Halloween Scene: Stung (2015) & Return Of Count Yorga (1971)

stung posterA good buddy of mine sent me a box of awesome horror Blu-rays leading up to Halloween. I wrote about a few of them last week, but also wanted to give Stung and Return Of Count Yorga some blog love.

Stung was actually a bonus tossed in the box without warning. At first I wasn’t super interested because it sounded like a bit of Syfy or Asylum craziness with a plot revolving around giant wasps attacking an upscale garden party. But this Benni Diez-directed, Adam Aresty-written film is actually pretty damn delightful.

Our heroes are the owner of a catering company and her slacker employee who can barely handle himself when she switches from one shirt into another on the way to the event. He’s a bit too much of a goofball for my personal tastes (haven’t we seen enough of this character?) but he gets tangled up in the craziness of the events around him and starts adapting in the process.

Anyway, they wind up working some local bigwig’s party when these insane wasps start attacking. The stings are bad enough, but they also make their targets transform into gigantic wasps. Our heroes are joined in their drive to survive by Clifton Collins Jr. (who starred in Capote) and friggin’ Lance Henriksen, both of whom play against type a bit and also last much longer than you might expect.

I give Stung a lot of credit for not only featuring some impressive special effects (yes, there’s a lot of CGI, plus a fair amount of practical grossness) but also playing with expectations with what many would assume is stunt casting. I also thought it worked quite well as a nature-run-amok movie along the lines of Frogs. My own personal scare factor was boosted because I’ve been dealing with wasps under our siding all summer and hate those damn things. Whether you have wasps diving bombing your table or not, I highly recommend checking out Stung. It just went up on Netflix Instant, so it’s even easier!

return of count yorga posterI also gave The Return Of Count Yorga a watch. I feel like I’ve always known about these movies (or at least the original one from 1970), but just never got around to watching either of them. I think I saw part of the first on Netflix a while back, but who can remember?

Anyway, in this film, Yorga (Robert Quarry) makes his come back because of the Santa Anna winds (sure, why not) and he soon gets to work turning the gorgeous Cynthia — played by Mariette Hartley — into a fellow undead minion. Along the way his vampire brides also turn an orphan boy who then leads them to Cynthia’s family. Soon enough everyone in the family is turned aside from a deaf woman. She goes to the police about the attack, but no one believes her because the vamps cleaned up the mess and the kid is on their side.

As I mentioned, Hartley is just captivating, but so is Quarry. When he’s just hanging out in slick guy mode — at a costume party no less — he’s mesmerizing. But when he’s in vamp mode? It’s a bit laughable. Instead of sneaking up on his victims, he puts both arms straight out and just charges at them (complete with white pancake makeup). Even with that, though, there are some pretty scary moments, though they mostly revolve around people telling the truth and not being believed or voices coming from nowhere potentially driving folks crazy.

So, yeah, it’s a little goofy at times, but there’s also enough cool in this movie for me to recommend it if you dig on early 70s movies with some psychological scares and great actors.

 

Halloween Scene: The Old School

noesEven though I had a lot of luck with new movies, as documented in this earlier post, I still went back and watched some old movies I’d never seen, plus a few I had seen but only once and an old favorite or two. Continue reading Halloween Scene: The Old School

Rad Review: Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

alien vs predator landscapeCrossover movies can be tricky beasts. By definition you’re serving at least two masters from two different fan bases. When combining two properties like Aliens and Predators — ones that had already faced off in the worlds of comics, video games and pretty much everything aside from movies — there’s a lot to live up to. When we first saw AVP back in 2004, we were admittedly disappointed. Frankly, we would have been happy if the movie was simply our two favorite aliens smashing each other to bits at every chance without so many pesky humans getting in the way.

Well, we revisited alien vs predator POSTERthe movie recently and it’s a wonder what lowered expectations combined with a better working knowledge of a story can do for enjoyment of a film. Going blind into any franchise flick or remake, you’ve got a certain set of expectations and the new film either meets them or doesn’t. If they’re not met, then you leave disappointed at best, which can sour you. That’s how we were with AVP. But, never let it be said that the Explosions Are Rad crew doesn’t go back and re-evaluate.

alien vs predator dvdAVP finds a group of scientists, archaeologists, industrialists, diggers and mercenaries traveling to Antarctica to investigate a strange heat signature that’s more than it seems. Lead by Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henriksen) — who plays the inspiration for his character in the Alien flicks — the trip soon proves to be more than meets the eye as the crew discovers an ancient underground temple that just so happens to  house an Alien queen. As we learn, millennia ago, the Predators came to Earth, built these temples to test their skills against the murderous xenomorphs and returned to test their warriors. The crew stumbles upon this deathtrap and must do their best to survive as the Aliens and Predators try to kill them and each other.

The problem with this movie mainly comes in the first 20-30 minutes, which could and should be significantly trimmed down. Sure, it makes sense that they want you to care about these characters, but at the same time it also feels like they’re trying too hard to get you to care about the bait they throw in the water during Shark Week. Hit those plot points a little quicker and get to the action. The biggest and most pointless part of the film that could have been excised completely is this extended interaction where Antarctic guide Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) goes back and forth about leading the team as they’re untrained and the mission timeframe is too tight. Of course, she winds up staying on because she doesn’t think her replacement is good enough so this conflict that feels tacked on winds up doing absolutely nothing but show the audience that Alexa is a good, moral person, something that comes across pretty naturally.

But, aside from a bit of a length problem, the rest of the movie’s actually a pretty fun ride. The crew gets split up inside the temple as the various hunters go about their business, thanks to some Cube-like shifts in the building’s structure. It’s a pretty well thought out movie, directed and co-written by Paul W.S. Anderson along with screen story credits going to Alien writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. They probably didn’t need to go to all of the trouble to set the flick on Earth, but what they did seemed to fit well with the existing worlds set up in the previous film.

Of course, the real test of a crossover movie’s success or failure lies in how cool the scenes look when the two different groups finally come together on screen. This film neither lacks those kinds of scenes in the latter half, nor do they disappoint. You not only get to see three different Predators doing their things, but also a pretty impressive cast of Aliens including a Queen running ripshot through this place leading up to the ultimate battle.

While expectations might have been incredibly high for Aliens Vs. Predator the first time around, we think it’s worth checking out further down the line with a better understanding of what’s actually happening in the film as opposed to what we want to.

The Chronological Spielberg: Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)

Another reason I got behind on my viewing of Steven Spielberg’s movies, aside from being so familiar with Jaws, was that I’d seen Close Encounters twice in recent memory, once for the first time all the way through when I rented it from Netflix and again on TV while visiting the inlaws a few months back. Still, I loved the movie, so when I decided to do this project I looked around for a DVD copy and found out there’s a multiple disc pack that includes the theatrical release, a director’s cut and a special edition each of which are different. The only other set I have like this is for my beloved Dawn of the Dead. I honestly can’t remember the differences in that set and haven’t really dug into this one yet, but will let you know when I do. For the purposes of this post, I simply watched the original theatrical version.

I’m realizing after watching Spielberg’s initial offerings that he succeeds the most when working with a story that hadn’t been done before that has an epic quality to it that’s treated as such. Duel‘s murderous truck is scary and familiar, but more from real life than film; no one had seen a shark like the one in Jaws; the aliens in Close Encounters aren’t necessarily scary themselves, but what they do to people is. Meanwhile, Sugarland Express and 1941 (which I’ll review shortly) lack that epicness and newness.

What makes Close Encounters so epic? Well, just about everything. Richard Dreyfuss heads out to help during a black out unknowingly caused by visiting aliens only to find himself directly in their path. After that, he becomes increasingly obsessed with a mountainous shape he can’t quite fully remember that will not leave him alone. It gets so bad that his family leave him and he winds up driving towards an area that’s said to be the center of a chemical spill. He eventually finds a place where a group of scientists have set up a lab to communicate with the aliens by way of musical tones. We also follow a few of those scientists who discover some WWII planes that look brand new and eventually come to understand that they’re dealing with aliens and a woman whose son gets abducted himself who joins forces with Dreyfuss.

As if I already wasn’t from Jaws, this movie made me an even bigger Richard Dreyfuss fan. The subtle ways he plays his character in this film are just amazing. He takes zoning out and growing obsession to a new level without ever going over the top or getting too scary. That’s not to say that his wife and kids don’t get scared. There’s actually a great balance between the kids freaking out because he’s acting weird (the mashed potato dinner scene) and them getting excited about dad’s weirdness (throwing dirt in the house). This might seem like uneven characterization, but I think it’s a wonderful use of children and how they see the world. They want dad to be the dad and take care of them, but there’s something cool about him acting like a big kid and trashing the house in such a strange way.

Another aspect of the film I fell in love with was Spielberg’s treatment of the aliens from a director and storytelling perspective as well as within the logic of the story. Instead of having a group of military dudes waiting with guns drawn to “talk” to the aliens like in just about every other movie with extra terrestrials (including ET now that I think about it), it’s a group of scientists there trying to make contact. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate seeing awe and excitement on the faces of the crowds instead of grim determination or fear. Heck, even the people who were on the ship don’t seem harmed, just a little confused. Great stuff.

This might be a little random, but I also liked how real the houses and settings felt. I’m particularly partial to authentic looking scenes set inside the bedrooms of children and I think that was nailed in the beginning of this movie. I even liked seeing the McDonlads a little later in the film. I know some people consider these instances of product placement annoying or cheap, but that’s real life. I had some of the toys in that room and I absolutely went to McDs that looked exactly like that. It’s an easy way to bring me into a film and I have no problem when directors use it.

I really don’t have a single complaint about the film. Everyone played their parts perfectly and worked together to create a movie that perfectly balances how this kind of invasion changes a particular person while also showing the larger process of how the government deals with it. That scene with the military guy and his crew trying to figure out what kind of story to sell the American people to get them away from the landing zone is quick and spot on. The flick also looks just fantastic. Every time I watch a Spielberg movie from the 70s I can’t help but think how crappy a lot of the CGI looks these days. People need to step up their game.

Revisiting Scream 3 (2000) & Iron Man 2 (2010)

Sequels are funny things. Like a lot of people who think about movies way too much, I tend to judge them pretty harshly. Do they hold up to the original? Are they better? Does this story make sense? Is it necessary? The real question should simply be, is it any good? Was it entertaining? Did I like it? Upon re-watching a pair of sequels recently, I feel like I’m either becoming a nicer viewer or (hopefully) less judgmental. I think there’s also something to be said for experience with a story making it easier to digest even if there are elements that you find bothersome. You know they’re they, you see them coming and you adjust your viewing as necessary.

That actually wasn’t the case with Scream 3, which I watched towards the end of last week. The first and only other time I saw this movie was in the theaters when it came out in 2000. I’ve never been a huge fan of the Scream series (you can read my review of the first one here), but they were gigantic to the horror community that I was just getting into as they came out. I remember liking the third installment, thinking that the filmmakers were really playing with the genre and having fun with it. I mean, it’s not a flat out comedy by any means, but I remember feeling a sense of winking towards the audience, especially in the scene where the killer throws a knife at Dewey and the handle smacks him in the head. That bit still made me laugh.

But, I wasn’t seeing or noticing the humor as much this time around. Yes, I was working and it was kind of on in the background while I was doing other things, but it just wasn’t as prevalent. I still liked the movie and think it’s pretty good, but there were two aspects that got on my nerves. First off, and I know I liked this at the time, but the Jay and Silent Bob cameos are just super weird and kind of pointless. I’m saying this as someone who loves those characters, those movies and Smith in general, but they really took me out of the movie. But, they weren’t nearly as bad as that ridiculous voice modulator thing that so much of the movie depends on. Does that kind of thing even exist? I feel like if it did, there would be an app. Anyway, I get the idea that it makes everyone you’re not seeing directly in front of you suspect, but it gets to the point where you as a viewer can’t trust anyone and just become more and more disconnected. It also made me far more aware of off-screen dialog which took me out of the store even more. Without that aspect, the movie would actually be pretty damn solid. I don’t even mind the retconning stuff because I think it fits in pretty well and all makes sense. Plus, it’s another not to old horror movies, though this one far more unsettling. With that, I’ve watched the first and third movies in the past few years and just need to rewatch 2 and see 4 for the first time. I’ve heard good things.

After writing up a piece about Iron Man 3 for Spinoff, I remembered that 2 was on Netflix Instant and gave it another watch. I honestly didn’t remember many of my opinions about the movie from the first time I saw it other than a deep desire to punch Justin Hammer in the face. After going back and re-reading my original review of the film, it turns out that that same elements spoke to me both times. I liked it, it’s a big fun action movie. The performances are great. I didn’t like Sam Jackson that time around, but none of that stuff bothered me this time. And, while I still despise Justin Hammer as a character and think he came off kind of cartoony, I don’t think Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of him is all that far from people like him in the real world.

It’s actually kind of funny that I remembered most of the scenes of the movie, but couldn’t remember how I felt about them. There were bits I forgot, like Tony Stark’s dad as a kind of Walt Disney character. I’m actually listening to a book about Pixar right now that got into some of the “I’ve got these ideas, but haven’t developed the technology just yet, maybe they will n the future” ideas that were directly stated in this film. It’s interesting how the things you’re reading/watching/listening to can inadvertently segue into one another.

Anyway, I’ve found that repeated viewings of the first Iron Man tend to leave me a little flat. I still like all the character stuff they did and Robert Downey Jr. makes an awesome Tony Stark, but the ending definitely has diminishing returns. I understand that they wanted to show that Tony Stark could perservere over a larger, more powerful oponent, but that battle is just boring the third or fourth time around. Similarly, the one between Iron Man, War Machine and Mickey Rourke at the end of this one’s a bit lame. You get that awesome sequence with them taking on the drones and then you finish up with Tony and Rhodey aiming blasters at the Ruskie and he explodes? Eh. These things are great the first time around, but don’t always make for the best repeated viewings which is what I want from my movies. Still, it’s a movie packed with fun and shows just one small aspect of how cool an Avengers movie can and hopefully will be.

Halloween Scene: The Horror Show (1989)

For today’s main Halloween Scene entry I was looking for a supernatural slasher movie from the 80s, so when I stumbled across The Horror Show which was produced by Sean Cunningham the director of the original Friday The 13th and read that it was not only about a serial killer’s ghost haunting a cop but also that said cop was played by Lance Henriksen, I was sold. Heck, I didn’t even bother adding the movie to my Netflix Instant queue, I just played it straight out.

As it happens, it’s actually a pretty good movie. Well shot, well acted, creepy killer, good special effects, might be scary to some. What more can you ask for? The plot is kind of a mix of Jack Frost, Jaws and I assume Shocker, though it’s been a long time since I’ve seen that one. Henriksen plays a cop who tracked down a serial killer named Max played by noted character actor and “that guy” Brion James. At the execution, Max gets fried but almost immediately a shrink with some crazy ideas about energy and evil or whatever see that his ghost rises out of the body and threatens him. From there, the Max’s ghost starts haunting Henriksen and his family, making him go crazy.

I should note, however, that this isn’t really a slasher flick, even though the killer is fond of meat cleavers. I guess it’s kind of a haunted house movie, or maybe more accurately a haunting movie? It’s not so much things moving that shouldn’t be, but voices being heard, devices being manipulated and in one case, someone being straight up murdered. As such it plays out more like a psychological thriller I guess. After a certain point, you’re not really sure what’s real and what’s not, but it’s all so frenetic, that it almost doesn’t matter.

By the way, the movie is also known as House 3 because it was renamed for foreign distribution. Were the House movies that big that they had a following outside of the States? I mean, I dug the first one, but I don’t think it was an international smash hit.

Anyway, I’ve been writing a lot of things like “it’s not a classic, but it’s fun to check out” this October, but I think The Horror Show might be close to that kind of thing. I hadn’t heard about it before even with the pedigree names attached, yet it turned out to be a solid flick with good actors and impressive gore. Can’t go wrong with that!

Time Travel Shenanigans

This Sunday was kind of an unusual night now that I think about it. As a complete coincidence I ended up watching three movies that night dealing with time travel in in form or another: Terminator (1984), Primer (2004) and Next (2007). And oddly enough, I watched them in chronological order. Weird.

I actually didn’t watch Terminator alone as I usually do with rad movies from the 80s. Thanks to the sick looking trailers for the upcoming Terminator Salvation, Em wanted to check out the Terminator flicks. I had recently added the movie to our Netflix Instant Queue, so we finally checked it out.

The first Terminator movie I ever saw was T2 on TV with my parents. I remember them letting me stay up late and watching the end of the movie in their bedroom. Later, when I got my Family Video membership, I checked out the original and wasn’t too impressed. Stupid kid. Even though some of the Arnold masks don’t look that great, first off he’s a robot and second off it was ’84. And damn those exoskeletons and robots look real, even if the stop motion gets a little shaky. Plus, I like to think that Linda Hamilton’s crazy hair is a special effect all its own.

[Potential LOST SPOILER coming up if you haven’t been watching this season.] It’s actually kind of funny that the time travel mechanics are very similar between Terminator and Lost. You’ve got people heading back in time and affecting the future. Reese heads back and fathers John Connor. He always did that, he just didn’t know his role yet. It’s the “Whatever happened, happened” idea (which I have to toot my own horn and say I voiced a few weeks before the saying popped up on the show).

From there I went on to finish Primer, a low budget (supposedly made for $7,000) time travel movie that I heard about on both Horror Movie A Day and The Totally Rad Show. I won’t pretend like I understood the movie (I had to look it up on Wikipedia to get a better idea of the plot and mechanics), but it made me feel like I did when I was 16 working at Barry’s and Drew (whose last name I don’t know and haven’t seen in almost 10 years now) told me about Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects and then later when I saw Lost Highway and Clerks and some other flicks. Aside from feeling incredibly original and new, Primer showed me you can make an amazing movie that doesn’t talk down to its audience. Now, the above-mentioned movies don’t seem to have much in common on the surface, but the all showed me different ways of looking at movies, from a story standpoint and general presentation to how much you need to let your audience know.

Primer’s beautifully confusing (there’s so much jargon and science in there, it’d make my freshman year roommates jump for joy, what’s up Bryan and Hatem, you guys especially should check this one out). One piece of advice I’d give anyone trying to watch Primer (and understand it), is, don’t drink too many beers and try not to fall asleep halfway through. I fell asleep and then tried watching it a week or so later and had an even hard time remembering the whole story. I can’t wait to check it out again.

I will not, however, be watching Nic Cage’s Next again. As I’ve mentioned again and again I have a strange relationship with Nic Cage movies. Sure The Rock and Con Air are awesome, but somewhere along the lines, Cage seemingly went crazy and has been playing a kind of caricature of himself since then. Or has he? Maybe I’m the one that expects him to be crazy (there’s good crazy like in the National Treasure movies which I love and bad crazy like the amazing Whicker Man YouTube video).

Well, the last two Cage movies I’ve watched from the past few years (Next and Bangkok Dangerous) have just been boring. Even Cage’s craziness can’t save a fairly boring movie with some really bad CGI effects that breaks my cardinal sin of storytelling: don’t make everything I’ve just seen pointless, even if it is a tale of what could happen.

You might be wondering how this fits in with the time travel theme and it kind of doesn’t. But it kid of does, because, as Cage explains early in the movie, he can see a few minutes into his own future and just by seeing the future you’re changing it. Sure, it’s a tenuous connection at best, but it’s there.

Now I’ve just got to get Em to watch T2 which I have on DVD. But the last time I tried watching it, I wanted to rip Edward Furlong’s squeaky vocal chords out of his throat and feed them to the T-1000. Ah well, I’m sure I’m a lot more mature now (eh, not really, this was only a few months ago). Also, I might mine these flicks for a Live Blog post or two as I took copious notes.