All posts by Clifford K

Review: Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020)

Review: 2016’s Suicide Squad is probably one of my least liked in the DCEU brand. There were a lot of great ideas behind it, but ultimately it’s potential was wasted with a poorly constructed plot and bad editing. But one thing that truly stood out as a saving grace for the film was without a doubt, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. There is simply no denying that she stole the film with her larger than life performance as the character, which generated major demand for more Harley Quinn in the DC Universe. For a while the potential of a solo Harley Quinn movie seemed very promising, even a Joker/Harley film which would have seen her fabulous emancipation from the clown prince of crime. But alas, none of those panned out quite as hoped. Instead, we got “Birds of Prey: & the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn.” A mouth full, for one, and almost nothing to do with the actual Birds of Prey. But that isn’t to say Birds of Prey is by any means a bad movie. It does have it’s pros and at it’s core, is quite entertaining. However, it is also a very problematic film, which I will elaborate on later in this review. 

Let’s get started by addressing the acting here, which is largely well done! Mary Elizabeth Winstead is amazing as Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress. I would dare to say that her portrayal as the character was perfection. And while at first glance one might argue that she doesn’t dress like her comic book counterpart. Her counterpart from the source material was usually reduced to eye candy outfits that left very little to the imagination as where Winstead’s take has the character donning tracksuit look that comes off as tactical and more combat-like. And overall it just looks amazing as fuck if I may say so. My favorite scene with her happens in the 3rd act during the Funhouse raid. It’s probably one of the best moments in that sequence and it honestly had me thinking “she is one badass motherfucker!”. Winstead owns the role, there is absolutely no debating it. However, it Is somewhat disappointing to see her presence in the film being somewhat small. Initially I had my doubts about Jurnee Smollett-Bell as Black Canary, but thankfully they were proven wrong. Smollett-Bell brought a new take to the character that was both fun and fresh. And even though she doesn’t wear the character’s signature fishnet stocking, Smollett-Bell totally rocks the gold pants like a freaking badass! I also liked Ella Jay Basco as Cassandra Cain. It took some time warming up to her take on the character, but once I did I enjoyed it a fair bit. 

Moreover to some of the other performances like Ewan McGregor, who I think did a fine job portraying infamous gangster Roman Sionis. Although there is a something done to the character I was kind of furious about, but we’ll get back to that topic later when I point out the things I did not like. But I digress, McGregor really immerses himself into the role and becomes this short tempered, easily set off type of gangster that is determined to get what he believes is his by right. McGregor is a seasoned actor and it’s evident here with the quality he pours into his performance. Margot Robbie once again shines bright like a diamond as Harley Quinn. It’s almost as if the character and herself were destined for each other. The only complaint I have with her performance is that there were a few instances in which she over does the Brooklyn accent. Which was a little annoying, but it’s a minor nitpick that can be easily overlooked. But I digress. Robbie has a lot of fun with Quinn this time around and some of it pretty damn amazing, especially with the choice of color pallets they went with in the cinematography. It’s really colorful like earlier we see Quinn blow up the Ace chemical plant as the ultimate “fuck you!” to the Joker in a drunken rage for dumping her and throwing her out into the streets. This platter of colorful shots is seen again later on in the film during the police station raid, in what I consider the film’s best moment. Harley basically goes in with a teargas gun and it taking on the cops with gas and glitter grenades. The scene is colorful and hilarious, and I adored the slapstick sense of humor that was incorporated into the action sequence. Now I would be doing the film a massive disservice if I didn’t mention the film’s soundtrack, which is pretty amazing. Love or hate the movie, you cannot deny that the soundtrack is on point and kicking all kinds of ass. 

Now that I’ve said everything I loved about Birds of Prey, and it was a lot great stuff to unload. Now I have to talk about the things I did not like. And here is where things may get a tad bit controversial. Some may agree. And some may outright lambast me for saying it. But the film’s overall tone handle’s the topic of toxic masculinity all wrong by painting literally every male character in a negative light. Seriously, you will not find a single male character in BoP that is in any way good towards women. The film portrays all men as sexist, violent towards women, or having violent tendencies. And are untrustworthy towards women. I get what message BoP was trying to get across with this narrative. But the way it went about it was all wrong. Yes showcasing toxic musicality and the violent patriarchal system of misogyny against women is something that is deserving of being told on the big screen. But not all men are trash, which is something the film failed to grasp in it’s plot. A great example of praising feminism and putting patriarchal misogyny on blast is 2017’s hit Wonder Woman, and 2019’s Captain Marvel. Both films showcased the uphill battle women face in a man’s world, but also portrayed male allies. Men who did not look down on the opposite sex, but rather respected them as equals and fought alongside them in the good fight against evil. This is storytelling done right, sadly a memo that BoP must not have received during it’s developmental phase. Which while I’m on the topic of it’s development, whoever chose the title of the film really needs a demotion. “Birds of Prey: & the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn” is simply too long of a title. To be frank, I don’t think the movie should even be called Birds of Prey as none of the Birds are formed together until the very last 15 – 20 mins of the film. Nor do the birds really get ample time to shine since Harley hogs the spotlight from start to finish. A more appropriate title for the film would have been “Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey.” Which is ironically similar to what the studios went with after it’s opening weekend. But to be frank, it’s too little, too late. 

I love actress Rosie Perez, she’s a very talented actress that is highly underrated in my opinion. She  a good match for the role of Renee Montoya. However, the way the plot portray’s the character was irksome. In the movie Montoya is seen as a joke in the GCPD. No male cop respects her. And her own boss basically steals every single bit of credit that rightfully belongs to her. This does the source material of the character a great disservice. In both the comics, novels and even animated series Montoya is viewed as a highly respected member of the GCPD. Often at times she is considered as one of Commissioner Gordon’s right hand LieutenantEven taking charge when Gordon himself is out of commission for whatever reason. Yet, here theres no indication that she and Gordon are even colleagues as she doesn’t work at the main station nor is he even referenced. This is the first time Montoya is given time to shine on the silver screen and her debut is massively botched not by Perez by any stretch, but rather by poor writing. Which is another thing. Early on WB made it clear to fans that BoP would have an LGBT+ presence in a really big way. Yet, moviegoers were queer-baited with a scene so short it lasts for maybe 1.5 seconds. A literal blink and you’ll miss it early on in the movie. And as for Montoya? The only indication made that she is a lesbian is through a voice over done by Margot Robbie as Harley in one scene when referring to Montoya’s ex girlfriend who happens to work in the Gotham City DA’s office. The characters have zero past romantic chemistry between them and the only thing suggesting that they once dated is a the voice over. In my opinion, the studios likely did this to avoid issues in certain markets. Which is honestly a lazy cop-out. Which is a running theme you will notice with BoP. It has a plethora of brilliant ideas but never quite follow through with them to be great. 

Another example of queer-baiting that the film mildly suggests that Victor Zsasz and Roman Sionis might be gay, or bisexual at the very least. But beyond hints and suggestions, just like the Montoya fiasco BoP never quite settles on it. Which is a real shame because it could have worked. But more on Roman Sionis, for those who aren’t aware, he’s a mid tier villain in the Batman rogue gallery and is most notorious for his signature black mask, hence the name Black Mask. But we don’t really get to see him in the mast a whole lot here. In fact, he doesn’t done the mask until midway into the 3rd act, for which he is seen wearing for mere portion of the climatic final battle sequence in the funhouse. After that he, surprise surprise, takes the goddamn mask off! Really? That’s like Bane taking his mask off after wearing it for a mere 5 mins. Or Joker deciding to take a wet wipe to the face because he can’t have all this makeup on before his big showdown. Which while I’m on the topic of Joker. McGregor does a fantastic job as Sionis. But he never quite achieve’s the presence of main villain in the film. Because even though he isn’t at all in the movie. Joker casts a massive shadow over the entirety of the film. From members of the BoP continuously bringing up his name, to Sionis and his gang to the officers of GCPD. Joker is literally everywhere in this movie and at the same time not. And it’s hard to take the threat of a big bad gangster like Sionis seriously when you’re constantly asking “I wonder what Mr. J is doing right now?” Or “Where is the Joker’s gang in all this?”. I’m no fan of Leto’s Joker. To be frank, he’s my least liked incarnation of the character. But considering this film is a direct sequel to Suicide Squad, it’s a damn shame we didn’t true closure to the Harely/Joker arc that began in the former. 

Final Verdict: BoP is a lot of things. It’s wild and full of stylish creativity that it deserves credit for. What it was really trying to be was a fun lighter tone answer to the dark gritty nature of Joker (2019). In some ways it succeeded, while in other ways it failed. I’ve bounced back and forth wether or not I liked or hated BoP. There is no true short answer. Because there is enough stuff in BoP that I absolutely loved, but also there were stuff I really hated. All in all, BoP isn’t a terrible movie, but it isn’t the masterpiece that it could have been. It’s still a watchable film, if you keep expectations at it’s lowest. 

Rating: 6/10

Review: Ocean’s 8 (2018)

Directed by: Gary Ross
Written By: Gary Ross, Olivia Milch
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime

Plot: Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City’s yearly Met Gala.

Reviewed by Clifford Kiyabu

Rating: 6/10

for months now the 4th installment in the Ocean’s series, Ocean’s 8 (2018), has sparked my curiosity. Especially after learning that it was not a remake, reboot, or reimagining, but rather a spinoff from the existing Danny Ocean storyline, which had me excited with anticipation. Considering that I have not seen any of the films in over a decade, I recently decided to do a complete revisit of the Steven Soderbergh Trilogy in preparation of the spinoff. Revisiting them have left me with mixed feelings, however. Ocean’s Eleven is, in my opinion, the superior in the trilogy, with Ocean’s Thirteen coming in a close second place. don’t get me wrong, Ocean’s Twelve is a good movie, just not nearly as entertaining as id like it to be. It suffered from being the middle child that tried a little too hard to win their parents approval.

this review will contain spoilers to the current installment so if you have not seen it yet and do not wish to be spoiled I recommend you stop reading now…

Ocean’s 8 picks up present day, following the release of Debbie Ocean (Bullock), younger sister to Danny Ocean. After meeting up with her longtime friend and partner-in-crime, Lue (Blanchett), the two set off to recruit a ragtag team of uniquely skilled women to aid them in the ultimate jewel heist, and possibly, get some much-needed revenge in the process. Overall I had a fun time with Ocean’s 8. Like its predecessors before it, the film has a certain charm to it that wheels you in from the start. However, while it did hold my attention for the entirety of the runtime, I was somewhat disappointed. To say Ocean’s 8 is a bad movie would be quite a stretch. however, it wasn’t really a great movie either. Much like Ocean’s Twelve, 8 tries too hard to capture the personality and magic of its predecessors and falls flat on doing its own thing. While the heist scene was pretty entertaining, it felt too safe. Never once in the film did I feel any risk for these characters. In the previous films, the main characters were constantly put in situations where it seemed like failure was more than a possibility. In Ocean’s 8 we never quite feel a sense of danger for any of Debbie’s crew.

Another issue lies in the fact that this film is filled with a cast of top-tier talent. Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson, Awkwafina, Rihanna, and Helena Bonham Carter. each of these amazing ladies is truly a force to be reckoned with. They can, and have proven how marvelously talented they are. Bullock and Blanchett aside, the rest of the cast feels so underused here. But, the biggest sin Ocean’s 8 committed, in my opinion, lies with its villain. Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) is so forgettable as a character and villain, that you already begin to forget him by the time the credits start rolling, which is a real shame. Because for the Ocean’s films the villain has always played a key role in the formula. Terry Benedict (Andy García) is a character that you could help but love to hate, and he was nicely fleshed out and given some depth over the span of the entire Trilogy. In Twelve, we had Baron François Toulour AKA The Night Fox (Vincent Cassel) an egotistical thief who proved to be a formidable adversary to the Donny and the gang. And in Thirteen we got Willy Bank (Al Pacino), a narcissistic casino resort owner give’s Terry Benedict a good run for his money. As you can see each of these villains stand out. They’re almost iconic in their own way for the franchise. But as for Becker, he comes off as a throwaway character that didn’t deserve the effort put in for such a noteworthy revenge. And that’s a real problem for Ocean’s 8. The villain is so two dimensional that you really don’t care why Debbie is going out of her way to pay him back for selling her down the river.

Overall; Ocean’s 8 isn’t a bad film by any means. it’s easily much better than Ocean’s Twelve. but struggles behind Eleven and Thirteen. would I recommend seeing it? Sure, if you’ve got time to spare, then it’s an okay way to kill a couple hours. Otherwise, don’t waste your time.

In Retrospective: The Transformers Series


Summer is in full swing, which means only one thing; Blockbuster season at the box office! Among the many releases during this time of the year are popcorn flicks. You know the type. Massive explosions, hot girls in skimpy outfits, angled camera shots, larger than life villains, and a story that is so mindlessly ridiculous that you’re better off just checking your brain at the door. And when it comes to popcorn flicks of a larger than life magnitude there is no better master of the art than filmmaker Michal Bay. Here I review the latest installment of the Transformers franchise Transformers: The Last Knight, as well as examine the franchise as a whole and highlight where it went wrong.

Over the last decade, the Transformers franchise has gained a reputation for all the hallmarks that make a summer blockbuster. Love them or hate them you can’t deny that the films have made a tremendous impact on the summer movie season, particularly at in box office numbers. However, the latest installment, Transformers: The Last Knight has performed quite poorly both domestically and abroad in certain key markets when compared to its predecessors. Domestically this is the lowest grossing film in the series. It has also seen a significant loss in its audience during its second week in several prominent markets. A small loss is acceptable and usually happens anyway, but not by a huge percentage. While the TF series gradually spiraled downwards regarding the quality of writing, it has always proudly embraced its reputation for being a sure cash grab at the box office with each film making more or as much as its previous installment. But one could argue that despite its repeated success over the years the series has flouted in a box office bubble of its own design. And like any bubble, it’s only a matter of time before it pops and everything comes crashing down.

While some people say the franchise as a whole has been total garbage, I argue that it hasnt. At least not entirely anyway. I still remember the opening day the first Transformers movie was released. It was 2007, Bluray and HD DVD were locked in a heated battle for dominance over the physical media market, Paris Hilton spent 23 days in jail, Britney Spears shocked the world by shaving her head. And the final installment to author J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ was released. 2007 was quite a year for controversies, scandals, and entertainment. But among those was awaiting a sleeping giant in the form of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. Despite some unsureness, TF proved to be a success both commercially and critically. It had a decently well-written plot that had a layer of depth but was also simple enough to be relatable by the majority of moviegoers. There was enough action to knock your socks off six ways come Sunday. But more importantly, it gave us characters that we connected with in some form. TF delivered on all the right elements in the right timing to connect with its audience for its time. All was right in the world, and for once a live action movie based on a kid’s product was a success… But then TF: Revenge of The Fallen was released. And thus so began its descent into eternal damnation.

Revenge of The Fallen took everything that was great about the first TF movie and essentially defecated all over it. Instead of growing and evolving these characters we were given an inferior plot that mostly shadowed by a mind numbing amount of action and cheap humor, followed by an excessive amount of fan-service of Megan Fox in suggestively angled shots. Then, of course, there were those stereotypic Autobots meant for tung and cheek laughs but ultimately came off as very offensive. What made it worse was that the film’s plot centralized around the relationship of the two lead protagonists and their attempt to repair their damaged relationship. Only to see it meant for nothing in the next sequel when actress Magen Fox was suddenly replaced by Victory Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in Dark of The Moon due to some poorly worded choice of words by Fox at the time.

Her replacement was meant to continue the franchise without requiring her involvement, but instead signified a grim outlook on the cute and sometimes awkwardly corky courtship that began between the protagonists in the first TF. While DOTM was by no feet a great film, it was still a slight improvement from ROTF. And in my opinion, the franchise really should have concluded there with a complete reboot to overhaul the franchise back to its grassroots given some time… But nope! We got “Age of Extinction”; a sequel with no reason to exist except to pump out more bucks at the cinema.

Suddenly Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky was out and replaced with Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager. And look, I’m a fan of Wahlberg. There are quite a few of his films that I hold in high esteem. But a Transformers film is not one of them. That was a huge miscast by the studios in my opinion. Terrible acting, mundane plot and an over excessive use of explosions and female objectification. Simply put, Age of Extinction is 2 hours and 45 minutes of my life I will never get back again… And so finally this brings me to the main course of this article, TF: The Last Knight. The latest installment to what has come to feel like a never ending road of bad decisions for the franchise. For a film like “Transformers,” where Optimus Prime is a prominent figure featured in every trailer and poster, we end up seeing very little of him. The majority of Prime’s screen time are scenes already shown in the advertisement, which is a damn shame considering he is supposed to be the leader of the Autobots and the poster-child to the entire franchise. Not featuring your main face of the brand in the film would be the equivalence of a Batman movie that featured no Batman. Or a Spider-Man movie that didn’t even involve the web-head. Simply put, it’s a friggin bad idea! Instead, we are given an over abundance of Mark Wahlberg. Even Isabela Moner, who was given a strong presence in the advertisement as the new fresh face of the franchise was under-utilized. It is disappointing considering there was a great opportunity to use her character to connect viewers to someone they could relate to.

My only assumption to justify this travesty of a film, and greater tragedy of a franchise is that they either A: thought the audience was too stupid to comprehend a real story and character development. Or B: chose this as the least worse possible choice out of a slew terrible ideas. Which I certainly hope they went with the latter in this scenario. But I digress. One can only hope that TLK is the last of the franchise. But sadly it is not likely. And it is very plausible the franchise won’t be dead and done for many more years to come.

Review: The Mummy (2017)

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Written By: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie, Dylan Kussman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella, Annabelle Wallis, Russell Crowe, Jake Johnson.

Genre: Action/Horror/Fantasy

Plot: An ancient princess is awakened from her crypt beneath the desert, bringing with her malevolence grown over millennia, and terrors that defy human comprehension.

Reviewed by Clifford Kiyabu (The Doctor)

Rating: 5/10

Shared universes are all the rage among moviegoers currently, so it’s only fitting that the film industry would as well too. This, of course, is partly due to the success of Marvel/Disney’s MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), and more recently Warner Bros’ DCEU. Despite the bombardment of criticism the franchise has received by critics (pre-Wonder Woman), it has still proven to be very lucratively pulling in well over $2.9 billion to date at the worldwide box office. Ultimately, it is the moviegoer, not the critic who decides its fate. But I digress, just about every major studio in Hollywood has joined in on the current trend in some compacity may it be by entering a partnership with another competing studio or starting a shared universe of their own. Which brings me to Universal’s Dark Universe, an extended universe which serves to reboot all of their classic Universal Monsters with a more modern take on them. Yeah sure the idea does sound somewhat intriguing to hear, but in all honesty, there hasn’t been any real demand for it.

Despite all the negative reviews published on The Mummy, I still went in with a relatively open mind. And as a credit to the movie, I actually got some entertainment out of it. Likewise, I also had some grievances, too. The Mummy commits quite a few cinematic sins. Most notable is the lack of character development. It seems as though most of these characters are launched into the plot with very little development. Now that is not to say there is zero character development here, of course, there is some, just not enough to give us any real clear cut vision behind some of these character’s motivations and hints as to where their developing agendas lie. It also has a problem with delivery and execution on humor. Yes, it is first and foremost a horror/action. But it also attempts to tap into the same formula the Brendon Fresher Mummy films succeeded with when mixing action-horror with a subtle touch of humor. The problem here is unlike the Fresher films which came off as charming and engaging. This flick, however, comes off as dull and out of place. A good example of this comes directly from my experience. There are a few particular moments in the mummy that I felt were crafted to incite the audience into a roar of laughter, or at least a few chuckles at best. Instead, my theater room was so soft that the sound of a pin hitting the floor could be heard from across the theater room. It was during these moments during the movie that I would recall the long-running gag on the animated series Family Guy in which a lone ostrich sat in the stands giving a single sarcastic “HAHA!”.

Moreover, I felt an issue that kept coming up in The Mummy was its chemistry. More particularly the chemistry between Tom Cruise and the impressive Annabelle Wallis. Both of them are great respectively on their own, but as a pair, I wasn’t feeling it. Their romance felt more manufactured than organic. And that is, in my opinion, a major mistake when trying to establish a sense of history and weight in your characters. However, despite all the problems I’ve pointed out about The Mummy, and I’m sure I could go on about it even more. I honestly felt that some critics were a bit harsh. And I especially believe that some of that stem from the constant reminder that it truly wasn’t all that long ago that we got the last Fresher installment. Yes, it’s been nine years since The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008) was released, and yes I guess that is considered a long enough gap of time to warrant a full reboot to the franchise. But it doesn’t change the fact that the impact of the previous films still lingers in our minds. It also had a lot riding on it for being the flagship film of the Dark Universe. Which caused a lot of raised eyebrows considering that there were last minute reshoots made for another Universal film called Dracula Untold (2014) which was originally meant as the official launch of the Dark Universe, but was later extensively downplayed when The Mummy was in development. There is no doubt that some felt rubbed the wrong way by this sudden change of direction, especially since Dracula Untold was a success at the box office for Universal. And despite its problematic plot holes and over the top cheesiness, despite all its flaws, it was still a somewhat decent popcorn flick.

But I firmly believe there is still hope for this franchise that nobody asked for, and it will depend on the steps Universal make in the upcoming years. Especially with its next installment. Right now the franchise is at a critical crossroads point. Some might argue that the franchise is already dead on arrival, but while that might be the case from a critical viewpoint. Money speaks louder than words. And right now The Mummy is sitting on a $377 million intake at the overall box office and still counting. It is also one of the largest box office openings in history for any Tom Cruise film in the European market. And the movie hasn’t finished debuting in the Asian market yet, so it’s world wide box office numbers is expected to continue growing as time continues. While The Mummy isn’t something I would recommend to see at the cinema, it is by no means the worst film of 2017.

Tobe Hooper: Rodney Dangerfiel of Horror

Hooper-01 Tobe Hooper: Rodney Dangerfiel of Horror

By Michael Goth

A Profile of the legendary director of Poltergeist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Salem’s Lot.

In his biography of horror director/writer Wes Craven, author John Kenneth Muir refereed to the legendary director of A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Last House on the Left and the Scream trilogy as “the Rodney Dangerfield of horror”. I questioned this as Craven’s films have generally been highly regarded by even mainstream critics and quite a few had been major box office hits. If the term “Rodney Dangerfield of horror” were to apply to anyone working in cinematic horror, it would be Tobe Hooper. Tobe Hooper is definitely a man who cannot get respect.

Despite having directed 17 motion pictures and an odd number of television projects over the last four decades, Hooper is best known for the groundbreaking 1974 indie classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (As well as its forgettable 1986 sequel.), the well produced 1979 television miniseries based upon Stephen King’s sophomore novel Salam’s Lot and the excellent 1982 Steven Spielberg produced and co-written Poltergeist.

With the exception of these three films, Hooper’s work has been written off by most critics and mainstream moviegoers, despite many of his films developing cult followings. Films such as Eaten Alive, The Funhouse, Lifeforce, Invaders from Mars and The Toolbox Murders. Hooper’s most recent film, 2013’s Djinn, was never released in theaters in the United States and was not issued on DVD until late last year. It didn’t seem to matter that Djinn was Hooper’s most accomplished film in nearly 30 years.

William Tobe Hooper was born in Austin, Texas on January 25, 1943. He became interested in filmmaking at age nine and went on to study film and television production at the University of Austin. During the second half of the sixties and early seventies Hooper earned his living as a college professor while shooting documentaries on the side, including 1965’s short film The Heisters as well as the low budget Eggshells, a film on the counterculture that was given limited theatrical release. He also directed a documentary on the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

In the early seventies, Tobe Hooper was holiday shopping at Montgomery Ward when he suffered an anxiety attack in the power tools section. It was one of those holiday shopping days where the stores are so busy that one can hardy breath. Hopper imagined that he used a chainsaw to clear a path to the exit.

texas-chainsaw-massacre“Upon arriving home, Tobe began drafting a story outline for what would become The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Later fleshing out the script with friend Kim Henkel. The character of the chainsaw wielding Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen), who wears a mask made from human skin, was based upon notorious serial killer Ed Gein, who was also the inspiration for Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a horror movie take on the death of the 60’s dream. On a steaming hot afternoon, Sally (Marilyn Burns), and a group of friends are out for a weekend drive when they come upon the family from hell, a clan of cannibals. Sally and her friends represent the 60’s generation and Leatherface and his brothers (And a corpse of a grandfather.) are essentially the Manson family. Charles Mason and his followers murdered actress Sharon Tate and several friends in a horrific event that helped end the idealism of the 1960’s and ushered in the cold, harsh reality of the 1970’s.

Produced on a budget of a mere $300,000, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a hit with audiences. Playing mainly in second run theaters and drive-in’s, the film would make about roughly $30,000,000 over the next three years.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a hit with many filmmakers and critics, while others were less impressed with the film. One of its champions was William Friedkin, the Oscar winning director of The French Connection and The Exorcist, who has on a number of occasions referred to Hooper’s low budget shocker as one of the only films that ever truly scared him.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has never been broadcast on television in America and has never been shown in England at all until a few years ago. The film has a reputation for being extremely gory, though in reality it is not a bloody film at all. Chainsaw’s attack is purely psychological, leaving viewers feeling they have witnesses much more than they actually have.

As it took three years for Chainsaw to earn its $30,000,000, at first Hooper did not find himself buried with offers to direct another film. When he was offered one, it was a strange little movie called Eaten Alive.

Eaten Alive is certainly not a worthy follow up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but as a low budget grindhouse film, it works. The mentally ill and drug addicted Judd (Neville Brand), is the owner of the run down Starlight Hotel. If the fact that the hotel is hanging by threats doesn’t keep customers away, Judd’s pet crocodile, which he keeps in a swampy pond off the hotel’s porch, will. Or maybe it won’t.

Tobe Hooper’s talent kept Eaten Alive from being a forgettable b-movie. This is a movie that is perfection in its pure campiness. Hooper also designed the movie so that it is never day nor night but always dusk. Eaten Alive also benefits from a very good cast, a mixture of television veterans like Stuart Whitman, Carolyn Jones, Mel Ferrer with horror icons Robert England, Kyle Richards, William Finely and Chainsaw’s Marilyn Burns.

If Eaten Alive didn’t serve as a rightful follow-up to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper’s next project would. Producer Richard Kobritz had seen Chainsaw and was impressed with Hooper’s talent and felt he was the perfect choice to direct the made for television miniseries based upon Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot in 1979. Unlike many big screen directors, Hooper had no reservations of working in television and the project came with a budget of $4,000,000, unquestionably his biggest to date.

Like many of Tobe Hooper’s films, Salem’s Lot revolves around the idea of an evil house and the sort of people such a place would attract. David Soul plays Ben Mears, a bestselling author who has returned to his hometown to write a book on the Marsten House, the site of many mysterious and horrible incidents. When residents of Salem’s Lot begin the turn up dead, Ben begins to suspect the Marsden House’s new resident, an English dealer in antiques named Richard Stracker, played very effectively by James Mason.

Salem’s Lot is a great film. Despite being a television movie, it is of motion picture quality. Infact, a shortened version of the film was released theatrically oversees. David Soul and James Mason are both terrific as is the rest of the cast which includes Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayers, Julie Cobb and Geoffrey Lewis. Not all of the novel’s fans liked the idea of Hooper and producer Kobritz changing Kurt Barlow (Reggie Nader), the suave vampire of the book into the more monster like creature in the film. You can’t please everyone.

Tobe Hooper’s third theatrical film, The Funhouse, was released in 1981 and was his best film to date. It was also his most difficult production. Rumors of Hooper’s cocaine addiction and a poor relationship with his producers plagued the filming of this really great film.

Though Universal Studios promoted The Funhouse as one of the many teen slasher movies that had come in the wake of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980), the movie was a clever blend of many different styles of horror movies woven together with plenty of humor-including parodies of Psycho and Halloween-and likable characters.

Elizabeth Berridge was very effective as high school senior Amy Harper who attends a funhouse with her best friend Liz (Largo Woodruff), Liz’s boyfriend Richie (Miles Chapin) and the James Dean like Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), a friend of Richie’s who Liz has set Amy up with.
The kids decide to stay overnight at the funhouse but their evening of fun turns to horror when they witness the death if Madame Zena (Sylvia Miles), a fortune teller and possible prostitute, by the hands of something that is not quite human.

The Funhouse received good reviews and the novelization by a young Dean Koontz (Which is still in print) was a bestseller but the film grossed only a little over $7,000,000. The Funhouse’s weak performance at the box office is likely more a result of Universal’s poor marketing of the film as it’s a great movie.

Hooper’s next project Poltergeist, promised to be the film that would break Tobe Hooper into the mainstream. The film had a then sizeable budget of $10,000,000 and was produced and co-written by Steven Spielberg.

Poltergeist Spielberg had originally planned to direct Poltergeist himself but a clause in his contract with Universal Studios prevented him from directing any other film while E.T.-The Extra Terrestrial was in any phase of production. Having admired Hooper’s work on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Spielberg hired him to direct Poltergeist.

Poltergeist was envisioned by Spielberg as being the flip side of the same coin as E.T.-The Extra Terrestrial. While one is the story about family who is visited by a friendly alien, the other is about a little girl who is abducted from her home by supernatural forces.
Poltergeist takes place in the same Spielbergian middle class suburban neighborhood as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. In one of the homes, which is basically identical to the one on either side of it, lives the Freeling family: the parents, Steven (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane (Jobeth Williams), their children, 16-year old Dana (Dominique Dunne), 8-year old Robbie (Oliver Robins) and little 5-year old Carol Ann (Heather O’Rourke). At first the supernatural spirits are friendly but then turn to evil, taking Carol Ann.

Poltergeist is one of the greatest films ever made and Tobe Hooper’s fully realized and polished movie. The film has a great cast, special effects that are still stunning and a mesmerizing score by Jerry Goldsmith. Poltergeist was a huge hit, grossing over $70,000,000 and ranking as one of the 10 highest grossing movies of 1982.

Directing the 8th highest grossing movie of 1982 should have been the triumph that would have taken Tobe Hooper’s career to the next level. However, it wasn’t. While still in production, rumors began to circulate that Hooper’s cocaine addiction had become so severe that Steven Spielberg had to unofficially direct the film himself. As to who really directed Poltergeist? It’s a topic still discussed by film fans to this day. It’s of my opinion that Poltergeist was a collaboration between Hooper and Spielberg and that the film is a product of both their sensibilities.

It would be three years before Tobe Hooper, now drug free, directed his next film, 1985’s Lifeforce. Lifeforce was the first in a three picture deal Hooper signed with Cannon films and for my taste is not only the best of the three films but second only to Poltergeist as Tobe Hooper’s greatest movie.

Lifeforce was based on the 1976 novel The Space Vampires by Colin Wilson and is the story of a space shuttle, the Churchill, that while exploring Halley’ Comet discovers an ancient vessel at the tail end of the comet with two naked males and one female in hibernation. Back on Earth, the three aliens attempt an escape with only the female (Mathilda May) surviving. She has the ability to take a person’s life force, or soul, and it is believed by Dr. Fallada (Frank Finlay) that this alien race visited Earth in its distant past and is the source of the vampire legend.

Lifeforce is a brilliant film featuring a good cast that includes Steve Railsback, Peter Firth and Patrick Stewart, great visual effects and a driving musical score by Henry Mancini. However, as had happened with Tobe Hooper too many times before, Lifeforce was brutalized by critics and failed at the box office.

Hopper’s two other films for Cannon, Invaders from Mars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, met the same fate. Invaders is actually an enjoyable if sometimes silly remake of the 1950’s film of the same name. Chainsaw 2 is an awful film and a horrible sequel. While the original film sacred its audience with psychological horror, the sequel is extremely gory for the sake of being gory. The humor in the film also fails and in some cases is offensive.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 marked the creative decline of Tobe Hooper. Over the last 30 years his cinematic output has consisted of such forgettable films as Spontaneous Combustion, The Apartment Complex, Crocodile and Mortuary. Though there have been a few exceptions like The Toolbox Murders and Djinn.

Despite these later misfires, from 1974 to 1986, Tobe Hooper’s star shined very bright. During this period he gave us such genre masterpieces as Poltergeist, Lifeforce, The Funhouse, Salem’s Lot and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For these films alone, fans of cinematic horror will forever remember the name Tobe Hooper.

This article is dedicated to my dad and to the memory of Heather O’ Rourke, Dominique Dunne, Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hanson.

Brooke Shields: America’s Princess

402354b4093f2e4b91a5949846469151Brooke Shields: America’s Princess
By Michael Goth

If one young person could be picked who most personified the 1980’s, Brooke Shields is one such person who would come to mind. In fact, in a 1981 cover story Time magazine named Brooke, “The Face of the Eighties”.

Brooke’s career as an actress and model has been filled with contradictions. At a young age, Brooke appeared in several films that caused controversy over the sexual matter in which she was portrayed. As did the series of famous Calvin Klein print and television ads where 14- year old Brooke, often presented in a provocative manner, uttered the tagline “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvin’s? Nothing!”

Off screen Brooke was insecure, suffered from bouts of depression and didn’t lose her virginity until her early 20’s. She also headed a campaign in the early 1980’s to keep cigarettes out of the hands of children. Brooke spoke about these very contradictions in her recently published book There Was A Little Girl: The Real Story of My Mother and Me.

As an actress, Brooke has continued to act into her late 40’s, most notably in the sitcom Suddenly Susan, which ran from 1996 to 2000. However, as an actress Brooke will probably be best remembered for three coming of age dramas, Louis Malle’s Pretty Baby (1978), The Blue Lagoon (1980) and Franco Zeffirelli’s Endless Love (1981).

The only child of Frank and Teri Shields, Brooke Christa Shields was born on May 31, 1965 in New York City. Her parents were divorced before their daughter was even born and though Brooke would remain close to her father and step family, she was raised primarily by her alcoholic mother who could often be both physically and emotionally abusive. Despite this, Terri was very protective of her daughter and kept her safe from the darker sides of fame that have so often consumed many a young celebrity. Also, a real bond of love and affection existed between mother and daughter.

Brooke was the first member of Generation X, those babies born between 1965 and 1978, to achieve superstardom. And her road to the top began when Teri got her daughter cast in an Ivory soap ad when Brooke was 11-months old. A successful career in modeling soon followed.
Brooke’s first film role came at age 10 in the well-made but little known horror film Alice, Sweet Alice. Though like many low budget indie horror movies, Alice, Sweet Alice gained a cult following but quickly disappeared from theaters. Though Brooke’s role is small, she gives a solid performance that showcases her acting talent at such a young age.

Brooke’s break through film came in 1978 with Pretty Baby, a highly controversial film directed by Louis Malle, in which Brooke plays an 11- year old prostitute who lives with her mother in a brothel. Though Teri had it put into Brooke’s contract that her daughter would not perform any nude scenes and that a body double would be required, many questioned her wisdom in allowing her daughter to appear in such a film. Despite controversy over that some felt the film promoted child pornography, Pretty Baby and Brooke received positive reviews from critics. Pretty Baby was a hit overseas but didn’t perform well in America. The film moves at a snail’s pace and, frankly, who wants to see a film about an 11-year old prostitute?

Following Pretty Baby, Brooke appeared in several films that went unnoticed at the box office, though Wanda Nevada and Just You and Me, Kid are very enjoyable. Upon turning 14 in 1979, Brooke would be cast in the film that she would become most known for, The Blue Lagoon.
The Blue Lagoon was a pet project for Randall Kleiser, the director of the 1978 blockbuster Grease. The Blue Lagoon was based upon a novel by Henry De Vere Stacpoole and tells the story of two cousins, Emmeline (Brooke) and Richard Lestrange (Christopher Atkins), who become marooned on a deserted island. Away from the norms of society a passionate love affair develops between the young couple as they enter puberty.

The Blue Lagoon caused controversy over its depictions of underage nudity, though like in Pretty Baby, all of the scenes where Brooke’s character appears unclothed were performed by a body double. Despite its controversy, The Blue Lagoon is a very sweet coming of age story which was beautifully shot in the South Pacific and features strong performances from both Brooke and Christopher Atkins. To this day, The Blue Lagoon remains Brooke’s second best film.

The last film that Brooke would act in as a child actress was the 1981 adaptation of Scott Spencer’s 1978 bestseller Endless Love, the story of a doomed love affair between two Midwestern teens, 17- year old David Axelrod and 15-year old Jade Butterfield. Both Brooke and her mother felt that Endless Love was a good project as the great Italian director Franco Zeffirelli was attached to the film and the actress wanted to work with an artistic filmmaker, which she felt she hadn’t done since Pretty Baby. Also, Brooke loved Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo & Juliet.

movies-endless-love-brooke-shields-martin-hewitt
In his autobiography, Zeffirelli: The Autobiography of Franco Zeffirelli, the director said that at first he was hesitant to work with Brooke but once filming began in Chicago, he found the young actress to be of promising talent. In There Was A Little Girl, Brooke spoke about how her famed director often bullied her but that she felt that he truly respected her as an actress.

Endless Love’s cast included unknown Martin Hewitt as David, Jade Butterfield’s (Brooke) troubled love interest as well as a strong supporting cast including Don Murray (Who Brooke said she loved in 1957’s Bus Stop), Shirley Knight, Richard Kiley, Beatrice Straight, James Spader and Tom Cruise in his film debut.

Brooke sites Endless Love as featuring what she considers her best performance which she attributes to working with Franco Zeffirelli. Endless Love is an amazing piece of work that is both moving and disturbing as it tells a story of love young turned obsession. After 34 years, it remains Brooke Shields greatest film and performance.

Avoiding the pitfalls that overcome many young actors, Brooke Shields has continued to work in film and television. The 1993 film Running Wild and the 2005 television movie Gone but Not Forgotten were especially memorable. However, Brooke Shields will probably always be remembered for her early roles as a child actress. As it is my opinion that she was the best there ever was.

Review: Within These Walls (2015)

MV5BMjE3MDYyOTQwOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzgxNjY0MTE@._V1_SX640_SY720_Directed by: James Tucker
Written By: Kelsey Zukowski (screenplay) & James Tucker (story)
Starring: Kelsey Zukowsk, Laura Godown-Mortensen, Felissa Rose, Marv Blauvelt, Jessica Rogers, James Tucker, Kate Atack.

Genre: Horror

Plot: A prisoner in her own home, a captive in her own body. Assaulted and trapped with no one to hear her cries for help…and knowing no one will believe her if they do. This is the terrifying reality Alaina finds herself in when she moves in to the house her mother died in. At first she thinks it’s the loss of her mother that is haunting her, but she is soon shown it is something far more malicious and unrelenting. The spirit taunts her as it invades her body, mind, and soul, completely trapping her. Alaina has to fight for answers on what really happened to her mother if she has any hopes of survival. She must find a way to endure this monster who lives and breathes to rob her of her sanity as it demands a savage hold on her.

Reviewed by Clifford Kiyabu (The Doctor)

Rating: 8/10

My Thoughts: What is it about the paranormal that sparks our curiosity? It is in our very nature as human beings to be drawn to the unknown… To bask ourselves in that which we don’t understand. Or is it the thirst for answers that pulls us in? Or is it something else? What happens when we stare deep into the abyss in search of answers and something stares back?

Directed by James Tucker and written by Kelsey Zukowski comes Within These Walls (2015). A haunting and chilling tale of a young woman’s endurance to unearth answers behind her mother’s death. Her search leads her down a dark and turbulent path of both physical and mental torment. Her only hope for survival is to endure and persevere.

WTW combines both classic and modern horror in a disturbingly delightful way while also setting its own artistic mark in the indie-horror genre. There’s no denying the film has qualities that are inspired by such cult classics as The Entity (1982), but by no means does it have similarities to it, nor does it rely solely on the inspiration. No, it relies on its own originality, which is wonderfully displayed in the writing, directing and performances. It’s a breath of fresh air in my opinion. Many horror films today (even in indie-horror) rely too heavily on shock value to carry itself rather than allow the story do its job, WTW however focuses on the actual plot to guide the film rather than cheap chills and thrills to keep viewers interested. Which in a sense has also become a signature of MS Zukowski’s style of writing. Anyone whose read her previous works know that everything has its purpose, nothing in place is there for mere shock value or cheap eye candy. WTW proves that good horror doesn’t require A-List actors, a superior budget, or even an over the top production to be astonishing. All that is needed is a cast and crew whom are passionate about the work and are dedicated to the art of filmmaking.

Where the directing and writing is impressive without question, the performances by the cast also proved to live up to expectations. Kelsey Zukowski performance as Alaina Olsen is amazing. You feel her pain, her torment… her struggle. You want to see her fight through it all to beat the odds. This is largely due to how fluent Zukowski comes off in the role and how well she’s able to project her emotions in the role. Marv Blauvelt and Laura Godown-Mortensen, who played Alaina’s parents were fantastic. Both actors share a form chemistry with the lead actress on screen that comes off as natural and honest.

Final Thoughts: WTW proved to be as amazing and fascinating as it was disturbing. I believe in the saying less is more, and in WTW’s case, the less you know going in the more you’ll get out of it. I highly recommend.

DVD Review: PLANET OF DINOSAURS (1977)

61AcYJnZXvLPLANET OF DINOSAURS (1977)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

My only memory of this movie is when this Styracosaurus chases this guy up to the edge of a cliff, impales him on its horn and throws him over. This is one of two movies I remember where I was shocked to see a stop-motion monster kill someone. Most of the stop motion movies I watched when I was a kid were from Ray Harryhausen and the most violence they ever had was having some monster fall onto a person in it’s death throes and crush them, or in the case of the Cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958) pick up a tree and squash them with it. No blood, just out of sight and you get the impression they were killed.

Equinox (1970) and Planet Of Dinosaurs (1977) were different. The former had a gigantic simian demon pick up someone, whale them against a tree and slam them against the ground with an audible splat. Towards the end of the film a stop-motion Satan swoops down and embeds his talons into this poor chick, it then reverts to human form showing it’s human hands embedded in her flesh. In the latter flick we see the Styracosaurus’ horn impale a human being, and then we see that human lying at the bottom of the cliff, stomach covered in blood, blood gurgling out of his mouth.

For a young kid who was heretofore brought up on G-rated monster movies seeing something Ray Harryhausen may have had a hand in creating shedding bloody violence was traumatizing. And because they were those two movies became cauterized into my wounded mind thus making them “memory movies” in the extreme. And for me most of my “memory movies” are my favorite ones.

I don’t believe I ever watched the rest of Planet Of The Dinosaurs, though having just seen it again, the second time since childhood, the giant spider attack suddenly brought back memories, and that occurred after the Styracosaurus attack. It’s possible now I may have seen more of it afterwards.

Planet Of The Dinosaurs is about a group of humans aboard a spacecraft in some unnamed, far-flung future, when the rector goes belly up they jump into the escape ship and get away just as their mother ship vaporizes. Lucky for them they were near an earth-like planet. They crash land and that’s when the fun begins.

None of them know what they are up against until one of the surviving chicks tells the others she forgot to bring the escape transmitter to shore. See they crashlanded in a lake and had to evacuate right quick before the ship sank. She says it’s probably floating out there somewhere. One of the guys takes off to get it and the chick jumps in to help; within seconds an aquatic dinosaur gobbles her up.

Hottest chick in the movie and she gets offed right in the beginning.

It’s not long before they all realize they’ve crashed onto some kind of planet of dinosaurs and it’s not long before they are fighting moments of melancholy for their earth home, each other, and, yes, the dinosaurs themselves.

For a B-movie I found myself noticing the subtext of future man with all his technology being rendered nearly inoperable the instant it gets taken away and then thrown face first into a survival of the fittest situation he’s never been, or even evolved to have been, prepared for.

What is man without his technology?

Answer: a caveman.

But no one watches a 1977 B-movie titled, Planet Of The Dinosaurs, for the subtext, you watch it to see humans battling, ah, dammit, what’s the word I’m looking for, oh yeah… DINOSAURS!! Especially when someone who knows what the fuck they are doing animates those dinosaurs expertly in stop-motion fashion. Enter Doug Beswick who’s done stop-motion work on When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970), Ticks (1993), Evil Dead 2 (1987), Beetlejuice (1988), A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1986) and even that Sunday morning religious series we all loved back in the day, Davey And Goliath (1971-1975).

Before putting this on I was a little worried it wouldn’t hold up. Not the stop-motion, but the movie around the FX. I have encountered a few “memory movies” from childhood that have shockingly not held up to the memories I had of them (i.e. The Eye Creatures, Zontar: The Thing From Venus), but I was relieved I was able to fall right into the story once they crashed on the planet. It’s pretty much hard not to identify with any stranded-on-a-desert island scenario, or in this case a stranded-on-an-alien-planet scenario no matter how low or high budgeted the movie is. We can all relate to the feeling of never seeing home again and trying to survive on nothing more than our own wits.

Dammit, there I go with the subtext again.

The stop-motion FX is integrated very well into the live action and Jim Danforth’s matte paintings. The movie reminded me of Equinox (Danforth worked on it, too) and I swear I saw a similar location used in that movie, as well. Checking the filming locations on IMDB for both indicated, however, they were shot in two different places.

Okay, so, I was wrong.

Inevitably the cast is whittled down and the ending is pretty much what you can guess it is. No one makes it off the planet, despite their previous attempts to set out some beacons a rescue ship might see when scanning the planet. We shoot ahead to an indeterminate time, enough to show how the survivors have chiseled out a niche in their alien-familiar ecosystem, built a domicile, created a farm, rid themselves of their futuristic clothing in favor of more caveman-like attire and started a family evident by the presence of a 3 year old now.

Ever since I got on the net on a regular basis (from 2010 on) and gotten integrated into the collecting movies community, especially those in the horror and science fiction genre, I’ve noticed there are some “memory movies” whose 35mm elements have been either deliberately/accidentally thrown out, not properly stored and taken care of (I’m looking at you Roger Corman) or have gone just MIA, resulting in sub-par DVD transfers from whatever remaining elements have been left behind.

Retromedia’s The Jitters (1989) DVD was mastered as perfect as Fred Olen Ray could get it from it’s only surviving source, a professional grade VHS tape. On the commentary the director even states all the original elements of this film are just no longer in existence.

Roddy McDowell once said Hollywood has no sense of history. That may be true but I can’t totally blame them. Who could have foreseen DVD technology, HD televisions or the DVD collecting community that would arise and demand high-grade transfers, deleted scenes and everything else we love that comes with these celluloid special edition memories.

Who could have foreseen there’d me a market for any of this?

I remember being a kid and having a brief moment of wonder about the shows I was watching. I am now 45 and my God there’s a couple of channels in existence that actually cater to old TV series. I never could have foreseen those shows would have had any kind of long lasting shelf life.

So it was of no surprise that when I popped Planet Of The Dinosaurs on this disclaimer comes up before the movie begins:
Due to time and circumstances the original 35 mm elements of PLANET OF DINOSAURS are no longer fit for transfer. This presentation has been created from one of the few remaining 35 mm prints and is reconstructed in the most distressed areas from the producer’s 16mm film element.

I’d say 95 % of the transfer is pretty damn good looking though. But even with those less than perfect frames on display it’s still very much watchable.

This particular release Retromedia made is actually a re-release. They originally released this DVD back in 2007, and after a while it went out of print. The old specs have been transferred over which contradict the new specs on the right. I’m talking about the aspect ratio. The old specs say it’s a 1.85:1 transfer but the new specs have it listed as a 1.78:1. The difference between the two, I believe, is minimal and shouldn’t impact your viewing pleasure. It would have had the old transfer been 2.35:1. There’s a big difference there. But have no fear the current transfer is anamorphic (aka enhanced for 16×9 televisions).

The audio is also the same, English Dolby Digital mono, and it sounded just fine to me.

There are no subtitles.

Extras from the old release have been ported over as well. To date all of Fred Olen Ray’s commentaries have been great. Here he moderates, asking all the right questions, to Director James K. Shea, Writer Jim Aupperle, Executive Producer Steve Czerkas and stop-motion animator Doug Beswick. Listening to it I became aware of the all the nods to stop-motion artists Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen they inserted into the film.

Speaking of O’Brien you also get two silent shorts titled, Ghost Of Slumber Mountain and Dinosaur And The Missing Link. Last but not least you also get two TV spots for Planet Of The Dinosaurs.

I missed this release when it first came out, but have obviously rectified that travesty. I think what we need now is a sequel that uses good ol’ fashion stop-motion again. It’s too bad that FX is now a lost art. Well, at least, we still have these memory movies to bask in.

Blu-Ray Review: TOURIST TRAP (1979, US Blu-Ray)

83676_frontTOURIST TRAP (1979, US Blu-Ray)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

(WARNING!! THERE ARE SPOILERS CONTAINED WITHIN! WARNING!!)

The only memory I retained of this movie was an early scene where this guy was trapped in a room while all this poltergeist-like phenomenon was happening all around him. He was trying to get out when this pipe flies across and impales him in the back. He then throws his head back in a silent scream as blood trickles out the end of the pipe.
Yeah, that freaked me out.

Having just seen Tourist Trap last night it’s plain to see that I never watched the movie all the way through. If I did, my ability to recall it has been stunted for it did not strike one familiar cord in me. Before I get deep into its review I just want to say I liked the movie. It was weird, creepy, grimy and descended into this dream logic vibe the longer it went on. Similar to Phantasm (1979) it felt like I was watching someone’s nightmare slowly and painfully unfold.

If you’ve never seen it and have a mannequin phobia I would not recommend watching it. I personally don’t have one but it nevertheless made me fear mannequins just a little bit. Parts of it fall into the ambiguous category but with this movie that was all right. Fear of the unknown is a deep-seeded phobia for most of the human race. We hate and fear those things that we cannot form a rational explanation or theory for and the origin of the psychic phenomena I mentioned prior is hazy at best and because of that I was additionally bothered. But I’ll get into that more in a bit.

From the description on the back cover you can get a feel what this movie is about, and you’d be half right: a group of young people, 6 to be exact, is menaced at this roadside tourist trap by this “crazy guy” who runs it. That’s basically true, but what throws you for a loop upon first viewing is the aforementioned fate of that guy who started out just looking for a place to get his tire fixed. His untimely end at thisabandoned gas station is what sets up the “weird” aspect of this plot.

After Woody (Keith McDermott) fails to return, Jerry (Jon Van Ness), Molly (Jocelyn Jones), Eileen (Robin Sherwood) and Becky (smoking hot Tanya Roberts) drive around looking for him and this is how they end up in the clutches of a Mr. Slausen (Chuck Connors) of Slausen’s Lost Oasis, the tourist trap of the title.

The girls first encounter him while skinny-dipping in a nearby watering hole. He seems benevolent enough, offers to house the girls and Jerry in his museum (Slausen’s tourist trap seems to specialize in mechanized mannequins of historical figures) as night comes, and even offers to help Jerry fix their jeep, which mysteriously died the moment he drive it onto his property.

Most of the menace in this movie is played out at night and begins after Slausen accompanies Jerry back to the jeep to fix it. The camera does not follow so we never know what transpires between the two. Eileen noticed a nearby house sitting in the back in the distance, but Slausen told them to stay away from it, to stay put in the museum, until they get back.

If his warning was heeded we might not have a movie. Actually, now that I think about it, I think, we still would have a movie, the “menace” would just come to them. In that house she hears voices, one of them sounds like Woody, she enters and finds a creepy abode full of junk and many, many mannequins…. and a homicidal individual wearing a blond wig and a creepy mask meant to look like missing Woody.

This individual kills the girl with his telekinetic powers, tightening the scarf around her neck until she suffocates. One by one the kids are stalked, menaced and captured by this person, who talks in a very unsettling tone and keeps them all bound in the basement of that house while he goes about making the kids “part of his collection.”

This person tells his captives he’s Slausen’s brother and the mask is supposed to stay on his face because Slausen thinks he’s better looking. This person does not remain a mystery throughout the whole movie. Eventually Molly discovers its Slausen himself either suffering from some kind of split personality or just using it to consciously terrorize them. Take your pick. Both theories are troubling.

As the movie progresses we learn telekinesis may just be the tip of the iceberg. No explanation given but just from what’s visually presented it seems Slausen can make people think the mannequins are real, that they can utter words and tones and make them sound like people they know thus baiting them into situations no other person might put themselves if it wasn’t anyone other than a friend in need.

Very clever.

He’s obviously turning his victims into mannequins for his display, but towards the end something unexplainably weird happens where we learn Jerry is a mannequin. When that happened we have no idea, since he was in view of others throughout the movie. The only time he’s out of sight of anyone, including the viewer, is towards the end when he and Becky finally escape the house and both flee in separate directions.

The ending is clearly downbeat.

This isn’t a gory movie at all. In fact it’s rated PG, yet feels very R-rated due to the intense nature of the story and the menacing atmosphere maintained through out from the moment Eileen visits the house in the beginning right to the maddening nightmarish conclusion. In that regard it reminded me of The Frighteners (1996) which was rated R but should have been rated PG-13. There’s no gore in that movie at all, but the intense nature of the story makes it feel very R-ish. Not that I’m a prude and am turned off by gore, sure I have my threshold namely that being anything Lucio Fulci has ever made sans The Beyond (1981), but I do admit I have a little more respect for a horror flick that can deliver the horror without making frequent to infrequent departures into gore. That probably goes back to my age-old love for H.P. Lovecraft who was able to deliver serious frights without spilling an ounce of blood or torturing it out of anyone.

One Dark Night (1983) is another horror movie that got a PG and is very unnerving, all done without spilling one once of blood.
But I digress.

The transfer is a little bit problematic. It’s got very good color, very crisp but in the last act it suffers from some infrequent frame jumping. Normally this would annoy me to no end, but given the nightmarish quality of the story the infrequent moments of frame jumping kind of made the movie a little weirder. This is probably the only flick where I can say a defect in the transfer acted as a kind of borderline advantage. Don’t get me wrong, if given the option to own it without the frame jumps I would be all over it, but for this particular one I wasn’t as put off by it as I normally should have been.

The two final scenes, however, exhibit some serious print damage, yet oddly the color is really good.

Not until recently did I learn Tourist Trap had been out once before on DVD from eOne (E1) Entertainment in 2005 with a commentary by Director David Schmoeller, then Full Moon themselves re-issued it on DVD last year without the commentary. The commentary that’s on this new blu-ray is in fact a new one. I had not gotten that previous eOne DVD so I can’t do a comparison but this new one hits all the right notes covering everything you ever wanted to know about the production, the director himself, the actors, the technical side of the filmmaking and most importantly the story itself.

Concerning the story it was interesting to learn Schmoeller initially wrote the story without the telekinesis angle but was persuaded by Charles Band to include it. This explains a lot of the “weirdness” within the movie for it can be interpreted in one of two ways according to Schmoeller. Way one is what I set forth previously in this review, but according to Schmoeller all the strange phenomena you see with the mannequins is really only happening in the mind of Slausen. This goes a long way in explaining the scene at the end where Jerry shows up out of the blue and is revealed to be a mannequin. This secondary interpretation does make the movie even more unnerving, for you’re really getting an inside view as to how insane Slausen really is.

He still has telekinetic powers Schmoeller says, but in his view his only display of it is when he slides the key away from Tanya Roberts.

It was also fun to learn that Jack Palance and Gig Young were approached before Connors was about being Slausen. And this was right before Young died in that murder/suicide of his.

General specs go like this, since there is no mention of the movie’s aspect ratio I hit up IMDB and they say it’s a 1.85:1 movie so I’m just going to assume that’s the size of the transfer I’m looking it.
It’s also anamorphic.

You have two choices for the audio, a stereo 2.0 track or a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround one. Both sounded fine to me.
There are no subtitles.

As for other extras you get a documentary titled, ‘Exit The Chop Shop: The Making Of Tourist Trap (24:35), which is David Schmoeller talking about the conception, the filming, and the release of the movie. Some of the topics he covered in the commentary but there is new stuff here that makes the doc worthwhile.

You also get a very nice Stills Gallery (3:35) set to the films music that showcases some documents Schmoeller wrote during production, lobby cards, behind-the-scenes stills, posters and VHS covers.

There’s a 2005 movie in existence called House Of Wax that I saw parts of at one time. Having now seen Tourist Trap I dare say this House Of Wax might be viewed as some kind of unofficial remake, just without Schmoeller/Band’s psychic powers and mannequin fetish.
Without out those two “gimmicks” I don’t think this movie would be as treasured, or as feared, as it is today. Without them you’d have just another “slasher” flick, albeit one with great atmosphere, but still just a movie about an ordinary madman with a very particular obsession, which ironically is what that House Of Wax movie is.

Blu-Ray Review: PATRICK (1978)

83992_frontPATRICK (1978, DVD/Blu-Ray Combo)
BY
SHAWN FRANCIS

I half remember seeing a commercial for this movie back when I was a child. I also half remember being creeped out by it, which was the primary reason I decided to review Severin’s new blu-ray, but alas the movie left me wanting.

Like Thirst (1979), another recent release from Severin, I was initially into it for about an hour then it started to lose me. The premise is solid, it’s about a kid named Patrick, who killed his mother and her boyfriend by tossing a heater into the bathtub they were in; it’s never clear what happened to him, but when we see him again he’s been in a coma (eyes open) for the past three years and being taken care of in a home, but the entire movie moves at a snail’s pace. Not that I have anything in general with this kind of pacing, The Vulture (1965) and The Strangeness (1985) come to mind, and they too move leisurely through their plots, and I adore them, but there are some movies that move at a snail’s pace that really feel like they’re moving at a snail’s pace and unfortunately Patrick felt like it.

As I mentioned the concept at the heart of Patrick is one that fascinated me. Being in a coma for so long Patrick has learned to develop his “sixth sense.” He can move objects with his mind, take brief control of others and move about astrally to other locations. The protagonist here is a new young nurse the home hires to care for him. Patrick takes a shine to her and decides to affect her life in such a way that I supposed to make her love him. He makes her soon-to-be-ex-husband disappear for a while, kills off a nurse who was threatening his life and finally reaches the point where he needs to defend himself from the doctor who heads up the home who performs tests on him on a daily basis.

No one else knows of Patrick’s powers except the new nurse, so it was never quite clear why this Doctor performs these tests, or why no one at the home as turned off Patrick’s breathing machine and let him die. They stress how problematic and expensive it is to keep him in this state and that only “fear” hasn’t gotten any of them to flip the switch. This “fear” is never quite explained.
As I said the pacing was what killed this movie for me. It never gets as scary as it could be either.

A remake was made and is set to hit disc in June and I plan to review it in hopes it’s got more flesh on it’s bones than the original.
It initially hit DVD in 2002 from Elite Entertainment, then in 2008 from Synapse Films now on March 25th, Severin Films releases it as a combo as it hits blu-ray for the first time ever. The 1080p 1.77:1 anamorphic high definition transfer looked as crisp and clean as Severin’s other two Aussie flicks (Dead Kids, Thirst) they just released. Audio-wise (English, French, Spanish and Italian, all 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo) the movie was just as good.
There are no subtitles.

As far as extras are concerned carried over from the 2002 and 2008 editions are the Richard Franklin commentary and the Trailer and TV Spots. Added to this Severin version but not new is a Vintage TV Interview (20:24) with Director, Richard Franklin that’s a little bit biographical as well as touching base on the movies he’s been involved with, and Not Quite Hollywood (Extended Interviews) (1:06:00), with Richard Franklin, Screenwriter Everette de Roche, Producer Antony Ginnane and Stars Susan Penhaligon and Rod Mullinar. These interviews were done for the 2008 documentary, Not Quite Hollywood; I’ve never seen it, but judging by the “Extended Interviews” label I assume there’s more here than what made it into that doc.

It’s an interesting set of interviews. Since I knew nothing of the movie’s history I learned Hollywood dubbed all the voices in it when it was first shown over here and that the Italian “sequel,” Patrick Still Lives (1980), isn’t much of an actual sequel where no one from the first movie was ever involved and is pretty much hated by director, Franklin.