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Eight Legged Freaks (2002)
A valiant effort
I imagine that `Eight Legged Freaks' had a troubled pre-production period. It is not easy to get a giant animal movie made in Hollywood. However, it is perfectly feasible to film one in Roger Corman's backyard. In fact, I believe that at least one video about giant animals and topless bimbos gets filmed on Corman's property once every three hours. But I digress. Hollywood just has a phobia of producing of films about tank-sized spiders, crocodiles, basset hounds or whatever mammal or gastropod is all the rage with the kids these days.
No plot summary is needed in this review. You can pretty much surmise from the title of the flick that it's not a musical rendition of `Death of a Salesman'. Nope, it's about spiders. Toxic waste, rap music or violent video games I don't remember which mutates a whole slew of small unpleasant arachnids into a whole slew of giant unpleasant arachnids. Some unknown influence then drives several different species of spiders to join together in loving union and work towards the extermination of every household pet and human on the planet. I am by no means an expert on this genus, but I have watched enough Discovery Channel programs to know that arachnids are not the most amicable creatures. It's my belief that if a bird-eating tarantula were to encounter another class of arthropods, half its size that it would probably eat them; not attempt to form a perfect Utopia with them.
Ex-miner, Chris McCormack (David Arquette) and Sheriff, Sam Parker (Kari Wuhrer) gather the townsfolk together to battle the invading hordes of creepy crawlers. Arquette and Wuhrer each deliver some good performances. The supporting cast deserves kudos as well for creating one of the weirdest bunch of rednecks ever to shuffle across the silver screen. Unfortunately, good casting was not enough to save this cute little film from poor writing and not-so-special special effects. Good try though.
After viewing this production, I could not help but feel a little sad. For you see, it will probably be a really long time before Hollywood musters up the courage to make another giant animal movie. Until then, we'll all be stuck watching giant lustful lemurs ripping the tops off B-movie queens Lorissa McComas and Michelle Bauer in Roger Corman's latest backyard production. Sigh.
Van Damme takes the Direct-to-DVD route
After wowing audiences with a string of box office smashes in the 1990's, Jean-Claude Van Damme's new films have mysteriously started appearing in direct-to-DVD bins along side his fellow slabs of Grade-Z action beef, Steven Seagal and Jeff Speakman. One could surmise that Van Damme made a bold decision to bypass our technologically outdated multiplexes and send his films to the local video store so that his legions of fans could take advantage of the new medium of DVD to view his sinewy tuckus in crisp digital detail. A more critical observer might suggest that Van Damme's more recent flicks have been denied a theatrical release because he never really had a box office smash or legions of adoring fans. You decide.
Well, whatever side of the fence you're on, the presence of Van Damme's digitally enhanced rump is undeniable. It's there, larger than life, in almost every scene, demanding its obligatory close-up. Van Damme's buttocks receive more screen time than his both of his co-stars Jaime Pressly and Pat Morita get combined. Amazingly, he even uses it as a weapon, in one scene where he wraps his thighs around the neck of a villain and snaps it. At this very moment, I can think of no manner of death more horrible and painful than having my spinal column snapped like a stalk of celery in between the hind cheeks of this Belgian anti-actor. I implore Mr. Van Damme never to use his tushy as a deadly weapon again. Furthermore, I request - no, DEMAND that all costume designers on his future projects fit him with pants larger than those designed to clothe an anorexic thirteen-year-old girl.
The plot is rather simple. Jean-Claude and his buttocks ride into a sleepy desert town and save the populace from villains with names like `Joe Bob' and `Berserker'. The violent exploits and sexual prowess of Van Damme and his `twins' convince the townsfolk that they are deities. I am not sure what happens at the end of the film. I was overcome with nausea after witnessing Van Damme snap that henchman's neck with his sweaty thighs and was forced to leave the room to violently vomit. This film is only 96 minutes long, but it seemed like it was longer than the director's cut of `Dances with Wolves'.
A lot of talent agents may have received some nasty telephone calls from their clients following this film's auspicious DVD premiere. Jaime Pressly, a young actress, better known for her roles in A-list, independent films such as `Poor White Trash' and `Poison Ivy: the New Seduction' didn't further her career with this role. A role, I might add, that really only required her to stand submissively next to her biker boyfriend and look good. This task was not difficult, since the actor they cast to play her boyfriend possessed the same animal magnetism and sex appeal as Cooter on the late 1970's TV series `The Dukes of Hazzard.' Danny Trejo should be deeply ashamed. This part was a huge step down from his previous roles as `Prisoner' in `The Hidden' and `Prisoner' in `Maniac Cop II'. As for Pat Morita - well, he has to pay the rent somehow.
With each new film he makes, Jean-Claude proves what a talented an action film star he is - in comparison to say - Bubba Smith of the `Police Academy' series. The direct-to-DVD route will not lead to career longevity, however. Van Damme and his butt need to try something different to get back into movie theaters. My suggestion - cast themselves opposite a rapper who fancies himself an actor. It worked for Steven Seagal. His collaboration with DMX on `Exit Wounds' was dreadful, but it was box office gold. Perhaps Jean-Claude and his hindquarters can convince Busta Rhymes to do a buddy/cop flick with them.
Neon Maniacs (1986)
Vintage 1980's Horror
`Neon Maniacs' begins interestingly enough. A narrator grimly informs the audience that, `When the world is ruled by violence, and the soul of mankind fades, the children's path shall be darkened by the shadows of the Neon Maniacs.' Wow. What a really uh, bold statement. Can anyone tell me what on God's green earth the narrator meant by that? Was he portending some horrible apocalypse? Perhaps he was predicting the Olsen twins' rise to power? I don't know.
The film's plot has promise. A band of festively costumed, water-phobic monsters, living under the Golden Gate Bridge are traipsing around San Francisco brutally butchering horny teenagers. Two high school seniors and a grammar school special effects make-up enthusiast join forces to battle the murderous beasties. Unfortunately, writer, Mark Patrick Carducci never really develops his premise; too many questions are left unanswered. For instance, why would a cabal of creatures who are only vulnerable to water choose to reside under the Golden Gate Bridge? And how does a Hangman, a Samurai, a one-eyed meatball, a Bowman, a zombie Native American, a psychotic surgeon, a deformed knife-wielding maniac, a feral man-ape, a fallen soldier and a dead motorcyclist meet, decide to cohabitate, and form a pact to murder innocent San Franciscans? Did one of the creatures place a personal ad in a local newspaper? If so, which one placed the ad? My guess is that it was the one-eyed meatball.
Despite the mystifying plotline, the film has its good points. Alan Hayes, Leilani Sarelle and Donna Locke are likeable as our three monster busters. Director, Joseph Mangine manages to craft some memorable scenes of horror (the runaway train sequence and the attack at the dance are stand-outs). And the special effects make-up. Oh, the make-up! The monsters are appropriately grotesque and there's enough death and dismemberment to satisfy the most jaded gore hound of the household. Unless of course that gore hound happens to be into hardcore German zombie movies.
A treat for gore hounds everywhere
If the Academy handed out Oscars each year for BEST SPLATTER FILM, "Premutos - Der gefallene Engel" woud have ran away with one the little bald naked guys in 1997. This film surpassed any movie I saw that year for scenes of graphic violence and gore. However, it wouldn't have grabbed any trophies in the BEST ACTOR, BEST ACTRESS or BEST SCREENPLAY catagories.
The acting is just above the usual USA Channel's "Up All Night" censored skin flick. Olaf Ittenbach and company could act rings around Burt Ward any day of the week, standing on their heads, with their mouths full of peanut butter. But if you're expecting classically trained theater actors, stay away. Stay far away.
I saw the film in German, without the aid of subtitles, but I found the story really easy to follow. Perhaps, that's because "Premutos" really doesn't have much of a story. Sure, there's a little exposition, attempting to explain the mythos behind the evil Premutos and the reasons why Ittenbach's character, Mathias has such horrible luck with his crotch, but that's it. The flashbacks and the scenes involving groin brutality are just filler in between the scenes of zombie mayhem. And what mayhem it is!
Director, producer, and writer Olaf Ittenbach has done wonders on a shoestring budget. Most of that budget, it appears, went towards the outstanding special effects make-up. Ittenbach almost manages to outdo BRAINDEAD's climatic lawnmower battle with a thirty minute attack on the senses involving handguns, shotguns, axes, a chainsaw, and even a tank! Yes, that's right, a tank!
"Premutos" is a gore hound's dream. Sure it lacks the charming story and good acting of Peter Jackson's BRAINDEAD, but it's splendid splatter effects and demented sense of humor make up for its shortcomings and earns it a place in the Splatter Movie Hall of Fame. Highly recommended to horror fans everywhere.
Men in Black II (2002)
WORTHY CARBON COPY OF THE ORIGINAL
I admit it. I am to blame for films like this getting made. But I will not share this burden alone. Every single human being who rushed out and bought a ticket to MIB II on July 3, 2002 must hang their heads in shame with me. We are the reason why Hollywood has become intellectually bankrupt.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the film. In fact, I really enjoyed the film. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are brilliant comedic actors. Ditto for the supporting cast. Rip Torn, Patrick Warburton, Tony Shalhoub, and David Cross are talented enough to carry the film themselves.
The set design is spectacular. Who wouldn't love going to work each day at the MIB headquarters? Rick Baker's special effects make-up is amazing enough to convince me that aliens actually do exist. He should clear some space on his mantle for yet another Academy Award.
On the surface, this film is perfect. It's a classic. So, what is my problem with the film? Well, if you examine both the original MIB and this flick closely, you will discover that they are pretty much identical.
It appears that the producers for MIB II took some white out and went to town with the script for the original film. They just took the same situations from the first one and switched the characters around. Will Smith's Agent J is now the burnt out veteran Tommy Lee Jones' Agent K was in the original, while Jones has now assumed the role of the astonished rookie. This is not character growth. This is laziness on the part the screenwriter. The locales are similar. The villain has changed, but has the same modus operadi and objective of the first MIB's evil doer. The beginning, the middle, the climax, and the end of MIB II are also astonishingly similar to its predecessor.
I can just imagine the conversation that the people behind this blockbuster had before it was green-lit. It probably went something like this . ..
Executive #1: "O.K. people, MIB made all of us richer than Paul McCartney. Where do we go from here?"
Executive #1's assistant: "Well, you could try something new and original."
Executive #1: "Go get me some coffee and then clean out your cubicle. You're fired."
Executive #2: "Ding! Ding! I have an idea! Let's make MIB II!"
Executive #1: "Brilliant! Who can we get to write the screenplay?"
Executive #3: "How about Shane Black? He wrote `Lethal Weapon 1 and 2'."
Executive #2: "No can do. He pretty much retired after writing `The Long Kiss Goodnight.' Now he spends most of his time on a bed of money, surrounded by a lot of beautiful women."
Executive #3: "How about Ehren Kruger?"
Executive #2: "Nope. I have him writing an update of `The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' for today's generation. We're going for a PG-13 rating."
Executive #1: "Wait! I think my assistant has the script of the original MIB saved on her computer in Microsoft Word format! We can just switch the names around and we'll have an entirely new movie! The audience won't care!"
Executive #2: "Score! After the money rolls in, I'll finally be able to buy France!"
Executive #3: "Um, didn't you just fire your assistant?"
Executive #1: "Hmm, you're right. I'll talk to my ten-year-old son. He should be able to churn out a script for us by Monday."
We caused this, people! If we keep forking over our hard-earned cash to view more of the same, the studios will never give us anything fresh and original. I love these characters and I wish to see their adventures continue. All I ask is that the screenwriters of the inevitable MIB III come up with something new. Perhaps J and K can travel to another world in defense of Earth. Maybe the film can open with the MIB's attempting take back control of our planet after a devastating full-scale alien invasion. I don't know. Just give me something, anything, other than the same old ideas.
Otherwise, I will probably just sell out, again, and pay $10.00 bucks to see same film, only with a Roman numeral three at the end of the title. Oh, the shame.
Sien lui yau wan (1987)
The Greatest Supernatural Love Story Ever Told!
Once in a while, a film comes along that raises the bar for every other film in its genre. A film of this caliber will influence many films following its release for years to come. `A Chinese Ghost Story' falls in this category. It is arguably one of the best horror films made during the 1980's; possibly one of the best ever made.
The filmmakers have crafted a movie that appeals to every horror fan. The story is engrossing and original. The villains are appropriately menacing and frightening. The sets are creepy and atmospheric. There is even a little blood and gore to satisfy the splatter fan of the house. But don't let the `horror' label scare you off, if you're not a fan of the genre. This film easily fits into many different categories.
The screenwriter has deftly blended the drama, comedy, horror, kung fu, and romance genres into a delicious deluxe cinematic pizza. `A Chinese Ghost Story' is a beautiful epic love story told, thankfully, without the gratuitous nudity and/or explicit sex scenes that have ruined many Hollywood `love stories'. Those put off by the romantic elements of the story can sit back and revel in the fast-paced swordplay and `wire-fu'. If that's not enough, actors Leslie Cheung and Wu Ma provide enough humorous situations to satiate your appetite for comedy. This film offers something for every film fan.
Director Siu-Tung Ching and Producer Tsui Hark assembled a truly amazing cast for this film. Leslie Cheung proves that he is not only a gifted actor, but also a talented singer and a charming physical comedian. I cannot possibly think of a performer other than Cheung who could have portrayed Ling Choi Sin better (except maybe Chow Yun Fat). Joey Wang is enchanting as Lit Su Seen, the enslaved spirit who steals the heart of Cheung's character. Her portrayal of the title character is truly haunting and memorable. Wu Ma is hilarious as the cantankerous Taoist who aids the young lovers.
On technical level, this film is very impressive, even by today's standards. The direction is superb. I wish that today's Hollywood executives would seek out talented artists like Siu-Tung Ching rather falling back on the usual MTV video or Pepsi commercial `directors'. The cinematography is gorgeous. You have to commend any cinematographer who can make a film look good when most of its pivotal scenes take place in the dead of night. The special effects make-up is top-notch. In fact, most of the creature effects in this film blow away the shoddy CGI ghouls and goblins that have become commonplace in modern horror films.
Since its release, "A Chinese Ghost Story" has spawned two worthy sequels, a full-length animated movie, and countless imitations. None of the films that followed it or copied it were able to capture the magic of this classic, however. This film is required viewing for any horror fan or just anyone looking for great way to spend 95 minutes of your time. 10 out 10.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
I want my money back!
Ouch! This turkey has to be the worst entry in the seemingly endless Halloween film series.
I don't even know where to begin. Aside from a few creepy moments in the beginning of the film, I can't write anything kind about it.
The characters were annoying and completely unlikeable. The writers appeared to go out of their way to make them so unappealing, that the audience can't help but root for the psychotic killer. Note to the writers of future installments: If you allow the viewers to care about the protagonists, the next sequel may regain some of the tension and suspense that made the first movie a classic.
The direction was awful. A good portion of the film is seen through "state-of-the-art" camera equipment mounted on the heads of our witless heroes. The image quality of these cameras is terrible and the actors jerk around so much it's often impossible to tell what's going on.
A horror film doesn't have to be gory to be frightening (i.e. "The Sixth Sense," "The Blair Witch Project," etc.). But when you're making a slasher film, the fans expect to the special effects make-up artists to pile on the blood and guts. Fans of classic slasher films like the original "Halloween", "The Burning", and "Friday the 13th" will be disappointed. There's hardly any gore in this crap-fest. Most the special effects shots are destroyed by poor lighting and/or shoddy camera work.
Horror films, in general, have been in a state of decline since the early 1990's. But the slasher film sub-genre died in the mid-1980's, when the MPAA finally squeezed most of the gore out of them. "Halloween: Resurrection" does nothing to bring it back from the dead.