Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Creature Trilogy


THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON is one of the more notable monster movies from the 1950s. It is also one of the smartest movies from the era, which leaves you asking "who is the real monster?"

The film takes place in the Amazon, where a scientific expedition looking for fossils of animals over 150 million years old encounter The Gill Man, a man-like amphibian. As the explorers attempt to capture the creature they discover he is very dangerous, and very attached to Kay (Julie Adams), the fiancee of one of the scientists. After capturing The Gill Man using a product designed to sedate fish and make them rise to the top of the water, The Gill Man breaks free and kidnaps Kay.

Universal was not a stranger at this point to making horror movies that go much deeper into human emotion. Everyone who has seen FRANKENSTEIN feels compassion for the misunderstood monster. CREATURE is very much the same. A surviving prehistoric animal is being hunted simply for being different. Director Jack Arnold flawlessly crafted the film so that the entire time you are torn as to who is the real monster. The tension is endless, and the atmosphere of being hunted by your own prey in the middle of the Amazon is haunting. This is a fantastic film that truly is timeless.



Jack Arnold returns to direct the first sequel to the 1954 film, and does so with a decent amount of success. In REVENGE the Gill Man is once again hunted and captured where he is transported to a Florida park called Marine Land. Chained to the bottom of the tank, and gawked at as a tourist attraction, Gill Man gets increasingly upset. When he breaks free he again kidnaps a female scientist who was working with him. What ensues is a chase up the Floridian coast to catch him and rescue the girl before he makes his escape with her to the Ocean.

While this film is a decent follow up it severely lacks the atmosphere and tension the original possessed. The majority of the movie takes place at Marine Land, and there just isn't much atmosphere at a theme park. We do get glimpses at the humanity of Gill Man but again, they fall short of Arnold's original.



The third and final installment to the CREATURE trilogy The Gill Man is captured once again only this time it is with severe burn wounds from the result of a struggle between him and the expedition. As the scientists and doctors on the boat nurse him back to health, they soon discover that Gill Man is far closer to humans than previously thought. In an attempt to alter history and evolution Gill Man has been turned into an air breather.

The main problem with this installment was the amount of time spent on conflicts between humans and not the Gill Man. While it does lead to the films conclusion, they could have cut down on it without altering the effect it had at the end. The obvious budget constraints on this film were not too much of a problem given the storyline, though Gill Man's underwater scenes were all recycled from the previous films.

Director John Sherwood gave us back some of the tension and atmosphere that were missing in REVENGE during the finale and the last sequence really made you love and empathize with the Gill Man. It was pretty heartbreaking to say the least.


As a whole the trilogy is a very real look at how humans react with anything they don't fully understand and how we can learn from nature. And as horror movies they aren't too shabby either.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)


Tarantino's long talked about, greatly anticipated INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS has arrived. The world war 2 exploitation styled film which shares its name (sans spelling) with Enzo Castellari's film from 1978 (which happens to be one of QT's favorite movies) is everything I hoped for, and more than what I expected.

Set in German occupied France, we are quickly introduced to SS officer Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz in a brilliant performance) who is known across the region as "The Jew Hunter", and it doesn't take long to see why. The opening chapter of the 5 we will see, which is heavily reminiscent of the great spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, quickly shows off Landa's talents of being a despicable, disgusting villain who doesn't give you any choice to love him at the same time. His methodical web-weaving and overall charm leave you feeling conflicted towards him. The entire chapter takes place on the LaPadite's dairy farm where Landa is interrogating the father to gather information on the location of a Jewish family that is unaccounted for. The entire chapter is packed with tension and suspense until the slow-burn concludes in breathtaking fashion that Sergio Leone would be proud of.

In chapter 2 we meet the Basterds. Led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), the special group consists of 8 other Jewish soldiers who have been dropped behind enemy lines to strike fear through the hearts of the Nazis. They strike the chord they were looking for as throughout the movie we see examples of their handiwork taking effect as the locals and SS are terrified of seeing scalped Nazi soldiers and survivors with swastikas carved into the foreheads. This is where we see much of what the trailers and TV spots showed us. The Bear Jew, Donny Donowitz (played very well by Eli Roth) is possibly the most interesting of the Basterds. His preferred weapon is a baseball bat, and we see him use it quite graphically and extensively and then give us post-Nazi smashing commentary as if Ted Williams had just hit a home run out of Fenway Park and on to Landsdown Street. This is possibly the most lively of the segments, and certainly the one that got the most crowd reaction.

From here on out it becomes a twisting, winding road toward the finale. Tarantino finally realizes his sheer genius with writing at this point. The story never stalls, the dialogue is never wasted and is constantly tense and working for a payoff.The Basterds come in contact with double agents, to bring down the Nazi high command at a film premiere that they will all be in attendance at including The Fuhrer.

Within the 151 minute run time, Quentin Tarantino showcases every bit of his talent. His direction is solid, his writing is crisp as always and never unnecessary. Every word of dialogue, every bit of story is used to build tension and aid the plot. And you never feel like you are sitting in a 2.5 hour movie. It was an absolute pleasure to see this film play out, and no review will do it complete justice. There are many nuanced roles that will never get the attention they deserve without going into pages of detail and giving away tons of spoilers. The various winks and nudges to QT's inspirations are fun to try to pick out including names of characters to the names of chapters and even a cameo from Enzo Castellari.

INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is violent, intense and gorgeous. It will leave you conflicted on feelings towards certain situations and individuals. Most importantly it is Quentin Tarantino finally reaching his potential as a writer and director to make a truly great film, that doesn't waste a single minute. It will be hard to top this one for 2009.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chopping Mall (1986)


When it comes to horror movies during the 1980s one word usually comes to mind: cheesy. Of course not all of the horror to come out during this time were cheesy, in fact some of the best horror films ever made came out during this decade. The Thing, The Shining, Inferno, among others are proof that this beloved decade was just as good on the serious side. CHOPPING MALL is a totally different story.

CHOPPING MALL takes place almost entirely inside of a large shopping mall, where mall management has enlisted the aid of three security robots to roam the halls and "detain" trespassers. Most tenants of the mall are skeptical as to how well these robots will function. Well, it only takes one thunderstorm and bolt of lightning to send these robots, who look like Johnny 5 on steroids, into a frenzy.

On this night, several teens/young adults are planning on partying in one of their dad's furniture stores. Everything seems to being going fine until the lightning strikes the mall sending a jolt of power to the robots, and turning them into killing machines. They start with computer programmers in the annals of the mall, before they break out in to the mall proper. As soon as they get into the mall they find a janitor to harass, and kill.

The rest of the movie strays very little from typical slasher movie formula. The "bad" kids go down first, including a girl with a great head explosion scene, and its a stalk-and-chase scenario. The group arms themselves with guns from the sporting good store and Molotov cocktails made from cans of gasoline. Eventually it comes down to a one-on-one showdown of man (woman) vs. robot in the paint store in an... err, umm... explosive finale.

CHOPPING MALL is not well made, the editing is just bad in many areas, and the dialogue is suspect as in most movies of this breed. But we don't watch movies like CHOPPING MALL for the quality of film making, we watch it to see robots attack humans, we watch it to see lasers being shot and heads exploding. We watch it to see these robots who are only supposed to detain trespassers somehow gain all sorts of new abilities through out the movie. We watch it to have FUN!

And that's what CHOPPING MALL is. Pure. Cheesy. Fun.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)


THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS features legendary effects master Ray Harryhausen in his first project where he was able to work with complete control of the animation. He designed The Beast from a sketch done by lifelong friend Ray Bradbury, who wrote the original story. This is a gem of the creature feature era.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS starts out in the arctic, where a team of scientists are testing atomic bombs where they unknowingly release The Beast from 100 million years of frozen slumber. A pair of scientists who are out to get readings have encounters with the beast and come within inches of losing their lives at the top of the world. When the team gets back to the USA the try to tell their tale of the monster they saw, but are ignored as the doctors say it was simply hallucinations due to the shock of being injured.

Its only when a series of boats are attacked and sunk and a lighthouse is totally destroyed (in one of the most perfect sequence in monster movie history) in the oceans and bays leading on a path to New York City that some specialists begin to take notice that it is possible THE BEAST could be real. When the scientists from the arctic and surviving crew from the boats all pick out the same drawing of THE BEAST that they set out on an expedition to find this prehistoric monster.

When The Beast is discovered in the waters of the Atlantic Ocean he flees and takes to the land of downtown New York City and his terror reigns in the Big Apple. The Beast shows just how big he is, taking down apartment buildings with ease and squashing cars like bugs. The police and military have no answer as their ordinary bullets have no effect. It isn't until The Beast is wounded that they formulate a plan to launch an atomic isotope into the wound to bring down The Beast once and for all. The climax takes place on Coney Island in the amusement park, where The Beast is tearing apart the roller coaster ride. The fantastic climax atop the roller coaster is a showdown between man and beast and is certainly one for the ages.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS was a private production made for around $200,000 but the quality of filmmaking on display here makes you think it cost 10x that much. Eugene Laurie's excellent direction matched with Ray Harryhausen's legendary creation and animation were a recipe for success. The photography is gorgeous and the story is intense.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is a perfect example of why the phrase "they just don't make them like they used to" exists.


Quick shout out here- check out Films That Witness Madness- a great site from a great guy that knows his shit. Its all about horror and exploitation and I can't praise it enough.

Friday, August 7, 2009

THE BLOB (1958)


THE BLOB begins simply as a meteor lands outside of an old man's (Olin Howlin) cabin and the sticky substance inside latches on to the old man's hand. When Steve (Steve McQueen) and Jane (Aneta Corsaut) drive by on their way home from a date, they narrowly miss hitting the old man who is running in terror. When they stop to see if he is okay he asks for help, so the young couple drive him to Dr. Hallen (Alden 'Stephen' Chase). As the Dr. begins to examine his patient he realizes this blob is growing and further consuming the old man.

As the blob grows it becomes more dangerous and harder to escape. Steve and Jane enlist help from friends of theirs who are the only people who will believe them, to try to warn the town. It isn't until an attack at the movie theater that the town realizes the severity of the problem. As the town tries escape several of our stars are trapped inside the local diner as the blob begins to swallow the entire building.

THE BLOB is nothing short of a classic creature feature, with the creature being a gelatinous blob of space goo who consumes people. It is suspenseful, expertly crafted and holds up perfectly after 50 plus years. Director Irvin Yeaworth makes excellent use of miniature sets and practical effects. It doesn't come across as cheesy or aged in any way, even after a worthy remake in the 1980s.

THE BLOB helped launch the very successful careers of ladies man Steve McQueen and composer/writer Burt Bacharach, as well as help close out the career of Olin Howlin who appeared in over 200 projects from 1918-1959.

Before the days of CGI it took some imagination and ingenuity to make a movie, and this one is done right.


Monday, August 3, 2009

The Collector (2009)


THE COLLECTOR is the latest film from the writing duo of Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who are most known for their contributions to the awful SAW series (parts 4-6). They also wrote the FEAST trilogy which has a totally different attitude and vibe than old Jigsaw and his traps of morality. FEAST are monster movies, and are pure schlock fun. Marcus Dunstan also makes his directorial debut with THE COLLECTOR.

THE COLLECTOR begins as a couple returns home to find it dark and without power, when they enter their bedroom they find a large luggage trunk, which begins to shake. When they open it they are attacked from behind. Thus begins our journey.

Arkin (Josh Stewart) is handyman and thief (among other things I'm sure) who owes money to his ex-wife who in turn owes it to loan sharks. Arkin knows that there is a safe with jewels in the house he's working on and that it will be empty on the night he needs the money. When Arkin arrives that night he is attacked by a dog before he enters the house and when he enters he realizes he is not alone inside. Arkin and The Collector, who is never given a name, begin to play cat and mouse with each other, trying to outsmart the other into a bad situation or scaring them off to leave. The Collector has the house rigged with trip wires and booby traps leading to everything from a kitchen knife chandelier to a room filled with acid.

Arkin hears screams from the basement and goes to investigate. Its at this point that THE COLLECTOR takes a turn for the worse. All of the suspense and well orchestrated cat-and-mouse of the first 30 minutes of the film, are thrown out the window and it becomes nothing short of another SAW film. The Collector has trapped and tortured the mother and father of the family. We learn that the oldest daughter had left the house before they were ambushed, and the younger daughter is simply nowhere to be found.

Fast forward through some run-of-the-mill torture scenes, a lot of gore and Arkin running up and down the stairs at least 15 times and we get to Arkin finally escaping the house... until he sees the younger daughter still inside. So he does what anybody would do. Now its more of the last 30 minutes but with an 8-9 year old go tagging along. Eventually they outsmart The Collector using the old mirror reflection trick and using his booby traps against him. So they run toward the main road where a caravan of cop cars and ambulances are coming thanks to the older daughter dialing 911 before she got killed... so Arkin who manages to act like an idiot for 85 minutes of this movie and somehow still survive runs into the street and gets plowed over by a cop. Now Arkin is in the ambulance, with not only severe wounds from The Collector but his own stupidity and all of a sudden the ambulance flips over and over repeatedly and seems to go over a cliff... This is never explained and there was no reason this should have happened other than to give the film its amazing finish of The Collector being there collect another person in his endless supply of luggage trunks.

Dunstan's direction is solid for the first half hour, until they decide to lose all real suspense and semi smart film making and turn it into the gore fest of the summer. They did a good job with the gore as it looked good but the big time potential this film started out with was all crapped away with the veterans of the SAW camp seemed to want to make their own version.

I'm being easy on the film because the last hour or so was pretty terrible. I'm beginning to rant right now. There were so many holes in logic throughout the whole thing that it made my brain hurt. The movie could have been over the first time Arkin goes to the basement if he wouldn't have ran back up stairs and just hit The Collector over the head with a pipe or wrench or anything heavy that is most certainly in a basement in an old country house. The acid room trap made no sense as this particular sort of acid will eat away at the flesh of a cat and at Arkin's work boots but not at the wood floor or books Arkin throws down to walk on. There is a scene towards the end where Arkin and the young daughter set their own trap to electrocute The Collector using an aquarium and a TV, and when the electrocution happens it ends up with a person being dead but the fish are still swimming around in this electro-charged water. It doesn't make sense.

On top of holes in logic and just how things in the world work, there were some ridiculously stupid scenes. For one, the flaming/exploding dog scene... wow. And Arkin calling The Collector "a little faggot bitch" as he was secured to a wall by meat and fish hooks... you tell him Arkin! And why did The Collector's mask look just like David Cronenberg from NIGHTBREED? And why were his eyes glowing? And why was the basement of this otherwise normal house lit with a seedy yellowish green tint?


OK, the rant is over on the badness of the movie. But honestly, whoever is hailing this movie and calling THE COLLECTOR "the next icon of horror" needs a head check. If anything it shows that Marcus Dunstan can direct a decent scene or two and probably could make a decent movie if he didn't revert back to turning into the gore show.

Bottom line is it may be best if the writing duo sticks to schlocky horror and stays away from the serious side of things.