New In Town (Mortuary, 2005)

Mortuary_CoverDenise Crosby is Leslie, recently widowed, has moved her family cross-country to a small California town.  She has bought a local mortuary (right next to a graveyard).  The Mortuary has a past and there is a lot of legend regarding the land it is built on.

As the tale goes, the first owner was a farmer who found nothing would grow on the land.  It was as if the ground was cursed.  Eventually, they built the mortuary and cemetery.  The last owners had a dark history and a handicapped son.  They hid the son away, and then when he got older, as the story goes, he killed his parents and hid beneath the cemetery.

Of course, something evil lives in the mortuary and it possesses people, turning them in zombies.  It is up to her son Jonathan (Cougertown’s Dan Byrd)  to stop the evil (with the help of his girlfriend) and save his little sister from the sinister force.

The plot is kind of a mess.  What exactly are the evil force’s goals?  Why is salt a perfect weapon?  Is it some sort of slug?  Why is it a terrible look digital monster?  The characters are the under-developed stock character type and the film lacks any scares.  This is pretty much a failure on every level.

Monkey_Shines_PosterBased on a novel by Michael Stewart, Monkey Shines is the tale of a quadriplegic man who given an enhanced monkey as his helper.  Allen is an athlete who is left wheelchair-bound after a terrible accident.  Initially, he is stuck with a rather unsympathetic nurse (who lets her parakeet fly around the house) named Maryanne.  He struggles, and his girlfriend walks out on him (only to start dating the doctor who saved his life).  His friend Jeffrey (a scientist experimenting with capuchin monkeys) and a trainer, Melanie, introduce him to Ella.  A capuchin meant to perform tasks for Allan, she initially shows a great amount of intuitiveness, selecting music Allan would like to listen to.  As time goes on, Allan and Melanie also start to build a romantic relationship, while he and Ella seem  to be developing a deeper bond.

But as the story progresses, the bond seems to become more and more primal, thus more dangerous.  Allen has visions of running around, at about the height of a monkey.  As he gets agitated, so does Ella.  And he starts talking about he and Ella as “We”.

While the film starts out shaky, with the initial accident looking almost comical, Romero quickly finds footing in Allen’s struggle with his new situation.  The slow changes from where we see his temper growing shorter and shorter, combined with his growing paranoia over his connection to Ella is very effective.  This is especially seen in his relationship with Maryanne, which rapidly deteriorates with the addition of Ella to the house.

Monkey Shines is a compelling thriller that should really be remembered more as one of Romero’s film canon.

Renovations (Toolbox Murders, 2004)

Toolbox_Murders_PosterTobe returns to the haunted house genre.  Nell and Steven move into a dilapidated but historic Hollywood apartment complex. From the start, Nell feels there is something wrong with the building.

As people disappear, nobody believes her that murders are happening.  Of course, this leads her to watch the red herring, only to discover secret passages below the basement.  So, you know a sub-basement..with sub-basements.

 

She finally finds that the real killer is a disfigured man in a ski mask.  Apparently, it never occurred to him to wear a human face mask, but hey…we can’t all be Leatherface.  I should say, I do think the look is the villain is pretty effective.  Sadly, the rest of the film is less effective.

Toolbox_Murders_1978

The film has laughably inept cops.  In one scene, they leave an apartment, never noticing the body nailed right above the door.  There are several character who exist to be dispatched at the end in a massive bloodbath of a final reel.  The film lacks both suspense and scares.

This is a remake of an exploitation slasher from 1978 that, frankly, I remember nothing about.  Well, except for that VHS video box in the horror aisle at Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.

This is definitely not one of Hooper’s most memorable films.

Day_of_the_Dead_PosterDay of the Dead begins with the films heroes landing a helicopter at the edge of a city. They are calling out as the camera explores a desolate empty world seemingly only occupied by animals.  But then we see a shadow and the camera pans up to the mutilated face of a zombie.

Day of the Dead shows us a world over run by zombies.  There are few members of the living.  In fact, our heroes are part of a secret base of scientists and soldiers who are starting to wonder if they are all alone on the world.  Set on a small island in an underground base, tensions between the civilian staff and military men are running high.

Captain Rhodes and his men are starting to become more aggressive, believing the scientists work unimportant.  The military men just want to find another outpost and leave.  But the lead scientist Logan is obsessed with the idea that he can “domesticate” zombies.  His best example is the zombie Bub (which he explains is a nickname of his father).  Bub seems to remember things like tools, books, phones.  He mainly is mimicking what other people do (he simply thumbs through a Stephen King book, runs a disposable razor down his cheek, etc).  But Logan believes it is more, and the end of the film does suggest that Bub is not as mindless as he seems.

Eventually, it all explodes, the scientists plan an escape, while Rhodes and his men plan to leave the island and the scientists behind.  You might be surprised to find that not everything goes as planned.

A new theme enters Romero’s films with Day of the dead…one of…”Who is worse?”  Not unlike Ripley telling Burke you don’t see the aliens “f***ing each other over for a percentage”, Rhodes and his men may be more terrifying as they bully and abuse the scientists.  It has been said that as the movies have gone on, George Romero started to side with the zombies.  Day of the Dead is the seeds of that.

It is not just the callous obsession of Logan or the cruelty of Captain Rhodes.  It is, ultimately, Bub.  Bub, who barely says a word is remarkably sympathetic.  Sherman Howard packs a lot of emotion into his performance, and it is no surprise that Bub is a popular character.

Truthfully, Day of the Dead is my favorite Romero zombie movie.  I like and admire the previous two films, but Day is my unabashed favorite.  Being set beyond the zombie outbreak allows an exploration of that world based in something other than confusion and desperation.  It asks the most intriguing questions about human nature and our desire to control situations that may be far from our grasp.

Crocodile_PosterA bunch of teens go on a trip to the lake, staying in a houseboat.  They stumble on a nest of crocodile eggs and take one.  So then they are pursued by the huge crocodile momma.  Meanwhile, the local police chief is investigating a series of grisly deaths.  With help from a shady alligator farm owner, he figures out what is going on.

Crocodile is not very good.  It is pretty standard, it’s pretty teens are bland and only two characters are really defined… the nice girl and the slut, who wants the nice girl’s man. But no worries…the slut gets eaten.

The egg plot seems directly lifted from the third Jurassic Park movie…right down to a female character returning the egg.  And let’s be honest…this is a poor man’s Lake Placid…and it is indeed poor.  This is one of those films where people are ten feet away, but still end up in the crocodile’s mouth.  The crocodile is a mix of practical and digital.  And all the digital looks terrible.

Even for a die-hard Hooper fan, this is not a movie worth checking out.

Creepshow_Poster

The Horror anthology has always been risky.  There are few true classics.  Mostly what you get are movies with a couple good tales among some duds. George Romero and Stephen King teamed up to create Creepshow.

The five stories included here are all pretty strong.  The first is Fathers Day, the story of a somewhat rotten family gathering to celebrate the birthday of the late patriarch.  This year, he intends to get his birthday cake.

The second story is the Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill is about a simple-minded farmer who discovers a meteor on his land. After touching the meteor, Jordy finds frass growing uncontrollably, consuming his body.

Something to Tide You over features an adulterous couple who are discovered by the woman’s husband.  He seeks to take revenge trapping them on the beach (so to speak).

The Crate follows an older professor who is constantly belittled by his alcoholic gossip wife.  His respite is his fellow professor, Dexter.  Dexter is called to the school by a janitor who finds a mysterious crate tucked away.  The crate seems to be decades old…but to also contain something still alive.  And hungry.

Finally, They’re Creeping Up on You is about an old man obsessed with cleanliness finding his home seems to be under siege by cockroaches.

The film is framed as a comic book, with art by Jack Kamen (an E.C. comics artist, which is the inspiration for Creepshow).  As each story begins and ends, we see comic book art that fades into the live image (or Vice Versa).  The art is great and provides a unique look to the film.  The film also has an extra framing device of a story about a young boy (Played by King’s real-life son Joe) whose father (played by veteran character actor Tom Atkins) is angry when he finds him reading a horror comic book.

Tom Savini provides a great series of effects, with visuals that mimic the color of comics. The gruesome visuals are not interested in realism, rather in being lush and colorful.

The cast is really terrific.  You have veterans like E.G. Marshall and Hal Holbrook along with upcoming stars like Ed Harris and Ted Danson.

Most of the film has a tone of cartoonish horror.  The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill struggles the most in this regard because at times it gets absurdly comical.  But overall, Creepshow is still one of Romero’s straight up most fun works.

It’s Alive! (The Mangler, 1995)

The_Mangler_PosterThis is…a weird film.  Englund is back for another round with Hooper and he is clearly having a blast this time around.After a tragic accident with an old and giant folding machine at the local laundry, Detective John Hunton finds himself drawn into a dark and supernatural world.

Based on a ten page Stephen King short story, the Mangler is a folding machine possessed by a demon that is served by the elderly Bill Gartley.  Hunton, with help from a spiritualist friend and elderly photographer/mortician he uncovers a dark history of human sacrifice and works to save Gartley’s young niece Sherry.

Among the odd choices in the film are having the mortician be played by a young man in old man make-up.  Jeremy Crutchley turns in a good performance, but the make-up is so obvious it is distracting when he is on screen.  There is an exorcism of an old fridge.  Most of the characters are largely unpleasant or annoying.  Of course, it gets downright hilarious when the giant machine starts running after the leads in the factory like a wild animal.  As mentioned, the short story is pretty short, so they add a lot of stuff…but funny enough?  The machine chasing people?  Not one of them.  In the story, it runs around town killing people. Oh, Stevie.

Truthfully, this is really only good for a bunch of friends to watch and laugh together.  It is also worth noting that although Hooper is the credited director, he was actually replaced after having filmed the majority of the film.

Night_Terrors_PosterThe film opens with the Marquis de Sade in prison.  We witness him being tortured and then once in his cell, he starts to mentally torment the man in the cell next to him until the man rips his own eyeballs from his head. The film jumps to the present day where Genie is visiting her father in Cairo.  After an attempted rape by some locals, she is saved by Sabina.

Genie’s father recommends that she avoid Sabina…that Sabine is not a…good influence.  Dad is kind of right as Sabina pulls Genie into a cult led by Paul, a descendant of the Marquis de Sade. There is murder, betrayal, and sex!  Of the dullest kind! Anything resembling sensuality is comically inept.  The threat of the cult is never there, in spite of them killing Genie’s friends and family.

There is a very fumbled attempt to present this all as a Christianity vs Depraved Cult…but Genie’s religious father makes your average Stephen King religious nut look nuanced.  She has visions of her father walking into the room with a Bible and a big cross and yelling about the cult being unclean.  He is an archeologist who proclaims “Thanks be to God” at weird times.  “Look at this wall carving…thanks be to God!”

Most of the performances are weak and stiff.  Even Robert Englund seems to just sleepwalk through this one, giving one of his least interesting performances.

Night Terrors is not only lacking in scares, it is terribly boring.

Knightriders_PosterI never really had any idea what this movie was about, based on the cover in the video store. s thought it was maybe about time traveling bikers in medieval times or a post apocalyptic future.  It turns out…it is about Ren Fair bikers who get super popular.

Billy leads a traveling show where everyone dresses as knights and other medieval citizenry, with the one different being they ride motor cycles rather than horses.  Most treat it as a fun business, but Billy seems to have really bought into the notion that there is a certain reality to his kingdom.  He starts to really have a crisis when he discovers a magazine write up about his crew that starts to cause fractures. It starts to get minds within the group to be tempted by dreams of fame and stardom.

Eventually, Morgan (Tom Savini) walk away to take a lucrative sounding offer of commercialization.  And while it is exciting at first, they start to become disillusioned, missing what they had with Billy.

It is interesting to see how they have framed various members of the Arthurian court.  Merlin is more of a hippie than magician…but he seems able to reach Billy in a fashion others cannot.

The film focuses on themes of being true to yourself and your ideals, an not caving to compromise.  And that can feel a bit goofy in a film about guy jousting on motorcycles for fun.

The jousting sequences are fun to watch and really, the cast does a good job of bringing it all to life convincingly.  If the film has one major flaw, it is quite simply that at two and a half hours? It is a bit to long.  But still, this is such an odd man out of the Romero catalogue, it has some real charms.

Spontaneous_Combustion_PosterSam discovers that his parents were part of an experiment with nuclear power while he was in the womb.  Upon being born, he is proclaimed a perfectly healthy baby.  Shortly after his parents burst into flames (spontaneously!).

Sam discovers he has the power to make things burst into flames.  When he gets angry, he causes people to erupt in violent flames.  But it is not just other people.  When a victim burns, so does he.

There are some goofy moments, like when staring into a fire, he has memories from before he was born. Or the fact that they talk about Spontaneous Human Combustion as a totally scientific fact and common occurrence. Or the psychic radio host.

 

What really makes this work is Brad Dourif’s performance.  Sam is kind and sweet, so when he starts to struggle with his power, he is pretty sympathetic.  This is especially true as he becomes unable to know who he can trust.

The ending gets a little convoluted, trying to be both tragic and “happy”.

The effects in the film are quite good, if somewhat hyper-dramatic.

Overall, though largely forgotten, this is a pretty strong effort from Hooper.