Pamela Anderson (V.I.P., Baywatch) and Denise Richards (Scary Movie 3), two of Hollywood
Archive for October, 2006
One of the biggest mysteries of the year was how the smart, creepy, funny and scary Slither failed to become a big box office hit. The bigger mystery is this: why was Are You Scared even made?
When I first saw Slither, I thought it was refreshing to see an old-fashioned horror-comedy where a room of hardened critics laugh only in the right places! For that matter, it's refreshing to see a horror-comedy where all the laughs are intentional – and where there is more than just a series of jump moments. James Gunn's "Slither" is creepy, scary and hilarious – simultaneously…
In an opening that is an homage to the original "The Blob" [the 1958 creepiest that introduced Steve McQueen to movie stardom], we see a meteor rumble towards the Earth, before cutting to Police Chief Bill Pardy [Nathan Filion] and Constable Wally [Don Thompson] sitting in their squad car behind a sign welcoming us to Wheelsy, North Carolina.
Wally is timing a bird with his radar gun while Pardy appears to be napping. Clearly, Wheelsy is not a thriving metropolis. As Wally laments overestimating the bird's speed, Pardy tries to get back to sleep – as the meteor flashes to ground behind them. We see the meteor, in the forest, as it cracks open…
Between Gunn's intelligent, witty script and a terrifically atmospheric score by Tyler Bates, "Slither" mixes humor, creepiness and some genuine scares to give us one of the best horror movies – comedy or not – in recent years. There's enough gore to satisfy most splatter fans and more than enough terrific dialogue and visual gags to generate laughs.
The best humor comes in weird places – like Grant's explanations for the physical changes he's undergoing. "It's a bee sting," he intones as his wife flinches from his rapidly swelling, and lumpy head. Another character tries to explain his changes Sheriff Pardy with a hopeful, "Poison ivy, maybe?"
Something else that's refreshing about "Slither:" despite the zombification of the townspeople by the monstrous Grant, this is not "Dawn of the Dead." Gunn is not trying to camouflage socio-political commentary here. The movie is all about making people laugh, shiver and jump – and not necessarily in that order.
Besides the opening shout out to "The Blob," there are other homages, as well. My personal favorite is a double-barreled shout out to two movies: a bathtub scene that recalls both David Cronenberg's "Shivers" and the scene that, in turn, homaged – the bathtub scene in Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing." In Gunn's hands, the scene is both scary and, due to some blatant sexual innuendo, hysterically funny.
Another great thing about the film is that Gunn's script features set-ups that don't pay off in the ways you expect. When Otis Shutmeyer [William MacDonald] heads off to help a posse track down the morphed Grant, he tells his family to stay inside – but the camera cuts to his teen-aged daughter, Kylie [Tania Saulnier], as if to suggest that she will be disobeying him later that evening. The payoff to that set-up is so different that it plays a pivotal role in the story.
Nathan Filion's Sheriff Pardy shares a number of idiomatic traits with "Serenity's" Mal Reynolds, but somehow, Filion spins these traits in such a way that instead of being anything resembling heroic and commanding, Pardy comes off as being clearly inept and completely unprepared for any emergency – let alone this one. It's a bravura performance that also sets off other characters extremely well.
Saulnier's Kylie doesn't enter the story until we're well into it, but instead of being the annoying kid that no one takes seriously, she winds up being pivotal to everyone's survival. The scene that puts her in the know is one of the film's more grotesque moments.
Some of the best pure scare moments come hard on the heels of humor [and vice-versa]. One of the best of these is the fate of Brenda – and the realization that – without her even knowing it – she is being used by Grant in two equally horrifying ways. An ambush, of sorts, is one – the other is much worse.
Banks' Starla does a great job of dealing with the hideous changes to her husband. She seems, at once, smarter and tougher than Pardy – and she's definitely smarter than Grant. She also makes it possible for us to understand why Pardy's been in love with her forever.
Another cool thing about "Slither" is that Gunn has cast a number of genre veterans in small, but key roles. You may not know where you've seen them before, but you will recognize William MacDonald, Ben Cotton and Lorena Gale, for example. Troma studio head Lloyd Kaufman, and Rob Zombie also make cameo appearances.
With a horror movie, naturally effects are key. Gunn has used a mix of CG and practical effects for "Slither." We can see the CG when Grant's arm is "all bendy," for example; and when we see the hordes of evil worm/slug thingies later. Virtually all the rest of the time, Grant and Brenda are in monster make-up – the prosthetics for the movie are very good.
James Gunn is a horror movie fanboy, and here, he's made exactly the kind of movie that he likes to watch himself. In doing so, he's made a movie that the rest of us will enjoy immensely. "Slither" is grand, unpretentious horror-comedy fun. If you're a fan of the genre, then slide on through the slime and viscera, and check out this movie.
Features include: Deleted Scenes; Extended Scenes; Gag Reel; Who Is Bill Pardy? [hilarious featurette]; Visual Effects Step By Step: VFX Progressions; The Slick Minds and Slimy Days of Slither ["Making Of" Featurette]; Bringing Slither's Creatures To Life [FX Featurette]; Slithery Set Tour With Nathan Filion; The Gorehound Grill: Brewin' The Blood [for the DIY home horror fiend – also a parody of Robert Rodriguez's Ten Minute Film School]; The King of Cult: Lloyd Kaufman's Video Diary. [Note that the director's commentary is only available on the HD-DVD and Blu-Ray DVD releases – a really rotten thing to do – and costs features a full letter grade…]
Slither – Grade: B+ Features
Features – Grade: B-
Final Grade: B
Are You Scared?
A group of six young adults [early twenties] awaken to find themselves participants in a reality show called Are You Scared? The show's concept is that applicants reveal their greatest fears in their submission tapes and then are forced to face those fears on the show.
The basic problem with Are You Scared? is that it's not particularly scary. Sure the methods of the characters' deaths are clever [ingenious, even], but the script provides little in the way of character development, so it's very hard to relate to these kids. It doesn't help that actors aren't particularly good, or that the outside plot arc – involving a depressed cop and
a pretty FBI profiler – is pretty hackneyed stuff.
Andy Hurst directs with all the subtlety of a blunt instrument, and we've seen all of his shots before. The cast lacks any kind of chemistry – the only positive thing that can be said about them is that they're good looking [though in a fairly generic kind of way…].
The DVD contains no special features – and that's definitely for the best!
Final Grade: D-
One of the smartest things Showtime has done this season [besides giving us the diabolically delightful Dexter] is committing to airing the second thirteen-episode season of Masters of Horror [Fridays, 10 p.m. ET/PT]. The series, which gives thirteen talented directors a chance to make whatever sixty-minute movie they want, gets off to a gory start – but doesn't forget the suspense and humor that helped make season one so successful…
Mick Garris' Masters of Horror is, literally, a series of movies [season one eps have run theatrically in a number of foreign markets] wherein masters of the horror genre new and old have been given a fixed budget and shooting schedule, but are otherwise free to make the movies they want to make – no other restrictions are given.
Tonight, season two gets under way with one of the goriest of the series to date, Tobe Hooper's [Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist] The Damned Thing. The R.C. Matheson script [he also adapted last season's Dance of the Dead] tries – not entirely successfully – to adapt the almost stealthily sly and subtle Ambrose Bierce short story.
In 1981, young Kevin Reddle sees his father suddenly go berserk and kill his mother before he finds the strength to flee. Before his father can find and kill him, the man is torn apart by an unseen force.
In the present, we find that Reddle [Sean Patrick Flanery] has grown up to be the town sheriff, and is separated from his wife, Deena [Marisa Coughlin] though he tries to be a good father to his own young son. When certain conditions that presaged his father's madness begin to occur again, he is determined to prevent history from repeating itself.
The Damned Thing begins with gore and gore is sprinkled liberally throughout. It's perhaps too much for a story that originally relied on a steady build of dread, much in the mode of H.P. Lovecraft [and with a very Lovecraftian kind of climax]. Fortunately, between the spurts and gouts of blood and entrails, we get some good performances and Hooper keeps the ep moving along. Unfortunately, the ep lacks the touches of Hooper humor that make most of his movies so distinctive. Still, it gets season two off to a running start.
Next week's ep [Nov. 3], Family, features George Wendt in a tale that could be a more intense Twilight Zone episode – which is to say that it's smart, funny, intense and quietly horrific – with an extremely cool twist. The plot revolves around Wendt's rather unsavory hobby, and the arrival of new neighbors – a couple named David [Mark Keesler] and Celia [Meredith Monroe].
To say anything about the plot would be to spoil the fun, but Brent Hanley's script plays directly to director John Landis' [An American Werewolf In London, last season's Deer Woman] strengths: humor and suspense. Wendt is delightfully macabre and both Munroe and Keesler have the kind of All-American presence that reminds of The Donna Reed Show, and the combination enables Landis to have as much fun as his audience.
On November 10, the series unveils The V Word – a genuinely unusual vampire tale that's built around the desire of two seventeen-year old boys to see a dead body. When they break into a mortuary to see the dead body of a kid who had bullied them, their prank takes a nasty turn – they encounter a vampire, Mr. Chaney [Michael Ironside].
There are three distinct parts to the story: the prank and the encounter with the vampire; the escape and a key dark turn, and a serious that the two must make. Written by series creator Mick Garris, The V Word is directed by Ernest Dickerson [Bones, Demon Knight] with great verve. The ep starts slowly and gradually picks up the pace until the encounter with Mr. Chaney, when things get wild, briefly – then a pause to create a subtly horrifying moment and a mad dash to the conclusion – which dials the pace down again to provide a few moments of quiet drama and humor.
The three eps that ring in season two of Masters of Horror are as different as one can imagine. It seems that the show's no restrictions mandate is leading, once again, to thirteen weeks of fresh, strange and varied excursions into the weird, strange and scary. These three eps manage, between them, a nice balance of old-fashioned suspense, humor and gore in a manner that bodes well for the rest of the season.
The Damned Thing – Grade: B-
Family – Grade: A
The V Word – Grade: B+
Average Grade: B+
Controversial filmmaker Uwe Boll, in association with Running With Scissors, began production in early October on a darkly comedic film adaptation of the video game,
TVonDVD: Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up & Jenifer, The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series, The Addams Family, Vol. OneOctober 25, 2006
It's the time of year when you can expect monsters and superheroes plotting their raids on the candy supplies of the neighborhood. To get into the proper spirit, here are a few Hallowe'en TVonDVD selections to tickle your funny bone, or rip it right off…
Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up
The latest release in Anchor Bay Entertainment's series of Masters of Horrors episodes is Pick Me Up – the first Larry Cohen film to be written by someone else [adapted, by David J. Schow, from his own short story]. It's a cat-and-mouse/chess game that features a hitchhiking serial killer [Walker, played by Warren Kole] who kills anyone unfortunate enough to give him a ride, and a serial killer truck driver [wheeler, portrayed by Michael Moriarty] who kills the hitchers he picks up. Complicating matters is a feisty divorcee [Stacia, played by Fairuza Balk] who inadvertently finds herself caught between them.;
While Pick Me Up has its fair share of suspense – and jump moments, for that matter – the episode feels a lot more contrived than most of the series' other eps. That's because the set-up is a little too obvious, and one character too many knows what's going on – and it's the one character who shouldn't… The cast gives terrific performances, and Cohen's direction is as fine as any entry in the series, to date – the problem lies with the script. It simply gives too much away, too soon.
Features include the usual plethora of material: audio commentary with Larry Cohen [unlike most commentaries in the series, so far, this one is just Cohen talking about making the film – there is no interviewer asking questions. I prefer this format]; Death on the Highway – an interview with Larry Cohen; Working With a Master – Larry Cohen – interviews with actors who have worked with Cohen in the past [including Karen Black and David Carradine]; On Set: An Interview With Michael Moriarty; On Set: An Interview With Fairuza Balk; On Set: An Interview With Warren Kole; Script to Screen: Pick Me Up – showing how scenes from the script translate to the finished product; Behind The Scenes: The Making of Pick Me Up; Fantasy Film Fantasy – Mick Garris Interviews Larry Cohen; Trailers; Stills Gallery; Larry Cohen Bio; DVD-ROM Screenplay; DVD-ROM Screensaver; Insert, and Larry Cohen Trading Card.
Masters of Horror: Pick Me Up – Grade: C
Features – Grade: A+
Final Grade: B
The Greatest American Hero – The Complete Series
When The Greatest American Hero debuted in March, 1981, it quickly garnered a rabid audience. The story of special ed teacher, Ralph Hinckley [William Katt] and his unfortunate pairing with by-the-book FBI hardcase, Bill Maxwell [Robert Culp] – planned by aliens, no less – took the superhero concept and planted in a more or less real world. The result was the smartest satire of the superhero comic ever broadcast.
The first season found the more liberal Ralph gifted with a set of superhero longjohns [complete with cape] and paired with ultra-conservative Bill with results that could only be called peculiar, and oddly hilarious. Part of the reason the conceit worked was that, before he could even read it, Ralph lost the suit's instruction book – thus, he had problem's learning to fly; found it hard to control the suit's invisibility function, and so on.
Fortunately, between Ralph and Bill, the two were able to get things together enough to deal with attempted coups, enemy agents and even the odd mundane killer/kidnapper/crook. While Ralph's attempts to figure out how to the use the suit [he learned to fly from a five-year old boy!] provided a certain amount of humor, the confrontations between Bill and Ralph's feminist girlfriend [and later wife] Pam [Connie Sellecca] dealt with the social upheaval that was a large part of the eighties – and Ralph's class of maladjusted high school students could be counted to add complications.
In its second [and only full] season,
For Anchor Bay Entertainment, Hallowe'en is Christmas. The company specializes in horror and suspense – releasing hard to find titles and financing, or co-financing imaginative, low-budget genre titles – and October is their big release month. This year, Anchor Bay brings chills old and new: Abominable – the Rear Window of horror flicks; Monster Night – a horror comedy for kids that won't embarrass their parents [mostly]; The Norliss Tapes – a chilling TV-movie from the man who gave us the original Night Stalker; Superstition – a seldom-seen, sly number from 1982, and Voodoo Moon – the ultimate demon versus a group of talented, but very mortal humans…
Preston Rogers [Matt McCoy] is returning home – much against his will – in the company of an obnoxious male nurse named Otis [Christian Tinsley] on orders from his therapist. The wheelchair-bound Rogers is not ready to face his demons – he lost his wife while mountain climbing, and the mountain can be seen from his livingroom window. What Rogers doesn't know is that he will soon have to face a demon of an entirely different sort…
Shortly after they arrive, Otis heads back into town to pick up a few things that they'd forgotten – leaving Rogers on his own. When five beautiful young women drive up and begin carrying stuff into the house next door, Rogers notices – despite his despondency. He also glimpses motion in the woods – which begin barely a stone's throw from the houses.
Long before Otis returns, Rogers is certain that someone – or something – is stalking the inhabitants of the two homes. One of the girls has vanished – leaving her cell phone in the middle of the road. Thus begins a night of terror – as Rogers, stuck in his wheelchair, is almost helpless to do anything…
Abominable is one of the best B-movies I've seen in recent years. Playing off the Rear Window-like situation, writer-director Ryan Schifrin weaves a suspenseful tale with a goodly number of jump moments that are enhanced by the careful building of suspense. The suspense comes from being able to use more than one mood, and to play each mood completely and with fidelity.
The first strike comes out of nowhere, as one of the girls chatters on her cell phone. The mood and the music are lighthearted, and then – she's gone! When three hunters stalk… something… the mood is, again, less than ominous – until the exact right moment…
Schifrin may be a freshman director, but he certainly knows precisely what he wants and how to get it. His use of certain angles shows us Rogers' growing sense of claustrophobia and futility as events escalate; his choice of shots make the girls' arrival and giddy chatter feel as real as gossip in a high school cafeteria. Even his choice of creature is exactly right for achieving the kind of chills – and laughs – the film provides.
It doesn't hurt that Schifrin's father, the great Lalo Schifrin [Mission: Impossible] provides the score – but even without that bit of family help, Abominable is a smart, suspenseful movie that works on all fronts: the characters are interesting enough to engage us; the situations are built to provide jump moments that have an emotional resonance; the comic relief is perfectly timed; the practical effects are far better than the budget should have allowed, and the CG are subtle and beautifully integrated.
Features include: audio commentary by Schifrin, Matt McCoy and Jeffrey Combs; Back to Genre – Making Abominable; deleted and extended scenes; outtakes and bloopers; Shadows – Schifrin's USC student film; Trailers; poster gallery; storyboard gallery, and, as a DVD=ROM feature, the film's screenplay.
Abominable – Grade: A-
Features – Grade: A
Final Grade: A-
Whilst the parental units are away…
The Ackerman family has just moved into their new home – a large, cheap, allegedly haunted house, and the children have begun school at Zombieski High [team name, The Zombies]. Isaac [Jake Thomas], who is a bit of a geek, finds himself hosting a Hallowe'en party while the aforementioned parental units [Robert Carradine, Vanessa Angel] head off to a faculty party.
Isaac, and his sister Dana [Taylor Dooley], try to balance the party with babysitting their younger brother, Vincent [Joss Saltzman], but things begin to go wrong when it seems tales of the house being haunted may just be true – and Vincent vanishes! How does this tie in the creepily named high school? Long story…
Monster Night is, by no means, a genre masterpiece – but it is entertaining in a lowest-common-denominator, with flashes of sly intelligence, kind of way. The movie combines many of the genre's best clich
InuYasha is one of the most popular anime
“Infamous” is a campy biopic on Truman Capote. Local celebrity Sandra Bullock dons a fright(ful) wig and tries to act southern. Toward the end, things become gruesome. A very mixed arthouse bag.
GRADE = “B-“
“Man of the Year” is a film that starts off well but soon goes off-track and downhill. It’s almost as if they started making the movie and then decided it should have been a different kind of movie – or – they made two short films and decided to combine them. The political satire half is terrific, but the conspiracy/thriller half is ludicrous. A misfire!
GRADES = “B” for Robin Williams fans; “C” for others