Movie Review: MAN-THING

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MAN-THINGLions Gate Films
2005
R

“I believe I don’t wanna die, sheriff.”

The new sheriff hadn’t been in the Everglade backwater town of Bywater for more than ten minutes when he finds himself investigating the deaths of some of the local yokels. While investigating, the poor sap runs into crazy Native Americans, a hot 3rd grade teacher who moonlights as an ecological activist, swamp-dwelling rednecks, corrupt oil drillers…and a big green walking vegetable who’s been offing these people by making that raped-by-a-tree scene in Evil Dead look like a tender romance…

I’m going to pause for a moment to give you all time to stop giggling at the childish innuendo of the title. Go ahead, get it out of your system…

…you done yet? No? Too bad…

First off, I’m going to flex my uber-geek muscles a bit, and give y’all a little schooling into the history of Marvel’s Man-Thing:

The first Man-Thing story, written by Gerry Conway, introduced Ted Sallis, a scientist who was working in an isolated cabin in the Everglades to re-create the “super-soldier serum” that had turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. Like Bruce Banner, Sallis cared nothing about the potentially immoral uses to which the military might put his serum; this was the sin that brought on his fate. Betrayed by his girlfriend to spies, Sallis injected himself with the serum to prevent them from getting it. In the ensuing struggle, Sallis was hurled into the swamp, where the serum interacted with the murky water and muck, causing him to mutate into a mindless, ghastly monster. [MARVEL UNIVERSE, page 148]

…and as to Man-Thing’s abilities:

The Man-Thing is man reduced to his essentials, and then reduced even further than that. He is an empath, one who can sense the emotions of others and is pained by the presence of hatred, violent anger, and, worst of all, fear. The Man-Thing will act to protect the innocent, although clearly not knowing why. But on sensing strong negative emotions, the Man-Thing will attempt to put an end to them, even if it means killing the perpetrator; as the narrator solemnly states in each story, “Whoever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch.” [MARVEL UNIVERSE, page 148-149]

After reviewing that, I would think it’s safe to say that the only thing the movie Man-Thing has in common with the comic its based on is the title. Here, the title character is obviously more of a protector of the eco system, rather than a mindless monster that protects the innocent from evil and turns the fear of those who would do harm back onto themselves. Well, there was a Ted Sallis, who was one of the drillers on the oil rig, and obviously now he’s the walking salad bar that’s killing off all the big bad oil drillers and everyone else who gets in his way. If there’s a stereotype in this movie that wasn’t touched on, I missed it. You got the corrupt and evil southern oil baron with his “it took me three times to gadgeate the sixth grade” henchmen, the beautiful and obvious love interest that’s ecologically minded (and can’t hold a southern accent if it meant her life), the local Native Americans who all seem to just be mystical kooks (for once, I’d like to see a movie with a Native American in it that wasn’t that way…name him Bud, with his big mystical trick being able to conjure up coffee in the morning), even more kooky redneck swamp dwellers who looked like they crawled out of a Garth Ennis comic, not to mention just about every “We’re looking for a strange thing in a swamp” horror trick in the book. Style-wise, Man-Thing is alright, using lighting to a good advantage. You don’t see the full monster until about an hour into it, which works…then you realize that the monster design is a cross between Swamp Thing and the alien from Species. Then, of course, the Man-Thing goes away after the swamp is now safe. Boo, hiss…

And I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “That’s great, but I never read the comics. Is this movie worth seeing on its own?” Let me put it this way- there’s a reason why they decided to forgo the theatrical release and have it shown on Sci-Fi before shipping it straight to DVD. And we all know what great masterpieces of sci-fi and horror that the Sci-Fi Channel churns out on an hourly basis…

So, if you’re looking for a faithful adaptation of the Marvel comic, stay away. If you’re not into comics but looking for a worthwhile monster flick, you can do better. If you’re looking for a cheep thrill involving a throwaway plot and paste together characters, go for it.

Movie Review: MASTERS OF HORROR: Cigarette Burns

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MOHCigaretteBurnsStarz / Achor Bay Entertainment
2005
NR

Deeply in debt to the father of his late wife, a rare films dealer is hired by an old and creepy cinephile to find the only existing print of a rare movie that has this tendancy to drive anyone who watches it completely insane…

Being the good horror fiend I am, I proudly attest that I am a John Carpenter fan. If there’s anything that’s even remotely tied to Mr. Carpenter, I will watch it at least once. Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Escape From New York, They Live, In The Mouth Of Madness…heck, I’ve been known to enjoy much of what a lot of fan boys (and girls) consider his “lesser work” — Escape From L. A., Village Of The Damned, Vampires, even Ghosts Of Mars has a particular charm.

So it should come as no surprise that one of the first episodes of the Masters Of Horror cable television series that I decided to start watching on DVD involved one by John Carpenter. The MoH episodes themselves are only an hour long, but Carpenter managed to pack a lot of wallop into that hour. Seriously, I came out of watching Cigarette Burns thinking anyone who still claims that Carpenter is washed up as a horror director needs to watch this, and then promptly go do something that’s a physical impossibility. Metaphorically speaking, of course…

I would consider Cigarette Burns to be something of a spiritual companion piece to In The Mouth Of Madness, inasmuch as the theme of blurring the line between art — in this case film — and insanity. Two of my favorite pairings, right up there with chocolate and peanut butter. The visuals are stark and disturbing, with the fine performances from the actors, the cinematography and musical score all gelling together that, once the end credits roll, left me with a nice warm glow. Nearly an hour well spent, methinks. Recommended…

Movie Review: MASTERS OF HORROR: Family

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MOHFamilyStarz / Anchor Bay Entertainment
2006
NR

It’s a beautiful day in suburbia where mild-mannered bachelor Harold Thompson is happily at work in his basement building the perfect family. But when a young couple moves in next door, Harold sets his sights on the sexy young wife. In a sunshine world of picket fences and manicured lawns, is it ever possible to know what gruesome plans are percolating in the minds of your neighbors?

Most, if not everybody, remember George Wendt as the lovable wisecracking barfly on Cheers. I know I do. Even outside of the sitcom character he’s well known for, Wendt exuded a kind of lovable, cuddly charm that you would liken to your favorite uncle…or at least your metaphorical ideal of a favorite uncle.

So it comes as no surprise, really, that George Wendt’s character in the Masters Of Horror episode “Family” comes off as a lovable, friendly suburban neighbor type…who’s chillingly psychotic. In an Ed Gein sort of way. Not that he wears other people’s skins, but…well, that would be giving things away, here.

What I will say is this: George Wendt pulls off his character wonderfully in “Family”. He plays it as ideal Norman Rockwell-esque nice guy neighbor, which makes things even more disturbing. The story is played out nicely, the twist at the end rather effective with the overall tone of the episode having that delicious “something’s not quite right here” feel.

So far, I’ve been very impressed with the Masters Of Horror series, and “Family” is a great suburban Gothic tale.

Movie Review: MASTERS OF HORROR: The Damned Thing

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moh-thedamnedthingStarz / Anchor Bay Entertainment
2006
NR

The Damned Thing is the apocalyptic tale of a monstrous force that devastates Sheriff Kevin Reddle’s family and his small Texas town. Sheriff Reddle thinks there is a connection between this mysterious, invisible force which made his father kill his mother back in 1981, and he sets out to uncover and stop the so-called “Damned Thing” before it decimates his whole town by forcing the residents to kill each other and themselves.

I’ll be upfront and honest (like I usually am) by saying that I couldn’t really name another Toby Hooper movie beyond the original (and therefore superior) Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Well, there’s The Mangler, but I really have no intention of seeing that one any time soon. I have heard he had a hand, somewhat, with Poltergeist, but I think the majority consider that to be a Steven Spielberg joint. And with Texas Chainsaw Massacre being a visceral tour-de-force independent horror classic, I really didn’t know what to expect into watching Hooper’s entry in the Masters Of Horror series. Sufficed to say, pleasantly surprised I was.

The Damned Thing, the first episode of the second season of Masters Of Horror, is based on a short story of the same name, written by 19th century writer Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, a fascinating author who infused a lot of his historical-based stories with a touch of supernatural. And then disappeared mysteriously in Mexico in the early 20th Century. Hooper’s take on The Damned Thing, set in a small town in Texas in the present time, deals with a sheriff who suddenly finds himself dealing with the citizens going bat guano crazy by the same entity that drove his own father to kill his mother and very nearly him at a young age. Now grown up with a son of his own — who stays with his estranged wife due to his paranoia of the entity’s return — he suddenly finds himself confronting his fears from the past as well as trying to maintain his sanity and protect his family as the wackiness ensues.

As an episode, The Damned Thing was pretty good. You get some good character development, I was kept on the edge of my seat, and there were some genuine creep-out moments. I have to admit, the monster reveal at the end was pretty cool as well. The Damned Thing isn’t the best of the Masters Of Horror series, mind you, but it isn’t the worst one either. At less than an hour, I can think of worse things you can do with your time.

Movie Review: MAY

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MAYLions Gate Films
2002
R

“If you can’t find a friend, make one.”

Well, cut me into portions and Kentucky fry me. I couldn’t have found a more perfect modern horror flick if I tried. This sucker hit me all sorts of ways with its sweet, sad, quirky, gory mind-trip that plays with my senses like a drunken kitten. May is a twisted character study that doesn’t hold back on the darkness…

The movie starts off as a very quirky and bleak tale of the lead character, who grows up as an outcast due to her lazy eye, and mostly because of her whacked-out mother. As a young lady, her social skills leave something to be desired…working at a vet clinic, the shy and awkward May finds solace in sewing and her “best friend”, a spooky doll encased in a glass box (as a side note…dolls creep me out. Especially porcelain dolls…there’s just something unsettling about them). One day, May decides to throw caution to the wind and fall in love with a real person. How does she emerge from her foray into the relationship game? Let me put it this way…be afraid…be very afraid…

This movie worked for me on several levels. On the one hand, we have a dark character study about being the outcast and trying to fit in a society where people mostly grade you on looks. I really felt for the girl, despite her not-so-conventional means of dealing with her situations. On another level, you got a blacker-than-black humor that cuts deeply, especially when she snaps completely in the second half. You also have a “genre tribute” aspect, where homage to the Italian horror flicks of the 70s are warmly and fondly saluted (mainly through the brooding horror fiend mechanic May finds herself infatuated with). And of course, I would be remiss to leave out the straight-ahead psycho-Frankenstein aspect, when our little anti-heroine goes on her impromptu body part scavenger hunt.

Bottom line- if you’re looking for an intelligent horror flick that gives loads of clever dialogue, dark humor galore, and superb acting without going light on the gore, May is required watching. It will suck you in, it will make you laugh, it will make you cringe, it will make you jump up and loudly proclaim the sacredness of manure at how well-made this film is. And trust me, the last couple of minutes will make you go, “What the hell?!?”

Movie Review: METAL: A Headbanger’s Journey

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Metal- A Headbangers JourneyBanger Productions, Inc.
2005
R

*walks up to podium, clears throat, and takes deep breath*

Hello. My name is Uncle NecRo, and I am a metal head.

*CROWD: “Hi, Uncle NecRo!”*

Sure, it’s tough nowadays to admit to being a tried-and-true metal head. So many sub-genres, mixed styles and flavors within the catch-all heading that, not surprisingly at all, there’s little in terms of unity between them all. And for someone who’s exploring the metal genres for the first time, it can get rather confusing. You got your classic metal from the 1970s, your 80s hair metal, thrash metal, death metal, black metal, metal hybrids, nu metal, power metal, prog metal, so on and so on. Metal music has come such a long way since its inception, and has mutated so much, that the fledgling metal head almost doesn’t know where to begin when it comes to the Metal Family Tree.

Fortunately, 30-something anthropologist and lifelong die hard metalhead Sam Dunn does an outstanding job exploring the many facets of metal, going through the histories, themes and controversies that go with them. Throughout this 90-plus-minute documentary, Dunn travels the world, interviewing band members, fans others associated with metal. My favorite moments: A trip to the Wacken Open Air festival; a rather unintentionally humorous interviews with the Norweigen black metal bands; an interview with Twisted Sister icon Dee Snider involving the PMRC trials in the 80s; and the great Definitive Metal Family Tree that grounds the documentary and gives the viewer something to go on. And of course, there’s the very cool soundtrack that features some of the best in the genres.

Some of the cooler supplemental stuff on the DVD: A commentary by the director and camera guy, geeking out on metal; an extended collection of interview clips with Moterhead’s Lemmy (funny guy); and a short film dealing exclusively with black metal. Though definitely not exhaustive, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is a great supplement for any self-described metal historian. Highly recommended…

Movie Review: METALLICA: Some Kind Of Monster

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METALLICA - Some Kind Of MonsterRadical Media
2004
R

“I want four of them. Do it again.”

For nearly two and a half hours, come witness the ups and downs, the trials and tribulations of metaldom’s favorite top-selling sellout bands- the now-ironically named Metallica- as they loose their long-time bassist, begin recording tracks for what would eventually become St. Anger, squabbles and whining amongst each other, the hiring of a psychiatrist, their nationwide search for a new bassist, James’ drug rehab, Lars’ whining, and eventual release of their Grammy-nominated (yet extremely sucking) St. Anger…try to keep the yawns down to a minimum…

As you can probably tell by my synopsis, I don’t have a very high view of the band Metallica. Mind you, there used to be a time where I would figuratively worship daily at the AA Battery-powered altar of the mighty Metallica. I got into them around the time when …And Justice For All came out (still give that a spin every now and again), and felt that their first four albums (Ride The Lighting topping the list) were required listening for the true metalhead. I was one of the first in line to buy their self-titled “black” album, and played it to death within the first month (although I found it rather annoying that all the preps in my high school were sporting Metallica shirts…tucked in). When they played Omaha in ’92, it was like the Pope’s arrival. I even enjoyed Load and Reload to a certain extent. Point is, I was a fan. A pretty big fan. So, what exactly soured me on the band?

Napster. More to the point, Lars’ suing Napster for allowing Metallica songs to be downloaded. For the record, in 1999 when this crap happened, I never did any of that P2P file sharing, let alone knew what a “napster” was. Hell, I didn’t even have a frickin’ computer, and my roommate’s comp had a lame dial-up modem that took forever to download stuff. In other words, I’m not cheesed because Metallica killed my ability to download their songs. I got pissed off because all these years, the boys in the band kept saying that their fans are the greatest, they love their fans, and then they go and sue their fans for loving the band and wanting to hear ’em. It became immediately apparent that money was more of an issue…but that’s another thing entirely, and so I digress…

I rented Some Kind Of Monster because I’m still somewhat interested in Metallica, if not musically. I mean, let’s face it…St. Anger sucked wookie butt. And while Some Kind Of Monster isn’t one of those documentaries that goes through an exhaustive history of the band (there are several books and of course the all-too-abbreviated Behind The Music episode on VH1), it does offere a pretty detailed look into the period where they were working on St. Anger.

On the upside, Some Kind Of Monster shows the drama that surrounded the band at the time, which begins with longtime bassist Jason Newstead’s departure. Nothing is really glossed over, as both the good and bad times were presented without any kind of varnish. The scenes showing the creative process going into the lyrics and the songs were good, showing that at least they weren’t trying to slap something together in haste just to get a product out (as the horrid production on the disc belies). I also liked how they included James Hetfield’s stint wrestling with his alcoholism, effectively quitting the band for an extended time. He could have asked to have that glossed over, or stricken entirely, but he let them include the shots there. And I also found the process of searching for a new bassist to be rather amusing (apparently, former Marilyn Manson cohort Twiggy was among the contenders).

Mostly, though, most of the time this documentary comes off as a bit pretentious. True, it does tend to be hard to be objective when it comes to fans making a film about their favorite band. But, juxtaposed between the recording sessions (which, while interesting, got old after a while…there’s only so much discussion on what time structure to use before I start screaming “JUST PLAY SOMETHING, DAMMIT!!!” and flinging things at the television) were the group therapy sessions with squarest guys you can get for a rock n’ roll psychiatrist. Really, I’ve read about the band’s sessions with this guy in various magazines, but I never experienced what eventually annoyed them so much about him until I watched this video. Truly fascinating stuff, there.

Other points of contention: I was already aware of what kind of arrogant prick Lars Ulrich is, but after watching this my opinion of the drummer / self-appointed spokesperson dropped several points in my book. From his constant arguments with his band mates (which, by his own admission, he at times deliberately disagrees with just for the sake of disagreeing…like I said, arrogant prick), his heartless dissing on former band mates Jason Newsted and Dave Mustaine (there’s a section where Ulrich and Mustaine confront each other as part of the band’s therapy…a scene that I felt was all too short, and kind of stiffed Dave as a result…even the extended version in the extras seemed a bit too short as well), to a needless scene where he’s selling his artwork and making a cool $5 mil in the process…he just comes off in a very bad light in this video. Really, the only person that didn’t come off as a jackass was Kirk Hammet, the lead guitarist. He’s laid back, not really letting all the drama affect him too much. Very classy…

In the end, I felt I watched a 90-minute documentary that was crammed into two-and-a-half hours. Mind you, when I watched this Metallica had already lost a lot of their appeal for me, and I don’t hate the band. I’m saying that much could have been cut out and we would have still gotten the full extent of what was intended. Had this been made in ’91, I would have deemed it the greatest documentary ever. Instead, we have an overly-long video that stands as a representation of the band’s condition nowadays- bloated, overlong and long-winded…

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