Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Something That Goes "Bump!" In The Night

Crafted as a rather solid and entertaining horror monster flick, The Relic (1997) is a mix of modern day monster movies and the old school ones from the 1950s. A creature runs wild in a Chicago museum, and its up to a scientist and a cop to stop the monster from eating way too many people. There is also a running gag about the cop losing custody of his dog, and since it took them a while to get the FX completed you actually see less of the creature, which is a good thing since it ups the tension and makes you less likely to get tired of watching it in action. Still Stan Winston was behind the film's effects, so I knew those were at least going to be worth of my time, even if the rest of the film had been a total waste (luckily that was not the case).

This film is actually based on a novel, and I hear the book is great-not to mention a key character was cut from the film, which is a bummer. Yet the present cast is good enough to help carry the movie, and I liked that Dr. Green and Lt. D'Agosta had this nice underlying chemistry that made it apparent they liked each other, but it wasn't incredibly obvious. Despite how the film concludes there could have been at least a couple of sequels, but maybe we are better off with just this singular movie to tide us over. At least there are a couple of wicked kills, and there is an explosion. Can't make a monster movie without having those two ingredients...81

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

He's Not Pulling A Rabbit Out of His Hat

Despite joining so many of its fellow 90s films in having that strange "Made for TV" look and feel, Clive Barker's Lord of Illusions sports some quality visuals and never fails to be entertaining. There is also a fairly decent amount of gore in this movie, as even in the opening act a gruesome and violent ceremony is conducted, one that had shades of the first scenes of Mario Bava's classic 1960 film Black Sunday. Which is even more notable considering that this movie has shades of Bava, even though Barker is able to go far more above the pale and show much more than Bava ever was-the limitations of Bava's budget and the ratings board at the time resulted in Bava deciding to imply so many things that are shown in blunt fashion these days. Anyways, a group of people decide to put an end to an evil cult leader's scheme to, in the evil cult man's own words, "Murder the world." This wouldn't be a good thing of course, and the group at first thinks they've succeeded. They end up being wrong, naturally.

Really some of this movie is rather silly, and the special effects are quite dated, so its good that the film has a reliable cast in Scott Bakula as the wary, boozing private eye way in over his head, Kevin J. O'Connoras an illusionist harboring a dark secret, and Famke Janssen as his pretty yet haunted wife. Much of the movie actually has that creep feel that gets under your skin, and even in daylight it gives the viewer the feeling that something terrible could happen at any moment and time. This is the after effects of seeing a man with multiple knives jammed into his body, or witnessing the fiery, disturbing resurrection of a man long thought to be dead. What's crazy about this movie is that Baker could have gone with even weirder material, or drummed things up even further to eleven-one could even argue that Baker doesn't go far enough, although perhaps he was limited by the MPAA in this case.

Lost in these criticisms though is the fact that Lord of Illusions is, by 90s horror film standards anyways, quite good. Bakula does a fine job of carrying the movie, and his character is cool enough that its a shame there were not sequels featuring him battling more sinister forces of darkness. This film gets additional points for being tightly paced, and the final scene is odd enough to be given more than a passing thought, even if it was just thrown in there for a potential "Is this the end?" moment. Too bad that Barker did not make more movies, and I now am interested in reading his stories and novels because of this film, so if that was another goal of his then good job well done. 83

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Class Is In Session

Created near the end of the 1980s, Return To Horror High was another example of an attempt to inject some new creativity into a subgenre that by that point was recycling and copying itself. Much like Slumber Party Massacre, the film was as much a parody/comedy as it was a horror film, as both movies were made to be clever takes on slasher films. Slasher films by the late 80s were widely regarded as mostly dumb, and even fans of them had to admit that the slasher subgenre had seemed to burn out at this point. Return To Horror High, George Clooney's bit part in it aside, is a good quality mix of horror and comedy in addition to being a spoof, not to mention featuring meta before meta became popular or widespread.

Naturally the main plot is quite simplistic, although anyone who's seen the Scream movies realizes its oddly familiar: a film crew decides to shoot a movie about some famous unsolved murders in the actual location where the murders took place. This of course results in people actually dying, as the unknown killer or killers proceeds to slice and dice up the group, who has unwisely intruded on his domain. Some of the kills are actually well executed, and the film somehow manages swerve from horror to comedy quite well, natural 1980s cheesiness aside. Like any good slasher movie it also has characters worth relating to and rooting for, something that too many awful entries in the genre would forget to include.

Without revealing the last act or what goes on, I must admit that despite accidentally catching the ending of the movie on TV a couple years back that the finale was rather shocking. Not to mention the movie couldn't resist throwing in more creepy moments as well, and even featuring a quality, surprising dream sequence. Due to being more savvy than the average slasher film, Return To Horror High is recommended for those who are not a big fan of the subgenre, and also for those who love slasher movies. When it comes to the 1980s and movies with psycho killers, that's a rare quality indeed. 84

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

You Are What You Eat

Made in the 1980s when rampant commercialism existed, The Stuff is equal parts satire and horror film, although the satire isn't funny so much as rather pointed despite the film being cheesy and campy. Larry Cohen has always been known for successfully making B-movies with low budgets, and here he tackles not only America's love for cheap, tasty food, a desire that overwhelms reason. Most of the time however we would rather not dwell on what is in the food we so often consume, despite consumer groups efforts to the contrary over the decades. The thought that even the FDA, a government entry that is supposed to protect people from harm, could be corrupted by corporations is no longer thought of as shocking, however at the time of this film's release that thought was an original fear. Parts of the film even call to mind the body snatching/taking over fears that were part of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers films, heavily inspired by Cold War era paranoia.

Yet Cohen aims this film at corporations and big business, not the Russian communists. Although one of the characters, a right wing militia leader, keeps making references to battling the commie influence, and views The Stuff as being something along the lines of fluoride being put into the water supply to brainwash the American public. More satire abounds, as the film's main heroes are not only said militia man, but also an industrial spy/saboteur, a PR woman who feels guilty about marketing The Stuff to people, and a kid who's way too paranoid and smart for his own good. Having a man hired by corporations to destroy another corporation speaks to the dangers of monopolies and fear of competition, however in this instance The Stuff corporation is harmful to mankind in general, so it deserves to be shutdown.

Spoilers (sort of): This movie could have inspired an actual trilogy, with the first one clearly covering corporate greed and the disturbing fact that Americans engage in corporate driven conformity. The second one would have focused on the fact that drugs are usually sold to poor people by groups usually run in the end by one powerful and rich individual, thus showing how the rich make their money off of the backs of the poor and the easily corrupted. As for the third film, it could have featured The Stuff being dumped on Third World countries, thus covering the fact that the First World pillages and steals from the Third World, and then usually leaves the mess behind. While this never came to pass, I wish it had, because Larry Cohen was on to something here. Despite people's dislike of remakes, this film could be remade today as a commentary on fast food, although Fast Food Nation and Super Size Me already covered that particular topic. 77

Monday, September 3, 2012

Don't Touch That Radio Dial

Words are more important than people realize, and they are important to our understanding and comprehension of others. However, if words ended up becoming harmful, or spreading a type of disease, then speaking would turn into a dangerous act, something to be avoided. The 2008 horror film Pontypool touches on this subject to a certain degree, even though the last act falls apart a bit and ruins the creepy atmosphere the film spent so much time building. Regardless though this is a solid, workmanlike effort that could have easily worked as-note the irony-a radio program.

One cannot really call this is a zombie film in the sense of the traditional type of those creatures, although the movie does feature behavior that can be noted as such. This film is successful in describing the terrible events unfolding outside, and thus we the viewer are chilled by what our eyes cannot witness. A particular call in from the radio station's lone weatherman proves to be utterly chilling, and other accounts are rather bleak and eerie in nature. The entire situation quickly spirals out of control, resulting in the film's main character, a shock jock exiled to a small town in Canada, named Grant, to face that what is truly happening is not a joke. This is really occurring, and his unwillingness to take matters seriously at times almost ends up proving to be his undoing.

Even though, as noted, the last act suffers a bit from loosening up the rather claustrophobic tension, this is still a movie worth viewing. Stephen McHattie anchors the movie with his truly great performance, and most of the movie is absolutely freaky. Just don't expect something along the lines of more action packed zombie movies that have been released this past decade, which does make this film a tad unique, I suppose. 88