COOL STUFF: TALES OF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL EDITION BLU-RAY!

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015) Blu-Ray

Tales Of Halloween is a spooky fun 2015 Halloween anthology flick that has grown on me quite a lot since my initial review (see full review here) and has finally arrived on blu-ray a year later. This multi-story horror has been released by Epic pictures in a four disc special edition that is available from their website store, HERE.

As for the feature film itself, there is both a blu-ray and DVD version. As for the technical aspects of the blu-ray feature disc…

The picture is gorgeous, the colors vibrant and really represents well the visual styles of all the directors and their cinematographers on the ten tales told here. The disc is presented in the original 2.39.1 widescreen aspect ratio, preserving the film’s intended dimensions. The sound is in 5.1 surround sound with alternate 2.0 and basic stereo tracks for those without home theater sound systems. The menus are simple and easy to navigate. A nice presentation to enjoy this holiday horror!

Now on to the extensive extras which make this 4-disc set even more appealing!…

The extras start out with a production diary covering the 23 days of shooting that comes complete with interviews with cast and crew and some fun behind the scenes footage. In the bonus features, we get a behind the scenes reel…which does repeat a lot of what we saw in the production diaries…and an examination of the filming of one of the scenes from Mike Mendez’s gruesomely comic Friday The 31st, complete with storyboards. We also get a deleted scene from one of the best stories, Grim Grinning Ghost and are treated to replays of the segments Sweet Tooth, Trick, Ding Dong and This Means War all with additional bonus commentary, aside from the commentary track that accompanies the movie on the feature film discs. We also get eight short films from a few of the filmmakers involved, some of which are definitely worth checking out. There are also storyboards, a photo gallery, trailers and some pop-up video commentary that can be activated on certain stories on the feature blu-ray. A nice selection of extras.

The fourth and final disc is a CD featuring the film’s soundtrack which includes all the music from the segments and wraparound by artists like Lalo Schifrin, Christopher Drake, Joseph Bishara and more.

All of the discs are region free and can be played anywhere and the set also comes with two trading cards, too!

I really have come to appreciate and enjoy this flick beyond what my initial review reflects. It is now part of my traditional Halloween viewing, as it is loaded with Halloween spirit and imagery and I would love to see a follow-up with yet more filmmakers creating Halloween tales as in this film. If you liked this movie and have become endeared to it like I have, this 4-disc set is a must!

-MonsterZero NJ

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TRAGEDY HALTS THE PRODUCTION OF MALEVOLENCE 3!

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The folks over at Blumehouse.com have broken disappointing news for fans of writer/director Stevan Mena and his Malevolence and Bereavement films. It appears that due to the tragic suicide of a major cast member, this film may never be finished. An unnamed actor playing one of the film’s two FBI agents in pursuit of serial killer Martin Bristol, has sadly taken his own life with only 75% of the film completed. Thus, the role would need to be recast and all his scenes reshot…something the already financially challenged final chapter in the trilogy cannot afford without major funds.
Perhaps as Blumhouse.com has broken the story, it would be wonderful if Jason Blum and Blumhouse Pictures came to the rescue! Either way, my heart goes out to the family and friends of the deceased and to the cast and crew of Killer: Malevolence 3, as this must be a crushing set-back to completing their vision after so much hard work.
The film had serial killer Martin Bristol leaving a trail of bodies as he made his way back home to where he was taken from many years before as a boy. It starred a returning Kevin McKelvey as Agent Perkins, a returning Jay Cohen as Martin Bristol and the legendary Adrienne Barbeau!

Some more shots from the film thanks again to the folks at Blumehouse.com

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source and photos:Blumehouse.com

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

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SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME! (1978)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

As John Carpenter is one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, I am almost embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I finally caught up with the one film of his I haven’t seen, the 1978 TV movie Someone’s Watching Me! The film tells the story of pretty Leigh Michaels (Lauren Hutton), who has moved to the West Coast from NYC for a new job, new apartment and new life. Soon after moving into her luxury high rise digs, Leigh starts receiving strange phone calls and gifts from someone disguising themselves as a travel company. As she resists the increasingly odd advances, the tone of the calls and letters become’s increasingly hostile. Soon, Leigh realizes she is being stalked by a highly deranged individual and the police can do little until the creep acts…but, Leigh isn’t going to wait to become a victim and the stalker becomes the stalked!

TV movie was written and directed by Carpenter just before he became a horror household name with Halloween. It is a very slow burn, but an effective one and really takes us through the process where odd calls and letters evolve into threats and mild concern turns to panic, fear and finally fighting back. We see some of the same qualities Carpenter wrote into Laurie Strode here, as Leigh, at first, is terrified, but then decides to do some detective work and stalking of her own when the police prove ineffective. Obviously, this is 1978 and in today’s world these type of situations are acted on far quicker, but it is entertaining to watch our heroine and her new boyfriend (David Birney) do the investigating that the investigators won’t do. Carpenter also turns up the tension a bit by letting the audience know that this individual’s admiration will turn fatal attraction at some point, so we know what might await Leigh. Drawbacks are that it is slow moving, but it is intended to be a slow boil and being filmed in a TV format and mostly on sets, it doesn’t quite have the look or feel of a Carpenter film. As it is scored by prolific 60s-70s TV composer Harry Sukman, we also miss Carpenter’s trademark electronic beats. Still, the final confrontation between Leigh and her stalker is intense and again shows that Carpenter was writing strong female characters long before it became commonplace in the 80s with the classic final girl types. It’s not his best work, but shows indications of things soon to come from the master director.

As for the cast, it is definitely Hutton’s show though she gets good support from Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Adrienne Barbeau…the film where he and first wife Barbeau met…and familiar TV face, David Birney. Hutton is strong in a refreshingly eccentric part. Leigh is not your average girl. She has a bit of a mischievous sense of humor and prone to amusing  conversations with herself that make her very real and very likable. When she is first seeing signs of a problem, she stands her ground and it’s only till the problem escalates that she starts to panic. Hutton takes us through a variety of emotions and we root for her when she is pushed too far and takes the fight to her mysterious admirer, forcing the final confrontation. She outwits a man who has been very good at not only hiding his steps and crimes, but even setting up a patsy as well. It is an example of Carpenter’s strong skill at creating memorable characters and Hutton being a bit underrated as an actress.

An interesting part of Carpenter’s filmography, the movie was filmed in just ten days, according to Carpenter in the DVD extras. While it is a very slow burn and more of a character study of a woman being preyed upon by an unknown individual than a slasher, it shows hints of what we first saw in Assault On Precinct 13 and then in Halloween, with Carpenter’s penchant for strong and memorable female characters. His Leigh is a bit of an oddball, but she is smart, strong and can only be pushed so far. The TV format does restrain some of Carpenter’s cinematic signatures, but his craft for suspense and intensity is apparent. Not his best work, but interesting as it shows the elements that he would use masterfully in Halloween and future projects, coming to bare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 old-style touchtone phones.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

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TALES OF HALLOWEEN (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Tales Of Halloween is an amusing anthology flick that has ten stories told by ten different directors with the obvious reoccurring theme of Halloween. The stories are loosely connected by the presence of Adrienne Barbeau as a DJ, much like her Stevie Wayne character from The Fog and some shared characters.

Created by filmmaker Axelle Carolyn, this is a good idea that disappointingly has only four out of the ten stories really being successful. The tone of the stories vary with some being goofy like Mike Mendez’ fun Friday The 31st, which has a Jason-like killer squaring off with an alien who possesses the body of one of his victim’s and Carolyn’s own creepy Grim Grinning Ghost, which has a woman crossing paths with an urban legend. Those two hit their marks, though the best stories are the opening and closing tales. Dave Parker’s Sweet Tooth, begins the anthology and is another urban legend centric story of a boy that took his love for Halloween candy to a ghoulish level. The closer, Neil Marshall’s Bad Seed, is a fun and gruesome story about a murderous jack-o-lantern. Darren Lynn Bousman’s self-explanatory The Night Billy Raised Hell is moderately amusing, as is Lucky McKee’s Ding Dong, about a strange couple. With unsettling Hansel and Gretel overtones and uncomfortable themes of spousal abuse and infertility, McKee’s tale is the most bizarre one. Ryan Schifrin’s The Ransom Of Rusty Rex is also somewhat amusing in it’s tale of a Halloween kidnapping gone very wrong. On the epic fail side, we have Adam Gierasch’s tale of murderous trick-or-treaters with a twist, Trick. It’s crude and violent without being scary or funny. Paul Solet’s tale of demonic revenge with a spaghetti western slant, The Weak and the Wicked, is just dull and has the least Halloween spirit while John Skipp and Andrew Kasch’s tale of neighbors battling over competitive Halloween displays, This Means War, is just boring and predictable. Add that up and we have four stories that work really well, three that are pretty decent and three that basically fall flat. There are some nice homages along the way, the SPFX and make-up FX are pretty good and the visual style varies from filmmaker to filmmaker. It always has the look of Halloween, with jack-o-lanterns everywhere, even if the spirit isn’t quite captured by the tale being told. This anthology’s heart is in the ghoulish right place, though, if not completely successful in accomplishing it’s overall goals.

The cast is rather large and even in the weaker episodes they seem to get the tone of the material and are having a good time. We have genre favorites like Lin Shaye, Adrienne Barbeau, Barbara Crampton, Lisa Marie, Caroline Williams and Clare Kramer. There are some veteran actors like Barry Bostwick and John Savage and director cameos such as John Landis, Stuart Gordon, Adam Green and Joe Dante. Then there are also familiar faces like Some Kind Of Hate’s Grace Phipps, Cabin Fever’s Cerina Vincent, Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe, scream queen Tiffany Shepis and Adrienne Curry as herself, to name a few. Overall a good cast that helps the stories a lot, even when they don’t make the grade.

Tales Of Halloween is far from perfect and doesn’t succeed as much as we’d like. The stories that work are worth watching for and the middle ground stories are amusing enough to check out, too. Even the failures aren’t a complete waste of time and are short enough to be over mercifully quick. While not totally successful, it is a really good idea and hopefully next year, we get another and that one hits the ghoulish mark far more often. Not quite the Halloween classic hoped for, but when it hits it’s stride it’s ghoulish Halloween fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 jack-o-lanterns as the stories I liked, I really liked.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CREEPSHOW (1982)

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

In 1982, horror masters Stephen King and George A. Romero collaborated on this anthology movie that was inspired by the old horror comics from EC Comics. The film, written by King and directed by Romero, presented five horror-themed stories bookended by a segment about a young boy (Joe King) having his horror comic thrown out by his overbearing father (Tom Atkins). Outside in the garbage can, the pages of the book come to life, opening up and allowing the skeletal “Creep” to present it’s tales. Our first is Father’s Day which tells the story of Nathan Grantham (The Boogens‘ Jon Lormer) a rich curmudgeon murdered by his daughter (Viveca Lindfors). As his children and grandchildren gather for Father’s Day, Nathan comes back from the grave for ghostly revenge. Next is The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill which has King himself playing a country bumpkin who has an unfortunate encounter with a fallen meteorite. This is followed by Something to Tide You Over, a story of infidelity, murder and revenge from beyond the watery grave with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Then we are treated to The Crate, a tale of an old crate discovered in a university basement and the horrific creature that lives within it. Finally we get They’re Creeping Up On You, a segment about a mean, old, germ-fearing, Howard Hughes-like recluse (E.G. Marshall) with a very nasty bug problem.

Back in the day, those expecting a fright-fest of epic proportions from the collaboration of Romero and King were sadly disappointed by this comic bookish and tongue-in-cheek anthology that focuses on ghoulish humor far more than scares. Creepshow is a lot of  fun, though, especially years later with the added 80s nostalgia, but while there are some chills, it is never really all that scary…and it wasn’t meant to be. The film retains the dark humor of the comics that inspired it and is even filmed as a comic book come to life, with comic style frames and scenes filmed like comic book panels, all with a ghostly animated creeper beginning each segment. First story Father’s Day is fun and spooky and features some nice visuals and make-up effects. The next story, Jordy Verrill, is OK. King can’t really act, but his exaggerated style oddly fits with the story. Despite a bit of a goofy amusement factor, as his nimrod Jordy turns into a form of alien plant-life, the story itself really doesn’t go anywhere or have much of a point. Third story, Something to Tide You Over, is the dullest, with Nielsen’s pontificating villain taking up most of the running time, happily laying out his diabolical plot to his captive audience. Creepshow picks up again for the last two stories which are, by far, the best. The Crate is spooky, gory and really works the dark humor as a beleaguered professor (Hal Holbrook) uses the discovery of a vicious and very hungry creature to rid himself of another monster, his overbearing wife (Adrienne Barbeau). They’re Creeping Up On You is fun and will make your skin crawl as the ruthless and heartless Upson Pratt is trapped in his germ-free apartment by a power outage with an army of invading cockroaches. You get three strong stories, two weak ones and a Halloween set bookend segment that is devious fun, too. So, overall Creepshow is not perfect, but is ghoulish entertainment made even more fun by a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, brought on by it’s charming hand-drawn animation and live make-up and prosthetics…something sadly missing in today’s movies.

With five stories and a bookending segment, we have a large cast with many horror veterans and each seems to get the tone of the material and have a good over-the-top time with it, in the varying degrees their individual roles call for. Stand outs are…Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as the bookending tales’ hard-nosed father. Atkins is no stranger to edgy characters and this time he gets to play a real jerk. Leslie Nielsen oozes malice in his segment and while it is the weakest story, the veteran actor makes a contemptible bad guy. Adrienne Barbeau is deliciously overbearing as the wife of her The Fog co-star Hal Holbrook’s meek professor, Northup. Barbeau really makes you hate her and beg for her comeuppance…call her Billie, everyone does! Last, but certainly not least, is E.G. Marshall who is a delight as the modern day Scrooge, Upson Pratt. Pratt is a ruthless and heartless individual and his skin crawling encounter with an army of cockroaches makes us cheer on the bugs! Also good are Viveca Lindfors, Carrie Nye, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson and there is a fun cameo from make-up FX master Tom Savini and small roles from future Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Dawn Of The Dead‘s Gaylen Ross.

Overall, I like Creepshow and it’s a lot of fun, especially now that it carries such heavy 80s nostalgia. I will admit I was a little disappointed back in the 80s that it wasn’t a more serious horror, considering who was involved, but it has grown on me considerably. It isn’t completely successful with all it’s stories, but the ones that are, really work and provide some fun and goosebumps to keep us entertained. The large cast gets the material completely and is filled with familiar faces to horror fans. An entertaining comic book style horror that sadly gets forgotten when people discuss comic book style films as it does convey the comic book feeling far better than many a superhero movie. Creepshow was followed by a sub-par sequel in 1987, directed by Michael Gornick and written by Romero, based on some Stephen King short stories. A third flick, without the involvement of Romero or King, was made in 2006 and seemed to go straight to DVD with little or no fanfare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Creeps!

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COOL STUFF: ESCAPE FROM N.Y. COLLECTOR’S EDITION on BLU-RAY

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK COLLECTOR’S EDITION Blu-Ray

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite films (see full review here). It’s the film that cemented John Carpenter as one of my favorite directors. A starkly original idea featuring one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heroes of all time. There have been a few editions of the film on VHS, DVD and even a feature-only blu-ray, but, now Scream Factory has delivered this classic flick in a special 2-disc edition loaded with extra features that gives this quirky Sci-Fi adventure the treatment and respect it deserves!

The print is a new remaster from the original negative and is absolutely gorgeous. The image is crisp and clear and the colors are vibrant without betraying the look and feel intended by the filmmakers. The movie has never looked better and having seen it on screen, on VHS, on DVD and on previous blu-ray, I can say that with the utmost confidence. It’s never looked better. The audio is DTS-HD 5.1 and sounds great. It’s like seeing and hearing the movie again for the first time. It’s a beautiful presentation of this classic movie. Now on to the fun stuff…

We get some nice audio extras… not one but, three commentary tracks. There is a new track featuring actress Adrienne Barbeau and cinematographer Dean Cundey. Also, previously released tracks from Joe Alves and Debra Hill, as well as, the classic John Carpenter and Kurt Russell commentary, which is almost as entertaining as the film. More on-set insight than you could ever hope for. As for video treats and featurettes, the second disc holds a mix of new and previously released material. The first featurette is new and is a really cool look at EFNY’s SFX. It contains behind the scenes stills and interviews with Dennis and Robert Skotak, who worked at Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, which did the visual effects for the film. The Return To Escape From New York documentary from the MGM collector’s edition DVD is also included here and is filled with interviews from all the principles. We get the now legendary deleted bank robbery/arrest scene with an added new interview with actor Joe Unger, who played Snake’s partner Taylor in that deleted sequence. There’s a fun new look at scoring the film and the legacy of the soundtrack, with co-composer Alan Howarth. There is a great interview/slide show with on-set photographer Kim Gottlieb-Walker, who recently released a book (review here) featuring her work as a photographer on a number of Carpenter’s films. We get an interview with filmmaker David DeCoteau, who was working as a PA with New World Pictures at the time and got to visit the EFNY set. The disc then finishes up it’s extra’s section with theatrical trailers and two photo galleries on top of all the rest of the features. A great selection of extras to compliment the film.

As fan of Escape From New York, you couldn’t ask for a better special edition. The film looks great, sounds great and there is a nice selection of nostalgic and informative features and interviews to bring you back to 1980 when the film was being shot. I personally had the opportunity to see this flick in a theater…my beloved Oritani Theater…back in January of 1981 and it instantly became one of my all time favorites. Now I can enjoy it like never before thanks to this newly remastered, extra-filled, loving tribute from Scream Factory.

-MonsterZero NJ

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: HAPPY 35th ANNIVERSARY to JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

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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 35th anniversary of one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, I am re-posting this look back at Carpenter’s classic!

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 it’s 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 it’s 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, lets 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 phoney 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 available, for the first time, on blu-ray from Scream Factory with all the extras from previous releases plus, an added 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 new transfer!

4 spectral sailors!

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BOOK REVIEW: ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

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This is one book review, I definitely need no excuse to post. Not only is it a great chronicle of the making of some of the early classics of the legendary John Carpenter but, an amazing album of behind the scenes shots from some of my favorite films from my favorite filmmaker…

ON SET WITH JOHN CARPENTER by Kim Gottlieb-Walker

John Carpenter is perhaps my all time favorite filmmaker and, as my favorite of his works are those from the 70s and 80s, this book was an amazing trip down memory lane and an incredible glimpse behind the scenes at some of Carpenter’s early classics as told through the talented camera lens of Kim Gottlieb-Walker with some comments and anecdotes from Kim, John Carpenter and some of those involved. The photography is not only breathtaking but, captures a side of the productions of Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, the Carpenter produced Halloween II and Christine that we’ve never seen before. Gottlieb-Walker was hired by Carpenter and Debra Hill as his unit photographer and as such, she captured some wonderful behind the scenes shots of cast and crew from these classic films. Add the commentary and some delightful stories from the photographer, Carpenter himself and others such as Adrienne Barbeau, DOP Dean Cundey and many, many more, and this book becomes a trip back in time to a long-gone era and a side of these productions that we have only barely glimpsed previously. It chronicles the rise of a legendary director and some other now very established filmmakers, as well as, shares tales of some sadly gone talents such as Lee Van Cleef, Issac Hayes, Donald Pleasence and pioneer producer Debra Hill. As a Carpenter fan, or simply a fan of filmmaking, this is a must-have book with some simply amazing photos that will take us back to the days when a group of young filmmakers and actors were making their dreams… and some of our favorite films… a reality. A simply beautiful book and instantly one of the most cherished in my collection… and it doesn’t hurt either that the largest section of the book is dedicated to Escape From New York, my favorite Carpenter flick and one of my all-time favorite films. I. Love. This. Book!

4 stars!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SWAMP THING and THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING

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This week’s double feature puts together two films based on DC Comics Swamp Thing character that were made during the 80s. One directed by horror legend Wes Craven and the other by prolific B-Movie director Jim Wynorski. So, head into the bayou for some comic book-style fun and action!…

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SWAMP THING (1982)

As a big fan of Wes Craven it is rare to hear me say the legendary director may not have been right for a project but, this might be one of the few cases. I saw this flick with friends at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and wasn’t all that impressed with his take on one of the more bizarre comic book heroes. It’s not a bad film but, it seemed to take itself a bit too seriously and didn’t have the fun it needed to really win me over.

The movie written and directed by Craven tells the comic-based story of government agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) who is sent into the Louisiana swamps to work with brilliant scientist Alec Holland (Ray Wise). Holland is doing genetic research to find a way to combine plant and animal DNA to make hardier plants to grow food in harsher environments (Monsanto anyone?). His resulting formula is a volatile one but, appears to allow plants to grow wherever it touches. When his lab is attacked by the evil Dr. Arcane (Louis Jordan) and his mercenary thugs, Holland is covered in his serum by accident and sent running into the swamp ablaze. Cable is the only one who escapes alive and is now being pursued by Arcane and his men for the notebook she has recovered. But, unknown to her and Arcane, Holland has undergone a transformation, merging him with the fauna of the swamp, and now he seeks to rescue Cable and exact revenge against Arcane as the powerful but, noble Swamp Thing (stuntman Dick Durock)!

There are two big issues with this flick that stand in it’s way of being a far more entertaining movie. First off is that Craven had yet to really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street and directs this with the heavy hand of one of his early horror flicks. True, the comic has a serious atmosphere but, his script and tone take things far too seriously and the film is humorless and has the very moderate pace of this era’s horror movies. Adding comic book-style wipes between scenes doesn’t a comic book-style film make and this is simply too morose to really be fun and the action scenes too by-the-numbers. The other problem is that the make-up/creature FX are terrible. I understand that the Swamp Thing costume was originally made for stuntman Bob Minor who, for some reason, couldn’t do the film and there was no time or money to build a new suit so, it was ‘altered’ to fit Durock*. But, even so the costume is flat and rubbery and just looks awful. The creature costume for the transformed Arcane for the climactic fight is equally bad and when your main character is a man in a rubber suit, that suit needs to look good as he is on screen quite a lot. It kills the illusion that the costume is so bad looking. Also not helping is Harry Manfredini’s Friday The 13th-ish score witch adds to the horror film atmosphere instead of lightening things up a bit and adding a little energy to the proceedings. I get that this comic character certainly has horror film elements but, the film just takes itself far too seriously to be really fun. It looks good and has a good enough cast but, is too slow paced and just does’t have enough fun for even a horror-themed superhero like Swamp Thing.

As for that cast, Ray Wise is fine as Holland though he has little screen time to really solidify the character. Durock actually does a nice job emoting with his eyes behind all the rubber and does make a noble hero as the transformed Swamp Thing. Barbeau does her tough chick thing from Escape From New York again here but, it works OK and this was the legendary actress in her prime so, she does provide some eye-candy along with her hard-nosed heroine… who also has her damsel moments, too. Louis Jordan seems to be the only one who realizes this flick needs a little over-the-top and chews up the scenery just right as the evil genius Anton Arcane. He makes a good villain surrounded by bland characters. Rounding out is Last House On The Left villain David Hess and Don’t Answer The Phone psycho Nicholas Worth as Arcane’s lead henchmen and they are adequate though unremarkable. Some livelier performances or more larger than life characters would have really perked this film up.

In conclusion, Swamp Thing is an OK flick but, one that would have been a lot better with a bit lighter touch and a far less down-to-earth approach. The flick needed a bit more over-the-top and some of the fun and energy that Wes Craven gave Scream many years later. It’s watchable but, takes itself far too seriously to really entertain and perhaps Craven was still too early in his career to stray from his dire horror film style and tone to really give this comic book-based flick the color and life of the swamps it was set in.

* I read this account of the Bob Minor/Dick Durock costume issue in either Fangoria or Starlog back in the 80s when the film was released.-MZNJ

2 and 1/2 Swamp Things

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THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)

Seven years after Craven’s film, the guardian of the swamps returned in a film that was a lot more fun and over-the-top… maybe a bit too much so, in comparison with the more serious tone of the comic, but, it is silly good fun and B-Movie auteur Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) cranked up the camp and gave us a flick that is giddily comic book with a touch of James Bond… and we got a far more convincing suit for returning Dick Durock to wear.

Sequel has the villainous Dr. Arcane (Louis Jordan) back in action and trying to hunt down Holland/Swamp Thing in order to use his genetics to help Arcane and his beautiful assistant Lana (Sarah Douglas) defeat the aging process. At the same time Arcane’s ditzy valley girl step-daughter Abigail (Heather Locklear) comes to visit to ask questions about her mother’s death and one of Arcane’s mutant experiments has escaped and is chowing-down on anyone who gets too close to the swamp. But, Abby’s DNA could also be a help to Arcane’s work and the young girl has captured Swamp Thing’s heart, guaranteeing a showdown between these two mortal enemies once more!

While, overall, Wynorski and writers Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris may have taken this goofy, fun flick a little too far in the opposite direction of Craven’s dour version but, it is a unapologetic good time with it’s bombastic creature battles and explosion filled action scenes. Gone are the bland henchman and stiff scientists, now Arcane is surrounding by a bevy of armed beauties, including exploitation film fixture/Penthouse model Monique Gabrielle and campy mad scientists like Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle. The tone of the film is a mix of the 60s Batman TV show and a Roger Moore James Bond movie, complete with underground lair and  dozens of uniformed soldiers more than anxious to use their machine guns. Wynorski gives it a fast pace and a candy-colored production design aided by Zoran Hochstatter’s cinematography and the film’s cartoonish atmosphere is enhanced by Chuck Cirino’s lively electronic score. The film may be silly but, far more resembles the panels of a comic book than Craven’s far too grounded flick. The creature FX are far better than the first flick and Durock really looks like the embodiment of the comic character with the much improved suit. He has a couple of amusing monsters to battle, though, he could have used a far more lethal opponent at the climax than the transformed but, still asthmatic, Dr. Rochelle. Wynorski is a B-Movie director through and through and he films this flick with enough explosions, carnage and cleavage as the PG rating would hold and brings it in at a tight 88 minutes. The movie never overstays it’s welcome.

Acting-wise, the movie has little to brag about. Louis Jordan is once again a fun villain who understands just how serious to play it and how much scenery to chew on. Durock again emotes very well under the rubber and, while I’m not sure if it was his voice used, overall creates a very noble and likable plant man/hero. Douglas is sexy and sinister as Arcane’s assistant Dr. Lana Zurrell and these three help keep things somewhat respectable in the performance dept. Not fairing so well are Loclkear who just mugs for the camera though, is a good sport considering her dialogue and having to romp in the swamp with a 7 foot plant man. The rest of the acting is shamelessly over-the-top such as Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle, Joey Sagal as security head Gunn and the lovely buxom Ms. Gabrielle… who was hired  because she is lovely and buxom and not to perform Hamlet. Thanks to the giddy over-the-top tone, some of the bad acting fits right in.

I like this flick. It’s certainly an 80s guilty pleasure action flick and a fun movie if you cut it some slack and go with it’s outrageously cartoonish style. Sure some of the acting is pretty bad but, as it does resemble the 60s Batman series but, with more of an 80s slant, it fits right in with the unabashedly goofy tone. It’s a lot of fun and best enjoyed with a few of your favorite brews.

This movie was followed in 1990 by a TV series that lasted for 3 seasons and not only saw Durock return to the role once more but, found a happy medium for it’s tone which was more serious then Wynorski’s flick but, not quite as droll as Craven’s movie. It also stared Kari Wurher as Abigail and Mark Lindsay Chapman taking over as Arcane.

3 Swamp Things!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and SHAKEDOWN

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This week’s double feature combines two movies I’ve covered before but, since NYC was on a lot of people’s minds this past week and the World Trade Centers figure prominently in both features, I decided to pair up two of my favorite 80s action guilty pleasures! Enjoy!

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ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Escape From New York is one of my all time favorite B movies and a bonafide film classic. I instantly fell in love with this film upon seeing it opening night at the legendary Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and John Carpenter solidified himself as one of my favorite directors.

An outrageously original idea has New York City in a war torn, crime filled, future turned into a maximum security prison, and legendary director Carpenter makes it work by taking his subject matter just seriously enough to make the audience buy it. Add to that a colorful cast of characters, including one of the greatest, and sadly underused, film anti-heros of all time, Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) and you have the recipe for a B movie classic. The story is simple, war hero turned outlaw, Snake Plissken has been captured and is about to be sentenced to life imprisonment in New York City Penitentiary. But, fate intervenes and the President’s (Donald Pleasence) plane is hijacked on the way to a crucial peace summit and crashed inside the city. Former special forces soldier Plissken is the only man skilled enough to sneak in quietly and get him out alive and Snake now has a chance at a full pardon for all his crimes if he takes the job. But, a vicious gang leader called The Duke Of New York (Isaac Hayes) has other ideas for both The President and Snake, who has less then 24 hours to complete his mission or the world goes back to war.

Director and co-writer (with Nick Castle) Carpenter creates some nice tension and suspense and his visual eye is great at creating a gloomy hellhole out of the world’s greatest city. And Dean Cundey’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful as it captures the world inside New York, which is very effectively portrayed on a small budget. Carpenter moves the film along well, although not as fast paced as today’s audience are used to, and there is plenty of action and chases to keep one entertained. And despite being released in 1981, this film may be the last film to have a real 70s feel to it before the Lethal Weapons and Die Hards changed action films forever. Another film that inspired many and was imitated many times and another great Carpenter film score to add to the atmosphere.

As for the cast… Kurt Russell does his best Clint Eastwood as Snake and it’s only natural then to pair him up with Eastwood co-star Lee Van Cleef as Police Commissioner, Bob Hauk. Rounding out the cast is Halloween vet Donald Pleasence as the President, Harry Dean Stanton as Brain, Carpenter’s then wife, Adrienne Barbeau as Maggie, Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie and legendary soul man Isaac Hayes as The Duke of New York. And not to forget, there is also genre favorite Tom Atkins as Hauk’s right hand man, Rehme and frequent Carpenter collaborator Charles Cyphers as the Secretary Of State. A simply classic B-movie sci-fi/action flick and one of my all time favorites! MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA:  The studio wanted Charles Bronson as Snake, but, Carpenter fought for his choice of former Disney child actor, Russell and the rest is history. Also, the SPFX were done in part by a then unknown James Cameron, who went on to direct Terminator and Titanic. And despite it’s setting, most of the film was lensed in St. Louis and L.A. with only one night actual shooting in NYC at the Statue of Liberty.

One of the greatest B-movies of all time!

A classic 4 Snakes

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Shakedown

SHAKEDOWN (1988)

Shakedown is an 80s action guilty pleasure from Exterminator director James Glickenhaus that is not only his best film but, a darn entertaining cop thriller that is one of the last to take place in NYC before the 42nd street clean up and thus presents New York in all it’s sleazy pre-90s glory.

Shakedown is the story of public defender Roland Dalton (Peter Weller) who is moving on to a Wall Street law firm, run by his future father in-law, and as his last case, defends a drug dealer (Richard Brooks) accused of killing a cop. But, the dealer says it was self defense, he was defending himself in a robbery and the officer never identified himself. Dalton investigates along with lone wolf cop Richie Marks (Sam Elliot) and they discover a conspiracy of criminals and dirty cops who now want them both dead.
Sure some of the action is a bit overblown and the FX in the final showdown very cheesy but, Shakedown, as written and directed by Glickenhaus, is a down and dirty good time with a New York City bathed in neon lights, covered with empty crack vials and where sex, drugs and murder are a common occurrence. Add some 80s nostalgia to the mix and you have a whole six pack worth of Saturday night entertainment that is both grind-house action flick and slick crime thriller.
But, aside from it’s dirty, backstreet depiction of New York and some over the top action scenes, what really makes Shakedown work is that Elliot and Weller makes such a great team. They work very well together and it’s a shame the film never caught on enough to further the adventures of Marks and Dalton. The characters and the actor who portray them, really click and begged for a series. Supporting cast all perform well too, including Antonio “Huggy Bear” Fargas as drug lord Nicky Carr, Blanche (Sixteen Candles) Baker as Dalton’s fiance’ and hot Patricia Charbonneau as the assistant D.A. and Dalton’s former flame.
One of my favorite 80s guilty pleasure action flicks. A fun movie.
MONSTERZERO NJ EXTRA TRIVIA: The original title for the film and it’s title in other parts of the world was Blue Jean Cop which is a term used in the film for a cop on the take (dirty cops can afford designer jeans as opposed to Wranglers or Levis). Also, Director Glickenhaus made a few more flicks, including the campy Gary Busey action vehicle Bulletproof, before leaving show business to work at his father’s investment firm and became a successful investment professional and car collector.
3 and 1/2 bullets!
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