Rise of a Zero (Hercules, 1997)

Hercules_Disney_PosterThe gods of Olympus are celebrating the birth of the son of Zeus and Hera (um…slight change from myth, Disney cannot be seen as endorsing extramarital god flings) Hercules.  Everybody seems happy except brother Hades. Hades attempts to turn Hercules mortal…but is only half successful, forcing Zeus to allow his son to be raised on earth by a poor couple of peasants. Hades is unaware that his plan was unsuccessful, mislead by his minions Pain and Panic, and believes Hercules is dead.

But years later, Hercules is a clumsy young man, who seems to cause trouble anywhere he goes, due to not being able to properly judge his own strength. He seeks the help of satyr Phil to train to become a true hero. Along the way he falls for “bad girl” Meg, who turns out to be a pawn of Hades. He is shocked to discover that Hercules is alive and sets out to get rid of Hercules and Zeus at the same time.

Frankly, James Woods is the best thing here. His Hades is a darkly comic jerk who is quite  bit of fun. The films tone and honor are kind of all over the place, and not particular effective (especially the whole mocking of “branding”, which rings kind of hollow as critical humor goes).

I really like the character design of the film.  The art style is unique from previous Disney animated features. Ultimately, we are left with a light film that is kind of a mess in it’s execution.

It is not something I plan to do often, but this essay from Lindsey Ellis on the film hits pretty much everything I like and dislike about the film.  And is more entertaining than my ramblings.

Comics Are Rotten (Creepshow, 1982)

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.

Wisps (the Fog, 1980)

the-fog-1980-posterAfter two TV movies, John Carpenter returned to the screen with an old fashioned  ghost story.  Telling the tale of small seaside town Antonio Bay, the Fog follows events leading up to their Centennial.  The town is planning to celebrate the near mythic four founders of the town.  In the days leading up, there are mysterious events.  Add a dense, unnatural fog.  The Fog is not the scary part…there is something in the fog.  Something cruel and angry.

Only a few townspeople know the true history.  Father Malone is a tortured priest who has kept the secret.  And the rest of the town continues on oblivious, writing off his warnings.  But people are starting to discover some bizarre incidents.  They find a ship that appears abandoned, until they find a sea ravaged body.  A body that gets up once on land.  There are knocks at doors, but there is nothing there.  When the fog finally overtakes the town, the vengeful spirits start to decimate the town, while some race to save others.

This is a wonderfully classic haunting story.  The characters are interconnected by the narration of Stevie Wayne, the local DJ who works in a converted lighthouse (it is, of course, related to the horrific history of Antonio Bay).   As Stevie, Adrienne Barbeau has a sexy and raspy tone.  Stevie is a single mother who is separated from her son, and her only way to communicate the threat is to keep talking on the radio.  She also has a playful and flirtatious relationship with weather man Dan (Carpenter regular Charles Cyphers).  Their relationship is entirely over the phone, but it is engaging.

Tom Atkins (always welcome in any film) is rugged local Nick Castle who picks up hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, returning from Halloween).  They end up trying to save people after hearing Stevie over the radio.  Hal Holbrook’s weary priest is a great performance.

The effects are so simply that they impress.  The fog crawls through forests, engulfs houses and the ghosts hidden within are emphasized by eerie back lighting.  Carpenter has filled the film with many great little touches, such as using the scenery of the town as a character all its own.

If you want a great and classic ghost story?  You won’t go wrong with the Fog.

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