TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TERROR TRAIN (1980)

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TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Terror Train is another of the more fondly remembered of the 80s slashers, but mostly because it stars horror queen Jaime Lee Curtis who was having a banner horror year in 1980 with The Fog, Prom Night and this Canadian fright flick. Though despite it’s novel setting, I actually think this is one of the duller of the major horrors of the early 80s and was never a really big fan of it. A recent revisit hasn’t changed my mind.

The film opens with a fraternity/sorority New Years Eve party for a bunch of pre-med students and like most slashers, involves a prank gone horribly wrong. Pretty Alana (Jaime Lee Curtis) lures shy and dorky Kenny (Derek MacKinnon) up to her room where unknown to both of them, a medical cadaver waits for him in her bed. Kenny has a breakdown as the horrified Alana looks on and the poor student is shipped off to a mental hospital. Three years later Alana is still heartbroken over her role in the incident, but her boyfriend Mo (Timothy Webber) and jerk frat leader Doc (Hart Bochner), who were involved in the original prank, have organized another NYE masquerade party on an old train that will travel through a remote mountain area as they ring in the new year. As we see one partier already dead by the side of the tracks as the train leaves, we know not everyone will be alive by the journey’s end. Who…like it’s hard to figure out…is on the train with murder on their mind?

Terror Train is directed by Roger Spottiswoode who went on to direct the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies almost 2 decades later and we wish he would have given this film some of the energy and excitement of his 007 flick. While I understand that a lot of horror films at this time had a more moderate, slow boil pace…which is fine with me as I came of age at this time and these were the horror flicks I was weened on as a teenager…but Terror Train seems especially slow moving and lethargic even by those standards. The film never really makes good use of the confined and remote setting of the moving train, nor does much with the plot device of the killer utilizing his victim’s costumes to move around unnoticed. After all, we see them die, so we know right away who it is when their costume reappears, so it’s not all that suspenseful or clever. Most of the kills happen off camera and while there is certainly some blood, it is rather routine and nothing we haven’t seen in any number of horror flicks. There is also very little suspense as we really never get to know any of the costumed victims very well and have little emotional investment in their wellbeing and they are just that, victims. Also, aside from Spottiswoode’s failure to make this 90 minute flick feel less then at least two hours, the film stops dead for scenes of a mysterious and creepy magician (real-life illusionist David Copperfield) doing his act. I understand it’s part of the plot as the magician is a suspect, but it’s obvious the filmmakers are trying to get the most out of their celebrity guest star. The film does pick up a bit in the last act as Curtis finally becomes the target and is hunted through the train, fighting back against her assailant, but when we get to the reveal/finale, it is really no surprise as we are given few suspects and one character is obviously not who they appear to be when we see them. This plot element also defies logic as the killer already got onto the train wearing a victim’s costume, so why then take up another identity that put’s them in plain sight? Going from costume to costume should have worked just fine on a train full of drunk college kids.

The cast really doesn’t help matters either or the director just failed to inspire them. Curtis doesn’t show the pep and fire she had in Halloween Or The FogShe’s performing on a paycheck level and only perks up when she has to for the climactic scenes when she is being chased. Otherwise she doesn’t really seem like she wants to be there and as this was her third horror role in one year, she was probably getting tired of the typecasting at this point and it shows. Veteran actor Ben Johnson is solid as the conductor who realizes something is very wrong on his train and breathes a little life into his part. As for the rest, everyone is pretty bland and none of the character’s rise above the college student/victims that they are. At least non-actor Copperfield is basically playing himself and created all the illusions for the film and seems to be a trooper in his part as a creepy suspect…which also makes no sense as they start to believe he’s ‘Kenny’ and they should know what Kenny looks like, he was a fellow student till they drove him nuts.

There is some 80s nostalgia added to the flick now and I am very sentimental about this era because, it was when I was finally old enough to go see this flicks and saw so many on a big screen, where movies like this should be seen. It still doesn’t really save this film for me as it is just very slow moving and un-involving and considering the premise, should have been so much more than an incredibly average at best slasher flick. I still feel, though, that if someone is looking to familiarize themselves with the horror films of this great era for horror movies, that this is still one they should watch, but I am not a fan and it is not one of the films from this time that I hold dear.

2 knives.

terror train rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (1981)

During the early 80s Canada was quite prolific in churning out these types of slashers inspired by the success of John Carpenter’s Halloween and this 1981 horror is one of the more renown titles, along with Prom Night and Terror Train, mostly for it’s inventive kills and last act surprises. Happy Birthday To Me tells the story of young college student Virginia (Melissa Sue Anderson). She’s one of Crawford Academy’s Top 10, a group of 10 elite senior students who rule the school. But, someone is stalking and killing the members of the Top 10 in gory fashion. And with Virginia’s birthday approaching, will there be anyone left to celebrate a day already darkened by a horrible accident that years earlier claimed the life of Virginia’s mother and almost cost ‘Ginny’ her own life as well.

Obviously these incidents are connected as this does follow the 80s slasher formula quite well with past events provoking the current bloodshed but, Birthday manages to throw us some surprises and curves within the formula even when we think we have it all figured out. The film is directed by straightforward filmmaker J. Lee Thompson who is mostly known for The Guns Of Navarone and numerous Charles Bronson action flicks but, it was probably his work as director of the original classic Cape Fear that got him this gig. As such, Thompson directs fairly by the numbers and the first two thirds of this flick are moderately paced, as were many of the horror thrillers of this era. I also feel it’s about 10 or 15 minutes too long as the this portion drags on a bit and at almost two hours, the flick is lengthy for a type of film that usually clocks in at around 90 minutes. Potential victim’s are quite obvious so, there is little suspense but, the unusual and quite bloody kills, which were still new for slashers around this time, make up for the routine style and approach. It’s a little more then halfway through when things start to get interesting as we are given a big reveal that leads us to believe one thing but, as the last act progresses and we think we’ve figured it all out, the climax throws us some nice curves. Even upon revisiting it… and I haven’t seen this flick in decades… I found myself still fooled as the surprise ending wasn’t quite the way I remembered it and thus still had some effect.

The cast are, unfortunately, all pretty wooden, though in their defense their characters are all fairly two dimensional as well. Movie veteran Glenn Ford does give us his usual strong work as Virginia’s psychiatrist Dr. Faraday and leading lady Anderson perks up in the last act as things start to really liven up and the script gives her more to chew on. The gore effects are well orchestrated and there is certainly a lot of bloodshed, which signaled the changeover was in full swing from the more moderate violence of Halloween and some of it’s predecessors toward the more graphic gore of flicks like Dawn Of The Dead (which seemed to kickstart the following 80s gore trend), Maniac and Friday The 13th. Gore and body count would soon become more the focus of the 80s horror flick over chills and suspense and this was one of the first slashers to actually promote itself based on it’s kill methods not it’s story or twists. So, overall the first two thirds of this flick are fairly slow moving and generic though with some inventive and quite bloody kills but, it’s in it’s third act and climax that things really start to pick up and we get some twists and surprises that are a bit over the top but, more entertaining because of it. There is now some good 80s nostalgia too that helps liven up Thompson’s very direct approach and simple style and the ending still works after all this time.

Happy Birthday To Me is considered a classic of this era, and while it’s not a great movie, it is one of the more famous flicks of the time period slashers, even though when looking back at it now, the kills and violence don’t seem like that much of a big deal after all that has followed it. Back in the day, it made an impression and should be recognized for that and is definitely required viewing for those of later generations who are finding themselves broadening their horror horizons or are simply fans of the horrors of this time. A cult classic and rightfully so, as it represents it’s era well. Also stars Canadian actor Lawrence Dane, known to genre fans from Scanners and Bride Of Chucky, as Virginia’s father.

3 shish kebabs.

happy birthday to me rating

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BARE BONES: ENDER’S GAME, RUSH and AMERICAN GHOST STORY

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ENDER’S GAME (2013)

Based on a book by Orson Scott Card and written and directed by Gavin Hood, Ender’s Game actually surprised me a bit and was a lot better then expected. The future set story has a young boy nicknamed “Ender” (Asa Butterfield) being recruited and trained by the hard-nosed Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) to lead an attack against an alien world whose occupants tried to colonize Earth decades earlier. The film is fairly solid on all levels, has some very well orchestrated SPFX and would have been a lot more entertaining if it wasn’t basically about turning young children into soulless, genocidal killers and includes some disturbing scenes of young children engaged in acts of violence. Obviously the film is a statement against such, but, is no less easy to watch.

3 star rating

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RUSH (2013)

You’d think that a film based on the true life rivalry between formula one racers James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl) during the 70s would be an exciting and highly dramatic film considering the 2 men’s contrasting personalities and the fact that the rivalry led to an accident that scarred Lauda for life. But, usually reliable, though play it safe, director Ron Howard brings very little of the passion and energy this story really needed to bring it to life. The performances are good with Hemsworth proving his star power as the playboy-like Hunt and Brühl giving us the straight-edge, by-the-book Lauda but, Howard let’s us down with a choppy narrative that jumps from place to place and by shifting the story perspective back and forth between Hunt and Lauda instead of taking the two men’s tale head on. It makes a film that is hard to endear one’s self to as we keep shifting the point of view. The film can’t decide whether it’s about Hunt or Lauda and can’t decide from which man’s point of view he is telling this, as we get narration from both. And it’s jarring. Also stars Olivia Wilde as model Suzy Miller who Hunt married then divorced.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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AN AMERICAN GHOST STORY (2012)

I’ll give credit where credit is due, director Derek Cole does give this low budget haunting flick some legitimate atmosphere and mood with some very effectively spooky scenes but, only to have it sunk by a cliche’ filled script that blatantly lifts scenes from other haunting flicks and by having it fall apart with a very silly last act. This derivative tale has a writer Paul (Stephen Twardokus, who also wrote the screenplay and co-wrote the story idea with Cole) staying in a supposedly haunted house to write a book about the murder of a family that lived there and their supposed haunting of that home. But, it’s hard to enjoy the movie when the script is so familiar and even outright copies scenes from other flicks such as piling up chairs on a kitchen table a la Poltergeist and having all the kitchen cabinets blast open at once a la Paranormal Activity 2. That and it’s climax ruins all the atmosphere Cole has set up by having Paul chased through the house by a malevolent spirit which is literally wearing a sheet (didn’t we see that in Paranormal Activity 3?) and has powers of levitation that would make Carrie White envious. A sad case of a director who shows potential but, can’t come up with an original idea to use it on or at least some original set pieces within his been-there-done-that story.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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MORE SAD NEWS AS CULT FILM DIRECTOR JIMMY MURAKAMI HAS PASSED AWAY!

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Teruaki “Jimmy” Murakami  1933-2014

Fans of both Roger Corman films and animation also receive sad news as the helmer of the cult classic Battle Beyond The Stars, director and animator Jimmy Murakami, passed away earlier this month with word only reaching us today through Roger Corman himself. Not only did Murakami direct Corman’s delightfully campy answer to Star Wars but, was the uncredited director of the additional footage for Corman’s Humanoids From The Deep when Corman felt that film’s initial cut needed more of the ‘Corman touch’. Murakami was also known for his work as an animator on films such as When The Wind Blows and most recently Christmas Carol: The Movie featuring the voices of Kate Winslet and Nicolas Cage. Murakami, who was also an artist and designer as well, literally worked on films all over the world and will be missed by those fortunate enough to have experienced his talent.

-MonsterZero NJ

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THE FILM WORLD LOSES A TRUE COMEDY ICON: FAREWELL AND RIP HAROLD RAMIS!

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Harold Raimis 1944-2014

The film world has lost a true legend and icon with the passing of writer, director and actor Harold Ramis at age 69. A true giant in the comedy film world, Ramis was responsible for many a classic including Ghostbusters, Stripes, Caddyshack and Groundhog Day as either director, writer and/or actor. He was equally loved for his oddball character performances as he was for the film classics he helped create. The cause of death is reported as complications caused by autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a condition that damages the blood vessels. A sad farewell to a beloved and talented man.

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Ramis in his most famous acting role in one of his most beloved films… Egon in Ghostbusters.

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EMPIRE MAGAZINE GIVES US THE BEST LOOK AT THE NEW GODZILLA YET!

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Empire magazine gives us our best look yet at the new Godzilla design from Gareth Edwards upcoming monster mash which opens on May 16th 2014! High hopes a new trailer will arrive soon!

UPDATE: Click on this link to hear the new version of his classic  roar…  https://soundcloud.com/godzillamovie/roar

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UPDATE 2: The voice of Bryan Cranston hints at a possible new trailer tomorrow…

Source: CBM/Empireonline.com

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WEEKEND BOX OFFICE ESTIMATES FEBRUARY 21-23

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Complete estimates are in for the weekend and LEGOS can’t be toppled!

1. “The LEGO movie” $31.5 Million

2. “3 Days To Kill” $12.3 Million

3. “Pompeii” $10 Million

4. “Robocop (2014)” $9.4 Million

5. “The Monuments Men” $8.1 Million

6. “About Last Night (2014)” $7.4 Million

7. “Ride Along” $4.7 Million

8. “Frozen”  $4.4 Million

9. “Endless Love (2014)” $4.3 Million

10. “Winter’s Tale” $2.1 Million

source: box office mojo

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