[REC] (2007)

Juame Balaguero
Paco Plaza

Manuela Velasco - Angela Vidal
Ferran Terraza - Manu
Jorge-Yamam Serrano - Sergio
Pablo Rosso - Pablo
David Vert - Alex
Vicente Gil - Police Officer
Claudia Font - Jennifer

Genre - Horror/Found Footage/Virus/Zombies

Running Time - 76 Minutes

Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, Pablo (Pablo Rosso), are shooting an episode for a show that documents the night life in Spain. The segment being filmed this night is centered around the night shift of a local fire station to see their routines and film them in action during an emergency. While filming mundane things like playing basketball and eating at the dining hall, the fire station gets a call to an apartment building. Angela and Pablo join two firefighters (Ferran Terraza and David Vert) as they answer to the complaints of the tenants, who are complaining about a disturbed woman who may be have come down with a bad illness. Before they get any answers, the tenants infected with this illness begin attacking the others as outside personnel decide to quarantine the building to keep the virus from getting out.



- The simple narrative. [REC]'s strength comes from a really easy to understand story structure that's leaves you satisfied, even when the questions increase and the answers become more scarce. [REC] plays like your typical zombie film, isolating characters within a scenario where infected/dead people want to chew on their flesh without any sort of explanation behind it. Instead of revealing any sort of backstory for the characters, we learn about each one during the course of the film just by watching their behavior and the actions they make in order to understand and survive their situation. [REC] is a film that thrives on being "in the moment". It's a familiar structure that's probably pretty old at this point, but when it works, it works.

The story is extremely well told in its simplicity. In fact, [REC] is sprinkled with hints and clues as to what's going on, making us slap ourselves for not seeing things sooner. But even when we get the answer, it still leaves a lingering question that creates a layer of uncertainty and mystery to make us want to know more. Through the dialogue and the banter between the characters, which is quite funny at times, we learn a lot about the situation and what may have caused it without really realizing it at the time. [REC] is one of those films where repeated viewings may give you most of the pieces of the puzzle due to its subtle storytelling.

As for the cause of the virus outbreak, I feel [REC] does a better job at the reveal than its American remake, 2008's QUARANTINE, does. QUARANTINE's resolution is a bit more straightforward about what's happening, making the audience figure it out pretty much two-thirds into the film. It has more of a anti-government slant when it comes to the reveal, making the military personnel who quarantine the building really look like villains who know what's going on and are trying to cover their ass by making sure the virus outbreak is contained inside that building. The fact that they shoot and kill people who try to escape shows that they want no knowledge of this being released.

[REC] doesn't make the resolution that obvious. In fact, there's never a feeling that the film is trying to criticize the government or science at all. Unlike in QUARANTINE, the people behind the quarantine seem to be doing it at the best interests for everyone, even if they do know more than they're letting on. Everyone involved seem to be clueless as to what's going on and about how bad the situation truly is, creating a greatest feeling of tension and fear of the unknown. As to why the situation is happening to begin with, [REC] doesn't give a clear answer unlike in the remake. Is it a virus? Is it something more supernatural? Is it both? None? We're never really sure. Because of this, I feel [REC] has the much stronger ending even if both versions are pretty similar. The person Angela encounters at the very end of the film seems to have more of a place in [REC] than she does in QUARANTINE, making it more chilling.

- The acting. I think both [REC] and QUARANTINE has some really good acting, so it's really tough to say which film has the better actors because they bring different things to their respective roles. I think the acting in [REC] is a bit more effective, only because the actors are more unknown and truly give authentic performances that make you somewhat believe this is actually happening. Maneula Velasco is fantastic as Angela Vidal. Jennifer Carpenter did a good job in the remake, but Velasco is more believable as a reporter who wants a juicy story. She looks great on camera, she has a ton of personality, and I believe her when she pushes people around to capture footage and when she acts frightened by this situation she got herself trapped in. Sure she can come across as bitchy, but I can believe a journalist would behave that way to create a story people will want to see and talk about. I think in some ways, Carpenter tried a bit too hard at times while Velasco does it without a sweat. The other actors are all great as well, all contributing to sell this terrible scenario, but it's truly Velasco's show all the way. She carried the film very well.

- The direction. While the whole "found footage" deal in horror is a bit tired at this point, at least Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza use it in a way that proves it does have a place in the modern age of cinema. Using just a handheld camcorder, Balaguero and Plaza create a feeling of claustrophobia, dread, and uneasiness once our characters enter that apartment building. We see what these two directors want us to see, making the viewer an unwilling spectator to all this horror. The shaky cam can be a distraction to most people, but I think it works great here. It creates a lot of tension and anxiety for those scenes. Plus I thought the night vision at the end was a really nice touch, making what Angela sees more creepy than it would in normal light. Plus the use of scares [which still made me jump even though I knew when they were coming, having seen [REC] before] and gore [yum] aren't use all that much, making those moments more powerful. I think both Balaguero and Plaza did a solid job, as [REC] is really about what we see than the actual story itself. Top notch stuff.

- No opening credits or soundtrack. [REC] starts right away and doesn't let up until those end credits roll and acknowledge that this is indeed just a movie. I think the lack of title cards and opening credits create a realistic feeling that wouldn't be there if [REC] made it known that this was a professional film. As for the soundtrack, there is none. All we get are ambient sounds and dialogue, and it works amazingly.


- More sympathetic characters. Besides Angela and maybe Pablo, the other characters in the film don't get enough screen time to make the viewer really care about them all that much. Sure, most of these characters are there just to die, but if I cared about them more, their deaths would be more effective. I think one of the things QUARANTINE did better than [REC] was during the first act, where we got to know the two firefighter characters a bit, making what happens to them more tragic. In [REC], we don't really get that. I think the remake did this slightly better than the original.

While QUARANTINE is a good American remake, it doesn't top [REC]. This isn't because I prefer originals over remakes, which isn't always the case. It's because the story flows better and is more effective in [REC]. It's because the acting feels more real in [REC]. It's because the direction feels more authentic in [REC]. [REC] is just the superior movie, even though I believe both versions are worth watching just for comparison. Sure, [REC] isn't all that original and could be predictable at times. But Juame Balaguero and Paco Plaza get around that to create a pretty chilling film that all horror fans should definitely watch and possibly own. With [REC]2 already out and [REC]3: GENESIS and [REC]4: APOCALYPSE coming out in 2012 and 2013, the story doesn't seem to be ending any time soon.

3.5 Howls Outta 4


Batman (1989)

Tim Burton

Michael Keaton - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Jack Nicholson - Jack Napier/The Joker
Kim Basinger - Vicki Vale
Michael Gough - Alfred Pennyworth
Robert Wuhl - Alexander Knox
Tracey Walter - Bob
Jack Palance - Carl Grissom
Pat Hingle - Commissioner James Gordon
William Hootkins - Eckhardt
Jerry Hall - Alicia

Genre - Action/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time - 126 Minutes

Since everyone [including yours truly] is pretty excited about the upcoming THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, which will conclude the Christopher Nolan saga of The World's Greatest Detective, I figured it's time I took the time and watched the original 1989-1997 franchise based on one of the best comic book characters ever created, Batman. I will take a look at all the live-action adaptations [including a re-review of THE DARK KNIGHT] and maybe even discuss some of the animated feature films along the way as well. I already started with the campy 1966 film, BATMAN: THE MOVIE, as well as a recent animated flick, BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD. So it's time to really get serious and discuss the major franchise, before THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is released in June, by starting with the 1989 Tim Burton blockbuster, BATMAN.

BATMAN had a pretty rough pre-production and I'm surprised the film didn't come out worst for wearer because of it. The idea for a Batman film was conceived in 1979 after the massive success of Richard Donner's 1978's SUPERMAN: THE MOTION PICTURE starring Christopher Reeve in his iconic role. The issue at the time was the supposed tone of the film. By 1979, the comic book version of Batman was somewhat darker than the 1960s television version. Producers felt that this would confuse audiences, plus having the added pressure to capitalize on SUPERMAN, who was an All-American Hero type of character that lifted audience spirits. The idea was put in the back burner until 1982 with the release of SWAMP THING, another DC character that did well at the box office. Producers were now desperate to get this idea running, even trying to convince directors like Ivan Reitman, Robert Zemeckis, and even Joe Dante to direct the project.

The film project wouldn't gain hope until 1986, when DC comics had rebooted their brand and gave Batman a grittier character that had ever been seen. The graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns was a smash hit, depicting an older and broken Batman in a grim Gotham City. In 1988, the graphic novel called The Killing Joke was released to much success as well. The success of this darker tone gave producers and writers [Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren] hope that a live-action adaptation of a modern-day Batman would go over well with audiences. The final puzzle was complete when Warner Brothers, who owned the rights to the franchise, hired Tim Burton to direct following his successes with PEE WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and BEETLEJUICE. Things started to look bright.

Unfortunately, 1988 was a year of a devastating writer's strike. Since no writers working for any guild or union could work on rewrites for the completed screenplay, others had to be brought in and change certain aspects of what was believed to be a great screenplay. Dick Grayson, who was in the original version, was now taken out. Vicki Vale and Alexander Knox, who were supposed to die in the original version of the script, now survived for a happier ending. Other things were rewritten behind the original screenwriters' backs, causing much friction in the pre-production stage. Also, casting a comedic actor in Michael Keaton caused much controversy, as no one at the time could buy him as a dark character like Batman. This scared fans, as they were worried that BATMAN would be a campy film like the popular television show.

But there was no need to worry, as BATMAN was released in 1989 to some of the biggest marketing fanfare the world hadn't seen since probably the STAR WARS franchise years before. You couldn't get away from all the ad campaigns and publications eagerly awaiting the film. This was helped also by Tim Burton, who refused to release any promotional material until near the film's release, creating mystery and buzz over the project. The result was a $400 million-plus worldwide box office take, becoming the biggest film of 1989 and creating a franchise that's obviously continuing today. It proved naysayers wrong, as those who were expecting a campy version of the character got a big kick in the ass when the darker comic book version was unveiled and mega-successful to boot.

Gotham City, a gritty scene of sin and crime, is slowly being cleaned up by a mysterious man in black dressed up as a bat. No one knows who he is, where he comes from, or what his true agenda is. But Batman has quickly made a name for himself, scaring the criminal world and even the police force who are unsure what side he's on. Also many journalists, including Alexander Knox (Robert Wuhl) and photographer Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger), want to sensationalize Batman as Top News. Underneath the cape and cowl is millionaire Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton), who decided to become a vigilante crime fighter after the murder of his parents he had witnessed as a child. Armed with a multitude of gadgets and incredibly high-tech vehicles, Wayne plans on avenging his parents and making good on it.

During one mission, Batman attempts to stop Gotham City's crime lord, Carl Grissom (Jack Palance), reign by attacking his group of men at a chemical plant. In midst of the fight, Batman accidentally sends Grissom's "number one guy" Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) into a vat of toxic waste. Napier emerges from the chemicals with his skin pigmented ghost white, hair green, and a face permanently plastered as a sinister grin. Now calling himself The Joker, Napier kills Grissom to take over the criminal activities of Gotham. His plan is to poison the entire city with chemicals called Smilex, that cause its victims to laugh to death. While being insanely delighted by his new sense of power and second chance at life, Batman makes him a target. He soon realizes that he's met The Joker once before the accident...as a child.

I remember clear as day - June 23, 1989 - my eight-year-old self watching BATMAN in theaters on opening day with my cousins and friends. I always discuss how 1978's HALLOWEEN changed my life at a young age. Well BATMAN was really the second movie to really create an impact on me. I always liked the darker, grittier works of art and BATMAN was right up my alley. The costume design, the art direction, the colorful characters, the Batmobile - it all hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in love with BATMAN and probably watched it 4 or 5 times during its initial theater release. My mom even bought me the VHS home video the day it was released, which unfortunately was stolen years ago. But BATMAN opened my eyes to the comic book world, where I invested a lot of time in until really the end of High School in 1999 [even though I still catch up on what's going on thanks to the World Wide Web]. You couldn't escape Bat-mania. Action figures, video games [I still have the NES adaptation], and T-shirts [one of which I owned and wore proudly] were everywhere. It really was something amazing to an eight-year-old kid. I couldn't wrap myself around it. It was like BATMAN was larger than life itself.

I think the last time I had actually watched BATMAN in full was in 1995, right before the release of BATMAN FOREVER. I would only manage to see glimpses here and there on television since. Even after buying the DVD, I still didn't even bother to watch it. So checking it out again during Christmas weekend was really something. I still enjoy it immensely 22 years later, as it still manages to entertain and make its two hours feel like a breeze. But what I didn't notice as a kid was how flawed the actual screenplay was. So even though I thought it was a perfect film when I was younger, I can see now that it really isn't. Still, there's a lot to love about one of Tim Burton's better films in his massive filmography.

Like I mentioned earlier, the screenplay went through many massive rewrites - to the point where the final version of the film was nothing like the version that was greenlit for production. It really should have been more of a mess than what's presented on film, but what we do get is still pretty solid and manages to relate a narrative that's easy to understand on superficial levels, even if its depth isn't as deep as it should be given all the comic book and character history. So what works and what doesn't about BATMAN?

I think the best thing about BATMAN is really the dialogue. Even though I hadn't watched the film in 16 years, I was still able to recite the lines as if I had watched it yesterday. That's how powerful and memorable the dialogue is. Obviously, the villain gets all the best lines. The Joker is hilarious, whether he talks about Gotham City needing an enema, to pondering where Batman gets his wonderful toys, and to asking Bruce Wayne whether he's ever danced with the Devil in a pale moonlight. The Joker is dialogue king here. The other characters do get some nice dialogue as well, but The Joker is the one you remember at the end.

I also got to praise the structure of the narrative. It introduces Batman right away, creating the mystery about who he is and what his agenda may be. It also quickly sets up the villains, especially Jack Napier, eventually leading to his transformation as The Joker. We get the love story angle. We get the struggle with the dual identity bit. We see the full circle arc between Batman and Joker, who made each other who they are. It's a template many other comic book films have followed since because it actually works and creates suspense and tension a film like this should do. There are many subplots and unfortunately not all of them are developed as well as they should be, but that's sometimes a sacrifice a filmmaker has to make in order to keep the story going and the pace fast. Things are easy to follow and the structure keeps the entertainment value high as the film never gets boring. A bit superficial, sure. But at least you're having fun with it.

And while not all the characters get great development, at least The Joker's character is amazingly written. Even though the film is called BATMAN, this film is really about The Joker [unfortunately a majority of this franchise has had more interesting villains than the heroes]. Even though his mission to poison Gotham City is a bit flawed and not really logical in a business sense, The Joker shows a ton of personality that really evolves once he emerges from that acid vat. From murdering Bruce Wayne's parents [which I will get into a bit later], to being Carl Grissom's "Number One Guy" [which he passes onto his henchman, Bob], to scarring his girlfriend Alicia, to vandalizing art, and to creating a chemical called Smilex that makes his victims laugh to death - The Joker is a pretty busy guy and does everything he can with a lot of style. He'll fry a man with a hand buzzer. He'll shoot the Batwing down with a gun who's barrel is probably 2 feet long. He'll squirt acid in people's faces from the flower on his purple jacket. He's sarcastic. He's insane. He's demented. He's vicious. The Joker is one of the best villains ever created period. The man has no conscious and is more than willing to laugh about it. The writers did a great job bringing this character to life and having the perfect actor at the time to portray him. He's a ham, but he's a ham you can embrace and enjoy as a personality.

Unfortunately, the other characters get the shaft because the film focuses more on The Joker and his activities above anyone else. Especially with Bruce Wayne/Batman, who never feels like the star of his own film at all. I think a flaw in the screenplay was not making BATMAN an origin story because we barely know this guy is. Maybe that's the point because he struggles with that issue at all. But the audience shouldn't have to experience that as well. That's why 2005's BATMAN BEGINS works so well - it allows the audience to watch Bruce Wayne grow from victim to vigilante in a believable way where he's build up and developed enough for the audience to embrace him as their hero. Sure, we get Bruce's parents getting killed in a short flashback to set up his motivations, but it really isn't enough to give him a personality. Unless you're a fan of the comic books, which this film really caters to, you'll be wondering why Bruce chose a bat as his animal of choice, how he learned to fight so well as he does, and how he manages to have so many cool gadgets at hand. Just because he's a millionaire doesn't mean he knows how to make that stuff. So his backstory would have fleshed out Bruce greatly. That's the reason why I have no major issue with the fact that Napier was chosen as the killer over the original murderer, Joe Cool. At least it connects Wayne to Napier as much as it connects Batman to The Joker. It gives Batman a story arc that we can buy and that's why we want him to get vengeance on the man who, without reason, murdered his parents. Plus he has cool cars, an awesome costume, and a bad ass attitude towards crime. But other than that, what else is there?

Same goes with Vicki Vale, who is really inserted into the story because every superhero narrative needs a love interest. But we barely know anything about her other than she takes photos, sleeps with men on the first date, and is very attractive to men with mental issues. The fact that Batman is so quickly thinking about telling Vicki his secret identity still makes me scratch my head. The fact that The Joker wants to fight Bruce Wayne for her comes out of nowhere, unless the official reason for the fight is because Vicki's a hot piece of ass. And don't get me started on Alfred actually LETTING her walk into the Batcave! What makes this woman so damn special? And why didn't Bruce bat [no pun intended] an eye to that anyway? Even the screenwriters thought that was a terrible idea.

Also there's the issue of convenience that BATMAN tends to have. For example, the Batwing has a pair of shears on the front of the craft. Did Batman really know The Joker was gonna hold a parade full of toxic filled balloon floats? Speaking of The Joker, how did he just happen to keep a long ass gun powerful enough with one shot to shoot down The Batwing? He never seen the craft before that moment! Plus, the people of Gotham were willing to celebrate The Joker's parade, even though he attempted to murder them with Smilex! I guess when Alexander Knox mentioned their greed, he wasn't kidding! There's more of these moments that I never really noticed before, making the film not only a head scratcher, but pretty funny at times too.

The soundtrack to BATMAN is still pretty solid after all these years. Danny Elfman's score is still one of his best ever, really creating an epic heroic feast for the ears. It was so good that it was even used for Batman: The Animated Series. Whenever I think of a Batman movie, Elfman's score always comes to mind. The Prince songs are also pretty cool, even though they do date the film pretty immensely. I think the songs do overstay their welcome at times, but I can't knock the music since it isn't terrible. I still dig the Prince soundtrack today, so it works for me. I think the music in general really creates an atmosphere and mood of the time. And who doesn't enjoy The Joker dancing to "Partyman"?

The special effects, while also a bit dated, are still pretty cool after all these years. There's obvious stop-motion animation, especially when The Batmobile shields itself into a cocoon. Plus there's some green screen that isn't hard to see, especially when people fall from large heights. Still, the costume design and art direction is fantastic. Gotham City looks like a really messed up version of New York City [even with a former Mayor Ed Koch look-a-like], which is what it should look like. The Batman costume looks awesome and they got The Joker look right with the white paint, green hair, red smile, and purple outfit. And the Batmobile and Batwing look awesome [I still prefer these over The Tumbler]. It's everything you would envision a Batman movie to look like.

The direction by Tim Burton is very good. While an odd choice to direct this film, since he wasn't really a fan of the character until he read The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, I think he was a great choice to start the franchise on a good note. Burton is a director who's more about style over substance, more focused on making Gotham City feel grim, gritty, and all-around dangerous. Burton's vision of Batman's world is visually impressive, as he creates a sort of film noir atmosphere but done for the 1980s. If Vicki Vale was a femme fatale character, BATMAN would fit right into the noir genre. In fact, Burton makes Gotham City a character on its own, which is just perfect. The film moves at a quick pace due to constant scene shifts, action sequences, and tight editing. I love the Smilex commercial. That could have been a short film on its own. The only real issue with Burton's direction, however, is that he doesn't really know how to direct action. While it's not bad at all, the fight choreography looks stilted and forced. Plus the editing during these scenes tend to cut away to something else. It's not Burton's strong suit, but it's adequate at best. I think his direction on BATMAN RETURNS is much better, but for his first big blockbuster Burton does a great job.

The acting is very good as well. Michael Keaton got a lot of heat for being cast as Batman, but to be honest with you, he's the best actor to play the role. For a while, I thought it was Christian Bale, but Keaton just pulls off the presence more naturally than Bale does. His Bruce Wayne comes across as conflicted and mysterious. He may not be the most handsome actor or look like a guy who can kick people's asses, but he brings a quiet intensity that gives dimension to the role. His Batman is pretty darn good as well, not needing a raspy voice to pull off the difference between the two roles. It was an inspired choice by Tim Burton and I think he made the right one.

Jack Nicholson is just phenomenal as Jack Napier/The Joker. Until Heath Ledger came along in 2008, he was the best live-action version of the character [Mark Hamill is still tops for the animated stuff though]. No one was more perfect at the time to play this role. Nicholson thrives on playing unhinged characters with glee, turning The Joker into a character you could both laugh at and laugh with as he destroyed people's lives just because he wanted to. Nicholson chews the scenery every time he's on screen, stealing the spotlight from all his co-stars and rubbing it in their faces. He has the most developed character, the best dialogue, and the most screen time - never once taking advantage that he could have just sat on his $6 million paycheck [which eventually turned into $50 million due to merchandise and box office receipts] and not bring anything to the table. You can tell Nicholson is having an incredible time in the role, which makes it fun for us to watch him. He's the star of the film without a shadow of a doubt.

Kim Basinger is decent as Vicki Vale. She doesn't really have much to do but take photos and act scared. The screaming got a bit irritating after a while, but it doesn't happen too often. Sean Young was originally supposed to play the character, but got injured in a horse-riding accident. Basinger was a very last-minute replacement and does what the script wants her to do. Michael Gough is understated as Alfred. He's a great actor and pulls off the character perfectly. Robert Wuhl is good as Alexander Knox, bringing some nice needed comedy to the film. Jack Palance resurrected his career as Carl Grissom, being as cool as ever. Tracey Walter is great as Bob, The Joker's "Number One Guy". His exit is very funny. Pat Hingle doesn't get to do much as Commissioner Gordon, but he's decent in his short amount of time. A very cool cast for a very cool comic book movie.


- Alicia is having an affair with Jack Napier behind Carl Grissom's back. Judging by her most famous relationship, I'm thinking Jack has "Moves Like Jagger".

- Jack is Grissom's "Number One Guy". I heard R. Kelly tell someone this as well, but I think the meaning was disgustingly different.

- "Eckhardt, think about the future!" Judging by his poor diet and sinful behavior, his future was all of 5 minutes.

- The plastic surgeon was disturbed by his work on The Joker's face. Not like his work on Joan Rivers was any better!

- Never double cross The Joker. All the push-ups in the world won't make you bulletproof.

- Both Batman and The Joker have an interest in Vicki Vale. She's too much trouble. You'll end up marrying her, having children, getting a bitter divorce, calling your children "pigs", and end up getting kick off an airplane for playing Words With Friends. It's not worth getting your Schwedy Balls busted over.

- Batman destroyed a building by dropping explosive balls from the Batmobile. Just like Justin Beiber destroying pop culture once his balls dropped.

Besides a slight weakness in its screenplay, BATMAN is a great comic book adaptation at a time where it was rare and not all that optimistic for a live-action movie about a comic book character to be possibly good. It's got great acting [Jack Nicholson tops everyone], cool direction by Tim Burton, and a narrative that does justice to the Batman character even if it is flawed. If it wasn't for its high entertainment value all these years later and still managing to hold up better than I thought it would, BATMAN would have received a lower score. Not my favorite of the original four live-action films [that would be BATMAN RETURNS], but still a solid entry in the superhero genre and a precursor of things to come. Shine that Bat Signal proudly because BATMAN is still a blast to watch.

3.5 Howls Outta 4





Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Martin Kitrosser

Jane Higginson - Sarah Quinn
William Thorne - Derek Quinn
Mickey Rooney - Joe Petto
Tracy Fraim - Noah Adams
Brian Bremer - Pino Petto
Neith Hunter - Kim Levitt
Conan Yunza - Lonnie
Zoe Yunza - Brandy
Eric Welch - Buck
Van Quattro - Tom Quinn

Genre - Horror/Holiday/Mad Scientist/Killer Toys

Running Time - 90 Minutes

Out of all the horror franchises out there, the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT series has to be the most unique one of them all. The first one dealt with some traumatized kid, named Billy, who punished the naughty while dressed up as his biggest nightmare, Santa Claus. The second film dealt with the younger brother of the traumatized kid, Ricky, picking up where he left off and killing people while shouting "Garbage Day!". Hell, Ricky had flashbacks of things he had no right having [since he was just a baby and wasn't even there when the events of the first film were taking place]. The third film continues Ricky story, only this time he has a punch bowl on his head and wants to murder a psychic blind chick. And let's not even get into the fourth film, which steered away from anything Billy or Ricky related. Instead, it was about man-hating witches who got off on worms and cockroaches while not caring much about the Christmas spirit.

So what's next? Deadly toys? Kids watching their parents and babysitters have sex? A robot who's bitter because he doesn't have a penis? An abusive Mickey Rooney?

Wait...SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER does have all of the above? Oh. Well, let's get to the review then...

Man, this franchise is messed up.

One night, a young boy named Derek (William Thorne) wakes up hearing his parents Sarah (Jane Higginson) and Tom (Van Quattro) having sex. Probably disturbed, Derek sneaks downstairs and opens the front door after the doorbell rings. He finds a present on the doorstep addressed to him, with a note saying not to open until Christmas. Derek, being a kid, refuses to listen and begins opening it. But Tom stops him and yells at Derek for being awake, sending him back to bed. Being a great dad, Tom decides he'll open the present himself. He finds a ball with decorations of Santa Claus on it. It doesn't seem like much at first, but once the ball releases strands of rope from the sides and begins to wrap itself around Tom's head, he panics and ends up fatally impaling himself on a fireplace poker. Derek watched the entire scene, now traumatized by his father's death as Sarah freaks out.

Weeks pass and Sarah tries to make Derek, who is now mute due to trauma, feel better about what he had seen. She takes him to local toy store, run by Joe Petto (Mickey Rooney), who seems to have a lot of history in their neighborhood. Even Joe's creepy son, Pino (Brian Bremer), tries to force a toy larvae on Derek, who refuses it. More creepy is another visitor to the store, Noah (Tracy Fraim), who can't stop staring at both Sarah and Derek for some reason from afar. Sarah and Derek leave empty handed, but Noah buys the toy larvae and is suspicious about this toy store for some reason. Noah begins destroying the toys he's bought from Joe Petto's store, trying to see if there's anything strange about them. However, his research is paused by his landlord who is ready to evict Noah for late rent payments. Noah doesn't have enough money, but convinces the landlord for an extension by giving him the toy larvae. Unfortunately the extension is permanent as the larvae comes to life and kills the landlord.

Meanwhile, Derek receives another anonymous present on his doorstep. Wanting none of it, he tosses it out in the trash. His neighbor Lonnie (Conan Yunza) takes it for himself. Seeing that they're roller blades, Lonnie tries them out. Too bad they're laced with rockets, sending Lonnie into an oncoming car. Derek realizes that someone is targeting him with these gifts, potentially making this holiday season both silent and deadly.

It's really funny how SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER is the last installment in this franchise. While SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 is a 'great' film because it's so bad and cheesy, THE TOY MAKER is honestly the best sequel due to quality and competence. I'm not saying it's the best horror film out there or that it demands to be watched every December. But it's a whole lot better than both the third and fourth installments and has the most Christmas-y feel since the original.

THE TOY MAKER's odd, but watchable, narrative [written by Martin Kitrosser and Brian Yunza] is based on several sources that are familiar to many people. The big one is obviously the killer toy aspect of the story. I'm really surprised someone in this franchise didn't tackle this sooner, since it actually makes a whole lot of sense. The Christmas season is the biggest and stronger season for toy makers, due to children demanding them from stressed out parents. So having killer toys traumatize children and unsuspecting adults in a Christmas horror movie seems like the perfect fit. Also by the time this movie was released to home video, horror was pretty big on this horror aspect anyway. After all, 1988's CHILD'S PLAY turned Chucky the Doll into a pop culture phenomenon, which helped bring about other films like 1989's PUPPET MASTER and brought more attention to 1987's DOLLS. It's also handled pretty well in the story as well, as these toys don't appear much until the end really, which helps make these scenes more effective. These toys are not the coolest or the most inventive, but they fit within the context of the story quite well and help create a decent mystery that's pretty obvious to figure out.

The other part of the narrative is the story of Joe Petto and his son Pino. Now if you know your fairy tales and children stories, you should realize what's going on here. THE TOY MAKER is pretty much Pinocchio but more evil and during Christmas time. Joe enjoys making toys, mainly as a way to deal with the fact that he lost a child years ago and these creations are like his own children. His son Pino is pretty strange and kooky, as if trying hard to gain the attention of his father in vain. Pino pushes toys on customers. He invades people's homes. He wants a mommy to hump and love [not kidding]. Pino is a troubled young man who doesn't feel like a real boy because his drunk abusive father puts him down and is missing a certain things that would make him feel complete. It's an interesting subplot to use, but it actually works here. Sure, it sort of gives away who is behind the deadly toys deal, but it's interesting to watch and is told well enough to be watchable and intriguing.

Even though the subplots are pretty strong, the narrative still is still too shallow to mean much of anything at the end of it all. It doesn't really help that the characters don't have much depth to them or are all that likeable really. Derek isn't too bad since usually child characters can be really annoying. But Derek doesn't speak at all for much of the film and just stares and sort of acts scared, I guess. His trauma is understandable, so we can kind of feel for him. But he isn't someone I would necessarily root for. Sarah, on the other hand, is a terrible mother and wife. She has sex with her door slightly open, knowing her son could just open the door and watch in horror. When her husband is murdered, we barely see her grieve or care that he's gone. When Noah reappears, who happens to be an important figure in Sarah's life [and unknowingly for Derek as well], she has sex with him in a parking lot the moment she sees him. Then when her son and/or Noah is in trouble, she takes her time helping them out. I had no sympathy for this woman at all. Noah isn't in the film enough to care about. He comes across as creepy and sneaky, then suddenly turns heroic at the end? The only interesting characters are Pino and Joe Petto. They are the only ones who have an aura of mystery about them. They're the only ones who also do things that are memorable in the story. It's one of those screenplays that should have interesting characters, but are written flat for whatever reason. They all seemed autistic because they all lived in their own world and didn't react much to anything. How am I supposed to believe characters like that?

Also we get unexpected cameos from Kim, Lonnie, and Ricky from SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION. I guess this is to tie this installment to the last one, but it just ends up confusing me more. For one, Ricky was killed off in the last film, but is totally fine here. Does this film take place before part 4? But that can't be possible because Kim is taking care of Lonnie due to the aftermath of the last film. And why is Lonnie such a prick all of a sudden? I guess it's a cool nod to fans of the last film, but these characters really don't need to be in this film because they don't add anything at all but fan service [are there any fans of INITIATION out there?].

Also, the toys end up killing characters who are barely in the film to begin with. I'll get to the actual special effects and death scenes soon enough, but it's pretty pointless and not all that effective to your story having people who are barely in the film for five minutes get murdered when you have characters with larger screen time ready to be cannon fodder. Not once did I ever feel that any of the main characters were in any sort of threatening situation. The closest one is Lonnie, but even he survives quite easily. I feel it was a lost opportunity really to create tension for the narrative.

I will say that the ending was actually pretty good and very weird, but in a cool way. The twist was actually presented well and I believed it, even if it was pretty bizarre. I wish I could give away a certain scene that really made me laugh, but it involved dry humping without the necessary anatomy parts. I thought the aftermath was solid and quite twisted, which I enjoyed.

The special effects by Screaming Mad George are well done. I thought some of the toys were pretty cool. The Santa Sphere that suffocated whoever played with it was a fun one. I thought the larvae that crawled through people's mouths and then ate out their eyes was sweet. The toy soldiers firing real rounds were fun to watch. I will say the hand that enjoyed fingering men's butts was a bit odd, especially when said man enjoyed it and wanted more of it while humping his girlfriend. They weren't the greatest or most original special effects out there. But for a low budget, they worked and they were presented on screen well. I wish there was more gore to really add to the damage, but what can you do?

The direction by Martin Kitrosser is decent. There's not much style to the visual presentation really, but it's competent enough to tell the story well. The final act has some decent tension, even if the film isn't all that gory or scary. The death sequences are shot well. The editing is decent. Honestly, I can't really complain about the direction for THE TOY MAKER. It's not all that impressive, but I've seen a lot worse. It gets the job done and that's all I can ask for.

The acting was surprisingly decent, even if the characters weren't written all that well. Mickey Rooney out-acts everyone here as Joe Petto. He charms as the kind old man who enjoys making toys for children. He's also pretty hilarious and convincing as the sinister father who doesn't mind getting drunk and beating on his son, Pino. Ironically, he was one of the bigger opponents of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT's release back in 1984, calling the film immoral and a disgrace to the holiday season. I guess those checks dried up there, eh Mickey? Hypocrite.

The other actors are okay. Brian Bremer was good as Pino, giving off a very creepy and bizarre performance that I actually dug. William Thorne was okay as Derek. He really didn't do all that much but stare into space and watch his co-stars have sex. I guess that's not a bad way to spend on set. Jane Higginson was good as Sarah, even though I disliked her character. Tracy Fraim was also good as Noah, pulling off both creep and hero decently. We also have cameos from Neith Hunter as Kim and Conan Yuzna as Lonnie. Neither one added much really but weren't too terrible.


- Tom opened one of Derek's presents that resembled a Pokeball that ended up smothering him. Who knew Death was the 494th Pokemon? Oh well...gotta catch 'em all!

- "It was perfectly natural for a child to stop speaking after a traumatic experience." If only someone had traumatized Justin Beiber years ago...

- Joe has been disappointed in his son, Pino, constantly yelling at him and putting him down. Looks like Joe needs to send Pino to BOYS TOWN to learn how to be a good son.

- Some dude got choked out by a giant toy larvae that invaded his mouth and crawled out of his eye sockets. Now he knows how Pamela Anderson felt all those years being married to Tommy Lee. Or so I assume...

- Pino tried to drag Noah through a trap door inside the backroom of the toy store. Pino must have learned that tactic from Joe during Joe's days at AMBUSH BAY.

- A girl who looked about thirteen-years-old stood in line for Santa, eagerly sitting on his lap. She doesn't believe in Santa Claus. She just has a grandpa fetish.

- Pino rushed out of Sarah's closet, scaring her and Derek. Michelle Bachmann's husband did the same thing during their first date, but she still married him anyway.

- Lonnie got hit by a car due to a pair of jet-powered roller blades that went out of control. Who was he kidding? Only Tootie could handle skates like that. Just The Facts of Life, guys.

- Derek spotted his babysitter screwing her boyfriend in his bed. This kid knows more about Dick Chaney meeting multiple times with George W. Bush than he does the birds and the bees.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOY MAKER is bizarre and unintentionally funny at times, but still manages to be a pretty watchable sequel. The acting is okay, the direction is competent, and there are some interesting moments that will stick in your brain whether you want them to or not. Plus watching Mickey Rooney's hypocrite ass get drunk and push his movie son around is always fun. THE TOY MAKER happens to be a highlight in an otherwise uneventful holiday horror franchise. I say watch the first two and then this one. They are the only three films Santa would want you to watch anyway. And if you watch SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III and 4, just expect a toy hand fingering your prostate. Just sayin'. Happy Holidays everyone!

2.5 Howls Outta 4


Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation (1990)

Brian Yuzna

Clint Howard - Ricky
Neith Hunter - Kim
Tommy Hinkley - Hank
Reggie Bannister - Eli
Allyce Beasley - Janice
Maud Adams - Fima

Genre - Horror/Holiday/Supernatural/Witchcraft

Running Time - 85 Minutes

Well it's that time of year again and I want to wish everyone who celebrates, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! And since it's less than a week away, I might as well complete a Christmas horror franchise I started reviewing back in 2008 - 1984's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT. Oh yes...that controversial slasher film that got parents up in arms over its depiction of a less-than-friendly Santa Claus, when in reality it was your typical holiday slasher film that got more hype than it probably should have. Because of the success of the film, we were treated to a sequel several years later that has gain quite a life of its own.

1987's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 is one of the worst films ever made. The first half of the film is just footage from the first film told by the brother of the main character in the original, even though he wouldn't have been old enough or aware of what had taken place during that movie! But when you have a classic moment like Eric 'Eyebrow Wiggler' Freeman yelling out "Garbage Day!" before shooting someone, you can't help but love that flick. It's one of the guiltiest pleasures in cinema history.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 wasn't a box office success, which led the next several sequels to be released straight to home video. The first of three, 1989's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT III: BETTER WATCH OUT! was a dull continuation of the Ricky Caldwell story that just happened to be one of the worst slasher films I have ever witnessed. I mean a mute Bill Moseley slow stalking a blind chick while wearing a punch bowl on his head? Not my idea of a good, scary time.

So I had a lot of hope when it came to 1990's SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION [a.k.a. BUGS]. Haven't never seen this film before this weekend, I was wishing it would at least be an improvement over the insomnia curing third installment. And while INITIATION is better than BETTER WATCH OUT!, it's still a terrible film like many of my friends claimed it was. But at least it's interestingly terrible...

A homeless dude (Clint Howard) named Ricky watches a woman leap off of a roof to her death while she was in flames. This obviously becomes local news, where the idea of spontaneous human combustion is discussed. The story catches the attention of Kim (Neith Hunter), who works at the local newspaper with her reporter boyfriend, Hank (Tommy Hinkley). Kim wants to do a story based on what happened, but her boss (Reggie Bannister) decides to give it to Hank instead due to the fact that Kim is a woman and works at the Classifieds section. Kim is obviously ticked off by this and decides to handle the investigation on her own.

Kim's research finds her in front of Fima (Maud Adams), who owns a book store that just so happens to be underneath the roof where the dead woman fell off of. Ricky also happens to be around this bookstore with a special interest in Kim. Fima is also interested in Kim, kissing her inappropriately and making her hang out with her friends - who happen to be witches. Soon enough, Kim is traumatized by visions of Pagan rituals and bugs. A whole lot of bugs. Yeah.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION is one of those films I have trouble really discussing about. While it's refreshing that it strays away from previous films in the franchise [sort of like HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH did after the first two HALLOWEEN movies], it's still a bad film with interesting ideas that don't mix well together for several reasons. While I was somewhat entertained by HALLOWEEN III, I honestly can't say the same for INITIATION.

The film's failure is surprising due to the fact that it was co-written and directed by Brian Yuzna, a cult figure in horror who's done some interesting work in films such as THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III, THE BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, and SOCIETY. While his trademark 'body horror' is here [which I will get into later], it doesn't manage to save a severely confusing and messy script. Written by Yunza, Woody Keith, Arthur Gorson, and S.J. Smith, the screenplay seems to be many things at once, but can't focus on any of them to present a cohesive story. For one, the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT title is pretty misleading. The film has nothing to do with the other installments, which isn't a terrible thing. But when you name a character 'Ricky' in this film and you're not sure if he's connected to Ricky Caldwell in any way, that's a problem. It doesn't seem like he is, but you never know in these movies. Also, the film "takes place" on Christmas but doesn't deal with killer Santas or anything like that. Honestly, this film could have taken place on July 4th and it wouldn't have changed a thing.

Also, the attempt to write a film based on witches is a solid idea. But when there's not enough explanation about this coven or their motives. In fact, their motives were so blurred that I had no idea what they were really trying to do by the end of the film. Now I understand they wanted to replace the victim, who was part of their coven, for personal reasons that I won't spoil. But it didn't make sense why they wanted to bring that person back in Kim if the real person couldn't handle the power given to her. Why makes Kim so special? Also, the coven had to drug Kim in order to get this going. If anyone knows anything about the occult, you can't be forced into something. If you don't go in willingly in some way, shape, or form, your magical plan isn't going to happen. Witchcraft and covens don't really work that way. Another thing, why did these witches have to hate men? There's no real explanation as to why they want to have men murdered or sacrificed, except for Ricky who seems to be a slave for this coven. If they're a group of lesbians, then hey - that's cool with me. But they spout man hate whenever the topic is brought up without saying why. What does that have to do with the girl burning in flames and jumping off of a roof?

I won't be completely harsh on these men hating women, because the men in this film are pretty misogynistic as well. First we have Kim's boss, Eli. who sees her below any of the men working at the newspaper. When she begs to do the story about the dead roof girl, she's pretty much ignored and dismissed right away. When her boyfriend accepts the story, he never bothers to fight for Kim's honor or convince Eli to change his mind. Speaking of Hank, his father also puts down not only Kim, but Hanks' mother as well. When Hank's dad is disgusted that Kim is Jewish and unable to celebrate Christmas, he starts spouting out that women belong at the home and doing feminine things while the men do the real work. In fact, even the witches are weak. For them to summon the Goddess, Lilith, they need to sacrifice a man. They also need Ricky to rape Kim in order for her to possess Lilith's power if she's the perfect shell. The story contradicts its message by doing that alone. Not a female empowering film at all.

Also, things just happen for the sake of happening without any sort of set up or explanation as to why. The scenarios are just as shallow as the characters in the film. I honestly didn't care about any one of them. All the male characters are there to be there and they don't add a thing to the film. The women all have motivations and aren't passive, which is great for a character on paper. But when you know nothing about him personality wise, what's the point? Even Kim, our main character, comes off bland. She seemed like such a strong, passionate character in the beginning. But once Fima gets her hands on her, it all goes to hell. She becomes the stereotypical weak victim that becomes more annoying as the film rolls on. It's sad when Hank, a character that doesn't add much to the plot at all except play the boyfriend role, gets more of a backstory through his family than our main character does. Kim did nothing for me. Actually, none of these characters did. Ricky is okay only because he's weird, so he stands out. But other than that, the characters aren't worth mentioning due to lack of depth.

Even though the screenplay is a muddled mess of subplots that don't get enough time to mean anything substantial, at least I respect the attempt to create something different for this franchise. Sure, it's still a terrible story that not many people will want to watch again. But I would be more bitter about INITIATION if it were just another bad slasher film like BETTER WATCH OUT! was. So yeah, INITIATION is a craptastic sequel, but at least it kept my interest and it was different. So it gets some points for that.

The highlight of the film, without a doubt, are the special effects. Knowing this is a Brian Yunza film, you know the film is going to have some disturbing 'body horror'. And for a low-budget flick, the effects for the creatures are pretty darn good. The giant larvae that constantly make an appearance are pretty disgusting. When one crawls into a woman's vagina and we watch it crawl through her body until it exits her mouth, it leaves you pretty disturbed. The giant cockroach was another disturbing creature, as I dislike roaches to begin with. But to see a giant one amongst its regular-sized brethren is just creepy as hell. Unfortunately, we don't see enough of these effects in the film. But I can't complaint about this aspect of the film at all. It's probably the most memorable thing about SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION.

Brian Yunza's direction isn't terrible either. Yunza puts in a ton of mood and atmosphere into this film, creating a creepier vibe than any of the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT films. The pacing isn't too terrible, even if the film is a bit dull, and the scenes with the creatures and members of the coven attacking Kim aren't badly visualized. Even certain scenes have a nice bit of tension and suspense. I do think the direction could have helped make the script less confusing and help tell the story better than the text actually did. But it's pretty much a point-and-shoot deal and not much style, except during the trippier scenes [like Clint Howard sporting A CLOCKWORK ORANGE mask in a rape moment]. Honestly, the film could have used more of those. At least it wouldn't have turned out as boring as the film sadly becomes. Yunza does better work in his other films, but it's not all that terrible here.

The acting is pretty bland here. It's not like these actors are horrible, but they don't make much of an impression. Neith Hunter as Kim is consistent. At times she's good. At others, she comes across as unconvincing and fake. Her character wasn't that great and if she were a better actor, I think I would have enjoyed her story arc more. Maud Adams, former Bond Girl from 1983's OCTOPUSSY, looks bored as Fima. Reggie Bannister is barely in the film as Eli, but at least he makes the most of his limited screen time. The only one who does anything noteworthy is Clint Howard as Ricky. He comes across as strange and mysterious, which is the opposite of what anyone else in the cast tries to present. I have always liked Howard, especially when he's quirky, so I liked him here as well. I've seen worse actors, but not even this cast could overcome a confused script.


- Some chick exploded into flames as she jumped off of the roof. The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire - we don't need no water...let the motherfucker burn!

- Kim and Hank were having sex while the news was on television. If they'd have seen KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, they'd know it's a bad idea.

- "The butcher thinks all women are hookers." Pretty ironic when people are paying him for his meat...

- "Fuck the attitude. Fuck the job. Fuck you." Spoken like a true member of the 99%.

- Kim got penetrated by a giant larva that entered her vagina and crawled out of her mouth. She also got the larva's goo splattered all over her face. It's like having sex with Jeff Goldblum in THE FLY, but without the regurgitation.

- Ricky raped Kim wearing a mask with a long pointed nose. While it's pretty messed up, some droogs out there would sickly appreciated this act of ultraviolence.

While it's better than the atrocious SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!, SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: INITIATION is still a weak installment in the franchise. If the special effects weren't cool, the direction decent, and some of the acting watchable, this film would have been higher on my Naughty List. But while the story doesn't make a lick of sense and is too shallow for its own good, at least it's a different kind of Christmas movie that I don't believe has been attempted since. So INITIATION at least gets a candy cane in its stocking for that. Otherwise, this film is not mandatory viewing around the holidays and are only for those who want to see every film in the franchise. If you don't care either way, don't bother. You're not missing anything special unless you have a fetish for man-hating witches and disgusting bugs.

1.5 Howls Outta 4


Warlock (1989)

Steve Miner

Julian Sands - The Warlock
Richard E. Grant - Giles Redferne

Lori Singer - Kassandra

Mary Woronov - Medium

Kevin O'Brien - Chaz

Genre - Horror/Action/Witchcraft

Running Time - 103 Minutes

It's been a while since I discussed a film about the concept of witchcraft. Actually, the last time I did was for THE CRAFT and that was back in September of last year! It's surprising since I really enjoy stories involving witches and magic. But I tend to never spotlight many of these films on my blog.

But that changes with this post, as I finally get to review one of my guilty pleasure films of the 1980s/1990s: WARLOCK. I hadn't watched this film since I was a kid, but watching it years after the fact reminded me why I enjoy this Steve Miner flick so much. Sure it's not perfect and it's pretty hokey at times, but it's solid entertainment from beginning to end.

In a rural village in 1691, we're introduced to a man (Julian Sands) in shackles, kept in a tower prior to his intended execution. The townspeople believe him to be a sinister Warlock, wanting to punish him for his crimes against God. A witch hunter named Giles Redferne (Richard E. Grant) is in charge of his sentence, but wonders why the Warlock is so calm. Suddenly a storm hits and Giles sees the Warlock disappearing before his very eyes through a weird portal. Wanting justice, Giles follows suit through the portal.

Both end up landing in modern day America. The Warlock is found first, flying through a window into the home of Kassandra (Lori Singer) and her roommate Chaz (Kevin O'Brien). When Kassandra is at work the next day, the Warlock kills Chaz for his ring. He later finds a medium (Mary Woronov) in order to speak to his father. Even though the medium is pretty much a fake, the spirit eventually possesses her. The Warlock's father tells him to seek out The Grand Grimoire, a book of black magic that's been separated into three parts that contains the true name of God. If uttered, the entire world would be destroyed and the Warlock would become the one begotten son. Murdering the medium, he uses her eyes to locate the book.

Meanwhile, Giles locates Kassandra and both embark on a mission to stop the Warlock from finding the book. Giles has to because it's his job. Kassandra has no choice to help because the Warlock has cast an aging spell on her that will kill her fast.

WARLOCK, even after all these years, is still highly entertaining even if the plot is slightly ridiculous. While it's not scary, the action is fun and some moments are unintentionally hilarious. It may not be the best witch flick out there, but you'll never be bored by this movie.

The screenplay by future THE FUGITIVE, PITCH BLACK, and THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK writer David Twohy is very well-done. The biggest advantage Twohy has with the script is keeping the focus on a small cast, especially since WARLOCK mainly focuses on three characters: The Warlock, Giles Redferne, and Kassandra ("With a K"). While the character development isn't as deep as one would expect with such a small cast of characters, at least we're given enough time with each one to learn their goals, motivations, and their personalities. The Warlock is deviously evil, wanting to gather three parts of a book together so he can learn God's name and use it to destroy the world and become the one begotten son. This monster will do anything to make this happen - make out with men to bite their tongues off just to steal their rings, trick mediums and murder them so he can have the spirit of his father control their eyes as a outdated GPS system, and even murder children who aren't baptized just because he's hungry. We don't need his background to know right away that we should hate this bastard and want him stopped. Giles is the heroic type. He follows the Warlock into the future to stop him. He has devices that help him locate the Warlock by using the villain's blood. He has a foreign accent that makes the ladies swoon. We want him to succeed because he's just as active as the Warlock, instead of letting others do the work for him. Kassandra is a nice addition because she's the modern girl who wants nothing to do with this caper. She's only involved because her roommate was murdered by the Warlock, he took her bracelet and used it to accelerate her aging process, and because she's smitten with Giles and his duty to save the world. All three have a purpose in the film and are all likeable in their own way. Plus Kassandra and Giles both achieve some decent character growth at the end of the film, which is what every story should accomplish. I think it was smart not using a big cast. I'm sure budget constraints had a hand in that, but it was definitely the best move.

I also like how simple and straightforward the actual main arc is. We know exactly why The Warlock wants The Grand Grimoire and why Giles and Kassandra want to stop him from collecting the pieces. There are no twists in the story. There is never a sense where the viewer feels insulted about what a character does and why a certain events happens. The flow and story structure is great and easy to follow. That's all one wants in a horror/action movie hybrid. You're never confused by what's going on and it leads to a satisfying conclusion.

I also enjoyed the things that related to the Warlock's witchcraft effecting the society around him. Fire that burns blue, cream and milk that spoils overnight, sweating horses, and pastry that doesn't rise - the level of attention to his power is great. It really creates a different mood, as we know something isn't quite right and that his presence will do more harm than good. The evil has a presence and the film doesn't attempt to hide it or brush it under the rug.

Also the dialogue is quite good, even funny at times both intentionally and unintentionally. Not one characters sounds the same and when they do speak, it's always of importance. Sure there's a bit of exposition and some of the lines don't work as well as they should, but you still have fun with the dialogue because it flows well and it leads to something.

That said, while the story is indeed entertaining and simple to follow, it still could have been more depth to things going on. I think the fact that both The Warlock and Giles being stranded centuries into the future could have been played with more. After all, it's not every day a witch and a witch-hunter take a trip through time to a world they don't really understand. Obviously The Warlock didn't care about where he was as long as he found the book. But Giles had more to play with due to his association with Kassandra. Sure, we get moments where Giles doesn't understand modern technology and inventions, such as cars and his reluctance to travel on an airplane fearing people would think he's also a witch. But there could have been more fun with that angle. A 'fish-out-of-water' story is a great story to tell because there's just so much that could be done with it. I think seeing Giles deal with the fact that he's not in his own time and doesn't understand the modern world would have not only given his character depth, but his relationship with Kassandra as well. In a way, she could have been his hero, helping him guide through this new world while he protects her from his old one. But it never really goes all the way with it, instead teasing us with moments that could have been explored more. By the way, I doubt any airline would allow a passenger to bring a long metal weapon on board their planes. Just sayin'.

Also, the rapidly aging sub-plot didn't last long enough to really matter much. It was a nice concept since it showed what the Warlock was capable of. And how messed up for this witch to curse a woman by having her age quickly? But nothing is really done with it and gets resolved way too fast. Here is a chance to really create some tension and dread for one of the main characters, but it's treated as if it's run-of-the-mill. This should have been explored more, but it's sort of a wasted opportunity that was never capitalized on.

The special effects here are a bit dated and very cheesy, but they kind of raise the fun factor. The Warlock has an assortment of powers, such as casting fire and laser beams out of his hands. They look pretty hokey and drawn in [you can actually see the outline of the flames - ha!], but it was the 1980s! The Warlock flying stuff is obviously green screen and no one will mistake it for anything else. And the aging stuff looks ridiculous at times. I did love the eyes the Warlock would carry to find the book though. The gore was pretty okay too, especially the tongue part and the finger cutting. But the cheesiness of it all is very charming and endearing. Anyway, the SFX are never in your face anyway, so it doesn't hurt the film at all.

The direction by Steve Miner, who directed FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3-D, HALLOWEEN H20, and 1986's HOUSE, is good. The film looks more than decent. The film's pace is very well done, as it feels much quicker than its 103 minutes. There's not much style to the film visually, but there's really no need for it. Miner creates a fun film regardless if it's really a point-and-shoot sort of deal. Miner is not known for his visual style anyway, so the lack of any is no major deal. The film does what it needs to do and Miner should be complimented for a good job.

The acting in WARLOCK is good as well. Julian Sands is perfect as the devious Warlock. He's very charismatic and seems to enjoy being vicious and evil. He's also very charming due to the accent, but Sands does a great job with the role. Richard E. Grant is probably the best actor in the film as Giles. He's very convincing as the heroic witch-hunter, even though his accent changes every now and then and hams it up quite a bit. But I found it all entertaining, so can't complain. Lori Singer is good as Kassandra. She isn't the strongest actress, but she handles her one-liners well and carries an attitude about her that I dig. All the actors seem to be having fun in this film and it shows, making it fun for all of us as well.


- The Warlock's spell created a tornado in Malibu dubbed "The Devil's Wind". Or in terms one can understand - an Ann Coulter fart.

- The Warlock made out with Chaz and bit his tongue out. He obviously isn't French.

- The Warlock has to put together the three pieces of The Grand Grimoire to gain great power. Link and the land of Hyrule better watch their backs.

- The Warlock aged Kassandra massively with a spell. Maybe this is what happened to Lindsay Lohan instead of the drugs.

- Don't tell a Warlock you're not baptized. Your vital signs will decrease Step By Step.

- Putting pennies in your mouth can ward off evil magic. Judging by how much they're worth these days, no wonder many of us are shit out of luck.

- Nailing a Warlock's footprints in the sand can cause him great pain. I'm sure nailing him somewhere else will have the same effect.

- Giles is scared of airplanes, feeling he'll become a witch if he flies inside of it. He should be more worried about eating the fish and wondering if the pilot has a thing for movies involving gladiators.

WARLOCK is a guilty pleasure that one shouldn't feel guilty for liking. It doesn't have the deepest story out there and it won't change any genre it's associated with. But it's entertainment value is extremely high and you can't help but love the campiness and cheesiness of it all. WARLOCK deserves a look if you haven't seen it yet and want to enjoy a fun film without having too think too much. It may cast its spell on you like it does on me.

3.5 Howls Outta 4

Related Posts with Thumbnails