Halloween Scene: Tales From The Darkside

tales-from-the-darkside-the-movieEarly this month I worked on a list for CBR that might eventually get published about the best classic horror movies to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime. That lead to me watching Tales From The Darkside: The Movie for the first time and I think it’s up there with Body Bags as one of my all-time favorite horror anthology films!

That got me thinking about the George A. Romero-produced TV series than ran for four seasons from 1984-1988. Basically, a new take on the Twilight Zone/EC Comics, these half hour episodes offer a variety modern horrors many of which (at least in the first two discs) revolve around then-new technology like word processors, answering machines and multiple phone lines. Continue reading Halloween Scene: Tales From The Darkside

Halloween Scene: The Monster Squad (1987)

monster squad

When I was in high school my buddy Eric Toth talked a lot about a movie called Monster Squad. He said it was like Goonies, but full of monsters and that I, being a horror fan, would love it. At that time, I think it was really hard to find on video and I wasn’t really the type to go out of my way to search out a movie, especially when there was still so much at my beloved Family Video that I hadn’t seen yet. Fast forward a few years and I’m at Wizard working with a ton of rad folks including Rickey Purdin who, if memory serves, found one of the creators of the movie selling his own copies or something along those lines. Soon enough he got his hands on a copy and I watched it with him, but I think that’s the only time I’ve actually watched it before last night.

The other night I felt like giving it another watch, added the Bluray to the top of my Netflix queue and was happy to give it a watch last night. Man, I love this movie. Toth and Rickey and all the other people who love this movie are dead-on right, it’s great. I’m not sure how, in a world where Goonies seemed to be on television every weekend I never saw this movie as a kid, but that’s how it went down. The premise follows a group of kids who have their own monster club. They basically sit around and talk about horror movies and how you kill various monsters. Then one day, the monsters come to town and they’re the only ones paying attention so they take it upon themselves to save the day. Said monsters are basically the Universal ones including Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a mummy a werewolf and a creature from a colorful lagoon of some sort.

A lot of movies like this that people my age remember from childhood can be a real let down if you’ve never seen them and watch them for the first time as an adult. For instance, I liked Lost Boys when I saw it for the first time five years ago, but it didn’t make its way into my list of all time faves. While watching Monster Squad again, though, I was actually really impressed with it and not just because I’m a fan of any movie featuring kids dealing with something crazy (Goonies, The Gate, The Pit, E.T., the Troll movies, even the ball-of-weirdness that is Mac and Me) but also because it’s a beautifully shot (the Bluray looks fantastic, you guys), well thought out flick with lots of extra goodness from ridicuslouly quotable lines (“Wolfman’s got nards!” “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?”) to really fantastic creatures and special effects (big ups to Stan Winston!). It helps that the film was co-written by Shane Black (Die Hard, Iron Man 3) and  Fred Dekker (Night Of The Creeps, RoboCop 3) who both took the material seriously when putting this thing together.

But, the best part about this movie is the fact that the filmmaker never forgets who its heroes are. These are kids. Somewhat goofy, naive kids who never stop thinking like kids. When the wolfman attacks, their leader commands “Fat Kid” to kick him in the nards. Yes! That’s exactly what I would have thought when confronted by a monster as a 10 year old (or whatever age they are). You know, if I wasn’t in the fetal position crying and being eaten already. That’s another thing I love about this movie, these kids are brave and strong even in the face of craziness, which is something I probably wouldn’t have been in their shoes.

I noted on Twitter last night that I could be happy writing these kinds of stories for the rest of my life and I do think that is the case. I don’t want to say that kids today have no idea how good they could have had it, but do they even really do these kinds of movies outside of Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids movies? I’d actually love to do a project watching these movies with modern day kids and seeing what they think of them. I’d also be interested in watching them with a child psychologist and talk about what good and bad messages they might offer to kids. Anyone interested in that? Drop me a comment.

We Want Action: Robocop 2 (1980)

Watching Robocop 2, probably for the first time unedited and in full (I think I’ve seen it on TV, but didn’t remember many of the beats) was a ton of fun. They really don’t make movies like this anymore that mix action, satire and even slapstick together with a product that still stands up in the grand tradition of action flicks from the 80s and very early 90s.

The sequel picks up some time after the first flick leaves off, but Detroit’s in even worse shape. We’re treated to various commercials showing just how bad society is in general which are both funny and a little scary when you think of how reality TV obsessed we’ve gotten as a country. The evil megacorporation OCP continues attempts at recreating the Robocop formula (there’s a pretty great montage of the attempts) but with less human interaction. See, the big thing going on in Robo’s life is that he considers himself and Alex Murphy (the cop he was before getting killed and turned into a walking tank) one in the same and OCP doesn’t like that much. They want subservient killing machines who will only answer to them. There’s also a drug kingpin/cult leader running around spreading drugs and getting a robo body of his own later in the film. Oh, and, at one point, Robocop gets banged up pretty bad, OCP comes in to fix him and turns him into a totally PC pussy.

I guess you’ve got to be in the right mood to watch and enjoy this flick (a good or drunk one, basically). If you’re looking for a serious action movie that really takes into account the loss of human life therein or examines the motives of criminals in a realistic light, this ain’t for you. A little kid not only smokes, swears, runs drugs and shoots guns but also almost murdered a policewoman (which doesn’t say much about her skill levels as a cop if you ask me). This movie is funny and ridiculous and when I was done watching it, I wanted to watch the next one, though I haven’t heard great things.

I’m not a huge fan of the Robocop franchise, not because I don’t like it (clearly I do), but because I just haven’t seen the movies enough. I’ve probably seen the first one three times (once when I was around 16, then at a Manly Movie Night two or three years back and then once again more recently, I think). I definitely think it belongs in the pantheon of action movies from that time period and I really like that they went from the ultra dark tone of the first one and had a little fun with the sequel, though I can see why purists would think it’s a little too much. To them I say, relax, have a couple beers, get a pizza, call your friends over, watch it again and stop being so serious all the time. Have fun with it.

Halloween Scene: The House Of The Devil (2009)

So, a lot of people dig this movie. I started hearing about it some time last year, that it was a great, slow burn movie that looked like it was straight out the 80s even though it was filmed in 2009. Well, I can agree with that, at least. It does look authentic. From the cars to the old school Walkman and even the local news kicking it over to the local horror movie show (I think they’re showing Night Of The Living Dead). I guess it also feels slow, boring and confusing like a lot of 80s movies too.

As if you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan of House Of The Devil. See, the idea behind the movie is that this girl Samantha has just gotten a great deal on renting a house, but has no money (kind of makes you wonder why she decided to take on this financial burden, eh?). She sees a flier for a babysitting job and ends up getting it, but there’s a twist. Let’s call the rest of the review SPOILER TERRITORY just for safety’s sake. The twist is that there’s no baby, but the ultra-creepy couple has an old lady who won’t bother the girl. After upping the pay, Samantha takes it. Her friend, who dropped her off, leaves (the house is out in the middle of nowhere Last House On The Left-style), so she spends most of the movie getting freaked out by sounds and what not. But it’s not even that interesting. There’s a freaking dance scene with her listening to her Walkman and knocking over a vase. Really? Has this ever happened to any living person?

Eventually, she gets drugged and knocked out. Then the mom and dad are back and the grandma’s a monster and she’s tied up and then she struggles enough to get out (I guess the other victims didn’t struggle to get out) and then she runs UP THE STAIRS. It goes from being boring to kind of crazy for a second to being just plain stupid and then ending with a bit of a shocker (followed by a huh moment when it turns out she’s still alive).

All in all, I wanted to like this movie, but an 80s aesthetic wasn’t enough to get me involved in the movie and my attentions soon wandered. Also, I liked the actress who played Samantha, but I wish the much more interesting Megan had been the main character.

NYC & LA Movie Marathon: 7 Movies From Both Cities

I watch a LOT of movies. More so than usual since I’m unemployed/work from home. Netflix really has become my closest friend which is both sad and technologically impressive. Anyway, I like to watch movies or shows while I work on freelance, which means I’m not always giving them 100% of my attention, but enough to do a series of mini-reviews. I’ve been trying to figure out some thematic similarities between the movies I’ve been watching (like the otherwise unrelated Dr. Horrible and Angel of Death from the other day). It wasn’t until I was watching Last Action Hero today which takes place in both New York City and Los Angeles that I realized that a big chunk of the movies I’ve watched recently are set in one or the other. So, what the hell? Even though they’re mostly unrelated, here’s a look at seven movies I’ve watched in the last few weeks set in these places. Hit the jump for the incredibly entertaining reviews.

First up, New York, both because it’s a place I’m semi-familiar with and it contains the movie I watched first.

F/X (1986)
As long time United Monkees know, I watched F/X 2 a little over a year ago and had a great time with it. It was a fun little action movie that didn’t seem to take itself too seriously and had fun with the concept. The original is a bit more straightforward and intense that I was expecting, with Cocktail’s Bryan Brown taking on an assignment from the government to make it look like a mobster (Jerry Orbach) gets killed so he can testify. Turns out he gets double crossed and things go downhill from there. Brian Dennehy still stars as the one guy trying to help Brown’s character and the two team-up to take out the bad guys and win the day, using plenty of Brown’s special effects tricks. It’s a cool movie, but definitely not as fun as the sequel.

RIGHTEOUS KILL (2008)
Not only do Righteous Kill and F/X share a common setting in the form of NYC, but they also share something in the form of awesome actor Brian Dennehy. In this case he plays lieutenant to Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. This review absolutely contains SPOILERS, so if you don’t want the movie ruined, skip to The Muppets Take Manhattan. Anyway, the whole plot of this movie revolves around De Niro’s seeming confession to being this killer of guys who fall through the cracks of the criminal justice system. We even have video footage of him confessing. But, it turns out that the video is Pacino making him read his (Pacino’s) diary. See, throughout the movie, they’re only referred to by their nicknames, so when De Niro reads a real name, we don’t actually know who it is. I found the twist to be a fairly interesting one that would probably make sense on further viewings (less High Tension and more Usual Suspects). Personally I liked watching these two veterans working together in a fairly tight script that brings in the talents of 50 Cent, Dennehy, John Leguizamo, Donnie Wahlberg and Carla Gugino. Definitely worth the NetBox watch in my opinion.

THE MUPPETS TAKES MANHATTAN (1984)
I must admit, I’m not a huge Muppets fan. That’s not to say I don’t like them, I just don’t have the history with them that a lot of people my age seem to. My only childhood memory of them is from Muppet Babies. After that? The video they did with Weezer. So, it was kind of on a whim that I watched The Muppets Take Manhattan on NetBox and I had a great time with it. The story follows Kermit and the Muppet gang who are fresh out of college (seems like that would make a great movie premise itself) and taking their show to New York to get it on Broadway. After several failed attempts to get the show made, Kermit kind of blows up at his friends who all decide he would be better off if they told him they got other jobs and moved away. This leaves Kermit in NYC, working in a diner and still trying to get the show made. He, of course, succeeds eventually, only to get in an accident that leaves him with amnesia and taking a job as an ad exec, Mad Men-style. I had a ridiculous amount of fun watching this flick and trying to figure out if I’d ever been to the parts of the city Kermit was walking around (I’m guessing so, though the place has changed quite a bit in 25 years). I also really enjoyed the flashback that spawned Muppet Babies. It made a lot of things make sense. Now, I’ve got to check out the rest of the movies.

KRUSH GROOVE (1985)
Holy crap, I loved this movie. I just watched it today (well, yesterday at this point in the early morning) and had so much fun with it. See, it’s a fictionalized history of Def Jam records back in the 80s, but starring a ton of their artists like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, Kurtis Blow, Rick Rubin, Sheila E., the Beastie Boys and New Edition among others. I only really started exploring hip hop within the last five or six years, but that exploration has heavily included Run-DMC and the Beasties. I also had a couple Fat Boys tapes back when I was a kid (I’m guessing around the time they got huge, musically speaking, because I vaguely recognized a track or two in the movie from those tapes). That combined with my fairly recent viewing of VH1’s 2009 Hip Hop Honors which focused on Def Jam really made this movie interesting for me. There’s a lot going on in a fairly limited amount of time, but I feel like the director did a good job of balancing the main storyline of Run-DMC thinking of jumping form the Krush Groove label and the B-story of the Fat Boys trying to make it big. If you’re interested in early hip hop at all, this is a must-watch flick. I was also surprised to find out that director Michael Shultz also directed past UM reviewed movie Car Wash and a few movies I didn’t get around to reviewing like the epic Last Dragon (SO awesome) and Cooley High (surprisingly depressing).

New York To LA and Back

LAST ACTION HERO (1993)
The movie that inspired this entire entry starts off with a kid in NYC who loves Arnold Schwarzenegger movies getting sucked into movie-LA and eventually bringing the fictional Jack Slater back into the real world. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I really loved this movie. I remember watching it with my grandparents back around the time it came out on video and thinking it was kind of dumb. But, see, now I’ve seen most of the movies it tries to spoof and had a much better time with it (I’m guessing my grandparents also thought it was dumb, but I bet they never said anything). The kid calls out all kinds of late-80s, early-90s action movie cliches, trying to convince Slater that he’s living in a movie. What I like is that all aspects of the story are interesting and I guess the credit for that goes to world renowned scriptwriter William Goldman (whose book of scripts including Butch & Sundance, Misery, Marathon Man & The Princess Bride is sitting mostly unread on my shelf) who came in and did a rewrite after Arnold insisted on it. Credit should also be given to Die Hard and Predator director John McTiernan who did a great job of mixing the comic and action elements. Sure, the kid’s acting can be a bit thin at times and maybe over-the-top, but I think it works, especially (maybe only) if you’re a fan of these kinds of movies. Oh, it also features a cartoon cat voiced by Danny Devito, how can you go wrong?!

Now On To LA

SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO (1991)
After watching several movies about cops getting new partners (Dragnet, The Rookie, Lethal Weapon (the latter two soon to be reviewed on their own), it’s funny how similar they end up. This one has dandy Dolph Lundgren and Brandon Lee teaming up to take down crime in LA’s Little Tokyo. Soon enough, something minor leads them to something huge and our heroes have to put a stop to it. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to this one, but I still enjoyed the weird aesthetic of it. See, Lundgren loves Asian culture, while Lee only knows martial arts because his mom made him take lessons and otherwise doesn’t care. When I was a kid I always got this one confused with Big Trouble In Little China. That doesn’t really mean anything, I guess. On another note, Wayne’s World’s Tia Carrere also stars in this movie. On another nother note, the director Mark L. Lester also directed the more-fun Class of 1999 and Commando.

ALIEN NATION (1988)
Hey, guess what? I’ve had a surprising amount of luck watching movies lately. Case in point? Alien Nation. I added a few sci-fi movies including this one a while ago and decided to give this one a shot. I remember seeing the TV series randomly syndicated when I was a kid watching late-night TV but had never seen the movie, which stars James Caan and Chicago Hope’s Mandy Patinkin. Kind of like V, Alien Nation is based around an alien race that is welcomed to earth and begins to be integrated into society, though basic stereotypes still exist. These aliens were bread to be slaves though. Like with Showdown, this movies focuses on cop Caan being saddled with Newcomer (that’s what they call the aliens) Patinkin. As the two learn about each other, they find out about a much bigger plot to addict the Newcomers to drugs and have to put a stop to it. I really liked James Caan in this flick. I guess I haven’t seen him in too many things, but I liked his every man approach. I haven’t seen a ton of his movies, but this made me want to do so. It also made me add the TV series to my Netflix queue, though I was it was on instant watch. I don’t have incredibly high hopes because it got canceled after one season, but it did spawn a number of TV movies. Anyone familiar with them?

So, that ends my cinematic tour of NYC and LA, though I’m sure I’ll see another movie or two set in one of those places before the end of the week. I’ve enjoyed my brief stay and wish I would have taken more pictures, but what are you gonna do?