Archive for the ‘Skeletons.’ Category



GHOSTHOUSE is pretty far from a classic, but at least it inspired what I’d argue is our funniest podcast yet. Umberto Lenzi, aka Humphrey Humbert as he calls himself on this poster anyway, is an Italian exploitation filmmaker who made a bunch of gory zombie and cannibal movies. This is his take on the haunted-house genre, from 1988, which is not generally considered to have been Lenzi’s prime, if indeed such an era existed. GHOSTHOUSE has some of the stupidest and most irritating human characters you’ll meet in any horror movie anywhere, but their stupidity and obnoxiousness is nothing compared to little Henrietta and her evil clown puppet.




Yes, absolutely, the evil clown puppet goes on a rampage, but it’s not remotely as cool as it sounds.





To be fair, a spooky hooded skeleton shows up near the end, but it’s way too little and too late to redeem this dungheap:



Basically, you’ll hear the three of us talking about everything we can before getting down to the movie — including the work of Nicolas Cage — but once we do, it’s hard to tell which aspect of the movie tormented us most: the anti-urgent pace, the butcher-block editing, the horrific acting, the complete lack of scares, or most likely, the cruel, cruel, torturous score. Oh God. It still rings in my skull.

Here’s the movie, if you think you have the constitution for it, but be forewarned, many stronger warriors have crumbled before its awful might:

And now here’s us talking about it — hear us reeling from the agony it induces!:


[Click here to listen and download!]

Once you’re done with that, it’s never too late to check out our previous efforts:




Vigilante Force



The new episode drops this Tuesday, so stay tuned!



Pacific Rim Elysium (2013) Anchorman 2

There are some potentially great movies coming out this year. Go anywhere else on the internet and you will read about movies like PACIFIC RIM and ANCHORMAN 2 and THE WORLD’S END and ELYSIUM. I’m excited about those too. There’s also all the obvious nerd bait like STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and HUNGER GAMES 2 and THOR THE DARK WORLD. Not really my thing, but it’s certainly understandable if those are the kind of titles that make your heart do a happy dance.

But step off the beaten path with me. Let’s take a moment to give some attention to the real weirdos out there. Let’s look at some of the movies of 2013 which no one in their right mind is looking forward to. I’m not talking about intentional cult items like MACHETE KILLS or ESCAPE PLAN. Those movies are that guy or girl at the party who’s trying too hard to be sexy and therefore failing big for exactly that reason. I’m talking about the ugly guys or girls who just don’t give a fuck what you think they look like. They just wandered in off the street because they got a whiff of the guacamole dip.

This isn’t about schadenfreude.  Well, not really. I mean, I’m no saint. There are a couple movies I wouldn’t mind watching crash and burn. In that category are ENDER’S GAME — written by a bigot, directed by the guy who made X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE; sure, no way that pairing could go wrong — and a pair of Vince Vaughn movies, one where he hangs out at Google for an entire movie and another movie where he plays a sperm donor, because no one learned anything from THE SWITCH and holy Lord do I ever not want to see or ever be asked to think about Vince Vaughn donating sperm.

But generally, my natural good nature wins out and I am a sweetheart who only wishes the best for everyone. Still, there are some movies coming up in 2013 whose very existence perplexes me. And that in turn makes me curious. Call me a a jerk, a creep, a kook, a contrarian, a nihilist, an anarchist — I’ve been called all of those things before and that was only this morning at the nunnery — but I like really bizarre movies that make no rational sense, and I like it even better when those movies turn out to be entertaining.  So the following bunch is a group I’ve got my eye on in 2013 (some are getting real close now!):


Assault on Wall Street (2013)


Why It Could Be Cool:


Why It Probably Won’t Be:



Java Heat (2013)

JAVA HEAT (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s the caveman version of HEAT!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Mickey Rourke may actually be an Al Pacino, but Kellan Lutz is no Robert De Niro. I mean, maybe he is. I’ve only seen him in ARENA. He did not come off too brightly there. Also, his name is Kellan Lutz.




Why It Could Be Cool: “From the producer of SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN, and IRON MAN…”

Why It Probably Won’t Be: …And the director of SOUL SURFER!


Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)


Why It Could Be Cool:

Pseudo-stop-motion-animated skeletons!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

Skeletons aside, this looks impressively bad. Like ten dollars worth of stolen garbage. I bet you Sinbad doesn’t even do his MacDonald’s milkshake routine!


After Earth (2013)


Why It Could Be Cool:  Will Smith! A clone of Will Smith! Space! Volcanoes! Monkeys!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: M. Night Shyamalan.

But that also means it could be as funny as THE HAPPENING. At this point, Shammy is probably done for as a serious director. But as a director of hilariously-solemn unintentional-comedies, he’s got a better shot than most.


Axe Giant


Why It Could Be Cool:  Well, it’s a horror movie about the legendary giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan.  Ain’t a thing I can say I’ve ever seen before, and brother, I’ve seen plenty.  Also, while there are no signs from the trailer or the official site, there’s still a better-than-average chance of a cameo from Babe The Blue Ox.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Actually, I have no reason to expect it won’t be amazing.


Hammer of the Gods (2013)


Why It Could Be Cool: It’s a movie about Vikings!

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Vikings that say “Kiss my axe.”


R.I.P.D. (2013)

R.I.P.D. (July 31)

Why It Could Be Cool: I’ll never not have hope for a movie that has Jeff Bridges and James Hong in it, and unlike most of the huge movies this summer, this one seems to have a sense of humor about itself.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: It’s trying way, way hard to be both GHOSTBUSTERS and MEN IN BLACK at the same time. See if you can spot the big, gaping difference.


The Frozen Ground (2013)


(No trailer yet.)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Cage versus Cusack. Hate to paraphrase myself so quickly, but: It’s like HEAT for weirdos.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  This comes to us from 50 Cent’s production company, Cheetah Vision, and yes, 50 Cent co-stars in the film.  50 Cent’s movies are becoming an obsession of mine — not because they’re particularly awful, but because they aren’t particularly good, despite often tremendous casts.  Also, NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT THEM.  He’s so famous yet his movies are so under-the-radar.  But that’s a much longer conversation.  THE FROZEN GROUND is based on a true story.  John Cusack plays Robert Hansen, the notorious serial killer, and Nicolas Cage plays the Alaskan cop who hunts him down.  It’s no secret that Cage, once (and still) a tremendously gifted and unconventional actor, took a severe detour into mostly silly movies.  It’s less commented-upon that John Cusack has kind of done the same thing.  There’s an outside chance that a movie teaming the two of them could end up being great, but even if it doesn’t, it can still be colossally entertaining.


Don Jon

DON JON (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is one of the smartest actors around and this is the first movie he wrote and directed.  He seems to have brought his old accent from LOOPER along, and that was surely a fine movie.  Scarlett Johannsson, who is also great, is his co-star, and she looks particularly phenomenal in this trailer.

Why It Probably Won’t Be:  Well it still could be.  There’s a ton of major talent involved. But I have to admit, and you probably should also, that if it were anyone other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt making this movie, there’d be plenty of cause for agita.  It’s hard to escape the suspicion that JGL came up with this movie back when Jersey Shore was hot.  It’s tough not to notice that Scarlett is using one of her SNL accents.  It impossible not to consider that porn addiction is pretty difficult to make charming on film. And on top of all that, Tony Danza.


The Butler (2013) The Butler (2013)

THE BUTLER (October 18)

Why It Could Be Cool: There are a lot of good actors in this movie.

Why It Probably Won’t Be: Watch the trailer. Listen to and look at all the shit those good actors are made to do, say, and wear. Listen to that music. Have you done all three? Great! Now your incontinence is cured!



GALLOWWALKER(S) (release date unknown, may actually have already been out for two years)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s exactly BLADE, but then also a Western!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

I mean let’s be reasonable with our expectations here.


Bookmark this page because I will be updating it as I discover more beautiful treasures!


The other day I was describing PHENOMENA to a buddy who’s similarly enamored of horror flicks, and when I kept emphasizing how wonderful a movie it is, he thought I was fucking with him, since I apparently had a devious smile on my face the entire time. It made me smile just to think about it, but smile weirdly, because the movie is insane. Let me say it here in black-and-white without quotation marks: I sincerely, absolutely believe that PHENOMENA is a brilliant horror film. You can find vastly differing opinions elsewhere, but this essay is about mine.

PHENOMENA, originally released in the United States as CREEPERS (the reason for which will soon be apparent), is the work of Italian horror auteur Dario Argento. I’ve had only limited exposure to Argento’s filmography. I’ve seen ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST at least a dozen times, of course, but Argento was one of several writers on that film, not the director. And I’ve seen DAWN OF THE DEAD a couple dozen times, but Argento’s main contributions to that film as far as I know were in the way of musical compositions and support to his friend George Romero.

The only Argento film upon which I can hold forth in any meaningful way (besides this one) is 1977’s SUSPIRIA, but SUSPIRIA is far from the only notable film in his arsenal. Argento’s primary milieu is within the genre of film known as giallo. PLEASE NOTE: I do not and would not claim to be any kind of authority on giallo cinema. I will explain it as best as I know how, but for a more comprehensive look, please visit my friends at Paracinema. They even have a piece on PHENOMENA, which I will finally read as soon as I’m done writing mine! I’m sure theirs is smarter, as you’ll see soon enough. But let’s try to sound academic as long as possible before bringing up the monkey.

So, Giallo: It literally means “yellow” and it’s an evocative reference to the yellowed pages of pulp novels. Giallo is a kind of pulp tale, but rather than more traditional pulp topics such as noir or sci-fi, giallo quickly diverged into its own thing. Generally speaking, giallo films tend to be lurid, bloody psychological thrillers. Think Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, only with a significant level-up on the gore. Giallos may or may not have supernatural elements, but the color red (ironic, due to the name) is a near-constant. Stabbings abound. Quite honestly, I stayed away from the giallo genre for a long time because, despite its encouraging tendency to feature female protagonists, giallo as a result and by nature also features a preponderance of graphic and vicious violence towards women. I’m a guy who prefers monster movies to knife-murders, and — unfairly or not — I’d always figured giallos to be the artier precursor to slashers, like the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. That assumption is not entirely incorrect, but of course it’d be foolish to write off an entire genre, particularly one so influential.

Directors like Mario Bava, Massimo Dallamano, Umberto Lenzi, Sergio Martino, and Lucio Fulci were the most prominent practitioners of giallo films, though genre journeymen more famous for other types of movies, such as Enzo Castellari, Antonio Margheriti, and Fernando Di Leo, also worked in the arena. That’s how significant a movement it was. Of all giallo directors, Dario Argento is the one whose name is arguably most synonymous with the genre. His films THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1970), DEEP RED (1975), TENEBRAE (1982), and OPERA (1987), among others, are giallo hallmarks. The aforementioned SUSPIRIA (1977) is a giallo film with somewhat more of a supernatural angle than usual. 1985’s PHENOMENA is even more of a departure.

PHENOMENA is a deep, dark fairy tale. It’s a completely unrestrained work. It defies convention, throws peerlessly bizarre protagonists into the mix, and veers tonally all over the map. Clearly, if Argento and his co-writer Franco Ferrini had an idea, they put it in. No doubt this is what puts off some of the film’s detractors, but for me, the audaciousness is thrilling and inspiring. Let’s do a recap and you’ll see what I mean:

The film opens on a cloudy late afternoon in the rolling, lushly green hills of Switzerland. Right off the bat, what Argento manages to do with wind is eerie and evocative, and the primal unsettling quality of wind through trees is a recurring part of the film. The instrumental score by frequent Argento collaborators Goblin (the Italian prog-rock band who also did the score for Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Simon Boswell is weird and unforgettable and also a kind of secondary character who wanders throughout the film. So by the time any human characters enter the frame, the tone for PHENOMENA is set. A busload of young tourists is herded onto a bus by their chaperone, and as the bus is driving off, one schoolgirl is left behind. She chases the bus, but as it disappears, she realizes how very alone she is. The girl is played by a young actress named Fiore Argento, and if the surname sounds familiar, that’s no accident. Argento had no reservations about featuring his nearest and dearest in his films, often in ways that might give meeker hearts pause. More on that in a moment.

In an epically eerie sequence, the girl wanders through the hillside until she finds a small isolated cottage. With literally nowhere else to go, she ventures inside, calling out for help. There’s something chained inside the house. It breaks free, slashes at the girl, and chases her outside. We don’t see what the girl sees, although we do see some angles from the vantage point of her pursuer. The girl runs to a cave near a waterfall, and is run through with a pike. The attack continues until it’s clear the girl is dead, at which point something falls into the waterfall and is washed away by the rapids far below. In case it wasn’t immediately clear, the object is the girl’s head.

The next time we see that head, it’s dessicated almost down to the bone, with maggots and worms and all manners of creepy-crawlies doing what they do upon it. The skull is encased in glass, in the laboratory of a wheelchair-bound forensic entemologist named John McGregor. McGregor is describing his work to the two police investigators who have come to see him: He’s a scientist who uses insects to determine the method and manner of a victim’s demise — basically, if the TV show CSI were like this movie, I’d watch the TV show CSI. Here’s why: McGregor is played by Donald Pleasence, the veteran British character actor who is probably best known to horror fans from his role in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. He serves a similar function here. I should also mention that McGregor has an assistant named Inga who happens to be a chimpanzee. By assistant, I mean that Inga helps McGregor with his experiments and helps him talk out theories and also pushes his wheelchair for him. If you’re still reading, I appreciate it and I will understand fully if you want to stop now and run off to watch the movie for yourself. It’s worth doing.

Into the movie comes young Jennifer, the teenaged protagonist of the film. She’s played by a then-14-year-old Jennifer Connelly in her first starring role, having previously made her debut appearance in Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. Jennifer Connelly is shockingly beautiful in this movie — I say this not at all in any creepy way, that’s not the effect her appearance provokes — she’s like a fairy-tale princess, the kind you want to see no harm befall. Your eyes go right to her in every scene, but not in any kind of lustful way — she’s simply a striking figure, almost a special effect, and exactly the kind of visual anchor that an unhinged narrative like this one requires.

Jennifer — Argento allegedly gave Connelly’s character the same first name in order to help her get invested in the story — is headed to a Swiss boarding school, having been shipped off by a famous actor father who doesn’t seem to care much about her. Her chaperone is Frau Brückner, a local employee of her father, played by Daria Nicolodi, another frequent collaborator of Argento and the mother of his famous daughter, Asia. (Both of whom are actors Argento has used repeatedly in his films, to go back to an earlier point.) Jennifer is dropped off at school and nearly immediately ostracized by the other girls. There are two things you need to know about Jennifer: She sleepwalks at night, and she can commune with insects. She has psychic abilities that give her disturbing images of the future and torment her sleep.

So one night, while walking in her sleep, Jennifer is awakened by a schoolmate being murdered out in the surrounding woods. It seems that the killer from the opening scene isn’t done preying upon young victims. Jennifer gets lost in the woods, but is rescued by Inga, who introduces Jennifer to McGregor. With their shared affinity for insects, Jennifer and McGregor become fast friends and soon enough they team up to investigate the murders on their own. Since McGregor is house-bound, he sends out Jennifer with a fly in a box to aid in the investigation. Jennifer and the fly find the cottage from the opening scene, which leads to more disturbing revelations.

In other words, what I am telling you is that, in addition to a chimpanzee lab assistant, this movie also has a fly detective. And songs by famed metal bands Iron Maiden and Motorhead. And a little person with Patau syndrome. And I’m not even done recapping yet, but I’m going to stop there, because believe it or not, PHENOMENA has even more twists and turns and seemingly random factors that all collide and result in a uniquely fizzy combustion of weird inspiration. I don’t want to reveal any more than I already have.

PHENOMENA is an everything movie. Most people are understandably content with just one or two flavors, and such a mad mixture of elements is too much for them. Most movies would begin and end with the string of murders at a Swiss boarding school, or with the sleepwalking girl with psychic powers. The apocalyptic swarms of flies and the chimpanzee protagonist may be five or six too many layers of awesome for the conventional filmgoing mind to handle. But PHENOMENA is the only movie I know of in which a chimpanzee protagonist and an apocalyptic swarm of flies team up with Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasence in order to defeat a deranged murderer — if you know of any others PLEASE let me know — and that is the reason it gets a blue ribbon from me.

Throw everything at me on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

The film that launched a million Rodney Dangerfield impersonations, BACK TO SCHOOL is something of a rare thing:  An aptly-rated movie.  I talk all the time about underrated movies, and have occasionally even talked about overrated movies (I prefer to err on the side of being overly positive), but it’s not as often that a movie’s public estimation and its actual value are approximately in balance.  In the realm of comedies of a certain vintage which are worshipped by guys and gals of my generation, BACK TO SCHOOL is beloved, but not as much as CADDYSHACK, which in turn is not quite as beloved as, say, ANIMAL HOUSE or GHOSTBUSTERS.  (This is all very unscientific, by the way.)

BACK TO SCHOOL is very effective in its most important and noble aim, which is to give us all what we wanted after CADDYSHACK:  More Rodney Dangerfield.  In BACK TO SCHOOL, Rodney is essentially playing the same character he played in CADDYSHACK, the blue-collar, nouveau-riche millionaire without a care.  This time around, the Rodney Dangerfield character goes by the name Thornton Mellon, but who are we kidding?  It’s Rodney.  The minimal plot involves Rodney Dangerfield going back to college.  That’s it.  That’s what you need to know.  Along the way, he hits on one of his professors (Sally Kellerman) and brings along his bodyguard/chaffeur (Burt Young, a year after Rocky gave him a robot).

The most interesting, and at the same time, problematic, element of BACK TO SCHOOL is the fact that Thornton Melon has a college-age son, Jason.  It’s interesting because the tension between the devil-may-care father and the serious son gives the movie the only real conflict it has — outside of a typically punch-worthy, dickhead-bully performance from the ever-reliable 1980s enemy, Billy Zabka — but it’s problematic because the kid is a total wet-blanket.  It’s not really the fault of the actor, Keith Gordon, who has been more likable in other movies (he was the lead in Carpenter’s CHRISTINE!).

I think it’s a conceptual issue.  Look, IMDb credits eight different people with the story, one of them being Harold Ramis, one of my creative heroes.  I’m not saying I know more than eight people, particularly not Harold Ramis (I don’t), but I do know, as someone who grew up watching this movie over and over, that I don’t quite love it as much as I do some of the other movies I grew up watching over and over.  I think the reason is because, basically, we watch these movies so we can watch our favorite comedians behave badly.  We like watching Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy pissing off the dickheads and flirting with the ladies.  We want to see Rodney Dangerfield throwing wild jacuzzi parties with bikini models in his dorm room.  Imagine if John Belushi was rampaging through ANIMAL HOUSE (an earlier movie co-written by Harold Ramis, for the record) and Boon and Otter kept whining at him the entire time.  That’s Marmalard’s job, see?  Poor Keith Gordon has a thankless job in BACK TO SCHOOL, he’s the guy who essentially keeps telling Rodney to turn the music down and to stop farting.  And none of us kids want to see that, even if, morally speaking, we know we’re probably supposed to.

So it’s not a comedy that hits every single minute.  But the stuff that lands is a ton of fun, and there’s a lot of peripheral weirdness going on all over the place.  For one thing, Rodney Dangerfield and Sally Kellerman have to be one of the most mismatched romantic couplings in cinema history.  It’s hard to even rationally explain. But hey, there’s Robert Downey Jr. as Jason’s roommate!  Is he playing one of the first gay sidekicks in teen-movie history?  Could be!  I mean, he’s not as out there as Evil Ed from FRIGHT NIGHT, but I think he’s doing his typical Downey spicing-up-an-otherwise-boring part.

And now there’s RDJ in a scene with Danny Elfman and his band Oingo Boingo, playing as the house band in the aforementioned dorm party, before Tim Burton drafted Elfman into becoming a film composer!



There’s doomed 1980s stand-up phenomenon Sam Kinison as one of Rodney’s professors!  (What a weird cameo, still can’t tell if I’m laughing at or laughing with, but one of the best ever.)



Speaking of weird cameos, there’s Kurt Vonnegut, his actual self!  (I guarantee that’s a Harold Ramis request.)

And then there’s M. Emmet Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, Robert Picardo, and Ned Beatty!  Actually, I don’t remember any of them being in this movie but this is another thing IMDb told me.

Also, IMDb said that the actor who plays Phillip, Rodney’s stuck-up rival for Sally Kellerman’s affections, is named Paxton Whitehead, which is such a better name for a stuck-up rival for Sally Kellerman’s affections.  IMDb is so fun sometimes.

But back to the main point:  BACK TO SCHOOL isn’t the most consistently flawless of 1980s comedies, but more than any other genre,  comedy can get away with imperfections.  Is it funny?  Can I quote the living hell out of the thing?  Is it a good time to watch with a group?  All the answers to those questions are yesses.  Now when’s the next screening?

BACK TO SCHOOL is playing tonight at 9:30pm at 92Y Tribeca as part of their very promising and appropriately-named Back To School series.  BACK TO SCHOOL will be the second part of a double-feature with THREE O’CLOCK HIGH, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. 



Find out if I have any class (I don’t) on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

I probably should be doing about 50 other things at this very moment, but I saw this great top-50 list today and was inspired it to immediately answer it.  I made my list very, very quickly, so in plenty of ways it’s the most honest form a list like this could ever arrive in.  While the numbering is fairly arbitrary (until the top five, where shit gets definite) and while the contents could easily change as soon as five minutes from now, this is still a fairly good representation of what a top fifty movies list from me should look like.  Anyway, let’s hit it.  Links where they fit.  I eagerly await any and all comments you might make!

50. Watermelon Man (1970).

49. Fletch (1985).

48. The Great Silence (1968).

47. Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954).

46. The Hit (1984).

45. Knightriders (1981).

44. The Night Of The Hunter (1955).

43. Of Unknown Origin (1983).

42. Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (1973).

41. Prime Cut (1972).

40. Grosse Pointe Blank (1997).

39. Coffy (1973).

38. Trainspotting (1996).

37. In Bruges (2008).

36. Quick Change (1990).

35. Collateral (2004).

34. Out Of Sight (1998).

33. Halloween (1978).

32. Magnolia (1999).

31. Raising Arizona (1987).

30. Escape From New York (1981).

29. Shogun Assassin (1980).

28. Goodfellas (1990).

27. Purple Rain (1984).

26. True Grit (2010).

25. The Unholy Three (1925).

24. My Darling Clementine (1946).

23. The Insider (1999).

22. Alligator (1980).

21. Animal House (1978).

20. High Plains Drifter (1973).

19. Freaks (1932).

18. Beverly Hills Cop (1984).

17. An American Werewolf In London (1981).


16. Predator (1987).


15. Jaws (1975).

14. Shaft (1971).

13. Evil Dead 2 (1987).


12. The Wild Bunch (1969).

11. Manhunter (1986).

10. Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976).

9. Heat (1995).

8. King Kong (1933).

7. John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

6. Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

5. Unforgiven (1992).

4. Dawn Of The Dead (1978).

3. Ghostbusters (1984).

2. Once Upon A Time In The West (1968).


1. The Good The Bad & The Ugly (1966).


This is where I’m at today.

Hell, it may as well be the song of the week.



Going on the internet to talk about the greatness of Army Of Darkness is like going on the internet to talk about the greatness of boobs.  It’s kind of been done a few times already.  But I can’t help myself.  I love this movie.  It’s completely ridiculous.  I love it because it’s completely ridiculous.

Army Of Darkness, or Bruce Campbell Vs. The Army Of Darkness if you want to go by official titles, is the culmination of the story of The Evil Dead.  In 1980, twenty-something director Sam Raimi, producer Rob Tapert, and star Bruce Campbell (among others) went into the woods and came back with The Evil Dead (1981), the story of college students who are picked off by malevolent demons in a cabin in the woods.  This movie was such a massive cult success that it led to a sequel, Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987), which was essentially a remake of The Evil Dead.  Evil Dead 2 retained Bruce Campbell as hapless hero Ashley Williams and the cabin and the evil book known as the Necronomicon which unleashes hell, but otherwise was a totally different movie tonally.  I named Evil Dead 2 on my list of 13 Essential Horror Movies, because even while I feel it’s adequately creepy and spooky where it needs to be, it’s at least half a comedy – truly, no one has been as successful at merging the genres of horror and comedy as Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell were with this film.  That’s an entirely different essay, however.

Army Of Darkness goes further into comedy than even Evil Dead 2 did, approaching the neighborhood of parody at the outer city limits, though never venturing that far. Really, Army Of Darkness is an old-fashioned swashbuckler in a horror-movie costume.  It’s barely scary anywhere in it.  That’s not an insult.  Army Of Darkness is filled with so much joy that it can’t help but inspire joy – like the best work of Tim Burton, this movie loves scary stuff and Halloween stuff and skeletons and monsters so much that it couldn’t possibly be scary, because the sense of glee is so thoroughly palpable.  In my opinion, it’s the world’s greatest Ray Harryhausen homage.  Army Of Darkness is for the people, like myself, who fervently believe that the skeleton swordfight scene in Jason & The Argonauts is the greatest action scene in cinema history.

For those who haven’t had the immense pleasure, I’ll quickly explain how we get to the skeletons.

Army Of Darkness picks up immediately where Evil Dead 2 left off.  Our hero, Ash, has read in the pages of that dark book, the Necronomicon, a legend of a man who fell from the sky and helped fight off the great evil which Ash and his friends accidentally re-awakened in the modern age.  At the end of Evil Dead 2, Ash managed to open up a portal which sucked all the evil out of our world, but got sucked through the portal himself, along with his shotgun, his trusty Oldsmobile (actually Sam Raimi’s), and his chainsaw hand (long story).  He realized, to his horror, that he’d been sent through time, back to the medieval age written about in the Necronomicon.  Trapped in medieval times and hailed as a savior by primitive screwheads.

Army Of Darkness hilariously picks up on the idea that Ash is far more horrified to be stuck in the medieval past, amongst pretentious British nerds in suits of armor, than to be besieged by hideous winged demons, or Deadites as they’ve come to be called in this era.  The primary fun of this movie isn’t just to watch Ash wearily combat yet another hell-demon, but just as much to watch him annoyed by the proper ways and the hero worship of the medieval folk, who initially distrust him and eventually hang on his every word.  Ash has a style both old-school irreverent and contemporary ugly-American.  He’s like Bugs Bunny meets early-‘80s Eddie Murphy – no respect for anybody, no interest in hiding it.  Actually, he’s quite a bit ruder than that.  Let’s be honest, as much as all us fans adore Ash, technically he’s a total dick.

Ash, to a woman who tries to apologize for distrusting him:  “First you wanna kill me. Now you wanna kiss me. Blow.”  Try to imagine any other protagonist in any other film series getting away with a line like that.  Try to imagine any other actor in the world getting away with a line like that.

Yet, even as we revere Bruce Campbell for his performance, no one ever seems to wonder what became of a single other member of this cast.  They’re all basically just golf tees for Bruce to take swipes off.  They all have bad British accents, even the ones who probably are naturally British.  No offense – they’re all perfect.  The bull-in-a-china-shop nature of things is so intrinsic to the comedy that more nuanced supporting performances wouldn’t actually work.  Would you ever want to know what happened to the drivers of all those crashed cars in The Blues Brothers, or how they felt about it?

The plot, such as it is, in Army Of Darkness kicks in when Ash goes to retrieve the Necronomicon in an attempt to find a way to be returned to his own time.  He screws that simple task up so brilliantly that he awakens the entire army of the dead, a horde of thousands of skeletal warriors led by a monstrous, decomposing ruler who is a doppelganger of Ash himself – named Evil Ash in the credits and played by Bruce Campbell, both details which I’m sure come as a major surprise.

When the skeletons start marching towards the castle, the movie becomes truly unglued.

Glue has its uses.  It’s a sensible product.  It binds surfaces.  It maintains structure.  But sometimes, you want to let go a little.  Sometimes you just want to be like a kid again.  Sometimes you just want to eat paste.

Army Of Darkness is just gloriously, overwhelmingly, profoundly unglued.

The epic skeleton battle is Harryhausen meets Howard – not Ron Howard, even though the similar medieval epic Willow came out just five years earlier, but Moe Howard.  You know, of the Three Stooges.  Sam Raimi is an avowed fan of the Stooges, and in Bruce Campbell he has a leading actor who is fully capable of enacting that level of brilliant slapstick.  Every time I take a couple years away from this movie, I return to fall in love with its ridiculous energy all over again.  What cinematic pleasures are much greater than watching a caped Bruce Campbell getting in slugfests with sword-bearing skeletons?

And the skeletons talk.

And the skeletons also have bad British accents.

And most of the skeletons are as fake and as unconvincing as a politician’s integrity.  But that doesn’t slow anything down for a minute.  In fact, the fakeness, the places where the movie shows its seams, actually go a long way towards making it as wonderful as it is.  It feels like somebody (Dino DeLaurentiis, specifically) gave a couple million dollars to a prankster.  Army Of Darkness has the giddy energy of the home movies you might have made in the backyard with your buddies.  It often feels – in the love scenes, in the sequence where S-Mart employee Ash retardedly teaches villagers and knights how to fight, in the scenes where the skeletons run from the fight and the human beings rejoice – like some kids watched some old movies and tried to recreate them.  At the same time, there are excellently-paced and energetic scenes – like the early one where Ash battles the demon witch in the sewer pit – that Raimi reveals himself as the brilliantly original and accomplished world-class film director that he is.

This is why this movie, and Raimi and Campbell and their people, are so beloved by millions of film freaks.  They feel like they could just as easily be our friends, because they love the stuff we love as much as we love it, only their home movies are probably much better than ours, and their filmmaking talents are obviously so prodigious.

Sam Raimi went on from here to become an A-list director, most notably with the Spider-Man films of the 2000s.  Bruce Campbell has proved to be an odder fit for Hollywood, to his credit.  There just aren’t too many venues suited to his unique talents – the guy looks like everybody’s idea of a movie star but he has the energy and the ability to rival the most popular physical comedians.  Campbell is like a three-way cross between Kirk Douglas, Jim Carrey, and Superman. I guess if you aren’t Sam Raimi, it’s hard to know what to do with a guy like that.  I feel like the Coen Brothers could do something great with Campbell, and I really wish they would, but for now he works just outside the mainstream, working in TV as a day job and occasionally turning out something incredible, like his performance as an elderly Elvis Presley in Bubba Ho-Tep.

Fortunately and unfortunately, there’s nothing quite like the alchemy between Raimi and Campbell, and there’s nowhere better to find it than Evil Dead 2 and Army Of Darkness.  Campbell turned in a trifecta of fun performances in Raimi’s three Spider-Man movies, but the Evil Dead movies are the purest expression of this iconoclastic collaboration.

There are no other movies quite like these ones.  What a better, stranger world it is that they exist.




we've got a bone to pick with you...




Yesterday was Ray Harryhausen’s 90th birthday. Isn’t it way nicer to celebrate a legend’s birth, rather than waiting too long and having to cover the opposite?



Ray Harryhausen is an anomaly in film history – he’s a special effects auteur. How many actors can you name off the top of your head? At least a hundred, right? How many directors? A few dozen? Now try and name someone who works in movies who isn’t an actor or a director. Not so easy, right? (Well it is for me, but I’m a huge nerd for this stuff.)



If you’re a movie fan, Ray Harryhausen is a hero to people who are heroes to you. Directors as different as Sam Raimi, Tim Burton, Peter Jackson, and John Landis see him as an inspiration and a mentor. (Here’s a terrific piece Landis recently wrote on the subject.) The reason why all these great artists love him so much is that Harryhausen was creating amazing effects back when CGI was just a jumble in someone’s alphabet soup.



Listing all of Ray Harryhausen’s creations would take a long time and also would just make me smile. I have a book full of pictures and stories about the production of his many movie creatures (this one), which I will no doubt be looking at again over the weekend.





Harryhausen made statues come to life and go to war. He made gods of myth look real (and generally, angry.) He conjured up beasts that once lived, like dinosaurs, and beasts that never will, one hopes. He brought a tactile grace to movie monsters that all the new technology in the world still struggles to recapture.



Best of all, Ray Harryhausen did the Skeleton Fight in Jason & The Argonauts. This is quite simply one of my favorite things I have ever seen, and it hasn’t lost its luster after a few hundred VHS replays, DVD spins, and YouTube clicks. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most miraculous feats of effects work ever to be seen in a movie. It’s weird and creepy and funny and it doesn’t benefit one bit from me throwing words at it to describe it, so better you just watch and enjoy…






“On Halloween, everybody gets candy.”  Still a good point.

Best thing about this cartoon: The skeleton’s misplaced body standing next to the monkey in the third panel.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I still think this gag is funny.