Movie Review: KISS OF THE TARANTULA

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KISS OF THE TARANTULA
Cinema-Vu
1976
PG

  • John Bradley operates and lives in a mortuary along with his wife, Martha, and daughter, Susan, who collects tarantula spiders and has always been ostracized by her friends because…well, she’s a bit strange. When Susan discovers that mommy dearest is plotting to have dear old dad killed by her secret lover, who is also dad’s brother, she places a tarantula in mommy’s bed while she sleeps. Abruptly awakened by the spider, mom dies of a heart attack. This bizarre little episode apparently puts sweet little Susan over the top. Later as a teenager, Susan uses her pet tarantulas in acts of revenge against her terrified classmates, who have been tormenting her for way too long. And innocent looking Susan doesn’t stop there, making good plot use of her father’s mortuary and her creepy little playmates!

Back when I was 6 years of age, one of my uncles — who is only ten years older than I am — told me that if any kind of spider bit me, regardless of what the size of type, it would kill me. And then he promptly shoved me into a spider web. I remember screaming before blacking out. Good times. Of course, that left me with a low-grade arachnophobia throughout my life.

Of course, over the years, I’ve managed to study up on these nightmare fuel of nature, gaining an understanding of what ones I should actually bug out over (pun intended). It still doesn’t mean that, despite many of the species of arachnids falling squarely in the “harmless” spectrum, I’m gonna be making pets of these things. Or allowing them to live if they invade my bubble.

Which bring sus to this mid-1970s low budget “horror” movie, Kiss Of The Tarantula. this is yet another nature-based movie that, like the Shatner-riffic Kingdom Of The Spiders that would come a year later, uses tarantulas for the visual freak-outs.

So, what we have with Kiss Of The Tarantula is a reworking of the plot from the 1971 movie Willard, only gender-swapped and substituting spiders for the rats. And so, let’s get the pedantic stuff out of the way: Them spiders wouldn’t kill anyone, even if they wanted to. It’s just that they’re the go-to critters Hollywood uses to up the ookie factor. Knowing that the worst thing a tarantula bite can do is give a painful bee-like sting and some muscle and skin irritation, the over-the-top reactions from the victims in this movie, followed by their melodramatic deaths, just stretches the suspension of disbelief. Even if you argue that they died from panic and shock, I would question the credulity of that. Otherwise, the entire community must suffer from high-grade arachnophobia.

Once you get past that, what’s left with Kiss Of The Tarantula is a slipshod exploitation flick that seems slapped together with a micro budget and features a creepy incestuous uncle angle that really didn’t add to the movie, other than an ick factor that didn’t involve the spiders. The story is dull, the tension and conflict unbelievably hackneyed, and acting that can be likened to nails on a chalk board. You’ll be shaking your head in disbelief, and not in a good way. Hard pass.

Movie Review: PSYCHO

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psycho
Paramount Pictures
1960
R

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?”

A little note before we begin: No, I have not watched the shot-for-shot remake from 1998 that stars Vince Vaugn. That needless atrocity doesn’t exist in my reality. Now that I have that out of the way…

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological noir thriller classic Psycho is the movie that gets all of the praise, all of the accolades, and is included in all of the Greatest Movies Of All Time lists. There’s a reason for that–it’s a movie that will stick with you for a long, long time after you first watch it. And this is even when the big twist of the movie has been well known for decades.

Even if you haven’t seen this (yet), you’re familiar with the story of Psycho: A real estate secretary who just stole a cool $40k from her employers is on the run, stops at the Bates Motel during a heavy rainstorm, and gets stabbed in the shower in one of the most iconic scenes ever to have been filmed. And this is only the mid-point of the movie. Soon, the boyfriend of the lady gets suspicious, and launches an investigation, which leads back to the motel, which leads to a shocking revelation concerning proprietor Norman Bates and his overbearing mother.

So yes, Psycho is an iconic piece of cinematic mastery, and should be seen by everyone who considers themselves an enthusiast of the art of filmmaking, at least once. Me, I first watched Psycho back in college, during a horror movie marathon the Film Club was hosting, and the film blew my mind with how stylish and atmospheric it was. Although I knew what the twist was long before watching this, it still sucked me into the story with its masterful combination of the black and white filming style, pacing, acting and soundtrack itself that is all sorts of iconic. Going beyond the film itself, this movie changed the way we watched movies, as before Psycho, people would just arrive at a movie whenever, because it cycled through on a continuous loop. Now, because of Hitchcock’s insistence that no one arrive right when the big shocking twist happens, and spoils everything, we now have scheduled times at movie theaters. Which really is an improvement, if you think about it.

Anyway, many words expended just to say that Psycho is a classic and must be watched by everyone. I don’t care if you don’t like “old-timey” movies. You will watch this and you will love it.

Movie Review: The PUNISHER

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punisher 2004
Lionsgate Films
2004
R

“Two thousand degrees, Mick. Enough to turn steel into butter. It won’t hurt at first. It’s too hot, you see. The flame sears the nerve endings shut, killing them. You’ll go into shock, and all you’ll feel is cold. Isn’t science fun, Mickey?”

  • Special agent Frank Castle had it all: A loving family, a great life, and an adventurous job. But when his life is taken away from him b a ruthless criminal and his associates, Frank has become reborn. Now serving as judge, jury and executioner, he’s a new kind of vigilante out to wage a one-man war against those who have done him wrong.

So far, there’s been three movie adaptations of Marvel Comics’ vigilante antihero The Punisher. The one in 1989 that starred Dolf Lundren (and did not feature the trademark skull breast plate), the 2004 movie staring Thomas Jane and the 2008 Punisher: War Zone which acted as a soft reboot of the 2004 movie. Of the three, my favorite big-screen iteration is the 2004 Thomas Jane outing.*

This particular movie borrows a lot from the “Welcome Back, Frank” mini-series story that ran in the Marvel Knights line in 2000-2001, in that the characters of Joan, Mr. Bumpo and “Spacker” Dave are featured as Frank’s surrogate family, and also “The Russian”, which was played by pro-wrassler Kevin Nash in one of the more amusing fight scenes in the movie. Anyway, the story has Frank Castle as a former Delta Force veteran and undercover FBI agent that has worked his last case before retirement, one that resulted in the death of the son of mafia boss Howard Saint. This results in a hit taken out on Castle and his entire family at a family reunion, where Frank is only sort of dead, so he’s found and nursed back to health by a local fisherman. Moving into a dilapidated apartment building among three other outcasts, Frank begins his war to take down the Saint family bit by bit, using not only violence but also psychological warfare to spread dissension from the inside. Of course, this wouldn’t be a Punisher movie if things didn’t get blow’ed up and there was no body count, and rest assured there are both here, in spades.

Yeah, I’m well aware of the complaints about this version of The Punisher, that we don’t have a Punisher that’s a gun-wielding berserker that shoots first and asks questions never. Instead, we have *gasp* a Frank Castle that is cunning, highly intelligent and calculating, almost like he was using his brain as a lethal weapon as much as the ones he has in his arsenal. And speaking of his arsenal, it makes sense that, given his military training and background, he would use other tactile weapons rather just the pew-pew, budda-budda-budda variety.

Thomas Jane is perfect as the title character. He’s not the typical by-the-numbers muscle-bound meathead, which makes him perfect for this iteration. There’s a dark intensity to his performance, here. John Travolta is in his element, methinks, as a mob boss that’s also has an underlying tension, like he’s trying hard not to fly into utter camp, especially with some of his lines. Everything flows well, here, from the story, to the tragic feel with dark comedy bits sprinkled in, to the soundtrack…I just don’t understand the 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I admittedly still get a bit misty-eyed when I see the late, great John Pinette do his thing, here. But, really, I think it’s time to check out The Punisher 2004 if you have been holding back due to the negative hearsay about this. Recommended.

[* = Keep in mind I said “big screen”; my all-time favorite version of The Punisher is the Netflix Marvel one, which has been sadly canceled as of the time of this writing.]

Movie Review: The WATCHER

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the watcherUniversal
2000
R

“Hello, I am Lutenant Hollis and welcome to my crime scene. Can I help you with anything, or are you just looking?”

FBI agent Joel Campbell, burnt-out and shell-shocked after years spent chasing serial killers, flees L.A. to begin a new life for himself in Chicago. But five months later, Joel’s best laid plans are abruptly cut short when hi new hometown becomes the setting for some particularly gruesome murders–murders that could only have been committed by one man: David Allen Griffin. One of Joel’s most elusive and cunning nemeses, Griffin has followed his former pursuer to Chicago in order to play a sadistic game of his intended victims and leaving his crime scenes meticulously free of clues in order to keep the police at bay. Griffin derives as much pleasure out of watching Joel react to every movement as watching his victims die. But when Griffin moves into Joel’s inner circle, Joel must quickly find some way to stop him before someone close to him becomes the next one to die.

And here we are, with the movie that Keanu Reeves would rather forget ever happened. And one that I would rather pretend I never watched in the first place. But I did. And review it I must.

Keeping in mind that Reeves had just come from making a little movie called The Matrix, his name was (and still is, really) a hot commodity when it came to big Hollywood movies. Hindsight being what it is, it’s pretty much common knowledge now that Reeves wanted nothing to do with The Watcher from the get-go:

“I never found the script interesting, but a friend of mine forged my signature on the agreement…I couldn’t prove he did and I didn’t want to get sued, so I had no other choice but to do the film.” [source]

What’s more, it appears that the script was re-written to capitalize on Reeve’s sudden popularity after The Matrix, but he still got substantially less than co-star James Spader. I can’t recall any time James Spader was considered the bankable name on a movie. Anyway, Reeves did the movie, but demanded that he be kept from doing any publicity for the film, as well as keeping his image off of any product placements. Which is why the poster image is in silhouette rather than obviously being the big mug of Keanu.

Anyway, this little trip down amnesia lane aside, I recall going to see The Watcher on opening night–that’s right, in the theater–due to my buddy Nex wanting to check it out, and there not being much else to do that evening. And, I was bored to tears. It was a sub-standard noir flick, with your standard predictable cat-and-mouse mystery and a laughable performance by both big names on this. There’s a scene where Reeve’s character is getting hisself pumped up for evil doings with a rather loud Rob Zombie song (Rob Zombie songs being standard issue for movies like this at the time). Other than that, I remember hardly anything from this movie, and I wasn’t about to re-watch it now to do a proper review for it. It’s a forgettable crime “thriller” that you won’t be missing much from if you decide not to include it in your Keanu Reeves theme night. Pass…

Movies+Beer: BRIGHTBURN

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brightburn-banner

Brian, Andrea and James Classic took in a showing of the Superhero Horror flick Brightburn, then went to Sean O’Casey’s to talk about it…

Movie Review: UNSANE

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unsaneFingerprint Releasing / 20th Century Fox
2018
R

“My job is to access and interpret data to produce analytical results. I did that job. Taking your frustration out on me will not alter the results. You’re quite within your rights to take your business to another bank. Another analyst may interpret the data more to your liking. But they’d be doing a bad job.”

Usually, whenever I hear about a movie with a gimmick selling point like “shot entirely on the director’s cell phone!”, I think it’s some young upstart that’s trying to squeeze the most out of whatever resources their budget would allow. It’s a novel way to try and get one’s foot in the door, for sure. However, in the case of Unsane, this is a case of a well-established director deciding to experiment. This director in question happens to be Steven Soderbergh, director of such notable films as Sex, Lies & Videotape, the Ocean’s 11 remake and its sequels, Erin Brockovich, The Hunger Games, and a bunch of other flicks you may have heard of. As a matter of fact, the previous year Logan Lucky was getting a bit of a buzz when Unsane was released to theaters.

In Unsane, we follow an office worker named Sawyer who is trying to build a new life for herself trying to escape a stalker. As a result, she has some unfortunate PTSD issues when she tries to get back into dating; however, while visiting with a counselor at the Highland Creek Behavioral Center, she inadvertently signs a release form that voluntarily commits her to a 24-hour observational stay. Of course, no one there takes her claims of being not crazy seriously, and after a physical altercation with one of the inmates as well as a staff member, her stay is lengthened to seven days. Over the course of the week, she keeps trying to convince everyone that she’s not really crazy, while claiming that her stalker is now one of the nurses on the ward. Is she slowly going insane, or is there really a stalker after her, manipulating things? SPOILERS: The answer is yes.

As a movie, Unsane is a pretty decent psychological chiller, that’s very well acted with a fairly engaging story. The decision to go with filming this entirely on an iPhone 7 actually contributes to the claustrophobic and maddening atmosphere of Sawyer’s decent into psychological breakdown. Of course, like a lot of movies with a premise like this, the story loses a bit of steam in the final act when it decides to go the “She was never insane all along!” route. That’s not to say that it ruined the movie; I’m just more of a fan of the ambiguous “are they mad, or was this real?” type of resolution in horror thriller movies.

Overall, Unsane is a pretty good slow-burn psychological thriller. Really, they could have just downplayed the whole “shot on an iPhone” aspect, or even left it out of the promotional bits all together, because really, it may have been more of a disservice to the perception of quality. That was kind of the reason why I passed on watching this in the theaters back when it was out. However, I do recommend giving Unsane a watch some time.

Movie Review: The INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT

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The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant Movie PosterAmerican International Pictures
1971
R

“Stop jerking around. You and I are now one, dummy.”

Dr. Roger Girard id a rich scientist experimenting with head transplantation. His caretaker has a son, Danny, who is an extremely strong full-grown man, but he has the mind of a child. Meanwhile, Manuel Cass, a maniacal killer, has murdered Dr. Girard’s caretaker and is badly injured himself. Dr. Girard decides to transplant the murderer’s head onto Danny’s body. The new creature, with one head of a murderer and the other with the mental capacity of an eight-year-old attached to an extremely powerful body, begins wreaking havoc…

The 1970s was a wacky time for horror and sci-fi movies.As with the fashion, the music, and generally all other avenues of pop culture at the time, I can only surmise it had something to do with the nation detoxing from the last part of the 60s.

That, at least, would be the only explanation for the existence of this here movie, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant.

This is a low budget sci-fi horror flick that co-stars Casey Kasem, America’s Top 40 radio host, and voice of Shaggy and various cartoon characters. Among other things. Here, he plays Dr. Ken, the best friend of Dr. Roger, the main character that takes the phrase “two heads are better than one” far too literally. I bring this up because the presence of Kasem is the most notable thing in this movie.

From the word go, The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant is about as cheesy as you would expect a movie with that kind of title to be. Of course, this was made in the era where the “psycho killer” was still characterized as a wild-eyed, grinning and manic individual, possibly high on the marijuana from Reefer Madness. And that is how the escaped lunatic killer is played, full-tilt, all throughout the flick. On the other end of the spectrum, I theorize that the only model they had to work with when creating the caretaker’s son with the mentality of a child was from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. There’s even a scene involving crazy enraged-for-no-reason bikers in here that, I’m fairly certain, was thrown in because bikers were a big thing in exploitation cinema at the time. Had this movie been made in the 80s, it would have been ninjas. Which would have made this movie better, really.

The acting matches the premise of the movie; that is to say, it’s crazy and over-the-top. The effects…well, it’s low budget, and also made in 1971. So, yeah, the whole 2-headed thing is kinda…well, it was done better on the television version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

All this to say that The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant is a glorious over-the-top mess that must be watched by everyone. Gather your friends, surround yourselves with your favorite libations, and make a night out of this.

Movie Review: SUMMER OF ’84

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summer of 84Gunpowder & Sky
2018
NR

“Even serial killers live next door to somebody. Tough pill to swallow, I know, but it’s true.”

Summer, 1984: The perfect time to be 15 years old and free. But when neighborhood conspiracy theorist Davey Armstrong begins to suspect his police officer neighbor might be the serial killer all over the local news, he and his three best friends begin an investigation that soon turns dangerous.

Nostalgia-based movies are, admittedly, rather fun to watch. Especially movies based on a year in a specific decade I remember living through. Which is to say, the 1980s. There have been horror movies that have been set in the 1980s that I’ve watched with varying degrees of success. The better ones happen to be the ones where the actual year they’re set in is merely a backdrop to the story, and not bogging down the movie with hamfisted nostalgia references. I seem to hold these kind of movies to a higher standard, mainly because of ties to my own childhood. I know when I’m being pandered to.

That was one of the concerns I had when going into watching the recently released Canadian mystery / horror flick Summer Of ’84. Was this going ot be gimmicky, or is this going to be a rather good mystery thriller with a good story that I can get lost in, with the year itself being merely the backdrop? All indications were to the later, as the various horror movie blogs and sites were giving Summer Of ’84 an enthusiastically positive thumbs up. So, I went ahead and took a gander at this little movie. Kinda glad I did.

Right off the bat, I’ll say that the story behind Summer Of ’84 borrows heavily from the Hitchcock classic Rear Window, with elements of Fright Night (without the vampires) and pretty much any 80s movie that involves a bunch of young teenagers banding together to solve a mystery in their small town. There are several nods to other horror movies, as well as to the classic Hardy Boys Mystery books that I recall devouring in my own youth.

As far as the year that it’s set in, Summer Of ’84 manages to not over-saturate the nostalgia factor, avoiding the temptation to go the “Hey, this is a thing that happened! Isn’t that NEAT?!?” Instead, 1984 is really the backdrop to the overall story, which is one that could have been set in any time period and still would have worked as a movie.

All of the actors were really good in their rolls, and the characters were written in a way that were spot-on, and made you care about their situations. There’s some actual depth to this movie, and not just your run-of-the-mill mystery thriller horror flick. Of course, for the majority of the run time you seem to think that you’ve got everything figured out, and expecting the upbeat type ending. But then, the final 20 minutes bucks the usual conventions and ends the movie with a chilling twist that, even if you did see it coming, will leave you with a hollow bleak feeling. The movie jukes us into a very unconventional ending, and I like that.

Overall, though this movie’s very limited release before being released on VOD came nowhere near Omaha, I would have like to check it out on the big screen, had I been given the chance. Regardless, The Summer Of ’84 was a rather enjoyable and engaging throwback of a movie with a resolution that will stick in your head long after the end credits. Recommended.

Movie Review: The BERMUDA TRIANGLE

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bermuda triangle, theSunn Classic Pictures
1978
NR

The passengers and crew of a boat on a summer cruise in the Caribbean stray near the famed Bermuda Triangle, and mysterious things start happening.

Ah, the Bermuda Triangle. A classic in the pantheon of supposedly haunted mystery spots on this big world of ours. You’ve heard the legends, of ships and aircraft disappearing mysteriously in this stretch of ocean between Bermuda, Puerto Rico, and the southern-most tip of Florida. Paranormal enthusiasts have tried to explain things as supernatural something-or-other, alien abductions, or Atlantians annoyed with us surface dwellers. Of course, pop culture has been rather helpful in spreading the mythology and pseudoscience; one of which is the topic of discussion in today’s review, the 1978 Italian/Mexican joint flick The Bermuda Triangle.

Also released under the titles The Secrets Of The Bermuda Triangle and Devil’s Triangle Of Bermuda, The Bermuda Triangle stars writer/director/actor John Huston, a man known throughout his career as the writer and director of genre classics, including the likes of The Maltese Falcon, The Asphalt Jungle, and The African Queen. The rest of the cast is…inconsequential, really.

The plot of The Bermuda Triangle itself, well…if you know your Twilight Zone, you can probably guess the plot, as well as the big twist ending. That part, I don’t mind. No, what makes this movie a chore to get through, it’s the bloody annoying and unlikable characters. Not the choppy editing, not the really bad English dubbing, not even the way it seems to take forever to get to the point. That’s all just rancid icing on this already rancid cake. No, from the get-go, the characters and their interactions and mannerisms make you want to punch them individually, every single time they come on screen. Especially that brat of a kid. To say nothing of the blatant misogyny of the lead character, always verbally ripping apart his wife in front of everybody at the drop of a hat. Then your intelligence is insulted by suggesting that the doll they find floating on the ocean is somehow causing all the weirdness and murder, which leads you to be rather glad that they’re all stuck in a hell of their own making, reliving their doomed voyage in a continuous loop with no hope of respite for all eternity.

What do you mean, “Spoilers”? I just saved you the pain of having to watch this yourself. From here on out, if you do watch The Bermuda Triangle, it’s on you. You’ve been warned. Stay away. Stay away.

Movie Review: SNOWPIERCER

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snowpiercerThe Weinstein Company
2013
R

“Eternal order is prescribed by the sacred engine: all things flow from the sacred engine, all things in their place, all passengers in their section, all water flowing. all heat rising, pays homage to the sacred engine, in its own particular preordained position. So it is. Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

After a failed global warming experiment, a post-apocalyptic Ice Age has killed off nearly all life on the planet. All that remains of humanity are the lucky few survivors that boarded the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe, powered by a sacred perpetual motion engine. A class system has evolved aboard the train, fiercely dividing its population–but a revolution is brewing. The lower-class passengers in the tail section stage an uprising moving car by car up toward the front of the train, where the train’s creator and absolute authority resides in splendor. But unexpected circumstances lie in wait for humanity’s tenacious survivors…

So, here we have the first English language movie by famed Korean director Bong Joon-ho, the guy who brought us the cult classic The Host back in 2006. Well, it’s mostly in English. 80%, if Wikipedia is to be believed. Regardless, this movie received so much buzz and won so many awards, that sooner or later I had to check it out just to see what the buzz was about. I’m not normally one to go see a movie because of its popularity; most of the time, it’s the exact opposite. Being skeptical of things that are highly acclaimed by the masses has served me well.

And now, here we are, five years after Snowpercer’s release. And what did I think of Snowpiercer?

It’s overrated.

Judging by the responses my assessment on Facebook got, you’re either condemning me as a heretic (sorry, Virginia), or smugly crossing your arms over your chest and nodding in agreement. More than likely, the former. This movie has appeared on many a Best Science Fiction Movies lists since its release, after all.

Mind you, I’m not saying that Snowpiercer is a bad movie. Nor am I saying that I hate it. It’s gorgeously shot, has some great action scenes as well as some effective tension (no doubt due to the limited spaces being set on a train lending to a claustrophobic atmosphere), and the character development is really good. I’m not certain, but I believe that Snowpiercer makes a little over a baker’s dozen worth of movies Chris Evans has been in that was based on a comic book.

No, the reason why I consider Snowpiercer to be overrated is that, essentially, this is Battleship Potemkin on a train. And no, I’m not saying Snowpiercer is secretly socialist/communist propaganda. It’s based on a French comic (Le Transperceneige) that was first published in 1982. And I don’t care really about the political leanings of any artist; I care about whether or not it’s a good, well-crafted story. And, when you get down to it, Snowpiercer is a good, well-crafted story. Only, I don’t consider it as innovative as everyone seems to think it is. Especially in this day and age with the explosion of hyper Social Justice Warriors making life interesting for everyone. But, I digress.

Do I recommend watching Snowpiercer? Yes. For all the reasons I stated above, and then some. Watch it and decide for yourself what kind of movie this is for you. For me, I enjoyed it, but I didn’t go ga-ga over it, either.

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