Boys and Ghouls Go to the Movies Part 1 (Tales From the Crypt Presents Demon Knight, 1995)

TFtC_Demon_Knight_PosterHBO’s Tales From the Crypt was in it’s sixth Season when they started a bold plan to break out into movies. There had been a Tales from the Crypt film in the seventies, but this would be different. Instead of being an anthology film, the Tales from the Crypt movies would tell a theatrical length tale.  They assembled a series of scripts, none of which were specifically written for the franchise.  This resulted in three films of varying success.

The first up was Demon Knight.  It introduces us to Brayker (William Sadler) a man running from a conflict.  He arrives at a remote hotel which houses a motley crew of broken people.  Brayker is frantic and  mysterious, so nobody takes him seriously before Hell literally arrives in the form of Billy Zane…the Collector.  Brayker has something he wants.

The Collector is actually a demon who needs a “key” that Brayker is trying to protect.  This key will allow Hell to overrun the world.  So Brayker tries to keep him out of the hotel.  Except, the barriers he erects also depend on the personal strengths of the people in the hotel.  If they let the Collector in to themselves, he can use them as fresh demons.

And that is where Billy Zane gets to shine.  This is really his movie.  The Collector appeals to your hopes or desires.  He promises one person love and respect, the two things she does not get in her life.  And then he tempts another character as a friendly bartender.  Zane has fun with these moments and is highly effective, you understand why characters cave.

The effects are low budget, but effective.  The demons are creepy, and the practical effects work really deliver for the story.  The characters are easy to root for, most of them having decent qualities, even if rough around the edges.  And the film has CCH Pounder.  Every film should have her in it.

In spite of the film being outside the typical stories in the Tales catalog (they are usually tales of bad people getting a comeuppance.  Demon Knight is a Heroes Journey), it is an effective tale.  It is fun, exciting and well told.  The film has a strong cast that really sell the situation.  This is the best of the three Tales From the Crypt films, and the one truly worth watching.

The Danger of Deadpool’s Victory

So, since the last time I talked about Deadpool, I was proven very wrong.  Deadpool was a hit with critics and audiences, receiving a lot of praise.  There are people who did not care for it, but the movie broke records nobody expected.

I am happy to be wrong here.  I am glad it has succeeded.  And I think there is room for both family friendly super hero films and ‘R-Rated’ super-hero films.

On Twitter a week or so back, I got involved briefly in a discussion that was inspired by a tweet that stated that “Nothing Good Can Come From Deadpool’s Success.”  I took the opposite side, arguing I do not think it means all super-hero films are suddenly going to go hard ‘R’.

Then in a couple days time, we saw announcements of the next Wolverine film will be ‘R’ and there will be an ‘R’ rated “super cut” of Superman vs Batman.  And I do get the concern, though I am not ready to admit defeat.  The Wolverine is not surprising, and they have skirted the violence of the character for over a decade.

Going back to X-2 we were being given pitches that we were about to see the Wolverine the last film did not deliver.  We got a more violent cut of the second Wolverine film.  At best, the success of Deadpool let them know that the ‘R’ is not the kiss of death.

In regards to Superman and Batman…Warner Brothers has always seen dark and gritty as the key to success.  When Superman Returns did not succeed quite as big as the WB had hoped?  They cited that it was not Dark Enough.  When the Dark Knight succeeded they felt vindicated and even suggested that this is how they would fix Superman.  When Green Lantern failed Warner Brothers blamed the film for not being dark enough.

Yet Man of Steel was dark and grim.  And it seems the DC Universe was already on this path, well before Deadpool.

What is sad, is there is a lesson to be learned from Deadpool’s success.  Deadpool was not a dark and grim take on super-heroes.  It was a fun and bizarre ride.  It had dark humor, and lot of it.  But it was funny and intentionally so.  The creators (from the writers to the director to the stars on) got the character.  They knew and were faithful to their source.

Deadpool proves taking a big risk is worth doing.  Films that know who they are? They are what studios should take a chance on.  Truth their creatives, don’t micro manage.  Letting the creators be free often produces positive results.  Micro-Managing everything gives us studio vision and less interesting films.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part3 (The Abyss, 1989)

the_abyss_posterBefore Terminator 2, James Cameron made the Abyss.  As with almost every film he makes, he introduced revolutionary technology.  Without the Abyss (and it’s now simple “Water Tentacle”, we may not have seen any of the other revolutions in digital effects that followed).

But it is not the effects that make this film a joy to watch.  It is the storytelling.  Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio play estranged husband and wife Virgil (nicknamed Bud) and Lindsey Brigman.  They seem to be on the outs, but it is clear throughout the film, neither is truly ready to give up on the other.  They run an underwater mining rig and their crew is a raggedy band.They joke, argue and love each other like a weird mismatched family.  They are asked by the government to help Navy Seals get access to a nuclear sub that has crashed in mysterious circumstances.

In addition, the crew starts to experience strange phenomena, such as bright pink lights in the water and strange water formations indicating a greater intelligence at work.    They end up discovering something amazing, but at great personal risk.

Harris and Mastrantonio are superb in their roles and really sell a great and deep love between each other.  Michael Beihn’s performance as a Navy Seal struggling with serious paranoia issues adds the real element of danger.  Cameron manages to give us a film with relationships that feel worn and very real.  The story has both grit and beautiful wonder.  It is tense at time, romantic at other and inspiring and hopeful.

Now, the theatrical version leaves out some big stuff, and so I recommend checking out the longer Director’s Cut which gives a bit more heft to the end of the film.  This is one of Cameron’s gems, even if it got kind of lost in the collection of films.  Why the Blu-Ray release is so delayed is genuinely confounding to me.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 2 (Leviathan, 1989)

Leviathan_PosterAlso in 1989, we were treated to Leviathan. This was set at a deep sea mining facility.  Getting close to rotating out, they discover a sunken ship called the Leviathan.  In hopes of claiming riches, they brink back a safe.  But the safe just contains video tapes and a bottle of vodka.

The next morning, one of the crew is struck ill and dies.  But this is only the beginning, as the mysterious disease that killed the man seems to be actively altering his body.  Soon, a another crew member dies.  After the Doctor (Richard Crenna) confirms no other crew have symptoms, he and Crew Boss Beck (Peter Weller) decide to get rid of the  bodies.  But before they can, it fights back.  While trying to get rid of it, part of the body is sliced off and continues to grow while the crew is unaware.

The film is basically Alien underwater.  The crew uses flame throwers to move around and fight it through labyrinthine hallways.  They monster knocks off the various crew members until only a few remain.

This is a great cast.  Weller was fresh off Robocop, you had Ghostbuster’s Ernie Hudson, Amanda Pays , Richard Crenna and Daniel Stern in pivotal roles.  Then there are the effects.  It is obvious this was made on a tight budget and a tight time frame.    The Creature Effects were overseen by the Stan Winston Studio.  This team included Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis who now run Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.They manage to create a fearsome looking creature, in spite of not being given a specific design to work with.  The director wanted a kitchen sink approach which results in the monster being somewhat of a mess, but it still work quite well most of the time.

If the only two movies that came out in 1989 about undersea crews fighting a monster were Leviathan and Deepstar Six?  Leviathan is flat out the better film, in part due to it sticking so closely to the Alien Formula.  But 1989 saw one other film which broke new special effects ground and left these two films in the dust.

The director George P. Cosmatos followed this film up with Tombstone.  Really.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Part 1 (Deep Star Six, 1989)

Deepstar_Six_Poster1989 saw three competing sci-fi/horror films.  One stood out above the other two, but we will get to that one later.

First up is Sean Cunningham’s Deep Star Six.  Cunningham was known primarily for producing and directing the first Friday the 13th.  He is probably more well known for his producer credits.

It is the story of an underwater nuclear test facility.    One morning they discover an underwater cavern.  it apparently housed a whole underwater ecology of it’s own…and it sets free a large creature that starts working it’s way through the crew.  The creature turns out to be a large and ancient crab-like beast.   It damages the sea base, forcing the remaining crew to figure out a way to decompress and then take them to the surface.  oh, and the creature stands between them and the only remaining way to get to the surface.

While the effects are decent, there is nothing that this film offers in chills or scares.  It’s most redeeming quality is that it has a pretty good cast.  It is loaded with talented character actors.  And Greg Evigan (who seemed like he would be on a big star path before he joined the Tekwar Franchise) is pretty likable as the fish out of water, so to speak. but the film itself is only memorable in that it was competing for audiences against two other films with similar  concepts in the same year.

Science Gone Mad Part 3 (Real Genius, 1985)

real_genius_posterThere was a time when Val Kilmer was primarily doing goofball comedies like Top Secret or playing supporting roles like Iceman in Top Gun.  Not like when he was a serious actor in Batman Forever.

Anyways, Real Genius was a little more grounded in reality than the other two entries in Science Gone Mad.  There is no alien technology or magic genies.  Instead, it follow the story of young science prodigy Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret).  He has graduated from high school early and been accepted to a University renowned for it’s science genius students.  Mitch goes in with high hopes.  There he meets his roommate, Chris Knight (Val Kilmer).  Chris is popular with the student body and seems to be more interested in applying his brilliant mind to having fun, an annoying trait to his professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) who needs Knight’s intellect to complete a project for him.

Mitch also meets a hyper-kinetic you woman named Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) whom he is quickly smitten with.  She is a genius whose mind is in constant think mode, ideas flowing at a rapid pace.  There is also the mysterious guy who seems to live in Mitch’s closet.

It is not all fun and games, as Mitch finds that there are bullies among geniuses as well.    At one point, he makes a pained call home to his parents, feeling defeated.  This very call is used to humiliate him publicly.  Jarret is especially sympathetic as the scene plays out.

The film mostly goes for light humor, but does know when to be more serious, without it totally messing up the flow of the film.  It is funny and the characters are very likable.  Martha Coolidge draws strong performances from the cast (this is Val Kilmer’s second theatrical release) and along with the writers, keeps the film focused.  It never goes off the beaten track.  We only get the information we need, experiencing the important story points.  Even the jokes function towards telling the story.  There is a running joke in which Mitch enters a class room, and there are fewer students each time, as students are leaving tape players to record the lecture…eventually, he is the only person as the room, as the teacher leaves a tape player in the room playing his lecture.  Really, the joke shows how lonely it is for Mitch and how he is having a hard time assimilating into the culture of the university.

Chris Knight is not an original character, he is the goofball genius we have seem many times.  But Kilmer imbues him with a real charm.  Knight looks after Mitch like a little brother, trying to help him break free of his uptight fears of failure.  He wants to get Mitch to open up to life’s possibilities.  And Mitch is both sympathetic and pretty endearing.  Atherton is terrific in his trademark role as “Authoritarian Asshole”.  And you cannot help but like Meyrink’s Jordan.  She is a sweet, super smart chatterbox and it is weirdly endearing.

Real Genius is a highly fun comedy that has the right amount of thoughtfulness running through it.  It is a smart comedy with the hint of dumb (but only enough to make you laugh).

Science Gone Mad Part 2 (Wierd Science, 1985)

weird_science_posterJohn Hughes’ juvenile take on Mary Poppins and genies should really be more problematic than it often is.

Released in 1985, the film pandered to boyish nerd fantasies.  It focuses on downtrodden super nerds Wyatt and Gary.  Both are obsessed with girls while being relentless humiliated by bullies.  It is, of course a common trope meant to garner sympathy.  Anthony Michael Hall had not yet broken free of the nerd role established in Sixteen Candles.  The same year Weird Science was released, Hall was in Hughes’ the Breakfast Club with a bit more thoughtful approach to this type of character.  But his Gary is in the Nerd Who Wants to Be Popular vein.

So when so when his best friend Wyatt’s family is out of town for a weekend, the hijinks begin.  Truthfully, Ilan Mitchell-Smith’s Wyatt is more sympathetic.  He is steamrolled by everyone.  He is less concerned about being popular than just succeeding and getting the girl.

To try and figure out their problems with girls, they decide to put their genius to use and create a girl to question on their computer.  It all gets out of hand and somehow they manage to create a real woman.  Kind of.  Kelly LeBrock’s Lisa is a teen boy’s fantasy woman in every sense.  Forward, sexy and she has magic powers.  Somehow, they created a genie.  And she is eager to please her masters.  And this is where it should get tremendously troubling.  Except, they are not confident of their role.  Instead, Lisa takes over and starts making their decisions for them.  She takes the stands they are scared to take.  She takes them out on the town.  She throws a party.  She is protective of Gary and Wyatt, but wants to push them to be more assertive and not run away from adversity to cower in the bathroom.

The film certainly has it’s fun moments, and it has a good cast that help make it easier to ignore just how absurd the plot is.  Bill Paxton as Wyatt’s jerk big brother Chet is especially memorable, including his comeuppance.  But it also has some dull stretches.  The jokes are often hit or miss.  The party sequence is just bizarre, with an endless parade of absurd ideas for showing off effects.

All in all, this one of Hughes weaker efforts.  It is mindless fun, but the heart that should be there is missing.

Science Gone Mad Part 1 (My Science Project, 1985)

My_Science_Project_Poster1985 was a big year for Teen Science Nerd films.  I will be reviewing the three films over the next three days.  Today, we start with director John Betuel’s My Science Project.  Betuel wrote the classic Sci-Fi film the Last Starfighter and he wrote this film, which would give one real hope.

The cast is a combination of well known (Dennis Hopper, Richard Masur and Barry Corbin) combined with “up and Comers” (Danielle Von Zerneck, John Stockwell and Fisher Stevens).  The plot is simple.  The film opens a few decades before the film actually takes place.  An alien ship is shot down.  The military opts to have everything destroyed.  Jump ahead to 1985 and we meet high school student Michael Harlan (who has gone on to direct films such as Blue Crush, Into the Blue and Turistas) and his buddy Vince (Played by Fake Indian Fisher Stevens).  His science teacher Bob, an aging hippie pining for the 60’s played appropriately by Dennis Hopper, is after him about his science project.  He needs to pass science class.  He is not scientifically inclined, rather more mechanical.  He is a car guy.  After his girlfriend and he break up over an article in Cosmo, he is asked out by nerd Ellie (Danielle von Zerneck).  Begged, really.

Michael takes her on a date, but it is really a cover so he can go through a military junkyard for a makeshift science project.  He finds a glowing orb that he takes with him.  Long story short, it is a battery that bends time and space.  It starts to suck power, reaching out for more and more powerful sources.

John, Ellie, Vince and additional nerd Sherman (Raphael Sbarge) try and stop the orb from ultimately destroying space and time as we know it.  The film is pretty messy, and it does not make a whole lot of sense.  Unlike the tightly scripted The Last Starfighter, My Science Project seems to be wandering around trying to figure out where it is going.  Dennis Hopper’s Bob is fairly entertaining, but he gets removed from the story about a third of the way in and does not reappear until the end of the story.

The film has big ideas, but nothing solid really materializes, making the film largely average and forgettable.


Four or Five Moments (Deadpool, 2016)

deadpool_imax_posterTim Miller’s Deadpool is hilarious and fun.  A darkly comic take that brings the pages to life by simply understanding the character.  The movie is also extremely crass, full of over the top cartoonish violence, raunchy humor, some nudity and plenty of profanity.  This is not for everyone, and if you find those things hard to get past, I would recommend skipping this one.  It is also not for your kids.  This film earns it’s ‘R’ rating.

Honestly, it is a bit amazing this film got made.  While attempt to parody and mock super-hero film have been attempted, they are really never successful.  They never seem to understand the thing they are lampooning.  Miller, Ryan Reynolds and the writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have given us a surprisingly clever film.  It is a bit amazing that they even got the opportunity to make it.  After the disaster of X-Men Origins: Wolverine (The first attempt at playing the character by Reynolds), the idea of a Deadpool movie was shelved by the studio.

Then, somebody leaked test footage of a sequence that was created to pitch the shelved film.  The response was so overwhelmingly positive the film got greenlit and Miller and Reynolds went to work.

And what they gave us is one of the most unique super-hero movies we have seen, while still fitting into that world.  Reynolds bring snarky charm to Deadpool, also known as Wade Wilson.  Wilson has been experimented on and his latent mutant genes activated.  He takes damage, but due to a healing factor, all his wounds fix themselves.  So, like a real life Wile E. Coyote, he gets abused relentlessly, but keeps coming back.  A lot of the film’s humor comes from this.

There is a running gag that Colossus is always trying to get Deadpool to change his ways and join the X-Men.  And along with the sullen Teenage Negasonic Warhead, he spends the film trying to get Deadpool on that path.  And these two characters are great additions.  They fit into the world well.


The real success is pulling off the character of Deadpool.  Constantly cracking wise, he spends the film talking to the audience.  In one scene Colossus is startled by a comment from Deadpool, not understand why he made his comment.  Deadpool explains that he is not talking to Colossus…he is talking to “Them”.  Them is the audience.  Wilson is constantly breaking the fourth wall.  Instead of narrating the film, he just turns and talks to the audience.  He is fully aware he is in a movie universe.

One of the other fun aspects is that Reynolds is merciless to himself.  There are numerous slams of his previous film outings and even a slam on himself as a talent.  And the film’s opening credits (which kept me laughing even after I got the gag, it just stayed funny) effectively let you know the film’s sarcastic attitude.  This is not your regular X-Men movie.

Of course, the movie is definitely set in the Fox Marvel X-Men Universe.  This has caused some consternation among some geek sites, as they cannot reconcile the difference between Daniel Cudmore’s Colossus in the previous X-Men films and the version we see in this film, who appears older and is voiced by Stefan Kapicic with a thick Russian accent.  This is pretty easy to reconcile, as the Days of Future past altered the timeline.  It is entirely possible Colossus came from Russia when he was older.

I found myself liking all the characters in Wilson’s circle.  There was an oddball charm in his relationship with Vanessa (Morena Baccarin).  His roomate Blind Al (Leslie Uggams) is a riot.  T.J. Miller’s bartender (he runs a bar for mercenaries) Weasel is a fun character (his best line comes right before Deadpool goes to take out his villain, Francis (Ed Skrein).  Francis really hates Deadpool because he is so mouthy…and Deadpool refuses to call him by his chosen villain codename… Ajax.

Anyways, while I have repeatedly expressed concern that the film will not be successful for precisely the reasons I enjoyed it, I am more than pleased if it succeeds, as it could open the doors to more creative takes in superhero films.  There are a lot of them on the slate, and it would be great if they all sought to set themselves apart from the crowd.

Rebooting the Spoiler Egg

I have now seen two articles that talk about how movies either had spoilers or Easter Eggs that reveal the end of the movie.  I feel like we are getting dumber and dumber.

The claim of movies with spoilers was quickly derided by pointing out that providing hints and clues in a film about itself is a story technique called foreshadowing.  A spoiler is, actually, information given about the story before you have seen it.  For example, my telling you that Captain America dies towards the end of Captain America: Civil War is a spoiler if you did not already know it was going to happen.  The movie hinting that he will die is foreshadowing, not a spoiler.

An Easter Egg is a non-plot specific item thrown into a movie for fan service.  It is very common in franchises.  It is very common that a movie based on a book might have a prop that hints of things otherwise left out of the film.  But it is usually something a casual viewer would not notice.  Easter Eggs reward fans, but do not stand out so much that they confuse the viewer who has no prior “connection” to the film they are watching.  In the X-Men movies, it was often away to say “Yes, these characters you love from the comics exist in this world”.  In the second X-Men movie, eagle eyed comics fans noticed a young man in glasses being interviewed on television named Hank McCoy.  McCoy is the X-Man/Defender known as the Beast.  You did not need to see Stephen Strange or know who Doctor Strange is while watching Captain America: the Winter Soldier.  But his name appeared in the Hydra/S.H.I.E.L.D. database.  Theses are Easter Eggs.

This reminds me of the other heavily abused movie term…the Reboot.

The term “Reboot” gets thrown around way to much and often in ways totally inapplicable.  To put it simply, a reboot starts over.  It erases prior continuity, so to speak, with the aim of a new franchise.  Films that were never a franchise getting remade is exactly that…a Remake.  Labyrinth was a one off film.  It was one film.  If you are retelling that tale?  It is a remake.  If you make a new film within that continuity, then you are making a sequel.

A sequel to a film that carries on the previous films’ story is not a reboot, even if it is released thirty years after the original film.  Mad Max: Fury Road is an awesome sequel that is not a reboot.

You can only reboot a franchise.  X-Men first Class was not a reboot, it took place within the franchise continuity.  It had conflicts with X-Men Origins Wolverine…but this was not addressed until X-Men: Days of Future Past.  That totally rebooted the franchise, totally altering the course of characters and story completely.

The Amazing Spider-Man jettisoned the Sam Raimi based continuity and started from scratch.  While the new Spider-Man films will not re-hash the origin, it has still opted to reboot, having an entirely new continuity in place.

The Josh Trank Fantastic Four takes place in a totally new origin.  It ignores the previous two films.

2009’s Friday the 13th tried to restart the franchise by basically starting over.  They gave a compressed version of the original film, but ignored the first eleven entries (if you include Freddy Vs Jason).  There were no ties to the original films beyond the most basic “origin” story at the beginning.

These are reboots. They are not tethered to the previous continuity, they are their own new take.  They are also meant to kick off a rebirth of that franchise.  Remaking Steel Magnolias is not “Rebooting Steel Magnolias”.

So, in closing… Foreshadowing is not a spoiler or Easter Egg.  And a Remake of a one off film is not a reboot.

Because this is the stuff that matters, folks.


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