As this is a holiday weekend, I am going to give myself a break from my usual Saturday Night Double Feature column and instead share this faux poster I made for a fictional Black Widow solo flick that disappointingly still doesn’t exist. Enjoy!
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“No flesh shall be spared” – Mark 13:20
Richard Stanley supposedly based his cult classic on a short story called SHOK! that ran in the British 2000 AD sci-fi comics, but it seems equally inspired by The Road Warrior, The Terminator and the Japanese live-acion Manga flick Testsuo. This midnight movie was released in late 1990 and while some action flicks were still very 80s, at this time, Hardware had a darker, more nihilistic tone and grungier look that would be more distinct to the 90s.
The story is set in a post apocalyptic world where most of the planet is ruined and people live in industrialized cities and scavengers roam the wasteland for anything salvageable/sellable. One such scavenger is Moses Baxter (Dylan McDermott) or ‘Mo’ who happens upon another scavenger selling parts of what appear to be a maintenance drone. Mo buys the parts for his artist girlfriend Jill (Stacey Travis) who specializes in metal sculptures. But unknown to Mo or Jill, the parts are actually from a M.A.R.K. 13 combat robot who, while Jill sleeps, rebuilds itself from the parts and the miscellaneous junk Jill uses in her art. Upon a rude awakening, Jill finds herself locked in her own apartment with a lethal and unstoppable killing machine who is carrying out it’s only order…exterminate!
Despite a lot of obvious inspirations and influences, writer/director Richard Stanley uses them wisely and makes Hardware his own as he sets heroine Jill against the self-repairing juggernaut inside a fairly confined space. He gives the flick a lot of atmosphere and despite having a quirky sense of humor at times, the film is very dark toned, though, also oddly comic book as well. Like something out of the legendary Heavy Metal magazine. The film is populated with some very comic book-ish characters too, such as Jill’s perverted neighbor (Batman’s William Hootkins) who breaks into her apartment and is too infatuated with getting in her pants to take her warnings of her homicidal robot guest too seriously. The film can be both cartoonish and very gruesome at times and Stanley gives it a very MTV music video style with a really effective assortment of industrial and metal songs…including Stigmata from Ministry…that blend perfectly with Simon Boswell’s electronic score and the visuals. The look of the film, though somewhat derivative, is also very effective at giving the film it’s post-apocalyptic mess atmosphere and it is bathed in stark colors and well captured by Steven Chivers’ cinematography. If Stanley’s fun and sometimes very intense and brutal film has any flaws, it is that sometimes the more comic book aspects of the flick and some of the offbeat, humorous moments don’t quite always gel with the darker moments and tone. The film also is somewhat moderately paced and takes pretty much halfway through for our robotic slaughterhouse to get going. Then things move with a more accelerated pace. The film also stops it’s picked-up momentum dead in the last act for a psychedelic sequence brought on when the murderous robot injects a character with it’s lethal venom. It’s well staged, but stops the film in it’s tracks for a few moments while it plays out and takes a few more moments for it get going again. There is also some stilted dialog as well, but there isn’t a lot of talking once things get started, so it isn’t overly hurtful to the proceedings.
The small cast are fine with Travis making a very resourceful and tough heroine as she must use her wits and tenacity to outwit her virtually indestructible opponent. McDermott is also fine as Mo, but was slightly wooden in his line reads though his character obviously steps aside for most of the film’s middle to let Travis’ Jill take center stage. Hootkins is really creepy as the perverted Lincoln and the supporting cast play their eccentric characters just fine, too. Rounding out is an amusing cameo by Motorhead’s Lemmy as a cab driver and a vocal performance by punk legend Iggy Pop as a radio DJ named Angry Bob.
I liked Hardware and remember it’s dark and nihilistic tone getting under my skin a bit when I first saw this at the Stanley Warner theater back in 1990. The film has it’s flaws and wears it’s influences proudly on it’s sleeve, but it is an effective sci-fi chiller that can be brutal, gruesome and yet very comic book all at once. Sometimes that blends well, at other times not so much. But overall it is a cult classic and one of the first generation of films to break from the 80s style of filmmaking and embrace the more grim and less over-the-top tone of the 90s, though it does have it’s over-the-top moments, especially when it comes to the gore. A cool and enjoyable little sci-fi/horror…though a little dated at this point…and sadly Stanley never really made good use of the attention the flick got him and this was his only hit, though, he still works proficiently on documentaries and short films.
UPDATED WITH SUBTITLES! The Spanish [REC] horror film series from Jaume Balaguero’ and Paco Plaza have a fourth and final entry in the series that will begin release on Halloween overseas and hopefully make it’s way here soon in the US. The flick is directed by Balaguero’ and picks up after the events of [REC] 2 and follows the fate of TV newswoman Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco). The found footage format of the first two and part of the third has been dropped for a conventional film style. And based on this new trailer it looks awesome! UPDATED WITH SUBTITLES!
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While Torment offers nothing new to the horror genre, it is a very well made Canadian thriller that provides some very effective chills in it’s 80+ minute running time. After a grim opening at a secluded house, the film settles into the story of widower Cory Morgan (Robin Dunne), his new bride Sarah (Katharine Isabelle) and Cory’s young son Liam (Peter DaCunha) who is not warming up to his new step-mom at all. Cory decides to take them to a remote, family vacation house in the woods for some time to bond. But upon arrival, it appears there has been somebody squatting in the secluded house and unknown to the young couple, they haven’t exactly left yet. Soon Liam vanishes and Cory and Sarah find themselves pitted against a trio of disturbed masked individuals in a fight for their lives and for Liam’s as well.
While normally I am not a fan of the recent torture and home invasion sub-genres, Torment did have elements of both, but these familiar elements were used fleetingly and effectively. Director Jordan Baker knows not to dwell on the more brutal aspects of Michael Foster and Thomas Pound’s script and thus when the shocking moments come, they are effective and we are never bludgeoned over the head with the rough stuff. Baker builds some nice suspense and tension and even successfully creates a likable little family unit that is going through a rough adjustment period and we sympathize with them and that gives us someone to care for when our mysterious intruders reveal themselves. And that, unfortunately, is also one of it’s flaws. The film is a little too ambiguous about the overall purpose of it’s invaders and we never really find out who they are. Sometimes ambiguity is good for a story, but here we needed a little more as to why this bunch is so happily homicidal and intent on keeping Liam. There seems to be something about building their own family, which contrasts the Morgans’ attempt to bring peace to their little trio, but a little more about this Chainsaw Massacre-ish clan would have helped. Jordan Baker does keep the flick moving fast enough that we don’t ask too many questions while it plays out and he has a nice eye for his shots and makes good use of his rural house settings and overall, gives the film some nice atmosphere to go along with the suspense and chills. It’s only once the film reaches it’s conclusion that we start to realize that the whole point is kinda vague. And at that juncture we have been already been moderately entertained and spooked. Familiar material made effective by a good director’s hand.
Another plus in the flick’s favor is that cast are all really solid. We have genre vet, Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps, American Mary) giving a strong performance as Sarah. She conveys the young woman’s desire to bond with Liam and the pain she feels when she is being rejected by him. She also presents a resilience and strength when Liam is taken and she is under siege by their uninvited guests and she fights for Liam with a strong maternal instinct despite his rejection. Dunne is also good as a man caught in the middle of a new wife and his son’s grief for his deceased mom and then must fight for his and their very lives when this predatory bunch invades their already fragile family bonding vacation. Also good is young Peter Dacunha, who at 11 is already a horror movie vet having been in The Barrens and Haunterbefore appearing in this flick. The young actor succeeds in expressing the pain of not only his mother’s loss, but his reluctance to accept his new step-mom and does so without coming across as an annoying brat. Good work kid! As for our spooky mask wearing ‘family’ Noah Danby as ‘Mouse’, Inessa Frantowsky as ‘Pig’, Amy Forsyth as ‘Monkey’ and Joe Silvaggio as ‘Rabbit’ all do well in conveying a sense of menace with little or no dialogue. It’s too bad they weren’t given more meat to their story. There is also a small role of a local cop played by vet Stephan McHattie, who is a welcome addition to any cast.
Sure Torment has it’s flaws. The villains’ purpose is never clear, nor do we get any background on who they are, where they came from and why they are building this disturbing patch-work family…and quite violently, might I add. But, it has a good cast led by fan-favorite Isabelle and director Jordan Barker really knows how to build suspense and thrills and has an effective but not overstated visual style that gives this rural set flick a lot of atmosphere. The gore and violence is used wisely to maintain it’s effectiveness and we are given characters to care about which goes along way in helping us overlook that we don’t really know the full reasons for this vicious attack and that we’ve seen it all before. Not a classic by any stretch, but an effective little thriller that doesn’t overstay it’s welcome and shows strong potential for director Jordan Baker with a more solid story and script.
I know this is the Movie Madhouse but, I will review a book now and then as I do with the occasional album review. And what band is more theatrical than KISS and they have appeared in their own movie KISS Meets The Phantom Of The Park and bassist Gene Simmons has had a minor acting career, so, I think they qualify!
NOTHIN’ TO LOSE: THE MAKING OF KISS 1972-1975 by KEN SHARP with PAUL STANLEY and GENE SIMMONS
A very entertaining and nostalgic look at the forming and rise to fame of one of the greatest and most successful rock bands ever. Told in the band’s own words along with interviews with dozens of others including label people, other musicians and even fans, this fun book documents how the four founding members of KISS met and came together to become this now legendary rock band through recollections from Simmons, Stanley, Frehley and Criss themselves. There are some nice details from witnesses and those involved on how KISS fought tooth and nail to get respect, shows and finally the success they all dreamed of as youths growing up in New York. There is a real nice assortment of rare photos to accompany all the anecdotes that make up the book and even if you are not a big fan of the band itself, it is a very interesting documentation of how music legends were made and their path to stardom from the inside and outside. A recommended read for music fans of all types and especially fans of KISS!
The story of Joss Whedon’s cult classic series Firefly and it’s not only premature demise but, large and loyal fan following is stuff of legend at this point but, at least fans got some closure when Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to transfer the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of the Serenity to feature film. It’s mediocre box office performance sadly spelled doom for any further adventures but, at least this theatrical ‘final episode’ gave fans some closure and was a fitting goodbye… and a damn good movie too!
The flick starts off with Capt. Reynolds deciding to put the psychic talents of mentally unbalanced teen River Tam (Summer Glau) to use in a routine payroll heist against the wishes of her doctor brother, Simon (Sean Maher). The simple theft goes awry when a horde of cannibalistic Reavers attacks and they barely escape. Simon vows to finally leave Serenity with his sister but, when River receives a subliminal message in a bar and decimates the occupants with an outburst of martial arts, Malcolm decides his charges should stay and the crew need to determine what just happened and why. And they may get more answers then they bargained for, as a mysterious and lethal assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in hot pursuit of River and this take’s Serenity’s crew to the most dangerous parts of the galaxy to finally find the answers to what lurks inside River’s head that the Alliance is so afraid of… and afraid is exactly what they should all be.
Obviously to really enjoy this flick you should be familiar with writer/director Joss Whedon’s endearing and eccentric crew and their previous adventures but, there is enough info to make it enjoyably watchable to those uninitiated to this sadly short-lived saga. Whedon has always had a gift for charmingly eclectic characters and ensembles and that goes a long way here to bringing us a very endearing bunch of outlaws to root for and giving these characters some nicely unexpected layers. We also get a very unique villain in the ‘Operative’, a man who seems part samurai, part philosopher and part cold-blooded killer. He truly believes his ruthless acts are for a greater good and has a disturbingly business-like approach to killing. The contrast is Malcolm, who appears like a man out for himself but, has a lot bigger heart then he let’s on and is far more willing to sacrifice himself for others then he’ll ever admit. There is plenty of action to put our beloved characters in and Whedon gives us some nice suspense and energy to those sequences but, never let’s them overshadow the important stuff. We even get a really good look at the Reaver’s and finally get to see them in gruesome action only hinted at in the show’s scant 14 episodes. Whedon handles a big budget, feature movie like a pro, giving it a very fast pace but, not sacrificing character or story development in the process. His choice as writer/ director of the mega-hit The Avengers is no surprise to those familiar with his work. This is a quality sci-fi flick that not only gives us an intriguing story and multi-layered characters but, the explosions and laser fire that post Star Wars science fiction is expected to deliver. There’s some crisp cinematography by Jack Green that takes Firefly’s look to the big screen nicely with a very effective score by David Newman to properly accent Whedon’s action packed adventure. Overall a very underrated genre flick.
The cast is simply great. All our regulars are back with Fillion leading the pack as the hard-nosed outlaw with a hidden heart, Malcolm Reynolds. He can be both cold-blooded and warm-hearted almost in the same beat and just when you think you’ve figured him out, he surprises you. A tribute to Whedon’s writing and Fillion’s underrated acting. Ejiofor is simply a very unique and original villain. He makes his ‘Operative’ very charming but, like a serpent, that charm is only to lure you in for the fatal strike. He is completely convinced his cause is just, yet, is not just a brainwashed tool. There is an intelligence and a surprising lack of malice with his actions which oddly makes him scarier. And the actor carries this off very well. The rest of the cast are delightful as they were on the show and they translate their character dynamics to the big screen without missing a beat since we last saw them… and make them accessible to those who are just getting to know them. Glau, Maher, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres, Ron Glass and Morena Baccarin all do good work in taking Whedon’s characters from script to screen for one final adventure.
Overall, I love this flick. As a fan of Firefly it both gives closure to those who enjoyed the series and yet still makes us sad that this was the last appearance of the Serenity crew, fan fiction and comic adaptations aside. It is a well made, well written movie that gives us all the action and adventure we want but, adds an intelligent story and a heart as well. It’s a perfect example of why the series is so rabidly loved by it’s cult following of fans and a sad testament to a series that was never given a proper chance. Also stars David Krumholtz as ‘Mr. Universe’.
PERSONAL NOTE: I want to be honest and admit that I am a perfect example of how Fox’s seemingly intentional mishandling of this show worked. Despite being a big fan of Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer series, I was not impressed with the first few episodes (which Fox aired out of order thus omitting crucial character development) and passed on the rest. It was only till a friend lent me the DVD box set which feature all the episodes and in the order intended, that I became a full fledge ‘Brown Coat’ and joined the ranks of it’s loyal fan base. Also, my only disappointment with Serenity is Whedon not finding a way to bring oddball bounty hunter Jubal Early (Richard Brooks) back one last time. Loved that character from my favorite episode Objects In Space.
Today’s Saturday Night Double Feature has been taken over by It Came From Asian Cinema as I take a quick look at a two part Japanese film series based on a popular Japanese manga and an anime series called Gantz!
Gantz is a Japanese manga and anime -based live-action film about an alien entity that snatches people away at the moment of their death and makes them fight invading aliens who have come to earth. Each victory scores the winner points and after 100 points you have the option to have your memory erased and your life returned to you, or, have one deceased person resurrected from your memory. Gantz follows two young friends, Kurono (Kazunari Ninomiya) and Kato (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) who are thrown into this bizarre but deadly game and takes them from confused and scared to hardened alien fighters. While this Japanese sci-fier is very well made and entertaining, what sets it apart from other films of it’s type is it forgoes the light tone most of its kind have and goes The Dark Knight route delving into the emotional turmoil one might have in such a situation and the darker aspects of the deadly conflicts the characters are put in. Characters die and surviving characters must deal with the losses like in any war film. And the film is all the more richer for it, as director Shinsuke Sato blends the serious tone with the action very well much like Christopher Nolan has in his Batman films. No, Gantz is not on a level with Dark Knight but, it is a really good flick that entertains us and intrigues us without insulting our intelligence. Gantz also features some top notch effects as icing on a very well made cake.
3 and 1/2 hot alien fighting heroines!
GANTZ: PERFECT ANSWER (2011)
Sequel to Gantz, which was based on a manga about an alien entity that snatches people away at the moment of their death and makes them fight invading aliens who have come to earth, picks up 5 months after the last one left off but, leaves some of the fun behind. Part two’s tone is a lot more somber as sinister aliens plot to gain access to Gantz and destroy it and even sets members of the Gantz team against each other with loved ones and innocents getting caught in the way. There is still plenty of action and cool FX but, also some slow parts too and the movie never quite grabs you like part one. But, there are some strong scenes, as well as, a very solid final act that wraps up the story with a satisfying and yet haunting conclusion so, it overall provides a satisfying finale to this two part series. Again directed by Shinsuke Sato and starring Kazunari Ninomiya as Kurono and Ken’ichi Matsuyama as Kato.
Both films are available in the US with subtitles.
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The Funhouse is Tobe Hooper’s third flick and the last before he worked on Poltergeist and turned into more of a mainstream director in the 80s with his 3 picture deal at Cannon. I am not overly fond of this flick though it does have a following and many view it as a classic.
The story is fairly simple. Two young couples, including the pretty Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), go to a local carnival unknowingly followed by Amy’s little brother Joey (Shawn Carson). They plot to spend the night in the carnival funhouse after closing and once locked inside, they run afoul of a deformed and homicidal member of the Funhouse crew, Gunther (Wayne Doba). Now a harmless prank becomes a fight for survival as the four witness a murder and are pursued through the locked the carnival attraction by the deformed Gunther and the equally deranged carnival barker, Conrad (Kevin Conway who plays multiple barkers in the film). Can little Joey get help for his sister and friends or will he too meet the fiendish carnival inhabitants?
My biggest problem with this flick is that it takes so damn long to get going. It’s at least halfway through before the kids are locked inside and witness Gunther kill an older female fortune teller (Sylvia Miles) during a botched sexual encounter for money. It’s then over an hour till Gunther and Conrad are finally in pursuit of the four teens and this is only a 96 minute film including closing credits. To be honest, its only in the last ten minutes when Amy faces off with Gunther, that the film really generates the tension and thrills we came to see. I don’t mind character development but, did we need 45 minutes to get to know four blandly written teens? The film is scripted by Larry Block so, the screenplay is not director Hooper’s fault but, regardless, the film takes too long to get to the good stuff. On the positive side, Hooper’s visual style makes great use of the carnival/funhouse setting. The look of the film, shot by Andrew Laszlo, is similar to Hooper’s Eaten Alive with some bright colors and surreal visuals once inside the horror attraction. There is some really nice design work inside the funhouse and it certainly gives the film some nice atmosphere. While things take a long time to get going, there is a purveying feeling of something not quite being right at this carnival and, of course, it isn’t. The stuff inside the attraction looks great and certainly accents what is going on when the film finally cranks into gear. Other positives are the spooky score by John Beal and the cool creature design of the deformed Gunther but, they are not quite enough to make up for the fact that the first half of the film is kinda dull and what we get in the second half isn’t consistent or intense enough to completely make up for it… and it’s all rather tame compared to Hooper’s previous work.
Aside from Kevin Conway’s creepy Conrad and his various carnival barkers, the cast is fairly dull. Berridge is an OK heroine but, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff and Miles Chapin are mostly forgettable as her friends/potential victims. Shawn Carson’s Joey is a typical generic kid… though his activities in the opening scene make him a bit creepy…and, to be honest, the sub-plot of him following his sister on her double date, doesn’t really add anything to the story except some irony later on. Doba is adequate as the deformed Gunther but, anybody could have worn the mask and issued grunts and groans and shrieks. The actors portraying the carnival crew give the film a little creepiness and Amy’s parents (Jack McDermott and Jeanne Austin) are stereotypical clueless adults and are played as fairly oblivious. Nothing really special here other than Conway being solidly creepy.
Overall, a lesser effort from Hooper, though his visual style and atmosphere go a long way to making this far more watchable then it should be. The film has some very cool and spooky visuals but, the characters are fairly forgettable and it takes far too long to get to the goods and then it’s over too quickly and the action is fairly tame. There is a nice early 80s nostalgia to the film now but, it’s still not enough to make me change my mind about a movie I wasn’t impressed with when first viewed opening night in 1981 at the Fox Theater in Hackensack, N.J. A lesser effort from a director whose film’s became less and less unique the further he got from his initial masterpiece, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Worth a look but, in my opinion, nothing special.