Halloween Scene: Halloween H2O & Zombie Island Massacre

Hey, even though things aren’t all rosy, doesn’t mean you can’t depend on me for reviews of old movies you’ve either seen or have no intention of seeing. Yesterday, on what will be my last Train-Ing Video in a while, I watched Halloween H20 (1998) for the very first. time. As long time readers will remember, from my posts about the Halloween movies last year, I had seen the first 5 movies in the original series and then watched Rob Zombie’s remake, but I watched Curse for the first time and hadn’t seen H20 or Resurrection yet.

So, it wasn’t a bad movie. It had Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin (from Chicago Hope), Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Nash Bridges AND Prison Break!) and Janet Leigh (who I had forgotten was Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom). The whole ignoring-4-6 and being a little too Scream were definitely annoying and don’t make the series hold up in the long run, but I can see how it would be a good introduction to teenagers in the 90s who maybe hadn’t seen the originals yet. I’m not going to really get into it, because, frankly, BC over at HMAD summed my thoughts up pretty well in his review from 2007 (except for the whole “different opinion every time he sees it” thing, cause, you know, I’ve only seen it once).

I do think it would have been cool if this was the end of the original series of movies, but, not having seen Resurrection, but still reading a few things, I know that Michael got better from that decapitation (or it was a paramedic or some such nonsense?). While I’m not planning on seeing Zombie’s Halloween 2 any time soon, I probably will check out Resurrection relatively soon and let you know what’s up.

I also watched a little movie called Zombie Island Massacre (1984) on NetBox this morning. Yes it’s stupid, and SPOILER, no, there aren’t any actual zombies in it (hence the lack of the “zombie” label), but any movie that starts with a white guy in a tribal mask sneaking up on his girlfriend/wife who’s taking a shower, then jumps into Hatchet-territory with a tour group going to see some weird stuff, then it kind of gets into Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things and Night of the Living Dead zones. It really is a pastiche and it’s not bad, but it’s also not good and if you’ve ever seen a movie like this you’ll know what the twist ending will be.

One question I had though: how did they take a bus to the resort’s sister island? I could have easily missed a simple plot point about this, but I still laughed later once I saw the bus. Oh well. It’s got very little gore, but enough nudity to kind of make up for it.

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Death: One Mack Daddy You Don’t Want to F*ck With

I hope you get the reference in the title of this post. If not, it’s okay, I forgive you, but you should really do yourself a favor and watch my favorite horror trilogy (soon to be a whatever-four-movies-is) of the past 10-ish years: Final Destination. Candyman says it to the girl with split personalities from Heroes and the dreamy Devon Sawa.

For those of you who haven’t see these movies, there’s a basic formula. 1. A high school student sees a highly complex, devastating and graphic accident and freaks out when events in the vision start happening. The student saves him/herself and others. 2. Even though they didn’t die with the others, the survivors start dying in really crazy ways, usually involving seemingly natural events. 3. The main character comes upon the idea that death has a plan and death, as noted above, is not one to mess with. Even with that being said, apparently there’s a formula to things which the main character tries to decipher. 4. The main character and someone of the opposite sex try to convince the surviving survivors what’s going on to varying levels of belief and success. 5. Bad things happen (a lot). 6. It ends.

I’m sure a far more detailed map could be laid out for these movies, but I don’t want to ruin too many aspects of the films. And, even though all three are very similar in structure, it doesn’t really bother me because these movies aren’t really about the characters. Yes, I do think they’re fairly well-rounded and like/dis-likeable, but the real hook for these movies are the highly complex and usually gory death scenes that are amazing if you’re a gore fan. Sometimes they do get a little mean (the strangulation in 1 and the tanning bed in 3), but overall, I’d say they’re highly enjoyable in that way that you feel kind of bad about liking. I watched 2 and 3 on the train (1 was on Netflix instant, 2 I own and 3 I got as a disc from Netflix) and found myself being briefly exasperated, laughing, saying “Oh shit” and then looking around to see if my fellow commuters were looking at me funny. The knives in the first one, falling glass in the second and weights in the third are among my favorites, but they’re really all fantastic. This series also showed me my first bus-hit and cut/slide movie moments (1 and 2 respectively).

I also have a history with these movies, well at least the first two. 1 came out in 2000 when I was still in high school and I distinctly remember watching it in a darkened living room at Steph Knisely’s house and laughing hysterically when Tony Todd (Candyman), playing the older, vague guy explaining things to a small extent (he’s even a mortician named Bludworth) said the above quote. Even though I hadn’t seen the movie since that night, it made quite an impression, which is pretty impressive considering how many horror movies I’d seen up to that point and after. The second one (2003), I think a group of my high school friends and I went to see in the theater. I remember having the same kinds of reactions in the theater that I did on the train (something I didn’t remember until I was actually on the train). I definitely got some funny looks. I would have sworn I saw 3 (2006) at some point, but I think I only watched a few of the kills.

Aside from the gore, I like how much these movies make me think. And I don’t consider these things plot holes because we’re dealing with human interpretations of supernatural events without anyone or thing coming in and explaining things absolutely. So, Bludworth may have his theories and the kids extrapolate from there, but we don’t know if they’re right (especially taking into account the ends of each movie). So, does death have some kind of plan? It would seem so. But why does it go through such complex motions to get back on schedule? Why not just stop a heart, especially considering death seems to be able to manipulate living things (birds, rats, maybe even people). So, what are death’s rules?

Also, if death has a plan and is some kind of force of nature, what is the force acting against it? See, the visions have to come from somewhere right? And we’re not just talking about the main visions in the beginning of the movies, our heroes see other signs all over the place, as if they’re being given the information to help their friends or maybe just toyed with. In 1 Sawa a fan-chopped magazine spits out the name of his friend Tod, but by the time he gets to Tod’s house, dude’s dead. So, was Sawa just not fast enough or was he being messed with (like how Michael Myers toys with his prey)? I’m going to guess there’s an opposing force to death, maybe it’s as simple as being life, I don’t know, but I like to think about this kind of stuff.

So, you really get the best of both worlds: the best kills in recent memory and a larger story that really makes you think (at least I think so, but I’m not a mack daddy above being f*ucked with). I’m really excited for The Final Destination (I appreciate the finality of a title that already includes the world “final” like “seriously, THIS is the FINAL destination”) mostly for the ability to see this bad boy in 3D. I missed out on that with My Bloody Valentine 3D, but now my local theater has 3D capabilities thanks to some kids movie! I’ll have to sneak away to see it sometime, but it’ll totally be worth it.

Train-Ing Video: Class of 1999 (1990)

“These things are like a bad, f*cked up, George Jetson nightmare!” So says Cody, the hero of Class of 1999 of the robot teachers who have been flipped their programming after being sent into a Free Fire Zone in Seattle. You see, an FFZ is an area, usually around a school in a major city where gang activity has gotten so bad that the cops have backed out and let the kids run wild. Except for in the school for some reason. Think of it as Escape from New York meets Terminator and Sister Act (or, I assume, Dangerous Minds, but I’ve never seen that).

If you’re scratching your head already and asking yourself “Why would kids go to school if they weren’t being told to and, oh, and had machine guns?” Yeah me too. It’s a plot hole that you could drive an armored bus through. There’s lots of said plot holes or just lapses in logic (Why to the robots only have fake skin protecting their important “organs” instead of an actual exoskeleton? Why are the kids more likely to believe that their friends died in highly unlikely accidental ways and not getting murdered by teachers?) Anyway, if you can look past the complete lack of logic and Cody’s TERRIBLE Corey Feldman impression, this movie is a whole boatload of weird 80s fun from 1990.



You remember the major cities and the explanation of the FFZs I mentioned above? We get that information thanks to a voiceover in the beginning that accompanies a map showcasing the worst cities. You’ve got Detroit and NYC of course. Then there’s Seattle and Cleveland (not the best places in the world, but not ones I would expect there to be a lot of gang activity at), but the best part? The dot that’s supposed to designate Cleveland is not where Cleveland actually is. It should be further up north. For all I know, the other ones are misplaced too, though I did check NYC and it seems correct, hey, I’m no geography nerd, I just know my state.


Anyway, we open with a white haired Stacey Keach who, for reasons never explained, sports a mullet that terminates in a rat tail between his shoulders and white-except-for-his-pupils eyes. He’s part of a program for the DED (the Department of Educational Defense) who has these teacher robots he wants to insert into Malcolm McDowell’s school. Also, for no real reason, Cody gets released from jail at the same time. Here’s some pics (thanks to this post, I figured out how to take screencaps!)

This is the first, non-CG shot of the movie, I swear to God:


Then this:


And here’s the teacher-bots, including one of my all-time huge crushes Pam Grier! I didn’t even know she was in this movie, that’s just a bonus.


So, the story follows Cory who’s part of this gang called the Black Hearts. He doesn’t really want to get back with the Hearts because he wants to go straight (we’re not sure why and we don’t know why he was in jail in the first place), but his incredibly weird looking younger brother Angel is about to be initiated and all his friends from school are in the gang too.

Here’s Angel, I laughed every single moment he was on screen. He looks ridiculous, but that’s just future gang fashion, yo, purples and yellow all the way!


Meanwhile, he falls for McDowell’s daughter (why good kids are still in this school, I have no idea. Wouldn’t you bounce if kids could shoot guns in your police-abandoned neighborhood and your kid still wanted to learn?). His friends start dying thanks to the new teacherbots and he gets suspicious. He even saves McDowell’s daughter from being molested-at-best during the day on school grounds out in the open and gets beat up by the younger dude teacherbot and yelled at by McDowell. That’s just crazy!

He discovers the truth about the teacherbots and instead of just straight up going after Cody, the older one concocts this ridiculously complicated plan that includes killing some people and sparking a war between the Hearts and their rivals The Razorheads. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to, I dunno, crush him with your insane robot strength? So anywhere, there’s a gang war and we really get to see the Hearts in full form. Again, notice all the purple and yellow. At one point, Angel gets pulled over and they accuse him of wearing gang colors and he’s only got yellow and purple on. That’s just hilarious to me.


When THIS plan fails, the teacherbots make fake phone calls to the leaders of both gangs to get them to meet at the school to kill each other instead of, again, just killing these kids. This is when things go super-bananas. You’ve got dirt bikes and explosions in school, robot fights, the reveal of some of their awesome weapon systems and the uniting of the two goings (uh, spoiler warning?). While Cody and the leader of the Razorheads are searching the school to take down the teachers (“I’m going in there to waste some teachers – are you with me?”) they actually drive their motorcycles into the classrooms and around the room. Twice!


I was pretty impressed with the showdown at the end and the effects were pretty good (I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you’ve seen the original VHS cover, you’ll see an approximation, if you see the newer Lions Gate version, you’ll see a way updated version). Each teacherbot sports it’s own hand weapon that was fun to watch, though where their robot hands actually go, I don’t know.

The real headscratcher throughout the movie is that there isn’t a really good character. I guess McDowell’s daughter might count, but she’s so one dimensional, she doesn’t really count. Like I said, we don’t know why Cody was in jail. It could have been murder for all we know. I get that he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and he’s served his time (after a fashion), but he’s still utilizing the people who are the problem (gang members) to take down other bad guys. I guess he could be labeled as an anti-hero, but I just wish we would have gotten a little more background on him.

But, in the end, the movie is just too damn crazy and fun to not enjoy on some level, even given all the problems. And I know some of you might be wondering why I had such high hopes for a movie about robot teachers teaching in a near war zone, but this movie was written and directed by Mark L. Lester who also directed the Jeph Loeb co-written Arnold Schwarzenegger masterpiece Commando . One other thing I want to point out about the story is that it actually has some pretty emotional moments. There’s a scene where Cody goes home and we see that his mom is just as big of a drug addict as Angel and the performances are really good. I think Bradley Gregg would have been much better suited if he wasn’t asked to/didn’t try to put on the Corey Feldman voice. It’s really distracting and I think takes away from the skills you can see under the surface.

Oh, also, they gave the Grierbot a nipple hanging out after she gets torn open and they show it a bunch. I was kind of embarrassed to be watching it on the train and even discreetly covered that part of the screen with my hand. But seeing as how this is the internet and a simple Google search for “Pam Grier naked” will come up with a number of hits (this site included now 😉 I figure this images ain’t so bad.


Halloween Scene: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Allow me to get nostalgic, just for a moment. The first time I saw Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was in this tiny art house theatre in Bowling Green, Ohio. I went with Barry’s co-worker-turned friend Bobby, his girlfriend-now-wife Sasha, Toth and Randy (I think) and it blew us away. We had been hearing chatter about it and the alternate ending that you could see if you waited through the credits. The ride home was full of conversations about fast zombies and which ending we liked better. I can tell you with zero doubt that that’s the furthest I’ve ever gone to see a movie and it was totally worth it. I later bought 28DL and watched it a number of times, so, like every other person on the planet, I was pretty skeptical when I heard about the Boyle-less sequel 28 Weeks Later. But damn was it good.

I won’t be nearly as eloquent and detailed as Sean was when he talked about writer/director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28WL back in ’07, but it really seems like this flick was amazing in spite of itself. A sequel to a movie that most people either saw in art houses or on DVD getting a bigger sequel by some guy who wasn’t involved in the first one with a joke title like 28 Weeks Later? It couldn’t possibly live up to it’s predecessor, but boy howdy, does it.

And, I think what makes it work so well is the fact that it’s not a direct sequel, it’s merely set in the same world as the original. No characters return (unless you count London, which I wouldn’t argue against) so you’re left with a part of the zombie mythos we don’t tend to see: the clean-up and aftermath. Plus, if the opening of this movie doesn’t get under your skin and make you think about how you’d REALLY react in a situation like this, then you might need to check your pulse. Sure we’ve seen people ditch other folks to save themselves in movies like this, but damn if this isn’t the most effective emotionally.

That’s really what makes this such a superior horror film, the level of emotional attachment stays consistent with the original. You start wondering how’d you react in a given situation and it’s so easy to transfer most scenarios from a zombie infested world to the real one: how would you react if the woman you abandoned to thieves turned out to still be alive?

I also like how the emotional attachment bounces from character to character. After seeing how easily and understandably a husband might abandon his wife, it makes the adult heroes of this movie who accompany the children, even more heroic, earning them instant credibility (along with Scarlett’s attestation that they probably shouldn’t be bringing children into the city).

I had seen 28WL on DVD a while back, purchased it almost immediately afterwards, but hadn’t watched it in a while, so the fates of the characters weren’t fresh in my mind and I was continually surprised followed by moments of “oh yeah.”

Another aspect of the movie that I love is the fact that things aren’t forced down your throat. You can think about this movie for a while and realize all kinds of things. This time around, I fell in love with the idea that, Scarlett protested the idea of kids coming into London because “what if the rage virus isn’t all the way gone?” only to have them not only be the only ones to survive (of our main characters at least), but also re-caused the spread of the virus inadvertently. So, she was right that they shouldn’t be there, but for a completely different reason. Damn kids.

Oh, plus Harold Perrineau of Lost fame is in it, so bonus! I know I’m talking about a much-loved two year old movie that most horror fans have already seen, but if you haven’t watched it in a while, I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than the helicopter vs. zombie scene and the very end with zombies storming France. It’s way more effective than the “invasion” of NYC in Zombie and it nicely sets things up for a potential sequel.

Finally, a quick note about the DVD. There are two animated comics on there that were apparently first published through Fox Atomic that tell the tale of the guys who accidentally created the rage virus before the events of 28DL and one of a vigilante killing zombies and humans in “his city.” The first one was really interesting from a continuity perspective (plus it had art by my con buddy Dennis Calero), while the second is more of a slice-of-life from one tiny perspective in a larger world. They’re not too long and definitely worth a look.

Train-Ing Video: Beer Wars (2009)

I recently had the opportunity to watch Beer Wars, a documentary about smaller breweries competing with the big three (at the time) beer makers in the US: Miller, Anheuser-Busch (aka Budweiser) and Coors and I wasn’t all that impressed.

The film starts off promisingly, with some really creative animated sequences that introduce Anat Baron, the narrator and director. She states her history working in corporate America and then moving over to the fledgling Mike’s Hard Lemonade before leaving, only to come back and make this documentary.

I started having problems fairly early on when it seemed like Baron was going to explain some of the history of the larger beer manufacturers only to veer away and move forward. Generally, I like to understand a bit of the overall history of a subject before diving into it, it’s a good way to refresh people in the know and inform newbies. I see now that a possible reason for this is because she didn’t want to make the obvious connection between what Anheuser-Busch was like 100 years ago and what an organization like Dogfish Head is like today. You see, A-B, especially, gets made into the bad guy in by the end, but people tend to forget that these were small, start-up American companies at one time too, but you won’t hear a single mention of that in the doc.

It wasn’t until much later that I really started having problems with the movie though. After a brief and scattershot history of the brewing industry in America (more like a timeline showing how many breweries were in the US over the years), we get introduced to two smaller beer companies, one the aforementioned Dogfish Head, the other a caffeinated beer called Moonshot. Dogfish Head I’ve heard of, Moonshot I haven’t, though it sounds a lot like Buzz Beer from the Drew Carey Show to me. Anyway, after getting into these smaller breweries and talking to the guy who helped create Sam Adams (great beer), the movie awkwardly shifts back to Baron and her Michael Moore-ish attempt at putting people on the spot while attending beer conferences, trying to find A-B honcho August Busch IV and talking to senators.

There is some really interesting information about laws pertaining to beer and how a lot of them don’t seem to make sense anymore. It actually sounded a lot like the current talk of health care reform: there’s all these out-of-date rules and regulations, but there’s also plenty of lobbyists wanting to keep it the same and accusations of kick backs and the like. I do agree that it sounds like reform is in order, but there’s enough other stuff going on in the world that it probably won’t be a priority anytime soon. (How great would it be, though, if all we had to worry about were suspect post-prohibition beer laws?)

We eventually bounce back to the Dogfish and Moonshot folks, but towards the end, the doc really starts to feel unfocused and cramped. Is the movie about small breweries trying to make it even though they’ve got a tough road ahead of them, big beer companies vs. the small or breweries vs. big government? We’re never quite given a definite answer on exactly who this war is between, though we can assume “the little guy” is on one side. I guess it’s that unfocused nature that bothers me.

But what really bothers me is the villainizing of the big beer companies. Sure, Coors Light doesn’t taste as good as something like Blue Moon (which I also love), but I’m not an asshole for wanting to kick back and down a bunch of Coors Light and I can’t help but feel like this movie is trying to tell me that I am. Towards the end of the doc there’s this strange paradox where 99% of the film is desperately trying to get me to hate A-B because they bought a successful brewery like Rolling Rock, but don’t make the beer in Latrobe, PA anymore or because they put out similar products as smaller breweries to compete or take shelf space. Yes, that sucks and I’m sure there’s some shady stuff going on there, but welcome to the world of business. I’m sick of “it’s not fair-ism” dammit! Learn how to work within the system, Sam Adams did it (a connection they don’t actually make in the film).

For whatever reason Miller and Coors get let off the hook because people who work there drink together (that’s what I got from it at least). Meanwhile, the woman who owns/runs Moonshot is actually trying to cut a deal with the bigger dogs, though, of course, A-B is the last on her list. Demonizing something while one of your highly sympathetic main characters sees it as an end to her financial woes just doesn’t work from a story-telling perspective.

Another conundrum I noticed while watching the end of the flick is that, on one hand, the big beer companies are being criticized for making boring beer, but they’re also criticized for either buying up smaller brews and selling them to a wider audience or creating their own microbrew-like beers to “compete” with the little guys. Make up your mind! Once again, what is the message of this movie?

I’m sure I’m coming off as pro-corporate and anti-small business, but that’s not the case. I’ve only ever worked for smaller, privately owned companies and I completely support them, but I’m also not anti-corporation. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with a corp and you’ve got to realize when watching something like this, that your narrator is biased and has an agenda. I’m not saying she misrepresented the facts, but she’s using information like paint to show you a picture and she might leave out some colors or make others brighter. Like I mentioned above, nowhere is it mentioned that the big dogs were once struggling companies themselves. Does becoming big and successful make you bad? I hope not, because that seems to be exactly what’s happening with the Dogfish folks. But also, you’ve got to remember that passionate people work for corporations just like they do small breweries. There is an interview with an A-B brewmaster on this very subject, which I appreciated.

Finally, the film suffers from bad timing, which is not the fault of anyone really. As anyone who follows the business of beer knows, Miller and Coors have merged and A-B got bought out by a foreign company. These huge bits of information are mentioned only briefly at the very end and not really delved into because they probably happened after the movie wrapped. While I can’t fault someone for bad timing on both a beer and economic front (the economic decline and it’s effect on beer isn’t mentioned at all), I would like to think if I was in the position of making a film like this, I’d try and do a few follow-up interviews with my primary people and throw them in. But, hey, I don’t make movies (yet) and I don’t know what the money situation was like, so who knows?

Overall, I liked some of the early stylistic approaches that Beer Wars made, but, in the end just couldn’t get down with message. Now to head home and decide between a Coors Light and a beer from Sam’s Summer Sampler (I love me a sampler pack!).

Train-ing Video: Death Proof (2007)

I was incredibly excited for Grindhouse and planned on seeing it in the theaters, but it wasn’t meant to be. The marketing folks decided that this Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino jam fest should come on, when else, but Easter weekend? Well, I had to go to New England, so I missed it while all my friends, who were still here, went. Soon enough, Grindhouse wasn’t in theaters anymore and I had to wait until the movies came out on DVD as Death Proof (Tarantino) and Planet Terror (Rodriguez). I checked them out, dug Planet Terror and was left feeling lukewarm towards Death Proof, which bummed me out cause I’m a big Tarantino fan. I gave it another shot on the train yesterday and, unfortunately, was left with the same feeling.

The first time I watched DP, I actually fell asleep just before the big switch in main characters, so I didn’t realize how it would take a Psycho-like turn and follow completely different characters for the rest of the movie. Something very similar happened to me when I first watched Usual Suspects.

Anyway, I don’t have any problem with that switch, what I do have a problem with is the tone. I understand that the film was shot to look like an old grindhouse movie and is written to match, but the problem from me comes from the inconsistencies I noticed. See, the first group of girls all seemed pretty real and fleshed out even when they’re spurting out some of Quentin’s clunkiest and most repetitive dialogue. But then, the second group of girls flips the script and happen to be these caricatures of humanity who have no problem beating a man to death and leaving their fried by herself with a highly suspect individual in the middle of nowhere. I understand them wanting revenge and maybe the two stuntwomen being a little off their rockers, but why does Rosario Dawson’s character want to kill him so bad, going so far as to kick his head in? I didn’t get it. And the “It’s like a grindhouse movie, duh!” argument doesn’t hold up when the first half of the movie didn’t reflect that aesthetic.

I also found Kim to be incredibly annoying. I get it, she’s from the street, I don’t need to be reminded of it with every single piece of dialogue she spouts off. Other than Kim, though, I really liked the rest of the characters and would like to know what happened to Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character (and why she was wearing a cheerleader costume throughout the whole thing, I don’t buy Dawson’s explanation).

But that’s not all, I also hated how much of a pansy Stuntman Mike turns into. Kurt Russell did SUCH a great job of making him likable at first, but then completely terrifying, but then, as soon as he gets shot, he starts crying? Seriously? I like the idea of flipping the script and putting him at a disadvantage, but seeing him be such a bitch just makes me want to see him dead NOW and you’ve got to sit through a long car chase to get there.

In a weird twist of fate, we got the fourth disc of Alias Season 1 today, which boasts a two part episode called “The Box” (2002) which stars none other than Tarantino himself. This was during a few year period where he would pop up with a different TV project every now and then. Anyone else remember his episodes of CSI where the dude who would voice Captain Atom in the JLU cartoon was buried alive? Good stuff. It looks like he only acted in the part in Alias, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he wrote his own dialogue as well because it definitely has that Tarantino vibe to it.

I’ll get more into my thoughts on Alias when we’re done with the first season, but this was definitely one of the better episodes and Tarantino does a great job of playing an unhinged man.

And, of course, even with all the above things I disliked about Death Proof I’m still crazy-excited for Inglourious Basterds which drops in a few. Never let it be said that I’m a fair weather fan!

Tim Burton Is Awesome

Over the past two days I’ve had the pleasure of watching two Tim Burton movies on the train and realizing how much I like his directing. Monday I watched childhood favorite Beetlejuice (1988) and yesterday I checked out Mars Attacks (1996) for the first time. I also recently realized that Burton is probably the first director I was a fan of before I even realized what a director did. I remember watching Frankenweenie on the Disney Channel, I liked Batman, but Batman Returns was my favorite superhero movie for years and I have memories of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure like anyone else my age, but wasn’t too obsessed with it. In fact, Burton was probably the first director whose work I did recognize. And, perusing his credits on IMDb and realizing I’ve really enjoyed most of what I’ve seen, I’ve decided to give him the “… Is Awesome” tag, I’m sure he’s super excited.

Before jumping into the movie reviews, I do want to note that I still haven’t seen Edward Scissorhands or Sleepy Hollow, but I have seen all of his other big movies. I didn’t really like Sweeney Todd (apparently, I have a fear of razors against throats, who knew?) and I’m not particularly partial to Nightmare Before Christmas (which he didn’t direct, but produced) or Corpse Bride, but I think that’s because I resented paying full New York prices for a 76 minute movie. Anyway, not liking three movies and not seeing two movies puts him in that rare category of directors with a lot of movies which I have seen and liked. It’s easy to say I like Tarantino or Kevin Smith, but they don’t have all that many movies.

So, now onto Beetlejuice and Mars Attacks specifically. When I say I was a Beetlejuice fan as a kid, I’m talking full-on. I had the movie on tape of course, watched the cartoon, got as many of the toys as I could (I’ll take pictures of what I have and do a separate post soon) and even dressed up as him for Halloween one year (Mom made the suit and we bought the official Beetlejuice toy mask with pop-out snakes!). And, the craziest thing about all this is that I was a fan even though I saw something on TV about Beetlejuice that scared me so much I had nightmares.

I’ve been searching YouTube and the internet for any reference to this, but can’t find it. Around the time the movie came out, I saw this talk show aimed at kids either on Nickelodeon or Disney Channel where they interviewed some of the ghosts and monsters from the movie. I think the shrunken head hunter was on there, but I definitely remember the file clerk who got run over by a truck. There were a few others but I can’t remember them. I also don’t remember the details, but it scared me so bad I had nightmares for a while. Also note that this was well before I even entertained the idea of watching horror movies. Just the previews scared me. Ah, how far I’ve come.

It’s been probably 10 years since I watched Beetlejuice all the way through (I picked the DVD up on the cheap sometime in the past year, but hadn’t watched it). I still really dig this movie. It’s got a great mix of comedy, action and horror, plus great performances by everyone involved from Michael Keaton as the Ghost With the Most down to Jane, the annoying real estate woman.

The only part that doesn’t hold up is the special effects, which, according to the internet, Burton did on purpose as a reference to older sci-fi and horror movies (hence the stop motion animation of the sculptures and sandworms). But, other effects still look great, and mostly because they’re practical. I love the ghastly faces Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam (Alec Baldwin, he looks so young and thin!) put on to scare Lydia (Winona Ryder, also super young).

A couple of funny things I realized while watching this movie before Mars Attacks. First off, this is the second movie in two weeks I’ve watched where rich New Yorkers move away from the city to a quiet place somewhere north of the city. At least in Beetlejuice, they eventually tell you they’re in Connecticut so I wasn’t driving around trying to find the school house. Also, I realized while watching that Catherine O’Hara and Jeffrey Jones will always be “the people from Beetlejuice” in my head. I remember when O’Hara lated played the mom in Home Alone, I was psyched. And, while Jones will always be Ed Rooney to most, he’s the dad from this movie and the bad guy from Who’s Harry Crumb and that’s the way it is.

Which brings me to Mars Attacks, which doesn’t have single character/actor who I haven’t seen in something else. Hell, even Jack Black’s in this bad boy and he looks only a little less svelte than he did in Airborne. Heck even the kid from Solarbabies is in it, but to me he’s still the whiny kid from that movie (though he’s way more awesome and less girly now).

I can’t think of a recent movie that has brought together so many famous actors in one flick (check out the full roster here). Sure, you could argue that some people like Sarah Jessica Parker or Lisa Marie weren’t really all that famous at the time, but you’ve got Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, Pierce Brosnan, Danny DeVito, Natalie Portman (also probably not super famous at the time) and Pam Grier! For the record, that’s also the Joker, Cruella de Vil, James Bond, Penguin, Amidala AND Foxy Brown. That’s a pretty epic team-up. (Any artists out there want to draw that up? It’d be rad?) Anyway, what I liked most about this star studded cast is the fact that so many of these big time starts got killed in really great and kind of gruesome ways. You really don’t see THAT nowadays.

I know I’m late to the game by 13 years on this one. I’m not sure why I didn’t see it when it came out or why it took so long for me to finally see it, but I’m really glad I did. It was very slow going at first and I kept wondering how all these different characters were going to fit together and really just wanted to get to the aliens blowing shit up, but I see why it all works. It’s a satire on movies like it, but also society. Parker’s character could be taken out of this movie and put on the NYC streets I walk everyday to get to work (I might have seen her last week actually, she just has a Blackberry now). That Burton fella’s ahead of the curve methinks. Plus, the effects are cool and it’s damn funny.

And dammitall if those aren’t the cutest little aliens blasting the crap out of humanity. I loved their “ack ack ACK” dialogue and loved it even more when their heads exploded. Watching the second half of the movie really made me want to play whatever the latest Destroy All Humans game is. It also made me want to check out the original card series that the movie is based on (huh, basing a movie on a card set seems just as crazy as basing one on a board game, no?), which brought me to Zelda’s Mars Attacks site, check it out!