REVIEW: PET SEMATARY (2019)

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PET SEMATARY (2019)

“Sometimes dead is better.”- Jud Crandall

Flick is the second film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, with the first being Mary Lambert’s 1989 chiller. This version finds Dr. Louis Creed (Jason Clarke) moving his family, wife Rachel (Amy Seimetz), daughter Elle (Jeté Laurence) and young son Gage (Hugo and Lucas Lavoie) from Boston to a rural house in Maine, to get away from big city life. Unfortunately their property is bordered on one side by a busy road and a local “Pet Sematary” on the other. When their family cat Church is run over, kindly old neighbor Jud Crandall (John Lithgow) takes Louis to bury it, in a stretch of ground beyond the pet graveyard, that Crandall claims has some supernatural properties…and a horrific chain of events begins to unfold as per King’s classic book.

Adaptation is this time directed by Starry Eyes duo Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer from a script by Jeff Buhler and Matt Greenberg. Kölsch and Widmyer do bring a creepy touch to King’s tale and certainly know how to make the New England countryside look very spooky. The film is effective and tries to change things up a bit, as it is a second adaptation of the bestselling book. Even with taking liberties with certain plot elements, though, the familiarity does work against it at times. We all know where this is heading, no matter what changes are made. Still, it is spooky enough to entertain and the last act has some nice chills. The flick is very atmospheric and has some viciously violent moments. Despite the directors’ skill, though, it’s still faithful enough to King’s story to keep it from being really fresh or innovative, like the duos unsettling first feature. Like any classic book, we all know the story.

The cast are solid. Clarke is well cast as an ordinary man of medicine facing something he, up till now, hasn’t believed in. Amy Seimetz is fine as wife Rachel. Rachel is haunted by events from her own past and of course, it comes to bare when things go bump in the night. Lithgow is a veteran and makes Jud a charming and likable old man, though Fred Gwynne really nailed the role first in the 1989 film. Jud provides a lot of the exposition having personal history with whatever lurks in the woods beyond the houses. The Lavoie Brothers are cute as Gage and Jeté Laurence is very effective as Elle, especially when given some difficult scenes for a kid to perform. A good cast.

Overall, this was an entertaining and sometimes creepy adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most famous books. Being the second adaptation, it tries to change things up a bit, but is still a little too familiar to really thrill us. We know what’s coming. Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer do create some disturbing moments and give the film some chilling atmosphere, but can’t completely overcome that this is very well known material…though they try hard. Certainly worth a look and would probably be a bit more effective to a new generation, who haven’t seen the 1989 flick, or are not too overly familiar with King’s classic novel.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) cats that were dead at one time.

 

 

 

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: IT (2017)

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IT (2017)

New adaptation of Stephen King’s classic novel basically covers the first half of his book by focusing on the characters as kids. The children of Derry, Maine have something to be afraid of as someone…or something…is stalking them and taking them, including Bill Denbrough’s little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) gathers his band of misfit friends to investigate and finds that a number of children die or go missing in Derry every twenty-seven years. They also find that an evil entity is involved that takes the form of a clown named Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) and worst of all, the group of friends now have the fiendish clown’s attention.

New version of King’s best selling book is a well enough made film by Mama director Andy Muschietti from a script by Cary Fukunaga, Chase Palmer and Gary Dauberman. Like his first film this flick has some wonderfully creepy visuals, but isn’t really all that scary. There are certainly some effective moments in It, but the film never really gets intense or digs it’s nails in to really frighten you. It works and entertains, but is obviously a horror made to appeal to the mainstream audience who doesn’t venture too far from the generic PG-13 horror fair that is all too common lately. The film is R-rated and has a few gruesome moments, but never gets too intense or brutal, so it doesn’t alienate the average movie goer who is only going due to the Stephen King name being attached or having read the book. Folks who watch everything horror will probably find it entertaining enough, yet leave wishing it had really turned the screws instead of mildly twisting them. In It‘s favor, there are also some very well done coming of age story elements, such as dealing with bullies (Nicholas Hamilton), being perceived as different and first love, as between Bill and Bev (Sophia Lillis). They work well enough to endear us to the characters, so we do care when things start to really pick up. The film is moderately paced and takes time to tell it’s story…technically, it’s half of the story…and it’s only in the second act when the horror elements become steady and as such, it’s delivers some fun stuff, just nothing truly frightening. Much like with Mama, one leaves feeling it could have been more had Muschietti really went for the throat. He seems to be a director who likes to play it safe and when wanting to appeal to a mainstream audience with a horror…even an R-rated one…studios generally like to play it safe.

The cast are strong and that helps even if the horror elements felt like pulled punches at times. The young cast members are all good in their roles with Jaeden Lieberher and Sophia Lillis being standouts. Lieberher conveys well a boy not willing to give up hope that his lost little brother will someday come home and Lillis is very strong as a young girl becoming a young woman and catching her widowed father’s attention in the worst way. The rest of the kids play their fairly stereotypical roles well with the fat kid (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the Jewish kid (Wyatt Oleff ), the wise-ass (Finn Wolfhard), the black kid (Chosen Jacobs) and the sickly kid (Jack Dylan Grazer) all present and accounted for. As the main villain, Bill Skarsgård is certainly effective as Pennywise, but his performance is enhanced with a lot of state-of-the-art SPFX whereas Tim Curry achieved more with simply his performance in the modestly budgeted 1990 TV movie version. Curry was creepier without being surrounded by CGI, though Skarsgård certainly has his moments.

Overall, this was an entertaining flick, but clearly a horror flick made for mainstream audiences that don’t regularly choose horror. It’s made for the folks that flock to big name adaptations or the works of A-list directors, but avoid the more intense stuff that usually premiers on VOD or in limited runs. Mama director Andy Muschietti directs well and the film looks great, though plays it safe scare-wise with not getting too intense or brutal as to scare away the wider audience for which this was made. Either way, the success of It means studios will green-light more R-rated horror flicks, which isn’t a bad thing for a genre drowning in PG-13 teen-centric chillers as of late.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 red ballons.

 

 

 

 

 

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MIKE FLANAGAN’S GERALD’S GAME ADAPTATION GETS A TRAILER!

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Mike Flanagan, who has brought us Absentia, Oculus and Hush, has now adapted Stephen King’s novel  Gerald’s Game for Netflix and they have just released a trailer. Schedule to air September 29th, 2017, the flick stars Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood. Gerald’s Game is directed by Flanagan from a script by he and Jeff Howard. Can’t wait!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)

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TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)

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Tales From The Darkside started out as a horror anthology series produced by the legendary George A. Romero, that ran four seasons from October 1983 till July of 1988. In 1990 a movie version was released presenting a trio of terrifying tales tied together by a wraparound story. In the opening segment we see a young boy (Matthew Lawrence) being held in a cell by a witch (Deborah Harry). She plans to cook the kid as the main course for a dinner party and he tries to stall her by reading her stories from a book she left for him in his cell…Tales From he Darkside! As Timmy reads to prolong his fate, three tales of terror unfold!

All three stories and the wraparound are directed by John Harrison, a frequent Romero collaborator, though the script is by Romero and Michael McDowell and based on various works.

The first story is the lesser of the three and is based on a short story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Lot 249 involves betrayal, revenge, murder and an ancient Egyptian mummy. When student Bellingham (Steve Buscemi) is cheated out of a deserved scholarship, he uses the mummy to exact revenge on those responsible, Lee and Susan (Robert Sedgwick and Julianne Moore). The plot for retribution works out fine till Susan’s brother Andy (Christian Slater) tries to turn the tables on Bellingham for some revenge of his own. This segment is kind of ho-hum and comes to a predictable conclusion, but is still somewhat entertaining, has a good cast and is quite gory.

Second story is called The Cat From Hell and is based on a story by Stephen King. The tale finds pharmaceutical billionaire Drogan (William Hickey) hiring a hit man named Halston (David Johansen) to exterminate a black cat that Drogan claims has killed the rest of the members of his household. What ensues is a cat and mouse game…pun intended…throughout the dark mansion with predator hunting predator. It’s a fun episode, especially thanks to a lively and over-the-top performance from Johansen and has some really good gore. While the ending isn’t unexpected, it’s gruesome fun. Probably the best episode overall.

Final tale is a tragic love story called Lover’s Vow. Down on his luck artist Preston (James Remar) witnesses the savage murder of a local bartender by a creature resembling the local building gargoyles. He promises the creature, in return for his life, that he will never speak of it to anyone. On that same night Preston meets the beautiful Carola (Rae Dawn Chong) whom he falls in love with. The two wed and have children, but on one fateful night, Preston reveals his chilling tale to his loving wife…and with horrifying results. Story is the most serious of the bunch which otherwise have a bit of humor mixed in with the chills and as with the others, some nice gore. It too, is also a bit predictable, but works in spite of that.

We then return to the wraparound where Timmy is not going into the oven without a fight. Will he be freed or fried?…you’ll have to watch to find out!

Overall this is a fun anthology, though not a true classic. There is some nice nostalgia here too, as well as, some entertaining moments across the board. Harrison directs well and it is a fun horror flick in the spirit of Romero and King’s Creepshow from years earlier. Nothing overly special, but a solid good time. Did fairly well upon it’s release in 1990, but not enough to inspire a second go around.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 books of spooky stories.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: SALEM’S LOT (1979)

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SALEM’S LOT (1979)

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Miniseries is an adaptation of the Stephen King book of the same name (book review HERE) and basically follows the same plot. Vampire story has writer Ben Mears (David Soul) returning to his hometown of Salem’s Lot after many years, to write a book about the Marsten House, a large old house on the outskirts of town renown for it’s dark past. Mears has no idea what he is in for as, at the same time, an ancient vampire named Barlow (Reggie Nalder) has set his sights on the town of Salem’s Lot as his new feeding ground and makes the Marsten House his new home. Can Ben convince this small town that a very real and supernatural horror has made residence there, as townsfolk start to disappear and the concerned locals turn a suspicious eye towards him?

Script is adapted by Paul Monash from King’s lengthy book and at just over three hours adapts it fairly well. The film is atmospherically directed by Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Tobe Hooper who delivers some solid chills despite the restraint of doing the film for TV. Salem’s Lot has a moderate pace and can be a bit long-winded when watched all at once, but the book is a bit long-winded as well and the flick was originally made to be watched in two, two hour segments aired a week part, which broke it up. The vampire scenes are really creepy and Hooper handles the traditional vampire tropes very well and creates some memorable sequences that are still effective today. Barlow’s purple Nosferatu-like appearance is chilling and effective and the Marsten House has it’s own personality and is visually impressive, especially once we get inside. There is very little blood as it was made for network TV, but that is fine as it has atmosphere to spare, especially in it’s second half. It takes a while to get going, but once it does it is very entertaining.

The cast are good with David Soul making a fine, reluctant hero. His writer does give the impression of a man slightly obsessed with the old house and obviously, it takes him a little time to accept that vampires are real and the town is slowly filling with them. Bonnie Bedelia makes a fine heroine as a pretty school teacher who catches Ben’s eye. Veteran actor James Mason is spooky as Barlow’s human manservant and Reggie Nalder makes for a really creepy vampire under all the make-up and contact lenses and with no dialog. We also have roles by other veteran actors such as Geoffrey Lewis, Kenneth McMillan, Lew Ayres and Fred Willard. A good cast that Hooper guides well.

I saw this miniseries when it first aired in 1979 and as a kid it really creeped me out. It’s not quite as scary all these years later and can be a bit too long when watched in one sitting, especially with some of the melodrama. But, it does have some really spooky sequences as directed by the legendary Tobe Hooper and is one of the better adaptations of King’s work, though in my personal opinion, not one of his better books. Worth watching if you have never seen it.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 pairs of fangs.

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CREEPSHOW (1982)

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CREEPSHOW (1982)

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In 1982, horror masters Stephen King and George A. Romero collaborated on this anthology movie that was inspired by the old horror comics from EC Comics. The film, written by King and directed by Romero, presented five horror-themed stories bookended by a segment about a young boy (Joe King) having his horror comic thrown out by his overbearing father (Tom Atkins). Outside in the garbage can, the pages of the book come to life, opening up and allowing the skeletal “Creep” to present it’s tales. Our first is Father’s Day which tells the story of Nathan Grantham (The Boogens‘ Jon Lormer) a rich curmudgeon murdered by his daughter (Viveca Lindfors). As his children and grandchildren gather for Father’s Day, Nathan comes back from the grave for ghostly revenge. Next is The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill which has King himself playing a country bumpkin who has an unfortunate encounter with a fallen meteorite. This is followed by Something to Tide You Over, a story of infidelity, murder and revenge from beyond the watery grave with Leslie Nielsen and Ted Danson. Then we are treated to The Crate, a tale of an old crate discovered in a university basement and the horrific creature that lives within it. Finally we get They’re Creeping Up On You, a segment about a mean, old, germ-fearing, Howard Hughes-like recluse (E.G. Marshall) with a very nasty bug problem.

Back in the day, those expecting a fright-fest of epic proportions from the collaboration of Romero and King were sadly disappointed by this comic bookish and tongue-in-cheek anthology that focuses on ghoulish humor far more than scares. Creepshow is a lot of  fun, though, especially years later with the added 80s nostalgia, but while there are some chills, it is never really all that scary…and it wasn’t meant to be. The film retains the dark humor of the comics that inspired it and is even filmed as a comic book come to life, with comic style frames and scenes filmed like comic book panels, all with a ghostly animated creeper beginning each segment. First story Father’s Day is fun and spooky and features some nice visuals and make-up effects. The next story, Jordy Verrill, is OK. King can’t really act, but his exaggerated style oddly fits with the story. Despite a bit of a goofy amusement factor, as his nimrod Jordy turns into a form of alien plant-life, the story itself really doesn’t go anywhere or have much of a point. Third story, Something to Tide You Over, is the dullest, with Nielsen’s pontificating villain taking up most of the running time, happily laying out his diabolical plot to his captive audience. Creepshow picks up again for the last two stories which are, by far, the best. The Crate is spooky, gory and really works the dark humor as a beleaguered professor (Hal Holbrook) uses the discovery of a vicious and very hungry creature to rid himself of another monster, his overbearing wife (Adrienne Barbeau). They’re Creeping Up On You is fun and will make your skin crawl as the ruthless and heartless Upson Pratt is trapped in his germ-free apartment by a power outage with an army of invading cockroaches. You get three strong stories, two weak ones and a Halloween set bookend segment that is devious fun, too. So, overall Creepshow is not perfect, but is ghoulish entertainment made even more fun by a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, brought on by it’s charming hand-drawn animation and live make-up and prosthetics…something sadly missing in today’s movies.

With five stories and a bookending segment, we have a large cast with many horror veterans and each seems to get the tone of the material and have a good over-the-top time with it, in the varying degrees their individual roles call for. Stand outs are…Tom Atkins (The Fog, Halloween III) as the bookending tales’ hard-nosed father. Atkins is no stranger to edgy characters and this time he gets to play a real jerk. Leslie Nielsen oozes malice in his segment and while it is the weakest story, the veteran actor makes a contemptible bad guy. Adrienne Barbeau is deliciously overbearing as the wife of her The Fog co-star Hal Holbrook’s meek professor, Northup. Barbeau really makes you hate her and beg for her comeuppance…call her Billie, everyone does! Last, but certainly not least, is E.G. Marshall who is a delight as the modern day Scrooge, Upson Pratt. Pratt is a ruthless and heartless individual and his skin crawling encounter with an army of cockroaches makes us cheer on the bugs! Also good are Viveca Lindfors, Carrie Nye, Fritz Weaver, Ted Danson and there is a fun cameo from make-up FX master Tom Savini and small roles from future Oscar nominee Ed Harris and Dawn Of The Dead‘s Gaylen Ross.

Overall, I like Creepshow and it’s a lot of fun, especially now that it carries such heavy 80s nostalgia. I will admit I was a little disappointed back in the 80s that it wasn’t a more serious horror, considering who was involved, but it has grown on me considerably. It isn’t completely successful with all it’s stories, but the ones that are, really work and provide some fun and goosebumps to keep us entertained. The large cast gets the material completely and is filled with familiar faces to horror fans. An entertaining comic book style horror that sadly gets forgotten when people discuss comic book style films as it does convey the comic book feeling far better than many a superhero movie. Creepshow was followed by a sub-par sequel in 1987, directed by Michael Gornick and written by Romero, based on some Stephen King short stories. A third flick, without the involvement of Romero or King, was made in 2006 and seemed to go straight to DVD with little or no fanfare.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 Creeps!

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CARRIE (1976)

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CARRIE (1976)

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Carrie garnered a reputation of being a terrifying movie experience back in ’76 when it was released and all I heard from my sister and her friends was how scary it was. Not old enough to go see it in a theater, I had to wait to finally catch up to it on HBO a year or so later and was soundly disappointed. To me it didn’t live up to the hype. I recently decided to revisit it decades later to see if I still felt the same way or, was I, and the film, a victim of too high expectations. So does the film live up to it’s reputation and it’s classic status?… Not really.

Carrie’s main problem is that it’s slow moving and dull. The story of the shy and picked-on daughter (Sissy Spacek) of a religious fanatic mother (Piper Laurie in an over-the-top performance), who develops telekinetic powers, is really uneventful between the infamous opening shower/period scene and the infamous prom sequence. There are some cheesy effects sequences along the way as Carrie begins to grow in strength and, through her new powers, rebel against her mother and ultimately avenge herself against pretty much everyone. But, the whole film is a set up for the prom scene and once that comes, it’s actually kind of tame and it’s over far too quickly to have any lasting impact. Brian DePalma films things with a nice look but, really doesn’t achieve a whole lot in the hour it takes to get Carrie to the prom. Basically it’s a slow set up as the teens who tormented Carrie are punished and then decide to get back at her for being punished. So, Sue (Amy Irving) conveniently asks her boyfriend to take Carrie to the prom to make it up to her and thus sets up the perfect revenge for the nasty Chris (Nancy Allen) and her jerk of a boyfriend, Billy (John Travolta). And that’s another thing. DePalma never makes it clear whether Sue is in on the set up plot or not until the actual prom. And since she’s not, it’s just too much of a coincidence that she accidentally helps Chris set up a nasty surprise for the unsuspecting and now blissfully happy Carrie. It’s no surprise that the nasty prank involving pig’s blood triggers Carrie’s new skill and she unleashes them on everyone involved but, again her wrath is quick and rather tame and the best part of this sequence is the build of how Carrie comes to relax and be happy for the first time, as her date starts to really enjoy her company. Here DePalma scores as it’s heartbreaking that such a cruel joke is played on a sad young girl enjoying happiness for the first time. But, it is a horror flick and it’s too bad her wrath doesn’t carry the power of the scenes leading up to it. Even Carrie’s eventual final confrontation with her religious zealot mother is more corny then scary or shocking.

The cast is fine with Spacek really standing out and Laurie going a bit overboard. The rest of the characters are all cardboard teachers and delinquent students, so, there is not much for the actors to do. As stated before, DePalma directs with a slow burn from Lawrence D. Cohen’s thin script based on a Stephen King novel and that would be OK if he gave the payoff more impact and used his slow built to strongly develop the situations instead of breezing through them to get to his grand finale.

In conclusion, Carrie needed a bit more running time to more finely develop it’s story and characters and could have used more intensity from it’s payoff scenes. A moderate film with a far bigger reputation them it deserves.

2 and 1/2 Carries.

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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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BARE BONES: BOOK REVIEWS: SALEM’S LOT and BELOW

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SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King

Stephen King’s novel about vampire’s invading a small New England town is actually a rather dull book. There are a few spooky parts, but as usual with the few King books I’ve read, King is very long winded and tends to go into extensive detail into things that really aren’t that important to the story. Why give us a detailed look into a character we’ve just met’s backstory, only to have them die two pages later? And speaking of such, the main characters are not very engaging and our vampire villain is very generic. That and characters do some really dumb things that put them into perilous situations which could be forgiven if at least those situations where exciting or chilling. SPOILER…

Overall it’s a slow paced and gloomy book that never gets all that interesting or involving and ends on an equally gloomy note when all it would have taken to end it once and for all would be to arrive at the vampire’s nest during the day instead of 5 minutes before sundown. Again dumb actions by supposedly intelligent characters to move the story along. I liked the 70s TV mini-series much better. King is one of the most famous authors of the modern age yet, my delving into his work so far has left me unimpressed.

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BELOW by Ryan Lockwood

Below is a fun and fast-paced nature run amok story from Ryan Lockwood. It has a likable cast of characters that are very human and sometimes flawed, such as alcoholic hero Will Sturman who hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife. And it has an engaging threat and a very grounded reason why this people-shy ocean predator suddenly turns toward humanity as a food source. And I think that is one of the things I liked most about this book is it never gets too fantastic or strays too far from reality, but presents a natural threat with realistic reasons for it’s altered habits and increased aggression. It makes the chills more chilling when it seems very plausible. That and we like the characters and equally root for them to save the day as we do for our emotionally damaged hero to hook up with the feisty and pretty oceanographer Valerie. Not a great book, but a real entertaining one and one that has me looking forward to what comes next from Ryan Lockwood. Would make a fun movie if given a decent non-SYFY treatment with a solid script and a good director.

3 star rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: CHRISTINE (1983)

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CHRISTINE (1983)

John Carpenter’s next film after The Thing was supposed to be an adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter for Universal Pictures written by Thing scribe Bill Lancaster. When Carpenter’s sci-fi classic failed at the box office, Mark Lester was given the helm instead and ironically Carpenter found himself at Columbia Pictures directing another Stephen King adaptation, Christine. Carpenter would have the last laugh as Christine not only beat Lester’s Firestarter to the box office but, at the box office as well. Today Christine is considered a minor classic and Firestarter has all but been forgotten.

I currently have not read King’s novel… thought with a trip to the library it now sits on my night table… (UPDATE: My book review sits below, after the film trailer…) so, I am reviewing Christine strictly as a movie and not as an adaptation. Set in 1978, this horror flick tells the story of nerdy Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon) who is oppressed by both his overbearing parents and the high school bullies. His only friend is kind hearted football player Dennis (John Stockwell)… that is, until he meets Christine. Christine is an old beat up red 1958 Plymouth Fury named by it’s previous owner who, unbeknownst to Arnie, committed suicide inside it. The owner’s brother (Roberts Blossom) sells it to him despite Dennis’ protests and Arnie sees the restoration of his new obsession as a way to finally earn respect from his peers. Not only does Arnie restore the car, he also begins to change. The awkward nerd becomes a confident man and wins the prettiest girl in school, Leigh (Alexandra Paul), but also the vengeful eye of the bullies he’d gotten expelled. When they trash his beloved car, the vehicle shows it’s true nature and not only restores itself before Arnie’s eyes, but methodically tracks down and slaughters the wrong doers…on it’s own. Arnie refuses to see the evil thing before him and the confident man starts to become an aggressive and violent person who forces anyone who cares about him out of his life, which he lives only for his car. Fearing for Arnie, Dennis and Leigh start to investigate the car’s past and not only find a trail of bodies, but the realization that Arnie’s obsession may be taking him on a ride straight to hell, unless it is stopped… but can it be and can Arnie be saved?

Carpenter creates an entertaining and atmospheric thriller from Bill Phillips’ script adapted from the King novel. He successfully creates a likable and sympathetic character in Arnie and thus his transformation from nerd to cool guy to heartless villain gives the film the dramatic backbone it needs. He also successfully establishes the relationships between Arnie and Dennis and Leigh, so we understand why they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to save their friend despite his becoming, for lack of a better word, a douche. Though I will say we could have maybe used a bit more of this to really solidify the relationships. What really makes this film click, thoug is the menacing and evil character given to the title vehicle by Carpenter and his team of FX people. From the opening scene set on an assembly line in 1957, we see Christine claim her first victims. A car that is born bad. We get a blood red car that is dripping with malice and one that only plays vintage Rock ‘N’ Roll songs on the radio…which seem to always suit the situation at hand…and takes a lethal interest in anyone that comes between her and Arnie, like Leigh…the other woman. Carpenter films the car from angles and in lighting that give it a demonic presence and stages the sequences of it pursuing it’s prey with the same tension and intensity he would if filming Michael Myers as a muscle car. Despite how bad the bullies are, there is a sense of sympathy when Christine mows them down in cold blood. She is by far the greater of the two evils. The FX of the vehicle repairing itself after being damaged are truly breathtaking, as we literally watch panels un-dent and grills regain their off-the-assembly-line shape and it adds to the vehicles supernatural aura.

The master director gets good work from his human cast too. Gordon is fairly solid as Arnie conveying the sensitive nerd and then his slow transformation to cold blooded killer. He does go a little over the top in a few sequences and could have done with less of the maniacal eye rolling in some of the later scenes, but otherwise is well cast. Stockwell gives his Dennis both a strong and a sensitive side as Arnie’s concerned friend. Paul’s Leigh seems like a naturally sweet girl who still cares about Arnie even after he is so mean to her and is a likable heroine. We also have veteran Harry Dead Stanton as a detective that knows Arnie and his car are responsible somehow for the murders, yet frustratingly can’t prove it and character actor Robert Prosky as a slimy garage owner that takes a shine to Arnie but, not to his car…and the feeling is mutual.

Carpenter again supplies the music and though the score is very reminiscent of his excellent Halloween III score, it is still highly effective at adding atmosphere to the proceedings and also includes some great Rock ‘N’ Roll classics. Though it’s the first Carpenter film without cinematographer Dean Cundey since Assault on Precinct 13, Donald M.Morgan fills in and does very well in capturing Carpenter’s camera work and mood. The film isn’t perfect. There is some weak dialogue at points and, as stated, the relationships could have been a bit more fleshed out, but they do work fine as is. The final showdown between Christine and Dennis driving a bulldozer could have been a bit more intense, but this a modestly budgeted film, so what we get is effective enough and certainly well staged.

All in all, Christine may not be on the same level as Halloween, The Thing or Escape From New York, but it is certainly a solid and effective chiller and an entertaining movie that sometimes gets overlooked when talking about Carpenter’s classic films. Also stars Kelly Preston as a hottie trying and failing to catch Dennis’ eye.

3 and 1/2 flaming vengeful Plymouth Furys!

christine rating

 

BONUS BOOK REVIEW!

StephenKing-Christine

CHRISTINE by Stephen King

This is only the second Stephen King book I have ever read. Despite being a horror and sci-fi fan, I have never gravitated toward his books for some reason. I am a fan of director John Carpenter, though and have recently revisited and greatly enjoyed his film adaptation and so, I was curious to check out the source. I liked King’s Christine, but I didn’t love it and certainly wasn’t wowed by it. To be honest, I think Carpenter’s movie was far more economical in the telling of the story, as I found King’s book to be long-winded and could have lost about 100 pages and still told the same story and with equal efficiency. To me, King likes to go off on tangents that really don’t further the story and only serve to create stretches between the action. Did Dennis really need to have not one, but three long discussions with George LeBay about his brother and his demonic car? And let’s face it, King never really explains sufficiently why Christine is such a demonic entity even before LeBay dies and starts to haunt her and Arnie. It’s a casual throw away line that really doesn’t satisfy. LeBay has no history or belief in the supernatural, so it’s silly to accept that he transformed his car into a supernatural entity. Again, Carpenter’s film simplified the story and just made the car ambiguously evil from the moment it was made, much like his Michael Myers. I did like the book overall, but I do feel based on this, that even though King is a good writer, he’s one that also gets self-indulgent. I’m certainly not intimidated by a long book, most of the fantasy stuff I read is over 400 pages, it’s just there is a difference between a story that requires a lot of detail in it’s telling and a story that’s just taking longer then needed to be told.

3 star rating

-MonsterZero NJ

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