BARE BONES: IT CAME FROM BELOW (2021)

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IT CAME FROM BELOW (2021)

Film opens with a man (Stuart Packer) barely escaping a cave system with his life, claiming that he encountered a horrifying creature within. Now his daughter Jessie (Megan Purvis) enters the cave system with some of her friends to prove her father was telling the truth. Be careful what you wish for spelunkers!

Routine low budget monster movie owes a lot to The Descent with it’s story of a strange and possibly extraterrestrial creature stalking young cave explorers deep below the surface. Flick is directed in a fairly by-the-numbers fashion by Dan Allen from his script with Sam Ashurst. There isn’t all that much to recommend here, as we’ve seen much of it all before and it really doesn’t add anything new to the monster movie sub-genre. The creature is a sufficient enough critter and there is some bloodshed, but there are also a lot of scenes of crying, screaming and melodrama, too. Allen really doesn’t infuse it with anything all that special to set it apart from the dozens of other direct to VOD monster flicks that arrive constantly during the year. If you are a monster movie completest or just like seeing dumb twenty-somethings in peril, flick is available to screen today on Amazon Prime and other streaming platforms.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

CULT CLASSIC CUTIES: SHAWNEE SMITH as MEG PENNY in THE BLOB (1988)!

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Cult Classic Cuties are characters from some of our favorite cult classics and midnight movies who captured our hearts and/or actresses who got our attention, but sadly never returned to these type of flicks. They’re femme fatales and final girls whose sexy stars shined only briefly, not quite achieving scream queen status. And this installment’s cutie is…

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SHAWNEE SMITH as MEG PENNY in THE BLOB (1988)!

Shawnee Smith as Meg Penny in The Blob (1988)!

I am going to admit that on this installment of Cult Classic Cuties I am cheating a bit. Actress and singer Shawnee Smith is no stranger to horror and after starring in Chuck Russell’s criminally underrated 1988 remake, she went on to be featured in a number of horror related projects, such as two Stephen King TV mini-series adaptations, a Wes Craven produced remake of Carnival of Souls, an episode of The X-Files and she was a reoccurring character in the Saw movies. Sure, that makes her a straight up Halloween Hottie, but her Megan is such a great character, in this fun 80s remake and now cult classic, that I am going to break my own rules to feature her in this installment!

(You can read my full review for The Blob by clicking the highlighted titles or on the poster below)

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As the film begins, Meg Penny is an average teenager, cheerleading at football games.

A dream date turns into a nightmare, as Megan first meets The Blob!

With no one believing her, she turns to local rebel Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon) for help.

Megan risks all to get friends and loved ones to safety!

From cheerleader to warrior as Megan takes the fight to the gelatinous invader!

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So, I cheated here to feature this talented California born actress in the Cult Classic Cutie category, even though she has had a prolific TV and movie career and done a number of horror related projects. It’s just Chuck Russell’s remake is finally getting the respect and following it’s always deserved and Smith’s Megan is a strong part of what makes this cult classic work. So forgive my indulging myself and breaking format, but to me, Shawnee Smith and her cheerleader with an M-16 will always be a Cult Classic Cutie!

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Be sure to check out our Cult Classic Cuties (click right here for the link) section to see more crush worthy ladies from cult films and midnight movies!

-MonsterZero NJ

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BARE BONES: DARK LIGHT (2019)

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DARK LIGHT (2019)

Monster flick has a simple and familiar plot. Annie (Jessica Madsen from Leatherface) is a woman recovering from a nervous breakdown and returning to her old, rural childhood home with her daughter Emily (Opal Littleton). Once there, she finds that something inhuman has moved into the long empty house and it wants her daughter.

Flick written and directed by Padraig Reynolds is a bit of a mixed bag. There are things he gets right and things that don’t work so well. The movie looks great. Reynolds has a real good visual eye and really knows how to frame his shots. He also makes great use of his farmhouse location and the surrounding area. There is some intensity and some spookiness and while the success of his creatures may be a matter of taste, they are an original design and well executed. It’s the script that holds things back. It’s simply too reliant on far too many familiar elements. We have a woman seeing monsters and having her daughter go missing and her previous mental state casts a lot of doubt on her credibility and innocence. We have Annie tracking down a conspiracy theorist (Gerald Tyler), who has heard of these beasties and is hunting them and is the only one who believes her. How convenient! The character is basically there for exposition and then disposed of quickly. He could have been removed from the flick entirely with no harm to the thin plot. Obviously, as in all these scenarios, Annie is vindicated in the last act when her estranged husband (Ed Brody) and the local sheriff (Kristina Clifford) finally meet our critters and they team up to rescue Emily. It’s all very cliché. Still, it is well made and there are far worse things you could waste your time with. Currently streaming on Netflix.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: UNDERWATER (2020)

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UNDERWATER (2020)

Over six miles beneath the ocean surface, the Kepler drilling station suffers a massive, crippling earthquake (or is it?). Five survivors, including mechanical engineer Norah Price (Kristen Stewart), Captain Lucien (Vincent Cassel) and crewmembers Emily (Jessica Henwick), Paul (T.J. Miller) and Liam (John Gallagher Jr), have no choice but to walk across the ocean floor in high pressure suits to another station. Something, however, is down there with them and is now hunting them, as they make a desperate attempt to get out of this catastrophe alive. Did the drilling station awaken something best left undisturbed?

Undersea horror is competently directed by William Eubank from an Alien-esque script by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad. It’s a routine and derivative monster movie, but that’s not overwhelmingly a bad thing. The movie gets to the action quickly, with the quake hitting almost instantly, though this gives us no time for character or story development. We do learn a little about our characters as we go along, at least the ones that stick around and the cast are good, with Stewart making a solid heroine as Norah. We also learn, a la Alien, that the drilling company might have known something was amiss, but proceeded anyway. No surprise there. As for the horror, there is some suspense and a few spooky sequences, though those looking for a gory monster mash will be a bit disappointed, as the film is strictly PG-13. The creatures are kinda cool and wisely kept in shadows till the last act and are more H.P. Lovecraft than H. R. Giger in appearance. It has an effective and creepy climax, which might leave one with a few chills. On a production level, the flick moves at a decent pace and is economical at only 95 minutes long. The FX are well done, with most of the film’s $50+ Million budget on screen and it all looks good through Eubank’s visual eye. Underwater was a box office bomb when released in January, but, overall, is an enjoyable, if not familiar and forgettable monster movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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THE BLOB (1958) and THE BLOB (1988): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

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THE BLOB (1958) and THE BLOB (1988): A COMPARISON IN HORROR!

MAJOR SPOILER WARNING! In order to properly compare these two films, I have to give DETAILED SPOILERS. If you haven’t seen The Blob (1958) or The Blob (1988), there are MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW for each film. You have been warned!

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Comparison In Horror is back!…and in this installment the comparison is between the two versions of The Blob. One, of course, is the classic 1958 original, the other being the 1988 remake. Remember!…In order to discuss these flicks in-depth, the are some very important plot details that will be revealed, so if you haven’t seen one, the other, or both, there are MASSIVE SPOILERS! Otherwise, on to the comparison!…

(Click on the highlighted movie titles to go to the full length reviews and on the photos to enlarge them!)

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THE STORY

The Blob 1958 features a meteorite landing in the woods near a small Pennsylvania town. It carries within it a gelatinous space creature that absorbs anyone it comes in contact with. As it descends upon the town, getting bigger with every victim, teens Steve Andrews and Jane Martin to try to find a way to get the townsfolk to believe them and stop it.

The Blob (1988) takes place in the ski town of Arborville, California. What appears to be a meteorite crashes in the nearby woods and carries inside a gelatinous creature that eats anyone it comes in contact with. While the monster is quietly invading the town, a shady paramilitary containment group arrives, suspiciously soon after. It’s up to teens Meg Penny and Brian Flagg to outwit the military and try to find a way to stop the creature.

The initial story for both films are extremely similar, at least to start. The 1988 remake opens things up adding in the caveat of the military containment group and a conspiracy element about the creature’s origin. The remake also has a larger cast of characters.

 

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THE BLOB

The Blob 1958 is a gelatinous creature from space that comes to earth in a meteorite. The creature is a formless mass that can squeeze in and out of almost any place and gets bigger the more people it absorbs. The Blob in this version seems to be a mindless organism simply in search of sustenance. It retains a somewhat globular shape. The creature is impervious to almost all weapons, except it has a sensitivity to cold, which is finally used to subdue it.

The Blob (1988) is also a gelatinous creature, but though it falls from space, it’s very earth-born in origin. It starts out as a germ created by the military as a weapon, being sent into space in a satellite, as part of an experiment. This mutates it into an aggressive multi-celled organism. The creature is a formless mass that can squeeze in and out of almost any place and gets bigger the more people it absorbs. This incarnation of the creature is given hints of an intelligence and described as a predator. It also seems to be able to form limb-like tentacles, or even a gaping maw, based on it’s needs. This also implies a form of intelligence. Any parts cut off, become it’s own monster, which is not addressed in the original film, but is in it’s 1972 sequel. The creature is impervious to almost all weapons, except it has a sensitivity to cold, which is finally used to subdue it.

 

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Heroes and Heroines 

In The Blob 1958 our hero is teen Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and our heroine is his date, Jane Martin (Aneta Corseaut). Steve is a typical teen male of this time period, interested in girls, rock n’ roll and drag racing. He has a sense of honor and of doing the right thing, so when authorities don’t believe him, he sets out to find a way to warn others and stop the invading creature. Jane is more of a damsel here. She is loyal and bravely tries to help Steve, while keeping her too curious little brother Danny (Kieth Almoney) out of harm’s way. She mostly follows Steve around and supports whatever he decides, while playing babysitter to Danny.

In The Blob (1988) writer/director Chuck Russell makes the roles more contemporary and throws us a curve as to our leads. It starts out giving the impression that our hero and heroine will be high school football player Paul Taylor (Donovan Leitch) and his date, cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith). Paul is killed off early, however, and instead leather-jacketed, juvenile delinquent, Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillion) becomes out leading man. Flagg is a bit of a troublemaker, but he seems to care more than he lets on and goes up against The Blob and the military authorities to save the town and Meg. As for for Meg Penny, this girl is no damsel. She’s tough, a fighter and while also has a little brother (Michael Kenworthy) that needs kept out of danger, she’s not afraid to grab a fire extinguisher, or an M-16 to go up against the monster.

In comparison, Jane and Steve are the wholesome all-American teens of films of this era. Steve being the hero and Jane the loyal sidekick. Meg and Brian are more representative of movies of their era, with Meg being a spunky fighter and Brian, the rebellious bad boy with a heart. They are equals in the action, with Meg even stealing some of the heroic thunder in the last act, when she rescues Brian from the creatures clutches.

 

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THE SETTINGS

The setting for the classic original is a small, rural Pennsylvania town…the name on the diner implies it’s called Downingtown, which is a real PA town and one of the movie’s filming locations. Whatever the name, it’s the quintessential Norman Rockwell town with quaint houses, small local grocery store, movie theater and diner. The police force is minimal and the worst that usually happens is high school pranks and drag racing. There doesn’t seem to be a medical facility other than the town doctor.

The setting for the remake is the fictional ski resort town of Arborville, California, though it was filmed in Abbeville, Louisiana. Same can be said of this town as Blob 1958’s, in that it is the ideal picture of Americana. It also has a small police force, the whole town shows up for football games and everyone knows each other. Arborville is a town that relies on the ski season and has it’s own hospital, so it might be slightly larger than the home town of Steve Andrews and Jane Martin.

 

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THE OPENING SCENES

The Blob 1958 opens with a silly theme song over an animated background and it’s playful credits are a bit off-putting to the serious and scary tone of the movie. It wastes no time with us meeting Steve and Jane at a local make-out spot and having them witness the meteorite crash land. Within seven minutes, including credits, the old man (Olin Howland) gets The Blob on his hand and Steve and Jane find him and take him to the doctor’s office. Right to the action.

The Blob (1988)  opens with far more ominous credits, with moody electronic music accompanying images of space and then takes us down to earth and introduces us to the streets of Arborville. It takes a few minutes to introduce us to the town and some of our main characters, before homeless “Can Man”(Billy Beck) gets The Blob on his arm at about fifteen minutes in. There’s a few more minutes of character interaction again, before Paul, Meg and Flagg find him and get him to the hospital.

Both openings serve their respective stories well. The original’s goofy opening song is an odd choice for the more serious toned action that follows. The film recovers quickly, as like many films of this era, it’s economical and gets it’s story started right away and the scene of the old man meeting the extraterrestrial invader is very effective. Blob (1988) benefits from setting a mood with more ominous opening credits and giving us a little introduction to the characters and town. It’s equally effective when Can Man gets “blobbed” and the more contemporary (at the time) FX make the scene intense and disturbing. Both films open effectively, though the remake takes a little more time to let us know our leads and setting before starting things up.

 

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THE ENDINGS

Both films end with it’s respective Blobs frozen solid.

In the original, when Steve and Jane are trapped by The Blob in a supermarket, they hide in the freezer. The Blob is repulsed by the cold and thus they discover it’s weakness. Once it engulfs the diner, the fire department and Steve and Jane’s high school classmates, converge on the distracted Blob and freeze it with fire extinguishers. The last scene is the Blob being deposited at the North Pole to hopefully remain a Blob-sickle. The words THE END appear across the screen and a question mark appears after it. There was in fact a more humor-laced sequel Beware! The Blob in 1972 where a polar oil pipeline employee brings home a sample of something he hit with his bulldozer…guess what!?

The remake has Flagg and Meg trapped in the freezer at the diner and learning the creature’s aversion to cold in the same way. The climax here is on a far larger scale as the military and townsfolk are battling the massive Blob in the center of town. Flagg attacks it with a snowmaker and an M-16 bearing Meg straps explosives to the tank, dousing the monster in a storm of snow. The last scene of this version, shows the scarred Reverend Meeker (Del Close) preaching end times scripture in a tent, where it is revealed he still has the frozen Blob samples in a jar he took from the diner, only now they are quite active. Despite the set-up, the remake never got a sequel, though there has been talk recently of yet another remake, that hasn’t materialized yet.

 

 

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MISC

The Blob 1958 is directed by Irvin Yeaworth from a script by Theodore Simonson and Kay LInaker, based on a story by Irving H. Millgate. The remake is directed by Chuck Russell from a script by he and Frank Darabont, based on the original film. They both share key scenes, such as the old man getting Blob on his hand, a diner attack scene and a theater attack scene. While the original climaxes at the diner, the remake has the diner attack about half-way through. The original cost a mere $110,000 to make, while the remake cost an impressive at the time $10 million. The original grossed around $4 million and was a hit, while the remake grossed only $8.5 million and was considered a box office failure. Both films were the second feature films for their respective directors and obviously 30 years of movie FX progress allowed the remake to be far more graphic with it’s Blob carnage and have a much bigger scale to the action. The original opens with an amusing song called Beware of the Blob sung by Bernie Knee (billed as The 5 Blobs) and the remake ends with a very 80s metal song Brave New Love performed by the band Alien. The original Blob was made for general audiences, while the remake was R-rated and quite gory. Would have it been more of a hit with a teen friendly PG-13? Who knows? The original clocks in at around 86 minutes, while the remake is about 95 minutes in length. 

 

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IN CONCLUSION

Both films are very entertaining in their own right. The original is considered a horror/sci-fi classic, while the remake has taken years to develop a well deserved cult following. The original is a perfect example of what films back then were like in terms of characters, settings and story, while the remake is very 80s with it’s hair and clothes styles and characters, most notably it’s female lead getting far more physically involved in the action. Let’s not forget the cheese metal end credits song. The remake also took a little extra time for character and story development, including adding a conspiracy sub-plot, that was not in the original. Story-wise and character-wise the remake has a bit more of an edge, as the original’s bare bones approach, left little development in either area. The original doesn’t even have an appearance by any sort of scientists to at least give some speculation on what this creature is. In the remake we have the sinister Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca). Budget and technical advancements obviously also give the remake an edge, but the original was and will always be the first version of the story to be filmed. One can love both equally.

-MonsterZero NJ

Check out more editions of A Comparison In Horror here!

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COOL STUFF: THE BLOB (1988) COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY!

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THE BLOB (1988) COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY!

 

The Blob (1988) (full review HERE) is an 80s remake of the 1958 classic, that sadly underperformed at the box office when it was released on August 5, 1988. The film has gained a strong cult following all these years later and is finally getting the respect it deserves. No more evidence of this is Scream Factory’s recent collector’s edition, which gives this fun flick the proper treatment.

 

As for the disc itself….

The transfer of this 80s monster movie is great and the print looks fantastic. The film is presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and as it is over three decades old, there is some grain in the picture, but that is to be expected at this point. The colors are bright and vibrant, which makes the gelatinous creature all the more effective as a colorful beastie it is. The sound is in HD DTS 5.1 or DTS 2.0 and makes this action/sci-fi/horror really come alive, as the sound design on the film is already very strong. Once again Scream Factory gives a film the royal treatment all films deserve and if you are a fan of this flick, the technical presentation is reason alone to have this.

 

Now on to the extras….

The extras included are generous and features some fun stuff. For starters, there is an extensive two-part interview with Chuck Russell. In the first part he describes his journey into being a filmmaker, from his early days with Roger Corman, working on Hell Night, to his directorial debut on A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. In the second part, Russell goes into extensive detail on filming this 1988 remake. A great interview! Other interviews include, production designer Craig Stearns, FX man Chris Gilman, cinematographer Mark Irwin, FX man Peter Abrahamson, FX man Mark Setrakian, SPFX expert Tony Gardner and cast members, Candy Clark, Jeffrey DeMunn, Donovan Leitch and Bill Mosley. That’s a lot of personal insight into the making of this film! Be advised though, the box art also lists an interview with star Ricky Paull Goldin, but it does not appear with the extras. There is also some new commentary on the film, with Russell, Mark Irwin and Tony Gardner with a second solo commentary track featuring star Shawnee Smith. Scream Factory has also included a previous commentary with Chuck Russell and producer Ryan Turek. Rounding out the extras are some behind the scenes footage and, of course, the traditional theatrical trailer, TV spot and still gallery.

 

The Blob (1988) was sadly a box office disappointment when first released. A shame, as this is a fun, energetic and chilling monster movie with a lot of inventive filmmaking done to bring it’s creature to life. Today, the film has finally been recognized by genre fans and now has a well-deserved cult following. Thanks to Scream Factory, that following finally has a great way to enjoy it. Highly recommended!

 

-MonsterZero NJ

REVIEW: RAMPAGE (2018)

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RAMPAGE (2018)

Latest flick to be based on a video game arrives just weeks after the Tomb Raider reboot. This monster mash finds the Engyne Corporation conducting illegal genetic experiments on a space station. When it’s test subject gets free, the cataclysm sends samples of this genetic-altering material crash-landing to Earth. It’s encountered by simian wildlife sanctuary resident, George, a wolf in the Wyoming wilderness and something beneath the waters in the Everglades. The animals begin to grow at an alarming rate and acquire new strengths and abilities, causing havoc wherever they go. Engyne’s sinister siblings Claire (Malin Åkerman) and Brett (Jake Lacey) send out a signal that will lure their Frankenstein creations to Chicago, while the military and government frantically try to stop the monsters. Meanwhile George’s handler, primate specialist and ex-solider, Davis Okoye ( Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) tries to save his friend with the help of a pretty geneticist (Naomie Harris) and with a government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) hot on his tail.

Film is directed very-by-the-numbers by Brad Peyton who directed Johnson in the much livelier San Andreas. Maybe it’s the messy script by four writers, no less, or maybe Peyton is tired of assaulting his frequent leading man with monsters (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) or crashing buildings around him. There are some fun bits and the monster throw-down at the end is a bit punchier than Pacific Rim: Uprising’s Kaiju/Jaeger clash, but it’s not as much dumb fun as it should be…though it is dumb. The flick seems to follow the template of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, with a little monster action here and there, but most of it saved for the last act with a lot of exposition and pontificating from hero and villain alike, in-between. There are all the clichés present you could want, from evil corporate villains, to hard-nosed military types, to the slimy government agent who eventually sees things our hero’s way. Aside from some top-notch creature FX and city smashing CGI, there just isn’t really the sense of fun Peyton gave his earlier movies with “The Rock”. One is never bored, but you’re still not having the great time you did watching Johnson navigate falling skyscrapers in San Andreas. There are more plot holes than you can shake a giant albino ape at…such as, if they could track the two fallen canisters that produced George and Ralph (The Wolf), why couldn’t they track the third canister that produced the gargantuan, mutant alligator? And while not genetically altered, why is Davis able to shrug off being shot in the gut by Claire? One minute he is in intense pain and the next he’s skipping over fallen buildings with the greatest of ease. Biggest question of all…why am I looking for sense and logic in a movie like this?

There is an impressive cast for what is basically a B-movie monster flick, name-wise anyway. Johnson has proven he has the charm and chops to be a solid action hero and he can be very funny, as his WWE days already illustrated. He is charismatic and fun here, though given some very weak dialogue that even his muscles can’t beat. Naomie Harris is a fine heroine as the geneticist whose work is used for ill by Claire and Brett, although she is mostly a second banana to Johnson…sorry about the dual penis euphemisms, sometimes they just pop up…As for our villains, they are as two-dimensional and cliché as they come with Åkerman and Lacey hamming it up as pontificating corporate banshee and her cowardly brother respectively. Jeffrey Dean Morgan also goes over-the-top as cowboy government agent Russell, who is first a pain in Davis’ side, than an ally. Another walking cliché. Rounding out is Joe Manganiello in a brief part as a mercenary sent to take down Ralph and Demetrius Grosse as a military operative too hard-nosed for his own good…and let’s not forget Jason Liles who did the motion capture performance for the big albino ape George, giving him the personality the other critters lacked.

Simply, despite the set-up of Dwayne Johnson and oversized monsters battling it out in Chicago, this flick is too pedestrian to generate the fun needed to overcome the script’s shortcomings. The characters are tired clichés, some of the actors are simply over-compensating for the lack of character development, George aside, the monsters are strictly generic and the final throw-down is a little too by-the-numbers to get us really entertained. It’s not as dull as the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising, thanks in part to the charisma of it’s leading man, but is not nearly as fun as last year’s Kong: Skull Island. Those familiar with the video game on which it’s based might be more emotionally invested, but otherwise this is a moderately amusing flick that is best saved for checking out on Netflix at some point.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 2 and 1/2 Johnsons.

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)

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DARK WAS THE NIGHT (2014)

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

I remember reading a supposedly true story when I was a little kid called The Devil Walked In Devon about the citizens of a snow covered English town in 1855 awaking to find a trail of cloven hoof footprints leading all through the village and neighboring towns, then stopping suddenly as if the maker vanished into thin air. As a kid, the story spooked me and stayed with me. I was delighted then to see that screenwriter Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporated that chilling tale in his story of a mysterious creature stalking a remote town.

As the film opens, we see the death of some logging crew members and then are taken 90 miles south to the remote town of Maiden Woods, whose population is well below 300. We are introduced to emotionally troubled sheriff, Paul Shields (Kevin Duran) who is suffering the effects of the accidental death of one of his young sons. He blames himself. His wife, Susan (Bianca Kajlich) has moved out and his other son, Adam (Ethan Khusidman) is caught in the middle. Soon, martial problems are the least of his worries as pets are disappearing and the usually abundant wildlife has all but fled the area. One morning, a trail of strange cloven footprints is found making it’s way through the entire town and paranoia begins to spread. Something is stalking the town of Maiden Woods, something vicious, strong and very hungry. Now it’s up to Shields and his transplanted New York deputy (Lukas Haas) to stop the mysterious creature before it begins to feed on the only source of food left…the citizens of Maiden Woods.

Directed by Jack Heller from Hisee’s script this is an atmospheric and spooky little movie that smartly keeps it’s mysterious monster in the dark for most of the film. It’s a slow burning horror/thriller in a time of rapid pace and the film benefits from it, as we get to know the characters and care about them as the threat looms and grows. Heller never lets us forget there is something formidable in the surrounding woods and we are constantly treated to spooky close calls with it, as well as, the effects of it’s nocturnal visits. He builds the tension slowly till we are treated to a tense final act with the desperate townsfolk huddled in a church during a snow storm with a creature lurking outside. If the film has any flaws, and it has a few, it’s that the ending could have been a bit more intense, with a little more cat and mouse inside the large church and when we finally see our fiend, the brief CGI is less than convincing. It’s a bit of a disappointment as we’ve been treated to shots of prosthetic limbs throughout, but the full creature is only moderately successful computer generation. It doesn’t drag the film down too bad as Heller has given his creature a formidable personality, it just didn’t have the impact it needed. Adding to the look and feel of the film are Ryan Samul’s atmospheric cinematography and Darren Morze’s moody score, which help us ease past those flaws a bit.

We get a solid cast here, too. Durand, usually known for supporting roles, is a fine and humanly flawed hero. His Paul has both a strength and an obvious sadness than makes him endearing and refreshingly vulnerable. Haas makes a likable Deputy Donny. He’s a bit of a fish out of water being a former NYC cop, who came to Maiden Woods to escape his own personal pains and he is a loyal partner for Shields. Bianca Kajlich is also fine as the wife who has lost a child and is maybe running away from the fact that she is loosing her husband too, to grief. She and Durand have a nice chemistry onscreen so we believe the emotions of their strained relationship. We also get some solid support from indie horror fixture Nick Damici (Stake Land, Late Phases) and Skateland‘s Heath Freeman as town locals.

This was an enjoyable monster flick with some nice atmosphere and chills from director Jack Heller. The script from Tyler Hisee cleverly incorporates a real life spooky folk tale in it’s story which helps build the sense of foreboding. The climax could have used a bit more intensity and the creature’s final unveiling could have had more impact but, it’s a little horror flick with it’s heart and chills in the right place. A fun and spooky movie.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 deer…though you’d be hard-pressed to find that many in Maiden Woods.
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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE BLOB (1988)

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THE BLOB (1988)

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Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of the 1958 classic The Blob is simply a really fun monster movie that takes the spirit and basic structure of the original film, but adds it’s own twists to keep it fresh…how a remake like this should be done. It’s also now filled with 80s nostalgia which adds to the entertainment.

The film takes place in the small town of Arborville, California where the biggest concern till now, is if it’s going to snow enough to support the upcoming ski season…which fuels the rural town’s economy…or asking out the hot cheerleader. When a fiery object falls from the sky, a kindly homeless man (Billy Beck) goes to investigate and gets a corrosive, jelly-like substance on his arm. He’s discovered by local rebel Brian Flagg (Kevin Dillon with amazingly 80s hair), hot cheerleader, Meg (Shawnee Smith) and her date, Paul (Donovan Leitch) and taken to a local hospital. The poor man is eaten alive by the goop and the rabidly growing substance takes out Paul, too and escapes into the woods. Despite local law enforcement being skeptical of this monster story, a strange biological containment team arrives along with the mysterious Dr. Meddows (Joe Seneca). Soon the town is quarantined, as the protoplasmic ‘space monster’ beings to prey on the locals, growing larger with each meal. Can Flagg and Meg save the day, or become happy meals for the viscus invader?

With a script co-written by The Walking Dead’s Frank Darabont, Chuck Russell delivers a really action-packed and entertaining horror-thriller that does not skimp on the gore, or spare anyone from the hungry, predatory title creature. He keeps just enough of the story and spirit of the original, including some key scenes, like the movie theater and the monster’s aversion to cold, but crafts his own monster flick. He makes good use of a bigger budget and what was then, more advanced SPFX, to open things up and have a little more fun. He takes his subject matter seriously, but turns the smaller scaled 50s monster movie into a larger scaled sci-fi/action flick and gives us some nice suspense, a fast pace and some very gory demises to make this more of a popcorn entertainment and it really works. On top of the suspense, action and bloody kills, we get some well-rendered FX sequences, though not all of them work perfectly. At the time, the blood, gore and creature work on display here was pretty impressive, though, at this point in time, some haven’t all aged that well. There are still quite a few sequences, though, that hold up quite nicely. Sad that it bombed back in the day, as it is an underrated monster movie, though thankfully it’s recognized as a cult classic now. On a personal note…I was there in my seat in 1988 and had a real blast with it, even before the 80s nostalgia set in and the practical SPFX added a sense of old school charm.

As for the players, the cast all take their roles seriously, but also appear to be having a good time. Kevin Dillon might be a bit too much of a pretty boy, with his shoulder length, permed hair, to initially be taken seriously as ‘rebel without a cause’, delinquent Flagg, but he gives the role his all and we go along with it just fine. Shawnee Smith is very pretty, but also very tough and resourceful, as the cheerleader turned monster fighting heroine and she kinda steals the film from Dillon to boot. Joe Seneca makes an appropriately sinister government scientist, who knows far more about ‘The Blob’ than he lets on and Candy Clark is very sweet and likable as the sassy town cafe owner. The supporting cast, like Del Close as Reverend Meeker, all get the tone of the material and give us some nice secondary characters to root/care for along with our leads.

In conclusion, I really like this movie a lot. It echoes and honors the original, yet does it’s own thing as an 80s monster movie and does it well. It’s played seriously, but has fun with it’s monster story and not all the FX may not have withstood the test of time completely, but are still competently made and being a bit dated only makes them more charming. Add in the 80s nostalgia and this is still a really fun flick even today. A good time creature feature that now comes with some nice added nostalgia!

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) gun toting cheerleaders.

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE and GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION

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Still being in a ‘kaiju’ mood, I decided to revisit Godzilla’s cinema rival Gamera, and take a look back a Shusuke Kaneko’s epic 90s Gamera Trilogy. When Toho revived Godzilla for the 90s Hensei series to much success, Daiei Film responded by reviving their giant monster, Gamera. But, gone was the kid friendly, silly adventures of the 60s and 70s, Gamera was back in an intense and very maturely written trilogy expertly directed by Kaneko and highly regarded as some of the best giant monster movies ever made, even today. Here are the first two installments for our Saturday Night Double Feature with the third film being covered on Monday…

 

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GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE  (1995)

The first in this new trilogy not only brought top notch SPFX to a series renown for it’s cheesy models and creatures, but also revamped Gamera’s origins changing him from another prehistoric creature awaked by H-Bomb testing like Godzilla, and turning him into the genetic creation of a doomed ancient civilization. A guardian, left here to protect the Earth from forces that would do it harm.

The film starts out with a ship encountering a strange floating atoll drifting across the sea. At the same time a small pacific island appears to be plagued by attacks from some new species of large predatory reptilian birds. Pretty young Ornithologist Mayumi Nagamine (Shinobu Nakayama) travels to the island to investigate this dangerous new species while scientist Naoya Kusanagi (Akira Onodera) investigates the mysterious floating island. Unknown to them, their fates are destined to meet as these vicious flying predators, the Gyaos, are the out of control product of genetic experiments from a long dead civilization brought out of dormancy by man’s polluting of this planet…and the mysterious floating island is actually that civilization’s last attempt to right their wrongs and keep the Gyaos from destroying the Earth, the giant turtle-like monster Gamera! But can Gamera stop the rapidly reproducing Gyaos before the misguided military blows him out of the sky?

As Directed by Shusuke Kaneko, from a script by Kazunori Ito, Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe is a fun blast of a monster movie with some of the best Kaiju battles seen in quite some time. Kaneko gives the story some very strong dramatic weight and takes it very seriously, despite it’s far-fetched nature. But he doesn’t take it too seriously that we don’t have a good time watching the misunderstood Gamera battling his numerous winged foes while being henpecked by the military. He creates a very real and down-to-Earth Japan and then put’s monsters in the middle of it for a far more realistic approach than the Godzilla series which tends to present a more fantasy version of Japan filled with laser cannons and flying battleships.  Kaneko also gives his monster stars equal personality to his human cast and we really root for Gamera as he appears outnumbered and outmatched. The script uses the clever plot device of Kusanagi’s daughter, Asagi (Ayako Fujitani, who is 80s icon Steven Seagal’s daughter) who forms a empathic bond with Gamera and relays his motivations to us, as well as, also feels his pain in battle. This connection helps us identify with the monster even more. The SPFX by Shinji Higuchi are some of the best seen in a Japanese Kaiju flick, up to this point, and the battles and the model city destruction are spectacular and fast paced. The monsters are expertly realized and look far more real then they have before, though Gamera still has a little bit of a bug eyed look to keep him kid friendly in contrast to the scarier looking and extremely vicious Gyaos. The music score by Kow Otani is memorable and exciting and adds to the drama and atmosphere and really helps as the glue to lock all these expertly done pieces together.

The cast all create strong characters. Onodera gives Kusanagi and noble strength and conviction yet, shows his caring, nurturing side when it comes to Asagi. As Asagi, young Ayako Fujitani shows far more depth than her martial arts star father and makes Asagi a very endearing character who would appear in all three 90s films and would provide far more of an emotional center for Gamera than psychic girl Miki Seagusa in the Hensei Godzillas. Pretty Shinobu Nakayama creates an intelligent and resourceful heroine in her Mayumi Nagamine and the character’s dedication to her scientific interests never overshadow her compassion as a human being thanks to her performance. Also in the mix is handsome Tsuyoshi Ihara who makes a solid hero as Yoshinari Yonemori, a Marine Officer who first discovers Gamera and is drawn into the events. He is an honorable young man and is very likable for his committing to helping his new allies and country overcome this crisis. Also stars Zeiram’s Yukijiro Hotaru adding a touch of humor, as he always does, as Inspector Osako, a cop who can’t quite handle monsters.

All in all, this is a Japanese monster movie treat that pushes all the right buttons. It’s fun, has some epic battles, strong dramatic impact, endearing characters and a lot of respect from the filmmakers for the material. It’s one of the best examples of the genre and this coming from a rabid Godzilla fan. This series would only get better with the following two sequels…

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)

“My name is Legion for, we are many.”- Mark 5:9

Gamera: Guardian Of The Universe was fairly successful and spawned an even better sequel that upped the ante by having Gamera face a terraforming insect from space and her swarm of minions in the most action packed entry in this new series. The story, again written by Kazunori Ito, starts off with the classic falling of a meteor to earth and strange events that begin to occur soon after. It’s not long before a bizarre and large swarm of insect-like creatures begin causing havoc and have taken up residence in the Sapporo subway system and an enormous plant sprouts from under the streets… a plant that begins to effect our atmosphere. Gamera, who has been licking his wounds from the battle with the Gyaos, rises from the sea to destroy the monstrous plant and is swarmed by the insect creatures now known as ‘Legion’ after the Biblical quote referring to demons. He fends them off in a spectacular battle and destroys the huge plant, but not before being wounded and not before the enormous Queen Legion erupts from the ground and flies off. An examination of the plant’s activities bare frightening news…the plant’s purpose is to change our atmosphere to allow the ‘Legion’ to inhabit the planet. They are organic nuclear weapons and the space creatures plan to transform our Earth into a world they can exist in and we certainly cannot. Now, mankind’s only hope is that guardian Gamera can destroy the massive and seemingly indestructible Queen Legion and her swarms of subjects, before she and her kind take over the planet as their own.

Kaneko and his creative team return to the series and present an even more spectacular sequel giving the heroic and noble Gamera an even more fearsome opponent in the huge and uniquely designed insectoid Queen Legion and her smaller swarm of soldiers. The human drama and characters are as strong as before with Asagi (Ayako Fujitani) returning along with some new characters, such as pretty science teacher Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) and handsome military officer Colonal Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) entering the mythos. As usual Kaneko and Ito give us human and monster characters of equal depth and strength. The drama is strong surrounding the numerous battles and once again we get the portrayal of a realistic and down-to-earth Japan battling an otherworldly threat. We get three spectacular and really intense throw-downs between Gamera and the Queen Legion and/or her swarm, including a lengthy and edge-of-your-seat final battle in the suburbs of Tokyo. Kaneko is not afraid to put our gigantic shelled hero in harm’s way and Gamera suffers some really nasty injuries including having pieces of his shell blasted off and being caught in the nuclear explosion of one of the terraforming plants. This entry is intense and a bit darker than the last and to illustrate that this is a more serious affair, Gamera’s design has been altered to make him look more like a monster, more mature, if I may say. He is given a massive multi-armed and clawed opponent in Queen Legion, who is armed with weapons of her own to thwart the fireball-breathing turtle. She is impressive and the SPFX scenes of both creatures are once again masterfully executed by Shinji Higuchi and his staff. The battles are even better then last time and the Queen Legion is given a sense of great destructive power and poor Gamera is made to feel the effects of this power and as he is so likable and noble,  we feel it along with him, much like Asagi. Watching the battles here, it’s hard to believe Shinji would outdo himself again in the following Gamera 3. Kow Otani returns to compose the music and once again gives us a strong score that highlights the already strong drama and intense action.

The cast are good here once again. Kaneko directs actors well. Fujitani gives Asagi some nice maturity and growth as she now has come to handle the responsibility of being Gamera’s link to the human race…and has come to care about the gigantic creature/hero. Miki Mizuno gives us another smart and resourceful heroine in teacher Midori. Kaneko and Ito seem to like their female characters damsel free as they are all smart and can handle themselves when the city begins to crumble around them. They are the strongest characters in the trilogy. Nagashima also makes a solid hero and gives some nice personality to a military character. Kaneko also humanizes his military characters far more than the stick-in-the muds that sometimes populate the Toho flicks. Yukijiro Hotaru returns as a retired Osako, now a night watchmen who encounters the Legion soldiers in a warehouse. Poor Osako can’t escape monsters and again provides some unobtrusive comic relief.

Overall a superior sequel to an already far above average monster movie. Kaneko transcends the Kaiju genre and delivers a damn good movie, period. A solid Sci-Fi story, strong drama and some really intense and spectacular battles make for solid entertainment. Best of all, he took a silly character in Gamera and makes us not only take him very seriously, but makes him an endearing hero as well. And things would get even better in the trilogy finale Gamera 3: The Awakening Of Iris. Though the following film is overall the best of the series, this one may still be my favorite as it is almost non-stop action and despite it’s more serious tone, is still tons of fun.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Gameras.

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