Monday, June 27, 2011

Summer Movie Round-Up Part 3 of 3

This will be the final post covering the movies I have seen so far this summer. Like the previous posts, this one includes 8 brief reviews.

I love Bill Murray, and he is at the top of his game in Stripes. Murray stole the show in Caddyshack (1980) but this time his is the leading man. Murray's character, John, loses his job and his girlfriend so he convinces his best friend Russell (Harold Ramis) to join the army with him. Ivan Reitman directed three films in a row with Bill Murray: Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), and Ghost Busters (1984), which also starred Harold Ramis. Although Stripes is a Bill Murray vehicle, we are also treated to early roles  from John Candy, John Larroquette, Judge Reinhold, and Sean Young who all add to the hilarity. The first two thirds of the movie takes place at boot camp where hi jinx ensue. However, it is the last act where the movie really shines. Murray and Ramis steal a secret government vehicle in order to meet up with their girlfriends only to have things get out of hand... and "That's the fact, Jack!"
Stripes joins a 7/10!

One of my new favorite directors is David Cronenberg. I absolutely love Videodrome (1983) and Dead Ringers (1988) and have been seeking out more of his films. They Came from Within (1975), also known as Shivers, was Cronenberg's first full-length film. Not surprisingly it is pretty raw, although since the movie is about parasites that infect the residents of a high-rise and turn them into sex-crazed zombies, it works in the film's favor. The special effects and gore are pretty good considering the low budget. Probably the best example is the horrifying bath tub scene which is depicted on the poster. It is interesting to see Cronenberg's body horror at an early stage and how the themes of flesh and technology would be further developed upon in his later films. Like most of Cronenberg's movies, this was filmed in Canada, specifically in the city of Montreal. Almost the entire movie takes place in an apartment complex. Even though it is a huge building, it leads to a claustrophobic setting since all the rooms and hallways are small to accommodate so many people, which helps add to the suspense. So far this is the weakest film I have seen by him, but I still enjoyed it. Cronenberg's next film, A Dangerous Method, will be released later this year and is about Freud and Jung.
They Come From Within infects a 6/10!

The last two round-ups have featured many movies from the last year or two, so now I get to change things up a bit with (so far) the oldest movie I have reviewed on this blog. The Mummy (1932) stars Boris Karloff as Imhotep and also features African-American actor Noble Johnson as "The Nubian." The film starts out with a fantastic scene in which the mummy is discovered in 1922. The screams are haunting and this creepy opening still holds up today. After this great beginning, the story jumps ahead ten years and unfortunately the story slows down. Imhotep pretends to be a modern Egyptian, and finds a woman who was his lover has been reincarnated. While the final scene is just as good as the first, most of the movie is dialogue heavy with not much happening. I am not asking for non-stop action, but it felt a repetitive at times. I did enjoy the flashback scene, although it was heavily cut for its theatrical release and that footage is sadly lost. Critics have never put The Mummy on the same level as Frankenstein (1931) or Dracula (1931) and although I haven't seen those films yet, I think I can see why. Simply put, not enough happens, although I think the explanation is that unlike those two films, this one was not based on a novel. I have a feeling that audiences in 1932 would have had a greater appreciation for the characters simply talking than we do today. But all things considered The Mummy is still a classic early horror film with great cinematography and atmosphere. Karloff manages to make his character an intimidating force to be reckoned with, yet one the audience feels bad for as he literally waited thousands of years to get back the woman he loves. Although Karloff had already hit the big time as Frankenstein's monster a year earlier, it was films like The Mummy that helped cement his status as a star. "Karloff the Uncanny," indeed.
The Mummy wraps up a 7/10!

I got to admit I was pleasantly surprised by Devil (2010). Although directed by John Erick Dowdle, M. Night Shyamalan is credited as a writer and producer. While I haven't seen Shyamalan's more recent films, I have not heard good things about them. However, Devil is a solid contained thriller about group of people trapped in an elevator who apparently have Satan himself in their midst. Like many of Shyamalan's films, this one takes place in the Philadelphia area, specifically center city. While I would have made the devil stuff more ambiguous, I did like it. The characters stuck in the elevator were well written and it was interesting to them interact with each other as the situation got increasingly worse. The detective investigating the situation is not played by the best actor, but I did like how his storyline coincided with one of the people in the elevator. Even if Shyamalan did direct this, I still wouldn't call it a comeback, but it is a step in the right direction.
Devil doesn't go to hell with a 6/10!

Time to take a break from horror movies and thrillers. I always thought that St. Elmo's Fire (1985) was a John Hughes film, I guess because it features so many members of the "Brat Pack" who were in movies like The Breakfast Club (1985). In fact we have almost half the cast from that movie here! St. Elmo's Fire is actually a Joel Schumacher film. Having recently watched The Lost Boys I was curious to see another of his pre-Batman Forever and Batman and Robin movies. St. Elmo's Fire is about the trials and tribulations of recent college graduates. As a recent college grad myself I felt it was the right time to see this one! Overall this wasn't really my cup of tea, although the characters were interesting and the directing was fine. What I want to know is how these seven guys and girls all became friends in the first place since they were all pretty different and it therefore felt like an unrealistic group. Also I don't understand how Rob Lowe's character got into Georgetown, but whatever. Anyway I'm glad I saw this since I had heard the quote "You cannot have the Pretenders' first album!" and now know its from this movie. Also featuring Andie McDowell and Jenny Wright (Near Dark).
St. Elmo's Fire burns up a 5/10!

Finally I get to write about a truly awful movie, Robot Holocaust (1986)! I first heard about this one through Mystery Science Theater 3000, so when I saw it was in available for free in HD via Comcast On Demand, I had to see it. Once or twice I had seen a MST3K movie in its original form, but never has one looked so good when it comes to picture quality. The plot (or lack thereof) is about a rebel named Neo who teams up with a robot that makes Jar Jar Binks seem like John Wayne in comparison. Together they meet up with a woman warrior, a Beastmaster wanna-be, and a rebel girl in order to defeat an evil computer ("The Dark One" although it is a glowing orange ball and not dark at all!) that has taken over the world. This movie rips off everything from The Terminator to Star Wars to Mad Max to Alien. When a movie borrows music from Laserblast, you know its going to be bad. If you took a drink every time a character uttered "the Dark One" you would be in a coma in 10 minutes. As bad as this movie was, I got through it without too much permanent brain damage so it was still watchable. I was laughing at it and cracking jokes, but I've seen some movies so boring and bad that I couldn't even do that. Robot Holocaust is still in so bad its good territory, although barely.
After watching the movie I decided to see the MST3K episode. This is a first season episode and I noticed that Joel and the bots use more sight gags in the theater than in the later seasons. Also it was interesting to see Josh "J. Elvis" Weinstein who played Dr. Forrester's original sidekick Dr. Laurence Erhardt as well as Tom Servo. Dr. Erhardt would be replaced with TV's Frank (played by Frank Conniff) and Kevin Murphy took over as Servo. I thought he was fine (he was a little annoying as Dr. Erdhart though that was the point) but that the other two were simply better fits for the show. For an early episode I was surprised about how good it was. I loved the recurring jokes about Valaria's "accent" and the Ted Nugent references. One of my favorite riffs was "In the future, all robots will act like Don Knotts!"
Robot Holocaust craps out a 2/10. Stick with the MST3K episode.

I have now seen two movies directed by Wes Craven, but still haven't gotten around to seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street. Funny how that works out. I liked Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (a cool zombie flick) as well as his work on the 80s Twilight Zone (the show is nowhere near as good as the original but still a decent sci-fi/fantasy/horror anthology show and better than the 2002 version). However, Shocker (1989) was a bit of a mess. Shocker is about a serial killer who comes back from the dead after being killed on the electric chair. The main problem with Shocker is that it doesn't know what it wants to be. At first the main character, Jonathan Parker, can interact with the killer in reality through his dreams. This part is kinda like The Dead Zone meets Nightmare on Elm Street. Then after the serial killer, Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi) comes back from the dead, he can inhabit the bodies of other people and the dream aspect is mostly dropped. The first two acts are played pretty seriously but the movie turns into a horror-comedy for the last act when the serial killer uses a satellite dish to go inside television programs! While this was a huge tone shift that felt out of place, I must admit, it was funny. Horace sucks Jonathan into the TV in an attempt to kill him and they run through everything from war films to Leave it to Beaver! One of the things I did like was the revelation which established a strong connection between Jonathan to Horace. Mitch Pileggi was great as a serial killer and Ted Raimi had a fun but small role. I enjoyed the 80s metal soundtrack. Although the directing was fine, the writing could have been a lot better. When Horace's supernatural powers like taking over bodies and traveling through television signals are revealed to others, they buy into it way too quickly, even newscasters! I wouldn't mind this if the story was taking place in the world of Harry Potter or something, but this is clearly grounded in the real world and these are unrealistic reactions. Also the actor who played Jonathan, Peter Berg, wasn't very good and often whispered his lines for no reason. I think I'll stay away from Craven until I get to see Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream.
Shocker shocks its way a 4/10!

I loved the first Fright Night (1985) so I had been meaning to see Fright Night Part 2 (1988) for a long time. Although this is a fantasy-horror movie, unlike Shocker it clearly takes place in the our world as the movie starts out with Charley (William Ragsdale) seeing a psychologist who tries to convince him that vampires aren't real. The first one came out in 1985 so the sequel takes place in real time, three years later. This sequel has the two main characters (Charley and Peter Vincent, host of the fictional late night horror movie show, Fright Night) return and this time they have to deal with a vengeful vampire who wants revenge for her brother in the first film. Unlike many sequels, this movie is not a rehash but instead a good continuation with some nice twists to keep the viewer guessing. Roddy McDowell was fantastic as Peter Vincent in the first Fright Night and he is just as entertaining (as always!) this time around. I only wish that his character got a bit more closure. Like the original, this one does a good job of balancing humor with creepy horror. Overall Fright Night Part 2 is not as good as the first, but still a solid sequel that will please fans of the first movie, though its not as memorable as the original. Now I just hope that the Fright Night remake is good!
Fright Night Part 2 sinks its fangs into a 5/10!

I am now caught up with the movies I have seen this summer! I therefore probably won't have a post tomorrow, but should have one up for Wednesday 6/29. See you then!


  1. I can’t “Stripes” the film where they stop a nuclear holocaust?

    I haven’t seen “Shivers,” but I have seen my fair share of Cronenberg. I think that it’s remarkable how he was able to so successfully move from sci-fi/gore films like “Scanners” and “Crash” (I’m DYING to hear your opinion about that one. It’s about people who are sexually aroused by car crashes) to more serious, mainstream work like “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises.” Of his early work...I gotta say that “Videodrome” and “Naked Lunch” are my favorites. By the way...”Dead Ringers” = Terrible Date Movie.

    The thing about early horror films like “The Mummy,” “Frankenstein,” and “Dracula” is that they still hadn’t figured out a lot of the horror tricks that we take for granted these days. Little things like the idea that what you DON’T see is scarier than what you DO see (an idea which wasn’t pioneered until “Cat People” [1942], the most influential horror film that nobody has ever heard of), fake-outs, and musical cues were still unthought of. As a result, these early horror films aren’t usually...well...very scary. They DO drag on. But back then all you had to do to scare people was throw on (or off) some scary lighting, foreboding sets, and a dude in a monster costume. But these films ARE essential viewing for anyone interested in the history of film. Many of them aren’t much longer than an hour long and are on youtube. Here are some links:

    The Bride of Frankenstein (universally considered to be better than the original):
    The Wolf Man:

    They may not be the most riveting films by today’s standards, but they were some of the most influential films ever least for the horror genre.

    I haven’t seen “Devil” yet...I...I...I don’t want to get hurt by Shyamalan again....

    The “Brat Pack” have never really been my cup of tea...although I did love “The Breakfast Club.” I suppose I’ll get around to seeing “St. Elmo’s Fire” one of these days...

    You should have a separate grading scale for films like “Robot Holocaust.” You know...a scale that measures films that are so bad that they’re good. Films like “Manos” and “Space Mutiny” would get 10/10 just because they’re entertaining and funny to watch.

    A lot of people compare Wes Craven with John Carpenter. I’m not sure WHY...Wes Craven’s films were REALLY hit-and-miss back in the days while Carpenter’s films had a basic amount of quality up until the 90s. By the way...”Scream” is one of my guilty pleasures.

    Ah...”Fright Night”...I love horror anthologies. My personal favorite is “Creepshow” which was directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King!

    Great set of reviews! I hope that you do a recap like this every week! And more importantly...I hope that you watch enough films to warrant doing a recap every week. So many little time...

  2. No, Stripes is the one where they invade Czechoslovakia!

    I actually haven't seen Crash yet, but I will as I eventually want to see all of his films.

    Thanks for those links, I'll have to watch them and compare them to The Mummy. For its time it was well made, as you said, influential.

    Remember, Devil is not quite a Shyamalan film since he didn't direct it. It was not a disaster like his recent films have been, yet nothing special either.

    Good point about bad movies. On that scale Robot Holocaust was pretty good but Space Mutiny was more entertaining. Manos must be really boring un-riffed but if I got through Weasels Rip my Flesh and Snowbeast I can get through anything.

    Agreed about Craven, although I need to see his better films.

    Fright Night is not a horror anthology. It is a movie about a kid whose' next door neighbor turns out to be a vampire! Part 2 picks up where the first one left off. It is in the vein of Creepshow but not an anthology.

    These recaps were over the last two months, so don't expect one this long every week. Unless I get off schedule, over summer the weekly recaps will probably be 3-5 each week. Thanks again for the comment.