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February 28, 2010

Black Women in Horror History Month - Week 4 - I'm Calling You Out, Hollywood!

When February started, I set out to do something different and focus on Black Women in Horror History to shake things up and cover both of the groups being recognized this month in one fell swoop. I consider myself to have a fairly thorough knowledge of horror movies, and didn't think this would be an issue. But, like that 64 oz. fountain soda from the gas station or completing the filmography of Stuart Gordon (Castle Freak? Robot Jox? Really, man?), that turned out to be a bad idea. Unfortunately, I was more likely to find a copy of Bacon Busters magazine than a slew of strong black women in horror films.Don't get me wrong, there are a few black women in horror films I could have mentioned. Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later... was an obvious pick, but I wasn't comfortable calling that a historical entry when my first post on Jada Pinkett/Demon Knight covered the same things I would say about her performance. I considered a few more recent performances, like Halle Berry in Gothika or Aaliyah in Queen of the Damned, and maybe there was something to say about their performances - except the films are both pretty awful. There are other '70s blaxplotation horrors like Blackenstein or more stylish films like The House on Skull Mountain, but none really seemed to focus their attention on creating memorable female characters. I even grasped at last week's Midnight Movie of the Week, Dead of Night, looking at the lounge singer played by Elisabeth Welch who appears in the film's final segment, but that was a bit part only notable for being the earliest appearance of a black woman in a horror film (an English horror film, to be fair).

When I tried scouring the internet for more ideas, the first google result for Black Women in Horror own blog. The next best thing I could find was a post from over at Pretty-Scary, which confirmed what I was thinking...between 1930-1960, when cinema was at its classic peak, there were a couple of opportunities for black women to play voodoo priestesses...and not much else.

Worse, after the blaxploitation craze of the 1970s, the slasher-driven '80s didn't provide much for black women in horror either. Really, would it have been that hard for one commercial slasher to put an African American actress in a survivor girl role? Was American Cinema so caught up in stereotypes that they couldn't pull it off? Apparently, the answer is yes.

The 1990s and 2000s have been at least offering more chances for the likes of Pinkett, Berry, and Harris as leads, but there are still awful characters like Kelly Rowand's in Freddy vs. Jason that enforce the race and gender stereotypes that are too prevalent in society. The recent remakes of Friday the 13th, Halloween, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have, like their predecessors, maintained an all-vanilla flavor with their female characters, also.

Hollywood has sent a message, and it seems independent filmmakers have followed it. With the exception of "Hood" based horrors that go DTV, black women aren't getting chances in horror. I hope that I'm wrong, that I'm simply too stuck in the middle of Iowa to see the good stuff that's out there, but the fact that so many horrors are being produced and almost all of them are continuing to ignore the abilities of black women is terrifying and insulting.

Here's to hope that we can see progress in horror over the upcoming years. There are a lot of fine black actresses working today, and I'm sure there are plenty more that are fighting for their chance too. The ball's in your court, Hollywood. Break the stereotypes, and we can open a new chapter in horror history. I'm certain that there are a lot of women out there that won't let you down.

Congratulations to our Giveaway Winner....

Chosen by the folks over at Random Line Picker, and the new owner of DVD copies of two fantastic horror movies about horror movies: Popcorn and Targets!That winner is.....Cory from Cory's Crappy Cinema!

Thanks to everyone who participated, expect to see some of your suggestions showing up as Midnight Movies of the Week in the future! In the meantime, here's too more fun stuff at From Midnight, With Love, and to Cory and his incoming goodies!

(And, as a cheap plug, if you want to read my ramblings on either of these movies, click on these links.)

And, as a gift to everyone else's a picture of a baby gorilla.

February 27, 2010

The Crazies (2010) - A Small Town Iowan Perspective

Overture Films' remake of The Crazies, out this weekend in theaters and starring two of my favorite people working (Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell), is set in a fictional small Iowa town called Ogden Marsh. The town used for much of the film, Lenox, has a recorded population of 1401 people, though the fictional town is listed in the film as having 1360 people. Somewhere, 41 God-fearing Iowans are pissed off. (As a random aside, there is actually an Ogden, Iowa - which is located about 120 miles from where the fictional Ogden Marsh would be and about 110 miles in a different direction from Lenox.)

Though I don't often pimp it, I was born and raised in a similarly sized Iowa town, whose last recorded population was 1349 people - a few less than The Crazies' Ogden Marsh. Thus, it was incredibly difficult for me to watch Breck Eisner's film without considering how realistic the setting was, and if the population could be as easily controlled. Don't worry, no major spoilers here.

For starters, I want to look at the image of the town that's presented. The images of main street Iowa are very well-captured, which is good when you consider that it was filmed on an Iowa town's main street. However, the rest of the film shows only homes that are in secluded rural settings. That's fine to an extent, I lived most of my youth in two rural homes that were about 7 miles outside of the "city limits", but it seems to me there would be someone involved with the plot who lives within the town itself. A town of that population would be somewhere around 1-2 square miles in size, and it would have made more sense to me if we had seen more of the town and the impact on it outside of the main street setting.

In line with that thought I'm not sure how, even in that small of a town, the military could quietly sneak in the middle of the night, round up everyone, and put together a containment zone at the local school and NOT have anyone notice. The containment area is shown to be near the school's football field and overhead shots again make it seem to be a rural area, which isn't unlikely. But even if we're able to get past them getting everything set up without anyone noticing, how on Earth could they get everyone together so easily? Sure, we aren't party animals, but 1360 people spread between the town and rural areas would take a bit of effort and the film's jumping to this neatly wrapped up point seems a bit silly.

The safe haven available to the folks of Ogden Marsh is Cedar Rapids, Iowa's second largest city, and the movie makes it seem that the city is within 30-40 miles of town. If this were the case, like was the case with my small town and the neighboring "cities" a large portion of Ogden Marsh's population would work in Cedar Rapids or whatever towns are in the area. The area around Cedar Rapids is full of small towns, each ranging from 5-10 miles from another. So the film's view of Iowa's distance between cities is also a little off.

Lastly, there's the marsh portion of the film, which was obviously NOT filmed in Iowa (according to Wikipedia, that and other portions of the film were made in Georgia). That kind of marsh existing in this state would be akin to a film about Australia that shows off the polar ice caps. Obviously, this is necessary for the film's plot to happen, but it's just really ridiculous.

Oh, the film you ask? It's watchable. Suspension of disbelief took care of most of the above issues for me, even though I was hyper focused on the details, but it was more difficult to deal with some of the plot's moves. The final act is particularly full of gimmicky twists and turns and action set pieces that seem (and probably were, considering the reshoots the film underwent) tacked on. Olyphant and Mitchell are fine leads, and relative unknown Joe Anderson gives a marvelous supporting performance as the deputy to Olyphant's sheriff. The film's got beautiful visuals and some excellent gore, but never seems to overcome how contrived it really is.

George Romero's original The Crazies is one of my least favorite films of his (it's definitely not as bad as the likes of Bruiser, but it's far below the first two Dead films and Martin), so I wasn't going into this one with malicious intent. And on the whole, I think I liked what this bunch of Crazies had to offer as popcorn entertainment. Just don't go into it looking for a deep psychological terror - or for an entirely accurate portrayal of small town Iowa. (I mean, more of us than just the sheriff have cell phones and internet. We'd notice when you shut us down.)

Oh, the end credits sequence from Cedar Rapids news station KCRG - features Cedar Rapids actual news broadcast. Congrats to them on making the big screen!

(P.S. - It's interesting to note that the act of setting the infected area in eastern Iowa allows the film to make reference to fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes' football team - as crazies! GO STATE!)

February 25, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #8 - Dead of Night

When listing my favorite horror movies of all-time, the least known title I usually bring up is 1945's Dead of Night - which is to me the ultimate in horror anthology flicks. A production of England's famed Ealing Studios (a favorite of my Masha!) that's pieced together by a whopping FOUR directors (Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden, and Robert Hamer; if you're counting), it's the rare anthology that is seamlessly linked by a central story.

Our story starts with a man named Walter Craig (Mervyn Johns) who arrives at a country estate for a job and is instantly struck with fear. The setting and its people are already common to him...because he's seen them in a terrible dream. When he attempts to relay his concern to the guests, led by a doctor of psychology who's entirely skeptical, each of the guests start to relay their own dreadful experiences of deja vu. Whether it's the race car driver who foresees an ominous hearse and its memorable driver or the young girl who meets a phantom boy at a Christmas party, each character has a piece of Walter's puzzle. And as his dream's warnings begin to mesh with reality, the stories escalate to a twisted ending.Each segment of the film has a distinct feel from the others, but they're arranged to build suspense well. There's a crescendo throughout the first three stories and the scenes that connect them, leading to my favorite bits in the final reels. Most well placed is the comedic ghost tale "Golfing Story" from Crichton, which is adapted from H.G. Wells. It stars the comedic duo of Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who'd been first paired by Alfred Hitchcock in The Lady Vanishes, and their legendary rapport works well in lightening the mood for both the audience and the characters.

But calm never lasts in a film called Dead of Night, and the final act rises to the unforgettable "Ventriloquist's Dummy" segment, starring Michael Redgrave as a young ventriloquist who seems to have trouble controlling his wooden pal Hugo. Ventriloquist tales are a common terror in horror fiction, but Cavalcanti's work here does a great job of providing some of the iconic imagery that goes with that inherent fear. Redgrave is also fantastic at what he does here, particularly his voice work.

The most impressive aspect of Dead of Night is its connecting narrative. While many anthologies that would follow later, like Amicus' Tales from the Crypt or Romero's Creepshow, would only briefly focus on the characters outside each segment, this film gives us a story that's both ties the segments together and enhances the psychological aspects of the terror. Though each piece of the film is shown to be like a bad dream - with no consequence to the central character in their real life - the narrative brings fear into reality and makes the viewer question the line between our dreams and our lives.Thus I present Dead of Night as this week's Midnight Movie of the Week. If you're a fan of classic horror tales, you can't find many with the haunting imagery and psychological depth of this one.
HorrorBlips: vote it up!

February 23, 2010

Reminder - FMWL's First DVD Giveaway is open NOW!

(Reposting this to remind you all you can participate to win TWO fantastic out-of-print movies on DVD! Just follow the steps below!)

BUT WAIT, there's more. Amidst the terror in the aisles, I came across a copy of recent Midnight Movie of the Week selection Popcorn! Now, I know what you're thinking....Hey The Mike, you already have that movie. What gives? Well, here's what gives. I spent 20+ bucks on a copy of this out-of-print slasher lately, and the lowest priced copy on Amazon these days is over $40. I am damn sure not letting some ungrateful fella of this town steal up a copy for $4.
As the fine folks of Alcoholics Anonymous say, we keep what we have by giving it away. Thus, I offer up From Midnight, With Love's First DVD Giveaway!

Here's what's going down: One lucky reader will have the chance to win a DVD copy of Popcorn (it's a former rental, of course, but the disc looks to be in really good shape, and I'll be sure to check it before sending it away) PLUS one bonus Midnight DVD chosen by The Mike! What do you need to do to win? Just complete the two steps below:

1) Click Follow on the side of the page to become a follower of From Midnight, With Love (if you haven't already). Or, you can become a fan of FMWL on facebook, if that's more you're style.
2) Post in the comments below suggesting a movie (or more than one) that you'd like to see featured as Midnight Movie of the Week on FMWL. Also, include an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner!

The winner be chosen randomly one week from today, February 28, at high noon CST. (I always wanted to schedule something for high noon. Mission complete.)

As always, thanks to all my readers, and here's to a lot of new horrors that'll probably be featured on FMWL in the future!

(And if you commented on the last one, don't worry, you're still in the contest!)

February 22, 2010

Midnight Top 5 - Robots That Are Cool As A Cucumber

Robots get a bad rap. Whether it's the T-800 and ups from the Terminator series or 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL-9000, they're often the aggressors to some pretty noble dudes and dudettes. But somewhere aside from the metal terrors of films like Hardware and Runaway (I LOVE ME SOME RUNAWAY!), there are some robots who the ladies might say are pretty fly. With no further ado, I look at my Top 5.
Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still - If you have to ask which version of this movie I'm talking about, quit reading my blog and go watch the 1951 classic. Then, be quiet. Anyway, if robots were professional wrestlers, Gort would be the late-WCW superstar Goldberg - because when he shows up, he shuts EVERYTHING down. The unstoppable Gort is quite a menacing presence, but we know he's on the side of good and only steps into action when the noble Klaatu is at risk. If that doesn't Barada your Nikto, check your pulse.Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet - Look at that sly devil! If it can please Anne Francis, it's good enough for me. Plus Robby's got a ton of fantastic features and, like Gort, is only volatile when the situation requires it. And then there's the alcohol production thing, which isn't my style, but which many enjoy responsibly. Kudos to you, Roberto Roboto.
R2-D2 from the Star Wars trilogy (What do you mean "prequels"?) - Yes, this is too easy. But do you think you could put up with C-3PO for three movies? Yeah, I couldn't either. Plus he can always use the pickup line "Is that a holographic Princess Leia in my pocket, or are you just happy to see me?" 60% of the time, it works every time.XG-7000 from Robot Repair, et al. (via Saturday Night Live) - OK, this one definitely has trouble staying cool. If you haven't seen the skit, it's the undeniably awesome Phil Hartman who plays the robotic star of "Robot Repair", a mistitled show in which he repairs everyday items - not robots. Like I said, he loses his cool as his producers continue to change the show's misleading title with disastrous results (my favorite is Let's Repair, Robots), but who hasn't wanted to kill the producers of a wronged TV show at some point? That's very cool.GERTY from Moon - Voiced by Kevin Spacey, GERTY is one of the most shockingly cool robots of our time. Unlike the HAL-9000 types he resembles, GERTY really shows a care for Sam, his human companion, up to the point of making sacrifices on behalf of him. Plus, if you can find the DVD Easter Egg, he's a heckuva ping pong player!

Got some icy cool robos you love? Hit up the comments!

February 21, 2010

Shutter Island

2010, Dir. by Martin Scorsese.

I debated with myself thoroughly as to whether or not I should post a review of Shutter Island here. A 140 minute film from Oscar-winner Martin Scorsese that features a list of major Hollywood stars (I count six former Oscar nominees in the cast) generally isn't a Midnight or Cult movie. In the end, I decided I would feature the film because of a) its horror movie stylings (though I'd argue that the film is not, in fact, a horror movie) and b) the fact that it's really, really, ridiculously good.

From the moment Shutter Island begins, we are certain that something's rotten in the state of Denmark. As our lead character, a U.S. Marshall played by Leonardo Dicaprio, and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) descend upon the mysterious titular island, where an asylum for the criminally insane is housed. As the musical score hammers down on the deep end of the scale, we're informed of the rocky cliffs that surround the estate, and the next conversation informs us of the layout, complete with an old civil war fort and an abandoned lighthouse. By the time the marshalls get inside and a storm begins to brew outside, it's pretty clear that some sort of deadly game has been set.

That game is one of cat and mouse, but which is the cat and which is the mouse? As we learn more about the doctors in charge of the island, played by veteran heavyweights Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow (who I believe has possibly had the greatest career of any actor ever), we're not sure who's leading who in the investigation of a missing patient who "vanished through the walls". And as the Marshall digs deeper into the crevices of the island, encountering a string of unique characters who each have a different piece of the puzzle, things become more and more muddled.

Expertly crafted by Scorsese, Shutter Island is a thriller that is among the most engrossing I've ever seen. Once that mood of ominous dread is set in the opening moments, the film never relents. Dicaprio dives into the role of investigator with vigor, and the cast around him does a fantastic job of adding to his character's mental quandary. Most effective are Jackie Earle Haley as a dangerous inmate, Emily Mortimer as the missing girl, and Ted Levine (aka Buffalo Bill!) as the Warden, each of whom provide an assist in key scenes.

Among the mystery of Shutter Island are several haunting dream sequences, in which Dicaprio encounters his late wife (played by Michelle Williams), who was killed in an accident years earlier. These sequences are filmed beautifully by Scorsese and director of photography Robert Richardson, featuring a rich color palette and some wonderful visual effects. These dreams also play off of the lead's past traumas with his wife's passing and his WWII service, and provide a lot of food for mental thought. As the movie unfolds in the final reels, it gets a little tongue-tied yet still manages to leave a few loose ends that leave the viewer wondering. While things seem to come to an implausible ending, the psychological ramifications of the film seem all too real.

In fact, I think Shutter Island is strongest when it's considering the pulse of society in the post-WWII years. Dicaprio's character is not only a war veteran, but one of the soldiers who encountered a German concentration camp, and the horrors of what he saw are relayed vividly during the film. Other characters discuss their fears of the changing world, including everything from television boxes in which people appear and talk at you to hydrogen bombs that can destroy entire cities and the cold war. Meanwhile, the doctors speak of the changing culture of psychotherapy and how even these renowned doctors don't agree on how to proceed with the new breed of violent psychotic. The story, from author Dennis Lehane and screenwriter Laeta Kalogridis, seems to place all of society's uncertainty regarding the new world into Dicaprio's character and the asylum's doctors - and they carry the weight of the world into the film with vigor.

As Shutter Island wraps up with an ambiguous final line and a suggestive lingering shot, the film's intrigue is still thick as can be. It's perhaps the most psychologically enthralling story I've seen since Hitchcock's Vertigo or Kubrick's The Shining, and a triumphant achievement by all involved. I can't wait to check out Shutter Island again and try to piece together more of the film's mysteries, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a chilling piece of drama as a must-see cinema event.

Midnight & Cult DVD Christmas! (Plus, FMWL's First Reader Giveaway!)

OK, we all know that Netflix and Redbox are killing the video industry as we know it. It makes me sick, and it's awful. As a former video store employee, I don't believe there's any way that perusing a touch screen or computer screen or gaming console can ever replace the cinephile experience of wandering the aisles of a wall-to-wall hall of cinematic goodness, reading quotes on boxes and trying to make sense out of those little blurbs on the back that always seem to tell too much or not enough.

That said, when I heard that our local Hollywood Video store was going down for the count, I set my sights on capitalizing upon its doom. Once my horror-deficient cohort Jason from Box Office Boredom told me that there "was nothing left but crap" in the store, I screamed yahtzee. Sure enough, when I got to the store every section had been picked over (seriously, the best flick in the Sci-Fi section was Mars Needs Women, and if you thought I didn't already own that you're balls-faced crazy.) - except the delectable horror section. It was indeed ON.

Thus, I present the following DVDs, each of which I acquired for the meager price of 3.99 American dollars. If you're my mother, you should probably avert your eyes now. (Love you Masha!)First up we've got the Amicus produced And Now The Screaming Starts!, an anthology film that's been on my wishlist for a long time. It stars no less than the great Peter Cushing and the gorgeous Stephanie Beacham, so it was a must. It's followed up by David Lee Fisher's 2006 "remix" of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which I've been told is a nice companion piece to the silent masterpiece. Then there's what might be the most exciting find of the bunch Jacques Tourneur's Curse/Night of The Demon, one of the most revered classic horrors I'd yet to see.

The second bunch has Lucio Fulci's controversial Don't Torture a Duckling, which I've heard I may hate but decided to take a risk on as a fan of Zombi 2. Then we've got Spanish legend Paul Naschy starring in Exorcismo, no doubt a ripoff of The Exorcist that's sure to be full of ham. And last, another controversial film, Larry Cohen's God Told Me To, which I'm told is one of the most brutal movies out there.

Next up we've got the Italian legend Mario Bava with Hatchet for the Honeymoon, Ida Lupino's classic noir The Hitch-Hiker (restored by Kino, always a great sign), and the movie I'm most excited to finally see - Hammer Films' Horror of Frankenstein. I've had this out-of-print Franky tale on my wishlist for a long time, and finding it for one-tenth of the Amazon used price makes me squee. Last up are two more OOP titles - Paul Bartel's sicko comedy Private Parts and the hospital based slasher Visiting Hours, which I've always wanted to see so I'd know what a William Shatner/Michael Ironside horror film would look like.

BUT WAIT, there's more. Amidst the terror in the aisles, I came across a copy of recent Midnight Movie of the Week selection Popcorn! Now, I know what you're thinking....Hey The Mike, you already have that movie. What gives? Well, here's what gives. I spent 20+ bucks on a copy of this out-of-print slasher lately, and the lowest priced copy on Amazon these days is over $40. I am damn sure not letting some ungrateful fella of this town steal up a copy for $4.
As the fine folks of Alcoholics Anonymous say, we keep what we have by giving it away. Thus, I offer up From Midnight, With Love's First DVD Giveaway!

Here's what's going down: One lucky reader will have the chance to win a DVD copy of Popcorn (it's a former rental, of course, but the disc looks to be in really good shape, and I'll be sure to check it before sending it away) PLUS one bonus Midnight DVD chosen by The Mike! What do you need to do to win? Just complete the two steps below:

1) Click Follow on the side of the page to become a follower of From Midnight, With Love (if you haven't already). Or, you can become a fan of FMWL on facebook, if that's more you're style.
2) Post in the comments below suggesting a movie (or more than one) that you'd like to see featured as Midnight Movie of the Week on FMWL. Also, include an email address so I can contact you if you're the winner!

The winner be chosen randomly one week from today, February 28, at high noon CST. (I always wanted to schedule something for high noon. Mission complete.)

As always, thanks to all my readers, and here's to a lot of new horrors that'll probably be featured on FMWL in the future!

February 19, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #7 - The Omen

One of the first old-school horror movies I encountered in my teen years was The Omen, a recommendation from my Aunt Kelly who knew that my sister and I were always searching for more "scary" movies. Around that time the film was nearing its 20th anniversary, which wasn't a big deal to me - I'd spent my grade school years watching black-and-white horrors and had already declared the (then) 40-year-old thriller Rear Window to be perhaps my favorite movie (it still is). The film struck me as fresh, original, and engaging despite its age (and the age of its star, Gregory Peck, in one of his final leading roles), and I'm glad to say that it still holds that power today.

Billed as the third film in "The Unholy Trilogy" (alongside Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist) by horror buffs, The Omen introduces us to Robert Thorn (Peck) on a morning in which he's rushing to the hospital as his wife is giving birth. As he arrives he's informed that the child has passed, but that there's a special prize behind Door #2 - a newborn boy whose mother has died and can be theirs for the taking. I'm assuming Thorn didn't want to disappoint his younger wife Kathy (Lee Remick), as he chose the latter and we're then introduced to their new son, Damien.

The gift of montage moves us ahead five years, and we find that Robert is moving up in the world of politics. Damien, aside from an incident of wandering off alone and a friendship with big scary dogs, seems to be growing up to be a normal young boy. That is, until his fifth birthday party when his nanny makes a grand proclamation - "It's all for you Damien." - right before hanging herself in front of the entire party.

From that point forward, things go differently. A new nanny, Mrs. Baylock, arrives unannounced, and seems to hit it off with Damien from the start - even predicting that Damien probably won't enjoy a trip to church. Kathy begins to notice strange behaviors from Damien that are designed to torment her, as well as a few scary occurrences like a trip to the zoo that ends in their car being attacked by baboons. Meanwhile, Robert is approached by a determined priest (Patrick Troughton, giving a fantastic little performance) and a photographer (the always welcome David Warner) who seem to be concerned about Damien's impact on others.
As the film moves forward, it becomes evident that the "it" which Damien's first nanny referred to in her last moments is the world...and that Damien is possibly the son of Satan himself. This is the type of plot that could easily become cheesy or unbelievable, but The Omen, thanks to a strong sense of direction by Richard Donner and an excellent script by David Seltzer, stays conceivable throughout. A lot of the power comes from excellent performances by Peck and Trouhgton, especially when Troughton delivers this ominous warning -

When the Jews return to Zion, and a comet rips the sky,
and the Holy Roman Empire rises, then you and I must die.
From the eternal sea he rises, creating armies on either shore.
Pitting man against his brother, 'til man exists no more.

- which is later deciphered by the photographer to refer to the events that occured five years earlier on the morning of June 6 - the time at which Damien was born.

The Omen is probably the least impressive member of the Unholy Trilogy from a technical standpoint, aside from Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar winning music. But what it lacks in flair it makes up for with an omnipresent sense of dread that surrounds Damien and the things he and his minions might be possible of. Young Harvey Stephens has the thankless task of portraying the Antichrist, but the film does everything it can to help make him seem a threat by teaming him with Mrs. Baylock (Billie Whitelaw, giving another great performance) and a demonic rottweiler that protect his best (or would they be worst?) interests.

It's been more than fifteen years since that excellent Aunt sent a copy of the movie my way, but The Omen continues to be one of my favorite horror films thanks to the thought-provoking story, an incredible sense of dread, and a memorable and haunting villain. Now that the film's nearing 40 and has had a failed remake (with one of my favorite actors, Liev Schreiber, in the lead), it's still as powerful as it's ever been - and is a no-brainer for me to add to the Midnight Movie of the Week roll-call.

HorrorBlips: vote it up!

February 17, 2010

Midnight Top 5 - Dickholes in Horror Movies

The history of horror films has been full of psychotic characters and evil characters, but it's also been full of idiots, morons, buffoons, imbeciles, and even troglodytes. As if that's not enough, there are often dicks and assholes (and maybe the third type that Team America mentioned, but I'm trying to stay classy here). But a chosen few characters have crossed the streams of dick and asshole behaviors and become the worst of the worst - dickholes. You know dickholes. They're the people that you want to punch in the groin as soon as you see them. They're not the people whose behavior is justified by a lack of intelligence, a moral choice, or a mental imbalance....they're just dickholes without knowing it.

With no further ado, I present a Midnight Top 5 list of Dickholes in Horror that make my rage fly.Steve (played by Ty Burrell) in Dawn of the Dead '04 - Steve's the kind of dickhole that is almost enjoyable to be around, until he speaks a third time. "Oh yeah, that's funny Steve!" "Ha, dog with a ham sandwich! That's funny Steve!" *pause* *pause* *pause*

Yes, that's right, you're at that point where you've gone from patronizing Steve to just wishing he weren't around any more. And you can't even talk about it. You're just shocked at his dickholeness. (And, like many dickholes, he still somehow gets a younger, more good-looking chick interested enough to bone on camera.)Cleopatra (played by Olga Baclanova) in Freaks - One of the first female dickholes (Gals, don't act like there aren't lady dickholes out there!) of all-time, Cleopatra ranks high in several dickhole categories - specifically the inability to control herself when drunk, the desire to use those weaker than her, and - of course - the lust for money at any expense. Moreover, she uses her body as a weapon (with some help from poison) to get her way.

Well, at least for a while. The Gods of Dickhole Smiting did not miss Cleopatra's actions. Kudos to them.Trevor Lyle (played by Xander Berkeley) in Candyman - College ladies, THIS IS WHY YOU DON'T GET INVOLVED WITH PROFESSORS! Because someday, when you get involved with an urban not-quite-legend that leads to a bee-infested gigantor with a hook stalking you and framing you for murders while pleading that you be his victim...the only thing you're gonna have to rely on is this guy.

Trouble is, he's off boning the next college lady. Good luck, Helen. He got what he needed and broomed you fast. (BTW, what's with dickholes and boning? I mean, anatomically it makes sense...but still. You gals are smarter than that, right?)Harry Cooper (played by Karl Hardman) in Night of the Living Dead - Harry Cooper is what the French would call "le dikhol clasique". I mean, this is what being a dickhole is all about - you're surrounded by flesh eating ghouls, your daughter's hurt, some people are trying to HELP YOU. And're too stubborn and racist to help out! Moreover, you try to convince others your dickhole ways are not dickholish, and get them into deadly situations. Mr. Cooper, it's safe to say you reek of dickholocity.Tina Williams (played by Wendy Kaplan) in Halloween 5 - I have to get this off my chest immediately - there is no one living or dead, real or fictional, that I HATE more than Tina Williams of Halloween 5. Seriously, Tina, you're the "good" character with the least redeeming qualities of all-time. You speak of hearts made of neon and sing doopty-doo songs, but you're a moron who's annoying, doesn't care about your friends (seriously, your "best friend" was laying upstairs DEAD and you didn't think to go check...or to mention her again in the next 12 hours), and looks like the 1980s' vomit.

Moreover, you're so annoying that even Michael Myers, who is the personification of EVIL, had you in a car and LET YOU GO because you're THAT annoying. Congratulations, you're the only person older than 10 that Michael's ever spared. I still don't believe he really killed you out in that field, because your scream is so piercing that he probably ran the opposite direction while your neon blood healed itself to let you go on living your terrifyingly awful existence.

Tina Williams isn't entirely a dickhole, she kinda seems to care about little Jamie (except for the part when she decides Jamie's fears aren't more important than her chances to get boned), but since dickhole's an insult and I have a chance to use it on her, I am.
Honorable Mention: The Lifetime Non-Horror Movie Dickhole Award goes to William Atherton - Dude plays a fantastic dickhole. He did it in Ghostbusters, he did it in two Die Hards, and he even did it in Bio-Dome. When you're gonna blow up a dome that includes both a) a Baldwin (even if it is Stephen) and b) a young and sumptuous Kylie Minogue - YOU'RE A DICKHOLE.

Did I forget any dickholes that get you raving? Hit up the comments below. Also, feel free to come suggest a Midnight Top 5 topic on the discussion board of From Midnight, With Love's facebook fan page.

February 16, 2010

Black Women in Horror History Month - Week 3

In the first two weeks of this journey, I've focused on black women who've been on the side of good in horror films. But I got to wondering over the last few days, what about the other side? Where are what my father would call the "bad muddatrucka" ladies of horror? And after much deliberation, I thought of a chilling vampire performances that deserves mention.

It is not, as you might expect, the performance of the late Aaliyah in the Anne Rice adaptation Queen of the Damned. While the starlet who was taken too soon is more than adequate in the film, the film itself is still a bore who features the always annoying Stuart Townsend as its lead. And moreover, there's an earlier performance that the portrayal of Queen Akasha reminds me of.That performance is given by the unique actress Grace Jones in the 1986 bit of cheese entitled Vamp. I chronicled Vamp briefly last October, but didn't spend much time on Jones' role in the film. As I noted back then, two students take a trip to a seedy gentlemen's club looking to bring some...we'll say entertainment...back to the fraternity they're trying to get accepted into, and are soon enamored by the main attraction on stage - a statuesque creature of the night called Katrina.

Unlike many VHS-cover-promoted villains of horror's glam decade (i.e. - Fright Night), Katrina is more than a footnote in the film's tale of terrors. Jones provides a dynamic physical presence in the film, and it's hard to consider another actress in memory who could provide such a balance between being a physical threat and an exotic and sensual creature. The former model for Andy Warhol and disco songstress had just hit her cinematic peak as a villain in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (alongside Christopher Walken!), and the transfer to starring as the titular bloodsucker here was a seamless one.

While most killers of the mid '80s fit the same profile - white men with traumatic pasts that guide their actions - Grace Jones' Katrina is a rare breed. She's presented as a villain who's completely in control of her actions, and one who is willingly choosing to partake in the deadly activities of the night. One of the few black women to be immortalized as a powerful villain in horror, it's an honor to look back at the Jamaican born Grace Jones and her small - but well-earned - place in horror history.

February 15, 2010

Midnight in The Twilight Zone - Dust

Welcome to Midnight in The Twilight Zone, a new feature in which I look at some of my favorite episodes of what I consider the most fantastic anthology of the unknown ever produced. Each installment will feature one episode, starting tonight with Dust.

"There was a village, built of crumbling clay and rotting wood. And it squatted ugly under a broiling sun like a sick and mangy animal waiting to die. This village had a virus, shared by its people. It was the germ of squalor, of hopelessness, of a loss of faith. With the faithless, the hopeless, the misery-laden, there is time - ample time - to engage in one of the other pursuits of men. They begin to destroy themselves."

If you haven't seen the episode, you can view it at IMDB by
clicking HERE.

Though Rod Serling did far better than I ever could, I present Dust, one of the most heartbreaking episodes of the series I've ever seen. In a town where a penitent young man is about to hanged for an accident that killed a young girl, the pig of a salesman (Thomas Gomez in a completely-vile-yet-PG-drunken-Orson-Welles-esque performance) that sold the hanging rope offers the boy's immigrant father a bag of magic dust which "turns hate into love". Of course, the dust is simply dirt he grabbed at the moment, and has no significant background.
Watching the boy's father, played by Vladimir Sokoloff, become ridiculed in front of the town's uncaring residents as he pleas for his son's life is one of the most tear inducing moments from the series' run. Sokoloff died just over a year after the episode aired, and it's sad to say that the aging Russian actor looked the part of a man in despair. As he flails his arms and screams for sympathy, the townsfolk do what most people today would do too - they break out in laughter. It's a breathtakingly sad moment.

But, things are not always as they seem in The Twilight Zone and the episode's plot comes to a more satisfying conclusion than many of its counterparts. While it's a bit heavy with its message and climaxes too early, Dust is a fantastic example of what The series asked us to "pay heed to the magic" many times before (and many more times after) Dust aired in the first week of 1961, but few episodes look as deeply into human despair as Serling's story for this episode did. And as he sums it up, in the human heart there is "a wizardry that costs far more than a few pieces of gold".

I'm not sure I know what that means, but I'm glad he said it with Dust.

February 14, 2010

The Post in Which I Willingly Watch Twilight (And Vow to Never Speak of it Again)

It's 5:14 pm on The Day That Shall Not Be Named For Fear of Owing Royalties to Greeting Card Companies. And I, The Mike, am about to embark on a journey I fear immensely. Finally, after hiding from the pop-culture phenomenon for a year and a half, I am watching the film known as Twilight.

As a back story, I had no clue what this movie really was when it came out. I'd seen that awful teaser trailer that only confirmed that there are vampires and bad acting and told nothing else of the film. I knew that many females I know had irrational needs to see it. And I knew it was emo. When I finally saw a full trailer for the sequel last fall (attached to the super-awful Sorority Row, if I'm not mistaken), I had a simple reaction - Is that thing really what people like? I couldn't believe the wrist-cut-inspiring things I'd seen on screen. I decided that, sooner or later, I must experience this phenomenon, if only to "get it."

Thus, here I am. I've got some queso dip and chips, a two-liter bottle of Diet Mountain Dew (it was left over from my Super Bowl party, and if I'm gonna watch a depressed teenage girl movie I'm gonna drink a depressed person's soda!), and the trailers at the beginning of the DVD just passed. Now, I provide you my life thought process through that which is Twilight.

But hold on a second, the queso's cold.

(All times are estimated.)
5:23 pm - (0:00:00) - It begins. Summitt Entertainment logo. Wonder how many studio heads are kicking themselves for not getting this? And, we've got a narration about dying to start. get the razor blades ready!

5:25 pm - (0:01:11) - It's always the deer that get hurt first. Serves 'em right.

5:27 pm - (0:03:40) - I'm immediately intrigued by the fact Kristen Stewart looks both ways before entering a room. And is that a cactus in her pocket, or is she just happy to see me? Oh wait...

5:28 pm - (0:04:55) - This Jacob guy's supposed to be hot? He looks like he belongs in a Native American Whitesnake cover band! On second thought, maybe that is kinda hot.

5:30 pm - (0:06:00) - "OMG, that girl drives a ratty truck! She's like sooooo icky!", says the entire parking lot.

5:31 pm - (0:07:40) - Loved Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, but I immediately wanted to punch her in the face just then.

5:32 pm - (0:08:40) - OMG RPATZ!!! SQUEEEEEE! (Or like, not.)

5:33 pm - (0:09:35) - Turns out I mistook another pale gel-haired fellow for R-Patz and he just showed up. I'm kinda proud of myself. I feel like Ralphie when mom's spoon breaks on his backside.

5:35 pm - (0:11:31) - The uncomfortability of the last 30 seconds was amazing!

5:36 pm - (0:12:46) - Creepy balding guy must die first. Wait a minute - do people even die in this movie?

5:37 pm - (0:13:48) - Is it emo to have one of those porch lights that look like the alien from Dark Star in your room? If so I want to be emo.

5:39 pm - (0:15:00) - OK, whatever just happened with a power plant dude getting mauled was actually kinda well done. I liked what Catherine Hardwicke did with Thirteen, maybe there'll at least be some technical competence here? And while I was typing, Kristen Stewart fell on the ice. AWESOME!

5:41 pm - (0:17:01) - HE SPEAKS! I was assuming he was just a gel-bot. It looks like we're in for a science lab Pale-off! (It's like a face-off, but with pale.)

5:42 pm - (0:18:31) - She doesn't like any cold, wet thing. DEEPNESS.

5:44 pm - Random observation: Is it just me or does Patzy kinda look like a Pez Dispenser?

5:46 pm - (0:22:21) - Hey, it's Peter Facinelli! I had high hopes for this guy back when he was in The Big Kahuna with Spacey and DeVito. I'm glad he survived Fastlane.

5:50 pm - (0:26:42) - Dude named Mike gets REJECTED. Clearly it's a work of fiction.

5:54 pm - (0:30:23) - OK, there's surfing in the blue part of Washington? And someone said dude! SWEET!

5:55 pm - (0:31:18) - "That's all super hero stuff. But what if I'm not? What if I'm the bad guy?"

5:58 pm - (0:32:25) - Every high school related movie revolves around prom. Can't really fault this movie for that. But really, does all high school drama revolve around that? I was a nerd. I don't know!

5:59 pm - (0:34:00) - OMG GOLDEN WOLVES! Almost lost my chips. Also, Stewart looks half less annoying when he hair is hidden from the scene.

6:01 pm - (0:35:29) - Hehehe...creepy bald dude. And Natasha Lyonne and Bob Marley? Ah, the joys of internal recasting. (Yes, I'm aware Bob Marley's dead. Kofi Kingston?)

6:03 pm - (0:37:24) - Pause for needlessly pushed out boobs. Aw yeah. Time to warm up the queso, baby! (No really, I had to use the microwave. It's not some creeper catchpharse I came up with.)

6:06 pm (0:40:10) - DRAMATIC RPATZ! The stare of doom! Surely drunk dudes will die by his hand! And he just grew an accent?

6:08 pm (0:42:12) - This movie has the most odd looking extras. They're almost more entertaining to watch than the movie.

6:10 pm (0:43:56) - I've seen this whole "I can read everyone's mind but yours" thing before, haven't I? Drawing a blank, but it's super familiar.

6:11 pm (o:45: 30) - Beware the ANIMAL ATTACK! If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that...

6:13 pm (0:46:55) - Pepper spray. The gift that keeps on giving.

6:13 pm (0:47:15) - OMG MOMENT OF REALIZATION MONTAGE! (Brought to you by Google and the Interwebs!) (Also, I think the last shot of that montage might have come from a The Cure video.

6:15 pm - Random Observation: On second thought, can we get a Delorean to take this script back to the '80s and make it with Robert Smith in the lead and Deborah Foreman as Bella? I'd like totally watch that movie.

6:17 pm - (0:51:00) - She said the V word! The names of Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, and Chrisopher Lee were just taken in vain.

6:18 pm - (0:52:20) - Fucking sparkles. Are you kidding me? I hope everyone in this movie has glitter still on them. It's like Demetri Martin says, it's the herpes of craft supplies.

6:19 pm - Random Observation: RPATZ just proclaimed himself "the world's greatest predator." Put him in a jungle with Ahnold and Kevin Peter Hall, now. Please, I beg of you.

6:22 pm - (0:56:06) - OK, I don't have words for the past three minutes. I know, that's supposed to be the BIG scene of their love being born. But really? I mean, really? I never thought "Hey baby, your smell makes me want to eat you!" would be the pitch in one of the most profitable romance films of all-time.

6:24 pm - (0:58:00) - Thank you for clearing everything up, oh powerful narration. AND NOW EVERYONE'S JEALOUS OF HER! OMG, THIS IS WHAT HIGH SCHOOL IS ALL ABOUT!

6:26 pm - (0:59:35) - That flashback scene was also kinda well done. A slight taste of Nosferatu. And I'm terribly sad I just admitted that.

6:28 pm - (1:01:45) - The accent is slipping again. Is that intentional? Or did she just add that line about him speaking like he's from another time to cover it?

6:30 pm - (1:04:25) - Why the hell are they cuttin' on moats? Who the hell doesn't want a moat? (I want a moat.)

6:31 pm - (1:05:12) - I so just cackled loudly at the salad bowl squeeze. The whole movie's worth it now.

6:32 pm - (1:06:27) - I really wish this Jasper character was named Lurch or Hans or something more gangly.

6:35 pm - Random Observation: With the amount of time she spends biting her lip and gritting her teeth, they shoulda rewrote the movie to have Stewart be the vampire. Or just have her play the male, there's nothing exceedingly feminine about her anyway.

6:37 pm - (1:11:30) - As Batman would say, STORM'S COMING!

6:39 pm - (1:13:10) - This movie could really use a lynch mob. There's a perfectly good one in this diner. I proclaim it must occur.

6:40 pm - (1:15:00) - God, he's a creeper. Ladies, please tell me if you'd really accept that creepy looking dude coming in your windows while you sleep. Or better not, don't.

6:42 pm - (1:16:20) - Looks like he picked the eject button over the ejaculate button! And no, I'm not even gonna take the time to ponder the ability to ejaculate of a vampire. Except now that I typed that, I did. Damn you, Stephanie Meyer.

6:44 pm - Random Observation: I used to always get Billy Burke, who plays Bella's dad, and Billy Blanks, of Tae Bo fame, mixed up. Not in appearance, obviously, just in name. I think I'm past that now.

6:45 pm - (1:19:14) - And now the infamous baseball scene. Worth the hype. I want this video game.

6:47 pm - (1:21:31) - SHIT JUST GOT REAL! (And I use that in the weakest sense of the phrase.)

6:49 pm - (1:22:49) - Yeah, he's more Kofi Kingston than Bob Marley. YES! MOAR BASEBALL!

6:50 pm - (1:24:36) - Shucks, no more baseball, but we did get impressions of the Sharks and Jets!

6:52 pm - (1:25:40) - Pattinson really has trouble being dramatic. His line readings are atrocious in this car ride.

6:53 pm - (1:27:27) - Daddy Swan nearly proclaims "I want to practice fatherhood!" So touching. (Except for the touching part.)

6:55 pm (1:29:31) - Thank you, token hunter, for tiring of James' games.

6:57 pm - Random Observation: There's still a half-hour of this? The pain is starting to set in. Don't worry, I'm not gonna cut myself, though I'm thinking it might be more interesting to clip my fingernails.

6:58 pm (1:32:25) - We were thisclose to getting a shot of the sun. Whoa.

7:00 pm (1:33:50) - One of the most impressive things about movies of the past decade is how realistic phones ringing can sound these days. I almost picked up my cell phone twice there.

7:01 pm (1:35:13) - Narration has come full circle from the movie's opening. Surprisingly early for that. Probably a good sign...that the movie has long end credits and I won't be subjected to as much more of this as I feared!

7:02 pm - Random Observation: Then again, the alternative to that last point is that the movie has a Return of the Kings-esque mutliending. I fear again.

7:03 pm - Randomer Observation: This Cam Gigandet fellow has been pretty terrible in everything I've seen him in.

7:05 pm - (1:38:10) - It's on, I guess. Not entirely sure what it is, but it's on.

7:07 pm - (1:39:08) - Wow, blood. In a vampire movie, it took us 1:39:08 to get blood.

7:07 pm - (1:39 45) - "STOP! REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE!"

7:08 pm - (1:40:25) - Wait, there's venom? What the hell was James?

7:09 pm - (1:41:22) - That scene was the definition of "Painfully drawn out and poorly executed moral dilemma."

7:10 pm - (1:42:15) - OK, what the hell just happened? Emo music, snowfall, death based narration? What is this, one of your Earth jokes?

7:11 pm - (1:43:40) - I just grabbed my cell phone when their phone rang. CURSES!

7:13 pm - (1:45:30) - Holy stuttering actress, Batman!

7:14 pm - (1:46:41) - Hehehe...giant cast boot.

7:15 pm - (1:47:37) - Just when we'd forgotten about him, Native-American Emile Hirsch Wannabe is back!

7:16 pm - (1:48:46) - I think that was foreshadowing just then.

7:18 pm - (1:50:35) - Since we're clearly winding down, I can ask it: Could they have found less appealing actors to lead this movie? I mean, I was considering the lead singer of The Cure and the star of Valley Girl as significant upgrades! THAT SHOULDN'T HAPPEN. (BTW, I will allow no negative comments toward Valley Girl. That movie forking rules.)

7:20 pm - (1:52:47) - Thank you, everyone else, for clearing the romantically lit gazebo and leaving the camera room to circle lovingly. It's so touching. (P.S. - BARF!)

7:21 pm - (1:53:50) - Oooh, imposing shot as we fade to black-and-white for the end credits. What was it I just said? Oh yeah - BARF!

OK, so that's Twilight. It's safe to say - I don't get it. Granted, I'm not its target audience, but still - what's the appeal. It's ROMANTIC? Really? They speak to each other like seven times!

I mean, Bella needs to get a hobby or something. I'm reminded of the wisdom of Jeremy Goodwin on Sports Night (best TV show ever, BTW!) - "I understand why a woman thinks that any man is better than nothing. I just don't understand why she thinks she has nothing." Really, this movie makes the Titanic craze of 1998 look normal. Seriously girls, you're amazing. Go find what it is that makes you happy and leave the fairy tale ending stuff like this behind. You'll thank yourself in the long run.

February 13, 2010

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever

2010, Dir. by Ti West/Alan Smithee.

Eli Roth's Cabin Fever is one of the most hotly debated horrors of the past decade, if not longer. I know many who claim it to be among the worst horror movies, or even worst movies, ever made. There are others, myself included, who thought it was a fun gorefest whose ridiculous plot and one-note characters were not worth getting our knickers in a twist over.

For those who fit that category, we're now treated to Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, the second straight movie I've reviewed that was delayed for a year plus. In this case, director Ti West shot the film in the spring of 2007, but Lionsgate held up the film up and ended up reworking most of the film to their liking. West requested to have his name removed from the film, but since he's not a member of the Director's Guild of America yet, his request was denied. The final product is finally dropped on DVD this week - coincidentally placed a couple of weeks behind West's break-out hit The House of the Devil.

Cabin Fever 2 picks up right where Roth left of in story, with the first film's lead character stumbling out of the water reservoir he fell into as the last film neared an end. As revealed there, the water is being used by a bottled water company, and an animated opening credits sequence shows us that the contaminated water is apparently directly headed to a local high school. And just in time for prom, no less!

What follows is your typical bloodbath. Literally. Gone are the awkward comedic touches of Roth's film (Sorry, there's no Dr. Mambo or "Pancakes!" screaming here), aside from the return of Giuseppe Andrews as the inept police deputy Winston. Without these hijinks around him Andrews' character doesn't have much place in the story, and it's likely that the edits added to the character not seeming at home in the film's plot.

Back to that bloodbath, we're introduced to the typical high school types we see in this movies, led by the smart and noble kid John, who's played by Noah Segan (also of last year's indie horror Deadgirl). Following tradition, John shoots the breeze with his dorky best friend Alex and pines over the girl next door Cassie who happens to be dating the school's biggest douche Marc as we wait for the decomposition to begin. It kicks in as the prom starts, and from there on out it's a skin-crawling gorefest.
The movie has a few things going in its favor, specifically well-designed gore (a late film dismemberment is incredibly well-done), some solid cinematography (especially in the scenes involving what I assume is a government clean-up crew), and Segan's fine performance in the lead. He's a very likable young actor who seems to have his head on straight - pointing out in the special features of the disc that the film is "so gory that it's funny, except for when it's so gory that you want to throw up." And really, when it goes to full frontal pus-producing nudity, I did want to throw up.

There lies the biggest problem with Cabin Fever 2, as it's clear the primary goal of the film was to showcase gore and not provide much else. I'm a huge fan of West's other films, and was excited to see him get this shot at something mainstream, but it's clear that illogical studio expectations derailed the man long before the movie hit screens. I doubt there'll be a big enough cult following to someday get us a recut version with West's actual vision, because the final product of Cabin Fever 2 is little more than an attempt to capitalize on a marginally respected film's following (and perhaps Roth's newfound stardom after Inglourious Basterds - congrats on making Jeopardy, Eli) that lacks any depth in plot or originality in vision. If you're desperate to see blood, Cabin Fever 2 will fill that need, but for actual cinema there are three excellent Ti West films (The Roost, Trigger Man, The House of the Devil) that you should check out anyway.

February 12, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

2010, Dir. by Joe Johnston.

When it comes to film adaptations, I'm a fanboy first and a critic second. I enjoyed the Fantastic 4 movies. I'd rank Iron Man as my favorite comic book film. Heck, I saw Van Helsing multiple times in theaters. Once I've made up my mind that I love something, I lose my head. So, when the news broke that Benicio Del Toro would star in an update of my favorite Universal monster flick, The Wolf Man, I became that drooling mindless zombie that I become in these situations, and waited for the film with the highest of hopes. I waited a lot longer than expected due to some delays, and after finally seeing the film tonight, it hurts to say that I can see why.

Directed by Joe Johnston, The Wolfman is a technical disaster. Sure, it's got some atmospheric scenery and a moody score from Danny Elfman to make it seem slick, but there are so many things going wrong throughout the film. Several transitions are handled with mind-numbingly annoying gimmicks like white flashes between shots or characters moving with ghosting between steps. It seems like half the movie is composed of the camera lingering on the scenery while we wait for action to occur, and when action does occur it's mostly in quick, unrecognizable bursts. The few full on shots of our werewolf lead are pretty impressive, and I wasn't bothered by the CGI approach to the character in them - but it's clear that the CGI was primarily needed to make the action scenes more comfortable for modern audiences.

Apart from the visual flaws, the story is far removed from the original tale and takes some ridiculous turns for the worst as it barrels along carelessly. Characters and relationships are changed entirely, and scenes that branch out to other locales seem to be filler. I understand that adapting a 70 minute film like The Wolf Man requires a modern filmmaker to add some elements to the story, but I've always been a fan of keeping things simple. By adding to and changing the story in so many ways, the film becomes more convoluted and less interesting at the same time.

The actors provide the film's highlights, but even they aren't at full strength. I'm a big fan of Del Toro, and he physically fills the role well, but there's not as much time developing his character as the much shorter original spent developing Lon Chaney, Jr's. Emily Blunt is the other highlight as the damsel in distress, but that's mostly because she's so ridiculously good-looking. Hugo Weaving does his usual adequate job as the Inspector on the wolf's trail, leaving me the biggest name in the cast to consider - Sir Anthony Hopkins as Lord Talbot. By far the film's biggest misstep is the characterization of the father that Hopkins portrays, and it seems he was given free reign to ham it up as much as he wanted in this role. This leads to an over-the-top and considerably silly performance from the Oscar winner. I've always been a big fan of Claude Rains, who played the original Lord Talbot, but I've rarely missed him as much as I did while watching Hopkins in this film.

Combining the facts that the film is technically annoying, ridiculous in plot, and features underwhelming acting with the far fall the story has taken from an incredibly simple 1941 script that captured the tragic nature of the Wolf Man character perfectly, and it's hard for me to find much good to say about this film, even if I was prepared to throw caution to the wind as a fan. While I'm sure that fan in me will return to this film a few more times, continuing to hope I find the things I loved about the original tale, I can't find it in me to recommend the new Wolfman at all.

But hey, this is Hollywood 2010! We can get a reboot next year, right? Please?

February 11, 2010

Midnight Movie of the Week #6 - Robinson Crusoe on Mars

In making a choice for my Midnight Movie of the Week, I generally have three criteria. First, the movie needs to be at least five years separated from my last MMotW pick. Secondly, it has to fit the criteria any movie would to make this site - primarily, being a flick I wouldn't mind popping in late at night for an escape into the uncommon. Third, and most importantly, I try to pick something memorable - something that jumps off the page and into the curious corners of the mind where it's sure to be a hit. That's often a hard task for a movie to live up to - but when you've got something like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, the mission's pretty much accomplished in the title.

A loose adaptation of Daniel Defoe's classic novel, Robinson Crusoe, this is the tale of Commander "Kit" Draper, a lone astronaut who's marooned on the surface of the angry red planet and forced to deal with the challenge of survival. Those of us in the real world know that's not really possible, just as the people who made this film nearly 50 years ago did. But, at the height of the space craze of the mid-to-late '60s, suspension of disbelief was in style, and the film was put together with little concern for the impracticalities that would face a real astronaut faced with this scenario.

That's not to say that Robinson Crusoe on Mars is a silly film - in fact, it's quite the opposite. What it lacks in scientific fact it makes up for psychologically, focusing most of its efforts on Draper (played by Paul Mantee) and his battle to deal with the fact that he is alone in this barren world. Alone, except for the ship's monkey, that is. (That's right, it's a man and his monkey film! That's really all I needed to say, isn't it?)The first half of the film is a one man show (save the early space scenes where Draper is joined by Captain Macready, played by ADAM WEST!!!!!), with Mantee working out the physical and mental challenges that his confinement on the new world bring to him. A lot of answers come in gimmicky ways, as things like oxygen, water, and food just happen to pop up at the right moments. But the biggest find comes near the midpoint of the film when Draper stumbles upon an alien slave who's escaped their race's mining efforts on Mars, and friendship ensues. Draper names the slave (played by Victor Lundin) Friday, after the character in Defoe's novel, a self-referential move that is the closest link to the source material.

From that point on, it's a two-man battle for survival, full of effects scenes and intergalactic battles. Under the direction of sci-fi mogul Byron Haskin (the original War of the Worlds), we're fed a feast of red-hued imagery and menacing alien warships that look a lot like what we've seen in Haskin's previous work. But it's the script, started by Ib Melchior and reworked by John Higgins, that gives Robinson Crusoe on Mars its best bits, including an early nightmare in which Draper encounters his undead captain (again, ADAM WEST!!!!!!!) and a bevy of entertaining exchanges between Draper and Friday in which their worlds and languages are compared.Now restored and released by the usually pretentious Criterion Collection, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is resurrected as an important bit of sci-fi, and it's a well-deserved honor. The fusion of Haskin and Melchior's ideas, plus excellent performances from the three human and one primate stars, creates a fully satisfying film that reminds me a lot of the adventures of the '30s and '40s. It's popcorn storytelling that lies somewhere between Gunga Din and Flash Gordon, and I think that any viewer that can shut down the scientific portion of their brain (because really, when you point out the scientific inconsistencies of a movie you look and sound silly) will enjoy the film's story of survival. Robinson Crusoe on Mars is one of the nearly forgotten treasures of b-movie science fiction, and I'm excited to give it a run as Midnight Movie of the Week.