Monday, May 31, 2010

Blogorium Review: The Book of Eli

Welcome to day one of Post-Apocalypto-Rama-Rama at the Blogorium! Today I'll be looking at Albert and Allen Hughes' The Book of Eli, written by Gary Whitta and starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, Ray Stevenson, and Jennifer Beals.

Let's do the Post-Apocalyptic Scenario Rundown:

What Caused the Apocalypse: Nuclear War ("they punched a hole in the sky," says Eli [Washington]). Religion is blamed for the war, so following the return of society, all religious texts are burned.

Adverse Effects on the Population: It seems that some of the adults were blinded by the sun's rays, and everybody in post-apocalyptia needs to wear sunglasses at all times. Lack of power, books, and general loss of simple creatures comforts. Money has pretty much disappeared, and trading is based on things like lighters, oil, water, and in one case, a valuable bottle of shampoo. Eli trades with Engineer (Tom Waits) to recharge an iPod, which presumably represents some of the last music available in this world.

How Is Society Adapting: On the roads, there are scavengers, travelers, and people who set up traps, usually involving a woman who pretends to have a broken down shopping cart (this trick appears twice in the film). There are a handful of towns where civilization is slowly rebuilding, such as the one run by Carnegie (Gary Oldman). Elsewhere, there are small dwellings that families have refused to abandon, like the home of George (Michael Gambon) and Martha (Frances de la Tour). You want to avoid the latter, as there's a good chance that kindly old couple might be cannibals.

Our Hero(es): Eli (Denzel Washington), a warrior-monk type traveling from the East coast to the West coast, carrying a book that may or may not be the last surviving copy of the King James Bible, which he protects from any attacker. Something's off about Eli, but it's unclear what until just before the end.

Who's Standing in the Way: Carnegie and his henchmen (including Rome and Punisher: War Zone's Ray Stevenson). When Carnegie gets word about the book from Claudia (Jennifer Beals) and her daughter Solara (Mila Kunis), he wants it to help rebuild society ("This book is a weapon!" he tells his men). Carnegie is well read, cunning, and resourceful, and poses such a threat that he forces Eli and Solara to forge a temporary alliance with George and Martha the cannibals in order to stay alive.

So What's so Important About Where He's Headed: There may or may not be a group of people trying to rebuild society without controlling them through fear that Eli wants to deliver the book to. It's been his life's mission to get there, and Carnegie is only the last obstacle for Eli to clear.

How Well is the Post-Apocalyptic World Conveyed: It's pretty solid. Eli and Solara sleep inside of the cooling tower for a Nuclear Power Plant, the rules of how society operates are conveyed clearly by Eli and Carnegie's town structure makes sense. Cars are used sparingly and with everything at a premium, none of the characters are too wasteful with what they have. Food seems to be in short supply, so the film opens with Eli hunting a feral cat (hairless, presumably as a result of the radiation). (Spoiler) The outpost in Alcatraz designed to collect the remnants of the "old world" from 30 years ago also is appropriate considering how difficult rebuilding must be, and I like little touches about younger survivors asking elders what life was like "before."

Visually, I like that the Hughes brothers went with a sun-bleached palette. It always feels totally appropriate that everyone is wearing sunglasses, as the world seems just a little bit brighter than it ought to be. Even though most of the movie takes place in the desert, I wouldn't be surprised if most of the country looked like the backgrounds of The Book of Eli.

So, Glass Half Full Post-Apocalypse, or Glass Half Empty?: This is definitely a "glass half full" kind of movie, one that embraces a positivist role of religion in society. Without spoiling too much, Carnegie does and doesn't get what he wants, and Eli and Solara make it out west. There's the potential for sequel-izing if they wanted to, based on the very end, but either way it's the kind of movie that reaffirms your faith in mankind to rebuild.

The Hughes brothers have constructed a great looking post-apocalyptic vision of the western U.S., with solid acting across the board and some interesting ideas about where faith fits into a world that forgot it long ago. The Book of Eli is certainly a more action oriented, western-based take on the genre, but that's not such a bad thing at all. In fact, I'd dare say you'll find a lot to enjoy about the movie. Regarding the "twist": I'd rather not spoil it for you, but I will say that I knew what it was going in and was able to follow the visual clues. Save for one scene, I think they kept to it pretty well, but I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Join me tomorrow for The Road.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Aw, Shit. Dennis Hopper Died... Trailer Sunday.



Blue Velvet

Super Mario Brothers

The Trip

Human Highway

The American Friend

Land of the Dead

The Last Days of Frankie the Fly

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2

Boiling Point

Mad Dog Morgan

The Crow: Wicked Prayer

True Romance


If you're wondering, I couldn't find good trailers for Easy Rider, Red Rock West, or Straight to Hell. Hopper is also not featured in the trailers for Giant, Cool Hand Luke, or True Grit. However, here's Colors, directed by Hopper:

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Blogorium Review: Daybreakers

Much to my surprise, Daybreakers is a very good, mostly serious vampire movie. I don't really know why, but I thought based on the trailers that it was going to be very silly or corny and stupid; a kind of Underworld mentality crossed with the vampire society from the first Blade movie. Fortunately, it's nothing like that, and better still, it's less tonally messy than Michael and Peter Spierig's previous film Undead. While it's not quite a Thirst or a Let the Right One In, I fully recommend you check out Daybreakers, as it is a damn solid film that manages to tell a different kind of vampire story, and even manages to add to the lore instead of pick and choose (ahemTwilightahem).

Set in the not-too-distant 2019, Daybreakers is the story of a world post-vampire plague, a world where the Wesley Snipeses and James Woodses and William Ragsdales have failed miserably. Being that all of these vampires used to be humans, they do what people do best: adapt. Vampires work at night and sleep during the day, have subterranean travel systems if they need to do some daytime work, and have cars with clever window tinting and cameras to compensate for the lack of reflections in mirrors.

I actually like the idea of showing (not telling) the various little ways that vampire society adjusted to the change, and it actually makes sense considering the shifts we would probably making if forced to adapt to a nocturnal lifestyle. In short order, we're given a quick indicator of how the disease probably spread, the way that society operates (hint: not much differently than ours, except at night), and the class structure (hint also: really not that different, save for one important point I'll get to in a second). Clearly they're all pretty happy being vampires, as immortality cleaned up pesky diseases and smokers are allowed to go for it because, well, what's going to happen? Not much.

The downside to the world of Daybreakers is that the human population is rapidly dwindling, and so too is the blood supply that vampires so desperately need to survive. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke), a hematologist at Bromley Marks, is trying to synthesize a blood substitute with little to no avail, much to the concern of Charles Bromley (Sam Neill), who watches his existing blood supply diminish daily. Bromley's attitude towards finding a substitute is (mostly) from a business standpoint, but Edward has some genuine concern about humanity, in part because he was "turned" against his will by his brother Frankie (Michael Dorman).

When Edward accidentally runs a group of humans off the road and hides them from the police, their leader, Audrey Bennett (Claudia Karvan) introduces him to Lionel "Elvis" Cormac, a vampire-turned-human by circumstances Edward can't quite explain. With the possibility of a cure at hand, will a society accustomed to eternal life be willing to go back to mortality if it means solving the blood crisis? If the cure is as hard to crack as Edward thinks it is, will anyone try to change back?

The reason this matters at all is that Daybreakers sets up an interesting conundrum: if vampires go too long without drinking human blood, they begin to regress into feral, bat-like creatures. Early in the film viewers get a glimpse of blood-starved, homeless vampires, ignored by the upper class and two or three days away from posing a serious threat. When Frankie comes to visit Edward on his birthday ("I've turned 35 ten times now") with a bottle of human blood, an ensuing fight about ethics leaves shattered glass and blood on the wall, attracting the attention of a wandering feral vampire. The subsequent home invasion is handled in a way that's unnerving and a bit sad. It's clear that the bat-creature is just starving, and it's attacks on Edward and Frankie are instinctual rather than malevolent.

I enjoyed the way that Daybreakers doesn't go for silly or over the top most of the time. It tends to set things up in one direction (making you think that Audrey might be the long-missing human daughter of Bromley) only to head another way (introducing her in a later sequence which is tangentially related to the main story). Many of the problems that I had with Undead came from the fact that it was never clear what kind of movie it wanted to be: was it a horror-comedy? A zombie film? An alien invasion film? Daybreakers manages to be a serious (and entertaining) movie about vampires that doesn't treat them as disposable fodder for some badass hunter or as a prop to tell teen romances or sell books.

The one issue I had with the film came from an initially broad performance from Willem Dafoe, who plays Elvis a little broader than anybody else in the movie. This is not to say that Ethan Hawke or Sam Neill are playing wholly restrained mopey vampires - there is actually some nuance to both characters - but Elvis rolls into the film singing "Burning Love" and flinging around a southern twang that really sticks out initially. Eventually he settles down, but I couldn't help but feel like Dafoe was more like a character from John Carpenter's Vampires than the Spierig brothers' Daybreakers.

Still, it's a very minor complaint. I had really expect Daybreakers to be some goofy, over-serious film about vampires contemplating mortality, a maudlin extension of Interview with the Vampire or The Hunger or something like that (both movies I like, by the way), but instead the Spierigs take the material seriously, aren't afraid to play both the quiet and vicious sides of vampire lore, and ultimately deliver a story that's fresh and fun to watch. These vampires aren't just cool or scary, and they don't spend all of their time pissing and moaning about living forever (in fact, the film opens with a child vampire committing suicide because she'll never grow up). Much like Thirst, the film takes a concept that could be pretty trite and goes in different directions with it, and I for one was pleased with the results.

Now it's just a matter of conveying it to the folks sick to death of The Vampire Diaries...

Friday, May 28, 2010

Blogorium Review: 44 Inch Chest

I know what you're thinking, but the Cap'n is not yet in the business of reviewing porn or porn-related films. That certainly sounds like something the Cranpire might do, but it's not really up my alley. No, I'm reviewing 44 Inch Chest in the hopes of turning some of you on to a well executed, well acted, well written, if not wholly successful, nevertheless entertaining revenge film from the UK.

The plot is simple, yet it opens up room for the cast (and director) to really explore themes of camaraderie, infidelity, maturity, and vengeance. The 44 Inch Chest referred to in the title is where Loverboy (Melvil Poupand) is being kept, the result of his breaking up the marriage of Colin (Ray Winstone) and Liz Diamond (Joanne Whalley). Colin's friends Archie (Tom Wilkinson), Mal (Stephen Dillane), Old Man Peanut (John Hurt), and Meredith (Ian McShane) help arrange to kidnap Loverboy for the expressed purpose of letting Colin kill him. The problem is that Colin's having a hard time doing just that, so on night two they find themselves trying to get him out of a stupor and to do what they came to this abandoned building for.

If that doesn't have you interested already, I'll give you three good reasons to see this out:

1. The script, by Louis Mellis and David Scinto (Sexy Beast), could almost be a stage play. Aside from a handful of transitional scenes, most 0f 44 Inch Chest takes place inside the room where Loverboy is being kept or in the adjoining hallway. The primary action takes place in conversation between the five men, punctuated with a few flashbacks, asides, and an initially wonky but appropriate series of dream sequences. I would be very interested to see 44 Inch Chest performed live, as their screenplay is dialogue heavy and could easily be transferred to the theatre.

2. Accordingly, the direction by first time feature filmmaker Malcolm Venville conveys the limited space in a way that feels fresh, if at times of another era. The User Review on IMDB refers to the film as "strangely anachronistic", which I don't know if that's quite fair. Venville doesn't rely on a lot of camera trickery or quick cuts, instead preferring long takes with fluid camera moves focusing on the actors and acquainting the audience with location. Even in a tight shot of Mal, Meredith, Archie, and Peanut in a hallway, there's a sense of space and motion, despite the framing. The aforementioned dream sequences are easy to point out (which may be part of the reason I struggled with their inclusion), although it's due in part to the fact that the camera switches to a subjective view of the room (almost totally from Colin's perspective), which interrupts the careful mise-en-scene Venville's spent to much of the film developing. It's not that I don't get why the sequences are there (and I'm leaving out specifics so as not to spoil anything), but initially it seems to betray the story to that point, even if by the end they're wholly appropriate to Colin's arc.

3. The cast is fantastic, and I'd be hard pressed to find a better combination of British actors in one movie. Every character is distinct and brings something different to the struggle Colin has in killing Loverboy. Tom Wilkinson's Archie is by far the most level-headed of the group; he's a nice middle-aged man who lives with his mother and is trying to help Colin get through this betrayal, and takes some enjoyment out of re-living "the good old days" with the boys. Stephen Dillane (John Adams, Hamlet)'s Mal seems to be along for the ride, a low-end criminal that wants to see Colin have his revenge, and who looks up to Old Man Peanut. John Hurt is a force to be reckoned with as Peanut, a bitter old-school hood that lives "by the code" and who uses profanity like punctuation. He's off-set by the dapper, elegant Meredith, Ian McShane's middle-aged homosexual playboy with no sense of attachment or loyalty beyond this circle.

Their interaction alone would be worth the price of admission, but in tiny roles (comparatively speaking), Joanne Whalley (Willow) and Melvil Poupand (A Christmas Tale) leave a big impression. Liz Diamond disappears for much of the movie, but as her story is slowly explained in the flashbacks (which bridge the opening scene to the dream sequences), it's clearer why Ray Winstone is so wrecked by her infidelity. Loverboy, without uttering a word, conveys the range of emotions from remorse to terror, and finally, to pity in brief glimpses. He is both the perfect compliment and foil to Colin.

Speaking of which, I haven't really delved into Ray Winstone's Colin, which is probably the sticking point for a lot of reviews. He spends most of the film in various catatonic states, or struggling to parse reality from fantasy, and it does at times make 44 Inch Chest slow down a bit, particularly when juxtaposed with a fantastic sequence in the hallway involving Peanut recounting the story Samson and Delilah (complete with footage of DeMille's 1949 version starring Victor Mature and Hedy Lamarr) to the boys. There's a lot of the middle of the film where it seems Colin can't do anything, and while Winstone is fascinating to watch and packs subtlety into his character, there's not much development of the "hero" until the last fifteen minutes or so.

I suppose that I didn't mind in part because everyone is so good, and the dialogue and direction are refreshingly different from the normal, Guy Ritchie-esque British Crime Films*. I enjoyed 44 Inch Chest, though there may be flaws in the presentation; the film is compelling enough to get you over the hiccups and keep viewers engaged until the end. It would make an interesting double feature with the Michael Caine-starring Harry Brown, perhaps even more so than Gran Torino.

* Not to slag on Ritchie, who like Quentin Tarantino has been ripped off enough times be less talented filmmakers that the style is not passe.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blogorium Review: Survival of the Dead

From here on out, the Cap'n is going to very carefully reconsider the maxim, "It's a George Romero zombie movie, of course I'm going to see it!" I'm still going to look fondly at the inconsistent but sometimes fun Land of the Dead. The same can't be said for Diary of the Dead, which I went after pretty fiercely here and here. Over time, I've actually come to dislike Diary of the Dead more than in the initial review, and even beyond the recap dismemberment.

In the interest of not getting too vicious here, I'll keep this review short. What I can say is that George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (which seems to be the title, as it was with Diary of the Dead) is better than its immediate predecessor, but nevertheless not a very good movie. Because I want to be fair, the Cap'n will first present a few positives:

I appreciate that Romero made Survival of the Dead a semi-sequel to Diary of the Dead by spinning off the "Colonel" character that robs the filmmakers into his own story. Yes, the name changes to Sarge "Nicotine" Crocket (Alan Van Sprang*), a name I really can't remember hearing in the movie, but okay. For a series that always relied on telling different stories within a zombified universe, I thought it was an interesting direction to head in following a minor character from the previous film.

The approach to Survival of the Dead is also very different from any of the other Romero zombie films: the film might be best described as a western, and if nothing else, there are some moments that are strange enough to have merited watching the film. For example, the zombie half of twin sisters that rides around Plum Island (where our protagonists escape to) on a horse for most of the movie. Now I'm not that up to speed on the dozens of zombie DTV movies out there, but I've never seen that one before.

Survival of the Dead also slowly expands the "can zombies evolve" story by posing the question (and kind of answering it) "will zombies eat something other than humans?" I'm not going to spoil it too much, but the answer (and best gore scene in the movie, bar none) is "Yes." There are also little touches, like underwater zombies and a guy that goes fishing for them, that are semi-inspired.

I say semi-inspired because this takes me to the "negative" side of this review. The "zombie fishing" scene should have been funnier than it was, or more suspenseful based on the way it ends. Instead, it just doesn't make any sense. Survival of the Dead suffers from have no character that is in any way interesting. I didn't really care who lived or died because not a single one of the "stock" types make an impact, which is a shame because it kills any interest in what's happening on Plum island.

After killing some redneck hunters for no good reason, Sarge (Van Sprang), Tomboy (Athena Karkanis), Francisco (Stefano Di Matteo), and Chuck (Joris Jarsky) pick up Boy (Devon Bostick) and ride off in an armored van with 1.33 Million dollars. Based on a Youtube video (yes, for some reason the internet is still functioning, and apparently made Sarge quite infamous for his role in Diary of the Dead) of "Captain Courageous" aka Patrick O'Flynn (Kenneth Welsh), they steal a ferry and travel to Plum Island.

O'Flynn was cast out from the Island over a Hatfield / McCoy-type feud with the Muldoons over what to do with the living dead. O'Flynn wanted to kill them, but Muldoon wants to rehabilitate them and teach them to eat something other than people for religious reasons. O'Flynn's daughter Janet (Kathleen Munroe, who also plays the zombie twin Jane, or vice versa, I really can't recall) talks Muldoon into banishing her father, until he sneaks back with the AWOL soldiers to claim revenge.

Now, everything I've told you is pretty much rendered moot by the fact that Muldoon has already taken to killing zombies by the time we meet him again. There's no really good reason for this, and by the end of the movie it's clear that the feud between these arbitrarily Irish families has nothing to do with the living dead anyway, it's just about one admitting that the other is wrong. So thanks for ruining our investment in that aspect of the story, Mr. Romero.

The military group is pretty one dimensional, and they tell you so repeatedly by reiterating their "type"s: Sarge is the "tough loner who trusts nobody", Chuck (at least I think it's Chuck that's one of Sarge's guys and not O'Flynn's) is the "follower who talks sense into Sarge only to get killed", Tomboy is the "lesbian who hates Francisco but secretly likes him or something like that", and Francisco is the "religious Latino type who tries to be mysterious and sexy but Tomboy always calls him out on it". Boy doesn't even have a character, and Sarge keeps referring to the fact that he's too young when Devin Bostick looks older than most of the characters in Diary of the Dead. Not such great casting.

For such a short movie, I was bored pretty quickly. All of the characters avoid being in serious danger for most of the film, only to die arbitrarily when the cast needs thinning out. I think I was supposed to care that Fransisco was slowly turning after biting a zombie's finger off (the closest thing to danger he comes to in swimming through zombie-infested docks) but it never registers. It doesn't help that Tomboy also swims through those waters off-screen for no apparent reason and is also unharmed.

The Muldoon / O'Flynn posses are so ill-defined that during a third act shootout the only way to tell who's who is by the direction they're shooting. There's almost no point in the Jane / Janet subplot other than to trick audiences into thinking that O'Flynn's daughter is dead when he returns to the island. The payoff for the twins, if you can call it that, only really exists to set up one good practical gore effect.

The zombies die increasingly in spotty looking cgi splatter, and at this point pose no threat whatsoever. When someone can swim through the living dead and only gets infected because he bites a zombie, their purpose is effectively moot. They're no longer dangerous, or scary, or much of anything. Now, I understand that many of you will say that the humans have always been more dangerous, especially in Night, Dawn, and Day, but in Survival of the Dead none of the humans behave in a way that makes sense.

Accordingly, the final voice-over (something that's mercifully cut back from Diary of the Dead's heavy handed narration), about how wars are over silly things that neither side can remember is also pointless. I'm not even really sure what Romero wants us to take away from the film, since Sarge, Tomboy, and Boy leave on the ferry with their stolen loot and everyone on Plum Island is not undead. The final shot, of zombie Muldoon and zombie O'Flynn meeting on a hill to fire empty pistols at each other, is laughably bad. If that's the social commentary this time, consider me nonplussed.

Next time, it's going to take a lot of convincing to bring me back to a Romero zombie film. Look, I respect his body of work, and the first three are among my favorite horror films, but like Dario Argento, I can appreciate what Romero's done without feeling compelled to suffer through his recent output.

* Addendum: I was just watching Land of the Dead, when a character named Brubaker looked awfully familiar. Turns out that's because it's Alan Van Sprang, appearing in yet another Romero zombie movie. Since Diary was a reboot of sorts and Survival is an indirect sequel, you can debate whether Colonel / Sarge / Brubaker are the same person, since Land of the Dead takes place "some time later."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Video Daily Double: Goodbye to Lost Edition

*Preamble includes Spoilers, in case you haven't seen the series finale yet*

Today's preamble is going to be short, I'm afraid. The Cap'n has pretty much dissected the Lost finale to the point where I'm just tired of debating it. The problem really lies in the last ten minutes, where it becomes abundantly clear what the "flash-sideways"'s are, which for me sullied what was otherwise a reasonably well constructed last episode. Sure, the Jack / UnLocke fistfight was kinda weak, but it doesn't really compare with the limp, uninspired multi-denominational Heaven ending.

Briefly, allow me to make two points:

1. If that was always the ending, what was the point of Seasons 5 and 6? - Let's say that Lost has always been building to the concept that the Island is a place where the survivors find each other, so that when they die, they'll meet again in this flash-sideways purgatory. Okay, so then one could make the argument that Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse pulled a huge bait and switch with the "can we detonate the bomb and undo everything?" trick, which is central to the time travel story in season 5 and is (misleadingly) linked to the flash-sideways.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that as late as the Desmond episode, they weren't sure how to end the show. Why? Because the conversation that Faraday has with Desmond in the flash-sideways points more to a course-correction about the bomb sinking the island. In fact, the sunken island in the first episode is a nasty trick to pull on the audience because it suggests that the flash-sideways has anything to do with detonating Jughead. However, the last scene with Jack and Christian Shepard makes it pretty clear that this "purgatory" was always going to be there for the extended Island family to reconnect. So why travel through time? Why introduce Jacob and the Man in Black? Why are some people who died there and some aren't (if we're ignoring casting problems)? This brings me to my second point...

2. Purgatory - Very early in the run of the show, JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse all refuted theories that the characters were in purgatory. Many people have defended the finale by insisting to me that technically speaking, just because the flash-sideways is a purgatory, the creators kept their word that the island was, in fact, not purgatory. Pardon my french, but bullshit.

In "Everybody Loves Hugo," Hurley runs into Michael in the jungle, and the following exchange takes place:

HURLEY: You're stuck on the Island aren't you?

MICHAEL: [nodding] 'Cause of what I did.

HURLEY: And...there're others out here like you, aren't there? That's what the whispers are?

MICHAEL: Yeah. We're the ones who can't move on.

Sounds like the Island IS a form of purgatory. So even if we're getting into semantics, the creators of the show weren't being truthful. After five years of promising that audiences were barking up the wrong tree about purgatory, in the final season that's exactly what's going on. Pretty cheap, if you ask me.

Okay, so it wasn't as short as I'd hoped it would be. Let's move on to the videos, eh?


Our first video answers the question you were no doubt asking, "what if someone collected all the times Hurley said 'Dude'?" See for yourself:

Our second video comes from Jimmy Kimmel Live, a show I must admit I haven't watched before. However, I am a sucker for unnecessary censorship, which turns out to be a regular feature on the show. Since Kimmel made one for Lost, and because it makes me laugh, I share it with you:

Bonus clip: Karl Pilkington, of The Ricky Gervais Show fame, shares his take on Sky 1's programming, including a surprisingly logical take on Lost -

Monday, May 24, 2010

So You Won't Have To: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

The downside - if there could be such a thing - to watching Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is that when the opportunity presented itself to sit through the Platinum Dunes remake, I opted to bite the bullet. I can't even say I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010); I endured it.

Imagine that you're a big fan of a band, and the guy who tormented you in high school shows up again in your neighborhood, moves in, and makes friends with everybody you know. Not only that, but he inexplicably loves the same band that you do, even if there would be no chance he'd be caught dead listening to something you liked in school. But he likes it for all the opposite reasons you do. Like hipsters. Yeah, imagine he's into the same band you are, but in an ironic way. And then he starts a cover band that plays all of the songs in a way that makes fun of them. Now you look like the asshole that's yelling "come on guys! they're really good!", while everybody thinks the shitty cover band is better than the real deal.

That's Platinum Dunes: they've consistently found a way to remake horror movies that disregard actual fans of the films in favor of appealing to hipsters that think "that movie sucked anyway, but I know the name of it" and will go see it for that reason alone. So the movies make money, even if they lack basic film-making coherency. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is probably the best of their remakes and it's at best a shell of the original film. Without the iconography of Leatherface, it's R. Lee Ermey terrorizing teenagers. I think I've made it clear how I feel about Shit Coffin.

Their latest strip mining of a franchise is A Nightmare on Elm Street, which I believe you heard the Cap'n endured. The remake manages to strip anything interesting about Freddy Krueger, Springwood, the parents, the kids, and even the dreams away, leaving a husk of a movie that walks a familiar walk, whistles the same tune, but doesn't manage to keep you interested.

I'm going to give you five simple ways the producers, director, writer(s), and cast contributed to a movie I almost turned off seven times during the 90 minute run time:

1. Freddy's not scary - or funny, for that matter. Don't let people fool you into thinking that the jokester Freddy is gone or that he just makes "dark" jokes; that's not true at all. Freddy makes jokes, they're just really bad. And not corny, Part 4 puns, but jokes that don't even make sense. Look, I understood the context of "how's this for a wet dream" in Dream Master, but when Freddy says the same thing to Nancy because she's sinking in a hallway made of tar, it just sounds stupid.

I'm going to share one more exchange for you, between Freddy and Nancy:

Freddy: Little Nancy. Now that you caught me, what game do you wanna play next?
Nancy: Fuck you!
Freddy: Ooh, sounds like fun. It's a little fast for me. How about we hang, first?

Now I know what you're thinking, but the only hanging you see is maybe Nancy's friends behind pipes. I honestly couldn't tell, and besides that doesn't actually address what Freddy's suggesting or what he then tries to do, which is cut her.

In fact, that's all Freddy does. He doesn't sneak around and fuck with people; when the movie isn't copying shots directly from the original film, all Freddy does as walk around and scratch pipes or walls (which shoot out sparks). I don't know whether to pin this on Jackie Earle Haley or the direction or the script, but there's really nothing for him to do here. Freddy doesn't even really seem to relish what he's doing, even when he says he is. There's no sense of being toyed with, or that he's enjoying torturing the Elm Street kids. He just kills them and moves on.

2. The kids aren't interesting - To be honest with you, this really killed the movie for me, because I didn't care about one of these characters. Not the goth-ed out, comatose-acting Nancy, or the Hot Topic Quentin (the Glenn character), or I don't really know what they're supposed to be other than dressed in black and mopey Kris ("Tina") and Jesse ("Rod"), who you can only identify as such because one dies floating above her bed and the other dies in prison. There's another character, Dean, that is killed so quickly into the movie that I didn't care who he was.

It does, however, set up a funeral that's so bad I nearly renamed the film A Twilight on Elm Street. All of the kids are mumbling into their chests and staring woefully at each other about some stupid shared history they have (which you can figure out well before they do) until their parents drag them away, shushing any sense of camaraderie we might have been able to follow. Remember how Nancy and Glenn and Tina and Rod may not have been the best of friends, but you could tell that they were all there for each other? Remember how Nancy stays with Tina because she's scared and Glenn stays with Nancy so she's not alone, and even Rod is a little shaken about his nightmares but he won't tell Tina? How they seemed like they'd actually hang out? Not these paper cut-out remake versions.

Oh, since I brought up the parents...

3. Why are the parents even in this movie? - Look, it's great that the producers got Clancy Brown to come in and play Quentin's father. He's not playing the John Saxon role, mind you, because that character doesn't exist, but I guess I'll give them credit for getting it half right: character actor appears in a paternal role in A Nightmare on Elm Street film.

But then again, the script just ruins all of that promise. Every family in Springwood appears to be a one-parent, absentee / latch-key family of people who don't really give a shit about their kids. When it's far too late in the film for you to honestly care that the parents killed Freddy (this time without the botched trial - more on that in a minute) in order to suppress the memories of our main characters about being molested and cut (and they make no bones that's exactly what happened. There are pictures!) the parents still are conveniently ignoring the fact that "suppressed memories" don't leave people with gaping claw marks in their chests (Kris and Jesse).

The parents might as well not be in the movie, because they emote just about as much as their zombified children, and at no point did I believe any one of the actors playing an adult gave two shits about their child. Not once. In fact, the only reason I can think that the parents are in there at all is to expand the backstory and shoehorn a dream / flashback of Freddy being burned alive, which brings us to the next crippling story problem...

4. The cheap "did he or didn't he?" gimmick - By now you've probably heard that A Nightmare on Elm Street decides to pursue the subplot of "did Freddy really molest the children, or did they just say he did because their parents asked?" It doesn't work at all because a) director Samuel Bayer includes shots in the flashbacks of the parents finding claw marks on the kids' backs that just doesn't have any other explanation, and b) because they have no intention of pursuing the subplot.

It's a cheap way to get Nancy and Quentin away from Springwood to the preschool where everything "allegedly" happened, and so they can whine about how their parents killed an innocent man, only to immediately find Freddy's "cave" where all the horrible evidence is on display. In the span of five minutes Rooney Mara and Kyle Gallner go from emotionlessly moping about their parents to feigning shock that Freddy really was a child molester.

The idea itself isn't a bad one; while it totally changes the Nightmare on Elm Street lore, in a remake you can get away with shifts like that because it's an interesting deviation. It changes Freddy's motivation from predatory to retribution, which might not work out as well, but at least it's something different. In a movie that slavishly recreates the iconic imagery of the original (and not as well any time), this is the one big change I can point to that has any ramifications on future sequels.

But they chicken out. Freddy's a despicable child-killer and deserves to be burned alive (again) when Nancy drags him out of the dream world, only to appear again in a shock ending.

Rather than discuss the stupid, cheap scare ending (that fails to replicate the surreal ending to the original in any way) I want to discuss a lazy cheat on the part of writers Wesley Strick, Eric Heisserer, and director Samuel Bayer that drains any tension from the second half of the film...

5. Micro-Naps - Early in the movie, Quentin's research on sleep deprivation brings up the concept of "micro-naps" where the brain shuts down for a few seconds after 72 hours without sleep. According to the movie, it means you're "dreaming without knowing it," which I guess would come in handy in blurring the lines of reality and fantasy, which the remake to that point has been pretty bad at doing (reverting to a "red and green" color palette to indicate "nightmare" really makes it easy to figure out the beginning of the film).

Unfortunately, micro-naps instead become a cheap way for Strick, Heisserer, and Bayer to have Freddy appear any time and anywhere for a "jump" scare because they can't build any tension in this film. Freddy never does ANYTHING during these "shocks", except quickly pop into frame and then immediately disappear. The only thing close to interesting that ever happens is a quick chase scene in a convenience store where Nancy drifts in and out of the boiler room nightmare while Freddy stalks her. And that's over pretty quickly. After that, it's really just used for cheap scares until the last dream showdown.


Folks, I hated this movie. A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn't work as a remake; it doesn't work as a stand-alone film; it doesn't work as a horror film. What it did do was make me angry that people lined up to go see this garbage en masse a few weeks ago, because the kind-sorta know the name. It may be due in part to just having watched Never Sleep Again, it may be because I'm a little more forgiving of mangling a Friday the 13th formula than the Nightmare on Elm Street (and Shit Coffin still managed to strip anything away from Jason, Mrs. Vorhees, or Camp Crystal Lake), but this film was a test of my patience. I feel embarrassed that I wasted an hour and a half sitting through it, but I did it so you folks won't have to. Even though some of you have already told me that you will.

So let me say this: You Will Regret It. There is not amount of morbid curiosity that will compensate for the shallow, surface level retelling of this film by people who don't give two shits about your enjoyment of the Nightmare series. They don't care, and they will continue to put out these soulless husks of horror films with names you recognize because the ironic cover band is in vogue now. And I don't know what we can do about it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Final Episode of Lost Trailer Sunday

Speed Racer (Jack)

Afterwards (Kate)


Sweetzer (Hurley)

The Cave (Jin)

Yesterday (Sun)

The Stepfather (Locke)

I Sell the Dead (Charlie)

Brick (Claire)

Smoke (Michael)

Antwone Fisher (Walt)

Pulse (Boone)

Malice in Wonderland (Shannon)

Frequency (Juliet)

Dead Like Me: Life After Death (Desmond)

Smokin' Aces (Richard)

Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Mr. Eko)

Resident Evil (Ana Lucia)

Ravenous (Faraday)

The Men Who Stare at Goats (Charlotte)

Planet Terror (Sayid and Lapidus)

Saw (Ben and Miles)

Capote (Jacob)

The Narrows (The Man in Black)

Escape from Dinosaur Island

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Blogorium Review - Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy

If anything good came of Platinum Dunes' remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, it's that more attention shifted to the original film and its sequels. Not only did fans get A Nightmare on Elm Street on Blu-Ray (and let me tell you, the "arm stretching" scene looks even sillier in HD*), but the insanely comprehensive Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy arrived for Fred Heads to pore over. And boy howdy is there a lot to pore over.

That is, if you could find it. To date, I still can't find Never Sleep Again in stores. It just recently made it to Netflix, and I had to order my copy from Amazon, where it was on a "Ships in 1 to 3 weeks" back-order. Fortunately, I ordered from one of the Marketplace sellers - Moviemars - based in NC, and got it in about a week. However, it was totally worth the wait.

Surrounding the remakes of Halloween and Friday the 13th, retrospective documentaries were released for each: Halloween: 25 Years of Terror and His Name was Jason, which set the template for Never Sleep Again - interviews with cast, crew, fans, and creators of each film in the series. In fact, Never Sleep Again is co-directed by Daniel Farrands, who directed His Name Was Jason. Each set came in two discs - one disc was the documentary, and the other was extended interviews, set visits, recaps, or short featurettes on music, makeup, or fandom.

The difference between the all-encompassing docs for Friday the 13th / Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street is sheer depth of presentation. Halloween: 25 Years of Terror and His Name was Jason are 89 and 90 minutes respectively; Never Sleep Again is 4 hours long. That's just the documentary. I'm guessing the second disc has roughly 2-2 1/2 hours of additional material. And none of it drags.

Directors Farrands and Andrew Kasch managed to get just about everyone involved in the Nightmare series to appear on camera** and talk about the films, and almost none of it rehashes information from the previous making-of's in the Nightmare on Elm Street boxed set or Infinifilm disc. Narrated by Heather Langenkamp, each film gets a good 30-40 minutes covering every aspect of the production from story to casting to production, release, controversy, and direction.

There's a surprisingly comprehensive list of cast members who came back from the first seven films, including Mark Patton (Jesse in Freddy's Revenge), Danny Hassel (Dan in Nightmares 4 and 5), Ken Sagoes (Kincaid in Dream Warriors), Jsu Garcia (Rod in Nightmare 1), Alice Cooper (Freddy's father in Freddy's Dead), Mike Smith (Super Freddy in Dream Child), Lisa Zane (Maggie in Freddy's Dead), Zack Ward (Bobby in Freddy vs. Jason), Lisa Wilcox (Alice in Nightmares 4 and 5), Clu Gulager (Jesse's Dad in Freddy's Revenge) and even Charles Fleischer (Dr. King in Nightmare 1); people I've never heard talk about the Nightmare movies before. For crying out loud, the even talk to Dokken!

Once and for all, there's a comprehensive discussion of the various iterations of Freddy vs. Jason in one place, complete with a breakdown of how the final script differed from the film - including reactions from some of the cast about changes that occurred between signing on and filming. Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash even comes up, and there's a pretty good explanation by former New Line executive Jeff Katz (who wrote the spec script for FvJvA) on why it never came to pass. Even Kane Hodder (Jason Vorhees from Friday the 13th part 7 to Jason X) chimes in about how he was in and out of the film without ever being given a specific reason.

It was also interesting to hear Wes Craven talk about each of the sequels on the record, including (as one of the extras) the remake. Additionally, I have to say it's fascinating hearing the ways that Jack Sholder, Chuck Russell, Renny Harlin, Stephen Hopkins, Rachel Talalay, and Ronny Yu talk about their approaches to the film, and cast and writer experiences of working with each director, warts and all.

My personal favorite section of the documentary was the discussion of Freddy's Nightmares, the ill-received anthology TV series that aired between The Dream Master and Freddy's Dead. Considering that almost no one ever talks about the series, it was fun to see William Malone (House on Haunted Hill), Mick Garris (Masters of Horror), David J. Schow (The Crow) and Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th Part 6) talk about making a very low budget show for syndication where the limits on gore and sexuality were, shall we say, lax. Nobody seems particularly proud of the end result, including former New Line CEO Robert Shaye, but that it was even mentioned - let alone get its own block of documentary - made me happy***.

I haven't completely finished the second disc (in that I haven't watched all of "Horror's Hallowed Grounds: A Nightmare on Elm Street") but the extended interviews are great, the 10 minute recap of the Nightmare films - comprised of cast members performing memorable lines - is a lot of fun, the fan segment is cool, as are the various people who make glove replicas, the music section is cool, I liked the spin-off books (which also cover FvJvA), and a nice interview with The Angry Video Game Nerd about his Nightmare on Elm Street game review is included. Overall, it's just a solid package covering damn near everything you could want to know. Think of it as a documentary version of Peter Bracke's Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of Friday the 13th.

While I'm slightly biased as a massive Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that even casual fans won't be bored watching this 4 hour documentary. There's never a point where the discussion isn't interesting or there's something new to learn (for example, I'd somehow never heard that Tron's David Warner was originally cast as Fred Krueger and had to drop out) and it's broken up in such a way that you can spread it out over a day or two. This is an absolute must-see for Nightmare fans, and a high recommendation for people who want to see what all the hoopla is about.

* That being said, everything else looks great. Don't let the cynics tell you that a low-budget movie from 1984 can't look good in High Definition. A Nightmare on Elm Street looks better than I'd ever imagined it could.
** Notable absences are Johnny Depp, Patricia Arquette, Ronee Blakely (Nancy's mother in part 1), Breckin Meyer (Freddy's Dead), Frank Darabont (who co-wrote Dream Warriors), Peter Jackson (who wrote the mythical and unproduced A Nightmare on Elm Street 6: The Dream Lovers) and strangely much of the cast of Freddy vs. Jason (including Katharine Isabelle, Kelly Rowland, Jason Ritter, and Ken Kirzinger), although there is a great joke involving Jason Mewes and the assumption he played Freeburg in Freddy vs. Jason.
*** Craven and Shaye, among others, also address Dreamscape - which was released the same year as A Nightmare on Elm Street - for the first time I can remember.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blogorium Review: MacGruber

I had a hell of a time getting anybody to come with me to see MacGruber tonight. For some reason, everyone had something else to do or wasn't sure that they really wanted to see a 90 minute movies based on a 90 second sketch on SNL. Oh sure, most SNL movies are pretty bad, especially in the post- Wayne's World 2 era, so who could really blame them for wanting to skip out on the next potential Night at the Roxbury or The Ladies Man? So they all politely had better things to do.

To them I say: Your Loss.

For anyone who doesn't know who MacGruber is, the premise is very simple: Will Forte is a MacGyver-like super-agent that always ends up blowing himself, Vicki St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig), and whoever the guest star is after failing to disarm a bomb:

As a regular watcher of Saturday Night Live, when I heard that MacGruber was written by Will Forte, along with SNL writer John Solomon and The Lonely Island (Hot Rod, Dick in a Box) member Jorma Taccone (who also directed), I'm on board. Add Kristen Wiig, Val Kilmer, and Powers Boothe and you've sweetened the pot. I wasn't so sure about Ryan Phillippe, but he was really good on SNL a few weeks ago. See for yourself:

For starters, the movie is nothing like the sketch, and that works to its benefit. Like The Blues Brothers or, yes, Wayne's World*, the character of MacGruber is the jumping off point for a much different story. Since you know almost nothing about MacGruber anyway, that gives Forte, Solomon, and Taccone the opportunity to make up his backstory and do whatever they want with the character. And what they do is pretty amazing.

The nefarious Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) steals a Russian X5 nuclear missile and is planning to blow up Washington, D.C. during the State of the Union. In order to stop him, Colonel John Faith (Powers Boothe) reactivates MacGruber (Forte) - who's been dead for ten years after Cunth detonated a bomb at MacGruber's wedding - to stop him. When MacGruber leaves his team (comprised of WWE Superstars Chris Jericho, Kane, The Great Kali, MVP, and Mark Henry) in a van packed with homemade C4, well, you can guess what happens.

So MacGruber, with his new team of Lieutenant Dixon Piper (Phillipe) and Vicki St. Elmo (Wiig), sets out to discover where the bomb is, doing so in the worst possible ways. Along the way... actually, I'm not going to tell you what happens. What makes MacGruber work where so many SNL movies haven't is its willingness not to be for all audiences.

MacGruber is a hard R: in addition to the rampant profanity, crude behavior, and pieces of celery being shoved up characters asses, MacGruber is also pretty violent. Okay, very violent. I'm not going to say when it happens, but MacGruber is not exaggerating his claims of loving to rip peoples' throats out, and when he goes for the Turkey (think "Hat Trick"), it's a sight to see. Additionally, every single time Piper shoots someone, a blast of arterial spray flies into the air before they slump over dead.

So yeah, MacGruber isn't afraid to swing for the fences in violence, crassness, sexuality (just wait for that ghost sex-scene), and profanity. But more importantly, it's funny anyway. It doesn't need the shock value or lines like "It's time to pound some Cunth" (say it out loud) to get laughs; they just add to the experience.

Where most of the comedy comes from is the adherence of MacGruber to action films of the 1980s. While the sketch is a MacGyver knock-off, the film liberally satirizes the Rambo films, Commando, Missing in Action, and most of the Cannon films or Golan-Globus catalog. If you can think of a stereotypical action movie trope, you're going to see it here, and then some. They even get in a strange James Bond dig when MacGruber and Cunth meet face to face.

Speaking of which, the other reason this movie works is the supporting cast. Kristen Wiig has impeccable timing for playing uncomfortable dialogue that trails off, and Vicki St. Elmo is asked to do increasingly stupid and dangerous things that give her the chance to really work the laughs. Ryan Phillippe may actually be the funniest supporting cast member by playing it straight, as his responses to MacGruber's ridiculous ideas get bigger laughs than Forte's set ups. Not to say that Will Forte isn't amazing as MacGruber: unlike the sketches, he pretty much plays the character straight, and the little touches like always taking his Blaupunkt stereo out of his car so no one steals it get increasingly funnier as the film goes on.

I must take a moment to discuss Val Kilmer's Dieter Von Cunth. For starters, I should say that despite the name, it isn't actually a joke that's overused in the film. There's enough time between saying his last name that you can forget about it an appreciate the next bout of pun-ing. But anyway, it's a pleasure to see Val Kilmer in an outright comedy again. There was a taste of it in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, but in MacGruber Kilmer is an all out comic villain, and he's hilarious. The back and forth's with MacGruber may be my favorite scenes, and the sense of relish Kilmer takes in playing Cunth near the end of the movie really give the film that extra "oomph."

By the way, stick through the credits, so you can hear one of aspiring songwriter Vicki St. Elmo's songs. It's called "Rock My Body", and Doctor Tom (the only person brave enough to join me) was in fits of laughter. It's incredibad. It's a shame MacGruber is going to make no money whatsoever - there were eight people in a large theatre with us at the 10 o'clock Friday showing... not good - because I'm already down for another MacGruber movie.

Since that's probably not going to happen, if any of you want to atone for missing out, then I recommend you join the Cap'n for a repeat viewing sometime very soon. You won't regret it.

* I am not a big fan of Wayne's World. I used to like the movie, but now I'm just not that into it. However, I admit that it is typically the "high water mark" for SNL movies.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Video Daily Double

Greetings, all. It's time for the return of the Video Daily Double, a continuing series of clips, compilations, short films, or other ephemera the Cap'n found online and felt merited sharing. As per the norm, the videos will follow a short bit of reflection / reaction to goings-on in the world of cinema. In this week's case, it's a little closer to home than Hollywood:

Housecleaning -

I really have no idea why, but it's been tricky keeping this up every day since kinda deciding to come back. The Cap'n is really on the fence about going back to the "once a day" pace of blogging. It's not as though I don't have a lot to write about; quite the contrary - I have a backlog of reviews I need to get to, including the massive documentary Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, or the thought-lost english language version of Fritz Lang's M. I just haven't gotten back into the swing of doing these every single day.

If it means sacrificing quantity for quality, I might cut back and just focus on getting really well put together (and thought out) reviews for you, dear readers. I have a bit more time to let things settle, and there's a lot that's available to watch soon or that I've already seen and not discussed (Iron Man 2 also comes to mind, as does True Grit). So if a day goes by without a post, don't assume there won't be one the following day; the Cap'n is probably hard at work on something.

On to the videos!


Our first video is a compilation of what may be the most overused four word phrase in cinema, "Get Out of There!"

The second video, because it amuses me so, is a montage of 1980s film bullies:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Quick Review: Tales from the Script

I'm afraid I don't have a lot to say about Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman's documentary Tales from the Script. I certainly enjoyed it, and would recommend everybody watch it, particularly if you're thinking about writing films. That's exactly what the documentary is: a collection of writers (some who also direct) discussing their experiences of working in Hollywood.

Some of the notables involved in sharing their stories are William Goldman (All the President's Men, Marathon Man, The Princess Bride), John Carpenter (Halloween, The Eyes of Laura Mars, Escape from New York), Shane Black (Monster Squad, Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), John August (Big Fish, The Nines), Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard, 48 Hours), Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist), Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, State of Play), David Hayter (X2, Watchmen), Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish), David S. Ward (The Sting, Sleepless in Seattle), Larry Cohen (It's Alive, The Stuff), and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters).

Interesting tidbits:

- Guinevere Turner turned in a first draft of Bloodrayne to Uwe Boll, who immediately went into production with the script.

- Frank Darabont was an uncredited writer on Saving Private Ryan. For some reason, he does not mention co-writing A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors.

- Larry Cohen wrote 2002's Phone Booth, starring Colin Farrell and Kiefer Sutherland, directed by Joel Schumacher. I had no idea. Plus, the script was originally purchased by 20th Century Fox to start Nicolas Cage.

- Antwone Fisher wrote twenty drafts of his life story before the script was ready to go into production.

- There's a sequel to The Sting, which David S. Ward regrets mentioning in the documentary.

- Peter Hyams sought and received the go-ahead from Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick before making 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

- William Goldman is as entertaining telling stories on camera as Robert Evans, but not as full of himself, which makes his semi-snarky anecdotes funnier and less self-serving.

- Shane Black and Zak Penn both feel responsible for Last Action Hero, although Goldman does not mention the film during Tales from the Script (all three worked on the screenplay at various points).

I wish I had a ton of insightful information to add about the documentary, but it covers the bases pretty well: breaking in, rewrites, working with actors, directors, producers, other writers, horror stories, and creative processes. It's a rather insightful and pretty well put together film (the clips they use to punctuate segments to tend to freeze awkwardly, making me wonder more than once if something was awry with my player), but it's certainly worth looking into.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blogorium Review - Tales from the Darkside: The Movie

The Cap'n makes no effort to hide my love for Tales from the Darkside, a staple of USA's Up All Night and horror anthology show that frequently gave me the creeps in the wee hours of the morning. After Season Three arrived on DVD two weeks ago, a set that contains quite a few of my favorite episodes (including The Circus, The Geezenstacks, Seasons of Belief, and The Milkman Cometh), I realized that despite my unabated enthusiasm for the show, I'd never actually seen the movie.

I blame this on a handful of factors: when it came out in 1990, I would have only been eleven and still in a phase where horror scared the hell out of me. I've also rarely heard a kind word about Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (it has a 38% Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes and generally seems to merit [at best] a "rent it"), so while I've seen the DVD around before, I just never bothered renting it.

And let me tell you, I kind of regret that now. It's not a great movie, but it does do two things that kept me on board for 90 minutes: the anthology structure (which keeps it true to the spirit of the show) and a pretty damn good cast (also keeping in spirit of the show, if you look at the number of people who worked on the series).

The structure is pure anthology: three unconnected tales wrapped together punctuated by a "bridge" story - in this instance one of a boy named Timmy (Matthew Lawrence) trying to avoid being cooked by a witch (Deborah Harry). The stories are vintage Darkside: a killer mummy doing the bidding of a meek college student; a deadly cat threatens an eccentric millionaire and a hit man; a gargoyle spares the life of an artist - but at a price.

I've read in a few places that Tales from the Darkside: The Movie fails to really take the TV show forward into a cinematic presentation, but I'm not really sure that's the point. While it's true that it sticks to fairly limited locations with small casts and limited (although at times pretty good) special effects, broadening the scope isn't really going to do anything but make Darkside like any other anthology film. One of the strengths of the show was the fact that it had a limited budget, and within that they managed to foster a sense of dread and claustrophobia for the stories. There is "no escape" for these characters, and in some ways I think that the movie does replicate that nicely while still benefiting from higher production values.

The cast is also more interesting to me now than I think it would have been twenty years ago: at the time, I supposed that Christian Slater (Heathers, Pump Up the Volume), Deborah Harry (Videodrome, Hairspray), and Rae Dawn Chong (Commando, Soul Man) would have been the big "names" for the film, but the movie also features James Remar (Dexter, Ratatouille), David Johansen (Scrooged, Married to the Mob), Julianne Moore (Boogie Nights, Far from Heaven), Robert Klein (Primary Colors, Jeffrey), William Hickey (Wise Blood, Prizzi's Honor), Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad, The Fountain, Oz, and oh, a dozen other things you've seen) and Steve Buscemi (I shouldn't even need to tell you). It's a nice combination of well known character actors - some of whom were on the show - and up and comers that would be better known later.

The stories are pretty good too, particularly the last one ("Lover's Vow"). Even if you can figure out the "twist" (and it really isn't that hard), there's a surprising poignancy I wasn't expecting from a low budget horror film. The first segment ("Lot 249," based on an Arthur Conan Doyle story) is also nice, although it relies pretty heavily on arcane explanations of scrolls and translations that dull the last "shock" a little bit. What it lacks there, it makes up for with solid performances from Buscemi, Slater, and Moore and some inventive mummy kills.

If there's a weak link, it may be the too-long-for-it's-own-good middle section (Stephen King's "Cat from Hell", adapted by George Romero). It's not that "Cat from Hell" isn't interesting in its own way, it's just that the story is broken into two sections: Millionaire Drogan (Hickey) relating the story of the cat to Hit Man Halston (Johansen), and Halston stalking the cat in a mansion with almost no lightning. The first half sets things up nicely, and you can tell that Romero's relationship with King on Creepshow had some effect on the flashback structure (while Romero didn't direct the film, I strongly suspect the use of a deep blue to indicate "flashback" came from the same comic-book formula used in Creepshow).

The problem is that once we get to Halston hunting the cat alone, it's pretty clear what's going to happen, so the drawn out hunting gets a little repetitive. It's saved by what may be the grossest gore effect in the entire film (involving the cat crawling into Johansen's mouth, down his throat, into his stomach, and back out), but by the end it's almost too little, too late. The wraparound story starts out strongly - with Timmy in a cage trying to prevent a very modern witch from cooking him in her suburban oven - but fizzles out at the end by trying to not play into Darkside audience expectations. It's not the best way to end the film, especially after a great third act anchored by Remar and Chong.

Gripes aside, I still don't quite understand why people dislike this movie so much; it's closer in spirit to the show than either Tales from the Crypt movie (and to some degree, the earlier anthology version Amicus put out) and considering that it's competition in that era was Campfire Tales, Creepshow 2, and Grim Prairie Tales, I'd say Darkside works better as an anthology movie. The genre is probably better known for having a lot of "good" entries and only one or two really "great" films, and I'd certainly say that Tales from the Darkside: The Movie is on the same page as The House that Dripped Blood, Asylum, or Trilogy of Terror. It's probably better than Cat's Eye, Quicksilver Highway and Twilight Zone: The Movie, if not up there with Doctor Terror's House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt, or From Beyond the Grave.

If you like the show, then the Cap'n feels like you'll appreciate the step up in production value of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, especially because it doesn't stray too far from what made the series work. The film has a good cast, limited - but impressive - gore, and two of the three stories were better than I expected they'd be. So count me as one of the 38% that's "for" Tales from the Darkside: The Movie; it worked for the Cap'n.