Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fool's Views (7/4 – 7/17)

Hey hey hey… What’s happenin’, my friends?

Well, of this two-week period, much of the first was devoted to translating thoughts to words, fingers to keys in developing my Body Snatchers piece, followed by copyediting bouts of several other HorrorHound articles. (I can say this – the Sept/Oct issue is going to be a winner.) But once the dust had cleared and desired word-counts reached, I dived back into the fray, revisiting the House of Pain-ful remakes, as well as knocking out my seventh consecutive on-time Kitley’s Army assignment (last year, I managed to watch all the required flicks, but wasn’t so great about getting my reports turned in). Another notch on the Cronenberg marathon belt logged, and a pleasant surprise found in a fading Hollywood star’s dark side. Hope you like.

As always, feel free to leave your two cents worth – we’ll make sure you get some change back.


Mr. Brooks (2007)
(1st viewing) d. Evans, Bruce A.
It’s too bad that America’s love affair with Kevin Costner is waning and/or over, because moviegoers denied themselves the pleasure of this twisty-turny well-acted thriller about an upstanding model citizen who just happens to also be a serial murder. Director/co-writer Evans’ original script plays out like a well-adapted novel, and his cast is more than up to the task. William Hurt sinks his venerable teeth into the role of Costner’s immoral conscience, a kind of psychopathic Jiminy Cricket, while comedian Dane Cook shows off an admirable dark side as a witness who hopes to become a protégé of types. Evans also spins the well-worn trope of a protagonist talking aloud to his imaginary friend into something altogether different and welcome. Along with The New Daughter, bloody, well-paced horror may soon prove to be KC’s new element in which to shine…if only he can get genre fans to buy in.

Scanners (1981) (4th viewing) d. Cronenberg, David
Convoluted yet compelling sci-fi tale from the unique imagination of writer/director Cronenberg. Through an experimental drug given to pregnant mothers, a new race of psychic and telekinetic mutants (dubbed “scanners”) emerge, and some of them just aren’t very nice. Michael Ironside tears up the screen as Darryl Revok, a megalomaniac scanner bent on destruction of the inferior human race. He is opposed by Patrick McGoohan as a duplicitous scientist who seeks out under-the-radar scanner Stephen Lack to infiltrate Revok’s inner circle. While Lack’s and easy-on-the-eyes partner Jennifer O’Neill’s performances occasionally border on somnambulistic, what saves the film are the suspenseful pacing and the literally mind-blowing special effects from Dick Smith and Chris Walas, although you may not want to eat for a while afterwards.

KRYPTIC ARMY JUNE MISSION: STAY OUT OF THE SUN!Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (2009) (1st viewing) d. Schneider, Mike
An intriguing “moving gallery” approach to one of the best known modern horror films of our time: Dozens of visual artists are called upon to illustrate passages of George Romero’s groundbreaking zombie opus, utilizing everything from charcoal drawings to stop-motion to Barbie dolls. The results, as one might anticipate, are a mixed bag, as some of the methods used are more annoying than illuminating while others heighten and actually bring something new to the experience. The other side effect is that the audio track takes on a life of its own; divorced from the images we have so closely associated with it over the past four decades, the viewer actually picks up on dialogue that may have slipped by before (this is especially true with the TV and radio broadcasts). In the end, this proves to be a semi-satisfying experimental film, though I can’t say I’m eager to see other classics put to the same test.

Nightwing (1979) (1st viewing) d. Hiller, Arthur
What starts off as a perfectly serviceable “Nature Fights Back” exercise in ecology terror soon devolves into a talky, meandering dirge, only occasionally highlighted by swarming vampire bat attacks and bat-hunter David Warner’s Quint-like declarations that these flying rodents are “pure evil.” Nick Mancuso stars as a Native American deputy sheriff dealing with white man land-clutching and rival tribal politics amidst the leather-winged mayhem, while Kathryn Harrold proves a rather resourceful heroine, performing acts of bravery and intelligence under fire (and I’m not just talking about her semi-nude dip in the hot springs). Ultimately, with tighter plotting, less gabbing and more effectively realized bat attacks, this might have been a guilty pleasure classic along the lines of Prophecy or Day of the Animals rather than the understandably neglected relic it has become. (All the same, thanks to Tom Simmons for hooking a horror brother up.)

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1977)
(2nd viewing) d. Taylor, Don
Well-intentioned but flawed remake of the 1933 classic. Armed with the 70s star power of Burt Lancaster and Michael York as the human antagonists, the standout of this big budget redux is the man-beasts’ impressive facial latex appliances (atop of humanoid bodies) by Planet of the Apes maestro John Chambers. Lancaster presents a quieter, more driven version of Moreau while York’s shipwreck victim fares less favorably with the hero role, giving over all too often to snicker-worthy histrionics. Sexy Barbara Carrera appears as a cursory love interest, the subplot of her being one of Moreau’s creations jettisoned in the editing room (keep an eye out for her pointy ears towards the end). Not a classic by any means, it does have its own campy charm and a suitably fiery climax. By and large though, stick with the Laughton version.

Island of Dr. Moreau, The (1996) (2nd viewing) d. Frankenheimer, John
This infamous misfire succeeds only at being a freak show, and we’re not talking about Stan Winston’s notable man-beast makeup creations. As in the 1933 and 1977 film versions of H.G. Wells’ classic, Marlon Brando’s Moreau is a man on a mission, intent on converting the various beasts on his sequestered island into human beings. But in this case, Brando himself seems equally driven to create the most bizarrely eccentric role of his storied career, pulling off the feat with outlandish aplomb. Garbed in flowing robes and white pancake makeup, his buck-toothed, British-accented aberration is the thespian equivalent of a car crash: grotesque and quirky, repellent, yet one cannot bear to look away. However, his character astoundingly disappears halfway through the film, leaving the bewildered audience with only Val Kilmer’s stoned, sarcastic flunky and David Thewlis’ caustic plane-wreck survivor to carry us through the dark night. Fairuza Balk and Ron Perlman are moderately engaging as two of Moreau’s more successful experiments, and Kilmer occasionally amuses with a wicked Brando impersonation. But director John Frankenheimer’s fever-dream visuals and leaden pacing only accentuate the fact that there is ultimately no one here to root for. On a lighter note, there is unintentional hindsight humor, watching Brando’s pint-sized companion predate Austin Powers’ “Mini-Me” by several years.

Hobo with a Shotgun (2011)
(1st viewing) d. Eisener, Jason
A fun concept that reveals Eisener a talent to be reckoned with. However, the painfully awkward dialogue, even if intentionally awful, lacks a healthy dose of clever, and while the performances are suitably cartoonish, the whole affair went on a little longer than my good will. Like Machete before it, it probably should have stayed a mock trailer (or a short subject, a la Eisener’s brilliant black comic holiday offering, Treevenge).

Henry V (1989) (3rd viewing) d. Branagh, Kenneth
A brilliantly realized film version of Shakespeare’s history play, a doubly daunting task considering Laurence Olivier had already produced an Oscar-winning version 45 years earlier. However, Branagh’s directorial debut manages to serve both the medium and the verse with equal skill, creating stunning visuals to match the Bard’s fiery language. Surrounded by an extraordinary ensemble of English film/stage veterans (including Brian Blessed, Ian Holm, Judi Dench, Richard Briers and Paul Scofield), Branagh’s turn as the titular king is such a well-shaped characterization it rivals Sir Larry’s 1944 version – no mean feat there.

2011 totals to date: 278 films, 169 1st time views, 135 horror, 21 cinema

Horror Films of the 1970s, Part 2 (1976-1979) by John Kenneth Muir
101 Sci-Fi Movies You Have to See Before You Die, edited by Steven J. Schneider

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