Fatman: Blu-Ray Review

Official Box Art

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the holiday movie season was a quick breeze with little to no new releases to celebrate the most festive time of the year. One notable release was definitely not for children. The dark comedy flick Fatman stars Mel Gibson as a frazzled Santa Claus who is fighting to save his business of making toys and delivering them to children all over the world. Unbeknownst to him, a neglected and spoiled rich twelve-year old boy hires a hit man (played by Walton Goggins) to kill Santa after receiving a lump of coal for Christmas. Fatman was originally slated to release in theaters but ended up being released on numerous streaming platforms including Amazon Prime and On Demand. The movie received mixed reviews with many people describing the film as a wintery spaghetti western with solid performances from Gibson and Goggins.

For fans of the film or if you missed out during its initial release you can now see Gibson’s take on a cranky, crusty and not so jolly Saint Nick with the Blu-Ray release of Fatman. Not only do you get the Blu-Ray of the movie, but it comes with a Digital Code that you can send to your friends so they can watch it on a home device. In addition, the Blu-Ray features several extras including Deleted and Extended Scenes, Storyboards to Film and an Audio Commentary featuring the writing/directing Nelms brothers, Eshon and Ian, Producer Michelle Lang, Director of Photography Johnny Derango and of course the star of the film, Mel Gibson.

Mel Gibson as Santa Claus in “Fatman”

I’m not going to go deep into a review of the movie itself to avoid spoilers. This review involves the overall look and presentation of the Blu-Ray release. Right away I noticed how clean and the picture looked on my television. Your eyes will be treated to the beautiful settings where Fatman takes place. The majority of the movie was shot in Ottawa and the farm that is used as Santa’s base is a real farm where it has been owned through twelve generations of Canadians. The Nelms Brothers make great use of natural lighting to give that wintry look and feel. Every shot in the movie is crisp and the performances add to the emotion that is in the scene. The production team did an amazing job of creating a cold gritty world where the magical season of Christmas is losing its luster. You’ll get excited with every scene involving Gibson and Goggings as they give opposing performances but organically weave in the comedy to not make it too dark and depressing. The story itself is original and innovative as this is a take on Chris Cringle no storyteller would dare to write.

The sound of Fatman is mastered in Dolby Audio. If you have a great surround system or soundbar you’ll be hearing every little detail that is in the movie. You’ll hear the diverse soundtrack that won’t drive you crazy with endless Christmas tunes. You can even hear the breath coming from Walton Goggins during one scene in the film. The sound of the gunshots during the climactic battle scene are sharp and make you feel like you need to duck and cover behind your couch. Kudos to the sound designers for creating the right pitch and tone to add another layer of the film.

Walton Goggins as The Hitman

While the extras are skim, I’m always excited to read that there is an Audio Commentary for the home release of a film. When you watch Fatman with the Audio Commentary turned on you will hear right away that the participants are recording using Zoom or another online chat site (due to COVID restrictions). I enjoyed listening to Eshom and Ian Nelm’s approach to telling this story and all the decisions that were made from lighting to setting and casting. I’m not familiar with any of their previous work, but this film was a solid first impression for me. It’s great to hear Mel Gibson talk about his approach to Santa and how much fun he had working on this movie. He cracks jokes and at times bummed out when certain lines or scenes were taken out because they were too cheesy. The commentaries are insightful and informative. There was no pause to take a drink of water or catch a breath with this crew. The Storyboard extras will appeal to those who have an interest in how a movie is presented and how the shots will be scheduled. As for the Deleted and Extra Scenes they don’t offer anything that enhanced the movie, but rather gave you an extended look at a scene. These cuts were appropriate given the quick pacing of the movie.

Overall, the Fatman Blu-Ray edition is a nice present give to yourself or to a friend or family member who may enjoy this unique take of a dark comedy holiday film. It’s reasonably priced and has just enough to keep your entertainment level fat and jolly.

Santa Doing Some Target Practice

Night of the Creeps

Official Poster

Release Date: August 22, 1986

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci-Fi

Director: Fred Dekker

Writer: Fred Dekker

Starring: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

We’re near the home stretch in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. I’m reviewing five films in the Horror genre every week until the last week in October. We’re at Movie #4 for this special. This next film is a homage to the goofy science fiction/horror films of the 50s that is set in the 80s. This was the debut film of Fred Dekker, a man who was rejected into USC and UCLA’s film school program and settled as an English major. He would develop screenplays along with his friend and roommate, Shane Black (best known for writing the Lethal Weapon movies, appearing in the first Predator movie and more recently directing 2018’s The Predator movie with Dekker as the screenwriter). After this movie, he would go on to write several episodes of Tales From The Crypt in addition to writing and directing two more movies, one was the cult following The Monster Squad and the utter failure Robocop 3. Today Dekker focuses more on writing than he does actual filmmaking. His debut film is still the best of his three and one that I continue to enjoy on a frequent basis. Tonight’s review is Night of the Creeps!

Night of the Creeps starts out in 1959 when a college fraternity member takes his sweetheart out for a romantic night out sitting in his car looking at the stars. Suddenly, something from the sky crashes down and he goes to investigate it. When he looks closer, a slug jumps out and enters his mouth and he collapses. The film flashes forward to 1985. It is rush week at Corman University. Two outcasts, Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his friend J.C. Hooper (Steve Marshall) are looking to get into a fraternity in the hopes of meeting girls, particularly one that catches Chris’ eye, Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They have a sit down with Brad, who is the president of the Beta Epsilon house. He gives them a quest to steal a cadaver from the medical school morgue and dump it in front of a sorority house. They reluctantly agree. As Chris and J.C. sneak into the medical school after hours, they come across a laboratory. Inside they see a frozen corpse. The corpse is that of the man from the introductory scene.  They decided that he would be the body they would deposit to the sorority house. Little do they realize the body is still alive and the boys run off in terror. Meanwhile the body attacks one of the med students and heads to one of the sorority houses only for his head to explode and slugs shriveling their way out of the body. The investigation is led by Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), a long-time cop who is burnt out. When he interviews Chris and J.C., they admit to the prank and the case is closed. Little do they all realize that the college is in danger as one by one people are turning into zombies thanks to the parasitic slugs that possess them. Now it’s up to the three of them to stop the epidemic before it gets worse.

Steve Marshall and Jason Lively in “Night of the Creeps.”

I can’t remember the first time I viewed this movie, but I enjoyed it on so many levels. It had the look and feel of both a 50s Science Fiction movie and an 80s Horror Movie which was Fred Dekker’s intention. While the concept is nothing original as it takes from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it is still refreshing to see a take on how the zombies were created. This movie was released in 1986 so prior to that you had Day of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead which had similar concepts. I like the fact that it is a parasite that turns the living into the dead.

The performances are decent. Jason Lively plays Chris as a shy, low self-esteemed kid who can’t seem to find his place in the college world. Steve Marshall plays J.C. as a wiseass, always cracking jokes at the most inappropriate times. Despite that, he is very concerned over his friend and does his best to get him out of his comfort zone and build up some confidence. The real star of this movie is Tom Atkins. Atkins is no stranger to horror films given his performances in The Fog, Creepshow and his most memorable role as the protagonist in Halloween III. Atkins plays Detective Ray Cameron as a drunk, don’t give a shit attitude police officer. He gave us a new phrase to say when answering the telephone. Instead of saying “Hello” when the phone rings, he says, “Thrill Me!” This would become the iconic line of the movie. In addition to his indifferent personality, he is traumatized by the events that happened in 1959. His girlfriend at the time was killed by an escape mental patient during his second week on the force. He comes close to taking his own life but realizes that to find a sense of closure, he needs to help stop the zombie outbreak. I’ve referred to Tom Atkins as “The Pimp of Horror Movies” because he always seems to be getting in bed with a woman he just met. That’s not the case in this movie, but it still doesn’t diminish his title. He has called Night of the Creeps his favorite film that he has done, and I echo that sentiment.

Tom Atkins in “Night of the Creeps.”

The only performance I didn’t care for was Jill Whitlow as Cynthia.  With her soft voice, she is completely wooden with her delivery. There are also times during the movie where she looks like she is in a complete fog or has that look that she is thinking of something else rather than concentration on the situation that she was in. I think she needed to put a lot more life into her.

The effects are cheap and dated by today’s standards, but again I think that was Fred Dekker’s intention. There is an ample amount of gore that is ramped up at the very end during the big battle. I do have to give props to the makeup department for giving each zombie a bit of variety and some personality. The slugs were long and beefy, and they slithered quickly going into basements and hiding in bushes as they prepare to infect their next victim. The music is pure 80s synth that weaves in and out of the frames that it is featured in.

Scene from “Night of the Creeps.”

Out of the three movies Fred Dekker has done, this is my absolute favorite. This is one that I have on rotation during the Halloween season. I enjoy it for that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it has enough scares, violence, gore and humor to keep your attention. It’s a great movie that has truly earned its cult status.

Next week ladies and gentlemen is the final review in the Horror Movie Month Special. Stay tuned, you don’t want to miss it!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • All the last names of the main characters are based on famous horror and sci-fi directors: George A. Romero (Chris Romero), John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper (James Carpenter Hooper), David Cronenberg (Cynthia Cronenberg), James Cameron (Det. Ray Cameron), John Landis (Det. Landis), Sam Raimi (Sgt. Raimi) and Steve Miner (Mr. Miner – The Janitor).
  • Graffiti on the wall of the men’s room where J.C. is trying to escape a number of slugs reads, “Go Monster Squad!” The Monster Squad (1987) was also directed by Fred Dekker.
  • Tom Atkins’s favorite movie of his own.
  • “Corman University” is a reference to director/producer Roger Corman.
  • The tool shed sequence was filmed after principal shooting on the movie had wrapped. After a rough cut was shown to a test audience, several people thought that the picture needed more action so this sequence was added to the movie.
  • Fred Dekker’s roommate, Shane Black, worked on the script. The next year, Tom Atkins starred in Lethal Weapon (1987), Black’s first produced screenplay.

AUDIO CLIPS

We’re Dorks
Funny As A Crutch
How About Money?
Oh My God
Walt Disney
Corpsicle
Come And Get Me You Dirty Copper
Thrill Me
What Is This A Homicide Or A Bad B Movie?
That Was Not Too Cool
It’s All Greek To Me
Spanky And Alfalfa
Screaming Like Banshees
Chuckle Heads
Where The Hell Are My Backups?
Do Something Dammit
It’s Miller Time

Tales From The Darkside: The Movie – Collector’s Edition Review

Official Blu Ray Cover. Courtesy of Scream Factory

As we reach the end of summer and heading into fall, there’s much to be excited about when it comes to new home video releases. Shout Factory and its horror counterpart Scream Factory has released some cult classics for the first time on Blu Ray this past summer including one of my favorite “Guilty Pleasure” films Graveyard Shift (See the Archives for previous review) and they’ve made huge headlines last month with not only the announcement of new Steelbook Editions of Pumpkinhead and Motel Hell, but they announced the Friday the 13th Collection Deluxe Edition which features all twelve films on sixteen discs complete with never before seen cuts and a ton of extras. There was another movie I was eagerly anticipating for its release which I received in the mail this past Monday and is scheduled to be released this upcoming Tuesday, August 25th. I’m talking of course about the Collector’s Edition of the 1990 Anthology Horror film, Tales From The Darkside: The Movie.

Tales From The Darkside was a television series created by horror legend George Romero which debut in 1983. The show which was heavily influenced by The Twilight Zone spanned numerous genres besides horror including science fiction. fantasy and black comedy. The show was a huge success that they spun a movie which was released to theaters on May 4, 1990. The film featured three stories along with a wrap around segment that is considered a fourth story. It was a modest success at the box office and was known for not only for displaying its blend of different genres and originality, but it was also known for being early film roles for then unknown actors Steve Buscemi and Julianne Moore, among others. I’m not going to do a breakdown of the film itself, but what I would say is that Tales From The Darkside: The Movie ranks up there in terms of best horror anthology films. My review will be focused on the new Collector’s Edition Blu Ray and its overall presentation.

The Collector’s Edition features a sleeve cover with new original artwork and a reversible Blu-Ray cover which features the original poster.

The Collector’s Edition of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie comes in a sleeve cover with reversible artwork for the Blu Ray sleeve itself. I love how Scream Factory utilizes the covers as you can have the new original artwork exclusive for the release as your hard cover and then you can change the Blu-Ray sleeve to include the original theatrical poster. You can pay homage to the original art while celebrating the new work. The film itself has been transferred in 1080p so those of you who were hoping for a 2k/4k scan of the original negative will be disappointed. Despite that, the film quality is crisp and clean. The lighting and colors are what really stands out in this presentation. You have the warm amber colors of the first story “Lot 249” which gives it a classic horror feel considering the story was taken from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story of the same name. You have the blue cold colors shown in “Cat From Hell,” which gives the story a deathly atmosphere and you have the smoky gritty look of the third story “Lover’s Vow,” which gives that story a feeling of mystery. Every frame comes alive and you’ll be taken aback by how slick the transition was. There are two options for sound which are DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0 depending on what kind of system you have. I ran the 5.1 sound and I could hear the music, screams and other sounds as clear as crystal. Don’t think you’ll go wrong with either sound choice.

The Collector’s Edition is loaded with extras. In addition to the Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots and Behind The Scenes Galleries and Footage, there are two Audio Commentary tracks for you to choose from when watching the film. The first Audio Commentary is with Co-Producer David R. Kappes, which is new to this release. The second Audio Commentary which features director John Harrison and Co-Screenwriter George Romero is taken from previous home releases. The commentary from Kappes gives his behind the scenes role of developing the film, what went into the decision making process and his observation of the film as he watches it. The Audio Commentary with Harrison and Romero is a nice gesture to include in this Collector’s Edition. While Romero is no longer with us, it’s still sobering to hear his voice as he talks about his role in the film, which was writing “Cat From Hell” alongside his good friend, Stephen King.

Scene from “Cat From Hell.”

The highlight of this Collector’s Edition besides the film itself is the brand new documentary, Tales Behind The Darkside: The Making Of Four Ghoulish Fables. This retrospective of the film spawns six chapters divided up appropriately. The first two chapters go into the history of the Tales From The Darkside television series to the development of the movie and the choices that were made. I loved the fact that the entire crew was taken straight from the television series. They kept it all in the family which gave the film familiarity. From there the next chapters were devoted to each story presented in the movie. You get some wonderful insights into not only the decisions to use which stories for the movie, but also some great commentary from the behind the scenes crew as to how the lighting was created, what sets were hand made and what sets were borrowed and of course how the monsters and special effects were made, which were created once again by Greg Nicotero and his crew. During the chapter of the documentary which talked about the third story presented, which was “Lover’s Vow,” we get an appearance from the stars of that story, Rae Dawn Chong and James Remar, which was a huge surprise considering the only actor shown in the documentary up to that point was Michael Daek who played dual roles as the Mummy in “Lot 249” and the Gargoyle in “Lover’s Vow.” Chong and Remar say nothing but positive things about their experiences on set and the chemistry that was developed between them. For James Remar, he said making this film was the start of the second phase of his career as he was newly sober at the time he started shooting. I couldn’t watch the documentary in a full sitting. It took me two nights to get through it which tells you the running time. This documentary is one of the best exclusive documentaries to come out from Scream Factory and everyone who worked on this should be given a huge round of applause.

Overall, the Collector’s Edition of Tales From The Darkside: The Movie is another home run release for Scream Factory. For its reasonable price you get a high quality horror film loaded with extras. This release will tie you over until the fall when they unleash to the horror consumer a plethora of titles in various box sets and steelbooks. You can still pre-order Tales From The Darkside: The Movie before it is released Tuesday, but it won’t make much difference at this point in terms of receiving it early. Nevertheless grab this release as it is a great film to add to your Shout/Scream Factory collection.

James Remar in the story “Lover’s Vow.”

Attack of the Unknown Review

Official Poster courtesy of Mahal Empire Productions.

While major Hollywood studios have closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has not stopped independent film companies from taking advantage of the situation by releasing their movies. One of those companies that is showing no signs of taking a break is Mahal Empire Productions. Mahal has become one of the leading companies for independent movies. Besides the quality and originality of their pictures, they’ve seized upon the concept of using campaign sites such as Indiegogo to ask fans for money to finance their films in exchange for perks. Mahal has exceeded their fundraising goals for each movie campaign and within a matter of days. They clearly know their market and have done it the right way as well as paving the way for those who want to get into the film industry. Now the company will be releasing their biggest release of the summer with Attack of the Unknown.

Directed by Brandon Slagle who in addition co-wrote the script with producers Michael and Sonny Mahal, Attack of the Unknown starts off as an action thriller as an LAPD SWAT team raids on a meeting orchestrated by notorious drug cartel leader Miguel ‘Hades’ Aguirre (Robert LaSardo). After a blazing gunfight, the Feds swarm in and take over the operation much to the disappointment of the team. From there, the story focuses on SWAT leader Vernon (Richard Grieco) whose life is starting to crumble. Besides going through a divorce, he is told by his doctor that he has cancer which has him caught in a miserable vice. Meanwhile in another part of Los Angeles, two police officers with a drunk driving suspect in the back of their vehicle come across what looks like a damaged spaceship in the desert. The ship explodes as the officers reach it only for them and their suspect to be killed by a strange tentacle that jabs them once. From there, a giant spaceship hovers over the city and an alien invasion begins. Vernon and his crew get caught up in it as they are transferring Hades to jail only to have them and their crew work together to figure out what these aliens want and how to defeat them.

Richard Grieco confronts an alien in “Attack of the Unknown.”

Attack of the Unknown takes the ingredients of various science fiction eras, most notably the 50s and the 90s, adds modern day action followed by some solid digital effects, polished cinematography and finishes it with some high quality sound, puts it in a film can and through the projector releases a movie that is all killer and no filler. It’s a film that has some serious tones, but in the end is a homage to the cheeses B movies of past and present. Considering the content, Attack of the Unknown works as a film that is perfect for a Drive In viewing since they’re riding the storm while theaters are hunkered down.

The highlighted performances in this movie are its two leads. First is Richard Grieco whose portrayal of Vernon reminded me of Solid Snake in Metal Gear Solid 4 where he is on a death clock and musters the last of his strength for one final mission. In this case, Vernon’s final mission is to save the planet from its unwanted visitors. Grieco plays it with grit and is in no mood for games. Then there’s Hades played by Robert LaSardo, who has been a character actor for more than thirty years and I remember him from his appearances in such film and television most notably in Hard to Kill and Out For Justice with Steven Seagal, playing different criminals in NYPD Blue and more recently in Clint Eastwood’s The Mule. It was great to see LaSardo play a significant role in this as he plays Hades as an arrogant gangster who tries to get underneath the skin of Vernon and the other SWAT teams with his smug and cocky insults to stir up who he is antagonizing in order to get a violent reaction out of them. The rest of the cast offers their own unique traits and abilities including a survivor who runs a podcast and says he can kick some alien ass due to his nonstop playing of Street Fighter. There’s even a cameo from Tara Reid, another frequent Mahal contributor although she is delegated to a flashback.

Robert LaSardo’s performance in “Attack of the Unknown” is one of the highlights of this film.

Another positive about Attack of the Unknown is that it a fast paced film that doesn’t boggle down on tedious scenes that don’t progress the story forward. The initial raid scene in the beginning is fourteen minutes long, but doesn’t feel that way as your eyes are engaged at all the bullets flying and bodies piling up. It makes you feel like you’re playing a video game. From there the invasion starts to happen and the survivors are strategizing as to how they are going to make it out of the situation alive. The film clocks in at 103 minutes which is an appropriate length for a film of this concept.

The design of the giant spaceship borrows from the major ships in Independence Day and even move in a similar fashion. As soon as they arrive on earth, they don’t waste time and start blowing up buildings in downtown Los Angeles and causing a chain reaction where citizens are running for their lives. The design of the alien creatures are picked and pulled from infamous creations. their bodies resemble those of the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation while their claws seem to be taken from Roger Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters and the helmets they used are lifted from Ridley Scott’s Alien. While the creatures look dated they are not to be taken lightly as they pack a wallop with their quick kill abilities. Kudos to the makeup and costume department for creating antagonists that pay homage to their sci-fi ancestry.

With a lackluster release this movie year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Attack of the Unknown is just the film that you need to watch to escape the real horrors going on in the world. The film will be released on Video on Demand on Blu-Ray August 28th with a DVD/Blu-Ray release to come in October. Be sure to mark that date on your calendar since it will be the first big release of what is shaping to be a fall finale for new movies to be released on home platforms instead of the traditional theatrical release.

Alternate Poster.

Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray Review

Official Blu-Ray Cover of “Graveyard Shift” courtesy of Scream Factory.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down movie theaters it hasn’t stopped Video on Demand nor home video companies from pumping out new releases. This past week Scream Factory announced several new releases coming in time for Halloween including a brand new deluxe edition of the “Friday the 13th” film series. That announcement alone caused their servers to slow down due to everyone attempting to pre-order it. Meanwhile, they have several titles releasing in a matter of weeks. One of those titles is the 1990 Stephen King film adaption of his short story Graveyard Shift.

For the first time ever Graveyard Shift gets the Blu-Ray treatment. In addition to film there are several extras including interviews with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton and actors Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth along with the theatrical trailer and radio spots.I pre-ordered the film when it was announced and was lucky to receive it by mail before the initial street date. After my initial viewing, I wanted to give you the reader my take on the release. To save you some time, I will not be reviewing the film itself (My full review of Graveyard Shift is posted to this site).

Graveyard Shift is a film that is in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of All Time and it was great to see that it was receiving an updated treatment. The film is not presented in a 2K or 4K scan so if you were hoping to see it in those formats you are going to be disappointed. Despite that setback, the film still looks good in 1080p. Every shot in the movie is a clean update so you won’t see patches of scenes that didn’t get treated. There is a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere in the movie and you may notice some things you didn’t notice from previous viewings. There are two audio options to the film depending on your preferences one in the DTS Master Audio 5.1 or 2.0. I switched back and forth between the two audios to hear the difference especially since I viewed this in my bedroom television. Both of them sound sharp. You can hear every line uttered from each character with the exception of Brad Dourif when he introduces himself to Hall. He talks like Boohauer that I still can’t understand what he was saying. The others sounds cut like glass as every machine sound, rat noise, and human screams sound authentic.

The Blu-Ray edition of “Graveyard Shift” provides a great balance of light and dark to its brooding atmosphere.

As for the extras of this release, I was very disappointed that there were no Audio Commentary tracks. I love listening to the Audio Commentaries to listen to the stories of the making of the film, how certain scenes were shot, why they chose the cast, etc. I don’t understand why the decision was made not to have Audio Commentary especially not with the Director not the cast that was interviewed. Guess they couldn’t get a schedule to have them appear and watch the film while they talked. While there may be no Audio Commentary there are plenty of bonus interviews in this release. First, there is a two part interview with Producer/Director Ralph S. Singleton where he talks about his career and how he got involved in this film. Singleton provides some great insights on the making of this film especially his casting choices, the number of rats they had on set and how they were trained and shipped and some of the difficulties they faced during shooting, most notably how the giant bat/rat creature would not function properly and they had to improvise in the same manner as the mechanical shark in Jaws. I was also disappointed that there were no deleted scenes nor TV scenes included especially since it is mentioned in a few of the interviews that they shot more scenes including more of the relationship developing between lead characters Hall and Wisconsky. The interviews with Kelly Wolf, Vic Polizos and Robert Alan Beuth are all around an average of twelve minutes. Each actor talks about how they got into acting, how they got their roles and their experiences on set. All of them were in agreement that they loved shooting on location in Bangor, Maine. It was great that Scream Factory was able to secure interviews with them considering I haven’t seen much of them in any other shows or films with the exception of Polizos who has appeared in many notable films like Harlem Nights and Night of the Creeps.

For me, the best interview extra was with Stephen Macht who played the sleazy cheap antagonist Warwick. Macht, who not only is an incredible actor with many credits to his resume, but he is also an Acting Teacher and Associate Professor who earned a Ph.D. in Dramatic Literature from Indiana University. In his academia train of thought Macht psychoanalyzes the film from different aspects for the viewer. He talked about how his first acting roles were in morality plays and explains how Graveyard Shift is a morality play and further goes into his reasoning providing many examples. I was blown away by what Macht was saying and I could see right there how the film can be interpreted as a morality play. I also loved how Macht described how he got a dialect coach from Maine to help with his accent. He admits that he was told to play it a little over the top, but he sure did enjoy the challenge given that it’s a movie where the story was based in Maine and shot in Maine and wanted to keep it as authentic as possible.

David Andrews as Hall in “Graveyard Shift.”

Overall, while I felt that there could’ve been a little more in terms of bonuses, the Graveyard Shift Blu-Ray is a great pick up to add to your Stephen King collection or if you’re a fan of the film. The film is priced at $23.99 which is a good bargain considering that this isn’t a Collector’s Edition with a high end transition or a dozen extras. It’s a movie that is perfect to watch on a hot summer day considering the sweltering atmosphere that is shown on screen.

Graveyard Shift

Release Date: October 26, 1990

Genre: Horror

Director: Ralph S. Singleton

Writers: Stephen King (Short Story) John Esposito (Screenplay)

Starring: David Andrews, Kelly Wolf, Stephen Macht, Vic Polizos, Andrew Divoff, Brad Dourif

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

NOTE: This was previously published in February 2018.

I can’t think of another author who has had more of his stories turned into feature length films and television programs than Stephen King. For over forty years King has terrified us with his novels about haunted cars, a pissed off teenager and an alien who appears in the form of a clown. When King’s novel Carrie was adapted into a feature length film and released in 1976 it became a huge hit. Studios were buying up the movie rights to all of his stories. It’s safe to say a lot of King Adaptations are either hits or misses. You have some that have stood the test of time and you have some that have faded into obscurity. In 1990 audiences were treated with a TV miniseries of his most infamous novel ‘It’ and were treated with a typical Halloween released monster movie Graveyard Shift.  Both of these movies have not stood the test of time (for many reasons), but they are cult movies. This review will focus on the latter.

The film Graveyard Shift is about a local textile mill that is run down and infested with rats. The manager of the mill, a man named Warwick (Played by Stephen Macht) has bribed and greased every local inspector from shutting the mill down. The town of Gates Falls, Maine is dependent on the mill since the majority of the townspeople work there and it is the economic lifeblood of the town.  Slowly, the workers inside the mill disappear one by one. No one seems to have a clue why they’re gone. A drifter named John Hall (Played by David Andrews) arrives in town looking for a job at the mill. After having a short interview with the sleazy and creepy Warwick, he is hired on the spot to work the Picker during the graveyard shift hours from 11PM-7AM. Hall is bullied by several of the workers, but strikes up a friendship with Wisconsky (played by Kelly Wolf, even though throughout the movie no one mentions her by first name nor her last name). Warwick recruits several workers including Hall and Wisconsky to clean up the basement of the mill during the fourth of July holiday. As they are removing debris and spraying out the rats, Hall comes across a trap door which he believes could be the source of the rat infestation. They open it to reveal a labyrinth of caverns and old machinery. Once down there all hell breaks loose as each of the workers are picked apart by a strange bat/rat creature. It’s up to the survivors to find a way out and avoid the creature at all costs.

Graveyard Shift is based off the short story of the same name by King which appeared in the book Night Shift which is a collection of short stories by King during that period of time. The stories in the book are indeed short. The Graveyard Shift story is about thirty pages long. Now you’re probably asking yourself this question, “How could anyone make a movie about a story that is only thirty pages long?” Well, they did. The core of the story takes place in the middle of the film where they find the trap door and the story ends with the encounter of the creature. Everything else in the film was created by the writers. The names of the characters remain the same in the movie as they were in the film with the exception of the additional character that was in the movie, which was the exterminator.

Vic Polizos, David Andrews and Robert Alan Beuth in “Graveyard Shift.”

I first saw this movie on my local television channel back in the mid-90s. It came on right at noon on Saturdays during the Halloween season. I thought it was a good horror movie at the time given the fact that it was a Stephen King story. I didn’t read the actual story until a few years ago. The story is what it is. The characters of Hall and Warwick are described just as they appear in the movie. The ending of the story leaves much to the desire as it ends on a cliffhanger. However, I think it’s one of those stories that King intended the reader to come up with their own interpretation of what happens in the end.

The movie is nothing special. It’s a practical monster movie with as much blood and gore as you would find in any horror movie during that time period. It has a ton of the slow buildup moments before something bad happens to a character. I’m impressed with how the rats were able to line up like birds on a wire and observe the workers. My guess is they had a rat tamer? (I don’t even know if there is such a thing!) Other times I thought the rats were either mechanical or plastic, but it wouldn’t make sense and you would be able to point out quickly if they weren’t real. The main creature in the story is a giant albino bat with a long phallic shaped rat tail and a face that looks like a Pitbull. You only see parts of the creature throughout the film until the full reveal. The filmmakers were using the old trick of not revealing the monster. Some scenes contain the slow buildup until the monster appears and kills its prey, but the majority of the film I found pretty fast paced. I noticed a few goofs in the movie that the filmmakers did not pick up on. The one that stuck out to me is when Nordello the secretary is smashing up Warwick’s car in protest over her name being on the basement cleanup crew. She is complaining verbally, but you don’t see her mouth moving (an obvious sign that she said lines in ADR that she didn’t say in the shooting or the wrong footage was used). She does it again in a night shot where she is walking in the office of the mill and she is speaking, but you don’t see her mouth moving.

I think the writers of the film did a decent attempt in telling a story with little source material to work with. Hall and Warwick are the two characters that the film focuses on which coincides with the short story. They fleshed out Hall’s story a little more. In the story, he is only referred to as a college boy by Warwick (He still refers to him in that manner in the film). In the film, he is a college boy drifter who came to Maine from Florida looking for a “fresh start.” His first introduction with Warwick is brief. While Warwick has some reservations about hiring Hall because he gets no guarantees with “drifters” while Hall quips back, “You get no guarantee from any man. It’s his instinct,” Warwick hires him for the job as a picker. That instinct sets the tone of the relationship the two characters will have throughout the film as Warwick keeps as strong eye on Hall.

Brad Dourif as The Exterminator in “Graveyard Shift.”

Speaking of Warwick, he is the foreman of Bachman’s Mill (named after King’s pseudonym) who is as evil, perverted and corrupted as one could be. He has been able to avoid shutdown of the mill due to extreme safety hazards and an infestation of rats by bribing the local inspector. In the film he is having an affair with a secretary while trying to give Wisconsky a promotion. All she has to do to get the promotion is to “perform” for him on the couch in his office. Wisconsky is a strong woman who has spurned his advances and fights back not caring about what could happen to her. She mentions to Hall that she tried to file a sexual harassment complaint but was ignored by the union (more than likely due to Warwick having the union in his back pocket). He is suspicious of everyone that it eventually leads him to paranoia and insanity as he is driven to madness after the crew is stuck in the caverns during their venture down to find the source of the rat infestation.

The acting in the movie is pretty straight laced with the exception of the two most over the top performances which are Warwick and the exterminator. Stephen Macht, who plays Warwick in the film looks and sounds like he is from Eastern Europe. It’s supposed to be a New England accent, but that has been a problem with actors in Stephen King movies. No one can seem to get a New England accent down to a science. Only snafu I have with the performance is how quickly Warwick is driven to madness when the crew is trapped in the caves looking for a way back up. The strength of Macht’s performance comes from his eyes. He always has a sinister look on him and the camera does a good job focusing on his eyes especially during a confrontational scene with the exterminator.

Speaking of the exterminator, this is a bizarre character that is not depicted in the original story. He was created specifically for the film to show an attempt by Warwick to get the infestation problem under control. The exterminator is played by none other than Brad Dourif (who is one of my all-time favorite character actors). For those who are not familiar with Brad Dourif, he is best known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play franchise. He’s been in everything from Oscar winning films to straight to television junk. He is someone I believe loves his craft and is up for any role as long as he feels he can make something out of it. He sure makes a character out of the exterminator.  The exterminator, named Tucker Cleveland has been working around the clock to kill the rats in the mill and to put an end to the infestation. He tries everything in his arsenal to kill them from using poison, to pumping them into a river, to using his dog and even attempting to shoot them. He looks like a mix between a ghostbuster and a paratrooper with his outfit and his backpack that is filled with rat poison.  Despite not understanding what Dourif was saying when talking to Hall, he made up for it by having some memorable lines throughout the film.

Andrew Divoff encounters the main creature in “Graveyard Shift.”

As far as themes this movie offers the one that sticks out to me is economics and how it impacts a small town. As I’ve stated earlier in the review, the reason Warwick is doing everything in his power to keep the mill open is because the town of Castle Rock is dependent on the mill being open as it is where the majority of the townspeople work. It’s nice to see Warwick caring about the town and its people despite his own self-interests and the fact that he represents the fat cat who would walk away unscathed if the mill did in fact shut down. In the United States during this time period you were reading stories of car plants and other factories shutting down and moving to other countries which had an impact on the cities they were in.  These once thriving cities became a depressed wasteland with no hope of recovery. With the theme of economics, you also have the theme of working conditions and worker treatment at a job. Obviously the working conditions in the mill are beyond poor and have numerous violations from the rat problem to the broken down infrastructure. The millworkers are working overnight hours in sweltering heat with no relief and you have the women workers who are being sexually harassed by Warwick. When Hall is hired to work at the mill, he is only given minimum wage to start. It’s a reflection on what is happening in middle class America during this time. (NAFTA and CAFTA did not come into effect until a few years into the 90s).  You have wages going down and little to no investment in infrastructure. It creates a ripple effect where if a factory is going under, the people are going under and the town is going under. Those who escape are the ones in power, which in this case would be Warwick and Bachman (the owner of the mill who is not seen).

Overall this is not one of the better Stephen King adaptations, but it’s a movie that is good enough for you to watch during the Halloween season. If I had a month long Stephen King movie marathon where I played thirty one movies in thirty one days, this movie would be included in that marathon. This movie would appeal to the monster movie fan, but if you’re not into horror or care for something more in depth, then this movie isn’t for you. Oh and make sure you don’t turn it off at the End Credits. You get a nice little rap beat with lines from the movie being played over and over until the credits are done.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Tom Savini was attached to direct the film, but pulled out due to lack of studio interest.
  • The name of the mill is “Bachman Mills”. “Bachman” is Stephen King’s pseudonym “Richard Bachman” that he has used for several of his stories.
  • Co-Star Andrew Divoff met his wife Raissa Danilova on this film. Danilova played an extra as a mill worker. They married two years after this film was completed.

AUDIO CLIPS

Goddamn
Extreme Safety Hazard
Graveyard Shift
Brad Dourif Talking Like Boomhauer
Bravo
Hey You Porker
Show’s Over
I Watched You Work
Bet He Liked Your Style
Sure Beats Nailing Them With Soda Pop
Brogan Yelling
He Ain’t Wasted His Puppy Years
Company Slogan
You’re A Regular Bug Light
Shut Up, Carmichael
Danson Freaking Out

Happy Heavenly Birthday! My 10 Favorite Larry Cohen Movies

Larry Cohen: 1936-2019

On March 23, 2019, the film industry lost a true auteur. Larry Cohen was the king of B-Movies. He started his career in the industry as a writer for television creating cult shows such as The Invaders, Coronet Blue and N.Y.P.D. Refusing to bow to Hollywood, Larry Cohen went out and created the movies he wanted to create. He wrote, produced, and directed numerous films of different genres. He was also known for giving up and coming African American actors and actresses their big break in the business as well as giving forgotten legends a second wind. His guerilla style of filmmaking was bold and risky. If Cohen were making movies without permits today, he would be arrested multiple times. I consider Larry Cohen my second favorite filmmaker only to John Carpenter. His movies are refreshing to watch for its originality, characters, and the reflection of the world during the particular time. Larry Cohen has claimed to be a writer first as it is notable through various scripts that have been produced into hits such as William Lustig’s Maniac Cop trilogy and the early 2000s suspense thrillers Phone Booth and Cellular. To celebrate his birthday today, I’m sharing with you my ten favorite movies from Larry Cohen’s filmography. These films are listed in order.

10. Original Gangstas

Fred Williamson in “Original Gangstas” (1996).

The first film in the list ends up being the last feature film directed by Larry Cohen and teaming up again with Fred Williamson who starred in the movies Black Caesar and Hell Up In Harlem. Original Gangstas tells the story of John Bookman (Williamson) who returns to his hometown of Gary, Indiana upon hearing the news that his father got shot by some local gangsters. A former gang member himself, Bookman enlists the help of Jake Trevor (Jim Brown) and Laurie Thompson (Pam Grier) to bring a sense of order and justice to the one flourishing city that has been reduced to rubble, poverty and chaos. The film is notable for being shot on location in Gary during a time where there were more than three thousand crimes reported and hundreds of people murdered as well as Cohen hiring the local gangs to not only perform in the movie, but work alongside the crew. Original Gangstas is a tribute to the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s filled with traditional action scenes of the era and a dramatic story. This film was a personal project for Williamson who was born and raised in Gary and wanted to show the audience that Gary is not the murder capital of America, rather it’s a city looking for it’s sense of place and there are hard working people who are trying to make a difference in improving the community. Original Gangstas is the perfect movie to watch especially during these divisive times in America and by watching should give a glimmer of hope that things can be turned around for the better.

9. Bone

Yaphet Kotto and Joyce Van Patten in “Bone” (1972).

Larry Cohen’s film debut was not a horror flick, but a strange dark comedy. Bone stars Yaphet Kotto as a criminal who breaks into the home of a wealthy couple who are having marital problems. He gets to know the couple and comes up with a resolution to their problems. The movie also stars Andrew Duggan and Joyce Van Patten as the married couple. The film is dialogue heavy with some good acting, early foreshadowing and surreal moments. The film was shot inside and outside Larry Cohen’s house to save money on the budget (he would use his home for scene locations in future movies).  Many consider Bone part of the blaxploitation film library, but it really isn’t. Bone is essentially a social commentary piece about race relations along with the attitudes of upper-class society and their opposition to those who they feel are beneath them. The film features the first interracial sex scene shot on film involving an African American male and a white woman as Van Patten helps Kotto with his own sexual insecurities.

8. The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Broderick Crawford in “The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover” (1977).

Spanning six decades and eight United States presidents, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is one of the first film biopics about America’s number one crime fighter. Cohen chronologically walks through Hoover’s career in law enforcement from recruit to establishing the FBI and his continual rise to power and influence while at the same time focusing on the dual nature of his morality. James Wainwright plays a young J. Edgar which then transitions to Broderick Crawford playing him in his formidable years. The film also features an ensemble cast including Michael Parks, Jose Ferrer, Dan Dailey and Rip Torn. The film notably known for Cohen and his crew shooting on location in Washington D.C. and notably at Hoover’s home without permits while getting permission to shoot at the FBI Training Center and inside the FBI building himself, thanks to the first lady at the time Betty Ford. Crawford is the highlight of the film as he portrays Hoover as stoic and stone faced and is determined to hold on to his power by any means necessary. It’s a reminder that power can corrupt a person. Compared to Clint Eastwood’s film adaptation The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover is more accurate account of his life and career.

7. Special Effects

Eric Bogosian in “Special Effects” (1984).

Featuring a small cast including early roles for Zoe Lund and Eric Bogosian, Special Effects is a Hitchcockian style film that gives viewers a behind the scenes look at the process of a film being made. Bogosian plays filmmaker Christopher Neville whose career is in jeopardy after he is fired from a multimillion-dollar project. He has an unexpected visitor in Lund who is an aspiring actress. After an attempt to sleep with her to which she refuses his advances, Neville kills the actress. He uses this experience to make his comeback film. The cast of the film as well as the police are suspicious about the details he puts in while shooting the film. While the pacing of the film is slow and focuses on way too many behind the scenes details, Special Effects is a decent thriller with beautiful cinematography, a heavy synth score and very convincing performances from Bogosian and Lund, who actually plays two roles in the film as the victim and the leading actress of the movie. Special Effects also depicts the seedy side of the movie business as Cohen throws in numerous examples of how cast and crew are treated and how far someone will go to make sure that their vision is completed.

6. The Ambulance

Scene from “The Ambulance” (1990)

Larry Cohen’s first movie in the 90s, The Ambulance is a quirky suspense thriller mixed with some unexpected comedy. The Ambulance stars Eric Roberts as a comic book artist is currently working on a project for none other than Marvel Comics (featuring a cameo from the late great Stan Lee) who meets a young woman on a New York City street named Cheryl (Janine Turner). Suddenly, Cheryl collapses on the street and within a matter of minutes, an ambulance arrives to take Cheryl to the hospital. Josh heads to the nearest hospital to check up on her. When he arrives at the front desk to find out what room Cheryl is in, the staff tell him that she was not admitted to the hospital. Now Josh is convinced there is something going on with the ambulance and the people who are associated with it. After asking for help from the local police department, specifically Lt. Frank Spencer (James Earl Jones) who is not convinced of his story, Josh continues his investigation hoping to find Cheryl before it’s too late. Larry Cohen based this movie on his own frightening experience involving an ambulance. The movie features great performances from Roberts who uses his skills as a comic book artist to his advantage in his finding of Cheryl. Jones plays a cynical meaty role as the rundown detective Spencer who is not convinced of Josh’s story. Legendary comic Red Buttons provides zingers and one liners throughout his screen time as New York Post reporter Elias Zacharai. One thing that struck out to me about The Ambulance was its cinematography. It was sharp, bright, and fit what films would look like in the 90s. The Ambulance itself is a character much like Stephen King’s Christine. Although it’s not a car that comes to life, but it comes to life from the look and the individuals who are driving it. Whenever the ambulance appears on screen, you know something is about to go down and not for good intentions. The Ambulance is a fast-paced thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

5. It’s Alive

Scene from “It’s Alive” (1974)

Larry Cohen’s first take on a monster movie continues to be one of his scariest and iconic in the film world. It’s Alive tells the story of the Davis family who become parents of a killer mutant baby. From there local and government authorities attempt to track it down and kill it. However, the father hopes to find the child before they do. It’s Alive is the quintessential film for horror fans with plenty of scares and gore with a monster that lurks in the shadows. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the most tense and shocking moments captured on film. There are many things to love about It’s Alive from the pacing to the special effects and especially the music which was composed by longtime Alfred Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Hermann. Cohen uses the techniques from Spielberg’s Jaws by showing little of the mutant baby and having the audience interpret what is happening to the victims of its murderous rampage. It’s Alive is also a social commentary about the behavior of newborns and the changes of habitat and effects of chemicals that can cause harm to those in the womb. It’s Alive became such a financial success in the United States and overseas that it spawned two sequels.

4. God Told Me To

Tony Lo Bianco and Richard Lynch in “Gold Told Me To” (1976).

Perhaps the strangest movie Larry Cohen ever made, God Told Me To stars Tony Lo Bianco as Detective Peter Nicholas who investigates a series of murders all around New York City with the suspect proclaiming that God told them to do it. His investigation leads to a cult leader and from there unleashes starting revelations about himself and his beliefs. God Told Me To is a cryptic and challenging film as Cohen creates a world that is focused on religion, cultism, the duality of mankind and the questioning of one’s existence. It’s a complexed than Cohen’s other movies, but provides enough in terms of action, suspense, and imagery to keep you focused. Besides Lo Bianco there are solid performances from respected character actors including Sandy Dennis, Sylvia Sydney and Richard Lynch. The film is notable for Andy Kauffman’s appearance as a New York City police officer walking in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade along with the rest of New York’s finest. You can see the different reactions from the officers when they recognize Kauffman, all thanks to Cohen’s trademark of stealing shots. God Told Me To is a venturous film with twists and turns that dig deep into the mystery of whether or not man is alone in the universe.

3. Black Caesar

Fred Williamson in “Black Caesar” (1973).

One of the most underrated gangster films, Larry Cohen’s second feature Black Caesar is a jewel of the 70s blaxploitation cinema which launched Fred Williamson’s post NFL career as an actor. Black Caesar is a film that has a ton of attitude filled with charismatic characters, a cohesive storyline, violence that would make The Godfather jealous and a phenomenal soundtrack from the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Williamson owns the role of Tommy Gibbs as a man who grew up in poverty in Harlem harassed by racist cops to taking over his home territory and gradually building his own empire under the noses of his employers. At the rise of his power is when his past comes back to haunt him and becomes suspicions of those close to him. The film is the first to show off Cohen’s guerrilla style of film-making as it was shot in New York City and Harlem with zero permits. The reactions you see from the bystanders in the movie are unscripted. Black Caesar became Cohen’s first financially successful film that a sequel was immediately green-lit which was shot and released in the same year as Black Caesar titled Hell Up In Harlem. This film would become the blueprint to how Larry Cohen would create his future works. 

2. The Stuff

Scott Bloom in “The Stuff” (1985).

Perhaps the most regarded and well-known film in Larry Cohen’s filmography, The Stuff is not just a horror movie, but a social commentary. Cohen made this movie at a time in the eighties where people consumed everything. The eighties was the birth of many electronics such as video game consoles, Walkman’s, VCRs, etc. It wasn’t just electronics people were craving, it was the current fashion trends, fast food restaurants popping up at every street corner. Cohen based “The Stuff” off the yogurt craze going on at the time. People were obsessed with yogurt because it was advertised as being healthy, filling, and tasty. Add heavy advertising to that and you have people become hooked on it turning them into consumer zombies. They consume and consume while the companies that make it rake in the profits. The movie is a pure 80s movie in terms of look, music, effects, and overall style. You have the bright neon lights of “The Stuff” logo along with its catchy music and commercials. Featuring a cast which includes Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris and Paul Sorvino. Oh, there’s even an appearance from the old lady in the Wendy’s commercials where instead of screaming, “Where’s the beef?” she cries, “Where’s the Stuff?” The effects of The Stuff creature vary throughout the film. In some parts of the film, it looks like a mix between frozen yogurt and marshmallow. In scenes where it bursts through walls, it milky and watery. Cohen does a great job showing that the creature doesn’t take on a basic form, rather it can come in multiple forms and textures. It even features a great tag line, “Is it eating it or is it eating you?”

1. Q: The Winged Serpent

Scene from “Q: The Winged Serpent” (1982).

Unquestionably my favorite Larry Cohen film of all time. Q: The Winged Serpent perfectly blends the genres of a monster flick with a crime noir filled with off beat characters and amazing performances by the actors that bring them to life including the memorable role of Jimmy Quinn played by Michael Moriarty in which has been described by many critics as the best piece of method acting they’ve seen for a small film. Larry Cohen wrote this film in six days and began shooting quickly after he was fired from directing I, The Jury. Like all his movies, Larry Cohen shot the film with no permits and used real life police officers, construction workers and window washers which gives the movie an authentic feel. The movie is shot in the streets of New York, over the skies of New York and of course the inside and outside of the Chrysler Building. When you watch the people of New York look above when they are getting splattered with blood falling from the sky or taking cover when bullet cases are raining down, those aren’t paid actors, those are real people who are quickly reacting to the situation that they are in. The only permission he received was from the owners of the Chrysler Building. At the cost of $15,000 Cohen was able to shoot inside the building all the way up to the top where no ordinary citizen has gone before. From there you will be amazed by what the top of the building looks like and becomes the set piece for the climatic showdown between the monster and the police which is this reviewer’s favorite scene in the whole picture. Now let’s get to the character of the monster itself, Quetzalcoatl! The special effects for Q were done using stop-motion animation by Randall William Cook and David Allen. It is custom for stop motion sequences to be shot as they are happening. This was not the case (nothing is ever coherent in a Larry Cohen movie). When Cohen hired Cook and Allen to do the stop motion animation, he had already finished shooting the movie. His plan was to add the creature into shots already taken. This results in the monster looking like he was pasted onto an existing shot. It brings a sense of unevenness when watching the monster when it appears or has moments of action such as plucking the heads off people. The effects are no different from what you would see in a b movie involving a monster, but don’t let the cheapness distract you. You will easily bypass it as you continue to be engrossed in the movie and enjoy the effects for the sheer fun. Q continues to be a timeless classic for me that I can watch repeatedly. It’s a great homage to the monster movies of the past.

Larry Cohen from “King Cohen” (2017).

So what did you think of the list? Do you agree or disagree? What movie from Larry Cohen’s library would you replace? If you’re interested in learning more about Larry Cohen’s career and his films, check out the award-winning documentary King Cohen. It’s one of the best documentaries of a filmmaker I’ve seen in the past five years.

Critters

Release Date: April 11, 1986

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Stephen Herek  

Writers: Stephen Herek (Screenplay), Domonic Muir (Story & Screenplay), Don Opper (Additional Scenes)

Starring: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Scott Grimes, Billy Green Bush, Nadine Van Der Velde, Don Opper, Terrance Mann

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Movies that came out in the 80s contained a diverse range of genres. We had horror movies, teen comedies, action packed film and the occasional monster movie. With the success of Gremlins in 1984, fledgling production company New Line Cinema looked to creating a movie similar in nature. With the box office success of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, New Line Cinema got out of the red in their financial operation and had some money to invest in more projects. One of the projects that was green-lit to be a “sister” film to Gremlins was the movie, Critters.

Released in 1986 Critters is about a group of intergalactic hairball like creatures known by their species name “Krites” that escape from a prison asteroid and use a stolen spaceship to travel to the closest planet that contained the most life for them to feed their bellies, which is Earth. Desperate to stop the Krites from invading Earth and consuming all of its resources, the warden of the prison asteroid dispatches two bounty hunters to track them down and eradicate them. The Krites land in a field in a small town in Kansas called Grover’s Bend. The people of Grover’s Bend are their own characters. You have the Brown family who live on a farm, Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and Harv who is the easily annoyed Sheriff.  Jay Brown and his mischief son Bradley (Brad) head out to the field where they spot the ship crashing. They appear to find some of the herd dead with nothing left of them but their bones. Heading back to the house they encounter one of the Krites who bites several wounds into Jay as well as a poison needle that shoots from their backs, like a porcupine. The Browns become trapped in their home defending themselves against the Critters. Brad risks to find help and comes across the bounty hunters who have taken human forms. He directs the bounty hunters to his home where they see the Krites and begin a melee of destruction in order to kill them all.

The Bradley family along with Grover’s Bend Sheriff Harv.

Critters was a modest hit at the box office generating more that $13 million against a $2 million dollar budget. It would spawn three sequels, which one of them became the acting debut of an unknown kid would become an A- list actor named Leonardo Dicaprio (Critters 3). It was another franchise New Line Cinema had under their belt with their first being Nightmare on Elm Street. There have been talks of a remake, but I’m not a fan of remakes nor would I encourage a remake of this film. The films may look dated and silly, but they’re packed with enough gore and humor to keep your interests high.

The cast is a mixed of veteran character actors and some that are up and coming. The two popular names on the bill are Dee Wallace, who was the mother in E.T. plays the mother in this film and M. Emmett Walsh who has over two hundred credits to his name, is best known for playing a psycho in The Jerk and Harrison Ford’s boss in Blade Runner. Dee Wallace doesn’t do much except scream and cry through most of the film. Walsh plays Sheriff Harv as a short tempered man who feels the town is becoming a zoo. The film revolves around the performances of Scott Grimes who plays Bradley Brown, the younger of the two Brown children. He is mischievous and always getting into fights with his sister, April. He becomes the hero by risking his neck to escape his house surrounded by the Krites to find help.  Don Opper plays Charlie McFadden, the town drunk and close friend to Brad and believes alien life-forces are trying to communicate with him through his teeth fillings. Opper ends up playing a dual role in this film which he does a good job at. I’ll get to the dual part in a moment. Rounding out the central cast are the bounty hunters. They add just as much humor as the Krites do. The bounty hunters are named Ug and Lee (Ugly, get it?). They are faceless aliens and have transforming abilities. To “blend” in with the earthlings they may encounter, both of them look through a video of Earth and its history. Ug notices rock start Johnny Steele in a music video and transforms into him. Ug and Steele are played by Terrance Mann. Lee struggles to find a form to change into.  A recurring gag in the film is Lee changing into multiple people he encounters. He eventually settles on transforming into Charlie after an encounter with him in a bar. They carry giant cannon guns to blow up the Krites, but instead cause destruction at every location they step in. Even their boss pleads with them about being less destructive.  The bounty hunters would become staple characters of the eventual franchise as Mann and Opper are the only two actors to appear in all four movies. Critters includes small appearances from Billy Zane, who plays April’s new boyfriend, a city boy with a nice car and Lin Shaye of Insidious fame playing Sal the dispatcher.

The Bounty Hunters in “Critters.”

The real stars of the film are the Krites. They were created by the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen and Charles) who were known for Claymation, creature creation and puppeteering. They did a great job designing and moving the Krites. They’re described throughout the film series as “man eating hairballs”, which is true. However, they are very intelligent despite their limitations. They have red eyes, razor sharp teeth and needles that can shoot poison at their prey. They move with the speed and velocity of a cannonball. They crash land on Earth after escaping from a prison asteroid. While they repair the ship, they go off to look for food. They eat anything they come into contact with. The more they feed, the more they grow. You will see one of them in the film turn into a giant with the ability to walk upright like a human being. They come into contact with the Brown family and surround their home causing a Rio Bravo like standoff. The Krites are both scary and funny. There are some Three Stooges inspired moments they get into. One scene shows the Krites tearing up Brad’s room. One of the Krites is trying to communicate with a stuffed E.T. doll and when it doesn’t answer its questions, the Krite gets angry and bites his head off. Another funny moment is a Krite getting burnt by a small torch Dee Wallace uses and runs to the bathroom and jumps into the toilet.

This was the directorial debut of Stephen Herek who would go on to direct Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Mighty Ducks and Mr. Holland’s Opus.  I think this is a solid debut and one of his best films in his short filmography.  He does some good things technically. For example, most of the film takes place at night, so Herek uses natural lighting from the moon and flashlights to create a dark tense atmosphere for the Brown family as they investigate what is going on. He also makes good use of the first person view for the Krites. The camera is hovered above the ground and moves stealthily when they’re in hunting mode and then in a racing mode when they’re attacking or trying to reach their prey. The film has its slow moments, but once the Krites appear, the action and the horror pick up and doesn’t end until the final explosion.

Krite

As I mentioned in the beginning this film is very similar in nature to Gremlins. I used the term “sister” film because that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t have Steven Spielberg’s name attached to it, but it’s still a fun monster movie flick. It’s simple so you don’t have to worry about trying to compound narratives or hidden messages or symbolism. It’s a movie where you can lay on the couch and absorb what is taking place. The sequels that followed this film have their good moments and bad moments (mainly due to the budget going way down and the distribution being limited). I would put this movie in my Top 100 80s Films of All Time.

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • Corey Burton, who voices the Critters, also came up with their language, which he described in interviews as combining elements of French and Japanese.
  • Terrence Mann performs the song “Power of the Night” as Johnny Steele especially for this movie.
  • This is the second movie (the other being E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial [1982]) with Dee Wallace in which her on-screen son heats up an oral thermometer in order to appear sick to avoid going to school. In E.T. she is fooled, but doesn’t buy it at all second time around in Critters [1986]
  • Don Opper and Terrence Mann are the only actors to appear in all four Critters films. Their characters, Charlie McFadden and Ug, respectively, appear in all four Critters movies.

AUDIO CLIPS

You Miss That Bus
Morning Harv
Charlie, It’s Jeff
I’ll Stand on the Fifth Amendment
What Are You Doing Up There?
Smells Like Oil Burning
Transform
Feeding Starts
Call Harv
What The Hell Are Those Things?
We Want The Krites
Keep Your Shirt On, Asshole
They Were Wearing Funny Clothes
I’m Not Reading You
Who Did Your Bring?
Swallowed My Chewing Tobacco

RIP Joel Schumacher. My 10 Favorite Films.

Joel Schumacher passed away Monday, June 22 from cancer at the age of 80.

This past Monday the movie world lost another influential filmmaker. Joel Schumacher made films that had a sense of style, deep mystery, emotionally developed characters and were risk takers. While many associate him with directing the last two Batman movies of the 90s and essentially ruined the Caped Crusader’s continuing on the big screen for a while, Schumacher made emotionally gripping movies that were successful in their own right. He took on projects that numerous directors would not touch due to the subject matter. For Schumacher they were challenges and they paid off. In honor of his legacy, here is a list of my ten favorite movies from Joel Schumacher. These are listed in order so debates are welcomed.

10. Batman Forever

Val Kilmer as the Caped Crusader in “Batman Forever.”

Yes, I know Batman Forever is more like Batman Forgettable, but I have fond memories of the movie going back to when I was ten years old and my mother took me to the theaters to see it opening night. Schumacher takes the Dark Knight in a different direction combining the dark storytelling of Tim Burton with campier villains complete with costumes that have a bit of the tv show influence and are placed in a much bigger and brighter Gotham City. The themes of the film involve deep secrets, revenge and overcoming fears. Val Kilmer puts on the cape and cowl for his only appearance in the franchise as he deals with his nightmares that are triggered after the death of Dick Grayson’s parents who were murdered by Two-Face. Kilmer’s Batman is one dimensional at times not differentiating between the Bruce Wayne persona and Batman. Nicole Kidman plays the love interest who seduces Batman throughout the movie in order to know the man behind the mask. Tommy Lee Jones’ portrayal as Harvey “Two Face” Dent looks like someone who is high on coke rather than someone with a dual personality struggling to deal with what’s right and wrong. Then there’s Jim Carrey playing himself in a Riddler costume that is heavily influenced from Frank Gorshin’s look in the TV show and then there’s Chris O’Donnell as the boy wonder Robin complete with puns that would make Burt Ward cringe. Nevertheless, there is something about Batman Forever that makes it a guilty pleasure viewing.

9. Blood Creek

A deadite in “Blood Creek.”

Joel Schumacher returns to horror in a film about a Nazinecromancer raising the dead to do his bidding. It’s up to two brothers to stop him. Features a great cast including Henry Cavill, Dominic Purcell and Michael Fassbender in once again another haunting performance, Blood Creek is great from a stylistic standpoint which has always been Schumacher’s strongest trait as a filmmaker. Unfortunately the story falls under its own weight as it turns from what could’ve been a great premise into a typical group is trapped with a monster and must kill it before it kills them. If you’re a horror devotee like myself, Blood Creek is worth a viewing.

8. St. Elmo’s Fire

St. Elmo’s Fire introduced the world to the “Brat Pack.”

The movie that gave birth to the “Brat Pack,” St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that continues to be a influential film generation after generation. Schumacher tells a story about growing up and the struggles that come with adulthood. St. Elmo’s Fire feels over dramatic at times, but I enjoyed the film through the performances. Each character in the film not only had their own distinct personalities, but their own flaws which make them relatable. You may not understand the decisions they make throughout the story, but it’s decisions that we may have found ourselves having to make those decisions that are in the best interests. St. Elmo’s Fire is a film that reminds us that life isn’t perfect and we’re not perfect people, but we continue to move forward.

7. Falling Down

Michael Douglas goes postal in “Falling Down.”

Falling Down took me a long time to discover. I’ve heard of the film, but could not for the life of me figure out the title. I also didn’t know that this was a Joel Schumacher film until I finally watched it for the first time. Falling Down is a simple concept of a man who is at his breaking point and starts to violently lash out at those he comes across as he walks the streets of Los Angeles in order to get to the home of his ex-wife so he could see his daughter for her birthday. Michael Douglas plays William “De-Fens” Foster, an unemployed defense engineer for the government who is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. He is not intimidated by the people he comes across and won’t let them get in his way of going home. While Douglas plays the anger and rage of the film, Robert DuVall plays the calm and collective detective Pendergast who is working his last day on the job before retirement and is caught up in the events that are going on. Douglas and DuVall are essentially the yin and yang of the movie. Falling Down represents how we as humans have our breaking point and finding the difficulties adapting to an ever changing world and the fear of being obsolete. It’s an intense thriller that you must check out if you haven’t already. Thank goodness for streaming!

6. A Time To Kill

Matthew McConaughey and Samuel L. Jackson in “A Time To Kill.”

Based on the best selling novel by John Grisham, A Time To Kill is an example of a film where Schumacher took high risks and paid off both commercially and critically. The movie deals with a sickening act and a man being put on trial for simply defending his daughter after being violated. With over powering performances from a eclectic cast, A Time To Kill is set at a time that Americans continue to deal with to this day. Schumacher’s direction is spot on and well paced. It is a film that is emotionally charged and can bring a sense of hope that justice still works in the favor of those seeking it.

5. The Client

Brad Renfro and David Speck in “The Client.”

Schumacher’s first John Grisham adaptation is a dark, tense and heart pounding thrill ride with great performances and careful pacing. The Client features Brad Renfro in his film debut as Mark Sway, who becomes a witness to the suicide of a mob lawyer who reveals to him where the body of a missing Louisiana Senator may be. Being sought by the U.S. Attorney’s office and it’s ambitious prosecutor “Reverend” Roy Foltrigg, played by Tommy Lee Jones in another brilliant performance, Mark hires Reggie Love, played by Susan Sarandon for a dollar to defend him. The Client reminds me of another influential drama piece, The Fugitive. Both films are similar in nature. What stands this movie out is the building of the relationship between Mark and Reggie. Both of them slowly learn to trust each other if they’re ever going to get out of the situations they find themselves in. This is one of the few films that follows the book page by page without hacking it to pieces in order to add flair and dramatic emphasis. The film also features early roles for future well known actors including Kim Coates, Anthony LaPaglia and Will Patton.

4. Flatliners

Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Bacon, Julia Roberts and Olvier Platt in “Flatliners.”

Featuring an ensemble cast including Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, William Baldwin, Kevin Bacon and Oliver Platt, Flatliners is the story of five medical students who conduct experiments on themselves in order to physically prove the existence of life after death. As each of them cross over, they see visions of their past which begins to trigger and traumatize them when they are revived. Flatliners is a tense flick with a dark atmosphere and a cast of characters that provide a cocktail of intelligence, cockiness and fear. Sutherland and Roberts’s chemistry carries the film as they each deal with their own nightmares of past situations they experience when they were children. The film’s plot gets repetitive after awhile, but there is so much going on in Flatliners to literally make your heart stop.

3. The Lost Boys

BillyWirth, Kiefer Sutherland, Brooke McCarter and Alex Winter in “The Lost Boys.”

Perhaps the most beloved movie in Joel Schumacher’s filmography, The Lost Boys has a deep meaning for many fans. A new take on vampire lore, The Lost Boys is filled with elements taken from different genres and blends them into a wild ride viewing for the audience. The movie is known for its beautiful cinematography, it’s California setting, killer soundtrack and some of the best makeup and special effects in a movie of this nature. How could I forget the cast? I love the performances in this film especially Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander as The Frog Brothers. Did I mention this was the film that gave birth to the Two Coreys? The Lost Boys deals with themes of youth, innocence and trying to fit in which is something we’ve all had to deal with. The Lost Boys is a staple 80s film that continues to pick up a new legion of fans.

2. Phone Booth

Colin Farrell in “Phone Booth.”

Phone Booth is a suspense thriller that is a callback to the style of film making legend Alfred Hitchcock. Schumacher directs the movie taken from a script written by B-Movie auteur Larry Cohen about a publicist who enters a phone booth only to be trapped in it when a sniper calls him and tells him that he has a rifle pointed at his head. From there it leads to a triangular standoff when the police get involved. Phone Booth takes place in one location all throughout the movie which again is a callback to Hitchcock and his film Rear Window. There is so much tension and pressure in the movie that you could easily miss with the blink of an eye. The small cast including Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland and Forest Whitaker give heart pounding performances. It’s odd seeing Sutherland playing a bad guy in this since 24 started around the same time and launched his television career playing Jack Bauer. Phone Booth is a great tribute to the suspenseful films of the Hollywood golden era.

1. 8MM

Nicolas Cage and James Gandolfini in “8MM”

There’s something about 8MM which makes this my absolute favorite Joel Schumacher film. After the condemnation of Batman & Robin, Schumacher rolled the dice and took on a film that no one wanted to touch. 8MM brings to life the myth of snuff films and ventures into the dark and dangerous world of underground pornography. Nicolas Cage plays a private detective hired by the widow of a industrial millionaire to seek out if the film found in his private safe is real, who made the film and the identity of the victim. He teams up with a purveyor of porn named Max California played by Joaquin Phoenix to help make contacts and get him one step closer to solving the case. Cage finds himself getting dragged deeper and deeper into the seedy world which warps his mind. The best line in the movie sums up Cage’s character when Phoenix warns him that, “You dance with the devil, the devil doesn’t change. The devil changes you.” 8MM is filled with dark, grizzly images and the biggest lowlifes portrayed on film. Peter Stomare and James Gandolfini play characters you just loathe and hope nothing but the worse for them. The movie does leave some questions unanswered, but there’s so much going on in this movie that these questions will slip your mind.

So what did you think of this list? Was there a movie I missed? Feel free to leave a comment. Thank you for reading!

Bill & Ted: Face The Music Trailer Has Arrived

Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter make their long awaited return in “Bill & Ted: Face The Music!”

Finally, after decades of rumors and requests from fans, Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan are making their return to the big screen after a twenty-nine year hiatus.

Today, Orion Pictures released the first trailer for the third installment in the Bill & Ted movie series. Bill & Ted: Face The Music sees the Wyld Stallyns in their biggest adventure yet. Now middle aged men with children, Bill & Ted (played once again by Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) are warned by a visitor from the future that they need to create a song within the next seventy-eight minutes in order to not only save Earth, but the entire universe. The film also stars Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving, Anthony Carrigan and William Sadler, who is returning as Death from the previous film Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. In addition to the return of Reeves and Winter, Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon are back as the writers. The film is being directed Dean Parisot, whose directorial credits include Galaxy Quest and Red 2.

In the official trailer which clocks in at one minute and thirty-three seconds, we see the duo recite their infamous quote of, “Be Excellent To Each Other” and “Party On Dude!,” which is surely needed in these troubling times. From there we see quit shot of their daughters, going through the passages of time, giving a high five to Death and of course the return of the ancient Phone Booth. The trailer ends with them encountering their buffed up future selves in a prison yard where they asked if they liked their song, to which Reeves’s Ted replies, “It’s a little on the dark side, but you know it’s cool!”

As a fan of the first two movies, I was beyond ecstatic when I heard a third movie was in the works. The trailer released today did not disappointed. While Reeves does look scruffier and has a scratchier voice, it’s great to see Alex Winter back on the big screen even though he’s had a successful career as a filmmaker, most notably in the recent documentary The Panama Papers and will be releasing a documentary on music legend Frank Zappa. Seeing Wililam Sadler return as the reaper himself should provide many awkward moments. The addition of Bill & Ted’s daughters should be interesting to the plot especially with the revelation of their children from the previous film.

Bill & Ted: Face The Music will be released in theaters nationwide on August 21st. If you missed out on the first two films or would like to revisit them, you can purchase the Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection on Blu-Ray via Shout Factory. You can check out the trailer below if you haven’t seen it yet.

August will surely be a most excellent day!

Official Trailer