Archive for the ‘Movie Review’ Category

Terror Train (1980)

Posted: October 24, 2014 in Movie Review
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Terror Train

Directed By: Roger Spottiswoode

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson, Hart Bochner, Sandee Currie, Tim Webber, Derek MacKinnon, David Copperfield

Synopsis: Three years after a prank puts its victim in an insane asylum, the members of the fraternity that planned the prank are the targets of revenge.

Thoughts: Jamie Lee Curtis cemented her status as a scream queen in a span of three years when she starred in Halloween. Halloween II, The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train in a span of three years from 1978 to 1981. Each of these films is considered to be essential horror viewing, and for good reason. You could do a lot worse than a marathon session of these movies.

Like many of the horror movies of the early 80s, Terror Train was made on a miniscule budget and was filmed in Canada. The cast is filled mostly with unknowns, with the exception of Jamie Lee Curtis, Ben Johnson and David Copperfield, who was added to the movie by a fellow Canadian Producer. The original script did not include a magician, but one of the producers was a big fan, and David Copperfield was a fellow Canadian, so his role was added. Sometimes it’s all about who you know!

It’s not surprising to find out that Curtis carries the movie with her presence. The rest of the cast (victims) really don’t do a lot to invoke any empathy. As a matter of fact, most of them are pretty much world class assholes, which is what got them into trouble in the first place.

As the movie takes place during a costume party, the killer changes his appearance quite often. I thought this worked against Terror Train, as so many 80s slashers are remembered for an iconic killer. Had the killer here maintained a “look”, this movie might rank higher on the 80s slasher list.

Terror Train also throws out more than a few Red Herrings, trying to keep the viewer from guessing the identity of the killer. I rather liked this approach in Terror Train, as it kept the movie from getting stale in the absence of more visually interesting killer.

Director Roger Spottiswoode is better known as an action director and this was his lone foray into the horror genre. He’s also directed Turner & Hooch, Air America, Tomorrow Never Dies, The 6th Day, and many others. He was an editor on the original Straw Dogs as well. Terror Train was his first feature film and he obviously used it to work on more main stream movies. I can’t blame him for that and at least he gave the genre a classic to look back on.

As I mentioned, I consider this to be a real 80s classic and essential viewing for horror fans. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, there really isn’t a better time of year to rectify that. Scream Factory has an outstanding release of this if you are looking to pick it up for you collection.

House on Straw Hill

 

Directed By: James Kenelm Clarke

Starring: Udo Kier, Linda Hayden, Fiona Richmond, Karl Howman, Vic Armstrong

Synopsis: Paul Martin, an eccentric and paranoid novelist rents out a cottage to complete his latest novel, employing a young lady to be his secretary/scribe.

Thoughts: In 1984 the Video Recordings Act required all video releases to be certified by the British Board of Film Censors prior to release. This act was the dawn of a rather dismal time of censorship for fans of the horror genre. Shop owners and distributors were charged with obscenity and many lives were ruined. The unintended result was a list of 72 movies that were deemed to have violated the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 that would become a checklist for any self-respecting horror fan for years to come. This list is something that I have referenced over the years and has caused me to seek out several movies that I would likely have never even heard of. Most times, efforts to censor something only drives people to seek it out. Like the saying goes, there is no thing as bad publicity.

House on Straw Hill, or Expose as it is also known is a pretty nasty movie. It doesn’t have a lot of horror elements, but rather follows a fairly typical thriller plot line. It earned its place on the Video Nasty list by combining some pretty graphic sex scenes with a fair amount of blood and sprinkling in a rape scene. While it seems a bit odd to call any rape scene tame, the one here doesn’t really hold a candle to Last House on the Left (thankfully?).

Genre icon Udo Kier is the lead here, but his voice is dubbed, which was a little weird to experience after hearing him in so many movies. Even without “hearing” Kier, he delivers his trademark oddity flawlessly. His character has some serious issues and kinks, but that seems to be par for the course for Kier. The two leading ladies, Hayden and Richmond, were both mainstays in the late 70s horror and sex comedy genres and really fit in well here.

Unlike a lot of the other movies on the Video Nasty list, it’s pretty easy to see why this film was included. It’s not a great movie, but it’s actually a lot better than many of the movies on the Nasty list. Severin films recently put out what has to be considered the definitive version of the movie, restoring the cut scenes from the original prints, finally allowing film goers to see the original version. If you are going to check this one out, I highly suggest seeking out this version. That being said, this isn’t a movie for everyone, but it is worth watching. Fans of Kier or those interested in exploring the Video Nasty list will find it worthwhile.

Night of the Comet - Gary Pullin

I was the wise old age of 8 in 1984, the same age as my youngest son now. Looking back at the list of movies that came out that year brings a huge grin to my face. When Todd reached out to me to contribute to his 1984-a-thon, my mind went through all the movies that I could pick. There are a lot of movies that I’ve introduced my kids to, including Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and Gremlins. Being a fan of the often maligned horror genre, there are also a couple of classics that I could have picked in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Children of the Corn, but I knew pretty quickly that I had to pick Night of the Comet.

My love of Night of the Comet started early, albeit not in 1984. My parents were pretty strict with the movies I got to watch at my tender age (although I did see Gremlins pretty early on). I don’t recall when I first laid eyes upon Night of the Comet, but it was likely in Junior High, when my parents (or more accurately, my friend’s Parents) were less mindful about what we were watching.

Although both of the leads are easy on the eyes, it was the images of some of the zombies that really stuck with me, especially the motorcycle cops and the kid. It took many years for Night of the Comet to get a release on DVD, but as soon as it did, I was one of the first in line to pick it up. When I revisited the movie, I essentially fell in love with the movie all over again, which seems to be the exception these days.

Night of the Comet has some fantastic imagery in it, from the pretty nasty looking creatures to the empty cityscapes. It really is a showcase for what horror fans love about the 80s; great practical FX and latex masks. There aren’t really any great kills or gory scenes, but the atmosphere is there.

As with so many horror movies, it quickly becomes apparent that it’s not just the monsters that are evil, but also humankind themselves. The introduction of the scientists, and Geoffrey Lewis in particular, keep the story from getting stale and give us more than random monsters to root against.

To say the acting is over the top is an understatement, but it helps make Night of the Comet a snapshot of the early 80s. Big hair and valley girl accents rule the day, but it really gives the movie its charm. The scene in the mall seems to be an homage to Romero’s Dawn, but also fits right in with the vibe of the movie.

While 1984 was a banner year for films, there are a lot of hidden gems to be found as well, and in my opinion Night of the Comet is one of those movies. Grab some popcorn, your favorite beverage and enjoy!

Read my original review of Night of the Comet here!

1408

 

Directed By: Mikael Hafstrom

 

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub, Jasmine Jessica Anthony

 

Synopsis: Mike Enslin, author, paranormal investigator and skeptic spends the night at the Dolphin Hotel in the infamous Room 1408, with a goal of proving the stories of its haunting wrong.

Thoughts: Stephen King’s genre adaptations are usually hit or miss, especially in recent years. Many of the most successful ones came out in the 70s and 80s, but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been a few good ones here and there. 1408 is far from his best, but is a serviceable horror flick.

In much the same way that Stephen King movies are hit or miss, I find that the movies John Cusack finds himself in are also hit or miss. He’s had some movies I’ve loved, but he’s also been in some real stinkers. I kind of see him as a not nearly as insane Nic Cage. He does a pretty decent job here, playing a pretty typical Cusack role. What I mean by that is that this seems to be a character I’ve seen from him before. His characters usually seem very similar to me. Samuel Jackson is a huge name, but his role here is pretty small. He is the manager of the hotel that Cusack is staying at. In much the same way that Cusack seemed to be playing a familiar role, Jackson does the same. With that being said, Cusack and Jackson are good enough actors that they can support the story without giving us Oscar performances.

The name of Mikael Hafstrom might not be known to the average movie fan, but he has directed several movies that have been fairly large releases. He tends to jump between the horror genre (1408, The Rite) and action (Derailed, Escape Plan). I think he’s got a great eye, but I just don’t think he’s found the right movie quite yet. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him direct a major hit some day.

You could call 1408 an average film. It doesn’t do anything to really set itself apart from other movies, but it also doesn’t give you reason to hate it with a horrible script or inept acting. Somehow, 1408 takes average, or slightly above average pieces, and puts together an enjoyable movie. It’s spooky at times, and if you happen to be a parent, I think it also packs a bigger emotional punch. It’s definitely one of the better King adaptations of recent years, and worth your time to check out.

She-Wolf Poster - Chapter 3

Directed By: Adriana Polito

Starring: Toni Benedetti, Tyne Roberts, Jamie Evans, Jason Harvey

Synopsis: A forest ranger spends her days searching for loners to satiate the hunger of the She-Wolf.

Thoughts: She-Wolf of the Woods is a few things. It is a 32 minute short film that also serves as a glimpse of a larger feature that is awaiting funding, it is the directorial debut of Adriana Polito and it is also a fresh look at the lycanthropy sub-genre. Last, but not least, it is a movie that you should check out and support.

While I’ve seen plenty “apprentice” type characters in vampire movies, I can’t recall the relationship being used with werewolves before, which is what really sets She-Wolf of the Woods apart from most shorts. It’s difficult to find original stories these days, and She-Wolf delivers that in spades!

The acting is better than I generally see in short films, especially ones with smaller budgets. Toni Benedetti and Tyne Roberts are magnificent as the forest ranger and Lucille (the titular She-Wolf), although neither have extensive resumes. In fact, this is Benedetti’s debut!

Adriana Polito makes an impressive debut behind the camera as well. She really shows that she has the eye to entertain movie goers and I, for one, really hope she gets the opportunity to provide that entertainment. The writing is also smart and witty, using just the right mix of humor and levity.  About the only thing missing from She-Wolf of the Woods is a bigger budget. While the FX are well done, they could be better with more of a budget, but every filmmaker has to start somewhere, and this is one hell of a start!

You can get more information about She-Wolf of the Woods at these sites listed below, including details to rent or buy She-Wolf, which all goes to support the creation of the feature.

http://adripolito.wix.com/shewolfofthewoods

http://www.staycuriousproductions.com/

Phibes

 

Directed By: Robert Fuest

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North, Caroline Munroe

Synopsis: Dr. Phibes, believed to be dead, seeks revenge on a group of doctors that were on hand when his wife died on the operating table while detectives race to stop him.

Thoughts: Before there was Jigsaw, there was Dr. Phibes. In all honesty, I watched a handful of Saw movies before seeing this Vincent Price classic, but it didn’t take long at all to see that this movie had at least some influence on the perennial Halloween offering. Dr. Phibes uses elaborate traps to mimic the Ten Plagues of Egypt in his quest for vengeance. Some traps are rather elaborate, such as the Frog mask, while others are little more than releasing bats into a bedroom.

As is in the case of so many of his films, Vincent Price shines here. Without a doubt, this is one of Price’s oddest characters. Between his makeup and the fact that he cannot speak using conventional methods, Price was forced to really use facial expressions and his eyes to communicate. The result is a wonderful portrayal of a man hell-bent on revenge and more than a little bit insane.

The supporting cast comes together to deliver an oddly humorous and campy movie. Joseph Cotten, one of my all-time favorite actors (the guy starred for Orson Welles, Hitchcock and Mario Bava!), plays the ultimate object of Phibe’s vengeance and does a phenomenal job. He’s about the only one in the entire movie that plays his character “straight” as the detectives are both rather bumbling in their approach. Although she wasn’t credited, the gorgeous Caroline Munroe plays Phibe’s wife. Whenever I watch these older movies and see the icons that starred in them, I think of the movies that are out today, and who we will consider icons in 30 or 40 years.

Vincent Price starred in several great genre movies, but this is one of his most iconic. This is a fabulous movie and well worth checking out. It also happens to be part of the amazing Scream Factory Vincent Price collection, something that belongs in every collection.

Toho Collection

There really hasn’t been a better time to be a Godzilla fan for home video collectors. With the release of the American remake, a couple of different companies have unleashed quite a barrage of classic Godzilla movies. Sony’s Toho Godzilla Collection is series of double features totaling 8 of the more modern features of everyone’s favorite giant lizard.

I’ve often enjoyed many of the more classic Godzilla movies, but quite honestly, a lot of these movies from the 80s, 90s and 21st century had evaded me. When I saw these double features, I knew they would be mine. Oh yes, they would be mine (and now they are). So, without further ado, let’s dig into each release:

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah / Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah (1991):
When a mysterious U.F.O. is seen flying over Tokyo, tension mounts, until the craft’s occupants reveal themselves to be friendly time travelers from the 23rd century who have come to warn mankind that Godzilla will soon awaken and wreak havoc upon Japan unless he is destroyed. Meanwhile, a double threat arrives in the form of King Ghidorah, Godzilla’s flying three-headed archrival and an evil and all-powerful android. The suspense builds to terrifying levels as the time travelers’ sinister mission on Earth is gradually revealed and Godzilla must wage a solo battle against these evil forces who want to destroy mankind.
[UR] Directed by Kuzuki Omori. Running time: 101 mins.

Thoughts: It’s not uncommon for U.F.O.s to weave their way into Godzilla’s filmography, and King Ghidorah is no different, except this time, it’s not aliens, but visitors from the future. As part of their warning of Godzilla destroying Japan, we also learn that Godzilla is really a mutated T-Rex!

A team is quickly assembled to go back in time and prevent Godzilla’s mutation, but when you change the past, there are always unintended consequences. This time, King Ghidorah takes Godzilla’s place, working to destroy all of Japan.

This one isn’t one of my favorite Kaiju flicks. It takes over an hour before we see any significant monster action and there are some really terrible FX shots. There is an android from the future that has super human speed, and when it’s time for him to use that speed, the results are laughable.

Godzilla vs King Ghidorah isn’t totally devoid of goodness though. The last 40 minutes or so are vintage Godzilla, with him going toe-to-toe against King Ghidorah, not just once, but twice. The second time around, Ghidorah is equipped with technical upgrades including a robotic head.

Godzilla and Mothra: The Battle for Earth (1992):
After a series of earthquakes unearth a gigantic orb, a trio of Japanese explorers are dispatched to the mysterious Infant Island to investigate. There they discover the island’s sole inhabitants, miniature twin women whose duty is to protect the mammoth ball, the egg of Mothra! When the explorers attempt to bring the egg back to the mainland, a furious Godzilla awakens from the depths and attacks the party, causing the egg to hatch and forcing its newborn larva to fend off the gigantic monster. The humongous worm holds its own until a new threat arrives in the form of Battra. When Mothra and Battra metamorphose into flying monster moths, the battle rages on land and in the sky. With two powerful foes to reckon with, has Godzilla finally met his match?
[UR] Directed by Takao Okawara. Running Time 102 mins.

Thoughts: This is one of the more heavy handed environmental messages in the Godzilla pantheon. It has the only appearance of Battra, the physical embodiment of Earth’s anger, a creature that is a lot like Mothra. Battra battles Mothra, and then Godzilla, only to be saved by Mothra. It gets a bit confusing, but it’s all for the sake of saving the Earth.

This is actually one of the highest grossing movies in Japan history, which boggles my mind. It’s not a bad Kaiju flick, but for my money, there are more entertaining ones. It was likely due to the return of Mothra, easily the second most popular Kaiju in Japan behind Godzilla.

Godzilla vs MechaGodzilla II / Godzilla vs Space Godzilla

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla II (1993):
Synopsis for sony.com: Mechagodzilla is the ultimate Godzilla-busting weapon! Fueled by a nuclear reactor, the mammoth metal robot is Japan’s greatest hope for ending Godzilla’s reign of terror. Meanwhile, on a remote island polluted by nuclear waste, a team of scientists discover a giant egg in a Pteranodon nest, and bring it to their lab for study. Baby Godzilla hatches and Godzilla returns to claim the cuddly infant as his own.
[PG] Directed by Takao Okawara. Running time: 105 mins.

Thoughts: MechaGodzilla, built by mankind to stand up to, and ultimately destroy Godzilla has always been one of my favorite “monsters” in the Toho Kaiju universe. It’s really the best of both worlds, a giant robot that looks like a monster, fighting other monsters.

There are also running themes in most Godzilla movies, and MechaGodzilla II plays on the parental instincts of not only Godzilla, but guest Kaiju Rodan! One of the things I love about the Toho Universe is that you never know what monster is going to show up. It’s a lot like reading comic books in that there is a lot of creative license to who shows up.

MechaGodzilla II is a very solid entry into the Godzilla mythology and is a pretty fun watch. Not only do you get MechaGodzilla, but he gets upgraded to “Super” Mechagodzilla! Check it out and have a blast.

Godzilla vs Space Godzilla (1994):
Synopsis for sony.com: Cells extracted from Godzilla are brought into space by Biollante and Mothra are exposed to intense radiation from a black hole. This celestial fission creates a highly aggressive extraterrestrial beast named Space Godzilla. Space Godzilla heads to Earth to confront Godzilla, Junior Godzilla, and the new G-Force robot, Mogera.
[NR] Directed by Kensho Yamashita. Running time: 106 mins.

Thoughts: This was the first time I’d seen, or really ever heard of Space Godzilla. The science behind it is a little crazy, but hey, we are talking about giant monsters, so what the hell, just roll with it. The result of Space Godzilla coming to Earth to smash cities are some very good monster show-downs, which is really what we are here for.

Space Godzilla doesn’t feature a who’s who of monsters, nor does it feature a great story, but I still had fun watching this one. Space Godzilla looks really good and the fights are pretty damn entertaining.

Godzilla vs Destroyah / Godzilla vs Megaguiras

Godzilla vs Destroyah (1995)
Synopsis for sony.com: With a super-charged blast from his nuclear past, a new Godzilla emerges from his own ashes, radioactive and ready to take on Tokyo! The great monster’s nuclear energy is increasing by the minute, and a monster meltdown threatens to vaporize the planet. But when mutant micro-organisms unleash a plague of destruction they become Godzilla’s deadliest challenge yet: Destoroyah. And with Godzilla Junior pulled into the ring, only the Super XIII can put the deep freeze on this three-way monster melee.
[UR] Directed by Takao Okawara. Running time 103 mins.

Thoughts: Godzilla has always been a nuclear fueled powerhouse, so it’s kind of surprising that the angle of a Godzilla meltdown hadn’t been used before 1995. It’s one of the more intriguing stories in the entire Toho Collection.

We all know that a good storyline isn’t what make a Godzilla movie tick. It’s essential to have some great monster action and Destroyah delivers that as well. Destroyah is one of my new favorite Kaiju. He looks like he may have inspired some Power Rangers villians, but really works in the Godzilla Universe. I highly suggest checking this one out!

Godzilla vs Megaguiras (200)
Synopsis for sony.com:
Five years after Godzilla terrorized the city of Osaka, Japanese scientists have developed a sure-fire way to finally destroy Japan’s monster nemesis. They have created the world’s first man-made black hole, which will trap Godzilla for eternity! But during a testing of this new Dimension Tide, a prehistoric insect is released from another dimension, producing gargantuan eggs that give birth to a new menace: giant dragonfly monsters called Meganula. The Meganula queen, the 50-meter Megaguirus, is also on a hunt for Godzilla, needing to steal his energy to survive. From the sky down to the depths of a city’s underground sewer tunnels, Megaguirus, Godzilla, and humankind battle for supremacy.
[UR] Directed by Masaaki Tekuza. Running Time 106 mins

Thoughts: Sometimes, mankind is their own worst enemy. When scientists decide to generate a black hole to get rid of Godzilla, an insect from another dimension makes its way to Earth, giving birth to new enemies for humanity and Godzilla. Throughout the history of Godzilla, mankind has always been the true enemy in the movies, whether it was through nuclear testing, pollution or the creation of black holes. The movies remain enjoyable because they are not too heavy handed in their message and focus on giant monsters destroying models of cities.

Megaguiras is a pretty average Kaiju, being generated from an extra-dimensional insect, it just didn’t seem to have any personality. Still, this was a pretty good entry, not mind blowing, but I also didn’t fall asleep watching it.

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. / Godzilla: Final Wars

Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003)

Mechagodzilla, the superior-armed, state-of-the-art, all-robot version of Godzilla, is undergoing repairs after his devastating battle against the King of the Monsters. Twin tiny women appear and warn scientists to stop rebuilding Mechagodzilla but their warning goes unheeded. As the great robot nears completion, Godzilla awakens and unleashes a reign of terror against Tokyo. Mothra appears to oppose him and Japan’s desperate Prime Minister has no choice but to launch the unfinished Mechagodzilla to assist Mothra against Godzilla. But in the end — will the survivor be monster, robot or man?
[PG] Directed by Masaaki Tekuza

Tokyo SOS features MechaGodzilla, a favorite of mine, so I was really looking forward to this one. I wasn’t disappointed as Mecha had to go toe-to-toe with not only Godzilla, but also Mothra. It’s always a bonus when there are multiple Kaiju!

Like most Godzilla movies, there’s a message here as well, as MechaGodzilla was built using the bones of Godzilla (one of them anyways) as a framework, which angers not only the latest Godzilla, but also Mothra. It’s the Kaiju way of saying “don’t desecrate nature.”

Tokyo S.O.S. is one of my favorite entries in this series, and when paired with Final Wars (the other movie on this double feauture) it makes for one great afternoon of movie watching!

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Earth has been relatively peaceful since Godzilla was successfully buried deep in ice beneath the South Pole. Then — sometime a few years hence — several of his old nemeses return to wreak havoc on cities worldwide. A huge spaceship suddenly appears and neutralizes all the monsters in a blink. The visitors are “Xiliens,” who take human form and announce they would like to negotiate a peace treaty that would replace the United Nations with a “United Universe.” They are indeed too good to be true, however. It doesn’t take long before their nefarious real purpose is exposed — conquering Earth. Greatly outmatched, Earth officials decide to de-freeze Godzilla as man’s only hope to vanquish the invaders.
[PG-13] Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. Running time 125 mins.

Thoughts: Last, but certainly not least is Final Wars, the Battle Royale of Kaiju movies in this set, featuring a jaw dropping 15 different Kaiju! On top of that are those pesky Aliens showing up to rile up the monsters with their nefarious plans to take over the Earth. The only hope is to unleash Godzilla and watch the fireworks.

I suggest you sit back and do the same. For my money, this is the centerpiece of the Toho Collection.

Overall Thoughts: These releases are a godsend for fans of Godzilla. They are inexpensive and easy to find and the picture quality is great. They lack in extras, with most of the discs only having theatrical trailers, but that is easy to overlook. Godzilla movies are meant for rainy weekend afternoons, watched in succession, and best enjoyed with friends. I fiercely defend watching foreign movies in their original language with subtitles, but with Godzilla, it just seems right to watch it dubbed to English.

While not all the movies are created equally, I suggest this entire series for fans of the big guy. My personal favorite was Final Wars, but there are some other great entries as well. It’s a very affordable way to build your Kaiju collection and a great way to spend a weekend!