Monday, October 31, 2011

The Invisible Man (1933)

The invisible man tends to get lumped in with the other classic universal monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein.  However, I think there’s a known but unspoken fact that he’s not as cool as his cohorts and falls on a lower tier when it comes to categorizing him.  He’s not supernatural exactly like the wolf man or has superhuman strength like Frankenstein.  He’s just a dude that happens to be invisible.  I mean it’s sort of impressive but it just doesn’t sound as intriguing as someone who needs to feed on brains or suck blood to survive.  If the man himself isn’t interesting then the fact that he’s invisible won’t really help that out.  I had all of these preconceived notions going into this movie and didn’t quite know what to expect.  But man I walked away thinking this picture was pretty awesome and significantly boosted by view of the invisible man.

When I popped this sucker in what I found surprising was that we join the invisible man when he’s already invisible.  I thought this was going to be a “beginning” story where we watch some scientist develop the formula for invisibility for the first act but in a stroke of genius that’s left out.  We never get a flashback to that moment either.  Instead the guy just shows up at an inn looking for a room to figure out a way to reverse his condition.  Going by Wikipedia this is how the H.G. Wells novel starts up so I’ll credit him for getting right to the point.  And that’s a wonderful trait that this film possesses.

The story moves very quickly with virtually no downtime.  The invisible man goes from one situation to another thinking that he wants to become opaque again but soon realizes that he can do whatever the fuck he wants.  He recruits the help of a fellow chemist and lays out a plan of mass murder.  He doesn’t really say what killing a bunch of people will accomplish or what his ultimate goal is but goddamn this guy is a crazy motherfucker.  And the thing is he actually does kill a fair amount of people in this picture.  He even derails a train sending it off the side of a cliff at one point.  That’s a ton of people right there. 

Claude Rains (Casablanca, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) plays the lead and he’s so badass in this.  He’s evil and laughs maniacally when he’s tormenting people but he also has a tender heart for his boss’s daughter (also another great move is to have this romance kept to a minimum).  You would think that since you don’t see Rains’ face for the entire movie that it would be difficult to convey emotion but he conveys a shitload.  You can tell by the way he uses his body and that unmistakable voice what he’s thinking and feeling.  Like during one scene when Rains is forlorning for his love I swear the eye slits on his bandaged head looked sad and regretful. 

The effects used are great and I think they hold up.  The filmmakers knew we wanted to see the invisible man interacting with shit and take his clothes off to exhibit his condition.  Well they give it to us and they give it to us often.  This isn’t one of those movies where they decided to put everything they had effects wise into once scene.  Throughout the whole movie the invisible man in doing shit like taking bandages off his head, driving a car, fighting with the cops and it goes on and on.  And it never gets old.  Each time I was impressed and wondered how they did those effects back then.  Good work 1933 filmmakers.

Apparently the major difference between the book and the movie is that in the film the invisible man is a total maniac instead of a more reserved scientist.  Well I’m glad they made him crazy because that just adds another layer to this character.  Not only does he go through the phase where he tries to find a cure but he moves beyond that and actually wants to stay invisible.  They don’t tell us what the final straw is that makes the guy want to abandon a cure but that turn is just what the character needs.  From the start he’s tortured and desperate and confused but now he’s also a villain.  It’s cool that we come in right at the crux of that transition because it makes us feel for the guy more.

I really dig this movie and how void of fluff it is.  The plot and situations change so quickly that it doesn’t give you a lot of room to breathe.  But I think that fits with the film and our main character.  The invisible man’s lunacy escalates rapidly and so do the stakes.  If he isn’t stopped then he’ll just keep on killing but where do you look?  How do you search for an invisible man?  It’s a great premise that I never thought about for more than half a minute.  To top it all off this baby only clocks in at 71 mins.  You can’t go wrong with this one. 

And I know it’s Halloween and this is more science fiction than horror but it’s just how things fell this year. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Judge Dredd and Versace

Did you know that Versace designed the Judge Dredd outfit?  I mean for the movie not the comic.  That was interesting to find out.  And according to Wikipedia he also did some wardrobe for Hard to Kill.  My guess would be for when Seagal's a bit dressed up in the beginning and in the last third of the film.  The gun completes the look though.

One last thing, is anyone else excited for the new Dredd movie?  I'm not sure if I like the costume design as much but I'm only basing that off of those couple of images that were released.  I'm glad they're giving that character and world another shot.  There are a number of things that I dig about Judge Dredd which, admittedly, mostly include Armand Assante but I think the production design is killer and there are some real badass moments (the opening firefight with James Remar in particular).  So I think there's a bunch of inherently cool stuff about Dredd and the society that has developed around him which makes it seem like it would be harder to screw up but you never know.  Hopefully this new incarnation will find the right balance of action and character study.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

City of the Living Dead

This is a real cool picture from Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci (Zombie or Zombie 2, however you call it).  A priest hangs himself and by doing so unlocks the gates of hell, oops.  Some people try to stop the oncoming apocalypse but in the meantime some crazy shit happens.

I’ll warn you right now that it can get slow at times but almost every horror movie is like that so I don’t think it’s much of a handicap.  Overall I had a lot of fun with this one and thought there was some pretty neat stuff to sink your teeth into.  I think my favorite part was where the priest appears and disappears in front of this couple that’s making out and…well I don’t want to spoil it for you.  But during that scene I even said “agh” to myself.

The good stuff is really good and the effects are well done.  Plus the soundtrack is awesome.  I mean just check out the scene above.  It’s really badass.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back to the Future II Racist Scene

Remember in Back to the Future II when Marty thinks he’s back to the normal 1985 but when he goes to sneak back into his house he finds a black family living in it?  That whole scene is kinda racist in my opinion.  The neighborhood is all trashed with burnt out cars and houses that have been foreclosed ‘n shit and, of course, this is where a black family lives.  Also when the father comes running in to investigate he says, “freeze sucka!” and the kids have a Thriller poster on the wall.  I guess the whole town was turned into a ghetto but to make sure the audience understands they chose to introduce that fact to us with a black family.  Come to think of it the only other black people in the series is the band that plays at the dance.  So in the Back to the Future universe black people are either musicians or they’re poor and live in the projects.  What do you guys think?  Is this series a bit racist or am I thinking about it too much?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Amazing Stories: Go to the Head of the Class

Never really saw Spielberg’s Twilight Zone type show Amazing Stories but I have seen this one episode called “Go to the Head of the Class”.  It was directed by Robert Zemeckis (Death Becomes Her) and is about two high school kids (one of which is Mary Stuart Masterson (Radioland Murders)) that don’t like one of their teachers, Christopher Lloyd (Walk Like a Man), so they decide to cast a spell on him.  Fortunately for us shit doesn’t go quite right and they end up causing the teacher’s head to come loose from the rest of his body.  But the head and body are still alive and he chases the two kids around a bit. 

This one has a couple of things going for it like an over the top performance from Christopher Lloyd who plays a real asshole, this being made back when Zemeckis was doing interesting movies with zany concepts (chronologically this was right after the first Back to the Future), the camera work and special effects are clever when it gets to the decapitation part, I think the whole thing comes off actually kinda creepy and it’s only about 45 mins long (remember this was for TV). 

This is just a little Halloween tidbit that I thought you guys should know about.     

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wolf (1994)

Whoever’s idea it was to make this thing deserves at least a pat on the back if not a pat on the back and a handshake.  Rarely do we get an opportunity like this.  This isn’t a horror movie but a seriously serious werewolf picture.  It was kind of ahead of its time in terms of the whole “what if this existed in real life” approach that it takes.  Unfortunately it’s not very good and kind of plays out more like a soap opera than a thrilling werewolf picture.  Well, except for the end when it turns into the movie you were hoping it would be the whole time.  This one is a case of the fact that it exists is more interesting than the movie itself.  Those are always tough pills to swallow.

The clip above is a good example of how this film handles what should have been a cool scene.  It’s actually set up well with Nicholson being so badass and confident that he jokes with the muggers but when it comes time for him to strike we don’t get to see much of anything. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Monster Squad

Instead of dancing around cult classics and talking about their sequels I should really talk about an actual classic itself.  And correct me if I’m wrong but this is one isn’t it?  I mean it’s from the 80’s and in this day and age that seems to be reason enough.  Oh and it has kids in it.  That cements it.  A kids (ish) movie from the 80’s, pure classic.

A spry Fred Dekker fresh off of Night of the Creeps made this picture with the anticipation that it was going to be a huge hit.  It looked like his shit was lining up and that this guy was going places.  Then The Monster Squad fucking tanked and no one wanted to hire him to be a professional ass wiper.  I want to say that’s a shame because I like both Night of the Creeps and this film but I know better after watching Robocop 3.  Although, Dekker is credited for coming up with the story for Ricochet which was pretty good.  And If Looks Could Kill was kind of a fun movie.  I dunno.  I’ll see how I feel after this piece.

The plot’s fairly simple and involves a group of kids in their early teens that have this monster club where they hang out and discuss politics, global economics and how they can bring peace to the Middle East.  Nah, I’m just kidding.  They quiz each other on monsters and peep on the girl next door while she takes her clothes off.  Sounds more productive than how I spent my teenage years.  Anyway, when real monsters come out the woodwork these kids decide to fight them because they know how to kill them from watching the movies.  And that shit always sort of sometimes works.

Even though the story is simple the characters, especially the villains, is what makes this interesting.  Dracula is the leader of the gang and that makes sense because he’s supposed to be a pretty smart fellow.  Duncan Regehr (I don’t recognize him from anything but he was in V) plays the role really well partly because he has the look and partly because he brings a Shakespearean elegance as well as tragedy to this version.  I guess that’s because he actually is a Shakespearean actor.  You can tell that every look, movement and way in which he delivers his lines is deliberate.  Regehr allows the human behind the monster to come through at times but also allows the monster to completely take over when it’s necessary.  He knows how to be stoic which goes a long way.  I mean he’s an evil vampire but because he encounters a few problems while he’s carrying out his plan to take over the world (or something like that) it gives him a very slight vulnerable side.  And that’s just enough to show he’s not perfect and in turn relatable on some level.  I actually felt sorry for the guy when it’s evident that he’s not going to get a lot of support from the other monsters he recruited to help him and that these kids seem to be a worthy competitor.

Tom Noonan (Last Action Hero, The House of the Devil) plays Frankenstein and he’s one of two heartbreaking monsters that’s conflicted with who he is and what he’s doing.  Dracula reanimates him but he doesn’t really have any thoughts of his own so when he encounters the kids they’re able to turn him around and teach him how to be human again.  Frankenstein knows he’s a monster and grabbles with that because I think he knows he’s an outsider with these kids but he doesn’t want to go back to Dracula who’s just using him.

The wolf man is the other tragic monster.  His story isn’t as relatable as Frankenstein’s but I think it’s a little more interesting.  When the guy is human he tries to tell the cops that he’s a werewolf and that he needs to be locked up or he’ll hurt people.  When he turns into a wolf he’s a totally different creature that only wants to kill.  This makes me feel really sorry for him because it’s something he can’t help or cure.  I’m not sure if it’s that he doesn’t know how to fix his problem or that he needs to be a werewolf when somebody shoots him with a silver bullet which wouldn’t be possible for him to do himself.  I mean how do you deal with a situation like that?  No one believes that you’re a werewolf and if you do ask for help you could be putting many people’s lives at risk.  Not to mention you now have Dracula on your ass wanting you to help him in his global domination (or would that be damnation?) scheme.  Shit man, you’re fucked.

The creature from the black lagoon and the mummy also make appearances but they’re kind of useless and we never get to know them.  I guess those ones don’t have a human part left in them so a character study would a little boring.  That’s fine because between Dracula, Frankenstein and the wolf man there’s plenty of interesting villains to go around.

The idea for this film was to bring together all the classic Universal monsters in a modern movie and as a side effect introduce them to a new generation.  And if you go strictly by that goal then they achieved their mission.  But what’s really cool is how the monsters are treated.  This is a picture that respects them and wants to explore them.  There are layers to these versions and I dig it.  Some of the most interesting scenes are the ones with the monsters just hanging out with each other and we see how they play off of each other.  Like there’s one part where Dracula’s trying to find where this amulet is that he needs to take over the world and he has the wolf man in tow and Dracula’s rambling on about how Van Helsing was a fool to try and stop him and the wolf man nods excitedly along.  It’s kind of a touching scene because Dracula and the wolf man are both into the idea of world domination and we’re witnessing a bonding moment between them. 

I also like that the filmmakers went for the standard look for all of these monsters (Dracula wears a suit and cape, Frankenstein has green/brown skin with black raggedy clothes, the wolf man wears jeans and a ripped shirt, etc.) because even though it’s what we’ve seen ever since these characters were introduced there’s also a level of comfort.  There’s something satisfying and reassuring about seeing these creatures the way you always think they look.  Recognition and familiarity is a key reason why this movie works.  We all know these monsters and have seen countless versions of them over the years and this picture gives them to us in the most typical way but there’s just enough of a twist put on them (i.e. making them human and wrestling with who they are) that it strikes just the right balance.

This film shouldn’t work as well as it does.  I’m not a big fan of clumping several known villains together because it almost always comes off too silly and farfetched that these characters would actually associate and get along with each other.  But they really did a good job with this one.  Apart from the monsters interacting with each other they pull off some other really cool moments in this thing.  Like the part where the kids are surrounded by Dracula, his vampire brides and the wolf man gets pretty intense, the wolf man transformation scene in the phone booth was done very cleverly and I love that he yells to the police detective over the phone, “he’s (Dracula) gonna kill your son!”, and probably the most badass part in the whole movie is the dolly shot of Dracula walking slowly towards the little girl who has the amulet and he kills cop after cop on his way.  The filmmakers even bothered to show us our boy hero’s parents fighting which tells us that this is the reason why he retreats into monster movies.

I guess Fred Dekker isn’t so bad after all.  If he ever makes another movie I would be curious to see it but it doesn’t look good for him.  On the DVD extras he says (in a deadly serious and depressing tone) that this film ended his career until he got the chance to direct Robocop 3 and then that ended his career again.  Hopefully the third time’s the charm.

Even though this is technically a kids movie it is rated PG-13 and I think adults would get a kick out of it, especially if they grew up watching the old Universal monster pictures from the 30’s and 40’s.  It also has the balls to compare these fictional creatures to the Holocaust (there’s an old man that helps the kids out and we discover that he was in a concentration camp).  That’s a film with confidence and also something that kids probably won’t understand.  But aside from that strangely out of place reality check this one is sort of like Scream meets The Goonies.  I think it’s better than The Goonies too.  It’s not for everyone and I have the feeling that it’s a love it or hate it kind of experience.  If you can get over some goofy stuff like that Dracula drives a hearse with a chrome skull hood ornament and hurls dynamite when he gets really pissed then you’ll probably get into the rest of it.  If that last sentence sounded totally stupid to you then you should avoid this one.

One last thing, don’t get fooled by the 20th anniversary edition DVD cover.  It shows a kid carrying a huge knife and a bandolier filled with some heavy duty ammunition but neither of those are in the movie.  I prefer the original poster where the kids are hanging out on the front of Dracula’s hearse looking all tough while the monsters’ menacing faces are lined up in the background.    

Friday, October 14, 2011

Street Fighter Music Video with MC Hammer and JCVD

A buddy pointed this out to me and so now I'm pointing it out to you. It's from the Street Fighter soundtrack but I don't remember hearing this song in the film.  Whatever, Van Damme looks like he's having a good time and he even gives us some more of that infamous dancing (check out Kickboxer if you don't know what I'm talking about).

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Return of the Living Dead Part II

The Return of the Living Dead is considered a classic zombie film and a great artifact of pure 80’s cheese (I mean that in the best possible way).  It basically took the Night of the Living Dead premise and put a couple of new twists on it.  Instead of a group of people being trapped in one location there are two used, the zombies seem a little more tenacious and specifically want brains to eat and the cause of the dead returning to life is explained.  The effects and gags are all done really well and it’s a pretty spectacular directorial debut from veteran screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Total Recall).  It’s a great movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously which I imagine is the reason it has a following.  So as long as you’re not in the mood for a completely serious horror picture, this one’s definitely worth your time.  And as good as The Return of the Living Dead is I just might like the sequel even better.

For the next installment the filmmakers decided to more or less do the same movie again (although apparently the script was not originally intended to be the next Return of the Living Dead movie).  This time though they decided to take the show on the road.  A 12 year old boy named Jesse stumbles upon a barrel in a sewer pipe while running away from some bullies.  They see that it’s from the military (in fact it is because we see it roll off the truck during the opening credits) and that it contains a zombie but they get scared and run away.  Later the bullies go back and open up the barrel which releases the gas that makes the dead return to life.  Various other characters including, but not limited to, Jesse’s sister, a doctor and two grave robbers all have to ban together in order to escape the clutches of the undead.

The reason why I think this one might be better than the original is because it moves a little quicker, there seem to be more zombies and I like that our group of heroes try to ditch the zombies but at every turn they keep showing up.  They don’t know how to kill the things either so it’s not like they can stand and fight them.  This gives the feeling that there truly is no way out the situation and that they’re fucking trapped.

The teen protagonists are actually likeable and don’t bumble around for most of the movie.  It was a good move to throw two middle aged guys and a little boy into the mix so that we get different reactions to the situation.  I also like that none of these people really know each other (except Jesse and his sister and this other couple).  It’s not your typical group-of-friends-go-on-a-camping/road-trip-together-only-to-stumble-upon-an-unspeakable-evil.  Even though these characters are strangers they know that they need to stick together in order to stay alive.  That seems to be not unusual for zombie movies but it still feels nice to see instead of nothing but self absorbed high school or college kids.

The zombie makeup and effects are top notch too.  There are a lot of good bits in this like a zombie hand gets loose inside a car with our group, there’s a scene with a really impressive zombie head that comes to life with eyes, eyelids, mouth and tongue all moving as one of our guys pulls it out of a bag and one zombie even gets blown clean in half but his legs still walk around while his upper body tries to get back up.  And it all looks so good because they actually did these effects for real using models and animatronics ‘n shit.  You won’t find any bad CGI or terrible editing of action sequences that involve nothing but close-ups so you can’t tell what the fuck you’re looking at here.

With all of that said I probably should warn you that there is some comedy in this piece as well.  But I’m telling you guys, it’s just the right kind of humor and never gets in the way of the sense of danger that our characters are constantly in.  Ok, the Michael Jackson zombie took me out of the movie for a second but believe me, the comedy only accents the good time that this film is.  The filmmakers must have had a ball making this thing because it really comes through.  You can tell that these guys were very excited to be making a zombie picture and that they wanted to see a lot of zombie action.  They kept the background and character development efficient and to a minimum so that once they could throw undead people in your face they could keep them there until the credits.

Between the refreshing mix of characters that you don’t normally find in a horror movie, the various locations (graveyard, hospital, streets), the very matter-of-fact wit and the kick ass zombie designs and encounters this is a real gem.  I can understand why the original The Return of the Living Dead has a cult following but I think this one can stand toe to toe with it.  Return II doesn’t need a preamble so it doesn’t really matter which film you start with.  I prefer the sequel (only slightly) but it looks like I’m in the minority.  Whichever you pick, they’re both perfect for a Halloween get together.        

And does anyone else think that using roman numerals for your sequels is an awesome idea?  It looks so much cooler than regular Arabic numbers.  I guess with the Halloween II remake sequel they did it but I don’t think anyone else has done it recently.  Filmmakers and studios should start doing that again.