5.30.2012

Swamp Thing (1982)

DIRECTED BY
Wes Craven

STARRING
Adrienne Barbeau - Alice Cable
Dick Durock - Swamp Thing
Louis Jourdan - Anton Arcane
Ray Wise - Dr. Alec Holland
Nicholas Worth - Bruno
David Hess - Ferret
Reggie Ball - Jude


Genre - Science Fiction/Action/Fantasy/Comic Books

Running Time - 88 Minutes


PLOT
Alec Holland (Ray Wise) is an isolated, yet personable scientist working in the swamps of South Carolina, trying to create a new form of plant life that would be able to weather any type of weather condition that will survive for future civilizations. He is joined by a beautiful government agent named Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau), who helps him develop this potential new species of plant and oversees the project. The two grow close really fast, sparring with each other as a way to display their attraction to one another.

Holland finally manages to create a vegetable cell that has the nucleus of an animal, allowing the cell to grow much faster than normal - as well as making it quite more resilient to the changing weather patterns. However, Holland is unable to test it as some goons march into his laboratory, wanting Holland's plant serum. After a violent struggle that kills Holland's sister [
who was also a scientist on the project], the goons accidentally spill the serum onto Holland. The chemicals don't react well on human DNA, as it sets Holland on fire. He jumps into the river, but never emerges, convincing the goons that he's dead. They realize that Alice has seen everything, so they begin chasing her away to keep her quiet. As all parties exit, Holland comes out of the river - not as a human, but as Swamp Thing (Dick Durock) - part plant and part man with superhuman strength.

Both Swamp Thing and Alice learn that a rival scientist named Anton Arcane (
Louis Jourdan) was the one behind the invasion, wanting the serum for himself to test it on live subjects. As Alice stuggles with Arcane and his men, she's lucky to have Swamp Thing protecting her. With the help of Alice and a local boy named Jude (Reggie Batts), Swamp Thing wants revenge on Arcane in order to save the swamp from his evil.



REVIEW


HITS
- Adrienne Barbeau's boobs. Even though Swamp Thing's make-up and outfit are..."impressive", Barbeau's naked breasts are the best special effects in SWAMP THING. Wowza. There were also topless ladies during some weird party scene at Arcade's mansion in the final act. This raises the score alone.


- The acting. While SWAMP THING doesn't hold up all that well these days, the acting is still quite good. Adrienne Barbeau was a bit miscast as Alice Cable, but she still made her performance credible enough. She comes across as tough, sexy, and quite intelligent - just how I like my ladies. Plus, she went topless. No complaints. Dick Durock, who would play Swamp Thing in pretty much every live-action version of the character [movies and television], is very good in the role. Even with the hilariously bad costume, he still managed to be sympathetic and very likeable. Plus I thought he handled the action scenes pretty well too. Louis Jourdan is awesome as Dr. Anton Arcane. He plays the over-the-top, James Bond-ish type villain, with malice and glee. You can't help but enjoy his performance. A young Ray Wise is solid as the human Alec Holland. He was very sympathetic and passionate in the role. I also thought he had cute chemistry with Barbeau. Reggie Ball is cool as Jude, the token kid in this kind of film. He had some funny one-liners and delivered them alright. We also get David Hess and Nicholas Worth as two of Arcane's main goons. Both men bring an exploitation vibe to this comic book film - Hess was in Wes Craven's first film, 1972's THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, while Worth was in 1980's DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE. Solid cast. I just wish the script was better for all of them.

- The photography. I do have issues with Wes Craven's direction on this film, but the cinematography for SWAMP THING is very nice. The swamp location looks both beautiful and dark at the same time. The colors look washed out at times and vibrant in others, creating a very surreal, dreamlike atmosphere. Even the interiors look great and really provide a ton of information about the characters who live and/or work there. It's a nice looking picture that probably makes the swamp more inviting than it actually is [no offense to anyone who lives near one].

- The vibe. Wes Craven gives SWAMP THING a very kooky, campy vibe that makes the film very charming and somewhat entertaining at parts. I know that the comic book version of Swamp Thing was a pretty serious affair, but having never read the comics, I can't truly make a comparison on the tone. What I can say that SWAMP THING is fun and kitschy, almost as if Craven was inspired by the monster movies and EC Comics of the 1950s. It's goofy, yet never insulting to the audience.

I like that SWAMP THING feels like an exploitation film, but without the exploitation really. Sure, it has David Hess and Nicholas Worth in it - two men who are exploitation film stars - which helps the vibe. Hess, especially, loves to chew the scenery in every scene he's in. But it has this low-budget feel and grainy picture quality that makes it look more like a 70s flick rather than an 80s one. We also have gratuitous nudity [can't go wrong with that] and a bit of a dirty feel to the whole thing. I'm honestly not sure who this film is made for - kids, comic book fans, Wes Craven fans, or all the above? But I like that it feels adult, yet silly enough for a younger audience to somewhat enjoy.

There's something really sincere and charming about SWAMP THING. It doesn't hide its flaws and seriously wants to entertain all audiences. I wish other aspects of the film could have been better, but at least it's heart is in the right place.


MISSES
- The direction. I really hate putting Wes Craven in the negative section. I'm a big fan of his work, especially when it comes to horror. But if there was ever a Best-To-Worst list for Craven's directorial works, SWAMP THING would be near the bottom.

Wes Craven took this job to prove to studios that he was capable of making bigger budget films that he wasn't known for at the time. So in a lot of ways, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET would never exist without SWAMP THING. The problem is that Craven's heart doesn't really seem to be into making a quality film that will stand the test of time. SWAMP THING is just there visually for me, besides the cinematography.

Watching SWAMP THING leads one to believe that Craven was heavily inspired by STAR WARS in some way - especially when it came to the transitions used. If you've seen any STAR WARS film, you know what I'm talking about. Craven also likes to use slow motion a lot as well, which is fine I guess.

My real issue is the pacing - it's terrible. The first act has a ton of potential, but once Holland turns into Swamp Thing, the film visually falls apart. It becomes a chase film - over and over and over and over and over again. It never stops and becomes repetitive as hell. Things want to happen here to move the story forward, but Craven seems to focused in filming Adrienne Barbeau being chased and kidnapped by goons while Swamp Thing helps her every five to ten minutes. It's unintentionally funny the first couple of times this happens, but it really wains on you as it continues to occur.

Also, SWAMP THING needed a more energetic approach in its filmmaking. For a comic book adaptation about a man who is now a superhuman plant, it's not all that exciting to watch. There's not a lot of style here that gives off tension or suspense, instead being a point-and-shoot affair to get its story across. It's just a bland visual film that needed to be the opposite. Not Wes Craven's best by a longshot, but I'm sure even he knows that. This was a "paycheck" job rather than a "I want to do this" job.

- The film score. Another negative that I hate, since Harry Manfredini did the score for SWAMP THING. Manfredini is great at scoring genre flicks, especially his work on the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise. And that's the problem with SWAMP THING - it sounds EXACTLY like FRIDAY THE 13TH. I was expecting Jason Voorhees to come out of the swamp and start stabbing people with his machete. The score needed to be more original than it was. Instead, it just confused the hell out of me. It's still a cool score, regardless, but it just didn't work with this film for me.

- The weak story. Here is where SWAMP THING gets muddled up. Wes Craven adapted the screenplay from the comic books and it's not the worst script out there. But it doesn't do the film any favors, as any important themes or necessary character development is wasted on creating repetitive chase scenes and questionable actions by the characters in the film.

The biggest flaw with the narrative is the love story between Alec Holland and Alice Cable. I really hate the whole "insta-romance" deal that Hollywood really seems to love, especially when it comes to films like SWAMP THING. I guess studios figure that if two people happen to be in the same scene, they should be romantically attached for the rest of the film - even if the characters have only known each other for five minutes. While there is chemistry between the two characters, their "love" for each other isn't convincing because the two hardly spend any time together. Holland kisses Alice when he figures out the serum formula, but that's because he's celebrating his triumph and kisses the first woman he sees that isn't his sister. That doesn't mean the two are now attached to the hip. This really hurts the rest of the film because Alec [now Swamp Thing] is saving Alice because he cares about her. And she's willing to accept him once she's used to his new look. But there's no substance there and it just feels forced. Of course they have to get together - he's the hero and she's the damsel-in-distress. But that's as deep as it goes. It's funny that the sequel, THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING with Heather Locklear, has a more convincing love angle than this one does. Swamp Thing's motivations to help Alice, because he loves her, don't resonate well at all.

It doesn't help that the characters aren't developed well enough. Alec Holland comes across as charming, intelligent, and somewhat conceited at times. That's understandable as he's a genius and it would be expected for one to feel that way about himself. It's when he turns into Swamp Thing that it becomes a problem. While it's great that his human traits are now gone, due to his transformation, we're not exactly sure how Alec feels about himself as this monster. He yells and feels sad when he can't conduct experiments due to his superhuman strength crushing his beakers and test tubes. He feels isolated when he can't be with Alice...in that way. But other than that, I'm not sure how he feels about being Swamp Thing. It should have played out like Bruce Banner and his feelings about being The Incredible Hulk - feelings that are usually less than positive. We never know what Alec is thinking as he's this plant creature. Is he angry? Is he okay with it? Does he wish that his twig was a little bigger? There's no depth to this at all! If explored, this would have enhanced sympathy for Swamp Thing - as well as allowing the audience to really get to know him better. We root for him because we know he's the hero. But other than that, do we really care about this guy? Not really.

Same goes with everyone else. Alice is beautiful and tough, but we barely know nothing about her besides that and that she manages to wear wet T-shirts quite well. She does come across as intelligent and pro-active in terms of keeping Alec's book [with the serum formula equation] away from the villains - which makes her instantly likeable and someone we should root for. But she makes stupid decisions towards the end of the film [giving the book to Jude for whatever reason] and ends up being the kidnapped damsel-in-distress in the final act. And she's a government agent, but I have no idea what her speciality was. Was it mentioned in the film?

The villains are no better. Arcane is your typical villain who likes to say what he's planning rather than actually doing it because that would make too much sense. He doesn't really come across as really evil, but more smug than anything. He's your stereotypical power-hungry mad scientist who thinks he's God, while proving he's human when he does something stupid for the final act - like drinking the serum himself after seeing what it did to Swamp Thing and his goon, Bruno. What a genius. I won't go into his goofy Wolfman look/persona [the plant serum turns whoever takes it into an extension of their personality - a subplot tackled on for the final act that's never explored]. Pretty bad, yet pretty funny.

As for the goons, Ferrett and Bruno aren't deep but at least they have personalities. Ferrett acts as the leader and is a real creep. He's a lighter version of Krug, which is fitting since David Hess plays the character. Bruno is the slow one of the group and does whatever is asked of him. I found it pretty funny that he becomes more articulate when he transforms into a troll, but SWAMP THING isn't much on logic.

And with Jude, he's the one the kids are supposed to identify with. He's also very sarcastic and has a dry wit, which makes him instantly likeable rather than annoying. In fact, he's probably my favorite character in the entire film because he behaves like a normal person. He doesn't get much to do except be Alice's sidekick, but he's a welcome addition.

Also, Craven uses literary allusions in an attempt to enhance the narrative, but they get lost in what Craven is visually trying to tell. Alice Cable seems to be an allusion to Alice In Wonderland, as she's out of her element in the swamp. Jude seems to be a play on Jim from Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are some Nietzsche quotes as well all over the film as well. Craven obviously knows his books, but they don't mean much when the film is just a repetitive chase flick.

It's sad that Wes Craven didn't write a stronger script. I'm sure much of it was studio interference, but it's as if he's not sure who to appease to - those who are paying him, or those who are paying to watch this film [a.k.a. the fans of the comic books or comic book fans in general]. Nothing resonates all that much on a storytelling level, making SWAMP THING pretty forgettable.


THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BEING IN THE MOOD FOR MELONS
- Alice hates the swamp. She also hates the fog, dead boy bands, and marrying horror directors. Good luck with that eHarmony profile!

- It's hoped that Alec Holland's nitro experiment doesn't end with a bang. Judging by Monday nights from 1995 to 2001, the Nitro experiment usually ended in a whimper.

- Arcane peeled off a realistic looking mask to reveal his true face. I'd like to see what Joan Rivers looks underneath her mask. ...Oh.

- Swamp Thing leaped out of the water to grab the villains from their boat and into the swamp. Jason Voorhees saw this and though, "Bitch please! Been there, done that!"

- Alice can beat up soldiers, shoot weapons, jump over tires, and outrun jeeps. Why she wasn't an American Gladiator is beyond me?

- Ferret tried to get some of Alice, but she wanted none of it. I guess he'll still be alone even if he's the last man at THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT.

- Swamp Thing watched Alice bathe in the swamp. I think his stump turned into a branch at this point.


THE FINAL HOWL
SWAMP THING is one of those films that was way more enjoyable as a child than it is as an adult. While I dig the vibe, the acting, and the beautiful photography, the narrative and boring direction really bring this film way down. Not enough style. Not enough substance. SWAMP THING is not one of Wes Craven's best films. Still, it's kind of fun to watch on a nostalgic level and the 90 minute runtime will go by pretty fast. Definitely a charming, mediocre film that's just "there".


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4




5.29.2012

When Wrestlers Act: Hunt To Kill (2010)

DIRECTED BY
Keoni Waxman

STARRING
Steve Austin - Jim Rhodes
Marie Avgeropoulos - Kim Rhodes
Gil Bellows - Banks
Gary Daniels - Jensen
Michael Eklund - Geary
Eric Roberts - Lee Davis
Michael Hogan - Lawson
Adrian Holmes - Crab
Emilie Ullerup - Dominika


Genre - Action/Drama

Running Time - 97 Minutes


PLOT
Jim Rhodes (Steve Austin) and Lee Davis (Eric Roberts) are border patrolmen who are on a stake out located by the Texas border. They spot a suspicious trailer nearby, entering it and finding an empty meth lab. However, both men are ambushed by a group of men in charge of the lab. Lee is shot during the attack and dies before the trailer explodes. Jim, however, survives but carries the guilt with him. Four years later, Jim is a ranger in the mountains of Montana. His rebellious teenage daughter, Kim (Marie Avgeropoulos), who he's having trouble connecting with.


Meanwhile, a group of bank robbers led by Banks (Gil Bellow) have pulled off a large heist. However, they lose their money when one of their members, Lawson (Michael Hogan), has ran off with the money for himself. Wanting his money, Banks leads the rest of the group towards the Montana mountains where Jim lives. They hold up the local police station, where Kim happens to be at the time. Jim walks in while this goes down, worried that his daughter will be hurt. Exchanging his services to lead them to the cash to keep Kim alive and safe, Jim reluctantly leads the bank robbers [who have taken Kim as a hostage] through the mountains, finding the money in the process. It's then when Jim fights Bank to save his daughter, but Jim gets shot and falls off of a cliff. Banks and his gang take Kim with them, believing Jim is dead. However, Jim has survived and is ready for war to save his daughter.


REVIEW


HITS
- The acting. HUNT TO KILL doesn't have many highlights going for it, to be honest with all of you. I'll get to why soon. But in terms of the acting, it's more of a positive than a negative. No one is going to win any awards for this film, but at least the actors do their best to keep the audience invested in this cliche, predictable action-drama.

WWE Hall of Famer "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is in the lead role and he does pretty well here as Jim Rhodes. The man is made to be an action star. He has the looks and physique for it. He definitely has the blue collar charisma that many people will be able to identify with. And he's very convincing whenever he has to perform action sequences. The dramatic stuff isn't as believable at times, which could be because of the script, but he isn't too bad at those either. I think I liked Austin more in THE CONDEMNED and in THE EXPENDABLES, but he does fine leading this film.

Gil Bellows is also a highlight as the villainous Banks. Best known for being on TV's Ally McBeal in the 90s, Bellows seems to be having a blast playing a bad guy here. He's so hammy and over-the-top that you have to laugh at his silly performance. Since the film itself isn't all that exciting, to be honest, Bellows comes out as one of the few and hilarious parts of HUNT TO KILL. With the dialogue he has to say, there's no surprise why Bellows seems to be on the verge of laughing throughout the film. I liked him here.

The rest of the cast is decent as well. Marie Avgeropoulos is pretty annoying as Kim, Jim's daughter. But I think the character was meant to be that way, so Avgeropoulos did a nice job. She also had a spunk and toughness about her that was cool. Gary Daniels plays the enforcer, Jensen, quite believably. He was hired due to Austin, who he became tight with on THE EXPENDABLES. Not the highlight of Daniels' career, but his presence is always welcome. Emilie Ullerup was good as Dominika, Banks' girlfriend. She was a convincing bitch, but also was good during the more dramatic and quieter moments with Avgeropoulos. And Eric Roberts [another cast member of THE EXPENDABLES] does well in his cameo as Jim's former partner. Everyone played their parts to the best of their abilities, so I can't really fault the cast.


- "When I hunt...I hunt to KILL!" This bit of dialogue occurs near the end of the film as Jim and Banks are at the end of their confrontation. The scene surrounding this line is so ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious that I can't help but love it. Austin's delivery of the one-liner is pitch perfect. Avgeropoulos says something like, "Kill that bastard!" during this scene, which made me laugh. And how Jim takes down Banks with his four-wheeler is just icing on the cake. Cinema snobs would hate this climax, but I found it more entertaining than probably intended.

- Austin/Daniels fight. The action in HUNT TO KILL is more than decent, but nothing we haven't seen before. But at least the Steve Austin and Gary Daniels fight is pretty bad ass. It's very physical and choreographed extremely well. Just two men beating the crap out of each other, which is always welcome in any action film. It's the only scene in the film that didn't feel totally staged and the quick editing during it enhanced it a bit, even though I don't think it was needed. This is what I want to see Austin doing in his action films - just kicking ass and taking names like he did in the wrestling ring. Why is that so hard?


MISSES
- The direction. Keoni Waxman directs a competent, yet bland film here. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot affair with the usual shaky cam at times to enhance the action somewhat. The cinematography is pretty nice though and the editing is alright as well. But most of the time, HUNT TO KILL is just visualizing people walking through the mountains and not much else until the final act. Normally, I wouldn't have much of an issue with this type of generic direction. But since the script is pretty bad, this is where the film had to compensate. And since the visuals don't make the script seem better in any way really, I have to say that the direction here is a negative.

- The bland, cliche story. Here's where HUNT TO KILL fails. For one, it has no idea what story it wants to tell. Does it want to be an action film? Does it want to be a family drama about a father trying to reconnect with his daughter through a terrible situation? Or does it want to pay homage to FIRST BLOOD by having Jim Rhodes play Rambo throughout the entire final act of the film? I'm sure a film could be all of these things and more if a really talented screenwriter knew how to balance it all. But HUNT TO KILL isn't that film and it ends up feeling uneven and disjointed. The final act, which is honestly the best part of the film besides the opening with Eric Roberts, comes across as silly due to the first two acts taking themselves too seriously. When you have somewhat realistic moments for an hour followed by Jim Rhodes playing stealthy ninja who pops out of bushes and trees for the last half hour, it's hard to take it in.

It also doesn't help that none of the characters are really developed. The villains, in particular, bring nothing new to the action genre. They have no depth and are completely stereotypical. You have the wannabe bad-ass, over-the-top leader who loves one-liners and puns. You have his bitchy girlfriend. You have the computer expert who would rather be inside than out in the woods. You have the token black guy. And you have the muscle head enforcer. That's as much depth you'll get out of these characters, even though there are hints of something more that aren't close to being explored. But they end up being nothing more than cliches.


Kim is also the stereotypical teenager who wants to rebel against her father because she hates the country and would rather be in the city. She shoplifts to get attention. She talks back to her father, even when he's trying to save her from being killed. But at the same time, she loves her father and hopes he saves her. She's pretty annoying, but aren't most teenage girls? The issue is that we don't know much about her past to really care about her. If we knew why she behaves the way she does besides that it's expected, she might come across more likeable. But she's just a brat.

Jim has the most character development in the narrative by default, since he's in pretty much every scene. He tries to be a good father. He's heroic and tough. He adapts quite well to his environment. And he's also pretty smart. I wish they had him grieve a bit more for his late border patrol partner so we can understand why we moved into the mountains quickly afterwards, but the film wasn't really focused on that. It also doesn't focus on how he acquired ninja skills to surprise his opponents, but these writers don't care about those kind of explanations. There are a lot of things we don't know about Jim. But compared to everyone else in the film, he's the easiest to connect with.

To be quite honest, the biggest narrative flaw in HUNT TO KILL is its reason to even exist. Seriously, the story that takes place logically would never happen. Why? Because one of the villains is a computer expert to, supposedly, the nth degree. Why would Banks need a tour guide for their mountain trek to retrieve their money when this "genius" could have used his computer skills to create some sort of GPS system or even print out a map that the group could follow? This guy can hack into tough computer systems. He can change his voice to mimic other people through the computer. You're telling me he couldn't Mapquest where they needed to go? Why would you go to a police station to get a guide, especially when you're wanted criminals? These idiots have the resources but didn't bother to use them! Why make things so complicated? Why make it worse? It doesn't help that Kim and then Jim just happened to stumble upon these villains. If these guys can pull off a bank heist due to the "brains" of their operation, how come said "brains" couldn't tell them where the money was and how to get there? It makes no sense and really bugged me the entire film.


THE FINAL HOWL
HUNT TO KILL isn't the worst action film I've ever seen, but it's not one I would really recommend to anyone. It wants to be other films - better films - but ends up feeling cliche, predictable, and not all that exciting [unless you count people walking through the mountains for 35 straight minutes fun]. It does have its moments and the acting kept me from turning the film off, but HUNT TO KILL didn't come close to fulfilling its potential. Steve Austin could be a great action star, like he was a great wrestling superstar. He just needs to continue pursuing the right material to make that happen. HUNT TO KILL isn't it, but if you're a fan, there may be slight interest to check it out. Otherwise, there's nothing worth hunting for here.


SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4




5.26.2012

Hellraiser (1987)

DIRECTED BY
Clive Barker

STARRING
Clare Higgins - Julia Cotton
Ashley Laurence - Kirsty Cotton
Andrew Robinson - Larry Cotton
Sean Chapman - Frank Cotton
Oliver Smith - Skinless Frank
Doug Bradley - Pinhead
Nicholas Vince - Chatterer
Simon Banford - Butterball
Grace Kirby - Female Cenobite


Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Demons

Running Time - 93 Minutes


As you've noticed on this blog, I've been heavily been doing reviews for certain franchises - recently films related to THE AVENGERS and I'm still reviewing films from the live-action BATMAN franchise. But I realized that Full Moon Reviews has been seriously lacking in horror lately, especially when it comes to reviewing films within a franchise. The last one was for the POLTERGEIST franchise a few months ago, and I haven't really focused on the horror genre since. Well, that's going to change as the horror quota is going to increase on this blog during the summer. You'll still get comic book and action reviews, but it's time we get back to what this blog was about to begin with.

To do that, I decided to finally give in and start reviewing a franchise many of you have been wanting me to do for years now. I'm not sure if it's because you genuinely care about my opinion for every film in this franchise, or you just want me to suffer through the downward spiral of this particular horror series. But as your host, I must please my guests. So because of that, I will review the entire HELLRAISER franchise before 2012 is over. You're very welcome.

Thankfully, we get to start with the 1987 Clive Barker classic that started it all - you know, before the sequels destroyed what Barker presented to begin with? HELLRAISER has never been my favorite franchise, nor have I seen every film in this franchise [besides the first 4 and the God-awful last "sequel"]. But I figured it's better to get it over with now before I go more insane than I already am. So let's begin this franchise review by opening that puzzle box and seeing whether HELLRAISER deserves its classic status and whether it still holds up after all these years.

PLOT
Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) brings trouble wherever he goes. This time around, trouble comes in the form of a small puzzle box he buys from an Asian man. Bringing the box home and going up to his attic, Frank solves the puzzle of the box. He's happy at first, but then that goes away when he realizes that opening the box means being sucked into Hell - ran by mysterious demons known as Cenobites. These monsters claim that some see them as angels, while others seem them as demons. In Frank's case, since she was shredding to death, he probably sees them as the latter.

In the meantime, Frank's brother Larry (
Andrew Robinson) and his wife Julia (Clare Higgins) are moving into the Cotton home that both Larry and Frank own - the same place where Frank had his unfortunate accident. Larry and Julia's marriage isn't as tight as the outside world believes. Larry, while a nice guy, is a bit vanilla. Julia, who may look proper on the outside, is really a sexual creature who wants excitement in her life. In fact, Julia had an affair with Frank - an affair so good that she gets aroused whenever she sees his photo or thinks about him. Larry also has a daughter named Kirsty (Ashley Laurence), who doesn't have the greatest relationship with Julia.

While Julia is inside the attic thinking about her lust for Frank, Larry cuts his hand on a nail while moving a mattress upstairs. He rushes to the attic for Julia's help, dripping blood all over the attic floor. When the couple leaves, the blood seeps through the floor and somehow reviving Frank from being the Cenobites' prisoner. However, Frank is skinless and nothing but bones and cartilage. When Julia returns to the attic, she finds this version of Frank - who asks her to help him bring in victims for their blood and flesh in order to become whole again. While she knows it's wrong, her lust for Frank overcomes her - agreeing to Frank's demands. Julia begins bringing random men who believe they're going to have sex with her - instead being fed to Frank. Kirsty catches Julia one day, investigating what's going on. She discovers a skinless Frank, fights him off, and takes off with the puzzle box.

Kirsty, unfortunately, also opens the box. The Cenobites come after her, but she strikes a deal with the leader, Pinhead, to save herself by offering them Frank once more. Pinhead agrees, only if Frank confesses his true identity. While Kirsty tries to get out of serious trouble with the Cenobites, she's about to get some more from a vengeful Julia and Frank.


REVIEW

HELLRAISER is one of those films that has stuck with me ever since I watched it in 1988 on cable at my aunt's apartment at the time. While I didn't really get the whole sexual and sado-masochistic themes that HELLRAISER seems to embrace, I did understand the gory special effects and being grossed out by them. Because of that, watching HELLRAISER again recently after so many years of not seeing it made me feel like that seven-year-old boy again. However as an adult, the soap opera aspect and the sexuality definitely enhance the experience. And that's why HELLRAISER still holds up well after 25 years - the drama within the Cotton family, and then later with the Cenobites, is still as effective as I'm sure it was back in 1987. This was pretty original for its time, and that's why a lot of horror fans still embrace Clive Barker's work here.

HELLRAISER is based on Clive Barker's novella, "The Hellbound Heart". After seeing how the films he wrote for, 1985's TRANSMUTATIONS and 1986's RAWHEAD REX - two films he felt the final product didn't reflect what he had in mind on paper - Barker decided to direct HELLRAISER in addition of adapting a screenplay from his novella. While the visuals are what make HELLRAISER stand out from many of the horror films at the time of its release, the script is no slouch either. I'm sure judging by the film's poster, DVD covers, and how iconic the character would later become, people who have yet to watch HELLRAISER [any horror fans who haven't should turn in their membership right now] probably think the film revolves around Pinhead and his Cenobites. While the sequels would do this and focus on the villains more than they probably should have, the first film is more focused on the human characters and the drama they've created amongst themselves.

The Cotton family are a pretty interesting bunch, really due to their interactions with each other. Larry doesn't respect his brother, Frank, due to Frank always getting into trouble. Larry and Julia love each other, but Julia is bored by Larry sexually. This pushes Julia into the arms, and bed, of Frank. Kirsty loves her father, tries to accept Julia as her stepmother, and is creeped out by her uncle Frank, who seems to have sexual feelings towards Kirsty. The demons are just the spice. This family may look normal to the outside world, but are pretty addicted to sinning and morally corrupting themselves and each other.

The most interesting relationship, and the strongest part of the screenplay, is between Julia and Frank. These two drive the film from its beginning to its conclusion through their depraved affections for each other and their actions. Frank shows that he has no moral bone in his body. He buys this puzzle box, feeling he'll get some rich prize by opening it [oops]. Frank photographs himself having sex with random women and admires his work. He sleeps with his brother's wife, not caring if its ruins their marriage. He escapes his prison from Hell, wanting Julia to act like a slut so she can kill for him. He even lusts after his own niece as if it's a natural thing, when it's just creepy. Frank is more of a monster than any of the Cenobites.

Julia is no better. She actually gives in to every temptation Frank offers her. She loves rough sex, getting off being dominated by Frank in-and-out of the bedroom. Even though she knows it's wrong, she still kills men for Frank to feed on them. This woman is so in lust/love with Frank that she's willing to suck his skinless fingers erotically. When Kirsty finds out what Julia is up to, Julia lets Frank go after Larry to complete the healing process while coming up with a way to keep Kirsty quiet for good. Julia's relationship with Frank goes with the S & M theme - Frank is the Master and Julia is the Slave. She holds her own with her husband, but when it comes to Frank, she's aroused by being submissive for him. Their twisted and evil relationship gives HELLRAISER its heartbeat, as they are so deviously sinful that it's fun to watch.

Larry, Julia's husband and Frank's brother, isn't much of a character. He's a great dad. He's a good husband. He's more respectable than his brother. But he isn't as juicy as Frank or Julia. Still, he has a place in the film and acts as the "dramatic irony" character - the character who doesn't realize what's going on around him until it's too late. The only sin he commits is loving and trusting Julia too much and not getting much of anything in return.


While Julia and Frank are the focus of the first two acts, both together and individually, Kirsty gets the focus in the last act. She's the typical Final Girl of her time. She's smart. She's very intuitive. She's a good girl who tries to do the right thing. And she's tough and will fight back for her family, friends, and her own survival. She's the one who figures out Frank's plan. She's the one who lets the Cenobites loose on Frank and Julia.  She's a very proactive character, which makes her interesting and instantly likeable since she wants to stop the cycle Frank has started. While not as much of a sinner as Frank or Julia, the fact that she has premarital sex and lives with her boyfriend shows that she's not exactly a virgin or a "pure soul". Still, she's the only main human character in the film not blinded by love and lust, making her quite aware of what's going on around her.

As for Pinhead and his Cenobites, they're more background characters here than they will be in later sequels. But I feel that makes them more interesting, since their mysterious nature makes the audience ponder what their deal is. Their enigmatic nature makes them creepier and more monstrous. They never drive the story. They're just here to serve it towards the film's climax. Making HELLRAISER less about the demons and more about the humans allows the audience to connect with the story better. I think that's where the sequels I've seen lost a bit of its edge. While it's understandable that filmmakers would want to explore the history of the Cenobites, as it's only logical, the connection is lost and turns the villains into everyone else. Because of their lack of a presence in the main chunk of the narrative, the Cenobites come across as a special attraction that enhances the film instead of distracting from it.

I thought the sexual and religious themes touched upon in HELLRAISER rise it above other horror films of its time. It's kind of funny, and a bit logical perhaps, that Hell looks like a sex dungeons with chains, hooks, and other scary things that will cause a ton of pain to someone. Makes sense that the Cenobites are dressed in leather, looking like dominatrixes from a leather bar or something. I already touched upon Frank and Julia's sexual relationship, but Larry also wants to have a sexual relationship with Julia and she never lets it happen. In fact, it strains their marriage when she refuses him [mainly because she was scared Frank was going to kill him during the act], complaining that Julia is fickle with her desires. And what about that scene where some phallic looking creature, with arms and two heads, chases Kirsty through a tunnel? If that's not symbolism, I don't know what is.

As for the religious and spiritual themes in the film, it's more subtle than the sexuality. Still, the theme is pretty hard to miss. I love the moment where Kirsty first approaches the Cotton home, noticing Christian iconography outside. These idols were in a previous scene, all set up nicely inside the home. It's as if there's no place for God in this home, especially after what Frank did upstairs. Frank's final line, "Jesus wept," is also a powerful piece of dialogue - sending chills down your spine as something not exactly uplifting. Also, the Cenobites claim that they are "Demons to some, Angels to others." Experience seems to put these monsters in either category, depending on the person who opens the puzzle box. They're not evil, they're just doing their job. It's how people view them that describe them one way or the other.

There's also a lot of sacrifice as well in this film. When Frank opens the box, he kneels on the attic floor, surrounded by a circle of candles. He seems to be selling his soul for, what he believes is, a greater prize. Julia sacrifices her marriage and her morality to Frank. She cheats on her husband and kills for her lover, sacrificing any bit of good she had in her to quench her desires. And Kirsty, not wanting to die at the hands of the Cenobites, makes a deal with them, sacrificing Frank in exchange for her own soul. HELLRAISER is a pretty deep film if you read between the lines.

I do have some issues with the narrative. For one, what's up with that hobo who likes to eat bugs at the pet store? He appears at the end and presents the audience with a true WTF moment. I won't spoil it, but it didn't make sense when I was seven-years-old and it still doesn't make sense now that I'm thirty-one. I guess it's supposed to be symbolic or something. Maybe it adds to the surrealism of the narrative itself. But it just leaves me scratching my head. Not exactly the best ending, in my opinion.

Also, why was the boyfriend character even in this film? I get Kirsty is a young woman and should have someone in her life. But this dude did nothing of note. He's a non-factor here and shows up at the end all of a sudden to help Kirsty. Yeah, this guy is neither interesting or worth investing into. I'm not sure if this character had a more pivotal role in the novella HELLRAISER is based on, but he's a waste of paper here.

And what about that hospital Kirsty is admitted to? What a bunch of pricks. The girl faints in the middle of the street, and these doctors and nurses want to be assholes to her. They even lock her inside her room, as if she's some sort of criminal. Maybe the fact that she had blood on her clothes made the staff think she committed a crime or something. But the girl could have been in a bad accident. Or maybe she was attacked. The doctors and nurses come off looking like assholes by judging her instead of helping her. Wherever this film takes place is the last place I'm going for medical treatment. Geez.

The special effects and make up effects in HELLRAISER still work 25 years later for the most part. Some of the effects are dated, especially the laser show whenever a Cenobite disappears back to the Hell they came from towards the end of the film. And whenever skin gets pulled apart by hooks, you can tell the "flesh" is like latex or something. It looks pretty cheesy, but that's the 80s for you.

However, the rest is great. The Cenobites look really creepy and distinctive from one another. They have sewn up wounds, piercings, and pieces of skin hanging off. It looks pretty awesome, even today. It's no wonder Pinhead became iconic, because he looks like a dude you would never mess with. You ask yourself about why he has these pins through his head, then you realize maybe it's better not knowing. And who can beat the scene where Frank resurrects himself in the attic? The way the blood and the slime comes together, with the use of stop motion animation, to create this skinless man is just beautiful and so well-done. This scene actually scared me when I was younger, but now I just admire it as a great work of art. If this was CGI, it would look like that. The practical effects, especially on such a low budget, make Frank's resurrection scene all more impressive. I also love Skinless Frank's look as well. Sure, some of it is dated, but the important effects are still timeless.

The direction by Clive Barker, who would only direct two more films in his career [1990's underrated NIGHTBREED and 1995's decent LORD OF ILLUSIONS], shows that he has a perverted visual eye for terror and torture. Barker's use of the low budget is perfect, as he only really uses a single location for the most part and saves money for the cool make up and effects. Barker displays a lot of style and strong tension and suspense, especially when Kirsty opens the box in the hospital and anytime Frank and Julia kill people. I also dug the juxtaposition of Larry cutting his hand on the nail while Julia remembers getting 'nailed' by Frank. I think Barker is also great at showing us every gory moment, so we can really see the awfulness of the entire situation. You feel kind of dirty after you finish watching the film, but in a good way. I think this is Barker's best film that he has directed. I think Barker has some great ideas visually and it sucks that his later films didn't really capture an audience, which made him stick to producing and writing instead. The film is called HELLRAISER and Barker takes sick pleasure in giving us Hell being raised.

The acting is mostly good. Andrew Robinson does what he can as normal, good guy Larry. It isn't until his change during the final act where Robinson really gets to go all out and have fun with the part. Clare Higgins is fantastic as Julia. She looks so prim and proper, with her British accent, but obviously enjoys playing a woman who's a sexual deviant and a murderer for love. She's totally convincing in the role and makes the entire situation more believable than it has any right to. Ashley Laurence is very good as Kirsty. She plays the archetype of a Final Girl quite well, making Kirsty strong, intelligent, and normal. I'll be talking about Laurence two more times during this franchise. Sean Chapman does okay as Frank. He has this sleaziness about him, but obviously women seem to like that in this film. Oliver Smith wasn't all that good as Skinless Frank though. His delivery was unintentionally funny and didn't really convince me in the role. But he wasn't totally terrible. Doug Bradley and the other actors who play the Cenobites are memorable in their roles, but they won't be chewing scenery until the sequels come around. Overall, a nice cast.

Special mention goes to Christopher Young's score. It's very memorable and eerie at times. Fits the film well. I thought the sound design in general enhanced the movie a lot. Watch it in the dark and you might feel a little something. I dug the sound design for HELLRAISER.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TRADING IN MY PUZZLE BOX FOR A RUBIK'S CUBE

- When Frank opened the puzzle box, he was torn apart. It's like getting that paternity test back from Maury - once you open that box and you're the father, your life will be torn apart.

- Julia had a secret affair with Larry's brother, Frank. I wonder if she had an affair with George too when Larry played Liberace in that TV movie years later.

- Kirsty called her father after she had a bad dream. She must have watched HELLRAISER: BLOODLINES. Not H
ELLRAISER: REVELATIONS - she wouldn't have woken up after that.

- Julia finds lonely men, luring them to the house to feed blood and flesh to Frank. Julia should work for the Red Cross since she's a pro at conducting a serious blood drive.

- Frank sliced a rat in front of Julia while Larry was trying to have sex with her. Poor Splinter. Frank's quite the Shredder.

- Frank lusts for Kirsty. They say incest is a game the whole family can play - but hopefully it'll won't turn into a two-hour movie with aliens screwing family members while Rihanna wears a bad wig in the background.

THE FINAL HOWL
HELLRAISER is a classic because it was original for its time and bold to go to places many horror films previously implied but never really showed. While the film is dated with some effects and some subplots could have been left out or are just plain confusing, HELLRAISER still manages to hold up extremely well after 25 years. It's not scary, but it's kind of disturbing - something horror needs more of these days. It's a shame that most of the sequels are also disturbing, for a different reason entirely. Unfortunately I'll get to those sooner than later. I opened the puzzle box and now have to suffer for my sins. Thankfully I'm used to the pain of bad cinema. But at least HELLRAISER starts out great and should be watched by anyone who calls themselves a horror fan.


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


5.24.2012

The Killing Machine (2010)

DIRECTED BY
Dolph Lundgren

STARRING
Dolph Lundgren - Edward Genn/Icarus
Stefanie von Pfetten - Joey
Samantha Ferris - Kerr
Bo Svenson - Vadim
David Lewis - Mr. Graham
Lindsay Maxwell - April
John Tench - Serge
Katelyn Mager - Taylor
Monique Ganderton - Kim


Genre - Action/Drama

Running Time - 88 Minutes


Also Known As - ICARUS


PLOT
Edward Genn (Dolph Lundgren) is a former agent of the KGB under the codename, Icarus. Since his KGB days, Edward is now a hit man, creating enemies all over the world. His estranged wife, daughter, and current girlfriend have no idea about this life, as Edward poses as a travelling real estate investor when he's not killing people.

After doing a successful hit in Hong Kong, Edward finds out that his past has come back to haunt him. Apparently, he spared the life of a kidnapped, tortured Russian years ago during a mission. Now the Russian mob, led by Vadim (
Bo Svenson) want a little payback on Edward and his unsuspecting family.


REVIEW


HITS

- The acting. THE KILLING MACHINE, or ICARUS as its known in the rest of the world, is a mixed bag of a film. But the acting is pretty solid here, keeping this direct-to-video feature afloat. Dolph Lundgren is one of my all time favorite 80s action superstars, and he does a fine job here in the lead role of Edward Genn. I've seen Lundgren in many films, and this is one of his better ones as he takes it very seriously. For a man his age [50-plus], he still looks great and kicks some ass. He even handles more dramatic moments well. These scenes were more of a distraction than a great addition, but Lundgren tries to make them work and I appreciate that. The guy is solid here and I'm glad he's getting more attention again due to THE EXPENDABLES.

The other actors are good as well. Stefanie von Pfetten does well as Edward's wife, Joey. Her character was a bit unbelievable, but von Pfetten grounded the performance. Samantha Ferris is great as Kerr, Edward's former ally who has a ton of connections. I wish she were in the film more, but she handled her role like a champ. Bo Svenson should have been in the film more as well, but he's great in his limited time as Vadim. Svenson seems to be having fun playing a nasty bastard. David Lewis was also very cool as Mr. Graham. Great cast. I just wish the script gave most of them more to do.

- Most of the direction. In his sixth directorial feature, Dolph Lundgren does alright behind the camera. As an action star, Lundgren knows how to capture those moments and make them memorable. Although I feel the editing could have been a bit more subtle [too much quick editing at times], I did like how some of it was shot. Lundgren does have a good grasp on what works. I thought the editing, the framing, and the composition were nice for the most part. Even though I wasn't the biggest fan of the slower, more family-oriented portions of THE KILLING MACHINE, I will say that Lundgren did shoot them nicely, even if they were a bit vanilla at times. I also liked how the flashbacks had more saturation than the present day scenes. Plus, Lundgren wanted to do a film noir type of feel, with the use of voiceover and its pace. He doesn't quite succeed with that [the way the film is shot is more THE BOURNE IDENTITY than DOUBLE INDEMNITY], but I do get a sense of what he was going for. Not the greatest direction, but far from terrible.


- The action portions. I liked the action sequences here, where Edward goes out and kills people. For me, these were the most interesting moments of THE KILLING MACHINE. Through these scenes, I felt Edward got a lot of character development through his actions, and through the characters who help him and/or betray him. While the film isn't particularly gory or bloody, there is a lot of violence here. It's mainly bullet wounds, but we do see limbs getting broken. We also get a face sliced off from lip, up. We get explosions. We get a death via pitchfork. There's some nice stuff here.

I also felt these moments really quickened the pace of THE KILLING MACHINE, and helped explore the dynamics of his relationships with his wife, daughter, and girlfriend better than the slower moments did. Seeing him in action is seeing Edward alive and in his zone. How others react to that reveal a lot. Plus the action moments elevate the tension when Edward's family is caught in the middle of this unnecessary war. A lot of the twist and turns took place during these moments, which I liked. Dolph Lundgren is an action star. And while he's done better action films, he's in his element doing these scenes. I dug it.


MISSES
- The drama portions. Unfortunately, for every action scene, there were two scenes that were made for Lifetime. These scenes involve Edward, his wife, and his daughter trying to figure each other out to be blended better as a family. We watch Edward struggle with his lies to the people he loves, which is interesting. But it feels forced compared to the action scenes, as if THE KILLING MACHINE would rather be a drama first and an action film second. There should be a balance here, but it never feels that way. It doesn't help that these portions do feel like a film noir at times, visualized by direction that's the total opposite. These scenes seem too heavy, as if Lundgren would rather concern himself about making his character a struggling family man until he's bored by it enough to move into an action scene. These moments don't intersect properly, making the film feel disjointed in tone and mood. I don't know what this film wants to be, and that's a huge problem with THE KILLING MACHINE.


I'm not saying I didn't mind the slow character development between Edward and his ex-wife. I'm glad we get to see his personal life and how being a hitman effects his world. But it seems to get in the way of story progression, as the film is still too concentrated on the set-up. It doesn't help that the ex-wife character has a boyfriend, who suffers a terrible fate, yet she sleeps with Edward right after the boyfriend's death because she's still upset about it. It doesn't feel natural and it drags the film down. Personally, I wish Edward didn't have a family. Or maybe if the villains had killed them, it would really give THE KILLING MACHINE a ton of edge and atmosphere. I get what the screenwriter and Lundgren were going for, but the two portions don't work together that well. I was bored during these moments, and I should never feel that way during an action film. It's a shame because these scenes are pretty well acted. I just wasn't invested in them because Edward had a ton of depth and these other characters were paper-thin. These dramatic, family scenes ruined the pacing and confused me on what type of film I was meant to see here. It's great they wanted to make Edward human and sympathetic. I just felt it could have been done in a more natural, and productive way.


THE FINAL HOWL

THE KILLING MACHINE is a pretty average direct-to-video action/drama that seems to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. Dolph Lundgren is great onscreen, and decent behind the scenes visually. The action moments were pretty good. Yet the family drama stuff dragged the film down for me. I love drama in my action, only if its a natural fit - which isn't the case here. If you want to see a film that balances the two out well, watch TRUE LIES. Unfortunately, THE KILLING MACHINE didn't have the budget to hire a better screenwriter and a special effects team that could pull off all the stops. Still, the film is okay for what it is and I respect Lundgren's attempt with creating a modern film-noir, even if it doesn't fully succeed. If you're a Dolph Lundgren fan, check this film out. Otherwise, you're not missing much.


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4





5.23.2012

The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Batman and Robin (1997)

DIRECTED BY
Joel Schumacher

STARRING
George Clooney - Bruce Wayne/Batman
Arnold Schwarzenegger - Victor Fries/Mr. Freeze
Chris O'Donnell - Dick Grayson/Robin
Uma Thurman - Dr. Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy
Alicia Silverstone - Barbara Wilson/Batgirl
Michael Gough - Alfred Pennyworth
Jeep Swenson - Bane
Elle MacPherson - Julie Madison
John Glover - Dr. Jason Woodrue
Pat Hingle - Commissioner Gordon


Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Science Fiction/Comic Books

Running Time - 125 Minutes


Even though the 1960s were very kind to the character in terms of the mainstream audience, Tim Burton turned DC Comics' The Caped Crusader into a pop culture icon and merchandise machine with 1989's BATMAN and 1992's BATMAN RETURNS. Both films were commercially and critically successful, proving that films adapted from comic books could be a great commodity for any film studio if done right and with respect to its source and to its fan base. While BATMAN was a huge blockbuster success, BATMAN RETURNS was less so, even though it was a stronger and still successful film. Warner Brothers, who owned the rights, felt that BATMAN RETURNS was too dark of a film [even though it reflected the 1990s version of Batman]. So they dumped Tim Burton as director and hired more glossy and stylish director, Joel Schumacher, instead. Michael Keaton was out in the process, as well as a planned CATWOMAN feature starring Michelle Pfeiffer. But Warner Brothers was happy with the changes, hoping that the new status quo would appeal to a larger, family friendly audience.

In 1995, BATMAN FOREVER was released to audiences. It had A-list stars, such as Val Kilmer [Batman], Chris O'Donnell [Robin], Nicole Kidman, Tommy Lee Jones [Two-Face], and especially Jim Carrey [The Riddler], taking on iconic roles that many fans were eager to see on the big screen for the first time. While the film was not as critically received as the previous two installments, BATMAN FOREVER was a huge financial success - making over $300 million domestically alone and having a very popular soundtrack to go along with it.

With the success of the film at the box office and all the huge merchandise sales that came along with it, Warner Brothers saw dollar signs and wanted to make more. Without hesitation, the studio ordered for another sequel called BATMAN AND ROBIN, continuing where Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman left off. However, pre-production notes show that the studio was motivated by nothing but greed rather than the love of the characters. Production was rushed, as Warner Brothers wanted the film out in two years rather than the usual three. Schumacher, knowing that the studio wanted to keep the franchise family friendly, decided to give the film the tone of the popular 1960s TV show - bringing camp, silliness, and cheese to what once was a serious franchise. Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and Bane was announced as the THREE villains for the sequel, as well as adding Batgirl to the already crowded hero side of Batman and Robin. Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as Mr. Freeze, since Joel Schumacher wouldn't direct the film unless he was a part of it somehow. Uma Thurman was hired as Poison Ivy. Val Kilmer never got a call back to return as Batman, finding out with everyone else that George Clooney was replacing him. Alicia Silverstone was cast as Batgirl due to her role from 1995's CLUELESS. A lot of fans were starting to get worried about the film just through the casting alone.

BATMAN AND ROBIN wasn't helped by the fact that Warner Brothers wanted the toy companies to come in and tell the special effects team, costume designers, and set designers what they wanted to see in the film to sell various merchandise. That's why we get a new Batcave, a new Batmobile, a couple of new costumes, and just a different look to Gotham City in general. The actors were also frustrated by the fact that Schumacher ordered them to act as if they're in a big budgeted cartoon, feeling the product felt more like a toy commercial than an actual film.

Regardless of the issues, BATMAN AND ROBIN managed to make its release date of June 20, 1997, opening at number one at the box office during its opening weekend. Unfortunately, bad word of mouth caused the film's revenue to drop severely the following weeks, making BATMAN AND ROBIN the least successful of the Burton/Schmacher Era both financially and critically. Fifteen years later, the film is still considered one of the worst films ever made, especially in the comic book adaptations genre.

But is BATMAN AND ROBIN as bad as people say? Or is it a misunderstood masterpiece? Gee, what do you think?

PLOT
Batman (George Clooney) and Robin (Chris O'Donnell) are called to stop a robbery initiated by one Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger) - a former scientist who needs diamonds to power up his sub-zero body suit that he must wear due to an accident falling into a cyrogenic vat while attempting to save his sick wife. Although Batman and Robin do their best, Robin's recklessness leads to Mr. Freeze's escape. This continues an already big rift between the two crime fighters over respect and how to handle things on the field.

Meanwhile, a botanist named Dr. Pamela Isley (
Uma Thurman) learns that her superior, Dr. Jason Woodrue (John Glover) is using her special plant serum to create a steroid-enhanced beast known as Bane (Jeep Swenson) to sell to the highest bidder. When Isley refuses to help him with his insane project, Woodrue throws toxins on her that should have killed her. Unfortunately for Woodrue, Isley revives as the villainous Poison Ivy, who kills Woodrue with a venomous kiss. She can also use her pheromones to make men fall in love with her.

When Bruce Wayne rejects her proposal that would make Gotham City and the rest of the world into a 'greener' place, Poison Ivy decides to team up with Mr. Freeze to make humanity pay for the cruel treatment to plants, trees, and the environment in general. She convinces Mr. Freeze to freeze civilization so plants can take over the world as they hibernate. Ivy distracts Batman and Robin by using her pheromone dust on them, making both men fall for her - which leads to the two arguing who deserves to be with Poison Ivy - allowing Mr. Freeze to find special diamonds to power up his suit to its maximum level.

Meanwhile, Alfred's (
Michael Gough) niece, Barbara Wilson (Alicia Silverstone) shows up at Wayne Manor from England, knowing that Alfred is dying from some incurable disease. While trying to help Alfred [and with his guidance], Barbara figures out the secret of Wayne Manor - finding the Batcave, realizing Batman's and Robin's identities, and learning that Alfred has created a costume for her as well to fight crime. Joining Batman and Robin as Batgirl, the three heroes attempt to stop Freeze's and Ivy's plan from coming to fruition.

REVIEW
I have three words for BATMAN AND ROBIN:

WHAT THE FUCK!?

BATMAN AND ROBIN is still the only BATMAN film [that has been released in my lifetime] I did not watch in theaters. Watching the TV spots before its release, I knew right away that I would not support this piece of comic book shit by buying a movie ticket, instead waiting until cable the following year to check it out for free. The cast didn't appeal to me. The footage that was marketed to audiences looked really ridiculous and terrible. I mean, Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl??? REALLY? There was no one better than her to play the role? I couldn't understand how a once-serious franchise [even BATMAN FOREVER, as silly as it was, had dark, serious moments] turned into such a farce of its former self. BATMAN AND ROBIN feels like a spoof version of BATMAN. The only thing missing was Leslie Neilsen playing The Bookworm or something. While not the worst comic book adaptation out there, BATMAN AND ROBIN is still crap however you look at it.

The biggest culprit of BATMAN AND ROBIN is Akiva Goldsman's screenplay. It's really a miracle how Goldsman went from this to winning an Academy Award for writing 2001's A BEAUTIFUL MIND. You'd think they were written by two different people. This screenplay is atrocious in every way possible. Sure, some things are unintentionally funny. But a Batman movie should NEVER be unintentional, or intentional, comedy. The Animated Series is more adult than this film could ever be. It's just odd and disturbing.

BATMAN AND ROBIN follows a similar template that BATMAN FOREVER used. Batman and Robin are at odds as usual. One character is transformed into the villain, while the other already is. In fact, the villain who transforms was previously a shy, reclusive scientist who wants to use mind control to "better the world" - something Bruce Wayne rejects. Sound familiar? The villains unite to take down the heroes to achieve world domination, or something like that. Batman and Robin get over their problems and take both down easily - with the help of a "teenager" living in Wayne Manor [with a tragic past] who stumbled into the secrets of the mansion to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman. It's BATMAN FOREVER all over again, but in a dumber version. The only difference is that Alfred is dying, and we get an extra hero and an extra villain to crowd what's already a shallow script. I won't criticize the superhero template because you don't fix what's not broken. At least I can follow the structure and understand where the film's headed. The blueprint is a BATMAN film all the way, so I can't complain. But it's still pretty lazy.

What I can complain about are the way the characters are handled here. I think Alfred is the only character who seems to not have suffered an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, because I don't know who these characters are within BATMAN AND ROBIN. Bruce Wayne/Batman isn't the brooding, dark character he was portrayed as in the first three installments, or in the comic books. Instead, he's smiling all the time. Instead, he's cracking jokes and pulling out credit cards. Schumacher and Goldsman felt that Batman should get over his parent's death and live his life as a rich playboy who fights crime.

.....

DO THEY NOT UNDERSTAND THAT DARK AND BROODING IS WHO BATMAN IS!? HE'S NOT FUCKING SUPERMAN, ASSHOLES!

.....

Sigh. While Batman's portrayal is terrible, he's not the worst character in the film. Robin, who can be a cool character in the hands of someone capable, is just so freakin' annoying here. He complains and whines about everything.

"I want a car! Chicks dig the car!"

"I want you to trust me, Bruce!"

"I can do it on my own, Bruce!"

"You're just jealous that Poison Ivy wants me more than you!"

"I want a Robin Signal!"

I wanted to kick Robin in his protruding codpiece on more than one occasion. I thought he was a sidekick, not a child? The fact that he was more mature in BATMAN FOREVER is boggling, when he was pretty immature in that film as well. But Robin is written in such a way that people will want him dead by the film's end.

Mr. Freeze is also annoying, due to his constant puns and one-liners. But at least his character is pretty faithful compared to the others. His motivations are clear - he wants to save his wife by finding an antidote for her disease. He needs to steal diamonds to power up his suit that keeps him cold - therefore alive. Batman and Robin are in his way, so he wants to take them out. Sure, he does stupid things like have his minions sing for him while he wears fuzzy slippers. He even has two vials with the antidote inside his suit for whatever reason, which Batman gladly takes and uses on Alfred without thinking it could be a trick. Logic? What logic? But at least I know this is Mr. Freeze because the backstory is there and I understand who he is. Out of all the characters in the film not named Alfred, Freeze has the most depth.

I can't say the same for Poison Ivy though. Here's a character who has an interesting comic book backstory and one of the few villains in Batman's rogues gallery that has actual superpowers. Yet, how is she presented here? As a female version of The Riddler, just less funny. She transforms into Poison Ivy within five minutes of her first appearance, never giving us time to know her - like we knew Catwoman and other villains in the franchise. She can kiss men with her kisses, yet she never attempts to do it to a mind-controlled Batman and Robin when they're most vulnerable. The film never lets her grow giant plants that could give our heroes trouble like in the comics. She's just a campy vamp who parades in a sexy costume and seducing men in manners where it never takes the film anywhere substantial. Wasn't this marketed to children? You can't have your cake and eat it too, Warner Brothers! Even her plan with Mr. Freeze is stupid. She wants him to freeze the world so she can make it new again by turning it into a plant wonderland. But as a botanist, wouldn't she know that cold has an ill effect on most plant life? How would this plan benefit her in any way? It just bugged me the moment she comes up with it. No wonder Freeze quickly goes along with it. She's a dumbass!

And Bane...oh poor Bane. What has Goldsman done to you, my roid raged friend? Instead of being presented as the ultra-intelligent villain who strikes fear into Batman [especially after he broke Batman's back in the comics - maybe we'll see that in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES?], he's turned into a buffoon who grunts and does everything Poison Ivy and/or Mr. Freeze tell him. I don't know who this character is. You could have put any Joe Schmoe in his place and it would be the same person. It's really a disgrace what Warner Brothers did to this awesome character in this movie. It's as if they liked his look but didn't bother researching who he was. Honestly, you could have taken Bane out and the film wouldn't have changed all that much [this goes for other characters I have yet to mention]. I think when I first watched this back in 1998, Bane was one of the main reasons why I hate this film. And after seeing what THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is doing with the character, I hate his portrayal even more now.

And then we have Batgirl. One, did this franchise even need Batgirl? Without The Joker around, it was kind of a pointless addition really. It's bad enough Batman has one annoying sidekick. Now he has another one who can interchange with Robin. What's the point? Not only that, but they really butchered her origin here. Instead of making her related to Commissioner Gordon [Barbara's his daughter], they make her Alfred's niece. I guess I can figure out why in context of the film, but it's just silly. The way Bruce responds to her, it's as if Alfred has never mentioned Barbara to him. If they were that close, wouldn't Bruce know about her? And the character really does nothing of note besides steal motorcycles to drag race gang members. At least they got her computer savvy down, but getting 1 out of 5 things right about Batgirl is pretty messed up.

Before I get to Alfred, Commissioner Gordon returns...to do nothing as usual. It's as if only Christopher Nolan understood how to use a pivotal character in the Batman mythology. And we also have Bruce's girlfriend, Julie Madison. While it's great that their relationship is already established once the film starts, this lady does nothing of note at all. Why is she here? What does she do? Is Julie Bruce's trophy girlfriend? Julie and a trophy are pretty one-dimensional, so probably! Honestly, you could have taken both characters out and the film wouldn't change except for its running time. What a waste of space.

As for Alfred, he's not immune to doing ridiculous things in this film. But at least out of all the characters in the film, he still feels the same. In fact, Alfred is the most interesting character in the film because he has the most dramatic moments within this joke of a sequel. He's fighting a disease, yet he never shows his weakness. Barbara thinks he shouldn't be a slave to Bruce, but Alfred clearly loves his job. In fact, Alfred gives Bruce a ton of insight in this film about why he holds on to Batman so much [something to do with Bruce wanting to control death to make up for his parents' murder] and has great moments within the script. In fact, if I were writing this script, I probably would have killed Alfred off - only because it would give Batman some motivation that he clearly lacked in this film. But this is a toy commercial, not a movie. So my logic and insight don't matter, do they?

The only issues I had with Alfred came with Barbara finding the Batcave. It just seems silly that this man would create a data disc that he wanted Barbara to send to his brother - a disc that holds every single secret about Wayne Manor. Why would Alfred do that to Bruce? Does Bruce even know about this? Alfred tells Barbara not to look at the disc, which of course means "LOOK AT IT, YOU NOSY BITCH!" Barbara, of course, looks at the disc. Before she does though, she figures out Alfred's secret computer password: "Peg".

PEG? REALLY? UGH...

Anyway, Barbara enters the Batcave and Alfred has a video in which he does his best Max Headroom impression, telling her that he knew she'd look into the disc and made a costume for her to wear to fight crime. Really, Alfred? It's bad enough you let Vicki Vale into the cave. But this is just stupid. And it makes no sense. Maybe Alfred was going senile, I dunno. But at least he's 80 percent himself in this film.

The dialogue is also an issue here. It's pretty much based on one-liners and puns that get old really fast. It's bad enough that the villains quote them more often than one possibly should. But when you have Batman and Robin doing the same, I just want to pull my hair out. Batman should be brooding and torn, letting his actions do the talking. Mr. Freeze should be cold and dangerous, not clowning around and rehearsing some bad stand-up routine. Poison Ivy should be using her sex appeal in an adult way, not trying out for RuPaul's Drag Race. Did Goldsman even read the comics? Did he even watch the cartoons? Hell, did he even watch BATMAN FOREVER, a film he actually wrote with better dialogue? I understand the studio wanted to sell toys, but didn't the other films sell a ton of merchandise? The reason why BATMAN was so successful is due to its adult, mature, and serious screenplay. Regressing to homage the campy 60s show in 1997 doesn't seem like a logical move. And obviously, audiences agreed.

I will say that the terrible script does make the film more fun than it should be. It's one of those films that belongs on Mystery Science Theater 3000, just so we can hear people riffing on how bad it is. I would love to hear people's opinions on how Batman, Robin, and Batgirl went to the Batcave to change into their black and silver costumes while time was counting down [12 minutes in fact] until the Earth's doom. Some heroes they are. And the heroes never met Mr. Freeze, yet they already had ice skates equipped into their boots. Yeah...sure. It's nowhere near TROLL 2 unintentional comedy, but at least its awfulness never bored me. So I got to give the film that much.

The special effects in BATMAN AND ROBIN aren't the greatest I've seen, but they are a highlight. Unfortunately, all the vehicles in the film look like toys rather than actual transportation. Not surprisingly, the toy companies were the ones who pretty much designed the costumes and the vehicles seen in the film rather than producers of the film itself. I don't think they're all terrible [even though Mr. Freeze's ice car looks pretty dumb], but the Batmobile should not be glowing due to some disco ball where its engine should be. Still, it's better than nothing.

We also get the usual explosions and make-up that looks good. Poison Ivy's pheromones and Mr. Freeze's ice looks okay. The use of green screen was pretty obvious, but it added a charm the film needed. Or maybe I needed it. I can't tell at this point. Still, the effects aren't terrible but I felt some were better in other installments [the film looked cheaper to me for some reason].

Joel Schumacher returned for his second, and last, directorial input on the BATMAN franchise. A lot of people blame Schumacher for how BATMAN AND ROBIN turned out, claiming he murdered the franchise until Christopher Nolan saved it in 2005's BATMAN BEGINS. While I do agree that Schumacher should take some of the blame for the film's failure, I just think he was doing whatever the studio wanted him to do for the most part. Even with all that, I don't think Schumacher's visual style is terrible. It's not as good as BATMAN FOREVER, but this sequel never looks like an eye sore. I will say that the set design of Gotham City looks too structured. I think the colors used here are ridiculous. I think the film feels exactly like its running time, when it should feel shorter. But at least Schumacher keeps the tone consistent for the most part [the dramatic scenes with Alfred do feel out of place with all the comedy around it] and the action is pretty fluid. It just never feels like a film. It feels like a 2-hour commercial for merchandise and silly gags in between. At least I cracked up anytime Batman, Robin, or Batgirl got into costume. Those close ups of butts, crotches, and nipples - hilarious.

I'm glad Schumacher took blame for what happened with this film because he could have put his foot down and tried to make a better film than the final product. And when he finally decided to do that, the next BATMAN project, the planned-to-be-much-darker BATMAN TRIUMPHANT with The Scarecrow as the villain, was canned in favor of a reboot. You live and you learn, I guess. Not the worst direction I've seen in a comic book adaptation, but it's not a highlight in Schumacher's career.

The acting in BATMAN AND ROBIN isn't all that great really. George Clooney tries his best to be a decent Bruce Wayne/Batman. But he's just miscast in the role. He's too smirky and smiley to be Bruce Wayne, even though he plays that better than he does Batman. It's like watching his ER character, Dr. Ross, dress up as Batman for Halloween. Doesn't feel or look right. Chris O'Donnell is pretty annoying as Dick Grayson/Robin. It doesn't help that the script turned his character into a brat. Plus, O'Donnell was frustrated during filming over the new direction, which could explain his performance. Alicia Silverstone is also miscast as Barbara Wilson/Batgirl. She's too bland for the role and doesn't really add much to the film in general.

Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't so bad as Mr. Freeze in my opinion. Should he have been cast in this particular role? Not at all. But at least he seems to be having fun saying those cheesy puns. Plus when he needs to emote, he doesn't do a terrible job. I thought he was one of the better actors in the film, which says a lot about everyone else here. Uma Thurman, who is a great actress, is just terrible as Poison Ivy. She overacts in every scene, overdoing her arm movements and just acting like a caricature of a real person. I know the villain should be a bit hammy in these films, but she sort of teetered the boundaries here. Her performance is pretty painful. Jeep Swenson does nothing but grunt and break stuff as Bane. What more can I say about that?

The only actor who gives a credible performance is Michael Gough as Alfred. The MVP of the Burton/Schumacher Era, Gough gives a sympathetic and passionate performance whenever he's on screen. He has an interesting arc and gives this mess of a film a lot of class. Gough is without a doubt the best part of BATMAN AND ROBIN. While his character is given some questionable actions, Gough makes them all feel important. Too bad this performance wasn't in a better film.

We also get cameos by Vivica A. Fox as Ms. B Haven, Mr. Freeze's assistant, or whoever she was. Jesse "The Body" Ventura and Ralf Moeller are two Arkham Asylum guards. And John Glover gives an okay performance as Dr. Woodrue. It's an interesting cast that needed a much better and tighter screenplay to make it feel more special.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TRYING TO CHILL

- Batman and Robin had boots equipped with ice skates to play hockey with Mr. Freeze's minions. If Freeze had done a "Tonya Harding" on each of them, he would have saved me two hours of my life.

- Dr. Woodrue injected a criminal with the Venom super-soldier serum to turn him into the muscular Bane. Word of advice: Don't put "venom" anywhere near your comic book sequel. It'll be bashed for years to come. See also: SPIDER-MAN 3.

- Freeze has his minions sing for him. I have a feeling this boy band will receive a cold reception on the Billboard charts.

- Bruce, Dick, or Alfred knew that Barbara was a secret daredevil. I guess they were the ones who were CLUELESS.

- Batman and Robin feuded over who wins the affections of Poison Ivy. Michelle Bachmann probably smiled at the fact that a woman finally turned Batman and Robin straight.

...Oh. They already were? Okay, if you say so...

- Jesse Ventura played one of the Arkham Asylum guards who has trouble with Mr. Freeze. After watching his two former co-stars in this film, it's no wonder why The Predator pushed his self-destruct button.

- Robin wore rubber lips to counteract Poison Ivy's venomous kisses. I hope they protect against herpes as well, at least in my case. The gonorrhea, however, is another story...

THE FINAL HOWL
BATMAN AND ROBIN is one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made. The script is awful. The direction is passable. The special effects are nothing special. And the acting is a mixed bag. I've only watched it twice and I will be hard pressed to watch it a third time. Is it the worst film out there? Is it the worst comic book related film ever made? No, on both counts. But while it can be unintentionally fun to watch if you don't take it too seriously, BATMAN AND ROBIN is a pretty bad movie that ruined what was a smart and serious comic book franchise. Thankfully this would change in 2005 with BATMAN BEGINS.

As for BATMAN AND ROBIN, I'm sending it to the WTF? Vault where it can hibernate for the rest of time. It can kiss my ass, but it better put on those rubber lips first.


SCORE
1 Howl Outta 4



TRAILER



R. KELLY - "GOTHAM CITY"



JEWEL - "FOOLISH GAMES"



THE SMASHING PUMPKINS - "THE END IS THE BEGINNING IS THE END"



BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY - "LOOK INTO MY EYES"
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