Halloween Scene: The Frighteners (1996)

the frightenersI want to say I saw Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners starring Michael J. Fox at some point in high school, but I can’t quite remember. I do remember seeing a special somewhere about how they did the ghost-wall special effects, but that’s about all I could recall. So, when I saw it on Netflix, and since I’ve been in the mood to watch movies I’ve seen only once before, I figured it would be a fun watch. It turned out to be strangely timely too considering I’ve been enjoying The Michael J. Fox Show and I just watched Jeffrey Combs in Re-Animator very recently.

The film itself follows the exploits of Fox’s Frank Bannister, a man who can actually see and talk to ghosts. Instead of using this power for good, though, he uses it — and the ghosts — to trick people out of their money. Basically, he sets up a haunting and then gets paid to get rid of the ghosts who simply ride back with him in his crappy car. In the course of a normal swindle, Frank becomes aware that there’s a hooded, Grim Reaper-looking figure killing people and ghosts. Frank and a recent widow become embroiled in this battle and the crook has to become the hero.

I haven’t been this conflicted about a film in a while, you guys.

One one hand, I love the plot of this film and was completely surprised by the twist at the end. I’m still not sure how or if it makes sense, but it made for good drama. Plus, Fox and his main co-star Trini Alvarado were a lot of fun to watch. I’m a long-time fan of MJF and love him in just about anything, but it’s also cool seeing him in kind of a broken down, action hero role. I can’t say that’s something I’m used to and it was a nice change. For the most part, the rest of the cast really got into their roles, I thought Dee Wallace and Julianna McCarthy really dug into their characters as the daughter and mother Bradley.

On the other hand, two elements of this film that keep it from being a true, timeless classic: the tone and some bad-by-today’s-standards CGI. While Fox and Alvarado play the whole thing straight, most of the ghosts seem like cartoon characters. This gives the film a kind of Beetlejuice vibe (as does the Danny Elfman score). And I think that would have worked well…but then Combs’ Milton Dammers shows up. If you thought Combs was intense in Re-Animator, you ain’t seen nothing yet. He’s a government agent who had been deep undercover with some cults and is now completely out of his mind. Oh, he also can’t stand when women scream at him. He’s just so over the top and bonkers that he’s nearly impossible to take seriously and definitely took me out of the film.

The bad CGI will probably take more people out of it, especially younger viewers. I’m sure they were great at the time, but everything just looks fake. That coming-out-of-the-wall thing just doesn’t work. The hooded villain is completely rendered in CGI and sometimes almost looks like an unnatural beast, but mostly looks like old CGI. This becomes most evident in scenes that include ghosts (who look like they were shot normally and then tinted blue) and the villain who is completely CGIed. The actors are doing their best, but it sometimes look like they’re just getting attacked my an ancient screensaver. The worst part is that some of the poorly CGIed scenes probably could have been done practically to better effect. I’d sacrifice some of the Reaper’s animal-like movements for a villain that actually looks real.

And yet, I fell in love with the characters and really appreciated the story so I’m giving this a thumbs-up with a “but.” I don’t see this ever happening, but I would put The Frighteners at the top of the list of films to get update with modern CGI. I have no idea how these things work, but I just kept imagining how much better the whole thing would come off with a more polished and update set of visual graphics. I think with better looking effects, it might balance out the parts of my brain that don’t like how all-over-the-place the tone gets.

Fellows With Rings Part 1

2008-10-20
2:36:08 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dead Alive and Loving It

2008-07-31
3:52:55 am

Okay, so the title of this post is somewhat misleading because, even though I did in fact watch Peter Jackson’s (yes PETER JACKSON’S) Dead Alive (or Braindead as it’s known in New Zealand) I didn’t quite love it. I’m a bit torn between hating the story and a lot of the acting and LOVING the gore. Sure the gore was great, but the story was difficult to follow at best and completely nonsensical and cartoony at worst. I do remember seeing this video at the video store and wondering how it was with that freaky skeleton leering out from that girl’s mouth. I’ll put it this way, if you’re a gore fan you NEED to see this movie. Between the dinner scene where mom’s falling apart, the zombie sex scene and the last 15-20 minutes or so of the movie, you’ll get your money’s worth. Just don’t expect the kind of flick you normally would from the guy who directed those Lord of the Rings movies people like so much. That being said, I’m just going to publish my viewing notes on this one again. Enjoy!

Oh, duh, the movie’s about this doofy guy whose mom gets bitten by this rat monkey thing that got imported from what looks like King Kong’s Skull Island. That turns her into a zombie, of course, and then she in turn turns a bunch of other people into zombies, ignoring the first rule of not getting your head ripped off my a zombie: cap anyone you even THINK is a zombie. Sorry folks, but that’s how you gotta roll if you want to survive.

Dead Alive/Braindead (1992)

Written by Stephen Sinclair, Fran Walsh & Peter Jackson

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring a bunch of New Zealanders

Braindead/Dead Alive

Claymation rat monkey is awesome, holy sh!t, he ripped a chimp’s arm off

Old lady crushes the rat monkey’s head-AWESOME

His mother sucks

“Your mother ate my dog!” “Not all of it” HAHAHA

Needles to the eyes and nose, nice

I should be paying better attention

The old guy in a purple robe just kicked a dude’s head off and then died

Why is he not killing these zombies?

Zombies copping a feel and making out and having sex?, oh god, he lost his face

Monster baby in the park – hilarity ensues

THIS guy directed Lord of the Rings?

Haha, he punches zombie baby in the face, the homeless guy loves it

Who’s the guy who thinks he’s a Texan Elvis? Why isn’t he FREAKING OUT about the walking dead? Oh, he wants the house, maybe (?), I should have paid better attention

Annnnd, now there’s a party? WHAT!? THERE’S FREAKING MONSTERS IN THE HOUSE!

Haha, it’s a wig

They think burying the undead will do anything? Hey, back to the party!

Oops, he gave them stimulant instead of whatever he meant to and now super-zopmbies are bursting through the floor!

They ripped that dude’s RIBCAGE out! And that dudes’ face off! There go her guts!

Now they’re ALL zombies! What a terrible party

That guy’s entire lower skin got ripped off (he’s just leg bones)! She got punched through the back of her head!

Really? A running-in-place-on-blood joke?

Elvis just tore out that zombies teeth with pliers!

That lung/intestine monster looks pretty cool

That baby zombie just won’t die

There’s a dead broad in the attic?

Elvis may be a jerk but he does a good job of hacking those zombies to bits. He has a bit too much fun doing it though. Yeesh

Elvis gets his spine ripped out by what looks like a Todd MacFarlane monster

Finally, the infamous lawnmower scene, later zombies. Bloodies scene EVER

They blended a head

Elvis as a spine monster looks rad, like something out of The Thing

These are probably the best 15-20 minutes in gore history

Oh! the baby just ripped that ladies head open FROM THE INSIDE

Mental note, get a manual lawnmower, just in case

Mother vs. son, woah, gnarly rack monster mom

You tell that bee-yotch sonny boy, she was a murderer even before she turned into a zombie

Her belly just ate her son and he promptly punches his way out. YEAH DUDE

IT’S OVER!