Kalifornia (1993)

Dominic Sena

Brad Pitt - Early Grayce
David Duchovny - Brian Kessler

Michelle Forbes - Carrie Laughlin

Juliette Lewis - Adele Corners

Genre - Thrillers/Drama/Serial Killers

Running Time - 117 Minutes

Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) is a journalist who is obsessed with the world of serial killers. His more level-headed girlfriend, Carrie Laughlin (Michelle Forbes), is persuaded to take a road trip with Brian to California through Arkansas and Texas in order to visit the places of famous American murders for a book he's writing and wants Carrie to take photos of these locations.

Being a genius, Brian decides to place an ad about this adventurous research for people to join them and share expenses, such as hotel, food, and gas. The ad is quickly answered by Early Grayce (Brad Pitt), a former convict, and his dim-witted girlfriend Adele Corners (Juliette Lewis). While Brian is fascinated by their white trash behavior, Carrie is turned off and sees the two as a threat. Slowly Brian realizes Carrie's right, as Early proves himself to be a serial killer - wanting to be Brian's next story.


- The acting. If there's anything this underrated film will be known for, it's the fantastic acting by the four leads. David Duchovny, before his X-Files fame as Fox Mulder, does well as the naive yuppie journalist who realizes his obsession with serial killing could cost him either his own humanity and/or his life. Michelle Forbes, who has done some memorable television work since this film, is also great as the cool and cautious girlfriend. In a lot of ways, she is the conscience and voice of the audience. But the film belongs to both Brad Pitt and Juliette Lewis. Lewis, who would become another serial killer girlfriend in NATURAL BORN KILLERS almost a year after KALIFORNIA, is amazing to watch as an empty-headed woman. She first comes across as funny, but as the film rolls on, we realize how tragic she is and feel sorry for her when she discusses how Early beats her only "when she deserves it" and how Early saved her after being raped. I know some found the performance annoying, but I was pretty captivated by Lewis. More so, however, with Pitt - who really used this film to prove that he was more than just a pretty face in Hollywood. He looks like crap, probably didn't shower at all while filming this movie, and gives a complex performance that proves the man can act with the best of them. He's charming one minute and then pretty creepy the next. Just an exceptional performance. Great cast.

- The direction. Dominic Sena would later do more mainstream movies like 2000's GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS, SWORDFISH, and SEASON OF THE WITCH, but KALIFORNIA is his best work. Along with cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, the two men capture a gritty, striking, and beautiful film. The locations used are just fantastic - from deserts, to rural homes, to beaches, and even to nuclear test ranges - the images are just stunning and become a character itself. I also thought Sena brought out some nice tension, especially during scenes where Early would kill like in the gas station bathroom and inside the store. Nice editing, composition, framing - just great filmmaking visually. Definitely Sena's finest hour.

- The story. While it's not perfect, the screenplay by Tim Metcalfe is still well-written and well-structured. The characters are all different and have quite a bit of depth to them. Brian sees the good in everyone, which is why he's fascinated by serial killers and their motives. Why do they do what they do? This naivety almost destroys him at the end, but it's an interesting journey. Plus his conclusion at the end is pretty profound. Carrie is the viewer's character, wondering why she has participated in this whole deal and realizes she and Brian need to get out fast before they end up dead. While a bit tough at the beginning, we see her grow close to Adele, almost becoming a mother figure to her. She also captures the eye of Early, who sees her as a strong woman he wants to break down rather than a dumb little girl like Adele. Early is the typical serial killer - charming and friendly at first to lure people in, but once you get to know him, he ends up a total psychopath, scary and dangerous. All four of these characters together create a lot of drama and tension between them, crafting a solid narrative. Plus the journey each character takes for their respective arcs are both interesting and tragic. It also makes you question those who kill and the other side who are fascinated by it through books and media. KALIFORNIA never glorifies the violence, but it does make you wonder how desensitized one must be to realize when too far is just that.


- The setup. It's just too easy and convenient for me. Brian puts up an ad and just happens to be answered by a serial killer, especially when Brian wants to write a book on serial killers [which isn't on the ad itself]? It's such an obvious plot device and doesn't really make the story feel natural. What are the odds of that really happening? Sure, it's possible. But on the first try? I'm not sure how else these characters could have been brought together, but the whole idea just seemed odd from the get go.

- Brian's narration. While the narration itself isn't bad, it takes away from what's being shown onscreen. As Brian tells us about the events, the surprise and some of the suspense is missing because we pretty much know how it's gonna play out. I think the film could have worked without it. If Brian was already telling this story right from the start of the film, I can guess who survived and who didn't. Takes away some of the effectiveness, in my opinion.

KALIFORNIA was a box-office flop and a film not many people have seen, even today, but it's definitely a solid thriller that deserves an audience. It has a well-structured narrative, beautiful visuals, and fantastic acting - especially by Brad Pitt. A lot of people will compare KALIFORNIA to NATURAL BORN KILLERS [which came out a year later], but both take the general idea but present it differently. I think NATURAL BORN KILLERS is more about glorifying the violence. KALIFORNIA is more about the humans behind the violence. Which ever film you choose, you can't go wrong. But KALIFORNIA is well worth the long ride seeing if you're in the mood for it.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton

Mia Wasikowska - Alice Kingsleigh
Johnny Depp - The Mad Hatter

Helena Bonham Carter - The Red Queen

Anne Hathaway - The White Queen

Crispin Glover - K
nave of Hearts

Genre - Fantasy/Science Fiction/Action/Adventure

Running Time - 108 Minutes

In this sequel to Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, 19-year-old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) is forced to go to some society function where she's been set up for the Lord's son, the stuffy Hamish (Leo Bill), to propose to her. With all the attention on her, which adds to her confusion, Alice runs away. She follows the White Rabbit (voiced by Michael Sheen), falling down a rabbit hole while chasing after it.

Alice is transported to a fantastical land inhabited by strange looking creatures and people, including talking animals and dangerous playing cards. The inhabits are unsure whether they retrieved the real Alice Kingsleigh, as Alice has no recollection of her past adventure in Underland [not Wonderland as it's incorrectly called]. Only The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) believes her to be the real Alice, seeing her as the only hope for the salvation of their land.

Apparently The Red Queen (
Helena Bonham Carter) controls Underland under a tyranny, where she uses the Jabberwocky (voiced by Christopher Lee) to keep her reign as it destroys all threats to her power. A scroll foretells that Alice will slay the Jabberwocky, which in turn will hand The Red Queen's power over to her good sister, The White Queen (Anne Hathaway). Knowing this, The Red Queen orders her knight, Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover), to find Alice and kill her before Alice finds the Vorpal Sword and makes the prophecy comes true.


- Art direction and costume design. ALICE IN WONDERLAND should look like a fantasy come to life, and that's exactly what this Disney sequel does extremely well. All the characters look distinct and the CGI looks cartoony, but in a good way since this is really meant for children. I also liked how dark the look was as well, as it truly depicted the Red Queen's reign over Underland, while not being so scary that it'll frighten children. The costumes are great as well, as the characters from the novel look exactly how you'd imagine they'd look. It looks like a Tim Burton film and I think the live-action stuff mixed with the green screen and CGI gave the film a magical feel this story deserves.

- Tim Burton's direction. This one is more hit than miss, in my opinion. While I do miss the Tim Burton of old [pre-PLANET OF THE APES], I do think his direction here isn't all that bad. While there are some pacing issues because this film is probably longer than it needs to be, the visuals are quite stunning and the editing is top notch. The action scenes have some nice tension and excitement to them, which is a definite plus. While I miss his more original, darker stuff, I still admire Burton quite a great deal and will watch anything attached with his name. He's almost becoming a parody of himself at this point though. I hope DARK SHADOWS gives us more of the Burton of old.

- Mia Wasikowska and Helena Bonham Carter. Both actresses are really good in ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Waikowska is quite fetching in the role of Alice, giving the character a quiet vulnerability while maintaining a hidden strength that showcases her independence and fight for what's right. I would like to see her in more films. Carter, for me, was probably the best actor in the film. She just steals the show in every scene she's in, enjoying being a total bitch with a huge head. I dug it.


- The story. Now I don't think Linda Woolverton's screenplay was terrible. But it definitely was lacking in many areas. For one, it was hard at times to decipher whether ALICE IN WONDERLAND was a true sequel or a reboot of sorts. Some scenes play out just as they in the novels, even though we're led to believe that Alice has already gone through these trials when she was younger. Also, the tone of the film was inconsistent. Was this a fantasy film? Was this an action film? A science-fiction film? It was like watching THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, THE WIZARD OF OZ, and HOOK all in one film. THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA feel came from the adventure portion of the narrative. The evil Red Queen and the good White Queen remind me of the two Witches in THE WIZARD OF OZ. Hell, the Red Queen even had simian servants! And HOOK is obviously due to Alice's age and her return to Underland so she can remember her past there and save the day.

Speaking of Alice's arc, that too was a bit conflicted. For much of the film, she's too wrapped up in what she believes is dreaming that she's in Underland. While I get it as a plot device, it becomes frustrating towards the end when her arc is really about something deeper - becoming an independent woman who can handle herself and doesn't need a man to sustain her. I also thought the ending was a bit much, especially when it sort of seemed like it was supporting imperialism. Really? Is that what ALICE IN WONDERLAND is really about? Coming into an unknown world and becoming some sort of hero in order to take it over? Wow. I just wish the film had more depth to it, that's all.

- Johnny Depp. I really hate putting Depp in a MISS category. I'm a huge fan of the actor ever since the 1980s. But his portrayal of The Mad Hatter isn't really that great. It's just okay. For the biggest name actor in the film and the most promoted, his performance was pretty lackluster. He just seems to be going through the motions here, not being mad enough to really be an interesting character other than Alice's somewhat conscience. He looks like Carrot Top with a top hat and bad make-up. I know Burton and Depp are a package deal these days, but I think this could have been one occasion where Depp took a break and someone more interesting could have played the Mad Hatter role. Depp is a great character actor, but he did nothing for me in this film.

- Anne Hathaway. Just an annoying performance as The White Queen. I get that she was the opposite of the Red Queen, but she had no depth to her at all. Hathaway is a good actress too, but this wasn't a good role for her.

- The Futterwacken Dance. I did not need to know or see what it was.

While it's not a horrible film and children will enjoy it [so did adults with the $1 billion-plus worldwide box office], ALICE IN WONDERLAND may be one of Tim Burton's and Johnny Depp's least interesting and satisfying films. As long as these two have been around, you'd expect more out of each of them at this point. It's a beautiful looking film and the two lead actresses carry it quite well. But it's not engaging enough as a story and it'll just make you dust off your Lewis Carroll stories and re-read them again instead. ALICE IN WONDERLAND is a film I can either leave or take with not much care. Let's hope the next Depp-Burton collaboration is a lot more interesting.

2 Howls Outta 4


Universal Soldier (1992)

Roland Emmerich

Jean-Claude Van Damme - Luc Devereaux/GR 44
Dolph Lundgren - Sergeant Andrew Scott/GR 13

Ally Walker - Veronica Roberts

Ed O
'Ross - Colonel Perry
Jerry Orbach - Dr. Christopher Gregor

Leon Rippy - Dr. Woodward

o Wells - Garth

Genre - Action/Science Fiction

Running Time - 102 Minutes

While Full Moon Reviews is mainly a horror-centric blog, I do love action films. Watching things explode, epic car chases, and people getting done in by a multitude of weapons onscreen gets this guy's blood pumping. Sometimes watching people scream as a masked killer causes blood and guts to spill out can get a bit old. So watching a good action flick, especially from the 1980s and early 1990s will do the trick.

Two of my favorite action stars happen to star in the very film I'm reviewing here today. Dolph Lundgren has been a fave since 1985's ROCKY IV, which happens to be my personal favorite of that entire franchise even though the first ROCKY is better made. I watched Lundgren in 1987's MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE in theaters, which I'm pretty afraid to watch nowadays knowing that the cheese factor will cause my Lactose Intolerance to act up. Add THE PUNISHER (1989) and 1991's SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO and you got yourself a fan.

And then there's Jean-Claude Van Damme - an action star I wanted to be as a kid ever since I saw him kick ass in 1988's BLOODSPORT. I have seen all of his early films such as 1989's KICKBOXER and CYBORG, 1990's LIONHEART and DEATH WARRANT, until 1994's STREET FIGHTER: THE MOVIE adaptation that soured me on Van Damme. He's done some good recent work as of late, especially 2008's JCVD film that garnered much critical acclaim.

Lundgren and Van Damme would team up a few times during their careers, but it all started in 1992's action classic UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. While the two men would later star in two UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequels as well as the upcoming THE EXPENDABLES 2 [next year's anticipated action film], the first time is always the most special. I had seen UNIVERSAL SOLDIER in theaters during its release and I loved it, especially Lundgren's demented performance as a former Vietnam soldier. It did solid business at the box office and made Roland Emmerich's career as an action film director. But does the film still hold up 19 years later?

We start out during the Vietnam War, where Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) confronts his Sergeant, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), who has gone insane and has decided that torturing civilians and cutting their ears off for a necklace is good medication. The two end up stabbing and shooting each other to death. However the two don't rest in peace as a group of scientists hired by the government find the two to hide the evidence and use them in some sort of experiment that reanimates their corpses.

Many years later, Luc [now called GR 44] and Andrew [now called GR 13] are now part of a secret Government militia where the two men have been programmed to be fighting machines with no trace of their former lives. However, a nosy reporter named Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker) begins investigating these soldiers after they stop a terrible hostage situation. Her curiosity leads to the death of her cameraman, after Andrew kills him while taking photos for evidence. This causes Luc to have memories of his time in Vietnam, stopping Andrew and escaping with Veronica. Slowly, both Luc and Andrew begin to remember their former lives - Luc wanting to protect Veronica and find out the truth while Andrew sinks further into the pool of insanity started during Vietnam. The two eventually confront each other, battling to settle an old score and to see who truly is the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER was one of those films back in the day that was considered epic for action film fans who wanted to see Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme kick the crap out of each other onscreen. It seemed perfect for action audiences, with the science fiction elements bringing in another audience who probably wouldn't have been as interested. Even 19 years later, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER could have been more than what it ended up being. Even so, the film is still pretty solid and watchable after all these years.

The screenplay by Dean Devlin, Christopher Leitch, and Richard Rothstein is extremely formulaic. We get the typical good must conquer evil story. We get the amnesia subplot that leads to the main characters remembering their past and hatred for each other while revealing other mysteries. We get the nosy female character who ends up being the hero's ally/love interest. We get the cliche explosions, car chases, and final battle. It's all been done before in other films, probably even better in those other films. But while UNIVERSAL SOLDIER ends up being predictable and eager to capitalize on the success of T2: JUDGMENT DAY [which was released a year prior], the screenplay follows the formula quite well and still manages to craft an entertaining, while very shallow, narrative. It's an action sci-fi movie and makes no disguise of what it is.

That being said, there are moments in the film that either don't make much sense or just added in for pad on unnecessary time. The illogical moments is best represented right at the start of the film, where Andrew Scott is murdering Vietnamese citizens and cutting their ears off after he's gone insane. While this probably happened during the war, it's odd that Andrew seems to be suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder during the war rather than after it. Maybe the guy was just mentally unstable from the start, but we don't know that because the story begins towards the end of his madness rather than at the beginning. There's no idea what set Andrew off like that, especially when Luc still seems rational enough to comprehend what's real and what's right - making it weirder when both men were brothers in arms the whole way and experienced the exact same things.

Also, the whole experiment that took Luc and Andrew and made them Universal Soldiers is never really explained in enough detail to understand how it was possible. I understand the reasoning behind it somewhat, and we see some of the process during the experiment, but the issue could have been addressed better - especially since it was a huge part of the film. I mean, how did the ice heal Luc's injuries but not some of the others? I also thought the final subplot with Luc's family was too rushed and didn't feel organic at all. Not sure if it was the writing or the acting.

Then we have two filler scenes. The first one involves Luc inside the diner, where he eats a bunch of food and beats up people after they realize he's unable to pay for it all. While the scene does manage to be quite comical in a good way and allows Luc's more playful and childlike innocent personality display itself, it doesn't really move the plot all that much really. It's there just as an excuse to have Van Damme display some kick ass moves to a bunch of nameless victims. Same goes with Andrew's scene at the truck stop, which is just a scene for Lundgren to kick some nameless ass as well. While both scenes do allow some drop of personality for all characters involved to come through, the film wouldn't have changed all that much if these scenes were absent.

But the screenplay does have some decent dialogue scenes and funny one-liners by both Luc and Andrew. And the characters, while very formula and cliche, work well for the story. The innocent and moral hero, the demented villain, the nosy reporter who says she wants a story but is really falling for the hero, the power-hungry military man, and the regretful scientists - they're all here and their parts are perfect to a tee.

The highlight of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER are the action scenes. Roland Emmerich, who would later direct INDEPENDENCE DAY, STARGATE, 1998's GODZILLA, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, and 2012, does a damn good job creating some big action sequences. The scene where the truck driven by Andrew is ramming into a bus holding both Luc and Veronica is quite the sight. A lot of the fight sequences are quite bloody and brutal to watch. We get sliced ears. We get a lot of bullets hitting body parts, especially the head. We get broken necks, explosions, and a really bad spiking. Emmerich makes all these moments quite energetic and memorable. The film looks quite polished due to its decent budget and the pace is very good, as the film moves quite fast. We also get the typical slow motion when the hero rises up to get the upper hand against his foe. We get some nice angles. We have some great locations, creating some beautiful cinematography. Emmerich handles a very good action film visually here. I think out of all the films he has directed since UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, this one happens to be one of his better ones even to this day. It's what everyone expected out of a 90s action film, using cool visual moments and entertaining action sequences to compensate for a limited and predictable story.

The acting is better than one would probably think out of a film starring both Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren. Van Damme, while not the best actor in the film, does display some decent chops through Luc's emotional journey by creating sympathy and vulnerability that allows the audience to care and root for him. Plus he handles comedy quite well also. He's really at his best when he lefts his hands and feet do the talking for him. And yes, he even shows his butt in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. You can't have a Van Damme film without one of his trademarks, now can we? On the other hand, Lundgren manages to become the star of the film in his demented role as Andrew Scott. I bought the guy at every turn. He chews the scenery with the best of them, obviously having fun playing the villain and creating some humorous moments while still being a major bad ass. He has great chemistry with Van Damme and when the two meet, they banter and confrontation is quite entertaining. As for the other main actors, Ally Walker [best known for her role on TV's The Profiler] does okay as Veronica Roberts, nosy news journalist. The character on people is kind of annoying at times, but Walker makes the most of her part and tries to give the character some depth. She's not bad to look at either. Ed O'Ross as Colonel Perry plays an asshole and does it well as usual. And Jerry Orbach makes a cameo as well towards the end of the film. Always nice to see Mr. Orbach in anything.


- Andrew Scott made a necklace of ears during his run in Vietnam. No matter how many he'll collect, he'll still have trouble understanding Luc through his accent. If it didn't work for Rocky, it won't work for Guile.

- Luc became unresponsive as he started to remember his past. I've been the same way lately while remembering listening to that Metallica/Lou Reed album. Make it go away...

- Luc is in constant need of cooling down, standing naked in front of air conditioners and bathing in ice. If the female character was a maid, Arnold Schwarzenegger and probably Joel Schumacher would have jumped all over this.

- Veronica couldn't understand why Luc was acting so strangely. For a Profiler, she sure has trouble figuring people out.

- Andrew Scott destroyed most of the military personnel who brought him back to life and gave him orders. Once you've been one of the MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, being THE PUNISHER of those who believe they're better than you comes quite easily.

- Luc and Veronica had issues trying to gain control of a police bus after the driver was shot by Andrew. See, this is why Sandra Bullock has an Oscar and none of these actors do not.

Almost twenty years old, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER still manages to be a good action film that will entertain fans of the genre. It's still a popular film, especially since no one knew it would spawn two made-for-TV sequels, a theatrical sequel, and two direct-to-video sequels [with one coming out in 2012]. Not surprising since the original happens to contain what action fans want - fast car chases, brutal fights and kills, humor, and two action legends kicking ass and having some fun doing so. Film snobs will crap over the fact that the narrative doesn't have much depth and is completely predictable. But that's not the point with a film like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. It may lack in brain cells, but it compensates for it with a ton of energy and entertainment. There are better action films before and since UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, but it's still solid enough for watch when you need an action film fix.

3 Howls Outta 4


Indie Horror Spotlight: Tape Me: Reel 1 (by Christopher Eric Outridge)

TAPE ME: REEL 1 is the new short film by Christopher Eric Outridge of CEO Productions. Chris founded CEO Productions in 2008, where he focuses in all aspects of filmmaking; directing, screenwriting, cinematography, editing, coloring, etc. I've worked with Chris and can tell you that he is very passionate about film and editing.

Inspired most likely by his love for the SAW horror series, TAPE ME: REEL 1 is as follows:

TAPE ME is about a serial killer named FACELESS who video tapes himself stalking, torturing and murdering his subjects, based his interests in their own "human flaws." He takes his murder reel and sends it to each of his new victims. When they watch his murder reel, they become his next victims. Faceless Watches Them, He Tortures Them, HE TAPES THEM... In this film, Faceless forces a cheating lothario named Trevor to choose between his girlfriend, Jayah, and his actress friend and current mistress, Vanessa. Whatever the result, Faceless garuantees their will be a choice, and it will end with murder.

This 11 minute film is an interesting start to what Chris feels will be a longer series of short films. While the audio levels are a bit off at times, the acting is convincing and the narrative will keep you interested in seeing what Trevor's outcome will be. While much more could be shown about Faceless's world of terror, Chris will probably present more about the killer's origins in the next set of films he plans on making about the character. Check it out and support indie filmmaking. Thanks Christopher Eric Outridge for keeping the horror scene alive 11 minutes longer.

TAPE ME : REEL 1 stars Damien Colletti, Kailn Adalina and Vanessa Bontea. Also featuring Kelsey Lynn Stokes, Robert "Legend" Simmons, Tobi Percy and Casey Leigh Thompson. Directed, written and cut together by Christopher Eric Outridge, Director of Photography Jacob Osborn, and Make Up / Visual Effects Artist Aileen "Margie" Salerno, with stunt work by Tony San Miguel.


Another Award for Full Moon Reviews!!!

Sorry for the lack of blogage [it's a word, I made it up!] lately. October and all the horror movies I've watched had burnt me out. The last couple of reviews were films I actually watched last month. But I'm in the process of watching some stuff finally this month and there should be reviews for these films soon.

In the meantime, I was honored a couple of weeks ago with a new Blog Award by the lovely Jenny Krueger of Memoirs of a Scream Queen [it's a blog you should all follow if you haven't already done so]. I want to thank Jenny for the iDig Your Blog Award. Pretty darn neat. :)

Here are the blog award rules: 1 ) Gratefully accept this award. 2 ) Link to the person you received it from. 3 ) Post 3 interesting facts about yourself. 4 ) Pass this award around to at least 5 blogs you dig. 5 ) Notify them.


1. I'm addicted to Swedish Fish.
2. I always eat lasagna on my birthday. It's been a tradition for who knows how long.
3. I used to break dance back when I was younger during the 80s. Now, I'll probably break something dancing...


1. Jude Felton from The Lair of Filth
This dude is a horror freak just like yours truly. He posts news and reviews quite frequently and always tells it like it is. I really enjoy reading his stuff.

2. Matt Poirier from Direct to Video Connoisseur
Great blog and great guy in general. He focuses on films that go straight to the home market rather than theaters. Plus he has an (un)healthy obsession with Dolph Lundgren, not like that's a bad thing...

3. Nathan Hamilton from Son of Celluloid
Another horror freak, Nathan is one of the many people I met through Facebook's Halloween Hack & Slash Madness contest that I happened to be a judge [one of three] of. He posted a list of 31 Darwin Awards during the entire month of October, listing horror characters that were pretty...how can I say it...stupid in context of the film they happened to be in. Entertaining and a lot of it very true, I feel this series of blog posts justifies a plug and an award.

4. James Gracey from Behind the Couch
James is the writer of this fantastic horror blog where he really dissects the films and analyzes them quite intelligently. He took the time in October to review every single HALLOWEEN film, really looking deep inside each one and giving his honest opinion of why it did or didn't work. I don't agree with all of his posts, but I do respect each one since he puts a lot of time and love into each one while backing up his point.

5. Eric King from Robocop's Sad Side
Eric is one of my biggest supporters on Blogger and on Facebook, so I figured I'd return the favor. Eric's blog is funny, honest, and entertaining to read. He doesn't have a lot of followers [he should] and he works hard to entertain his audience. So he gets an award as well without hesitation.


The Sentinel (1977)

Michael Winner

Cristina Raines - Alison Parker
Chris Sarandon - Michael Lerman

Eli Wallach - Detective Gatz

Burgess Meredith - Charles Chazen

Ava Gardner - Miss Logan

Arthur Kennedy - Monsignor Franchino

Christopher Walken - Rizzo

John Carradine - Father Matthew Halliran

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 92 Minutes

PLOT - A beautiful model named Alison Parker (Cristina Raines) signs a lease for a new apartment in Brooklyn, New York. She's been in-and-out of psychiatric hospitals due to suicidal tendencies and has made a good life for herself due to her career and her engagement to an up and coming lawyer named Michael (Chris Sarandon). While Michael wants to marry her and live with Alison, she still wants her independence for a while.

The apartment, at first, seems like a perfect place to live in. It's furnished, quiet for the most part, and her closest neighbor Charles Chazen (Burgess Meredith) seems like a kind fellow. However, Alison soon sees things differently upon meeting the rest of her neighbors. There's a strange lesbian couple who have no problem showing their lust for each other - as a matter of fact one of them enjoys masturbating in front of Alison. There's an older woman who says the weirdest things. Even Charles has an obsession with his cat, inviting Alison to a birthday party for the animal.

While the neighbors are a bit laughable, the noises Alison constantly hears upstairs are not. Supposedly this apartment has been abandoned, but it sounds like someone is there banging the floor and striking metal objects. After an inspection of the apartment, Alison sees it completely empty. As a matter of fact, Alison's neighbors are proven to be dead! The only man upstairs is a blind priest who constantly looks out the window, waiting for something - or someone. What's going on here?

While Alison tries to process all this information, she constantly falls under the influence of headaches and visions of her late naked father canoodle with two healthy women in bed, as well as her late neighbors who constantly haunt her. Michael, worried about Alison, investigates the apartment. He learns that the people Alison sees were notorious killers and that the building sits on the entrance to Hell, which the Catholic Church is well aware of. Apparently, both sides have plans for Alison. Which side will win out?


STORY - THE SENTINEL is based on a 1975 novel written by Jeffrey Konvitz who co-wrote the screenplay along with director Michael Winner. THE SENTINEL was a very controversial film upon its release in both literary and cinematic forms, due to the story's heavy emphasis on Catholicism and its commentary on the eternal damnation of those who participate in same-sex relationships, murder, and especially suicide - with accepting God being one's only salvation. It turned off a lot of people at the time due to the heavy-handedness of it all. Sure, there were a lot of religious supernatural films during this period of horror cinema, but they were pretty subtle in their storytelling. THE SENTINEL pretty much hammers into your head that you're going to Hell if you commit any of the sins I mentioned earlier.

It's probably why THE SENTINEL did nothing for me as a narrative. I have nothing against good vs. evil stories that involve religious subtexts. But this one is so in-your-face about it that I pretty much zoned out for much of it. To be honest, I didn't think the screenplay was all that great anyway, as it doesn't seem to know what kind of film it wants, or needs, to be in order for THE SENTINEL to be effective as a story. Is it a psychological thriller? Is it a detective story? Is it a haunted house movie? Is it propaganda for the Catholic Church? You're never really sure because each act of the film has a different tone. In fact, Konvitz himself hated the way the screenplay turned out, feeling Winner used his novel as a way to create shock [which he failed at] instead of telling a simple horror story. I mean seriously, was using people with real-life human deformities really necessary to tell the audience that the gate to Hell was opened? Regular looking people with make-up or special effects couldn't have been used instead?

The story never feels complete at all. I understand why Alison was being sought out by both sides [the Catholic Church wanted her to be the new Sentinel while evil wanted her to kill herself to stop it from happening], but there's no depth behind the motives and just seems to explain itself during the last few moments of the film. Even mysteries give you better hints and clues than this screenplay does. There's also no real explanation as to why Alison was chosen to begin with. There are so many people in the world that have attempted suicide or done worse things in the eyes of God. So why was she so special? Because she was hot? Because she attempted suicide while living in a world known for excess? It's never really told. Would it have helped the film? Who knows?

The characters, while not deep at all, are at least interesting, I guess. Alison has a very interesting backstory that's never given the treatment and spotlight it really deserves. But she's likeable, beautiful, and believable. However, she's these things because she's presented as the victim from the start and she never really gains strength even at the end. Her decision was made for her either way, making her choice against her will really. Instead of powerful, she comes across as someone who was taken advantage of. That's a cheap way to gain sympathy, in my opinion.

Michael is the supportive boyfriend, although why Alison refuses to marry him or even live with him could have used more explanation. Plus there was something about his first wife commiting suicide that never was explored, but used as a red herring of sorts to the "mystery". The two lesbian couples don't hide their lust for each other, playing with their kitties right in front of Alison. At least I remembered them for something. Charles is infatuated with animals and having birthday parties for his cat. He also seems to be the leader of the villains, which is great since he has the best personality of any of the characters. Then you got the police detectives who think Michael may be behind Alison's problems. Too bad the story was convoluted, the dialogue was overbearing, and the main plotline was trying to hard to shock people when it was really boring them. I couldn't buy anything here, sorry to say.

DIRECTION - Michael Winner has done some great stuff, like the first three DEATH WISH films. THE SENTINEL is nowhere close to any of these films. Winner has no idea how to tell this type of story, at least not in a subtle, scary way. First of all, there's no tension or suspense at all in this film when there really should be a lot. Loud noises and seeing strange visions aren't scary or creepy unless there's something leading up to them. Too much of the film relies on providing viewers with false facts and red herrings to build up the weak mystery. The final act where Hell is opened to scare Alison into suicide before she's convinced to become the new Sentinel should be thrilling and creepy. But there's no real reason tension or excitement to the scene. I just found it laughable and silly. There are some memorable visual moments though, like the weird birthday party for the cat and Alison seeing visions of her naked father and then killing him [at least in her mind]. But Winner can't hold the film together due to its off-pace and variation in tone and mood from one scene to another. Here was a chance to really improve on the weak script with some strong visuals. Unfortunately, you don't get that here at all.

EDGE FACTOR - While the language is pretty standard for a horror film, THE SENTINEL isn't a really violent film. While we do see people killing each other, most of it is either off-screen or hidden in shadow. And besides Beverly D'Angelo playing with herself, the film ain't all that sexy either.

ACTING - The acting from this all-star cast is probably the biggest reason to watch THE SENTINEL. Cristina Raines is okay as main character Alison. She's beautiful and likeable in the role, but I felt there should have been a stronger actress to conquer the role to give it more power. But Raines is decent. Chris Sarandon is cool as Michael. He doesn't really emote much because the script doesn't allow him to, but he makes the most of it. Burgess Meredith is probably the best actor as Charles. He's crazy, kooky, and just plain weird in a very charming way. I really enjoyed him here, wishing he had been in a more interesting film. Eli Wallach enjoyed chewing the scenery as Detective Gatz. Ava Gardner gave a campy performance as Miss Logan. And we get appearances by Sylvia Miles, Beverly D'Angelo, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Walken, Arthur Kennedy, Tom Beringer, Jerry Orbach, and John Carradine. Great cast and with some very good performances. Too bad they starred in a boring film called THE SENTINEL.

THE SENTINEL didn't knock my socks off. Yet, it's not the worst film out there, even if its message is a bit forced and the final act tries to shock but instead comes across as offensive. I recommend it only for the awesome cast and their attempt to make a weak script into something more, even though it doesn't really succeed. THE SENTINEL is average at best. It's a film that could have been very interesting and well told, but just comes across as mainly boring and wastes a terrific cast. And in my opinion, that's a huge sin in itself.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Brandon Vietti

Bruce Greenwood - Batman/Bruce Wayne
Jensen Ackles - Red Hood/Jason Todd
John DiMaggio - The Joker
Wade Williams - Black Mask
Neil Patrick Harris - Nightwing
Jason Issacs - Ra's Al Ghul
Jim Piddock - Alfred Pennyworth
Kelly Hu - Ms. Li

Genre - Action/Crime/Drama/Fantasy/Comic Book/Animated

Running Time - 76 Minutes

PLOT - Based on the the Batman story arcs, A Death in the Family and Under the Hood, the film begins with the second Robin, Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles), being brutally beaten by the Joker (John DiMaggio) in an abandoned warehouse. Batman (Bruce Greenwood), on his Batcycle, races to save Jason but is too late as the warehouse explodes and Jason is killed. This has haunted Batman for years, claiming that Jason's death is his greatest failure.

Five years have passed and Gotham City's crime world has been making some noise due to a masked vigilante calling himself the Red Hood, one of the monikers The Joker had used years back. Due to his ruthlessness, many drug lords decide to work with the Red Hood out of fear and respect. This new alliance doesn't sit well with Gotham City's kingpin of crime, Black Mask (Wade Williams), who decides to have a war with the Red Hood to prove his dominance.

Obviously, Batman gets involved and catches the ire of the Red Hood. However, Batman notices that Red Hood's fighting maneuvers are familiar. After a fight, Batman finds some of Red Hood's spilt blood and analyzes it. Batman is shocked to learn that the Red Hood is a resurrected Jason Todd, who wants revenge on The Joker.


STORY - BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD is an animated film that takes the major plot points of two of Batman's most historic story arcs, A Death in the Family and Under the Hood, and puts them together in a neat 76 minute package. A Death in the Family (1988 & 1989) is one of the biggest comic book stories of all time, dealing with the death of Jason Todd, who was the second person to use the Robin name after Dick Grayson had graduated into the hero, Nightwing. While well-liked in the beginning, Jason Todd lost his appeal after his origin was changed in the continuity revamp after Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986. DC Comics decided that it was make-or-break time by setting up a 1-900 number for fans to call in where they could decide whether Jason Todd would live or die. Even though there have been debates about the legitimacy of the votes [some claim the calls were rigged], the results showed that the fans wanted Todd dead at the hands of The Joker. This incident would effect Batman's life for years until 2005 where comic book writer and former The Real World: San Francisco star, Judd Winick [who also adapted his work for this film], brought Jason Todd back from the dead and turned him into the Red Hood. It was a very controversial move, with many fans feeling it was unnecessary to bring him back. Still the story was a big success and Winick was offered the opportunity to turn it into an animated feature.

Winick, already familiar with his own work, writes a very solid screenplay that showcases the most important moments of the two arcs. For a cartoon, BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD doesn't play for children, but rather adults who probably remembered the A Death in the Family and teenagers/younger adults who know Under the Hood. After all, the first scene deals with a teenager getting beaten to death by a crowbar with glee. A lot of the scenes carry some strong, intense writing that sometimes make you forget that you're watching an animated film. My favorite scene happened to be towards the end, where Jason sets up a situation where he tries to force Batman to kill the Joker for killing him and hurting others, questioning Batman as to why he hadn't done so already. The back-and-forth dialogue and the delivery of all parties involved really created tension and drama I appreciated. Scenes like this are sprinkled all over the film, bringing a much needed weight to the narrative.

I also liked the struggle internally between both Batman and Red Hood. Both beat the hell out of each other. Both debate about what's wrong or right. Both are trying to fight crime in Gotham, but doing it with different philosophies. It makes you question who's making the better choices when it comes to this crime filled city, as well with the Joker. Is Batman too old hat to change with the times and make some serious moves to clean up Gotham? Is Red Hood too violent in his approach that seems to actually change things? It's just classic stuff between two foils who have the same idea, but have different methods and beliefs in making it come to life. It's like Shakespeare sometimes, but with men dressed in costumes. I dug it.

I also thought the whodunit angle was handled quite well. Let's be honest: there is no mystery as to who the Red Hood is. From how it begins, it's quite obvious Jason Todd is using the alias to get closer to Batman and The Joker. This allows the film to focus less on the mystery and more on the characters and the action surrounding the narrative. There's no twist. There's no surprise. We know what's going on and it allows the viewer to be more invested in the actual plot. Smart move.

I also thought the characters were absolutely true to their comic counterparts. Batman is a smart detective who still has a soft spot for Jason. Even when he knows he's the Red Hood, he still wants to help him get back to who he was. He also has great banter with Dick Grayson/Nightwing that's actually pretty funny and showcases their relationship quite clearly. I also thought The Joker was maniacal as usual, beating up poor defenseless teenage sidekicks and enjoying the chaos around him, as well as the strained relationship between Red Hood and Batman. So true to his character. Black Mask, Ra's Al Ghul, and Nightwing were also cool additions, supporting the main players in the story well.

I do have issues with some of the screenplay, however. I think my major gripe is Winnick pretty much glossing over A Death in the Family, just giving the viewer pretty much the cliff notes version of that story while focusing mainly on the Under the Hood story. For comic book fans, this isn't an issue at all. Since I'm included in that, I already know the deal with Jason Todd, his death, and his resurrection at the hands of Ra's Al Ghul to make up for his alliance with The Joker at the time of Todd's death. Todd's relationship with Batman wasn't smooth sailing at times, which is seen in flashbacks thankfully - but I feel that their relationship should have more depth to really bring out the drama. And that's the problem - mainstream Batman fans who only know the character through television and film are going to be confused as to who Jason Todd is. On TV and in the movies, the Robin character have been portrayed mainly by Dick Grayson [1st Robin] and Tim Drake [3rd Robin]. The Jason Todd story has never been done in film form until now. I think the film should have taken the time to somehow reveal who Jason Todd was, his relationship with Batman, and why The Joker wanted to kill him. It would have made Batman's guilt and grief much more effective. Same goes with Jason's anger and frustration that Batman hadn't killed the Joker for what he did to him. Knowing the backstory with slightly more emphasis on the A Death in the Family arc would have helped viewers get an idea of who Jason Todd was and why he's so important in Batman's life. There wasn't enough of that.

Also, using more from A Death in the Family would have answered some questions for non-comic readers. Such as, why was Ra's Al Ghul working with the Joker and why did he regret doing so after Jason Todd's death? How did The Joker capture Jason Todd to begin with in order to murder him? It gets into the story a bit too quickly, leaving non-comic fans disoriented and confused as to why this is all going on.

Also, I felt like some of the character didn't get to do as much as they probably should have. Ra's Al Ghul's presence is just enough for viewers to understand why he's there and his scenes are quite effective. My main issue with with Black Mask, who has enough screen time to be a major antagonist like The Joker, but falls flat. He's there as merely a plot device - a gateway for Batman and Red Hood to confront The Joker again. Hell, Black Mask doesn't even confront Batman at all in this film, nor do we see him getting punished for his involvement in the whole mess. It's like he was forgotten when the climax set in. Also, I like the Nightwing character and wish he was in the film more. He's a pretty major presence in the first half, where you'd kind of expect him to battle Red Hood in the battle of the former Robins. But it never really happens. It would have been nice to see one fight between them and even their thoughts about each other. But at least they're in the film and it creates a nice universe that we would expect from a Batman film.

DIRECTION - Brandon Vietti does a great job with the visual portion of the film. The pacing is absolutely fantastic, as there's always action going on, making the film go by pretty fast. The action, itself, is visualized quite well and definitely feels like a comic book come to life. I liked the darker tone and atmosphere to the film, which reflects the actual story. It definitely looks like a more mature Batman: The Animated Series flick, as the characters look more realistic than they did in the actual cartoon series. I thought Vietti handled the film really nicely, even complimenting the storytelling with visual flair.

EDGE FACTOR - It's a Batman cartoon, so sexuality and language [there is some] isn't there. But BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD is a very violent film. There's blood, brutality, deaths by gunfire or explosions, and even realistic talk about drug smuggling. It's a very mature animated feature that young Batman fans shouldn't probably watch until they're 12 or 13 unless there's parent supervision. It's more in the tone of THE DARK KNIGHT rather than BATMAN & ROBIN.

ACTING - The voice acting is top notch. Bruce Greenwood does a very good job as Bruce Wayne/Batman, playing up to Batman's struggle between hero and vigilante. But I still prefer Kevin Conroy in the role. But Greenwood is a nice substitute. John DiMaggio isn't close to Mark Hamill's level as The Joker, as he sounds a bit too sane and normal for the character. He got better towards the end, as he was kind of rough for me in the beginning. I think he had a lot of pressure to live up to really, as Hamill is considered the best Joker to many Batman fans, so he felt like he had to come close to impersonating the voice rather than making it his own. He's not terrible in the slightest, but it's odd hearing the character's voice done by someone else. Jensen Ackles, by far, was the best voice actor as Red Hood. He gave the character a menace that was extremely believable. I thought he really shined here and stole every scene he did the voice acting for. Also nice to hear Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing and Kelly Hu as Ms. Li. Top notch voice acting for the most part.

I usually don't watch many animated films these days, but BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD may be the start to get me watching them again. It isn't the greatest Batman adaptation out there and it may confuse mainstream Batman fans. But the adaptation of two memorable comic story arcs wrapped in a 76 minute package is done really well and the movie is a solid comic book action-adventure that will please Batman fans for sure. I would definitely watch more of these comic book animated films and give you my thoughts on this blog when I do. I hope they're as good as BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD.

3.5 Howls Outta 4

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