TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: NECRONOMICON (1993)

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NECRONOMICON (1993)

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This is actually a fun anthology the uses the amusing framing story of H.P. Lovecraft (Jeffrey Combs) himself visiting the library of a mysterious sect of monks and sneaking a look at the forbidden book of the title and thus unleashing three stories based on actual works of the author. Now we know where he got his inspiration.

First story, The Drowned, is the best and most Lovecraftian of the three tales. It’s directed by Christophe Gans (Brotherhood Of The Wolf) and written by Gans and Brent V. Friedman. It tells the tragic tale of Edward De LaPoer (Bruce Payne) who has recently lost his wife in a terrible drowning accident and now has inherited a run-down, old seaside hotel from a distant uncle. He discovers the original owner of the building Jethro De La Poer (Richard Lynch) also lost his family tragically at sea and used a book called the Necronomicon to resurrect them. Not heeding how horribly Jethro’s story turned out, Edward finds where the book is hidden in the house and plots to resurrect his own lost love. This story is very well acted by Payne and has some of the best SPFX of the anthology in it’s presentation of resurrected ghouls and Cthulhu-like creatures. It has a nice atmosphere of dread and a great visual look from Gans. As far as evoking Lovecraft, this segment nails it perfectly.

Second story, The Cold, is entertaining, too as it finds nosey and obnoxious reporter Dale Porkel (Dennis Christopher) confronting a woman (Bess Meyer) in an old Boston house as to the whereabouts of the original owner, a Dr. Madden (David Warner). Madden is suspected of being over 100 years-old and Porkel claims he can tie him into a series of disappearances unless the women tells him everything. Be careful what you wish for, as Porkel gets a tale of love, murder and trying to cheat death that is chilling in more ways than one. Another entertaining story, this one directed by the 90s Gamera series’ director Shusuke Kaneko and written by Friedman and Kazunori Ito. This segment combines a tragic love story with a gruesome tale of a scientist trying to cheat death while at the cost of the lives of others. It earns it’s title from the fact that Madden’s cheating of death only works at very low temperatures. The segment is well done, has some very good FX and the cast all perform well, especially David Warner as the ill-fated Madden. Christopher lays it on a little thick, but is only in the beginning and end of the segment.

Final story, Whispers is the weakest, but still provides skin-crawling entertainment. It’s written by Brent V. Friedman and Brian Yuzna, who also directed the segment. This tells the story of a cop (Signy Coleman) who is pregnant from her partner Paul (Obba Babatundé). Her overly emotional state while in pursuit of a mysterious suspect called The Butcher, causes an accident that allows the injured Paul to be taken hostage. She pursues them into what appears to be an abandoned building, but soon finds there is an unspeakable and otherworldly horror waiting for her and her unborn child in it’s depths. Segment is OK, but marred by some over-the-top and uneven acting and a story that’s too contemporary to fit in comfortably with the previous old-fashioned tales. What we finally find in it’s lower levels is gruesome and unnerving and well portrayed by some charming prosthetic effects and Yuzna does have a cinematic style that works well with the subject matter. The story is entertaining, but not as much as what came before and it also lacks the other stories’ charm, though it does have some of the most unsettling visuals.

Obviously, after the final tale, we finish the framing story of H.P. Lovecraft’s search and seizure of the Necronomicon and hint at possible future installments which sadly never happened. The framing segments are fun and also directed by Brian Yuzna and co-written with Brent V. Friedman. This segment has a charming old-fashioned movie serial feel and does get to have a little fun with prosthetic make-up FX in it’s last act. Too bad the film never took off enough to continue the adventures of Coombs’ H.P. Lovecraft. That might have been fun.

This is, overall, an entertaining movie. The stories may be uneven, but they do capture the flavor of the celebrated horror author’s work and the wraparound story actually involving Lovecraft is charming and fun. The FX throughout are delightful prosthetics, gore, miniatures and rubber creatures with some slightly cheesy visual FX that are all the more fun for it. The cast are fairly solid, accept for a few overdone performances, such as in the last story, but are balanced out by the strong work of Payne, Lynch, Warner and the always welcome Jeffery Combs. A fun and nostalgic anthology that deserves a decent blu-ray release!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 necronomicons.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

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STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)

Based on Stephen King’s book, this TV mini-series was first aired back in November of 1990 and it’s taken me quite a long time but, I have finally caught up with it. To be clear, I haven’t read the book so, I am viewing the movie as a movie and not comparing it to the original source material for which I am not familiar.

Book based horror tells the story of 7 childhood friends in the small Maine town of Derry, where, at this time, there have been a rash of murders and disappearances of small children including the little brother of one of the group. And soon after, the group themselves become terrorized by something evil in the form of a horrifying clown who calls himself Pennywise (Tim Curry). The creature preys on their fears and weaknesses until the seven friend’s finally gather the courage to enter the abandoned sewer plant where they believe this creature lives and after a terrifying confrontation, appear to have defeated it. But, they make a promise that if “It” ever returns they would come together and fight the creature once more… But, after 30 years their worst nightmares come true and children start to disappear or are found murdered again in Derry and the call is raised for the “Loser’s Club” to rejoin and keep their promise. But, the horrors of what happened in 1960 are hard to overcome and worse yet, the mysterious and sinister Pennywise knows they are coming and is more than ready. Can the group defeat their own fears and reunite to put this fiend to rest once and for all… or will they all finally fall victim to the monstrous clown… or whatever it is that has haunted this town for generations?

TV movie directed by John Carpenter alumni Tommy Lee Wallace (Halloween III, the original Fright Night II), who also adapted King’s book with Lawrence D. Cohen, is a well made and entertaining film though a bit long-winded when watched all at once instead of broken up into two parts as when it was originally aired. The film starts off in 1990 as we are first treated to the murder of a poor child by the fleetingly glimpsed Pennywise and then slowly over the course of the first 90 minutes we are introduced to the main characters both as children and adults and then shown the horrifying events that take place in 1960 that lead up to the being’s temporary defeat and the pact made to return if need be. The narrative is a little choppy but, it smoothes out after about 3/4 of an hour and since King likes to add extensive detail and backgroud to his many characters, it’s easy to see why the filmmakers weren’t 100% successful in relaying that to screen even with 3 hours to work with. The narrative is much smoother in it’s second half as it builds to the reunion of friends and then it’s climactic confrontation. Even with the uneven narrative in the first act, the film is effective and creepy fun, especially when Curry is onscreen as Pennywise. He really nails the whole scary clown thing and seems to be having a blast as the sinister villain. It’s in the final battle when sadly It let’s us down as the film turns into another movie altogether once the creature, in it’s true form, is revealed. Not only does the climax become a routine monster movie complete with a generic creature, but, it robs us of what we have been wanting to see all along, Pennywise getting what’s coming to him. The creature in true form is basically a monstrous spider and while I liked the charming stop-motion animation from Terminator FX man Gene Warren Jr. and his Fantasy II Film Effects, it simply doesn’t resonate and is devoid of what made the film work for the last 2 and 1/2 hours, Curry’s creepy clown. Overall, I think Wallace did a good job and he certainly learned from Carpenter as evidence by his camera angles and Richard Leiterman’s Dean Cundey-esque cinematography but, the film’s cheesy monster movie (and I love cheesy monster movies) ending doesn’t give his film the horrifying and powerful climax the story needs. Whether it was the script or the book itself that disappoints… though friends assure me the book does not… we need this to end with an intense bang and not a whimper. And despite all it gets right, the film does end on a whimper and that is really sad because otherwise, this was a very engaging and fun horror flick with talented people involved on all fronts from behind the camera to a fine cast.

And as for the cast, Wallace get’s good work out of them all, but, obviously Curry takes the creepy ball and runs with it and makes this his show. Pennywise is a true cinema villain with Curry under the grease paint and it’s sad he is replaced by Boris the spider at the climax. The rest of the cast both young and adult actors are good. We have… Richard Thomas as adult Bill Denbrough with Johathan Brandis as young Bill, Annette O’Toole as adult Beverly Marsh with Ginger Snaps‘ Emily Perkins as young Beverly, John Ritter as adult Ben Hanscom and Brandon Crane as young Ben, Harry Anderson as adult Richie Tozier and Buffy’s Seth Green as young Richie, Fade To Black’s Dennis Christopher as adult Eddie Kaspbrak and Adam Faraizi as young Eddie, Tim Reid as adult Mike Hanlon and Marlon Taylor as young Mike with last, but not least, Richard Mazur as adult Stanley Uris with Ben Heller as young Stan. They all do a good job giving some personality to their characters, both in young and adult incarnations and are an endearing bunch. A solid cast who perform their roles well though, all upstaged by Curry and, as he is to haunt their nightmares, rightfully so!

So, I will say I enjoyed It and am now curious to read the book. The ending did let me down, although it was the type of ending I would have enjoyed if it were attached to a low budget monster movie and not the finale that we were building three hours up to. Overall, I would still recommend it as a creepy good time and one of the better TV made movies around, it’s just a shame that it falls short of classic status due to a final act which doesn’t live up to the rest of the film’s promise.

3 creepy clowns.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: FADE TO BLACK (1980)

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FADE TO BLACK (1980)

Fade To Black is a horror thriller about obsessive movie fan Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher). Binford lives with his crippled aunt (Eve Brent Ashe), who blames him for her affliction, and works at a film distributors barely holding on to his job. Eric meets beautiful young Marilyn (Linda Kerridge) who is the spitting image of Marilyn Monroe but, when she accidentally stands Eric up on a date, he snaps and begins to dress up as classic movie characters to eliminate those he feels have wronged him. And he hasn’t forgotten about sweet Marilyn either.

This 1980 slasher has obtained a bit of a cult following and while it may not be totally deserving, it is one of the more novel slashers of that era and the 80s nostalgia element always adds something if you’re a fan of films of that decade. One of Fade’s biggest drawbacks is it is directed in a very pedestrian manner by writer Vernon Zimmerman. While Zimmerman came up with a fun story idea that should have been perfect for a real entertaining horror treat, he is unable to give it much life from the director’s chair and the film plays very by-the-numbers. The slow pace doesn’t do much in the film’s favor either and scenes from real movies occasionally spliced into the action is about as stylish as this gets. Worse still, is the ending is clumsy instead of suspenseful… and there is little suspense as it is.

What fun we have is watching Christopher, who was so good in Breaking Away, ham it up as the psychotic, movie-loving Eric. Christopher knows better then his director that the material needs a bit of an over the top touch and he does his best to accommodate. He gleefully goes from Dracula to the Mummy to James Cagney while dispatching his victims including a young Mickey Rourke as an obnoxious co-worker and a sleazy producer who steals one of his film ideas. Sadly the rest of the cast are rather bland including Tim Thomerson as criminal psychologist, Moriarty, who specializes in juvenile cases and Ashe overacts but, not in a good way, as his oppressive Aunt Stella. Australian Linda Kerridge is pretty as Marilyn but, doesn’t really have the dynamic personality to make her memorable. That and her character disappearing for a long stretch while Binford has his revenge, doesn’t help get to know her any better.

Despite it’s flaws, it is a strange enough film to warrant a watch if you haven’t seen it, especially if you like 80s slasher flicks, though don’t expect much in the gore department, as there is relatively little blood and a rather moderate body count. At least Craig Safan’s score is very 80s and adds to the nostalgia.

All in all, Fade To Black doesn’t live up to it’s cult reputation and, to be honest, wasn’t that well received when it first came out. It’s one of those films that has gained a following and has been elevated beyond it’s actual worth, though, it is an odd little movie and films like this usually tend to find their audience over time, whether they are really that good or not. A curiosity viewing or if you are an 80s completist but, don’t expect the classic it’s made out to be.

2 and 1/2 psycho film geeks!

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