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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Tarantula (1955) – Review

When it wasn’t atomic bombs creating giant monsters in the 1950s, it was your garden variety mad scientist, tinkering away in his beaker-filled lab, spilling behemoth creatures all over the landscape, and one of the most memorable examples of this is the 1955 creature feature Tarantula. Produced and directed by the legendary filmmaker Jack Arnold, Tarantula tells the classic story of a scientist trying to make the world a better place, but instead unleashing a monster of unbridled power.  You know, shit happens.

The movie opens with a deformed man staggering through the desert – the man will later be revealed to have been biological research scientist Eric Jacobs – who shortly perishes from what looks to be a genetic ailment called acromegaly, a rare disorder that is caused by an excess in growth hormone, but the real mystery here is that apparently four days ago, Jacobs looked completely normal, and the level of deformity he has at death would have taken years to reach the point at which the film finds him. That is all kinds of messed up.

What makes Tarantula stand out from other giant monster movies is that this film is primarily a mystery, with the hero trying to put together the pieces of a bizarre puzzle — it just so happens that this mystery ends with fighter jets attacking a giant spider. So not quite Agatha Christie, but still a cracking good way to wrap up a mystery. The man to solve this particular mystery is Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar), a local country doctor who doesn’t buy “acromegaly” as the true culprit in the death of Jacobs, and he wants to investigate further. In opposition to this is Professor Gerald Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), who is not only a well reputed scientist, but was also Jacob’s scientific partner, and he puts the kibosh on the idea of having an autopsy performed, saying, “I don’t think that will be necessary. I was in attendance, and I signed the death certificate.” Worse is that Deemer’s entire explanation seems to hinge on the fact that, “Things happen when you get older.”  Yeah, that sounds scientific.


“Or are you just covering up for medical malpractice?”

Hastings gets quite a bit of resistance from Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva), who takes the side of Professor Deemer, stating that, “A young fellow like you can’t stack what he knows against the Professor. The trouble is, Doc, you hate to admit you’re wrong.” As this story takes place in the 50s, and located in a small Arizona town, this attitude is actually quite realistic — "age trumps youth" was the motto of the 50s — as was the attitude towards women, when Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday) arrives in town – hired by the late Jacobs to work in their lab as a graduate student – one of the first things out of Dr. Hastings's mouth was this little gem: “I knew it would happen. Give women the vote and what do you get? Lady scientists.” The casual sexism was pretty much standard in films of that era, especially in the science fiction genre, but at least here Hastings is just kind of “kidding” around.


“Doctor, you’re kind of cute, so I will let that boorish remark slide.”

What follows is your standard monster movie mystery, with a variety of horrifying moments to keep our interest peeked. Professor Deemer is attacked by another person – who seems to also be suffering from acromegaly – and who (during his trashing of the lab) injects the Professor with something, and we're betting it’s not kindness. The destruction of the lab does result in our title creature escaping into the night, though at this point the tarantula is no bigger than a large dog, but eventually it will grow big enough to feed on neighboring cattle, as well as the neighboring ranchers themselves. When Hastings discovers large pools of spider venom at the crime scenes – more venom than even hundreds of spiders could create – he becomes very suspicious, and when he learns of Deemer’s experiments in creating a super-nutrient, one that causes test animals to grow rapidly, he starts to put two and two together, that there be mad science at work.


Two and two equals an eight legged nightmare.

The special effects for Tarantula as a whole are quite good – exempting the odd times when one of the tarantula’s legs would step outside the matte lines – but what is the real standout is the make-up effects that Bud Westmore developed for this film’s version of acromegaly, as they are purely terrifying. Poor Professor Deemer was injected with his “super nutrient,” and we get to watch in horror as over time his face and hands morph into grotesqueness. John Agar and Mara Corday have great screen chemistry, and their scenes together helps keep our interest between monster attacks, and Agar’s country doctor doesn’t even let a giant spider cockblock him, brushing off a monster induced rockslide as if it was nothing more than an annoyance. Mara “Call me Steve” is a spunky scientist who isn’t just around to be menaced and saved – though this does happen – for even though she’s only a graduate student, the film doesn’t treat her intelligence as anything less than that of our male hero.

Question: Why do giant monsters insist on peeking through windows to check out women?

Then we have Leo G. Carroll who, though playing the standard movie scientist “Who should not meddle in God’s domain,” provides his character with a bit more pathos than what you’d expect to find in a movie about a giant arachnid tossing cars around and eating people. Overall, Tarantula is one of the best example of the 50s sci-fi monster movies, with good characters to root for and a monster that is universally feared. 'Cause seriously, who wouldn’t be afraid of a hundred-foot high spider? So if you haven’t seen this classic monster movie, I do recommend you hunting it down, before it hunts you.

Final Thoughts:

• The film of course ignores Galileo's square-cube principle, as a creature exponentially grown to giant size would be crushed under its own weight.
• How Deemer plans to save mankind from starvation, by creating a super nutrient, is never made clear. All we see is his test animals that either become fully mature in a matter of hours, or grow gigantic. Not sure how injecting that into humans is all that helpful.
• The desert is a big place, but it’s still surprising how a hundred-foot tall spider manages to keep things on the down-low for so long.
• People would not be the prey of a creature the size we see here – a hundred-foot high spider tearing apart a house, looking for the human prey inside, would be like me busting up a dollhouse to find a couple of peanuts. Way too much effort for the end result.
• Nice uncredited cameo of Clint Eastwood as the lead fighter pilot who napalms the giant tarantula.


I bet the town smelt like burnt spider for days.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Overlord (2018) – Review

Genre mash-ups can be a lot fun, and when it's horror with another genre, the results can be quite surprising – horror-comedy being one of the more prevalent of these – but one horror combo that doesn’t get a lot of love is the horror/war movie mash-up, which is why Overlord is such a treat. The best way to describe this movie is by picturing Easy Company from Band of Brothers encountering a Nazi version of the Umbrella Corporation from Resident Evil, and if that doesn’t sound like fun to you, then we have nothing further to discuss.

The plot of Overlord is fairly basic; a squad of paratroopers is air-dropped into France in advance of the D-Day invasion, their mission? To take out a Nazi radio installation located in the tower of an old church. But when they reach the quaint French village where the church is located, things don’t go quite as expected. Turns out an evil Nazi scientist – one who clearly went to the Josef Mengele School of Medicine – is experimenting with a strange and mysterious liquid compound that had been discovered beneath the church, and the result of these experiments could lead to the end of the Free World and the birthing of a Thousand Year Reich.


Can you say unstoppable undead Nazi soldiers?  I knew you could.

Directed by Julius Avery, from a story and screenplay by Billy Ray, Overlord is an incredibly solid war movie, from the thrilling perilous night drop – which results in about 90% of the squad being lost or killed – right up until our surviving heroes hook-up with a French woman named Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier), who is able to take them to her town where the German radio installation is located, and where they hunker down to figure out how four men are going to fight through a hundred German soldiers and destroy that tower. Up to this point, we'd been experiencing a taught and action filled war movie – with enemy troops and landmines threatening our heroes at every turn – but when our intrepid soldiers encounter the sadistic and part-time rapist SS Hauptsturmführer Wafner (Pilou Asbæk), things go from grim to downright terrifying.


You know it’s a bad day when a stroll through enemy territory is the easiest thing you’ll do.

Overlord doesn’t worry about having big stars to bring in an audience, but the ones they have on hand do fantastic work here, especially Jovan Adepo as Pvt. Ed Boyce, the green recruit who may not have the killing instinct needed to survive this mmission.The character of Boyce is beautifully counterpointed by Cpl. Ford (Wyatt Russell) as the “been there done that” seasoned soldier, and Ford is damn well going to accomplish this mission no matter the cost, a point of view that doesn’t always sit well with Boyce. It’s this kind of conflict that brings a little spice to the proceedings, and stops the film from just being a two-hour version of Wolfenstein. Now, our little band of heroes may come off as a little cliché – the required Brooklyn guy is found front and center – but this kind of works in the film’s favour, as it puts the audience at ease with the feel of war films of the past, and that allows the filmmakers to easily pull the rug out from under us when we come face to face with undead Nazis.


And it’s a very gory and bloody rug at that.

Simply put, this film is tons of fun – when our plucky heroes aren’t mowing down German soldiers like stalks of wheat, they're running down dark corridors with a series of nasty monsters hard on their heels – and the CGI blood and gore is kept to a minimum as practical effects are allowed free reign in this film. We get characters rushing off to complete separate missions, whether it be to rescue a small French boy, or plant demolition charges to complete their mission, and then there are taught character moments that lets us get to know our heroes between moments of humor and outright horror, and it's director Julius Avery who manages to keep all these balls perfectly juggled while constantly upping the ante. If any movie could be described as “edge of your seat entertainment,” it would be Overlord, from the opening terrifying airdrop sequence to the film’s final moments of nail biting horror, it grabs hold of you and never lets go. If you are a fan of the 2008 Ray Stevenson film Outpost, or the Nazi zombie movie Dead Snow, you would be doing yourself a big disservice if you missed Overlord.


There is a lot to love in this film.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Supergirl (1984) – Review

It was in the year 1984 that we saw Supergirl’s first appearance outside the pages of DC comics, which was pretty sad considering her cousin Superman had been appearing in serials, cartoons, television shows and movies dating as far back as the 1940s. Yet it wasn’t until the success of the Christopher Reeve movies that anyone thought to bring this comic book character to life. Now, female superheroes as a genre didn’t have much of a history outside of comic books, the Linda Carter Wonder Woman series being the only notable one at the time, but with Superman III only pulling in about $60 million dollars (as opposed to the first two movies both easily clearing the $100 million dollar mark), Alexander and Ilya Salkind decided to branch out their Superman franchise and give the Girl of Steel her shot.

The movie opens in the magnificent Kryptonian community of Argo City, which kind of looks like a crystal hippie commune lit by orbiting stadium lights. Inside, we are introduced to young Kara Zor-El (Helen Slater) and her mentor Zaltar (Peter O'Toole), the genius mind behind the creation of Argo City. We find Zaltar playing around with a small orb called the Omegahedron, which he “borrowed” from the city guardians so that he could create a bizarre facsimile of a tree. Kara admonishes him for doing this because the Omegahedron is the device that provides power and air to the city, which one must admit is fairly irresponsible, and leads one to ask, "How can a person just get a hold of device that is solely responsible keeping the people of Argo City alive?" Well, for starters the entire city is made up of a series of rooms with no walls, so apparently security is not an issue, and this comes from the fact that Argo City is viewed as a community of perfect harmony. That residents of Argo City all walk around looking as if they are in some kind of drug-induced state of ecstasy explains how such an important device could be borrowed without anyone noticing.


Argo City brought to you by the makers of Quaaludes.

While Zaltar is discussing explorations into outer space with Kara’s mother (Mia Farrow), we see Kara herself screwing around with the Omegahedron, and with it she brings to life a large dragonfly that quickly proceeds to fly around erratically until eventually puncturing a hole in the city’s saran wrap like exterior wall. This causes a vacuum breach and the Omegahedron is sucked out into space, thus dooming the inhabitants of Argo City to a slow and painful death. Zaltar states that as this is all his fault — which it really is — he will venture off into space after the missing device, in a small craft that he will pilot through something called the binary chute: "a pathway from Innerspace to outer space." But before he has a chance to explain his plan, Kara hops in the spacecraft and takes off in it herself.

Note: According to Zaltar, Argo City is located in “Innerspace” which is apparently a pocket of trans-dimensional space and not inside Martin Short.

In Superman: The Movie, baby Kal-El was placed in a spacecraft so that he would survive the destruction of Krypton, while in this movie we have Kara Zor-El stealing a spacecraft to flee the world she herself doomed. This is a very key difference in plot and character development between the films. Sure, her plan isn’t to abandon her people to a horrible death, a fate that she would be completely responsible for, but to retrieve the Omegahedron and return it to Argo City — regardless of her noble motives, though, this is a less than heroic way to introduce our main character. In the comics, Argo City was a surviving fragment of Krypton, and Kara’s parents sent her to Earth when the city was doomed by a meteor shower. One can understand the filmmakers not wanting to use that premise, as it’s pretty much the same origin story as Superman’s, but having her accidentally dooming the city seems to be a rather odd direction to go. Things get even stranger when she arrives on Earth – popping out of a lake in full Supergirl regalia – where she proceeds to fly around as if she doesn’t have a care in the world.


“I have a vague notion that I should be doing some important, but nevermind, time for more flying”

The Salkind Superman movies are guilty of giving kyrptonians bizarre powers – in Superman II we saw that General Zod suddenly had finger-pointing powers of levitation, and Superman himself gets that wonderful “kiss of forgetfulness” power – and in this movie the first thing Supergirl does is pick a flower and make it bloom with her heat vision. But her most startling power is her ability to morph from her Supergirl persona to her secret identity of Linda Lee as if by magic. There is no running into a phone booth to change here, not even a quick Wonder Woman costume spin change, but instead she just calmly walks through the woods as her Supergirl costume slowly shifts into Earth attire and her hair changes from blonde to brunette. This is basically magic and not any kind of super power, and it’s this change into her secret identity that brings forth my biggest issue with this film, and that would be "Why in the hell does she bother with a secret identity at all?" Does going undercover at a local high school somehow aid her in the search for the Omegahedron? The answer to that is decidedly no.


Your people are dying, you colossal idiot!

Before leaving Argo City she heard her mother state that within a few days, “Our lights will grow dim and the very air we breathe, so thin.” And yet we see Supergirl’s first action on Earth – aside from flying around and looking at horses – is to enroll in Midvale all-girls school, as if she has all the time in the world. And how does she spend her time there?  Well her amazing powers are used to save her new friend Lucy Lane (Maureen Teefy), younger sister to Lois Lane, from some bullies during a field hockey game, and later she thwarts those same bullies when they try to scald the other girls in the school showers — talk about "With great power comes moderate responsibility!" And does any of this bring her closer to finding the Omegahedron? If we look at the origin of Superman, he arrived on Earth and was found and raised by the Kents, but he had no outlying mission other than to eventually become one of the world’s greatest heroes, and it’s his persona of Superman that’s actually his secret identity, Clark Kent is who he really is and the guy in blue tights was created to keep his loved ones safe. This is not the case here with Supergirl in this movie, as there is no reason for her to take on a second identity – other than to maybe pad the run-time – as she should be spending every waking hour searching for the Omegahedron. The filmmakers don’t seem to have a clue as to what to do with her character, they clearly don’t want her to be a carbon copy of Superman, but then they saddle her with a mild-mannered identity that serves no purpose to the story that they’re trying to tell, and because she is a female, they bizarrely thought the best introduction of a “Supergirl” would be to have her first encounter with people of Earth to be with a couple of would-be rapists.


How dumb do you have to be to attempt to rape a girl in a Superman costume?

If we were to assume that these would-be rapists thought that this was just a young woman in a Halloween costume that would be one thing, but she lifts the first asshat up by his chin and throws him through a fence, and yet his partner still proceeds with the attempted rape – he doesn’t even let the fact that she melts his knife with her heat vision phase him – and thus the audience is left wondering, “Who in the hell wrote this thing?” Of course, idiot rapists aren’t this movie's number one threat to Supergirl – that’s just a threat to good taste – because the real “big baddie” is a power-hungry witch named Selena (Faye Dunaway), who while picnicking with her warlock friend Nigel (Peter Cook) has the Omegahedron literally fall into her lap, or to be more accurate, into her cheese fondue. The one positive thing I can say about the Supergirl movie is that it looks like Peter O’Toole and Faye Dunaway had a lot of fun with their roles, and especially Dunaway with the high camp aspect of her character.


  Don’t screw with Faye Dunaway.

Coming up with a proper villain wasn't all that easy for the Salkinds, for at this point in history the character of Supergirl didn’t have much of a rogues gallery of her own – even today the likes of Silver Banshee and Bizzaro-Girl are not known outside of the most avid comic book readers – but this movie doesn’t bother to use anything from the DC canon. Instead, we get a witch who lives in an abandoned carnival, a location that screams for the Scooby Gang to investigate, and the conflict between Supergirl and Selena seems to stem more from the fact that they have the hots for the same guy, and not because Selena is in possession of the item that is required to save Supergirl’s people.


Note: The love interest is played by Hart Bochner, who played the idiot Ellis in Die Hard.

I must say it’s a shame that writers insisted on pitting a female superhero against a female supervillain, as if Supergirl would be no match for the likes of Lex Luthor or Brainiac, which is why I was pleasantly surprised that the latest Wonder Woman movie had her up against Ares the God of War, and not her more notable female antagonists like Cheetah and Circe. That Selena here is a practitioner in the dark arts does make her a credible threat, as magic is one of Superman’s key weaknesses – right up there with Kryptonite – but this element of the comic book was never really addressed in the movies, and Supergirl counters most of Selena’s spells without much effort, so not much drama to be found there. The film’s key threat to our hero is when Selena manages to conjure up supernatural beings of "darkness and shadow," but this had me questioning how the Omegahedron works, and how exactly is Selena able to use it? We are told it is the power source that keeps Argo City alive so how exactly does that translate to working black magic and summoning dark forces?

Filmmaking Tip #28 – The biggest tip-off to your effect budget being on the smallish side is when you include an “invisible monster” in your movie, because if you’re not The Forbidden Planet, it’s just sad.

Aside from two confrontations with mystical monsters, we don’t get much in the way of cool Supergirl action; she beats up the aforementioned rapists, saves Lucy from a nasty hit during that field hockey game, thwarts the evil bullies' shower scheme, saves Selena’s boy toy from a magically animated bulldozer, and later rescues him from Selena-controlled bumper cars. None of this is particularly impressive, and during all of these events you can’t help but ask the question, “Why and the hell are you worrying about all this shit when everyone back in Argo City are about to die?” We count at least three different night scenes before the third act, and at least a couple of more days must go by after Selena banishes Supergirl to the Phantom Zone and takes over Midvale – don’t ask me how an amateur occultist even knows about the Phantom Zone – so if we go by Supergirl’s mother's statement as fact, that they only had few days left before “Our lights will grow dim and the very air we breathe, so thin," then this means by the time Supergirl eventually defeats Selena, all of her people back in Argo City would be long dead.


But hey, at least she was able to conquer sixth dimensional geometry.

This movie is supposed to take place in the same universe as the Christopher Reeve movies, and Reeve himself was originally set to appear in Supergirl but he wisely bowed out at the last minute, yet references to his character come across as rather odd, and they raise some rather interesting questions.
• At the beginning of the film Kara and Zaltar discuss her cousin living on Earth, but exactly how they know of his surviving Krypton’s destruction is never addressed.
• Kara pops out of her trans-dimensional craft suddenly wearing the Supergirl costume. Did this little space pod have some kind of costume manufacturing device inside it?
• To enroll in the Midvale all-girl school, Kara adopts the persona of Linda Lee, forging a reference letter from her cousin Clark Kent, but how would a person from Argo City even know what a school reference letter was, let alone how to forge one?
• And again how are the people in Argo City keeping tabs on Kal-El? Does Zaltar have some magical viewer that allows them all to watch the adventures of Superman?
• The Phantom Zone that Supergirl is banished to is very different from what we saw in the first two Superman movies. We do see her briefly in what I call the “Queen Album Cover” that we saw General Zod and his flunkies trapped within in the previous films, but then we see her next on some desert alien landscape. If this big barren world is the Phantom Zone, why before did we only see the three Kryptonian criminals with their faces mashed up against it like a pane of glass?


The limbo-like Phantom Zone from the comics.


The Queen album cover Phantom Zone from Superman: The Movie


The wasteland Phantom Zone from Supergirl.

This was actress Helen Slater’s first movie role – an after-school special being her only other credit before this film – and she does remarkably well as the naïve young Supergirl, which considering the fact that she is facing off against the legendary Faye Dunaway is pretty damn impressive. It’s just a shame that the filmmakers didn’t quite have the handle on the character that they wanted her to depict. Is she here to save the world from an evil witch or to find her city’s lost power source and save her people? The scripts waffling of motivations keeps her character from being even remotely sympathetic, which Slater is certainly trying her best to pull off, and this is the key reason for the film doing so poorly at the box office and why we never got a sequel.


Is she a Superhero or a bloody Disney Princess?

Director Jeannot Szwarc was mostly known for his television work and feature films like Jaws 2 and Somewhere in Time, which didn't quite prepare him for the a big superhero fantasy genre. Thus, Supergirl ended up being a muddled mess, one that just so happens to contain a couple of fun performances. Now, if Szwarc had been given a decent budget and a script that made even a lick of sense, this could have spawned another franchise, but instead we got a movie that meandered for a little over two hours and then abruptly ended. Supergirl isn't the worst superhero movie out there, but it is certainly guilty of wasting potential, and only worth checking out for nostalgic reasons.


“Supergirl, will you stop screwing around and just find that damn Omegahedron!”

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Lake Placid: Legacy (2018) – Review

If you can make a six-film franchise out of the comedy classic Tremors – a movie about burrowing monsters terrorizing a small town in Nevada – then why can’t a series about giant man-eating crocodiles terrorizing people in Maine work, too? One could, of course, argue the point that neither Tremors nor the original Lake Placid themselves warranted sequels, let alone five of them, but with cheap computer generated effects and low budget casting, there's money to be made in them there hills…or lakes. With Lake Placid: Legacy, we get the typical entry that tries to pretend the previous sequels didn’t exist – a tactic familiar with fans of the Godzilla franchise – without any reference to the Bickerman family that made up the bulk of the previous sequels, as this sixth installment is to be considered a direct sequel to the 1999 original, in a chapter that would answer all those questions nobody was asking.

A group of Eco-terrorists, led by a gruff, bearded moron named Sam (Tim Rozon), are goaded into taking one final mission – my God, they were just two days from retirement – by Sam’s old partner Dane (Maxim Baldry). So the group heads to a mysterious location that somehow has been removed from Google Maps, and if our intrepid explorers reach this spot before Dane and his crew does – which is hard to believe possible as  Dane sent his video taunt from that location – then they will win $100,000 dollars. Now, I’ve seen movies with more implausible and ridiculous premises than what we have here – the latest Predator movie being a perfect example of this – but with Lake Placid: Legacy, not only is the reasoning for our cast of characters journeying into danger moronic, and so thin that it’s basically transparent, but there is almost no reason for doing so.


None of these asshats question why a $100 grand bounty would be offered for such a task.

The group is pushed into accepting this challenge by fellow member Spenser (Craig Stein), who wins them over with the unassailable argument of “The money, seriously.” Yet when they arrive at this mysterious lake, he’s the one who immediately starts bitching about everything that goes wrong, as if he was not the one who bullied them into taking the dare in the first place. That he is a black man in a horror movie should have been the first red flag that him taking this challenge was a bad idea. Joining the group are two local guides, who are along simply to add more food to the menu, and all they do is complain about how this job could be dangerous and also very illegal. Which it is, but what makes this hilariously stupid is that the chief guide, an ex-Marine named Pennie (Alisha Bailey), tries to reassure her partner that guiding a group of Eco-terrorists onto private property is not "on them," as if only Sam and his crew would be found guilty of trespassing. I may not have gone to law school, but I don't think she quite understands how trespassing works; “We only brought them here” is not a good defense.


“I survived fighting in Afghanistan, and will not be the first black person eaten in this film!”

Our group of Eco-Idiots then discover Dane’s campsite, which has been completely torn apart — with blood and entrails leading off into the forest — and when Dane’s GoPro is discovered revealing found footage of “the attack,” we get the asshat Spenser claiming that Dane is probably punking them, but the belief that it's all a hoax quickly ends when they find the upper torso of one of Dane’s people hanging from a tree. Next, they come across a long abandoned facility – that was mentioned in Dane’s found footage – so they decide to go inside in hopes of finding a radio and medical supplies, and thus, the rest of the film is mostly these idiots wandering up and down dark and dank corridors waiting to be eaten.

The movie takes place in a mostly dark setting to hide how bad the CGI for the giant crocodile is, and its embarrassingly bad appearance is the only source of true humor in the film, which is a pretty big misstep when you consider that it was the use of humor that made the original film a success in the first place.


Sorry guys, but the red filter doesn’t hide how bad your croc looks.

In the position of “slumming actor” is Joe Pantoliano, who plays the villainous Henderson, the man that hired Dane to get him into this abandoned facility so that he could retrieve a DNA sample from the giant crocodile. Apparently, this facility was once the home of an evil conglomerate's research lab – like there are any other kinds - and they were making giant crocodiles to "change medicine forever," as a stem cell from one of these crocs could save countless lives, and this was all to be achieved by somehow combining DNA from an extinct dinosaur croc with a modern one. Yeah, that checks out. When the place was shut down, one of the crocodile handlers left with one of the specimens, to his home in Lake Placid, Maine. So that’d be the whole “legacy” part of the title, but it basically means nothing to the piece of crap we’re watching.


“Could someone please plug me back into The Matrix?”

Lake Placid: Legacy is a perfect example of a direct-to-video sequel that is just phoning it in, as there isn’t one ounce of originality to be found anywhere in its 90-minute run-time, all we get is just a group of morons running into the dark facility and then some of them running back out of the facility into the dark forest, then someone will run back into the facility, all while the CGI monster pops up like a teleporting Jason Voorhees to kill them. It is all so redundant and lame. There's nothing on display here that even a bad movie-lover could sink his teeth into, as boredom is the operative word here, and even the perquisite gore is lame and goofy. Case in point, the croc seems to seize most its prey head first – even though we often see the victim’s hanging out of the maw with head and arms flailing – but then for some reason the killer croc leaves the bloody upper torso lying around uneaten, it even seems to have a trophy room where it stashes the remains.


Is this croc a serial killer or just a real picky eater?

I thought Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell was bad – and that film really is terrible – but Lake Placid: Legacy lowers the franchise sequel bar even further with this entry, as not only is the plot ludicrous and malformed, but the entire cast, especially poor Joe Pantoliano, all look to be having the worst time of their lives. This film is not in the “so bad it’s good” category, as there is simply no fun to be had while viewing it, and poking fun at this entry would be like shooting fish in a barrel, only not as entertaining. If you happen to come across this film while flipping channels one night, do not, repeat, do not stop and watch this thing; just keep on surfing.


This is one legacy you don’t want to inherit.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Impulse: Season One (2018) – Review

In 2008, director Doug Liman took Stephen Gould’s YA science fiction novel Jumper to the big screen – while completely abandoning everything that made the book so popular, yet ten years later, and we find Liman back with another run out in the universe of Jumper, only this time as a web series for YouTube Premium. Now, the series may be called Impulse, but other than the main protagonist being a teenage girl dealing with the travails of high school, there is literally nothing in this series that bares any resemblance to the book of the same name – or even with what we saw in the movie Jumper, for that matter – and aside from the power of teleportation, I’d be hard-pressed to find any ties between this series and the book. But funny enough, this didn’t bother me at all – unlike how pissed off I was with the Jumper movie – as the show is a much darker and more serious young adult drama than I had expected.

Sixteen year-old Henrietta "Henry" Coles (Maddie Hasson) is an outsider, she dresses in army surplus attire and enjoys sneaking a pot break when no one is looking, and part of this is due to the vagabond nature of her life with her mother Cleo Coles (Missi Pyle), as Cleo has left four relationships and four towns in her wake. The fifth and current relationship is with Thomas Hope (Matt Gordon), a widower with a teenage daughter of his own named Jenna (Sarah Desjardins), a girl who does everything she can to fit in with those at school and to be the perfect daughter. There is not a lot of harmony with this group, which isn't helped by Henry’s “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, or her being caught by the police for tagging — her car being sold to pay the fine — and this all adds up to a high-stress household, but it is when Henry goes out with the town’s “Golden Boy” Clay Boone (Tanner Stine) that things go completely off the rails for her.  Early on, we learn that Henry is afflicted with severe seizures that she takes medications to control, but we soon discover that medication isn't going to help at all with what's really going on with Henry, and when Clay Boone fails to understand the “No means no” aspect of their making out, the little shit soon finds himself paralyzed and in a coma. Turns out her seizures are stress related and sexual assault is about as stressful as it gets, so during this particular seizure, Clay’s truck seems to slowly implode, and then Henry teleports to the safety of her bedroom.

It is this horrific assault that colours the nine remaining episodes of season one; it would be easy for a “superhero show” to use such a sexual assault in an exploitative manner, but showrunner Lauren LeFranc works hard to prevent this from being the case, and the show admirably deals with the emotional fallout of such an event, from the victim questioning her own actions to the effect it has on those around her. Maddie Hasson gives us a full-fledged character with her depiction of Henry, a person who is both strong and flawed at the same time, a young woman truly in search of who she is. Backing her up is actress Sarah Desjardins as the “step-sister,” a young woman questioning her own sexuality and place in the world, and these two strong young women get unusual direction from classmate Townes Linderman (Daniel Maslany), an autistic teen who is the first to clue into the fact that Henry is gifted in ways more commonly found in the pages of The X-Men.

Unfortunately for Henry, this small town has more than teen rapists to worry about, as Clay’s father Bill Boone (David James Elliott) not only owns one of the town’s most successful businesses, a big car dealership, but it’s also the front for a drug trafficking syndicate that receives its supply of illegal opioids from an evil Canadian Mennonite family — and that's not something one sees in your typical drama superpower television show. So poor Henry gets sucked into the world of the Boone family, which she most decidedly wants no part of, and all the while she's trying to keep the secret of what actually happened to Clay on that fateful day – seizure-inducing implosions and teleportation being a hard thing to sell to your average parent or police officer. The balance of Henry’s tough-girl exterior and inner fragility is exceptional, and seeing her attempting to reconcile the events of the attack is heartwrenching at times. The only negative comment I can really make about this show is that it tends to put the “girl can teleport” on the backburner a little too often.

The show hints at a secret organization that is hunting teleporters – we see a fight between a teleporter and some poor dude as the show’s cold open – but we don’t learn much about them or what their deal is, aside from the occasional appearance of Callum Keith Rennie as some shadowy agent tracking down Jumpers. As mentioned earlier, this series has little to nothing to do with the book it is apparently based upon – there is certainly no such sexual assault on our heroine in the book – nor does this series have the sense of fun and freedom that one would associate with the ability to be anywhere in the blink of an eye. In this first season, Henry barely has any control over this power — no cool teleporting combat scenes that are found in the book — as it's treated as more of a curse than a gift, and we can only hope that season two will lighten things up a tad.

Stray Thoughts:

• The Mennonite drug cartel reminded me of the villainous Amish in Cinemax’s Banshee.
• Clay’s older brother Lucas's (Craig Arnold) response to Henry’s refusal to discuss Clay’s accident is to toss her into the trunk of his car. This guy makes Breaking Bad's Jesse Pinkman look like a genius.
• Henry calls upon an old boyfriend for help, and then he kind of vanishes from the show.
• The visual look of the “Jumping” is quite different from what the movie depicted, and I like how the destructive nature of it lessens over time as if she is getting better at it.
• The shadowy organization hunting teleporters does not look to be the same as the religious zealots found in the movie, and that is a definite plus.

Impulse gives us a strong first season, and the young cast all give fantastic performances with fully-formed characters, but with much of this season focusing on dark subject matter, we don’t get a lot of the “fun moments” I’d expected from a show about a teleporting teenager, so I hope come next year we find the series balancing the darker mysterious elements with a lighter tone as well. Regardless of any tonal qualms, I heartily recommend checking this show out, just don’t expect it to be anything like the source material.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hell Night (1981) – Review

The Golden Age of the slasher film ran from 1968 to 1974 (dominated by directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven), and smack dab in the middle of this era was a little gem called Hell Night. Taking a break from such "seminal" works as Wild Horse Hank and Roller Boogie, Linda Blair returned to the horror genre to play the final girl in a film that both used the tropes of the genre, but also broke new ground — and though Hell Night may never be as well-known as Halloween or Friday the 13th, it has stood the test of time while other lesser examples have fallen to the wayside.

 The movie opens with Alpha Sigma Rho president Peter Bennett (Kevin Brophy) hosting a pledge party for their annual “Hell Night,” where four pledges, Marti Gaines (Linda Blair), Seth (Vincent Van Patten), Jeff Reed (Peter Barton), and Denise Dunsmore (Suki Goodwin), are taken to the notorious Garth Manor, an abandoned mansion with a horrifying history. To win their spots in their respective fraternities or sororities, the pledges must last the night – six hours until dawn. Peter has no intention of making things easy on them, however, starting with the reciting of the chilling history lesson of Garth Manor.


Trivia: Exterior locations were shot at the Kimberly Crest Mansion.

Horror Trope #16 –The Spooky Legend: We learn from Peter that a man named Ramon Garth, who with his wife Lillian had four horribly deformed children; a mongoloid boy named Morris; Suzanna, a girl so hideous you could not tell her gender; Margaret, who could neither speak, see nor hear; and Andrew, who for his first fourteen years never uttered a word, just grunted like an animal. Twelve years ago, Raymond decided he could no longer live in that kind of freak show — fourteen years being more than enough for him — so he murdered his wife and three of the children, before hanging himself. Poor Andrew was forced to witness the slaughter of his family, but when the police arrived, they found a note from Raymond detailing the murder of his wife and three children, yet only three bodies were found, and no one ever saw Andrew again. To this day, it is believed that Andrew stills lives somewhere on the grounds of Garth Manor.


I must say the fake ghost that Peter comes up with is scarier than the actual killer.

Spooky stories aren’t the only thing in Peter’s arsenal, for once the four pledges have paired off for the night – Marti the smart girl with Jeff the kid from an affluent home, and surfer boy Seth with party girl Denise – he arrives back at Garth Manor along with two other students: May (Jenny Neumann) and Scott (Jimmy Sturtevant), and they proceed to rig up some scares for the pledges; hidden speakers that issue blood curdling screams, a ghost apparition that stalks after Marti, and a corpse to drop in at an inopportune moment, but unfortunately for Peter and his two stooges, things don’t go quite as planned. Turns out there may be some truth to the legend of deformed Andrew stalking the grounds of Garth Manor, and one by one our cast of characters are picked off by a hideous figure.


Getting ahead in a sorority is tough business.

One key element that makes Hell Night stand out from its slasher contemporaries is that we aren’t just waiting, if not actively hoping, for the characters to get murdered, as they are all quite likable and we are given enough time to come to care about each of them. This is not something that can be said about your average cast of a Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street movie, and even Peter and his pranking co-conspirators are not treated like villainous assholes, as none of their pranks would have harmed anyone and are actually pretty tame when compared to real hazing practices you hear about today. Another element that sets Hell Night apart is how gorgeous the film looks; cinematographer Mac Ahlberg does amazing work with shadow and candlelight, and every actor should be sending him Christmas cards every year for how good he makes them look.


It’s a horror film lit as if it was Barry Lyndon.

Horror Trope #9“Stay here, I’ll go and check it out” Now, just because all the characters in Hell Night are likable doesn’t mean they don’t do vastly stupid things. Whenever Jeff isn’t abandoning Marti to check out some noise he’s heard, he's leading her into the bowels of the manor, on what one must assume is some kind of suicide mission. Refusing to be left alone – again – Marti follows him down a secret passageway, the one the killer had just fled through, into a cave system deep below the house. And what exactly is Jeff’s reasoning for doing this? Well, when Marti comments that what they are doing is "crazy," he responds, “I’m not stopping until I get him. He knows this house better than we do and if we don’t get him now, he’s gonna get us.” Call me crazy, but following a killer into a maze of tunnels, passageways that he knows better than you do, is not conducive to a long life. Even worse is when they eventually come across the killer, Jeff’s immediate reaction is to turn around and run away, even though he is armed with a pitchfork and the killer has nothing.


What was your goddamn plan, Jeff?

Hell Night is a beautifully shot film, with a nice cast of talented young actors, and though it may have a slower pace than your average slasher film, it still manages to keep you at the edge of your seat as our characters are chased through cobwebbed hallways, down dank tunnels and through dark hedge mazes, all leading to the big “final girl” confrontation. Director Tom DeSimone has orchestrated a nice little horror gem — with the required jump-scares but without gratuitous nudity and excessive gore — making this a horror movie that could be considered “fun for the whole family.” Yet as good as the film is, it's still not quite perfect, but to get into that I must veer into spoiler territory.
At one point in the film, Seth manages to escape the grounds of Garth Manor, helped over the locked gate by Marti and Jeff, and he makes his way to the local police station. It's there that he finds that the police have become fed up with the drunken antics of the fraternities and thus don’t take his claims of murder seriously, and so Seth steals a shotgun from the police evidence locker and heads back to Garth Manor. Re-entering the grounds, through a hole he discovers in the steel fence, he encounters the hideous creature we assume is Andrew Garth. They struggle for a bit and Seth manages to come out on top as he shoots and kills Andrew, but of course things can't be that easy. He runs into the manor house to inform Marti and Jeff that their hell night is truly over, only to be suddenly killed. How is that possible, you ask?  The killer looked very, very dead, and as a matter of fact, the guy Seth fought is truly dead – though we were still subjected to the “killer isn’t really dead” jump scare, but then Seth put a second round into the bastard – so who is this deformed monstrosity that just killed our supposed hero?


“Here’s Morris!”

Now in the story told earlier by Peter, we learned that the son named Morris had his head bashed it, which sounds rather fatal, but it is also mentioned that only three corpses were found — which I guess would then be Norman Garth, his wife Lillian and their two daughters — so somehow Morris survived the head bashing and has been living in hiding with his brother Andrew. If this sounds a little thin, and kind of plugged in, you’d be right, as Hell Night’s screenwriter Randy Feldman didn’t find out about the second killer reveal until he went to the film’s premier. Apparently, the producers wanted to juice up the ending, so they decided to add another deformed madman to chase Linda Blair around for the final act. So for those of you who thought the two-killer concept in Scream was completely original, you’d be wrong, it’s just that Wes Craven did it better. Regardless of how clunking the last acts “startling reveal” was, it doesn’t lessen the fun and thrills to be had in viewing Hell Night, and I can heartily recommend this one to fans of the genre.

Stray Thoughts:

• What kind of pledge night consists of only four initiates?
• This Hell Night has been a yearly initiation for some time, so why did killings only happen on this particular night?
• Sleeping in 12 year-old bedding would be rather disgusting.
• Not sure how these yahoos pulled off the transparent ghost effect.
• Police would not ignore a report of murder, even if it was most likely a prank.
• Police also don’t tend to leave evidence lockers open to the public.
• Horror Trope #23 – Killer has trophy room of corpses.


Classic serial killer chic.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018) - Season One Review

A plucky heroine standing against supernatural forces is nothing new to television – Joss Whedon spent seven seasons exploring that with Buffy the Vampire Slayer – and now Netflix throws its hat in the ring with their adaptation of the comic book series that takes the sweet natured character of Sabrina, first introduced in Archie Comics back in 1962, into a decidedly darker and more horrific direction. Most of us are familiar with the character of Sabrina from the 90s television show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, starring Melissa Joan Hart, but talking cats and goofy shenanigans are not to be found in Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Instead, we have heaping helpings of gothic horror, dread and gore, where this plucky heroine must decide what path she will take — the dark path of the witch or the one of the mortal world. Of course, this series isn’t all blood, guts and demonology — as much as I'd like that — the show also deals heavily with Sabrina’s desire to keep her mortal friends, and that is where the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina stumbles the most as it tries to balance high school drama with the darker aspects of horror.

Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is half-witch/half-mortal, raised by her two aunts, Zelda (Miranda Otto) and Hilda (Lucy Davis) Spellman, and upon her sixteenth birthday, she is to attend her “Dark Baptism,” a ceremony that involves Sabrina signing her name into the Dark Lord’s book, and this is something Sabrina is hesitant to do. And why is that, you ask? Well it just so happens that Sabrina is in love with a mortal boy named Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch), and taking the dark path would mean abandoning him as well as her two best girlfriends Rosalind (Jaz Sinclair) and Suzie (Lachlan Watson). This is meant to be a tough decision, but given that we know little of Sabrina as a character, we can’t completely understand her dilemma, for the witches in this universe are evil, and I mean really, really evil – we’re talking murdering, cannibalistic servants of Lucifer who who utter "Praise Satan" at every opportunity – so Sabrina having any qualms about which path to take left me questioning her moral compass. Did her aunts somehow shelter her from the darker aspects of their world?  Did she think their extolling of "Praise Satan" was just some quaint old world affectation? The witches here are not some form of Wicca practitioners, who give offerings up to pagan gods, they have literally signed over their souls to the actual Devil.


There isn’t a lot of grey area if you are worshipping this dude.

This is the hardest aspect of the show to swallow; that the supposed nice girl Sabrina would be a party to any of this, and even as she makes a “Deal with the Devil” – forgoing the signing of the Dark Book but agreeing to attend classes at the Academy of the Unseen Arts – we have to question just how blindly naive this girl really is. Throughout the ten episode season we find Sabrina running to her aunts or fellow witches time and time again for advice – usually because of something stupid she has done — but they have all promised to serve Satan body and soul, so I can’t see their advice being all that unbiased. They are enthralled to the Father of Lies, how can she trust any of them, for Pete's sake! She even goes to a trio of seriously dangerous witches for help with school bullying.


Has she never seen the movie The Craft?

Kiernan Shipka does admirable work with the material given her – I don’t fault her for the complete lack of chemistry between Sabrina and Harvey – and the show is a visual feast of Gothic imagery that will have any fans of the genre salivating at almost every shot; the supporting cast as a whole brings a measure of substance to the show, even if their backstories are a little thin and unexplored – I do love Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) who is under house arrest for trying to blow up the Vatican – and the make-up and special effects are all pretty top notch, I just wish the showrunners had spent a little more time on figuring out how the “witch world” actually works. We are told that witches are not supposed to interfere with the mortal world, but they seem to hold down jobs and interact with them all the time, so what level of interaction is allowed?  Sabrina's dad married a mortal, and though frowned upon, it was allowed.


This show should have provided CliffNotes.

Then there is the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…sorry, I mean the Academy of the Unseen Arts, where Sabrina is to attend classes while apparently also going to her regular high school, and this had me wondering just how she can pull this off. Did the school’s headmaster Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle) lend her Hermione's Time-Turner?


Welcome to Bargain Basement Hogwarts.

The show doesn’t spend much time with exactly how the Academy of the Unseen Arts functions, we don’t in fact spend all that much time there at all – we see Sabrina joins the school choir and almost gets hazed to death, and that's about it – but as far as I can tell, the school only has two teachers: Father Blackwood and his wife who runs the choir. So not so much an evil school as it is a poorly manned community college, and this lacking could have easily been rectified if they’d spent more time on the witch world and less on the cliché high school drama that we are forced to wallow through at Sabrina’s regular school. Did we actually need another teen drama that deals with bullying, sexual identity, censorship and sexism? Worse is that Bronson Pinchot is wasted as the school's boorish principal, and is pretty much only trotted out when the writers remember he is there at all. And I’m not saying this show shouldn’t tackle such topics, science fiction and fantasy have always been able to take interesting spins on important social matters, but in this case, they do it in such a leaden and hackneyed fashion that it’s almost laughable.


“Let’s all go to the Malt Shop to discuss today’s lesson.”

On a more serious note, have you heard of the Salem Witch trials? I’m sure you have, but if not let’s just say it wasn’t a particularly shining moment in the history of America, as fourteen women and five men were found guilty of witchcraft and were executed — the key fact here being that they weren’t actually witches. Shocking, I know. Yet in this series, it clearly implies that the Salem Witches were in fact real witches, and that is all kinds of poor taste if you ask me, especially when this show blatantly depicts witches as being evil Satan worshipping villains. So are we now to believe that the citizens of Salem killed those people in self-defense? Working real life tragic events into your fiction is tricky business, and the people behind the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are about as subtle and tactful as a bull in a china shop.


Subtlety thy name is Netflix.

This review may seem quite harsh, and certain aspects of the show really deserve a good flogging, but the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina does have some good qualities – mostly in the casting and art direction – and if the showrunners could have pulled their collective heads out of their asses long enough come up with a consistent world of witches and mortals, we could have a really fun show on our hands.

Stray Observations:

• Zelda repeatedly murders her sister Hilda in a nod to the comic book House of Secrets, where Caine and Able do the same.
• Sabrina only agrees to attend the Academy of the Unseen Arts so that she can learn summoning and banishment. This is so she can take on the Dark Lord. Seriously, she expects to be able to banish Lucifer himself. Good luck with that.
• Every television set in Glendale seems to play nothing but black and white horror movies.
• Sabrina gets legal counsel from Daniel Webster of “The Devil and Daniel Webster” fame.
• Why would attempting to blow up the Vatican get a witch in trouble? They repeatedly call Christianity the "false church," so wouldn’t this be considered a plus in Satan’s book?
• Sabrina has a “Monkey’s Paw” dilemma that goes as good as can be expected.
• My favourite character is “Madame Satan,” as actress Michelle Gomez eats up every inch of scenery within reach, and she is a pure delight to watch.
• Sabrina is the key to a dark prophecy, because of course she is.


Can we please retire supernatural “Chosen Ones” for a while?