TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: RETRIBUTION (1987)

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RETRIBUTION (1987)

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80s supernatural horror opens on Halloween night with lonely artist George (Dennis Lipscomb) trying to commit suicide. He is revived, but begins to have horrifying nightmares of people he doesn’t know, being murdered in terrible ways. His psychiatrist Dr. Jennifer Curtis (Leslie Wing) is baffled and cop Lt. Ashley (Hoyt Axton) is suspicious, as George’s dreams are coming true. It appears George was born on the same day and initially died at the same moment as gangster Vito Minelli, who is using George’s body to get revenge on those who murdered him.

Flick is produced and directed by Guy Magar who also co-wrote with Lee Wasserman. Despite some unintentionally goofy scenes, the film has a more serious tone than most horrors of the later 80s generally had. Vito in George’s body is a vicious and vengeful spirit, who murders people in sadistic and gory ways. We follow George’s emotional torment as he is forced to watch and take part in Vito’s gruesome vengeance and it is effective. The gore is pretty good and Magar does bring some intensity to the proceedings. On the down side, flick is about 10 minutes too long and by it’s last act it starts to wear us down with it’s brutality, but it is still an entertaining mix of slasher and supernatural horror. Magar uses some very colorful lighting filters on scenes, something that would become popular again with up and coming directors in today’s contemporary filmmaking. Despite being a malevolent spirit, Magar does earn Vito (Mike Muscat) a little sympathy when we flashback to his brutal death, though the scene also reveals his killers as equally cruel and thus removes any residual sympathy we might have had for them. In contrast, George comes across as a very sweet, if not emotionally troubled man and his romance with hooker with a heart of gold Angel (Killer Klowns’ Suzanne Snyder) adds to our empathy for him. George never really gets a break in the flick and it does resonate. Retribution would have left it’s audience with a lingering bittersweet conclusion, had Magar not opted for the cliché shock ending. Concluding it this way also doesn’t make any sense, as Vito’s vengeance is complete and there is no reason for him to continue to hang around. There was also no reason for him to attack Dr. Curtis either in the last act, other than to set up the climax, as she had nothing to do with his murder. On a production level, the film looks good for a slightly over $1 million budget. Magar uses the L.A. street locations effectively, Gary Thieltges’ cinematography is colorful and the electronic score from frequent John Carpenter collaborator Alan Howarth, adds atmosphere and 80s nostalgia.

The cast is good. Dennis Lipscomb is very likable as the troubled artist George. He’s a lonely guy, but not a creep as most characters like this are portrayed. We do feel bad for him when Vito starts to use him to kill. Leslie Wing is pretty and does a good job as the psychiatrist who seems to legitimately care for George. Axton is solid as the stereotypical cop character and Suzanne Snyder is very sweet as Angel. Snyder and Lipscomb have some chemistry together and their scenes together come across as genuine. It makes Angel and George’s tragic romance really click to the story’s benefit.

In conclusion, not a perfect movie, but an effective slasher. It’s a bit slow paced and maybe a few minutes too long, but it has a more serious tone at a time when horrors in the late 80s were becoming more humorous and self-aware. The cast add some depth to their roles and the scenes of horror are colorful and have some intensity. A bit too brutal for it’s own good at times, but otherwise a lesser known 80s horror worth checking out if you haven’t seen it.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) jack o lanterns as it does open on Halloween.

tales of halloween rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: GREMLINS (1984)

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GREMLINS (1984)

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Gremlins is a fun Christmas set comedy/horror about a small town that comes under siege by a group of nasty little creatures. The story finds a down on his luck inventor (Hoyt Axton) buying a strange little furry creature called a Mogwai in a back-alley Chinatown shop for his son Billy (Zach Galligan). There are three rules given to insure safe care of the critter named Gizmo…keep him away from bright light, don’t get him wet and don’t feed him after midnight. Of course all the rules are broken along the way and Gizmo reluctantly spawns a group of horrid little creatures with a diabolical…and lethal…sense of humor. Now the sleepy little town of Kingston Falls is under attack and Billy and his sweetheart Kate (Phoebe Cates) must find a way to stop the little devils.

Created by the triple threat of producer Steven Spielberg, writer Chris Columbus and director Joe Dante, this is a really entertaining movie that has become an outright classic. While it appears to be a kid friendly family film on the outside, there is a devious sense of humor bestowed upon the flick, which has always been Dante’s trademark…and it works exceptionally well here. The film has some fun moments and some cartoonish characters, like the Scrooge-like Mrs. Deagle (Polly Holliday), but it also has a definite mean streak as the title creatures ‘humor’ can be quite painful or deadly against it’s recipient. This keeps Gremlins from sliding into the sappy, sentimental level of Spielberg’s own E.T. and gives it a much needed and appreciated edge…though it grew criticism for some of it’s violence back in the day. The creatures themselves are well rendered with practical FX and one scene of model animation and this makes the story work all the better. Dante adds his usual movie nods…such as a doctor named “Moreau” and there are appearances from his regulars like Dick Miller and Belinda Balaski. There is also a fun score by legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith and some crisp cinematography, highlighting the holiday time of year, by John Hora.

Dante has a good cast here, too. Galligan is solid as the nerdy bank teller turned hero and he has a naive and down-to-earth charm that makes his character very likable. Cates does well playing the girl-next-door with a dark Christmas past. Cates had been know for sexier roles, but pulls off the all American girl very well. Folk singer Axton is surprisingly fun as the Billy’s inventor/dreamer father Randall Peltzer. Dante regular Dick Miller has an amusing part as one of Billy’s neighbors and Polly Holliday is perfectly Cruella Deville-like as Mrs. Deagle. A good cast that get the tone of the material perfectly.

Gremlins is a lot of fun and with the added nostalgic charm is even more endearing. It has a good cast, a director who adds just the right amount of dark humor and some very well rendered special FX to make our creatures believable. A fun movie recognized as a classic. Also stars comedian Howie Mandel as the voice of Gizmo.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gremlins

gremlins rating

 

 

 

 

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