Archive for the ‘Zombies’ Category

Raw Force (1982)

 

On the Norwegian Wikipedia page for the 1982 exploitation epic RAW FORCE — probably the only time I’ll ever start a sentence that way — we are informed that the movie was banned in Norway in 1984. That’s the most attention any kind of majority, political or otherwise, has paid this movie. RAW FORCE is made for almost no one, because it is apparently made for almost everyone. Nearly every convention or trope of genre movies from the first seventy or so years of the existence of film is expended in this one rickety heap of madness.

 

THIS IS THE RAW FORCE.

 

As I tried to describe on our latest podcast focusing on RAW FORCEdescribing this movie is like fighting a giant squid. Just when you’ve bested one wavy storytelling strand, another one snaps up and grabs you by the throat.

 

Here’s the trailer, which is maybe the most dishonest trailer I’ve ever seen:

 

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That trailer literally sells a different movie. The clips are the same, but some of the character names and all of their backstories are totally different. The editors somehow cobbled together a cohesive story from several scenes that have no connection. This is the SHOGUN ASSASSIN of movie trailers. RAW FORCE is plenty of kinds of fun, but one adjective that does not apply is “cohesive.” This is the summary I gave on the podcast:

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NOT THAT EDWARD MURPHY

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First, a quote from Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Okay. So early on in RAW FORCE, when a plane lands on a remote island and a character mentions that the waters surrounding the island are infested with vicious piranha, you can bet you will see those fish by the end of the movie. And if that character is a white-suited human trafficker who looks and talks exactly like Adolf Hitler, you may fairly assume he’ll be the one to meet them.

 

EVERYBODY HATES HITLER

 

Otherwise, RAW FORCE, also known as KUNG FU CANNIBALS, completely ignores the principle of Chekhov’s gun. This movie operates under its own rules, and also it doesn’t have any rules. If you somehow managed to drink up all the movies and television shows of the 1970s and then you barfed them back up, the mess on the bathroom floor might look like this.

 

RIGHT IN THE TUMMY-BALLS

 

Saloon fights, graveyard fights, bazooka fights, hippies in warpaint, gratuitously naked ladies, karate-chopping hobbit bartenders, giggling monks who dine on human women, ninja zombies, a BOOGIE NIGHTS style group of protagonists calling themselves the Burbank Karate Club, an ornery sea captain, a kung fu chef, an extended riff on ‘Gilligan’s Island’, and the aforementioned worst person in human history: All this and more in RAW FORCE.

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This was a fun episode even though I was delirious and feverish and congested and loopy. As always my co-hosts Joe and Freeman were terrific, engaging, and informative. You can subscribe and download the show on iTunes (please comment with feedback!) or you can

CLICK HERE!

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Here are our previous episodes, in case you’d like to catch up. We’re recording a new episode this week! Stay tuned.

STREET WARS (1992)

STREET WARS (1992)

Vigilante Force

VIGILANTE FORCE (1976)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

GHOSTHOUSE (1988)

THRILLER: THEY CALL HER ONE EYE (1973)

THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973)

Find me on Twitter:

@jonnyabomb

 

BYE I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU

 

 

RAW FORCE

 

LADIES

 

 

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Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

GO GOA GONE

Check out this trailer to GO GOA GONE, which is the first Indian stoner comedy I’ve ever heard about.  It’s a KUMAR & KUMAR, if you will.

Hey, it’s also a zombie movie!  I know, I know.  Too many zombie things.  But I don’t know if I agree with that sentiment.  What are zombies?  Zombies are dead people.  If you think you’re tired of zombies, you’re kind of saying you’re tired of people. And what kind of misanthrope is tired of people?  Now, if you mean you’re tired of shitty zombie stuff, I’m with you brother.  I’ve been burned worse than anybody.

That’s why I’m liking this new wave of international zombie comedies.  It probably began with SHAUN OF THE DEAD.  I’m not the universe’s biggest fan of that movie but I love how it’s been inspiring other countries to offer up their own renditions.  The cult success of SHAUN OF THE DEAD begat the cult success of ZOMBIELAND, and now we’re off and running.  Norway has DEAD SNOW.  New Zealand has BLACK SHEEP.  Japan has BIG TITS ZOMBIE.  (Oh, Japan.)  After many decades of no horror movies at all, Cuba came out swinging last year with JUAN OF THE DEAD, a really enjoyable zombie flick which I really need to write about one of these days.

GO GOA GONE, the first of its kind out of India.  Is it any good?  Who the hell knows?  Will I check it out?  Who the hell would doubt it?

Follow GO GOA GONE on Twitter!

And follow me also!: @jonnyabomb

GO GOA GONE

GO GOA GONE

GO GOA GONE

GO GOA GONE

GO GOA GONE

 

 

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!):

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Assault on Wall Street (2013)

ASSAULT ON WALL STREET (May 10)

Why It Could Be Cool:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

Why It Probably Won’t Be:

It’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 meets WALL STREET!

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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.

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Robosapien

CODY THE ROBOSAPIEN (May 28)


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!

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Sinbad The Fifth Voyage (2010)

SINBAD THE FIFTH VOYAGE (May 31)

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!

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After Earth (2013)

AFTER EARTH (May 31)

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.

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Axe Giant

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN (On DVD June 18)

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.

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Hammer of the Gods (2013)

HAMMER OF THE GODS (July 5)

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

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

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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.

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The Frozen Ground (2013)

THE FROZEN GROUND (August)

(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.

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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.

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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!

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Gallowwalkers

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.

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

@jonnyabomb

 

 

Evil Dead (2013)

 

You guys know me pretty well at this point, so you can probably guess where I’d stand on the remake without even reading a word from me.  It’s relatively simple.  If this movie truly wanted me to love it, it would have called up the Jessica Lucas character to take on the role of “the new Ash.”

Since they didn’t, I not only need to start up a new tally for 2013, but I also had to get a little vicious.

>>>CLICK HERE FOR THE REVIEW!!!<<<

And if you’re looking for some lighter reading, here are a couple pertinent posts….

JONNY’S LIST OF 13 HORROR MOVIES EVERYONE SHOULD SEE.

JONNY’S TAKE ON “BRUCE CAMPBELL VS. THE ARMY OF DARKNESS” (1992).

All you Deadites can come at me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

 

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead (2013)

 

Jessica Lucas

 

Some movies just can’t budge you too far if you get to them too late. If I’d seen PET SEMATARY when I was much younger, it would’ve ruined my sleep for days. But it somehow eluded me until adulthood, at which point horror is a different experience. A lot of horror-watching in adulthood is fruitlessly searching for frights that’ll shake you up anywhere near as much as the horror films of your youth did. You grow up, and you see first-hand how brutal the real world can be, and it becomes that much harder for something made-up to scare you. Personally, I can absolutely still be thrilled by the deranged excess and outsized imagination found in horror films (see my recent pieces on PHENOMENA and POSSESSION, for example), but to really mess with my head? That’s a mission all but doomed to fail.

Credit then to PET SEMATARY, for still clinging to its genuinely eerie moments, twenty years later, and occasionally making them work spooky magic. Director Mary Lambert made some of the most memorable music videos of the 1980s, and she gives this film a poppy energy that keeps it moving over some of the dodgier aspects. PET SEMATARY, is, of course, a Stephen King adaptation, written for screen from his original novel by King himself, with all the excellence and potential dodginess that implies. I love Stephen King and I grew up on his books, but whether or not it’s true that every great writer is just rewriting the same story over and over, it’s certainly true that Stephen King has certain elements he returns to with bizarre frequency, and some of those elements don’t always translate to movies: Sometimes a problem when you’re one of the most-adapted writers in modern literature. A Stephen King checklist might include: Toddlers with supernatural powers. Pets with supernatural powers. Mentally-challenged people with supernatural powers. Well-intentioned but somewhat patronizing portrayals of black people and country folk. Handymen in overalls. (In THE GREEN MILE, you get a king hat-trick of a character, with the mentally-challenged black man with supernatural powers. Also, he wore overalls.)

Fred Gwynne, PET SEMATARY.

Bill Fagerbakke, THE STAND.

Michael Clarke Duncan, THE GREEN MILE.

Stephen King, CREEPSHOW.

Hell, we all have our leitmotifs and odd peccadilloes. The overalls-wearing fella in PET SEMATARY is Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne), neighbor to the Creed family, who just moved into the country house across the street. Jud doesn’t have supernatural powers but he knows about a plot of land that does: Out in the woods, there is a stretch of makeshift funeral plot where people bury their dead pets, but the area is said to be haunted, and things buried there have a way of coming back. (Canny mythmaker that he is, King both invokes the “Indian burial ground” trope while giving it a down-home spin — “Pet Sematary” is the colloquial way the sign is scrawled, and I think King knows that a portion of his broad audience may not even realize that the word “cemetery” is misspelled.) Louis Creed, the young father, is played by an actor named Dale Midkiff who resembles a less-doughy, less-charismatic Nathan Fillion. Louis is a doctor at the local hospital, and while he takes a liking to Jud and his amiable presence, he doesn’t buy the “Lazarus pit” ability of that place in the woods. Louis lives with his wife Rachel and their two young children, Ellie and Gage. Trucks are a major problem in this area, speeding through the farmland and causing a suspiciously high number of accidents in a short amount of time. One accident victim, a jogger named Victor, dies on Louis’s emergency room table, and soon begins appearing to Louis in ominous visions. This is probably my favorite character in the movie, if only because it’s not every day you see a zombie ghost in 1980s short-shorts.

These early sections of the movie may well owe a debt to John Landis’s 1981 werewolf classic AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which also used a decomposing spectral figure as the bearer of approaching bad tidings. Honestly, I’m not sure it takes a zombie-ghost to predict where this is all headed. In 2012, we’ve seen so many horror movies that we can surely guess. The next to die is the Creed family’s cat, named Church. (The naming is a touch unsubtle.) Jud warns Louis against it, but after being plagued by the ghost of Victor, Louis is bound to experiment with the funeral plot. He buries Church there, and sure enough, Church comes back to the house, but he comes back changed, complete with an eerie-slash-comical visual effect around the eyes.

But even those who could predict where the movie is headed may still be shocked to see that it actually goes there. Little Gage wanders into the road and is run down by an inattentive trucker. The movie is pitched somewhere between pathos and camp at this point, complete with an empty child’s sneaker bouncing down the asphalt and Louis’s dramatic scream of “NOOOOOOOO!” — it’s certainly overwrought and kind of funny, but at the same time, this is a little kid, and I’m not made of stone here. Dad is so shattered by the loss that soon enough he’s contemplating the unthinkable. And once again, the movie goes there. I’m not a big fan of evil-kid horror movies, because I don’t generally find children to be at all scary, but again, damned if the over-the-top nature of the entire proceedings does manage to make little Gage a disturbing enough villain for just as long as he needs to be.

“Over-the-top” really is the description for PET SEMATARY. Part of it is because what works (terrifically) on the page sometimes seems a little much when it arrives on screen. Part of it is casting. Dale Midkiff and Denise Crosby, as the Creed parents, come off as rather stiff, except in the moments they explode with grief and hysteria. She, in particular, has a running subplot about her troubled sister Zelda, who was bedridden with spinal meningitis and apparently deranged — this might otherwise be an affecting tale, but only for the fact that Zelda is played by a man, and not one with a subtle acting style either. And then you have Fred Gwynne walking around. If you know who Fred Gwynne is, it’s most likely because you saw him as Herman Munster, high-spirited patriarch of The Munsters. Basically, Jud Crandall is a role Boris Karloff might have played, but since he wasn’t around, they got the next most recognizable Frankenstein’s Monster. The campiest possible version. This casting is key to the entire enterprise, I think. PET SEMATARY is meant to be taken at face value, surely, since so many people still count it among their favorite scary movies. But my guess is that you’re allowed to laugh and have fun as much as you’re supposed to be scared. It’s a “spook-a-blast,” the kind I can still happily enjoy even coming to it as an adult. If I’m wrong, and I’m not supposed to be laughing, then how do you explain the following picture…?

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DEAD & BURIED strikes me as a film underrated even by the crowds who usually stand up for films that are underrated. DEAD & BURIED was directed by Gary Sherman (RAW MEAT, VICE SQUADPOLTERGEIST 3) and written by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (ALIEN, TOTAL RECALL).  These aren’t household names by any stretch, but neither are the guys who built the George Washington Bridge, and tens of thousands of people drive over that every single day, get me?

Jason Zinoman’s 2011 book Shock Value does a heroic job of making the case for O’Bannon’s place in the pantheon of important horror filmmakers of the 1970s and 1980s.  However, if Zinoman’s terrifically readable book has an obvious flaw it’s that it’s far too short for such a rich subject.  When I went back to the book to see what it had to say about DEAD & BURIED, there was literally nothing there.  This is a project O’Bannon and Shusett wrote before ALIEN, and got to make (with Shusett producing) once ALIEN conquered the world.  It features early effects work by the legendary Stan Winston (PREDATOR).  It’s a movie worth considering, for its historical import alone.

O’Bannon and Shusett wrote ALIEN and adapted TOTAL RECALL.  O’Bannon, a classmate of John Carpenter at USC, made DARK STAR with the director who would soon take off with ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 and HALLOWEEN. And O’Bannon wrote and directed RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, the movie that introduced talking zombies with a taste for brains to punk music.  Dan O’Bannon is as valuable to the sci-fi and horror genres as just about any more famous hyphenate worshipped by genre film fanatics.  Ronald Shusett has obviously earned his bones as well.

DEAD & BURIED was originally a short story and script by Jeff Millar and Alex Stern, which O’Bannon and Shusett rewrote and then gave to Gary Sherman to direct.  Sherman’s previous film, RAW MEAT aka DEATH LINE (which I will cover at greater length in a future column), is what got him the director job on DEAD & BURIED.  The story needed a director who would go all the way in, and it got one.

DEAD & BURIED opens on an overcast beach in Maine (actually Northern California), where a photographer has stopped to shoot some local scenery. He’s approached by a striking young woman (Lisa Blount), they flirt, and she starts posing for cheesecake snapshots.  She spontaneously opens her blouse, and just when the poor guy thinks his day is made, a mob of locals appears, seizing his camera away and snapping disorienting flash photos as they beat and kick him mercilessly.  They wrap him around a wooden pole with a fishing net, splash gasoline on him, and burn him alive.

It’s a mightily unsettling scene, even to modern eyes (like mine) who have seen three decades of horror hence.  The romantic music, the sudden boobage, and the jarring transition to such savage violence make one powerfully disturbing cocktail.  And the scene isn’t even done with us yet:  The local sheriff, Dan Gillis (James Farentino), and the town mortician (Jack Albertson) arrive on the scene to examine the burnt and deformed body of the photographer.  They kneel in close, looking for the cause of death, and the skeletal figure SCREAMS.  It’s an ingenious and upsetting scare, the likes of which we’ve seen several times since, in films as great as David Fincher’s SE7EN, but DEAD & BURIED has that film beat by a decade and a half!

DEAD & BURIED is full of unnerving moments like that one.  It’s a movie that was actually pared down in many markets due to its gruesome violence.  The scene that was cut, surprisingly, wasn’t the one I just described, but instead a rather infamous act of cruelty that befalls that poor photographer a little later in the film, as he lies helpless in the hospital.

This is only the beginning, by the way.  Sheriff Gillis is called to a new crime scene every morning after that first one on the beach.  The spookiness really kicks in when those murder victims start reappearing in town.  Don’t go picturing zombies — these folks are as unharmed and as generally pleasant as they had been before an angry mob bashed their heads in and set them on fire.  The practiced horror viewer will likely figure out the mystery before the sheriff does, but it’s the journey, not the destination, that makes DEAD & BURIED so indelible.

The story crafted by O’Bannon and Shusett parcels out surprises cleverly, in a way that can be surprising even three decades later.  Director Gary Sherman and his crew make the most out of their locations, making the town of Potter’s Bluff feel like a tangible environment.  The music by Joe Renzetti contributes mightily to the creepy atmosphere.  The ensemble cast, including a young Robert Englund (pre- NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET), is never less than fully invested.  But no discussion of DEAD & BURIED would be complete without mention of its two lead performances.

When I found out that James Farentino (who died in January of this year) was a native New Yorker, I wasn’t surprised: He has a direct, grounded presence that we as the audience depend on to keep us steadily moving through a story that becomes increasingly, horrifyingly unhinged.  He’s a low-key Everyman in the early goings, a regular guy whose very sanity is tested by the town’s journey into darkness.

But if we could retroactively award Oscars to unheralded performances of our choosing, I might have to commandeer the time machine to ensure that Jack Albertson would get his due.  If you’re like me, you either know Jack Albertson as Manny Rosen in 1972’s THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, or more likely as Grandpa Joe in 1971’s WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  Especially if you’ve seen either of those roles, in which he played the definition of the kindly old Jewish grandfather, Jack Albertson’s portrayal of the morbidly sardonic coroner Dobbs will be a revelation.  He’s there to help in the investigation, but he irritates the sheriff as much as he entertains him (such as the comical moment when Gillis arrives at the morgue and Dobbs loudly mentions where his young assistant stashes his weed.)  This was one of Jack Albertson’s final roles, and according to the director’s commentary on the wonderful Blue Underground DVD, he knew he was dying while filming the movie.  So Jack Albertson, a vaudeville performer from way back, clearly relished the black humor and irony in the role, and played it up to the hilt.  Dobbs isn’t just an eccentric with a nostalgic affection for big-band music — there are many more shades to the character, and Jack Albertson’s nimble performance alone is more than reason enough to take another look at DEAD & BURIED.

In addition, I think we can all agree that Jack Albertson has the greatest IMDb profile picture of all time:

 

DEAD & BURIED is playing tonight in Los Angeles as part of Cinefamily’s Video Nasties series.

Follow me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb