On today’s episode, I roll the metaphorical dice and watched five different movies all from the 12th disc of the Excellent Eighties DVD set! It was…something.
A few weekends back we found ourselves in the enviable position of experiencing a light snowfall without much else to do so we decided to scroll through our On Demand options for a family movie. As it turns out we have free Showtime for a bit and The Rocketeer was on there, so we decided to give it a watch.
I don’t remember if I saw this movie in the theaters when it came out, but we did subscribe to Disney Channel back then (long before it was free) so I remember seeing a lot about it and probably caught it on TV.
Set in 1938, it’s about a stunt pilot named Cliff who discovers a rocket pack in his plane, designs a costume and helmet and fights bad guys including local mobsters (lead by Pau Sorvino) and movie star Neville Sinclair (Timothy Dalton) all while trying to keep things going with his girlfriend Jenny (Jennifer Connelley).
Directed by Joe Johnston who went on to eventually helm Captain America: The First Avenger, the movie not only works as an action-packed superhero film, but also a fun period piece that references a number of classic actors, actresses and other historical figures from the era (including Lost star Terry O’Quinn as Howard Hughes!). Add to that that real-life elements like potential Hollywood stars working with the Nazis and mobsters refusing to do the same and you have a great film that holds up really well aside from a few clunky special effects scenes here and there.
As a kid, I had no idea who the Rocketeer was before the film hit, but now I know that it was an indie comic book created by Dave Stevens in the 80s during that boom. However, I never got around to reading the actual comics until last year when I got my hands on the IDW-published reprint of Stevens’ entire run, though I was more interested in the pictures. You really don’t need to read the words because the art is just so crisp, clear and expressive. Plus, the colors in that book are just amazing. I don’t know how they compare to the original, but imagine they’re much better given IDW’s reputation for doing super high quality reprints and today’s far better printing techniques.
While scrolling through the options to get to The Rocketeer, I also saw Dick Tracy as an option. I LOVED this movie as a kid and realized that, given the obvious similarities, it would make for an excellent double feature mate with Rocketeer.
Based on the classic comic strip created by Chester Gould in the 1930s, Dick Tracy was directed by and starred Warren Beatty as the yellow-clad copper. He’s joined by Charlie Kormo’s The Kid, Madonna’s Breathless Mahoney, Al Pacino’s Big Boy and a variety of others as Tracy attempts to bring the mob boss down while keeping his relationship with Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly) together and figuring out what to do with his new ward.
The beauty of this movie is that Beatty went full boat when it came to recreating the look and feel of the comic strips on the big screen. The suits and cars are all wildly colorful, matte paintings give the world an ethereal feel and the bag guy make-up brings characters like Little Face, Flat Top and Pruneface fully to life. Add in the idea of a kid trying to constantly get in on grown-up cop action, the pseudo love triangle with Breathless and the mystery of No Face and you’ve got a super fun and compelling movie that doesn’t get enough kudos from the comic-loving crowd.
As I mentioned, I was a huge fan of this flick when it came out. I definitely remember seeing it in the theater and as scenes appeared on my TV I remembered them from that viewing experience as well as moments captured by the trading card set. That feeling has lingered to this day when I basically want an Apple Watch just so I can feel like Dick Tracy (anyone else remember the wrist watch walkie talkies they sold?).
My four year old daughter slept through most of the first film and was looking at Disney princess dresses during the second, but I’m not sure if I’d recommend these for kids her age. Given the presence of mobsters, shooting, concrete and Madonna’s crazy dresses, it might not be appropriate.
That reminds me. I’m not a fan of Madonna’s outside of this movie and A League Of Their Own, but man, she just KILLS it in this movie. I’m sure I was dazzled by her sheer dresses as a kid, but this time around I really found myself feeling bad for her when she was ever so desperately trying to convince Dick Tracy to love her. Her character adds an interesting intensity to this film that just adds to the overall unique nature of a project that could have easily become what all the terrible late 90s comic book movies turned into: exaggerated cartoons with no concept of what made the source material work.
So, while these might not be the best movies to show a couple of kids (like we did), they are a ton of fun and act as a kind of vanguard for quality comic-based films that would come a decade or so later.
In 2002 I was home from college working at the Bagel Place with my friend Shannon, the one who originally told me about Sleepaway Camp (as I mentioned yesterday). While working one day I made a joke about there being a Sleepaway Camp box set in the works with all three movies. It seemed like a ridiculous thing to say because who cared about these movies but me and her? Literally the next day I looked at the weekly Best Buy ad and, much to my shock, I saw that there was indeed a box set with all the movies, plus a disc of footage they shot of a proposed fourth movie that ran out of money. I bought it when it came out the next Tuesday, which meant that I got the one with the red cross on it and not the cleaned up one after the Red Cross sued. I’m pretty sure that was the first DVD set I bought and definitely the first horror one. As it turned out, the footage for the fourth movie was boring and repetitive, they included every scrap of film they shot, so you have like four takes of a girl running through the woods one after the other. It’s not very interesting.
In fact, neither is Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland, unfortunately. I was shocked to read the other day that SC 2 and 3 were actually filmed back to back because Angela looks much older in 3 (maybe it’s that awful haircut). The story also just feels so much shittier, the characters even more one dimensional and a basic plot set up that feels exactly like that. Basic.
Here’s the deal, even though the events of the last movie only occurred a year ago (remember, every single camper and councilor was murdered) an older couple bought the camp, renamed it and decided on a theme: mixing rich suburban kids with poor urban kids in the woods! Meanwhile, in New York City, Angela kills one of the urban girls who looks very much like her (read: same awful hair, somewhat similar build) with a stolen garbage truck so she can take her place at the camp. Once all the good and bad kids are at the camp, they very conveniently split up. The horny old guy owner takes one group, the lazy woman take another and a third councilor, a cop, takes the last group and they all go to different places in the woods which are apparently far enough away from each other that one group can hear the other’s screams. By the way, the cop supposedly was one of the guys who arrested Angela in the first movie, his son was the Final Girl’s boyfriend in the second movie and now he’s got this desire to help kids not get killed…or something. It turns out that every single camper and the old couple all have some murder-worthy fault in Angela’s mind. The kills are a mix of good and bad. The ones where she runs the girl up the flagpole and drops her is pretty cool as is the one with the lawnmower, but those are the only two coming to mind and I just watched it.
Aside from those few fun kills, the movie just kept bugging the crap out of me. Angela and the other kids all seemed way too hammy and I didn’t care about anyone. The characters in the previous movie felt much more real and enjoyable, but not so this time around. Even the Final Girl wasn’t nearly as interested this time around. She was just so flat and boring and I should like her because she’s from Ohio, but I just didn’t care anymore. They gave her a little interesting bit of a twist at the end when she revealed to the dude who just helped save her life and who also wants to move from LA to Ohio to be with her that she has a boyfriend. That’s some cold shit.
I had two other problems with the movie that the movie tries to answer. First off, like I said before, Angela looks way older than a high school student. Many characters mention this and Angela comes up with a jokey explanation. My other problem is that no one knows what Angela looks like. She killed all these people last year, was in an institution for a while, yet no one knows what she looks like? The cop says her records were closed after she turned 18, but that doesn’t sound right to me. If I reopened an old murder camp, I wouldn’t let anyone who even remotely matches the description on my camp. Oh well, moving on.
I first watched Return To Sleepaway Camp, which was shot in 2003, but didn’t come out until 2008, with Rickey at my inlaws house over the Thanksgiving weekend a couple years back. My memories of that weekend, where we watched a boatload of horror movies are great and I remember being impressed with the movie. Watching it again a few years later, I still liked it, but man, this is one mean movie. Original writer and director Robert Hiltzik came back to the series he created with a sequel that ignores SC 2 and 3 completely. In this case, Angela has been locked up since the murders, but she’s not forgotten especially by Ronnie (one of the many returning characters from the first flick) who’s a junior partner to Vincent Pastore’s camp owner. The story really focuses on Alan, the camp’s whipping boy who seems to be getting crazier and crazier the more he’s picked on. Unlike Angela in the first movie, though, Alan’s not exactly a sympathetic character. In fact, he’s just as big of an asshole as everyone else. I was immediately not on his side because they introduce him as an asshole and then try to make him a victim, which doesn’t really work.
Soon enough, bad things start happening to Alan’s enemies, which draws our suspicion towards him especially after Picket Fences‘ Adam Wiley gets pumped full of gasoline and exploded with a cigarette. Ronnie starts thinking something’s up and brings up Angela to the funny looking cop who’s been hanging around lately. As more and more of Alan’s enemies get killed and our kind of sort of Final Girl Karen (Alan’s crush) almost gets killed, the tension gets ratcheted up until the final scene when SPOILER it’s revealed that Angela is actually the cop with the too-big nose using the external voice box. My biggest problem with the ending is that it ends on the reveal but doesn’t do anything with it. Ronnie’s standing there with Ricky (yes, the kid from the first movie has grown up to become a much worse actor) and another girl to see the reveal and then it’s over. I wanted to see Ronnie tackle her and maybe Ricky try to stop her, but nope, nothing happens. Game over.
The tag on the DVD box is “Kids can be so mean,” and damn if that’s not true. This movie has a kid skinning live frogs and throwing them at his step brother. But, the kills are pretty great, though the inclusion of some lame looking CGI is not appreciated (especially in the aforementioned explosion scene). On smaller horror movies like this practical is always better and I read that in the time between shooting and the movie coming out, the CG stuff was added. Not a good call. Aside from that, though, you’ve got a lot of assholes getting killed in various ways: explosions, nail bed, barbed wire neck tie and the like. The creative kills really help the movie. What I think hurts the movie, though, is the character of Alan. They really fumbled by making him such a punchable ass. You hate this kid from the minute he’s on screen and then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when he awkwardly fumbles after the hottest girl at camp? Come on. Wash your shirt, change your clothes and stop being a jackass and then I might care. I get that we’re supposed to think he’s capable of murder, but when you spend an entire movie hoping to see someone get killed for sucking and then he’s not even the bad guy, it takes something out of the movie.
All in all, I liked this movie, though it had it’s problems (oh, also, no nudity, I’m sure some of you were wondering about that) the gonzo kills put it in the plus column for me, which makes this series 3 out of 4 as far as me liking them, which is pretty good for a horror series. 75% goodness, not bad.