My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

Thanks to an email from one of my editors, I realized it was New Year’s Eve! Funny how that works out. These might be coming out a bit later than the norm, but I figured I would jump in on the whole “End of the Year” list thingy. First up, I’m going to cover my favorite horror viewing experiences of films that came out several years back!

Continue reading My Favorite Older Horror Experiences Of 2019

The Chronological Spielberg: 1941 (1979)

Is it possible to have too much talent involved in a film? If there was ever an argument for that theory presented in theaters, I think it might be 1941. This flick was directed by Steven Spielberg directly after Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s written by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale who would write a little film called Back to the Future six years after this was released. It stars an A-list crop of comedic and dramatic actors from Slim Pickens and John Belushi to Christopher Lee and Toshiro Mifune. Even with all that going for it, 1941 is simply not a good movie. I wish I could explain simply why that is, but the closest thing I can come up with is that the script is too unfocused, the film is too long and maybe Spielberg was trying to fit his square peg into a more John Landis-shaped hole.

I didn’t know all of the above when I went into this film, so I was definitely surprised by the huge amount of silly, slapsticky humor that kicks this film off, including a nude woman swimming in the ocean to the Jaws theme music who happens to be swimming under a Japanese sub. The idea here is that it’s right after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and everyone’s freaked out. The film takes place in California where they’re specifically freaked out about another attack like the one in Hawaii. This acts as the backdrop for a huge number of gags, storylines and sources of conflict.

The problem is that I don’t care. When the film’s supposed hero is presented as a goober bus boy who just wants to dance with a girl in a contest and then we’re shown a military group that’s made up of mostly boring or jerky people. Worse yet? That group is made up of Dan Aykroyd, John Candy and Treat Williams and they’re somewhat wasted.

Or are they? Honestly, it was hard for me to focus on this movie because its subject matter was treated in such a goofy manner that I just didn’t care. Apparently a huge anti-sub gun really was placed in a person’s yard in real life, but the way its handled in this movie with its cartoony nature, it’s just another piece of an overly complex movie.

The funny thing is that I think someone like Landis could have done a lot better with this film. Maybe Spielberg didn’t know who or what to cut. Maybe Landis would have utilized his talent a little better (from what I remember, Candy does little to nothing but mug in the movie). I definitely think he would have kept the film significantly shorter. Many people believe comedy should be kept around the 90 minute mark, especially zany ones because its easier for an audience to suspend their disbelief over a shorter period of time. I tend to agree with that and if this film had been less cartoony and had more of an actual emotional center, as well as had been roughly 60-90 minutes shorter, it could have been a much better film.

Halloween Scene: The Wicker Man (1973)

I swear, I’m not trying to be contrarian. I know it might seem like I am after disliking a renowned classic like An American Werewolf In London a few weeks back, but I’ve got to add The Wicker Man to that list of classics I just don’t get the appeal of.

The story follows a cop who heads to a small town only reachable by plane, apparently. He’s investigating the disappearance of a little girl. The more time he spends in the town, though, the more he discovers that people seem to be lying about what happened to the kid. Meanwhile, he’s also learning that they’re a more nature-based people, worshiping the sun and nature. This really sets off the Christian cop.

If you haven’t seen the movie, there be SPOILERS ahead. It’s difficult for me to side with the cop in this movie as he becomes more and more incensed with the fact that these people aren’t Christians. It’s annoying, really and old fashioned. In addition to that, absolutely nothing about the movie is scary. Even remotely. It’s a town filled with nature lovers who sing so much I thought I was watching a lame musical. There’s like one big guy. Shouldn’t a trained police officer be able to handle himself a little better? I mean, I don’t expect him to be like Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz (though that would have made for a much better movie) but the cop shouldn’t have been so easily subdued at the end of the movie. Also, even if he was, why didn’t he fight to get out of the wicker man? He just sits in there and starts talking all bible-like so he can die. Bleh. It’s just silly.

I know there’s a Nic Cage remake of the movie, which has birthed one of my all time favorite YouTube clips (see below), but I think a remake would have been better served by someone with some visual style. Can you imagine if David Lynch did this movie? Heck, I remember a TV movie version of The Lottery starring Dan Cortez from the 90s that gave me the creeps more than this flick, though the animal masks were a bit eerie.

At the end of the day, I just don’t see the appeal. Maybe it worked better back in the 70s when the island society would have seemed a lot crazier than now. Heck, today, you’d have to switch the POVs and have the cop be free thinking and the townspeople be ultra religious to have it even make sense. Anyway, it’s just a movie that didn’t do anything for me aside from giving Christopher Lee another good, crazy-guy role to play. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe the Nic Cage version wouldn’t be so bad because I’m not a fan of the original.

Mini Monsters: Gremlins 2 The New Batch (1990)

I love Gremlins 2. I probably shouldn’t but I do. It’s nowhere near as good as the original movie with it’s amazing mix of comedy, humor and horror, but it holds a special place in my heart. I can’t remember if I saw it in the theaters when I was 7 and it hit theaters. I have a feeling I did, but can’t say for sure. Anyway, the sequel is much more over the top and sillier, but it’s also filled with lots of slapsticky site gags and all kinds of mutated Gremlins running around causing all kinds of havoc which makes it perfect for kids. They even had trading cards, an NES game and I would assume toys, though not a full roll out like you might expect. But I can see where that kid focus would put older viewers off. Had I watched this movie for the first time as an adult without any of the nostalgia or love, like I did with, say, Lost Boys, I’m fairly certain I would have scoffed my way through the movie instead of smiling like a damn fool the whole time like I did when I watched it the other day.

Even having said that, I’d say that there are elements to the movie that might be fun for viewers of all kinds. Like the first flick, there’s humor here, but this time around it feels more in the same vein as Naked Gun than something more understated. I also appreciate that the movie has a sense of humor about itself. Not only do you have some control room guys making fun of the three rules from the first movie, but there’s even an appearance by Leonard Maltin as a critic where he slags the movie only to get attacked by Gremlins. You also can’t discount how good the special effects are. Gizmo and the Gremlins look so rad, especially the Bat and Spider ones. Man, they’re creepy.

One of the benefits of watching the movie on DVD–which I bought a while back, but can’t remember if I’ve actually watched all the way through–was seeing the original “film break” scene in the movie complete with woman complaining about the movie being too scary for kids and Hulk Hogan threatening the Gremlins to let the movie start back up. See, on the VHS version and, I believe, the one they showed on TV, there was a “tape break” instead. I couldn’t tell you what the differences all are, but I like that they went back to the original on the DVD version (I wonder if the VHS scene is on the DVD, I should check).

Anyway, I’m not really sure what else to say about the flick. There were some pretty lame parts like the very roundabout way they took to get Gizmo wet (malfunctioning drinking fountain) and the fact that Phoebe Cates had something bad happen to her on Lincoln’s Birthday too. But with the humor, going in with affection and the ass kicking special effects, I think Gremlins 2 has a lot to offer the right kind of viewer.

Three Movies & A Book I Quit On Recently

As much as I’d like to say I finish everything I start, that’s just not the case. Well, it is professionally speaking, but not when it comes to watching movies and reading books. I can sit through some pretty bad nonsense when it comes to movies, but there has to be something keeping my interest for the hour and a half or more of time it takes to sit there and absorb the damn thing. The same goes for books, which I have an even shorter attention span for and take me longer to absorb. That being said, there are times when I give up and these movies and this book have made me give up…for now.

I was really interested in Demon Warriors (2007) for two reasons. 1) It’s a Thai movie and from the producers of Tony Jaa’s Ong-Bak and The Protector, two of the best action movies ever (even if they share very similar stories). And 2) It’s about people with superpowers. Seems like a pretty damn awesome combination to me. But, hey, it’s not. The story is overly convoluted with a story involving people who commit suicide only to come back with these fantastic, yet cursed powers. Most of them seem to be pretty bad dudes, but the most recent one is trying to recruit them for…something or other.

Between the story being nearly incomprehensible, having to sit through melodramatic subtitles (I watched it on Instant, so there’s no option of dubbing) and the complete lack of action, I had to turn this one off. I really gave this one the old college try. After falling asleep one night, I tried it again last night and just could not get into it. I couldn’t focus and the action was mostly uninteresting special effects and gun play, not the usual knock down, drag out fights I expect from the Thai action movies I’ve seen. It wasn’t as bad as Mercury Man, but way too boring to keep me invested.

I thought after watching the first four movies from my 50 movie drive-in collection it would be smooth sailing from there. Hell, Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride (1973) is a Hammer horror flick starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing set in 70s London, how could it be bad? Jesus, how could this boring turd by good? I should have read up on Hammer’s horror history on Wiki BEFORE I started the movie, because, thanks to that reading, I found out that this was Lee’s last Drac movie because he found it ridiculous. Here, here Lee!

The movie jumps from dudes wearing furry vests to women being seemingly tortured to old dudes hanging out to women being chained in basements to Van Helsing and eventually to Dracula, but by the time he finally showed up, I was so lost that I didn’t really care anymore.

It’s funny that I like vampire movies, but have yet to see a Dracula movie I liked, including the Frank Langella one. I definitely didn’t give this movie much of a chance thanks to it losing me so early and not showing me the main character, but I’ve got 45 more movies to get through and even after quitting I couldn’t think of enough to say for a Drive-In Couchfest write up.

The Card Player (2004) was yet another movie I was looking forward to watching. This time, it was because it’s a Dario Argento movie. I didn’t know anything else aside from that and the box art. After seeing Suspiria and Mother Of Tears and having, shall we say mixed feelings about both, I figured I’d be in for, if nothing else, one hell of a weird ride. Instead, Card Player turned out to be an overly long episode of CSI or Bones that seemed to telegraph the ending. I can’t tell you if that ending came to pass, but I would bet a small amount of money on it.

See, the idea is that there’s a serial killer who kidnaps random women and then gambles with their lives on online poker. For the most part, our POV is on the European cops’ side as they try to figure out who the guy is after not wanting to play the game the first time around and watching the girl get killed. It really does play out like a TV show you’ve seen a thousand times. They track down the best online poker player around and it turns out to be a kid. Later, the killer attacks the female cop in home. I’m guessing the killer succeeds and grabs her, then the male cop has to race to find her. Aside from not having any of Argento’s typical batshit elements, the film just seemed to plod along, never being better than any of the hour long TV dramas you can find anywhere on cable. The only Argento thing about the movie is that the corpses came floating up naked and they didn’t shy away from showing it. Though, after watching Bones, I’m pretty sure they could have gotten away with most of it on TV nowadays.

Slow burn books and I aren’t the best of friends. I’m a slow reader as it is, so if your book takes a while to really pick up and get interesting, then it might not be the best for me. Sometimes I’ll stick through a book like Brad Meltzer’s The Zero Game and come out loving the whole experience, but other times, I find myself in what I will now be calling a Michael Chabon situational where my love of a previous work can’t propel me through the murk of the current work.

Like every other geek who reads books without pictures I loved Chabon’s Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay. Eventually I found his book for kids called Summerland on sale at Building 19 and picked it up. I tried getting into it and it just never grabbed me. I chalked it  up to me not really being the audience for that book, but I’ve gone back and read Roald Dahl books and really enjoyed them, so maybe that’s not the case. The same thing went for Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I was really jazzed when I saw it on the cheap at Barnes & Noble, but I found even more indecipherable than just about any other book I’ve ever tried to read.

For the first thing, the book’s about a murder in a Jewish settlement in Alaska that will be changing in the near future. The Wikipedia page tells me that this is based on an alternate history. Me not being Jewish and knowing squat about Alaska, I kept wondering what was real and what was made up for the book. That’s okay when in small doses, but when I’m trying to figure out if the entire world the author is building is fictional or just certain parts, it takes me out of the story. Another problem I had with the book is that so many of the terms come from Yiddish and, as I mentioned before, I don’t know Yiddish. Had the book included a kind of glossary or footnotes in the back, I’d be a little more satisfied, but those two things fused the book into a large clump of denseness that I kept wanting to get through to the mystery at the heart of things, but just never could. I haven’t completely quit on this one as the book does still sit on the floor next to my bed, but I have plenty of other books to occupy my attention in the meantime. After quitting on this one, I moved to Terry Prachet’s Soul Music which hasn’t really grabbed me yet either unfortunately. In fact, I’ve moved on again to reading a book of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories that I’ve been really enjoying so far, which is a relief because I was worried I might have been put off books without pictures altogether. Maybe I’ll go back and reread Kavalier And Clay when I’m done with this…or maybe I’ll work on the ever-growing pile under the bed.

Halloween Scene: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

As I mentioned back in my post about Tim Burton’s awesomeness Sleepy Hollow is one of the two big Tim Burton movies I hadn’t seen. Well, considering it’s Halloween season, I figured now would be the time to finally give it a whirl. And, I liked it, but didn’t really love it.

Back in 1999 when this movie came out I was in high school and I think I remember my friends going to see Sleepy Hollow. I was probably working or something (that happened a lot), but unlike Halloween H20 I’m kind of glad I saw it now instead of back then. The reason for that is that a lot of this movie takes place kind of near where I live now (though, thank God, on the other side of the Hudson) and that’s pretty cool.

In case I’m not the only one who waited 10 years to watch this Tim Burton directed flick, it’s about Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) a forensic examiner from New York City who’s sent “upstate” (New Yorkers WOULD think that two hours north of them would be upstate, regardless of the fact that there’s another four or five hours of state) to investigate a series of murders in a place called Sleepy Hollow. It’s the headless horseman (played sometimes by Christopher Walken) terrorizing the small town and Crane has to solve the case and get past his obsession with facts, science and reality to see if there’s a real supernatural occurrence going on here. My huge high school crush Christina Ricci’s in it too. And the dad from Beetlejuice.

I’m not really sure what it was about Sleepy Hollow that didn’t really draw me in. It might be that I’ve got a lot of stuff on my mind lately. It might be that I’m a little bored with the casting of Johnny Depp as a weirdo. It might also be that I had a hard time figuring out whether the horseman was actually a supernatural being or not. I get that it’s a big part of the story, Crane’s struggle between science and belief (he’s a one man Jack and Locke from Lost), but it kind of felt like it went too long without nailing it down one way or the other. But I did like how, in the end, it was kind of a mix of the two.

So yeah, for whatever reason the combination of my youthful crush, one of my favorite directors and over a dozen decapitations couldn’t draw me in. I’m going to guess that it’s just a state-of-mind thing. I don’t really have any expectations for Jack-O and my mind is all over the place lately. I’ll definitely have to give this one another look in the future.

Fellows With Rings Part 1

2008-10-20
2:36:08 pm

Not seeing The Lord of the Rings has turned into the new “not seeing Star Wars” sense of shock and awe amongst the geek community. Up until Saturday, I had never seen the first of Peter Jackson’s epic fantasy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings books. I had actually seen the second one in college with some friends on a whim. I found it pretty boring.

When I was a kid all my friends read The Hobbit and the Rings books. I tried reading The Hobbit in fifth grade or so and found it so boring that I couldn’t get through it. I’ve never been much a fan of fantasy literature or movies, with a few exceptions here and there. So when Jackson’s first LOTR flick came out, I just didn’t care. But Em did and she’s been trying to get me to watch the DVDs of which she has all three (the regular ones, not the super-nerdy editions, thank goodness).

It was pretty good. I didn’t fall in love with it or anything, but the story’s compelling and the performances are great. I’m impressed with the cast to be honest. I mean, they got Leatherface: TCM3’s Viggo Mortensen for goodness sake. But seriously, they did a great job.

What didn’t impress me, though were the CGI special effects. Some, like Ballroq were really cool, but others just didn’t look right. I know it’s hard to do things like a giant squid monster as a practical effect, but it’s no impossible, especially when considering how much thought and effort Jackson put into things like the hobbit feet (which rarely show up on screen) and the shire (which he apparently built a year before shooting to get the right feel).

I’m not going to get into a rehash of the plot, but it was engaging although long. And I hate when people complain about the length of a movie (Dark Knight for instance), but there did seem to be a good amount of padding (read: walking). I’m not really looking forward to watching the second movie because I remember a LOT of walking. Even the trees walk! Em even offered to skip it, but I’m nothing if not thorough, so we’ll see how this goes.

As it stands, I’ve got to agree with Randall from Clerks 2 about Star Wars being the better trilogy, but we’ll see how things go. (SPOILER: there’s no way I’m going to say LOTR is better than SW.)