YEAR END HORROR ROUND-UP 2013

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I’m not a big fan of top 10 lists and all that year end fuss but, I thought I would give a bit of a look back at what I liked and didn’t like in the horror genre this year and, or course, share it with all of you. These are just my opinions and since the world is filled with different tastes and preferences and each horror film effects, or doesn’t effect, everyone differently, I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with my selections but, this is how I look at what the horror genre had to offer this year…

BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR

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EVIL DEAD (2013)

To a degree it’s sad that the best horror of the year was a remake but, I had a blast with Fede Alvarez’s re-imagining and it had some nice scares, plenty of gore and Jane Levy rocked in the lead. Alvarez showed he’s a director to keep an eye on and he paid tribute to the original while doing his own thing. Fun horror! Read my full review HERE…

BEST HORROR RUNNER-UP

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THE LORDS OF SALEM (2013)

Rob Zombie’s latest horror is not for everyone but, I enjoyed this out-there story of a Salem Mass. DJ (Sheri Moon Zombie) who is sent a record that, when played, sets in motion the return of a coven of Devil worshipping witches and their plan to bring great evil into our world. Zombie’s flick has some really disturbing visuals and some very subtle and creepy scenes to go along with it’s more shocking moments and evokes the works of some of horror’s best directors while remaining a Rob Zombie film. His most solid directorial effort and a refreshingly off-beat and very unsettling movie. Even the soundtrack was disturbing and, as usual in a Zombie film, there are some great songs included in it that almost become a character in the film themselves. An acquired taste but, I really enjoyed it. Read my original review HERE…

BEST HORROR HONORABLE MENTION

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MANIAC (2013)

For a guy who bitches a lot about all the horror remakes, it is quite ironic that two of my favorites this year are in fact remakes but, Franck Khalfoun’s re-imagining was a vast improvement over the sleazy and overrated original and Elijah Wood gave me the creeps. There were some truly shocking and disturbing moments, strong tension and the film made creepy use of it’s POV shooting style. An art house style horror that really worked for me. Read my full review HERE…

MOST ORIGINAL HORROR

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AMERICAN MARY (2013)

Sure Mary isn’t perfect but, this story of pretty Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle), a down on her luck medical student who is lured into the world of underground body modification surgery for money and then is turned into a sadistic killer when horribly wronged, is a breath of fresh air in a genre saturated by generic haunted house and home invasion thrillers. A wickedly fun and disturbing flick from the Soska Sisters and one that made me second guess myself and I give it a lot of credit for that. Read my full review HERE…

ORIGINAL HORROR RUNNER-UP

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EXCISION (2012)

Yes, this film is from 2012 but, I didn’t catch up with it till this year and it deserves a shout out for being one of the more original flicks I watched during 2013. Another surgery themed flick has a troubled teen Pauline (AnnaLynne McCord) whose obsession with surgery and bizarre fantasies leads this demented ugly duckling to commit some horrible acts. A trippy and disturbing  little movie with a really strong performance by McCord who disappears into the role. A nice turn by Traci Lords as well as Pauline’s overbearing mother also gives this flick some weight. Read my full review HERE…

ORIGINAL HORROR HONORABLE MENTION

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JUG FACE (2013)

Chad Crawford Kinkle gave us an unsettling and offbeat little horror about a rural backwoods community presided over by a supernatural creature that resides in a large sink hole just inside the woods. The creature watches over the village and even cures ills as long as the residents feed it the appropriate sacrifice when it calls for it. When one of the intended sacrifices has other ideas, she brings it’s wrath down upon her entire village. Read my full review HERE…

BEST DIRECT TO HOME MEDIA HORROR /

BEST COMEBACK

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CURSE OF CHUCKY (2013)

This flick sadly went direct to home media but, Chucky’s first horror in almost 10 years is a fun, gory and suspenseful tale that returns to the series’ more serious roots and sets Chucky loose in a spooky old house. It had some nice suspense, some vicious kills, Fiona Dourif made a plucky wheelchair bound heroine and there’s some nice surprises for fans of the series too. Chucky was back in style and didn’t get the attention/respect he deserved. Read my full review HERE…

 

MOST OVERRATED HORROR

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THE CONJURING (2013)

Don’t get me wrong, The Conjuring is a well made and fairly enjoyable horror flick especially in it’s spooky first act, but with a second act that gets not only theatrical and a bit hokey, but climaxes with yet another routine exorcism, it lost it’s grip on me much like Wan’s Insidious did in it’s second half. A good flick, but not the masterpiece internet hype makes it out to be. Also doesn’t hold up under repeat viewings as the scares have lost some of their effect and the flaws only get more obvious. Read my full review HERE…

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING HORROR

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YOU’RE NEXT (2013)

With all the positive buzz and internet hype I heard about this flick, it was a major disappointment when I left the theater having seen this predictable and routine home invasion flick with transparent plot twists and a completely contrived excuse for the lethal skills of it’s final girl… though Sharni Vinson was effective in the part. Otherwise the bland cast recites some really bad dialog and does incredibly stupid things to set themselves up as victims both invaded and invader alike. A weak script and a shaky cam obsessed directer make this not only one of the year’s biggest disappointments, but one of the weaker horrors I saw this year. See my full review HERE…

 

WORST HORROR

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THE LAST EXORCISM PART II (2013)

After the entertaining and effectively chilling first flick, this shameless and stupid cash grab sequel is awful in almost every way. A poor script and story, lame direction and a laughable climax makes this hands down the worst horror I saw this year. Ashley Bell does try really hard, but the actress is given garbage to work with and garbage is what this sequel is. Read my full review HERE…

WORST HORROR THAT I STILL ENJOYED

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TEXAS CHAINSAW  (2013)

I’m not going to defend this flick, it had some glaring story problems, a highly questionable timeline…our plucky heroine Heather (Alexandra Daddario) should be in her forties not a nubile 20 something…and numerous other issues, but it gave me some chuckles and a couple of real hotties being chased by a chubby, balding Leatherface…who should be like 60 here…there were also some gruesome kills and did I mention it’s got Alexandra Daddario? A guilty pleasure for sure for, as bad as this was, I had fun watching it and it did have some nice cameos and homages to Hooper’s original masterpiece. Read my full review HERE…

HAVE A HAPPY AND SAFE NEW YEAR!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: RESURRECTION COUNTY (2008)

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RESURRECTION COUNTY (2008)

When are city folk going to learn that vacationing and partying in the most backwoods area they can find is never a good idea?! This familiar story has two couples from the city looking to enjoy a camping vacation in remote Resurrection County. When the men trespass on private property with their ATVs, an altercation with the owners leaves a local man dead and a gang of angry rednecks on their trail. What follows is the routine violence and brutality as rednecks attack and city folks learn to meet violence with violence. But, Director Matt Zettell does handle the familiar story well. A story that claims to be based on actual events. There are some very effective and very brutal scenes. The last act has some nice tension and suspense, too and Zettell gives the flick a cool visual style on a low budget. He also gets good performances out of his cast of unknowns, which helps as none of the cast come across as particularly bad although, none will win awards either. The script by Matt Yeager and James Cotton (from Cotton’s story) gives the backwoods characters a bit more of a background as they seem to be part of some sort of religious/separatist group. This helps elevate them a bit from your standard cliche’ “weird rednecks”. They also break from  tradition by having the local sheriff not involved in the goings on and his investigation into what is happening, puts him in equal danger from our vicious locals as our beleaguered city dwellers. So, in conclusion, while the story may be nothing new, the filmmakers at least make it intense, bloody and entertaining… if this sort of backwoods horror is your thing. A surprisingly effective little horror flick from Matt Zettell and co. Stars Dayton Knoll, Kathryn Michelle, Robert Miano and Adam Huss.

3 chainsaws.

3 chainsaws

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES DECEMBER 27-29

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Complete estimates are in for this last weekend of the year!

1. “The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug” $29.9 Million

2. “Frozen” $28.8 Million

3.”Anchorman 2:The Legend Continues” $20.1 Million

4.”American Hustle” $19.6 Million

5. “The Wolf Of Wall Street” $18.5 million

6. “Saving Mr. Banks” $14 Million

7. “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty”  $13 Million

8. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” $10.2 Million

9. “47 Ronin” $9.9 Million

10. “Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas” $7.4 Million

source: box office mojo

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: BATMAN and BATMAN RETURNS

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Recently revisited these two classics and though they still cause controversy amongst Batman and movie fans years later, they are true classics whether you are for them or against them. I think they sit fine as their own series next to Christopher Nolan’s darker and more grounded films but, however, I did find that one of them has aged more gracefully then the other. It’s also my favorite of the two so, that might have something to do with it …

 

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BATMAN (1989)

Warner Brothers was trying to get a Batman film going for years with various directors attached and in various tones and with numerous actors sought for the lead from Bill Murray to Steven Seagal. But with the success of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, the studio settled on Tim Burton as a new upcoming director and fans began to buzz with interest. When Burton announced Beetlejuice star Michael Keaton as his Batman, the interested turned to outrage, though the outrage calmed down somewhat as it was also announced that film icon Jack Nicholson would be his arch-nemesis, The Joker. The film was finally made and after years of waiting, I remember enjoying it upon seeing it opening night on 6/23/89 but I had some problems with it that kept me from loving it. With a recent revisit, I found those problems still haunt it and to be honest, it is kind of dated especially with the Prince songs, which I never liked being in the film in the first place. They totally contrast and work against Danny Elfman’s moody and gothic score. But I digress…

Batman opens with a mysterious bat suited figure thrashing two criminals on a rooftop and the subsequent investigation by hard-nosed reporter Alexander Knox (a completely annoying Robert Wuhl and a character that could have been totally removed without any effect on the story) and intrepid photographer Vicki Vale (a bland Kim Basinger). We also get a second storyline of mob enforcer Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) who is sleeping with crime boss Carl Grissom’s (Jack Palance) girlfriend (Jerry Hall) and Grissom knows it. Grissom sends Napier on a job which is actually a set-up and when the police arrive, so does ‘The Bat” and Jack winds up shot in the face and falling in a vat of chemicals. The Joker is thus born, but so is a hero as The Batman (Michael Keaton) is secretly orphaned billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, a man who is avenging the murder of his parents by taking the criminals of Gotham head on as his masked alter ego. And with the Joker planing to ruin Gotham, he and Batman are fated to collide. But Wayne and Joker are also fated to collide too, as both men set their sights on the beautiful Vale…

And that plot element brings me to one of my first and biggest problems with Batman and that is the love triangle (quadrangle?) between Vale, Wayne, Joker and Batman. Not only does it not really work, but it provides some of the worst written scenes/dialogue in movie. The film stops dead for two scenes in particular when the Joker come to woo Vale and I never bought that the Joker would throw aside and endanger his nefarious plans, just for a girl… at least in how I see the character. That and Bassinger is just boring as Vale and one wonders how it would have been if Sean Young hadn’t been injured and lost the role. But this is also the product of the really weak script by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren that was reported to have been continuously tweaked throughout production. The script continually stops the already weak plot…The Joker messing with hair and beauty products? That was the best ‘evil scheme’ they could come up with for the greatest comic book villain of all time?…to pay attention to this subplot and takes the iconic Joker and Batman characters and makes their disagreement over a girl, like this was a John Hughes high school movie or something. At least Keaton shocked the world by being a great Batman and he gives this film a lot of the weight it has. He makes a brooding and mysterious Dark Knight and a perfectly aloof and eccentric Bruce Wayne. He even retains his dignity in an awfully written scene with him trying to explain his double life to Vale with an intrusion by The Joker. There is that ‘Vale’ factor again. As for Nicholson, despite what appears to be perfect casting…and I know I’ll get flak for this…Jack’s Joker is a mixed bag. He goes from dead-on threatening, such as the infamous “Wait’ll they get a load of me” scene, to just plain goofy and silly. I do understand that the Joker’s tone did change from dangerous psycho to goofy clown over the years in the comics, but the movie needed to pick one. I don’t know if it was Jack being overindulgent or Burton mishandling him or a product of the script, but Nicholson’s Joker is all over the place. He fails to solidify the proper threat and menace to make the character a solid villain as there are times when he appears to be a little too demented and silly to get away with his plans. He has some really effective scenes…his treatment of Alicia (Hall) is the kind of cruel streak the character needed a bit more of to remain frightening…but they are totally sidetracked by his sillier moments, but in his defense, and I can’t say this enough, the script doesn’t give him the best material to chew on. And as Burton isn’t always the strongest storyteller, so maybe Jack just winged it from scene to scene.

And as for Burton, he is a great visualist and this film has a sort of grimy Blade Runner meets 1940s detective thriller look to it. The storytelling here is weak, but it is said the script was sometimes changed without the director’s knowledge, so not sure if the film’s weakest moments are totally his fault. There were apparently a lot of hands in this pot and that’s why the following sequel seems more like a “Tim Burton” film then this one. All it’s flaws aside, this movie is still endearing to me. Keaton is great and would get even better in the improvement of a sequel. There is a lot of fun action and when Jack is on, he is a delight to watch when he gives his Joker the appropriate menace and isn’t sabotaged by some bad dialogue or cartoonish behavior. I wish he had been given a better story then hair and make-up tinkering, but this is what we got. The film has a classic score by Danny Elfman and a very underrated performances by Michael Gough as Alfred and his scenes with Keaton are magic. Put all four of this era’s Batman flicks together and Gough is the jewel of this uneven series. The Phantom Of The Opera-ish climax is also a lot of fun and The Joker’s last scene might ironically be one of the most fitting scenes for the character… always having to have the last laugh.

So, in conclusion, despite a lot of flaws and the signs of a tumultuous production, the movie still has  a lot to entertain and certainly has it’s charm, especially now that it’s aged somewhat…though not as gracefully as we’d like. And as my idea of Batman and his Joker were better portrayed by Nolan’s The Dark Knight, I can now let this movie slide on a few of it’s issues as it is no longer the only film on the subject. Also stars Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, Billy Dee Williams as Harvey Dent and Tracey Walter as Joker’s top henchman Bob.

… as a final note, it’s kind of interesting that I’ve read where Tim Burton has been said to say he finds the movie boring and proclaim that it’s not a great movie. I agree it’s not a great movie, but it isn’t boring and will always be regarded, even by me, as a classic despite it’s flaws. These statements only give more substance to me of the notion that this film was not totally his and there were a lot of cooks involved in the bat soup which may explain why many aspects of the production are so uneven.

3 bat signals!

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BATMAN RETURNS (1992)

Now this was more like it! As for what I wanted from Burton’s first Batman, this sequel is a lot closer to it. The film feels a lot more like a ‘Tim Burton’ film and a lot of the problems from Batman, have been eliminated or fixed such as booting the Vale and Knox characters and having a more consistently sinister villain and a far livelier and sexier leading lady… and no Prince music to date the film like last time…And for the record, I think Prince is a musical genius and has some great tunes, but they don’t belong in a Batman movie. The story is still not the strongest…none of this era’s Batman movies had strong plots…but it makes up for it by strengthening a lot of other weaknesses including a more gothic look and a snowy Christmas setting with a bit more of a devious sense of humor.

We start out with the wealthy Cobblepot family (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure vets Paul Reubens and Diane Salinger) welcoming a new baby boy into their family…an unfortunately deformed baby whom they proceed to send a la Moses sailing off down a creek in a basket. The basket sails into the abandoned Gotham City Zoo and down into the sewers beneath where it is greeted by a group of penguins apparently left over from the zoo’s closure. Cut to over three decades later as Gotham is battling a new criminal element and there are urban legends of a ‘penguin man’ stalking the sewers of the city, and now that he’s established as a hero, the apparently useless Commissioner Gordon (Pat Hingle) calls upon the Batman (Michael Keaton) to combat these problems. Meanwhile unscrupulous businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) is scheming to construct a power plant that will actually steal power from Gotham and is forced to throw his shy secretary Selena Kyle (Michelle Pheiffer) out a high rise window when she stumbles on his plans. But all these characters and stories are destined to clash as the criminal gang is actually run by The Penguin (Danny DeVito) who is the vengeful, deformed outcast son of the Cobblepots and he tasks Max Shreck to help him get his revenge on the city that abandoned him. Miss Kyle is resurrected, in a scene that evokes the Japanese horror flick Kuroneko (1968), by the touch of some stray cats and emerges as Catwoman, yet another vengeance seeking individual with chaos and bedlam on her mind. And the one thing they all have in common…none of their plans can come to fruition without the elimination of The Batman. The only hitch is that Batman and Catwoman may have found soul mates in each other just as the emotionally scarred Bruce Wayne has with the equally damaged Selina Kyle. But will the feline femme fatale side with the caped crusader or join the other villains to do him in?

Burton may not be the strongest storyteller but he does far better guiding this one then the last. Maybe it was less interference from producers?…a less demanding actor as his lead bad guy?…or that Daniel Waters’ script is a vast improvement over that last film’s. Either way this flick is a lot more fun, while retaining it’s dark tone. It seems to move faster and despite it’s complicated story and numerous characters, seems to flow a lot better in the context of the telling of that story. The characters all seem to fit together better, especially Keaton and Pfeiffer whose scenes together both as Wayne and Kyle and their alter egos are a delight to watch and crackle with a sexual tension that was completely absent in the last film’s romantic pairing. They are also far better written and have some nice crisp dialogue between the two especially with Batman and Catwoman’s love/hate relationship. While it may be debated that Walken’s villain is one too many, his scenes with all three leads are amusing to watch as he basically seems to be playing everyone for his own benefit and also seems quite amused with himself that his partners in crime don’t see the wool pulled over their eyes or his thinly veiled contempt for them as he does it. Keaton is even better here as Batman/Bruce Wayne and seems to be more relaxed in the role and while he is still a wounded soul, I dare say his Batman here is enjoying his superhero role a little more now that his is out of the shadows and an outright hero instead of an outlaw. He works well with all the cast especially recreating the magic between Batman and butler with Gough’s wonderful Alfred. As for DeVito, his Penguin is a grotesque and sinister creature that instills discomfort and menace. He is having a blast with the role and is far more consistent with his portrayal then the all over the place performance Nicholson gave and this helps establish his character more solidly. Penguin may not be as quite iconic as The Joker, but in my opinion DeVito is far more successful in his portrayal than Jack was in his, because he picks a tone for the demented and sly Oswald Cobblepot and stays with it. It may also help that he has a better script and a director who is not having his script changed underneath him like last time. Pfeiffer is simply hot and spicy as the kitten with a whip that is her Catwoman. She is adorable as the shy and clumsy Selena Kyle and then is delightfully hot as the twisted and sexy villainess. She and Keaton have a wonderful chemistry together and make good use of the witty dialogue between them. She also has some fun scenes with DeVito, whose creepily horny Penguin would like nothing better than to get into her vinyl catsuit.

The production on a whole seems more relaxed. The budget is almost twice what the first film’s was and Burton goes with a more gothic look with less pipes and girders and more stone and castle-like architecture and the colors are less rust and rot with more blues and cool grays to accent his cold weather suited villain. The first film looked appropriately grungy, but here it more ‘Transylvanian’ and he makes good use of the snowy winter setting to present a beautiful snow swept city in contrast to the dirty dark sewers in which Penguin calls home. There are some fun action scenes too and the film benefits from the larger budget with better FX and model work. Even back in the day, some of the model work in the first film’s cathedral scene made me wince. Danny Elfman returns to once again composes a wonderfully fitting score. The two Batman scores are among his best work.

All in all, Batman Returns is a better film in every way and it’s a shame the studio decided to change direction in the next film and go with Schumacher who treated the next two Batman films like a gaudy burlesque show complete with bat nipples and gratuitous latex covered ass shots. Keaton sadly but wisely walked away as the next two films went from neon drenched car wreck to neon drenched train wreck respectively. Odd that the studios wanted the films to be lighter and more family friendly yet, Schumacher gave them far more of a kinky sexual subtext then the darker Burton films and were ultimately less successful.

3 and 1/2 bat signals!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HORROR PLANET/INSEMINOID (1981)

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HORROR PLANET/INSEMINOID (1981)

This 1981 horror/ thriller was retitled from Inseminoid to Horror Planet for it US release, but regardless of what you call it, this British Alien rip-off blows a really good exploitation movie premise by simply taking itself far too seriously.

Story takes place in the far future on a base stationed on a remote planet with a team exploring an archeological dig in what appears to be some kind of tomb. After the discovery of some odd crystals (which are forgotten about after the first act) things start to go awry with an accident putting one astronaut in a coma and driving another one apparently mad. His antics result in another of the crew’s death and the survivors do the logical thing (add the appropriate sarcasm as you read) and send people right back into the tomb. This time they are attacked by an alien creature that kills the male crew member, and then the bug-eyed E.T. impregnates poor Sandy (Judy Geeson) on what appears to be a tanning bed. Of course Sandy is found and brought back to the base and before you can say ‘pregnancy cravings’ she starts murdering and partially devouring her fellow crew members…including those in comas and the bodies of the already dead. When she’s not chowing down on her crew mates, she’s blowing up vital base equipment all the while tormenting the survivors via intercom like a pregger Bruce Willis in a space set Die Hard movie. If battling this pontificating expectant mother with super strength and a diet of human flesh isn’t enough, she gives birth to not one but two bug eyed little baby monsters for the dwindling survivors to deal with!

If this sounds like a blast, it should be, but it’s not. Director Norman J. Warren apparently didn’t read Nick and Gloria Maley’s script too closely, complete with it’s ridiculous scenes…such as when using Sandy’s offspring as bait, the woman placed in charge of them is cuddling them like they are puppies…yea, that’s gonna end well…and scientist characters doing the stupidest possible things in dealing with the homicidal baby momma. He not only directs this with a dead serious tone, but also very by-the-numbers, so it’s far too dull to enjoy even as a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick. Not that their isn’t some fun to be had, as it is amusing to watch Geeson running around shrieking like a banshee and the demented look on her face as she murders and then prepares to devour her colleagues. That along with the birthing is worth a few chuckles. In fact, if there is anything really positive to say, it’s that Judy Geeson, who is a good British actress and quite reputable at the time, is such a great sport with all that she’s required to do. She’s raped by a tube while fully nude, then runs around like a lunatic killing and eating people and follows that up by squeezing out her young in a graphic birthing sequence. She handles some humiliating scenes and somehow keeps her dignity. She takes the silly ball and runs with it and I only wish director Warren approached the material with the same gusto as his leading lady, then we might of at least had some Corman-ish fun with a script that screamed exploitation flick…and that’s what kills it, even the laughable bits are just dull. Either treat the material as exploitation and have some real fun with it or at least dive in with both feet and give it some energy and intensity. The story is obviously not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so there’s no use trying to pretend your burger is a prime steak…it’s a burger, throw some cheese on it and have a good time! Warren tries to make Masterpiece Theater out of a drive-in flick and it kills what could have been a B-movie classic. No changes needed to the script, just embrace it for the gory nonsense it is and have a blast with it. He goes all pretentious as if it was going to change the fact that this is a flick about a woman getting knocked-up by an alien and eating her friends to nourish her unborn bastard children…and bastards they are, cause Mr. Alien is a deadbeat dad and vanishes once the deed is done, leaving Sandy to raise and feed the kids all by herself. What a jerk!

Production-wise there is plentiful gore, our critters are appropriately ugly and slimy thought the sets are kinda cheesy. The other cast members… including Stephanie Beacham and Victoria Tennant (the future Mrs. Steve Martin) who went on to better things… are fairly wooden here, but that goes along with the director’s tone and pace which leads one to ponder if it wasn’t their fault.

So, in conclusion, we have a script that Roger Corman might have taken and made a real cult classic out of…though this film is still remembered…but instead we get a ridiculous and dull flick helmed by someone who trying to make caviar out of canned tuna. You can’t polish a turd…but if you set it on fire and leave it on someone’s doorstep, you can still have a good time with it.

2 hungry newborns!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: KURONEKO (BLACK CAT) (1968)

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KURONEKO (BLACK CAT) (1968)

As Tim Burton’s BatmanReturns is part of my MonsterZero NJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature this weekend, I thought I’d review this 1968 Japanese chiller that I strongly suspect had an influence on the iconic scene of the resurrection of Selena Kyle/birth of Catwoman…

Kuroneko is a spooky 1968 Japanese ghost story that tells the tale of two women, young wife Shige (Kiwako Taichi) and mother-in-law Yone (Nobuko Otowa), who are raped and murdered by a group of rogue samurai. As their bodies lay in the ruins of their burned home, a single black cat comes and licks their corpses (a scene that I feel inspired Selena Kyle’s resurrection in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns.) and the two women return as vengeful spirits who lure samurai to their doom and drink their blood. The story becomes complicated when young samurai Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura), who’s sent to deal with the supernatural killers, turns out to be the son/husband of the two murderous specters. Can he destroy the spirits of those he loved most despite their evil ways… and can they resist their thirst for vengeance and blood and not kill him? Kuroneko is sumptuously filmed in black and white with some very spooky visuals and a very atmospheric style by Kaneto Shindo. His knows how to create tension with his camera and his visual and editing style at times evokes comparisons to more contemporary filmmaker David Lynch, although more restrained. His actors perform very well, his two female stars help Shindo achieve a successful blend of the supernatural world and the living when the ghostly women interact with the flesh and blood characters. They are menacing at times and sympathetic at others. Shindo switches story elements from horror to supernatural love story and back to horror for the climax without disrupting the narrative flow and his actors keep up with him to the full benefit of the story and thus those watching. A very spooky and unusual but, ultimately very satisfying ghost story.

3 black cats!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1951)

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A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1979)

In my humble opinion, this is THE definitive telling of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and a must watch tradition for my family and I at Christmas time. Also going simply by the name of Scrooge, this is a true holiday classic that is filled with generous helpings of charm and Yuletide spirit, as well as, a wonderful adaptation of one of the holiday’s greatest stories ever written. For those not familiar, it is the simple tale of the grumpy and selfish Ebenezer Scrooge (Alistair Sim), a man who is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve…the spirits of Christmas past, present and future…and is transformed from a mean miser to a kind and merry soul. He is shown a reflection of his life and where his ways went sour and where they might be leading him.

Alistair Sim is the perfect Scrooge and there has been no equal yet to his portrayal of the classic character, though many have tried. He is totally scorn-worthy and hissable as the miserly and miserable curmudgeon and yet, as he masterfully takes us through his awakening and transformation, you will find yourself loving and cheering for him by the film’s end. And thanks to Brian Desmond-Hurst’s skilled and atmospheric direction, the scenes featuring the spirits of Christmas are delightfully spooky and help make Scrooge’s change of heart all the more believable. Hurst has a lush, rich visual style and the film looks gorgeous in the original black and white in which it was filmed…and intended to be watched in to enjoy the filmmakers’ original vision. Under Hurst’s guidance and the witty script by Noel Langley, based on Dickens’ classic, the movie also perfectly captures the feel of the age in which it takes place and yet retains a timelessness for all the ages. The cast supporting Sim all give passionate performances that bring these classic characters to vibrant life as if lifted from the very pages of Dickens’ story.

A perfect Christmas movie. Perhaps my all time favorite. Also stars the legendary Patrick Macnee as a young Jacob Marley and edited by Clive Donner who became a successful director in his own right, including his own version of this classic holiday tale in 1984 with George C. Scott as Scrooge. A holiday masterpiece!

4 Christmas trees!

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REVIEW: GRABBERS (2012)

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Grabbers

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GRABBERS (2012)

If you took Shaun Of The Dead and put it in a blender with the 1990 classic Tremors you’d get Grabbers, a fun British horror/comedy about the citizens of a remote island off the cost of Ireland pitted against slimy, tentacled space monsters. The story begins with a fishing vessel witnessing a meteorite crashing in the sea. A short while later, the crew is killed by something big and tentacled while off the coast of the Irish island of Erin. Meanwhile on Erin, Ciarán O’Shea (Richard Coyle), the local Garda (the national police of the Republic of Ireland), is dealing with a new temporary partner, the by-the-book Lisa Nolan (cutie Ruth Bradley) who doesn’t approve of O’Shea’s drinking problem. The two have bigger issues to deal with, though as dead whales wash up on shore, a mysterious creature is captured by a local fisherman and citizens start disappearing. Soon they realize that their peaceful little island is under siege by mysterious tentacled creatures who are laying eggs all over the place and are protected by a massive and very vicious alpha male. The island is a perfect habitat for the monsters, though they do have a very interesting weakness, considering this is Ireland after all. Now can these two lone cops somehow keep the villagers safe and survive the evening long enough to realize that they have fallen for each other despite their differences?

The answer to that is a lot of fun finding out as director Jon Wright (no relation to Edgar as far as I can tell) has a good time with Kevin Lehane’s derivative but fun script. And that’s the key… we recognize the obvious inspirations and have seen it all before, but we cut it some slack as it’s a lot of fun. One of the reasons is the film is populated with a lot of colorful characters brought to life by a fine Irish cast. Coyle and Bradley have a nice chemistry and work well together and to be honest, they make a cute couple. The eccentric characters around them also blend very well such as local drunk Paddy (Lalor Roddy) and resident scientist, the stuffy Dr. Smith (a homage to Lost In Space’s infamous doctor perhaps?). Another reason is we get some well executed and effectively slimy critters in our CGI Grabbers. They are basically all tentacles and teeth and those are two combinations that effectively chill when it comes to a movie beastie and their level of menace helps propel the story as does some decent but not overdone gore. Wright also gets the tone for this kind of thing down perfectly. He never takes his subject too seriously, but never lets it get too silly, so as not to make a joke out of it. There are proper amounts of humor and horror blended evenly, much like the two previously mentioned films it evokes. That is the way to making a film like this work. If you are going to evoke the work of others, lay your homages out in the open and have a good time with it. The audience will have fun and let you slide that you are presenting them with a mash-up of stuff they’ve seen before.

Grabbers is a fun, fast paced movie with a charming cast and a nice mix of laughs and thrills. Nothing original, but it’s not trying to be… it just wants to recreate the fun of it’s influences and on that level, it works. Entertaining and unlike the recently reviewed Cockneys vs Zombies, Grabbers isn’t an imitation, but a cinematic hug to the movies that entertained it’s makers, in it’s own style. And that’s the difference between homage and rip-off.

3 tentacled Grabbers!

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REVIEW: COCKNEYS vs ZOMBIES (2013)

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COCKNEYS vs ZOMBIES (2013)

Cockneys vs Zombies wants to have it both ways by ripping off Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie by having a bunch of Cockney crooks, both young and old, dealing with a zombie outbreak in East End London. The film opens with a construction crew uncovering a tomb sealed in the 1600s and upon entering are attacked by reanimated corpses. At the same time, brothers and would-be criminals Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) are planning a bank robbery to get enough money to save their grand dad Ray’s (Alan Ford) senior citizen’s rest home from demolition. Ray is conveniently also a former gangster so we can be assured of at least one foul mouthed senior citizen. As the robbery goes awry, the zombies start to multiply and with the East End in chaos, our young bank robbers escape but, now must find a way to survive the living dead and rescue Ray and his senior friends. With a mounting army of the undead, can they get out of the infected area alive? It isn’t bad enough that director Matthias Hoene is lazy enough to blatantly copy the styles of Wright and Ritchie but, the fact that he and writers James Moran and Lucas Roche feel that their premise of having foul mouthed Cockney criminals, senior and slacker alike, cursing at and killing zombies is enough to make their flick work without giving it much wit or creativity. And to be honest, it is a fun premise but, again, it’s a lazy movie that doesn’t give the story anywhere near the fun and energy it needed. And if you’re copying Wright and Ritchie, leaving out the fun and energy is just plain sloppy. It also parades out all the cliche’s involved in both zombie and gangster flicks including character access to a cache of guns, the hot ass-kicking chick and conveniently left around power tools that are perfect for killing zombies. And this isn’t to say the film is totally devoid of fun, cause the cast are thankfully enjoying themselves and there are some amusing bits but, not enough to put it anywhere near the class of film they are trying to mimic… thought to be honest, I’ve never really been a big fan of Guy Ritchie’s flicks and while I enjoy Wright’s, I don’t think they are the masterpieces his fans make them out to be. There is some good gore and the production appears to make good use of a low budget but, in terms of both the zombie aspect and the gangsters with British accents angle, there is nothing new here at all and it’s not funny or endearing enough to overcome that, like how Shaun Of The Dead rose above it’s familiar material. Not a total waste of time but, nothing much to recommend either, as it pretty much wastes an amusing idea. Also stars adorable and spunky Michelle Ryan as cousin and partner in crime, Katy… the before mentioned hot ass-kicking chick… and legendary Bond girl Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) as one of the senior center residents named Peggy. And while it was fun to see Blackman onscreen again, I personally would like to remember her as her classic character in Goldfinger. For zombie completests or for those who feel curses in British accents are enough to entertain.

2 and 1/2 zombie stopping bullets!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: PROPHECY (1979)

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PROPHECY (1979)

This 1979 horror thriller starts out letting us know there is something…emphasis on ‘thing’…wrong in the deep forests of Maine as a search team and their dogs are slaughtered in the dead of night by something large and vicious. We don’t see it, but we hear it’s fearsome roar and see the results of it’s carnage. We then meet doctor and activist Robert Verne (Robert Foxworth) who is hired by the EPA to write a report on a logging company which is in a land dispute with a local Native American tribe. He arrives with his wife Maggie (Talia Shire) and right away hears stories of disappearances that the logging chief (Richard Dysart) is all too eager to blame on the tribe and their leader Hawks (Armand Assante). The Native Americans, however, believe the loggers have aroused a legendary creature called Katahdin by disturbing it’s homeland and it is responsible for the missing men. But Dr. Verne discovers a far more horrifying explanation as mercury poisoning caused by the logging company has affected a local lake and thus the wildlife and tribe members. And one of the side effects is a massive mutant grizzly bear with a taste for human flesh who targets Verne, his wife and others in a fight for life deep in the wilderness and with no one to come to their aid.

Prophecy is surprisingly cheesy for a big budget film ($12 million, which was a large budget at the time) with name actors in it’s cast. Director John Frankenheimer moves things along at a methodical pace and spends a good time focusing on the messages of progress’ harm to the environment and the ill treatment of Native Americans. Themes that still have resonance. And while these are valid messages, this is advertised as a monster movie and we want to see some carnage. It’s close to an hour before we meet up with our monster as it savages a camping family. And well over an hour before our leads finally discover what the are up against and it discovers them. But it’s also hard to take the important messages in David Seltzer’s script seriously when the film’s last act is keyed on a blatant act of stupidity to set it in motion. Our bear is a momma bear and Verne and Co. discover two of it’s cubs…one dead, one still alive…and decide to take them with them as evidence. It never occurs to them that maybe giving her babies back would cease it’s pursuit and slaughter of their group, but it doesn’t, even after mom reclaims the dead one and temporarily leaves. Hard to believe no one thought returning the young would be a better option then being pursued by an angry mutant mom. The FX portraying the critter are in the form of the late Kevin Peter Hall (the Predator) in a mutant bear costume, shot at angles to make it look twice the size with some larger prosthetic props for close-ups, and it looks cheesy and though it is shown mostly in quick glimpses and in low light, the cheesiness comes through. Their is some gore, mostly in the last act, despite being rated PG, and it’s looks fine and is effective enough.

The cast are all reputable actors and really give it their all to present the material in a serious manner to go along with Frankenheimer’s dead serious tone, but once our creature shows up it goes from well intended eco-thriller to shlocky monster movie in a hurry. And that’s a good thing, as to be honest, the movie is kinda dull till our rubber beastie starts offing the red shirts and bad guys of the cast, even if the cheesiness sullies all the intended seriousness the film set up in it’s first two thirds. This film might have worked on a more serious horror level like Alien, which was released less then a month earlier, had it’s monster been presented more effectively or had been better designed. Still there is some entertainment value from this disappointing thriller when it’s hunt and chase final act gets moving, but one expects a lot more thrills from a director renown for making thrillers.

Worth a look for the 70s nostalgia and if you want to see how a SYFY level nature gone amok film was made back at that time, but if you go in looking for something on the level of Alien you’ll be sorely disappointed. I remember when seeing this in a theater back in 1979 the audience bursting out in laughter at the intended ‘shocking’ last scene…and it kinda sums up the whole movie when I think about it.

PERSONAL NOTE: This film does have some personal sentimental value for me as I saw it with my neighbor and his hot, young MILF mom and she was my first crush…she wore Daisy Dukes before Daisy Duke made them famous and is personally responsible for my denim shorts fetish. LOL!

2 and 1/2 gooey mutant momma bears!

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and my favorite scene…


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