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Thursday, May 25, 2023

The Return of Captain Invincible (1983) – Review

There have been more than a fair number of superhero movies based on characters found in the pages of either DC or Marvel Comics, it’s basically a cottage industry now, yet once in a while a little superhero gem will wander onto the scene that's a truly original piece of superhero fiction, one that will catch the world by surprise.  And what is more surprising than Alan Arkin playing a superhero who fought the Axis forces during WWII?

While the title may sound like this is a sequel it is actually referring to the return of a “Golden Age” superhero, known as Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin), who after successfully defeating enemies at home and abroad, taking out such nemesis as prohibition bootleggers and the Third Reich with a smile and a quip, he was called before a McCarthy-style government hearing in the 1950s and charged with such ridiculous accusations as "Flying without a proper license, impersonating a military officer, and wearing underwear in public." Feeling betrayed by his own government Captain Invincible went into a self-imposed exile and over the following decades he became an alcoholic bum wandering the streets of Sydney, Australia. This leads us to the present where is needed most and the world prays for his return, well, not exactly the whole world but the United States President (Michael Pate), who as a boy scout was greatly inspired by Captain Invincible, and he sends out the call.


“You want who, to save the world?”

And what monumental threat is dire enough to seek out a disgraced superhero? Enter Mr. Midnight (Christopher Lee) an apparently immortal agent of evil who had been thwarted by Captain Invincible numerous times but now with that hero lost in a bottle victory is in his grasp.  Mr. Midnight engages in a diabolical plan to rid New York City of its ethnic minorities, using a Hypno-ray stolen from the United States military to brainwash the ethnic citizens into moving to newly constructed coastal communities, with charming names like Afro Acres, Polish Palms, Israeli Acres and Sicilian Heights, and once fully occupied he will destroy these communities via his fleet of atomic submarines. Can Australian detective Patty Patria (Kate Fitzpatrick) find the disgraced and now alcoholic superhero before it’s too late? Will Captain Invincible sober up and regain his powers in time to stop this genocidal madman? And will this require Alan Arkin and Christopher Lee to break out into song? Only time will tell.


Wanted for crimes against Broadway.

While there have been some rather interesting subversive superhero offerings of late, from Amazon Prime’s The Boys to their equally amazing animated series Invincible being a couple of good examples, most of the comic book offerings have been rather straightforward in the handling of the subject matter, which is why stumbling across this 80s gem was such a treat as not only does this film cast the amazing Alan Arkin as a washed-up superhero and Christopher Lee as a wonderfully over-the-top villain, it's also a really bizarre musical, with songs by Richard “Rocky Horror Picture Show” O'Brien and Richard Hartley.  The songs in this film create a nice satirical counterpoint to your standard “Good vs Evil” showdown that is typical of the genre and it makes the whole film feel quite ahead of its time, as its deconstructionist take on the superhero genre predates graphic novels such as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. One must wonder if comic book writers Alan Moore and Frank Miller had a chance to see The Return of Captain Invincible during its brief theatrical release.


“Which way is Manhattan again?”

Stray Observations:

• The opening News Reel shows footage of bootleggers loading up a shipment of illegal alcohol but who exactly is filming this? Were gangsters of the time okay with the newsmen filming them at work?
• Seeing Captain Invincible fighting the Nazis and downing Luftwaffe planes with ease does bring up the obvious question “Just what was DC’s Superman doing during WWII?”
• The birdlike motif of Captain Invincible’s costume gives off strong Condorman vibes, a Disney film that came out a couple of years earlier.
• If Mr. Midnight were around today his plan to eradicate the ethnic minorities of New York City would more than likely have resulted in him getting a spot on the Republican ticket.
• Apparently, muggers in Australia drive around in Volkswagens that are tricked out with flamethrowers, or perhaps even the average Ozzies drive these kinds of cars simply to survive all the wildlife that is trying to kill them.
• Captain Invincible's powers stem from a bunch of horny and voyeuristic aliens who mentally bonded with his parents while he was being conceived, which wins this movie an award for having one of the most bizarre origin stories ever.
• Mr. Midnight’s underground lair is staffed with a goblin, a variety of exotic pets/food, and a lingerie-clad coterie of Solid Gold Dancers.


“It’s good to be Christopher Lee.”

What may surprise some people is just how good of a singer Christopher Lee really is, whose operatic skills would often lead him to give impromptu performances of Wagner to passengers stuck on a London to Los Angeles flight, and when casting a villain with a Bond villain type plan it’s not hard to see Lee as being perfect the perfect choice as he’d already played the villainous Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun. And Alan Arkin is no slouch either, while not as accomplished a singer as Christopher Lee he more than acquits himself as does his co-star Kate Fitzpatrick, but what is quite surprising is that there hasn’t been much in the way of superhero musicals over the years, aside from a couple of Broadway offerings the idea of singing and dancing superheroes remain barren – comedic bits like “Rogers: The Musical” from the Disney+ series Hawkeye notwithstanding – and while the current glut of comic book movies has offered genre mash-ups including spy thrillers, science fiction and even some with horror elements, I think it’s time for one of the big studios to bring the world a full-fledged superhero musical.


“Sir, the reviews are in and we’ve been beaten by Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.”

This was director Philippe Mora’s second team-up with the legendary Christopher Lee, the first one being Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, needless to say, this superhero musical is the better of the two and if you can track down a copy I can’t recommend it enough, especially if the current state of superhero movies is getting you down and you need a lite and frothy number to cleanse the palate.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Warlords of Atlantis (1978) – Review

Atlantis is the mythical island which supposedly sank beneath the waves thousands of years ago and it hasn’t stopped making trouble since, from the writings of Plato to the screenplays of Hollywood this fabled landmass has provided a great backdrop to some quite entertaining tales, also not so entertaining ones, and today we will be looking at one of those lower tier offerings, this one is called Warlords of Atlantis.

The plot of director Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis is that of your typical action-adventure fantasy movie, one typical of the 1960s and 70s, where we find a ragtag bunch of adventures stumbling across some lost civilization or another.  In the case of this film, we have British archaeologist Professor Aitken (Donald Bisset) and his son Charles (Peter Gilmore) leading an expedition to find the lost city of Atlantis, the wrinkle here is that he has not even told the Captain (Shane Rimmer) or any of the crew about their actual goal, including American engineer Greg Collinson (Doug McClure) who has designed a state-of-the-art diving bell.  His reasoning for this is that he believed no one would agree to go on an expedition with such a ridiculous destination, but as Doug McClure had already built an “Iron Mole” for a journey to the Earth’s core I'd say he’d most like have been game.


“Wait a minute, you’re not Peter Cushing?”

The jig is up rather quickly when the occupants of the diving bell come across a statue made of solid gold near the entrance of an underwater cave, a sure sign that they have found proof of Atlantis, unfortunately, the gold statue is too much of a temptation for their scurvy crew and before you know it there is a mutiny in the offing. Not that this mutiny lasts long as the inhabitants of Atlantis have a giant octopus on the payroll and before you can say “Captain Nemo” the crew are seized by its tentacles and dragged beneath the waves. The castaways are taken to a cavern beneath the ocean floor where they are greeted by Atmir (Michael Gothard) of the Atlantean ruling class and are quickly escorted by spear-wielding Guardians to one of the few remains cities of the fabled Atlantean island.  It’s quickly made apparent that this is no vacation stop as the surface-dwellers are taken through a prehistoric swamp inhabited by monsters and are quickly locked in the city dungeon, with the exception of Charles who is escorted to a meeting with King Atraxon (Daniel Massey) and Queen Atsil (Cyd Charisse).  These members of the ruling class offer him a position as part of the Atlantean Elite, due to the fact that he is a scientist and they respect his “Alpha mind” and consider him a superior intellect to that of his fellows.


The Elite don’t even need chairs, they just levitate themselves.

It is from Atsil that we learn that the original Atlanteans came from outer space, Mars to be specific, and while leaving their dying world a collision with a wayward comet resulted in their splash landing in the middle of the Atlantic.  Over the centuries they’ve been sending their giant octopus topside to snatch up people to fill out the working class, which mostly consists of fighting off the various monsters that plague the city, eventually the Atlanteans plan to use their great intellect to lead the surface world in a utopia of their making but one doesn't rush these kinds of things. Meanwhile in the dungeons, as required by any self-respecting adventure story, Greg has befriended a beautiful slave girl named Delphine (Lea Brodie), whose father (Robert Brown) was the captain of the Mary Celeste before the Atlanteans used their recruiting octopus to drag him and his crew below. It’s from him that they learn that they will soon be given gills and with that alteration, they will never be able to return to the oxygen-rich surface.  This doesn’t sit well with our hero so he immediately starts plans for escape, unfortunately, this will entail them not only having to rescue Charles from becoming a “One Percenter” but also escaping the city and making their way past various giant monsters.


“Hey, someone get Ray Harryhausen on the line!”

Stray Observations:

• You know you’re in for a rough go when the first shot of the film is of a fiery meteor approaching Earth, which makes no sense as it’s thousands of miles from Earth and thus there is no atmosphere for it to burn in.
• The captain of the Texas Rose keeps complaining about how dangerous these waters are, and that many ships have been lost there, but if it’s so dangerous why did he take the job?
• One of the mutinous crew members of the Texas Rose is played by actor John Ratzenberger and I couldn’t help but wish that this was a Pixar movie I was watching.
• We see the diving bell making lateral moves through the water and I start to question the filmmaker’s understanding of how diving bells work, and when the support ship does start to move forward that’s an even worse idea as they can’t tell what underwater obstacles are in the bell’s way.
• A bizarre Atlantean helmet gives Charles visions of a “Scientific Utopia” but he mostly sees acts of war that include the rise of the Third Reich, the Vietnam War and the atomic bomb, clearly, their version of utopia is very different than ours.


“Can this thing get HBO Max or Apple TV?”

While not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Warlords of Atlantis definitely has that same pulpy feel found in those classic adventure tales of the 1920s, not to mention the fact that this film also reteamed director Kevin Connor and star Doug McClure who had previously collaborated on three Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot, which makes this film even more in keeping with those pulp adventure stories, though the inclusion of the undersea city of Atlantis and a giant octopus also gives off some serious Jules Verne vibes.


It Came from Beneath the Script.

If there can be any fault directed at this film it would be that it was a little too ambitious for the budget it had, we never really get the scale of Atlantis and the chambers where the “Elite” hang out looked like leftover sets from some low-rent Bible story and the plot races along at such a breakneck pace that there is no time for the film to build up a sense of wonder or amazement, which is a key ingredient in any decent fantasy film. What does work are the creature creations by Roger Dicken, whose attack octopus is a real showstopper, and while the other monsters aren’t as ambitious or on par with those found in a Ray Harryhausen film, the variety of monsters on display should keep most of the fans of the genre happy.  In conclusion, Warlords of Atlantis is a fun little enterprise that may fail in its delivery of world-building adventure but it's hard not to enjoy Doug McClure fighting off a variety of villains and monsters.

Trivia Note: This film was originally known as Atlantis but in an attempt to avoid confusion with the 1961 film Atlantis, the Lost Continent it was changed to 7 Cities of Atlantis, but when the television series The Man from Atlantis flopped the executives did not want to associate the film with that show either so it became known as Warlords of the Deep, however, Columbia Pictures had partly financed the film and they believed that this title this too close to their other film The Deep, so it was changed again to Warlords of Atlantis.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Dead Heat (1988) – Review

Have you ever seen a movie that blended the buddy cop, zombie, comedy action horror genres all together? Could you believe such a thing even exists? Well, they did, back in the 80 cop films were all the rage and buddy comedies even more so but it took writer Terry Black and director Mark Goldblatt to come up with such a bizarre blend of horror, comedy and action that really has to be seen to be believed, that is if you want to believe that Joe Piscopo could be an action star of any sort.

Mixing genres is always tricky business and Mark Goldblatt’s Dead Heat not only tried to make a horror/comedy but a buddy cop action film as well, and I’ll give him full credit for delivering all of those elements in one film, even if they didn’t always quite work. The film’s plot was, I'm guessing, derived from the 1948 film noir D.O.A. where the protagonist had been slipped poison and had only a matter of hours to figure out who had murdered him, which is a damn cool premise, but with Dead Heat, writer Terry Black took that overall concept and then ratcheted it up to eleven and through in a zombie element to spice things up. The story kicks off with detectives Roger Mortis (Treat Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Joe Piscopo), who are your standard maverick cops who will bend the rules and get screamed at by their boss, investigating a series of robberies that results in them coming into contact with undead criminals, needless to say, things start to get interesting and violent.


"Dead boys, dead boys whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?"

After eventually and violently killing the perps, our heroes return to the precinct to get chewed out by their captain, something to do with collateral damage and parking tickets, but they are soon called down to the city morgue by Dr. Rebecca Smythers (Clare Kirkconnell), a possible old flame of Roger’s, who informs them that the two bodies they had brought in had already been in the morgue on a previous occasion, with autopsy scars to prove it.  Her jerk boss, Dr. Ernest McNab (Darren McGavin), points out that corpses don’t just walk off on their own accord so they must have been alive and she simply misdiagnosed them as dead, which is pretty ridiculous but we don’t have time for questions of logic because a unique preservative chemical compound had found been in the bodies and this sends our heroes off to check out a Dante Pharmaceuticals.  They meet the company's public relations person, Randi James (Lindsay Frost), whose tour leads Bigelow to discover a strange lab and the resurrected corpse of what looks to be a mutant biker, and at this point, you may want to ask “Why does that raging corpse of three noses?” but it’s not for us to question these things as one must let the absurdity of it all simply wash over you.


“Tonight, on Law and Ogre.”

During the chaos, Roger is knocked into a decompression room and is asphyxiated to death, helped along by a mysterious figure who activates the room with Roger is trapped inside, but a quick-thinking Rebecca figures out that the machine Bigelow discovered is actually capable of bringing people back from the dead and with Bigelow’s help they successfully bring Roger back from the dead, unfortunately, while he is up and about he’s also technically not exactly alive. With no heartbeat and skin that is cold to the touch, Rebecca surmises that he has about twelve hours before the reanimation process ends and he dissolves into a puddle of mush, thus film’s ticking clock is engaged as our heroes must solve the mystery before Roger dies, for good this time. Another question you shouldn’t ask is how a city coroner can quickly figure out how a crazy resurrection machine works.


Was there a copy of “Resurrection for Dummies” sitting next to the console?

The premise certainly has the potential for some great dark comedy, with Roger’s body slowly deteriorating while Bigelow does his best to keep up with all the strangeness surrounding this case, one scene with Roger trading machine gunfire with another undead is kind of brilliant, but where the film fails is in the blending of comedy and horror because while the gore is well-crafted, by makeup effects artist Steve Johnson, it doesn’t match with the tone of the script which keeps trying to be a comedy even while bodies continue to pile up and everyone, including our heroes, end up dead. Then there is the mystery itself, if what unfolds can be considered a mystery, which sends our heroes careening across town to fight with the undead menu of a Chinese restaurant and to uncover the secret behind Dante Pharmaceuticals’ founder Arthur P. Loudermilk (Vincent Price), who is presumably the father of Randi James and is also dead, but can anyone in this film be considered truly dead?


“I’m not dead, I’m bloody Vincent Price!”

Stray Observations:

• The members of the “Cash and Dash” gang wear these bizarre leather cowls that don’t so much as hide their identities as it does make them look more like S&M enthusiasts than it does professional thieves.
• Dr. Ernest McNab rebukes Dr. Rebecca Smythers for signing death certificates to living people, but even if they had arrived at the morgue alive they wouldn’t have survived the autopsy, basically, this guy is either a raging idiot or the film’s villain.
• Bigelow is able to enter a secured laboratory simply by sticking a plastic nametag into the card reader slot and shorting it out, which is up there with the stupidity of action heroes opening doors by shooting their keypads. That’s not how electronic locks work, all that would do is permanently lock it.
• Mortis dies because he gets locked in a decompression room used to euthanize test animals, but the door has a large glass window and Bigelow doesn’t once think of shooting the window, instead, he just hits on it with his bare hands. Are we to think he wanted his partner dead?
• Of all the corpses McNab could have chosen for the demonstration he picked one of the cops who had been trying to expose this resurrection syndicate, and sure, he assumed he’d been brainwashed by the process, but he clearly didn’t understand the power of friendship.


A love that lasts from beyond the grave.

What truly kills this film is the comedic stylings of Joe Piscopo which just don’t work here and barely even rises to the level of amusingly stupid, and his chemistry with co-star Treat Williams is almost non-existent which is something a buddy cop lives and dies on, with the viewer becoming invested in the dynamic between the two leads, but in this case, it critically failed and doomed the film from the outset. While Dead Heat misfired in the delivery of its premise it still offers some great practical effects in the makeup department and if you can stomach Joe Piscopo’s attempt at comedy you will more than likely have a good enough time watching this bizarre hybrid of a movie.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Amityville 3-D (1983) - Review

The tagline to this movie was “Warning: In this movie, you are the victim,” having now sat through this film I certainly feel victimized, of course, that tagline was actually referring to the fact that the film was released in 3D, which in the 80s was almost a requirement for third installments of a horror franchise, and while this was ostensibly a sequel it has very little to no bearing on the events of the previous two films.

Unlike the previous films, this installment was not based on a book but on real-life investigator Stephen Kaplan, who attempted to prove that the claims the Lutzes made in The Amityville Horror were all part of a hoax, which shouldn’t have been too hard of a job as even the most openminded person could smell the bullshit wafting off that story from a mile away. The movie opens with Kaplan analog John Baxter (Tony Roberts), a reputable journalist who along with his partner Melanie (Candy Clark) exposes a pair of con artists who have been using the Amity House as a setting for their fake seances, but then in a strange turn of events, and by strange I mean contrived, John is convinced by the current owner and hard-done-by real estate agent Clifford Sanders (John Harkins) to buy the house, this is so he can quit his job and start writing the great American novel.


“It has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and thirteen free-roaming ghosts.”

Poor Clifford, while waiting for John, investigates footsteps he hears in the attic and is attacked and killed by a swarm of flies, typical stuff you come to expect from this house, but later when Melanie shows Clifford some photos that she took of the real estate agent earlier they depict him as a rotting corpse.  John of course chalks this up to be nothing more than a “startling coincidence” and continues with his plans to move into the Amity house, even setting aside the iconic attic room for his daughter Susan (Lori Loughlin) because why not? The next day John nearly dies in a “malfunctioning” elevator, meanwhile back in casa evil, Melanie is attacked by the demonic forces in the house while she is waiting for John to show up, in this instance, it is gale force winds that pour out of the basement well, but the ever-practical John puts this down to simple hysteria and brushes her fears off as if she were a child. Did I mention that John is an insufferable asshat?


“Melanie, are you currently menstruating?”

Later, Melanie discovers a demonic-looking face in the blow-ups of pictures she had taken of Sanders but she is killed in another “accident” before she can show her supernatural evidence to John, meanwhile, John's estranged wife Nancy (Tess Harper) is not too keen on the idea of her daughter spending time in a haunted house and while her paranormal investigator Doctor Elliot West (Robert Joy) tries to allay her fears it all becomes moot when Susan and her friends, including her best friend Lisa (Meg Ryan), have an improvised Ouija party in the “Murder House” and is later found drowned after the group had decided to go out on the water. That Nancy saw a dripping wet Susan silently walking up the stairs after she had supposedly already been drowned causes the distressed mother to believe that Susan is still alive and will return shortly, even refusing to leave the house for Susan's funeral. This leads to John turning to Doctor West and him setting up a team of paranormal investigators to study the house and hopefully free his daughter’s spirit.


They should have called Zelda Rubinstein instead.

Stray Observations:

• Any half-competent charlatan would research their client beforehand, the better to fool them with a tailored spectral visit, so their being exposed by journalists like John Baxter isn’t all that impressive as they clearly sucked at their job.
• The owner of the house almost falls into “The Gateway to Hell” and you’d think someone would put up a warning sign or two.
• Photographs working as some kind of precognition of a character’s death had already been well used in Richard Donner’s horror film The Omen.
• John’s near-death experience with a malfunctioning elevator, an event that flies in the face of known physics, has me questioning “Why did the demonic forces not follow through and let him die?” Were these evil entities just pranking poor John or were they saving him for a more gruesome death later?


Sadly, it’s Melanie who gets the gruesome death and not the asshole John.

As was the case with most 3D films of this era, Amityville 3-D fell victim to the trope of having things “Coming at You” with actors constantly sticking or throwing things toward the camera, which looks even worse when watching the film in 2D, but even watch in 3D it’s not all that great as this film has an overly dark look to it and the resulting 3D effect wasn’t good at the best of times and certainly not helped by the muddied darkness. As to the film’s special effects, well, the practical effects on display were decent, the house did blow up really well, but the optical effects are really dated and are laughably bad at times, watching Tess Harper following the supposed spirit of her daughter around the house is a failure on every level.


“Doctor Wells, my readings tell me that this effect cost us $1.99 at Radio Shack.”

The film was a critical and financial failure and effectively killed off any plans for further Amityville-inspired films, that is until the home video market exploded and we got a whole slew of these things, but I would love to know what kind of a sequel they would have come up with had this entry been a success, considering the fact this one ended with the house being blown to smithereens I assume it would have been along the lines “Beware the haunted kindling.”   Needless to say, the 3D craze was not enough to save this third entry in the Amityville Horror franchise and it remains most notable for the early appearance of a young Meg Ryan and not much else.  That this was directed by Richard Fleischer, the man behind such classics as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the Fantastic Voyage, does make me a little sad but for a bad movie lover, there is some appeal to watching something as silly and trashy as Amityville 3-D.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Amityville II: The Possession (1982) – Review

When the film The Amityville Horror was released in 1979 it was, at the time, the most successful independent film ever released so a sequel following the continuation of the horror plaguing the Lutz family would seem to be a given, but that was not to be, what we got instead was a prequel based on the book "Murder in Amityville" by Hans Holzer, which dealt with the DeFeo family murders that were committed during the original film’s opening prologue.

The odd thing about this prequel was that for some reason the producers decided to change the name of the family from DeFeo to that of the fictional "Montelli family" and I must ask “Was this change of names done to protect the innocent?” I'd say the most likely reason for this wasn’t because Ronald DeFeo Jr. was still proclaiming his innocence, with him being an actual psycho rotting in jail he was still a fair target, but this film also paints the rest of the family in a rather poor light so I could see some people getting upset about this particular cinematic depictions. In this movie, the Montelli family moves into their home, consisting of the abusive patriarch Anthony Montelli (Burt Young) his wife Dolores (Rutanya Alda) their two eldest, Sonny (Jack Magner), Patricia (Diane Franklin), the youngest Mark (Brent Katz) and Jan (Erika Katz), and almost from minute one, they are plagued by supernatural events as well as a truly toxic family situation.



A nuclear family about to explode.

Where the previous film can be described as a slow build to nothing happening, the biggest crime the original film committed, but here director Damiano Damiani and screenwriter Tommy Lee Wallace did their best to ensure that this would not be the case with their film, from the moment the secret room is discovered in the basement we get and an evil presence that is shown to be stalking the family, tossing objects around like a rambunctious poltergeist and painting Satanic graffiti on the kid’s bedroom wall, but more frightening than these paranormal events is the Dad’s violent reaction to them, which mostly consists of beating his wife and kids. This violent dysfunctional family is a far cry from the loving Freeling family found in Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist, which came out the same years as this film, and one key element here deals with an incestuous relationship between Sonny and Patricia that takes the horror to a whole new level. Apparently, there was also a scene where Anthony anally raped Dolores, as well as a more graphic incestuous scene between Sonny and Patricia, but due to negative reactions at test screenings, these were wisely cut.


I don’t often side with Studio meddling but that was probably a good call.

What I found surprising is the decision the filmmakers had in having the DeFeo family…sorry, I mean the Montelli family, being murdered at the halfway point and thus the rest of the film deals with Father Frank Adamsky (James Olsen), the family priest, who is really really bad at his job, trying to prove to the world that Sonny isn’t some cold-blooded murderer but simply a victim of demonic possession and when Catholic Church won’t back him up he turns to Detective Turner (Moses Gunn) to help break Sonny out of custody so that he can perform some sort of half-assed exorcism. It’s at this point that the film takes whatever credibility it had as being based on “True Events” and tosses it out the window in favour of ripping off William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, and I must admit, I kind of respect them for it. The entire “Amityville Horror” story is complete bullshit and the Lutz family making money from this elaborate hoax, something that was based on the pain and suffering of this tragic mass murder, is pretty godawful so making a film with pulsating demons and a valiant priest fighting the forces of Hell is almost admirable when compared to the bullshit that was being pedalled as true true in the previous film.


This film is definitely gorier than the original.

Stray Observations:

• If on the day you move into your new home, the kitchen faucet pours blood it’s time to call your real estate agent, a priest and then the movers.
• In reality, the DeFeo family had lived in the home for about nine years prior to the murders whereas in this film the events happen quickly after moving in, and for some reason, the film omits one of the sons.  Wasn't he cute enough to make the cut?
• Sonny has a poster of Rocky in his room and Burt Young appears in that film and its sequels as Paulie Pennino.
• This is a really messed up family, even looking past the abusive father the rest of the family is a bit off, at one point the little girl places a plastic bag over her brother’s head to pretend to smother him and I don’t think we’re supposed to believe evil forces were behind that.
• If the evil forces possessing Sonny are, apparently, the cause of his incestuous feelings towards his sister but if that were the case I wish someone would explain to me why, from almost the very first scene, she was flirting with her brother.
• They trot out the “built on an ancient Indian burial ground” cliché despite the Native Americans of the area stating this was not the case, but who needs facts when an easy trope can be used?
• Like in the previous film the church is very reluctant to step in and help this poor family so it’s up to a rogue priest to save the, well the family is actually murdered so he’s not what you’d call a good rogue priest.


“The power of bad writing compels you!”

Despite the film being called Amityville II it’s not really a sequel to the 1974 film, or even a prequel for that matter, because events playout in this movie that completely contradict what we saw in the original, such as the murders not taking place as shown in the prologue of ’74 film and Jack Magner as Sonny doesn’t look at all like James Brolin, despite that being a major plot point in the original, and thus despite the film being called part two this is more a standalone film with no real connection to the previous entry, other than the basic subject matter. That this film tried to make this a case of demon possession is problematic at best, in fact, Ron DeFeo claims voices told him to kill but that he wasn’t actually possessed, and the film’s third act lifts so much stuff from The Exorcist that William Peter Blatty and William Friedkin should have gotten royalties, though to be fair, this demon doesn’t infer that Father Frank’s mother sews socks in Hell.


The demon does allow its victim to text just like 12-year-old Regan did.

As a follow-up to the successful 1974 film Amityville II: The Possession works poorly as a sequel, and not so good as a prequel for that matter, but as I found the original film to be mostly boring I consider that a point in this movie’s favour, and that third act shift into a becoming a remake of The Exorcist definitely hurt the film as do some of the troublesome practical effects to depict Sonny’s possession – the bladders pumping under the skin never once looked convincing – but Lalo Schifrin returns to provide another excellent score and cinematographer Franco Di Giacomo was able to create something special with his camerawork and lighting. Overall, Amityville II: The Possession is an interesting entry in the franchise, the incest themes making it decidedly unforgettable in that respect, and the end product managed to bring a few scares to the table, even if most of the stemmed from Burt Young’s “Dad of the Year” going nuts on his family, which all goes towards making this one worth checking out.

Monday, May 8, 2023

The Amityville Horror (1979) – Review

“The events of this movie are based on misleading information, when it’s not just outright bullshit, and is basically a cinematic hoax.” Sadly, this was not the disclaimer found at the start of American International Pictures’ The Amityville Horror, but it should have been as this “based on true events” is more fiction than fact and while this is nothing new in the film industry that this particular offering started a long-running franchise is still a bit surprising.  Let’s take a look back at the film that started it all and the horrors it unleashed.

In 1977 Jay Anson’s book The Amityville Horror was a top bestseller and thus the idea of it making its way to the big screen should be no surprise but unlike many horror stories that made the book-to-screen transition this one was supposedly based on true events, yet these so-called events have mostly been debunked over the years and while this normally wouldn’t stop a filmmaker from going whole hog in the attempt of making a “chiller thriller” what we ended up with was a movie that was more filler than thriller. The movie opens with one of the few truly undisputed events, the true horror of Amityville and that would be the fact that Ronald DeFeo Jr. took up a rifle and murdered his entire family at their home at 112 Ocean Avenue – a truly horrific event that became the subject matter for the prequel – and then the film then jumps ahead a year to give us the only other undisputed event, that the Lutz family purchased the house and moved in shortly after, everything else is up for grabs when it comes to fact versus fiction.


Buyer’s Remorse: The Movie

The movie follows the supernatural misadventures of the Lutz family, which consists of parents George (James Brolin) and Cathy Lutz (Margot Kidder) and three kids from her prior marriage; Greg (K.C. Martel), Matt (Meeno Peluce) and Amy (Natasha Ryan) and over the film’s two-hour running time we’ll see George become obsessed with chopping firewood – with his sweating visage simply screaming “I’m an axe murder” – and once in a while something creepy will happen, the first being Father Delaney (Rod Steiger) arriving to bless the house and quickly becoming sick to his stomach as a room is filled with flies and a voice bellows “GET OUT” to which, he in fact, does get out. What follows from this point is certainly tepid by today’s horror movie standards; with doors opening and closing on their own, a little girl talking to an imaginary friend who may not be all that imaginary, and the dad going further and further off the deep end.  I'd say it's a fair bet that most of the actors in this film were clearly told to go to eleven when it came to giving their performances because “over-the-top” seemed to be the go-to setting for most of the cast.


Rod Steiger's “In the Heat of the Fright.”

Stray Observations:

• A rocking chair in the little girl’s room starts rocking on its own because that is one haunted house cliché that always works and it gets me every time.
• James Brolin is startled by the sudden appearance of a shrieking cat because the “Cat Scare” is another horror cliché that almost always works and is a pretty cheap scare tactic utilized by many a hack filmmaker, one that is often enhanced by “Spring-Loaded Cat” variation for added effect.
• What are the odds of your kid’s imaginary friend actually turning out to be an evil demonic spirit? Asking for a friend.
• I found the scariest part of this movie to be when the envelope with $1,500 dollars that was to pay the caterers went missing, that was damn terrifying.
• Murray Hamilton plays an asshole priest who mocks the idea of an evil presence in the Lutz home and he's basically playing an ecclesiastical version of his Mayor from Jaws. And I'm still confused as to why the church refused to investigate the Lutz family home.  Is the Catholic Church in the pocket of Big Satan?
• We get the startling reveal that George Lutz is a dead ringer for killer Ronald DeFeo Jr. but not only is this not true in real life, other than they both sported beards, but it also doesn’t really make sense in the context of the movie. Do demonic forces have a preference for the physical appearances of those they possess?
• George Lutz tries to get through the bathroom door with an axe a year before Jack Nicholson would be doing the same thing in Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shinning.


“Here’s Georgie!”

Decades later New Line Cinema would mine this territory quite well with their Conjuring Universe franchise and while they’ve yet to tackle the “true events” of the Lutz family one has to admit that directors like James Wan and David F. Sandberg have a better understanding of what makes for a good scary movie – The Amityville Horror director Stuart Rosenberg was known for more dramatic offerings like Cool Hand Luke and Voyage of the Damned and not spook shows and while this film made a shit load of money when it came out and became the biggest box office success for an independent film, it doesn’t hold up all that well and I’d be hard pressed to find many people today who would find this movie at all scary.


“May the power of Christ compel you to be afraid!”

This is not to say The Amityville Horror is a bad movie, Rosenberg is a competent director and he did have a very good cast on hand, not to mention composer Lalo Schifrin's Academy Award-nominated score which does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to building tension and mood, unfortunately, the pacing of the film is a little too slow and the horror aspect never reaches heights that will offset all the other dreary and depressing elements of the story, and when James Brolin finally falls into the “Well to Hell” it’s a case of too little too late. For me, the scariest element of this film was whether George Lutz’s business is going to fail because even though George does seem to be possessed by some demonic force the real threat is whether or not the house will be repossessed by the bank and not by Satan.  Basically, The Amityville Horror is a horror movie that failed to deliver much in the way of scares – the image of the demonic pig is laughable and not the least bit scary – and is most noteworthy for the fun performances by its cast and not much else.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Grizzly II: Revenge (1983) – Review

When it comes to sequels the time between the original and the following chapter often varies, from a quick cash-grab release to an entry that comes out many years later to cash in on its nostalgic value, in the case of Grizzly, which was released in 1976 as a cash in on the Jaws craze, but while this sequel was initially produced back in 1983 it took almost four decades before it saw the light of day and after watching this entry it’s clear that unlike a fine wine Grizzly II: Revenge did not get better with age.

While this film may, in fact, be titled Grizzly II: Revenge it is not what one could call a proper sequel as there isn't a single actor or character to make an appearance in this travesty and the only similarity to the original film is in its ability to badly rip off Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, and certainly not helped by the fact that movie remained unfinished after production wrapped prematurely in 1983 after the producer vanished and the funds dried up, only to be unceremoniously resurrected decades later. The plot of this cinematic travesty starts off with a poacher killing a grizzly cub and wounding its mother, thus getting the revenge element of our movie properly set up, then after killing the poacher it proceeds on a murderous rampage that includes a trio of hikers Ron (George Clooney), Tina (Laura Dern) and Lance (Charlie Sheen) who blissfully walk past a sign that states “Danger All Area Beyond This Sign is Closed Because Of Bear Danger” and I’m more concerned with this park’s flagrant use of bad grammar than any possible threat from bears.


"Well, George, at least we got a trip to Hungary out of this."

It’s at this point that we are introduced to the actual stars of this film, first, we have park ranger Nick Hollister (Steve Inwood) as the film's ostensible hero and then we have Samantha Owens (Deborah Raffin) the parks director of Bear Management, who is adamantly opposed to hunting down and killing the grizzly bear, hoping to tranquillize and relocate the bear before it can do any more harm, not that she seems all that concern with the bear’s extracurricular activities because as the body count rises she remains hellbent on not harming a hair on this rampaging beast’s hide.  While this conflict adds a little tension to the plot we also have Superintendent Eileene Draygon (Louise Fletcher) refusing to halt a concert being held within the park despite the danger. What the film fails to do is have this concert and the threat of a bear attack actually matter, and sure, the finale does have the grizzly arriving at the concert but it occurs backstage and so none of the fifty thousand concertgoers even become aware of the threat, all the arguments between Hollister and Draygon about security and needing more men are made pointless, as was the entire concert subplot.

Note: I hope you don’t mind bad 80s glam rock because to reach its “feature-length” of 74 minutes they had to use a lot of footage from a concert show in Hungary, which stops the movie dead in its tracks multiple times.

The never-ending intrusion of concert footage not only interrupts the momentum of this “Man against Nature” story but also allows for an additional plot element surrounding Hollister’s teenage daughter Chrissy (Deborah Foreman), who is excited about being hired by concert manager Charlie Hill (Dick Anthony Williams) as a gopher, and what the film later alludes to a supposed romantic entanglement with the lead singer of one of the acts, and like many things in this film this element has no proper setup and no payoff. And finally, we have the only memorable element in this movie in the form of the world-famous French-Canadian grizzly expert Bouchard (John Rhys-Davies), who can apparently smell a bear from miles away, and by memorable, I mean he is so over-the-top cartoony that you expect him to be accompanied by music from the Merrie Melodies and thus is impossible to forget.


Don't ask why he's cos-playing Paul Bunyan.

Our trio of heroes traipsed around the dangerous forest, where the filmmakers randomly cut in daylight shots, night shots and day-for-night shots as if to keep the viewer off balance enough so they won't realize what they are seeing doesn't make a lick of sense, but if that were their actual strategy I would applaud them, but in reality, it's all due to the fact that they were making a film based on incomplete footage and the end result just doesn't even remotely hold together. And just before the audience is about to slide into a boredom-induced coma the movie concludes with the grizzly being lured into high voltage cables by Nick, with it then bursting into flames as it is electrocuted, much as how the shark was killed at the end of Jaws 2, in fact, the producers actually “borrowed” two very quick shots of flame and teeth from that film to make this “exciting” conclusion.  What's even sadder is this is also our first really good look at the grizzly and it is so terrible and would make for an example of what a bad night at Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree would look like.


“It was a poor budget that killed the beast.”

Stray Observations:

• That George Clooney, Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern are given” above the title” starring credits but are then killed five minutes into the movie, which has to be one of the grossest bits of false advertising I’ve ever seen.
• There is new footage added to patch up some of the holes and these moments stick out like a sore thumb when placed next to the film stock of the original 1983 footage, also, the CGI blood hits are so bad and distracting that you start to wonder if you’re watching a cartoon.
• One of the park rangers asks, “Why is Draygon allowing a concert in a national park, it’s for money isn’t it?” But what concerts aren’t put on for money, even charity concerts are intended to raise money, so this is about the stupidest question to ask, which is on par with the bulk of this script.
• The only way you can consider this a sequel to the 1976 film is that they both rip off Jaws by using the “We can’t close the beaches, it’s the Fourth of July” trope, only here it’s a stupid concert they want to be kept on schedule.
• After finding the three mutilated campers Samantha Owens still wants the bear captured alive, stating to Hollister that “I feel as bad as you do, but this grizzly is not truly guilty of anything, she’s just behaving according to her natural instinct” but as her natural instinct is now “kill anyone she encounters” the idea of letting this creature roam free is patently ridiculous.
• For no apparent reason Bouchard changes out of his Paul Bunyan costume in favour of Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans costume.


This is Grizzly II’s version of Quint and it’s hilarious.

That this film’s original producer left after the first day of shooting, leaving them with no funds to continue the film, can certainly explain some of the disastrous results of Grizzly II: Revenge but not all of this can be blamed on money as the script is godawful and simply bursting with every clichéd character that they could cram into its meagre 74-minute running time, then there is the fact that this is clearly an uncompleted film as it is quite obvious that shots and even whole scenes are missing, for example, we get a moment between Chrissy and the lead singer of one of the bands that allude to the pair having some sort of relationship but it's nothing we the audience get a chance to see, and the hackneyed editing does the film no favours as missing shots result in people randomly popping off with non-sequiturs, answering or responding to things said but that was never shot, and the end result leaves the viewer confused and bewildered as to what anyone is talking about.


One has to appreciate a bear who stages its kills like Jason Voorhees.

This film is a disjointed mess that is only notable for its incomprehensibility and the brief appearance of Clooney, Sheen, and Dern in these “before they were famous” roles, which now exist to be used as answers for pub trivia contests. It should also be noted that the grizzly has even less screen time than those three stars and its animatronic creation was so bad it couldn’t even be used in conjunction with the actors, other than a brief shot of John Rhys-Davies scaling what appears to be a fur wall, and pretty much all of the attacks happen off-screen and thus we only get to see the aftermath and not the kills themselves. It’s hard to describe just how bad Grizzly II: Revenge is and the only possible reason to check this movie out is to see random good actors popping in and out of what is otherwise an utter waste of film stock, and even with that motive on hand it’s really not worth it.


“We can’t shut this film down, it’s the Fourth of July!”

To be fair, Grizzly II: Revenge was rocked by many production woes, a producer vanishing to later be found in jail was only one of many issues that plagued this movie, yet even without these obvious setbacks this “In Name Only” sequel fails on practically every level, from a terrible script to the bad acting to a killer grizzly that comes across about as menacing as a moth-eaten bear rug, and while a proper budget may have solved some issues it doubtfully would have made this thing anything more than a shiny turd in the punch bowl of cinema.