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A Fun, Well Made, Sequel Spawning Vampire Flick
Vampire flicks are a dime a dozen, some made with high budgets, some with low budgets, some being well made, others not so much. However, even in a sea of so many vampire flicks, Full Moon Entertainment's 1991 "Subspecies" manages to stick out, largely due to one reason: This is the film that introduced us to the character of evil vampire Radu! With his long spider like fingers, horrendously long fingernails, ghoulish appearance, raspy voice, and evil persona, Radu makes quite the impression! The movie opens with Radu (Anders Hove) coming back to his native Romania to confront his father, Vampire King Vladislav (the late, great Angus Scrimm) for banishing him from inheriting the throne and the all powerful bloodstone, a stone that holds the blood of all the saints and which allows vampires the ability to survive without feeding on humans. After besting his father, Radu ends up killing him and stealing the bloodstone for himself. But Radu won't be home alone for long, as two American women - Michelle (Laura Mae Tate) and Lillian (Michelle McBride) - soon arrive in Romania to meet up with their Romanian friend, Mara (Irina Movila), to study the local folklore in the region while staying at (you guessed it) the castle that Radu is staying at! Soon enough, they discover another stranger is in their midst, the mysterious Stefan (Michael Watson) who just happens to be the good vampire brother of Radu, and who takes an instant liking to Michelle and she to him. But love will have to wait as the girls find themselves being stalked and take over by the evil that lurks in the castle walls, Radu. Will they survive their stay in Romania or are they doomed to be become the undead themselves?
Although filmed on a low budget, "Subspecies" has a certain magic to it that would only increase in the following sequels. One major reason for this is due to the film actually being shot on location in Romania, creepy castles and all. Another must go to Ted Nicolaou for directing a film on such a tight budget and still bring so much out of the picture in terms of style and atmosphere. Special effects, such as Radu's shadow moving through the castle hallways, make for some very simple but highly effective creepy enhancements for the picture. But above all, what makes "Subspecies" as good as it is would be the terrific performance of Anders Hove as Radu. With his crackling voice, creepy demeanor, and evil zeal, Hove makes Radu the center point of the whole Subspecies series, despite the fact that the original intention was to make Stefan's and Michelle's love story the main focus. While the film does have its flaws, the important thing to keep in mind is this is only the introduction to a series that in reality is all one big, extended film, a film that gets better with each addition. Don't just take my word for it, check it out for yourself!
Forever Knight (1992)
A Must See for All Lovers of the Vampire Genre
Vampires have formed the basis of more than a few shows and movies, too many to count, in fact. Some of it's been good, some bad. Finding material that's truly exceptional, however, within the genre takes some digging (As someone who's a movie buff, I can personally attest to this). One of these exceptional pieces is the late night television series "Forever Knight". Airing first on CBS's crime time after prime time line up, it's a show that follows the story of Toronto police Det. Nick Knight (Geraint Wyn Davies) who, unbeknownst to his colleagues, is really an 800 year old vampire seeking redemption by solving crimes while working the night shift. Joining him in this quest is his wise cracking partner, Det. Don Schanke (John Kapelos), (who somehow seems to miss every clue his partner's not mortal!), as well as coroner Dr. Natalie Lambert, the only person in the entire department who knows Nick's secret and whom is committed to finding a way to make Nick human again. But Nick must also contend with interference at every turn by his 2,000 year old former master and vampire maker Lucien Lacroix (Nigel Bennett) who disapproves of his former protege's attempts at morality and does everything he can to make Nick live the vampire life he deems acceptable. Will Nick become human again, or will he be destined to live the life a vampire forever?
As cheesy and slightly ridiculous as the premise is (An 800 vampire as a cop!) "Forever Knight" is one of those shows that somehow, someway just works. The writing is superb, often times injecting depth and further meaning in each episode (often through well done historic flashbacks from across Nick's long life, which were a major bit of the show's fun) and being able to expertly combine a vampire story with that of a police/crime solving procedure type show (which is what "Night" is 50% of the time). And not to mention, the acting is terrific, and in many ways is what makes the show believable and entertaining at the same time. Geraint Wyn Davies is excellent in the lead role, and gives believable pathos to the tortured Nick Knight, a vampire who after living for 800 years desperately wants mortality. Jon Kapelos gives the show a little comedy relief as the always wise-cracking and lovable Schanke, as well as infusing some of that buddy cop aspect to it. Catherine Disher is great as Natalie, who is in many ways the love interest for Nick, and the one who ties Nick to the human world more than anyone else. However, none of this would be nearly as good if it weren't for the wonderful performance of Nigel Bennett as the evil, charming, and devilish Lacroix. Oozing charisma, seduction, and darkness all at the same, Bennett is able to bring a really strong devil-like persona to the character Lacroix, more so than perhaps any other evil vampire overlord, and injects a certain level of danger that should be present in any vampire story. Plus, you'll be treated to a variety of great guest stars, including a certain actress by the name of Carrie Ann Moss of "The Matrix" fame. Though the show may have ended too soon and was perhaps a little rushed, the show stands the test of time. Bottom line, if you love vampires as much as me and can't get enough of them, check out "Forever Knight".
P.S. It's available on you tube.
Every kid who celebrates Christmas looks forward to seeing their favorite animation short, and one of the most popular is 1964's "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". I know, because I used to look watch this every year it came on as a kid, even with the trillion commercials the networks now put into it! We all know the story, Rudolph has a nose that's red and glows so bright, none of the other reindeer let Rudolph play reindeer games, "than one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?" And on and on it goes. Except for this animation classic, the producers add in a few new characters, such as the dreadful abominable snowman of the north pole, gold prospector Yukon Cornelius, Hermey the elf who doesn't like to make toys and who wants to be a dentist, not to the mention the most joyous of all, the island of misfit toys. Oh, just describing this brings back the memories of being a kid on Christmas! Chances are you've already seen this a million times, now just make sure your kids do too. Merry Christmas!
Jingle All the Way (1996)
A Fun Christmas Comedy
Although I can't say "Jingle all the way is the greatest movie ever made, it is a film that's good for what it is: A Christmas comedy! Starring Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Phil Hartman, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, and Jake Lloyd, it's a film about a father (Arnold) who, getting buried in his work and missing the important things in his, forgets to get his son the Christmas gift he wants most of all: The Turbo Man action figurine doll. Now, having to duke it out (quite literally) with other parents who waited to the last minute, including a deranged mailman (Sinbad) who are desperate to get their hands on the hottest selling Christmas toy ever. As expected, plenty of high jinks ensue, from Arnold repeatedly running into (and getting on the bad side) of a certain traffic cop, to Sinbad's crazy antics, and a certain conspiracy involving shady Santas (one of whom played by Jim Belushi) selling counter fit toys. Plus, we get to enjoy a performance of the late, great Phil Hartman as a neighborhood handy man who's trying to put the squeeze on Arnold's wife (Rita Wilson), and makes us miss the man that much more. Now the movie does get a little ridiculous near the end, and when you see it you'll know what I mean. But, at the same time, considering this is Hollywood one has to be willing to suspend disbelief a little bit here and there. And besides, what's a little ridiculousness going to harm? Just sit back and watch for the comedy and Christmas season.
A Lovely Rendition of "A Christmas Carol"
Unlike most folks reviewing this film, I did not grow up in the 1960's as a kid, and so I did not really watch much of Mister Magoo at all as a child. And yet despite that, there's something about "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol" that keeps me coming back year after year, ever since I first discovered it, as an adult no less. A good portion of it has to certainly due to the comedic aspects of the show, from Mister Magoo being half blind because he's too cheap to get glasses and bumbling all over the place to the lovely drawn and colored animation. But there's also something else about Magoo's Christmas Carol, something timeless; heart. From hearing the little Tiny Tim utter the famous line, "God bless us, everyone", to the emotional lyrics of the radiant songs of the film, this little short has all the things that make Christmas special. Plus, the animation is drawn beautifully here, and makes one wish that some of the old school animation could be made here and there for today's children. If you're looking for a nice, little version of "A Christmas Carol" for your kids or even for yourself, check it "Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol." You'll be glad you did. Merry Christmas!
A Christmas Story (1983)
I Triple Dog Dare Ya Not to Watch This Christmas Classic
Growing up as a kid, there was no time of the year better than around Christmas, when you were dreaming what gifts Santa was going to give you and when magic seemed to be in the air. Adding to all this were the seasonal movies that always seemed to pop up, from cartoons to feature length films. One of these was 1983's "A Christmas Story". Starring Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon, and Peter Billingsley, it's a movie that gets played over and over again - 12 times in 24 hours to be exact - every year on cable, and for good reason: It's that great of a film. Based off of the writings of and narrated by radio personality Jean Shepherd, it's a simple story at heart, one about a young boy named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) growing up in 1940's Indiana and dreaming about getting a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas. Problem is, his mother isn't too fond of the idea at all, uttering the famous line, "you'll shoot your eye out." Naturally determined to work around this, Ralphie works on a secret plan to try to hoodwink his mother, and that's where the fun begins, from a scary mall Santa to sticking a certain part of the body on cold, winter beam to see if it sticks!
There are some movies that, despite not having the biggest budget or maybe even the biggest star names, seem to radiate a magic all their own. "A Christmas Story" is certainly one of those. From the whimsical narration of Jean Shepherd to a certain major award Darren McGavin's the old man wins (you know, the one that's a lamp in the shape of a certain part of the female anatomy), this film has Christmas magic oozing all over it. Peter Billingsley is wonderful as the determined kid to get his hands on the ultimate Christmas gift, doing everything from writing a school paper on the benefits of owning a Red Ryder B.B. gun for Christmas to asking a certain, way too scary for little kids mall Santa, which used to somewhat scare me as a kid but is now probably my favorite part of the whole entire movie. Plus, the performances of the late, great Darren McGavin as the old man, Melinda Dillon as Ralphie's mother, Ian Petrella as Ralphie's annoying little kid brother, Scott Schwartz and R.D. Robb as Ralphie's childhood friends Schwartz and Flick, and Zack Ward as the school bully Scut Farkus ("Scut Farkus, what a rotten name!") all add to this joyous experience. Anyone who ever celebrated Christmas a kid will get this movie, and for that reason alone, don't through life without seeing this at least a couple hundred times! Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!
It's not Christmas Without Christmas Vacation!
Ah, Christmas. That time of year when families come together and peace and harmony reign supreme. Yeah right! Just try telling that to the Griswolds! That lovable family who can't seem to stay out of trouble are back for the holidays, with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) making it his personal mission to make the perfect Christmas, and failing at every turn! From looking for the perfect Christmas tree in the middle of the woods - and having to dig it out of the ground because he forgot the saw! - to not being able to get the zillion outside lights to work, nothing ever seems to quite according to plan. Add in the parents, in-laws, pesky yuppie neighbors, and Clark's crazy, but lovable cousin in law, Eddie (Randy Quaid) and you have the "hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny F------ Kaye!"
"Christmas Vacation" is probably my favorite of the "Vacation" movies since it's the one I watch the most, especially around the holidays. Despite how outrageous the comedy is - from the ridiculously huge amount of outside lights to the bone dry turkey -, if you've celebrated Christmas a few times, especially as an adult, you'll find there's a grain of truth to "Christmas Vacation". Case in point, the scene where Clark can't get the outside lights to work and just loses it never fails to crack me up, no matter how many times I see it, as it reminds me of when my dad would get bad because we couldn't get the lights and decorations to work, and he'd always go on a profanity laced tirade! The writing of John Hughes is spot on in turning the challenges of the holidays into comedy gold. All the actors and actresses hit their mark with perfection: Chevy Chase's performance as everyday man Clark Griswold who thinks he knows what he is doing but is in way over his head is one of the ages here, the beautiful and talented Beverly D'Angelo as Clark's tortured wife Ellen is a joy to watch, as is Juliette Lewis as the Griswold's cranky, teenage daughter Audrey, a young Johnny Galecki as son Rusty, plus a whole slew of support roles from the late Doris Roberts, John Randolph, EG Marshall, Diane Ladd, Mae Questal, Nicholas Guest, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Brian Doyle-Murray and of course, the larger than life Randy Quaid. "Christmas Vacation" is an absolute joy to watch every year, and is one of those films that's so quotable, that if you stick two fans who've seen it all their lives together and one says a quote from the film, the other will be able to respond in kind from the movie. Me and my sister do it every time. If you love the holidays as much as I do, than check this out. Merry Christmas!
A Vision of Hell
Ever since the first atom bomb was detonated in 1945, the world has lived in fear of the possibility of nuclear war and the annihilation of civilization. Naturally, such a scenario has formed the basis of more than one film, some going for a more sci-fi take where radiation created mutants and monsters roam the earth in the aftermath, others going for a more darker, realistic take. Those of the latter can be some of the most horrific films ever made, but few of those films reach the level of realism and abject terror that 1984's "Threads" does. Produced by the BBC for television, it came out during a time of renewed tensions in the Cold War and fears that a nuclear confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States was imminent. The American landmark TV movie "The Day After" had come out one year earlier, now it would be the British's turn, and while "The Day After" was a frighteningly realistic movie, "Threads" went one step further in becoming the most horrific film of its kind.
Made in a quasi-documentary style with occasional narration by Paul Vaughan, it takes place in the northern England town of Sheffield, where two young lovers Ruth and Jimmy are just starting out in life and planning on getting married, having a baby, and blissfully unaware of the news of a growing crisis unfolding in Iran. The Soviets have invaded Iran due to a American backed coup that has overthrown the government there, America calls for the Soviets to leave, they refuse, and the situation escalates when the United States sends troops of their own. Slowly but surely, the residents can't help but notice the situation as tensions mount, and panic gradually ensues. You can feel the feeling of dread increase as the film progresses, and things reach a boiling point when tactical nuclear weapons are used by both the Russians and Americans in Iran. Tensions and protests increase, until finally the unthinkable happens: The bombs come for Sheffield, and all hell breaks loose when the demonic mushroom cloud looms over the land, but as we will soon learn the bomb is only the beginning, for what follows makes even the most horrific tale of fire and brimstone hell seem trite in comparison.
If you seek even the remotest resemblance of hope, joy, or happiness, look someplace else, for "Threads" has none to offer. The scene where the bomb drops is the most realistic and disturbing of any such scene I have ever seen, for we see sheer terror on a primal scale as buildings are turned instantly into rubble, a woman wets herself in terror, milk bottles are melted, still moving human bodies are roasted alive among the fires, cats are suffocated from the heat, and life as we know it ends forever. All of this still holds over thirty years later, despite being a made for TV production. But if the bomb is bad, the aftermath is worse. There is no electricity, no running water, infrastructure is reduced to rubble and hospitals are useless as the narrator dryly tells us that with out the basic necessities of water and electricity, a doctor is no longer able to provide basic care, and is no more valuable than the next survivor, having instead to resort to primitive measures of the past, all shown in horrific detail. Fall out covers the sky, causing a nuclear winter, radiation rains down, causing sickness and misery undreamed of, the soil contaminates, and crops are no more.
I can unequivocally say this is the most hopeless movie I ever seen of any genre, for "Threads" pulls zero punches, permeates your soul, and utterly rips it apart. I ended up watching this on a small screen my phone, which I normally don't do as I prefer big screens. At first I didn't know if I'd be able to watch it all the way because of that, but as the film progressed the size of the screen no longer mattered, for "Threads" pulled me in and would not let go, right up until the final moment where we find out what the future of mankind is; there isn't one. For fifteen to twenty minutes after the ending I was barely able to move or speak, as my mind couldn't completely grasp what I had seen. Even now I'm not sure it can. "Threads" shows what could have easily happened if the cold war had ever gone hot (as it almost did, many times, a lot more than most people realize), and what could still happen if God forbid a day comes when things between the west and Russia or some other nuclear power come to blows over some international incident. After all, folks, the cold war might have ended, but that doesn't mean Russia and the U.S. stopped aiming missiles at one another. This film is hard to come by in the United States, and I was only able to see it through a link on you tube, but if you get the chance and have the stamina to witness the closest thing to real nuclear war without actually experiencing it, watch "Threads", and while you're at it, whether you're a believer or not, pray this isn't the future of mankind.
A Fun, if not Perfect, 90's Teen Slasher Flick
"I Know What You Did Last Summer". It sounds like one of the corniest threats ever or one of the worst ways to make conversation, doesn't it folks? But that's the name of the Kevin Williamson written 1997 teen slasher pick starring youthful actors Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillippe, and Freddie Prince Jr. The plot of the film has already been mentioned by many on this site, so I won't spend too much time on it here, except to say four teens living in small fishing hamlet decide to celebrate their high school graduation by (what else?) getting drunk and making out on the beach and on their way back, accidentally hit a man along the road and seemingly kill him. Rather than do the right thing and report the accident to the cops, the four decide to cover it up by dumping the man in the ocean and making a pact to never talk about it ever again, which would be fine, perhaps, if one year later someone wasn't sending out letters with the film's title on it! Who is stalking the teens? Is it someone who saw them dump the body or is it possible the person they hit wasn't really dead?
Made one year after Williamson's other written (and quite spectacularly, I might add) "Scream", it's a movie that tried to capitalize on the spirit of that clever, self-parodying thriller, and while I can't say it fully succeeded, there's something about "I Know What You Did Last Summer" that I can't help but fall in love with. Perhaps this is one of those cases where the time period a film was made in overcompensates whatever flaws the story has - such as various plot holes, the fact that some of the characters are not particularly likable (Ryan Phillippe's rich kid quarterback character comes to mind), or the fact that the killer, when revealed, doesn't have quite the same impact Ghostface or Michael Myers had.
Indeed, hearing the 90's soundtrack blaring over the film's scenes instantly makes me think of the better, more carefree days of when I was a kid, when the only thing you had to worry about was what new blockbuster was coming out and who the President of the United States was sleeping with! Or maybe it's because of the fact that the four leads have such great chemistry together I just can't help but stay put and watch. Whatever, the reason, "I know What You Did Last Summer" is one of those slightly cheesy films that will appeal to a certain audience, and even for those it doesn't, at the very least they'll have delicious eye candy in the form of Hewitt or Gellar, or if you're a woman, Phillippe and Prince. Regardless of what others might think, for me this is a film that's fun to look back on, if for nothing, a time capsule of better times. Also starring Ann Heche, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, John Galecki, Muse Watson, and Stuart Greer.
Simply Put, A Triumph In Every Sense of the Word
There are some films that I've seen where I can't fathom for the life of me of how overrated they've become on IMDb - many of them having hundreds of reviews and over inflated ratings - and then there are also films where I can't fathom how underrated or unknown they are, having very little in the way of reviews or fame. 1980's "Windwalker" is one of those films that sadly falls into the latter category. Starring English actor Trevor Howard, it's a movie that simply shouldn't be as good as it is, mainly because of the fact Trevor Howard, one of the quintessential English actors of his generation, stars as an aging American Indian (or Native American, whatever you prefer) Cheyenne warrior! Just hearing that fact alone would probably have you believe that the movie is one to be panned almost immediately. And yet my friends, nothing could be further from the truth.
The movie takes place in the rugged western wilderness of pre-European North America, during the brutally cold winters of that area, and focuses on a family of Cheyenne, and in particular, on aging and dying warrior patriarch Windwalker (Trevor Howard). As he lays dying of old age and decay, he accepts that his time has come, and begins to recount to his grandchildren his days as a young man (those scenes being played by James Remar), of how he came to "win" his wife and true love Tashira (Serene Hedin), the birth of his twin sons, and how in one instance, one of them was snatched and taken away and his lovely wife killed. Saddened by this memory but content that he has lived a good, full life, Windwalker dies and his laid to rest in the Cheyenne way. But little does the old warrior know, the great spirit in the sky is not quite ready to let Windwalker's spirit onto the wind just yet, for as his family is traveling back to lair, they are attacked by a band of their hated enemy, the Crow tribe. Using a combination of wisdom and powerful magic, Windwalker sets on to his final adventure to save his family and make it more stronger in ways he never could have imagined.
"Windwalker" is perhaps the most authentic movie ever done on Native Americans, one reason due to the fact that there's not a single cowboy in sight and another because - other than some narration in English at times - the dialogue is spoken entirely in actual Cheyenne and Crow languages and dialect. Trevor Howard, despite being English, is absolutely (and shockingly) believable in his role as the Cheyenne warrior chief embarking on his last adventure, becoming completely immersed in his character, and in many ways, actually becomes Windwalker. Adding to this is the performances of the other actors - some of whom are actually Native American - who all do a fine job, be it James Remar as the young Windwalker, Nick Ramus as Windwalker's son, the beautiful Serene Hedin as Tashina, even Billy Drago as one of the Crow scouts turn in believable performances.
Another strong aspect of the film is the sets; filmed in the wilds of Utah, there were many times I thought I was watching a portrait being painted simply because the outdoor locations were so mesmerizing and beautiful. Director Kieth Merrill expertly takes all of these elements and weaves together a brilliant film that shows beauty, the power the human spirit has when it comes to survival, and also shows that violence and war are in no way limited to just one group of people. Indeed, life among the native tribes was not as idyllic as some would have you believe. How in the world this film is not more widely known or did not even get one Oscar nomination is something I will never figure out for the life of me. To put it bluntly, folks, you are robbing yourselves by not seeing underrated gem, and that's a phrase I use very sparling my friends. If you should ever have the opportunity to see this, don't pass it up. I promise you are in for a real treat with this one. Also marks the first appearance of animal actor Bart the Bear.