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

The Stuff

Official Poster

Release Date: June 14, 1985

Genre: Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi  

Director: Larry Cohen  

Writer: Larry Cohen

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.

AUDIO CLIPS

Tasty and Sweet
Enough Is Never Enough
Sweaty Palm
Mo Rutherford
No, Don’t Eat It
Can’t Wait In Line
The Stuff Commercial #1
You Feed The Dog
Chocolate Chip Charlie
Low Tech Solutions
I Could Always Kill You
They’re Good For Us
I Just Ate Shaving Cream
The Stuff Commercial #2
Pillow Tried To Kill Us
They’re All Stuffies
You’ll Probably Be A Casualty
We’ve Never Lost A War
Get That Shit Off My Station

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives

Official Poster

Release Date: August 1, 1986

Genre: Horror, Thriller   

Director: Tom McLoughlin

Writer: Tom McLoughlin

Starring: Thom Matthews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, C.J. Graham

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

Welcome to Horror Movie Month on “Guilty Pleasure Cinema!” To celebrate the month of October which is of course Halloween season, I will be posting a review each week of a horror film that is one you can watch repeatedly till your heart’s content. I figured I start this special with a familiar movie franchise involving a hockey mask wearing murderer. Of course, I’m talking about Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th film series.

 The legacy of Friday the 13th spans eleven films (twelve if you count Freddy vs. Jason), a TV series (by name only), merchandise and a successful online video game until a recent lawsuit pulled the plug on any new content. Jason Voorhees has become an iconic horror figure. If you were to place a Mount Rushmore of Horror Movie icons, he would definitely fill a spot there. While the movies may be repetitive with the same concept of teenagers getting killed at a camping ground by first a woman getting revenge for her son drowning then the son actually being alive to the son be risen from the dead, they are fun to watch in part to the original and innovative kill scenes each movie has to offer. Not only that, but the movie managers to show different renditions of Jason. It’s fun to debate with fans on which was the best Jason of the movie series. Another fun debate is which movie was the best movie in the series. There are quite a few movies in the franchise I adore, but for this review there was one that stood out after analyzing it much deeper, which is the sixth movie, subtitled Jason Lives.

‘Jason Lives’ marks the debut of the undead Jason concept that would be a staple for the rest of the films here on out. The film opens immediately with Tommy Jarvis, the hero of the last two installments driving with a friend to Jason’s gravesite. Tommy, plagued by nightmares that he could return wants to make sure he stays dead. When they get to the gravesite Tommy and his friend start digging and open up Jason’s casket to reveal his maggot infested corpse covered in spider webs.  Tommy rips a metal bar from the gate and repeatedly drives it into Jason. Suddenly, a storm arrives and lightning strikes the rod still stuck inside Jason, which causes him to be resurrected. As soon as Jason gets out from his grave, he kills Tommy’s friend and Tommy flees. Tommy heads to the police station to warn about Jason’s return, but the Sherriff is not convinced and puts Tommy in a holding cell. Meanwhile, Jason begins his murdering spree once again as he tracks down counselors at Camp Forest Green (the town was renamed from Crystal Lake to Forest Green in order to erase the horrible history of Jason and his mother……like people are going to forget).  With the help of the sheriff’s daughter Megan, Tommy realizes that he is the one responsible for bringing Jason back to life and he is responsible to end the nightmare once and for all.

C.J. Graham puts on the hockey mask in “Jason Lives.”

Tom McLoughlin, writer and director of this film did a great job reviving the Friday the 13th franchise after the dismal performance of Part V : A New Beginning (for many reasons). What better way to revive the franchise than revive the killer of the series (with the exception of the first movie) Jason. Instead of stating to the audience that he is still human, he states that Jason died in The Final Chapter and we’re going to bring him back to life as a real monster. His revival was clever and reasonable. The look of Jason is different for obvious reasons, but he still hangs on to his trademark hockey mask. He provides a plethora of kills ranging from his weapon based kills such as a spear, a harpoon gun and his traditional machete to more physical and creative deaths such as slamming a girl’s face through a wall in the bathroom of an RV to folding up a victim like a lawn chair. Fans won’t be disappointed with the kills this movie has.

The acting is decent with Thom Matthews leading as Tommy Jarvis. If you’re not familiar with Matthews, you may remember him from another iconic cult horror film in the 80s which was The Return of the Living Dead. He played a bumbling employee where he and his boss accidentally release the chemical that brings dead people back to life and eventually turns the both of them into zombies. It was a great comedic performance, however as Tommy Jarvis he is the complete opposite of comedic. He plays Tommy as a man who is constantly tortured by his memories of his encounter with Jason and being the one that ended his existence. When he tries to destroy Jason’s body to make sure he never comes back, a cruel twist of fate happens when he drives that gate bar into him causing it to be a lightning rod when the storm comes. As soon as Jason arises, Tommy is in full panic. He does his best to warn people, but they don’t believe him considering his history and state of mind. It’s only until learning the error of what he did is when he owns up to the mistake and realizes that he brought Jason back into the real world and he is the only one that can send him back to the grave. Matthews’ version of Tommy is definitely the best performance in comparison to John Shephard’s performance in Part V, although I still think Corey Feldman’s portrayal in The Final Chapter is my favorite.

Ron Palillo and Thom Matthews in “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives.”

The role of Jason would be portrayed by C.J. Graham, which would be his only movie role (with the exception of his appearance as Jason in the Alice Cooper music video for the main song, which I’ll get to later).  From the first kill of punching through a man’s chest to killing a group of paintballers, he portrays Jason as a slow pacing juggernaut who dispatches anyone that stands in his way. On top of that Graham performs all the stunts as Jason in the movie which go to his dedication despite the fact that he was neither an actor nor a stuntman. He also provides a shocking personality to Jason. There is a scene where Jason appears inside a cabin full of young female campers. One of them gets scared, closes her eyes and covers her face with a blanket praying he doesn’t kill her. Jason stands at the side of the bed looking at her with a curious look and doesn’t flinch or give any indication he is going to kill the little girl. It shows a bit of vulnerability and the impression that Jason will not kill someone who is pure or innocent.

The rest of the cast is fodder for Jason. You have you stereotypical counselors and local law enforcement who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. There’s a few great scenes with the caretaker of the cemetery and an angry person who was hit with a paintball which provide some comic relief.

This is one of the more stylistic movies in the series. It has a great blend of darkness, comedy and music. Speaking of music, for the first time in the series, Part VI has a soundtrack which features songs from some notable rock artists including a brand new song specifically for the movie by none other than Alice Cooper. The song “He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask)” has become the official theme song to Jason. It’s a true 80s song with a great blend of synths along with Cooper’s commanding vocals. The music video features C.J. Graham as Jason as he breaks through the movie screen while spectators are watching Part VI.

Michael Swan confronting Jason.

Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives is one of the strongest if not the strongest film in the series and has held up nicely unlike some of the other movies. If you believe there is a better entry in the series than Part VI, I challenge you to prove me wrong!

TRIVIA (Per IMDB)

  • After becoming a born again Christian, John Shepherd who starred as Tommy in Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985) did not want to reprise the role, and it went to Thom Matthews instead.
  • Director Tom McLoughlin took home some props from the film, including Jason’s tombstone – which sits outside his house, made to look like Jason is buried in his yard – and his casket, which sits in his garage. The DVD box set includes a scene in which he shows off these props at his home, and tells of how a city employee refused to enter his yard to read the meter because he thought a body was really buried there.
  • The film contains numerous references to other horror films and/or people connected with them. Megan mentions Cunningham Road, a reference to Sean S. Cunningham director of Friday the 13th (1980) and creator of the series, while Tommy mentions a grocery store called Karloff’s, an homage to famous horror actor, Boris Karloff , director John Carpenter of Halloween (1978), while the name Sissy is perhaps a reference to Sissy Spacek who starred in Brian DePalma’s Carrie  (1976), which is based on a novel by Stephen King. Also, Sissy wears a jacket with the name “Baker” on the back, possibly a reference to Angela Baker from Sleepaway Camp (1983).
  • The first film in the series to be recorded in Ultra Stereo.
  • The original actor to play Jason was fired for being too fat. They recast the part with C.J. Graham, a restaurant manager with no stunt experience but a military background as an Army soldier. That made him perfect to take orders and execute stunts with military precision. Bradley’s paintball scenes were not re-shot meaning he does play Jason for a very brief part of the film, after that point it’s C.J. Graham as the masked killer.
  • Ted White stated in interviews that he was offered the opportunity to return to the role of Jason Voorhees, whom he portrayed in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) but he turned the role down. White stated that in hindsight, he should have accepted the offer.
  • This is the first film in the series in which all teenage roles are played by young adults, none of the actors being teenagers in real life during production.
  • The final scene to be shot was the crashing of the RV. Director Tom McLoughlin was terrified during filming, as there could only be one take and the crashing made the scene incredibly dangerous for C.J. Graham.

AUDIO CLIPS

Don’t Piss Me Off, Junior
You’re Going To Be Sorry
We Better Turn Around
Prisoner of Love
Angry Paintballer
Help Me
Wherever The Red Dot Goes
Does He Think I’m A Farthead?
Exciting As It Gets
With All The Grief You’ve Given Me
Game Called Camp Blood
Where’s Cort?
What Are You Doing Back There?
Very Sick Boy
Happy Friday The 13th
Don’t Clown Around
I Think We’re Dead Meat
Maggot Head

Leviathan

Official Poster

Release Date: March 17, 1989

Genre: Horror, Adventure, Mystery  

Director: George P. Cosmatos

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.

Ernie Hudson in “Leviathan.”

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.

A mutated Daniel Stern and Lisa Eilbacher.

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.

Hector Elizondo in “Leviathan.”

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).

AUDIO CLIPS

Go Suck On A Shrimp
Implosion
Keep It To Nine Holes
What A Pair
Skiing
Pipe Down
Blow This
Leviathan
Several Languages
Pop Your Tops
Water
Only Skin Problem I See
You Think They Already Know?
You Don’t Know Shit About Skiing
We’ve Got A Goddamned Dracula On Board?
Bitch, We’re Still Here

Tales of Frankenstein

Official Poster.

Release Date: October 19, 2018 (Limited)

Genre: Horror, Comedy

Director: Donald F. Glut

Writer: Donald F. Glut

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.

Scene from “Tales of Frankenstein.”

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.

Mel Novak as Dr. Mortality in the story “Madhouse of Death.”

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.

Jim Tavare as Dr. Karstein in the story “Dr. Karstein’s Creation.”

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.

TRVIA (Per IMDB): N/A

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.

Evolver

Official Photo

Release Date: February 10, 1995

Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror

Director: Mark Rosman  

Writer: Mark Rosman

Starring: Ethan Embry, Cassidy Rae, John DeLancie, Cindy Pickett, Paul Dooley William H. Macy (Credited as W.H. Macy)

WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW

The 90s saw the boom of video rentals. Chains like Blockbuster had not only the hottest theatrical releases, but movies that went straight to video. Low budget B-movies used the rental boom as a way to get their films out to the viewing public. Companies like Full Moon Features profited and flourished using this concept. Some of the straight to video films began to appear on designated channels. The Sci-Fi channel was known for not only playing classic science fiction and horror films, but they played straight to video exclusives and started making their own movies that would be played specifically on their channel (a trend that has continued today). One of the first titles to come out during this period was the movie Evolver.

The movie is about a teenage gamer and hacker Kyle Baxter (played by Ethan Embry) who is an avid gamer trying to get the high school on an arcade game called Evolver. Evolver is a virtual reality game where the player must track down and shoot a fast moving robot. The company that created the game, Cyber-Tronix is having a contest where they person with the highest score will win a prototype home version of the game which includes a physical robot of Evolver itself. Kyle being a few points short of first hacks into the Cyber-Tronix network and fixes the score so he would be first. He wins the contest and the robot is delivered to his home complete with a big marketing promotion form the company which features the CEO of the company Jerry Briggs (played by Paul Doocey) and the creator of Evolver Russell Bennet (played by John DeLancie). Kyle and his friends start to play with the new robot and seem to have fun. Later as the game continues, Kyle starts to notice some strange things going on with Evolver.  He hacks into the program and finds that the game’s source code is run on a program called ‘SWORD’.  Later while addressing his concerns with Bennett at Cyber-Tronix’s headquarters, he sneaks into one of the computer rooms and discovers that SWORD was originally a military program designed by Bennett and was inputted into robots used in war. The project went haywire when the prototype robot began killing its teammates, forcing Bennett to shut down the program. When confronted by this information Bennett admitted that he was trying to prove that his programmed worked, but lapsed in judgment by not adapting the program enough for home consumption. Now Kyle must find a way to defeat Evolver as its primary objective now is to terminate him.

The movie was released in 1995. I remember seeing previews for this film on the Sci-Fi channel and thinking this looked cool since it was a movie about a video game robot. When I saw the film for the first time, I was thoroughly impressed. It was one of the better robot movies that I had seen in my short time (I was ten years old in 1995). I watched it again not too long ago and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time. It’s a rare breed of films that were played on the Sci-Fi Channel that I liked.

Ethan Emby in “Evolver.”

The opening scene is Kyle playing the Evolver VR game. The VR graphics are similar to the ones that were in The Lawnmower Man (if any of you have seen that). There are some nice first person scenes inside the game that make you feel like you are playing the game (I wish they came out with an Evolver VR game. Now is the opportunity with all the headsets out there). There are a lot of first person shots involving Evolver. There are scenes where you are seeing through the lens of Evolver’s visor and you can see all the programming and targeting that it has. When Evolver moves, you’ll notice the camera is hovered low to reflect Evolver’s height. I thought that was clever. The film has more physical special effects than visual. Most of Evolver’s kills deal with using physical tools and the environment that surrounds him. The only visual effects I found were when he uses electricity and laser weapons, which is fine. Evolver can be predictable on numerous occasions throughout the film, but It’s still a fun little joyride with some intense moments.

This movie had a nice cast of familiar faces. All of them were well suited to their roles. There were a few characters that I felt were fillers for the story. Of course, the film had to have a romantic interest, hence the character of Jane portrayed by Cassidy Rae. At first she becomes a nuisance to Kyle, but finds an immediate attraction to him and early on tries to convince him that Evolver is not what it seems.  The one character I didn’t like was Kyle’s best fried Zack. I can’t remember the actor’s name that played him. At first I thought it was Adam Richman from Man vs. Food because he looks like him. Sadly it wasn’t. Anyway, Zack is a self-centered perv who only uses Kyle to get what’s best for him. In the beginning of the film, he is placing bets on Kyle to beat the Evolver’s game. When Kyle wins the Evolver robot, he wants Kyle to put it in the girl’s locker room so it could record the girls inside. I did not feel any sympathy for what happens to him in this movie.

Evovler, the robot that was supposed to be a fun game.

Amway, let’s focus on the three central characters of this film.

This was one of Ethan Embry’s first teenage roles (he’s been a child actor long before this). He was well suited for the role of Kyle. Like most boys his age during this time period, video games were a way of life and a way of escaping from real world issues. Early in the film, he is very dismissive of his mother due to the fact she is always going out on dates and having to watch his kid sister. You have a sense that he blames her for what happened with the family. It’s only until a scene involving his sister in danger when Evolver is trying to kill her does he show heart and how his selfishness nearly cost him the life of his sibling. He comes to the realization that his family is more important than a piece of rolling metal. In the final confrontation, Kyle shows grave concern for his family when Evolver gives him an ultimatum. In the end, Kyle realized that in order to beat Evolver, he had to think outside of the virtual world and use the real world to his advantage.

The second central character in the film is Russell Bennet. I love John DeLancie and he was perfect for this role. Star Trek fans are well aware of who DeLancie is in their universe as the adversarial character Q from The Next Generation series. For those who aren’t Trekkies, DeLancie is also known for playing the character Donald Margolis in Breaking Bad from Season 2 going into the beginning of Season 3. Bennett is obsessed with making his program work. While the CEO of Cyber-Tronix assigns Bennett to create a holiday techno toy, Bennett is only focusing on his scrapped military program and proving the powers that be that there is nothing wrong with his program. When his boss seems concerned regarding the early data from Evolver and feels that it is not ready for public consumption, Bennett dismisses his notion and comes up with answers as to why Evolver is reacting the way that it is. When Kyle confronts him about the concerns he has with Evolver, he ignores the warnings and fights back at Kyle saying, “I created Evolver. I know what makes him tick and you don’t!” It’s like he is in complete denial. It’s only until the turning point in the film does Bennett understand the real dangers and admits defeat. Unfortunately it will be too late for him to stop it.

Evolver leaving the scene of an accident.

Finally, there is the titular character. Evolver is voiced by William H. Macy (credited as W.H. Macy). Now I’m sure you’re asking why a big name respected actor like William H. Macy is voicing a robot in a straight to video film. William H. Macy was not well known during this time period. ‘Fargo’ wasn’t released until a year after this. I’m he took whatever came to him as most actors do. Evolver’s primary objective is to win. In the VR game, no one has defeated Evolver at Level 4 and that carries over into the home game. Like its namesake, Evolver evolves at every level and he adapts to his surroundings and what he observes. Evolver’s lines are basic in the beginning, but as it confronts new players it mimics their taunts, threats and jokes. Macy does a great job keeping these lines monotone to the robot’s voice, but does it in a way that is humoring. Near the end of the movie, Evolver’s voice becomes more evil and desperate with his enemies still being alive and Macy’s voice easily transitions to that.

This movie came out at the height of the Arcade industry. Virtual reality was still a technology being played around with but it wasn’t available for entertainment consumption. Being a long time video gamer, I loved the concept of having your own interactive gaming robot you could play with. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on their own Evolver robot to play with? This is another in a long line of films dealing with artificial intelligence and the dangers that are associated with it. You saw a lot of these movies come out shortly after ‘The Terminator’. Evolver takes it to a different level by being a portable video game robot. What is programmed to be a kid’s game becomes a killing machine. With technology continuing and artificial intelligence widening, it only takes one glitch or one error for things to go critical.

Overall, Evolver is still a fun movie. If I had to make a list of my favorite straight to video movies, this would be on my Top 2e list. Like I said earlier, I would love to start a campaign to get an Evolver VR game going. We should take up the social media platforms and let VR companies know we want this to happen and send them a copy of the movie. If by some miracle this indeed happened, it would move the Evolver movie from a simple made for television film into virual reality immortality!

TRIVIA

  • N/A

AUDIO CLIPS

You Screwed Up My Game
What Contest?
This Time You Will Be Perfect
Evolver Introduction
Play With Me
You Can Bet On It
Target Identified
Too Much Cable
Jerkbrain
Poor Innocent Robot
Retest Evolver
Where Ya Hiding?
Killed The Little Prick
I Hope Your Attorneys Are Better Than Your Technicians
Just A Game
I’m Not Your Enemy

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