Batman: The Movie (1966)

Leslie H. Martinson

Adam West - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Burt Ward - Dick Grayson/Robin
Cesar Romero - The Joker
Burgess Meredith - The Penguin
Lee Merriwether - Catwoman/Kitka
Frank Gorshin - The Riddler
Alan Napier - Alfred
Neil Hamilton - Commissioner Gordon
Stafford Rett - Chief O'Hara

Genre - Action/Comedy/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time - 106 Minutes

When it comes to comic books, I'm a major Marvel Comics fanboy. Spider-Man, X-Men, The Avengers, The Fantastic Four, etc. - I'm all for it. I'll buy and read the comics. I'll watch the cartoons. And I'll watch the films. I just find the characters more interesting than the ones in DC Comics. Superman is too perfect for me to relate to. Green Lantern and The Flash are cool, but I'm not invested in them as much as I'd like to be. Even Wonder Woman doesn't grab my attention all that much, even though she's one of the more interesting DC characters. But DC does have one hero that rises above the rest - even above some of Marvel's characters. And that hero is Batman.

Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1938, a character that has evolved with the times. Batman was just a regular comic book hero that turned into quite a phenomenon, most likely due to his gritty and realistic take of the world and how he manages to use detective skills to defeat his foes to overcome the lack of superpowers his fellow Justice League members possess. Batman has captured the imagination of so many, as well with the help of a deep rogues gallery that are as colorful as Batman himself. These ingredients led to the predictable evolution into live-action media.

In 1943, there were serials that used Batman and his loved and/or hated sidekick, Robin, as propaganda for United States patriotism during World War II. The villains were your stereotypical evil Japanese baddies who wanted to destroy everything that America stood for, leading to Batman and Robin teaching him and his goons a lesson or two. While admired back in 1943, the serials were considered laughable during the aftermath of World War II and beyond - more campy than the more serious comic books. Producer William Dozier was really taken by how ridiculously funny the serials ended up being, inspired to produce a Batman television series that played more like a parody rather than follow the dark tone of the comics. Thus from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968 [120 episodes] on ABC, Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward was born. With its high camp factor and lighthearted take on the mythos, Batman was a big success. So big that it actually saved the comic book series from being cancelled [which had changed to match the campy tone of the TV show] due to the TV show helping the comics gain a huge audience it had lost during the 1950s and early 1960s. However, fans of the comics hated the comedic tone of the television show, which helped the comics go back to a much darker tone once the show was cancelled and lead to many successful movies from 1989 to the present.

While many consider Tim Burton's 1989 blockbuster, BATMAN, to be the first Batman feature film adaptation made for box office success, 1966's BATMAN: THE MOVIE was really the first feature to test Batman's popularity with the mainstream. Originally, the film was shot in order to boost ratings for the TV show. However, the TV show was a success from its pilot episode, making the film just another tool to help the producers cash in and make money off of merchandising sales. Whatever the reason for this film's existence doesn't change the fact that BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a silly, ridiculous, campy film that Batman fans will hate if they take it all too seriously. But if you ever loved the TV show and are able to open your mind to a more comedic take on Batman's adventures, then you'll love this film. To the Bat Cave with this review!

Gotham City is in big trouble as its four major villains - The Joker (Cesar Romero), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), Catwoman (Lee Merriwether), and The Riddler (Frank Gorshin) - have their hands on a device that can turn people into dust by extracting their moisture. The villains plan on using this on nine world diplomats in exchange for a ransom and gain power over the world. Luckily, Batman (Adam West) and his loyal sidekick Robin (Burt Ward) are on their asses to make sure their plan doesn't succeed.

However, Batman is a bit distracted as his alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, has become smitten with Soviet reporter Kitka. What he doesn't know is that he's bait for a kidnapping since Kitka is really Catwoman out of her costume. Even if Batman can be saved and get his head back in the game, can he and Robin stop this frightening foursome from taking over the world? Or it curtains for the Dynamic Duo? Stay tuned - same Bat time...same Bat channel.


BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a comic book film that has garnered much debate amongst Batman fans. While it's indeed an obvious tie-in to a successful television series, some diehard fans would rather ignore its existence, considering Tim Burton's 1989 film to be the first true Batman movie due to its more serious and darker nature. It's a shame some think that way because BATMAN: THE MOVIE is a very entertaining film that seems to be making fun of the characters while embracing them at the same time.

The narrative is pretty much the same narrative you'd get in any superhero movie: Villains want to harm world leaders to gain power, superheroes step in to save the day, add in a love sub-plot, and we know the rest. It's a fairly simple plot with a narrative that's easy to follow. It's your standard comic book film that luckily has more going for it than just that basic foundation. What makes this unoriginal comic book storyline stick out is the journey getting from beginning to end in terms of the dialogue and the bizarre scenes that flesh out this movie.

Seriously, who can forget that fake ass shark biting Batman's leg so hard that he needs Shark Repellent in order to kill it and watch it explode? What about that scene where Batman and Robin are magnetized on a buoy due to their belts, using a polarizer to destroy torpedoes - ending up being saved by sacrificial porpoises who risked their own lives to save the Dynamic Duo? And I honestly can't forget Batman's struggle trying to get rid of a bomb - not wanting to harm nuns, mothers with baby carriages, lovers making out, and even innocent ducks.

Plus, the dialogue is so strange that it's freakin' funny as hell. Especially during conversations between Batman/Robin and Commissioner Gordon, who must be the dumbest Commissioner of all time. Like getting a message from "P.N. Guin" [hmm...I wonder who that could be...], and deciphering the Riddler's riddles and answering them in ways that make no sense [yet helping them find the villains]. I also love Batman's stance on drinking and how it blinds inhibitions, which sounds like a PSA for the young kids watching the film. There are a lot of puns and funny references that make Batman look more like Frank Drebin rather than The World's Greatest
Detective, but it's all in good fun if you don't take it seriously. Not all the jokes work [due to the length of the film - it's really too long and the running gags drag] and some things are kind of dated, but you'll still be laughing at how silly the script is.

The character development isn't deep in a film like this, but there's not one unlikeable character in the film. While Batman and Robin are the main characters of the film, it's the villains that are the reason to watch. This usually seems to be a pattern in these Batman movies, but the bad guys are just so interesting that you kind of wish the good guys don't win at the end. The relationship between the four villains is quite humorous and the highlight of the film for me. While The Joker and The Riddler don't get that much to do really but be playful and act like goofs, Catwoman and The Penguin shine with their interesting alliance. Both characters get to play dual roles in an attempt to trick Batman and Robin [Catwoman is more successful at it, due to Penguin's constant squawking giving him away]. Both characters seem to be the ones pulling the strings [although Penguin is clearly the leader of this foursome]. And I love the way Catwoman and The Penguin act around each other. When around Penguin, Catwoman acts more feline like - laying down besides him seductively while running her claws on his arm, which Penguin doesn't really approve of. It just reminds you that cats and birds are natural enemies, and the two characters play that off. I wouldn't be surprised if Tim Burton wasn't inspired by this relationship for BATMAN RETURNS, where these two characters happen to be the villains of the film. Batman, and to a point Robin, are interesting heroes despite their goofiness and slapstick antics, but the villains are the glue that keeps this film together.

BATMAN: THE MOVIE obviously has a slightly bigger budget than the television show. While the sound effect cues are the same, the variety of vehicles that Batman and Robin have at their disposal trumps whatever was done in the television show. Besides the classic Batmobile, we have the Batchopper, the Batcycle, the Batboat, and etc. Even the Penguin gets his own submarine. I dig the different vehicles, and even the different contraptions both sides utilize.

The direction by Leslie H. Martinson is standard TV series direction. But BATMAN: THE MOVIE is filmed well, with bright colors, and decent cinematography. The film does feel long at times, especially during the end, but the pacing is good otherwise. The action sequences are silly, but that's the point, so it works. Seeing really bad stunt doubles during the final fight scene is pretty funny. It's shot like the Batman show but three times its length. I can't really complain about it because it carries the TV show's tone impeccably well.

The acting is what you would expect if you're a fan of the television show. Adam West is awesome as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He's like the William Shatner of superheroes - delivering lines in a way that's so goofy and droll that you can't help but laugh. It fits the material well. Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin isn't as good as West, but he's okay. His "Holy..." dialogue and his excited performance can be a bit grating at times, but he balances West's more subtle performance. The villains fare a lot better, as Cesar Romero is wonderfully batty as The Joker and Frank Gorshin more sinister as The Riddler. The best ones for me are Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, who I still consider the best actor in the role [sorry Mr. Devito], and Lee Merriwether as Catwoman, who replaced Julie Newmar due to scheduling conflicts. While Merriwether isn't the best Catwoman, she does play her in a way that's very sexual and feline-like that I appreciate. I think when Michelle Pfeiffer portrayed her years later, Merriwether was the major influence since a lot of their mannerisms tend to be the same. Plus, I love Merriwether's hot Soviet accent. Puuuuurrrrrrrr....


- A shark bit Batman's knee to the point that Batman had to use shark repellent to make it explode. After stupidity like this, is there any wonder why Jaws wanted his revenge 20 years later?

- "A joke a day keeps the gloom away." Not if you're at a Dane Cook concert...

- Robin and Alfred were watching Bruce get his swerve on with Kitka. Even though he's Caucasian, his Dark Knight can compete with his black brothers...

- Batman had issues with getting rid of a bomb, not wanting to hurt innocent people and ducks. For some reason, I believe the Caped Crusader blew things out of proportion.

- Batman and Robin felt the villains turning the world leaders into dust was a problem. Ironically, this act could potentially solve the world's problems.

If you're a fan of the 60s television show, BATMAN: THE MOVIE is essential viewing. Its campy nature, goofy fight scenes, and silly actors and characters brighten what could be seen as an insult to the Batman comic book series. But if you don't take it for face value and just enjoy the ridiculous ride, you'll get a kick out of this comic book flick. Too bad Joel Schumacher also got a kick of this film and used the same tone for BATMAN & ROBIN. Sigh...but that's a review for another time.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Shock Waves (1977)

Ken Wiederhorn

Peter Cushing - SS Commander
Brooke Adams - Rose

Luke Halpin - Keith

John Carradine - Captain Ben

Jack Davidson - Norman

Fred Buch - Chuck

D.J. Sidney - Beverly

Don Stout - Dobbs

Genre - Horror/Zombies/Naziploitation/Cult

Running Time - 84 Minutes

PLOT - Fisherman rescue Rose (Brooke Adams), who is alone at sea looking worse for wearer. Feeling appreciative, she tells them the story of the nightmare she and others experienced during a cruise aboard a sailboat called Bonaventure run by Captain Ben (John Carradine). Apparently, the boat eventually gets shipwrecked [due to Captain Ben disappearing], forcing those sailing to make their way to an abandoned island near Florida.

Once they make it to shore, the sailors realize that Captain Ben is dead. Looking for help, they find an abandoned hotel that's owned by a former SS Commander (Peter Cushing) who is hiding from some of his experiments. It seems these experiments are actually zombies who dwell in the water and pop up when any humans are in the area. With the arrival of the survivors, these SS Zombies have awakened and start killing them one by one.


STORY - There aren't a lot of Naziploitation films that deal with the zombie sub-genre. While 1981's ZOMBIES LAKE and 2009's DEAD SNOW may be some of the more popular ones, 1977's SHOCK WAVES [also known as ALMOST HUMAN or DEATH CORPS] is probably one of the first and best in its sub-genre. For a low budget film, Ken Wiederhorn manages to create an effective little zombie movie that doesn't require gore and a ton of zombie make up to create a creepy atmosphere.

Wiederhorn, along with John Harrison, wrote a very basic screenplay that follows a standard zombie plot where the undead play a deadly cat-and-mouse game with survivors who try to survive, but are unable to because they can't get on the same page. Instead of flesh hungry and brain obsessed zombies, these zombies don't like to eat their victims. They just like to drown them. A lot. I've never seen so many people drown in a single film in quite a while, if not ever. And they don't just drown in the ocean. They drown in swimming pools and in fish tanks! It's kind of funny seeing how the writers get these characters near things that have a decent amount of water, knowing that it's only going to lead to their deaths.

While the narrative is very easy to follow and understand, I still feel it's the weakest part of SHOCK WAVES. When you have a low budget film where you're unable to provide money for special effects or better technical aspects that could distract one from a weak script, the screenplay has to be your selling point. While it's not a horrible script, SHOCK WAVES has a pretty bare bones one that makes you wanting more.

For one, the characters are nothing but stereotypes. I couldn't tell you anything about these people other than what they do professionally. Most of them are so annoying anyway that you won't care unless a zombie attacks them and drowns them [which you'll probably cheer for]. I really couldn't sympathize with any of these characters, which hurt the film some. The SS Commander could have been awesome, but he was there for exposition purposes, revealing what was going on the island. I know characters in these films are fodder for the monsters, but it's still nice to see depth attempted every once in a while.

I also have issue with the zombies. They're cool and all, with their menacing black goggles hiding their eyes and the way they rise from the water [in one of the many classic scenes in this film]. But their weakness feels like an afterthought really. You see, these zombies are sensitive to light. Once the goggles are off, they go blind and eventually die. That's a fine subplot, but not much is done with it. We see it happen a couple of times but it's not explored much. It's an interesting twist to defeating a zombie - I just wish it was played out more.

Also, there are moments where SHOCK WAVES feels unfinished. There are instances where characters will talk about something, but it's never shown or even brought up again. I read that some scenes were edited out in post-production, but later scenes related to these missing scenes were left in because there was no way around it. Kind of unfortunate since the film seems a bit disjointed through its dialogue. It's not the worst thing in the world, but it's noticeable.

DIRECTION - Ken Wiederhorn, who would later direct 1984's MEATBALLS II and 1988's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, is pretty good. It's not a stylish film with odd angles and interesting composition/framing, but it gets the job done. The editing is a bit iffy, but it's not terrible. The pacing is sometimes off, due to the film being very slow at times and then very intense and suspenseful the next. The one thing that Wiederhorn does well is creating a very creepy mood once the characters arrive on the island. The way the zombies are shot sleeping in the ocean and rising up one-by-one before they hunt can be unsettling for some. The final act is shot and directed quite well as it's pretty tense to watch. I do wish there were more zombies doing what they do to stupid humans, but what can you do?

EDGE FACTOR - SHOCK WAVES is a very tame film. Barely any foul language. Hardly any skin besides Brooke Adams in a yellow bikini looking good. And the violence consists of people drowning. The zombie makeup by Alan Ormsby, who co-wrote 1972's CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, is effective in giving the zombies an Albino sort of look, with their pale skin and blonde hair.

ACTING - The acting is more than decent in SHOCK WAVES. Having both John Carradine and Peter Cushing in your cast in supporting roles helps class up the joint, which they both do exceptionally well. I wish their characters were fleshed out more, but they took the material seriously and shine. Brooke Adams is nice to look at and does decently with what she's given. Luke Halpin is better as the male lead, even though he broke character by laughing at one of the characters floating inside a fish tank dead towards the end. I would have broken character too. That shit was funny! Pretty good cast.

If you're looking for a different type of zombie film that doesn't involve voodoo rituals or flesh-eating creatures, SHOCK WAVES might be for you. It's a bit slow moving, but once the zombies appears, it gets a lot more interesting. Even though the narrative could use more meat on its bones, the film is still worth checking out as it's a bit creepy at times and funny to watch these characters go to aquatic places where they'll undoubtedly drown at the hand of zombies. Interesting piece of Naziploitation fluff.

3 Howls Outta 4


Final Destination 5 (2011)

Steven Quale

Nicholas D'Agosto - Sam Lawton
Emma Bell - Molly Harper
Miles Fisher - Peter Friedkin
Arlen Escarpeta - Nathan Gregory
David Kochner - Dennis Lapman
Courtney B. Vance - Agent Block
Jacqueline MacInnes Wood - Olivia Castle
Ellen Wroe - Candace Hooper
P.J. Byrne - Issac Palmer
Tony Todd - Bludworth

Genre - Horror/Slasher/Supernatural/Sequel

Running Time - 92 Minutes

PLOT - In the latest installment of the FINAL DESTINATION franchise, a group of co-workers decide to go on a weekend retreat to promote team unity. As their bus crosses a bridge, Sam Lawton (Nicholas D'Agosto), an aspiring chef, has a scary premonition where every one of them dies as the bridge collapses. Frightened by what he saw, Sam manages to get some of his friends, including his estranged girlfriend Molly (Emma Bell), best friend Peter (Miles Fisher), and douchebag boss Dennis (David Koechner), off of the bus before his premonition comes true.

A federal agent named Block (Courtney B. Vance) investigates the situation, wondering if Sam had something to do with the bridge disaster due to his knowledge beforehand. While the investigation is pending, Sam and the rest of the survivors try to move on with their lives until each one of them is mysteriously killed one-by-one in order of how they would have died on the bridge. Creepy coroner Bludworth (Tony Todd) warns them that Death doesn't like people stopping it from getting what it's owed. However, if they do want to survive, they can balance out life and death by willingly murdering an innocent in order for Death to skip them. Will the characters do this to survive or will Death punish them for escaping its grasp?


STORY - Who would have known that I'd watch a great horror film called FINAL DESTINATION in 2000 and still be talking about it eleven years later? I never once thought that FINAL DESTINATION would establish itself into a major horror franchise, but here we are with FINAL DESTINATION 5, the fourth sequel and the second one shot in 3-D. If you know the history behind fifth installments in horror films, it's not good. HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS? Garbage. FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING? False advertising. A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 5: THE DREAM CHILD? Great premise but disappointing execution. SEED OF CHUCKY? Hated by a lot of horror fans. DIARY OF THE DEAD? Sigh. I could go on with the history of 5s. Yet in 2011, FAST FIVE managed to be the best film since the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. It's ironic that FINAL DESTINATION 5 is the best film since the original FINAL DESTINATION. What the hell is going on here?

Seriously, FINAL DESTINATION 5 is a pleasant surprise! Even the screenplay by Eric Heisserer is well written and reveals a lot of focus and care into the set up of the death sequences and even the build up for the characters themselves - more than I was expecting out of fifth installment in a horror franchise. It's funny since FINAL DESTINATION 5 follows the exact same template that began in 2000's original and doesn't really surprise you in how the film will play out. But unlike the sequels, the script really helps add something sort of fresh to the tired concept by attempting to change the rules, create realistic characters, and even lead towards a twist ending that actually doesn't suck. That's right, readers! There's an actual story in this film! Who knew that was possible in Hollywood horror these days?

The characters in FINAL DESTINATION 5 are pretty much archetypes we've seen in these films and in many others. The hero has the premonitions. We have the girlfriend character. We have the best friend who slowly turns into the worst enemy. We have the prick boss. We have the nerdy guy who thinks he's a ladies man. We have the geeky girl who's really hot. We have the token black guy. And so on and so on. But surprisingly, the script and direction focuses on each of these characters long enough to build a bit of depth that they probably don't deserve. Sam and Molly have an on-and-off relationship due to Sam's wanting to take a cooking apprenticeship in Paris. Sam is willing to sacrifice that to be with Molly, which puts a bit of guilt on her as she's indecisive about Sam's decision. I can believe a job promotion across the world could strain a relationship because it's realistic. Peter's life takes a downward spiral after escaping Death's design, turning him against the others when he learns that one of the surviving group doesn't die on the bridge, making him bitter and envious of that. I believe it because it's realistic. Even the paper thin characters, such as Dennis and the wannabe ladies' man, Issac, are still very watchable and end up giving the film some comic relief that actually makes you laugh. Even Bludworth adds a layer of mystique and creepiness to the story, even though we know he knows more about Death's design than he lets on. There are a lot of other things that add development to these characters, but I won't spoil them. Let's just say that you'll actually care about these people, which makes their deaths a lot more effective than usual. I appreciated that Heisserer focused on something most screenwriters wouldn't care about by this point in a franchise.

I also liked the new addition to Death's design - kill someone that wouldn't have died in the situation in order for Death to skip you for good and move on to the next victim. There's so much you can do with a premise that FINAL DESTINATION is so known for and loved by its fans. This addition actually added a moral center to the situation, almost similar to the earlier SAW films. Would you kill someone innocent just to save your own life? It's an interesting thought that I honestly can't answer. A couple of the characters do linger on this concept and decide to take action, but it makes us think about what we would do if we were in a similar situation. Even though I do appreciate a bit of freshness to the concept here, I do wish FINAL DESTINATION 5 would have focused a bit more on it. This subplot is revealed within the last half of this very short film, which doesn't really allow it to deepen enough for it to truly be fully effective at the end. It is played around with though, especially during the final act, so it's not an afterthought. But I think it could have been used more effectively. Maybe in FINAL DESTINATION 6 if [or when] it's made.

As for the ending, let's just say that it ties up the franchise incredibly well. I won't spoil it at all, but you definitely need to see the first film to really get it. These two films are very connected in a subtle way, which I caught but had no idea where it was going. When the ending does happen, my jaw dropped and just thought how brilliant it was. You will never see it coming unless you were spoiled or psychic. It just shows how well planned out this sequel was. THE FINAL DESTINATION was a rushed project with stereotypical characters, a stale story, and not-so-great 3D special effects. FINAL DESTINATION 5 is the total opposite. Heisserer made sure everything made sense by building it up slow enough for audiences to care and see the hints.

I still have issues with the film. I think by now, we should learn why certain people are having premonitions while others aren't. Is Death just a prick and messing around with people? Or is it more to it than that? A character having a premonition should be in the film because it's the franchise's trademark. But this is the fifth installment - answers need to start coming out. Maybe that's being saved for the last installment [if that ever happens], but it's getting frustrating now. Also, who exactly is Bludworth? I'm wondering if the producers even know at this point. And last but not least, the film was way too short. With more depth to characters and a new added subplot to the original premise, the film deserved to be twenty minutes longer to set things up better. I just feel some things went a bit too fast. At least there was no filler, so that's a plus.

DIRECTION - Steven Quale does an amazing job with freshening up the franchise with this installment. The pacing is fantastic, the editing rocks, and Quale brought a lot of style in terms of composition and framing. I loved the tension and suspense created for the death sequences. This was due to these scenes actually steering away from a predictable path. You see what you'd think would be the obvious demise for the character, but then it evolves into something much more elaborate. I was really surprised by many of the deaths, especially since they were shot and presented with a lot of build up and tense moments. As for the 3D, it's a whole lot better than it was in THE FINAL DESTINATION. It shouldn't come to a surprise since Quale worked with James Cameron on the 3D for AVATAR. The opening credits, where things would smash through glass displaying the names of the cast and crew looked really awesome. The bridge sequence is amazing in 3D. And a lot of the deaths worked well in three dimensions as well. I'm down on this 3D trend, but when it works, I can't complain about it. I think the film would work in 2D as well, but I would definitely recommend the 3D version of this film. Quale did a really great job putting this franchise visually back on track.

EDGE FACTOR - While the language and sexuality is tame, the violence is not in these FINAL DESTINATION films. I won't spoil the death scenes because not knowing makes them more effective and fun. But let's just say you'll get impalements, objects falling on people, explosions, body parts going into directions they shouldn't be, fire burning people, and etc. You won't be disappointed at all. Plus during the end credits, you get a montage of all the deaths from the first four FINAL DESTINATION films. Gorehounds will love this film.

ACTING - The acting wasn't all that bad in this sequel. Nicholas D'Agosto was okay as the hero, Sam. He won't win an Academy Award or anything, but he did alright with what he was given. Not the most captivating lead in this franchise but I've seen worse. Fairing much better is Emma Bell as Molly. Very cute girl and quite a decent actress as well. She played the girlfriend role well and with a bit of depth as well. Miles Fisher was pretty intense as Peter. He looks like a much younger Christian Bale and actually has the deepest character in the film. He did a good job. P.J. Byrne and David Koechner also did well as the comic reliefs. And Tony Todd still oozes mystery as Bludworth. It was a very good cast for a very good sequel. Color me surprised.

MUSIC - Kansas' "Dust In The Wind" and AC/DC's "If You Want Blood" - I'm sold.

I really thought this film would suck, but thankfully FINAL DESTINATION 5 manages to put life back into a franchise that was coasting for a while. With a good story, awesome death sequences, great direction and 3D, decent acting, and an ending that surprised me in a good way, FINAL DESTINATION 5 is definitely worth your time. It's not perfect and the concept still feels a bit tired even with that interesting new subplot, but the film is executed well and I can't complain too much about that. I can't believe I'm saying this but I'm kind of looking forward to FINAL DESTINATION 6. But if this is the final installment, then I'm more than cool with that as well. Best film since the original without a doubt.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Fright Night (1985)

Tom Holland

William Ragsdale - Charley Brewster
Chris Sarandon - Jerry Dandridge

Roddy McDowall - Peter Vincent

Amanda Bearse - Amy Petersen

Stephen Geoffreys - 'Evil' Ed Thompson

Jonathan Stark - Billy Cole

Dorothy Fielding - Judy Brewster

Genre - Horror/Comedy/Vampires

Running Time - 106 Minutes

The 1980s were mostly good for the horror genre. The slasher film sub-genre was raking in a ton of cash until eventually over-saturating itself. Werewolves actually appeared in good films with great special effects and not the horrible CGI that ruins them now. And the vampire had a great decade as usual, with films like NEAR DARK, VAMP, THE HUNGER, and THE LOST BOYS. Those looking for lighter fare in their horror were also in luck, as movies such as GHOSTBUSTERS, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, and even the later A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequels were pretty successful. One of those lighter fare films that did well and has gained a ton of love over the years has been 1985's FRIGHT NIGHT.

A horror-comedy dealing with sexy vampires and kooky characters, many favor FRIGHT NIGHT over THE LOST BOYS and NEAR DARK. Maybe it's because it tends to be more humorous than the others. Maybe it's because Chris Sarandon seduced the audience just as much as some of the characters as the head vampire. Maybe because it was somewhat aware of itself in bringing the idea of vampires into a postmodern, contemporary setting that many people could relate to. FRIGHT NIGHT is very much your commercial vampire tale that appealed to the mainstream at the time, which is why it's no surprise that a remake has always been released by the time you read this review, whether we want it to exist or not. Still, is FRIGHT NIGHT worth the admiration after 26 years? Or has nostalgia clouded many people's heads? Let's sink our fangs into one of the most popular vampire films ever made.

Charley Brewster (Willaim Ragsdale) is a horror film geek who is starting to become frustrated with his shy, virgin girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse), while amusing his weird friend 'Evil' Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). Charlie is living his life as a normal teenager until Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves next door. Apparently one night after spying on Jerry with a beautiful female guest, he notices that Jerry has fangs and plans to force them into the girl's neck. Charley figures out that his new neighbor is a vampire, but no one will believe his story.

When Jerry threatens his life, as well as the lives of his family and friends, Charley turns to a local horror host named Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), who starred in many films as a vampire hunter. Peter doesn't believe Charley's story either, until one night where he notices that Jerry doesn't cast a reflection in a mirror. Realizing that Charley's friends are now on to him, Jerry makes sure to turn them all against each other until he takes them all down one by one.

FRIGHT NIGHT is a quintessential 80s vampire-comedy that did pretty well at the box office and has gained a legion of fans through home video and cable. It's slick, effective, and somewhat down-to-earth for a vampire flick. It's not intent on scaring people, but bringing a different, hipper look to the vampire story for an 80s generation.

The narrative of FRIGHT NIGHT works because it takes a realistic look of suburbia and gives it a supernatural twist that's not too far-fetched. The teen characters want to make out, have sex, and be accepted for who they are and what they believe in - in other words, they're normal teenagers. They also watch horror movies and know the rules on how to deal with certain monsters in case the need arises. There's also the aspect of oblivious parents who have no idea what they children are up to or how unsafe their neighborhood is. Plus, who hasn't wondered about our own neighbors and what they're really like behind closed doors? Sure, they may not be vampires like Jerry, but they could be a serial killer or a sexual deviant. So the story is believable in that way and doesn't dumb it down to appeal to a younger demographic. Because of this, it's easy to see why viewers admire this film.

There's also the very simple tale of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" here going on as well. Charley sees Jerry's vampire ways, from biting people, to entering invited homes with ease, and even turning into his true vampire form. Yet, no one believes him because the idea of a vampire isn't a concept these characters can grasp in a realistic setting. Charley looks insane because vampires are only seen as a construct of literature and cinema, which causes him to lose the respect of his peers and his community until it's proven that Jerry is indeed a member of the undead. It's a story we've all been told as children to show us the harm of lying constantly to the point that no one will believe us when we actually tell the truth. FRIGHT NIGHT doesn't really explore this aspect all that much since we don't really know Charley's character before the film's events, but it makes the film easier to follow and understand.

I also believe the homages to other films and some of the themes presented in FRIGHT NIGHT have helped the film maintain its audience. We obviously get the REAR WINDOW reference with Charley spying on Jerry with binoculars. Peter Vincent [named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price] starred in vampire films that look strangely similar to Hammer Horror. Plus he hosts a horror show, which a lot of us really loved back in the 80s and early 90s. Even though Elvira is still doing one, I feel as if the genre lost something special with the lack of horror hosts these days. As for the themes, probably the most prominent one is the homosexuality of vampires. Jerry not only seduces women, but obviously Ed, who doesn't seem to fit in for some reason and lets Jerry change him in order to gain some sort of power. It's well known as Stephen Geoffreys, who played Ed, is gay in real life. So it's easy to see why it was added with such subtext in the script. Also, Jerry lives with Billy Cole, who acts like a "very good friend" rather than a roommate. They're very intimate with each other and would die for the other. It's obvious that there's a bit of homosexuality going on beneath the surface. I think it gives FRIGHT NIGHT an interesting layer to focus on.

I do think some of the narrative has issues. For one, Charley seems to be well known in horror since he's a huge fan of Peter Vincent. If that's the case, why does he feel the need to ask Ed about how to kill a vampire? Wouldn't he already know that? This is done to tell the audience "vampire rules", but it contradicts with Charley's character. Also, what was Jerry's deal with Amy? Somewhere in Jerry's past, he fell in love with a woman who looked like Amy. Yet we don't understand what happened or even who this woman is. It also makes Amy's sudden attraction to Jerry suspect. Are we supposed to believe that Amy is a descendant of this woman and that her spirit lives within her or something? Some explanation could have helped. Other than that, Tom Holland wrote a solid screenplay.

As a vampire film, FRIGHT NIGHT is expected to have some grue and special effects. While other vampire films may be scarier and have more violence, FRIGHT NIGHT is no slouch either. We get some gooey stuff here, like a pencil stabbed through a hand, some slashed throats, and the usual staking and sunlight deaths. The special effects and make up are also pretty cool. Jerry's transformation into his demonic vampire form looks dated a bit, but it's better than any CGI. I love the reverse werewolf transformation that's a homage to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And the decomposing body into slime is awesome. Richard Edlund did all this stuff and I think it still looks great after all these years.

The direction by Tom Holland, who would later direct CHILD'S PLAY, is excellent. It's not an overly stylish film, but Holland keeps a great pace and a lot of atmosphere that increases the mood and suspense as the film plays out. I think the scenes in the alley, Charley's bedroom, the night club, and the finale are all great visually, creating seductive and tense moments most films try to do but fail at. I also think the comedic moments are handled very well also. The film looks very nice and the editing is tight. FRIGHT NIGHT is a great looking vampire film that would have been the MTV-generation's vampire flick if it weren't for THE LOST BOYS two years later.

The acting in FRIGHT NIGHT is pretty solid as well. William Ragsdale as Charley handles his part well. He's not the best actor and he does play the role a bit whiny at times, but it never gets annoying. He's quite likeable in the role and has great facial expressions. Roddy McDowall is fantastic as Peter Vincent. He brings a lot of class to the film. His switch from vain actor, to coward, to a true hero are all believable. I know a lot of people give Charley the hero credit, but I think McDowall's performance as Vincent says otherwise. Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed has got to be one of the weirdest, quirkiest performances ever seen in cinema. Yet, he's hilarous and interesting to watch. He also has the best and more famous one-liners in the film. Amanda Bearse is okay as Amy. She's a bit awkward at times, which made me disconnect with her a bit. Jonathan Stark does what he has to as Billy Cole. He was very mysterious and it worked. But the star of the film is without a doubt Chris Sarandon as Jerry Daindridge. Even as a straight man, I was seduced by this guy. Sarandon is sexy, mysterious, charming, and subtly evil as the head vampire. He's the glue that holds the film together and keeps you watching. I haven't seen the remake with Colin Farrell playing the same role, but I know Farrell has his work cut out for him. Sarandon plays one fantastic vampire.


- Charley enjoys making out with Amy while Peter Vincent hosts Fright Night. I enjoy making out while watching Elvira's Movie Macabre - with my pillow as I dry hump my bed.

- Jerry seduces beautiful women to his house to bite their necks and feed on them. Knowing me, if I were a vampire I'd probably catch a fatal blood disease or something.

- Charley stabbed Jerry in the hand with a pencil to stop him from killing him. Too bad it was a #2 pencil. If it were a #1, that vamp would have been dust.

- Jerry wants to stop Ed's emotional suffering by turning him into a strong vampire. Ed was eager because he'll be receiving a stake much lower than the heart more than once.

- A character melted into green slime. Man, the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards were hardcore back in the 1980s.

- Amy because a seductive, manipulative, and vicious vampire. If Al Bundy had messed with her then, Married...With Children would have been 10 seasons shorter than it was!

Even though I'm sure a lot of people will see the remake this weekend, the original FRIGHT NIGHT more than holds its own and it's definitely worth rewatching every year. There are only a few more entertaining vampire films than this one - great direction, good acting, and a well told story wrapped around eighties cheese. Fans and non-fans should continue taking a bite out of this one to show that no remake was necessary. Even though it's a vampire film, FRIGHT NIGHT doesn't at all suck.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


City of the Living Dead [a.k.a. The Gates of Hell] (1980)

Lucio Fulci

Christopher George - Peter Bell
Catriona MacColl - Mary Woodhouse

Carlo De Mejo - Gerry
Interlenghi - Emily Robbins
Giovanni Lombardo Radice - Bob

Fabrizio Jovine - Father William Thoma
Janet Agren - Sandra

Michele Soavi - Tommy Fisher

Luca Venantini - John-John Robbins

Adelaide Aste - Theresa

Genre - Horror/Zombies

Running Time - 92 Minutes

In the history of Full Moon Reviews, I've discussed multiple genres, sub-genres, and the filmmakers who brought them to life. Alfred Hitchcock. Wes Craven. John Carpenter. George A. Romero. Dario Argento. Mario Bava. The list can go on and on. But there's one director I haven't discussed or even mentioned much, if at all, on this blog. And that man is Lucio Fulci.

Lucio Fulci has a huge fanbase due to his work on such films as ZOMBIE, THE BEYOND, THE NEW YORK RIPPER, and DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING. While a lot of snobs consider Fulci to be a B-level director, his bizarre narratives and his constant use of gore are hit with genre fans who love grindhouse and drive-in cinema. Fulci may have never been the best director in Italy or anywhere else during his career, but he would always bring something memorable in each of his films, good or bad, leaving an impression on those who took the time to seek out his movies and watch them. While I'm not a true die hard like some of my friends, I do respect and appreciate the man and his work.

It's really quite a surprise that it took me this long to finally review a Fulci film, but better late than never I say. And for the first Fulci review on this blog, I picked one of the man's classic films - CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD or THE GATES OF HELL. Considered to be one of Fulci's best films, this trippy zombie film would be the first unofficial installment of Fulci's Gates of Hell trilogy which also includes THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. First or not, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is a very interesting flick that entertains you while making you scratch your head at the same time.

Psychic Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) watches a priest (Luciano Rossi) hang himself in a graveyard in the town of Dunwich [great H.P. Lovecraft reference] during a late night seance. Mary senses that the priest's suicide will cause the dead to rise from their graves. The visions are so intense that she has convulsions until dying of fright minutes later. The police show up and ask Mary's psychic friends [who would obviously leave Mary for Dionne Warwick years later] about what happened, refusing to believe the story they're given about Mary and her visions. Only a New York reporter named Peter Bell (Christopher George) takes an interest in the story, going to Mary's grave to find some answers about her death. As he walks away, Peter learns that Mary is still alive and trying to claw her way out of her coffin. Peter destroys the coffin with a pick-axe, saving Mary in the process.

Feeling like she now owes Peter her life, she lets him in on her visions about the suicidal father who just opened the Gates of Hell, which will create a City of the Dead on All Saints Day that will destroy humankind. Feeling that finding the priest's grave could help stop Hell from unleashing, Peter and Mary head to Dunwich. There, they meet up with its residents Gerry (Carlo De Mejo) and Sandra (Janet Agren), who inform them that strange things are happening in their town. Realizing that the zombies are gaining a strong foothold in Dunwich, the four of them must uncover the mystery before it's too late.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of those zombie flicks that divides an audience. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Others enjoy the film but don't really understand why. It's pretty to see why each side feels the way they do. Lucio Fulci has crafted a story with an illogical narrative, bizarre direction, and gore that will disgust those with weak stomachs. Even with those things, I still get quite a kick out of this weird zombie film. Maybe it's the fact that it's Italian, I dunno. But CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is a cool flick, flaws or not. Still, it should be a lot better than it actually is.

Discussing the narrative in a Lucio Fulci film is like discussing calculus with Snooki of the Jersey Shore - probably a waste of time. It's a task to dissect Fulci's screenplay in a logical, rational way since it's neither. Things aren't explained, zombies teleport when they shouldn't be, and plot holes are abundant. But that's the thing when it comes to Fulci - the story isn't supposed to make sense. In fact, it's to appear as one giant nightmare made of images and moments that are meant to disturb viewers, with other scenes used to sort of keep these moments flow together and balanced. So to really complain why certain characters do what they do and why this situation is happening the way it does is pretty moot. Do dreams and nightmares follow a logical narrative? Most of them do not. And that's what Fulci is trying to visualize, like he does in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD.

That being said though, I do have issues with the film. For one, I still don't get how this certain priest's suicide can open up the Gates of Hell and unleash an army of the dead. Now the suicide could represent one's decision to separate himself from the norms of society and morals of religion. The priest's rejection of God and Christianity opens up these Gates, which could represent an opposition to these rules that religion places upon people. There are so many things against our religious beliefs, such as science and other spiritual thoughts, that contradict what we're taught to believe. Is that what the Gates of Hell is being used for here - a different way to view the world that goes against that comfort zone of religion that creates chaos and disorder in people's lives? Or is this all just mumbo jumbo for horror's sake? An explanation would be nice.

Also, why are these zombies teleporting so damn much? I had no idea the dead even had that kind of power. One even teleported like twelve times in a single shot for no reason! It was kind of funny that they were doing that, but again - an explanation would be nice. However, I do appreciate that these zombies are different from those we're accustomed to. They don't shuffle their feet and eat brains. They like to mind fuck their victims and scare the hell out of them. The priest, in particular, is awesome as he shows himself hanging but then teleports himself piece by piece just to scare others. These zombies are evil and I liked that aspect a lot.

Back to the issues - what about those embalming techniques that manages to brings hot women to life inside their coffins? Yeah, I won't be sending anybody I care about to that funeral home any time soon. How does a funeral home NOT embalm the dead? That's part of their job! It's not realistic even by dream and nightmare standards. It leads to a great scene where Peter has to save Mary from suffocating in that coffin while trying not to accidentally kill her with a pick-axe to her frightened face, but that's just lazy screenwriting there. Funny, but lazy.

Also, when do people drill murder suspects in the head when there's no evidence that they've done anything wrong? Speaking of which, what was that subplot with Bob really about? I'm sure Bob was meant to represent something, but I couldn't figure it out for the life of me. How come Dunwich is hard to find when it's in Salem, Massachusetts [or built on the "ruins of Salem(???)"]? Why are blow up dolls inflating on their own? How did Mary die and then suddenly come back to life? How does she know so much about the Gates of Hell? I know I'm asking too many questions for a Fulci film, but there's gotta be some sort of logic here! These things don't hurt the film all that much, but those questions do nag at me.

Unfortunately, the worst [and unforgiving] part of the film for me is the very end. Now I don't blame Fulci for this because the reason this ending exists isn't entirely his fault. Apparently, Fulci shot a much better ending, but I guess his editor or someone in the crew spilled coffee on it or something. Since he couldn't reshoot the ending due to time constraints, Fulci had to make due with what he had. It's a shame because the final act of the film is really quite great and has a lot of tension and suspense. Then you get to the "twist ending" and it just falls flat. I won't spoil what it implies, but I read the explanation somewhere and it just made me laugh. No way could I have gotten its meaning from what I saw! Man, I would love to have seen the true ending because the current one is just a mind boggler.

Like I mentioned, Fulci is more concerned with creating disgusting, yet memorable, moments in his films. CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD doesn't hold back on these moments, due to cool FX work by Gino de Rossi. The zombie make up looks okay, but nothing spectacular really. I thought Emily looked the best out of all of them really. The bleeding eyes and the crushing of scalps to ooze out brain matter are good. But then you have the two sequences that truly make CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD a zombie classic. One is the girl vomiting her intestines out. Boy, this scene is so damn disturbing and disgusting, yet it's visually awesome at the same time. Apparently Daniela Doria vomited sheep entrails to make this effect happen. Gross! The other FX moment is the drill scene to poor Bob. Mean-spirited, sure - but it's a visual highlight. We also have a scene where maggots just drop on to the characters, getting into any orifices they can find. The gore in this film is pretty insane on the eyes, but it makes CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD stand out most other zombie films.

Speaking of what else works in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is the atmosphere and mood that Fulci infuses the film with. Dunwich is a really creepy, bleak town. It's windier than Chicago. The colors pop, with hues of red and blue lighting up scenes, especially at night. It really sets a creepy feel that keeps you watching. The editing is a bit wonky and the picture looks better than average. And like a lot of horror directors, Fulci loves focusing on the eyes of his actors. And when I mean focus, I mean ZOOMING IN each time on a character's eyes whenever they appear on screen. It's kind of annoying at first, but you find it somewhat charming and oddly stylish as the film rolls on. He does this during gore effects as well, but those shots are more effective. No ocular violence here though, which is one of Fulci's trademarks. Sure some eyes bleed, but that's tame compared to stuff like in ZOMBIE [damn splinter]. The direction is what you would expect from Lucio Fulci, which makes it more than alright with me.

The music by Fabio Frizzi is actually quite good. It sounds a bit like Goblin since it's a gothic synth-heavy score and manages to make simple scenes more dramatic and moody. This definitely works during the final act of the film, where the music is truly effective. However like I mentioned earlier, the editing is really wonky and sometimes ruins what the score is trying to do. Sometimes you'd get a scene where Frizzi's score is creating magic, but the edit into the next scene has no music, creating a jarring effect. And it doesn't feel natural, since the music stopping is so abrupt in the next scene. Great score but the editing kind of hindered it for me.

The acting is okay in CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. Catriona MacColl stars in her first [of three] Fulci film here as Mary and does a very good job in the role. She holds her own with the rest of the cast and she's very easy on the eyes as well. Christopher George was probably my favorite as Peter. He's such a ham on camera and a smug bastard with his cigar that he's awesome. I liked him a lot. Carlo De Mejo as Gerry was very cool as well. His beard was more impressive though. Damn I wish I could grow mine out like that. Fabrizio Jovine was creepy as the late Father Thomas. If I ever saw him staring at me from afar, I'd wouldn't hesitate to run. Giovanni Lombardo Rodice is very good as Bob. I didn't understand his story arc or what it was supposed to mean, but I liked his performance. He takes a drill to the head quite well. And future Italian director, Michele Soavi [who would direct 1987's STAGE FRIGHT, 1989's THE CHURCH, and 1994's CEMETERY MAN aka DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE] has a cameo as the boyfriend to the girl who pukes her intestines out. Cool cast and the dubbing wasn't all that badly done either.


- Father Thomas decided to hang himself outside in a cemetery. I guess all his altar boys all hit puberty. It's like dealing with members of Menudo, only except I want to hang myself because they exist.

- Bob was about to have fun with a blow up doll until he saw something disturbing nearby. I don't know about him, but what disturbed me is that the blow up doll had more real parts than Meg Ryan's face. Geez, no wonder Tom Hanks was SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE!

- Patrons at a bar ran away when one of the walls mysteriously cracked on its own. I don't blame them. The only walls I want to see cracked are the ones made of sugar. And I have just the tool to fill the crack in...

- After seeing Father Thomas stare at her, Rosie's eyes bled while she vomited out her intestines. Someone took to auditioning for America's Next Top Model a bit too seriously.

- Don't be a graverobber. The only thing that's gonna be stolen is your life. See also: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, GRAVEROBBERS, and FRANKENSTEIN.

It's hard to review a film like CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD. While it's no THE BEYOND or even ZOMBIE [you should see those two films before watching this one seriously as a great intro to Fulci's work], it's still a very good, entertaining film with great gore and good direction [other than the editing] and acting. While I appreciate the nightmarish presentation that Lucio Fulci is known for, I do think the narrative could have been a bit stronger. Even so, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD has enough mood, atmosphere, and grue that will satisfy horror fans. It's one of those films that is what it is and you have to take it for what it's worth. It may not be perfect, but at least it's somewhat original and unpredictable, even if it falls apart right at the end. It's definitely worth a watch if you haven't yet seen it. Just keep logic and rationality out the door first before doing so.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Another Award for Full Moon Reviews! :)

I want to thank Michele of the very cool The Girl Who Loves Horror [follow her if you haven't yet - she's great!] for giving me the Liebster Blog award.

Apparently "liebster" means "dearest", so I'm one of Michele's dearest blogs. How cute! Haha...

So since I received this award, I must give it to five other blogs who have less than 200 followers. Here they are:

- Daniel of Random Mexican's Movie Review Extravaganza [Great guy and one of my oldest blogging buddies]

- Jude of The Lair of Filth [Awesome horror buddy with a cool blog]

- Nathan of Son of Celluloid [Horror and Wrestling Fan - my type of dude]

- Jimmy Terror of Dr. Terror's Blog of Horrors [Great guy, has a great outlook on the genre]

- Jeff of The Jaded Viewer [Awesome individual with a funny way of looking at horror and action films - he MUST be followed!]

There are so many blogs out there that ought to be followed. This was really tough only promoting five. If you feel left out, don't. You'll get your shot next time. :)


Opera [a.k.a. Terror at the Opera] (1987)

Dario Argento

Cristina Marsillach - Betty
Ian Charleson - Marco

Urbano Barberini - Inspector Alan S
Daria Nicolodi - Myra

Coralina Cataldi Tassoni - Julia

William McNamara - Urbano

Genre - Horror/Giallo

Running Time - 107 Minutes

As a sometime filmmaker, I get asked that dreaded question that ticks me off quite a bit: Why do you want to direct horror films? By just reading that out of context, it doesn't sound like such a big deal. But when you have people who consider CITIZEN KANE and LA DOLCE VITA the greatest films ever made, they'll present that very question with a condescending tone, as if wondering why anyone would want to make movies involving disturbing and disgusting images to scare people. Even when I tell people that John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is my favorite film, I get weird and slightly disappointing looks as if they were expecting a better answer. Hey, I love THE GODFATHER as much as anyone else, but I can watch it probably once or twice a year while I could watch HALLOWEEN any time I want and never get bored by it. Some people are just made differently, I guess. But a little respect would still be nice.

In a way, I feel for musical director Marco in Dario Argento's OPERA. Here's a man who is a prolific horror director trying to step out of that genre to create a magnificent opera show with mystery and intrigue. Yet, he still gets no respect for his work because he's a "horror director". It also doesn't help that people keep dying around him and his lead actress, forcing them to live a "real-life" horror movie. But without it, OPERA wouldn't be as entertaining as it is. One of Argento's best and most memorable films, let's see why the fat lady won't be singing any time soon.

An opera, based on Guiseppe Verdi's Macbeth, is being directed by a horror film director named Marco (Ian Charleson). Marco is gaining attention for the production due to his ambitious vision that includes live ravens, laser beams, smoke machines, and magnificent costumes. The production hits a snag when the former lead actress gets injured, leaving Betty (Cristina Marsillach), her understudy, to take over.

Betty is having major issues with this role, mainly because legend says that any theater version of Macbeth is cursed. While some of the production team considers that superstitious, strange things do start to happen right from opening night. For example, someone kills a stagehand and a light fixture almost crushes the nearby audience. Even though both are considered just coincidence, the terror grows as Betty is attacked by this mysterious masked assailant, who ties her up and places needles under her eyes so she can watch the killer do his thing. Eventually, people working on the Macbeth production begin dropping like flies. Will Betty be freed by the insanity of this masked murderer?

OPERA is considered to be Dario Argento's "last great horror film" as a director. While I can't speak for any of his films after OPERA [since I haven't seen them yet], I will agree that OPERA is a great movie that uses the giallo tricks quite well to create memorably tense moments. The movie may not be as good as his classics such DEEP RED, INFERNO, or SUSPIRIA, but the film is definitely a must see for giallo freaks.

As in every giallo, the narrative of the film isn't the strongest or deepest in the world. Watching OPERA for its story would be pretty moot since Argento is more of a visual director than a filmmaker who relies on the words of his screenplay to do the work for him. Still, the narrative does have flaws that keeps OPERA from being truly awesome, even if it's pretty straightforward to follow. For one, the killer's motive seems a bit farfetched, even for giallo standards. As you watch the film, it's easy to see why the killer does what he does - to prove his love to Betty. That's why he kills people that are close to her in someway. That's why he makes her watch his murders. The killer wants Betty's attention and affection, even if he has to torture her to make it happen. It's like Argento himself - he must "murder" in order to impress his audience. In a way, the killer represents any horror director, while Betty represents the horror audience who can't get enough of these grisly scenes on film. It's an interesting metaphor for the horror genre that I believe works well for OPERA.

Apparently, the killer also shares a history with Betty's mom, who was supposedly into sadomasochism - which is why he ties up Betty and make her suffer with needles under her eyes. Even though I understand why the killer is doing these bad things, it just comes across as pretty flimsy and the ending sort of suffers because of it. In fact, that final sequence is just bizarre and doesn't really need to be in the film. It doesn't really add anything to the story but confusion.

Speaking of the killer, it's easy to figure out who this person ends up being. With such a short list of characters that appear in the film, this character just sticks out like a sore thumb. As a matter of fact, when the killer first appears as a civilian, the mystery is gone. I remember watching this film for the first time when I was 11 years old, and even then I figured it out the moment I spotted the killer outside his/her costume. Other giallos craft a better mystery, even if the resolution doesn't make total sense. But at least it manages to keep you guessing. OPERA doesn't manage to do that.

Also, the character of Betty is a pretty weak protagonist. Unlike most horror heroines, especially in Argento's films, Betty doesn't do much of anything but act scared. She doesn't solve the mystery. She doesn't know how to protect herself, allowing others [who may be the killer] take care of her. People around her die and she acts like it's an everyday occurrence. The fact that she's dumb enough to let someone into her home after she's just been attacked and semi-blind due to eye drops makes her a character I can't really root for. Being naive is one thing, but acting stupid is another. Like I mentioned earlier, I get that she represents the audience. But I kind of feel she insults me because she's just so weak and helpless. I have trouble relating to someone like that.

Then again, analyzing the narrative of an Argento film is pretty much a waste of time since he's more focused on creating memorable scenes that will overshadow all the plot holes in the script. And we definitely get some classic moments here for sure. My favorite moment is when one character looks through the peephole and gets a bullet right to the eye and through the back of their head. It just looks awesome and makes the killer look like a total bad ass. In fact, that whole apartment sequence is some of the best work Argento has ever done as a filmmaker. It's so full of tension that you're on the edge of your seat watching it. Another moment is when the seamstress swallows something that will incriminate the killer. The killer finds her, kills her, and cuts the evidence out of her while Betty watches in horror. Wonderfully crafted scenes like these makes OPERA stand out from a lot of horror films. While I will say it's Argento's direction that makes these scenes work, they wouldn't exist if it weren't for a script.

In fact, OPERA is a pretty brutal movie at times with the murders. The make up and special effects team did a fantastic job creating some really gruesome stuff. We get a lot of stabbings, knives going through necks and exiting out of mouths, fun with scissors, bullets through the eye, and even birds pecking at people and pulling out eyes before eating them. For horror fans who like gore and blood, OPERA is definitely a good watch to satisfy that need.

Dario Argento directs a great film here. OPERA is a very surreal film at times and Argento plays that aspect up. We get scenes with very vibrant colors that remind me of SUSPIRIA. We get stylish shots in almost every scene. High angles, low angles, 360 shots, shots not in focus - Argento brings it all. I really love the POV shot from the raven while he flies over the scared audience during the opera. When it starts swooping down, it creates massive amounts of tension. We also get Argento's obsession with extreme close ups on eyes. The first shot of the film is an extreme close up of a raven's eye and it doesn't stop. We get a lot of shots of Betty's eyes, especially when she can't blink due to needles under them. We get shots of the killer's eyes while the rest of his face is covered in a black mask. We get the infamous shot of the bullet going through the eye from the peephole. And a character loses an eye. Argento is obviously portraying the eye as the way to view the horror and terror that the killer is instilling into these characters. They're scared because they see the destruction happening around them. We watch horror films with our eyes, unable to look away at the gore and horrible sights that play in front of us. While sound is a huge factor in making horror films work, they would be nothing without the sense of sight. It's as if taking away our eyes will leave us not only vulnerable, but "dead" in the sense that we can't be horrified by what we see without them.

Speaking of the music, the piano score used is pretty chilling and works to invoke emotion out of the viewer. I love the opera music. It brings a touch a class to what is perceived as a classless genre. However, I didn't really dig the heavy metal soundtrack used here. I love heavy metal and for some films, it can work. But using them during murder sequences is a flawed technique because it doesn't do much of anything for the scene and/or for the viewer. Plus it dates the film heavily, which doesn't help either. Also what was up with those shots of brains and stuff? I wasn't really sure what that was supposed to imply. Was it a reflection of Betty's mental state? Was it a dream sequence? It kind of took me out of the film at times. Still, Argento does a wonderful job creating a memorable film for the most part.

The acting is hard to critique due to the fact that the actors are dubbed, which can make or break even a good performance. Cristina Marsillach is okay as Betty. Not my favorite lead actress in an Argento film, but she does alright with her material. I don't think she acted scared enough for me, because she seemed pretty calm during the film. I'm not sure if that was Argento's decision or Marsillach's, but it wasn't convincing to me. Still, she's a pretty girl and wasn't at all horrible. Ian Charleson as Marco is probably the best actor in the film. He has a quiet charm that makes him very appealing to watch on film. Daria Nicolodi does well with her short, but memorable role as Betty's agent, Myra. She acts like she's somewhat nervous, which I like. And Urbano Barberini, of DEMONS fame, is pretty creepy as Inspector Santini. The rest of the acting was okay and worked in favor of the film.


- "Macbeth brings bad luck." Looks like Mel Gibson made the right move in playing Hamlet instead all those years ago. Obviously, nothing negative is going on in his life...

- Making love supposedly relaxes one's vocal chords. I guess that's why Britney Spears sounds so great live. You would think she was lip synching or something!

- The killer threw an iron to Julia's lower back. That's one way of branding her with a tramp stamp.

- The killer shot a bullet through a peephole to murder Myra while she looked through it. Sometimes it's not worth living up to your name.

- The ravens revealed the killer by attacking this person during a performance. While the killer may not have appreciated it, this attack was just caws.

While it's not his greatest work, Dario Argento's OPERA is still a great giallo even with its flaws. The film has memorable moments, great death scenes, and as usual fantastic direction by Argento. Sure the mystery could have been stronger and some of the characters could have been more interesting, but the movie is still very enjoyable and watchable. You don't need to be a Phantom to enjoy this OPERA.

3.5 Howls Outta 4

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