MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: A CHINESE GHOST STORY I & II

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This edition of MZNJ’s Saturday Night Double Feature is a revamped repost of one of my first installments of this column…almost ten years ago. It is also a bit of a Movie Memories, too as I saw both these films at the Film Forum in NYC during the Hong Kong Film Festival in September of 1991. During the festival run I spent many a night racing into the city after leaving my job at Tower Records to see quite a few of these amazing films from the late 80s Hong Kong Cinema revival! These two are amongst my all-time favorite films and it was amazing seeing them with an audience at this legendary theater!

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A CHINESE GHOST STORY (1987)

This Hong Kong classic is an enchanting supernatural romance/action/fantasy! It’s a fairy tale-like story that takes place in ancient China of meek tax collector, Ning Tsei-Shen (the late Leslie Cheung), who encounters and falls in love with a beautiful ghost, Nieh Hsiao-Tsing (the gorgeous Joey Wang). But this enchanting specter who has stolen his heart has been betrothed to the devil himself by her master, the soul sucking Tree Demon (Lau Siu-Ming). The mild-mannered Ning Tsei-Shen teams up with a powerful Taoist monk (the scene stealing Wu Ma) and vows to save his supernatural love from her eternally damning fate.

A Chinese Ghost Story is simply a great movie, directed by legendary Hong Kong director Ching Siu-Tung and produced by the equally legendary Tsui Hark, that delivers everything from sumptuous cinematography, charming romance, thrilling martial arts action, spooky scares and some very effective old-school SPFX. The film has the wonderful ability to charm us, entertain us, give us the chills and make us laugh out loud. The cast is perfect with leads Cheung and Wang making an enchanting couple with some wonderful on-screen chemistry. Wu Ma’s Yin Chek Ha is an endearing and cantankerous mix of Bruce Lee, Gandalf and Yoda, while Lau Siu-Ming is creepy and formidable as the weirdly androgynous Tree Demon. A simply wonderful and wildly entertaining film!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) supernatural sirens!

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A CHINESE GHOST STORY II (1990)

Chinese Ghost Story II is a cinematic rarity, a sequel that’s an equal. Tax collector Ning Tsei-Shen (Leslie Cheung) returns and is once again drawn into a battle with evil supernatural forces over a woman. This time, she’s flesh and blood rebel fighter, Windy (Joey Wang) who is the spitting image of his ghostly love from the previous installment. As Ning is also mistaken for the rebel leader, Chu, he is more than happy to perpetuate this error in order to get close to the beautiful Windy. But the rebels are up against a demon in disguise and once again Ling is forced to battle an assortment of supernatural foes.

Chinese Ghost Story 2 is a bit bigger with more action, but the human element is not lost thanks to another fine performance by Leslie Cheung as tax collector Ning and Wang as his paramour, Windy. There are some delightful new characters such as cocky Taoist monk, Autumn (Jacky Cheung), Windy’s spunky sister, Moon (Michelle Reis) and heroic swordsman, Fu (Waise Lee). There is also a surprise cameo from a character from part 1 that I won’t spoil, but the audience at The Hong Kong Film Festival at the Film Forum in NYC erupted in thunderous cheers when they appeared. While less of a romance and more of a supernatural adventure this time, CGS2 nonetheless has some great action, some nice chills and some hysterically funny scenes—one involving two characters, a giant demon and a freezing spell might be among my favorite slapstick comedy scenes ever! There are also some charming old fashion FX that might be cheesy elsewhere but bring a smile to one’s face here. Again Ching Siu-tung skillfully directs and beautifully shoots this great follow-up and Tsui Hark again produces. Another Hong Kong classic.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) supernatural sirens!

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There is a Chinese Ghost Story III (1991) also directed by Ching Siu-Tung, and while it is entertaining, it takes place 100 years later and is in today’s terms a “requel”, so it doesn’t quite fit in with the first film and its direct sequel…unless you want to include it for a complete trilogy viewing. Joey Wang stars again, but as another Ghost named Lotus, and Lau Siu-Ming returns as the tree demon now awakened from its 100-year slumber. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is the love interest this time around, as shy Buddhist monk Shi Fang who is trying desperately to resist Lotus’s temptations. I saw this in NYC, too but at a later time and a different theater. A good movie, but not equal to the previous chapters in this franchise. The chemistry between Joey Wang and Leslie Cheung was sorely missed.

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On a more somber sidenote… it will be twenty years this April since series star, actor/singer Leslie Cheung, sadly and tragically took his own life. He is considered a pioneer LGBT performer for openly coming out about his bisexuality at a time when Hong Kong cinema was still very conservative. *

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RIP Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing

September 1956-April 2003

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-MonsterZero NJ

*Source: Wikipedia

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: TRICK ‘R TREAT FINALLY GETS A THEATRICAL RELEASE!

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TRICK ‘R TREAT FINALLY GETS A THEATRICAL RELEASE!

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After 15 years, cult classic Trick ‘r Treat finally gets a theatrical release in time for Halloween!

Trick ‘r Treat was released direct to home media by Warner Bros in 2009 after first showing at a Texas film festival two years earlier and then some sporadic festival showings over the next two years. Like everyone else, I discovered this great Halloween movie on DVD. Since then, it’s become a beloved holiday classic. Now fifteen years after its festival only showings, Michael Dougherty’s cult favorite has finally gotten a theatrical release at AMC theaters right in time for All Hallows Eve. One of my favorite spooky season flicks, I took in a showing tonight and it was magical seeing it on the big screen for the first time…even though I have watched it dozens of times by now.

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Ticket was only five dollars to start! It was a good print with vibrant colors and great sound bringing the lush Halloween visuals and spooky screams to vivid life as never before. Don’t care how boss your home theater system is, there is nothing like seeing it on the big screen with an appreciative audience. Everyone was quite during the showing, save for the appropriate laughs or gasps, depending on the goings on. Seeing Sam and company larger than life was a great experience tonight and one I am so thankful that the folks at AMC provided. Better late than never! A great Halloween movie now getting its proper due! Was like seeing the film for the first time and I’m so glad I went! 

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-MonsterZero NJ

Photos: Warner Bros/Legendary

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)

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The controversial sequel turns 40 today!!

Halloween III: Season of the Witch was released 40 years ago today and it has brought back memories, as I was there opening night with friends at the now long-gone Cinema 35 in Paramus, NJ. Fans were cautious as this would be a Halloween film without Michael Myers…something that some audience members did not know upon hearing angry and disappointed post-show comments. Carpenter considered Myers’ story over and thus was planning to turn the franchise into an anthology series, with a new and different story each year. This chapter was directed by long-time Carpenter friend and collaborator Tommy Lee Wallace. I really enjoyed this flick and was fully onboard for what Carpenter was planning. My friends whom I attended the showing with weren’t so happy with it and there was much discussion on the way home. Me championing the film all the way while they were highly critical and disappointed. Box office numbers were ultimately disappointing, and Carpenter’s anthology never went any further. Myers returned in a series of lackluster sequels six years later.

 

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 I have been a fan of this sequel ever since and it’s watched every Halloween, along with Halloween and Halloween II as part of the “Big Three.” Personally, I am not a fan of the sequels that followed after Carpenter left the franchise and would have loved to have seen his annual Halloween anthology plans come to pass, with word that Halloween IV would have been a haunted house movie. I am very happy to see this flick finally find it’s fanbase and get the love it deserves. It’s a twisted Halloween tale and possibly embraces the spirit of the holiday even better than its two Michael Myers based predecessors. That’s just my opinion and am glad to celebrate this delightfully gruesome Halloween story with a twisted sense of humor that embraces the term trick or treat!

 

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One of my favorite moments in the film is when asked “why” by hero Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), bad guy Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) delivers one of the greatest villain monologues of all time in Halloween III: Season of the Witch!…
“Do I need a reason? Mr. Kupfer was right, you know. I do love a good joke, and this is the best ever: a joke on the children. But there’s a better reason. You don’t really know much about Halloween. You thought no further than the strange custom of having your children wear masks and go out begging for candy.
It was the start of the year in our old Celtic lands, and we’d be waiting in our houses of wattles and clay. The barriers would be down, you see, between the real and the unreal, and the dead might be looking in to sit by our fires of turf.
Halloween… the festival of Samhain! The last great one took place three thousand years ago, when the hills ran red with the blood of animals and children.”
Gives me chills just transcribing it here, and I can hear the late, great Dan O’Herlihy’s deep voice echo in my head as I do!

 

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Much maligned for decades, Halloween IIl: Season of the Witch has now earned some well-deserved love and taken its place as classic franchise canon!

HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH!

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-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

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Big Trouble!

As it is the anniversary of its release, a look back at this now classic action fantasy…
Once again director John Carpenter was ahead of his time with this spin on the type of SPFX filled supernatural/martial arts flicks that were being made as part of the revisionist Hong Kong cinema of the 80s and 90s like Zu: Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983). Unfortunately, like his masterpiece The ThingBig Trouble failed at the box office and would only years later be recognized and loved for the classic it is. As an avid fan of Carpenter, I was there opening night in 1986 and my friends and I loved it and immediately started quoting characters and making references, years before it got the attention it deserved. I’m proud to have championed this flick from the beginning. I had yet to see Zu, but heard enough and saw enough from the film, to know what Carpenter was doing. The Hong Kong cinema wouldn’t catch on here in the US till the early 90s and sadly it was only then when movie fans realized that Carpenter nailed the spirit and frantic fun of those movies perfectly with this deliriously entertaining flick!

 

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Don’t mess with Jack Burton!

 

Photos: 20th Century Fox

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982)!

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY JOHN CARPENTER’S THE THING (1982)!

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The ill-fated crew of U.S. outpost #31 from John Carpenter’s The Thing!

John Carpenter’s production of The Thing turns 40 years old on 6/25/22 and I was fortunate to see it at a preview screening a week earlier at the long-gone Totowa Cinema in Totowa, N.J. At this point I was already a John Carpenter fan and The Thing from Another World, which is the first film adaptation John W. Campbell Jr’s Who Goes There?, was one of my childhood favorites. I was very excited and as there was no internet to spoil things, I didn’t know what to expect apart from a few stills posted in Starlog and a cast and crew with some familiar faces and names. I was wowed to say the least by this groundbreaking adaptation with some of the most amazing make-up FX I’d ever seen! There was no traditional monster such as in Alien, but a creature that changed shape and form every time you saw it and right before you eyes. I loved the flick and was actually mad when it opened officially a week later to bad reviews and even worse box office. I saw it at least twice more in a theater before it’s sadly brief theatrical run came to an end. now, after four decades I can be happy that the film is finally recognized and regarded as the classic that it is!

 

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Something not of this world has been unleashed from it’s icy tomb!

Last night John Carpenter’s flick, now rightfully recognized as the masterpiece it is, returned to theaters to commemorate it’s 40th anniversary thanks to AMC and Fathom Events. It was a bittersweet return as, sadly, it was an inferior print that was not only faded and sometimes a bit blurry but cropped from the film’s original 2:35 aspect ratio to something more resembling 1:85! WTF!? This totally betrayed Carpenter’s impeccable visual style and Dean Cundey’s masterful cinematography. On that level it was very disappointing. However, the heart and soul of this science fiction/horror was still intact, and it was still a blast and a good time to see Kurt Russell and co-stars up on the big screen once more battling Rob Bottin’s shape-shifting alien monstrosity. It brought back a lot of memories from my first screening in 1982 and proved this flick has lost none of its potency four decades later. It will always remain one of my all-time favorites and if you truly want to see it as intended, pick up Scream Factory’s collector’s edition. The print is a beautifully restored high definition transfer that presents this masterpiece of alien terror in all it’s gory glory!

 

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A last stand against the alien invader!

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-MonsterZero NJ

Photos: Universal Pictures

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982)

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY FORBIDDEN WORLD (1982)

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The doomed research station on the planet Xarbia!!

Roger Corman’s production of Forbidden World was released 40 years ago today and I was there opening night with friends, at the now long-gone Stanley Warner Quad Theater in Paramus NJ. A big fan of Corman’s films already, I couldn’t wait to see this, especially after having seen and loved Corman’s Galaxy of Terror the previous November on Thanksgiving Night. It was an absolute blast, with its combination of babes, blood and beasts, and the energetic music video editing style was way ahead of its time! A fun flick!

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Sexy space scientists perfectly dressed for a lurking genetic mutant on the loose!

Forbidden World is directed by director Allan Holzman with an almost psychedelic music video style, as it tells the story, written by Tim Curnen, R.J. Robertson and Jim Wynorski, of a soldier, Mike Colby (Jesse Vint) sent to an isolated research station on the remote planet Xarbia to deal with a genetic experiment that has gotten out of control. Colby not only has to battle a growing and hungry genetic mutant, but handle not one, but two hot and very horny female scientists (Dawn Dunlap and June Chadwick). The type of B movie they just don’t make anymore. One of the last of its kind. Crack a few beers and enjoy!

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The constantly evolving mutant in its most lethal form!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HAPPY 42nd ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

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HAPPY 42nd ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

John Carpenter’s The Fog was released on February 8th, 1980, and my butt was there in a theater to see it! So, in honor of the 42nd anniversary of one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, I am re-posting this look back at Carpenter’s classic!

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One of my all-time favorite horrors and one of my favorite John Carpenter flicks, in fact, since I was too young to see Halloween when it came out, this was the first Carpenter film I saw in a theater and the flick that started me on my love of his movies.

The Fog tells the story of the 100-year anniversary of the small coastal California town of Antonio Bay and as the town prepares for its centennial celebration, a dark secret is revealed. Legend has it a leper colony paid the founders of Antonio Bay a lot of gold to let them settle nearby, but they were betrayed and murdered, as their ship was lured onto the rocks to crash and sink on a fog laden night. All were lost, but now a horde of vengeful spirits returns from the sea, wrapped in a surreal fog, to make the descendants of those who wronged them, pay with their lives.

The Fog focuses not on a main character, but a group of central characters whose individual experiences during this supernatural crisis bring them slowly all together, for its tense and creepy final act set in the town church. A good cast, including Jamie Lee Curtis as hitchhiker Elizabeth, Tom Atkins as local fisherman Nick, Janet Leigh as centennial chairwoman Kathy Williams and Adrienne Barbeau as single mom and radio DJ Stevie Wayne, give life to this ensemble and make them characters we like and care about, so we fear for them when they are placed in harm’s way. Add to that Hal Holbrook as the town’s alcoholic priest and a host of Carpenter regulars—with even a cameo by Carpenter himself—and you have a film wonderfully filled with a variety of characters who are all potential victims for the marauding phantoms. As for those phantoms, let’s not forget to mention the ghostly Captain Blake (FX man Rob Bottin) and his vengeful crew who are portrayed with in-camera practical FX. This makes them quite spooky and gives them a heavy dose of menace and a lot of effectiveness when they are on the attack. There is loads of atmosphere and some very solid scares and suspense created by Carpenter, along with some great cinematography from frequent Carpenter collaborator Dean Cundey, which makes this a good, solid, old-fashioned ghost story and a fun Halloween season treat. Carpenter again delivers a score which adds chills and foreboding to his tale of ghostly revenge, much like he did for Halloween and he starts the film off perfectly, with a chillingly fun opening sequence featuring veteran John Houseman as a crusty sailor who likes to tell kids scary stories. It sets the mood for the thrills and chills yet to come. This classic was made back when there was no phony CGI, just solid make-up effects from master Rob Bottin (who went on to do The Thing’s FX for Carpenter) and some very basic down to earth smoke and mirrors style visuals, that are as beautiful as they are scary. A great flick the likes of which they rarely make anymore and one of MonsterZero NJ’s must-watch flicks during the Halloween season!

The film is thankfully available, on blu-ray from Scream Factory with all the extras from previous releases, plus a new commentary track with Barbeau, Atkins and Tommy Lee Wallace and two really fun and informative interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis and Cinematographer Dean Cundey, who also supervised the absolutely gorgeous transfer!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) spectral sailors!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN II (1981)

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HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN II (1981)

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The classic sequel turns 40 today!!

Halloween II was released 40 years ago today and it has brought back memories, as I was there opening night with friends. Fans of the original were both excited and cautious as Carpenter’s original was already considered a classic at this point. There was no internet to spoil any extensive details or story surprises. All we knew was it took place on the same night, Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence were back and Carpenter handed the reigns over to a promising young filmmaker named Rick Rosenthal. I was particularly excited, as I hadn’t seen the original Halloween in a theater. I recall getting to the now long gone Cinema 35 in Paramus, NJ early and waiting about an hour to buy tickets and go in. Remember, online ticket sales in the 80s meant getting on a line to buy tickets! If you got there late, you risked the show being sold out! We stood in line discussing the possibilities of what we were about to see, until the box office opened and we could go in. When the ticket booth opened and the line started moving, it brought the excitement to a boil! The opening credits of the film instantly chilled with a spooky pumpkin slowly splitting open to reveal a scary skull, while Carpenter’s classic theme pulsed from the theater speakers! It set the tone for the rest of night! After the show, we mutually decided we loved it, though based on passing comments, not all the theater goers felt the same way. I have been a fan of this sequel ever since and it’s watched every Halloween, along with the first flick and Season of the Witch, as part of the “Big Three.” Personally, I am not a fan of what followed after Carpenter left the franchise and would have loved to have seen his annual Halloween anthology plans come to pass.

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As the tagline proclaims…more of the night he came home!

Halloween II was not the best received sequel both critically and by many fans of the original, though it made money. Folks were unhappy with it being more of an 80s style slasher, with the emphasis being on higher body count and gory deaths more than scares or suspense. It also shocked fans by revealing that Laurie Strode was actually Michael Myers’ sister. That took away the scary randomness of the original and gave Michael’s pursuit of her a purpose. This would remain an important story element till Halloween 2018 reset the timeline and erased all sequels and remakes. Forty years later the film is now recognized as one of the better 80s slashers and one of the better Halloween sequels. It just shows, much like with Season of the Witch, that time heals all wounds. The film still carries some controversy, as Carpenter was unhappy with what Rosenthal delivered and made changes, conducting his own reshoots. In turn Rick Rosenthal was unhappy that Carpenter made changes to his film. Rosenthal’s version has not seen the light of day, so we will never know if Carpenter saved or sullied the sequel. Either way, Halloween II is now given it’s proper due and a place in horror film history and it has stood the test of time these last four decades. HAPPY 40th ANNIVERSARY HALLOWEEN II!

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Not the best received sequel, Halloween II has now taken it’s place as classic franchise canon!

-MonsterZero NJ

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S MOVIE MEMORIES: THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

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That infamous cabin!

Tonight I went to see the fortieth anniversary screening of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead and it took me back almost four decades, to when I first saw it with friends in a theater during it’s major release in 1982. It was wonderful seeing it onscreen again, complete with a fun and very funny opening introduction from the legend himself, Bruce Campbell. Most of all, it returned me to a moment in time when I was first introduced to this now classic horror…

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A group of ill-fated friends about to experience a nightmare!

The Evil Dead is one of the most revered horror flicks in the genre and in my humble opinion, it’s one of the greatest horror flicks of all-time and certainly one of my top favorites. I saw it when it opened and have loved it ever since. I had no idea what to expect—there was no internet to spoil things in the 80s—save that Stephen King himself called it “ferociously original” and there was a bloodied-up guy with a chainsaw on one of the posters. Friends and I went on what I believe was a Saturday afternoon and what we saw blew us away. Up till then horror flicks were patterning themselves after Halloween and Friday the 13th with moderate paces and increasing blood and body counts, inspired by the latter. This flick was batshit crazy. It began atmospherically with a creepy old cabin and a bunch of friends finding an ominous tape recording and a very spooky book. Once it got going, it was paced like an action movie and the blood, gore and bonkers set-pieces came fast and furious. I’d never seen anything like it. The guy in the theater who kept calling out “dismember” in a sinister voice, didn’t hurt the experience either. It instantly became of of my favorite horror films and changed the horror genre moving forward, not to mention it introduced us to horror icon Ash Williams and his now legendary portrayer, Bruce Campbell. Raimi’s classic is a shining example of innovation and effectiveness on a small budget and he is still one of my favorite filmmakers and The Evil Dead, a movie memory I will never forget!

 

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Future horror icon Ash Williams as played by future horror legend Bruce Campbell!

-MonsterZero NJ

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