The Prowler (1981)

The Prowler (1981) movie poster

director  Joseph Zito
viewed: 07/26/2018

The more I delve into classic slashers, the more I realize that most of my previous “back in the day” experience was tied to the  bigger franchises, rather than the one-offs and unique individual films. It’s another argument against corporate franchises, in my book. No matter the individual qualities, these one-off slashers have something unique about them.

Absolutely, The Prowler (1981) shines brightest around the FX work of Tom Savini. Seriously vivid viscera and evisceration.

But there is definitely more than gore to The Prowler. Director Joseph Zito and cinematographer João Fernandes effect some amazing sequences. That swimming pool death scene might well be the most aesthetically beautiful death in the genre.

I also liked the some of the little bits and pieces, like the hilarious scene with the fat hick cop pretending to check on the sheriff, while really just goofing off.

Nice stuff.

Invaders from Mars (1986)

Invaders from Mars (1986) movie poster

director Tobe Hooper
viewed: 02/03/2018

Invaders from Mars, in which Tobe Hooper directs a 1986 B-movie remake of a 1956 B-movie. I give it a B minus.

Invaders from Mars may not be Hooper’s finest moment, though it captures him in a very conscious homage to Atomic Age science fiction. In fact, it draws some visual elements directly from the 1956 flick by William Cameron Menzies. In fact, the whole film is very in keeping with the original’s perspective, a space loving kid (Hunter Carson, here in 1986.)

Carson stars alongside his mother, Karen Black, who in the film is actually his school’s nurse. But when Carson’s parents (Timothy Bottoms and Laraine Newman) get taken over by aliens, Black surrogates him in what otherwise seems a vaguely odd and cozy fashion.

Even with Stan Winston and John Dykstra designing critters and Dan O’Bannon helping with the script, it’s hard not to feel somewhat cynical as the film devolves into truly child-like (child-ish?) fantasy towards the end.

Best scene: Louise Fletcher swallowing a bullfrog.

 

RoboCop 3 (1993)

RoboCop 3 (1993) movie poster

director Fred Dekker
viewed: 10/08/2017

Robocop 3 resulted in a major downgrade, not just losing Peter Weller, but toting an almost direct to video vibe. A lot of the blame has been thrown on director Fred Dekker (even by Dekker himself), but that isn’t totally fair. Dekker has his cool bona fides (House (1986), Night of the Creeps (1986), The Monster Squad (1987)) and he should keep them.

It’s a garbage pile, filled with cheap CGI (or as we called it in the Nineties: CGI). It’s not bereft of moments and elements. It swerves between (in a single scene even) from some pretty cool bits to some absurdly hilarious badness.

In this version of post-crime-ridden Detroit, it’s not just drugs and drug lords but punks. Apparently punks were very dangerous on 1993, who knew?

This film would burn writer Frank Miller on film for almost a decade. He’d return with his appreciation for fascism no longer embedded in satire and irony but embedded in right-wing politics and racism, homophobia, and sexism.

RoboCop 2 (1990)

RoboCop 2 (1990) movie poster

director Irvin Kershner
viewed: 10/07/2017

I saw Robocop 2 at a drive-in in 1990. At the time, I was kind of keened in to the role that Frank Miller had in the film, jumping from comics to screenplays.

I wasn’t aware that it was Irvin Kershner who directed it, the one man to deliver both a Star Wars film and a James Bond film, at the time. And it’s given the heft of a bigger budget project.

The film tries to be true to the Verhouven original, certainly tries to place its feet in its footprints. It’s not really surprising that it doesn’t fully achieve that, but I’d say that it still stays pretty interesting.

In 1990, I remember appreciating that continued pop culture satire. Was the original Robocop (1987) the first use of actual television personalities (Leeza Gibbons) flavoring the satire?

The highlight, I would say is Gabriel Damon as Hob (the kid), the nasty slicked-hair pre-pubescent miscreant. It’s the kind of perversity that this type of movie really needs. There are other elements about kids gone wild here, including a scene in an arcade where all the kids get pissed when told to go home and then the scene with the little league street gang. Not sure where to take all this

The thrust of the film is a take on the war on drugs, mixed in with some anti-privatization and some fascist iconography towards the end.

All in al it’s still very comic book-y. I quite enjoyed the pre-digital design and stop-motion robots, some wonderful shitty matte paintings. And Peter Weller and Nancy Allen.

Yeah, it’s not the first, but it’s pretty decent.

It Conquered the World (1954)

It Conquered the World (1954) movie poster

director Roger Corman
viewed: 09/24/2017

It Conquered the World (spoiler: It didn’t)

Roger Corman’s It Conquered the World is really a half-decent 1950’s sci-fi alien invasion picture. It’s undermined (or alternatively enhanced), however, by a classically comical schlock monster that is almost impossible to take seriously.

In the 1950’s it’s always about Communism, isn’t it?

The film starts with a nice opening shot following cool, low budget title sequence. More than anything, it features a cast of folks who perform well and would go on to bigger, better things. Lee Van Cleef, Beverly Garland, and Peter Graves perform nobly.

It features some quintessential 50’s sexism, what with women not understanding stuff like science and whatnot, though also winds up having the wife take on the monster with a shotgun towards the end. So, feminism?

“The world is full of fat heads, full to overflowing.”

Charming.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) movie poster

director Joseph Zito
viewed: 12/20/2016

If you think about it, it’s kind of clever to have The Final Chapter before the halfway point of your film series.  Like the makers of the Friday the 13th movies, I guess I had no idea when they’d finally think that the series was totally bankrupt and out of breath.  I wasn’t even sure.  Had I seen this one?

Turns out I had.

It’s easy to see why it’s popular with some fans. Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter has a good cast, not just young Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman, but other familiar faces like Lawrence Monoson or Bruce Mahler.  And behind the scenes Tom Savini.  It also features the strange addendum of watching old porn movie reels.

Director Joseph Zito keeps the pace popping along, sometimes making some of the kills a little perfunctory even.

That final kill, that effect is pretty slick.  And that final shot of evil Corey Feldman.  Most memorable moments from episode 4, The Final Chapter.

Effects (1978)

Effects (1978) DVD cover

director Dusty Nelson
viewed: 12/11/2016

Effects is a curious, ambitious meta-thriller made in 1978 but not released until 2005.  Not exactly “art house” material, Effects features embedded film-within-a-film motifs that play out as the interior film is captured by a crew, detailing a murder, playing with narrative and levels of reality.  Because beyond those two levels, there is yet another level at which a “snuff” film is being made.

For a film that never got released in its day, it’s a polished and complex work.  Sure it’s not exactly your typical slasher or thriller, but god knows the quantity of much worse films that found their way into movie houses or video players.

It features some notable character actors, including a young Tom Savini before he was entirely dedicated to visual effects.  And it stems from a Pittsburgh-oriented independent filmmaking cadre, which sounds interesting (apparently the DVD has a documentary that delves into this — wasn’t available on Fandor.  Would be interesting.)

How many other lost (or hidden) films exist out there?  Probably most won’t come to the level of quality and creativity that Effects strove for, if only partially achieved.  Definitely interesting.

Track of the Moon Beast (1976)

Track of the Moon Beast (1976) VHS cover

director  Richard Ashe
viewed: 10/30/2016

You look at the title and the image on the VHS cover of Track of the Moon Beast and tell me that you don’t think “werewolf”.  On closer observation, you might suspect it’s maybe slightly not a werewolf, but jeesus you weren’t thinking it was going to be a komodo dragon man monster.

Actually, the monster is kind of cool, and seeing that Rick Baker worked on this, well, heck, you kind of wish you could see it a little better.  The lizard man is nearly black and shot in the darkness of night rarely gets his real close-up.

He comes about when a minerologist is hit by a meteorite that fell from the moon.  His pet komodo dragon disappears and then he starts taking on the transformation and lizard-like qualities as depicted in ancient Native American drawings (which look like they were drawn by ancient Native American children).

Somehow, despite a lack of gore or gratuitous nudity or that much of a monster, this really pretty bad movie is actually kind of fun.  But I like bad movies, so you’ll have to take that into consideration regarding my esteem.  It has the feel of a bad movie made a decade or two before 1976, with its bad science and hokey nigh hilarious ending.

The Bat People (1974)

The Bat People (1974) movie poster

director Jerry Jameson
viewed: 08/14/2016

The B-side of the DVD of The Beast Within (1982) turned out to be a very odd pairing.  A movie from 8 years prior, with no recognizable parallels, The Bat People is a creature feature of a very different order.  It’s probably that this MGM DVD release is the only randomized way that these two films would ever share a roster.

But let me tell you something:  The Bat People is a hysterically bad movie, one well-deserving in the pantheon of camp, bad acting, and enjoyable inanity.  Apparently, this is not news, as it has been given the MST3K treatment years ago, but it’s really worth watching if you enjoy bad movies for bad movies’ sake.  Forgo the comic commentary and develop your own.

Dr. John Beck (Stewart Moss) and his wife Cathy (Marianne McAndrew) are attacked by a bat (a regular-sized flying mouse) while on a tour of a cave somewhere in California.  Cathy unthinkingly kicks the bat into a hole before they can discover if it’s rabid or not.  So John has to endure rabies treatments, and worse for him, something else is going on with that bat, something more than rabies.

Moss has the most hysterical flip-outs as he starts to change.  But the funny thing is, he was having weird bat nightmares in the opening credits.  If he was always so freaked out by bats, what the heck is he doing going caverning?

Also truly hilarious are the actions and inactions of his doctor (who gives bad advice, but is easily swayed by the concerned Cathy) and the apparently evil sheriff, who is entirely inappropriate at the best of times.

It’s terrible.  But I really enjoyed it.

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) movie poster

director Bryan Singer
viewed: 06/04/2016 at CineArts @ the Empire Theater, SF, CA

The X-Men movies keep surprising me.  Rising from the ashes of The Last Stand (2006), the re-booted franchise that kicked off with Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class (2011) and renewed yet again by Bryan Singer’s surprising return to the franchise that he first brought to the screen in 2000, in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), this (currently) 2nd trilogy has managed despite odds and levels of narrative complexity, turned out some really decent movies.

Not great movies, mind you, but good movies.  Entertainment.

This series took on the added challenge of a reworked timeline, setting the films in the past:  First Class in the 1960’s, Days of Future Past in the 1970’s (as well as in the present?), and now Apocaplypse in 1983.  Frankly, even trying to get my head around the whole timeline thing is more than I care to strain for myself.

But I think I know why this works, at least to some extent.  The X-Men were always a more interesting crew than Marvel stablemates, The Avengers.  The Avengers were always sort of Marvel’s mainstream, while the X-men were sort of their “alternative culture”.  And ultimately are a more interesting gang of characters.

It’s 144 minutes of mind and butt-numbing action, so incredibly much packed in to this sprawling cataclysmic story.  An almost all-powerful villain Apocalypse (a heavily CGI & make-up-buried Oscar Isaac) rises from nearly 6,000 years of slumber to re-boot the Earth.  It takes all of the X-men to come together to take him and his associates down.

I often think that one shortcoming of the modern superhero story is that every villain is an existential one, every one is bringing an apocalypse to Earth (or even the universe) and the heroes have to “save the world”.  Old school comics had heroes and villains on smaller scale stories that were still compelling.

This story isn’t quite so complicated unless you’re trying to tie it into the prior movie’s narrative (which was complicated and is essentially extended here with the action taking place a decade later — almost 20 years since First Class).

For its broad spectrum of response (seriously “mixed” reviews), Apocalypse hardly seemed like a sure thing.  When I told my superhero-loving 12 year old daughter we were going to it, she said, “Yusss!”  And when I found myself walking out of the movie thinking, “Gee, I really kind of liked that…”   I started realizing that despite the fact that I stopped reading superhero comics around 1983, that I guess the X-men were the ones I liked, far more than a lot of the others.

Lastly, quite as in Days of Future Past, the film’s singular best sequence features Evan Peters as Quicksilver, saving the day in a prolonged time-stretched action scene, here saving the whole Xavier school’s populace from an explosion.  Talk about a character crying out for his own movie.  It’s kind of clear that Singer has made the case for him, perhaps made the case that Singer should make it himself.