TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)

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THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Flick is an entertaining supernatural thriller from director Wes Craven and supposedly based on a true story. It tells the tale of anthropologist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) who specializes in bringing exotic medicines and rare herbal remedies back to pharmaceutical companies for use in modern medicine. He is hired by the Biocorp to go to Haiti and investigate tales of a man named Christophe (Conrad Roberts) who allegedly died, was buried, and yet, has been seen walking around alive years later. They believe it to be the work of some kind of drug used in Voodoo ceremonies and want Dennis to get it. Alan takes the assignment and along with a pretty Haitian doctor (Cathy Tyson) delves deep into the Voodoo subculture to find this ‘magical’ powder. While on his mission he attracts the attention of the cruel and powerful captain of Haiti’s secret police (Zakes Moakae) and Dennis Alan may soon wish he never come to Haiti…if he even makes it out alive.

Craven delivers Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman’s script as more of a straightforward supernatural thriller for the most part and it is entertaining as such. He keeps us wondering if some of the supernatural elements are products of hallucinations due to the power of belief, locally made drugs and good old smoke and mirrors. It’s not till the last act that we realize there is some kind of dark magic going on here and then Craven allows his film to end with a more theatrical and somewhat over-the-top finale. This works as it keeps the film grounded for the most part than cuts loose with some Nightmare On Elm Street-like dream sequences and theatrics for it’s final confrontation. Craven’s film’s have frequently used dreams sequences all the way back to Last House On The Left and it is something Craven is good at and his visual style really comes alive in them. With the subject of Voodoo and hallucination, Craven can indulge himself and not have it get intrusive. There are a few moments that teeter on getting silly, but, for the most part it is chilling and entertaining and Craven maintains an atmosphere of foreboding as Pullman’s Alan delves deeper into a world he should leave alone. There are definitely some tense moments of both the supernatural and all too real nature and these sequences are quite effective. The make-up FX are good in portraying the bloodletting and corpses, though, the fleetingly used visual effects are a bit cheesy by today’s standards. We have a very atmospheric score by Terminator‘s Brad Fiedel and John Lindley captures Craven’s visual style and the exotic locations quite well, adding to the overall mood of exotic horror. It’s a story that gives Craven a chance to do something a little different and yet, played to his strengths. Not as engrossing as his best work but, a fun and spooky movie nonetheless.

Bill Pullman fits the roil of Dennis Alan well. He is a bit smug, but, not to the point of unlikable and of course, his experiences here humble the confident adventurer. He portrays a man who has been everywhere and seen much but, might have finally gotten in over his head. He does have a nobility and that may be the element of his personality that keeps us rooting for him even when he is cocky. Cathy Tyson makes for a good heroine, though she does become a more routine damsel in distress in the last act, and as a romantic lead is pretty and serves her role. Zakes Mokae makes a very memorable and creepy villain. He would be disturbing enough as the cruel captain of the secret police with a taste for torture but, his Dargent Peytraud is also a powerful black magic practitioner with a hobby of collecting souls. The South African actor brings a menace and brutality to the man, sometimes with just a smirk and a glare. We also have Paul Winfield and Brent Jennings as locals with a little magic of their own.

In conclusion, this may not be one of Craven’s best but, it is a fun movie and has plenty of creepy moments, as well as, some bloody ones too. Things may skirt the line between over-the-top and silly in the last act in a few spots, but, they stay on the correct side and it gives us a more theatrical finale after a  grounded build-up. The cast are all suitable with Pullman a likable hero and Mokae a very disturbing villain. A solid and entertaining enough supernatural thriller that ranks along with The People Under The Stairs and Deadly Blessing as one of Craven’s more moderate but enjoyable films.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 skulls.

as above so below rating

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TOMB OF NOSTALGIA: THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991)

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The People Under The Stairs is just another example of director Wes Craven’s versatility as he treats us to a darkly humored tale of urban horror. Story finds young “Fool” (Brandon Adams) on his 13th birthday finding out his mother is ill and his family is about to be evicted from the ghetto tenement they live in. Street tough Leroy (Ving Rhames) talks the boy into helping him get payback and a paycheck by robbing the house of the reclusive rich landlords. Once entering the former funeral parlor that is home to the bizarre Robeson’s (Everett McGill and Wendy Robie), Fool finds himself in a house of horrors that includes, kidnapping, murder, cannibalism and…the people under the stairs!

While Craven certainly gives his flick some disturbing moments, he tells his story with a very twisted sense of dark humor as we follow our heroic teen as he tries to escape the virtual fortress of horror. The legendary director has a good time filling his house full of devious and deadly traps, the psychotic Robesons and the tormented souls they keep in the basement. The movie moves quickly, thought could have benefited, pace-wise, from being a few minutes shorter and there is enough action and laughs to keeps us entertained. Sure, the film’s messages about ghetto life and the vastly uneven distribution of wealth between the haves and have-nots is a bit too obvious, but we can overlook that since we are having ghoulish fun with the story those messages are attached to. Despite the humorous tone, Craven doesn’t skimp on the blood and gore and the FX portraying the carnage and the house’s hidden inhabitants are well done and shown in just the right amounts to keep them effective. The house itself is a creepy fun-house of secret doors, hidden passages, traps, bones and cobweb filled rooms…and if that’s not enough, we have Everett McGill running around in his bizarre S & M gear that he wears when on the hunt. It’s loaded with atmosphere and is a fun flick with a ghoulish sense of humor that still holds up well almost a quarter century later.

Craven also has a good cast to portray his oddball characters. Young Brandon Adams is quite an engaging and noble hero as young “Fool”. An inner city teen who, despite his nickname, is wise beyond his years and is tough when he needs to be, but has a surprising sense of honor for a kid his age and the hard life he lives. Adams does a good job making him three dimensional and very likable. Everett McGill reaches near Bruce Campbell levels with his borderline slapstick portrayal of the weird and put-upon Robeson. He may be a twisted killer, but conveys the essence of a man who truly never gets a break…especially when dealing with Fool. Wendy Robie is equally creepy as his disturbed sister and one can truly believe of the two, she is the one to really be scared of. A.J. Langer is sweet, naive and sympathetic as the Robeson’s captive “daughter” Alice. She has lived in captivity all her life, but knows she is being mistreated and bonds with Fool as she sees a possible means to finally seeing the outside world. Rounding out the main cast is Ving Rhames, who is effective as the tough, street crook Leroy, pretty Kelly Jo Minter, who is sweet and street-wise as Fool’s tarot card reading sister Ruby and Sean Whalen is likable as Roach, one of the escaped captives loose in the house’s walls. A good cast for a very offbeat film.

Maybe not the best of Craven’s work, but it is an original and fun flick. It entertains us with a bizarre and twisted sense of humor without sacrificing the tense action, chills or gore. It may get a little preachy, especially in the last act and could have had a bit tighter with it’s running time, but overall, is ghoulish fun and another example of how versatile Craven was as a filmmaker.

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Wes Craven 1938-2015

-MonsterZero NJ

3 kitchen knives.

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FAREWELL AND R.I.P. TO THE LEGENDARY WES CRAVEN!

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WESLEY EARL “WES” CRAVEN 1939-2015

Tragic and heartbreaking news as legendary horror director Wes Craven has lost his battle with brain cancer and passed away today at age 76. Craven has left a legacy of horror classics over five decades from his grueling Last House On The Left to A Nightmare On Elm Street to Scream and it’s sequels! Craven was a one of a kind talent who will sadly be missed and whose work will forever be cherished by horror fans all over the world.

-MonsterZero NJ

Sources: internet

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006)

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The original The Hills Have Eyes (1977) is not among my favorite Wes Craven films, but it certainly is an enjoyable, and now a touch nostalgic, survivalist horror that pitted a vacationing family against a clan of mutant cannibals in the middle of the desert. This remake basically follows the same story, but with a larger budget and cranking the intensity and brutality up to 11 by handing the writing/directing reigns to Haute Tension writer/director Alexandre Aja.

The screenplay is credited to Aja and frequent collaborator Grégory Levasseur, but it follows Craven’s original film very closely except it focuses heavier on the vicious clan being the genetic mutation result of atomic testing decades earlier and obviously, cranks up the violence and intensity which is Aja’s style. The story still follows the family of ex-cop Bob Carter (Ted Levine) who is heading out to California with his wife Ethel (Kathleen Quinlan), daughters Lynn (Vinessa Shaw) and Brenda (Emilie de Ravin), son Bobby (Dan Byrd), Lynn’s meek husband Doug (Aaron Stanford) and their infant daughter (Maisie Camilleri Preziosi). They are led astray by a gas station attendant (Tom Bower) who, unbeknownst to them, is in league with a vicious clan of cannibalistic mutants led by patriarch Jupiter (Billy Drago). Soon they find themselves stranded and their car disabled and under attack by a hungry and brutal clan that wants them all for dinner. Will this family perish in the middle of nowhere, or will they find it within themselves to meet brutal violence with brutal violence?

We all know the answer to that question and Alexandre Aja has a gory, brutal blast not only putting this average American family through a vicious ringer, but administering payback with equally violent, blood-spattering efficiency. The film is far more intense than the moderately placed original and it’s larger budget enables it to really crank up the gruesome carnage which reaches a fever pitch in the blood soaked last act. The effects by K.N.B. Effects are very well executed and now the cannibalistic clan look far more like the mutant creatures they are than the original ‘dirty hobo’ look of the 1977 version. The Craven film had some violent moments, but Aja plays it very hard-core and his backwoods mutants are far more threatening and the carnage on both sides far more graphic and with more impact. This film is a really rough ride and has a far darker edge than the original, which was quite brutal in it’s own right back in it’s time, but also had some unsettling humorous moments as well. Aja’s visual eye combined with Maxime Alexandre cinematography give the film a gritty and grungy look that serves to make one uncomfortable even when nothing is going on and when you add in the pulse pounding score from Tomandandy and François-Eudes Chanfrault, you have one intense and brutal 106 minutes that expands and improves on an original that is, in itself, considered a cult classic.

The cast all do well and play their parts very effectively from Levine’s macho ex-cop to Stanford’s mild mannered yuppie phone salesman, who slowly transforms into a man who will do anything to protect his own. Ravin and Byrd also gives strong performances as the frightened teen siblings who find not only the will to survive, but the ability to kill to do so. Drago and company all give us some truly frightening and detestable villains though, none really stand out and make an impression like fan legend Michael Berryman did in the original film that made him a horror icon. Overall, a good cast with solid performances that help add to the film’s effectiveness.

I really like this movie, if ‘like’ is the proper word to use in reference to such a brutally intense blood-bath that Aja transforms Craven’s original film into. It’s got some nail-biting action, some really intense gore, and characters that we like enough to not want to see harmed…and some we want to see get it real good! It’s one of the few remakes that improves upon the original and stands on it’s own as a horror achievement. A really good and really brutally effective horror that honors the original film it’s based on, yet makes it’s own statement. A really good horror.

3 and 1/2 axes.

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: SCREAM (1996)

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SCREAM (1996)

“Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act, who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting.”- Sidney Prescott

Halloween Favorites is back and this horror classic is certainly a worthy return for this holiday centric column!

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street is one of the great classics of the slasher era and so who better to re-invent the sub-genre, when it burned itself out in the late 80s with endless sequels and knock-offs. Armed with a very clever script by Kevin Williamson, Craven reignited the sagging horror genre with a film that works both as homage to the traditions of slasher flicks…while playfully poking fun at them…and as an effective slasher on it’s own.

Scream takes place in the fictional town of Woodsboro where we open with pretty blonde Casey (Drew Barrymore) about to settle in for the night with popcorn and a horror movie. But Casey begins to get phone calls from a strange person who, at first seems to be playful, but then gets more and more aggressive and threatening as it continues. Soon it is revealed that she and her bound on the back porch boyfriend’s lives are in mortal danger and all she has to do is answer some horror movie trivia questions to save their lives…but there is a horrible price if she is wrong. Needless to say , she and her beau are ruthlessly slaughtered by a killer wearing a ghost face mask and the high school is all a-buzz about it the next day. Enter Sydney Prescott (Neve Campbell), whose mother was murdered a year earlier and the suspected killer (Liev Schreiber) is now in jail… or is he? But Sydney has become a target of this masked serial killer and everyone around her may be a suspect…or a fatality. Who is this mysterious butcher and why has he targeted Sydney and her friends as his/her next victims?

Scream, first off starts with that great sequence with Drew Barrymore that really sets the tone for the film. It is scary and violent and establishes that this is a horror film that openly acknowledges it’s predecessors. It then openly references a lot of the classic horrors of the previous decades as it’s pop culture savvy teens are well aware of these films and use them as a guide to deal with their current situation…just as our killer is using them as a template for their own heinous deeds. All this self-awareness makes this flick a lot of fun and Craven is one of the best horror directors out there in using pop culture reference to fuel his tales. The script by Kevin Williamson not only references these horrors, but is the first flick to outright state the slasher horror ‘rules’ as per film geek Randy (Jaime Kennedy) that determine who lives and who dies…Don’t have sex, never say “I’ll be right back!”. The best part is that this flick also works as a slasher in itself. Craven and Williamson set up a situation that is a classic slasher with a victim with a painful past being stalked by a killer with a possible grudge and everyone is a suspect. There are some very suspenseful and scary scenes along with some very brutal kills as Ghost Face works his/her way through Sydney’s friends and various other characters. The film’s hip movie savvy humor never gets in the way of the scares or carnage, either. Craven and Williamson even get to make a statement about the desensitizing of violence in the current generation and the media’s insensitive and sensationalistic coverage of horrific events in the person of Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox), a selfish, pit bull of a reporter who is determined to prove Sydney sent the wrong man to prison with her testimony and that the real killer is the one stalking Woodsboro. Is she right?… has one of these kids seen one too many horror flicks? Craven and Williamson have a blast letting us in on the answer and so does the audience as the big reveal is both surprising and a perfect example of how cleverly this film openly acknowledges that it is a horror film inspired by other horror films, just like it’s characters. If the film has any faults it’s that there are a few slow spots and one make-up effect involving a garage door and a character’s head is far too rubbery to work and ruins one of the more inventive kills. Other than that, this is a horror classic and one of Craven’s best films in a classic studded career.

As for the cast. It’s ensemble gives us a generous amount of suspects and victims. Campbell’s Sydney is one of modern horror’s most memorable final girls. She’s sweet but strong and has her own inner pain to fuel her survival instincts. Courtney Cox is perfect as the mega-bitch reporter who is using the killings in Woodsboro to further her career, but she also surprises us in the last act. As Sydney’s friend’s…Skeet Ulrich as boyfriend Billy has a nice air of danger about him and as a suspect, it works perfectly. Matthew Lillard as his bud Stu, is fun as a bit of an oblivious goofball …or is he? Rose McGowan as her best friend Tatum, turns the buxom blonde cliché on it’s ear with a young woman who is smart and sarcastic to go along with her Playboy model looks. Jaime Kennedy as Randy is the film’s movie geek and does well in creating that film obsessed nerd who provides the characters and audience with the exposition needed by way of horror film references. David Arquette as Tatum’s deputy brother Dewey, gives us a sweet natured do-gooder who is a little too anxious to please and not as smart as he thinks. Add in a fun cameo by Henry “The Fonz” Winkler as an eccentric school principal and you have a great cast who all do a good job selling Williamson’s clever characters from his script. They are an endearing bunch and all give their characters the proper tone for the material and sound like the media savvy teens that they are…though none look young enough to be teens, but that is also a horror movie tradition.

So, except for a few slow spots and one botched make-up effect, Scream is a horror classic that not only works as a horror, but as a homage to all the slashers that came before it. It’s teens grew up on the 80s horror flicks and openly reference them and compare them to the real-life situation that they are in. While it’s not the first horror film to include a horror movie fan character, it is the first to present it’s characters as a generation weened on the horror films that populated the previous decades and are part of their culture…and the film has a blast doing it while genuinely scaring and thrilling us. A true horror classic from a legendary horror filmmaker.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) ghost faces!

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MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: SWAMP THING and THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING

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This week’s double feature puts together two films based on DC Comics Swamp Thing character that were made during the 80s. One directed by horror legend Wes Craven and the other by prolific B-Movie director Jim Wynorski. So, head into the bayou for some comic book-style fun and action!…

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SWAMP THING (1982)

As a big fan of Wes Craven it is rare to hear me say the legendary director may not have been right for a project, but this might be one of the few cases. I saw this flick with friends at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and wasn’t all that impressed with his take on one of the more bizarre comic book heroes. It’s not a bad film, but it seemed to take itself a bit too seriously and didn’t have the fun it needed to really win me over.

The movie written and directed by Craven tells the comic-based story of government agent Alice Cable (Adrienne Barbeau) who is sent into the Louisiana swamps to work with brilliant scientist Alec Holland (Ray Wise). Holland is doing genetic research to find a way to combine plant and animal DNA to make hardier plants to grow food in harsher environments (Monsanto anyone?). His resulting formula is a volatile one, but appears to allow plants to grow wherever it touches. When his lab is attacked by the evil Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) and his mercenary thugs, Holland is covered in his serum by accident and sent running into the swamp ablaze. Cable is the only one who escapes alive and is now being pursued by Arcane and his men for the notebook she has recovered. Unknown to her and Arcane, Holland has undergone a transformation, merging him with the fauna of the swamp, and now he seeks to rescue Cable and exact revenge against Arcane as the powerful but noble Swamp Thing (stuntman Dick Durock)!

There are two big issues with this flick that stand in it’s way of being a far more entertaining movie. First off is that Craven had yet to really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street and directs this with the heavy hand of one of his early horror flicks. True, the comic has a serious atmosphere, but his script and tone take things far too seriously and the film is humorless and has the very moderate pace of this era’s horror movies. Adding comic book-style wipes between scenes doesn’t a comic book-style film make and this is simply too morose to really be fun and the action scenes too by-the-numbers. The other problem is that the make-up/creature FX are terrible. I understand that the Swamp Thing costume was originally made for stuntman Bob Minor, who, for some reason, couldn’t do the film and there was no time or money to build a new suit, so it was ‘altered’ to fit Durock*. But even so, the costume is flat and rubbery and just looks awful. The creature costume for the transformed Arcane for the climactic fight is equally bad and when your main character is a man in a rubber suit, that suit needs to look good as he is on screen quite a lot. It kills the illusion that the costume is so bad looking. Also not helping is Harry Manfredini’s Friday The 13th-ish score witch adds to the horror film atmosphere instead of lightening things up a bit and adding a little energy to the proceedings. I get that this comic character certainly has horror film elements, but the film just takes itself far too seriously to be really fun. It looks good and has a good enough cast, but is too slow paced and just doesn’t have enough fun for even a horror-themed superhero like Swamp Thing.

As for that cast, Ray Wise is fine as Holland though he has little screen time to really solidify the character. Durock actually does a nice job emoting with his eyes behind all the rubber and does make a noble hero as the transformed Swamp Thing. Barbeau does her tough chick thing from Escape From New York again here, but it works OK and this was the legendary actress in her prime, so she does provide some eye-candy along with her hard-nosed heroine…who also has her damsel moments, too. Louis Jourdan seems to be the only one who realizes this flick needs a little over-the-top and chews up the scenery just right as the evil genius Anton Arcane. He makes a good villain surrounded by bland characters. Rounding out is Last House On The Left villain David Hess and Don’t Answer The Phone psycho Nicholas Worth as Arcane’s lead henchmen and they are adequate though unremarkable. Some livelier performances or more larger than life characters would have really perked this film up.

In conclusion, Swamp Thing is an OK flick, but one that would have been a lot better with a bit lighter touch and a far less down-to-earth approach. The flick needed a bit more over-the-top and some of the fun and energy that Wes Craven gave Scream many years later. It’s watchable, but takes itself far too seriously to really entertain and perhaps Craven was still too early in his career to stray from his dire horror film style and tone to really give this comic book-based flick the color and life of the swamps it was set in.

* I read this account of the Bob Minor/Dick Durock costume issue in either Fangoria or Starlog back in the 80s when the film was released.-MZNJ

2 and 1/2 Swamp Things

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THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989)

Seven years after Craven’s film, the guardian of the swamps returned in a film that was a lot more fun and over-the-top…maybe a bit too much so, in comparison with the more serious tone of the comic, but it is silly good fun and B-Movie director Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall) cranked up the camp and gave us a flick that is giddily comic book with a touch of James Bond…and we got a far more convincing suit for returning Dick Durock to wear.

Sequel has the villainous Dr. Arcane (Louis Jourdan) back in action and trying to hunt down Holland/Swamp Thing in order to use his genetics to help Arcane and his beautiful assistant Lana (Sarah Douglas) defeat the aging process. At the same time Arcane’s ditzy valley girl step-daughter Abigail (Heather Locklear) comes to visit to ask questions about her mother’s death and one of Arcane’s mutant experiments has escaped and is chowing-down on anyone who gets too close to the swamp. But, Abby’s DNA could also be a help to Arcane’s work and the young girl has captured Swamp Thing’s heart, guaranteeing a showdown between these two mortal enemies once more!

While, overall, Wynorski and writers Neil Cuthbert and Grant Morris may have taken this goofy, fun flick a little too far in the opposite direction of Craven’s dour version, but it is a unapologetic good time with it’s bombastic creature battles and explosion filled action scenes. Gone are the bland henchman and stiff scientists, now Arcane is surrounding by a bevy of armed beauties, including exploitation film fixture/Penthouse model Monique Gabrielle and campy mad scientists like Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle. The tone of the film is a mix of the 60s Batman TV show and a Roger Moore James Bond movie, complete with underground lair and  dozens of uniformed soldiers more than anxious to use their machine guns. Wynorski gives it a fast pace and a candy-colored production design aided by Zoran Hochstatter’s cinematography and the film’s cartoonish atmosphere is enhanced by Chuck Cirino’s lively electronic score. The film may be silly, but far more resembles the panels of a comic book than Craven’s far too grounded flick. The creature FX are far better than the first flick and Durock really looks like the embodiment of the comic character with the much improved suit. He has a couple of amusing monsters to battle, though, he could have used a far more lethal opponent at the climax than the transformed, but still asthmatic, Dr. Rochelle. Wynorski is a B-Movie director through and through and he films this flick with enough explosions, carnage and cleavage as the PG rating would hold and brings it in at a tight 88 minutes. The movie never overstays it’s welcome.

Acting-wise, the movie has little to brag about. Louis Jourdan is once again a fun villain who understands just how serious to play it and how much scenery to chew on. Durock again emotes very well under the rubber and, while I’m not sure if it was his voice used, overall creates a very noble and likable plant man/hero. Douglas is sexy and sinister as Arcane’s assistant Dr. Lana Zurrell and these three help keep things somewhat respectable in the performance dept. Not fairing so well are Loclkear who just mugs for the camera, though is a good sport considering her dialogue and having to romp in the swamp with a 7 foot plant man. The rest of the acting is shamelessly over-the-top such as Ace Mask’s Dr. Rochelle, Joey Sagal as security head Gunn and the lovely buxom Ms. Gabrielle…who was hired because she is lovely and buxom and not to perform Hamlet. Thanks to the giddy over-the-top tone, some of the bad acting fits right in.

I like this flick. It’s certainly an 80s guilty pleasure action flick and a fun movie if you cut it some slack and go with it’s outrageously cartoonish style. Sure some of the acting is pretty bad, but as it does resemble the 60s Batman series but with more of an 80s slant, it fits right in with the unabashedly goofy tone. It’s a lot of fun and best enjoyed with a few of your favorite brews.

This movie was followed in 1990 by a TV series that lasted for 3 seasons and not only saw Durock return to the role once more, but found a happy medium for it’s tone which was more serious than Wynorski’s flick, but not quite as droll as Craven’s movie. It also stared Kari Wurher as Abigail and Mark Lindsay Chapman taking over as Arcane.

3 Swamp Things!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

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DEADLY BLESSING (1981)

While I wouldn’t say Wes Craven’s Deadly Blessing is one of my all time Halloween Favorites, I would say it’s a film that holds sentimental value being one of the films seen at my beloved Oritani Theater in Hackensack, N.J. and if you’ve been coming to this site for a while you know that was a special place for the movie geek in me and holds a lot of equally special memories. Having recently revisited this creepy thriller thanks to Scream Factory’s gorgeous blu-ray, I found that not only was it still very enjoyable, but has some really nice 80s nostalgia attached to it now, too!

Deadly Blessing tells the story of young couple Martha (Battlestar Galactica hottie Maren Jensen) and Jim (Douglas Barr) who live on a farm near the rustic and religious Hittites of whom Jim is family, but was exiled for marrying a woman not of their clan. Tragedy strikes, as a horrible accident…or was it…leaves Martha a widow and soon she is joined by loyal friends Lana (Sharon Stone) and Vicky (Susan Buckner) who come to console her. Someone or something is watching the young women and soon Jim isn’t the only body turning up on Martha’s land. The Hittites, lead by the strict Isaiah (Ernest Borgnine), say that it is the work of the Incubus, a seductive demon come to temp all to sin and damnation, while Martha and her friends believe it is the work of someone far more down to earth…but who and why?

While Craven…who co-wrote the screenplay with story writers Glenn M. Benest and Matthew Barr…would really hit his stride with A Nightmare On Elm Street three years later, he still delivers a solid little horror thriller here that is actually an entertaining and well made film. It has some spooky sequences and keeps you guessing while presenting us with some likable characters to fear for and some other characters to be suspicious of. Craven gives the film some nice atmosphere, accented by some beautiful cinematography by Robert Jessup and a nice score from James Horner.

The cast are fine. Jensen is a bit wooden, but not enough to sink things. Stone is good as the emotionally troubled Lana and Buckner makes a crush-worthy and perky Vicky…and a big crush on her Vicky I had upon seeing this flick in 1981. Borgnine is perfectly menacing and just over-the-top enough as clan leader Isaiah and genre favorite Michael Berryman is equally effective as a Hittite man with an eye for his pretty neighbor. Also good are Lisa Hartman as Faith and Lois Nettleton as her mother Louisa, who live near Martha and who appear nice enough, if not a little odd.

There is a body count, but not a large one, as this is more a mystery thriller then a slasher. The bloodshed is moderate, as is the violence and Craven has his usual fun with dream sequences…one involving Sharon Stone and a spider is still goose-bump inducing even today. There are also a few scenes and lines that almost seem to foreshadow Mr. Krueger’s appearance a few years later, now that we are familiar with that classic and it’s legendary boogeyman.

The film isn’t perfect. As said, Jensen is a bit wooden and there are some weak bits of dialogue throughout. And while it is enjoyable, the last act, including the film’s big reveal, does skirt very close to going over-the-top and becoming silly. The final scene is an unnecessary shock ending that does come across as more silly than scary. It almost appears like it’s tacked on from another movie.

Overall though, Deadly Blessing is a nostalgic and fun early 80s horror that may seem tame by today’s standards and even the standards of Craven’s later work, but it shows the director of the brutal and shocking Last House On The Left, the vicious The Hills Have Eyes and the comic book-ish Swamp Thing (which came after Blessing) was continuing to show his versatility and could handle something on a more subtle level that didn’t require the heavy violence or over the top theatrics of his previous films. A very entertaining and delightfully 80s horror from one of the genre’s greats.

As said, this cult classic is now available from Scream Factory including a beautifully restored print along with some nice extra’s including fun interviews with genre favorite Michael Berryman and sassy lead Susan Buckner who both have amusingly different versions of how well…or not…the three leading ladies got along. Fun stuff!

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Borgnines!

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HALLOWEEN FAVORITES: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

Much like a dream…or a nightmare…A Nightmare on Elm St. is many things at once. It’s one of the quintessential 80s horror flicks…defining a decade where horror was quite prolific…it gave birth to the legendary icon that is Freddy Kruger (Robert Englund)…who now sits proudly among Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula in the halls of horror… and it certainly is one of Wes Craven’s best films, in a solid career of genre filmmaking. Most of all, it’s a damn good horror flick!

Wes Craven gives us a cast of likable teens haunted by the malevolent specter of a child molester that their parents murdered after he was freed on a technicality. Now vengeance comes when they are at their most vulnerable…while they sleep. And that’s what makes this work so well. We all know how vulnerable we are when we are sleeping and Craven uses that fear to not only draw the audience in, but present us with some unsettling and spooky dream sequences where Freddy torments and then finishes off his victims. Craven also crafts a spooky boogie man who is a very frightening figure in his first outing, before becoming an anti-hero of sorts in the later sequels that got more humorous and outlandish as they went on.

The lead cast is fairly solid including spunky Heather Langenkamp as our heroine Nancy, Amanda Wyss as the ill-fated Tina, Nick Corri as Tina’s delinquent boyfriend Rod, the always good John Saxon (and I am a BIG John Saxon fan!) as Nancy’s sheriff father and a young unknown named Johnny Depp as Nancy’s boyfriend Glen…not to forget Robert Englund chilling our bones as Freddy in a role that would make him a horror film legend.

The film isn’t perfect, there is some very weak dialog peppered throughout and a few weak performances in the supporting cast especially Ronee Blakely who seems to be acting in another movie, or a soap opera, as Nancy’s alcoholic mother. Langenkamp has a few weak moments early on, too, but as Nancy gets stronger so does her performance. Flaws aside, the make-up and gore effects supporting our story are quite good and the dream sequences are visually effective and quite spooky, despite the limitations of a low budget. The film is loaded with chills and suspense and is still effective all these years and sequels later.

Another trend setting horror and a true classic that continues to find fans with each new generation. This series was a favorite of mine as the 80s horror franchises went, as the Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels just became redundant weapon of the month club features while the Elm Street films, even in their weakest installments, were continually inventive with their nightmare sequences. Also stars the Insidious series’ Lin Shaye as one of Nancy’s teachers. A classic!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 Freddys!

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REVIEW: REAL FEAR: THE TRUTH BEHIND MORE MOVIES (2013)

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REAL FEAR: THE TRUTH BEHIND MORE MOVIES (2013)

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What better way to follow up yesterday’s review of last year’s fun paranormal documentary Real Fear: The Truth Behind The Movies but, with a review of the new installment Real Fear: The Truth Behind More Movies set to debut this Friday 9/6/13 on Chiller TV. (check your local listings!)

Katrina Weidman (Paranormal State, Real Fear #1) is back with returning crew members John McGarry and Chris Holt along with new Real Fear team members Becky Weingrad and veteran Ufologist Richard Dolan. Together they take us on investigations of the real stories behind The Haunting In Connecticut, Fire In The Sky, A Nightmare On Elm St. and The Blair Witch Project and this gives us a nice mix of angry spirits, abducting aliens, nightmare inducing entities and cryptozoological creatures. As a fan of horror flicks and paranormal shows, you had me at… well, all of it.

Second installment is a lot of fun and already has me hoping for a third. The team, especially the returning novice members, have some experience under their belts now and with investigator Weidman and grizzled veteran Dolan, they have matured into a fairly sturdy team of investigators. While we don’t quite have the fun of watching the newbies get spooked so easily like last time, it has all the more impact when they do get spooked as they are more experienced…and delightfully, they do get spooked quite a few times during the show. The gang travel to Connecticut to investigate that famous haunting and the film it inspired. They talk not only to mom Carmen Reed, portrayed in the flick by Virginia Madsen, but also TVs Haunted Collector John Zaffis, who was one of the original investigators on that infamous case and now owns some interesting relics from it in his haunted collection. We, as last time, get a run down of what allegedly actually happened compared to what was portrayed in the movie and the team even gets to spend the night at a nearby house where a local Paranormal team is dealing with an escalating haunting of their own.

Next they travel to Pennsylvania to look into the background of the creepy alien abduction flick Fire In The Sky. They interview Travis Walton, the man who was allegedly abducted and was the subject of the film, who tells his side of this bizarre occurrence as compared to what Hollywood presented. Things get a bit creepy when the group also investigates a death which may be related to Walton’s tale and spend some time at night in the woods where the film and real life incidents supposedly took place.

While the first two segments are a bit interview heavy, as those cases have no new developments, the next two segments are the real meat of this fun meal as the team goes into the field to investigate A Nightmare on Elm St. and The Blair Witch Project

To look at Wes Craven’s classic, the team goes to the abandoned Pennhurst Asylum in PA. where we are told patients suffered from recurring dreams and visitors, who now enter the closed facility, are also haunted by recurring nightmares as well. Craven’s film was supposedly based on a group of Asian immigrants who all suffered from the same dream, some of which who died in their sleep and in the style of A Nightmare On Elm St. part 3, the team decides to spend the night in the dread filled asylum. Add to that, veteran psychic Chip Coffey…who is a hoot here as always…and you get a delightfully goose bump filled segment that would entertain Mr. Krueger himself.

The show wraps up with my favorite segment…as it takes place in the Pine Barrens, N.J. how could it not be…with an investigation of The Blair Witch Project and the similar tale of accused witch Mrs. Leeds and her infamous 13th child. While the Blair Witch itself is not based on the Jersey Devil lore, it is similar to The Last Broadcast a found footage flick made a year earlier that was. There is no proof that Blair Witch is inspired by Last Broadcast, but the similarities in the films and the Jersey Devil legend sends the team to the infamous stomping ground of my home state’s most famous resident aside from Sinatra and Bon Jovi. They gather witness testimony and then decide to camp out there for the night and it’s a most eventful and spooky night indeed.

Sure the novelty of the first special has worn off somewhat and it has a bit less of the fun ‘Scooby Doo‘ vibe as the team has matured into their roles a bit more and with the addition of older, veteran investigator Dolan, but we do get more intensive investigations to entertain the paranormal fan and a lot more analysis of the films in question, which intrigues the movie fan. Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, it’s fun to watch the team connect the paranormal dots between the reported incidents and the movies they inspired. Personally, I think the best segments are the ones that get the team out in the field and staying in spooky spots. I really enjoyed all the history, interviews and analysis, but the show really comes alive when the team puts themselves in a position to meet the unknown…and sometimes the unknown wants to meet them. That’s where the real fun in Real Fear is and hopefully future installments get them into haunted spots even more. I had a really good time with this new chapter and hope Katrina and the gang go to the movies again real soon!

Real Fear: The Truth Behind More Movies premiers Friday 9/6/13 on the Chiller Network. Check your local listings for times.

3 and 1/2 spooks !

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