12.28.2013

The Wizard of Oz (1939) [The 650th Review]

DIRECTED BY
Victor Fleming

STARRING
Judy Garland - Dorothy Gale
Ray Bolger - Scarecrow/Hunk
Jack Haley, Sr. - Tin Man/Hickory
Bert Lahr - Cowardly Lion/Zeke
Margaret Hamilton - Wicked Witch of the West/Elvira Gulch
Frank Morgan - Oz/Professor Marvel
Billie Burke - Glinda
Clara Blandick - Auntie Em
Charley Grapewin - Uncle Henry


Genre - Fantasy/Family/Musical/Supernatural/Witchcraft

Running Time - 101 Minutes


It's always difficult deciding what film should be covered for each milestone review I write. Should it be a film I absolutely love? Should it be a film within the genres I cover that is so popular, it needs to be covered? Should it be one of the worst films out there, leading me to go on a sarcastic tirade, bashing the film in every way? It's a tough choice.

Usually, I like to go with a film I absolutely love, since every 50th review I write feels a bit special. The 650th review was actually a pretty easy choice, since I have been wanting to publish something about this particular film for years. With a blockbuster prequel having been released back in March [which became one of the biggest films of the year], I figured in order to discuss that film, I might as well start from the Judy Garland classic.

1939's THE WIZARD OF OZ is probably a film anyone reading this has seen in their lifetime at least once. It's a classic that everyone has dissected, talked about, and even tried to sequelize or reboot in some way - in both movie, animated, and theatrical form. L. Frank Baum's most popular novel has become a pop culture giant, and the film is still shown every Thanksgiving for years now. There's no place like home, and to get there, it's time to follow that yellow brick road and see why this movie is still as wonderful as it probably was almost 80 decades ago.

PLOT
Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) from Kansas is whisked away inside her house by a massive cyclone along her loyal dog, Toto. When the house lands, Dorothy steps out to find out she's been transported to some magical land called Oz. She also learns that her house has landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her. The Munchkin natives of Oz congratulate and celebrate with Dorothy for killing the witch, because now they're independent of her rule. While she's treated like royalty by a good witch named Glinda (Billie Burke) for her deed, Dorothy just wants to find her way back home to her Auntie Em (Clara Blandick) and Uncle Henry (Charley Grapewin). Glinda and the Munchkins tell Dorothy that she must follow the Yellow Brick Road, that leads to Emerald City, to find a wizard named Oz (Frank Morgan), who will grant any wish she desires.

As Dorothy follows the road, she encounters three new friends. The first is a Scarecrow (
Ray Bolger), who wants a brain. Then they encounter a Tin Man (Jack Haley, Sr.), who only wants a heart. Finally, they meet the Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr), who wants a jolt of courage to confront his foes. As the four of them head to Emerald City, they're being chased by the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton). This dangerous villain not only wants revenge on Dorothy for killing her sister from the East, but she wants possession of Dorothy's powerful ruby slippers that were her sister's to begin with.

REVIEW

It's hard to really review THE WIZARD OF OZ. What do I say that others haven't already said or written about such an immortal classic movie? It's probably the greatest family fantasy film ever made, based on a novel that's actually better than this fantastic adaptation. It's hard to really be objective with this film. I've seen it so many times since I was a kid, so my enjoyment of it sort of blinds any flaws the film probably has here and there. But THE WIZARD OF OZ is still as magical to me as an adult as when I first watched it. It's just that good.

To go deep inside the screenplay would be missing the point with THE WIZARD OF OZ. It would also be redundant, as it's well written, logical, and deeper than one would think. The dialogue is memorable. The characters all have distinct personalities and looks that make them special. The narrative follows a path anyone can follow, carrying various themes all ages can relate to. Sure, a lot of things from the novel were either omitted or changed. The silver slippers are now ruby [a color that's more vibrant onscreen]. Glinda the Good Witch is the blending of two characters in the novel [the Witches of the North and South]. The Wicked Witch makes her appearance much later in the story, although her role in this adaptation makes her a better and more present villainess. The Scarecrow and Tin Man had deep backstories. Certain characters and dangerous situations were left out for time constraints and possibly flow issues. Obviously, you'll get more out of the story by reading the novel. But the screenplay adapts the essence and more important parts of the narrative, so it works really well in terms of cinema.

I think what's most interesting about the adaptation are the themes. Obviously, we have good vs. evil. We have reality vs. illusion/magic. There's the idea that what we want in life is within ourselves. However as an adult, I've noticed some political allegories when it comes to THE WIZARD OF OZ. I'm not sure if L. Frank Baum had intended this in his novel back in 1896 - although I'm sure there was some influence. But it's pretty clear to see some metaphors when it comes the film version. Oz, the Great and Powerful, is a stand-in for any powerful political leader who makes promises to people that he can't really make. He appears as this giant head, looking menacing and all-knowing.

But in reality, he's just an illusionist behind a screen who has no real idea what he's doing ruling Oz. He's corrupted by the power because it makes him feel important. He also lets the citizens go at war with each other to solve the land's problems, rather than doing something himself to aid in the situation. The Wicked Witch of the West is the embodiment of sin and corruption. She's greedy for ruby slippers. She assaults innocent people to send a message. She sends out Winged Monkeys to tear the stuffing out of the Scarecrow, or mistreat Toto. She has the power, but uses it in ways that doesn't benefit anyone but herself. In other words, she's a dictator. Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, The Cowardly Lion, and all the Munchkins are the lower-to-middle class workers who expect rewards from their government - in this case, Oz. Each character wants something individually, but Oz makes them work for it. When they do the job, Oz still refuses to help, leading Dorothy and the others to reveal the truth about the ruler. This revelation that Oz is a fraud gives Dorothy and her group the knowledge that they had the power all along. And without them, Oz would cease to exist due to the presence of the Wicked Witch of the West. The truth allows the Land of Oz to be more independent than they were before Dorothy had arrived. I may be looking way too deep into the theme, but it's clearly there if you really look at it. I think the allegory is pretty interesting, and gives one a different perspective on the film as an adult as it most likely did as a child.

The special effects for its time are quite impressive. Even in 2013, you have to marvel at how much work was put into the production of this film, as color was ultra rare in cinema at the time. Kansas is a black and white world, which seems to represent how simple life is there, and that certain things are right and certain things are wrong - there's no middle ground. Oz, in its Technicolor glory [which I'm sure amazed audiences back in 1939], creates more freedoms and represents all shades of right and wrong. It also allows Oz to feel more like this fantasy, surreal world compared to the dreary and boring looking Kansas. You also got to admire the wire work as the Wicked Witch of the West flies around on her broom, or as the Winged Monkeys make their presence known in the air. We also get moments of trapped doors, like when the Witch melts due to water being thrown at her. The sets are lavish and creative. The make-up work is fantastic for 1939. There was a lot of work put into the film's presentation, making THE WIZARD OF OZ one of the most expensive films for its time. Strangely enough, the film wasn't a huge box office success [it did well enough], gaining its life through television showings. I guess it was one of those films that found its appreciation later in life.

The direction by Victor Fleming is very good. Fleming, mainly a silent film director who would also direct the classic 1939 GONE WITH THE WIND, really gives the film life through his visualization of both Kansas and Oz. I love the transition that occurs when Dorothy opens her black and white door to reveal a brightly colored Oz once the house lands. It's such a classic moment in cinema history, probably making audiences awestruck at the use of colors and composition. Fleming also gives THE WIZARD OF OZ a ton of energy through a fast pace, and with memorable great music [songs that will transcend time] that moves the story forward. I also like how the set designs and the way Fleming directs his actors create an artificiality about Oz, which works in the film's favor. I also love Oz's huge green head, which is a great visual and special effects moment - especially in 1939. Fleming creates a fairy tale come to life in terms of his visuals, which is probably a big reason why the film is still loved by all ages today.

The acting is great. Judy Garland, in the role that made her a star, is pretty much synonymous with the role as Dorothy. Not only did she have a great singing voice, but she had a charm about her that made her endearing. It's sad to hear about what happened to her during the production, as she was fed pills to stay awake and to keep the weight off, knowing what it would eventually lead to. But Garland is fantastic and conveys the innocence of a teenage girl convincingly. It would have been interesting to see what Shirley Temple would have done with the role, since she was the first choice for Dorothy. Ray Bolger, who was originally cast as the Tin Man, is very fluid and charismatic as the Scarecrow. Jack Haley, Sr. is also good as the Tin Man, although he wasn't the first or second choice for the role. As I mentioned, Bolger was the original choice, but wanted to play a character with more movement. Buddy Epsen, who would later become a pop culture icon himself as Jed Clampett in the television show The Beverly Hillbillies, was originally going to be the Scarecrow but switched with Bolger to play the Tin Man. However, the make up tests caused a massive allergic reaction to Epsen, making him extremely sick. Jack Haley, Sr. took his place after the production was stopped for ten days. Bert Lahr, one of the few first choices in the production, is quite great as the Cowardly Lion. I think out of the three Oz protagonists, he stands out the most. Margaret Hamilton haunted many audience members as the Wicked Witch of the West, although she had terrible mishaps during production as well, including being lit on fire during her escape from Munchkinland. She's iconic though, and definitely plays the part perfectly. She was also a second choice, as Gale Sondergaard was the original choice [but left because she wanted to play a prettier role]. The rest of the actors do their parts well. Just a wonderful cast.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE CLICKING MY HEELS THREE TIMES

- Mrs. Gulch wanted to take Toto from Dorothy because he bit her. Due to the basket she carries, Toto was probably saving her from Belial. That guy always causes trouble.

- Kansas freaked out over a twister. I don't blame them. Putting one's right foot on red behind one's left hand on green is a nightmare to us all.

- Dorothy's house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East. Unfortunately, it wasn't Ann Coulter or Michelle Bachmann.

- To find the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy must follow the Yellow Brick Road. Or as we call it in NYC, following the path of urine in the subway system. But Glinda says it much nicer...

- The Scarecrow is looking for a brain. Kim Kardashian would be perfect for the role if they ever do a remake.

- The Tin Man is looking for a heart. He reminds me of Michael Jackson's doctor/murderer, Conrad Murray - except with less penis holding during bedtime.

- The Wicked Witch of the West enjoys burning things. She's the Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of Oz.

- The group fell asleep in the poppy fields. There goes passing those random drug tests...

- Glinda made it snow on the sleepers. You're not helping the situation, Glinda!!

- The Wicked Witch of the West was defeated by water. I knew I smelled a fishy odor...

THE FINAL HOWL
What can I say about THE WIZARD OF OZ other than it's a family classic that deserves its status as one of the greatest fantasy films of all time? It's a great adaptation to an even better novel, with memorable musical numbers, colorful characters and situations, fantastic visualization by Victor Fleming, and wonderful acting by a talented cast. I still love this film now as much as I did when I was younger. When it comes to cinema, THE WIZARD OF OZ is truly iconic. And I don't need a giant floating head to tell me that.


SCORE
4 Howls Outta 4




TRAILER


JUDY GARLAND - "SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW"

12.22.2013

The Children (2008)

DIRECTED BY
Tom Shankland

STARRING
Eva Birthistle - Elaine
Stephen Campbell Moore - Jonah
Hannah Tointon - Casey
Eva Sayer - Miranda
William Howes - Paulie
Rachel Shelley - Chloe
Jeremy Sheffield -Robbie
Rafiella Brookes - Leah
Jake Hathaway - Nicky


Genre - Horror/Holiday/Virus/Killer Kids

Running Time
- 85 Minutes


PLOT
Around the Christmas holidays, a family reunion is taking place in England. The grown ups - Elaine (Eva Birthistle), her husband Jonah (Stephen Campbell Moore), Chloe (Rachel Shelley), and her husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) - haven't seen each other in years and are happy to spend the holidays together with their children [although teenager Casey (Hannah Tointon) doesn't want to be there]. Quickly after the reunion, the children start feeling ill one-by-one. While the adults think it's just a cold that'll pass, they're oblivious to the fact that this virus is about to turn the young ones into cold-blooded killers.

REVIEW

I love horror movies involving creepy little bastards. Evil kid films like THE BAD SEED, THE OMEN, and ORPHAN will usually put a smile on my face. 2008's THE CHILDREN definitely meets that criteria, as infected children want to murder adults without any semblance of conscience, while the adults emotionally struggle with defending themselves against them. While a fairly predictable, not-all-that original, and simple kids-killing-parents premise, THE CHILDREN still manages to be fairly creepy, engaging, and more effective than one would believe.

I think the narrative is pretty great, even if what's told are things and themes we've seen countless times in other films in this sub-genre. THE CHILDREN starts out pretty slow, with not much action happening until 35 minutes into the movie. But the first 35 minutes are necessary, as it sets up the location, the situation, and the characters. The characterization, in particular, gives THE CHILDREN its strength. We have two different sets of parents - Elaine and Jonah are pretty strict with their children. They'll spank if they have to. They want their children well-behaved and well-mannered. Chloe and Robbie are more easy going, as they let their children just have fun. If they're good, they're given gold stars as an incentive. If they're bad, they'll just slightly scold them about not doing it again. It leads to some great tension once the horror begins, as the parents treat the situation in their own individual way.

Speaking of the parents' reactions, it's interesting to watch how they try to resolve and rationalize the situation. They either blame each other's parenting techniques for why the children are behaving as they are, or blame Casey for perpetuating the situation for whatever reason. When it comes to defending against the children, most of the parents are reluctant to hurt or even kill them because of their emotional attachment to these kids. I'm probably making it deeper than it sounds, as the screenwriting isn't exactly Academy Award-worthy material. But the fact that the parents actually struggle with the situation, because it's their children they have to deal with in the worst way possible, makes THE CHILDREN more effective than it deserves to be.


The characterization of the children isn't as deep as the adults, but they do have their own respective personalities. Miranda is the second oldest and the last to be infected. She's mostly scared of the other children until she catches the virus. Paulie is pretty silent and isolated, constantly slamming his hand into a toy xylophone in a creepy manner. Leah is the cute and playful one. Nicky... likes to sled, I guess. And Casey is the typical rebellious teen who would rather party with her friends than spend time with family. And have flirtatious behavior with her uncle-through-marriage, which is a plot device that's there to make her aunt Chloe be suspicious of her throughout the rest of the film. But Casey is the only one who seems active in the film in terms of stopping the children from killing the adults, which makes her look bad in front of the others due to her "lack of compassion". In some instances, it seems as if her parents care more about the younger kids than they do her for whatever reason. The tension is pretty thick halfway through the film, thanks to the script building up characters we can care about and understand.

My only real issue with the narrative is the virus outbreak itself. I know people prefer to have their illnesses mysterious in their horror films. But in a film like THE CHILDREN, I wish I knew what caused it and why it only affects children and not teenagers and adults. Is it biological? Is it supernatural? Why is anyone over the age of 10 immune to this? And the very end of the film makes things more ambiguous. I don't want to know everything about why the children are being infected by a virus that turns them to serial killers. But a hint or something would have been nice.

Also, I gotta say that there was a bit of implied pedophilia going on this film. Not only was Uncle Robbie wanting a piece of teenage Casey, but there was something going on between Jonah and step-daughter Miranda. He seemed too protective of her, even taking her away from the home as the children attacking the adults and Casey. I'm not sure what any of this had to do with the actual main narrative, but there was a sleazy vibe going down here.

The direction by Tom Shankland is pretty damn good, I gotta say. Sure, there are editing issues that took away from the attack scenes at times. But I thought the cinematography was quite great. I also thought Shankland built up tension really nicely, building up the horror moments through sound and using different shot scales and angles within a sequence. The gore isn't major, but I thought the bloody scenes were done well. Children do get killed, as well as adults, in very vicious ways. And I liked that the film had the balls to do that. Not a perfectly directed film, but it did what it had to do to be effective.


The acting was very good. I thought all the adult actors were good, especially Eva Birthistle as Elaine. Her struggle to defend herself against these crazy kids, while wanting to give up since she couldn't hurt them, was very effective. Hannah Tointon was great as Casey. She had spunk, a Lolita-ish thing about her [although I do think she was over 18 while filming this], and great body language in general to give us her understanding, yet confusion, over the situation. The children were good actors as well. None of the acting will be discussed a day or two after watching THE CHILDREN, but it was more than fine for the material given.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE BELIEVING THAT CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE

- Casey didn't want to be at the family reunion, instead wanting to party with friends. Apparently she's stuck in that teenage rebellion phase. In other words, she's behaving like Lindsay Lohan at age 27.

- Leah coughed up blood and smeared it on her pillow. She's finally becoming a woman.

- Casey got a tattoo of a fetus on her tummy because she was "the abortion that got away". Not realizing she got this disturbing ink is the second biggest mistake Casey's parents made when it comes to her.

- Robbie got killed while sledding into some spikes made by the children. That's one way to sleigh your victim...

- One of the kids got impaled by glass, killing him. Looks like they got that abortion after all.

- Deluded by what was in front of her face, Chloe got her eye stabbed by the children. No big deal. The stupid bitch was already blind to the truth.

THE FINAL HOWL
While it won't be a classic holiday horror film anytime soon, THE CHILDREN is still a film I would recommend for this time of year. The family drama is fairly interesting, the kills aren't too bad, and the direction is pretty darn solid. Did I mention the film has creepy little kids murdering adults? Always a fun time during the holidays, huh? It's not a perfect film and it's not original in the slightest. But for what it is, THE CHILDREN is more than effective in terms of tension, suspense, and ambiguity [although I wish there was less ambiguous details about the virus]. Definitely worthy of a cult following.



SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4


12.17.2013

Tales From The Crypt (1972)

DIRECTED BY
Freddie Francis

STARRING

Ralph Richardson - Crypt Keeper
Joan Collins - Joanne Clayton
Ian Hendry - Carl Maitland
David Markham - James Elliot
Peter Cushing - Arthur Grimsdyke
Richard Greene - Ralph Jason
Barbara Murray - Enid Jason
Nigel Patrick - Major William Rogers
Patrick Magee - George Carter


Genre - Horror/Anthology

Running Time - 92 Minutes


While they weren't as big as Marvel or DC, E.C. Comics (Educational Comics) have crafted a legacy of their own whether the public realizes it or not. While created in 1947, it wasn't until three years later where William M. Gaines and artist Al Feldstein were inspired by their mutual love for radio horror serials, wanting to bring those to life visually through comic books. Their inspirations morphed into four comics - The Haunt of Fear [narrated by the Old Witch], The Vault of Horror [narrated by The Vault Keeper], Weird Science, and the most popular one, Tales From The Crypt [narrated by The Crypt Keeper].

With wise-cracking narrators, tales of cruel morality, and endings that bordered on black comedy, the comics were greatly popular. Unfortunately, this notoriety gained E.C. Comics opponents who claimed the comics promoted juvenile delinquency. And after going through trial to defend the comics, a Senate Subcommittee decided to create the Comics Code Authority in 1955 to monitor content in these books. And if comics didn't pass the code, they wouldn't be published. As a result, the E.C. Comics were forced out of business. However, the comics would become cult collectors' items, be reprinted for newer generations, and Gaines himself would create a magazine called Mad in 1954 that did some decent business, I'm guessing...

About 10 years after E.C. Comics were forced to end, horror in England was experiencing quite a boom period. Hammer Films were riding high with their revamps of Universal Monsters horror, creating stars out of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Another studio, Amicus Productions, wanted to capitalize on the success of Hammer. They decided to focus on anthology movies that could tell several stories within the same time Hammer would tell theirs. Amicus' first major success was 1964's DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS, which starred Hammer icons Lee, Cushing, Michael Gough, and directed by Freddie Francis.

Amicus continued the anthology trend, especially when they bough the rights to the E.C. Comics line. This led to the making of 1972's TALES FROM THE CRYPT and its follow up, 1973's THE VAULT OF HORROR. While both films are considered iconic horror anthologies, TALES FROM THE CRYPT was the more successful - to the point that a television show would be created in 1989 until 1996 with the same title, featuring the humorous Crypt Keeper giving us darkly humorous stories. But since it's Christmas time, we'll focus on TALES FROM THE CRYPT since one of its stories is an iconic holiday tale of murder. And even after 40 years, this anthology stills holds up pretty damn well, even if it does have a stinker or two in the bunch.

MAIN PLOT
Five people are on some caving expedition, but get lost while following their tour guide. When a mysterious door opens, they walk through to find a monk who seems to know who they are, telling them stories about their futures.





1. "...AND ALL THROUGH THE HOUSE"


An unhappy housewife named Joanna Clayton (Joan Collins) murders her husband on Christmas Eve for his insurance money. As she tries to hide the body in the basement from her young daughter, there's a news report about a maniac who has escaped a nearby mental asylum dressed as Santa Claus. And what do you know? The maniac shows up outside of Joanna's house, making her protect herself from this creep while she tries to get rid of her husband's body.

REVIEW
"...And All Through the House" is probably the most iconic story from this anthology, due to the fact that it's a Christmas horror tale that was actually recreated quite well for the later television series with Larry Drake as the maniac Santa. It also features Joan Collins, pre-Dynasty fame, as a villainous housewife whose greed leads her to commit murder, while trying to be a protective mother and homeowner. I really enjoy her in this story, as she always plays a great villainess that you'd like to have your way with. But the main reason why this tale is still considered a Christmas horror classic is because it's executed really well.

What I love about this story is how simple it is. There's barely any dialogue in this 12-minute tale, with director Freddie Francis using his visual presentation to give us all the information we need to know. We know Joanna is a greedy bitch who murders her loving husband for money. Even when she opens the gift he had wrapped for her, she seems displeased by what's inside because it's not "good enough" for her. We see her exchange a bit of dialogue with her daughter, whom she tries to keep the murder from. And then when she learns about the escape and hears noise outside her home, she's stuck between protecting herself, her daughter, and her home and hiding the body.

Francis creates a ton of tension and suspense during the stalking scenes, especially as Joanna attempts to dial the police, but realizes her husband's body is still in the living room. With a tight pace, every shot builds to its humorous climax. Joanna closing windows, dumping the body in the basement by rolling her husband carelessly down the stairs, and Joanna hiding from the Santa who is looking through the windows - this story is shot so well. And it's helped by the Christmas carols that plays throughout the story, creating an eerie feeling even when the music is supposed to be happy. And I just love the ending, which is pretty satisfying I gotta admit.

All in all, a great story to start the film.





2. "REFLECTION OF DEATH"


Carl Maitland (Ian Hendry) leaves his faithful wife and children for his mistress, saying he's going on a business trip. As Carl and his mistress drive to start their new lives, they crash their car. When he wakes up and walks away from the accident, Carl is confused as to why everyone he encounters is frightened by him.

REVIEW
And after a great start, "Reflection of Death" brings it down quite a great deal. For a story that's about ten minutes, it feels much longer because it doesn't really go anywhere, unless you count a pretty weak conclusion any sort of direction. Carl is a cheater, leaves his family for his mistress for whatever reason, crashes their car, and then the rest is a first person point-of-view account of Carl's experience with strangers post-accident. Not exactly thrilling stuff.

I will say that I do like the first person point-of-view visual presentation, with everyone being frightened by Carl. Sure, it's pretty predictable and doesn't last as long as it should to truly be any sort of effective. But it's an interesting technique that makes the bland ending. Other than that, there's not much going for this tale. This is one of those that really needed character development and an interesting situation to be any sorts of compelling. I think this story is the worst of the five. At least the make-up effects at the end were pretty good.




3. "POETIC JUSTICE"


A real estate prospector named James Elliott (David Markham) and his father (Robin Phillips) feel that an old widower named Arthur Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing) is bringing the value of the neighborhood down since he's a middle-class garbage collector. Even though Arthur is treated kindly by the neighborhood, James wants the man gone. After a smear campaign, with the cruelest one being on Valentine's Day, Arthur hangs himself. One year later, Elliott and his father are feeling a bit of guilt. But they won't have time to cope with their feelings as Arthur has risen from the grave, wanting revenge.

REVIEW
I think "Poetic Justice" may be my favorite of the stories in this anthology. The story will make you feel sympathy for Arthur, and hate for James and his father. Arthur is nothing more than a kind old man who has lost his wife, compensating that by giving gifts to children and living a quiet life. Watching the Elliotts destroy this man, just to raise the property value, makes you feel for poor Arthur. When the Elliotts frame Arthur for destroying his neighbor's prize roses, Arthur's dogs are taken away. When the Elliotts convince the neighborhood parents that Arthur's intentions with their children are less than pure, his joy of giving them gifts is taken away. And they even send him horrible Valentine's Day cards that depress him, leading to his suicide. As an audience, we want nothing more for these greedy real estate bastards to get theirs. And the ending will please anyone wanting vengeance.

The direction is pretty much point-and-shoot here, but there doesn't really need to be a whole lot of style here visually since the story and performances are so good. The last few minutes are the segment's best, with Arthur rising from the grave and getting revenge on those who wronged him. I thought the make-up on Peter Cushing looked pretty creepy, and the beating heart at the end is a great touch to cap off a perfect revenge.

This segment is carried by one of Peter Cushing's best performances. Art imitated life here, as Cushing had really lost his wife months prior to filming this role. All that grief and sadness is conveyed perfectly as Arthur, as you really feel bad for this man who has every single thing he loves taken away from him just to sell off his property. You just want to hug him and tell him that everything will be okay. Cushing, using real life tragedy, creates a role that's brilliantly portrayed and truly three-dimensional. David Markham is also very good as the pompous James Elliott. This is just a great segment period. I wish it were longer to be honest.






4. "WISH YOU WERE HERE"


Based on the classic "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs, we watch a couple go through financial strife. Ralph Jason (Richard Greene), a businessman, is about to go bankrupt. He's persuaded to sell many of his valuable items to pay off his massive debt. When he talks to his wife Enid (Barbara Murray) about this, Enid notices that a statue she owns offers the owner three wishes. When she asks for lots of money, Ralph is called in about his finances. Unfortunately, Ralph dies in a car accident, which makes Enid rich due to his insurance policy.

Feeling guilt, Enid wishes that Ralph returns back to life looking like he did prior to the accident. Then when Enid wishes Ralph to live forever, Ralph is in constant pain - Enid not realizing that he has already been embalmed.


REVIEW
It seems the even numbered segments are the poorest ones in TALES FROM THE CRYPT. "Wish You Were Here" is a variation of "The Monkey's Paw", which the characters do bring up more than once and explain it [when you could have just let the story play out without that knowledge]. I'm not really sure why this segment is here. There's no real point to the story, and it only adds a long running time to the film overall. If this segment actually went somewhere interesting, I'd be more than okay with it. Instead, it runs way too short and things happen way too fast for anyone to care about what we're watching. Things are constantly revealed without any sort of breathing room, and the conclusion is supposed to be a cautionary tale - but all I felt was ho-hum.

The direction is okay here. Again, it's pretty much point-and-shoot. But the scenes on the road prior to the accident are quite nice and tense. And the special effect at the end was pretty cool as well. The acting was fine for what it was too. But other than that, nothing really to discuss concerning this segment.






5. "BLIND ALLEYS"


William Rogers (Nigel Patrick), a former Major in the Army, becomes the new director of a home for the blind. Along with his dog, Rogers wants to live in the life of luxury while having control over people he believes aren't fit enough to govern themselves. Instead of making the experience better, Rogers decides to take away most of the food, starving the blind while feeding himself. He also cuts the heat in order to save money - money he uses to buy lavish things for his office. When one of the blind people passes away due to freezing to death, stoic George Carter (Patrick Magee) leads his blind friends into making Rogers suffer with an elaborate plan.

REVIEW
"Blind Alleys" is the longest segment of the film, as its almost a half hour long. And while it's not the best segment in the film, it's still a pretty good one. While a bit long, the segment does well in making you hate Rogers for what he does to these blind people. It also makes you root for George Carter and the other blind characters when they get revenge on Rogers for how cruel he has treated them. In fact, the entire segment builds to a really messed up ending, which makes "Blind Alleys" worth it.

The direction is fine as well, with the real good direction taking place within the last few minutes of the film. We see the blind characters making something in the basement for Rogers and his dog, but we're never sure what it is until the last bit of the segment. The mystery is well worth it, as the revenge situation is so disturbing and silly, you can't help but laugh in satisfaction in how Rogers is punished for his greedy actions. The segment probably could have been ten minutes shorter to get to the point, but it has a good build and conclusion. So I can't hate on it too much.

The acting is the star of this segment. Nigel Patrick is great as the greedy Major Rogers, coming across as a man who feels he's above the others due to the fact that he led an army and enjoys having that power. Patrick Magee is also very good as the blind George Carter, giving the group a leader who isn't as helpless as Rogers believes he is. I think it's a great story to end the anthology portion with.




6. THE WRAP AROUND

As I written in the main plot, the main characters of each of these segments are told of their fates by the Crypt Keeper. There's not much humor to these scenes at all, and the Crypt Keeper doesn't come across as comical or scary as one would expect. It's a pretty dry wrapping tale that leads to an ending that's pretty predictable and uses a hilarious green screen effect. Ralph Richardson does well with what he's given, but he's not as iconic as the television version of the character would become.

THE FINAL HOWL
TALES FROM THE CRYPT is a good anthology film, but far from the best. It has two great segments [with Joan Collins and Peter Cushing], a good segment [with Patrick Magee and Nigel Patrick], and two weak segments that bring the film down. Even Freddie Francis' direction, while decent, has its issues as his visual style doesn't really fit with some of the storytelling. But the acting is quite good, and the special effects and make-up are nice for 1972. TALES FROM THE CRYPT is definitely worth a look, especially if you love horror anthologies. But I'm sure most modern audiences would be more satisfied with the HBO show from the 1990s, where some of these segments were recreated and given more time to shine. Still, a good Amicus Production, but not a great one.




SCORE

3 Howls Outta 4


12.08.2013

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' "Alpha's Magical Christmas" (1994) [A ShitMas Post For Shit Movie Fest]


 Part of Shit Movie Fest's 2013 ShitMas event.




I want to thank Thomas for inviting me to this year's ShitMas celebration. 2013 has already grated me with all this supposed holiday cheer. Annoying Christmas music. Christmas movies where everyone is smiling and laughing. Festive decorations all over the damn place. All this before Thanksgiving! Ugh! So I figured I'd continue to torture by reviewing something related to the 90's phenomenon known as the Power Rangers.

Now don't get me wrong. I friggin' LOVE the Power Rangers. My cousins introduced me to the show during the "Green With Evil" five-part miniseries that introduced Tommy, The Green Ranger, around the start of the first season. I stuck with the show for years, regardless of how cheesy and stupid [the appeal of the show to begin with] the episodes were. Plus, Amy Jo Johnson was super crush-worthy as Kimberly the Pink Ranger.
Oh Amy...

So seeing that everyone else was doing the tradition Christmas films and television specials, I decided to take it like a man and review one of the few Christmas episodes of the Power Rangers. However, there are like five of them and I didn't want to be in a suicide ward for 72 hours. So I decided to do just one. And honestly, it was a Christmas special I had never seen before. Why? Because it was exclusively made for VHS, never been shown on television [and for good reason]. It was released during the controversial second season of the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers era, as three of the original actors were let go from the show due to contract disputes and replaced by three new Rangers. Maybe that explains why this Christmas special is so damn terrible, I wanted the holiday to be cancelled for all eternity!
So without further ado, let's discuss the elusive Power Rangers Holiday Special - ALPHA'S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS.


Yes, the one character that will grab the massive fanbase is the sidekick robot who is one of the more annoying aspects of the show's history. But whatever. He's like C-3P0 mixed with Jar Jar Binks, being led to order by a giant floating head in a tube named Zordon. Yeah, I can smell the monies!
Anyway, let's get to the special itself.


So apparently in the Command Center, Alpha has a huge problem. He's a robot who also happens to be Catholic for whatever reason, and feels lonely during the holidays. He wishes his best friends [or the only people who don't want to turn him into scrap metal], the Power Rangers, were around to spend some holiday cheer with him. Zordon, being the kind wizard that he is, dryly tells Alpha that the Power Rangers are too busy for his metal ass because they're helping Santa Claus during his delivery of gifts.
Yes, apparently Santa Claus has trouble doing the ONE JOB has he all year and needs help from six adults passing for teenagers. Yeah, Saint Nick is the epitome of hard work and determination. By the way, we get a glimpse of Santa's "hard work" through the viewing globe [the Command Center's television] as he pets and feeds a reindeer. Wonderful.
Alpha, being a selfish prick, doesn't care about that and just wants to hang with the Rangers. Nevermind Zordon, who's always there for the robot. He's nobody! Only the Power Rangers matter!
That scrap metal deal is looking really good right now.
Alpha, having magical powers that he's never used at any point in the series, decides to use them to create Christmas decorations inside the Command Center. I've always wanted the power to bedazzle out of thin air. Zordon forgives Alpha for treating him like he's invisible, telling the robot to press the red button on the console [one of many that Alpha presses to create various results]. This creates a Christmas tree to float down from the ceiling, to Alpha's delight. What a waste of a button.
While this jazz is going down, we get one of the many terrible renditions of Christmas music throughout this 24 minute special - "O' Christmas Tree". A Twisted Christmas this ain't. During the song, we see a montage of different locations, with random children placing ornaments on their respective trees. Thrilling. I'm still hoping one of them will shoot their eye out with their BB Gun.
Alpha, being grateful for what he's been given, still wants MORE. Apparently, Zordon's presence or his giving isn't enough for this metal asshat. So Zordon tells Alpha to press a green button for another surprise. Apparently this will bring visitors to the Command Center.
Who will they be? The Power Rangers, who haven't appeared yet in their own special!? Santa's Elves? Bill Goldberg? That dude who loves saying, "GARBAGE DAY!"?
No, the button takes random children out of their homes and brings them to the Command Center.
HOLY FUCK - ZORDON AND ALPHA HAVE A BUTTON TO KIDNAP CHILDREN. MERRY FUCKING CHRISTMAS TO NAMBLA.
And to make things even creepier, the children actually KNOW Alpha and Zordon. This is some Neverland Ranch type stuff going on here. And it doesn't help that the kids group hug Alpha during "Here We Come A-Caroling". Seriously, I'm the one who needs Jesus Juice right now.
AND WHO THE FUCK IS SINGING THESE SONGS?? THE KIDS' LIPS ARE BARELY MOVING!!
Alpha is finally happy to have company and wants to party with these kids. By making them create the decorations for the party. What a classy host. So not only were these children kidnapped from their homes and are too stupid to realize that, they're now performing child labor during a less-than-stirring rendition of "Deck the Halls". And we're only SIX MINUTES IN! God help me...
Alpha is very happy with his slaves', I mean the children's work. Alpha then speaks with the children. He asks a blonde kid named Stephen about what he does during the holidays. Stephen says it snows where he lives and loves to sleigh ride. I have a feeling the creators of this special were playing in the snow before filming this, if you get my drift. Alpha then asks the children if they know how to sing "Jingle Bells".
Really Alpha? They're stupid, not mentally disabled. By the way, the song plays while Santa sleighs through the snow. He also dances with a pre-teen girl, while another girl named Suzy claps like a twit.
Speaking of Suzy, she wants to make Christmas cookies. When Alpha agrees, she claps again. Or in this case, they just use the previous clapping clip again. Pinching those pennies - gotta love greed. And of course, the children have to bake the cookies as "Good King Wencelas" plays. MORE CHILD LABOR. And Alpha actually eats the cookies!!
Why?
How?
Another kid named Michael doesn't want cookies. He wants presents. Finally, someone who understands the season of giving. So Alpha decides to finally step in and actually help the children makes gifts during "Up on the Housetop".

But Alpha doesn't want them opening gifts until Christmas morning. Ha! 
An alarm rings and the viewing globe reveals Santa having fun with the six Power Rangers.


Strangely though, Tommy is seen as the Green Ranger instead of the White Ranger. ...Alrighty. And as Santa sends Alpha his message, his beard is threatening to fall off the man's face. Not only is Saint Nick too lazy to send gifts to children by himself, but he's too lazy to grow an actual beard. Man, times are tough.

In probably the best [or worst] part of this entire special, the kids ask Alpha what he wants for Christmas. Alpha says that all he wants is to spend time with his best friends, the Power Rangers. And as "I'll Be Home For Christmas" plays, we get an epic montage of moments that definitely give off Christmas cheer. Like...
...Tommy slam dunking a basketball. Or random Rangers smiling for whatever reason. Or Billy doing flips in mid-air. Or Alpha headbutting a soccer ball. Or Alpha doing a head tilt. What about the Rangers high-fiving each other in mid-air?
Yes, all these things remind me of Christmas.
The kids decide to give Alpha a gift to lift his spirits.
RIDDLE TIME: What doesn't need batteries, won't ever run out, and can be taken anywhere?
Give up? It's the gift of LOVE!
*gags and pukes*

After I take some much needed Alka-Seltzer, Alpha sends the kids away - through a portal of white light.

Wow, now he's killing them. That's it kids, head towards the light. Save yourselves from this hell.
Alpha seems happy that he sent these stupid children into the afterlife. All of a sudden, three of the Power Rangers [the ones that needed the extra check after losing all dignity starring in this special] decide to show up. It's Billy, Kimberly, and Tommy...as the Green Ranger?? I thought he was the White Ranger?
Like Rita Repulsa, I have a headache thinking about Power Rangers continuity, or lack thereof.

Apparently, new Rangers Rocky, Adam, and Aisha couldn't make it because they were spending time at home with their families. Together. Riiiiiight.



Anyway, Tommy gives Alpha the gift of hoping Alpha has a smile in his heart.
I hate you, Tommy.
Kimberly gives Alpha the ability to have Christmas stay with Alpha all year long. She's lucky she's cute. Billy just wants everyone to be the person they're meant to be in a safe world.
I'm running out of Alka Seltzer here, guys...
The Rangers prepare to leave, but make the Command Center snow just for Alpha. And as "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" plays, we see a montage of random Power Ranger moments that have NOTHING to do with Christmas, but mostly Halloween.
FUCK THIS HOLIDAY SPECIAL.
Barely any Power Rangers. No Lord Zedd. No Rita Repulsa. No Goldar. No fighting. All I saw were kids being kidnapped, being forced into child labor, and being sent off to their deaths - all because a robot wanted company for Christmas. Nothing's shittier on Christmas than ALPHA'S MAGICAL CHRISTMAS!
Oooh, A CHRISTMAS STORY 2. Finally something good.....

12.04.2013

The B-Movie Bungalow Presents: Ghoulies (1985)

DIRECTED BY
Luca Bercovici

STARRING
Peter Liapis - Jonathan Graves
Lisa Pelikan - Rebecca
Michael Des Barres - Malcolm Graves
Mariska Hargitay - Donna
Peter Risch - Grizzel
Tamara de Treaux - Greediguts
Scott Thompson - Mike
Keith Joe Dick - Dick
Charlene Cathleen - Robin
David Dayan - Eddie
Jack Nance - Wolfgang


Genre - Horror/Science Fiction/Comedy/Witchcraft/Demons/Cult/B-Movie

Running Time - 81 Minutes


PLOT
In the past, a cult leader named Malcolm Graves (Michael Des Barres) wants to sacrifice a baby boy to gain the ultimate power. The baby boy happens to be his newborn son, but the baby is saved before the sacrifice is completed and taken away from Malcolm.

Years pass, and the baby has grown up into Jonathan Graves (
Peter Liapis), who knows nothing about his past except for receiving an inheritance from his birth father - a large mansion that seems to be full of books of witchcraft and pentagrams on the floors. Even with all this strangeness, Jonathan and his beautiful girlfriend Rebecca (Lisa Pelikan) move in and make themselves at home.

Jonathan and Rebecca hold a small house warming party with a few of their closest friends, who quickly become bored at doing the same things together. Jonathan leads the group to the basement and suggests they perform a ritual to speak with the dead. While the others don't take it too seriously, Jonathan is slowly feeling the demonic presence taking over him. During the ceremony, Jonathan quickly speaks in incantations, raising demonic spirits without the others knowing. As the days pass by, Jonathan slowly becomes as powerful as his father was, while little demons known as Ghoulies pop up to lend a helping hand to bring back the demonic days of yesteryear.




REVIEW


STORY

- Screenplay: GHOULIES is a film I probably haven't seen since I was a little kid. It was one of Charles Bands first films he was associated with [he was supposed to direct the film originally, but ended up executively producing the film instead], and was meant to capitalize on a film I will be reviewing later in the month - Joe Dante's 1985's classic GREMLINS. However, GHOULIES barely scratches the surface of GREMLINS. In fact, I wish the narrative was better and more interesting than it actually is.

GHOULIES is a low-budget B-movie that doesn't really capitalize on what it wants to advertise. What I mean is that the script barely highlights any of the Ghoulies at all! The Mogwai were a huge part of the story in both GREMLINS films, as the film title advertised. But The Ghoulies barely make any sort of presence in their own movie. Sure, the little green one pops out of a toilet [which was meant to be a joke, that the screenwriter actually used because he thought it was serious], but it's barely a blip in the film's running time. I have no idea who these Ghoulies are. I get that they're minions of some sort for the villain, but what are their purpose exactly? To scare people and bite their faces? Lame. I'm not saying they should have been the star of the film, even though their name is in the title. But maybe a narrative revolving more around them, like in the later sequels [for better and/or worse], could have made GHOULIES more memorable than it wants to be.

Instead, the screenplay would rather focus on an evil cult leader, who's a master of witchcraft, who uses his son to resurrect him in order to kill the son to steal his youth. Yeah, that's a mouthful. This main plotline isn't terrible really. It has the predictable beats and you know where the story is going. GHOULIES, in a lot of ways, is a haunted house flick mixed with a possession angle. But I could care less about any of these characters. The main ones, Jonathan and Rebecca, seem likeable. But their normal life isn't really given much time to develop before Jonathan decides to dabble in the dark arts. I'm guessing the screenwriters, director Luca Bercovici and Jefery Levy, felt that sympathetic and decently developed characters weren't needed in a movie like this. Unfortunately, we have to follow these characters for over 80 minutes, instead of the Ghoulies we were promised in the title. That's not to say Jonathan and Rebecca are bad characters. Jonathan's corruption would have been more fun if they let the actor go all out, but it's alright. And Rebecca seems to be pretty intelligent about the whole thing until Jonathan [with the help of two magical dwarfs - yeah, I'm not getting into these two] brainwashes her into a zombie-like state. But do you really care about what happens to them in the end? Not really.

The same goes to the supporting characters, although they seem to have more personality than the leads. Donna is the beautiful, nice girl. Greediguts [who names these people?] is a bit of a slut. Grizzel and Mike are two best friends who enjoy partying with booze and weed [probably my favorite characters by default]. And Dick is a womanizer who seems pretty shy underneath the surface. And of course, Malcolm Graves is your stereotypical power hungry villain who is willing to sacrifice his son just to make that happen. And the two dwarfs seem to be servants to the one with the power, but I'm not really sure what their deal is [they grant wishes, that's as much as I know about them]. Just because GHOULIES is a B-movie doesn't mean it can't have depth. This film is all fluff and no substance. If this was a silly monster movie with puppets attacking stupid people, it would be enough for a great time. But the film is focused on one-dimensional human beings with puppet monsters popping up every now and then. The script needed to be better in that case.

- Direction
: Luca Bercovici's direction is what it is. GHOULIES has no real terror, tension, or style that really makes it stand out from countless other B-movies that deal with the same theme. But it's competent enough, I guess. The special effect stuff is dated, but it works for its time. We see countless laser effects shooting out of hands and eyes. The Ghoulies themselves seem to be puppets, although the low budget really makes the puppets from Fraggle Rock look like a million bucks. John Carl Buechler has done better work. I think they actually look better in later sequels. The tongue attack is pretty sweet though! The picture quality is decent, and the editing is fine. Plus, the pacing is very good as GHOULIES flies by quickly. The visual presentation is fairly average stuff, but I'm sure the nostalgia factor raises it a bit for some.

- Acting: I can't really say the acting is terrible. Both Peter Liapis and Lisa Pelikan are good with what they're given. Mariska Hargitay, hot then and now, is okay as Donna. Keith Joe Dick is pretty funny as Dick, playing an over-the-top ladies' man. Michael Des Barres' melodramatic acting matches the film's final act tone, so he's alright. Jack Nance, given an unnecessary voice-over that tries to make GHOULIES feel more epic than it actually is, is wasted as Wolfgang. His character should have really been developed, but for whatever reason wasn't.

SEXUAL SITUATIONS
Fairly tame B-Movie in terms of sex. We get shirtless dudes, but not much else. There's also a PG rated sex scene that stops before it really gets going. Nothing to see here really.

VIOLENCE
Again, another tame category. Sure, Malcolm gets to throw Jonathan around a couple of times with his witchcraft. The Ghoulies also attack a few people. But other than that, there's nothing really violent about GHOULIES.

THE CHEESE FACTOR
GHOULIES should have been cheesier than it was. The 80s special effects do put a smile on my face though. And the Ghoulies themselves look pretty okay, adding entertainment value for a pretty bland story. But GHOULIES takes itself fairly seriously though, which is unfortunate. I feel the filmmakers could have had more fun with the premise. I'm sure the budget had something to do with that though.

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE PEEKING OUT OF A TOILET BOWL

- Malcolm Graves wanted to sacrifice a baby for great power. I must be missing this L. Ron Hubbard novel in my collection...

- Dick wants beautiful women to call him "Dick". Unfortunately, they'll be calling his actual dick "Disappointment".

- Grizzel and Mike wanted to see what was inside a closet. Most likely John Travolta, Tom Cruise, or R. Kelly [allegedly].

- Getting possessed by evil is hard on the body. It's like getting the flu. Or watching a single episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Same sick feeling.

- Jonathan received the ability to make it rain inside of his basement. And he didn't need a single dollar bill to make it happen.

- Jonathan held a sunglasses party indoors to use his friends to gain ultimate power. Corey Hart's a big fan.

- There was a point during the ritual where everyone screamed real loud. I guess "sunglasses" was the secret word!

- Dick was tricked into making out with a big boobed chick, who was really Malcolm Graves in disguise. He knows all there is to know about the crying game...

THE FINAL HOWL

I liked GHOULIES as a kid, but it doesn't do much for me as an adult. The story is bland, the direction is "point and shoot", and the premise could have been more entertaining than it was. Plus, if you're expecting Ghoulies running amok, you'll be seriously disappointed. Still, the film does have some charm, decent acting [including the first film appearance of Mariska Hargitay], and nostalgic bad 80s special effects. For a film that wanted to be a low budget GREMLINS, GHOULIES just makes you wish you were watching that film instead. Not terrible, but nothing to really recommend either.



SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4


Related Posts with Thumbnails