Archive for the Witches Category

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Posted in 2013, Demons, Devil Movies, Indie Horror, Intense Movies, LL Soares Reviews, Monster Babies, Nightmares, Rob Zombie Films, Strange Cinema, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2013 by knifefighter

THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)
Movie Review by L.L. Soares

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I’ve been a fan of Rob Zombie’s for quite a long time now. First his music, then his movies when he started directing, beginning with HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), which I liked a lot, and then THE DEVIL’S REJECTS (2005), which I pretty much loved. Then he made his two movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise (2007 and 2009), and while they had some good moments, they were disappointments over all. So I’ve been really itching to see him back to making low budget films based on his own characters. The HALLOWEEN stuff just wasn’t a good fit.

His new movie, THE LORDS OF SALEM, is a step in the right direction.

Gone is the studio oppression. And a lower budget means Rob can stay true to his vision. So just what is his vision for LORDS OF SALEM? Well, I better add a disclaimer. Not everyone is going to dig this movie. But I had a lot of fun with it.

It begins in 1692 Salem, Mass. with the coven of Margaret Morgan (an almost unrecognizable Meg Foster, who was also in John Carpenter’s THEY LIVE, 1988, and a lot more movies and TV series). Margaret is a genuine Satan-worshipping, baby killing monster of a witch. No Mother-Earth loving Wiccan is she. When she cuts open a pregnant woman, in order to sacrifice her child to Satan, Reverend Jonathan Hawthorne (Andrew Prine, star of lots of cool 70s flicks like SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES, 1971) has her and her coven rounded up and executed for their crimes. But, of course, Margaret curses Hawthorne and his bloodline before she dies.

Skip to modern-day Salem, Mass., where the Reverend’s descendent, Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie), is a recovering drug addict and a DJ at a local radio station, along with Herman Jackson (Ken Foree, who you’ve got to remember from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978) and Whitey (Jeff Daniel Phillips, looking a lot like a stand-in for Rob Zombie, he was most recently in the above-average revenge movie FASTER, 2010). The three of them do a “morning zoo” type show during the late night hours, and things get weird when they get a visit from a death metal singer named Count Gorgann (Torsten Voges), who goes on a blasphemous rant about his philosophy of life. Things get even weirder when a mysterious vinyl record shows up for Heidi in an antique wooden box, addressed simply from “The Lords.” The music it plays has a very strange effect on Heidi and some of the women of Salem who hear it.

The-Lords-of-Salem-poster #2There’s also Heidi’s deceptively friendly landlady, Lacy (Judy Geeson, TO SIR WITH LOVE, 1967) and her “sisters” Sonny (Dee Wallace, whose resume includes such classic films as the original HILLS HAVE EYES, 1977, E.T. THE EXTRATERRESTRIAL, 1982, CUJO, 1983, and more recently in Chris Sivertson’s adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s THE LOST, 2006) and Megan (Patricia Quinn, Magenta herself from THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, 1975). These three ladies would fit in just fine in a production of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, if you know what I mean. They set Margaret Morgan’s curse into modern-day action.

The curse manifests itself in Room # 5 of the house where Heidi lives – an apartment long empty (and presumably un-rentable) that has now become some kind of portal into Hell, complete with a very strange-looking dwarf monster in a rubber suit at one point (the scenes with this dwarf demon are equally funny—because of the low-budget look of the monster —and weird, but actually work in a bizarre way). As Whitey slowly becomes aware of his true feelings for Heidi, he tries to save her. Also in heroic mode is Bruce Davison (WILLARD, 1971 and THE CRUCIBLE, 1996), as a writer and expert on historical witchcraft who is a guest on Heidi’s radio show, and figures out what is going on. But they’re up against some particularly formidable nasties.

There’s a scene towards the end that is pure Rob Zombie, a series of images that play out as a prolonged acid trip, and it’s stuff like this that makes THE LORDS OF SALEM so enjoyable. Yesterday, Michael Arruda and I reviewed the new Tom Cruise movie, OBLIVION, and opined that, despite the huge budget, the movie was kind of hollow because of a weak story, and a sanitized feel. THE LORDS OF SALEM is the exact opposite of something like OBLIVION. With a very low budget, Rob has to be more creative in putting his vision onscreen (thus that funny-looking demon) , and yet, because it is such a personal vision—and he has such a unique style—LORDS just seems more satisfying. Where OBLIVION is sterile and perfectly manicured, LORDS is dirty and depraved— coming at us warts-and-all—but that’s fine, because this is a horror movie after all.

There are parts of this movie that reminded me of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968, an inevitable comparison), and some of the flashbacks from the 1600s had a slightly BLACK SUNDAY (1960) feel to them; there’s also a bit of the insanity from something like Andzej Zulawksi’s 1981 film, POSSESSION (that crazy dwarf demon) and the films of Alejandro Jodorowksy. The acting is mostly right on, especially Sheri Moon Zombie, who is becoming quite an effective leading lady for this kind of thing. There are some scenes that have her doing very bizarre things, but she’s a trooper, and you truly care about her character (frankly, I wanted an even deeper look at her life before the curse kicks in). I found myself wishing that more directors would use her in their movies (although Mr. Zombie has been giving her some plum roles over the years, it’s not just because she’s his wife –  she has actually done a good job with them).

I would have had liked to see more of Ken Foree’s character (we only get a taste of what he can do as an actor here), and Jeff Daniel Phillips and Bruce Davison are good as the forces of good (I’m actually a big fan of Davison, and have been since the original WILLARD, and was happy to see him here, as well as the great Andrew Prine in what is, unfortunately, little more than a cameo). And the witches—well, they’re just terrific here, and probably the main reason to see the movie (aside from Sheri).

There’s also a very strong 70s feel to the movie, starting with the opening credits-on, which should come as no surprise to fans of his films. Zombie has been strongly influenced by the horror films of the 1970s, which is just fine with me. I consider the 70s to be one of the two main golden ages of cinema, the other being the 1930s. And, like some of the witch films from the 70s, there are some clichés of the genre here, but there’s also enough originality to keep things fresh.

THE LORDS OF SALEM is in limited release right now (only one theater in my area was showing it, so it’s not going to be easy for some people to find), but it deserves a wider audience. Also, before the movie was released, a book came out by Rob Zombie (with B.K. Evenson), which is a novelization of the film. Or rather, it is based on the first version of the script, before budgetary constraints forced Zombie to change a lot to save money. Reading the novel, which is presumably what he originally intended to do on film, it’s fun to compare this to what actually got made. I’m about 100 pages into the book, and already there are some interesting changes between his original concept and the finished film.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

The novel version of THE LORDS OF SALEM is also available now.

Since the HALLOWEEN films, I have been eager to see Rob Zombie go back to his roots and give us something that was truly his own. He really should try to avoid directing remakes of other people’s films. His style is just too idiosyncratic to be used to present other people’s ideas. Like a Jodorowsky or a David Lynch, his best work is that which originates with him.

As I said before, a lot of people might not enjoy this movie as much as I did. The attempts at characterization might be a little slow for some people, and Zombie’s style during the weird stuff might be too bizarre for them. But for me, everything kind of clicked, and I was really pulled into this film. I loved the feel of it, the strong sense of atmosphere, and the imagery here. I do not think it is Rob Zombie’s best work (that remains THE DEVIL’S REJECTS), but after two steps back, this is a big step forward toward getting him back on track in making the kinds of movies only he can make, and I hope he gives us many more films in the future.

Welcome back, Rob. I give this one three and a half knives.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

LL Soares gives THE LORDS OF SALEM ~three and a half knives.

OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, Based on Classic Films, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Exotic Locales, Fantasy Films, Highly Stylized Films, Prequels, Sam Raimi, Witchcraft, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

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(THE SCENE: A circus, filmed in black and white.  L.L. SOARES, dressed in a magician’s costume, stands on a stage in front of a sparse crowd.)

L.L. SOARES:  For my next astonishing trick, I’ll need a volunteer from the audience.  You, there!  The silly-looking gentleman standing in the back.

(Spotlight lands on MICHAEL ARRUDA, standing in back of audience.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Are you talking to me? (points to his chest.)

LS (under his breath):  Yeah, you, you Travis Bickle wannabe.  (louder to audience) Yes, young man. Come up here. Don’t be afraid.

(MA approaches stage to mild applause.)

LS: For this amazing feat of magic, I shall require the services of my magic wand.  (Lifts magic wand, dripping with blood.)

MA (now standing next to LS):  Are you sure that’s not your magic knife? You haven’t been drinking and mixed them up again, have you?

LS:  Silence!  For this trick, I shall make him disappear.  Hocus frigging Pocus!  (taps MA on the shoulder with bloody wand.  There is a great puff of white smoke, and when it clears, MA has disappeared.)

I like this gig!

(MA finds himself back in the audience)

MA:  Not so fast!  (Rushes back on stage).  We have a movie to review, and you’re not getting rid of me so easily!

(MA leaps at LS, the two wrestle, and fall out a back door onto an incredibly colorful path, as the scene is now in bright Technicolor.  They are on a hill, standing on a yellow brick road, looking down at the glittering Emerald City of Oz.)

MA:  We’re not in Kansas anymore.

LS:  When the hell were we ever in Kansas?

MA:  It’s a figure of speech.

Well, now that we’re here in Oz, let’s review today’s movie, OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013) Disney’s prequel to the classic THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939).

The story opens in a scene similar to the one we just left.  Young magician and con-man Oscar Diggs (James Franco), who goes by “Oz” for short, is struggling to make ends meet with his sideshow magic act.

LS: I have no idea if the Wizard has a regular name in L. Frank Baum’s OZ books, but do you think the fact that Franco’s character’s name is Oscar is a joke because he hosted the Oscars one year with Anne Hathaway? I remember they were pretty much pilloried for that gig.

MA: Who cares?

He’s helped by his assistant Frank (Zach Braff) and by clueless women who he charms and lies his way into getting them to be part of the act on stage.  When one such woman, Annie (Michelle Williams), tells him that someone has asked her to marry him, she professes her love for Oscar, but he tells her to go ahead and get married because he’s not a good man.  Their conversation is interrupted by the circus strong man, who is angry at Oscar for giving a gift to his woman—a music box, to be precise, which we learn Oscar gives to every woman he is romantically interested in— and so Oscar leaps into a hot air balloon and flees his former life, only to be caught up in a massive tornado which propels him of course to the Land of Oz.

LS: That’s the same way Dorothy got to Oz in the original movie! Hey, it was funny how there’s a scene with Franco, Williams and Braff, and I realized, there’s a whole new generation of actors whose careers started in television. Franco was on the short-lived, but revered cult TV show FREAKS AND GEEKS (which only lasted one season, from 1999 to 2000, yet almost everyone from that show has gone on to a bigger career, including Seth Rogan and Jason Segel); Williams, of course, became famous on DAWSON’S CREEK (1998 – 2003); and Braff first became a familiar face on SCRUBS (2001 – 2010). It was like a TV reunion! And yet, all three are really good here in a theatrical movie!

MA: I agree.  And I remember liking Braff a lot on SCRUBS.

In Oz, Oscar meets Theodora the Good Witch (Mila Kunis), who tells him of the prophecy that a wizard named Oz would arrive from the sky to free their people from the wicked witch of the land.

LS: And Kunis’s big break was also on television, on THAT ‘70S SHOW (1998 – 2006). Hey, don’t forget the part of the prophecy that says the wizard will have the same name as the land of Oz. I thought that was kind of goofy, but funny, too.

MA: Not to mention unbelievable, but since this is a fantasy, I let it slide.

Theodora falls for Oscar immediately and is convinced that he is the wizard from the prophecy, and that he will become king and she’ll be his queen.  She brings him to the Emerald City where she introduces him to her sister, another witch, Evanora (Rachel Weisz).

LS: Finally, someone who didn’t start their career on television! Well, American television. Weisz began her career in television in England, but became familiar to American audiences in movies like THE MUMMY (1999). I also thought she was kind of amazing in Neil LeBute’s 2003 film, THE SHAPE OF THINGS.

MA: On their way to the city, they meet up with and befriend a talking flying monkey, Finley (voiced by Zach Braff).  Oscar saves Finley from the clutches of a lion, and as result, Finley promises to be his faithful servant for life.

LS: Was it just me, or was Finley one of the best-looking CGI creations we have seen in a long time? The level of detail, and his facial expressions, were just terrific.

MA: No, it’s not just you.  I thought the same the thing, and I also thought the little China Doll was just as good.  Excellent special effects here!

The witch sisters show Oscar an enormous “treasure room” full of gold which will all be his once he has defeated the wicked witch, and all he needs do to accomplish this task is to destroy her magic wand.  Unable to resist the temptation of all that wealth, Oscar agrees to the task and sets out along with Finley to destroy the wicked witch.  Along the way, they rescue and repair a broken talking China doll (voiced by Joey King) who cries her way into becoming part of their team.

LS: Yeah, China is another amazing CGI creation. At least the effects in this movie are incredibly well done.

MA: Once in the dark forest, they attempt to destroy the wicked witch, but it turns out that this witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams), isn’t wicked at all, but a good witch.  The true wicked witch, according to Glinda, is really Evanora.

LS: Hey, wait a minute. We’ve been walking along as we talked, and we’re in a dark forest now as well.

MA: Funny how that happened.

LS: Hmmm, we’re surrounded by apple trees. I could go for an apple right about now.

(LS picks an apple off a tree, and the tree turns around and slaps him with one of its branches)

TREE: Do I go around picking things off you?

LS: One of those cool talking trees from THE WIZARD OF OZ!

TREE: I asked you a question.

MA: Sorry.  We don’t usually talk to trees. And where we come from, apples are food.

TREE: Food! How barbaric! I oughta knock your block off.

LS: Hey, how come you trees weren’t in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL. I missed you guys when Oscar goes into the dark forest this time.

MA:  I never liked those trees, and so I’m glad they weren’t in this movie.  (An apple plunks him on the head.)

TREE: Maybe we were saplings back then and weren’t big enough to talk. How the hell do I know? Now give that apple back.

(LS hands over the apple he picked, and the TREE takes it)

TREE: Now hurry on off if you know what’s good for you!

LS: Okay, okay.

(LS and MA continue walking along the road)

MA: Anyway, Glinda introduces Oscar to the oppressed people of Oz and tells him that it’s up to him to free her people from the clutches of Evanora, and her unsuspecting sister Theodora, who it turns out, is about to undergo a dramatic personality shift, to say the least.

LS: Yeah, I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming. So let’s not spoil it further.

MA: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL gets off to a slow and rather clunky start but ultimately improves to the point where it becomes a movie that I —surprisingly—- really liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think the beginning was clunky at all.

MA: Well, not the very beginning, the black and white sequence where we see Oscar working as a sideshow magician with his assistant Frank, which I liked.  These scenes were humorous and shot in the tradition of the original movie, THE WIZARD OF OZ.  They also set the stage for the transformation to the colorful 3D extravaganza known as Oz.

LS: I also noticed that, during the black and white scenes, the screen we see is smaller. But when gets to Oz, it is not only more colorful, but the screen expands to widescreen perspective. A clever trick!

MA: But it’s in the early moments in Oz that I thought the film faltered.  I did not enjoy the early scenes between Oscar and Theodora.  I found Theodora to be incredibly naïve and as a result not very believable.

LS: There aren’t naïve people in real life? And wouldn’t it make sense if she never before saw a man fall out of the sky? It’s not something we see every day. And there is the prophecy!

MA: She falls in love with him in less than a minute.  Naïve.

I also thought the dialogue here, especially Theodora’s, was particularly bad, and the scenes inside the castle where Oscar meets Theodora’s sister Evanora aren’t much better.

Things pick up once Oscar sets out to destroy the wicked witch, along with his faithful monkey Finley and the little China Girl, two CGI creations who not only look terrific, but who are also two of the better characters in the movie. They’re better than most of the “real” people here.

LS: I’ll agree with you on that point.

MA: And then things really get moving once they confront Glinda and we learn that she’s not really a wicked witch.  When she explains to Oscar what his true mission must be, and he accepts, the movie takes on an entirely different and more rewarding emotional feel.   The scenes where Oscar must lead the various groups of Oz inhabitants, farmers, tinkers, and of course Munchkins, are light, funny, and ultimately gratifying.

LS: I actually had a mixed reaction to the scene where we first meet the Munchkins. They begin to sing, and Oscar discourages them. In a way it’s funny, and I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but at the same time, the music was one of the indelible stamps that made THE WIZARD OF OZ so unique. How there was music and singing, but it wasn’t really a musical per se. I think this new OZ could have let its hair down a little more.

MA: I’m glad Oscar told them to shut up.

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Of course, these scenes also coincide with Theodora’s transformation into the true threat of the movie, a transformation that I both bought and enjoyed.

LS: Enough of that!

(A MUNCHKIN suddenly walks by. He’s holding a stick over his shoulder with a knapsack on the end, like a hobo)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

MUNCHKIN: Far away from here. They won’t let us sing in this movie.

LS: Is that so bad?

MUNCHKIN: Don’t know a lot about Munchkins, do you? We were born to sing. It’s in our hearts, it’s in our souls. We live to sing! And this Oz character shows up and tells us to “Take 5.” The nerve of that guy!

MA: So where are you headed? Going to go to Middle Earth and hang out with the Hobbits?

MUNCHKIN:  Of course not, they don’t sing either!

LS: Going to go sit in a display case at Dunkin’ Donuts?

MUNCHKIN (sticks out his tongue): Very funny. That would be a big No.

MA: So where does a Munchkin go if he’s not allowed to sing?

MUNCHKIN: Why the show GLEE of course. I’m sure they’d invite me to join the cast.

LS: Good luck with that.

(MUNCHKIN walks away)

LS: Back to our regularly scheduled program.

MA: In spite of its slow start, I liked OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL a lot.  Sam Raimi has hit yet another home run with this colorful, agreeable, and highly entertaining fantasy tale that has a lot of things going for it.

LS: I agree with you. I liked it a lot, too. And I think a lot of the credit goes to director Raimi. This sure makes up for the awful SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007)! Nice to see him back to full power again.

I went in wondering how it would compare to THE WIZARD OF OZ, because comparisons are inevitable. And it compares quiet well. The level of acting and the script are good, but do not seem to be as solid as the original film. And strangely, though technology is so advanced now, I think the original 1939 film still looks more amazing and the land of Oz looked more “real” back then.

MA:  James Franco is excellent as Oscar, “Oz,” and in a movie driven by special effects, he still manages to carry this movie and drive it along.  I bought into his character and accepted his flaws as genuine.  He basically plays Oscar as a guy who succeeds in spite of himself, and I liked this.

LS: Oscar isn’t the most likable character in the world, but that’s okay. He’s not supposed to be. He’s actually kind of a fool. But this is a tale of redemption, and Franco shines in the lead role here. I love that goofy grin of his. He’s making it up as he goes along, but he has no idea what the rules are in this new world, and so he’s going to get duped sometimes, as a lot of us would be.

MA: Michelle Williams makes a sincere and touching Glinda, and I’d have to say I thought she delivered the best performance in the movie, which is saying a lot because I didn’t expect much from this character, and yet she makes for such a strong and attractive presence, I found myself that much more interested in the story whenever she was on screen.

LS: You know, in our COMING ATTRACTIONS column earlier this month, we made a big deal of Mila Kunis being so beautiful in the trailer for this movie. But the truth is, Williams is just as beautiful (and Weisz is certainly no slouch, either) here. The thing is, you’re right—she does deliver the best performance in the movie. I thought she was perfectly cast here. It’s so easy for such a completely “good” character to be just plain boring. Usually the bad guys are the most exciting ones. But Williams makes Glinda believable. And I liked her character a lot—which amazed me, because I always root for the bad guys! She really has become an amazing actress over the years. I thought she was great as Lily in BLACK SWAN (2010).

MA:  I have to agree with everything you just said, and I think that’s why I liked her so much.  For once, the “good” character was just as interesting as the bad!

I did not enjoy Mila Kunis early on as Theodora, to the point where I was hoping she wasn’t going to be in the movie much.  But I really liked her dark side, so much so that it made me forget completely her lame interpretation of Theodora at the beginning of the movie.

LS: Oh give Mila a break! The way she plays Theodora early on is crucial to what happens later, and I think she does a good job.

MA:  Gag!

LS:  She is beautiful, and her character is supposed to be clueless and easily manipulated. That is vital to how she ultimately reacts to both her sister Evanor and Oscar. I will admit, there are some scenes where Kunis did seem a little stilted, and her performance isn’t the best one here, but she’s coming along nicely as an actress. Who knew, when she played a supporting character on THAT ‘70S SHOW, that her career would be so huge. I don’t think she’s an amazing actress, yet, but I think she’s getting better and better.

MA: Like we both said earlier, the two CGI creations, Finley the monkey and China Girl, voiced by Zach Braff and young Joey King, were two of the most captivating and enjoyable characters in the movie.  They’re on par with Yoda in the STAR WARS films and Gollum from the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

And the 3D effects here are excellent, too. I’d have to say that this is the most visually satisfying movie I’ve seen since HUGO (2011).

LS: Yeah, I saw the 2D version. Maybe I should have seen it in 3D instead. But I will say that seeing the 2D version didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the film at all.

As for the special effects, everyone who worked on them for this movie deserves heaps of praise. OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is way above average, which made it stand up much better in comparison to the 1939 movie, which set a high bar.

(A FLYING MONKEY from the original WIZARD OF OZ walks by, carrying a knapsack over his shoulder)

MA: Hey little guy, where are you headed?

LS: Is there an echo in here?

FLYING MONKEY: I thought the wicked witch’s flying monkeys were one of the coolest things about THE WIZARD OF OZ, and now I find I’m out of a job.

MA: There are flying monkeys in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Let’s be specific here, shall we? The flying monkeys in this movie are flying BABOONS. There’s no sign of the monkeys from THE WIZARD OF OZ this time around. We’ve been replaced.

LS: You mean you don’t want to put on a little bellhop’s outfit and pretend to be Finley?

FLYING MONKEY: That wimp? No way! If the only choices I have are dressing like a bellboy and being all cute, or being out of a job, then I’ll be on my way.

LS: I do agree this was a little annoying. As a kid, I always thought the flying monkeys were the best part of THE WIZARD OF OZ. They didn’t need to be improved, and they didn’t need to be changed into baboons. Hell, if you want scarier monkeys, why not go all out and hire some mandrills?

MA: I didn’t mind the baboons here, although I’ve always liked the flying monkeys from the original, so admittedly I did miss them a little bit.

LS: The CGI flying baboons were okay, but they were one of the things I liked least about OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.

FLYING MONKEY: Well, unless you can hire me on as an evil henchman, I’ll be going.

LS: I’m tempted. Honest I am.

MA: It’s not in the budget!

LS: I know. Farewell, scary monkey.

(FLYING MONKEY continues walking down the yellow brick road)

MA: The screenplay by Mitchell Kapner and David Lindsay-Abaire manages to tell a compelling story with lots of references to the original movie, from a lion in the woods, to scarecrows, to the poppy fields.  There are many moments that will indeed bring back memories from the 1939 classic.

LS: A movie you admit you don’t like.

MA:  Guilty as charged.

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LS:  As a fan of the 1939 film, I was surprised how good OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was. I really thought it would look shallow in comparison, and it stands up quite nicely. The script is clever, and sticks to the story of THE WIZARD OF OZ pretty closely. It explains a lot of things in a smart way.

MA: One thing I didn’t like, or at least didn’t understand, was that in the 1939 film, the characters that Dorothy meets, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion, Wicked Witch, and even the Wizard himself, all resemble people she knew in Kansas, which makes sense because at the end of the movie it’s revealed she was dreaming.  Here, characters Oscar meets also resemble people he knew back home, yet here it’s not inferred that he’s dreaming.

LS: Maybe he is. Then again, maybe he died in that tornado and Oz is the afterlife! The way I saw it, maybe it’s not inferred because maybe he wasn’t dreaming, and maybe Dorothy wasn’t either. Maybe she really visited this other dimension (or perhaps she had a near death experience and got a glimpse of the afterlife as well), too. You can debate it all you want, because it’s open to interpretation.

MA: But if we are to infer that it’s all a dream, then how does this tie in with Dorothy’s dream later?  Can they both have the same dream?  Or is Oz real?  No doubt, I’m overthinking this, but it was something that was definitely on my mind as I walked out of the theater.

LS: That’s a first. You can barely think and now you claim to be overthinking. I think poor Finley has more brains than you.

MA: Which goes to show just how clueless you can be sometimes!

LS: You know, one thing I was worried about was that Disney would make this story extra bland to appeal to the widest audience. They have a way of doing that sometimes, although I must admit, it wasn’t a problem with Andrew Stanton’s underrated JOHN CARTER (2012). Just last week you were complaining that JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was super homogenized and didn’t have any kind of edge to it. I was surprised that OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL has any kind of edge at all. But Franco’s Oscar is certainly a flawed character, the witches here can be kind of scary, and while it’s a great movie for the whole family, I didn’t think it was reduced to Disney-flavored pablum. What did you think about that, Michael?

MA: I agree.

It’s funny because JACK THE GIANT SLAYER was rated PG-13, and OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL was rated PG, yet OZ has more of an edge than JACK!  Now, there are more battle scenes in JACK than there are in OZ, but Oscar has more flaws than anyone in JACK, and the witches and even the baboons are scarier than the giants in JACK.

Nonetheless, to my surprise, since I hadn’t been looking forward to this one, I really enjoyed OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL.  Sam Raimi can add another notch to his belt because he’s made yet another classic movie.

I give it three and a half knives.

LS: Well, I have to admit, I’m amazed by your reaction, because you have gone on record as saying you don’t like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

MA:  I’m just as amazed.

LS:  And yet the reason why this new OZ is so good, is because it sticks to the original story so well. It makes a good companion piece to the 1939 film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if kids of the future get exposed to both films together, the way we got exposed to THE WIZARD OF OZ as children. Despite your dislike of the original, I remember it being a big deal as a kid. It was shown on television just once a year, and EVERYONE seemed to watch it, and make it a special occasion. Videotape wasn’t around yet, so you couldn’t watch the movie whenever you wanted.  You had to wait. And that created an anticipation around it that made it seem very special.

With a movie that is such an important part of a lot of people’s childhoods, it’s going to be very tough to make something new that can stand alongside it. And yet, I think Sam Raimi has done a terrific job here.

I don’t think OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL is a perfect film. I don’t think everything works, and there are moments when it seems stilted or that it’s trying too hard to be clever. And not all of the characters are equally interesting. While I like Rachel Weisz a lot, I didn’t find her Evanora all that interesting, even though she was crucial to the storyline (and Weisz seems to do what she can with the role). I don’t think all of the special effects are equally good – but that only makes sense, because they’re so expensive to do. I think Finley the monkey is amazing, for example, but I was less impressed with the flying baboons that Evanor commands. And I still think that THE WIZARD OF OZ packs more of an emotional wallop. In comparison, the new OZ is a love tap, but a very good one.

I also give it three and a half out of five knives (and,just to put things in perspective, if I had to rate the original WIZARD OF OZ, it would get four and a half or maybe even five knives).

By the way, this isn’t Disney’s first trip to Oz since the 1939 original. In 1985, there was a sequel called RETURN TO OZ, with Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, It was rather dark and I liked it a lot. But it wasn’t an all-star blockbuster like this one. I think the world of Oz still has a lot of potential – there are so many stories and characters created by L. Frank Baun that haven’t been tapped into yet.

(They reach the gates of the Emerald City. A GUARD waits outside)

GUARD: Halt! Who goes there.

LS: Hey, wait a minute, you’re Bruce Campbell, right?

GUARD: Of course not, I’m Winkie the Gatekeeper!

LS: I saw Bruce Campbell’s name in the credits, but I didn’t see him anywhere. I was sure he was Winkie.

GUARD: You are sorely mistaken.

LS: Rats! I always wanted to meet Bruce Campbell. Speaking of Bruce and director Sam Raimi, I wonder if the remake of their classic EVIL DEAD (1981) will be any good.

MA: That doesn’t come out til next month!  (to GUARD) Hey, will you mind letting us in?  We’ve come a long way.

GUARD: Well, boo hoo for you. No one goes inside today! The Emerald City is under renovation.

LS: Double Rats!

MA: Oh well, I guess we’re headed back home.

LS: Can we at least take a hot-air balloon this time?

-END-

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda & L.L Soares

Michael Arruda gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~ three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL ~three and a half knives, as well.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories # 60 – SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 1980s Horror, 2013, Classic Films, George Romero, Indie Horror, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Witches with tags , , , , , , on January 31, 2013 by knifefighter

Suburban Grindhouse Memories No. 60:
Season of the Zzzzzzzzzzz…
By Nick Cato

SeasonWitchPoster In October of 1982, fans of the HALLOWEEN series were confused about the third film, which was titled HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH. While technically it had more to do with the actual holiday than the others in the series, the film didn’t feature infamous slasher Michael Myers or star Jamie Lee Curtis. In time, the film gained a cult following and a slick blu ray edition has recently been released. But when the film was originally released theatrically, someone thought it would be slick to simultaneously repackage a 1972 film titled HUNGRY WIVES under the title SEASON OF THE WITCH and put it out the same weekend as the third HALLOWEEN film to swipe some of the successful series’ revenue (got all that?). And while I couldn’t find any proof they were successful, I can testify that the theatre I saw George A. Romero’s SEASON OF THE WITCH in (the now defunct Amboy Twin) was packed to the rafters…and the second showing sold out as well.

Despite being a huge Romero fan, I had never heard of SEASON OF THE WITCH (or HUNGRY WIVES) until I opened my local paper that Friday afternoon and saw an ad for HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH and, right across from it, and ad for another film simply called SEASON OF THE WITCH with the tagline, “An early work from the master of horror, George A. Romero!” And seeing this, I knew where I’d be that night; HALLOWEEN III was going to have to wait a day or two. I also convinced two of my buddies to put off their HALLOWEEN III screening and, knowing we were doing it for a Romero film, they joined me. In the pre-Internet days, there was no Googling to see if something was worth it or not.

I still have the black and blue-marks on my upper arms from being punched for a few hours after SEASON OF THE WITCH ended. And I couldn’t blame my friends for their anger.

The film takes forever to get moving. And, even then, it moves like a horse being dragged to the glue mill at high noon. We meet a bored housewife named Joan (Jan White) who has a husband who’s always away on business and a college-aged daughter who has the personality of a handball. Joan spends her days as a bored housewife and her nights at her neighbor’s boring parties, as well as a ridiculous amount of time walking through the woods in artistically-shot, trippy sequences. I think this was the first time I heard an audience start yelling for the film to get going so early on…maybe after fifteen minutes? As a Romero fan, I was getting annoyed at all the noise, but by the middle of the movie I had joined them.

The boredom is broken up with dream sequences of Joan being attacked in her home by a masked assailant. She seeks therapy for her nightmares but it doesn’t help and the dreams continue…as did the audience’s cheers for the masked assailant to kill her. Joan eventually visits a woman who gives her a tarot reading, and she develops an interest in witchcraft after finding out the tarot woman is part of a coven.

In the only sequence I enjoyed, Joan goes to some kind of underground hippie-owned store to purchase witchcraft supplies. I couldn’t stop laughing over a sign on the wall that said “Take Some Trash” posted over several garbage cans right inside the store! Over the years I’ve wondered if this was some kind of comment on the end of the hippie era, but now think it was just Romero tossing some goofy fun into this dreadful mess that I recently read is the only film of his even he wishes he could remake.

One amazing thing here: I don’t recall a single person leaving the theater. The film, while slow and painfully boring, does tend to keep your interest in the wake of the nightmare scenes. I think most audiences had a crazed bloodlust by the final minutes, hoping this masked intruder would finally decapitate Joan and end this celluloid torture session.

But in the “shock” ending, Joan is having another nightmare when she wakes; someone is pulling on the front door handle, trying to break in the house. She grabs a shotgun. The crowd I was part of went nuts…and I’m talking scream-out loud nuts! Most cheered for the guy breaking in to kill Joan…a few even begged her to blow her own head off! (Yeah, we New Yorkers are a happy bunch). But neither request happens. Joan ends up shooting the intruder.

And the intruder ends up being her husband Jack, back early from yet another business trip.

Boos erupted to the point I was partially deaf for a good half hour.

I still can’t remember what happens after that, but I’m pretty sure Joan joins the tarot reader’s coven. Either way, some older woman next to me said, “Man, that was really for the birds!”

And despite being a George Romero fanatic, I had to agree. SEASON OF THE WITCH (a.k.a. HUNGRY WIVES, a.k.a. JACK’S WIFE) is a slow, tedious, boring-as-you-can get feature that even the most die-hard horror fan will have trouble getting through without a fast forward button. Being in a suburban grindhouse made it kind-of fun (and barely bearable), but I’d love to know how other audiences around the country reacted to this “early work from the Master of Horror.”

I’ll take another dozen of Romero’s …OF THE DEAD films before sitting through this thing again. Until next time, I’ll be putting ice packs on my upper-arm bruises…

© Copyright 2013 by Nick Cato

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

When the BEST part of a film is a slow-moving recurring nightmare sequence, you know you’re in trouble! The Masked Intruder from SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972).

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)

Posted in 2013, 3-D, Adult Fairy Tales, CGI, Cinema Knife Fights, Gimmicks, Magic, Trolls, Witches with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013)
By Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares

hansel

(THE SCENE: The middle of the woods, outside a house made of candy. MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES approach house.)

MICHAEL ARRUDA: A house made of candy! Oh boy!

L.L. SOARES: I can think of better things for a house to be made of. Besides, I’m on a diet.

MA: Well, if you’re going to nitpick, I suppose I’d prefer a house made completely of chocolate. In fact, that looks like a chocolate doorbell. (starts to eat chocolate doorbell, which rings).

LS: Haven’t you read enough fairy tales to know you’re not supposed to eat the candy?

MA: I don’t care.

LS: Hey, this tile is made of Swedish fish. I think I’ll have a nibble.

(Door opens and nasty looking witch peers outside.)

WITCH: Welcome! Come on in, childr—-. (Looks at MA & LS, and frowns). Aren’t you two a little old for this?

LS: Speak for yourself, grandma. We’re just here to review a movie. We’re not here for the candy—at least I’m not! (elbows MA).

MA (wiping chocolate from his mouth): Sorry about that. I couldn’t resist. Hey this window is a giant lollipop! (starts licking)

WITCH: Hope you’re enjoying yourself. (adds on her fingers) That’ll be $15.00.

MA: Seriously?

WITCH: Yeah! What do you think this is, a fairy tale? Pay up!

(MA pays her.)

WITCH: You, too. At a penny a piece, you must have eaten 30 cents worth of Swedish fish.

(LS pays her)

WITCH: Thanks. Have fun reviewing your movie. Make sure I receive some compensation. You are using the exterior of my home for your review, after all. Plus, I’m making a cameo…and it’s a speaking part! (waves at camera).

LS: And that’s your compensation: exposure. Now leave us alone, you old bag, so we can review today’s movie!

WITCH: Well, I never!

LS: That doesn’t surprise me.

(WITCH slams door).

LS (to MA): Would you like to start today’s review? I’m going to look around to see if there are any houses around here made from better stuff than candy.

MA: Sure. In fact, I’ll come with you. Let’s walk and talk. Welcome, everyone, to today’s edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT. Today we’re reviewing the new action fantasy horror movie, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS (2013), the movie that asks the question: Can you turn a fairy tale into a hard hitting R-rated movie? The answer is—yeah, sure, but does it work? That’s the better question.

HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS opens with the traditional take on the fairy tale, with young Hansel and Gretel deposited in the deep woods alone by their seemingly evil parents, only to make their way to a house made of candy, in which lives a witch who eats little children. Of course, this time around, little Hansel and Gretel kill the witch and grow up to become witch hunters.

LS: They’ve been given a mission in life!

MA: Years later, Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) are hired by the Mayor (Rainer Bock) of a small village to find and kill the witches who have been abducting the children of the village, much to the chagrin of Sheriff Berringer (Peter Stormare), a lawman who’d rather burn witches first, ask questions later. Plus, Berringer is still steaming over the fact that Hansel and Gretel prevented him from burning a woman named Mina (Pihla Viitala), who he believed to be a witch but who Hansel believed otherwise, a situation which ended when Berringer received a nasty head butt from Gretel.

LS: Mmmm…Gretel…

MA: Hansel and Gretel’s investigation leads them to the main witch baddie lurking in the woods, a witch named Muriel (Famke Janssen). With the help of a young witch-hunter wannabe, Ben (Thomas Mann), and a CGI-created troll named Edward (Derek Mears), who has a soft spot for Gretel, Hansel and Gretel go after Muriel and uncover some truths about their parents along the way.

LS: You probably should mention that Edward originally works for the bad witches and keeps the abducted children the witches steal in cages. It’s not until later that he “turns” good.

MA: When all is said and done, you already know which side is left standing and which side goes down.

One thing I’ll say for the folks who made HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, they took their jobs seriously, and they tried like hell to make this one succeed. And you know what? For a movie I wasn’t interested in seeing at all, I actually liked this one. Well, a little bit anyway. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t love this movie by any means, and I never really was able to get past the fact that I was watching a story about Hansel and Gretel, but there were a lot of things I liked.

First off, the screenplay by director Tommy Wirkola and Dante Harper has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, even though this takes place in fairy tale land, people speak in modern day language, which means there are plenty of F-bombs flying around.

LS: I always hated that term: F-bombs.

MA: Well, this is a family-friendly site. Sort of. So we can’t exactly go on a cursing rant.

LS: Okay.

MA: At first, I didn’t think this worked, and I’m still not convinced that it did, but let’s put it this way: it made for some lively dialogue. This is a step up from the video game movies, like last year’s RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012), which really isn’t a movie at all, but an extended video game. HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, as silly as it is, is several notches above those awful movie wannabes.

I also liked how the story returned to Hansel and Gretel’s parents, offering an explanation as to why they did what they did, abandoning their children in the middle of the woods. Some thought went into this screenplay, which is always a good thing.

LS: I actually thought the explanation of why their parents abandoned them didn’t make total sense, since leaving them alone in the woods wasn’t really all that safe, especially with an evil witch’s candy house right nearby. But the screenwriters tried.

MA: True, but I think the parents expected to retrieve them after a short time, but that being said, they certainly didn’t have a contingency plan if things went bad, as they ultimately did. So, you’re right, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

LS: Thank you.

Hansel___Gretel _Witch_Hunters_5.jpg-large

MA: HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS also looks good, and director Tommy Wirkola made some good use of the 3D effects in some of the battle scenes. There’s plenty of blood and gore here—yes, it’s CGI— and even some nudity, and so this is definitely an R-rated pic.

LS: I didn’t see this one in 3D. I was getting sick of paying extra for 3D effects I didn’t care about. That said, this one was just fine in 2D. I didn’t feel cheated at all.

But there could have been a bit more of that nudity you mentioned. We never get to see the fetching Gretel nude. Or Famke Janssen’s evil witch….but Mina is quite nice.

(THE WICKED WITCH OF THE WEST, as played by Margaret Hamilton in green makeup, suddenly appears in a burst of red smoke)

WICKED WITCH (laughing): How about me! Would you like to see me nude as well?

LS: Not really. (thinks) Then again, I’ve always liked sideshows.

WICKED WITCH: Well, the witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS are pathetic wannabes. I’M the real thing. Do these witches have flying monkeys? Do they have soldiers with big furry hats? NO! All they have is one simple-minded troll who turns against them. I’m the real deal, baby.

MA: No one is denying that.

WICKED WITCH: Well you better not! If I hear you talking smack about me, I’ll turn you into toads – and ugly ones at that. Mark my words, dammit!

(Suddenly, a house falls from the sky and crushes the WICKED WITCH)

MA: Oh, that was unfortunate.

LS: Ding dong, the witch is dead. Let’s go on with our review.

MA: Okay. I wonder how HANSEL & GRETEL would do against her.

(The WICKED WITCH’s feet wiggle beneath the house)

WICKED WITCH’s VOICE: I’d eat them for breakfast.

LS: She might be right.

MA: Anyway, Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton make for a very watchable Hansel and Gretel. The characters they’re playing are strictly one-dimensional, but they make the most of it and get as much out of Hansel and Gretel as possible. I can’t say that I liked either character, but I did enjoy watching both Renner and Arterton.

LS: I think the casting is probably the biggest reason to see this one. Jeremy Renner has just been getting bigger and bigger since he starred in THE HURT LOCKER in 2008, and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (sadly, he didn’t win). Since then, he’s been in high-profile roles in movies like THE TOWN (2010), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) and, of course, as Hawkeye in THE AVENGERS (also 2012), even if he was a poorly developed supporting character in that one (and where the hell was Hawkeye’s mask from the comics?). He’s become an A-list actor and it’s surprising to see him in something like this.

MA: I agree.

LS: I also thought it was interesting how they made it so Hansel has to inject himself with something every once in a while to keep going. At first, you think he’s a drug addict, but it’s later revealed that they’re insulin shots—as he explains, he got very sick after eating all that candy in the witch’s house in the beginning when they were kids. I thought that was a cool touch.

As for Gemma Arterton, she’s a hottie I’ve had my eye on for a while. Before she played Gretel here, she was also Strawberry Fields in 2008’s THE QUANTUM OF SOLACE, played Io in 2010’s CLASH OF THE TITANS (and was one of the few things I liked about that movie), and has been in lots of small indie films like 2010’s TAMARA DREWE. I’m a fan, and she’s always memorable in everything she’s in, and she’s good here as well, even if she joins a long line of hot actresses who have been in action movies that require them to dress in leather and act tough and one-dimensional, including Kate Becksindale in the UNDERWORLD movies and VAN HELSING (2004) and Milla Jovovich in the RESIDENT EVIL movies. But I like HANSEL & GRETEL more than any of those.

While Renner is a respected actor now, he’s still waiting for that breakout role to make him a household name. So is Arterton. Unfortunately, despite their talent, HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS isn’t it. But it was a lot more fun than I expected it to be.

There’s something about HANSEL & GRETEL that feels like a movie that was on the shelf for a while, and was dusted off when Jeremy Renner started getting some buzz. And it was originally scheduled to be in theaters back in March of 2012.

MA: On the other hand, I was disappointed with Famke Janssen as evil witch Muriel. She spends too much time in the movie as a CGI creation, and I thought she was much more effective without all the CGI effects and makeup.

LS: I’ve always liked Janssen, but yeah, this is a thankless role. But she does as well as she can with it. And you’re right, she’s actually just as effective (if not more so) as a baddie when she’s not in the monster makeup.

MA: My favorite performance in the film, other than Renner’s and Arterton’s, belonged to Pihla Viitala as Mina, the woman who Hansel and Gretel save from being burned as a witch. Turns out, Mina has a secret of her own, and she and Hansel develop a relationship that is one of the more interesting in the film. Viitala is very sexy in this role, and I wished she had been in the movie even more.

LS: Yeah, I want to see more of her. I hope this leads to bigger roles.

(A disgruntled WICCAN emerges from the woods, holding a picket sign that reads “Down With Hansel & Gretel!”)

WICCAN: How dare you give this movie a proper review! After hundreds of years of persecution, the last thing we need is a throwback to the idea of witches as ugly old monsters who eat children. Real witches are nothing like that!

LS: You’re absolutely right. Real witches are nothing like this. But this is a fantasy movie. It’s not supposed to be reality. No one takes it seriously. Just like nobody believes that real-life dwarves have magical powers.

MA: Yeah, it’s just silly horror movie witches. It’s not supposed to be a realistic representation of witches.

WICCAN: Well, it still makes me angry.

LS: That’s okay. You’re entitled to your opinion. Don’t sweat it.

WICCAN: Thanks, I just wanted to say my peace. (leaves)

MA: Shall I continue?

LS: Be my guest.

MA: The rest of the cast is fine. Peter Stormare (who we just saw as an effective villain in last week’s THE LAST STAND) is effective again here as the villainous Sheriff Berringer. As he did in THE LAST STAND, Stormare outshines the main villain in the film, as I found his Sheriff Berringer here to be more dastardly than the bad witch Muriel.

LS: He’s certainly not as much fun to look at as Muriel. But I’ve always like Stormare. He’s been a character actor for a long time, and was great in movies like FARGO (1996), 8MM (1999), and George Romero’s BRUISER (2000), as well as TV shows like PRISON BREAK. He mostly plays bad guys, but he’s good at it.

MA: Derek Mears, as Edward the CGI troll, is also a decent character, but Edward is certainly more of a CGI creation than just an actor giving a strong acting performance.

I also enjoyed the music score by Atli Orvarsson. It’s lively, like the rest of the film.

There was also plenty that I didn’t like about HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. As I already said, the characters of Hansel and Gretel are strictly one-dimensional, and so as much as I enjoyed Renner and Arterton in the roles, I didn’t like either character all that much, and so it’s not like I’d be looking forward to watching more movies about these folks. It’s my hope that this is a one and done deal.

LS: Agreed. This was a case of good actors doing the best with roles that were beneath them. And while I thought this movie was fun, I really don’t think we need any sequels.

MA: I hope not! The same goes for the rest of the characters in this one, with the possible exception of Mina. For a while, you’re not really sure about her, whether she’s good or bad, and I found her a little more interesting than the other characters in this film; of course, it helps that Pihla Vitaala is so damned sexy!

The plot is pretty standard, and didn’t excite me one iota, but since there are some movies out there that don’t even bother to give you a plot, having even an average plot is a good thing. There’s definitely a story here, even if it’s not a very good one.

LS: I think the story was kind of cliché. It really felt like we’d seen stuff like this before, many times before. But the interesting stuff came with the little details. There were things the filmmakers got right. HANSEL & GRETEL is above-average for this kind of thing, but it’s still not a great movie by any stretch.

I agree with you, Michael, that I was dreading going to see this one. I’d seen the trailer like 50 times and felt it pretty much gave away the entire story, and it kind of did. But it surprised me, too. I think the acting transcended the script, and it was a little better written than I was expecting. It also didn’t hurt that this movie tried to earn its R rating. By doing so, it had a little more edge (and flavor) to it than the heap of other, similar movies, that are usually PG-13 and sanitized to the point of pablum.

MA: I appreciated this one’s efforts to be a hard hitting adult fantasy tale, but I wish it had been even more successful. I wish the characters had been developed further and that the evil witch in this one had more to do than what she ultimately does. Then again, in a movie about Hansel and Gretel, maybe that’s too much to ask for.

LS: Probably. But as we’ve said before. Great writing can turn any lackluster idea into something exceptional.

MA: I didn’t love HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS by any means, but it was certainly better than I expected it to be, and I can’t deny that it’s entertaining in a silly sort of way. Ultimately it’s is a fairly successful bloody gory fantasy.

I give it two and a half knives.

LS: Strangely, I give it the same score. Better than expected. Worth going to see if you want a fun night at the movies. But don’t go in expecting a movie you can really love.

(They come to a clearing and see another house, this time made of pizza and giant kegs of beer. Girls dressed as sexy beer maids beckon them forward)

LS: Now that’s a house that tempts me.

MA: I know we should go the other way, but what the hell.

(They run toward the house)

-END-

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

Michael Arruda gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS ~ two and a half knives!

LL Soares gives HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS~two and a half knives, as well.

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 1980s Movies, 2012, Action Movies, B-Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Exotic Locales, Just Plain Fun, Just Plain Weird, Kung Fu!, Monsters, William Carl Articles, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on November 22, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988)

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

Godfrey Ho’s name rings out on the landscape of bad cinema like Gabby Hayes’s triangular dinner bell in one of John Ford’s Westerns – loud, annoying, and, when you get closer, stinking to high heaven.  He is a “master” of cinematic mash-ups, where several partially shot movies are combined with newly shot footage, then unleashed on an unsuspecting public.  Al Adamson was the original director who favored this method, giving viewers such gems as HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS (1970), DOCTOR DRACULA (1978), and BLOOD OF GHASTLY HORROR (1972).  In this new era of literary mash-ups, we’ve been offered classics by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte with new writing featuring SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS, LITTLE WOMEN WITH WEREWOLVES, and my new favorite, Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED WITH DEMOCRATS.  (Please don’t ask your local bookseller for this made-up title; they will punch you in the neck).  Godfrey Ho made his living off movie mash-ups.  In fact, the writer credited on most of his movies is AAV Creative unit, a conglomeration of Ho and his pals.  I think they had fifty words or so, and they combined them in different ways to get titles.  How else do you explain COBRA VS NINJA (1987), HITMAN THE COBRA (1987), INFERNO THUNDERBOLT (1986), and today’s messed-up, mashed-together SCORPION THUNDERBOLT (1988), which features neither a scorpion nor any kind of thunderbolt.  It does, however have witches, snake men, boobies galore, Richard Harrison as himself, hitchhiking assassins, and more nonsense than you can shake a MAJESTIC THUNDERBOLT (1985) at.

Our story (excuse me while I have a laughing fit) begins in an unknown Asian city where a blind man plays his flute in a creepy way, and a witch with some seriously long fingernails works some sort of spell, and a young woman works in an office.  The young woman is drawn by either the flute player or the witch, who is spanking several slices of bread on a table as someone plays voodoo drums , and she goes outside, where she is promptly assaulted by a man wearing makeup and flowers in his hair.  Then, some kind of snake thing attacks her, and, I guess, kills her, as the police suddenly appear to investigate her gory murder.  A young female reporter/photographer, Helen Hughes, pushes her way into the crime scene and takes pictures of the woman’s wounds, while the blind flute player lurks in the shadows.

The police have a meeting about the fourteen women who have been murdered, and one group decides to show a monster mask they figure will match the teeth marks on the body – a big snake man/sperm cell creature.

Helen Hughes gets a phone call while she’s jazzercising that says they have caught the murderer.  Cut to a crowd attacking a crazy man who acts like Jerry Lewis.  He climbs a tree and throws nuts at the doctors trying to get him to an asylum.  Helen offers him a kitty to eat, and he falls for it.  The docs throw a big net on him and they take him away.  Suddenly, a witch with long silvery fingernails is playing with snakes and eels while weird Theremin music plays (Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene!).  She orders her minions to find Richard Harrison and bring her his ring.

A hatchet-faced hitchhiking woman flashes Richard on the freeway, and he picks her up.  She says she’s an actress, and he wants to see her newest movie.  Luckily, the studio is open, and she gets him into a viewing booth where they see her newest opus, which mostly entails her being tied up and body-painted by a tiny Asian man.  “I’ve got to admit,” Richard Harrison says.  “You’ve got f****ing talent!”  Oh, Richard…how you have fallen!  This is even worse than EVIL SPAWN (1987).   Then again, Harrison made more than ten of these Godfrey Ho movies, so he had to know what he was getting into.  Suddenly, the hitcher is stripped naked, and they have sex in front of the movie, which is still playing the same scene, until she vomits orange and dies on top of him.  He screams, “Who sent you?”  She does not answer.  She is dead, Richard.

A young couple, Inspector Lee and his police-woman girlfriend (where did they come from?), are victims of a home invasion of a man Lee put away years ago.  Now, he’s out of jail and tying up the girlfriend and cutting off her clothes while laughing like Dwight Frye.  He injects her with something and the doorbell rings.  Inspector Lee breaks loose and a karate fight ensues while the woman hangs bleeding and naked and tripping like crazy, man.  Helen is at the door (how does she even know these cops?), and she cuts the policewoman down while the blind flute player plays his music outside.  And there goes the witch with her Theremin music again as the karate battle moves outside.

RIchard Harrison – Master of Kung Fu!

Three girls in an apartment are watching it through their window.  When the fighters move away, the girls dance wildly to disco music (which sounds suspiciously like Midnight Starr!) while disco lights throb.  Then, a rubber-suited snake man appears and kills them all.  I think we just moved into a different movie.  One with a particularly awful man in a suit monster, so bad that they had to Vaseline the lens up before showing the creature.

Then, we’re at a totally different place with Helen who has cats thrown at her by  production assistants.  She has a weird friend who has invaded her house.  She throws a birthday cake in his face, and he tries to rape her.  Flashback to the happy(?) couple frolicking on beaches to bad electronic music.  Wait, that friend is Inspector Lee.  How long have they known each other?  What the . . . oh never mind.

And there’s that damn flute player again, playing in a street full of prostitutes.  In a nearby building, more girls are discovered killed by the monster.  When the cops arrive, the hookers scatter like roaches when the light is turned on.  It’s Inspector Lee (I hope his girlfriend’s all right…nobody said anything).  It seems a woman has been tied up spread-eagled on the floor while a drunken ex-boyfriend shoots pool balls into her vajayjay.  Who are these people?  No idea.  But there’s Helen, untying the poor pool table chick.

Anyone for pool?

And now, we’re in a real disco where lots of people dance, the witch works her spells in her place, and Richard Harrison is attacked by his plumber while he’s doing shirtless push-ups!  Even sweaty, he can karate chop this guy into oblivion.  “Who sent you?  Tell me!”  The guy dies, I guess.

Next, inspector Lee takes Helen out to the woods shooting small adorable animals like bunnies!  They play cute for a while, falling in love in a bad montage of hunting and fishing.  Yep, that’s romance in a Godfrey Ho flick, people.  They are attacked by a ninja (probably from some other movie), but it’s really their criminal who got away going after Lee again.  How did he find them all the way out in the woods?

On their way back to the city, their car fills up with snakes.  They don’t notice at all, even when the little creatures are crawling all over them.  Lee reacts by admitting the snakes killed the car’s brakes and they crash into a culvert.  Luckily, snakes hate upside down cars, and Helen and Lee escape.

The blind flute player is interviewed on TV, and it turns out he is a night watchman (wait a minute!  How good can he be when he can’t even watch at all?)  Lee and Helen go to a sleazy hotel, where she freaks out in the hot springs and the snake monster is back in all his rubbery glory, tearing up the wait staff and other hot springs victims.  Obviously, the witch is controlling the eight foot tall snake man.  And now, Helen has disappeared!  Oh no, there she is on the bed, but she looks totally psychotic.

More assassins attack Richard Harrison for his ring.  He never seems to be wearing a shirt, and he seems to be just extraneous footage, nothing to do with the other plotlines . . . like the snake man and Helen and Lee and the escaped convict or the witch.  How many movies did Ho use in this one?

The cops reveal their model of the snake man!

And we’ve only hit the halfway point, folks!  Before the movie’s over, we’ll get Richard Harrison consulting his kung-fu master, a vampire witch in a red castle who is “thoroughly evil,” a golden sword and a mystical mirror, a fabulous confession scene, the Prince of Snakes vs. a family of redneck snake killers, some revolting mondo footage, some soft core outdoor sex scenes including snake sex, fingernail stabbings at orgies, a blue-haired ninja, and, yes, a kitchen sink scene!  And just what the heck does the blind night watchman have to do with anything and how’d he get up in that tree?

Does any of this make a lick of sense?  Nope.  Is any of it boring for even one second?  Oh, hell no!  This is one of the best flicks I have ever seen to show to a group of drinking buddies to prove how fun a lousy movie can be.  You ain’t seen nothing till you see a breastfeeding baby turn into a snake creature and chow down on Mommy.  Or Richard Harrison snapping thrift store ninja necks to electronic dance music.  Or an eight foot rubber snake monster flying through the tree tops attacking the entire police force.  And the final music during the end battle is stolen from the last scenes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)!

It seems Godfrey Ho pasted together pieces of a Taiwanese film, GRUDGE OF THE SLEEPWALKING WOMAN (1983) with another kung-fu flick and new scenes with Richard Harrison.  In the process, he created one of the wackiest movies ever to shoot its stain upon a drive-in movie screen.  The tone shifts constantly, from high camp humor to gory killings to sexy rom-com to violent kung-fu chaos, all atrociously dubbed.  Just after his hitchhiking trick pukes orange Julius on him, Richard Harrison asks, “What the hell does it mean?”  I couldn’t agree more!

Now, I need to watch more Godfrey Ho fiascos.  Maybe, ROBO-KICKBOXER (1992) or NINJA DEMON’S MASSACRE (1988) or THUNDER OF GIGANTIC SERPENT (1988) or NINJA THUNDERBOLT (1984).

For normal people, I give SCORPION THUNDERBOLT one snake monster out of four.

For sick souls like us, I give it three and a half shirtless Richard Harrisons out of four.

Unbelievable!

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)

Posted in 2012, Adult Fairy Tales, Cinema Knife Fights, Fantasy Films, Magic, Special Effects, Sword & Sorcery, Warriors, Witches with tags , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: An enchanted forest. A beautiful princess lies sleeping on a bed. By her bedside stand two men, one pale and forlorn, the other shirtless and brooding.)

EDWARD:  It’s all my fault. It was my job to protect her. If only I hadn’t been so distant and honorable, and chaste—why was I so chaste?  Idiot!—  perhaps she would have been happy and wouldn’t have come into these woods alone.

JACOB:  It is all your fault, you stupid vampire!  Any idiot can see that you’re not the right one for her!  I am, and I have the chest to prove it! (flexes his pectorals).

(A roar erupts from the woods, and suddenly, THOR jumps into the scene.)

THOR:  You’re both losers!  The princess belongs to ME!

(THOR begins beating Edward and Jacob with his hammer, and as they cower with lots of “Ouches!’  and “Oomphs!” THOR continues to pound away at them.)

(Camera slowly pulls back to reveal MICHAEL ARRUDA & L.L. SOARES eating popcorn and watching the proceedings.)

LS:  This is better than today’s movie!

MA:  There’s certainly more of an emotional connection. I want to be Thor right now.

LS:  Then what are we waiting for?  Let’s join the party!  (hands MA a club and lifts an axe over his head.)

MA:  No. We don’t have time to beat on characters from a lame movie series. We have a new movie to review.

LS: Damn!  We’re always working!

(EDWARD and JACOB flee, and THOR lets out a victorious roar. He approaches the princess and kisses her, but nothing happens.)

THOR:  Why isn’t anything happening?

MA:  Nothing’s happening because—and I don’t mean to burst your bubble, Thor, but— today’s movie is SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, not SNOW WHITE AND THOR—and even though Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is Thor-like, he’s still playing the Huntsman in this one, not Thor.

LS: In other words, the chick’s not for you, Thor. Sorry.

THOR:  Dammit!  And I came all the way from Asgard, too!  (Skulks off into the woods.)

MA:  Yes, today we’re reviewing SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012), the new movie that attempts to put an adult spin on the old fairy tale and turn it into a rousing action adventure story. It stars Kristen Stewart, of TWILIGHT fame, as Snow White, Chris Hemsworth as Thor…er…the Huntsman, and Charlize Theron as the evil Queen, Ravenna.

When we first meet Snow White, she’s a baby.

(A group of DWARVES by the edge of the woods start cheering and whistling.)

MA (shaking his head):  I said “baby” not “babe!”

(DWARVES boo and hiss. Some throw vegetables.)

LS: Thanks, I can make a nice salad later.

MA:  Then we see her as a little girl enjoying her happy life with her mother and father, who happen to be king and queen of the land—how’s this for a rousing start to an action adventure movie?  But then Snow White’s mother dies, leaving the family sad and grieving.

LS: And we never know how the mother died. It just says “It was a rough winter and Snow White’s mother died.” What kind of explanation is that?

MA:….until daddy meets Ravenna (Charlize Theron), is mesmerized by her beauty, and marries her immediately. She in turn murders her new husband, sneaks her army into the castle, and overtakes the kingdom, throwing Snow White into the dungeon.

LS: Actually, it’s not a dungeon, it’s a tower. Snow White is locked away in a tower. And it’s actually pretty ingenious how Ravenna tricks Snow White’s father into finding and marrying her. I thought that was pretty cool.

MA: Are you serious? Ingenious?  I thought it was a pretty standard trick.

We next see Snow White (Kristen Stewart) when she’s 18 and still locked away in that tower, but not for long, because the Queen’s magic mirror has informed the Queen that she’s no longer the fairest one in the land, that that title now belongs to Snow White. What’s an evil queen to do?  Why, kill Snow White of course!

LS: Funny how Snow White does not become a competitor for “fairest in the land” until she turned exactly 18. This is also when Ravenna’s brother, Finn (Sam Spruell), first tries to have sex with Snow White, when he goes to fetch her for the Queen. Nice to know everybody at least waited until she turned legal first! At least they all had such nice manners back then (and a keen awareness of statutory rape laws).

And even more basic to the story—why the hell does the Queen keep Snow White alive for so long? Why not just kill her right away? She doesn’t even find out about what benefit Snow White can give her until the girl turns 18—do your research, lady! —so why did she keep her alive for so many years? And if Snow is so important because she’s so innocent, wouldn’t her beating heart have been even more innocent for the Queen’s purposes when she was a child? None of this makes sense.

And what’s up with the magic mirror? It looks like a great big golden plate. Gold isn’t exactly mirror material. It’s not all that easy to see yourself in. And instead of just answering her every time Ravenna asks “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” (each time she asks this, I have to admit, I winced), the mirror has to melt all over the place and the melted gold turns into a man-shaped thing (played by Christopher Obi – or at least it has his voice), and it takes forever. A simple “You are the fairest!” would have been nice.

MA: The Queen sends her brother to kill Snow White, but he fails, and she escapes, somehow managing to get out of the castle and into the woods, all the while eluding the Queen’s soldiers. Who knew that Snow White was related to Indiana Jones?

LS: This Snow White will kick your ass!

DWARF:  Snow White rocks!

LS:  Quiet, you!  We’re reviewing a movie here!

(DWARF sticks his tongue out)

MA: Queen Ravenna then hires The Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) to go into the dangerous woods and find Snow White for her. Of course, as you probably already know, the Huntsman falls for Snow White once he finds her, and he eventually helps her fight back against Ravenna. They’re also befriended by the obligatory dwarves who also help them in their cause to defeat the evil Queen.

LS: There’s a key scene here that I had a MAJOR problem with. The Queen has promised she’ll bring the Huntsman’s wife back from the dead if he finds and captures Snow White for her. So he agrees, and he finds her, and Finny is there—the Queen’s brother, who let her get away from the tower in the first place—and Finn says, “Give her to me,” and the Huntsman says, “Give me back my wife first!”

Anyone with half a brain would say “I can’t give you back your wife, my sister is the sorcerer in the family. We have to go back to the castle first.”

But, instead, Finn says something like, “It’s all a lie, Ravenna can’t raise the dead, and you’re stupid for believing her!”

Why the hell does Finn do this? All he has to do is get the Huntsman (and Snow White) back to the castle, and he can double-cross the guy all he wants. But instead, he blows it. This just didn’t make any sense to me, and the only reason it happens is to move the storyline in the direction the writers want.

WHAT A STUPID SCENE!

MA:  Yep, I had the same reaction.  I sat there thinking, Finn, you’re an idiot.

And if you know the story of Snow White, you know how the rest of this movie plays out. No surprises here.

I was completely disappointed with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. I actually thought I was going to be pleasantly surprised and enjoy this one. Boy, was I wrong!

This one lost me right from the get-go, as I thought the pacing was all off. It opens slowly, with those dull introductory scenes of Snow White’s origins, and for me, the movie never recovered. You’re turning Snow White into an action adventure story and this is how you start your movie off?  Come on!

LS: It’s called setting up the story. It made sense here.

MA: I get that, and it can be forgiven if what follows is compelling and exciting, but that’s not the case here.

It’s not like it has a slow beginning but the rest of the film kicks butt and so I can forget about the slow beginning. The movie is dull, and it started with those first few scenes.  That’s what I’m saying.

Truth be told, I didn’t find this movie adventurous at all, and I certainly didn’t find it exciting.

I also really didn’t like Kristen Stewart as Snow White. I thought she was miscast in this role. She seemed awkward and uncomfortable throughout, and didn’t come across as very princess-like. She seemed much more comfortable at the end of the movie when she gets to dress as a warrior and take on Ravenna in battle. But as Snow White, whose beauty is as pure as snow, I didn’t see it. She seemed like she would rather be riding a motorcycle than a horse.

LS: I think she would look more natural on a motorcycle, too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing (laughs). But seriously, I think she’s growing on me after seeing so many damn TWILIGHT movies. It was just nice to see her in a movie that wasn’t about whiny vampires and shirtless werewolves. I liked her in SNOW WHITE. And toward the end, in her armor, I thought she might be able to play a decent Joan of Arc.

MA: As advertised, Charlize Theron has a field day as the evil Queen Ravenna, and this was one part of this movie that I did like. Theron gives the best performance in the movie, and she’s the main reason why I didn’t hate this film completely.  She’s as beautiful as she is evil, and she is exceedingly believable in the role. It’s too bad the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to her.

LS: I’m a big Charlize fan, and I agree, she looks beautiful here—in fact, I don’t once believe that Kristen Stewart is her competitor for “fairest in the land” —but I wasn’t all that impressed with her character, at first. All Ravenna does is scream at the top of her lungs all the time. I found her kind of irritating. Always shouting at everyone. She’s like a one-note character. And we hardly ever see her. In the beginning of the movie, she’s in it a lot after Snow White’s father finds her. But by the middle of the movie, she’s hardly in it at all. Every once in a while, there’s a shift from the action to show us the Queen looking menacing, but she doesn’t do much again until toward the end. I wish she’d been in it more, and they’d fleshed out her character more. There is one flashback to her childhood that makes you sympathize with her a little, but it’s not enough. I just think the character is underwritten. It’s too much of a standard baddie role.

MA: I agree with you that she’s not in the movie all that much, but I thought her performance was strong enough to overcome this. And  I liked all that shouting.

LS: But her character grew on me, because Theron does one thing that’s interesting with Ravenna. There are moments when she seems like a space alien. She just has no empathy or understanding for the characters around her, and she gets this weird look in her eyes—it reminded me of an insect—like she’s some alien creature trying to pass for human, afraid someone will figure out her secret, and I thought that was what redeemed her performance. This is an instance where acting ability is able to transcend a weak script.

MA: Chris Hemsworth’s performance as the Huntsman is about the only other bright spot in this movie. Sure, he’s a little bit like Thor here, but like Theron, he’s believable in the part, and he’s also very likeable.

LS: Hemsworth is fine, here. His character IS a bit like Thor, but that’s to be expected, considering it’s a fantasy film, and he’s kind of a warrior. But the guy has real charisma and the camera loves him.

MA: Veteran actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are among those playing dwarves in this movie. The dwarves are supposed to be providing comic relief here, but they didn’t really do it for me. They weren’t over-the-top enough to make me laugh, nor were they earthy enough for me to take seriously.

LS: I couldn’t tell what they were trying to do with the dwarves here. Once or twice, they seem like comic relief, especially Gus (Brian Gleeson). But most of the time, it’s like they were trying to make the little guys much more edgy and dangerous. When the Huntsman and Snow White first meet them, the dwarves attack and then capture them, threatening to rob and kill them.

I don’t have a problem with more edgy dwarves, but it’s like the writers weren’t sure whether to keep them edgy, or make them more comic as the story goes on. Make up your minds!

MA:  I agree with you.  That’s why I didn’t really like the dwarves.  It’s almost as if they were written to be edgy and then somewhere along the line someone decided dwarves in a Snow White story shouldn’t be this dark and watered down their scenes.

(A DWARF comes out of the woods)

DWARF:  Is this edgy enough for you?  (Flips MA & LS the bird.)

LS:  You stick that finger out at me again, I’ll cut it off!

(DWARF darts back into the woods.)

LS:  Of course, here the dwarves are CGI, which means that instead of real dwarves, we’ve got famous actors “shrunk down” to look like dwarves. Between that, and the make-up (which is pretty good), it’s interesting to try to guess who’s who. As you said, the actors Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins are here, there’s also Nick Frost from SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), and Ray Winstone (who I didn’t recognize at all at first) and Toby Jones, who we most recently saw in THE HUNGER GAMES as one of the announcers. It’s actually kind of fun identifying them.

MA: I’m happy for you.  Why don’t you develop a new TV game show while you’re at it: “NAME THAT DWARF.”

LS: Maybe I will

MA: I thought the writing was particularly weak. The characters aren’t fleshed out at all. What do we know about Snow White other than what we already know from the fairy tale?  Nothing much!  You know, if she wasn’t such a boring character, this movie might have been more fun!

LS: I don’t think Snow White is all that bad

MA: Come on!  She put me to sleep.  And if she’s such a kick-ass character, what does she need the Huntsman for?

When Ravenna decides she needs to hire someone to find Snow White in the woods, she immediately hires the Huntsman even though she seems to know nothing about him. When we meet him, he’s drunk and he’s in a fight. These are the qualifications needed to hunt down a princess?  I mean, who is he?  Is he the greatest huntsman in the land?  If he is, I missed the part where we find that out!

LS: Sometimes I think your story comprehension is a little off. They explained it clearly enough. Not many people have gone into the haunted forest and lived to tell about it. It’s dangerous. The Huntsman is one of the few people who have been in the forest and knows his way around. He’s not the greatest huntsman in the land, but he knows the territory and Finn and his soldiers can’t find Snow White without him.

MA: I wouldn’t say they explained it clearly.  They mention it in one brief scene.  And for me, it wasn’t clear that he was the only guy who could do this.  It just seemed a forced plot point to me.  I kept thinking, if Ravenna a sorceress, why can’t she just find Snow White using her black magic?

LS: Maybe if you hadn’t dozed off, it would have been clearer

MA: (laughing):  Shh!

LS: I agree about Ravenna, though. It’s never exactly clear how powerful she is. What her limitations are. In one scene she seems all-powerful, in another she’s unable to do something you’d think would be easy. I don’t get it.

MA: Evan Daugherty, Josh Lee Hancock, and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay, which is about as fresh as a rotten apple. In Amini’s case, this comes as a surprise, since he’s the guy who wrote the screenplay for DRIVE (2011), a movie we both liked a lot.

LS: I didn’t think it was that horrible. It was weak in spots, but my main problem with the script is the whole idea of remaking a fairy tale in the first place. By doing this, you know what the outcome is going to be. You know what the characters are going to do, for the most part, so there’s no suspense. I think the script does what it can with the idea, for the most part, considering the concept is flawed from the get go.

MA: Yes, SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN definitely suffers from the “We Know This Story” syndrome. We all know the story of Snow White, yet the movie doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to approach this familiar story from different angles. Sure, Snow White gets tough in the final act, but before that, things are pretty dull.

The love story angle is also pretty much a dud. I have no idea who Snow White loves in this movie, the Huntsman or her childhood sweetheart, William (Sam Claflin), who returns to the kingdom to save her. She doesn’t seem particularly interested in either guy, and the Huntsman seems to be only interested in her because she reminds him of his deceased wife. So, even though this one plays like a love story at times, it’s missing the actual love story!  And there’s no sexual tension whatsoever.

LS: I’ll agree with you there. There were times when I thought this movie was trying to recreate the whole “love triangle” silliness from the TWILIGHT movies. Does she love William, who she grew up with as a child, or the Huntsman who’s more manly, and better looking, and stronger, and more heroic? The movie seems to be teetering on going for the triangle, but then it seems to just forget about it. Clearly the Huntsman is the main male character here, and it’s his kiss that becomes crucial later on (and there’s no Prince Charming to be found!).
And there isn’t a lot of sexual tension. The script just doesn’t give us any. And  the actors, while good here, don’t bring any sexual tension of their own to the screen.

MA: And why do all the creatures, both good and bad, instead of dying, shatter like glass in this movie?  Do all the living creatures in this kingdom have a different molecular make-up?  What planet are they on?

LS: They don’t all shatter like glass, only the ones the Queen conjures up with magic. But this effect is over-used and gets tired awful fast.

MA:  Really?  I could have sworn I saw some of the “good” animals shatter as well.

LS:  Were you drunk when you saw this movie?

MA:  No, but I was saturated with boredom.

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was directed by Rupert Sanders, and I can’t say that I was impressed. The pacing was off, and there really weren’t any memorable scenes to lift this movie out of its doldrums. There was also very little sense of fantasy. I wasn’t drawn into its world of dark forests and evil kingdoms, mostly because I found the action to be superficial and dull. It’s anything but exciting.

LS: I disagree. It has its flaws, and there are a couple of slow scenes, but overall, I thought it did a good job retelling a classic tale.

MA: The special effects were average. There’s a neat troll scene, and the troll looks cool, but it’s one and done for Mr. Troll. Needless to say, he doesn’t do much.

LS: I would really have liked to see the Troll come back during a crucial scene to help Snow White fight her enemies or something. He seemed like too cool a character to waste. But yeah, after showing us this monster, the movie just forgets about him.

But I disagree about the effects. This movie has terrific effects. Most of them are on a very small, detailed level, though. They’re not all as big and flashy as the Troll. Like when we first enter the forest. There are all of these weird animals and plants that we see – some of them are kind of fascinating.

(MA yawns)

LS:  And a scene in a part of the forest that belongs to the fairies is kind of beautiful, too. It’s mostly small stuff (except for that giant troll), but it’s fascinating to look at.

MA: SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lacks the necessary edge and style to successfully make the jump from fairy tale to adult action adventure tale. I liked the two performances by Charlize Theron as Ravenna, and Chris Hemsworth as the Huntsman, but that’s all I liked. The rest of the movie is muddled and dull, exhibiting about as much imagination as a worm in an apple.

I give it one and a half knives.

LS: Yeah, we’re in disagreement about this one. We do agree about Charlize Theron, and Hemsworth. I liked Hemsworth doing his cocky warrior thing. He’s good at it, although it would be nice to see him play something completely different in another movie. So I agree with you about the two of them.

But I think Stewart is actually pretty good here. She emotes a little more than she does in the TWILIGHT movies.  She does have a kind of awkwardness to her. A kind of stiltedness, but it’s starting to work for me. And there’s actually one scene in this movie where she smiles!

MA:  I just didn’t think this awkwardness was a good fit for the Snow White character.
LS: It didn’t bother me. In fact, it kind of worked for me. And I thought Sam Spruell was interesting (and odd-looking) as the evil Finn. It almost seemed like he was in the movie more, and had more to do, than Charlize did. And I liked the dwarves for the most part.

I didn’t love SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Despite the revisionist spin on it, I just find the story too familiar, and therefore a little boring. But I thought it was well-made, had a good cast, and was visually impressive. For what it was, I enjoyed it.

I give it three knives. It was at least as good as last week’s CHERNOBYL DIARIES, and I gave that three knives.

MA:  Wow, we really do disagree here.  And I think the main reason is where you found the story a little boring, I found it a lot boring.

(They’re suddenly surrounded by a group of menacing looking DWARVES.)

DWARF (points to LS):  You can go.  You said good things about us.  (Points to MA).  You stay.  We’re going to teach you a lesson.

LS (hands the club back to MA):  You might need this.

MA:  Gee, thanks.  You sure you don’t want to stick around?  It might be fun.

LS:  How so?

MA:  I was thinking of starting a new games show of my own: BEAT THE DWARF!

LS: Hmm.  Has potential. Maybe I’ll stick around, after all

DWARF: I prefer the new show, BEAT THE CRITICS.

(The DWARVES charge, just as MA lifts his club and LS wields his axe.)

(Suddenly, the BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS sits up in her bed. Everyone has forgotten about her, and she’s boiling mad)

PRINCESS: Will you all shut up! I’m trying to sleep here!

(Fade to White)

—END—

© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~ one and a half knives!

LL Soares gives SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN ~three knives.

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: BEYOND EVIL (1980)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 80s Horror, Bad Acting, Grindhouse, Haunted Houses, Nick Cato Reviews, Possession, Suburban Grindhouse Memories, Witches with tags , , , , on May 31, 2012 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
This Finger Possessed!
By Nick Cato

While it’s a routine, by-the-numbers haunted house/possession film, 1980’s BEYOND EVIL holds a special place in my film-going life as it was the FIRST R-rated film I managed to get into on my own!   Thanks to my Sicilian genes, I actually had a moustache in the 6th grade that (I like to believe) helped me get into many films I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.  The fine folks at the (now defunct) Amboy Twin didn’t even blink as I handed them my ticket fee and waltzed to the concession stand for some Saturday afternoon snacks.  I can recall about twenty people in attendance, not bad for an early show, and a few of them had no problem letting their opinions be heard as the film unreeled.

BEYOND EVIL opens on an isolated island, where a native couple has just been hitched.  They run off into the woods and prepare to do the nasty, when the woman discovers a mansion in the middle of nowhere.  Before you can say BOO! a woman’s face appears in one of the windows, just as one of the mansion’s support columns happens to detach itself from the place and crush the poor bride’s arm.  The scene is darkly-shot and in the theater was hard to see (I have no idea if the VHS or DVD editions cleared this up), but either way, the film quickly had everyone’s attention.

The next thing I know John Saxon and his wife (played by Lynda Day George) arrive on the island, and I was as happy as a Sasquatch in the woods.  Why?  Because Saxon had co-starred on a couple of episodes of the 70s TV series, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, a few years earlier during the classic “bigfoot” episodes, so I was a fan.  (Of course Saxon and George would sort-of RULE early-80s horror and exploitation cinema, starring in such classics as CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS (1980), PIECES (1982), TENEBRE (1982), and MORTUARY (1983), to name just a few).  Saxon has arrived on the island to oversee some construction job (I believe he was an architect) and one of his wife’s ex-boyfriends was supposed to get them an apartment.  BUT guess where they wind up?  Yep–at the aforementioned mansion, which we eventually learn was once the home of a crazed witch.  The audience howled in laughter when George said she wanted to know who any ghosts living in her house were!

(PAUSE: I usually write this column STRICTLY from memory, but this time I simply had to peek at a few reviews to spark my brain into action: one thing most reviews raved over was how good the acting was.  I’m sorry, folks, but the acting and dialogue is what most people made fun of at the screening I attended.  I believe a DVD viewing is in order here.  NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED COLUMN…)

In a flashback sequence, we learn the woman who had lived in the mansion began to practice witchcraft to get back at her abusive husband.  When he discovered what she was up to, he poisoned her.  NOT bothered by the mansion’s history, Saxon and George settle in and it doesn’t take long for typical haunted house happiness to begin.

More laughable than some of the acting here are the low-grade special FX.  In one sequence, Saxon is startled by a dopey-looking green light and topples down a spiral staircase, then is almost killed by a falling devil statue.  I remember someone yelling “Take the hint!” when Saxon basically brushed himself off and went back to his regular routine.  I don’t know about you, but if I heard my new home was once owned by a murdered witch, then saw a devil statue at the top of the staircase, I’d either change the décor or high-tail it back to the city.

The insanity clicks into high gear when Saxon meets his neighbors out front; it’s at this same time the ghost-witch decides to strike, causing George to stab herself, leaving an occultism mark that looks like the one the witch had.  While I found the scene a tad disturbing (remember I was a sixth grader at the time), most of the crowd laughed at George’s facial expressions as she jabbed away.  I bet I would have, too, had I been a bit older and more experienced with bad acting…

My favorite scene features Saxon kicking ass at the hospital when an orderly or nurse admits to losing his wife’s test results.  I was hoping bigfoot would make an appearance at this point, but no such luck.  Saxon’s doctor/neighbor soon advises them to leave the house (DUH!) but, of course, they don’t, and more terribly choreographed attacks go down and the FX get worse.  One ridiculous scene has George’s ring finger all puffed up.  Saxon’s neighbor claims this is a sign she is becoming possessed so he attempts to heal her.  Of course he takes her to the hospital to do this and when he removes her wedding ring, things get chaotic, although not in an exciting way.

For some reason that’s never explained, those possessed by the ghost-witch gain the ability to shoot green laser beams from their eyes in embarrassingly bad FX.  Each time this happened people screamed X-MEN! or some other dumb comment that really didn’t enhance the viewing experience.  Not all grindhouse commentary is witty!

Saxon and George eventually blow up the crypt that holds the ghost-witch’s body, but it only causes her spirit to become more powerful (WHYYOU tell me!).  Realizing they can’t fight her anymore, Saxon shoves his wife’s ring back on her inflamed finger, which somehow slows the witch down, then they jump in their car and floor it, leaving the mansion and the witch to wait for the next couple of suckers.

My biggest problem with BEYOND EVIL isn’t the shady script, the constant haunted house clichés, the bad FX or the lame acting.  It’s the fact it received an R-rating.  There’s almost no blood, no sex or nudity, and nothing really scary about it.  Thinking back, perhaps my moustache had less to do with me getting in than I like to believe.  This is EASILY a PG-13 film, although at the time a simple PG would’ve sufficed.  It’s a real turkey, but one I at least had fun getting into without adult supervision.

For John Saxon and Lynda Day George completists only.  (Also of note here is director Herb Freed, who went on to make the vastly superior slasher film, GRADUATION DAY, just a year later).

© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato

Lynda Day George’s wedding-ring finger becomes possessed in BEYOND EVIL. Yeah, this flick goes there!