Poltergeist III (1988)

Gary Sherman

Heather O'Rourke - Carol Anne Freeling
Zelda Rubenstein - Tangina Barrons
Tom Skerritt - Bruce Gardner
Nancy Allen - Patricia Gardner
Lara Flynn Boyle - Donna Gardner
Kip Wentz - Scott Moyer
Richard Fire - Dr. Seton
Nathan Davis - Reverend Kane

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 97 Minutes

Carol Anne Freeling ( Heather O'Rourke in her final film appearance before her unfortunate passing) is sent by her parents to live with her aunt Patricia (Nancy Allen) in a huge apartment inside a large sky-rise in Chicago. Patricia tries to be nice to Carol Anne, but sees her as somewhat of a burden due to Carol Anne's "special issues". Patricia's husband, Bruce (Tom Skerritt), and Bruce's daughter Donna (Lara Flynn Boyle) are more tolerable to Carol Anne's presence.

Carol Anne is sent to a special school for gifted

children with "issues", where she is being treated by a psychologist named Dr. Seton (Richard Fire) who claims her stories about ghosts are all in her head. In fact, whenever something strange happens around Carol Anne, Dr. Seton convinces others that she has the power to manipulate things by creating illusions - or some B.S. like that. Total quack.

Unfortunately, Carol Anne's problems with ghosts have followed her to this sky-rise, as Reverend Kane (
Nathan Davis) has returned to take possession of Carol Anne through the use of mirrors that makes up the entire interior of the building. However, Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) has sensed Kane's presence and hopes to save Carol Anne and her extended family in time before it's too late.


- Most of the acting. POLTERGEIST III, like POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE, is a disappointing sequel to a franchise that should have never been one. But at least most of the acting is really solid here and sell a weak script to make it feel better than it actually is. Heather O'Rourke's death unfortunately cast a very grim and dark shadow to this film during its release in 1988 [I still remember the news reports and newspaper headlines about her passing], but she's honestly really good in her third time as Carol Anne. Her presence was still there, even though she was visibly ill during shooting, and she really matured as an actress from the first POLTERGEIST. Every scene she's in, she sells you on what's going on to her and her family, no matter if the script doesn't really justify her trying so hard to make that happen. I could only imagine how good she would have really been if she had not passed away. Very sad, but at least her final performance was a good one.

Tom Skerritt, best known for his TV work on Picket Fences, is also very good and likeable as Carol Anne's uncle-by-marriage, Bruce. He's not as good as Craig T. Nelson, but he manages to hold his own. Lara Flynn Boyle, in her first ever film, does well as Donna. She looks healthy here, as opposed to her adult years, and comes across as likeable as well. She also gets the best scenes in the film as well. Zelda Rubenstein isn't as good as her performance in the first film as Tangina, but she did make me laugh with her overacting. Believe me, it helps. And Nathan Davis is no Julian Beck, but he did alright as Reverend Kane. He's hardly in the film, so it doesn't hurt the performance too much. Some actors are better than others, but at least they all looked like they were trying. I can't say the same about two that I didn't mention yet.

- The direction. Gary Sherman, who previously directed 1972's DEATH LINE/RAW MEAT and 1981's DEAD & BURIED, does a much better job than POLTERGEIST II's director, Brian Gibson. It's not the greatest directing in cinema history, but at least it's interesting and creative. Sure, a lot of it is silly and done for cheap scares. But there's a lot of subtle style going on here. I think the best use of it is done through the whole mirror motif that's presented throughout the film. I know a lot of people find it very repetitive [and I don't really blame them], but I think it's different and Sherman uses it to his advantage more often than that. I love the scene where Patricia talks to Carol Anne through the mirror right before the real Carol Anne walks in. I love that Kane is constantly watching everyone through the mirrors and no one but Carol Anne notices. I love when two characters, who were considered lost on The Other Side, return - unknowingly to others that they are the mirror versions of those characters, as their clothes [and the lettering on them] are reversed/inverted. Plus a lot of the time, the characters look absolutely demonic in their reflections. I really think the mirror tricks are actually really cool and offer something very different than the previous two installments. I couldn't see myself living in a building like that now after watching this film.

I also think Sherman has a great sense of pacing, as the film does breeze by and never bores you. It might insult your intelligence, but it's usually entertaining [maybe more so unintentionally]. There are a lot of slasher/horror conventions that I could have done without in this sequel, but Sherman attempts to make them work as best as he can. It's better than being bland like Gibson's stuff in II.

The ending, unfortunately,

isn't directed or edited all that well. But Heather O'Rourke's passing left a void during reshoots, which involved a changed [and terrible] conclusion as well as a body double for Carol Anne. I don't blame Sherman too much for that since he was up against a ton of things beyond his control. For the most part, Sherman attempts to create something unique for a sequel that shouldn't even exist. Gotta respect the man for that. I think POLTERGEIST III is visually stimulating for sure.

- Special effects. Even though POLTERGEIST III surprisingly has a much lower budget than any of the other installments [less than $10 million dollars], at least the film uses its disadvantage to its favor. Like I already mentioned, the mirror theme is done really well and done with visual tricks rather than CGI. The makeup of the demonic versions of the characters are pretty good as well. We get frozen people to good effect. And the best effect of all - Lara Flynn Boyle climbing out of someone's body as if the corpse was giving birth to her. Gary Sherman designed all the effects and did them on the sets instead of post [except for the thunder and lightning stuff in the very final shot] with the help of Dick Smith. It's not a gory or special effects laden movie, but it uses what it does do well.

- The unintentional comedy. Whether you love or hate POLTERGEIST III, I think everyone can agree it's a pretty crappy film. I would have honestly put this in the WTF? Vault if it didn't make me laugh though. How many times can one script have the same piece of dialogue: "Carol Anne!"? You can make a drinking game out of how many characters yell out this little girl's name throughout the film. You'll probably die of alcohol poisoning though. It must have been over a hundred times she's called throughout the film, and it made me laugh harder and harder each time.

I also love when people are hurrying to find Carol Anne, yet seem to take their time as if they don't really care. If rushing to someone's aid includes strolling and looking at the scenery, then I've been doing it wrong for years.

I also appreciate characters who believe that supernatural occurrences they ALL saw at the SAME TIME was due to a young child's ability to craft illusions out of thin air. Amazing. And what about Patricia telling her husband to let the ghosts take Carol Anne so they can live normal lives? She's a bitch, but she's probably got the right idea! Seriously, this movie is TERRIBLE. But it entertained me by how silly and dumb it all comes together. After watching the more badly edited and slower paced POLTERGEIST II, this cohesive cheesiness was a welcome [and horrible] change.

- The terrible screenplay. I really don't know what happened here. Gary Sherman and Brian Taggart seemed to have interesting ideas for this sequel. Taking Carol Anne out of the suburbs into the city is a nice change of scenery. The use of mirrors, to show the evil spirits, is interesting as hell. Changing the characters to create something more unfamiliar is an inspired choice. Yet, nothing really clicks the way it should because the writing is so bad.

While I get why they would want to change the family [probably because Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams refused to sign on for this - which was probably a good move], the dynamic isn't the same. I don't mind Carol Anne's extended family. In fact, Sherman and Taggart could have created a different dynamic that could have been just as strong and interesting as the Freelings. But we never get that here. Carol Anne's relationship to these people doesn't feel legitimate enough because there's no character development - for ANYONE. Bruce is the hard-working hero. Patricia is the bitchy stepmother. Donna is the typical teenage girl who would rather be with boys than babysit her cousin. Other than that, we don't know much about these people because they don't share enough scenes with Carol Anne. So that heart and soul that the other two films had is now gone, leaving only emptiness and coldness instead.

Tangina returning is cool, and she's better used here than she was in POLTERGEIST II. Still, she doesn't really add anything new to the story other than her exit. In fact, her contribution to the final act is so insulting to the audience who love the original POLTERGEIST. It's hard to get into it without spoiling the ending, but it made me face palm myself in how dumb it is. I don't know if this was changed due to Heather O'Rourke's tragic passing, but there's no excuse for any writer to completely change the purpose of the poltergeist in why they wanted Carol Anne to begin with. What Tangina does here truly makes her a cruel bitch because if this was the way to end the torment of this little girl all along and she knew about it, she should have been the first one to go. So ridiculous!

We also get some sort of teenage subplot, as if this is some sort of slasher film where we need stereotypical teens that do nothing of note, are totally shallow, and just act as filler. In fact, the poltergeist never even bother with them other than Donna and Scott [who gets one of the shittiest exits in horror movie history]. So why are they here? And why is so much time devoted to them?

The adults also seem unphased by all this supernatural stuff. Bruce and Patricia act as if this happens all the time, even though this is their first encounter with Carol Anne's "issues".

"Oh look! Donna and Scott were sucked through a puddle in the garage. Is Carol Anne stuck inside the mirrors with Kane? Why is it frozen inside our building all of a sudden? Oh, I guess we'll worry about it tomorrow. What do you want for dinner, hon? Chicken or fish?"


these people don't react realistically to what's going on. And don't get me started on Dr. Seton. How this man got any sort of degree in psychology is beyond me? A little girl causing mass hysteria by creating illusions that makes people believe there are supernatural forces after her? Really? So that ghost hand that threw a mug towards the mirror was something Carol Anne just happened to manipulate with her mind that a GROUP of people saw at the same time? This guy deserves to be locked up in an asylum. And so do everyone else for laughing and believing it. Ridiculous. The guy just comes across as such a douche that he didn't die quick enough for me.

There's just a lot of flaws in this film that really can't be overlooked, even if they are somewhat entertaining in its badness. I can usually overlook them if they're fun flaws, but these mistakes are too big to ignore and create inconsistencies for the rest of the franchise. The cast and the direction tried to hold it together the best they could, but a lot of what happens is just too silly for what was a once deep and compelling story.

- Nancy Allen and Richard Fire. Maybe they read the script and regretted signing that iron clad contract, but both Allen and Fire just didn't seem to give a crap. At least Richard Fire hammed it up in such a way that I wanted to kick him in the balls - he's really annoying and his character is no better - this guy really wrote HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER? Wow. But Nancy Allen really took the cake as someone who just wanted to act in this for a paycheck. Not once does she seem remotely interested in what's going on in this film. The look on her face in every scene screams "I don't want to do this". It's as if she refused to try and make her character somewhat compelling. Sure, Patricia wasn't the greatest character ever. In fact, she was a bitch until her 180 at the end. But at least Allen could have deepened her a bit. She just sucked the life of every scene she was in. Why did she sign up for this if she thought this was a bad idea? I'm sure her horrible wardrobe didn't help either. Those shoulder pads were so big, even football players thought she looked ridiculous.

I honestly

don't know how to feel about POLTERGEIST. It's obviously a terrible film, with so much going against it - including the death of the main actress, a terrible script, and a couple of actors who phoned it in and dragged the film down. But it does have an interesting visual presentation, mostly decent acting, some cool special effects, and unintentional comedy. And I can't say I was bored either. So while it's a bad film, I don't hate it enough for it to be in the WTF? Vault. No need to see this one unless you love these POLTERGEIST films. You only need the first film if you want to safely head towards the light. Definitely an interesting, yet somewhat entertaining, mess.

2 Howls Outta 4



Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Brian Gibson

Craig T. Nelson - Steve Freeling
JoBeth Williams - Diane Freeling
Will Sampson - Taylor
Heather O'Rourke - Carol Anne Freeling
Oliver Robbins - Robbie Freeling
Julian Beck - Reverend Henry Kane
Zelda Rubinstein - Tangina Barrons
Geraldine Fitzgerald - Jess

Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Supernatural/Ghosts

Running Time - 91 Minutes

A year after the events of the classic POLTERGEIST, the Freeling family decided to move away from their haunted home. The unit decide to stay with Diane's (JoBeth Williams) mother, Jess (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who seems to possess psychic powers like her youngest grandaughter, Carol Anne (Heather O'Rourke). Even though they're miles away from their previous terror, the presence of evil spirits continues to follow the family, especially after Jess passes away. It seems the evil force has taken the physical form of a creepy reverend named Henry Kane (Julian Beck), who is after Carol Anne. Luckily, psychic Tangina (Zelda Rubenstein) senses the problem. She sends a Native American spiritualist named Taylor (Will Sampson) to go seek out the Freeling family and help them deal with their new problem. However, Taylor may be helping Kane indirectly, as Steve (Craig T. Nelson) sees Taylor as someone stepping on his territory as the patriarch of the family and making him feel inadequate. This negativity is being fed on by the evil, making the Freeling family more vulnerable to these poltergeist attacks than ever before.


- Special effects. POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE is a pretty disappointing sequel overall. But the SFX are probably the highlight of a film that honestly should have never been made to begin with. While pretty hokey now, the possessed braces scene with Robbie is still a great moment and once that stuck with me for years. Loved the floating chainsaws, which is obviously a nod to POLTERGEIST director, Tobe Hooper. We get some cool looking zombies as well. And probably the best, and most disgusting, effect of them all - the tequila worm that's regurgitated into a giant monster. To this day, it's probably my favorite effect in the entire franchise and the one thing that's mentioned first whenever I discuss this movie with anyone. Just really creepy and gross.

The only real effects I have issue with involve those on "the other side", which just looks really cheap and rushed. It was probably a green screen and wire work - and not good work either. But nothing beats the tequila worm creature and that's probably why the film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Special Effects. Even today, I think it still looks pretty damn awesome.

- Characters. Even though the script isn't good, at least the characters are still themselves enough that we can still care about them. The chemistry is still there for the Freeling family and you still feel connected to them. I liked that the characters were still effected by what happened in the first film [refusing to own a television in case events occur again]. I liked Steve getting jealous and feeling inadequate compared to the women in the family who had psychic abilities, and Taylor, who the family bonded with really quickly. I also liked that Taylor brought a new perspective to the poltergeist stuff and was pretty funny in doing so. And Kane is just so creepy, that anyone would be afraid of this dude - young and old. So while the storytelling is severely flawed in POLTERGEIST II, at least the characters are likeable and interesting. So that's definitely a plus.

- Acting for the most part. Besides a couple of people [JoBeth Williams seems bored and going through the motions and Zelda Rubenstein does nothing of note really in her really short appearance], the acting is solid for everyone else. Craig T. Nelson still has a great presence and handles the comedic stuff well. He also gets to play a villain for a bit, which he seems to have fun with. Heather O'Rourke gets to act more in this installment and does it well. I think she would have been a decent adult actress had she lived longer. Oliver Robbins plays off the rest of the actors well, but he doesn't really stand out or anything. Will Sampson is great as Taylor. He's funny and has a charismatic presence. And Julian Beck, who was dying of cancer while filming POLTERGEIST II, is one of the creepiest villains as Henry Kane. The illness he was suffering from actually enhances the performance.

- The screenplay. The first POLTERGEIST is still a hit amongst horror fans because the story it told had depth in terms of characterization, its wit and comedy during a scary situation, and that mystery as to why the poltergeist were after Carol Anne - as well as what "The Other Side" looked like. This sequel exists for the simple fact that it wants to make business off of a popular ghost film that many people cherish. Whatever was mysterious in the superior POLTERGEIST is diluted in the sequel.

Carol Anne isn't just an innocent victim, nor are the Freelings a regular family. Now it seems that the women in the family have psychic powers that the ghosts seem threatened by, or want to feed on to become more powerful - I'm never really sure why they still bother Carol Anne and her family. What worked in the first film was that the family were just normal people who happened to, unknowingly, live over a Native American burial ground - which is why the ghosts were bothering them. But now the family has special gifts. Now the spirits can haunt the family as actual physical people. I can understand the need for a villain we can actually see, as it'll create more scares and opportunities for fear. But it takes away that feeling of normalcy and makes things more predictable than they were before.

Also, we learn more about the ghosts and why they're doing what they're doing. Since this is a sequel, this is actually expected. You can't keep the mystery forever, unfortunately, since many will find that frustratingly boring. So we learn about how Kane was the leader of some religious cult and how they all perished underneath the home the Freelings had lived in the first film. This does create more opportunities for scares, but it also takes away the mystery of the unknown. Once you know the deal, the fear factor is pretty much gone. So the story is weakened because of that. Also, we find out the origin of the poltergeist and nothing is really done with it. It's never really followed through and just seems to be there because there needed to be an explanation. That's never good.

Also, the whole Native American spirituality deal is treated as an afterthought as well. In a film like this, this should have been an asset. It could have created an interesting and compelling counter to the malevolent poltergeist angle. Instead, it's just shallow and random, never really going anywhere above cliche. Native American spirituality is a very interesting subject that could have made this film more interesting. But it's just a cheap gimmick here to give Taylor and Steve something to do really.

And don't get me started on the idea of "the other side". First of all, no one needed to see what this dimension looked like to begin with. I had an issue with that in INSIDIOUS, which in a lot of ways follows the structure of the POLTERGEIST franchise. Once we see what's behind the door, the mystery is gone and all tension and suspense is lost. It doesn't help that it looked cheaply done, as if nobody on the production crew gave a damn. Still, I didn't see why the entire family had to take a trip there to battle the film's villain in a five-minute confrontation that was way too short and uneventful. Also, the explanation for Dana Freeling's absence [due to Dominique Dunne's tragic murder in 1982] was cut out [she was supposedly at college]. Very classy. This sequel is the epitome of pedestrian and just makes you realize that it should have never been done period.

- The direction. Whether Tobe Hooper or Steven Spielberg directed the first film, it's still better than what Brian Gibson brought forth with this sequel. It's competently shot for the most part, with some decent style and lighting. But the pacing is off and disjointed due to the terrible editing of the movie. POLTERGEIST II was originally 130 minutes long, but cut down to a mere 91 minutes. And from the final cut, you can see it. Things happen too suddenly without much build up. Why does the family love Taylor so much? Why is Steven so jealous of him? One minute Taylor arrives to the home and the next, he's admired by everyone but Steven. Where's the rest of this section? It's a pretty important plot point that got erased. Also, the final act must have been longer than it actually is because the confrontation on "the other side" is so short, it leaves you completely unsatisfied. The whole sequence feels uneven and cheap, as if Gibson gave up on giving audiences a conclusion worth caring about.

Plus the film doesn't seem to have the heart and warmth that the first one had, as this sequel definitely feels like a cash in. And this film was originally planned to be in 3-D, judging by some scenes where objects hurl towards the screen - although the fad was pretty much dead by 1986. For a $19 million budget, it looks cheaper than the original's $9-$10 million budget. Gibson uses more of a light show to create cheap scares rather than to actually create some memorably creepy moments that people will remember like in the first one. I would really like to see an original cut of this because I know there was a decent flick in here somewhere. At least the film looks nice and the score by Jerry Goldsmith is used well. Gibson has its moments, but still proves he's inferior to Hooper and Spielberg.

POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE isn't a horrible film, but it is a true disappointment. The film's narrative and direction are too uneven, as both are cheap and empty compared to the first film. Making the family just as powerful as the spirits is a mistake. Editing a long film into a disjointed mess is a massive flaw. Having important ideas and plot points made to look like afterthoughts is very questionable. But at least the sequel has solid acting, decent characters, a scary villain, and groovy special effects. So while POLTERGEIST II isn't the sequel it should have been [I still think it shouldn't have been made], it's not as bad as many make it out to be. Still, only POLTERGEIST fans should check it out only if you haven't yet and want to know how the story continues. Otherwise, THE OTHER SIDE is nothing special.

SCORE2 Howls Outta 4


The B-Movie Bungalow Presents: Trancers (1985)

Charles Band

Tim Thomerson - Jack Deth
Helen Hunt - Leena
Michael Stefani - Martin Whistler
Art La Fleur - McNalty
Anne Seymour - Ashe
Richard Herd - Spencer
Thelma Hopkins - Raines

Genre - Science Fiction/Action/B-Movie/Cult

Running Time - 77 Minutes

The year 2247 in the town of Angel City, detective Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) is trying to stop his arch-nemesis, Martin Whistler (Michael Stefani), from destroying the future. Deth tries to find Whistler through trancers, or psychically controlled slaves under Whistler's power. Wanting to retire, Deth learns from a governing Council that Whistler has traveled back in time to 1985 to murder the ancestors of the Council members. Deth decides to help the Council by transporting to the past, which is done by using a drug that transfers one's memory into the body of an ancestor.

In Christmas of 1985, Deth feels out of touch with the past, not sure who his ancestor is supposed to be. He learns that his ancestor just had a one night stand with Leena (Helen Hunt), a mall worker. After a bit of weirdness and understanding, Leena decides to help Deth with his mission, realizing that Whistler is in the body of a powerful police inspector. But when Whistler has already created a squad of trancers to aid him, Deth and Leena soon realize that they're in pretty big trouble.


- Solid acting. TRANCERS is a really low budget film, meaning that special effects and visual presentation aren't going to be the highlights of this movie and the story and acting would have to compensate for it. Luckily, the acting in TRANCERS is very good and keeps the viewer engaged. Tim Thomerson as Jack Deth [which is an awesome name for a character, by the way] is great. He brings a bit of a film noir presence in terms of his delivery and body language, creating a detective hero we can root for and care about. I also thought he had great one-liners, my favorite being "dry hair is for squids" and he's a loveable asshole of a man who comes across as very cool. No wonder he's a cult hero for many. Helen Hunt, who would later become a major television star and an Academy Award winner, is good in one of her earliest film roles. She's really cute here and comes across with a lot of energy and spunk. She probably doesn't put this film in her resume anymore, but she should be proud of her good performance here. Michael Stefani was also good as the villainous Martin Whistler, creating a good foil for Thomerson. Wish he had more to do though. We also get some appearances by Thelma Hopkins and Art LFleur, who do well also. Just a great cast that was willing to go along with anything Charles Band, Danny Bilson, and Paul De Meo put on paper.

- Good direction. Charles Band isn't the greatest director in the history of cinema [he's a better producer], but he does know how to tell a good story with the smallest of budgets. It's a pretty simple point-and-shoot kind of movie, but the action is well done and there are some decent tense scenes. The pacing is excellent, as the film is only 77 minutes - meaning no filler. The lack of money to really create his vision does bring the film down a bit, because Band had a grander scale for this type of project, but makes the most of what he does have. There's a certain charm and appeal about the direction that we don't see often these days. I approve.

- Interesting, entertaining story. TRANCERS is obviously inspired [or maybe even steals] from bigger budgeted films, like 1982's BLADE RUNNER and 1984's THE TERMINATOR, and sometimes comes across as a parody of those films. But screenwriters Bilson and De Meo do address interesting ideas that make it stand out from its inspirations. I love how the future world is in total chaos and bleak as hell. Hell, Los Angeles sunk right into the Pacific after the big earthquake and all that's left is a beach. I also love the idea of using a watch to stop time for a limited amount of time, as well as transporting one self into the body of an ancestor as a disguise. There are plotholes, which I'll get to, but at least you're invested by Deth's mission to stop Whistler from destroying the Council members by eliminating their ancestors in the past. The "fish out of water" subplot is done very well, as Deth doesn't understand the past he's traveled to, letting Leena be his guide and give her more than just the stereotypical girlfriend role. The idea of the villain controlling others to be his minions to achieve his goals is always a cool one. Plus I think using the 80s culture works in favor of the film, even if it does date it quite a bit. TRANCERS isn't original in any way, but at least it uses what it takes well enough to keep the viewer engaged from beginning to end.

- Great use of a no-budget production. TRANCERS would be epic if it had the budget needed to make a blockbuster sci-fi/action movie. It doesn't though, but it doesn't stop Charles Band from making his vision work regardless. The "stopped time" scenes would be done more stylish today, but instead we just see Thomerson move people around in the scene in real time to change the events that are supposed to happen. Of course, Thomerson goes inside an ancestor that looks pretty much like him - to save money by not using a younger actor. There's no time machine, so a drug inside a syringe is used to imply the time travel through the use of cuts and transitions. The weapons used look kind of cheap, but it makes the film more charming. Plus the future looks the same as the past - same clothes and hairstyles to comedic effect. It'd be something to see a redo of this with major money behind it, but Band and company do a good job taking what they did have and making the most of it.

- No-budget production. On the other side of the fence, it's really a shame that TRANCERS didn't have the budget needed to truly visualize Band's vision. With some cool special effects, interesting futuristic locations, and more time to do some stylish direction, TRANCERS would have been major. It still works well as a low budget B-movie, but this film would have been really something with a real budget. Some things can't be helped though.

- Plot holes. TRANCERS is full of these, which sort of takes down the narrative a bit. Some things aren't explained enough or in a way that we understand why these characters are conducting themselves in such a manner. For example, why doesn't Deth go back a few days prior to stop Whistler instead of having to go back in 1985? If the Council is so concerned about their lives being altered due to past events, why don't they go back in time and stop it from happening themselves? Wouldn't going back in the past change the future anyway? What are trancers exactly anyway? It's never really specific. You kind of ask yourself these things while watching the film, even while the film is keeping you watching.

TRANCERS, even with its flaws, is still a fun B-movie sci-fi/action hybrid that deserves a look and some respect as well. Even with a small budget that hindered the production from truly visualizing the interesting ideas planned for the film, there's a lot more right going on here than there is wrong. It has solid acting, interesting characters, an entertaining narrative, and a lot of heart from Charles Band and company. It won't keep you in a complete trance, but you'll be under the film's spell for a while.

3 Howls Outta 4


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Wrong Side of Town (2010)

David DeFalco

Rob Van Dam - Bobby Kalinowski
Dave Bautista - Big Ronnie
Jerry Katz - Seth Bordas
Edrick Browne - Clay Freeman
Marrese Crump - Markus
Brooke Frost - Brianna Kalinowski
Lara Grice - Dawn Kalinowski
Ava Santana - Elise Freeman
Ja Rule - Razor

Genre - Action/Crime/Comedy

Running Time - 85 Minutes

Since World Wrestling Entertainment's "Super Bowl" event, Wrestlemania XXVIII, will premiere on April 1st, I felt it was time to bring back a section many [besides Vince McMahon] seem to enjoy: When Wrestlers Act! You smell the body odor and desperate storylines? That means it's ready to rumble!

This edition of When Wrestlers Act is a pretty special one. It doesn't just involve one wrestler. Hell, it doesn't even involve two. Instead, we have THREE professional wrestlers for the price of one! We have original ECW, former WWE, and current TNA Impact Wrestling star Rob Van Dam. We have former WWE wrestler Dave "The Animal" Bautista. And we have Nelson Frazier, Jr. - best known to fans as Mabel, Viscera, or Big Daddy V. How did we all get so [un]lucky?

Luck or not, 2010 saw the direct-to-DVD release of WRONG SIDE OF TOWN, which stars these three men [along with Ja Rule and porn star Stormy Daniels] in a low budget action film that takes elements from a lot of other [and better] films, like THE WARRIORS. Unfortunately, not many people are going to come out and play-ay for this film.

Bobby Kalinowsky (Rob Van Dam), a former Navy S.E.A.L., has given up his military life to enjoy a regular life as an architect in Louisiana with his wife Dawn (Lora Grice) and his annoying daughter Brianna (Brooke Frost). Bobby and Dawn meet their new neighbors, Clay (Edrick Brown) and his wife Elise Freeman (Ava Santana). The neighbors invite Bobby and Dawn to a popular nightclub that's operated by a big time gangster, Seth Bordas (Jerry Katz), and owned by his junkie brother Ethan (Ross Britz). They're having a good time until Dawn decides to use the bathroom. On her way out, Ethan invites Dawn for some cocaine fun in his office. When she refuses, Ethan tries to rape her. Bobby hears her screaming, which makes him rush to her aid. During a struggle, Bobby accidentally kills Ethan as the cokehead falls on his own knife.

Outraged and distraught by Ethan's death, Seth decides to get revenge on Bobby. He gets the word out to every gang in the area that he's placing a $100,000 bounty on Bobby's head. Bobby tries his best to protect himself, his wife, and his new friends from getting hurt or killed by these greedy gangbangers - even going to an old friend from the S.E.A.L.s named Big Ronnie (Dave Bautista) for help. However, Ronnie doesn't seem so eager to help Bobby due to the past and due to the amount of cash on his head. It's not until Seth's main goons harm his wife and daughter, Bobby decides to take out his old military duds and finish the war he accidentally started.

I have three words for WRONG SIDE OF TOWN:


I wasn't expecting much from WRONG SIDE OF TOWN. Obviously a film starring wrestlers in the main roles is usually a warning sign, besides a few exceptions. Also, being direct-to-DVD doesn't win it any favors, although that stigma has been lifted somewhat as most DVD titles are better than their theatrical counterparts these days. Figuring it was an action film and wrestlers are pretty good at that type of thing, I was kind of hoping WRONG SIDE OF TOWN would be better than expected. Unfortunately, it's not a good film in any way, even though it's far from being total garbage. But considering who's in it and how they could have been used, it's still somewhat disappointing that it wasn't better than it actually was.

One of the big problems with WRONG SIDE OF TOWN is its screenplay and narrative. Director-writer David DeFalco's script plays it way too safe for the film to really work. It's not memorable. It's not exciting or all that interesting. It's completely generic, cliche, and just goes through the motions of what this type of film is supposed to do. It doesn't help when DeFalco was obviously inspired by other films - much better films - than this one. The main inspiration is obviously the 1979 cult classic THE WARRIORS, with the different gangs going after a certain gang [or in this case, a certain person], as well as some 80s action films that resemble something Steven Seagal would have done in his prime. So if you've seen those films, you'll definitely figure out what's going to go down in exactly what order and how. Even looking at the cover and then reading the synopsis, it's easy to see the pedestrian road WRONG SIDE OF TOWN heads down. Being predictable isn't always a bad thing. In fact, the elements that this movie should have are visibly here. Not every film needs a twist, even though it would help as long as it makes sense to keep the audience invested and guessing what comes next. But if you're gonna keep things this way, then the characters need to be interesting. The situations need to be memorable. And the direction and the fight choreography have to be amazing. WRONG SIDE OF TOWN doesn't have any of these, which is why it doesn't work as well as it should have,

The characters are what really bugged me about this film. I barely cared about any of them really, either because they weren't on screen enough [which is 95% of them] or because they weren't written well. Bobby, who's supposed to be the hero we root for, is pretty dull. He obviously loves his wife and daughter. He's loyal to his friends. And he should be an asskicker because he was a Navy S.E.A.L. But it doesn't seem to translate into a guy we want to watch for 90 minutes for some reason. We don't know Bobby's a S.E.A.L. until a half-hour into the movie, where it just comes out of the blue after he's being interrogated by a detective. This is something you establish from the start, so we can get a sense of why he's trying so hard to stay under the radar and live a normal life with his family. Instead, it feels stuck on just to explain how he handles himself in this dangerous situation placed upon him. Even when we do know who he is, he doesn't really exhibit the traits you would expect out of a Navy S.E.A.L. You could have made the guy a chef and it would still create the same effect. By the time he puts on his military uniform to kick Seth's ass, it's too late to really care. He doesn't do enough or act in a way that we can relate to and want to watch.

Seth, as the villain, is better structured than Bobby. Yet, he's so cliche that we can never take him seriously. We can understand his reasons for revenge. Even though his brother was a horny junkie and was accidentally killed because of it, he was still his brother. Of course he would want some sort of payback. It's just the way he does it that's flawed. For one, I don't get how this dude has so much power in this city. It's not like he's intimidating in any way. He has an average build and doesn't really seem all that intelligent enough to maintain the level of crime boss-ness that you would expect from a villain of his supposed caliber. All he does is scream at people to get the job done and cry about his brother dying. He has police on his payroll. He has two goons [who I call Tweedledee and Tweedledumb] who goof up more often than not. Luckily they happen to be pretty funny, which makes them a welcome presence. He also has a silent bodyguard who could probably kick his ass and/or kill him whenever he wants to. And he has street thugs all over town willing to do his bidding. Hell, Seth even thinks that kidnapping Bobby's daughter will makes things better. Obviously he hasn't watched COMMANDO, TRUE LIES, or any other film where kidnapping your rival's daughter leads to your death. He's a walking stereotype rather than a character.

Clay, the neighbor, is an uneven character. When he first appears, he comes across as such a doof, he makes Steve Urkel and Carlton Banks look as cool as James Dean. But he seems to have connections with powerful people and starts becoming tougher as the film goes out of nowhere. In fact, when some villains use the "N" word, he criticizes them for it. I had no idea who this guy was supposed to be. Was he a wimp? Was he really a hero in disguise? He disappears before the final act without doing much, so I'll never know. Speaking of Clay, his wife seemed to be involved in Seth's world somewhat - at least that was the implication. There was something a bit shady about her that was never developed, or dumped during one of the writing phases. She was kind of interesting too, but I guess that was a dead giveaway to stop making us care about her. She and Bobby's wife, who does nothing but get sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, and nag at her husband, add nothing to the film. At least Bobby's daughter was a little bitch. She had more personality than the adult women.

And you'd think Big Ronnie and Razor would be important and interesting characters, due to the fact that Dave Bautista and Ja Rule are advertised on the cover. Well Razor is in one scene of the film - one of the better ones in the movie - before he exits. And Big Ronnie does get more to do, but not really enough to make his presence all that substantial to the plot. It's too bad too, because Big Ronnie is probably the best written character as he's sarcastic, funny, and just a bad ass. He should have been made the hero instead of Bobby.

As for the rest of the screenplay, it's just full of cliches in terms of dialogue, characters, and situations. It's also too repetitive for its own good. Every time Bobby confronted thugs, they would talk about killing him for the bounty rather than, I don't know, actually doing it? It happens more than once, which is already once too many. These scenes are obviously meant for the hero to get an opportunity to beat the crap out of these guys, but they could have been done in a more constructive and less moronic way. But at least the stupidity of it made me chuckle, so I guess there's that. And the final confrontation between Big Ronnie and Markus [Seth's enforcer] was pretty cool and the most action filled part of the film. So at least it righted itself by the end.

WRONG SIDE OF TOWN is hard to take seriously because there's not enough elements to really complete the genre labels it's trying to fill. There's barely any action in the film, unless you consider hiding and evading "action". Yes, we do get some violence and fight sequences. But it should have done more, considering two of the main stars are wrestlers. There's not enough crime really, besides a few death scenes. And the comedy isn't fully there either. I can see what it wants to be, but it's a few drafts away from getting there. Oh well.

The direction by wrestler-turned-filmmaker David "The Demon" DeFalco isn't anything special. I will say, on a positive note, that the film does have a quick pace and never becomes all that boring. So that's good. But the editing isn't great, as it cuts away from scenes a bit too early. Plus it could use some more energy to make the action feel more action-y. Plus the repetitive nature of things brought things down as well. But I did love the cartoon opening credit sequence. It reminded me of SIN CITY. I thought that was a great touch. Too bad everything after it couldn't compare. Not the worst direction I have ever seen, but definitely something you would expect from a direct-to-DVD action flick.

The acting is a mixed bag. Rob Van Dam isn't the worst actor in the world, but he leaves a lot to be desired as Bobby. He comes across stiff and sometimes bored, which is strange because he's very charismatic in terms of doing action/stunt sequences. I think they should have had RVD do more action stuff and less dialogue. It would have made his performance, and probably the film, better as a whole. He tries at least and he has good chemistry with Dave Bautista, but there's not enough of it. Speaking of Dave Bautista, he's hardly in the film even though he's pretty much front and center on the cover. But he's honestly the best actor in the film as Big Ronnie. He's very natural on camera and has a ton of personality and charisma. I wish he were in the film more because I enjoyed seeing him on screen. It's no surprise why he's getting some good acting roles lately. The guy's got it. Plus he had the best fight scene in the film against Marrese Crump. Jerry Katz overacts as Seth, but at least it made me laugh a few times. He doesn't really make for a compelling villain, but he is entertaining to watch nonetheless. Ja Rule, Omarion, and Nelson Frazier, Jr. are barely in the film to mean anything, but they make the most out of their cameos. The other actors were mixed in their performances. Not the most compelling cast, but I've seen a lot worse.


- Bobby enjoys using a chainsaw or an axe when dealing with wood. I just use my hand, but we all are made differently I suppose...

- Ethan was snorting some snow white powder up his nose. He may not be an "Informer", but I'm sure he was feeling lickety boom boom down...

- Ethan, high, tried to rape Billy's wife. Usually you drug the person being raped, but I guess we all like a challenge.

- Omarion wants part of the bounty on Bobby. If I were Bobby, I'd just surrender now before Omarion plays some of his B2K music. No one deserves to suffer like that.

- A bunch of thugs tried to shoot Bobby. Looks like New Jack wanted some revenge from their own ECW days.

- Bobby kicked Animal's ass. When it comes to battle, Bobby is the true Man on a Mission.

- Bobby went to seek Big Ronnie for help against Seth, but he refused. When it comes to friendship, Big Ronnie isn't that reliable. See also: Reverend D-Von, Randy Orton, Ric Flair, Triple H, Rey Mysterio, and John Cena.

- There was a pipe with graffiti that read "cum guzzling gutter slut". I had no idea Christy Hemme was competing against this pipe in another Divas Search contest!

I really wanted to like WRONG SIDE OF TOWN more than I actually did. It starred wrestlers I actually like. The action and crime premise seemed perfect for the stars, where they can showcase their physicality and prove to us why they were so successful in the square circle. But David DeFalco could have used more time to polish his screenplay to create a compelling movie. But since he didn't, it just comes across as cliche, predictable, and not all that memorable. WRONG SIDE OF TOWN needed more of what it advertised - Dave Bautista, visual energy, and action. Not the worst film I've seen with wrestlers, but not one I can recommend either. Stick to the right side of town. There's nothing to see here.

1 Howl Outta 4


The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Class of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid (1994)

Eric Louzil

Brick Bronsky - Roger Smith/Adlai Smith/Dick Smith/Baby Moishe Smith
Lisa Star - Trish
John Tallman - Dr. Slag, PhD.
Lisa Gaye - Professor Holt
Albert Bear - Li'l Eggwhite

Genre - Comedy/Science Fiction/B-Movie/Cult

Running Time - 102 Minutes

Continuing where CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH PART II: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN concluded, Tromie [the mutant squirrel destroying the Tromaville Institute of Technology] is defeated by a bomb shaped like a large acorn. Finally having the opportunity to be together, ace reporter for the Troma Tech Times Roger Smith (Brick Bronsky) and his Subhumanoid girlfriend, Victoria (Leesa Rowland), fall more in love. Soon enough, they both learn that Victoria is pregnant, not knowing she's pregnant with twin boys.

The day when Victoria gives birth, however, scientist Professor Holt (Lisa Gaye) and some corporate scumbag Dr. Slag, PHD (John Tallman) steal one of the twins without Roger's or Victoria's knowledge [Holt and Slag have no idea Victoria was pregnant with twins either]. Victoria gives birth to the second child, but dies due to the trauma of the delivery. Roger, just glad to have gotten a healthy baby out of this horrible ordeal, decides to take great care of his son, who he names Adlai (Brick Bronsky in a second role). Adlai is a great guy and a model citizen, who's in love with an activist named Trish (Lisa Star).

Meanwhile, Holt and Slag raise the other twin, who they name Dick (Brick Bronsky in a third role). Unlike Adlai, Dick is raised to be evil and a soldier for Slag's goals. When both twins learn that they have superpowers, due to their half Subhumanoid genetics, they realize that they're a piece of them missing and feel a connection to each other. When Holt and Slag realize that Adlai and Dick are twins, they want to use both together as a way to control the world.




- Some of the jokes work. CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3 is more of a comedy than a sci-fi/horror film, spoofing other works of literature and cinema, including its own franchise. Most of the time, the jokes are dead on arrival [I'll get to that in a bit]. But some of them do achieve some chuckles and laughs, so it's not completely terrible. There are a bunch of dick jokes throughout the film [since one of the Smith brothers is named "Dick"], with some of them actually being kind of funny but eventually running their course quickly. Some of the weird dubbing is kind of humorous at times. There's also a scene where a werewolf is taken care of by hitting it with a rolled up newspaper. It's stupid, but I just found it oddly funny.

I thought the funniest stuff was during the end credits, where the names are changed or the cast and crew are being goofed on for the benefit of the comedy. For example, the stand-in for Brick Bronsky was Brick Bronsky himself. Unfortunately 95 percent of the script is either corny, or not funny at all. So I'll cherish the moments that do make me laugh with this awful sequel.

- The "special effects". CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3 is obviously a low budget affair, so the quality of the effects can't be top notch. But for what effects that are used, they aren't too bad. The main one is the glowing arms both twins possess that unleash a ton of power, which is pretty much the only computer generated effects of the film. We have the return of Tromie the Squirrel, who is still a man in a rubber costume on a model set of the actual location. We also have some werewolf thing that looks okay. It's not the greatest or anything, but it's something considering the low budget of this flick. I'll take what I can get at this point compared to the rest of this mess.

- Terrible screenplay. Where do I begin? CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3 is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, which details a set of twins who were separated at birth - leading to funny mishaps when others confuse the one for the other. Stick with the classics, because while the film does a variation of this, it does it in the most dull, unfunny, and shallowest way. I like the inspiration and the premise because you could really play around with it. There are some moments where Adlai and Dick are confused for the other [even though one is blonde and the other has black hair] and it leads to chaos. But there's not much of it other than that, as the film is more focused on silly gags and dumb jokes.

For example, every time Trish appears, we see a close up of her butt which leads to a farting sound. The first time it's funny because you don't expect it. But it keeps happening until the film ends. If the film is trying to pass Trish as this hot, desirable chick [honestly, she isn't all that], why have her constantly fart? Makes no sense.

The dick jokes get old really fast. There's this huge subplot about a boll weevil that doesn't really go anywhere or effect the film in any substantial way. And my main beef is the fact that the film is very much full of exposition. In fact, much of the film is told in narration and explaining things that are going on the screen. I'm not mentally challenged. I can see and understand what I'm watching. I don't need someone else telling me what's going on when I'm already experiencing it. It's a bad storytelling tool and it's just plain annoying. Also, a lot of the dialogue happens to be dubbed, as if something was lost during the production stage in terms of audio. The dubbing just makes the whole film sound worse than it already was, with characters saying things are not funny or things that don't move the film along at all. I honestly can't believe that it took EIGHT WRITERS to come up with this screenplay. Just awful.

- Bland direction. Eric Louzil doesn't bring much style to this film, which it definitely needed to compensate for the bad story. It's directed as a point-and-shoot movie, with the usual angles and framing and such. There's nothing really visually interesting about this film. The action scenes aren't really exciting. The comic timing is a bit off. The pacing is terrible, as the film is way too long and it makes CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3 feel longer than it actually is. It doesn't work as a comedy. It doesn't work as a science fiction movie. It's definitely not horror. And if this film was trying to be a spoof, it fails miserably. Just a bland visual presentation.

- Acting worse than usual. I expect terrible acting in a Troma film, but these actors just grated me. Brick Bronsky is still okay, but I felt he could have played his different roles...well, differently. Even evil Dick still felt a bit like Adlai and Roger Smith, even if Bronsky did show some range that made the villain stick out a bit. Lisa Gaye, my favorite actor of the sequels, is still pretty cool as Professor Holt. I wish she was in the film more. Lisa Star as Trish was pretty bad. It was funny at first, but it lost its luster towards the end. I know it's a B-movie and all, but there seemed to be a drop off in the acting from the second to the third film. The script didn't help the acting either, so I can't totally blame the lack of thespian goodness on just the actors alone. It's pretty poor, even for Troma standards.

CLASS OF NUKE 'EM HIGH 3: THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE SUBHUMANOID is a misfire for a cult franchise that started off really well. It doesn't fully succeed as a comedy. It's not scary. It's not memorable. I honestly can't recommend this film at all to anyone. When fart and dick jokes are your focus rather than the actual inspiration for the twin brothers that could have created a decent sequel, it doesn't deserve to be watched. This film is going to the WTF? Vault where the other inductees can nuke this sequel from oblivion as it'll...

0.5 Howls Outta 4


Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton

Michael Keaton - Batman/Bruce Wayne
Michelle Pfeiffer - Catwoman/Selena Kyle
Danny DeVito - The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot
Christopher Walken - Max Shreck
Michael Gough - Alfred
Michael Murphy - Mayor
Pat Hingle - Commissioner Gordon
Vincent Schiavelli - Organ Grinder

Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Comic Book

Running Time - 126 Minutes

In 1989, comic-book-to-film adaptations got a kick in the ass since 1980's SUPERMAN II in the form of Tim Burton's mainstream reinvention of BATMAN. A massive commercial and critical success, BATMAN not only made Tim Burton a director to keep an eye on, but it made all movie studios look at the appeal of transforming popular comic books into movies in a very different light. Following BATMAN's success, Burton would later direct a film he had been passionate about making for years - 1990's EDWARD SCISSORHANDS - which was also a commercial and critical hit. This helped Warner Brothers demand a sequel to BATMAN with Tim Burton back at the director's chair.

This time around, things behind the scenes were very different. Warner Bros. wanted to do a sequel right away to capitalize on BATMAN's success, but Tim Burton hadn't signed on to direct a sequel, feeling one wasn't needed unless it offered something different and unique. So while Warner Bros. was trying to convince him, Burton directed the 1990 classic, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS for 20th Century Fox. When that film was fairly successful, Warner Bros. decided to give Burton more money and more creative control over the sequel. Burton finally signed, finally feeling comfortable in creating a BATMAN film in mostly his vision - although the studio and audiences were expecting the added pressure of greatness. Although Sam Hamm, who had written the previous script, had already written two drafts, Burton fired him and hired HEATHERS writer, Daniel Waters, for rewrites [Burton hated Hamm's original vision for the sequel, which had The Penguin and Catwoman going after some sort of hidden treasure, as well as appearances by Robin and Harvey Dent]. Burton also hired Wesley Strick for an uncredited rewrite, as he gave The Penguin motivation for his plan in the film.

Casting was also pretty interesting. Michael Keaton returned out of loyalty to Burton, as well as to a raise in his salary at $10 million. Danny DeVito was cast as The Penguin, as Waters had written the role specifically with him in mind. Christopher Walken was hesitantly cast as Max Shreck [named after Max Schreck, who starred as Orlok in the original 1922 classic, NOSFERATU], as Burton was afraid of Walken due to his reputation and odd roles.

Catwoman, however, was the role many women in Hollywood wanted. Actresses, such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Bridget Fonda, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and even Raquel Welch, competed for the role. Sean Young, who originally was cast as Vicki Vale in BATMAN but had to drop out due to injury, felt that the role should have went to her by default. Infamously, Young would create a Catwoman costume, wear, and parade around Hollywood and even on Daytime Talk Shows just to get Tim Burton's attention. Eventually, Annette Bening was cast in the role. But she got pregnant and had to drop out. Michelle Pfeiffer's name was dropped, but Burton knew nothing about her work. But after a single meeting, Burton knew he had his Catwoman and hired her on the spot. Ironically, Pfeiffer was offered $2 million more than Bening would have received for the same role, plus a percentage of the box office and any merchandise sold for the film.

After many months of shooting what would eventually become BATMAN RETURNS, the film was released in June of 1992 to very solid box office numbers - in fact, it had the highest opening weekend record at the time at $45.7 million. With a budget of $80 million, BATMAN RETURNS would gross $162.83 million in North America and another $104 million worldwide, equaling an impressive total of $266.83 million. It was the third highest grossing film of 1992 and considered a success by far.

However, Warner Bros. felt that the film should have done better than it actually did. They cited the Christmas setting as an issue, as well as parental backlash who blasted the film for being too dark, violent, and sexually explicit for children. BATMAN RETURNS also lost sponsorships because of this, especially a big one from McDonald's. Even though it did both commercially and critically well, as well as set up the massively successful and influential Batman: The Animated Series for many years, Warner Bros. decided to end their relationship with Tim Burton [concerning BATMAN movies] after the film, which changed a lot of plans for a proposed CATWOMAN spinoff [that wouldn't be released until 2004] and the future sequels that tie in to Burton's films, such as BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN & ROBIN.

It's been almost 20 years now and time has been very kind to BATMAN RETURNS. While a majority still consider BATMAN to be the superior film, there are some [like me] who prefer the sequel and consider it the best of the original anthology. Not only is BATMAN RETURNS Tim Burton's vision of what his BATMAN universe looks like, but it's the best BATMAN film [until 2005's BATMAN BEGINS] due to its narrative, direction, and acting. Let's see why this film deserved more love than it did back in the day...

It's Christmas time in Gotham City. While there's the usual merriment, shopping, and snow, crime still doesn't take a holiday. The Midnight Circus Gang have no problem sharing their festive spirit violently - traumatizing the citizens, destroying tree lighting ceremonies, and even kidnapping a shrewd businessman, Max Shreck (Christopher Walken).

The man behind the violence is a short, bird-like man calling himself The Penguin (Danny DeVito). Dwarfish, round, and owner of two unfortunate penguin fins for hands and a noticeable beak, The Penguin was born as Oswald Cobblepot - the first son of a very prestigious family. Unfortunately his parents (Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger) were ashamed of his appearance and dumped him at the local zoo, where he was raised by Emperor penguins. Wanting revenge on those who lived lives he feels he should have lived, as well as those who look down on him as a freak, The Penguin blackmails Shreck into helping him destroy Gotham City. Max agrees to it, having devious plans for The Penguin as well.

Meanwhile, Shreck's unlucky secretary, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is having a really bad day. First, she spoke her mind when she wasn't supposed to during an important conference meeting. Then she forgot to give Shreck his speech for the Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony. And finally, Selina stumbled upon Shreck's secret plans to build an energy-sucking power plant that would endanger Gotham City. Seeing her as an annoying insect and a liability for his future plans, Shreck decides to give Selina an early Christmas gift - a one way ticket to death's door as he shoves her out of an office window. However, Selina's fondness for cats in her previous life was a good thing, as many cats heal her and give Selina more lives to play with. Now angry and a bit crazy, Selina creates a leather catsuit [with a trusty whip], calling herself Catwoman. Under her new identity, she plans to take care of Shreck and any other men who cross her.

Looks like Bruce Wayne (Michael Keaton) has a lot to deal with, as both himself and his alter-ego, Batman. This will be the most interesting and violent Christmas Gotham City has had to deal with in years.

I caught BATMAN RETURNS during its opening weekend in 1992 with a sold out crowd who probably had mixed feelings about this sequel. I, for one, loved the film due to its bleaker and grittier look and mood, compared to the first one. But a lot of people I knew weren't as big of fans of the film like I was for the same reasons I loved it. Nowadays, I'm sure the appreciation level has grown immensely, especially due to later sequels like 1995's BATMAN FOREVER and 1997's BATMAN & ROBIN being considered more silly and not as good as Burton's BATMAN films. I think a lot of people at the time were expecting an 'easier-to-digest' comic book movie - one that wasn't realistically violent, one that wasn't so adult with sexual references, and one where the villains were the stars rather than the hero the film was titled after. They were also probably expecting more action, rather than the drama and atmosphere BATMAN RETURNS thrives on. Twenty years later and countless superhero adaptations later, BATMAN RETURNS stands out as a film that became a template for many comic book sequels - multiple villains, more freedom with characters and storylines that origin stories couldn't allow, and stories that could lead into the next couple of sequels and/or spin-offs that could make studios a ton of money. Unfortunately, BATMAN RETURNS didn't quite accomplish all that. But in retrospect, we all see that it should have.

BATMAN RETURNS, in a major way, is one of the better films in the BATMAN franchise due to its multi-layered narrative. Instead of going for something that's all style, with explosions and CGI effects to enhance the action and story, BATMAN RETURNS decides that substance is where it's at. In fact, BATMAN RETURNS was probably the most subtle and human comic book adaptation at the time [until X-MEN in 2000 took over]. While the motivations and action of the characters are your typical comic book fare, they still happen to be as realistic as one could get with this type of movie. Batman, Catwoman, and The Penguin all have abilities and weapons that we can admire, but not necessarily be able to relate to. But their humanity and how they see the world and each other is definitely human, making us sympathize with them quite easily.

The Penguin's arc is strong because while he looks like a freak, he's a man beneath his odd appearance. His rich parents, without hesitation, abandoned him as a baby because he didn't fit the mold of what a Cobblepot should look like. Dropped in a zoo and raised by penguins for 33 years, he wants revenge on those who have lived the life he should have lived. So he decides to blackmail Shreck into helping him find out his parents while trying to figure out a way to destroy Gotham City for shunning him. Even though the Mayoral campaign is his way of gaining Gotham's trust just to fool everyone with his vengeance, his social awkwardness reveals a character that's flawed. He eats raw fish like a penguin, which turns people off. He tends to speak before thinking. And his way with women is...less than desirable. In reality, The Penguin just wants acceptance. But his anger and bitterness clouds that up, which leads to his own self-destruction.

Catwoman's arc is even richer. While her appearance doesn't hinder her social status, her gender does. Selina Kyle's world revolves around men who treat her like crap and tell her what to do. Her boyfriends dump her over the answering machine, not respecting her enough to do it in person. Her boss and his colleagues see her as nothing but a servant who should keep her mouth shut because she has ovaries. When she learns too much information than she should, Shreck sees that as overstepping her boundaries as both a worker and as a societal role. The fact that Shreck 'kills' Selina without considering any repercussions, especially prison, shows how little he values her [in fact, no local authorities or even citizens flinch or make any noise after a woman crashes through a window and falls to her death from many stories above]. However, her death is also her resurrection. Filled with anger and revenge, Selina uses the Catwoman persona in order to take out her frustrations on men physically, as well as on women who are victims verbally for not being strong enough to stand up to a man. She's a symbol for female empowerment - she's never better than the men, but definitely becomes equal to them through her physicality and her intelligence in figuring out that her sexuality is an asset rather than a curse. But like The Penguin, she doesn't know how to handle her double life. She's tortured by the fact that she has no idea how to be a strong woman in normal society outside of the costume. Her death has changed her mentally and emotionally, unable to trust good men [like Bruce Wayne] who want to help her, seeing that as a weakness and a one-way trip back to where she started at. She wants to be normal and powerful at the same time, but realizes that Gotham City will never accept that. So in favoring the Catwoman persona, Selina loses her humanity in order to keep the power she refuses to lose. We all want acceptance, but we also want control. That makes Catwoman flawed, yet interestingly human.

Max Shreck doesn't have as many layers as The Penguin or Catwoman. In fact, he's pretty much a douchebag from beginning to end, enjoying the fact that he's the evil puppeteer that sets all the action in BATMAN RETURNS in motion. He thrives on complete power, willing to destroy Gotham City just to get what he wants. But then he reveals a softer side when The Penguin wants to kidnap and kill his first born son after his plans go awry. For much of the film, Shreck comes across as cold and uncaring about the world around him. But when his son is threatened, Shreck reveals that he does have a heart and would do anything to make sure he's safe. He's not as sympathetic as the others besides that moment, but this does show that Shreck is also living a double life. He comes across as an icy businessman, but really does care about his son and what others think of him.

As for Bruce Wayne/Batman, he doesn't get much of a fleshing out as the other major characters do. In fact, many see this as a negative to BATMAN RETURNS since the hero barely has as many scenes as the villains. But Batman already had his origin and story told in the 1989 film, so he doesn't really need to be the focus of the sequel in that sense. Batman may seem unimportant on paper, but he's really the bridge and glue of the film. He's the connection between each character and the reason they even interact with each other. He sees himself in The Penguin due to the parents issue. At first, Batman feels sorry for Penguin, but then realizes the story is too good to be true and trusted. In a lot of ways, Bruce's life is what The Penguin's life would have been if he'd look normal. With Max Shreck, Bruce is the opposite of what Shreck represents. They both have money. They both have power. They both have successful businesses. But Bruce wants to use his name for good, while Shreck wants to use it for evil intentions. They're on opposite sides of the business world, which makes them instant rivals.

With Catwoman, Batman's relationship is a bit more complex. Under their costumes, it's a cat-and-mouse game - a battle of sexes if you will. There's a sexual tension between them, where their frustrations are expressed through flirty banter and physical violence. Both are getting something out of this - Catwoman feels equal to Batman on the gender plane, while Batman gets a sort of sexual excitement out of it. Batman has never met a woman who can keep up with him and understand the appeal of the costume until Catwoman, which makes it somewhat fun and thrilling for him.

When it comes to outside the costume, it's a bit more awkward. While they're comfortable sparring in costume, Bruce and Selina have no idea how to interact in normal situations. They both share the idea of duality, both split right down the middle, not knowing whether the human side or the freak side is who they really are. These two people are made for each other as they completely balance each other out and understand each other's lives. But before, and even after the reveal, both of them are still afraid to be themselves around each other because they're so used to being individuals. If they truly become one, both of their goals are lost. In fact, the moment where Bruce and Selina find out the truth about each other is probably my favorite moment in BATMAN RETURNS. It's a truly human moment, where both are happy to finally understand their mutual attraction in their dual lives. But at the same time, they understand that they can't really be together because they both want different things in life. Bruce is more stable in his lives while Selina is still trying to figure out hers, which causes her to have a nervous breakdown which she feels will be cured once she murders Shreck. It's a relationship you root for because you believe in these two, but you know there won't be a happy ending.

As for the superhero stuff, it's your typical comic book adapted sequel. The hero must stop the bad guys to save the day. But like I mentioned, the relationships between all principal characters makes the cliches fresh and the film more unpredictable. There's no clear black-and-white issue here. BATMAN RETURNS revels in being in that shade of grey, creating a ton of depth that modern superhero movies have taken since. I see BATMAN RETURNS more of a drama with action than an actual film based on a best selling comic book. That's why I still find it so appealing.

I also think BATMAN RETURNS works on a narrative level due to its snappy and witty dialogue. Each character has their own voice. Each character gets dialogue that makes them shine. They speak like real people in a surreal situation. From Catwoman's "Hear me roar", to her banter with Batman over kissing under a mistletoe, to Shreck's sarcastic remarks about what goes around him - the dialogue is extremely memorable. I think The Penguin does have the best lines, only because they're so sexually explosive, that it gives him a perverted persona that makes him a bit comical. Even to this day, anytime BATMAN RETURNS is mentioned or discussed, the first thing that comes to my mind is The Penguin's first line to Catwoman, "Just the pussy I've been looking for!" I laughed when I was 11 years old and I still laugh at it at 31. It's no wonder parents were offended by the film, but I'm sure they were dying underneath the concern. He's the stereotypical male pig who does and says the most inappropriate things to women, but happens to do it in a sarcastic and witty way. In terms of the dialogue, The Penguin is The Joker of BATMAN RETURNS, although everyone has good dialogue that helps move the story to a satisfying and fun conclusion.

Is the screenplay perfect? No. Other than Batman not being more of a major character than he should be in his own film, some other issues could have been explored more. For example, I felt that The Penguin's Mayoral campaign subplot could have been a bit stronger. It's an interesting way to give this character a power he's long wanted, but it never really goes anywhere. Besides, would citizens of Gotham be so quick to vote for this guy anyway? After all, does he have law experience? Hell, does he even have any social experience? I guess if Mr. Freeze could become Governor of California, The Penguin as Mayor is possible. Still, the film does have fun with the subplot so I can't hate on it. But it would have been nice if more was done with it. There are other plot holes, but they don't make the film less fun or less watchable in any way.

The special effects and make up teams do a fantastic job on BATMAN RETURNS. Unlike the London locations on the original BATMAN, many of the soundstages were moved and/or built in Los Angeles to create Gotham City. Due to Burton's control over the project and the bigger budget [due to faith in the franchise], we truly get to see the Gothic and neo-classical set pieces that describe a city that's been decaying both socially and physically. Gotham City doesn't look like any city you'd want to live in, as its dark and brooding as its main hero. In a lot of ways, Gotham is as important of a character than the human ones. The city looks beautiful in a degrading way.

The make up and costumes are also fantastic. The Penguin looks great, with webbed hands and a bird beak for a nose. Plus his shape and clothes create what a human penguin would probably look like. Catwoman's leather outfit has become iconic. I love the fact that it's visibly stitched together, representing Selina's emotional and mental state, which is fragile at this point. Even Max Shreck, with his white hair and wiry frame, sticks out compared to the rest of the citizens. He truly looks like a Tim Burton creation. And Batman's rubber suit was about 25-pounds lighter from the first film, allowing Michael Keaton and his stunt doubles more freedom in their movements during action sequences. This helps those scenes quite a bit and makes Batman look less stiff. Plus we get the typical explosions and action stuff like that. Just a great job by the visual teams.

The direction by Tim Burton is definitely better than BATMAN. In fact, I feel BATMAN RETURNS is one of his better directorial efforts. The editing is great. The picture, with help by cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, looks awesome. The action sequences are definitely handled better than in the first film, as Burton displays a level of confidence in what he's shooting. They're not the most exciting action moments, but they're still choreographed and done better than in the first. Burton really comes into his own, creating a fantasy world out of Gotham City - a beautiful place that has a visible ugliness to it. Burton really holds the film together in terms of the multiple subplots, as they all feel organic flowing into each other. Sure, some things seem ridiculous - like a giant rubber ducky and penguins with rockets strapped to them. But Burton knows how to handle this type of surreal and quirky tone and mood, so you're okay with it all. It's really sad that this is Burton's last BATMAN film, as I would have loved to have seen what he could have come up with next for both Batman and Catwoman. Until BATMAN BEGINS, this is the best directed BATMAN film by a mile. I really dig the visual work here.

The acting is probably the highlight of the movie. Michael Keaton has more confidence in the roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman. I think it's because Keaton gets to let his more comedic side take over a bit, as Batman adds some humor to his actions and words. He still broods, but it isn't as much as in the first film. It sucks that he seems to be a supporting player in his own film, but Keaton handles every scene he's in very well. Danny DeVito is perfect as The Penguin. He has an absolute ball in the role, giving the character a perverted and vicious personality that hides the sadness Oswald Cobblepot is really experiencing. He's so over the top with his performance that it's brilliant. I love the sexual humor during the Batmobile control sequence, as well as his banter with both Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer. Speaking of Christopher Walken, he's also great as Max Shreck. The role was originally written to be Harvey Dent, which would have led into his transformation into Two-Face in the third film, but Walken takes this Burton character and has some fun with him. He's totally Walken-esque here, with classic speech patterns in the script that are totally made for him. He's great.

Other supporting actors, like Michael Gough as Alfred and Andrew Bryniarski as Chip Shreck, are great as well. Gough is still the MVP of the original BATMAN franchise, giving BATMAN RETURNS a bit of class and humor. And Bryniarski, who would later become more famous for portraying Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake and its prequel, tries to mimic Walken's speech patterns and does it pretty well. It's kind of funny actually, as you would think the two were really related.

However, the star of the film is, without a doubt, Michelle Pfeiffer as Selena Kyle/Catwoman. Pfeiffer has never been sexier than she was in this film. She's totally believable as the nerdy secretary who transforms into his schizophrenic woman who wants to be normal, but doesn't understand what that means. She commands your attention in every single scene she's in, whether she's in or out of costume. She's sexy, sassy, vulnerable, and able to relate to - a femme fatale you know is dangerous, but are willing to have sex with her anyway. I think this is one of Pfeiffer's finest roles, which is proven by the fact that this version of Catwoman is considered the epitome of the character. The comic books and even the animated series took a lot from this Catwoman to give the character more depth and even more popularity than before. I'm sure Anne Hathaway will do a fine job in the role in a few months for THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, but she has big shoes to fill here - even if both versions of the characters are really different from each other.

And before I end this review, I have to mention Danny Elfman's awesome score as usual. Plus, I also love Elfman's collaboration with Siouxsie and the Banshees during the ballroom scene called "Face to Face". Just a really cool and beautiful song. I think it adds to that revealing scene very well.


- The Penguin was dumped at Gotham City Zoo by his parents, including one played by Paul Reubens. I guess "abandonment" is the secret word...

- Max Shreck was attacked after claiming he wasn't Santa Claus and wished he could give the gift of world peace. Obviously, more people would rather he ask for more cowbell.

- The Penguin blackmailed Shreck by proving he had evidence of his crimes in collected sewage. Just like the current state of the music industry, you can gain a lot of money, fame, and power from a pile of shit.

- A gang of cats revived Selina Kyle after Shreck fatally pushed her out of a window. There's more pussy in this scene than in two hours of lesbian porn.

- The Penguin was pushed to run for Mayor of Gotham. I knew politics were for the birds.

- The Midnight Circus Gang placed a bomb in the Batmobile. Unless Batman was suicidal, I think they needed to read "Pimp Your Ride For Dummies" first.

It's not perfect, but BATMAN RETURNS is still my personal favorite of the first four films - which is why I'm giving it the score it's receiving. I think until BATMAN BEGINS in 2005, this was the highlight of the franchise. A deep and interesting narrative with great characters, more confident direction by Burton, and memorable performances by the cast truly make BATMAN RETURNS one of the better comics-to-film adaptations. Unfortunately the franchise would decline a bit after this one until the reboot, but hopefully Catwoman will whip me in enough shape to get through the Joel Schumacher era. Until then, the Bat Signal will be at rest.

4 Howls Outta 4


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