9.30.2013

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER II] The WTF? Worst Films Extravaganza Presents: Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988)

DIRECTED BY
John Hough

STARRING
Romy Windsor - Marie Adams
Michael T. Weiss - Richard Adams
Suzanne Severeid - Sister Janice
Anthony Hamilton - Tom Billings
Lamya Derval - Eleanor
Dennis Folbigge - Dr. Coombes
Norman Anstey - Sheriff


Genre - Horror/Mystery/Werewolves

Running Time
- 88 Minutes


I haven't reviewed a werewolf movie in a while, so I decided that for the last entry for Sequel September II, I would step back into the HOWLING franchise. As some of you know, I'm a fan of the original 1981 THE HOWLING starring Dee Wallace. It's not as good as AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, which came out the same year, but it's a well-told werewolf story with great looking lycans and a memorable atmosphere. But very quickly, the installments released afterwards just went downhill.

THE HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF is a terrible movie. The acting is bad. The direction isn't all that stimulating. The story is beyond stupid. But at least it has Reb Brown, Christopher Lee, and Sybil Danning [who shows her boobs quite a lot] helping make the film memorable and worth a watch just to laugh. Then HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS was released, involving a hybrid of werewolves and kangaroos. It's even worse than YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, but at least it tries to do something different from the standard werewolf narrative.

And then we have HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE. Acting like a sequel, it's really a remake [or reboot] in disguise - as it pretty much tells the story from the original film, but in a way that's closer to the novel written by Gary Brandner. Oh man, if I were Mr. Brandner, I would have shot anyone involved with this production with a silver bullet. HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE is probably the worst sequel I've watched for this month's theme. Just a really pointless exercise of torture if you ask me. How can a more faithful rendition of the original story actually be WORSE than the film loosely based on the same story? Not even the full moon knows.

PLOT
Marie (Romy Windsor) is an author who seems to be struggling with some nightmares and visions - bad enough to send her to a hospital. She continues to see a frightened nun (Megan Kruskal) and werewolves surrounded by fire, not sure what to make of each. Since her doctor believes that she's just stressed out by her overacting imagination [he sure sounds like a duck...], Marie's husband Richard (Michael T. Weiss) has decided to take her to a small town named Drago [I must break you...] to relax for a few weeks. However due to the strange townspeople in Drago, and Richard's sudden attraction to one of them (Lamya Derval), these visions just get more intense until she slowly realizes she's in werewolf territory.

Hmmm...I think I may have seen this movie before.


REVIEW

I have three words for HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE:

WHAT THE FUCK!?


I will give the filmmakers this: one of the words in the full title definitely describes this abysmal sequel. It's like a bad dream you can't wake yourself up from for 88 minutes. Who in the hell thought that remaking the original HOWLING would solve the franchise's problems? Especially when this film just makes the first film that much better than I had thought it was prior to watching it! As a sequel, it sucks. As a remake, it's even worse. I've seen a lot of bad sequels before and during my blogging days. HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE is definitely near the front of the line.

There's really no point in going in depth in terms of the narrative. It's the same fucking movie as the first film. Just with lamer special effects [although they are the film's only highlights], worse acting, a duller script, and inept direction.

- Main character gets a nervous breakdown.

- Her husband decides to help her go to a small, quiet town to relax and live life stress free for a while.

- The townspeople are all weird and creepy, creating a mystery for the town's secret.

- One of the characters is a big ol' whore who seduces the main character's husband and turns him into a werewolf during sex.

- The main character, getting some sort of lead from an outside source, realizes she's surrounded by werewolves, and seems to be the only one who can stop them.

Gee, I wonder how this will all turn out...?

Seriously, if I wanted to watch this story play out on screen, I'd watch Joe Dante's THE HOWLING. At least that film had a genuine mystery, great actors, cool visuals, and a quick pace. This film is the total opposite and a total failure. It's funny how the more faithful adaptation is a total snorefest.

We do get some different takes on certain plot points that weren't in the first HOWLING. There's a character named Ben, who I believe may or may not be Australian [depending on which scene he's in]. He's Marie's co-worker and potential love interest, even though Marie's married to Richard. Ben isn't subtle with his feelings, although Marie is totally clueless. Honestly, Ben doesn't add much to the film but putting a slight wedge between Marie and Richard. And even that doesn't go anywhere. What a waste of a character.

There's also Sister Ruth, who seems to have been a victim of Drago. Even though she's dead, she appears to Marie and warns her like some nut to get out of town. Janice, who used to be a nun with Ruth, acts as the person who figures out the legend before anyone else, although it takes 70 minutes for Marie to actually believe the only smart person in the movie. I will admit that Janice is probably the best character in the film by default, only because I didn't want her dead right away [even though I wanted it to happen eventually just because she's in this God-awful flick!]. Still, at least there was one character who didn't give me the urge to roll my eyes.

My biggest issue with the screenplay is the attempt to create some sort of great mystery that didn't need to even exist. In the original film, the mystery worked because the theme of the "howling" meant more than just standard werewolves. It was a metaphor for the beast within all of us. There was subtext in terms of the wolves, as well as the mystery of what they looked like. By the time you get to PART FOUR, what's the mystery? The werewolves?? THERE'S A FUCKING WEREWOLF ON THE COVER! I KNOW WHAT THE MOVIE IS ABOUT! WHY ARE YOU MAKING THESE CHARACTERS SO FUCKING STUPID JUST TO SELL A NON-MYSTERY?? AND WHY IS THE MYSTERY SO BORING?? AND WHY AREN'T THE CHARACTERS SMARTER OR MORE SUBTLE ABOUT IT?? WHY?????

...Sorry. My brain overloaded on the stupidity and pointlessness of this screenplay. Seriously, you don't see werewolves until the last 10 minutes because the supposed mystery is building to their presence - even though you know you're watching a HOWLING sequel, which is a franchise centered on fucking werewolves.

FUCK THIS SCRIPT. I CAN'T EVEN...

The best moments in the film involve the special effects work. They're not super duper amazing or anything. But compared to everything else, it's pretty memorable for the right reasons. The werewolves look pretty good, that is when you can really see them, and the melting scene with Michael T. Weiss is pretty awesome. Too bad these effects happen way too late. I'm sure most people won't even bother getting to these scenes due to turning the film off out of boredom. Skip to the last 20 minutes if you want to see the good stuff.

The direction by John Hough is terrible. I can't believe this is the same man who directed 1973's THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE. There's nothing interesting about this movie visually. There's a ton of filler. The pacing is molasses. It's pretty much a point-and-shoot affair. There's nothing stylish or slightly inventive about HOWLING IV. No atmosphere. No tension. Hell, even the editing and continuity between shots are terrible. Just because a film is low budget and filmed to go straight to video doesn't mean it has to suck. But this film definitely does.

The acting is no better really. Romy Windsor isn't captivating enough as an actress to really carry a film like this. She doesn't react to things realistically enough and comes across looking like an airhead due to the bad direction and her character portrayal. I'm sure she's a better actress than this, but this was not Windsor's role. Worse is Michael T. Weiss as Richard. Best known for his lead role on TV's The Pretender, Weiss makes a robot look more human than he does. He's just really bland. Suzanne Severeid as Sister Janice was okay, but not given anything interesting to do. Anthony Hamilton as Tom Billings may make the women swoon with his accent and his good looks. But his acting is the equivalent of watching paint dry. Just terrible. Nobody in this movie comes out smelling like a rose. Bad script + Bad acting = God-awful movie.

THE FINAL HOWL
There are a few worse sequels than HOWLING IV: THE ORIGINAL NIGHTMARE. I honestly don't know what anyone was thinking while filming this. The story, which is the same as the original film, is just lifeless, pointless, and terribly written. The direction by John Hough is awful. The acting is miserable. Besides the special effects, there's nothing worth watching about one of the worst horror sequels I have ever had the displeasure to watch. I couldn't recommend a movie less. This is one full moon worth skipping for sure.



SCORE
0.5 Howls Outta 4



9.29.2013

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER II] Watchtower of Justice: Batman Forever (1995) & Batman and Robin (1997)



By Mike Huntley


Tim Burton brought the most iconic comic book character to the big screen in the 1989 smash hit Batman. Gone was the campy and cartoonish family friendly Caped Crusader, replaced by a psychologically damaged billionaire with a thirst for fighting Gotham City's criminals under the cover of darkness. Batman became a pop culture phenomenon.  By being a blockbuster for Warner Bros. and DC Comics, a sequel was inevitable. So, in the summer of 1992, Batman Returns graced the big screen bringing back Tim Burton in the director's chair and Michael Keaton in the title role. After facing his first major enemy, The Joker, played brilliantly by Jack Nicholson, Batman's next big villains were the freakish Penguin played by Danny DeVito and the sexy yet dangerous Catwoman played by Michelle Pfeiffer.  While Batman Returns did decent business at the box office, Warner Bros. got a lot of flack from pissed off parents that the film was too dark, too gothic, too violent, and too adult for the youth of the world. Even the casual Batman fans (except this one) complained that Burton had gone too far with making Batman dark. 

This caused Warner Bros. to want to switch gears and make Batman fun again by bringing the character back to his campy roots while still keeping a little bit of darkness left over.  Burton was reduced to a producer role and WB hired fellow stylish director Joel Schumacher, who is best known for his 1987 cult classic teen vampire flick The Lost Boys. Schumacher grew up loving the campy 1960s television series of Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  The Riddler played by Jim Carrey and Two-Face played by Tommy Lee Jones (who replaced Billy Dee Williams) were chosen as the villains of this third Batman movie. Feeling that the franchise was backtracking to what the 1989 film was meant to steer away from, Batman and Batman Returns star Michael Keaton turned down the role. Liking his role in the film Tombstone, Schumacher hired Val Kilmer to replace Keaton as The Dark Knight. Finally joining The Caped Crusader was Robin/Dick Grayson played by Chris O' Donnell.  While it brought in a mixed audience and mixed reviews, Batman Forever was a decent enough success financially to please Warner Bros. and beat out Batman Returns at the box office. Is the second sequel any good though? You'll just have to read on to find out.

Gotham's former District Attorney Harvey Dent is now a rising criminal known as Two-Face, who was horribly scarred after getting acid thrown into one side of his face by crime kingpin Salvatore Maroni during a court trial. Batman tried to save Dent, but was too late. Two-Face blames Batman for not saving him. Apparently Two-Face has been in and out of Arkham Asylum, giving Batman a hard time by committing all of his crimes dealing with the number "2" and using his coin to decide for him. This time, Two-Face is holding up the 2nd National Bank of Gotham on the 2nd anniversary of the day that Batman caught him and is holding the only security guard hostage. Batman arrives, beats up some of Two-Face's goons, and attempts to save the guard who is tied up in a safe only to realize that it is a trap. The safe is filled with acid. Luckily, Batman saves the guard and tries to stop Two-Face who has escaped in a helicopter.  Meanwhile, a disgruntled employee at Wayne Enterprises named Edward Nygma has an obsession with his Brain Waves device and of course with Bruce Wayne who hired him. After realizing that Nygma's new invention can be dangerous, Bruce turns it down. Therefore, Nygma decides to get revenge by killing his boss and sending Wayne riddles. Commissioner Gordon has brought in hot criminal psychologist Dr. Chase Meridean to look into Two-Face and help Batman out. Chase of course takes a fancy to Batman due to his scarred personality and mystique while also taking an interest in Bruce with his post childhood trauma of watching his parents  murdered.  While out to see the circus with Chase, Bruce witnesses Two-Face crash the place and murder The Flying Graysons, leaving the only survivor Richard orphaned. Feeling that he can relate to Richard Grayson, Bruce offers him a place to stay at Wayne Manor. 

Dick wants to seek revenge on Two-Face and gets into mischief by discovering the Batcave and jacking the Batmobile for his own sense of thrill. Grayson wants to be Bruce's partner, but Bruce doesn't want Dick to follow in his footsteps by seeking revenge. Meanwhile, Edward Nygma teams up with Two-Face under the persona of The Riddler dressed in all green with question marks all over him. Riddler offers to use his Brain Waves device to discover Batman's true identity. Nygma and Two-Face soon find out that Bruce is The Dark Knight, raid his home, destroy the cave, and kidnap Chase.  Bruce must rescue Dr. Meridean and stop Riddler and Two-Face, but will need a little help from his new ward becoming The Dynamic Duo, Batman And Robin! 


While it was definitely a downward spiral and a step backwards from what Tim Burton did with Batman, I do enjoy Batman Forever. In fact, I've always enjoyed this film ever since I first saw it in the theater at 7 years old.  Like with the previous two films, I was a Batman merchandise addict. I got it all. Action figures, school supplies, toysets, shirts, Halloween costumes (I actually had a Batman mask, a Two-Face mask, and a Riddler costume!), and I even had the movie's poster taped to my bedroom door. The story to Batman Forever is definitely easy to follow because the movie plays out like a live action cartoon. Screenwriters Lee and Janet Batchler, with a little help from Akiva Goldsman, wrote a screenplay that took the character of Batman pretty seriously, yet made the villains over the top and campy like the '60s television series.  While Batman was portrayed more in the shadows and a straight up psychologically damaged vigilante in the previous two Burton films, Joel Schumacher took Batman in the complete opposite direction. While still dealing with the painful memory of that night in the alley where his parents were gunned down in front of him, Bruce has realized that the darkness was consuming him and doesn't know if he wants to be Batman anymore. Plus, he's met a woman who likes both sides of his personality. Vicki Vale liked Bruce, but couldn't deal with Batman. Selina liked both sides, but was too far going into a different direction that their relationship wouldn't work. But now with Chase, Bruce had finally met somebody who takes an attraction to both the man along with the beast in the shadows and who is not a criminal herself.  

Another strength about Batman Forever is Bruce flashing back to that fateful night after witnessing Two-Face murder Dick Grayson's family at the circus.  Memories he had hidden from himself of forgotten pain begins to surface, which ultimately leads to him accepting Dick as a partner when he realizes that Dick will follow his legacy whether he wants him to or not.  While many look at Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson as a father/son relationship, I always looked at it as either a brotherly kinda bond or a buddy cop friendship. In buddy cop movies, you usually get the older more experienced cop who gets partnered with the much younger rookie and trains him while also formining a close friendship either in a father/son or a brotherly kinda way.  Robin was actually created in the comics back in 1940, exactly a year after Batman himself was introduced to give kids reading the comics a character that they could identify with. Personally, I prefer an older Robin like in Batman: The Animated Series, or even here although I kinda wish they had made him around 15 or 16 instead of early 20s. My only problem with the portrayal of Dick Grayson in this movie is that they write him kinda like Jason Todd, who for those who don't know was the second Robin after Dick grew up to become Nightwing. Jason Todd's father was murdered by Two-Face. Jason Todd tried to jack the wheels off the Batmobile and was caught by Batman who took the orphaned teen in as his ward and trained him to be the next Robin. While Dick actually did everything Bruce told him and followed his example, Jason got into mischief and talked back to Batman, which actually ended up getting him killed in an explosion by The Joker. Here, Dick is kinda the rebellious young man who breaks into the Batcave, steals the Batmobile to take it for a spin, and tries to impersonate Batman.  

While most of Dick's characterization in this film is similar to Jason Todd's, I do think that the guy is just doing this to deal with the pain of his family's death. I'm sure Bruce probably did some punky stuff too when he was Dick's age. Remember that time in Batman Begins when Bruce brought a loaded gun to the court trial of the man who murdered his parents and was planning on seeking revenge himself? Even though that was a total separate continuity and different Batman movie saga, Bruce too was Dick's age and thought the only way to get justice was to kill the killer that took his parents.  In the previous films, Batman was a vigilante who killed The Joker by making him fall to his death from the Bell Tower, blew up Axis Chemicals with Joker's men inside, strapped dynamite on a circus freak, and set a guy on fire with the Batmobile.  I guess after seeing what the thirst for revenge did to Selina Kyle, it made him realize that revenge wasn't the answer anymore and that he had to stop killing the criminals. Just like the line Bruce tells Dick in the Batcave...

"Your pain won't die with Harvey, it grows. So you walk out into the dark to find another face and another and another until one terrible morning you wake up to realize that revenge has become your whole life and you won't know why.

While the characterization between Bruce Wayne/Batman, Dr. Chase Meridean, and Dick Grayson is taken seriously, the characterization of the villains is all camp and fun.  Edward Nygma has always been a guy with one obsession, which is to outsmart Batman. He sets traps with a puzzle to solve in order to get out of the traps, save the citizens, or to locate him. He is very similar to the horror villain Jigsaw or the real life murderer The Zodiac. He's totally narcissistic. Here, Edward Nygma/The Riddler is characterized as being obsessed with Bruce Wayne and using his new device to suck out peoples' memories and gain their thoughts and secrets. When his invention is rejected, Nygma goes even more nuts. Now, being psychotic can go down two streets in movies especially comic book movies. There's psychotic in a scary way like The Joker in The Dark Knight or The Scarecrow in Batman Begins, and then there's laughable crazy such as Jack Nicholson's The Joker in Batman (1989) or the way Riddler and Two-Face are portrayed in this film. Now, The Joker while humorously psychotic, was never extremely over the top. Here, Riddler and Two-Face chew up the scenery with VERY over the top portrayals of two of Batman's famous rogues. Riddler however was one of the big super villains in the 1960s Batman television show who was a pretty wacky guy. With that said, Riddler can get away with being very loud and cartoonish.  Plus, when you have Jim Carrey playing the part who I thought was good casting for the time, you're going to get a wildly energetic character. Two-Face however was never meant to be a funny character. In fact, Two-Face is a very sad and tragic character. Harvey Dent is a guy who was so good hearted and wanted to clean up Gotham City, something that only The Dark Knight and Commissioner Gordon were willing to do before Dent became Gotham's District Attorney.  Then, an accident occurred leaving Dent half scarred and half sane. 


Honestly with the more split direction that Schumacher was going with Batman and Bruce Wayne in this movie, Two-Face seemed like the perfect choice for the film's main villain.  Unfortunately, Two-Face is portrayed as a Joker copycat or to put it better, what Two-Face would have been like if he was one of the super villains in the Adam West Batman show.  While I am definitely entertained with this more looney Two-Face, it still saddens me that Warner Bros. and Joel Schumacher didn't make Two-Face out to be the tragic fallen hero he is in the comics, or Hell even in Batman: The Animated Series. They could have still made it work as a lighter film and show Harvey Dent's war on the mob lead to him becoming what he had sworn to fight against. If kids can understand it in The Animated Series, then I'm sure they could handle it in a live action movie. It ain't like he got half his face blown off like in The Dark Knight where you could see his skull! Having a tragic fallen hero story could still work in a more family centered Gotham City if they weren't so set on making the villains more like the '60s style for the '90s. We barely even get to see Harvey Dent as he is already Two-Face when this film begins. We do get a quick news report showing the court room accident, but that's it. Real shame. We also get a different actor with Tommy Lee Jones replacing Billy Dee Williams who played Harvey Dent in the first movie. Personally, I would have loved to have seen what Billy Dee Williams would have done as Two-Face. The man is a great actor and even though he wasn't a young white guy, he was still a good Harvey Dent in my eyes and would have been an interesting Two-Face.  But oh well, we got Tommy Lee Jones hamming it up as Two-Face, which was I admit pretty amusing yet disappointing at what could have been done with the character. However, I did dig the whole thing with him having two girlfriends reflecting his diverse personalities and the look of his lair was similar to The Animated Series. I did however take issue that in one scene he kept flipping his coin until it landed on the side he wanted. 

The look of Gotham with its more warm and colorful design was actually pretty decent. While I obviously prefer either the dark, gothic, and netherworldly Gotham or the gritty realistic Gotham, this new Gotham wasn't so bad. Although, the neon was weird and would get weirder in the next film. Loved the new look of the Batcave and the new Batmobile. I enjoyed the two new Batsuits except for the nipples. Like everybody else, the nipples was something I had issues with. I also really dug the Robin suit, both the Flying Graysons one and the official outfit. Just didn't like the nipples. The look of Two-Face was weird. Looked pretty cartoonish. Could have been better. The Riddler had like I swear three different outfits. You had the natural Riddler outfit with the green spandex decorated in all question marks with the green mask and green hat. You had the light up Riddler suit for one scene. And then you had the glittery Riddler suit for the finale. Should have just stuck with the first outfit. You didn't see Two-Face constantly changing his outfit. While the orange hair was interesting and probably used to disguise himself, I would have preferred it if Carrey had just worn a green suit with question marks on the jacket, a question mark tie, a purple mask, and the green question mark hat. The Riddler's question mark cane was pretty awesome though. I will say that the villains' dialogue are very quotable especially..

  "Riddle me this, riddle me that, who's afraid of the big black bat?

      The music by Elliot Goldenthal was actually pretty fitting. I still prefer Danny Elfman's, Shirley Walker's, or Hans Zimmer's Batman music scores though.

The direction by Joel Schumacher is actually decent with Batman Forever. Although, I think he could have lost the Bat and Robin nipples, toned down Riddler and Two-Face, and not used the neon. But, I really dug the characterization of Bruce Wayne here. The flashbacks are handled very well, especially when young Bruce falls into the cave and sees a bat flying towards him. I do wish that Schumacher had kept the complete red book scene where Bruce as a kid reads his Dad's last journal entry where Thomas Wayne wrote that him and Bruce's mother, Martha, were going to stay in that night, but Bruce wanted to go to a movie. This obviously made Bruce blame himself for the murder of his parents and would have been an even stronger plot point in Batman Forever. Another thing I loved is that Bruce comes to realize that he never had to become Batman to begin with. It was a choice he made for himself, not a choice that was forced on him.  


The acting was pretty good for the most part.  Val Kilmer is definitely no Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or Kevin Conroy but I dug his portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne.  It was interesting to see coming off Keaton's more revenge driven/psychologically damaged version of the character. It's basically like a deeper and darker version of Adam West.  Jim Carrey was fun to watch as The Riddler/Edward Nygma although he did get a little too over the top for me in areas.  I still prefer John Glover in the role.  Chris O'Donnell was okay as Dick Grayson/Robin. I just wish that the character was written more like Dick Grayson than Jason Todd, but O'Donnell did alright with what he was given.  Nicole Kidman was good as Dr. Chase Meridean and looked very sexy. I thought she was hot back in 1995 when I was 7 years old and I still think she was foxy to this day. She's definitely my favorite love interest behind Selina Kyle.  Tommy Lee Jones, while a terrible representation of Two-Face/Harvey Dent, was fun to watch and made me laugh. Drew Barrymore and Debi Mazar were decent as Two-Face's main party gals Sugar & Spice.  Batman creator Bob Kane's wife Elizabeth Sanders played the annoying gossip journalist really well as Gossip Gerty and would return in Batman & Robin. Michael Gough did great as usual playing Alfred Pennyworth. Pat Hingle did nothing but turn on the Batsignal and cheer Batman on as Commissioner Gordon.  All in all, not a bad cast.

Overall, Batman Forever is a fun movie. It may not be up to par with Burton's two films, but it did do some things right. Too bad that the next film killed the franchise for the next eight years, but at the same time helped make room for the greatest movie trilogy of all time. 


GRADE
C+




In the summer of 1995, Batman Forever was released that brought Batman back to being more appealing to family audiences rather than the dark, gothic, and psychologically damaged Dark Knight we got with Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. The financial success of Batman Forever meant that a third sequel was a go. Making loads of money off toys, video games, and McDonald's merchandise, Warner Bros. decided that they wanted to make even more merchandise with the next film. They even had toy companies design the look of the costumes, vehicles, and gadgets for the film.  And what better way to make more action figures than to add more characters. We got Batman. We got Robin. We got Mr. Freeze. We got Poison Ivy! Let's just toss in one more villain with Bane and another iconic Batman sidekick with Batgirl!  Where Batman Forever indeed had campy villains, Batman and Robin were taken pretty seriously. Warner Bros. wanted Joel Schumacher back in the director's chair and told him that they wanted it strictly family friendly and not to be taken seriously. Due to scheduling conflicts, Val Kilmer wasn't able to return as Batman/Bruce Wayne so Schumacher hired television star George Clooney to replace him in the cape and cowl. Chris O' Donnell returned as Robin/Dick Grayson. Michael Gough and Pat Hingle returned as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon. Arnold Schwarzenegger was hired to be the cold hearted Mr. Freeze. Uma Thurman was cast as Poison Ivy. Wrestler Jeep Swenson joined the super villain's trio as the back breaking Bane.  And sexy Alicia Silverstone joined Batman and Robin as Batgirl.  Already, people were getting worried by this strange line of casting. Batman & Robin opened in the summer of 1997, exactly two years after Batman Forever, and bombed horribly at the box office. Critics and fans alike called it the worst comic book movie ever made and a disgrace to the Dark Knight legend. So, how does Batman & Robin hold up after all these years? You'll just have to chill and read my review. 

There's a new criminal in Gotham City calling himself Mr. Freeze. Dressed in an armored suit to keep his body at zero degrees and  armed with a high tech freezing gun, Freeze has broken into the Gotham Museum to steal some diamonds that help keep his suit at zero degrees in order for him to survive. Batman and Robin crash Mr. Freeze's  diamond heist and Freeze freezes Robin, which will keep Batman busy so Freeze can escape. Meanwhile, Dr. Pamela Isley is upset that her co-worker Dr. Jason Woodrue is always messing up her botany experiments. Woodrue has a mad plot to make super soldiers out of hardened prisoners. He tests his Venom experiment on prisoner Antonio Diego. The Venom drug turns scrawny Diego into a huge hulking man wearing a luchador mask named Bane.  After discovering that Dr. Isley has seen what he's been up to, Woodrue pushes Dr. Isley into her experiments, which supposedly kills her and buries her underneath the floor of the lab.  Isley survives the ordeal and has turned into a femme fatale of sorts who has cracked and has a poisonous kiss. Now going by the name Poison Ivy, Pamela Isley sets her sights on turning Gotham into her own garden of evil. Seeing that the Dynamic Duo will get in her way, she uses her plant pheromone dust to make them fight over her. Poison Ivy sees a likely alliance with Mr. Freeze, who plans to freeze all of Gotham in search of a cure to save his dying wife who is cryogenically frozen.  Meanwhile at Wayne Manor, Alfred's niece Barbara Wilson comes to stay, discovers the Batcave, and decides to help out the Dynamic Duo by becoming Batgirl. 


I will say it now.  I actually enjoy Batman & Robin. There, I said it.  Is everyone right though that it is one of the worst comic book/superhero films ever made? Indeed they are. Just because I personally enjoy the film does not in any way, shape, or form make it an actual good movie.  Batman & Robin is what I like to refer as being an epic failure. It is a movie so outrageously terrible that I can't help but to be entertained by whatever the hell it is I'm watching.  This film is so cartoonishly hilarious to the point where it is still fun. Granted, it is a convoluted mess of a superhero flick, but it is one hell of an entertaining mess.  There were a few serious and heart felt moments that somehow managed to sneak into the film such as the scenes between Bruce Wayne and his butler/father figure Alfred Pennyworth. Of all the Batman movies pre Christopher Nolan, Batman & Robin has the most emotional Bruce and Alfred scenes.  There's an amazing scene where Alfred tells Bruce...

"Death and chance stole your parents, but instead of becoming a victim, you have done everything in your power to control their fates. For what is Batman if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world. An attempt to control death itself.

There's also a scene that always makes me kinda tear up when Alfred is dying and laying in bed, Bruce sitting at his bedside. Bruce takes Alfred's hand and says "I love you old man" with tears in his eyes and Alfred smiles and replies, "And I love you too."   Just an amazing emotional scene. The Bruce/Alfred scenes weren't the only serious parts of Batman & Robin. Even the ice pun master himself Mr. Freeze had a few serious moments. There's a great moment when it is revealed that his wife, Nora Fries, is still alive and is cryogenically frozen in a tank that is located in a secret room hidden at his hide out.  We also get a scene with Victor Fries watching old videos of him and his wife when they first got married. And then there's a scene where he thinks his wife is dead and he begins to cry but the tear drop freezes . For a movie that was set out to be a straight up campfest, these serious moments while nice, also make people even more pissed off about the film because these moments should be the tone of the WHOLE MOVIE and not just snippets among a bunch of cartoon comedy.  

Mr. Freeze, like Two-Face, is a very tragic villain. He was just a regular guy who was a cryogenics scientist who's beloved wife came down with a rare disease and was dying. In an attempt to save her, he cryogenically froze her until a cure to her illness could be found.  An accident occurred one day where the cryogenics liquid got on him, mutating his body where he could not survive outside a subzero environment. He then creates a suit to keep him alive and makes a high tech freezing gun to use on anyone who tries to stop him as well as make Gotham as empty and as cold as he has become.  Before the '90s, Mr. Freeze had no origin story. He was just a guy in a suit who froze people with a freezing gun. In the episode "Heart of Ice" in Batman: The Animated Series, writer Paul Dini and director Bruce Timm finally gave Victor Fries a tragic origin story, which manifested itself into the comics and became part of the character's mythos.  While I liked that Schumacher kept true to Mr. Freeze's origin story and some what of his mission, the character became really over the top spirting out ice puns and laughing maniacially in the tradition of Two-Face and Riddler in Batman Forever. Even though it wasn't the Mr. Freeze that I knew and loved from The Animated Series, Mr. Freeze was one of the best and most fun parts of Batman & Robin aside from the few serious moments. His terrible ice puns made me laugh especially...

"Tonight's forecast, a freeze is coming."

"What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!"

"Freeze in Hell Batman!"

While Freeze was enjoyable, the portrayal of Poison Ivy was way too over the top and a bit annoying.  I don't remember her actually having an origin story. In The Animated Series, she was just a botanist who had a weird immunity to poisons and toxins and wanted to kill anyone who didn't respect plants and the warm green Earth. Here, her origin story is very quick with no real build up. It's not like with Selina Kyle in Batman Returns where it had build up to her becoming the femme fatale Catwoman. Poison Ivy just came across as a weak copycat of Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. I know some people liked Uma Thurman's portrayal of Poison Ivy, but I prefer Diane Pershing from The Animated Series.  All Poison Ivy did was give guys poison kisses, monologue way too much, tried too hard to be sexy, turn Batman and Robin against each other, and bark orders at Bane who she made her errand boy.  Oh and she got kicked around by Batgirl. Not much to really talk about. Where were the giant Venus Flytraps that try to eat Batman whole?  One thing I enjoyed about Ivy in the animated show was all the giant plant monsters she created. We're talking about a woman who made Human/plant clones to make it look like she had gone sane and had a family. We're talking about a woman who actually made Bruce Wayne a wife just to steal his money. We're talking a woman who poisoned District Attorney Harvey Dent.  We're talking an ecoterrorist, but sadly we don't get that here. All we get is a Catwoman wannabe who's half Rita Repulsa from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.  Granted, this may have been what we'd get in the '60s television series if Poison Ivy was part of the super villains squad. 


And then we have Bane. A character who is one of Batman's deadliest enemies besides The Joker and Ra's Al Ghul. The Bane we get is nothing more than a Frankenstein/Solomon Grundy/Hulk hybrid who just happens to be named Bane. The only thing they kinda got right is the origin story that Bane was a life sentenced prisoner who was part of an experiment to make super soldiers by inducing a drug called Venom into their head, which would pump them up to being huge and destructable fighting machines. Bane in the comics and in The Animated Series is actually a very intelligent guy who has a plan to destroy anyone who he feels is a challenge to him, which would obviously make Batman a target. Lucky for us, we get to see a more real Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.  I will say while heavily disappointing, the horrible portrayal of Bane in this film does make me giggle. 

One thing that constantly and has always annoyed me about Batman & Robin is the portrayal of Robin especially when he is under Poison Ivy's love dust. He is a fucking prick in this movie. He's okay when he isn't under the love dust. He's like any sidekick. He wants to be trusted and wants to also kinda be his own identity rather than following in Batman's shadow. This I can understand and tolerate. He hates that Batman gets the car, he gets the motorcycle. Batman gets the signal, he gets nothing. I get it and can see where the guy is coming from. He just wants Bruce to trust him. Just like Alfred tells Bruce...

"Master Dick follows the same star as you, but gets there by his own course."

Yeah, Robin made a bad call launching at Freeze, but he learned from it. Batman was a little too protective like a father or older brother would be because he doesn't want Dick to be hurt or killed. But once Robin is under Ivy's love dust, he turns into a total douche to Bruce and says that Bruce is jealous that Ivy wants him instead of Bruce. The constant back and forth of that really got on my nerves.  I do love the whole museum showdown with Mr. Freeze and that Batman and Robin popped ice skate blades out of their boots.  

The portrayal of Bruce Wayne was okay, but Batman was pretty bad.  It still entertained me and oddly fit with the cartoonish tone of the film.  I just wish that he was like he was in Batman Forever. He was just a billionaire who liked dressing up as a bat and fighting super villains with his sidekick Robin. 

Batgirl was another big problem I had with this movie.  While the Batgirl character is a decent character when done right, she fits better into television or animation than a 2 hour live action movie.  Plus, the portrayal of her in this film is all wrong. For starters, she is not Commissioner Gordon's daughter, she is Alfred's niece. This is a big plothole because Alfred is not supposed to have any living relatives as far as I know, which is why him and Bruce were so close. They were each other's only family even though they weren't blood related.  If Alfred had a niece this whole time, why didn't he mention it to Bruce or Dick? Doesn't make sense. There is also the whole thing of Batgirl being a redhead or a brunette where she is a blonde in Batman & Robin, but that wouldn't bother me being that Selina was a blonde in Batman Returns. With already being crowded with three super villains, another sidekick was just too much.  She just felt tacked on for the sake of more action figures. Also, why didn't they give her a bat cowl? Her action figure is wearing a cowl, yet in the movie she gets a female Robin mask. What the fuck? For someone who really loves to show off nipples on his heroes' suits, Schumacher could have given nipples on the Batgirl suit to satisfy the straight guys and lesbians of the world!  She was the only rubber ass that I actually wanted to see during the costume change.  And how the fuck would Alfred have the time to make her a costume anyway? It made sense making Dick a costume in Batman Forever, but he's laying in a bed for the last act of this film.   And why even bother keeping the Batcave a secret anymore when everybody who enters Wayne Manor can easily find it? Vicki Vale, Dick Grayson, The Riddler, and now Barbara. Sheesh, they should just post a sign up saying ENTRANCE TO THE BATCAVE. WATCH YOUR STEP

Speaking of suits, I hated the new suits for Batman and Robin. I prefer the suits they had in Batman Forever minus the nipples.  They also had some grey looking suits for the finale when they had no time to change before stopping Freeze. Even fucking Batgirl got a second suit when helping fight Freeze! More merchandise please Warner Bros.! 

I will say that some of the FX were done well, especially the freeze gun effect. It felt exactly out of The Animated Series and comics.  I still wish they gave Freeze a better suit with the red goggles. That was cool in the comics and animated show.


The direction by Joel Schumacher was a mixed bag. While the film looked cool except for the over use of neon lights, everything felt jumbled up. Three villains. Three heroes. Alfred sick and dying. Batman and Robin fighting over Poison Ivy. And a few decent moments in between all the camp. Akiva Goldsman who wrote some parts of Batman Forever did a really bad job turning out a Batman script. It was all over the place and too campy. Batman Forever had a nice mix of seriousness and camp while Batman & Robin was more campy and less serious. It was a 2 hour toy commercial than an actual superhero film.  I did however love the opening credits sequence where the Batsignal turns into a block of ice. 

The acting was mostly bad with a few highlights. George Clooney was totally miscast. Clooney is a great actor when given the right material, but was just wrong for Batman.  He was an okay Bruce Wayne though. I would have liked to see Val Kilmer play the role again as I kinda liked his duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Chris O' Donnell got pretty annoying as Robin/Dick Grayson especially when under Ivy's love dust.  O'Donnell was also upset with the direction of the film so that may explain things. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a pretty bad Mr. Freeze, yet was very fun to watch with his silly ice puns. Uma Thurman was probably the worst in the cast as Poison Ivy/Pamela Isley. She was way too over the top to the point of annoyance and tried to immitate Michelle Pfeiffer. The late  Jeep Swenson was an abomination as Bane. Tom Hardy is a much much better actor to play Gotham's reckoning. Alicia Silverstone was pretty bland as Batgirl/Barbara Wilson. I do like Silverstone as an actress, but she was just wrong for this part and plus she didn't have a cowl except for riding that bat bike thing. John Glover was awesome in his small role as Dr. Jason Woodrue. Glover has played in two other DC Comics productions with being the voice of The Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series and playing Lex Luthor's father Lionel Luthor on the television show Smallville. We also get a cameo by rapper Coolio. Michael Gough was great as usual in his final performance as Alfred Pennyworth. And Pat Hingle did nothing as usual in his final cameo as Commissioner Gordon. 

Overall, Batman & Robin is a terrible movie, yet is mildly entertaining for all its awfulness. It is the best worst comic book movie as far as I'm concerned right beside Steel.  This may have ended this set of Batman movies, but also paved the way for the greatest Batman trilogy in cinema from 2005 to 2012. 


GRADE
D+

9.28.2013

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER II] Seed of Chucky (2004)

DIRECTED BY
Don Mancini

STARRING
Jennifer Tilly - Herself/Voice of Tiffany
Brad Dourif - Voice of Chucky
Billy Boyd - Voice of Glen/Glenda Ray
Hannan Spearritt - Joan
Redman - Himself
John Waters - Pete Peters
Jason Flemyng - Himself/Santa
Steve Lawton - Stan


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Supernatural/Slasher

Running Time - 84 Minutes


PLOT
Glen/Glenda (Voiced by Billy Boyd) is a living doll who has no idea whether he's a boy or a girl. Not only that, but he's been trying to search for his parents while being abused as a ventriloquist dummy in Europe. He's also been having nightmares about murdering people, which comes to be a shock to him since he's so polite and peaceful.

While watching television, Glen/Glenda notices that Hollywood is filming a movie based on the lives of serial killing doll couple Chucky (
Voiced by Brad Dourif) and Tiffany (Voiced by Jennifer Tilly). Noticing a resemblance, Glen/Glenda quickly packs his things, escapes, and leaves for Hollywood to reunite with his parents. What he doesn't realize is that Chucky and Tiffany are animatronic puppets being used for the film, which stars Academy Award nominated actress Jennifer Tilly in the lead role - who feels her talent is being wasted in such drivel while Julia Roberts steals all of her roles.

Glen/Glenda encounters the puppets, uses the voodoo amulet that transfers souls into bodies, and reads the words. This awakens both Chucky and Tiffany, making them pick up where they last left off. Chucky, wanting Glen to be a boy, decides to teach him how to kill. Tiffany, wanting Glenda to be a girl, tries to stop killing but feels addicted to the act of violence. What Chucky and Tiffany do agree on is that they want to transfer their souls to Jennifer Tilly, Redman, and get Tilly pregnant with Chucky's sperm to transfer Glen/Glenda's soul into the baby.


REVIEW
SEED OF CHUCKY has to be one of the most surreal sequels in any horror film franchise. Let's get this out of the way - while BRIDE OF CHUCKY had enough tension and terror to still be considered horror even with all the humor that surrounded the story, SEED OF CHUCKY drops the horror and plays the story strictly for laughs and shock value. While BRIDE OF CHUCKY managed to balance the horror and comedy quite well, making it successful, SEED OF CHUCKY tips the film too much into comedy that it loses the essence of the CHILD'S PLAY franchise. This wouldn't be too much of an issue if SEED OF CHUCKY was hilarious from beginning to end. But the film isn't, which pretty much showcases the many flaws this film possesses.

The biggest issue I have with SEED OF CHUCKY is the character of Glen/Glenda. I get that he's supposed to pay homage to Ed Wood's 1953 film GLEN OR GLENDA - which was a movie with themes of cross-dressing, gender bending, and transexuality. I get that he's supposed to be similar to Norman Bates, who is repulse by his parents murder but dresses like his mother while committing similar acts. I get that the whole Glen or Glenda issue is a running gag and a plot device to create a rift between Chucky's and Tiffany's relationship. But the character him/herself really does nothing for me. It's a shame that two huge personalities like Chucky and Tiffany have such a drag [no pun intended] of a child like Glen/Glenda. The film is really narrated through his eyes, as he struggles with his genetic code to kill by watching his parents commit acts of murder. Glen/Glenda takes away much of the focus of the film for me, since Chucky's and Tiffany's eventual actions are for him. Chucky wants to make Glen masculine by teaching him how to kill. And Tiffany wants to domesticate Glenda by steering him away from that, although she has trouble making that happen. I guess this is all supposed to be comical in some way, but I barely chuckled during the Glen scenes. It takes an interesting theme that commentates on the superficiality of Hollywood and turns it into a spoof of some reality show that involves a dysfunctional family who don't really see eye-to-eye. I'm glad to hear that Glen is pretty much disposed off in CURSE OF CHUCKY because, while an interesting idea that goes back to the Universal Monster days, it's executed poorly.

Honestly, the humor comes from the meta-narrative that makes fun of Hollywood and the media. The best moments come from Jennifer Tilly's role as herself. The fact that she allowed herself to be the butt of so many mean and cruel jokes just for laughs makes me respect this actress more. She comes across as a conceited, high-maintenance bitch who believes her star should shine brighter than most other actresses, feeling that starring in a horror movie is beneath her talent. The running gag with Julia Roberts stealing her roles is pretty funny. Tilly mentions she could have played Erin Brocovich without a wonder bra, and learns Roberts is the #1 choice to play the Virgin Mary in a film directed by rapper Redman, of all people. Ironically, Tilly pretty much entices Redman with sex to play a woman of purity. I also enjoyed the BOUND reference to get Redman aroused more. Plus, Tilly is beaten with a bunch of fat jokes and food references - which were based on Tilly's personal feelings on losing some weight before filming SEED OF CHUCKY to look more "Hollywood". In a lot of ways, Tilly is the star of the film and sometimes overshadows Chucky and family. The first half of the film is strong because the focus is mainly on Tilly's "life" and the stereotype she plays up to. I really enjoyed this portion of the film because the humor didn't feel forced. Tilly went along with everything, which made the plot device work.

I also enjoy the commentary on the media when it comes to celebrities and serial killers. There's a film being made about Chucky and Tiffany, which seems to celebrate their actions rather than condemn the two. The paparazzi harass Jennifer Tilly about the murder of a special effects man, asking about grisly details about what she saw. Ironically, Tilly uses it to gain some publicity and attention for herself. A paparazzo, Pete Peters played by John Waters, spies on Jennifer Tilly in a compromising position with Redman for a tabloid scoop. The joke leads into Peters filming Chucky masturbate into a cup, getting excited about a little person playing with himself in Jennifer Tilly's house in one of the funnier moments of SEED OF CHUCKY. The fact that Waters is filming something to twisted makes the joke work better than it ought to, because it's so his style. While a bit juvenile at times, SEED OF CHUCKY does have some clever and witty stuff going for it.

I did think the last act was pretty weak though. It's when the jokes start to run out of steam, as the focus is on Tilly's pregnancy and the possession angle. Sure we get a PSYCHO moment with Glen, and even a THE SHINING reference with Chucky and an axe. But there's a lot going on and writer/director/co-creator of CHILD'S PLAY Don Mancini seems to want to tell multiple stories by sacrificing some logic and even believable characterization. Tilly's pregnancy and then her desperation to see her babies feels a bit forced since she wasn't pregnant all that long. Glen's split personality would have been great if it were established from the start. Just because a character has nightmares about murder doesn't mean he/she is going to become one. The stuff with the possession towards the end is a bit murky, although I did get what happened. And even the final moments just feel tacked on to leave it open for another sequel. I can't say I wasn't entertained by most of this portion of the film. But I wish it was told better and given more weight. The Glen/Glenda stuff gets old by this point, and watching Chucky and Tiffany want to kill each other again was already done in BRIDE OF CHUCKY. I find it odd that Chucky would rather stay a doll with notoriety than become human again - especially when this has been his M.O. for the previous FOUR films! I think Mancini could have pushed the envelope more with the pregnancy stuff like he did with most topics in the first half of the film. It felt too safe and predictable towards the end.

By the way, the Britney Spears moment still gets a kick out of me. So stupid, yet pretty funny.




SEED OF CHUCKY isn't really a horror film, but the gore still remains. The highlight has to be the decapitation scene right after Chucky and Tiffany are revived by Glen/Glenda. The way the head moves upwards toward the screen makes it made for 3D if the recent fad had been around at the time. We also get stabbings, acid to the face, a person being gutted from the groin up to the abdomen - revealing guts, and the Britney Spears car crash. For a film that steers away from the horror, it sure loves displaying vicious carnage. Not sure how violent CURSE OF CHUCKY is, but SEED is definitely the most brutal of the first five films.

The direction by Don Mancini is better than his hand at storytelling. I thought he directed SEED OF CHUCKY like a pro. I loved the style of the camera movements and how things were lit and framed. There is a bit of atmosphere, although the tone is much lighter. The pacing was very good, as the film never wore out its welcome. I wish someone else had helped him with the screenplay, but he did really well visualizing his project.

The acting is alright here. Brad Dourif can play Chucky in his sleep at this point. Jennifer Tilly nailed both roles she played really well. She was a great sport for letting Mancini make fun of her. And I agree with Chucky - she does have great ta-tas. Billy Boyd was good as Glen/Glenda, although I'm not a fan of the character. Former S Club 7 member Hannah Spearritt was decent as Joan. I wish they had given her more to do because her arc seemed flat. Redman was Redman. He didn't impress me all that much, but I didn't think he was all that terrible. John Waters is perfect as the sleazy paparazzo. That dude is awesome no matter what he does.

THE FINAL HOWL
I get why a lot of people look down on SEED OF CHUCKY. Out of all the CHILD'S PLAY films, it's the most different in terms of tone, atmosphere, and even genre as it focuses more on comedy than on horror. I hated this film when I watched it years ago, but I enjoyed myself after a re-watch. Still, it takes the humor a bit too far, as a lot of the jokes are a mixed bag. But even with its uneven screenplay, the direction is good, the acting is above average [Jennifer Tilly is pretty great in this], and the violence is pretty brutal when it happens. Not as good as BRIDE OF CHUCKY, but definitely better than CHILD'S PLAY 3. Still, I'm glad CURSE OF CHUCKY has brought the franchise closer to its horror roots, as SEED OF CHUCKY is a decent experiment at something different that doesn't completely work.



SCORE
2.5 Howls Outta 4



9.27.2013

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER II] Bride of Chucky (1998)

DIRECTED BY
Ronny Yu

STARRING
Jennifer Tilly - Tiffany
Brad Dourif - Chucky
Katherine Heigl - Jade
Nick Stabile - Jesse
Alexis Arquette - Damien Baylock
Gordon Michael Woolvett - David Collins
John Ritter - Chief Warren Kincaid


Genre - Horror/Comedy/Supernatural/Slasher

Running Time - 89 Minutes


PLOT
A busty blonde named Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly) bribes a cop to steal the doll remains of Charles Lee Ray a.k.a Chucky. Apparently Tiffany was Chucky's long-time girlfriend when he was human, and she wants to reunite with him in some way by bringing him back to life. Since Chucky was left in pieces after the events of CHILD'S PLAY 3, Tiffany stitches him back up and does some voodoo to bring his soul back.

When Chucky murders a wannabe paramour of Tiffany's (
Alexis Arquette) in front of her, she's ecstatic that her spell worked. But when Chucky realizes that his doll body won't be able to do much with Tiffany's adult body [especially when she treats him like an actual doll, which upsets him greatly], Chucky murders Tiffany and transfers her soul into a female doll. While Tiffany is upset at first, she makes the most of it due to her love for Chucky.

Chucky and Tiffany, wanting to get rid of some dead bodies, learn along the way that an amulet needed to transfer souls into human bodies has been buried in Chucky's human grave. And due to the murders, which has Chucky's fingerprints on the bodies, the authorities plan on exhuming Charles Lee Ray's body. Using a pair of young lovers (
Katherine Heigl and Nick Stabile) who want to get away to get married, Chucky and Tiffany hitch a ride to New Jersey where the amulet is located to start their new lives once they take over the bodies of the unsuspecting young couple.

REVIEW
Since CURSE OF CHUCKY is finally out on VOD, and will be out on DVD and Blu in October, I figured it's the right time to discuss the last two sequels prior to CURSE's release - BRIDE OF CHUCKY and SEED OF CHUCKY [next review]. That being said, I still don't understand why so many horror fans look down on BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Even when I had first watched the film back in 1998, I thought this was definitely a huge upgrade from the disappointing third installment from 1991. Maybe it's because BRIDE OF CHUCKY has the SCREAM effect - a horror film that's so aware of itself, that it tends to be more of a comedy with a wink to its audience rather than a scary movie. I can see why a certain audience would turn their nose up at that. But BRIDE OF CHUCKY, even 15 years later, is still a fun, entertaining, and even clever film that gives the CHILD'S PLAY franchise a fresh coat of paint it needed once the Andy Barclay story was done.

Seriously, was anyone scared of Chucky by this point anyway? Hell, he was on an episode of WCW Monday Nitro to promote this damn movie! How is anyone going to take this character seriously? I think it was a great idea to make him a bit more comedic, while keeping a bit of that sadistic side we fans grew to love. Add in a doll love interest in Tiffany, and you have Chucky feeling fresh again because he has new motivations and a backstory to now play with, even if it is for laughs.

Speaking of Tiffany, it's interesting to see the type of woman Chucky would be in love with. She doesn't take Chucky's crap, which makes Chucky fall more in love with her, as well as having a bigger urge to kill her when she steps in his way. Their Bonnie and Clyde relationship is pretty much a realistic portrait of most couples out there - two people in love with each other who constantly fight to maintain some level of power over the other. Sure, most couples don't consist of two serial killers. But the fact that they're dysfunctional makes him easy to identify with. This is also helped by the two human characters, Jade and Jesse, who display this idealistic portrait of two people in love. They come together stronger when outside forces want them apart. When bodies pile up around them, they doubt each other's involvement, yet still love each other and end up getting married. In fact, their relationship is one that Tiffany has always dreamed about. But like a lot of women, she ended up with the bad boy she thought she could change, but couldn't. I've read and heard a lot of people knock the Jade and Jesse characters because they claim the two don't add much to the film other than a plot device for two shells that Chucky and Tiffany want to transfer their souls into. But the couple is there to differentiate the Chucky-Tiffany partnership, giving us a look at the couple they want to be, but never will due to their past and bad habits.

I will say that other than Chucky and Tiffany really, the other characters don't really have much characterization. Jade and Jesse are likeable, and I love how they doubt each other when the authorities believe one or both are behind the murders. But we don't really know much about them besides the fact that they come from two different worlds and her family wants to drive them apart - like Romeo & Juliet. But they're really supporting characters to two dolls who have 10 times the personality they each contain. David, the best friend, is the voice of reason and gay, which gives him his personality stereotypically. Chief Kinkaid is just a prick who wants to control his neice, Jade. There's nothing much to any of these people. It's the Chucky and Tiffany show.

Also, why do Chucky and Tiffany need this special amulet to transfer their souls anyway? I remember Chucky doing pretty damn well without it in the previous films. I get that there would be no story without this motivation, but it feels kind of forced.

I do like the homages to other horror films in BRIDE OF CHUCKY. There's the obvious BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN reference [the film is actually playing on television] during Tiffany's death scene which leads to her soul being transferred into the doll. The opening sequence, inside the police evidence room, shows Freddy Krueger's glove, Jason Voorhees' hockey mask, and Michael Myers' William Shatner mask as items. And John Ritter's death scene involves nails that impale his face, making him resemble HELLRAISER's Pinhead. All of this is done tongue-in-cheek, which makes it work really well.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY is pretty bloody for a horror-comedy. I thought John Ritter's demise was pretty fun to watch. I love the mirror murder inside the hotel, as Tiffany throws a bottle of champagne towards a ceiling mirror, which shatters and stabs the couple to death who were laying below it. And the best one had to be the truck accident that splatters a character into pieces as it rams into him. Of course, both Chucky and Tiffany get beat up as only these dolls could as well. I thought the death sequences were visualized extremely well.

Ronny Yu, who would later direct FREDDY VS. JASON, really breathes new life into the franchise through his visuals. Yu injects a ton of style in this film, with bluish tints, crazy angles, and adding a rock/metal soundtrack that energizes the scene it accompanies. The pacing is wonderful, the editing is slick, and the picture quality is quite nice. I also thought the CGI effects were done believably. While there's no real suspense or tension, BRIDE OF CHUCKY isn't meant to be a true slasher/horror film anyway. I thought Yu gave the film a ton of energy that made it fun to watch.

The acting is decent enough for the film, to the point where it doesn't really drag it down. Brad Dourif reprises his voice role as Chucky, which always puts a smile on his face. He's the only actor I can picture voicing the character. Dourif's voice alone gives Chucky a ton of personality and charisma. Jennifer Tilly looks great, and her helium voice fits Tiffany well. I thought Dourif and Tilly had nice voice chemistry with each other, making their banter a hoot at times. Nick Stabile and Katherine Heigl are decent in their roles of Jesse and Jade. Stabile comes from the world of soap operas, so he's really in the film because he looks great without a shirt. Heigl fares better, as this role led to her being cast in Roswell a year later. Too bad her ego pretty much ruined her career in recent times. Gordon Michael Woolvett is pretty good as David, who has a memorable exit. Nice appearance by Alexis Arquette as a wannabe goth boyfriend for Tiffany. And the late, great John Ritter is fantastic as the evil Chief Warren. I really miss that dude.

THE FINAL HOWL
A lot of fans consider BRIDE OF CHUCKY the downfall of the franchise. However, I think it revived it and reboots the series into a different direction. The script is funny and aware of itself. The death sequences are pretty neat. Ronny Yu's direction is fun and energetic. And the acting isn't all that bad. Sure it's not a slasher film like the first three CHILD'S PLAY's that came before it, but I respect that the film took a risk in turning into something more of a horror-comedy that poked fun at itself. I think BRIDE OF CHUCKY is a fine sequel that I still enjoy quite a great deal. It's a stupid movie, but it's a stupid movie that made me laugh for 89 minutes. It doesn't go too over the top with its subject matter, which unfortunately will be something to discuss when I get to the next sequel in the franchise.



SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



9.21.2013

[SEQUEL SEPTEMBER II] Amityville II: The Possession (1982)

DIRECTED BY
Damiano Damiani

STARRING
James Olson - Father Tom Adamski
Jack Magner - Sonny Montelli
Burt Young - Anthony Montelli
Rutanya Alda - Delores Montelli
Diane Franklin - Patricia Montelli
Moses Gunn - Detective Turner


Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts/Haunted House

Running Time - 100 Minutes


I think I've made it pretty clear on this blog that I'm not a fan of the successful and overrated 1979 film, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. I don't get how this supposed true story about a haunted house that drove people crazy enough to murder their own members of their family has become so darn popular, that it spawned multiple sequels, books, and even a recent documentary. While I'm sure the story itself and the novel that grew from it frightened people at the time, I just roll my eyes at the whole "franchise" now - especially when many have proven the story was pretty much made up for publicity.

Out of eight original films and a 2005 remake, I've only really been a fan of two of them [although I'm sure I'll enjoy some of the other films after a re-watch, as I remember some of them being sort of guilty pleasures at times]. One, being the Ryan Reynolds remake that I actually enjoyed more than the James Brolin/Margot Kidder original that bores me to no end. And the second one happens to be the film I'm reviewing here - AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION. Whether or not it's really a prequel or a sequel [I'll get into that issue later] to the first film, it doesn't really matter. What does matter is that AMITYVILLE II takes what the first film had set up and really kicks it in the ass. It's rare for horror sequels to be better than the first movie. But AMITYVILLE II happens to be one of those exceptions. Screw the Lutz family! Give me some of that Montelli drama any day of the week!

PLOT
Supposedly taking place before the events of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, we witness the story of the previous family that had lived in the house - the Montelli's. Right from the start, things don't look all that great - especially when the patriarch, Anthony (Burt Young), is nothing but a Debbie Downer who takes out his anger physically and verbally on his wife (Rutanya Alda) and his children. It's his eldest son, Sonny (Jack Magner), who feels the blunt of it, causing tension within the family. The kid may be smiling on the outside, but he's miserable emotionally and mentally due to his abusive father.

As the family moves into the house, the demonic spirits that live inside begin to prey on every weakness the family has. Things move around by themselves. The spirits draw on walls, calling the family "
pigs". The spirits sexually touch the mother, who has been feeling sexually deprived for a long time. The eldest sister, Patricia (Diane Franklin), starts feeling seduced by their presence. And Sonny begins hearing demonic voices telling him to kill through his Walkman.

Slowly but surely, the house begins to possess Sonny, as he's the angriest of the entire family. Now under the influence of evil, Sonny wastes no time molesting his sister, confusing her sexually. He also gets more violent with his father, who the demons want dead. Delores [
the mom] and Patricia begin seeking the guidance of a local priest, Father Adamsky (James Olson), to bless and cleanse the house. However, his holy presence just makes things worse - eventually making him realize that Sonny is a vessel for the house's evil. Can Adamsky exorcise the spirit out of Sonny in time, or is the entire Montelli family doomed?

REVIEW
THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is a slow paced, subtle thriller that wants to be scary. However, it ends up feeling dry - presenting a boring tale that's less about George Lutz being possessed by evil and more about the Church's feelings on the matter [which was presented in a pretty bad light]. AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION doesn't waste time on those sort of things. It just wants to creep you out through striking visuals, gross special effects, and a fast paced narrative that will keep you entertained for 100 minutes. In that sense, this sequel is a winner and a much needed improvement over the 1979 overrated "classic".

The first two films in the franchise are really presented differently due to each being a product of its time. The first film, which was capitalizing on the demonic craze that took over pop culture and the news during the 1970s [THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, etc.], wanted to create a haunted house story in which the evil was everywhere and couldn't be stopped by any force of good. This sequel is an obvious product of the early 1980s. The special effects are more elaborate and gross. The presence of evil is more subjective and concentrated on one single individual [Sonny], giving it strength to prey on the other members of Sonny's family.

We don't see the evil really in the first film. Sure, George Lutz is possessed and treats his family like a grade A jerk. But you never really feel a true threat to the Lutz family. They were also allowed to escape the house, which seemed to destroy any evil influence on them. In this film, the evil is more powerful, angrier, and truly a threat not only to the Montelli family, but anyone preaching the word of God. The fact that when the night Sonny must murder the rest of his family, the house shuts itself so no one can get in and get out, make AMITYVILLE II must creepier and bleaker than its predecessor. I think it also helps that this film is loosely based on the Ronald DeFeo Jr. story, in which DeFeo murdered his entire family in 1974 - claiming he had been possessed by an evil spirit from within the house that made him do the deed [although there hasn't been any proof]. But really, AMITYVILLE II just feels like a better haunted house/possession film than the original THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. It's not just because we really see the effects of the situation, but because more is done with the situation that makes us invested in it more. The sequel doesn't take itself as seriously, making it a bit more horrific, yet fun, as well.

I think Tommy Lee Wallace, who had written the screenplay, was also influenced by other films that were very popular at the time. The possession element is obviously a take from 1973's THE EXORCIST. In fact, the last minutes of the film are pretty much the greatest hits of that very film, where the priest going against The Church to exorcise the spirit out of Sonny, who pretty much talks dirty at him and reveals the priest's sinful thoughts about Sonny's younger sister, Patricia [Father Adamsky wanted to deflower her, but Sonny got there first]. There's even the obligatory scene where Father Adamsky wants to the spirit to enter his body to save Sonny. While it's inferior to THE EXORCIST on every level, at least it works within the context of the story and leaves the film on a downbeat note.

Wallace also turns AMITYVILLE II into a slasher film of sorts at times. While not a traditional one like HALLOWEEN or FRIDAY THE 13TH, you can clearly see some of the tropes being used. We get the first person point of view by the villain. We see members of the family being stalked and bothered by the evil presence. And we get the chilling scene of Sonny going after each member of his family with a shotgun, killing them one by one to satisfy the demonic force. It's not really a surprise since Wallace was part of the creation for the 1978 HALLOWEEN that he would present some of the story in such a way.

There's also a subplot similar to POLTERGEIST, which was released a few months before AMITYVILLE II. I'm sure POLTERGEIST wasn't an influence for the house being built on top of a burial ground of sorts. But it's interesting that both films had a similar reason for the demonic spirits around the same time.

I also gotta admire Wallace for taking things to the lengths that he does within the narrative. The main character actually murders his family in the middle act, which one would believe could be a character's thoughts or dream. In fact, Father Adamsky [who was actually seeing this violence in his sleep] wakes up startled in the next scene and decides to go to the house to check up on things. Then we learn that the events we witnessed really did happen, leading to the entire third act of the film. I think the fact that the murders weren't fabricated makes their timing more shocking and effective. I liked that it wasn't placed at the end, which would have been very predictable.

I also feel the sexual content must have really made some people uncomfortable back in 1982. The evil spirit sexually caresses the matriarch, Delores, who hasn't been with her husband that way in many years. And then the spirit, now possessing Sonny, seduces his sister Patricia into getting naked and eventually having sex with her. Incest is always a touchy subject, but it's a subject that's usually implied or teased, rather than actually accomplished. But the incest really raises the drama for Patricia and Delores. Patricia, who feels it was wrong to sleep with Sonny, still feels attracted to him in some way. And Delores, noticing how Sonny would caress Patricia, is not only repulsed by the sin, but almost seems jealous that her daughter is getting some action while she's in a dry spell. Add in the fact that Father Adamsky is revealed to also have lustful feelings for Patricia, an underage girl, and you got yourself a twisted soap opera that I was entertained by.

There's also some other subject matter, like Anthony Montelli being a real bastard to his family. The guy wasn't even possessed, and he was ready to whip his children with a belt because of the mess the house made in their presence. Hell, he even treated Father Adamsky like crap. I get that he was an atheist, but some respect would have been nice. Who would want Sonny to spare this asshole? It's no wonder he was the first person to go. I also found the scene where the younger sister covers her brother's head with a plastic bag as a joke. It was a bit morbid, especially since something like that can kill someone. I'm guessing Wallace put this in the story for shock value. Well it worked.

Do I have any issues with the story? Oh, absolutely. While I think Wallace was cool in using other films as an influence on the screenplay, it does come across as a bit derivative of better films. I have nothing against unoriginality [who can be original these days?], but I felt that the inspirations were a bit too on-the-nose. THE EXORCIST moment played out exactly like THE EXORCIST. Did the house really need to be built on a burial ground like POLTERGEIST? And what was up with the transformation that almost resembled something out of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON? In fact, much of the ending tended to rely on the presence of other films in order to finish the story. Honestly, much of the final act [which I didn't hate] had a much different tone and feel to the hour that came before it. It was like watching two different films that really didn't go together. Was it a complete failure? Not at all. But some of it felt forced just to capitalize on the horror trends that were still popular at the time.

I also didn't have much sympathy for the characters, which probably made the film more entertaining on a superficial level for me. The parents weren't that likeable. Anthony was an abusive prick, while Delores was too passive about the situation that made her hard to root for. The children weren't developed all that much. Sonny was only interesting once the demon possessed him. Patricia was just a tool to have someone pure being corrupted by the evil around here. Even Father Adamsky was revealed to be a pervert by the end, even though he was a good match for Sonny. I guess we weren't supposed to care about any of these people since they were nothing but lambs to the slaughter anyway. Still, I found the Lutz family more likeable, even if they were as dull as watching paint dry.

By the way, when does this film even take place? It's supposedly a prequel to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, which is obviously taking place in the 1970s. But we see 80s cars, 80s fashion, and even a Walkman that throw away any sort of time continuity between the first two films. There's still a debate whether this film is really a sequel and not a prequel, although the events in this film reveal what happened inside of the house before the Lutz family had moved in. Call it a big goof, I guess.

The special effects in AMITYVILLE II are definitely a step-above anything presented in the first film. While a brutal film, the film isn't particularly gory until the end. Obviously influenced by Rick Baker's and Rob Bottin's works on AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING respectively, While the work of Glen Robinson, John Caglione, Stephen DuPuis, and Ed French don't come close to the imagination of Baker and Bottin, the visual spectacle of watching Sonny being possessed is quite interesting. Mainly, the special effects are just skin bubbling underneath the surface on the hands, neck, and even face. The biggest effect happens at the end, where Sonny's face begins to erode into a demonic form that was hiding underneath the shell. Not sure if it was actually needed, but I can definitely admire the hard work that went into it. Other than that, it's not really a violent film. Even the scene where Sonny shoots down his family is more implied than anything, with blood splatter here and there.

The direction by Damiano Damiani, in his first and only English speaking movie, is pretty damn good. With editor Sam O'Steen on his side [he edited ROSEMARY'S BABY], AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION flows better than expected. The picture looked good. The shot scales, composition, and framing were on the mark. The pacing is well done, as the film breezes by. And there's a ton of style visually, with Damiani's love for first person point-of-view shots and 360 degree overheads. It's a visually engaging film that feels more kinetic than the first one.

The acting is good in AMITYVILLE II as well. Burt Young, of ROCKY fame, is fun to watch as the abusive father, Anthony. He's pretty much Uncle Paulie, but with more Ike Turner in him. James Olson is a very good actor as Father Adamsky. He had some ridiculous dialogue at times, but he made it work for his character. Jake Magner carried the film very well as Sonny. I really like the conflict Magner displayed, although he was more fun to watch as a possessed shell for a demon. Diane Franklin is really cute, and quite convincing as the innocent Patricia. And Rutanya Alda is a bit melodramatic for my tastes as Delores. But she wasn't in the film all that much to be annoying, so I'll let it slide.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE THROWING AWAY MY POSSESSED WALKMAN

- The kitchen sink dripped with blood. If Margaret White got wind of this, she'd slap it around for finally becoming a woman.

- Delores was shocked that an invisible spirit sensually touched her arm while she was in the basement. Second base - this evil spirit has game!

- The spirit painted some harsh words on the youngest kids' wall. Bob Ross has a sick sense of humor.

- Anthony is abusive to his wife and kids. Delores should have known that marrying the guy would lead to a few ROCKY moments...

- A possessed Sonny enjoyed seducing his younger sister, Patricia. This is becoming less like THE EXORCIST and more like FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Or in this case - DEFLOWERED IN THE ATTIC.

- Father Adamsky's sprinkler of holy water spewed blood instead. If Margaret White got wind of this, she'd lock it in a closet to pray the sin away.

- The Montelli family celebrated Sonny's birthday with a cake. Unfortunately, I think he'd rather taste his sister's pie again...

- After seeing that Sonny was possessed inside of a jail cell, Father Adamsky asked who was inside of him. Save that line of questioning once he gets a friendly cell mate, Padre!

- Fighting through the possession, Sonny wrote "Save Me" on his arm out of thin air. Yeah, sometimes I miss watching Smallville too.

- The Amityville House loves to bleed through its walls. If Margaret White got wind of this, she'd believe that everyone would all laugh at it. And judging by later sequels, she'd be right.

THE FINAL HOWL
I honestly consider AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION the best installment of a pretty uneven franchise in terms of quality. It does have continuity, tone, and even some character issues. But it's a more entertainingly twisted version of the first film, now with influences from THE EXORCIST, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and even a bit of POLTERGEIST towards the end. The possession angle is played with well, the direction is very strong and stylish, and the actors really elevate what could have been a piece of pure schlock. It's a sequel that may turn people off due to issues of abuse and incest that play a big role in the narrative. But along with the 2005 THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake, AMITYVILLE II is probably the only time I don't regret spending time in this stupid haunted house. Compared to the first film, this sequel is the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition the franchise really needed at the time.



SCORE
3 Howls Outta 4



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