Joe Dante Is Awesome

the burbs poster Joe Dante is the kind of director who was wildly influential on me as a kid, though I only realized it recently. After enjoying The Hole so much I decided to look at his filmography and saw that he made a ton of movies I loved as a kid that are still awesome to this day.

Of course I knew that he did Gremlins and Gremlins 2, which were probably my first monster movies, but I didn’t know he was the brain behind a movie like Innerspace which I haven’t seen in probably two decades, but loved when I was younger. I also had no idea that he helmed five episodes of Eerie, Indiana, another show that had a huge impact on me. Long before I was into actual horror, I was sitting on my living room floor staring at this wonderfully weird show with eyes wide open.  And, man, how good was Matinee? I’ve only seen that movie, but now that I actually know who William Castle is, I need to revisit it.

With that kind of revisiting mentality, I did what was natural and opened up my unwieldy DVD binder and got flipping. First I watched another Dante classic from my childhood that introduced me to all kinds of horror, suspense and haunted house tropes while also playing with them and turning them on their heads. Of course, I’m talking about The ‘Burbs, the director’s 1989 suburban horror suspense comedy starring Tom Hanks, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Rick Ducommun and Henry Gibson.

Here’s the gist. Hanks’ Ray is on vacation and wants to just relax in his neighborhood, but his wife Carol (Fisher) wants to go to a lake. Of course, that winds up being the least of Ray’s problems as his paranoid neighbors Art (Ducommun) and Rumsfield (Dern) start convincing him that their new neighbors, the creepy Klopeks, might have killed their other neighbor. All of this leads Ray and his pals down the road of madness (though funny madness) as they become obsessed with finding out where the potential bodies were buried.

I saw this movie long before things like Rear Window or House On Haunted Hill which do get borrowed from, at least in tone if not direct plot points. Dante’s able to weave actual scary elements along with cartoonish comedic bits that make this film not only unique, but a joy to watch. There are still parts of the film that get in my head and make my skin crawl a bit and then the next moment I’m laughing. And a lot of that comes from Dante and company taking the mundane — having weird neighbors — and making it feel epic. It helps that Hanks is so good at conveying that regular guy normality as well as the pushed-to-the-limits nature of the character, something he displayed in The Money Pit too.

While watching the movie I also realized that I’ve wanted to live on a street like this my whole life, one where neighbors actually talked to each other and would join forces in this kind of insane endeavor (or watch from the sidelines like Feldman’s Ricky does).

piranha_poster From The ‘Burbs, I immediately went to Piranha, a film I saw for the first time thanks to the excellent Shout Factory offering from a few years back. My second viewing brought to mind many of the praises I had the first time around, most of which revolve around the fact that what was probably originally intended as a straight-up Jaws rip off, turned out to be a lot more than that. I don’t think I’d bust out the word masterpiece to describe this movie, but I do think Dante did a whole lot of awesome work with something that could have been just another cash grab.

One of the elements of Dante’s work that I appreciate is the variety of the material. I haven’t seen his first full-length movie Hollywood Boulevard, but he went from a drama to a fairly low budget horror flick like Piranha and then onto what I assumed was the larger budget The Howling. From there he did everything from the Gremlins flick to Masters Of Horror episodes and Looney Tunes: Back In Action to Hawaii Five-O episodes.

I’m pretty excited to check out Boulevard and the more kid-oriented Explorers, both of which are on Netflix Instant. I’d also really like to revisit The Howling ( usually I don’t like werewolf movies), Matinee and also Innerspace. I’ve even heard a few good things about Small Soldiers, so let’s add that to the must-see list too.

Anyone who can keep making quality films for 40 years deserves all the accolades in the world, especially when he or she can make a series of movies and shows with all different kinds of themes and settings. Those are the kinds of artists that inspire me and the ones I hope to be like.

Halloween Scene: Lost Boys The Tribe (2008)

There are two things I’ve gotta say right off the bat when it comes to this straight-to-DVD, 20-years-too-late sequel to Lost Boys. First, as I’ve mentioned before, Lost Boys isn’t the kind of movie I saw as a kid and have a long-time love for. I saw it for the first time just a few years ago and appreciate it on a fun level, but I’m still not so sure it’s such a great movie. 2. I was NOT paying attention to this movie while it was playing on NetBox. I was reading or on the computer or something because, well, everyone said it was a dumb movie, so who cares?

Anyway, here are my brief thoughts that I wrote down while kindasorta watching:

*Gotta love the Tom Savini cameo in the beginning. That guy’s awesome.

*The sax guy is back!

*Listening to Feldman do his terrible Dirty Harry impression as an older dude is just kinda weird and sad.

*”Hey, a lot of good information can be learned from reading comic books” – paraphrase cause I drank too much wine.

*Haha, “Warriors, come out and plaaaay.”

*I’m pretty sure if I became a vampire, I would take up x-treme sports too.

*I’m not a fan of the Lost Boys mythology which says you’re a partial vampire, but can get rid of it or whatever after just drinking a cup of blood.

*This movie’s not so bad when you’re not a huge LB fan and not really paying much attention.

*The “we’re vampires” beach bonfire moment is kinda cool and awesomely bloody.

*I like how the vamps puke blood Red Lantern-style after getting impaled.

*Everything Feldman says is a ridiculous pun or sounds like it should be one.

*Vampire + drill = awesome. Why is his face melting? who cares it looks cool.

Well there you have it. I don’t know if I even saw the whole thing. At one point it was just over. I didn’t see the cameos by the other Frog Brother or Corey Haim, but I wasn’t about to rewind or stop what I was doing.

Did anyone else watch The Two Coreys? The episode where Feldman breaks it to Haim that there’s already been talk of a sequel, yet no one contacted Haim is freaking heartbreaking. Seriously, you can see the man’s heart break. Here’s the clip:

13.5 Quick Movie Reviews

2009-01-17
5:32:32 am

Hey gang, sorry again about my complete lack of posts lately, things have been crazy. I have been keeping myself busy with movies though, so here are 13 short reviews about some flicks I’ve seen lately, plus one movie I didn’t watch.

SIX STRING SAMURAI (1998)

I really liked this post apocalyptic-like road trip movie with a samurai Buddy Holly. The howler-monkey kid got annoying fast, but the action and snappy dialogue kept things moving along at quite a clip. Much better than I thought it would be.

OUR MAN FLINT (1966)

Flint’s a swinging secret agent int he 60s more worried about having a good time than stopping an international incident (at first at least). Great, campy 60s spy fun, that both pokes fun at but also sets itself up in the same universe as James Bond. A lot of fun, can’t wait to check out the sequel.

THE MAJORETTES (1986)

I don’t actually remember too much about this movie other than it involved some maniac hunting down and killing high school cheerleaders. It’s a way lower budget movie and apparently very little of the money went to snag actors who can, you know, act. Skip this one unless you’re a horror completist or you’re looking to cross another movie off in your copy of Creature Feature (like me).

DAY OF THE DEAD (2008)

I was actually pretty impressed with this remake-in-name-mostly of Romero’s Day of the Dead. I’m not a huge fan of the original or anything, but I wasn’t expecting much out of this flick and was surprised. The story moves along the same speeds as the fast Zack Snyder/28 Days Later-like zombies, but my favorite part is seeing actual people I recognize like Mena Suvari, Nick Cannon and Ving Rhames killing and becoming zombies. When was the last time you saw a non genre actor semi-famous person in a horror movie after they became famous? Hopefully it’s a trend that will continue. I’m actually kind of surprised that they didn’t release this movie in theaters. Oh well, a pretty good zombie movie all said and done, though not a classic.

THE SHADOW (1994)

In my opinion, it’s hard to go wrong when you populate a movie about a pulp hero with actors like Alec Baldwin, Peter Boyle, Tim Curry, Ian McKellen, James Hong and Jonathan Winters and luckily The Shadow held up my opinions. I’m not all that familiar with pulp heroes, especially the Shadow, but I like the idea of him having a network of people all over the city (usually people he has saved) who help him out. There’s all kinds of cool stuff like secret labs and ancient forces of good and evil. Oh and for 30 Rock fans, I highly encourage you to think of these as the early days of Jack Donaghy.

LAST MAN STANDING (1996)

A pretty cool story about a gangster-era hitman (Willis) holing up in a ghost town populated by two rival gangs, gets slowed down with a little too much back and forth back stabbing. I definitely don’t remember all the details about this one, but I’m a Willis fan. Michael Imperioli plays pretty much the same role he always does and Walken stars as Willis’ main competition and they fight which is cool. Can you imagine Walken fighting now? Aside from a dance fight I mean. Oh, also Walter Hill of Warriors fame directed LMS, so it’s gotta be pretty good, right?

FOXY BROWN (1974)

So far my experience with blaxploitation films as been hit or miss, but luckily Foxy is enough of a hit. In the plus column, Pam Grier cuts quite the figure, plus she kicks ass. I also like the idea of a group of inner city dwellers taking the law into their own hands and creating their own kind of police force. I’m not a big fan of the sexual assault stuff, but I guess that’s all part of the exploitation riff. Too bad Foxy and Shaft never got together. That would have been a great flick.

LEATHERHEADS (2008)

I’m not sure if I’ve professed my heterosexual man love for George Clooney on the blog before, but I’m a big fan. I think we’d get along smashingly. I do know that I’ve talked about how much I like the American Office, so you probably know I’m a John Krasinski fan. So, Leatherheads was a good flick in my book. It doesn’t make my top 10 sports movies of all time (well, maybe, I’d have to come up with that list actually), but it’s fun and it offered up a look at a period in professional football that I am completely unfamiliar with, so that was cool. Of course, it’s a comedy, so I’m not sure how accurate it was, but who cares? Like I said it was fun. Has similar story elements to League of the their Own (which probably would make my top 10 because I’m a huge softy). Not groundbreaking by any means, but worth a watch.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (2008)

I liked Leatherheads more than Journey, but it’s not a terrible movie (even if it is very predictable). The special effects bounce back and forth between boderline okay, pretty good and not so great, but the effort is there. I really wish I would have been able to see this bad boy in 3D. I missed out on the phenomenon in the 80s and have gotten a taste for it by watching Superman Returns (ugh) and Nightmare Before Christmas in lame separate the background from the foreground 3D. I can’t freaking wait to see My Bloody Valentine 3D!!!

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (1988)

Holy crap I loved this movie. Rickey got me a subscription to a horror movie mag called Horror Hound that’s not expertly edited, but still offers up tons and tons of horror goodness. One such bit of goodness was a whole feature on Klowns. The movie is just so much freaking over the bigtop fun. I really can’t believe that a studio made this movie. Please, do yourself a favor and check it out. Also of interest on the DVD is the Chiodo brothers’ home movies from when they were making monster movies as kids. Pretty impressive stuff for pre-teens with a 16mm camera.

VAMPIRE EFFECT (2003)

The combination of Hong Kong action and vampires drew me to this flick pretty quickly on Netflix. Heck, it’s even got Jackie Chan in a roll that’s more than him just walking on and being called Jackie (which he is). As with a lot of movies like this that I’ve seen, the special effects and fight scenes are sick, but the story itself is nothing new. I did really like the cool retractable whip/sword weapons they used. I think I designed something very similar what I was younger.

LICENSE TO DRIVE (1988)

If you thought Corey Haim could have been a little bit smoother, though still pretty spazzy in Lost Boys and Corey Fledman from the Burbs could use a little mellowing out, then License to Drive is the perfect 2 Coreys vehicle for you (puns!). Haim fails his driving test, but still tells a young (though still 18 by my math) Heather Graham that he can pick her up. It’s basically like an episode of a sitcom, but stretched to 90 minutes and definitely edgier than your average Saved By The Bell. Good stuff. Next up from the Coreys? Dream a Little Dream (which I have absolutely no knowledge of).

LEGEND (1985)

Legend is one of those movies that I don’t remember at all, but have since come to find that it’s kind of a big deal (to some people). I knew that Tim Curry was in it, but had no idea Tom Cruise was. I thought it might be kind of a funny movie, but when I saw Tom prancing around the forest or whatever I clicked this badboy off and deleted it from my queue. I am no fan of fantasy movies.

JOHNNY BE GOOD (1988)

I’m becoming a pretty big fan of Netflix’s recommendations. I started watching Johnny after digging License and wasn’t disappointed. It’s got an older and more confident Anthony Michael Hall and a completely goofy Robert Downey Jr.. There’s a good deal of goofiness to this movie, which focuses on Hall as a football star getting courted by and visiting different colleges that want him. Downey plays his wacky best friend, but what struck me about the movie is how real it can be at times. Hall and Downey sell their characters like they’re up for an award. Oh, it’s also got Uma Thurman as Hall’s girlfriend and Jennifer Tilly has a quick role. If you’re an 80s movie fan, or just curious to see what Downey might have been like back in the late 80s give Johnny a look.

AUGUST RUSH (2007)

Sometimes you’ve got to add a movie for your lady to the ol’ queue. I was pleasantly surprised with August Rush, not because the story is all the unique (you’ve seen the broad strokes before plenty of times), but because of it’s view of music. The way they show the young boy experiencing music in everyday life, what it means to him and how he’s eventually able to play it in his own unorthodox way really struck me. If you’ve got to watch a chick flick with your girl and you’re a music fan, this is a good choice. Also, Keri Russell is in it and looking good.

KING OF KONG (2007)

If you haven’t seen this documentary about the surprisingly competitive world of classic arcade high score competitions, please stop reading and watch it right now. This one makes it into my top 10 movies of 2007 (should a list ever actually exist). First off, it shows off a world I’ve never seen, which you know I love. Also, that world is full of deceit, greed, cowardice, heroics, villainy, triumph and defeat. The way the story is put together feels like a really well scripted feature film, though the events and the ups and downs are completely real. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve written about on here, watch this movie.

SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY (2007)

Seeing as how The Death and Return of Superman is the story that got me collecting comics in the first place (and how deeply and utterly I bought into the idea that any of the four subsequent people could be the real Superman), I was very excited when I heard a few years ago that DC/WB was going to make an animated movie about that very event, I was psyched. I figured it probably wouldn’t have EVERYthing that made the comic so cool (Superman turning back to save a family instead of finishing Doomsday off, that very 90s JLA facing off against Doomsday, an eyes-swollen-shut Guy Gardner asking his teammate to aim his fist at Doomsday so he could blast it, not to mention the four other “Supermen”), but that it could offer up a cool new look on the idea. And it’s definitely a different look. I would have preferred them either go straight with the established look and continuity of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini-verse or have a drastically different art direction on the project as little things like Superman’s cheek lines become distracting. I was also distracted by the different voices for these characters that I recognize from a specific other incarnation that looked very similar but sound completely different. Even at 77 minutes it felt kind of slow, but the fight scenes are pretty great (though they don’t hold a candle to JLU). I still hold on to my dream of one day seeing an epic, animated incarnation of the Death and Return of Superman though. A boy can dream, right?

Halloween Scene: Friday the 13th Part III (1982) & The Final Chapter (1984)

2008-11-04
7:56:28 pm

As I mentioned before F13 is a weird series. Not until Part 3 do we get the world famous hockey mask, picked off the body of a dead jokester, no less! Three also doesn’t take place on a camp (nor does 4, but they’re all around Crystal Lake still).

As many of you probably know, part 3 was originally shown in 3-D, which makes me totally jealous that I haven’t gotten to see a horror movie in 3-D (I can’t wait for My Bloody Valentine 3-D!). I also wish they would have released the DVD in 3-D because it’s very clearly shot with the 3-D audience in mind (the yo-yo dropping down towards the camera, TWO eye balls jumping out at you and countless ends of farming tools sticking out at the audience). The shots just look kind of strange without being in 3-D.

The basic idea is that a group of friends go to a cabin the day after the events of F13 Part 2. They run afoul of a trio of bikers and Jason and start getting killed off one by one. There’s a few interesting characters. One of which is the main girl who had a run in with Jason in the woods a few years ago when she and her parents still lived in the house. She ran away from home and fell asleep in the woods only to be dragged away by Jason and end up in her own bed (?). Not sure what that’s supposed to mean, but it was kinda cool to see Jason post Part 1 and pre 2. There’s also the fat kid with low self esteem who keeps playing tricks on people to get a scare and (hopefully) a laugh. He’s really freaking annoying. We’ve all known people like this in real life. And not only is his character annoying, but his antics and the fake-out scares that come along with them get real old real quick. And why the heck does he have a working harpoon gun? Or a hockey mask? Oh well, his one positive contribution is that hockey mask. So I guess that’s cool.

The kills are fun, and the creative team really had fun with the kills, especially everything that happened in the barn. There’s a scene towards the end where the main girl gets the upper hand and actually hangs Jason. She thinks everything is cool and opens the door to see Jason hanging just inches off the ground. He seems dead at first, but then he pulls himself up (and shows off his mutilated face) and continues to attack her. Great stuff.

It even looks like Jason might be done for as he’s lying there at the end and the beginning of Part 4. Of course that doesn’t last as he wakes up in the morgue as a dude’s trying to make out with a girl. Creepy. From there we move to another group of kids renting a house, but with this flick we also get a mother and her two kids (one of which is horror mask and computer obsessed Corey Feldman) AND a hunter/woodsman who turns out to be avenging his sister who died in Part 2. Oh and a pair of twins who just happen to show up in the woods.

One of the soon-to-be-murdered kids is a young Crispen Glover! I love playing spot the future star in horror movies. And you get TWO in this one, which kind of makes up for the lack of big names in 2 and 3. Instead of the low self esteem guy you get the over confident smooth guy who never gets the girl. In this flick he ends up watching a stag film for the last 20 minutes of the movie while his friends get killed throughout the house. Until, of course, he dies.

What I like about this one is that you’re not really sure who’s going to survive. There’s about three candidates towards the end and one of the potential survivors doesn’t make which kind of surprised me (even though this is the F13 flick I remember most clearly, probably because it was the last one that Rickey and I watched when we lived together). The actual ending’s pretty crazy as Corey Feldman’s sister keeps running back and forth between her house the other one while Corey’s up in his bathroom shaving his head (which he must have done at super speed) all in an attempt to distract Jason by dressing up like a young Jason. Make sense? I guess the inhuman killing machine is actually pretty dumb (he got tricked by a girl who put on his dead mother’s sweater and pushed her hair behind her ears in 2). Anyway, it works for just enough time so that sis can stab Jason in his maskless (and gross) face with a machete which he then falls forward on and we see it carve through his face. Whew, glad that’s over. BUT WAIT, his finger twitches and Corey goes bizonkers smashing him in the head with the machete. Awesome, thanks again to Tom Savini.

As you can probably tell from the title this was supposed to be the last flick in the Jason storyline, but they do end it with a weird freeze frame focusing on Corey as he looks creepily at the camera. I’m not sure what the plan was supposed to be for him, but I do remember the character comes back in a later flick. Oh, also, sidenote, no more kids in horror movies named Tommy please. I’m psyched to watch the rest of this box set. Yeah!

Halloween Scene: Manly Movie Night 10-17-08

2008-10-19
4:26:11 pm

About three years ago my friends and colleagues at Wizard decided to get together and watch three “manly” movies hooting, hollering, drinking and making jokes the entire time. For a more complete history check out Sean T. Collins’ blog post about what we’ve dubbed Manly Movie Mamajama.

About a month ago we started exchanging E-mails about a Halloween-themed MMM and finally decided on a line up consisting of The Lost Boys, Slumber Party Massacre II (which I take full responsibility for adding to the line-up) and Dead Alive. So, Friday night we gathered together in manly fashion eating pizza and chili (some of us simultaneously) and drinking beer and Red Bull. I’d actually seen all three movies before, but it’s always a new experience watching them with these guys.

We started with Lost Boys (1987) directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland. There’s a lot going on in this movie and I’m not sure how much of it was actually intended. As Rickey pointed out, it really seems like brothers Jason Patric and Corey Haim are in a budding romance. There’s also the hilarity of the clothing throughout the flick. Between Haim’s crazy jackets/robes and Sutherland’s gang of mulleted biker vampires. Did this ever look tough? Ah, it was a different, simpler time.

Anyway, for those of you who haven’t seen it Lost Boys is about a pair of brothers and their mom who move in with their grandpa in the town of Santa Carla, CA which looks like Coney Island on crazy pills (but sadly lacking The Warriors). Well, it turns out that Santa Carla has a bit of a vampire problem and may or may not be the murder capital of the world, depending on how much stock you put into billboard graffiti. As Jason Patric gets wrapped up in Sutherland’s vampire gnag (which also includes Bill from the Bill and Ted movies), Haim meets the Frog Brothers, one of which is Feldman with seems to be doing his best Stallone impression throughout the movie. Their parents own a comic book store (probably the most disorganized store of all time). One of my favorite not-funny-on-purpose lines comes when Haim explains why two Superman comics shouldn’t be right next to each other (Lori Lemaris hasn’t even been introduced yet). How about because they’re no less than 100 issues apart from each other. Oh, also their parents look dead. Just saying. Anyway, the Frog Bros. are vampire hunters.

Anyway, you can imagine where things go from there. Sean Collins made the point that, in the 80s kids progressed from Goonies to Monster Squad to Lost Boys. Now, I had never actually heard of Monster Squad as a kid and I didn’t see Lost Boys until Rickey and I lived together, but these three films definitely share a spirit that you can’t find in movies aimed at kids anymore. Heck half the stars of this R-rated movie probably couldn’t legally see it when it premiered. Awesome!

But, really, you should check it out. There’s some pretty good effects and the last battle in the mom’s house is pretty great. Plus it’s good for a lot of laughs, both intentional and unintentional.

So, after Lost Boys we popped the VHS copy of Slumber Party Massacre II (1987) that I bought off of Amazon for just this occasion for about $6. It’s one of, if not THE most ridiculous movies (horror or otherwise) I’ve seen ever. As I explained to the group before we started, the first SPM movie had a random mental patient killing high school kids at a slumber party with a drill. This movie stars Crystal Bernard (the cute, blonde girl from Wings) as the sister of the survivor from the first flick. She’s in a band with three of her friends. One of the girls’ parents’ decided it would be a good idea to allow the girls to head up to their new condo (which are treated with the same sense of “newness” that malls were treated with in Dawn of the Dead) for the weekend.

Crystal keeps having crazy visions about a rockabilly dude with an Elvis haircut dressed in leather and rocking what looks like a BC Rich designed drill-tar. Well, as you can imagine, she keeps getting freaked out by various visions (the zit one is my favorite, worth the $6 I paid for this junk) but her friends just think she’s crazy until the dude comes to real life and starts killing her friends and their visiting boyfriends. What?!

From there it’s your average kids running away from a slasher movie, but with a lot more dancing as the Driller Killer busts some moves at random intervals and sings crazy songs. Seriously, if you love bad slasher movies, check this one out. Though I’m not sure if any of my MMM colleagues would agree with that sentiment. General consensus was that it was in the least liked films in MMM history down there with Steel Dawn and King Kong Lives (which I also found hilarious).

Unfortunately, I started coming down with a pretty bad cold that I’m still dealing with today, so I bounced out before the end of Dead Alive, though I’m not sure how much longer anyone else watched it. I would recommend skipping to the last 30 minutes, but make sure to view the zombie sex scene. It’s hilarious. Anyway, for my full Dead Alive/Braindead review, click here. As always, I had a great time at the MMM (even with getting sick) and I highly recommend starting up your own.