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.
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.
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.
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Bruce Campbell is undeniably the King of B-Movies. He’s catapulted to the top of the genre in large part to his recurring portrayal as chainsaw wielding, boomstick carrying, demon killer Ashley Williams from the Evil Dead movies. His career has spanned for over thirty years. In the last ten years he’s had more mainstream appeal largely in part to his role in the Espionage series Burn Notice and his return to the Evil Dead world as Ash once again in both the Starz TV Series Ash vs. Evil Dead which lasted three seasons and the upcoming Evil Dead video game which was announced a few weeks ago expected to be released for the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5 in 2021. Bruce Campbell portrays characters that make the audience feel like they are a part of the ride. He is not afraid of getting downright goofy as much of his acting was influenced by The Three Stooges. In 2007, he came out with a movie that pokes fun at not only himself, but his career. That movie was called My Name Is Bruce.
As the title suggests, My Name Is Bruce is a tongue in cheek film about Bruce Campbell, his popularity and the blurred line between fiction and reality. The film is about a Goth teenager named Jeff, who happens to be a huge Bruce Campbell fan. Him and his friend meet up with two girls at an abandoned gravesite in the small mining town of Goldlick, Oregon. Jeff finds a circular object placed in front of what looks like to be a collapsed tunnel. Removing the object, Jeff accidentally summons the spirit of Guan-Di, who is the Chinese God War and an early settler of the town. With Guan-Di unleashed and killing it townsfolk one by one, Jeff decides to track down the one person he believes could defeat the evil spirit…..yep, you guessed it. Bruce Campbell.
While the events in Goldlick are happening, Bruce is in a movie studio shooting a sequel to the B-Movie Sci-Fi film Cave Alien. Frustrated by the lack of quality roles, being turned down by women and crushed over a divorce, Bruce threatens to fire his agent, Mills Toddner (played by Tem Raimi in one of three roles he plays in the film). Mills tells him that he has a surprise for him on his birthday. Bruce shrugs it off and heads back to his trailer for a night of drinking and calling his ex wife. Bruce hears a knock on his door and Jeff appears. He asks him to come with him, but Bruce refuses. Jeff resorts to knocking him out and putting him in the trunk of his car. Jeff drives back to Goldlick and lets Bruce out. After Bruce gives a lecture to the townsfolk about kidnapping a movie star, he is informed by Jeff that he called his agent and was told he was free. Bruce believes that this is the surprise Mills was talking about and believes he’s part of a new movie. Bruce plays along with it unbeknownst that the townspeople are serious.
After a hero’s welcome that is filled with food and drink, Bruce leads the townspeople to the cemetery. There he encounters Guan-Di. Realizing that this is not a movie, Bruce tells the people to retreat. From there he cowardly escapes from the town to let the townspeople deal with Guan-Di. The next morning Bruce receives a call from Jeff saying that he is going to fight Guan-Di himself since he is ultimately responsible for releasing him. Now Bruce must decide if he wishes to help Jeff or let him deal with the spirit himself.
This film is hilarious. While this will appeal to the most diehard Bruce Campbell fans, I think viewers who aren’t familiar with him or his work will get a kick out of this. There’s plenty of jokes that will keep the average comedy movie fan in their seats.
You can tell throughout the film that Bruce Campbell enjoys parodying himself. The fact that he depicts himself as an arrogant, cocky, selfish, womanizing and drunken actor who lives in a trailer and is getting burned by horrible acting parts. It’s the polar opposite of the typical Hollywood actor. You get into his head of what he deals with on a daily basis from crazed fans to slimy agents. He doesn’t skip a beat with his line delivery, his physical expressions and his candor. He does show a moral compass during the film as he gets to know Jeff and his mother, Kelly whom he immediately has an attraction for despite her shunning his advances and thinking he’s nothing more than a phony.
The rest of the cast is pretty small as it primarily centers around Bruce and the relationship he builds with Jeff and Kelly. Grace Thorsen plays Kelly. She turns in a decent performance although it didn’t find her convincing that she immediately felt an attraction for Bruce especially after berating him about he thinks the situation is a joke to him, but to the townspeople it’s not. Jeff is played by a kid named Taylor Sharpe. This is his only acting performance to date (according to IMDB). I can see why it’s his only performance. He definitely plays his role like a newcomer. He sounds dull and not too concerned about what has happened. The character of Jeff itself is strange. One minute he is all dressed up as a Goth kid and then the next he’s a regular kid blending in with the town. Eventually his Goth persona would become his hero alter ego when he makes the decision to battle Guan-Di. I will give him props for knowing his Bruce Campbell trivia and his collection of Bruce Campbell memorabilia in his room. Other than Campbell, the other best performance of the film goes to Ted Raimi who plays three different characters. Besides Mills Toddner, he plays the town painter who gripes about having to change the population number of the town and uses lazy methods to change it and he also plays Wing, the last descendent of the original Chinese immigrants that founded the town. Radical leftists will more than likely cry that his performance stereotypes Asians, but I didn’t see it that way. I found it funny that he warns the people about Guan-Di and begins to taunt them. He only appears in a couple scenes, but he would provide something that will help them in the battle with the Chinese God of War.
Speaking of Guan-Di, I think it was an interesting monster that Bruce had to deal with. He looked like a giant puppet that dangled on strings. I’m pretty sure it was the film’s intention to make the monster look cheap as it fits in with the B-Movie concept. Nevertheless it was good to see a little innovation in the bad guy and not make him another vampire or zombie.
After watching this film again, I would easily place this in my Top 10 Bruce Campbell movies. Yes, this film will largely appeal to his fan base, but there are those out there that will enjoy it if they are a fan of B-Movies. If you can show this movie to someone who has never seen a Bruce Campbell movie, you might be able to turn them into an immediate fan. If you’re able to do that, then it will be a testament to the power that this film really has.
Trivia (Per IMDB)
The exteriors for the town of “Goldlick” were actually shot on Bruce Campbell’s property where a back lot was built with the exteriors of all of the buildings. The interior shots were all done on a sound stage.
According to the DVD commentary, most of the Bruce Campbell memorabilia in Jeff’s room was real, including a spare Brisco County Jr. costume that Campbell owned. A few fake items, such as a poster for “The Stoogitive,” were made to fill up space.
There are many mentions and references to Bruce Campbell’s other films. Examples are phrases ‘sugar baby’, ‘groovy’ and ‘boomstick’ along with name checking of people like Sam Raimi (director of the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy).
The rude man in the wheelchair was based on a real person Bruce Campbell met.
Starring: Matt Frewer, Jeremy Renner, Valerie Mahaffey, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
National Lampoon was a well-known humor magazine that ran from 1970 to 1998. The magazine formed as a spin off of Harvard’s Harvard Lampoon. The magazine was popular in the 1970s and spawned a series of comedy movies that included their title. The most famous of their films include Animal House and the Vacation movie series starring Chevy Chase. At the turn of the century, National Lampoon started a corporation and generated low budget raunchy comedy films that you would only be able to find at your local video store (which are unfortunately extinct) or streaming services. One of the last National Lampoon films to be released in theater’s was 1995’s National Lampoon’s Senior Trip.
It’s a typical teen comedy with a realistic plot. The students at the fictional Fairmount High School in Columbus, OH write a letter about how bad the education system when several students blame school for not wanting to learn and party all the time. The letter reaches the desk of the President of the United States who phones their Senator and personally invite them to Washington D.C. to help support the President’s new Education Bill. Despite the Senator having his own Education Bill lined up and seeking higher office, he intends to use the ‘slacker students’ to embarrass him and push his own agenda. The Senator arrives at the school and instructs their principal, Todd Moss (played by Matt Frewer) to get them to Washington on time. The road trip doesn’t go as smoothly and on schedule as the students get themselves into crazy shenanigans on and off the bus.
I remember seeing the trailer for this movie on the VHS copy of Dumb and Dumber. I was a pre teen when I saw the trailer and it looked like a pretty funny movie. Unfortunately the movie was rated ‘R’ and I had strict parents who would not let me watch anything that above a ‘PG-13’ rating. Eventually the film made its way onto the small screen and I watched it on my local channel. I watched it with a friend and we enjoyed this movie. A decade later, I found this movie on DVD at a local store where I buy all my movies. Not surprising to this review, the movie still holds up.
This film relates to the experiences we went through in High School (although I’m sure none of you stole a bunch of beer from a mini mart, break stuff at a five star hotel or having your bus driver die on the way to Washington). You can relate to any of the character that best fit your personality in high school. If you were a computer nerd, you were the character Virus. If you were a straight A scholar, you were either Steve or Lisa. If you were a vengeful Trekkie, you were Travis. One thing these characters have in common is they like to party and they get along real well in this film (unlike real world where you were in your groups). There are some scenes of drugs and sex, but it’s only a pinch of it compared to most of the other National Lampoon movies or other teen comedies.
I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of each character. All of them had great chemistry together. Each character had their own standout moments. Matt Frewer’s portrayal of Principal Moss reminds me of a real life Principal McVicker from Beavis and Butt-Head. He’s very spastic, agitated and punctual and finds himself in uneasy situations. This movie was the feature film debut of Jeremy Renner. He plays the leader of the class named Dags who is a stoner and the vigilante of the school. His antics are praised by many and loathed by some. Then there’s Kevin McDonald who plays Travis, the school crossing guard and an obsessed Star Trek fan. He lives in his basement that is built to replicate the enterprise, carries around a blow up doll dressed like Uhura and he is obsessed with seeking revenge on Reggie (Dag’s sidekick). With the exception of a confrontation in the movie, there’s no explanation as to why Travis is out to kill Reggie. It’s funny seeing him trying to get to Reggie, but ends up being caught in an unpleasant scenario when things start happening to him. He talks to himself and only speaks in Star Trek language. I can relate to that because I’ve known quite a few people that were serious Trekkies.
The best performance by far is Tommy Chong as Red, the bus driver. In pure Tommy Chong fashion, he steals every scene he is in. He blends in with the students and praises them for their mad partying habits.
This film manages to bring up a moral issue at the end. They talk about the importance of education for future generations. It’s funny how the students define themselves as the poster children of slackers and losers with no future as a way to get their message across. This film came out in 1995 when Bill Clinton was pushing for a better education program for kids in America. Maybe he watched this film to help advance his narrative? (Wouldn’t surprised me if he did.)
Senior Trip is one of the most underrated teen comedies to come out in the 90s. It may not be the cream of the crop in the National Lampoon film library, but this has enough chuckles to keep you entertained.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Film debut of Jeremy Renner
The bus driver “Red” played by Tommy Chong hums the tune, and sings some of the lyrics, from the song “Earache My Eye”, which was the song that Chong and Cheech Marin play at the end of Up in Smoke (1978).
Wanda and Reggie discuss a crossover between horror icons Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. This eventually happened in Freddy vs. Jason (2003).
Dag’s first name is never mentioned. But when Lisa is listing his good qualities vs. his bad qualities, it is seen at the top of the paper. Mark.
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen, Raul Julia, Sonia Braga, Tom Skerritt, Lara Flynn Boyle
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Hello, readers! Happy New Year! I apologize for being absent the last couple months. I took a short hiatus from writing to clear my head and get refreshed for the new year. I’m going to dedicate more time on this blog for movie reviews on top of other writing projects that I have planned. Thank you for being a loyal reader and I hope you enjoy the collection of movies that we’ll be looking at in 2021!
While Buddy Cop movies have been around since the dawn of film, they didn’t start becoming commercially successful until around the seventies. Some of the more memorable duos include Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder, Mel Gibson/Danny Glover and in today’s Buddy films, you could argue Kevin Hart/Ice Cube or Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum. Then there are those that didn’t pair well like Chevy Chase/Jack Palance, Jay Leno/Pat Morita, Burt Reynolds/an eight-year-old boy. As the nineties began, you saw more offbeat pairings. One of those offbeat pairings included Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood and Hollywood Bad Boy Charlie Sheen (Yeah never in a million years did I think that would be possible). Both appeared in the 1990 film The Rookie.
Like all Buddy Cop movies this movie focuses on two cops with quite different and conflicting personalities who are forced to work together to solve a major crime. Sheen plays David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is assigned to the LAPD’s Robbery and Auto Theft Division. He is partnered with Eastwood’s Nick Pulovski, a rough wisecracking Sergeant Detective who uses tactics against police procedures to get what he needs to put the bad guys away. David gets thrust into Nick’s case involving a car theft ring that is run by a man named Strom, played by the late great Raul Julia. In addition, Strom is responsible for killing Eastwood’s original partner. Throughout the film, David gets cold feet when it comes to helping Nick. It’s attributed to not only his family background, which he comes from money and power as portrayed in a dinner party scene, but also a post traumatic episode involving the accidental death of his brother when they were children and feeling responsible for it. During a tip from an illegal wiretap, Nick and David head to a local casino where Strom is attempting to steal $2 million dollars to pay his creditors due to Nick constantly disrupting his business. During a search, Strom’s right-hand woman slowly walks towards David. David has his gun pointed at her threatening her to stop or he will shoot. He hesitates and allows himself to be shot and Nick being taken hostage by Strom. David is put on leave from the department due to his cowardice and allowing his partner to be taken. Strom demands the money within twenty-four hours otherwise he will kill Nick. David, feeling guilt and tired of being afraid hunts down Strom’s associates to find where Nick is in time before the police decide to pay up.
I first encountered this movie during a night flipping through channels with my father several years ago. It appeared on one of the major film channels you can get on cable or satellite. The film was already playing, but we decide to check it out. We turned it on and the first scene we see is Eastwood giving a local news interview on a junkyard search and seizure. In typical Eastwood humor, he begins a profanity laced taunt at the criminal he is after. My dad I instantly cracked up and continued to watch the film all the way through. After the movie, we both agreed that it was a fun flick with loads of action and humor. Recently, I shopped at the place where I do all my movie shopping and found The Rookie on DVD for a mere two dollars. I instantly picked it up. I watched it in full for the first time over the weekend and I enjoyed it as much as I did the first time around.
Clint Eastwood’s performance in this movie is a carbon copy of Dirty Harry, not like that’s a bad thing. From the physical gruffness and aggressive tactics to the smart-ass comments, Eastwood doesn’t skip a beat. When Eastwood gets paired up with Sheen, he’s not amused to the fact that he must “babysit” this rookie. He keeps his pursuit of Strom close to his chest, not revealing too much information to his new partner.
Charlie Sheen’s performance was mellow, but I think he nailed the character of David Ackerman, a rookie cop who is getting more than what he bargained for when joining the force. He becomes a burden to Eastwood due to his inexperience and the fact that Eastwood must bail him out on several occasions. Besides the things I mentioned about Ackerman in the beginning of the review, he also must deal with his girlfriend (played by Lara Flynn Boyle) who is finishing law school. He feels his job is beneath to what she will become. He does gain Eastwood’s admiration in the film when he helps him fix his motorcycle. You will see in a couple scenes how good Sheen is at fixing things. This is in part to Ackerman’s degrees in Engineering and Economics as mentioned during the party scene. Other than that, he struggles to build Eastwood’s trust in him. The botched arrest of Strom along with the kidnapping of Eastwood becomes Sheen’s turning point. When he faces his fears and stops blaming himself for the tragic events of his childhood, he learns from his subordinate and does what he can to find his partner even going as far as breaking up his dad’s meeting to confront him.
The last great performance goes to Raul Julia playing Strom. He is cunning at first when things go as planned. As the movie progresses and Eastwood thwarts his criminal business, Strom becomes angry and determined. When he kidnaps Eastwood, he gains leverage over the cops and devises a way to get his money and take out his enemy at the same time. The only gripe I have about Julia’s character is that he is supposed to be German. Raul Julia is Puerto Rican. It would’ve made more sense to change the character of Strom to a different nationality, but that shouldn’t take away from his performance.
A Buddy Cop film wouldn’t be complete without loads of action. There’s not a lot of shootouts in this film, but there are quite a few chase sequences. There’s one shortly after the beginning of the film, a chase scene involving Sheen and a motorcycle and a chase scene at the climax. The film does a good job of changing the chases so that they’re not repetitive as in car chase after car chase after car chase. All these chases were performed by stuntmen at the physical shooting locations. The explosion effects were also done on location without the use of any blue or green screens brining a sense of authenticity. One scene was done in one take due to the fact they did not have the means to keep doing take after take. It’s incredible what these stuntmen put themselves through to create an entertaining picture. They are the real heroes in the movie industry.
The film does have its flaws. The film doesn’t divulge into Sheen and Boyle’s relationship. She appears in only a handful of shots and one important scene of the film. The same goes with Sheen’s parents. While you know he comes from luxury, you really don’t know much about his dad’s business. One of the more controversial moments in the film is when Strom’s right-hand woman is toying with a tied-up Eastwood. As she speaks to him and slashes his forehead with a razor, she turns on a video camera and begins to rape him. Was it something she did with all her male victims? Did she see something in Eastwood she found attractive such as his boldness or the fact when she gave him a drink of water, he proceeded to spit it at her face? I didn’t think it was necessary especially since you didn’t know anything about her other than she’s a trusted accomplice.
The movie’s run time is two hours on the dot, but it doesn’t feel like a two-hour movie. It’s fast paced with a lot of things happening on screen. You get immersed with what is going on in each scene that time doesn’t exist.
Overall The Rookie is a good Buddy Cop flick. It may not stand out like the Lethal Weapon movies, but it is better than most of the recent movies of this genre that have been released. The pairing of Clint Eastwood and Charlie Sheen is still baffling, but it works in this concept if these two could work great together in a Buddy Cop film, who knows what the next great pairing will be? I could see Tom Hardy and Michael Cera in a Buddy Cop flick…….or maybe not.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
According to the book “Clint Eastwood A Cultural Production” by Paul Smith, during the early stages of principal photography, actor Charlie Sheen had substance abuse problems. Eastwood reportedly took on a father-figure role in disciplining Sheen into responsible behavior.
The film featured over twice as many stuntmen as it did actors. Held the world record for the biggest ratio of stuntmen/actors. Reportedly, over eighty stuntmen worked on the movie.
Clint Eastwood agreed to do this movie in exchange for Warner Brothers letting him make his personal film project, White Hunter Black Heart (1990).
The movie was to be directed by Craig R. Baxley starring Matthew Modine and Gene Hackman in 1988 but the production was stopped by the Screen Actors Guild strike
The make and model of the car that Clint Eastwood took a disliking to its color was a lime green Type 85 Lotus Esprit SE. The Lotus Esprit was the car that had become famous for appearing in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and later used again in For Your Eyes Only (1981). In the movie, Eastwood gets to drive the famous James Bond car.
According to the article ‘Slam, Bang, Crash, Boom for The Rookie” published in American Cinematographer in January 1991, the movie’s stunt scenes were mostly shot at night with no use of blue screens and with no use of miniatures.
Writers: Irwin Yablans (Story), C. Courtney Joyner (Screenplay)
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Lane Smith, Chelsea Field, Lincoln Kirkpatrick, Tom Everett
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Well readers, we’ve reached the final review in Guilty Pleasure Cinema’s Horror Movie Month special. Hope you enjoyed reading them up to this point. If you’ve been keeping up with each review this week, you may have realized that I picked a movie based on a genre of Horror Movies. You may have also noticed that all these movies came out in the 80s. For the final film, I decided to go with the old-fashioned ghost story and yes it was released in the 80s. It was a limited release movie and the directing debut of Renny Harlin, the man who would go on to make blockbuster action movies such as Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger as well as the third highest grossing Nightmare on Elm Street movie in the franchise in Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master. It was this film that got Harlin hired to do Nightmare 4. Buckle up because the last film in our special is 1988’s Prison!
The plot is simple and straight to the point. Due to a suspension of funding for a new state of the art prison in Wyoming, the Board of Prisons is left no choice but to re-open the Creedmore Prison, a prison that was shut down twenty years ago. The prison will be run by Ethan Sharpe (Lane Smith), who knows the prison well as he was a corrections officer when it was open. Inmates from all over the state are transferred to this prison and are used as workers to restore the prison to full working capacity. Two inmates Burke (Viggo Mortensen) and Sandos (Andre DeShields) are assigned to break open the Execution Chamber that has been sealed off. As they break through with pickaxes a flash of blue light appears and starts to suck Burke in. Suddenly, there’s flashes of electricity, glass breaking and boilers flaming. The inmates have released a spirit believed to have been the last person executed at the prison and looks to seek his revenge on not only the prison but the man who helped send him to the electric chair, Sharpe.
I heard of this film during Renny Harlin’s interview in the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again. He talked about this film as his first film and that he used household effects and tricks to make the movie look good. The movie was a limited theatrical release in the United States and the United Kingdom. Its total gross was a little over $300,000 on a reported budget of $1.5 million. It was released on VHS in 1988. The movie was never released on DVD or Blu Ray until 2013 when Shout Factory acquired the distribution rights and made it available. I purchased the movie last December.
My first reaction when watching this movie was mixed. I thought it felt shallow and bare feeling that there needed to be a lot more meat to the bones. While researching movies to review for this special, I saw Prison in my library of movies and decided to give it another chance to see if this was something worth reviewing. I watched it again and enjoyed it for its atmosphere, use of special effects and creative death scenes. I watched it a third time and I convinced myself that this is a great movie for this special. There’s a certain quality to this movie that I feel has not been replicated when it comes to making a supernatural film.
The mood is everything in Prison. An air of confinement overtakes the film as soon the buses roll into the yard to drop the work crew off at their new home. The look, sound and smell of penitentiary life hangs all over the place. If you’ve watched any of Renny Harlin’s movies he really loves mood when it comes to people and the situations they get themselves involved in.
Lane Smith is billed as the lead in this movie as he is the veteran and recognized actor at the time (Vigo Mortensen was not well known). His performance of Sharpe is a troupe of wardens in movies. He is a hard nose, bug eyed, short tempered warden who is haunted by memories of the executed prisoner who spirit is alive and wreaking havoc on him. It takes a toll on him and his ability to manage the prison and keep things under his control. His paranoia deepens to where he starts to behave irrationally and barks orders that even draw concern looks on the guard captains. Smith has played various characters with strong authority throughout his career and this is no exception.
Vigo Mortensen plays the prisoner who is followed throughout the movie, Burke. Not much is known about Burke only that he is famous for stealing cars and is seen as a sort of “celebrity” within the prison. Mortensen plays Burke as a quiet inmate who keeps to himself in the beginning. He befriends two inmates, his cell mate Cresus (Lincoln Kirkpatrick) and Lasagna (Ivan Kane). During the movie, he becomes a hero when he saves the life of an inmate in solitary confinement from burning alive from the evil spirit when the cowardly guards refused to do so. He is the polar opposite of Sharpe. It’s the perfect role reversal of the criminal being the hero and the law enforcement officer being the villain.
The other lead in the movie is Chelsea Field who plays Katherine Walker who works internally at the Bureau of Prisons and is overseeing the re-opening. She doesn’t like the fact that the board put Sharpe in charge of the prison referring to him as an “Old Dinosaur.” While she has attempted to work with Sharpe, she quickly realizes that she is being shut down by him at every turn especially when the prisoner body count starts to accumulate. She takes it upon herself to find out everything she can about the prisons history and Sharpe’s role in it. Field pops up in the movie from time to time, but I think gives a decent performance.
I love physical special effects and there is plenty of that in Prison. The lightning looks homemade, but authentic and the death scenes are innovative and make great use of the surroundings the impending victims are in. I could tell that the kill scenes in Nightmare on Elm Street 4 drew inspiration from Prison. The only death scene I had a gripe on was the smoking prisoner being burned alive. While it was indeed creative and intense, there were a few shots where you could see a dummy head just rotating its head from side to side.
As I do in most of my reviews, I try not to spoil the ending. I will say that the ending has been done before in a couple ghost themed movies I’ve seen, but I feel is satisfying. It brings a sense of closure to the story. Harlin seems to wrap up his movies by bringing closure or a sense of relief that things are over.
Overall, I would check out Prison. It’s a fine horror movie that doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a blockbuster horror movie. I’ve watched a lot of Renny Harlin’s movies and if you were to ask me to give a list of his five best movies, this would be on the list. His introductory film showcases his talent for vision and atmosphere that would be seen throughout his filmmaking career. Some good, some bad.
That concludes the Guilty Pleasure Cinema Horror Movie Month special. I hope you enjoyed these reviews. It took a lot of time and effort to watch, write and record these pieces, but I have to say that this was fun to do. The big accomplishment I hope to achieve from these is that you go out and watch these movies and see what you think.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
Most of the inmate extras in the film were portrayed by real-life inmates from a nearby prison to add realism to their performances. The armed guards on the towers were, of course, armed with live ammo at the time. Stephen E. Little (Rhino) was a former Hollywood stuntman, who was still a member of SAG, who happened to be serving time for manslaughter that he committed during a bar-room brawl.
The prison where the movie was shot, the former Wyoming State Prison located in Rawlins, Wyoming, has daily tours and much of the set remains intact from when crews filmed there in 1987.
The electric chair (which was never used in Wyoming) was built into the actual gas chamber of the Wyoming Prison and the death scenes were filmed there. The original chair, was carefully removed and an electric chair was built in its place. During the shooting, Viggo Mortensen’s convulsions were so violent the arms of the chair were broken and needed to be repaired.
Chelsea Field was supposed to do a scene in a bathtub but refused to do it.
Viggo Mortensen did the bulk of his own stunts. Moreover, stunt coordinator Kane Hodder gave Mortensen an honorary stuntman’s shirt at the completion of the shooting for this film.
The high-altitude sun in Wyoming caused shooting issues in the scene where the prisoners are stripped to their underwear and forced to stand outside all day. Due to technical issues, the scene was shot over and over and the prisoners in the background become sunburned on one side of their bodies only as extras were not provided sunblock.
The water that Viggo Mortensen runs through in his underwear was real. That part of the prison had been flooded for years, the temperature in the room was below 50F and the water temperature was 46F. Mortensen’s shivering is real. He insisted on shooting the scenes without a double, and only at being forced to relented for some close-up scenes.
Before casting Viggo Mortensen, Thom Matthews auditioned and was being considered for the part of Burke.
Lane Smith remained in character as Warden Sharpe throughout the duration of filming.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Starring: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Scott Bloom
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
Welcome to the second week of Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” For this week I wanted to review a film from one of my all-time favorite filmmakers. Larry Cohen was a pioneer and maverick in the film industry. He made all his movies his way and didn’t let anyone stand in his way. He was known for shooting movies on location without permits. Cohen’s films contain a diverse range of concepts and narratives that are weaved into storylines with strange creatures and offbeat characters. This is perhaps the most popular film in Larry Cohen’s filmography. It is a movie that is still fresh and relatable almost thirty-five years since its release. The concept may be goofy, but you will enjoy the ride this movie provides once you push the Play button on your remote control. If you ask most movie fans to name one Larry Cohen movie off the top of their heads, the majority will say this title, The Stuff! So, without further ado, here is the review to the 1985 horror cult classic The Stuff!
The movie starts with a railroad worker noticing a white bubbly substance coming from the snowy ground. He takes a taste of it to see what it is. To his delight it tastes very sweet with the texture of yogurt. Soon the substance is being marketed to consumers as “The Stuff” which becomes a phenomenon. “The Stuff” is marketed as being creamy, filling and with no calories. You can find “The Stuff” at supermarkets, small vendor carts and even a Dairy Queen style drive thru. While people are going crazy over “The Stuff” there are people highly suspicious of this addictive edible food. First there’s a young boy named Jason who wakes up in the middle of the night looking for a snack. He opens the refrigerator door to see a container of “The Stuff” moving. He tries to convince his family that there is something alive within it, but they are dismissive of his claims. Jason gets paranoid that he vandalizes a supermarket by destroying the massive amounts of “The Stuff” that is being sold. The other person who is skeptical of “The Stuff” is a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur named David “Mo” Rutherford (who tells people that he got the nickname from whenever people gave him money he always wanted mo!). He is hired by numerous corporate executives of the ice cream industry to find out what is in “The Stuff” and destroy it. He befriends the head marketer of “The Stuff” Nicole and they set out to investigate the contents. Mo’s efforts reveal that “The Stuff” is a living parasite that takes over people’s brains and then mutates the host into zombies. Mo encounters Jason and the three of them are determined to destroy “The Stuff” before it consumes more and more people.
The Stuff is my second favorite movie in Larry Cohen’s filmography (Q: The Winged Serpent is first). It took me a long time to find interest in checking it out. When I first saw the cover art, it didn’t appeal to me. Mainly because I wasn’t familiar with Larry Cohen’s work nor was I interested in low budget horror movies. After seeing the movie pop up on several streaming services, I decided to give it a chance and boy did I not regret it. I enjoyed every frame, scene, characters and effects. It made me wish I had seen this movie a lot sooner than I did.
Like most of Cohen’s films, 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. With these new products came heavy advertising and marketing. This was during Reaganomics where the American economy was booming, and people were spending their hard-earned money of anything they can get their hands on. 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.
Michael Moriarty once again returns in a Larry Cohen picture. He follows up his astounding performance in Q: The Winged Serpent with another memorable performance. I loved his portrayal of Mo Rutherford. He has the smarts of a detective and the tongue of a salesman. He’s smooth talking, confident and keeps his eye on the ball. What starts as a simple job to expose “The Stuff” to his employers turns into a national crisis that he must find a way to put an end. The rest of the cast is convincing in their roles. Andrea Marcovicci plays Nicole, the attractive and smart marketer of “The Stuff” who joins Mo in his investigation and become lovers. Garrett Morris plays ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs, the junk food magnet that Mo befriends while visiting a town that has been desolated by relocation of jobs and the great Paul Sorvino as Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears who leads the operation into destroying “The Stuff” and warning the public about the dangers of consuming it.
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. 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.
The Stuff is a rare find. It should’ve been a much more mainstream film considering the subject matter. This is a movie that still holds up after all this time. You can relate this movie to everything that is going on in our world today as consumerism and Capitalism hasn’t slowed down. It’s an iconic B-Movie that stacks right up there with many of the underrated greats. This is the most recognizable film of Larry Cohen’s work and the one movie that people associate Cohen with.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
According to audio commentary on the 2000 Anchor Bay DVD, the scene in the motel where the Stuff comes out of the mattress and pillows and attacks the man on the wall and ceiling was shot in a room that could turn upside down, allowing the Stuff to move up and down the wall. It was exactly the same room used in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) when Johnny Depp’s character Glen is sucked into his bed and his blood is regurgitated back out onto the ceiling.
According to Larry Cohen himself, in some scenes in which the Stuff chases characters, a foam made of blended fish bones was used. It stank so much that, as soon as the shots were done, the actors ran to a river in order to bathe and get rid of the stench.
Garrett Morris was asked about this film when he participated in AV Club’s “Random Roles” interview series. He said the production was “crazy,” and when the interviewer noted Larry Cohen’s history as “a character,” and asked Morris what he was like, Morris said that “I was taught growing up that if you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all,” with no further comment about Cohen
Arsenio Hall was considered for the role of “Chocolate Chip” Charlie W. Hobbs.
David ‘Mo’ Rutherford tells ‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs to contact agent Frank Herbert from the FBI. Frank Herbert was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels.
Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford) and Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears) went on to appear in 31 episodes of Law & Order (1990) together from 1991 to 1992 as Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone and Sergeant Phil Cerreta, respectively.
The original cut of the film was said to be much longer and described by Director Larry Cohen as more “dense and sophisticated”. Feeling that the film was too long, it was cut to increase the pace of the film. There was a romantic scene between Moriarty and Marcovicci that took place in a hotel room in the original cut.
Writers: David Webb Peoples (Story/Screenplay), Jeb Stuart (Screenplay)
Starring: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Lisa Eilbacher, Hector Elizondo, Meg Foster
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
1989 was a big year for underwater themed Science Fiction movies. First, you had the highly anticipated The Abyss, namely because it’s a James Cameron movie and the special effects were the most innovative and advanced through Industrial Light & Magic. The second film that premiered in 1989 was the obscure cult classic Deep Star Six, which was directed by famed Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham. Finally, you had Leviathan, directed by George P. Cosmatos who was known at the time for directing not one but two Sylvester Stallone movies, First Blood Part II and Cobra. All three movies did were not financially successful at the box office. The Abyss made $90 million but it had a budget of over $50 million. While it made a teeny profit, it was considered by many in the film industry as underwhelming considering the magnitude of the movie. Deep Star Six sank as fast as the Titanic. Leviathan debut at #2, but quickly drowned the following week. Out of these films, I chose Leviathan as the next review in “Guilty Pleasure Cinema” because it’s indeed a guilty pleasure film for me. It ranks in my Top 10 Guiltiest Pleasure Movies of all time, which I’ll reveal at a future date.
The fist time I watched Leviathan, I reacted in a way most people did when it first came out: mortified (and not in a good way). When I decided to watch this movie again, I forgot everything I watched the first time around. When the second viewing was finished, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Even though it’s a blatant rip-off of Alien, The Thing and The Abyss. it was entertaining. I loved it so much I began playing it several more times. Before I go into more detail as to why Leviathan is a guilty pleasure film, I’ll brief you on the plot.
Leviathan is the story of a group of underwater miners who work for Tri-Oceanic Corp. They’re finishing their last days of a three month operation mining for silver on the Atlantic Ocean floor. The team consists of eight members: Glen ‘Doc’ Thompson (Richard Crenna), Elizabeth ‘Wilie’ Williams (Amanda Pays), Buzz ‘Sixpack’ Parrish (Daniel Stern), Justin Jones (Ernie Hudson), Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero (Michael Carmine), Bridget ‘Bow’ Bowman (Lisa Eilbacher) and G.P. Cobb (Hector Elizondo). Their team is led by Geologist Steven Beck (Peter Weller) who reports to Tri-Oceanic CEO Martin (Meg Foster). During a mining operation involving Sixpack and Willie (whom are working as punishment for an altercation between the two), Sixpack falls off a ravine and goes missing. Willie searches for him and discovers a sunken Russian ship named ‘Leviathan.’ She enters through the blown hole of the ship and finds Sixpack along with some treasure. As the crew looks through the contents of what Sixpack found, Doc uncovers a videotape containing a message from the Captain of ‘Leviathan.’ Beck and Doc aren’t sure what the Captain is referring to. The rest of the crew prepares to take a shot of vodka from a bottle they found in the refuge only to discover after tasting it that Beck switched the bottles out and were drinking water. Unbeknownst to the crew, Sixpack hid a flask containing the vodka in his pocket and shares a drink with Bowman. Few hours later, Sixpack starts to feel sick with chills and forming flaky skin on his neck. He succumbs to his illness several hours later which triggers Doc to perform tests on every one of the crew members. When Bowman sees Sixpack slowly mutating into an unknown creature, she decides to take her own life. As the crew tries to dispose of their comrades’ bodies into the ocean, the monster, now fused from Sixpack and Bowman emerges from the body bag and attacks. The crew manages to sink the creature except for its leg which gets severed off during the closing of the hatch. The severed part mutates into a whole new creature and continues the rampage of attacking the crew and grow by consuming blood. The crew declare an emergency, but Martin tells them there is a hurricane approaching them and their rescue is delayed by twelve hours. The crew has no choice but to find a way to destroy the monster.
I’ll start with the cast. Peter Weller is the lead in the film as Beck. He oversees the crew and its mission. He is very commanding and by the book when it comes to company rules. In the beginning of the film, he feels out of place and senses he doesn’t have the respect of the crew. You see his leadership and command develop throughout the movie. I love Peter Weller. He is a person who is dedicated in every role he takes, and this role was no exception. His iconic performance in Robocop groomed him for this part. Richard Crenna who plays Doc is a loner and disliked by the entire crew especially in the beginning of the film. They feel he has something to hide and as the film progresses, he does what he can to not reveal what is happening to the crew except for Beck. Crenna is another actor I’ve enjoyed for a long time. The rest of the characters were great each with their own personalities. I loved the spunky and ambitious portrayal of Williams from Amanda Pays, the practical joker Sixpack from Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson as the somewhat paranoid Jones, Elizondo as the union steward Cobb and Michael Carmine as DeJesus whom all he wants to do is go skiing after his work is over. Sadly this would be Carmine’s last film role as he died in October of the same year due to a heart attack caused by AIDS complications. I think all the performances were good apart from Meg Foster. I know she is supposed to play the disconcerted corporate executive, but she comes off as wooden and monotone. I’ve seen her play this part before in They Live. I don’t know if that’s her style, but I didn’t care for it.
The film is well paced when you compare it to the other two movies I mentioned. None of the scenes drag out too long which keeps your attention focused. There’s plenty of jump scares and tense confrontations between the crew. Legendary composer Jerry Goldsmith provides the music and it sounds eerily familiar to his composition in Alien. Wouldn’t surprise me if he were influenced by that film since this film takes several elements from it. The special effects were solid. There is a ton of blood, but not too much gore. Any gore that appeared in the movie was either off camera or was in spurts such as in the reveal of the monster in the middle of film or near the end.
Speaking of the monster, that was without a doubt the biggest disappointment of the movie. It borrows from the thing in terms of a small piece or particle can form a new life as it is shown during the scene where they crew attempts to dispose the creature in its first stage. When the monster gets bigger as it consumes the crew, you don’t see much of it with the exception of some flashes which is a call back to the old sci-fi horror concept of not revealing too much of the monster. The concept of the creature is supposed to be a genetic alteration of a sea creature, but fuses with people it has either encounter or has the same genetic mutation in their bodies. One shot you see this gigantic blob with tentacles and faces of the crew members it has merged with. It reminds me of the pillar with all the faces from the Hellraiser movies. And when the monster emerges at the very end, you can see how fake the head is. It was reminiscent of a monster in a Japanese Monster Movie. What boggles my mind is that the creature design and the effects were done by legendary effects man, Stan Winston. This was the guy that created the Terminator, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the Alien Queen in Aliens. What the hell happened here? Did he not have the budget to make something unique and terrifying? Did he run out of ideas? It’s a damn shame. The creature could’ve been something unique and give the film a better lasting impression.
Out of the three movies I mentioned in 1989, I would put Leviathan second behind The Abyss. The problem the movie had as I mentioned in the beginning was that it borrows too much from the other iconic movies I mentioned. It’s not original in terms of concept. I do give it creative points for the source of the disease and the effects that it causes. Don’t let all that take away from the fact that it is an enjoyable B-Movie and it’s a movie I’ve found myself watching repeatedly. That’s always been the strength of George P. Cosmatos’ films. He doesn’t follow a strict genre. He’s willing to take chances and his movies come about as being fun and entertaining.
TRIVIA (PER IMDB)
In designing the creature of the film, Stan Winston and George P. Cosmatos went through a mini-library of marine life pictures and medical reference books. They were inspired by the physiology of the natural world, and came up with the idea of combining human body parts and elements of deep sea marine life into an unnatural creature never seen on film before.
There are very few scenes in the film that were actually shot underwater, as production went for the “dry for wet” look, with most of the scenes inside the Shack taking place on soundstages and a tank measuring 130ft x 270ft.
Chicken feathers were used at one point of shooting the underwater sequences to suggest things were floating around in the water. According to Alex Thomson this did not work because the feathers floating side to side instead of up and down and the idea had to be scrapped altogether.
Hector Elizondo’s character of Cobb is named after the film’s production designer, Ron Cobb. Also, Michael Carmine’s character of Tony ‘DeJesus’ Rodero, shares the same last name of the film’s first assistant director, ‘Kuki Lopez Rodero’.
Second time that Richard Crenna worked with George p Cosmatos after Rambo First Blood Part II, which also had Jerry Goldsmith music.
Once, during the underwater photography, John Rosengrant and other members of the SWS on-set crew were underwater for so long and at such depth, that they were unaware of a violent storm that had come in, threatening to rip the topside boat from its anchor and smash it against nearby rocks. “We had no idea all of this was going on, until we came to the surface and saw all this commotion,” recalled Rosengrant. “We all go out of the water and helped to push the boat away from the rocks and hold it steady in this storm.”
When Doc is analyzing Sixpack’s skin sample, the computer reports back the phrase “of unknown origin”. This is a winking nod to director George P. Cosmatos and star Peter Weller having previously collaborated on the movie Of Unknown Origin (1983).
Starring: John Blyth Barrymore, Buddy Daniels Friedman, Beverly Washburn, Ann Robinson, Jim Tavare, Len Wein, T.J. Storm, Mel Novak
Warning: Possible Spoilers In This Review
Hello, readers! Once again it’s time for another special edition of “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” This past Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to watch the latest release from author/writer/filmmaker Donald F. Glut. For those who may not have heard of the name Donald F. Glut before, let me give you a short biography on his career. Glut started his filmmaking career in 1953 making short unauthorized adaptations of characters such as Superman, Spider-Man and Dracula to name a few. He gained notoriety in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, which was a genre-specific film magazine that was started by publisher James Warren and editor Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958. From there he went on to become a screenwriter, mostly writing for children’s television shows and cartoons from G.I. Joe to Land of the Lost, pretty much any 80s cartoon show you could think of, he wrote for. Glut is most notable for being an author as he has written around sixty five novels that have been published. His biggest work was writing the novel adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back (coincidentally, he and George Lucas were classmates at the University of Southern California). Today, Donald F. Glut continues to make movies based on his own writings. His latest release is an anthology tribute to Mary Shelly’s iconic novel Frankenstein entitled Tales of Frankenstein.
Tales of Frankenstein consists of four short stories based upon Donald F. Glut’s book of the same name. Each story takes place in a different time period and they revolve around descendants of the notorious doctor whom created a monster that is a legendary staple in the genre of horror. The introduction of the film shows Frankenstein’s monster roaming the outside only to discover a portrait of its creator. From there the portrait appears in each tale going in chronological order of the time piece. At the end of each story, the Frankenstein monster appears in the wraparound segments to transition to the next story and so on.
The first story presented in the film is titled “My Creation, My Beloved,” takes place in 1887 Bavaria, which stars Buddy Daniels Friedman as Dr. Gregore Frankenstein, a descendant of Victor. Furious over his family’s legacy over Victor’s original creation, Gregore hopes to restore the family name by successfully creating a male and female creation. This is a strong introductory story to the film as it pays homage to not only the original Frankenstein story but to the visual adaptations made by the legendary Hammer Films series. The performances are solid with Friedman able to carry the weight of the story as he is determined to succeed where his family tree had failed. His performance is filled with manic moments as well as some quirky moments. There are some nice visuals and the setting gives an authentic look and feel of 1887 Bavaria. The story has a nice twist ending that rivals those seen in the Tales From The Crypt television series.
The second story deviates from the Frankenstein story, but instead takes place in the Frankenstein universe. Taking place in Switzerland in 1910, “Crawler From The Grave” is a tale which involves Lenore Frankenstein (Tatiana DeKhtyar) who is grieving over the passing over her husband, Helmut Frankenstein (Len Wein in his final film roll). From there, Lenore receives a call from Helmut’s nemesis named Vincent (John Blyth Barrymore) asking about a ring that was buried with him wearing it. The rival sets out to acquire the ring from the grave of the deceased husband only to be followed by something that is not quite human which seems to be seeking the ring as well. Features a supporting cast including Beverly Washburn and Ann Robinson, “Crawler From The Grave” focuses on flashbacks to show the relationship between Vincent and Helmut and from there deals with Vincent acquiring the ring and the curse that comes with it. This story is dialogue heavy with Barrymore taking the mantle of screen time with not much in the way of scares until the very end. Len Wein also delivers a sobering performance in his final film role as Helmut Frankenstein which is a great send off to his incredible career. It’s a lengthy segment that could’ve been balanced out by trimming some of the backstory and including more of the aftermath of Vincent acquiring the ring. The effects at the climax of the story are decent and the music provides the dread that is about to come in the end.
The film-noir flavored “Madhouse of Death” is the third tale in this anthology which takes places in 1948 Los Angeles. The story follows private investigator Jack Anvill (Jamisin Matthews) whose Jalopy breaks down on a country road. From there he walks to the nearest house hoping to get access to a phone. He is greeted at the door by Mogambo (T.J. Storm) who instructs him to stay where he’s at while he asks permission from the homeowner. The owner is Dr. Mortality (Mel Novak) whom is experimenting with inserting a human brain into an ape. To make Jack comfortable he is attended to by three beautiful Chinese women who ensures that his focus is on them and not what Dr. Mortality is about to do to him. While it was great seeing Mel Novak in another villanous role as the determined Dr. Mortality, “Madhouse of Death” is the weakest story in this anthology. I understand Glut wanting to mix film noir with classic horror, which he does accomplish visually, it overall suffers from the tone of the story. I know this is supposed to be the comedic relief of the film, but the humor was amiss. In addition, the performance of the lead actor Matthews is flat as his narration sounds like he’s reading directly from the script which gives his character a boring tone. The portrayal of Jack Anvill doesn’t come off as likeable, but rather annoying. I honestly was hoping for a clever demise.
For the finale of Tales From Frankenstein, we get a reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story taking place in 1957 Transylvania. In “Dr. Karstein’s Creation,” Jim Tavare stars as the titular character as he moves into an abandoned castle in Transylvania in the hopes of creating a new life using various body parts of deceased human beings in order to duplicate the success Victor Frankenstein had with his monster. Karstein recruits teenage local Carl (Justin Hoffmeister) to be his assistant. From there they collect the parts they need to assemble their creature. This is my favorite story in Tales of Frankenstein as it gives a fresh take on the tale while paying homage to Mary Shelly. Tavare is great as the cunning and determined Dr. Karstein while Hoffmeister plays the somewhat oblivious Carl who thinks he’ll be riding on Karstein’s success only for him to learn a very hard lesson in the end. The story is filled with beautiful imagery, franctic action, just the right amount of blood and gore and plenty of humor. “Dr. Karstein’s Creation” is the perfect closer to the anthology.
Overall, Tales From Frankenstein is an acceptable anthology series that pays tribute to the classic monster. This movie is strictly for those horror fans who love the early era of stories and cinema. Those who aren’t keen with Frankenstein will likely pass on this. Despite the off balanced pacing, there is enough here to enjoy from the performances to the vintage settings and the reimagined tales. Donald F. Glut brings to life his novel in his own cinematic adaptation and you have to appreciate him for doing just that. Its what sets apart auteurs from the rest of the artists.
Starring: Cortney Palm, Tony Todd, Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway, James Duvall, Andy Mackenzie, Sonny Chiba, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Danny Trejo
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
As a diehard movie fan who studied Film Concepts in college, I wanted to get a better appreciation for the art by diversifying the different styles, genres and techniques. I’m tired of the mainstream movies that are out today with its never ending remakes/sequels in order to make money. So with that, I hope you the reader will follow me into the next phase of this blog. Check these movies out for yourself, see what you think and pass it along. If I could get one new viewer to appreciate an underground non mainstream film, I would accomplish what I had hope to accomplish when starting this. With that being said, let me dive into an underground crime thriller that I haven’t seen in a very long time. 2012’s Sushi Girl.
The story focuses on a man by the name of Fish (Noah Hathaway) who has just been released from prison after serving a six year sentence for armed robbery. A car is waiting for him outside the prison. Fish gets in and is taken to an undisclosed location. When he enters, he sees his old crew waiting for him as they throw a “Welcome Back” party. Hosted by the leader Duke (Tony Todd) and features the short tempered Max (Andy Mackenzie), the eccentric Crow (Mark Hamill) and the reserved Francis (James Duvall). The crew dines on sushi that is served off the body of a beautiful naked woman lying flat and motionless on the table. Fish realizes that this isn’t just a reunion, but a plot by Duke to demand answers of what happened to the diamonds that they stole from their last heist. Fish tells the group he doesn’t know where they are. The rest of the crew, desperate and determined to get their cut of the diamonds tie Fish up in his chair and start to interrogate him. The interrogation involves methods of torture. The crew will stop at nothing to squeeze the information out of him.
I first heard of this movie back in 2013 when I was listening to a horror movie podcast (can’t remember the name of it). Tony Todd was the guest they were interviewing and he mentioned a movie he was starring in that was about to be released titled Sushi Girl. He said it was his favorite movie he’s ever done and the fact he got to work with Luke Skywalker himself was a dream come true. Coincidentally, the movie was available to stream on Netflix. With that being said, I watched it. I really enjoyed it the first time around. I even mentioned this to Mr. Todd when I met him at the Days of the Dead Convention in Indianapolis in 2013. He reiterated to me that he enjoyed the movie and was moved by my appreciation for the film. When I started researching movies to do for this next phase of the blog, I kept thinking about Sushi Girl, especially since I had only seen it that one time. I found it on DVD at a local store and watched it again. I didn’t remember much from the first viewing only than the characters. After the second viewing, I noticed it was similar in style and tone to another movie that is one of my favorites. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film the second time around.
The film is pretty much an homage to the Quentin Tarantino flick Reservoir Dogs. If you haven’t seen it before it’s about a group of thieves who go on a diamond heist that goes absolutely wrong. The survivors believe there was a mole in their group and try to figure out who it is. The film is known for showing you the before and after the heist, but not the heist itself. It makes the viewer interpret the actual events that took place during. Sushi Girl follows that same concept. You see the planning and aftermath. However, they show the actual heist taking place. These scenes are weaved throughout the film. The main setting of the film takes place in this abandoned building that looks like an Asian restaurant, which makes sense since they’re having sushi for dinner. Like Reservoir Dogs, this movie has a torture scene, shootouts, plenty of blood, humor and a twist ending. If you’ve never seen the said movie before, you should see it (but that’s for another time).
The performances are very good and each character has their own identity and personality that causes plenty of friction and tension among them. Tony Todd was great in this. He portrays the leader of group as cold, calculating and in control. I love his deep baritone voice and his wielding of power within the group. Everyone listens to him and when he commands something they do it. He’s played many bad guys before, but I think this is my favorite performance of his other than Candyman which he is well known for. Cortney Palm, who is the ‘Sushi Girl’ in the movie makes her feature length debut. She is completely motionless and does her best to ignore the conversations and actions that are taking place in the dinner. You do see moments where she flinches or sheds a tear. You don’t know anything about her throughout the film until the very end (That’s all I’ll say about that). Kudos to her for willing to be completely naked covered by sushi for her first film. I’m sure many women would refuse to do that as their first role. The best performance of the film by far is Mark Hamill. He plays the character of ‘Crow’ exactly like Truman Capote complete with long blonde hair, glasses and a business suit. He is very eccentric and flamboyant and beneath that layer is a man who is slimy and sadistic. If you’re familiar with Hamill’s work as the Joker in the Batman Animated Series from the 90s, you’ll hear his famous laugh throughout the movie. It was also nice to see cameo appearances from Michael Biehn (Terminator), Jeff Fahey (The Lawnmower Man) and Danny Trejo (Machete) who play a rival group that holds the diamonds the original group is attempting to steal from.
Clocking in at 98 minutes, Sushi Girl may not be an original film, but it has enough going on to keep you intrigued and focused. It’s not a fast paced, high action thriller but rather a suspenseful crime drama mixed with story, dialogue and brutality. You really feel the tension between the characters throughout the movie which grows into paranoia and desperation when their situation becomes a lost cause. It gives you the appreciation of what small independent films are trying to do, even if it’s a redundant concept.
TRIVIA (Per IMDB)
While eating fugu, Duke says “I cannot see her tonight. I have to give her up. So I will eat fugu.” This is, in fact a famous senryu from Japanese poet Yosa Buson, written in the 18th century.
The van that is used for the diamond burglary says Falkore Plumbing on the side. Falkor is the name of the Luck Dragon that Atreyu rides in The Neverending Story. Atreyu was played by Noah Hathaway, who plays Fish in this film.
This is Noah Hathaway’s first role in a full length film since 1994.
Michael Biehn shot his scenes for free in one day as a favor to his good friend Electra Avellan, one of the producers.
One of the plainclothes policemen in the van outside the place where the “reunion” is being held, tape recording the criminal conversations within, is named “Det. Harry Caul Jr.” “Harry Caul” was the master audio surveillance character played by Gene Hackman in “The Conversation” (1974).
Before he sits down Crow (Hamill) picks up a white rabbit mask off his chair. While non intentional white rabbits are a trademark of Batman villain Mad Hatter (aka Jarvis Tetch) Hamill, who is most famous for voicing the role of Joker on the animated series, Also voices him in the Arkham games