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The Monster Squad (1987)
Dracula has dynamite, and the Wolf Man has nards ...
Aah, they don't make 'em like this anymore ...
If you're a fan of movies like "The Goonies" then this will probably sound familiar, even if you haven't seen it. A group of outcast kids get together and form a "Monster Squad", where they gather in a treehouse, talk about monsters, and generally get up to no good. So when Dracula shows up in town with a host of supernatural nasties including Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man, they are of course the ones who are best suited to battling these forces of evil and sending them back to where they belong.
This is one of those movies that was made about kids, for kids, but which isn't really suitable for kids. It's basically a bunch of little kids running around swearing and making jokes about farting (not that there's anything wrong with that), and it's just begging for cult status. The silliness of the humour offsets the inherent silliness of the storyline, which doesn't even try to make sense. The script is fairly strong, having been co-written by Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero) who at one point was the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood, and with Stan Winston doing the special effects, where can you go wrong?
"The Monster Squad" doesn't try to be anything other than a whole lotta fun, and it succeeds in that. It's short, sweet and ultimately entertaining -- it'll appeal to the twelve-year-old monster hunter in all of us.
The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Gilliam does Hollywood ...
Being a fan of both good old-fashioned fantasy movies and of director Terry Gilliam, I was really looking forward to this one. I was slightly put off when I heard Gilliam's complaints about the constant interference of the Brothers Weinstein, but the director does have a history of being dissatisfied with the production of projects which actually turn out pretty good in the end, so my hopes were still pretty high.
Rather than being a historical biography of the famous authors, this is a fantastic make-believe story of the possible inspirations behind the stories of the Brothers Grimm. The brothers travel around Europe working as con artists, fooling simple peasants into believing they are witch-hunters and monster slayers. However, when they are captured by a French general and sent to investigate a town which is believed to have been targeted by similar con-men, they discover that there may be some truth behind the fairy tales. The very woods surrounding the town seem to be alive, a big, bad wolf stalks through the darkness and an evil power seems to emanate from a mysterious ancient tower ...
So, Gilliam tries his hand at doing a commercial summer blockbuster. And the results are, well, interesting. Primarily he shows that he can produce some great action sequences, and there are some really great visual ideas here, many of which I'll admit are entirely thanks to top-notch CGI work. These are the moments when the director's creative magic appears to shine through, and there's enough of them to make this movie worth watching. Overall it does feel strangely derivative for a Gilliam movie, but I suppose that's to be expected when he sacrifices creative control to the studio. In the past I've heard that Gilliam simply sees himself as a "hired hand" on such projects.
However, where it fails is in the mixture of action and drama, in repeatedly placing it's characters in peril whilst also making us care about them. Unfortunately this has been a problem in a lot of these big-budget fantasy/action movies lately, including last years equivalent -- "Van Helsing". The other movie with which this shares a lot in common is Tim Burton's Gothic horror "Sleepy Hollow", which was far superior to either. The main problem with the "Brothers Grimm" is that there's little to no character development in the first hour of the movie, and then almost all of the conflict between the characters is suddenly introduced in one scene. This is what we call bad pacing. And the way the characters are written seems somewhat inconsistent (although both Damon and Ledger manage to turn in decent performances all the same), and we never really get a "feel" for their personalities.
For your average light-hearted Hollywood fantasy, this is perfectly fine. But from a director with a history of making fascinating, important works of surreal art, this is somewhat short of what you'd expect.
Blood of the Werewolf (2001)
For fans of amateur movies only ...
It's like this ... you put in the DVD and the most professional-looking thing you see over the next ninety minutes is the logo of the distribution company. And at this point, you know you've just been jerked around.
People are generally trusting enough to assume that if something has been put on DVD, it's going to be of a certain level -- at least financially if not creatively. But sadly this isn't the case. Distribution companies are perfectly happy to throw together DVDs of amateur movies and ship them right out into the stores to await the unsuspecting buyer who is drawn in by the well-designed DVD cover. The weight behind this particular project is most likely independent horror movie pioneer Kevin J Lindenmuth, whose name may be known amongst genre fans since he's responsible for various other low-budget werewolf movies -- "Rage of the Werewolf", "Werewolf Tales" and so on.
"Blood of the Werewolf" is made up of three short independent werewolf stories with no real connection other than the fact that they deal with hereditary shapeshifters. The first segment, "Blood Reunion", pretty much sets the tone for the whole thing ... a man returns to his home town to look up a girl who had a crush on, only to find that her domineering grandmother refuses to let her have relationships with men, and for reasons which are somehow related to a dark family secret. This instalment is poorly directed, poorly directed, and basically nothing superior to what you could throw together yourself with a few friends and a home video camera.
The second story, "Old Blood", is probably the strongest out of the three and is directed by Lindenmuth himself. It tells the story of a lesbian couple, one of whom is a shapeshifter and the other wishes to be given this power. Her wish is granted, but she doesn't become the creature that she envisioned. This short movie shows that Lindemuth has more talent and experience than the other filmmakers who worked on this project, but still not enough to raise it above the level of an amateur movie.
And finally we have "Manbeast", in which some army guy runs through the woods while being chased by two other fellas. They wish to kill him as he has been bitten by the beast and is believed to be dangerous, but all might not be as it seems. This one has an interesting concept, but it's stretched out to be far too long, and if you don't guess what the "twist" is in the first ten minutes then you probably ain't too bright. This pretty much sums up the problem with this whole DVD ... a few good ideas just aren't enough to justify spending money on something like this. After all, would you pay for a picture you could have painted yourself?
Big Wolf on Campus (1999)
Decent teen comedy show ...
After working on "Sweet Valley High" and "Breaker High", I suppose "Werewolf High" seemed like the next logical step for writers Peter Knight and Chris Briggs ...
Tommy Dawkins (Brandon Quinn) is your typical high school jock -- popular, dumb and care-free ... that is, until he is out camping one night and is bitten by a werewolf. Thanks to his infliction he is forced to befriend nerdy goth outcast Merton J Dingle (Danny Smith), and together they work to conceal his lycanthropy and battle whatever evil forces set sights on the town of Pleasantville. As awkward as teenage years always are, Tommy finds that it is even more so when you're a werewolf -- especially since he wolfs out every time he gets close to Stacey Hanson (Rachelle Lefevre), the girl of his dreams. Later, Stacey is transfered to another school and Tommy sets his sights on the new girl, kick-boxing Buffy-wannabe Lori Baxter (Aimée Castle).
I caught a couple of episodes of this series when it was on, and it seemed like a pretty silly show that was aimed primarily at the teenybopper crowd. I was attracted to it at the time because obviously it featured werewolves and also it had strong similarities to Buffy, which I enjoyed. In the end I was put off by the silly WWF-style fight scenes, and the slapstick humour didn't really appeal to me all that much. However, when I watched the episodes back-to-back recently I began to really enjoy it. Many of the jokes are silly, but I'll admit it does manage to make me chuckle quite frequently. The constant movie references score particularly highly with me. The characters themselves are quite amusing ... Tommy really is an idiot, and Danny Smith who plays Merton J Dingle has become a kind of cult icon. Together the two of them form an interesting comic team.
It turns out there actually is an awful lot to enjoy here, especially if you happen to catch the series on a good day. At it's worst the show is like a kid's version of Buffy without the same level of atmosphere or wit (although it does seem to be conscious of this, throwing in direct references to the show). One problem is that the comic actors and guest stars often aren't particularly restrained, they're out there in full-on "I will make you laugh" mode which can come off more annoying than amusing. But hell, there are certainly worse things you could be watching.
If you're looking for an interesting, dark and brilliant werewolf series, check out Frank Lupo's Werewolf. But if you're just after an entertaining, amusing and diverting version of "Teen Wolf", then this is the best there is.
She-Wolf of London (1990)
It started well ...
An American student named Randi Wallace travels to England in order to study mythology under British professor Doctor Ian Matheson. Whilst ghost-hunting out on the moors, she is attacked and bitten by a savage animal. At the next full moon she turns into a werewolf, and manages to convince her new professor of her condition. Together the two of them begin to investigate various supernatural occurrences, in order to explore mythology and attempt to find a cure for Randi's curse ...
As you can see, thankfully this series shares very little in common with the dull 1940's movie She-Wolf of London from which it takes it's name. It actually seems much more inspired by John Landis' classic 1981 horror movie An American Werewolf in London, not only with it's very similar storyline but also with it's darkly humorous approach to the standard supernatural horror formula. It certainly showed great promise in some areas, but unfortunately the English financial backers for the show dropped out after four months due to some poorly-written episodes. The creators were brave enough to move the show over to Los Angeles for six more episodes and retitle it "Love and Curses", but after this the series was soon cancelled altogether.
Considering the series is titled "She-Wolf of London", few of the episodes are actually focused on lycanthropy, and some don't feature the werewolf at all. Mostly Randi and Ian just investigate various supernatural occurrences, such as ghosts and zombies and nymphomaniac sex demons ... Randi is, however, constantly on the look-out for a cure to her condition, even in the most unlikely places. In the "London" episodes, Ian's extended family provide both comic relief and serve as key characters on occasion, and the "will they, won't they" relationship between teacher and student is prominent all the time, sometimes charming and sometimes irritating. Some have argued that "She-Wolf" was heavily influenced by "The Incredible Hulk" television series, but to me it seems more likely that it was simply following after Frank Lupo's Werewolf, which was certainly influenced by that show.
Kate Hodge gives a peculiar, quirky performance as Randi, which can become a little annoying at times but for the most part she's good. She seems more interested in the comic aspects of the series rather than the horror or the drama elements. Neil Dickson, meanwhile, is a superb actor who you may or may not remember for his excellent portrayal of every schoolboy's favourite World War One pilot in Biggles : Adventures in Time. Okay, so you probably won't. But anyway, he's perfectly cast as the stuffy, charming professor (a kind of proto-"Giles" character, if you will -- this series seems a strong predecessor for "Buffy"), and as long as the script is good he is a reliable performer.
The series isn't nearly as good as it could have been, but aside from certain episodes it's certainly not as bad as some would have you believe. The redeeming quality of the series is it's odd and original mix of creepiness and corny humour. Overall it was a promising blend of horror and comedy, with some truly excellent episodes, and it's a great shame what ultimately became of it.
Wolf Lake (2001)
Very interesting werewolf show ...
"The moon ... is it my imagination, or is it always full around here?"
Exactly how many countless "X-Files" episodes were set in a "small Pacific Northwestern town"? And wasn't it also the setting for David Lynch's "Twin Peaks"? I don't know what it is about that area of the US which makes it the perfect setting for a small town supernatural melodrama such as "Wolf Lake", but it definitely works.
The show follows Seattle detective John Kanin (Lou Diamond Phillips), who travels to Wolf Lake in search of his kidnapped girlfriend Ruby Cates (Mia Kirshner). He discovers that Ruby's parents are in fact in charge of the town, with the town mayor Willard Cates (Bruce McGill) seeming to have complete power along with his wife Vivian (Sharon Lawrence). They also have a rebellious son named Luke (Paul Wasilewski). The other important figure in the town is the Sheriff, Matthew Donner (Tim Matheson), whose daughter Sophia (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is the object of Luke's affections. Wolf Lake is populated by other colourful characters, such as the mysterious Native American teacher Sherman Blackstone (Graham Greene), the villainous Tyler Creed (Scott Bairstow) and world-weary bar singer Miranda Devereaux (Kellie Waymire).
It does sound a lot like "Twin Peaks", doesn't it? Of course there was no way it was ever going to match up to the inspired weirdness of David Lynch's vision, arguably one of the best things ever to be shown on television -- but it's still very good. All of the supernatural events that take place in Wolf Lake can be explained by the fact that half of the townspeople are in fact part of a pack of werewolves who are battling for their own survival. They are ruled over by the town mayor Willard Cates, but there is a power struggle going on between Sheriff Donner, who is uncomfortable with his werewolf heritage and chooses not to transform, and Tyler Creed, who believes that their kind are superior to humans and need not be afraid of what they are. The actors playing these vital roles are invariably reliable, along with the rest of what is really a very strong ensemble cast.
Unfortunately, the series only ran for nine episodes and ended on a completely unresolved note, apparently the victim of unsatisfactory ratings. But well it lasts, what we have here is a finely crafted supernatural melodrama that ought to satisfy both "X-files" fans and werewolf fanatics. This is a fine example of cult television that was sadly axed before it's time, but still certainly worth checking out if you can get hold of a copy.
A great way to close the Universal horror series
It's interesting that Lou Costello initially was reluctant to do this movie, since it became probably the most popular and successful instalment in the Abbott & Costello catalogue. It was so popular, in fact, that many of the Abbott & Costello movies to follow were along similar lines -- they would go on to meet The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. You can sort of see where he was coming from ... horror/comedy isn't exactly a highly respected genre, although there have been several classics in it since (Young Frankenstein, An American Werewolf in London, etc).
The story starts when a couple of crates arrive in the US, to an office manned by Chick Young (Bud Abbott) and Wilbur Grey (Lou Costello). The two of them are asked to the two crates to the their destination, a house of horrors. What they don't realise is that one crate contains Dracula's coffin and the other, the Frankenstein monster. Dracula awakens and escapes with the monster, leaving the two freight handlers to deal with the insurance company over the missing goods. But it turns out they have bigger worries -- Dracula has chosen Wilbur's brain to transplant into the Frankenstein monster in order to revive him ...
Since the Universal horror franchise had stopped taking itself seriously several years previously, it made sense that the final movie should just go the whole hog and be a comedy. As a comic team Abbott and Costello were never of the same stature of, say, "Laurel and Hardy" or "The Marx Brothers", but they do have their moments -- and a lot of them are in this movie. Abbott of course plays the straight man to Costello's blundering comedian, and it works very well with this script. They are backed up by arguably the strongest cast out of any of the Universal horror movies, with Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange and Lon Chaney Jr in their finest roles. All of the monsters are played perfectly straight, with the comedy coming from Abbott and Costello themselves.
"Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" is silly and zany and very, very funny. Whether or not it can be classed as part of the Universal horror series, it is as entertaining as any of them and absolutely essential viewing.
Teen Wolf Too (1987)
It's a sad truth that there are a lot of bad werewolf movies out there. But there are a few that really stand out as being among the worst of the worst ... and "Teen Wolf Too" is undoubtedly one of them.
It follows pretty much the same plot as the first movie, which was itself a recycled formula. Todd Howard (cousin of Scott from the first movie), a hard-working science student, arrives in college wanting to work towards becoming a vet. But there's one snag -- he's there under a sports scholarship, and unless he performs well in the boxing tournament his place in the college is at stake. Thankfully, he finds himself succumbing to his cousin's lycanthropic curse and becomes a popular and agile werewolf. But in the process he, of course, forgets who his real friends are.
There are numerous recurring characters from the first movie, some of whom have inexplicably moved to this college. There are Scott's high school chums, Chubby and Stiles -- Stiles is this time played by Stuart Fratkin, who also appeared in an episode of the TV show "Werewolf" the same year ("A Material Girl"). Scott's dad also makes a few appearances, as well as the Scott's coach, who is also played by a different actor this time. But of course, none of this matters ... without Michael J Fox, this movie was pretty much doomed from the start. He was pretty much the only thing that saved "Teen Wolf" from being a flop.
The dialogue is unbearable, the directing is clumsy, and the acting in places is downright appalling. Since this is basically a remake of the first movie, there's absolutely no reason to watch it. Just watch the original, and forget about this one altogether. There's hardly anything good to say about it at all. And believe it or not, it still made money. In fact it's very surprising that we didn't see a "Teen Wolf Three" the next year. Thank heavens for small blessings ...
Teen Wolf (1985)
Entertaining teen comedy ...
Let's face it, from his "Back to the Future" years, this is probably the other Michael J. Fox movie that people most remember. It was teen fodder, really -- made hip by the soundtrack, the actors, and plenty of dodgy in-jokes. Not to mention the "van surfing" scenes, which got the filmmakers into a lot of trouble with concerned parents who were worried that their idiot kids might try to imitate it.
In "Teen Wolf", Michael J Fox play an unhappy high school kid who isn't popular and plays on a terrible basketball team (already stretching believability there) who finds himself going through some rather odd changes. As it turns out, he has inherited the werewolf genes from his father and is becoming, yup, a TEEN WOLF! He is unable to hide this from his high school friends, and ends up changing in the middle of a basketball game. However, in wolf form he is a star at basketball, as well as at pretty much everything else he tries. Suddenly he is popular and well-known, but does it all come at a price? From a moral point of view, it's all very American. There's not much to separate the good guys from the bad, being self-centred isn't necessarily a bad thing, and winning actually IS everything. It separates itself from most previous werewolf movies simply because it's so lighthearted. There had been other werewolf movies that were aimed at the teen audience -- 1957's "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" being one that shares a lot in common with "Teen Wolf", the main difference being that it was primarily a horror rather than a comedy.
So how old was Michael J Fox when he played the "Teen Wolf"? Well, he was 24 of course. Nevertheless he does a good job, being the reliable actor that he is, but of course he can never really escape from his Marty McFly persona. The supporting cast are all decent, managing not to embarrass themselves despite the inherent silliness of the movie. The fact is, this could have been a lot worse -- and it surely would have been if it wasn't for the charisma of it's lead actor. But ultimately it was made as light-hearted entertainment for teenagers with nothing better to do, and that's exactly what it is.
You might also want to know that in the very last shot of this movie (right before the cheesy freeze frame), one of the extras is doing something very naughty. See if you can spot it. Go on.
Michael Jackson: Thriller (1983)
Back in 1983, Michael Jackson's popularity was such that if he wanted to make a $1 million horror music video with the "American Werewolf" team and featuring the voice of Vincent Price, then that was exactly what he was going to do. And never has a music video created such a sensation, before or since ... when it was released on VHS, this 13-minute short became the world's largest selling musical of all time. But odds are you already know all about it, as whenever there's a list of the greatest music videos of all time, this one almost invariably takes the top spot.
It begins with Michael Jackson walking down a dark street with his date after their car has broken down. He explains to her that he's "not like other men" (damn right), and then the full moon appears from behind the clouds. His girlfriend stands there and screams, and screams, and then screams some more, during a lavish transformation sequence as Michael Jackson becomes a werewolf. He chases her through the forest, catches her and we ... cut to a movie theatre. Ah, all of this is just occurring in a horror movie that Michael Jackson and his date are watching.
So, we're five minutes in and still no sign of the song "Thriller". Extravagant, much? Anyway, you must know how it goes from here ... dancing, singing ... graveyard ... Vincent Price ... zombies ... "What's the Problem?" ... then end credits. End credits for a friggin' music video. "Thriller" isn't one of Michael Jackon's most memorable songs, but even by today's standards it sure is a bitch of a visual experience. If you still haven't seen it in it's entirety, then you definitely should someday soon.