My Favorite Newer Horror Discoveries Of 2017

I watch a lot of horror movies, as you probably know. I stumble upon some of them on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, while others I’m given by friends or hear about on the fantastic Shock Waves podcast. In 2017, I also had the pleasure of writing for which lead to plenty of great viewings for fun and profit.

Continue reading My Favorite Newer Horror Discoveries Of 2017

Geek Doc: The Death Of Superman Lives (2015)

the-death-of-superman-lives-posterDirector and documentarian Jon Schnepp asked the question many of us have been wondering since the 90s: What happened to Tim Burton’s Superman Lives? Back then, word got out that the Batman Returns helmer would put his stamp on the Man of Steel with star Nicolas Cage. Most of us didn’t hear much else aside from the film’s eventual demise, Kevin Smith’s recollection of writing the film’s first draft and later design images that would find their way online. Enter The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

As the film got rolling producer Jon Peters hired a slew of people to work on the project. Smith and two other screenwriters worked on the script, Burton invested himself in the story and a variety of costume designers and artists started working on the ever-changing visual elements.

But, even with so many people working hard on the film, it ultimately fell apart. The doc doesn’t necessarily place the blame on any one individual person involved, though its hard not to put Peters’ name up there with some of the chicanery he pulled. Ultimately, though, the answer to the question posed in the title comes down to some simple facts: Burton’s weird vision made the studio nervous. That same vision also would have cost a bunch of money to bring to life and the studio eventually decided to go another direction that lead to Superman Returns.

Even so, this doc isn’t really about why Superman Lives didn’t get made, it’s about all the work that went into it while the creative people involved thought they were making it. Everyone from Peters and Smith to Burton and costume designer Colleen Atwood. It’s fascinating to see how they all attempted to bring each others’ visions to life and maybe a little tragic that it was all for nothing. Except, it’s not really for nothing because this public record of their work now exists. I think that might be the great thing about this era of “why didn’t it get made” documentaries. They take something that a lot of people put a lot of effort into and bring it to your attention, even if it’s not in the originally intended way. With that in mind, I’m even more excited about eventually seeing Doomed and the one about George Miller’s Justice League movie.

For all the effort he put into the film, I give Schnepp huge buckets of kudos. Cage is the only major player who did get interviewed for this thing, but he still shows up thanks to some filmed segments of him trying on the costumes with Atwood and Burton. Those clips really bring the whole thing together because the represent the in-the-moment as opposed to the looking-back. I’m not personally a fan of the animated sequences in the film and think it’s super awkward for the interviewer to be on camera nodding when the subject is answering questions, but altogether I can’t recommend this movie enough for anyone who’s ever been even remotely interested in Superman Lives or the process that goes into making these big, blockbuster superhero films.

Sunday Nights: An Embarrassment Of TV Riches

Man, you guys, when did Sundays become such great TV nights? I remember back in the day the dearth of weekend program would result in me watching syndicated shows like Renegade, MANTIS or that futuristic Knight Rider thing. Now it’s one of the nights most packed with shows my wife and I want to watch, especially right now with Discovery coming out hot and heavy with news shows. I’ll put this out there right now: we don’t have DVR because the wiring in our building is too old, so we have to watch what’s on. I started thinking about all this a few weeks back when AMC’s Comic Book Men premiered. I’m a fan of Kevin Smith and his friends featured on the show, plus I covered some of the PR events for CBR. But, something else was on at 10PM, Sunday nights. I can’t remember what it was when the show first premiered, but a couple weeks back it wound up being A&E’s Breakout Kings, which is also on at 10PM. CBM wrapped up last week, so I’m hoping I can catch a marathon at some point, but we do enjoy Breakout Kings quite a bit, especially thanks to the fact that this season has more of an overarching story with the remaining Kings trying to track down the guy that killed SPOILER Charlie. I also like what they’re doing with Erica and the dude who works downstairs. Can we get an updated title sequence, too, by the way? It just looks silly with one character edited out. But, Mad Men‘s back tonight, which really throws a wrench in our schedule, especially because the premiere is two hours long. It’s really no question between whether we watch Mad Men or Breakout Kings, even though we both like the latter, it’s nowhere near as good as the former. Mad Men feels more like an event anyway, one that I like keeping up on. I think I’ll be able to watch BK at 11PM, but my wife goes to bed by then, so she’ll probably miss out. The 10PM slot also now has the brand new Rube Goldberg-inspired show by the Mythbusters called Unchained Reaction. The concept behind the series it that two teams are tasked with making a Chained Reaction machine with a particular theme. As longtime readers will remember, I love me some Goldbergian machines, so this show could not be more interesting to me. I thought this show was premiering tonight, but I am watching the Heavy vs. Light episode as I type, so it either already debuted or this is kind of a sneaky way to show it off early. I’m already digging this show and would love to watch it on a regular basis. Thankfully, Discovery has a good track record of showing reruns, so I’m sure I’ll catch up.

Discovery also has a show in the 9:00PM spot that we love watching, Mythbusters. Again, I know these shows get rerun on a pretty regular basis, but the premiere–which is tonight for sure–features Jamie and Adam stranded on a desert island with nothing but duct tape to survive on. That’s pretty awesome and I’d like to watch, but the extended Mad Men premiere will be keeping us away, but after that, I think we’ll be all set. We’re also a bit conflicted in the 8:00PM slot. Usually we just watch Amazing Race, which can sometimes be pushed back thanks to sports, which is a bit of a bummer. But, right now Discovery also has Frozen Planet on at the same time which looks gorgeous in HD (yes, our HD channels started working again).

So that’s where we’re at. Like I said in the title, it’s an embarrassment of riches. I’d always rather have too many shows I want to watch than not enough. Well, actually, if there were fewer shows on that I wanted to watch, I’d probably get more reading done…

Halloween Scene: C.H.U.D. (1984)

C.H.U.D.‘s one of those movies that I seem to have always been aware of. I remember seeing the VHS box while roaming the video store with my parents well before I actually got interested in horror. I remember seeing it on horror lists when I did get interested and also hearing the movie mentioned in Kevin Smith movies or maybe by the writer/director himself. But, I never saw it. I figured the movie was goofy because of the title and didn’t get around to seeing it until today.

So, I was pretty surprised when I started watching on Netflix Instant and the movie was actually pretty serious. Not overly serious and not taking itself too seriously, but this is not a corny movie. It’s about Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers who live under New York City. The government is trying to cover it all up, but a photographer and a guy who runs a homeless shelter find out about them. As it turns out, the creatures are the result of an nuclear organization dumping waste in supposedly abandoned sewers and tunnels under the city. Some of the homeless people who live down there mutated and then fed off of their fellow homeless. With their food supply getting eaten up, the C.H.U.D.s soon take to the streets wreaking havoc.

It’s an interesting, though far fetched plot, that’s well executed by the cast and crew. John Heard plays the photographer and a young Daniel Stern the shelter guy. There’s also a cop who I could have sword was a young Ron Swanson from Parks & Recreation, but was not. They take their time to reveal the monsters and build some tension both personal and on a larger scale, keeping the monsters out of the movie until the last third or so.

And that’s kind of where the problem lies, the monsters. The design was pretty good, but you can see where the head piece attached to the body suit and I just couldn’t get past the yellow glowing eyes. It’s cool when they’re in the dark, but when it’s bright out, it just looks silly. But, I don’t hold that against them too much. Like I said, the movie’s pretty good and I’m also a sucker for any horror movie set in NYC, so I can forgive some less than great creature suits in favor of an overall solid flick.

Halloween Scene: Red State (2011)

I’m a Kevin Smith fan, which I’ve written about before on UnitedMonkee. In addition to his flicks, I’ve spent a lot of time listening to and enjoying the podcasts on his Smodcast network. As such, I’ve been hearing a lot about Red State over the past few years. In brief, Smith wrote the movie around the same time as Zack and Miri Make A Porno, but the Weinsteins wouldn’t go for it. He went on to make Zack & Miri, then directed his first bigger budget flick, Cop Out, which didn’t live up to expectations. Eventually after some airline incidents and the introduction of copious amounts of weed into his system, the writer/director decided to get private funding and make the movie himself for a few million bucks. He then decided to distribute the film himself after a goofy stunt at a film festival, took the movie on tour and just this week released the movie wide on DVD, VOD and whatnot. Overall, I think it’s a pretty amazing way to go about making flicks and getting them out there. Of course, it won’t work for just anyone as Smith has just under 2 million followers on Twitter thanks to amassing an audience for so many years. Still, I think it’s the wave of the future, people just making movies, you know? The whole thing is kind of inspiring and makes me want to dig my woods-based slasher script out of a pile and start filming. But, I digress.

I was excited when I heard via Twitter that Red State would be on Netflix Instant starting yesterday (I watched it yesterday, just didn’t get around to blogging about it). I knew going in–from hearing Smith talk on his various podcasts, including Red State Of The Union, which documented the film’s production with interviews galore–that it was about three kids trying to get laid and running afoul of a group of religious extremists. Some bad stuff happens to them and then John Goodman comes in at the end. That’s about it. If you haven’t seen the movie, it might be best to go in with just those thoughts, I’ll be getting into SPOILER territory soon.

The movie starts out very Smithian with lots of dialogue and exposition, but I thought it was handled pretty well, even if the idea of the dumb girl in class not knowing about the religious extremists who live a half hour away is very unlikely. I really enjoyed the performances by the three young male leads (Kyle Gallner, Nicholas Braun and Michale Angarano) even though their desperate and gross Porky’s 2-like plan to get laid by the same old lady in a trailer reeks of awful desperation. Shit hits the fan pretty early on after that and the spotlight gets less stolen and more absorbed by Michael Parks who plays the charismatic, yet bigoted (and evil) preacher of this extremist group. There’s this sermon scene that would seem incredibly dry on paper, but the dude just demands that you watch and listen to him, even if he’s spouting off the most hateful shit imaginable. There’s a build-up to the awfulness that almost makes you think he might not be such a bad guy, then you remember there’s kids being held captive.

Let’s call the rest of this SPOILER TERRITORY until the  last paragraph. I watched the review of this movie on The Totally Rad Show and one of the guys mentioned something that I felt while watching: it really plays up on the fear of being publicly denigrated with no one reaching out to help you. It’s something that I think Wicker Man was going for, but didn’t really achieve (for me at least). Between the dude in the cage, the guy on the cross and the two boys trapped in the underground hatch, there’s all kinds of that going on. I also liked how one of the boys completely abandons his friend when he realizes he’s got a chance to escape. You already know that these three boys aren’t the most upstanding of citizens, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise, but is still a realistic moment that a lot of horror flicks either don’t attempt or don’t succeed at.

And then there’s the John Goodman stuff. I love that guy and he kills in this movie as a DEA agent sent out to check out the reports of gun possession at the group’s compound. From listening to the podcasts, I had thought this would happen in the last 10 or so minutes of the movie, but it actually takes up the last third as things turn into a moral drama with lots of gunplay. I liked that my assumptions about the movie were wrong and that I could still be surprised after hearing so much about it. And then you’ve got the just-before-the-end part where Parks thinks he’s hearing a sign that God is actually on his side but we later find out was just some kids playing a joke. I’m not sure how I feel about it. It reminds me of this arc in the Daredevil comics where Matt Murdock is on trial and then some guy who happened to have dressed up as DD swoops into the courtroom. It was a little to happenstancial then and that’s how I felt this time around. The timing is just too good, even if there was a reason for the joke to be played.

Okay, we’re out of the spoiler danger zone. I think any horror or thriller fan would dig this movie, even if they’re not fans of Smith’s, though you will have to be okay with some pretty intense scenes and the common-for-Kevin slathering of profanity and sex talk. These things don’t bother me, but I figure there should be some fair warning. It really is a taught, intriguing and scary flick that’s so set in the real world that it makes it even more spooky. Zealots, man, they’re just too much.

Friday Fisticuffs: The Green Hornet (2011)

I had zero expectations for The Green Hornet. I was intrigued by Seth Rogen’s attempt to be an action star as well as Michel Gondry’s involvement, but it wasn’t the kind of course material that I’m either familiar with or nostalgic about. I questioned what the point of bringing back a character that hasn’t been in the spotlight for 40 years and assuming he’d have any kind of cache with audiences. But hey, that’s what Hollywood does.

We’ve actually had this DVD sitting around from Netflix for longer than I care to admit (or can remember, but it’s been awhile). Originally the missus and I were going to watch it, but with more and more passing weeks and our recent downgrade from two discs at a time to one, I wanted to get some new blood in my player.

Oh man, did I have fun with this flick. For some reason, I had assumed that Rogen’s Britt Reid was actually some kind of legacy, that he was picking up the Green Hornet mantle from his father who had passed away, but that’s not the case. Reid’s dad does die, but he wasn’t GH. After a day of hanging out with his father’s mechanic/genius/martial arts expert Kato, Britt and him wind up doing something stupid that leads to them becoming heroes. From there it’s a matter of Reid’s fortune supplying Kato with what he needs to build their supercar the Black Beauty and come up with the Hornet’s gas gun.

I know there have been several movies lately about what it would be like for a real person to become a hero, but I haven’t seen them. I refuse to watch Kick Ass and just haven’t gotten around to seeing the others. I know from reviews and source material that they focus on the potential hero getting the ever loving shit kicked out of them before they get to be worthwhile protectors of peace and justice. I’m glad they skipped over most of that stuff with this movie. Kato’s got the Green Hornet’s back, so you don’t really have to worry about him for the most part. There’s a few close calls, but overall Reid handles himself alright. There are real life like events, like a few killings, that reflect the seriousness of the situation, but overall, Rogen’s quips keep things light and had me laughing a lot. It did seem like a lot of them were ADRed in which got to be a little distracting and reminded me of Patton Oswalt’s routine about writing jokes for movies that had already been written.

But that’s a minor problem and one that you only really notice if you watch too many movies like me. The real question from a Friday Fisticuffs perspective is: how were the fights? Pretty cool. I know there was some hesitation online about Gondry’s way of showing how fast Kato moves and thinks (it was called something, but I can’t remember what), but I thought it came off pretty cool looking if not very video gamey. He essentially scans the entire area, notes weapons and sometimes targets in red and then does a series of moves to take them all out. There’s also a kind of stretching effect here and there that reminds me of some of the effects used in Flash comics. Had it been overused, the effect would have quickly become annoying, but Gondry used it sparingly, so it was fun to watch. Plus, Jay Chou’s got pretty good moves for a pop star.

There weren’t that many hand to hand fights, but the ones that were, using Gondry’s method were a lot of fun to watch. You don’t often see people thinking of new ways to actually show fights and it’s a heck of a lot better than that quick-cutting, hand held camera work that has become so popular. The other action scenes were pretty great, especially the huge epic fight that lead into a chase and then into yet another fight at the very end.

Overall, I’d recommend The Green Hornet to pretty much anyone. There’s enough comedy in there to keep non-action fans entertained as well as something of a love story. The movie also did something that I didn’t think was possible: made me more interested in the Green Hornet. I kinda want to check out the original old time radio show as well as the TV series (though Bruce Lee’s involvement as always intrigued me) and even the Kevin Smith comic based on the screenplay he wrote a while back. So, I guess the movie did it’s job. Well, it could have done better at the box office, but it did it’s artistic job by being entertaining, fun, innovative and intriguing.

Trailers! Trailers! Trailers!

I see a lot of posts on /Film about various movie trailers, but I tend to ignore them until I see them on TV or at the movies. Looking at them on a tiny computer screen just doesn’t do it for me all the time, but every now and then I get sucked in to looking at a bunch of trailers and here are the ones I saw that I’m looking forward to.

Hot Tub Time Machine. Just saw this one on TV today (though a shorter version) and can’t wait to see it.

I discovered The Runaways with the Dazed and Confused soundtrack back in high school and eventually picked up one of their records at a my beloved used record store Boogie Records. So, this movie based on them is definitely in my wheelehouse.

I just stumbled upon the trailer for this Angelina Jolie spy flick called Salt. The plot seems pretty basic in that “wrongly accused person on the run trying to prove their innocence” way, but what I like is seeing an ass kicking woman in the role. I’m not a big fan of Jolie, but this looks promising.

And finally, Cop Out is Kevin Smith’s next movie. I’ve been avoiding the trailers, but was in the spirit and gave it a look. You can’t really go wrong with Tracy Morgan teaming up with Bruce Willis. It’ll be interesting to see Smith, a director I love, doing, not only a movie he didn’t write, but also an action-heavy flick. Hopefully this is his big huge movie.

What I’m Thankful For: Kevin Smith

4:22:18 am

So I’m starting a new recurring element for November. It’s called What I’m Thankful For and it’s pretty self explanatory. First up, I decided to do Kevin Smith. I’ve been a fan of his since my freshman year in high school and just saw Zack and Miri so it seemed like a natural place to start.

It’s kind of funny because I almost wrote Kevin Smith off early on in my high school career. I remember going over to a girl named Erin Sullivan’s house and she tried putting on Clerks, but everyone was pretty grossed out by the snowball conversation and we turned it off (oh how young and prudish we were). Later, I was at someone else’s house (Chad Yates, I believe) and he put on Chasing Amy which got turned off pretty quickly for whatever reason (it’s not really a good party movie).

Now, I’m not sure when I actually started watching his movies, but whenever that was, I was hooked. I do remember seeing the Mallrats Magic Eye ads in the back of comics, but I’m sure that had nothing to do with it. There was something about the way he had his characters talk that seemed to echo how I thought (though not necessarily how I talked). And the themes were completely original too me. Clerks showed me what the world can be like. Mallrats gave me a comedy that seemed to speak to my generation (or at least the one slightly above mine) and Chasing Amy broke my heart with it’s unorthodox love story and less than happy ending.

I want to say that I saw Dogma in the theater, but I really can’t remember. I do remember that I was freaking in love with it. I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic grade school and high school, but it wasn’t the ultra-strict kind of thing that tend to spring to mind for a lot of people. I actually learned a great deal in those schools about everything from history to sex ed, which kind of blows my mind after talking to other people who went to Catholic schools. Anyway, Dogma basically started pointing out a lot of the kind of crazy things about organized religion around the same time the thoughts started kicking around in my own head so it was great timing.

Somewhere around here I discovered Kevin Smith’s Viewaskew site. I wasn’t really down with the whole message board thing but I really appreciated how open he was with his fans. Smith was one of the first director’s I discovered and really followed in my younger years (Tarantino was another) and I really appreciated how he interacted with people. He seemed like a new kind of director.

I do remember when I saw Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back though. It was the day before I went off to college and my buddy Eric Toth got screener tickets for Randy Lemle and myself, which was great because I had to go down on a Wednesday I believe and would have missed the normal Friday release. It was pretty great timing really as I was leaving my own weird cast of characters for a completely new one (just like Smith was supposedly leaving the View Askewniverse behind. Yes it’s a love letter to the fans, but being such a big fan I gladly accepted it.

Somewhere along the line I saw Jersey Girl on DVD and while it’s definitely not your average Smith flick, I thought it had a lot of heart and he got great performances out of Ben Affleck, George Carlin, Liv Tyler and everyone else. And, if nothing else it lead directly to the 10-years-later sequel to Clerks which I freaking loved in the theaters and watched again with Em back when we didn’t have cable and laughed like crazy. Again, the timing was right as I was feeling older, I’d moved away from home and I wasn’t really around my good close friends from either home or college. So, while my life didn’t reflect the events on screen (no donkey shows for me), I could definitely relate to the scariness of the next steps of life along with questioning what the heck I’m supposed to do with my life. And, of course, I like seeing these characters over and over, it’s the comic book fan in me.

When I started getting into podcasts a few years back Smith and Scott Mosier’s Smodcast was one of the first ones I subscribed to and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s just two dudes talking and it’s great. I, of course, also have the Clerks cartoon on DVD even though I didn’t watch it when it was on. I do have all the DVDs (except Jersey Girl) and have actually watched Mallrats with commentary more times than without. I bought the first round of Clerks Inaction figures and the Jay and Bob figures. Oh, and I got super jealous when Rickey, my roommate at the time, got to go to Smith’s house to take notes during a big poker game with comic talent like Jim Lee and Geoff Johns for a feature in Wizard. I was able to contribute the headline of that feature though, “The Royal Flush Gang.” Hey, it’s something, I guess. The closest I ever personally got was interviewing Walt Flanagan and Bryan Johnson about their rad monster horror comic War of the Undead via E-mail.

So last Saturday I found myself in the theater with Em watching Zack and Miri Make a Porno. I dug the movie. I do have some problems with the plot (they SPOILER never finish the porno or go back and explain what’s up with the other characters), but I laughed hard and got to see some familiar faces (maybe a few too many Apatow familiars for my personal preference). Mostly I liked how Seth Rogen’s character so closely paralleled Smith himself when he was making Clerks. It’s not a necessary piece of information to fully enjoy the movie, but it was kind of cool knowing he was using his own experiences. I’ve got no problem with the porno thing, I guess it would be kind of hard to be a Smith fan by now and actually have a problem with it, but whatever.

I fully recognize that my relationship with Smith’s movies has been very “right place, right time.” I’ve got no idea if I’d be such a big fan if I was a few years older or younger, but hey, that’s how it works. I’m excited to see where he goes from here, especially with Red State, his in-progress horror movie (two great tastes that will hopefully taste great together). Until then, I’ll keep my ear to the Smodcast to see what historical and factual inaccuracies the boys can come up with next.