Movie Review: SPAWN

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spawn posterNew Line Cinema
1997
PG-13

“Aren’t there any normal people left on Earth?  Or is everybody back from Hell?”

Al Simons is an assassin whacked by his bosses and sent to Hades, where he gets a new lease on the afterlife as one of the Hellspawn.  But while the others of his kind do evil work, Spawn uses his power for good, though he would like nothing more than to exact revenge on his killer.

My history with the Image Comics antihero Spawn lies solely with this movie.  I was more of a Spider-Man kinda guy when it came to comic books, really.  But comic books are one thing; when it comes to movies based on comic book properties, I’m an equal opportunity geek.

I saw Spawn in the theater.  Twice.  Second time I brought along a Japanese exchange student that was staying with my parents for a couple of weeks in the summer of ’97.  Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of Spawn back then.  Sure, we can look back and wonder why, but keep in mind the other superhero big-budget extravaganza that summer was Batman And Robin a week or so before.  Spawn was just the thing to flush that abomination out of my head, there.

Of course, fifteen years after the fact, and it’s rather evident that Spawn hasn’t exactly held up over time.  This is mostly due to the CGI effects, 1997-era effects, yes, but even back then they came off as more like a Playstation One game than movie quality.  Spawn is a perfect example of over-reliance on CG effects, especially when Malebogia hits the screen.  The majority of the dialogue is groan-inducing, Martin Sheen seems out of place and it shows on his face, and the normally annoying John Leguizamo cranks the annoying factor up past eleven.  The editing is a bit ham-fisted, and…did I mention the lousy CGI?  Yeah, it’s that bad.

And you know what?  I love every minute of this.  It’s a guilty pleasure, something I’ll watch every time I see it on television and throw on for background noise for busywork.  Spawn is a great mindless action movie, heavily flawed but also heavy on things blowing up.  It’s one of those movies I have just because.

Movie Review: WAXWORK (1988)

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WAXWORKSVestron Pictures
1988
R

“Raw meat.  Do you like raw meat?”

Invited over by a mysterious magician, Mark and his college friends attend a private tour of a macabre wax statue museum near campus, where the exhibits suck them into the frightening worlds of dangerous werewolves, vampires and other monsters.  Full of satisfying suspense and gore, this inventive horror film finds Mark teaming up with unlikely allies in order to shut the waxwork down and escape with his life.

Well, I have to admit, Waxwork was different.  For as much as people harp on horror movies from the 1980s for being too cheesy and weird, at least they tried something different than the usual glut of same-old, same-old.  It was a rather magical time in horror cinema, what with the home video market opening up new doors for movies hardly seen in the theaters.  I don’t recall ever seeing Waxwork up on the marquee of any movie theater near me at the time, but I do remember seeing the video rental box at the Applause Video rental place, top covered with a thin film of dust.

Nostalgic reminiscing aside, having just watched Waxwork by way of (you guessed it) the Net Flix streaming, I gotta say I was never bored while watching this.  The film stars David Warner (fellow geeks will recognize him from the original Tron, along with several Doctor Who episodes) as an owner of a Waxwork museum that seems to have popped up overnight.  He invites a small bunch of college students to a special midnight showing – one of the students being Zach Galligan, otherwise known as “Billy” from the two Gremlins movies – only they come to find out the hard way that this particular wax museum is more than what it seems.

See, the exhibits are also portals to another dimension, where whatever was in the exhibit was for realsies there.  Meaning, if you got inside one that had a werewolf sculpture, then that trans-dimensional place would be the realm of the werewolf itself.  Or something.  I’m not asking you to understand, just to…um, just smile and nod, there.  Anyway, seems the proprietor of this wacky establishment is a warlock that needs a certain amount of human sacrifices to bring forth the eighteen most evil humans that have ever existed in history.  Well, that’s what was postulated in the dialog; what really happens is that all the wax figures come to life and do battle with a bunch of old retired British soldiers.  Then things blow up, and a zombie hand crawls away, searching for the sequel.  And there was a sequel.  Oh, the humanity.

Waxwork.  What can I say?  Low budget, yet over-the-top, cheeseball fun that really can’t be duplicated in this day and age.  And for all the wackiness, the parts that were straight creepy was played with enough seriousness to make it effective.  Have yet to check out the sequel released in 1992, but that’s also on the streaming, so it won’t be too long.  Otherwise, Waxwork must be seen by everyone.  One of those great bad movies from the Greatest Decade of the late 20th Century, throw it on with some friends and enjoy.

Movie Review: NIGHT OF THE COMET

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NightoftheCometAtlantic Releasing Corporation
1984
PG-13

“Daddy would have gotten us Uzis.”

Earth has been ripped to shreds after a run-in with a killer comet, and those who have survived are in a fight for their lives in this campy cult classic. Valley girl Reg and her sister discover they’re two of the lucky few. But scientists are after them, and now they must run. Why? Because the researchers believe they need the blood of survivors to concoct a drug that can save them all from further ruin.

Well, now.  This was a nifty little pleasant surprise.  Kind of a tongue-in-cheek post apocalyptic flick with California high school girls that only the 1980s can provide.  Think Omega Man by way of Valley Girl, and you’ll start to get t picture.  And if you’re now thinking, “those were from before I was born, so I don’t know those movies,” I swear I will find you and bite your face off.

Night Of The Comet was one of the movies that kind of came and went when it was released to the theaters, to find its niche as a cult favorite by way of home video and cable television.  The story of everyone on Earth turning into red dust when the tail of a comet passes over our planet, while a handful of survivors are made into flesh craving zombies, while the only normal people alive seem to be an 18-year-old high school student, her younger cheerleader sister, and a truck driver named Hector,is certainly offbeat enough.  And I haven’t even got to the government group bent on using the survivors to extract a cure in a rather nefarious way.

As a low budget sci-fi horror flick, the effects can get pretty silly at times, but fortunately effects aren’t relied upon too much.  The zombie makeup effects are great, actually, and lends to some good creepy moments. Otherwise, Night Of The Comet is a fun 80s flick that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with its strongest point being the snappy dialogue between the characters.  Especially enjoyed that New Wave punk in the mall.  Things do get a bit mucked up near the last half hour, when the shadowy government agency shows up.

Overall, watching Night Of The Comet now still entertains.  Maybe in different ways than when it first came out, but still a great time.  Grab some friends and a large bowl of popcorn and enjoy.

Movie Review: PSYCHO WARD

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psychowardr1artworkpicLionsgate
2007
R

A group of researchers are determined to uncover the dark secrets that linger in the halls of the abandoned Black Creek Detention Center.  Unbeknownst to the group, they have become the target of an unrivaled evil housed within these walls.  Now, trapped in the prison, they start disappearing one by one.  Desperate for an escape route, they are about to find…death is the only way out.

Slashers – they’re not rocket science.  Matter of fact, let’s not even bring the sciences into the analogy here.  Let’s use the tried-and-true McDonald’s analogy.  Cheaply made, quickly assembled, no surprises, comes through in a pinch: renting a slasher is like ordering a Big Mac combo in that aspect.  Not really all that healthy, but darn tasty.  Especially late at night, when the craving hits.  And you gotta have it with the fries, otherwise you’re just missing the yen to the Big Mac’s yang.  Hot, crispy…

Okay, I’m getting off track, here.  Where was I?  Oh, right.  Psycho Ward.  Crap.  Well, let’s get this over with.

Lionsgate has, over the years, had this track record of releasing rather cheaply made horror flicks, in whatever subgenre, in really good looking packaging, probably to fake out the unwary horror connoisseur into thinking they’re purchasing / renting a good, quality horror flick.  Psycho Ward is, again, another in a long line of disappointments in the company’s direct-to-video market.

All the usual suspects come in to play, here: The cringe-inducing acting, the confusing motivation, the bad pacing, the somewhat doable effects.  Every conceivable cliché seems to be ham-fisted into this movie – psycho killer in an abandoned insane asylum?  Bunch of college kids decide to investigate said asylum for whatever reason?  Yeah, we’ve all been on this ride before.  I would have been bored with the premise even if the movie was competently made.  As it stands, Psycho Ward doesn’t even hold up to 1980s standards.  But no, even in this day and age, Psycho Ward proves that going through the motions just isn’t enough.

Let me put it this way, in the interest of coming full circle: I was expecting a Big Mac combo, and instead was handed a half-frozen Hot Pocket.  Pass this one up.

Movie Review: RETURN TO HORROR HIGH

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return to horror highNew World Pictures
1987
R

“Nobody hits one of the Trolls!”

A low-budget film crew descends on a high school that was once the scene of grisly murders.  As throngs of people come to the school hoping to be a part of the film, the crew is being murdered one by one.

Return To Horror High is one of those mid-to-late 80s satire of slasher flicks of that era.  It’s notable for being one of the early movie rolls of George Clooney, before he became famous.  His second film, in fact, and he barely makes it past the first fifteen minutes or so before his character is killed off, appearing a grand total of maybe five minutes on screen.  Of course, as most everyone knows him post-ER fame, the DVD releases list him in the top billing.  Just getting this out of the way: If you’re thinking of getting Return To Horror High expecting an early and obscure George Clooney classic, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  You’d probably do better finding the movie he made after this one – Return Of The Killer Tomatoes – as he is truly the star in that one.  And now that I have that out of the way…

Return To Horror High was one that I missed out on when it was first released in theaters on account of being in 7th grade at the time.  I do recall seeing a VHS copy floating around the video rental shop back in the day, but even then the choices were still regulated by a “yay” or “nay” vote from the parental units.  And this movie had the double whammy of the title and the cover art for the dreaded immediate “nay” vote.  And since I didn’t get back into horror until the later part of the 1990s, the title got lost in he shuffle of time, until I stumbled upon it in the Net Flix streaming list.  Good way to check if I missed out on something back in the day or not.

And now I know.  Yes, I did miss out back in the day by not having watched Return To Horror High.  See, the movie is, fundamentally speaking, a tongue-in-cheek satire of the slasher genre at the time.  Actor issues, lack of respect from the director, trying to do something on no budget, exploitation issues, all of the clichés are hit on in the “movie within a movie” style used.  But, rather than leave it at that, Return To Horror High also functions as a fairly decent slasher flick.  Most of the kills are off screen – it is a satire, after all – but the red stuff is used quite generously to good effect.  The actors are well in on the joke, but don’t take things too far (especially liked the guy who played the principal, who managed to creep me out with his mannerisms).  And I have to say, with all this wackiness, the movie does keep you guessing.  The ending especially his highly amusing.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Return To Horror High.  I have a feeling my 13-year-old self would have loved it had I been given the chance.  As it stands, I enjoyed it as an “adult”, and would recommend this for a nice night of 80s Horror Cheese…

Movie Review: SOUTHLAND TALES

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southland talesDestination Films
2006
R

“You know, there’d be a lot less violence in the world if everyone just got a little more cardio.”

I’m in a bit of a pickle, here.  See, I have this policy of, if I’ve watched a movie, any movie, with very few acceptations I will eventually review it.  It might take a while, but sooner or later a review will make it onto this blog.  Blame my particular form of CDO (it’s like OCD, only the letters are in alphabetical order AS THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE), but I have an obligation to review Southland Tales.  And…well, let me explain.

Southland Tales is a movie by one Richard Kelly, who previous to this made a little movie I love called Donnie Darko.  If you haven’t seen Donnie Darko, stop reading this and go at least rent and watch Donnie Darko.  There’s no reason to watch the needless sequel, S. Darko; just watch Donnie Darko.  I can wait.

Done?  Good.  Now you’ll understand why, when I heard of him being behind Southland Tales, I wanted to check it out.  Then I started reading things, saying Southland Tales being something of a convoluted mess, that what this amounted to was two-and-a-half hours of “What The HECK Did I Just Watch?!?” not seen since Richard Lynch started making films.  Problem was, calling a movie weird and a mind-bomb only serves to encourage me to watch it.  And heaven help me, I did watch Southland Tales.  Every single minute of it.  Pausing only once to go potty and microwave more junk food.

Can you tell I’m stalling?  Very well, then.  Let me see if I can make this as coherent and painless as possible:

In an alternate timeline, parts of Texas are nuked by terrorists, misleading the viewer to think this is a feel good movie.  This leads the conservative far-right to seize control of the country, moving their seat of power to the southern part of California (nicknamed the “Southland”), because apparently the concept of “irony” is lost on them.  Meanwhile, a senator is looking for The Rock, because he disappeared and happens to be his daughter’s husband.  Only, The Rock has amnesia and is shacking up with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, who is a former porn star trying to break into the lucrative multi-media empire biz with a talk show, music, and also a script she’s writing with The Rock.  Meanwhile, a Marxist revolutionary group hires Steve Stifler to pose as a racist cop and fake kill a couple of poets to stage their death as…something.  Only a blond and serious Jon Lovitz shows up and kills them for realsies.  Then the “inconceivable!”guy from The Princess Bride shows up with the psychic from Poltergeist and a scary Asian lady with a new power source and a really creepy presence.  Then Stifler has a doppelgänger, only it’s not a doppelgänger only a time-displaced himself, who’s captured by The Highlander, who takes him across town in his ice cream truck, then there’s a crash, the two Stiflers meet, time gets all wibbly wobbly, timey wimey, and everything ends with a blimp blowing up and the ice crème truck floating away into the air.

And I didn’t even get to the part where the whole thing is narrated by a former N’Sync member, complete with a full-on lip synced performance of “All These Things That I’ve Done” by The Killers in the middle of the film, for no apparent reason, other than his character was tripping out.  Yeah, you see now why my brain is still throbbing after watching this, even though it’s been a good three months since the end credits rolled?

In the end, I have no idea whether Southland Tales is a good movie or a bad movie.  It’s definitely not a “meh” movie, as I’ve been chewing on this thing since watching it all that time ago.  So in a way, it’s got that going for it.  It is stylishly shot, I dug the soundtrack, and there’s a certain charm to the weirdness.  I do like weird trippy pieces of art, even if it’s just for art’s sake.  Problem is, there were times where I never thought this movie was going to end, and there were more than one time where I was scratching my head, and bringing up the internet to at least help explain things for me.  Yeah, doing research on something while watching it just to keep yourself in the plot is never a good sign, there.

I’ve read that Richard Kelly stated that he was striving to make something that was a “strange hybrid of the sensibilities of Andy Warhol and Philip K. Dick.”  Mission accomplished, sir.  Southland Tales was indeed really weird, had a strong sense of paranoia, and felt like it went on forever.  I do think everyone should watch Southland Tales at least once, at least so I don’t have to feel so alone with my confusion and growing insanity for having watched this, alone and in the dark.

Movie Review: KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE

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Killer_klowns_posterTrans World Entertainment
1988
PG-13

“It was a space ship.  And there was these things, these killer clowns, and they shot popcorn at us!  We barely got away!”

An alien band of clowns descends from the cosmos to harvest victims, cocooning their prey in cotton candy to eat later.  But the joke is on the clowns when two teens armed with an ice cream truck battle to save their friends in this cult favorite.

Further proof that there is no other B-grade horror movie like an 80s B-grade horror movie.  And Killer Klowns From Outer Space holds the prestigious title of being the movie that almost broke my brain permanently.  See, I’m of the opinion that Killer Klowns From Outer Space is what the Cenobites from the Hellraiser series turns to when all other forms of torture fail to work on someone.  One viewing will shake you to your very soul.  Two viewings will break even the most strong willed of individuals.  Multiple viewings will drain anyone of their sanity.

You might be thinking to yourself, “But Uncle NecRo, didn’t you know by the title and cover art that this was going to be a rather painful movie to watch to begin with?”  And you would be correct; Killer Klowns From Outer Space is one of those titles I’ve always seen at various video rental shops through the years, but never could bring myself to spend money to watch.  Until I saw it on the Net Flix streaming, when I foolishly decided to stare into its dead-lights, unheedful of the alarms going off inside my head.  You would think by now I would have grown to trust these inner warnings of mine.  But no.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space is the type of schlock that will get you with its really bad makeup and effects, hokey dialog, camp that will rot your teeth and possibly give you cancer, and will leave you in a giggling, bubbling catatonic state for a few hours after the end credits roll.  In other words, Killer Klowns From Outer Space is one of the GREATEST movies the 80s ever produced, and I think EVERYONE should watch this at least once.  Share in the insanity, the madness, the pain.  It’s good for you.

Movie Review: FINGERPRINTS

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FingerprintsImage Entertainment
2006
R

“I’m only going to ask you once and you’d better be honest.  Are you on drugs again?”

A small town lies in limbo 50 years after a horrific accident that saw a train plow into a school but filled with children.  Can a troubled teenager fresh out of rehab unlock the truth about what caused the terrible tragedy?

Okay, I admit I went into watching Fingerprints not really expecting much beyond what I’ve already seen before.  You know the type.  20-something “high school” white kids with problems with some ghosties thrown in.  At the core, yes, Fingerprints is one of those movies.  But, it does manage to throw in a bunch of other horror movie tropes that everything is kept nice and interesting to the end.

The story centers around an urban legend in a small town that states that, if you stop on the train tracks where a horrible accident happened 50 years prior involving kids in a school bus and a train, and put that car in neutral, then the ghosts of the children will push your car across the tracks to safety.  Only, Melanie, who’s back from a stint in rehab for overdosing, suspects that there’s more to this legend than meets the eye.  Only, there’s someone or something out there that wants to keep things hushed up, and Melanie has to contend with a suspicious community, her overly strict and possibly insane mother, and Lou Diamond Phillips while figuring out this mystery so that the souls of the children can rest.  Or something like that.

Okay, so we obviously got the typical CW Teen Drama with Ghosts angle.  Also, there’s that Urban Legend aspect thrown in (reportedly, the writers of this movie grew up in Texas around a similar legend), then when you think you figured out things and settle back to enjoy this familiar ride, suddenly the story becomes a slasher flick, with a figure dressed in an old timey train conductor outfit impaling people with rebar and slashing ’em with a straight razor.  Throughout, all of the cliche’s are played out to their logical but entertaining conclusions.  I’ll just let you go ahead and point them out yourself when you watch this, because I so do desire you to watch Fingerprints.

Really, this was much more entertaining than it should have been.  The characters actually have some depth to them, and Leah Pipes especially came off as much more than a teenager with a dark past, in that she actually smiles and jokes at time, instead of being all angsty and broody like most of these types are written.  The chemistry she has with her sister Crystal actually works, as does her relationship with her newly found boyfriend.  The ghost effects and the flashbacks to what happened were well shot and effective, with very little CGI used that I could detect.  Sure, Fingerprints can’t escape its fair share of cheesiness, but somehow that works to the entertainment value.  I was expecting massive pain watching Fingerprints, but came out of this with a nice satisfied feeling.  Check this out sometime.

Movie Review: ENCINO MAN

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encino manHollywood Entertainment
1992
PG-13

Encino Man unearths the biggest laughs in 2 million years! The fun kicks off when two high school buddies dig up a frozen caveman in their backyard! Once the living fossil thaws out, the friends figure he’s their ticket to being cool. But the plan backfires when the newcomer turns everyday life upside down, generating pre-hysterical craziness wherever he roams!*

No.  No no no no NO.  I will NOT review Encino Man.  I refuse.  Nope nope nope.  Sorry, not going to happen.  We’re just going to pretend this movie never existed, okay?

*sigh* And yet, the voices in my head keep telling me that I have seen this particular film.  In the theater the year it came out, even.  And as per the rules set forth in the course of my existence, I must review Encino Man.  Sometimes I wish I exercised a bit more discernment in my choice of movie watching back then.  That way, I won’t have to relive nightmares like this.

Okay, so, Encino Man is one of those tragically hip comedies from the early 1990s that – like Weekend At Bernie’s and Mannequin before it – takes a highly improbable premise and attempts to make something wacky out of it.  Key word here is “attempt.”  As in, tries.  Like how Pauly Shore attempts to be funny.  Which is a very relevant reference, as Pauly Shore is in this movie.  Early 90s Pauly Shore.  But…I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Okay, so a long time ago, in a continental drift far, faraway, Brendan Fraser gets frozen and remains underground in the non-hipster fashion until well after the town of Encino, California is built on top of him.  One day, a pre-Hobbit Sean Astin and Pauly Shore arre mid-20 something High School students, and stumble upon the future Mummy hunter (um, wait…) while digging a swimming pool.  By hand.  The reason being, all Sean’s character wants is to be popular with his fellow high school students, and will do anything to achieve this goal.  Pauly’s just a neo-hippie poser.  In other words, himself back then.  And when they stumble across the cave man in their back yard, they do what anyone would do: dress him up in hip clothes, and enroll him in their school, claiming he’s an exchange student from Estonia. Get it?  GET IT?!?

Kill me.  Just…kill me now.

Moving along: Obviously, due to strict Wacky Comedy rules from that era, wackiness ensues, and the cave man ends up getting the instant popularity that whats-his-face craved, so he tries to get rid of Captain Cave Man, only Pauly Shore makes a heart-felt speech about hypocrisy and using people is bad or some crap, The Infectious Grooves play their prom for some reason, and then everyone winds up at whats-his-face’s unfinished pool.

I just had to relive all of that.  I hope you’re happy.  Do you know how long it’s taken me to un-remember Encino Man?  To forget the questionable career choices Sean Astin made before Lord Of The Rings?  That Pauly Shore in movies still exist?  That Brendan Fraser…well, okay, he was definitely the highlight of this movie.

Yeah, Encino Man hasn’t held up as well as, say, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, or some other memorable classic wacky teen comedy that I know nothing about.  But, somehow…I can’t seem to not watch it whenever I stumble upon it on cable or something like cable.  It’s mindless guilty pleasure material. Take that as you will.

Gazungas.

[* – I wish to apologize for this description blurb and the cancer it may have caused any of you by reading it.  I didn’t write it; it was gleaned from Amazon.  Please don’t think badly of me. – Uncle NecRo]

Movie Review: DEADTIME STORIES Volume 2

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deadtime stories volume 2Showcase Entertainment
2011
R

Legendary horror movie auteur George A. Romero serves up three more tales of horror, including the story of a professor who pays for his playboy ways, another featuring hikers trapped in a cave, and a third about a man driven to murder to save his wife.

After watching Volume 1 of the Deadtime Stories anthology, I of course had to complete my torture by watching Volume 2 of the George A. Romero hosted DVD series.

The three short films presented by Romero are “The Gorge”, where three bestest of friends go hiking and get trapped in a cave; “On Sabbath Hill”, where a college professor with a wandering eye for the student bodies gets visited by the ghost of a suicide victim; and “Dust”, where dust from Mars can cure cancer, but has some nasty side effects.

Of the two Deadtime Stories, Volume 2 is the strongest one going.  Which isn’t saying much; regardless, the three short films presented here are a bit better.  “The Gorge” is forgettable really, as it’s a low-budget Alive in a cave, and with none of the tension or suspense.  “On Sabbath Hill” is a psychological ghost story that does drag a bit at times, but works well overall.  And “Dust”?  ZOMBIES, baby!  Finally, you would think in an anthology presented by George A. Romero, we’d have more of my favorite things in there.  But no, “Dust” is the only one we get.

So, after experiencing the excruciatingly dull Volume 1, Volume 2 of Deadtime Stories was surprisingly…watchable.  Don’t go into this expecting Creepshow-level stuff.  But, at least check ’em out, so you can witness some unpolished raw attempts at horror.

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