012)

Posted in 2013, Cable movies, Family Secrets, Grave Robbing, Horror, Monsters, Paul McMahon Columns, Supernatural, The Distracted Critic, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by knifefighter

GHOUL (2012)
Review by Paul McMahon, The Distracted Critic

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GHOUL is a movie I’d been following since I heard it was in production. Brian Keene’s novel remains my favorite work of his, and one of the more effective horror novels I’ve read. The reason Keene’s novel works is because the main horrors do not come from the creature haunting the graveyard, but from the parents who have the responsibility of raising their children in a safe and secure environment. This means, however, that a lot of the novel’s effectiveness comes from internal dialogues and the inner thoughts of the characters, both of which are very difficult to show on screen. As thrilled as I was that someone was finally filming a Brian Keene story, I thought that they couldn’t have picked a tougher story to adapt. Because of this, I went into the movie with high hopes but low expectations.

We start with Timmy (Nolan Gould, from the TV show MODERN FAMILY) digging his comics out from under his bed. As soon as he gets comfortable, his mom calls lights out. It demonstrates that kids are at the mercy of their parents’ rules and whims, setting the tone for the film. The next morning, Timmy watches cartoons while his Dad demands his attention. “The start of summer vacation doesn’t save you from your chores!” Timmy’s grandpa shushes him, pretending that he’s watching TV as well. Frustrated, Dad leaves the room. Grandpa (Barry Corbin, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, 2007) calls Timmy over and asks what he and his friends are planning to do with the underground clubhouse they’re building near the cemetery. Timmy is shocked because they thought nobody knew about it. Grandpa assures him nobody else does.

Later on, Timmy and Grandpa are working in the garden and Timmy’s friend Doug (Jacob Bila) bikes up out of breath, having been chased by a stray dog. Grandpa offers to finish Timmy’s chores and sends him on his way. Doug and Timmy go to Barry’s house, where Barry’s Dad (Dane Rhodes, DJANGO UNCHCAINED, 2012) bullies them, calling Doug a fag and telling him that’s probably why his Dad left. Timmy responds by accusing him of making Barry do his job while he sleeps off last night’s bottle. Barry’s dad forbids them to play near the cemetery again.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene's GHOUL.

Dane Rhodes, as Mr. Smeltzer, terrorizes Timmy and Doug in Brian Keene’s GHOUL.

Timmy and Doug meet up with Barry (Trevor Harker) and together they head to their clubhouse. They look at Doug’s hand-drawn map of the surrounding area. Suddenly, they hear Timmy’s Mom calling him. She’s frantic, distraught. “It’s your Grandpa, honey, I’m sorry.”

There are a lot of other things going on, and we get quick scenes depicting some of it. Three older kids on bikes, obviously up to no good, are searching the woods for the clubhouse. A pair of lovers making out in the woods are attacked and presumably killed.

After Grandpa’s funeral, Timmy and his friends are in the cemetery when Doug falls waist-deep into a sinkhole. Barry and Timmy pull him out. Barry says the sinkholes are all over the place because of the old mining operations. While Barry goes for the first aid kit, the stray dog appears, charging and barking. Barry grabs a shovel and attacks the dog viciously, cussing it out while he wails on it. The ferocity of his actions shocks Timmy and Doug. Later on, as they help Barry put away the tools, they discover another sinkhole in the caretaker’s shed, covered by a jagged piece of plywood. That night, over dinner, Timmy asks his dad about the stories of the ghoul. His dad tells him the ghoul is the equivalent of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster.

Steve, one of the three bullies from earlier, spied Timmy and his friends in the shed. That night, Ronnie and Sammie join him and they break into the shed, planning to vandalize what they think is the kids’ clubhouse. They wonder how Timmy and his friends could have shoveled out the maze of tunnels they find, and then Ronnie and Steve continue on, leaving Sammie to stand watch. Predictably, Ronnie and Steve are attacked. Sammie runs back the way they came, arriving at the hole to see Barry’s Dad staring down at her. She pleads with him for help. “You shouldn’t play where you’re not invited,” he says, then pulls the plywood over the hole while she screams.

It’s difficult to distance yourself from a novel as good as GHOUL in order to take a movie adaptation on its own terms. Part of what makes the book so memorable is that it reaches beyond the usual coming-of-age story. These kids are dealing with some heavy-duty subject matter. Doug confesses that his mother comes to him at night and does things to him. Barry’s Dad regularly and brutally beats on him and his mom. From an acting standpoint, staying true to these emotional wallops would tax even the most practiced actors. The three kids in these roles do all they can, and in some scenes they fare pretty well, but in many others they seem disconnected from what’s going on. It felt like they saved their energy for the “big scenes,” which left many of the slower scenes flat.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

Nolan Gould, Jacob Bila and Trevor Harker give their all while tasked with monumental acting challenges.

The biggest problem I had with the movie is that it didn’t flow as a whole. It felt bumpy, as if I was watching something that had been heavily edited to fit time constraints. You learn to expect that from a made-for-TV movie, but with this one every time I started to get a handle on what was happening, the scene jumped away, plunging me into something else with no transition time.

Changes have been made to the story as well. Timmy’s parents are not what they were on the page. His mother is more prominent and caring, while his dad is in only two scenes and comes off as simply crabby and overworked. The most traumatic scene of the book has been cut entirely from the movie. If you read the book, you know what scene I’m talking about. There was also a major change to the ending, which I understand kept the focus on the humanity of the story, but it’s not a change any fan of the book will embrace.

GHOUL was a bold choice to put before the cameras, but, sadly, I can’t recommend the finished product. Fingers crossed that the upcoming DARK HOLLOW is a stronger film and more worthy of Keene’s name.

I give GHOUL 1 and one half stars, with 2 timeouts.

© Copyright 2013 by Paul McMahon

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

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

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

storm

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

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

(An unruly woman in the crowd starts shouting.)

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

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

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

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

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

(The room falls silent)

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

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

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

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

Peter:  Ouch!  What was that for?

Lil’ Stevie:  Born in sin…Come on in!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter:  Will you cut it out?

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

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

Lil’ Stevie:  Continue…

Peter:  You know you want to say it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A cryptic message

A cryptic message

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

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

Peter:  Say what?

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

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

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

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

Andre Linogue (Colm Feore) shows his real face.

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

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

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

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

(Peter stares at Lil’ Stevie, who shrugs)

Lil’ Stevie:  Is Martha Clarendon REALLY dead?

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

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

Peter:  (Sighing) What do you want?

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

© Copyright 2013 by Peter N. Dudar

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For Rats’ Eyes Only: THE RATS (2002)

Posted in 2012, Animals Attack, Disease!, For Rats' Eyes Only, LL Soares Reviews, Rats, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 24, 2013 by knifefighter

FOR RATS’ EYES ONLY: Reviews of Movies About Rats


Presents:

THE RATS (2002)

Review by L.L. Soares

TheRats_2002_PosterJust when you thought it was safe to sit on the toilet! Up come the rats from the sewer!

That’s the thing about these pesky rodents. Once they start popping up, they seem to be everywhere, as Madchen Amick finds out in THE RATS (2002), which plays on the fears people who live in big cities have about rat infestations. It all begins simply enough in a Manhattan department store called Garsons, where a customer in a dressing room is bitten by something under a pile of clothes. The store manager, Susan Costello (Madchen Amick, probably best known as Shelly Johnson on TWIN PEAKS from 1990 -1991, although she’s been in a ton of television shows and movies since), tells the girl that she must have cut her finger on a floor tack, but she should have it checked out. Not long afterwards, Susan gets a call from the hospital, and when she goes to visit the woman, she finds out that it’s clear that it’s a bite and the woman is dying from a disease that is spread by rats.

Susan’s boss, Ms. Page (Sheila Mccarthy), is in a panic when she thinks about how such publicity could affect their department store. She tells Susan to fire the store’s exterminators and hire the best in the city, and in comes Jack Carver (Vincent Spano), a handsome rat specialist who knows how to play the game with the Health Department (he’s friends with the guy in charge) and is well-versed in keeping things discreet. Except, the rat problem turns out to be much bigger than anyone expected.

Meanwhile, Susan and her daughter Amy (Daveigh Chase) see a rat outside their apartment window, and soon afterwards, the local swimming pool where Amy goes to swim has a rat attack (they come out of the air vents), revealing that the problem extends to several city blocks.

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

Beware, THE RATS are coming!

As Susan and Jack find themselves getting increasingly attracted to each other, they also team up to investigate how bad the infestation is. This involves such interesting scenes as Jack and his partner Ty (Shawn Michael Howard) using ultra-violet light to uncover where rat droppings are throughout the store after hours, when the lights are out. As they discover false walls and secret passageways that were long covered up, the three of them eventually end up in the basement, which is a breeding ground for the vicious vermin, who have started attacking people (just ask the superintendent of Susan’s apartment building, who gets gobbled up by the rats). And there’s also the use of a cool bomb-defusing robot that is used to explore the subterranean lair of the rats, and uses it camera eyes to send back visuals to the people above.

We learn lots of interesting things, like rats are constantly chewing hard things to keep their teeth from growing too big for their mouths (their “chew toys” include metal and concrete) and that they’re constantly incontinent (thus the droppings everywhere). By the time Jack, Ty and Susan have tracked the rats’ origins down to a deserted lab that was doing medical experiments on them (that made them stronger and more aggressive), it looks like the entire city might be in danger.

If rats make you squeamish, you might not like the scene where a rat tries to push its way up out of a toilet while Amy gets ready for her bath. Or thousands of rats plummeting onto a subway train, bringing it to a stop and pouring inside the open windows. Or the big finale that involves a huge, drained swimming pool full of what looks like millions of rodents.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

Machen Amick takes a swim in a pool full of rats in THE RATS.

THE RATS was originally a TV-movie, but there’s some nudity early on that was obviously added for the European market, which isn’t as uptight as America is. The acting is decent for this kind of throwaway movie, and the rats look scary enough (it’s a mix of real rats and CGI effects, with enough real ones to make it convincing). The script is simple enough— rats are discovered and exterminator tracks them down, with a love story added— but it works. Director John Lafia keeps things suspenseful, and there are some good moments toward the end when you might feel a shiver or two as the rats pile up.

Not a great rat movie, or a great movie in general, but above-average for what started as a TV-movie. I liked it for what it was, and I’ve always liked Madchen Amick, so it was good to see her in a lead role here.

I give it two and a half out of five rats.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

HORROR-MOM TAKES A SNOW DAY!

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2013, Ancient Civilizations, Family Secrets, Horror-Mom's Guide to Scary Movies, Sheri White Reviews, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , on January 20, 2013 by knifefighter

HORROR-MOM’S GUIDE TO SCARY MOVIES
Horror-Mom Takes a Snow Day!
By Sheri White

Another snowy day, another school day canceled. You’ve seen enough of Spongebob and iCarly, and you’re tired of the yelling and the cries of “I’m bored!” And that’s just you! Imagine how the kids feel by now. Christmas is over, the toys are broken and it’s too cold to go out.  YOU’RE ALL TRAPPED.

What do you do? Movie marathon, of course! And I have the perfect movie to watch together in a huddle under some blankets while the snow piles up outside – STEPHEN KING’S STORM OF THE CENTURY. This is an original TV mini-series penned by Stephen King, shown over several nights in 1999. It’s dark, claustrophobic, and very creepy.

StormofCentury_Cover

Little Tall Island, a little village off the coast of Maine, is getting ready for a blizzard to hit, the worst they’ve seen in decades. Most of the citizens have evacuated, with just a handful staying behind to ride it out. But when Mike Anderson, the town constable, is called to a brutal murder, the townspeople begin to realize they are threatened by more than a storm.

Mike takes the murderer, Andre Linoge, into custody; he doesn’t put up any resistance but lets Mike know that he’ll go away if he’s given what he wants. Dismissing this ominous intonation at first, the townspeople go about getting ready for the storm. As mysterious things begin happening around them, they finally realize that Linoge is more than just a murderer—he’s something dark and evil, and they are all in danger.

Terrified, they eventually agree to give Linoge what they want—but the price they have to pay will be immeasurable.

STORM OF THE CENTURY is not for young children. But if your kids are middle-school-aged and older, you will enjoy a cozy afternoon of terror while snow rages outside your own window.

© Copyright 2013 by Sheri White

Remote Outpost: SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991)

Posted in 1990s Horror, 2012, Demons, Gangs, Ghosts!, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, Stephen King Movies, TV-Movies with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 19, 2012 by knifefighter

You find yourself on a barren and desolate world, light years from anything or anyone you know… Without much food or water, your oxygen running low, you strike out for the distant hills… After days of torturous climbing, you see an oasis below. An installation of quonset huts bedecked with hundreds of television antennae. Congratulations, Traveler, you’ve reachedTHE REMOTE OUTPOST.

 # #

Direct from THE REMOTE OUTPOST:
SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991)
TV-Movie Review by Mark Onspaugh

We all know the problem with sequels.  Sometimes a movie is great and can stand just fine on its own, then greedy producers want to go to that well again and again.  Usually, what results is a series of films that steadily decline in budget and quality.  Films like the original version of THE PLANET OF THE APES (1969).  The first is a masterpiece, the second is quite good, the third is okay… By number four (CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, 1974), the miniscule budget forced the production to film in Century City, and many of the ape makeups were crude masks.  If it wasn’t for Roddy McDowell’s brilliant turn as Caesar, the film would probably have been forgotten and the fifth film would never have happened.

Titling sequels is also an issue.  Do you go with numbering (LETHAL WEAPON XXVIII) or new titles? Do you do both, hoping to show creativity but still cash in on that brand? (GREMLINS II: THE NEW BATCH, 1990).

SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK (1991) is a good movie, and needs no sequel.  It almost seems as if producers were kicking around joke titles and decided to greenlight the merriment.  Thus, we would eventually be enjoying the demonic hijinks of SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… AGAIN (1996) and SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… FOR MORE (1998).

This leads me to believe we will eventually see other installments, like, SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… BECAUSE THEY FORGOT SOMETHING; SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… FOR THE FOOD, BUT STAY FOR THE PIE;  and SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK… BECAUSE THEY MISSED THEIR FLIGHT AND HAD TO RETURN AND YOU JUST GOT THE GUEST ROOM CLEANED AND NOW THESE ANNOYING DEMONS ARE BACK AGAIN – DAMN.

(Warning: SPOILERS abound below! It’s a SPOILER Wonderland!)

The first movie in the series is based directly on a Stephen King story of the same name, first published in Cavalier Magazine in March 1974 and then later collected in 1978’s Night Shift.  Jim Norman is a teacher who’s had a sketchy history (wife injured in a hit-and-run, a mental breakdown) and is finally back teaching in his old home town.  His last class of the day is an easy class largely in place to give jocks something they can pass so they can play sports.

But Jim has another secret—his older brother was murdered when the two were just kids.  The Norman brothers were assaulted by teenaged toughs near a railroad tunnel.  Jim escaped, but his brother was brutally stabbed.  Years later, he still has nightmares about the four toughs who took away his brother Wayne.  As Norman works through the school year, students begin to disappear. Each time one does, a transfer from “Millford” shows up, and it’s one of the thugs from his past, now dressed in contemporary style but still seventeen.  They tell Jim he is unfinished business, and that they mean to finish him.

In investigating these delinquents, Jim finds out “Millford” is not a school, but a cemetery (nice touch, that).  All the toughs (but one) were killed six months after his brother.  Once Jim’s wife is killed, he makes a deal with some dark entity in an occult ritual where he sacrifices both his index fingers.  The toughs show up, but are done in by a demonic version of Jim’s older brother.  At the end, Jim knows this dark thing he has invited into his life will also… come back.

The story is a good one, and King does not compromise or cop out with a happy ending.  In King’s world, dealing with dark forces often means a sacrifice, usually a big one.

Not so the film version.  SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK was originally going to be an installment of CAT’S EYE, the 1985 anthology film that would also feature adaptations of the Night Shift stories “The Ledge” and “Quitters, Inc.” The producers decided SOMETIMES would be better as a stand-alone story, and substituted “General,” a story original to the film where a cat protects a little girl (Drew Barrymore) from a murderous troll.

The movie of SOMETIMES was produced for television by Dino De Laurentis (at one point in the film, Jim Norman and his family watch Dino’s KING KONG from 1976 on the old VCR).  Jim Norman was played by Tim Matheson, who has been acting since he was five, and may be best remembered as the ultra-cool ladies man Otter in ANIMAL HOUSE (1978).  Matheson commits fully to the role of a troubled teacher haunted by demons from his past.  In fact, he saves one of the film’s more maudlin moments from sinking into a vat of treacle.

Tim Matheson and Brooke Adams in SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK.

SOMETIMES takes its time developing Jim’s character and that of his family, as well as his normal (if somewhat troubled) world. This is fairly standard in King’s writing; he makes sure we are fully grounded before bringing in the more fantastic elements of his story.  The TV-movie, unsure if people will have read the story, hedges its bets by having Tim Matheson doing a voice-over that mentions his brother’s murder and his subsequent troubles, and concludes with, “If I had known the horror we were facing, I’d have taken Sally and Scotty in my arms like my parents took me, and run from this town forever.”

Although the story is fairly close to King’s, there are some important differences.  In the film version, the hoods block the two brothers as they are going through the tunnel, parking their car on the tracks.  Instead of deliberately stabbing Wayne in the stomach and crotch (ouch), Wayne is jostled by one thug and runs into the switchblade of another.  When the train comes, Jimmy grabs up the car keys from the ground as the thugs pile in. One escapes, but the thugs and Jimmy’s brother are consumed in a train-meets-car fireball.

The phantom car.

Present day, Jim is married to Brooke Adams (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, 1978 and THE DEAD ZONE, 1983) and also has a young son.  (NOTE: I always wished they had cast Adams in SUPERMAN, 1978,  because I thought she would have made a much sexier Lois Lane than Margot Kidder.)

As with Jack Torrance of The Shining, Jim Norman has had troubles because of his temper.  In the movie we see each student who is killed off as they are murdered, and, in the first instance, the student is run off the road by a phantom car that only Jim and the student can see.  Jim snaps at the thugs as they begin to take over his classroom, and also has a clairvoyant dream where he sees a bright female student being murdered.  Jim leads the police to her hanging body, which casts suspicions on him for the murder.

A great bit in both prose and film versions is class jock and bully, Chip, confiding in Mr. Norman that these new students scare him, and mean the teacher real harm.  In the story, Chip runs off (and is presumably killed), but in the movie he is taken for a ride in the phantom car and shown just what his new friends really look likewith burned corpse makeups right out of EC Comics… Cool, Daddy-O!

SOMETIMES THEY COMES BACK and burn!

Another nice bit is that Jim periodically hears the train whistle, although the train stopped running years ago.

In the movie, Jim tracks down the only member of the gang to survive, Mueller, who is played by the great William Sanderson (BLADERUNNER, 1982 and TRUE BLOOD, 2008).  Mueller is also “unfinished business” for the hoods.

In the end, everyone gathers at the railroad tunnel for a nice reunion from Hell, and the thugs plan to kill Jim and his wife and kid.  Mueller valiantly takes a knife for Jim and his family, saying, “When someone dies… (urk, ack… expire)”

Out of a shimmering white hole emerges Wayne Norman, still looking twelve years old. He and Jim fend off the thugs until the Phantom Train from Hell arrives, right on time.  It takes the thugs and their ghost roadster to the Abyss.

Wayne is confused, and thinks Jim’s son is Jimmy.  Once he realizes he’s dead, Wayne wants Jimmy to come with him, and Jim tearfully explains his family needs him.  It is a very corny moment, but Matheson manages to elevate it into something poignant and real. Wayne goes back to Limbo, knowing now he will be able to pass on to something better, and Jim will see him again someday.

Robert Rusler as the leader of the thugs who COME BACK.

Obviously, the movie ends happily, and there is no hint of dark magic, sacrifices or Jim unleashing something hellish.  While King’s story is more satisfying in that regard, I found the movie to be entertaining, well written, directed and acted.  The film was directed by Tom McLoughlin, who wrote and directed JASON LIVES: FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI (1986) and was a writer and director of a whole lot of TV.  The movie was written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal, who also wrote such fine films as SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987), STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991), the remake of PLANET OF THE APES (2001) and everyone’s favorite Nic Cage sorcery film THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE (2010)or was that SEASON OF THE WITCH (2011)?  Which one has Cage screaming, “The bees! The bees!” with a beehive on his head?  Oh, right, THE WICKER MAN (2006) —but I digress.  Acting-wise, besides Matheson and Adams, the thugs were all good, especially the leader, played by Robert Rusler, who was also in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE (1982) and VAMP (1986). In fact, the only bad actor in the entire ensemble was the fellow that played Jim as a kid.  He had an unfortunate resemblance to Jerry Mathers (TV’s LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, 1957-1963) and he always looked constipated when he cried, which was a lot.  I checked his credits, and he only did one voice-over job after this effort…

Sometimes it’s good they don’t come back.

© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh

And There’s More to Come! A public service from your friends at THE REMOTE OUTPOST.  Not only will we review the two sequels to SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, we will give you a fairly detailed synopsis – that way, you need never watch either, or you’ll know how far to fast-forward if you just want to see Hilary Swank in tentacle porn.