7.17.2021

Army of the Dead (2021)

DIRECTED BY

Zack Snyder


STARRING

Dave Bautista - Scott Ward

Ella Purnell - Kate Ward

Omari Hardwick - Vanderohe

Ana de la Reguera - Maria Cruz

Tig Notoro - Marianne Peters

Theo Rossi - Burt Cummings

Matthias Schweighofer - Ludwig Dieter

Nora Arnezeder - Lily

Hiroyuki Sanada - Bly Tanaka

Raul Castillo - Mikey Guzman

Garret Dillahunt - Martin

Richard Cetrone - Zeus

Athena Perample - The Queen


Genre: Horror/Action/Crime/Zombies


Running Time: 148 Minutes



PLOT

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble: venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.


REVIEW


ARMY OF THE DEAD
, one of 2021’s most anticipated films, had a lot of things going for it while it’s release was hyped. The main one was director Zack Snyder, who many felt was disrespected by Warner Bros. over his JUSTICE LEAGUE build and how it all turned out. With personal reasons and Joss Whedon causing a media controversy over the handling of the project, many supported Snyder and wanted to see his version of the film. Over many months of questioning whether The Snyder Cut even existed, Snyder himself confirmed it and released his 4-hour version of JUSTICE LEAGUE in March 2021 on HBO Max. It was a drastic improvement over the theatrical version, making many who disliked Snyder over his recent films turn around on their opinion as they rooted for the guy when it came to future projects.


One of those projects ended up being ARMY OF THE DEAD - a sort of return to roots for Snyder since his first big success was 2004’s remake of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. Starring Dave Bautista and getting an exclusive deal from Netflix to stream to millions of homes, there was a lot of goodwill when it came to the film’s release. Unfortunately, the praise for JUSTICE LEAGUE didn’t extend to ARMY OF THE DEAD. While some did enjoy the film, a majority have been in the middle or just have a dislike for the film. Personally, I’m on the fence when it comes to this movie, as it has some really cool things going for it. But I do have major issues with the film as well, mainly when it comes to Zack Snyder himself.


Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The premise for ARMY OF THE DEAD is pretty great. Mixing a zombie movie with a heist film is a cool combination and actually creates some genuinely tense moments in the final half of the film. Characters have a purpose in confronting these zombies, considering they’ll earn millions of dollars if they’re successful with the heist. And there’s obvious drama due to outside forces hoping to make sure the heist doesn’t happen as it was planned. This kind of plot might make for a better video game than a movie, but I liked that Snyder wanted to freshen things up within the genre considering a ton of zombie films just want to rehash the popularity of The Walking Dead.


I also appreciated this story element involving these Alpha Zombies. Apparently, these are members of the undead that have survived long enough to evolve into intelligent creatures who have super strength and agility to fend off foes. There’s even an Alpha Tiger guarding their territory. The Alphas also created their own kingdom, even crowning a King and Queen to lead them. While I wish the film had done more to explain how they came to be and done more to make them a bigger deal until the final act, I really liked this new lore. I think these characters are receiving their own film or special later in the year, so I’m looking forward to learning more about their story.



I thought some of the shots were nice and/or interesting, while the action and gore aspects were done well. ARMY OF THE DEAD has a lot of violence going on, including gun fights, zombie biting, explosions, objects impaling various body parts and even decapitations. And the zombie make up looked really cool, similar to the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD. I liked that some of the zombies looked different from others, including the return of a zombie fetus, as well as a zombie cyborg which I wanted to see more of. There was obvious thought put into the creatures, which I appreciated.


And I didn’t hate the acting either. Dave Bautista continues his winning streak in a lead role, using his charisma and easy presence to remain a captivating wrestler-turned-actor to watch. I thought Omari Hardwick was a bad ass as the enforcer of the group, while Matthias Schweighofer was more hit than miss as the comic relief safe cracker. Even Theo Rossi and Garret Dillahunt were very good as the love-to-hate characters who had their own cruel agendas. And I thought Snyder did a seamless job replacing Chris D’Elia [who was fired over sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro. The fact that none of the actors really interacted with Notoro since her parts were added after the fact is pretty amazing. I find it more interesting than the film itself and Snyder and Notoro should be commended for doing a great job when it came to that. Overall, I think there may have been too many actors and characters in this film that weren’t zombies, but the actors were fine in their respective roles.


The main issue with ARMY OF THE DEAD really stems from the screenplay. Personally, I found the film to have too much going on for its own good, making the movie feel like three different films in one for no real reason. We have the character drama, especially between Scott and Kate Ward’s father-daughter feud. We have the heist subplot that ends up being really predictable if you’ve seen ALIENS, which a lot of the narrative was based on. In fact, this took away a lot of tension from the film. We also have the Alpha Zombies stuff that needs to be explored more. It felt like Snyder crammed a trilogy in a 148 minute film when you could have honestly spread this out and done three cool films that all felt different from the other. The first film could have been the start of the zombie apocalypse itself, which would have helped build characters and defined their relationships. The second could have been the heist and Alpha Zombie deal. And the third could have been the aftermath, which ARMY OF THE DEAD seems to set up with its final reveal. This would have helped the pacing. This would have helped the story. This would have helped the budget, as less to focus on would have made the movie look way better than it does.


For example, Kate Ward is a really annoying character and seems to be inserted in the heist plot line for unnecessary drama that could have been saved for something else. She hates her father, but uses him anyway to get what she wants. She doesn’t mind risking lives of others to save a trio of women who abandoned their children to escape the quarantine area for a “better life”. And when she goes rogue to save these women during a heist that has to be done in 90 minutes because a bomb is going to drop in the area, she gets people killed for her selfishness. All she does is play the moral police, when her morals don’t matter during a zombie apocalypse. 



There’s also the Martin character, who is appointed by Bly Tanaka [the man ordering this Vegas heist] to join the team as a liaison inside the area to make it easier to find the safe with the millions of dollars. A character hired by a suspicious rich person to join a group of soldiers to lead them to success - what can go wrong?? Not only is he predictable as a foil, but there’s really no tension or suspense when it comes to reveal as he quickly reveals himself to certain team members to create drama. His plan is also pretty dumb because Martin has his own specific orders that don’t involve the rest of the team, not realizing that he doesn’t have a way to get back to safety once he accomplishes it away from the others. So what’s the point of all this? I didn’t mind the character all that much, but his motivations were pretty weak and lacking in terms of advance planning. 


In fact, a lot of the characters don’t have much motivation besides getting money from this heist. Relationships are briefly established but nothing is really done to make the audience care. I had no idea Scott and Maria were an item until she vents about it near the end of the film. I just figured they had a platonic relationship, but the film proved me wrong. Kate’s loyalty to finding Geeta is empty because nothing in the film suggests that they’re best friends, lovers, or anything substantial that would make Kate risk her life and the lives of others to find this woman. Maybe she was triggered by abandoned children [due to her feelings of abandonment by Scott], but that feels like a real stretch to deal with zombies over. I thought the Alpha King and Queen had a more fleshed out relationship and all they did was growl at each other. And I thought Vanderohe and Ludwig Dieter had one of the better relationships, as it organically grew from two people who didn’t care for the other into a respectful friendship between two men who used their respective brawn and brains to try to survive this heist. It makes what happens in the final act mean a bit more. The film could have used more of that, instead of just having characters bicker at each other while just walking around a casino for minutes on end.


I also had issues with the look of the film. For a movie that costs about $90 million, it looks pretty cheap. It was like looking at actors doing their thing in front of a green screen and not in the good Robert Rodriguez sort of way. It wasn’t until after the fact that I learned Zack Snyder himself was both the director and cinematographer of ARMY OF THE DEAD, which probably explains a lot about the film’s visuals. While some shots looked cool and the action was filmed well, it seems like Snyder had too much on his plate with this one. He probably should have let someone else take over the cinematography to make this film look a little better. I’ve seen worse looking films obviously, but this is probably near the bottom in terms of Synder’s films on a visual level. 


THE FINAL HOWL


Despite being hyped up for this one after enjoying his version of JUSTICE LEAGUE months prior, I ended up feeling disappointed by Zack Snyder’s ARMY OF THE DEAD - a film that has a lot going on and nothing going on all at once. While having a great heist premise and some cool story elements like the idea of Alpha Zombies ruling a territory, the rest of the narrative seems rushed. The film doesn’t allow much character development beyond the archetypes, as a lot of the plot elements could have been spread into two or three films rather than crammed into a 2.5 hour movie. And while some of Snyder’s shots are cool and interesting, the overall look of the film looks cheaper than would be believed considering the movie’s $90 million budget. However, the zombies look and act cool. The gore and action are definitely highlights and will keep audiences somewhat invested. And I had no real issues with the acting, carried quite well by a game Dave Bautista. And that great use of CGI in replacing Chris D’Elia [due to sexual assault accusations] with Tig Notoro was pretty seamless, as I didn’t even notice it until after the fact. Zack Snyder fans and probably most zombie fans will get a kick out of ARMY OF THE DEAD probably for the majority of the visuals alone. But if you’re looking for a story with likable characters and George A. Romero social commentary to elevate a standard zombie action flick, these two-plus hours might not be worth investing in unless you have a lot of time to fill.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4




7.10.2021

The Dead Don't Die (2019)

DIRECTED BY

Jim Jarmusch


STARRING

Bill Murray - Chief Cliff Robertson

Adam Driver - Officer Ronnie Peterson

Tilda Swinton - Zelda Winston

Chloe Sevigny - Officer Mindy Morrison

Steve Buscemi - Farmer Frank Miller

Danny Glover - Hank Thompson

Caleb Landry Jones - Bobby Wiggins

Rosie Perez - Posie Juarez

Iggy Pop - Male Coffee Zombie

Larry Fessenden - Danny Perkins

Tom Waits - Hermit Bob

Selena Gomez - Zoe

RZA - Dean

Carol Kane - Mallory O'Brien

Sara Driver - Female Coffee Zombie


Genre: Horror/Comedy/Zombies


Running Time: 104 Minutes




PLOT

In a small peaceful town, zombies suddenly rise to terrorize the town. Now three bespectacled police officers and a strange Scottish morgue expert must band together to defeat the undead.


REVIEW


2019’s THE DEAD DON’T DIE was a film I had been eager to watch for the past two years since I watched the trailer in theaters. The vibe of the trailer reminded me of a quirkier version of ZOMBIELAND, just with a mega all-star cast that only made me anticipate the project more. However when the reviews started coming out, it was a really mixed bag leading towards more negative than power. After that, I sort of put the film in my mental queue to watch it whenever I had the chance. With the film leaving HBO Max, I decided to finally check it out and see if it was worth the wait. While the film has its moments and is well made, I unfortunately couldn’t help but feel disappointed by this zombie-comedy overall.


As a fan of Jim Jarmusch’s 2013 vampire flick ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE, I was kind of expecting that kind of storytelling but with zombies. Instead, I got a film loaded with social and political commentary told through meta-jokes that felt like random skits tied together by a zombie subplot. Having commentary in a zombie movie is nothing new. And zombie comedies have been around for a long time with varied success. But the way THE DEAD DON’T DIE presented it was head scratching because the social commentary didn’t land as hard as it should have. Plus, the film was at times amusing but never really laugh-out funny. And sometimes the jokes would land but then keep going with lesser impact for whatever reason. 


For example, there’s this scene where the first zombie victims are found by the local police. The sheriff enters first to see the corpse and has a bad reaction to what he sees. Then his deputy shows up, looks at the body and makes a dry comment about how disgusting it is. Then their female partner enters last and pretty much gags at the sight. Why not just have them all see the body at the same time and react to it the same way at the same time? The impact loses its power after each time. A lot of the jokes tend to do that in this film, as if to fill time rather than tell a story.


Another example is Sturgill Simpson’s “The Dead Don’t Die” theme song. I’m not sure how many times the film plays the song, but it’s so many times that I ended up disliking the song by the time the film was over. It works the first time it’s played because the song is extremely meta. But then characters continue to play it as if it’s the only song in existence and loses all of its power. Not sure what Jarmusch was thinking here.



We also have zombies who rise from their graves and utter random words, like “wifi”, “free cable”, “coffee” and “Xanax”. This is an obvious social commentary on how we, as a society, are totally reliant on technology or any time of pill or drink that will keep us functioning. The first time the zombies say these things, it’s cute. But it continues and it’s like - I get it. You can stop now and just tell a narrative that will make me want to keep watching. This commentary on our materialism isn’t new anyway. George A. Romero did it better in 1978’s DAWN OF THE DEAD because it was subtle. The zombies, in that film, roamed back towards the local mall because they wanted to be in a familiar place from their living years. The characters have like a five minute conversation about it and move on. Romero didn’t try to hammer it into our skulls because he let the story explore it in an organic way. THE DEAD DON’T DIE doesn’t have any of that.


Same goes with political commentary, which is a wasted opportunity in so many ways. One of the characters wears a red cap that reads “Keep America White Again” - obviously a jab towards the past few years of Trumpism. But nothing is really done with this aspect because the character is never given an opportunity to. He’s best friends with a black person, which I guess is supposed to be ironic and hypocritical. And then later on, a black zombie invades his home and this character blows his head off with a shotgun, commenting on how weird that was. It’s like, what’s the point of this red cap deal if you’re not going to go all the way with it. Yes, it’s an uncomfortable topic and it will definitely piss off half the audience. But it’s barely a gag and not even a real character trait. It left me wondering what was the point of it all. 


That being said, I thought some of the meta jokes were pretty funny. Adam Driver’s character having a STAR WARS keychain is cute, due to how that franchise made his career. Adam Driver constantly telling everyone that “It’s not going to end well,” is funny because he later reveals he read the script while clueless Bill Murray, not knowing how the film would end, gets upset that Jim Jarmusch wouldn’t let him know despite their long working history together. Plus, having Tilda Swinton play a weird character is meta in itself since that seems to be something some audiences and critics criticize her for. So when the jokes work, they really work. Unfortunately, the film seems too up its ass to hit a home run each time.



Jim Jarmusch is a good director for the most part and he visualizes THE DEAD DON’T DIE in a pleasing way. The film is paced well and the edits and transitions between characters dealing with their own zombie crisis is done nicely. The zombies are shot really well, looking pretty cool and similar to The Walking Dead. The death scenes and special effects are also well done. We get the usual flesh eating, a shotgun point blank to the head that creates a cool explosion and a bunch of decapitations via blades or swords. The cool smoky-ash effect after the zombies are taken care of is a nice detail that I haven’t seen done in a zombie movie before. I wish the script was stronger because visually, the film is pretty damn good.


The actors also keep this film afloat. Unfortunately, there’s so many of them that most don’t get a whole lot to do in the movie. It’s nice to see Selena Gomez in a movie, sure. But she doesn’t have anything to do besides be the subject of a slightly racist joke and part of the film’s body count. I can say that about a lot of the cast. As for the standouts, Bill Murray does his normal schtick and it works as the film’s sheriff, while Driver gets to have more fun as the dry deputy who has strange reactions to everything around him. Chloe Savigny is a mixed bag for me, as she seemed to be a hybrid of both the Murray and Driver characters but without the charm or delivery. I thought Tilda Swinton was an oddly charming delight as a Scottish mortician who can handle a samurai sword like no one’s business. And Steve Bucsemi, Danny Glover and Caleb Landry Jones get their moments to shine when they do appear. And it was definitely cool to spot cameos like Iggy Pop and Carol Kane as zombies. It’s definitely an awesome cast of actors and singers, but most of them are glorified cameos more than anything else. 


THE FINAL HOWL


I was pretty disappointed with THE DEAD DON’T DIE - which I entirely blame on the marketing due to it portraying the film as a ZOMBIELAND type of comedy when it’s anything but. It also doesn’t help that the screenplay feels like a bunch of loosely connected skits that are trying too hard to be funny, only hitting the mark only some of the time. Some of the meta jokes work, especially in the last half of the film. And some of the dialogue and events in the film are genuinely chuckle worthy. But sometimes the jokes run way too long, making them lose all impact. And the social and political commentary is expected, but it was expressed a lot better in George A. Romero films and other popular zombie films that understood how to balance the message within the actual narrative. THE DEAD DON’T DIE has something to say, but does it in the laziest manner possible, which is disappointing.


Besides that, I felt the direction by Jim Jarmusch was mostly well done as the film flowed pretty well and looked pretty polished. The zombie make up looked alright and the gore effects were nicely done and added a much needed punch towards the end of the film. And the acting is great, especially by Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Tilda Swinton. But with so many celebrities in one film, it’s hard for everyone to get a chance to shine. Felt like a marketing ploy to have all these stars in one movie, which worked since that was one of the reasons I wanted to see this. But I’d just stick with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD or even SHAUN OF THE DEAD for your zombie-comedy needs, unless you’re a Jim Jarmusch fan and want to see his take on a zombie flick. Unfortunately, he made a product that felt as lifeless as the zombies themselves for the most part.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4




7.03.2021

The WTF Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: The Quick and the Undead (2006)

DIRECTED BY

Gerald Nott


STARRING

Clint Glenn Hummel - Ryn Baskin

Toar Campbell - Toar Zombie

Dion Day - Jackson

Erin McCarthy - Hunter Leah

Nicola Giacobbe - Hans Tubman

Parrish Randall - Blythe Remington

Jeff Swarthout - Walters


Genre: Horror/Western/Zombies


Running Time: 80 Minutes




PLOT

The movie takes place in the present, but in this universe, a plague has broken out and the infected have been transformed into zombies. No explanation is provided for the source of the plague, nor is it explained how the original victims were infected, since by the time the narrative begins the infection spreads by bite. Nevertheless, the action starts 80 years after the initial outbreak. The western United States has devolved into a disconnected series of ghost towns overrun by zombies, and the government is awarding bounties in exchange for the pinkies of the undead.


REVIEW


So I’ve been following a few movie lists out there in order to watch films I haven’t given much of a chance for whatever reason. This 2006 indie zombie-western was on one of the lists, which focuses on films that are either terrible or thought to be terrible. But sometimes, there are bad films out there that are genuinely entertaining for all the wrong reasons, making the viewing experience a fun one. Unfortunately, THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD isn’t one of those films. In fact, I wish I had used my 80 minutes for something else because there’s really nothing to see or talk about here.


It’s rare for me to not have much to say about a film, but here we are. I guess I should get to the positives first, since that will be quick. I thought the look of the film was better than I was expecting for this quality of film - the budget was a bit over $100,000 I believe. Gerald Nott tried to add a bit of stylish shots whenever he could, which made the visual presentation a bit dynamic at times. The special effects were actually decent, with a nice use of squib shots and CGI [wonky at times but not the worst]. The zombie make up was alright, although some zombies looked more defined than others. And the cinematographer, Scott Peck, did his thing boosting the visual quality of the film way beyond than it probably deserved. For a really low budget flick, it looked like it had a higher one.


Also, the film is only 80 minutes. That means it won’t bore you for too long, which I appreciated. 


Some of the actors were okay as well. Parrish Randall was alright as main villain Blythe. The script didn’t do him or any of the actors any favors [I’ll get to that in a bit], but Randall made the most of the part and stood out as one of the better parts of the film. I also liked Erin McCarthy as Hunter [Get it? She’s a zombie hunter? Sigh.]. She gets her best scenes near the end and I thought she did as best as one could considering the weak script.


And boy, is this script terrible. The characters don’t have much depth. The plot holes are all over the place. And this film offers you more questions than answers. For example, the film never explains why this zombie apocalypse is going 80-plus years strong. The film never tells us why this world is still stuck in a Western instead of something more modern than that. The Western part is especially problemsome since the film never really embraces that aesthetic [no horses, no saloons, no gun duels] - unless you consider people wearing cowboy hats and attire a Western vibe.



There’s also this main plotline where bounty hunters are murdering zombies to collect their pinkies in exchange for currency. This would be kind of interesting if the script had elaborated more about it. I guess the government enforced this in order for people to kill the undead to maintain the zombie invasion? But considering the lopsided ratio of a hoard of zombies compared to the tiny amount of living humans left, either no one bothered or those who did ended up becoming zombies anyway. And who cares about any kind of currency during a zombie apocalypse? Are there vendors and stores really caring about getting paid while there’s a zombie invasion happening outside of their door? People would just steal and loot whatever they need in order to survive. It’s a really flawed idea that gets more convoluted as the film goes on. In fact, Blythe plans on infecting neighboring towns just to kill zombies and collect pinkies. Why? How does this benefit him or anyone in any way?


It also doesn’t help that our hero seems to be immune to zombie bites or even death, period. Why? Who in the hell knows? The film never bothers explaining it. We get an opening shot where he shoots himself up with a needle. Maybe he’s taking a drug that makes him immune? He compares zombie bites and death to chicken pox and I’m just… confused.


Speaking of our main hero, the actor playing him - Clint Glenn Hummel - is pretty bland and dry to even be interesting or likable. I don’t know if it’s because the script isn’t great, or the fact that Hummel is doing a Clint “Man With No Name” Eastwood impersonation to the best of his ability that makes him kind of dull as a lead. He didn’t leave much of an impression on me and it’s unfortunate since he’s in the film for ninety-five percent of the time.


THE FINAL HOWL


THE QUICK AND THE UNDEAD
is so dull, confusing and flawed that it will make you believe the last few seasons of The Walking Dead were television masterpieces in comparison. The screenplay is a mess - with shallow characters who don’t give the audience a reason to like them, plot holes that leave you asking why, and questionable subplots that aren’t explored at all for whatever reason. The acting is a mixed bag, leaning towards downwards due to a lead actor who is too busy doing a Clint Eastwood impersonation rather than breathing some sort of life to a hero worth rooting for. If it wasn’t for the cinematography, the decent make up and special effects compared to its low budget, some decent supporting actors and a short run time, this film would have been bottom of the barrel for me. For a zombie-western movie, it’s barely a western and the zombies only really appear every now and then for when people need to die. Don’t mistake this film for Sam Raimi’s 1995 underrated THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. One is great and the other one is - well this. Not worth collecting zombie pinkies over.



SCORE
1 Howl Outta 4



7.01.2021

The Supernaturals (1986)

DIRECTED BY

Armand Mastroianni


STARRING

Maxwell Caulfield - Pvt. Ray Ellis

Nichelle Nichols - Sgt. Leona Hawkins

Talia Balsam - Pvt. Angela Lejune

Bradford Bancroft - Pvt. Tom Weir

LeVar Burton - Pvt. Michael Osgood

Bobby Di Cicco - Pvt. Tim Cort

Scott Jacoby - Pvt. Chris Mendez

Margaret Shendal - Melanie

Maurice Gibb - Union Soldier


Genre: Horror/Supernatural/Zombies


Running Time: 86 Minutes



PLOT

Nichelle Nichols is an army sergeant who leads her platoon into the woods of the deep south on a training exercise. Unfortunately, it is the site where a bunch of yankee soldiers murdered a town of confederates. The corpses of the dead soldiers rise up to wreak revenge.


REVIEW


With such an interesting cast of well-known actors, you’d expect 1986’s THE SUPERNATURALS to be more talked about in horror circles. But after watching it, I see why this zombie film has been pretty much forgotten - it’s a pretty dull affair that doesn’t get close to decent until it’s too late in the film’s run time. And having a military zombie film a year after DAY OF THE DEAD just shows how uninspired and lazy THE SUPERNATURALS unfortunately is.


THE SUPERNATURALS starts off well, with a prologue of Union soldiers capturing Confederates during the American Civil War. The Union plans on executing them, including a young boy named Jeremy who is wearing a Confederate uniform pretending to be a soldier. The thing is that Jeremy apparently has supernatural powers which involve reviving the dead and creating special energy around people to protect them. I found this all interesting because it was a refreshing way to explain why there are zombie soldiers later on without having to resort to the typical “government or military experimentation” trope most zombie films fall under. Plus, allowing a child to be a puppet master for the undead gives the film a TWO THOUSAND MANIACS! vibe that I can get into.


Unfortunately, most of the film is during the present day where we get a new group of soldiers who are more annoying than interesting. I mean, the film never really tells the audience how long this platoon has been together. This is important because they act like frat boys who prefer taking dares and goofing on each other rather than taking their roles seriously. Some of these soldiers seem more focused on getting laid, especially with the sole female soldier Angela. In fact, one of these soldiers [Cort] tries to force himself on Angela inside her tent while drunk - to which she responds with a blade to his genital region. That makes Angela more likable than most, but still… Why should I root for any of these people?



The only other characters of real note are Ellis, a handsome soldier who seems to be connected to the events of the past. Melanie, Jeremy’s mom, lurks around the area mesmerized by Ellis’ presence - and vice-versa - making you wonder whether he’s a reincarnation of Jeremy, a descendent, or someone else entirely. The answer is kind of lame, but at least there’s a level of intrigue presented. The best character is probably Sergeant Hawkins, a hard-nosed and domineering soldier who takes no crap from her platoon and tries to set them straight as much as she can. She’s likable because she’s one of the few people in this film that has a personality and feels the same disappointed way about her soldiers as I’m sure most of the audience will. 


As for the zombies themselves, they’re alright. But I’m not sure what they are exactly. Were they raised from the dead out of their graves? Are they demonic ghosts wanting revenge for what happened in the past? What is exactly Jeremy’s power and how is he still alive for over 100 years? And why does his mother look the same while he and the zombies look much older? And how are these zombie ghosts setting up Civil War traps and still managing to show their military training like nothing has changed without the present day soldiers realizing it? If you’re expecting this film to answer these questions, you’ll be waiting for a long time.


Honestly, there’s not much with the narrative that one would expect with that cool poster and interesting premise. There’s not a whole lot of character development. The action is kept to the first ten minutes and the final act, as the rest of the runtime involves the soldiers goofing off and exploring the area where the soldiers execution took place. It doesn’t help that DAY OF THE DEAD was released the year prior and did the military zombie narrative 100x better. 



Armand Mastroianni, probably best known for directing the 1980 slasher HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE, does an okay job with the material. While the scenes with the soldiers [not involving zombies] drags more than it should, the zombie scenes are well paced and edited to hide the TV movie budget the film has to offer. There’s a lot of mist and a nice use of blue lights to create a moody atmosphere, even though the film isn’t close to being scary. Mastroianni doesn’t show the zombies in full view all that often, but they do look pretty okay considering the budget. And the death scenes are nothing really graphic, besides a cool looking ripped throat scene near the end. Other than that, the film isn’t all that stylish and the presentation isn’t all that memorable to be honest. But the direction does what it needs to do, I guess.


The acting is probably the best part of THE SUPERNATURALS. Maxwell Caulfield does alright as Ellis, the soldier who seems to have a connection with the past storyline. Even though he gets first billing, he doesn’t get a whole lot to do besides stare, look confused and finally be the hero at the end of the film. Talia Balsam does what she can with the role of Angela, bringing some sympathy to a token role. Bobby Di Cicco played a good annoying drunk and misogynist as Cort. And THE SUPERNATURALS may be best known for having two Star Trek alumni from different shows acting together in the same movie. Scott Jacoby had some nice heroic moments but wasn’t given much to do. Nichelle Nichols is probably the best actor here as Hawkins, playing a convincing drill sergeant with sass and attitude that made her endearing. Given the lousy material, Nichols makes the most of it and comes out of it looking cool. As for LeVar Burton, he’s pretty much wasted in this film by being given nothing to do of note. That’s pretty strange considering he was popular even before starring on Star Trek: The Next Generation or hosting Reading Rainbow, due to his role on the 70s miniseries ROOTS. And Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees has a cameo. It was very odd seeing him. Good cast that needed better material to really stand out.


THE FINAL HOWL


THE SUPERNATURALS
is a mostly dull and disappointing zombie ghost movie that’s probably still remembered due to its interesting cast of actors. While the supernatural and zombie aspects are worth watching and investing in, the rest of the film following unlikable and silly characters walking around and pulling pranks on each other drags to the point where you just want the undead to show up and have their way with them. Also, it’s never really explained if these are actual zombies or just ghosts who look dead - as well as why certain characters look younger when they should be older due to the film’s timeline. The direction by Armand Mastroianni is nothing special, but he sometimes captures some mood and atmosphere with a nice use of fog and blue lighting that keeps the zombies in the shadows. The zombie make up looks pretty good, considering the film’s low budget. And the actors are fine, in particular Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame as a sassy army sergeant. But some of them, in particular LeVar Burton [another Star Trek alumni], doesn’t get a whole lot to do and feels wasted. If you need to see a military film involving zombies, I’d stick with DAY OF THE DEAD or even 2018’s OVERLORD. Otherwise, it’s totally natural to skip this non-super movie.



SCORE

1.5 Howls Outta 4



6.20.2021

Stepfather III (1992)

DIRECTED BY
Guy Magar

STARRING

Robert Wightman - Gene Clifford/ Keith Grant

Priscilla Barnes - Christine Davis

Season Hubley - Jennifer Ashley

David Tom - Andy Davis

John Ingle - Father Ernest Thomas Brennan

Jay Acovone - Steve Davis

Christa Miller - Beth Davis

Mario Roccuzzo - Plastic Surgeon

Brenda Strong - Lauren Sutliffe


Genre - Horror/ Thriller/ Slasher


Running Time - 110 Minutes



PLOT

That psycho stepfather (Robert Wightman) has escaped from the insane asylum and had his face surgically altered. Now he's married again, this time to a woman (Priscilla Barnes) with a child (David Tom) in a wheelchair. He goes on a killing spree once again.


REVIEW


Considering it’s Father’s Day and I’ve already reviewed the rest of the series [the 1987 original, the 1989 sequel and the 2009 remake], I figured it was time to sit down and rewatch 1992’s STEPFATHER III - a TV movie sequel that went straight-to-video after losing the franchise’s star Terry O’Quinn, who refused to return for a third time. Instead of just doing an entire do-over with different characters and a new scenario, we have a straight continuation of the story after STEPFATHER II: MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY with new actors and the same template that helped the first two films gain a cult following over the years. While it’s better than the remake that was released almost two decades after it, STEPFATHER III is definitely the lesser of the three original films, even if it does have its moments here and there.


I’ll give the producers credit - having the Stepfather get plastic surgery right from the start of the film is pretty clever in explaining why our main actor is different. Most films wouldn’t even bother with that step, as they’ll just recast a role without any sort of explanation. But it actually adds something to the film and gives a couple of characters something to do in the last half of the movie when some detective work comes into play. The scene itself is directed in a very weird, but memorable, way. There’s a blue tint throughout for some reason, why real footage of plastic surgery is shown. But at least there’s an attempt to bring something new to the table despite it being a cheap TV movie sequel.



Also something new - the Stepfather having to juggle two families at once, as he tries to play daddy for two different mothers with sons. He marries into one family, but his stepson Andy doesn’t like him and finds the Stepfather slightly off. With ex-boyfriends and even baby daddies interfering with his plans, the Stepfather begins to slowly lose interest and focuses on another mother and son duo who seem to actually appreciate him and enjoy his company. Things get complicated when this new potential wife wants to move on quickly with the Stepfather, inviting him to move in with her and her son so they can quickly get married. Intent on murdering the family he married into, he’s surprised when his wife and stepson decide to give him another chance. Now he has to get rid of the other mother and son duo to maintain his happy life. Watching him go back and forth between the two families and try to keep his wife from not figuring it out is pretty fun to watch at times, especially when the two women get close due to their sons going to the same school [where the Stepfather’s wife works at]. It’s not something we’ve seen the character deal with onscreen, so it creates new drama and gives him more of a reason to start losing it. Obviously, we know it’s going to go terribly for everyone involved. But it’s still quite amusing to see.


I also appreciated the attempt to swerve the audience in making viewers confused as to who might be the Stepfather at first, even though it wasn’t successful at all. And wheelchair bound Andy has an interesting character arc. His disability is more psychosomatic than physical, due to a bad accident that traumatized him. And his obsession with solving mysteries actually plays an important role in giving the Stepfather a lot of trouble within his own household. The use of 90s computer technology in scanning things was pretty funny though.


Other than that, the narrative is pretty much the same as the previous two films for better or worse. It’s a good thing to keep the similar premise going because it worked for the previous films and that’s what the franchise is known for. But at the same time, despite some attempts to change things up a bit, the structure is a bit tired by this point. It’s one thing to watch Jason Voorhees kill camp counselors in every film because characters change, the kill sequences get more elaborate and elements are added in each film to make them feel different from the others. This franchise has this serial killer, who is a giant dork, score with these lonely women for whatever reason as if divorcees are desperate to marry anyone with a penis between their legs. And in a mix of the previous films, one son loves the Stepfather while the other one is quickly suspicious of him and thinks he could be a serial killer. But if you’ve watched one STEPFATHER movie, you’ve watched them all. 



STEPFATHER III
is just the Lifetime or ID version of what you’ve seen before. This is further exhibited by director Guy Magar's visual presentation. There’s nothing real flashy or stylish about the film, nor does it attempt to even build tension or suspense when it comes to the Stepfather character. I feel like Magar forgot he was making a horror movie, instead focusing more on the drama and soap opera aspect of the story, treating the film as such as it plays out like your typical TV movie. Even the death scenes are pretty tame compared to the previous two films, even though you get a couple of throat slits and stabbings. It’s too bad the film doesn’t really show the effects, kind of showing the aftermath in a PG way. The only real memorable death scene involves a wood chipper - not because you see anyone getting chopped up but because it’s the only time the film wants to be a slasher movie. We also get that strange blue tint in the first part of the film, as well as a car explosion. But otherwise, there’s not much to Magar’s direction. It’s a point-and-shoot affair that tells the tale as safely as possible.


Having not seen the film in decades, I kept thinking the acting in this film was really bad. But honestly, it’s the opposite as STEPFATHER III actually has decent actors giving it their all considering the bland material. Robert Wightman is no Terry O’Quinn, but he has a certain goofy charm about him that makes the character feel similar to the previous movies. Watching him play out the same scenarios the character did in the other films just made me appreciate O’Quinn more in the role, but Wightman brings an unintentionally funny portrayal to them that I ended up being amused by. Three’s Company’s Priscilla Barnes is better as the woman he marries, Christine. Of the three women the Stepfather got in a relationship with onscreen, Barnes felt like the strongest as she got to play multiple beats in terms of love, fear, suspicion, and fighter by the end of the movie. She elevated the film, in my opinion. David Tom is a mixed bag for me as Andy. He has moments where he’s really likable, especially during scenes with his mom, dad, his priest and while doing detective work. But then he has moments where he’s whiny and bratty that made me stop caring. He’s probably the weakest of the children characters in the franchise, but I enjoyed his character arc. And John Ingle was cool as Father Brennan, providing a sort of father figure to Andy. Nowadays, it’s kind of weird to see this young boy and priest be this close and consider the other as a best friend. But their friendship works within the narrative, as they play partners-in-crime in trying to figure out what the Stepfather is really up to. We also get a cameo from Christa Miller, of The Drew Carey Show and Scrubs fame. Not a bad cast.


THE FINAL HOWL


While the lesser of the original three STEPFATHER films, STEPFATHER III is still better than the 2009 remake by having some memorable moments and being unintentionally funny at times. The narrative of The Stepfather having to juggle two families at once is a fun time, as well as having a wannabe detective for a stepson that keeps the villain on his toes. Otherwise, this film does nothing new with its familiar premise - the only difference is a weaker script with lesser actors. And the film does wear a bit of its welcome by being twenty minutes too long. The direction by Guy Magar is what one would expect from a TV movie thriller, with no real style and shying away from any gore that could have elevated this sequel. And while the actors aren’t as memorable as those in the previous two films, they still do a good job - in particular Priscilla Barnes [of Three’s Company fame] and John Ingle as a friendly priest who gets too involved with the mystery. Robert Wightman is no Terry O’Quinn, but he has a goofy charm about him that makes him amusing to watch. While not a great film or sequel, STEPFATHER III is a better film than I had remembered it - even if it’ll make you long for the two O’Quinn cult classics.



SCORE

2 Howls Outta 4






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