Today is not only my own birthday, but that of horror film legend Barbara Crampton! Not bad sharing a birthday with a horror icon! MonsterZero NJ’s Movie Madhouse wishes Barbara a very happy and healthy birthday!
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Dolls is the third picture directed by Stuart (Re-Animator) Gordon to be produced by Brian Yuzna for release by Charles Band’s Empire Pictures. It tells the story of seven year-old Judy (Carrie Lorraine) who is on vacation in the English countryside with her father, David (Ian Patrick Williams) and her shrew of a step-mother, Rosemary (Carolyn Purdy Gordon). A storm strands them and three other people (Bunty Bailey, Cassie Stuart and Stephen Lee) at an old mansion inhabited by a charming old couple, Gabriel (Guy Rolfe who played Andre Toulon in Band’s Puppet Master series) and Hilary (Hilary Mason) Hartwicke. Gabriel is a toy maker and the house is filled with old dolls he’s made. At night Judy thinks she sees one of the young women dragged off by “little people”. Her parents don’t believe her, but kind-hearted Ralph (Lee) does and the two soon find out, to their horror, that the Hartwicke’s dolls are frighteningly alive and quite homicidal when you piss them off.
Written by Ed Naha (Honey, I Shrunk The Kids) and directed by Gordon, this is an amusing 80s horror flick, though a step down from Re-Animator and The Beyond. What makes the film a little uneven is that Gordon can’t seem to decide whether he wants to make it a dark fairytale or an outright horror film. There are some very violent moments with some graphic gore, then there are sequences that are more darkly whimsical. It’s not totally off-putting, but doesn’t help the overall film that there are tonal shifts. Sometimes it seems this is a spooky tale for kids in the spirit of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series, that would premiere five years later, but then there are some very vicious and violent moments. The Hartwicke’s seem like well-meaning folk with some strange powers, yet their dolls do commit some very nasty and cruel acts. So, are these dolls to be viewed as good, as they only harm those with ill-intent, or are they something we should be afraid of, as they can be very violent. It makes things a bit uneven and when we get an explanation, we’re still not sure the kindly old couple are to be completely trusted. There are some spooky moments and the gore and prosthetics are well done, as is some stop-motion animation from the late, great David Allen. It’s an OK horror thriller that could have been something better had it picked a tone and stuck with it. In it’s favor, the 80s nostalgia does help a lot when viewed today.
Little Carrie Lorraine stands out cast-wise. She’s a cute kid and she gives Judy a sense of wonder and she is also very courageous when forced by her jerk of a dad to investigate the mansion’s creepy goings-on with Ralph. The rest of the cast are a bit bland. Stephen Lee is OK as Ralph and gives him sort of a big kid quality. Williams and Gordon are fairly stiff and unlikable as Judy’s selfish father and his bitch of a new wife…though they’re supposed to be unlikable. Rolfe and Mason are adequate as the charming yet slightly spooky old couple and Bailey and Stuart are stereotypical teen delinquents. Aside from Lorraine and some of John Carl Buechler and David Allen’s doll creations, no one else in the cast really stands out to make an impression.
Overall, this is an OK and somewhat amusing horror flick that can’t really decide what it want’s to be. Is it a dark fantasy or outright horror?…that depends on which sequence we’re watching. Gordon does create some spooky scenes and there is some atmosphere, but the tonal indecision doesn’t help keep any steady tension. Aside from our young lead, the cast aren’t overly impressive, though the FX in the portrayal of the dolls and the havoc they create, is pretty decent for a low budget 80s flick. It’s a decent night’s watch from a filmmaker that sadly never hit the same stride he accomplished with Re-Animator, which even today still remains his best flick.
3 Mr. Punch’s.
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Leprechaun at no time expects to be taken seriously and while it is obviously a horror/comedy, the mix doesn’t always quite work. The story opens with Daniel O’Grady (Shay Duffin) returning from Ireland and making the outrageous claim to his wife (Pamela Mant) that he has caught a leprechaun and now, with it’s gold in hand, they are rich! But the vicious little fairy creature (a scenery chewing Warwick Davis) has followed him back here to the O’Grady farm in South Dakota, wants his gold back and will kill to get it. After dispatching O’Grady’s wife, the man manages to seal the creature in a crate, locked in with a four leaf clover, and then proceeds to have a heart attack. 10 years later, a single father (John Sanderford) and his daughter Tory (Jennifer Aniston) have bought the house and are fixing it up with the help of a trio of not-so-handymen (Ken Olandt, Mark Holton and Robert Hy Gorman). No surprise to say, the gold is found, the creature accidentally freed and now the occupants and their hired help must battle the murderous leprechaun as he terrorizes them for the return of his stolen booty. Will they make it to the top-o-the morning?
Leprechaun is a silly flick and I get that. I think my problem with it is that at times the humor and horror elements don’t quite mix. Sometimes it is a little too silly for it’s own good. It’s also a little too anxious to exploit the Leprechaun clichés and with a moderately small body count, a little too hesitant to embrace the horror elements. Directed and written by Mark Jones, who did a lot of TV work and a lot of it aimed at teens or young audiences, seems to be holding back when the film needed a more devious and over-the top-hand like a Sam Raimi or Eli Roth. It’s moderately fun, but could have been a real treat in the hands of someone willing to have a much better time with the premise. The film’s FX are mixed, with visuals looking cheap, yet, the gore and Davis’s make-up looking very good. The film does have a TV movie feel, which is probably due to it’s TV veteran director and while it does provide some chuckles, especially watching a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston going one on one with a little critter in a green leprechaun outfit, it just doesn’t really cut loose and run with it’s story and really spatter us with red and green like it should.
Cast performs well enough. Davis is the star and the diminutive actor is the only person who seems to understand exactly the degree of horror and comedy this flick needs. Whether it is slaughtering his prey or, dispensing typical leprechaun shenanigans, Davis is perfectly over-the-top. Maybe he should have directed. Aniston is a cute and feisty heroine and she seems to take her role seriously which helps make it work as well as it does. Olandt is the hunky handyman, love interest and he is fine as that, but the film wisely sidelines him and let’s the livelier Aniston take center stage when battling the nasty fairy creature. The rest are fine including Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s Mark Holton who plays a sort of man-child house painter that is oddly comic relief in a film that already has comic elements.
To rap things up, I am moderately entertained by Leprechaun, but it’s not a favorite and I think it could have been much better with a far more twisted hand guiding behind the camera and writing the script. There is solid work by Warwick Davis as the title villain and at least the character is dead-on in terms of the proper mix of horror and comedy. It’s fun too, to see Jennifer Aniston…before Friends, Brad Pitt and needless generic rom/coms…as our heroine and it did generate enough interest to produce a series of increasingly silly sequels. Worth a look and could have a bit more impact viewed closer to St. Patty’s Day.
2 and 1/2 gold seeking Leprechuans!
Second sequel to the cult classic Return Of The Living Dead decides to drop the humor and play it’s story straight with some surprising elements of Romeo and Juliet thrown in for good measure. I really wish I could like this more, but a weak middle act really brings it down after a solid beginning and then a really gory and over- the-top finale.
The film starts with army brat Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) sneaking his sexy, rebellious girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke, billed here as “Mindy”) into the secret army base his dad (Kent McCord) works at and witnessing a horrible experiment where a corpse is re-animated using the gas from a mysterious metal drum. When Curt’s dad tells him later on that he has been reassigned, Curt and Julie run away, but a motorcycle accident takes Julie’s life. Three guesses where Curt takes her body and what he does with it. Suffice to say, Curt and the re-animated Julie are now on the run, not only from the military, but from a vicious gang of Latinos they have a bad encounter with and Julie’s increasing hunger for human brains. Will true love prevail or will Julie eat the love of her life and anyone else who crosses her path?
Written by John Penney and directed by Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna there is a lot this flick gets right and it’s sad the middle act slows things down and really kills the momentum of this otherwise fun and gory flick. Yuzna is a decent director, but doesn’t have quite the pacing or devious imagination Re-Animator‘s Stuart Gordon had in that classic and the film could have used it for the stretch of time Curt and Julie are on the lam. The set-up is well-done and well-handled, introducing us to both the young lovers and the zombie filled drums from the first flick. Once Julie is re-animated, the couple flee into L.A. and things really slow down as they hide out in the sewers from an army clean-up team and a gang of bad acting Chicanos. A lot of time is spent hanging out in a sewer pump room with a character called Riverman (Basil Wallace) and it’s only when the Latino gang lays siege to their hideout and Julie goes on the attack, with her makeshift body piercings (the pain helps her control her hunger) that the film slams into gear and the gory over-the-top fun begins. From that point on, Yuzna delivers, as we return to the secret base where a rescue attempt to free the imprisoned Julie leads to a zombie breakout bloodbath. And it all works and really well. It’s too bad that the middle of the film is such obvious filler and they couldn’t have padded the time with something more entertaining. It’s like the middle act came from another movie. Back on the plus side, there is some really well done makeup and gore effects and some very inventive zombie designs, as the military is trying to use them as bio-weapons, and it all makes that last act…complete with an oddly sweet and tragic final scene…work really well, as did the opening act setting up the story. But that darn middle third really slows the gears down and keeps this from being a consistently entertaining horror treat.
The main cast are all good. Edmond is a solid hero and believable as a frustrated army brat tired of loosing friends and his feeling of stability when dad is reassigned. He then does a good job demonstrating love is stronger than brains and guts as he protects his girlfriend, who is now basically a homicidal monster. Mindy Clark is very good as Julie and once re-animated she does a great job conveying Julie’s confusion, fear and at the same time, hunger and aggression. She really tugs the heart strings when Julie is captured and imprisoned in the army base and it’s one of the few times, outside Romero’s “Bub” in Day Of The Dead, that we feel pity and endearment for a zombie. McCord is solid as Curt’s dad, torn between duty and family and Superman II’s Sarah Douglas gets to play a good, bad girl as the army officer chomping at the bit to take Col. Reynolds’ (McCord) work away from him and proceed with her own gruesome experiments. Basil Wallace also gives us some surprising depth to his Riverman character and he has some nice scenes in the last act. The rest are adequate, thought, I felt the actors playing the Latino gang members were overdoing it, as was the script with the Spanish catch phrases. Do L.A. Latinos really say ‘esai’ that much? Ay! Caramba!
Overall, this is an entertaining enough thriller with a very effective set-up and a really good and gory finale. One that is sadly dragged down by a mid-section that is obvious filler to pad out the running time till we get to that finale. Too bad a more imaginative and interesting way of making use of that time wasn’t found, as the middle act is simply dull till the blood and body parts start to really flow again. The scenes in and under L.A. lack the energy and imagination of what came before and comes after and it’s a shame. The main cast, especially our leads, are solid and there are some really imaginative gore and zombie FX to go along with a clever way of continuing the franchise while taking it in a new direction. I really want to like this more, but that flabby middle definitely looses it some points. I still recommend it, if you haven’t seen it and “Mindy” Clarke does give us what might be one of the sexiest zombies on film.
2 and 1/2 zombie hotties though I wish I had it in my heart to give it more.
Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, this delightfully fun gore-fest opens in a university in Switzerland with something going frightfully wrong in one of the labs and security and faculty rushing to see what is going on. They burst in to find famed Doctor Hans Gruber (Al Berry) a bloody screaming mess with brilliant student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) at his side with a syringe. Gruber dies and West is accused of his murder causing him to reply that it was he who gave him life. We then cut to Miskatonic University where West has appeared and seeks to continue his education. He rooms with fellow medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) who is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), who is Dean Halsey’s (Robert Sampson) daughter. But West’s true goal is to continue his experiments with defeating death using a serum he’s developed and he begs Cain to assist him. After being given some gruesome proof, involving Cain’s cat, that West’s serum works, he agrees. But one of their experiments goes horribly awry and not only leads to the death…and re-animation…of Dean Halsey, but also gets the unwanted attention of rival Doctor Carl Hill, who wants West’s serum as his own. This sets a series of blood-soaked events in motion that sees corpses rise and headless foes carrying out their own diabolical plot that puts the lives of West, Cain and the lovely Megan in grave danger…emphasis on grave.
Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator is a really entertaining and deliriously blood-spattered treat that perfectly straddles the line between comedy and horror. And it’s my experience that comedy/horror is one of the hardest types of flicks to make as the blend has to be just right to work…and Gordon nails it here. There are some set pieces here that are both grotesque and hilarious, such as West and Cain’s first experiment gone wrong and the really over the top morgue-set finale that includes Megan as a nude and bound damsel being menaced by a perverted severed head…it’s the scene this flick is most famous for and I will always have much respect for Barbara Crampton being such a good sport in performing it and with such seriousness.
And while we are on the subject of the cast, they all do a perfect job of taking the material seriously yet adding that touch of theatricality that gives it a much welcome energy and buoyancy despite the gruesome subject matter. Few films with so many severed limbs and so much spurting blood have been this giddy. This is the flick that introduced the genre world to Jeffery Combs who is not only a horror icon, but equally iconic in the world of Star Trek as well. He plays West very seriously, but takes him over the top just enough to delightfully evoke the mad scientist vibe he needs to make his part work. Abbott plays the straight man to West’s demented yet determined scientist and is a noble, if not flawed hero. Crampton’s Megan is basically required to be a feisty girlfriend who mistrusts West and then become a damsel to be rescued, but she’s beautiful and hot and a real sport for her work in the last act that has earned her special status among horror fans. This and her equally racy work in From Beyond make her a real trooper in my book. Rounding out the main cast is Robert Sampson as stern father and school dean Alan Hasley and he seems to play both dean and zombie henchman with equal relish and David Gale provides a truly dispicable villain in Dr. Hill whose villainy extends quite beyond decapitation and death. The performances hit the right notes and keep Gordon’s flick balanced on that horror/comedy line.
The gore FX are excellent and quite disgusting, especially during a final act that sees all manner of corpses, limbs and viscera coming to life and reeking havoc. Again if the FX didn’t work, the film wouldn’t have near the impact it does. Add a witty script by Gordon, Dennis Paoli and William J.Norris and an energetic score by Richard Band and you have a cult classic movie that hits all the right marks and doesn’t miss a beat. One of my favorite horrors and one I can proudly say I was able to catch it in a theater…the Hyway Cinema in Fairlawn, N.J. to be exact…back in the day in 1985. A fun, gory good time!
4 disembodied heads.
Stuart Gordon followed up his cult hit Re-Animator with another H.P. Lovecraft inspired story, this one about experiments to expand the senses into other dimensions. The result is a weird, sometimes kinky and moderately entertaining film, but it didn’t live up to the instant classic it followed…which admittedly, were big shoes to fill…though it has developed a cult following of it’s own.
The film opens with scientists Dr. Crawford Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) and Dr. Edward Pretorius (Ted Sorel) initiating The Resonator, a machine that uses sound waves to stimulate the pineal gland in the human brain which would allow one to see into other dimensions. The experiment works until something from another dimension sees them back. The result is Pretorius left without a head and Tillinghast driven out of his. The young scientist is institutionalized and the authorities want answers. Enter beautiful Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton), a psychologist who volunteers to take Crawford back to the Pretorius house to determine if he is truly crazy or if they really did unleash something through their experiments. Accompanied by Det. Bubba Brownlee (Ken Foree), the three try to restart The Resonator and piece together what happened that fateful night. But the more Dr. McMichaels sees of the accomplishments the two men made, the more she is seduced by needing to push the experiment further. And despite Crawford’s dire warnings, Katherine unleashes a horror upon the three that none of them may escape.
From Beyond is a far more serious and ambitious flick then Re-Animator and could have used a bit more of that film’s theatrical tone. Gordon directs with a far more somber and dark feel then his last flick, despite the borderline goofiness of some of what goes on. While there is a smattering of humor, the comic aspects of his re-animated corpse epic are gone and replaced with a bit of a surreal atmosphere with a touch of S&M, as he once again portrays science gone too far. This time his story focuses on heightening the senses of the living and not raising the dead…and it’s not as much fun and not always successful as the film sometimes seems to bite off more then it can chew for it’s small budget. The FX this time are not limited to gore, but various creatures including the constantly evolving monstrosity that Pretorius has become, now that his twisted mind is taking physical form on the other side. The production tries to accomplish The Thing-like creatures with a fraction of the budget and the FX are mixed, with some being quite effective and others being rubbery or just plain unconvincing. Another thing is that the film is shot entirely on sound stages and it shows. The film never quite looks real. More like a filmed play than a movie.
A big plus though, is that the cast are all good. Combs plays more of a victim here, a man mentally wounded by what he has seen and experienced and he is fine, though, except for a few really bizarre and over the top moments, he seems a bit wasted somewhat as it’s becomes Crampton’s show. And Barbara Crampton does shine as she gets a far meatier part from Gordon and co-scripters Brian Yuzna and Dennis Paoli. She starts out as a young doctor resented for her accomplishments at her youthful age and then slowly turns mad scientist as the experiment’s allure pulls her in. Once again she is a trooper for Gordon as the pineal gland stimulation also controls sexual urges and Dr. McMichaels gets her dominatrix on in the film’s most notorious scene and gets her pretty flesh again ravaged by prosthetic horrors. Next we have the always delightful Ken Foree as the big teddy bear cop who has some of the best moments and lines. Not sure why Foree never became a bigger star. He can play a tough guy and has charm and charisma to spare and it’s on full display here. Rounding out is Ted Sorel who is dripping with malice and madness as Pretorius, but we see little of him not covered in pounds of latex monster make-up and not getting to know him well limits him to being a fairly generic villain, though well played.
But the biggest flaw with From Beyond is it’s weak script. The dialog is hokey, the science is obviously more science fiction…which is fine…and it really needed to flesh out the characters and situations a bit more, and at least Gordon is lucky his cast helped out on the character front, adding some dimension to their portrayals. We could have used a clearer idea of what lurked in this other dimension to establish a deeper threat and a more gradual portrayal of the effects it has on the house occupants. They transform way to fast and the film’s over too quickly before we really feel the story’s accomplished anything other then the time-honored ‘leave well enough alone’ moral. What really was the point other then to shower the screen with goo and gore and get the shapely Ms. Crampton into a leather corset…not that I mind. The film is almost a series of set-pieces more then a complete movie with a smooth narrative flow. Sure we were entertained somewhat,the film has it’s degree of fun, but we’re never swept off our feet like with Re-Animator and sadly, Gordon has never again hit his stride or equalled his accomplishment with that classic.
Overall, I do like From Beyond. It’s got a midnight movie feel, some unintentionally goofy goings on and definitely benefits from the 80s nostalgia now, too. But it is a bit of a disappointment after Re-Animator and once it’s over you just get the feeling there was potential there to achieve a lot more even with what they had to work with. An amusing diversion that is fun enough when viewed from a guilty pleasure perspective, but could have been something more, or at least had a little more fun with what it was.
3 saucy psychologists.