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 Jourdan) 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. 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 doesn’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 Jourdan 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 director 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 Jourdan) 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 Jourdan 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 than 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 Elliott) 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 Elliott 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 fiancé 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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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: THE THING and THE FLY

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This week’s double feature showcases two horror classics, both great remakes of films that themselves were classics and both directed by two of the greatest horror directors of the modern era. Watched this the other night and it was a great evening of classic horror cinema!

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THE THING (1982)

Arguably John Carpenter’s best film and his masterpiece, The Thing  was a remake of Howard Hawks’ 1951 classic The Thing From Another World, which was itself based on John W. Campbell’s story Who Goes There? Instead of using the 1951 film’s walking, blood sucking alien vegetable, he went back to Campbell’s story which featured an alien creature capable of imitating whatever it fed on.

Carpenter’s film opens with an isolated American research station in Antarctica being buzzed by a Norwegian helicopter that seems to be trying to gun down a lone sled dog. The incident results in the helicopter being destroyed and both raving occupants being killed, one by the station commander Gary (Donald Moffat) in defense of his crew. Now the team including helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) are stuck with a bizarre mystery and the surviving sled dog. When MacReady and Doctor Copper (Richard Dysart) investigate the Norwegian camp, they find it destroyed, it’s occupants dead and a huge hollowed out block of ice…not to mention a burned corpse of something barely human. The investigating of the evidence indicates the Norwegians found a strange ship in the ice and brought a specimen back to their camp that apparently was not dead when thawed out. The real nightmare is yet to come as the Norwegian dog reveals itself to be something quite unworldly and that an alien creature with the ability to absorb and become it’s prey may now be among them… or worse, may be one or more of them already. The paranoia and terror grows as the team try to discover who may be a creature in disguise and the creature feeds their paranoia and seeks to eliminate any of the men with the scientific knowhow to unmask it. Can those still human stop it and if they fail, what will happen to the rest of humanity?

The Thing is both a masterpiece of suspense and tension, as well as, of visceral horror. Carpenter along with Bill Lancaster’s script perfectly creates the paranoia of not knowing who around you is human and who is not. The setting of isolation is made all that apparent as Carpenter seals his characters in an ice and snow surrounded maze of hallways and dark rooms where the 12 men are trapped with something very inhuman and they can’t even trust each other as it could be anyone. The team all suspect each other, but as is human nature, turn to those they like for support and turn on those they may have not liked or not gotten along with before. We have 12 men who are social outcasts thrust into a situation where no one is coming to their rescue and they are forced to not only try to save themselves, but literally save the planet, as their failure to stop this creature will unleash it upon an unsuspecting world. Just so we fully understand the enormity of this creature’s threat, we are treated, via make-up FX master Rob Bottin (and Stan Winston who created the dog kennel creature), to some of the most gruesome creature transformation sequences ever filmed. Bottin convinced Carpenter to not go with a standard true form for the creature design, but an organism that is constantly changing and different once revealed and is made up of parts of all the beings it has absorbed during it’s journey through space. The results are visually horrifying and still hold their full impact even today. All this is brilliantly filmed by cinematographer Dean Cundey and accented by a haunting score by Ennio Morricone…who later voiced disapproval of how Carpenter used it. It is said the prominent electronic bits were actually written by Carpenter, though a lot of Morricone’s music is still used.

As for the human players, obviously this is Kurt Russell’s show, as he plays a man who is reluctantly forced to try to save a world he seems intent on hiding from and does so, honorably and selflessly. With 12 characters not everyone is given a lot of attention, but the cast all handle their roles well in presenting a bunch of eclectic social misfits who would rather be in the antarctic than with the rest of the world. The standouts aside from Russell’s MacReady are Dysart’s Dr. Copper, Moffat’s Gary, who crumbles when he really needs to take charge forcing MacReady to lead the rest, Keith David’s Childs and Brimley’s scientist Blair. Ironic, as Brimley has voiced his complete distain for the film. Maybe he should have read the script before signing on? Rounding out a solid cast are Richard Masur as Clark, David Clennon as stoner Palmer, Charles Hallahan as the meek Norris, Joel Polis as the quiet scientist Fuchs, T.K. Carter as the smart-ass cook Nauls, Thomas G. Waites as cowardly radioman Windows and Peter Maloney as complainer Bennings. Carpenter’s wife at the time, actress Adrienne Barbeau, also has a vocal cameo as the voice of MacReady’s chess computer.

The history of this film is as legendary as the film itself. The flick was critically panned for it’s gruesome gore FX and grim tone and audiences stayed away…not me, though, I saw it at least 3 times back in the day…and it has taken decades for it to finally be recognized as the masterpiece and classic it truly is. Simply a great horror/sci-fi film that has yet to be equalled. Followed by a Carpenter-less prequel in 2011 that is a moderately amusing companion piece at best.

A classic 4 (out of 4) Things!

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THE FLY (1986)

Much like Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly is based on a 1950s horror flick of the same name and similar plot which itself is based on a short story, this one written by George Langelaan. Cronenberg’s telling is of brilliant scientist Seth Brundle ( Jeff Goldblum) who plans to revolutionize travel and change the world by creating teleportation devices which can instantly transfer people from one place to another when perfected. He meets and falls for pretty journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) and decides to reveal his work to the world through her, as she documents his progress. The two quickly become lovers and during an evening when Ronnie leaves to deal with slimy publisher/ ex-boyfriend Stathis Borans (John Getz), a jealous and drunk Brundle decides to use himself as the first human test subject for teleportation. At first Brundle seems to somehow have been improved through teleporting being stronger and faster, but soon his body and behavior starts to change for the worse and his health starts to deteriorate. An investigation into his teleporting session reveals a fly was in the telepod with him and the computer became confused and fused their DNA at a molecular level. Now the man is slowly turing into a monster and Ronnie is torn between staying to help the man she loves, or fleeing an evolving creature that becomes less human…and more dangerous…by the day.

Where David Hedison’s scientist in the 1958 classic simply became a human with a fly’s head and claw and the fly had his human head, Cronenberg, working from his own draft from Charles Edward Pogue’s script, uses the transformation as a metaphor for disease…some interpret it as AIDS, but Cronenberg himself nixes the idea he was being so specific. Instead of swapping part’s, Goldblum’s Brundle is merged with the insect at a molecular level and Cronenberg treats us to a grotesque and horrifying gradual transformation from man to insectoid monster. All the more effective because we like the charming and eccentric Seth so much and the romance between he and Veronica works so well, we are horrified to watch him degenerate in front of his helpless lover.

Davis and Goldblum have such great chemistry together and both give terrific performances which really makes the film work, as we become endeared to this cute and off-beat couple and watching her pain and his confusion and terror, as he mutates slowly into a human/insect hybrid, that can walk on ceilings and and could kill viciously if provoked, is mortifying . As performances go, let’s not forget John Getz who creates a slimy, self centered jerk in Stathis Borans yet, still makes him heroic and sympathetic during the films horrifying climax. Even minor supporting characters all perform well here. The SPFX from Chris Walas Inc. are stunning and rightfully won an Academy Award…though Goldblum was robbed of a deserved nomination. Walas and his team gruesomely take us from skin blemishes and fingernails falling off to a full blown insectoid creature in the film’s intense and heartbreaking last act. Their make-up FX not only show the graphic effects of the gradual transformation, but allow the human underneath to come through and enhances an already sympathetic and strong performance by our leading man. Assisting Cronenberg, his actors and his FX team is a wonderfully moody and intense score by Howard Shore and atmospheric cinematography by Mark Irwin.

The Fly is a true horror classic and arguably Cronenberg’s best film and was oddly praised for the same reasons our first feature The Thing was criticized for only 4 years earlier. It is a horrifying and yet heartbreaking sci-fi film about the price and sacrifice one man pays for delving into things possibly best left alone. Underneath all the grotesquery and horror, there is also a tragic love story and an allegory to the torment of dealing with the illness of a loved one or one’s self. A great horror, but also, simply a great movie. Followed in 1989 by an amusing, but far inferior sequel that had only Getz returning as a bitter and now handicapped Borans and was directed by Fly FX man Chris Walas.

A classic 4 (out of 4) flies!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE FOG (1980)

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JOHN CARPENTER’S THE FOG (1980)

Since The Fog has just been released on blu-ray from the awesome folks at Scream Factory, I thought I’d roll out another Tomb Of Nostalgia and take a look back at this classic ghost tale…

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!

As stated, the film was just released 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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