They Are Us (Invaders From Mars, 1986)

Invaders_From_Mars_PosterOne night, young David witnesses a spaceship landing just beyond the hill.  After his father returns from checking it out, he seems…different.  His father seems detached.  Like he is trying to determine how to behave.  David uncovers an invasion from the martians and must try and figure out who to trust.  His teachers? The Military? His fellow students?

Based on the 1953 film, Hooper returned to sci-fi quickly after his space vampire movie Lifeforce.  A decidedly more mainstream film, this falls squarely into the territory of the paranoid alien invasion films.  And it is pretty effective in that regard.  David soon finds his parents and classmates under the influence of the martians, and his only chance for help from Linda, the school nurse.  They eventually find help from the military, who lead a retaliatory attack.

The film is very lush and colorful, with Hooper embracing vibrant reds.  The creature effects by Stan Winston are great and the Martians are utterly unearthly.

The script is very effective. In a few brief moments, Dan O’Bannon establishes how close David is with his parents, so that we can tell that something is wrong a scene later when his dad has been taken over by the martian invaders.

There are some great performances here, with a solid group of actors including Karen Black and James Karen.

Really, the only thing that frustrated me with the film was the choice of ending.  It is frustrating with it’s choice to muddy the reality of the story.  But aside from that, I found Invaders From Mars an enjoyably film from Tobe Hooper’s filmography.

Careless in Suburbia (Poltergeist, 1982)

Poltergeist_PosterThe Freeling family have a good life.  Steve and Diane have three children.  One evening they are awakened by their youngest, Carol Anne, who is talking to the TV.

As days go by they notice unusual phenomena and not just Carol Anne watching static on the television.  The dog responds to something nobody can see, the son is sure the tree outside his window is alive.

After a traumatic night which results in Carol Anne being taken by the spirits she has been communicating with.  When paranormal researches come in, they are floored by what they find.  It is decided they need the help of an exorcist to try and get Carol Anne back.

There are two things people likely recall most vividly.  Cute little Carol Anne turning to the camera to say (eerily) “They’re Heeeeere” and Zelda Rubinstein as Exorcist Tangina.  Her most famous line has been quoted in many films and TV shows…”This house is clean.”

Rubinstein is memorable in both appearance and performance.  A small older woman, she brings an otherworldly vibe, and at times, her purposes almost seem at odds with the Freelings.

The effects still stand up, with only a few exceptions.  The most obvious being a sequence with a character clawing his face off and it is obviously a dummy head.  But otherwise, the ghost effects still work very well.

There is a longstanding belief that Spielberg is the director of Poltergeist, and it appears he was on set, though so was Hooper.  He was filming E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial at the same time (a movie he offered to Hooper to direct).  Hooper is the only credited director, but according to at least some individuals who were there, it was primarily Spielberg. It sounds like this was not one of those situations where Hooper was being replaced, and he had some creative input.  It would appear they got along fine and Hooper was providing Spielberg cover in regards to contractual rules with E.T.

Regardless of who directed it, Poltergeist is an entertaining and somewhat unique horror film with a terrific cast.

Fishies Pt 3 (Piranha, 1995)

piranha_1995_posterProbably the most interesting fact of the Piranha remake is that a twelve year old Mila Kunis plays the daughter of the Greatest American Hero.

In 1995, Roger Corman and Showtime started remaking Corman “Classics” like Not of This Earth and Humanoids From the Deep.

Piranha was part of this series and the worst thing about it?  It is not bad or good.  It is just there.  It exists.  It is a pretty straight remake, just with a different cast.

William Katt (The Greatest American Hero & House) and Alexandra Paul (Baywatch & Christine) head up the cast.  The film follows  the original beat for beat.

There is not much to say, the effects are updated (yet there are many effects shots from the original film used in place of shooting new footage).  But the film brings nothing new to the story and ends up being so close to the original, it feels pointless.

The Showtime films somehow managed to tame the source material, which ends up making them…well…toothless.  It lacks Dante’s flair and has no chance of unseating the original.  This explains why the film is largely forgotten.

Just one random observation of both the original and the remake.  Somehow, when people start getting attacked while on docks or in boats, they are unable to remove legs or arms from the water…people are even pulled from boats by the piranha.  Because they are super strong…I guess?

It’s Only a Severed Hand (Return of the Living Dead Part 2, 1988)

rotld_2_posterThe thing about horror movies, they do not have to be smashing successes to get a sequel.  The first film gained a cult following long after this sequel.  Return of the Living Dead 2 had no

involvement from Dan O’Bannon, and instead was written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn.  Wiederhorn wrote and directed a Nazi Zombie movie starring Peter Cushing called Shockwaves eleven years prior. The last film he directed before Return of the Living Dead Part 2 was 1984’s Meatballs 2 (first of three sequels without Bill Murray).

The only link to the first film is the cannisters of zombies.  This time one falls from a truck and lands in the sewer near a new housing development.  Jesse is a kid bullied by Billy and Johnny.  They discover the canister and release the gas.  Elsewhere we meet Ed, Joey and Brenda.  Ed and Joey are bumbling grave robbers and Brenda was tagging along because she is Joey’s best girl.  Ed and Joey are exposed to the gas while in a mausoleum.  They are terrified as they see the dead arise around them.

The fun conceit of Ed and Joey is they are played by James Karen and Thom Mathews…Frank and Freddy.  Their performances are just as fun this time around.  In this film, they are the side story.  The central story follows Jesse, his sister, her boyfriend and an older neighbor trying to get out of the housing development alive.

Although it follows a lot of the same beats of the previous film, the ending has a decidedly different tone.  The humor sticks pretty close to the first film, and they find a new way to use one of the best gags in the first film.  The end result is a decently entertaining follow up.  It is not quite as good as it’s predecessor, but it is a pretty admirable attempt to recapture the fun.

I Try To Not Think About Death Much (Return of the Living Dead, 1985)

rotld_posterIn 1986, Alien Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon made a deal to direct (he had directed a short film seventeen years earlier) a film.  He was to make an unofficial sequel of sorts to Night of the Living Dead.

An effects heavy zombie film, the big twist of the Return of the Living Dead is it is a comedy.  A gory one, but a comedy none the less.  We are quickly introduced to Frank and Freddy, employees of a medical supply company.  After Burt (the boss) leaves for the weekend, Frank starts to show Freddy around, skeletons, half dogs and cadavers and the like.  He also tells Freddy that they have some canisters with real zombies (and proceeds to proclaim the Night of the Living Dead was a real thing, just altered for the film).  They look at the canisters and accidentally release an ominous gas.  When they wake up, they find all the dead things seeming to be alive.  This leads to some hilarity as they call Burt in and the three try and fix the problem.

Meanwhile, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina is hanging out with her friends (a bunch of punks) in a graveyard waiting for Freddy to get done with work.  This includes a bizarre moment Trash (Scream Queen Linnea Quigley), obsessed with death starts expressing a fantasy of being eaten alive (foreshadowing, folks)…she then strips and dances upon a tombstone.  Burt, Frank and Freddy go across the street with a cut up cadaver and check in with mortician Ernie.  They ask to use the crematorium to dispose of rabid weasels.  But as the body burns, it creates more ominous smoke which causes a storm and in turn the rain soaks the ground, re-animating the graveyard.

What follows is the characters trying to survive the hoards of zombies.  Everyone gets trapped in the mortuary or the medical supply warehouse.  The film finds a lot of humor in it’s gruesome subject.  Thom Mathews (Freddy) and James Karen (Frank) have a great rapport and are very entertaining as the two discover they are slowly turning into zombies.  Really, the entire cast is entertaining.  Along with Mathews and Karen, Clu Gulager (Burt) and Don Calfa (Ernie…get it?) are very funny.  It helps that everyone seems to be in on the joke, leading to fun performances.

The effects are terrific, still holding up for the most part.  There is one especially well done zombie effect with a “half” zombie.  Another memorable character is the Tar Man…a slimy decomposing zombie.  The actor in the outfit moves with a creepy fluidity.  The film actually pays little attention to traditional film zombie lore.  They cannot be killed by damaging the brain, even cutting them up, the zombie parts all act independently.  The zombies can also talk.  This is one of the first incidents of zombies being focused on eating brains (In Romero’s films, they just want to eat flesh).  And they constantly announce “Brains!”  But they can form sentences.  One zombie even explains why they  desire to eat brains.

Oh, there are some question to ask…for example, why, after being eaten alive, is Zombie Linnea Quigley have not a single bite…instead she has perfect porcelain skin.  How can the zombies with no lips (some zombies do, some don’t) say stuff like “Brains” and “More Brains”?

Shout!Factory released a Blu-Ray special edition through their Scream!Factory imprint.  It is loaded with special features.  There are four audio commentaries (two are brand new), zombie subtitles (which is an amusing feature for a short time, featuring subtitles like “Arggh” whenever zombies speak), an extensive documentary “More Brains: Return to the Living Dead”, a final interview with the late O’Bannon and many more features.

The picture (from a 2K scan) is clean and looks good.  The two disc set is worthy of any fan’s collection.

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