Category Archives: Rabid Rewind
starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, and Felix Aylmer
directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer Films (1959)
I have never found the Mummy that horrifying. He’s just not a scary cat, you know, he’s always been the toilet paper zombie to me. Well, Christopher Lee has helped change that.
I was trying to think of a classic monster movie to watch for the Monster Movie Marathon, and when someone on Twitter suggested Hammer Films, I figured it was a good idea. I’ve not seen any of the Hammer films, at least not that I can recall. Chances might be good I saw a couple in college, but watching old movies then involved drinking games, so memory retention ain’t that great. So, I hit up my local library and found The Mummy.
Now, one of the things I always hear about Hammer films is how great the set designs are for the historical backdrops. It’s true, despite being dated by today’s standards. The staging for the Egyptian excavation and the small England town may very well have been filmed on the same sound stage, but each really had that golden age of film feel. The costumes were something else that I found exceptional in the film, but I’ll go into that a bit later.
So, Peter Cushing plays a globetrotting archeologist, bedridden with a broken leg, while his father and uncle lead the dig that uncovers the lost tomb of Princess Ananka. As the old codgers are about to go inside the tomb for the first time, they’re warned to abandon what they’re doing by a dapper stranger in a fez. Of course, old white men of the time aren’t in the habit of heeding the local ethnic community, so they kindly tell him to sod off and carry on with their exploration. Inside, they find an astonishingly tidy crypt ornamented by various artifacts and the tomb of Princess Ananka. It becomes apparent very quickly why Cushing’s character is laid up: so he can’t save his father from an encounter with whatever was waiting for him in the tomb.
Turns out it was the Mummy, a condemned priest entombed with the Princess to protect her for eternity, as punishment for his amorous feelings for her. I was really worried this would be the point where the movie would go right off its own rails, and Christopher Lee would look like a lumbering drunkard who fell into a janitor’s closet and came out swathed in toiletries. Fortunately, the costume design was near perfect. There’s an inexplicable menace to see that thing just standing there. Maybe it’s Lee’s height and physical stature, or perhaps it’s the eyes as close-ups on his face carry the torment and near-instinctual malice to anyone who offends the object of his love.
An interesting factoid about the film surrounds a scene where Cushing’s character fires a gun at the Mummy after it breaks into his home. The Mummy is unphased as it trudges off, getting shot in the chest and back, but Christopher Lee actually suffered burn marks from the squibs used for the effect that left marks for weeks. Ouch! Talk about staying in character. If I got burned like that, I don’t think I could stay in character–more likely I’d lay down a tirade on every stage hand within shouting distance.
The movie ends on a bit of a predictable note, but it’s all built up to the final scenes very well. Lots of drama, lots of suspense, and even a bit of romance for good measure. If the other Hammer films are this good, then I need to track them down.
Dinocroc Vs. Supergator
starring Corey Landis, Amy Rasimas, and David Carradine
written by Jay Andrews and Mike MacLean
directed by Jay Andrews
Anchor Bay (2010)
Oh, Roger Corman, you do love your killer beasts, don’t you?
In a production of slighter higher caliber than a SyFy Channel schlockfest, this slice of B-movie heaven stars two CGI monstrosities and a squad of actors whose talents are even more frightening than the creatures hunting them.
Do you really need a plot? Okay, fine. There’s a secret research lab situated on a picturesque island oasis, and its two research specimens, a giant alligator and a mutated crocodile that looks like it’s been crossbred with a T-Rex, have escaped to wreak havoc on all the tasty humans on the island. And it’s up to a sexy game warden, her doting sheriff of a father, a supposedly swarthy undercover agent, and a mercenary called the Cajun–don’t you just love that–to stop the beasts before they devour everyone on the island.
If you’ve ever seen a Roger Corman film, you’ll know what to expect: bad acting, blood, and boobs. And this movie has plenty of all three.
Now, I may be spoiling things for you, but the title of the movie says it all: the whole point of the movie is to pit the two giant beasts against one another. But the two creatures don’t actually get to throw down until the final ten minutes. The first eighty minutes are spent having the two monsters pick off random disposable characters in slapdash sequences. The death scenes involving the Supergator are particularly frustrating, because the creature doesn’t really appear on screen like the Dinocroc does. Instead, some meat puppet utters a hammy one-liner before a flash of scales goes across the screen and the actor disappears. Well, there is one scene involving a couple of bikini-clad blondes–easily the two worst actors of the bunch–one of whom gets chomped in two. Other than that, Dinocroc seems to be doing all the dirty work, and doing most of the chasing as it bounds down roads chasing the main cast.
The monsters don’t look terrible, though. I was expecting low resolution garbage akin to those SyFy movies, but the care put into these wound up producing two monsters that were good enough for Jurassic Park’s maybe pile. As for David Carradine, he’s not involved in much of the action, basically sitting poolside and issuing orders with his steely gaze. It wasn’t exactly a movie that did the late legend any favors, but I suppose it paid the bills.
I have been resistant thus far to bother watching Piranha 3D, mainly out of cynical rejection of its appeal to the lowest common denominator, but Dinocroc Vs. Supergator has softened my resolve. Sometimes, it’s okay to watch a terrible movie for the sake of watching of a terrible movie. This movie is proof of that.
Monsters Vs. Aliens
starring Reese Witherspoon, Hugh Laurie, Seth Rogan, Will Arnett, Keifer Sutherland, Paul Rudd, and Rainn Wilson
directed by Conrad Vernon
There seems to be an animated movie that pays homage to just about every genre out there, so it’s only right there would be one dedicated to monster movies from the mid-20th century. I used to love those movies as a kid. Ah, who am I kidding–I still love ’em.
Monsters Vs. Aliens actually focuses on one monster movie I’ve never seen though: Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman. I remember the iconic poster for it, but I’ve never had an opportunity to watch it. Susan (Witherspoon) is set to marry the man of her dreams, an ambitious weatherman voiced by Paul Rudd, but while fretting outside the church she’s struck by a meteorite and soon grows to a frightening fifty feet tall–and her hair turns white for some reason. She’s captured by the military and thrown in a prison for monsters until a giant alien probe lands on Earth in search of the substance Susan absorbed to gain her height and powers. Her allies in the battle against aliens include the Missing Link (Will Arnett), the Blob (Seth Rogan), a super-intelligent cockroach (Hugh Laurie), and a giant bug that’s even bigger than Susan.
The plot of this movie is shaky, which could be forgiven considering it’s both a children’s movie and an homage to those cheesy sci-fi movies from the 50s and 60s, but I’ve seen so many high caliber animated movies over the last several years that a film like this needs more than an A-list cast and slapstick. Basically the meterorite that hit Susan had a precious mineral the aliens want, so the chase is on to capture her and extract it. Meanwhile, the U.S. President, aptly voiced by Stephen Colbert, goes into panic mode and authorizes the other monsters to thwart the aliens. Good enough for me.
I didn’t watch this in 3-D, so I couldn’t tell you how that turned out. I will say watching the film in plain ol’ 2-D doesn’t hinder the viewing experience, though the scenes meant for the 3D viewing are blatantly obvious–just like every other 3-D movie. If you’ve got kids that might have a penchant for the weird, this is a good movie to let them watch, and for the grown-ups it is a nice tip of the hat to those movies of yesteryear. Though, I would suggest the adults grab a classic monster movie to work with this one as a double-feature. Maybe Attack of the 50 Ft. Tall Woman or Them!.
written & directed by Andre Ovredal
Alliance Films (2010)
Only on rare occasions does the fake documentary/found footage sty;e of storytelling ever work in movies, even rarer in horror movies. Cloverfield, Quarantine, Diary of the Dead. These are not what I consider particularly good movies, and they’re three of the better films of this genre. So when I heard there was a Norwegian horror film that uses the found footage gimmick to incorporate giant trolls, my expectations weren’t too high. But the idea of a new horror movie with giant trolls was still too tempting to ignore.
The movie starts off by saying the footage was found and examined, but the events shown cannot be verified. Okay, fine. The footage is captured by a trio of student journalists investigating unexplained bear deaths in the forests of Norway. Hunters are up in arms because it’s all apparently the work of a vagabond poacher. The trio eventually track down the poacher, a grizzly middle-aged hunter living in a cramped mobile camper who only hunts at night. They follow him into the woods one night when he leaves the campgrounds, hoping to get footage of him shooting a bear, but what they instead discover are strange lights over the thickly forested horizon, guttural roars that could come from no bear, and the poacher retreating back towards them screaming one word: TROLL!
And with that one line, a mundane mockumentary turns into one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in years. The teens convince the poacher to let them tag along on his hunts, oddly amused and enticed by his assertions there are trolls roaming the countryside at night, and he is the one man in Norway hunting them down. For a while, there’s no sign of actual trolls on camera, much like there was no shark in Jaws beyond allusions to him. The cameraman films treetops swaying wildly as if a giant is pushing its way between them, while the girl with the boom microphone is picking up strange noises that sound less like a wild animal or more like expletives from a Klingon. Then, they see the troll for the first time and all hell breaks loose.
While the CGI effects aren’t perfect, they are more than enough to suck you in, and the three-headed troll that stands three-stories high gives the movie’s first holy shit moment. There’s more than one troll though, as they spends days scouring the countryside hunting them and gathering footage, trying not to get eaten (with various levels of success), evading the government officials trying to confiscate their footage and keep trolls out of the public eye, and learn more about why this trollhunter is so disenfranchised with his lifelong duty to keeping the mythical menace at bay.
There are moments in the movie where the plot strains credulity, but the suspension of disbelief came quite easily for me, and the incredible character designs of some of these trolls, which range from miniscule to gargantuan, were commendable. The subtitles are a pain in the ass at times, but when aren’t they a pain when you’re trying to focus your eyes on the action. At least when the action hits a fever pitch, dialogue becomes inconsequential. I also thought the way aspects of the real world are used to rationalize why trolls aren’t widely known, especially the bigger ones, like high tension power lines on the mountainous landscape are really electric fences to keep them penned in, and the rocky countryside is really a troll graveyard since many trolls turn to stone when they die. It’s a bit cheesy in a way, but I dug the logic employed to explain them.
If you love monsters, you need to see this movie, if for nothing else than to see the trollhunter slap on a suit of homemade armor and duel with a troll literally living under a bridge.
starring Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, Josh Brolin, and Barry Pepper
written & directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
based on the novel by Charles Portis
Paramount Pictures (2010)
It has been so long since I saw the classic John Wayne film, watching this iteration of True Grit was like seeing the story unfold for the first time all over again. And I think the experience was the better for it.
Mattie Ross (Steinfeld) is an unflappable fourteen-year-old girl in search of a marshal to track down the man who shot and killed her father. Unable to compel the law at Fort Smith to take up her cause, she manages to enlist a gruff drunkard of a marshal named Rooster Cogburn (Bridges). While Cogburn has the ruthlessness to apprehend Tom Chaney (Brolin), the killer is on the run in hostile territory in Arkansas, so enter a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (Damon) who has been on Chaney’s trail for months. Together, the trio set off in the wilderness to find, capture, and in Mattie’s case, kill Chaney.
Now, I’m not one who usually gravitates towards directors when it comes to my movie preferences, but I’ve noticed over the years that I have yet to be really disappointed by a Joel and Ethan Coen’s films. These two guys seem to really know how to tap into good storytelling with outstanding characters. The intro feels a tip of the hat to the westerns of old, and I kind of wondered at first if they were doing something like that, but the rest of the movie really strikes its own chord and doesn’t feel like anything from those old westerns. It felt more like the modernized westerns, a la Unforgiven and that 3:10 to Yuma remake from a couple years ago. Gritty, hard-bitten stuff.
Hailee Steinfeld does a remarkable job as Mattie, considering this was her first movie, and seeing her in the DVD extras looking like one of those gals fresh off the Disney factor line, I was a wee bit surprised at the caliber of actor she’s bound to be. Jeff Bridges, on the other hand, seemed to be playing a campy characterization of his character. I’d have to go back and read the book, since this movie is taken from the book rather than a remake of the John Wayne film, but Bridges was just eating up the scenery with his over-the-top performance. Oh, I loved the performance, don’t get me wrong, but given the accolades heaped on him for this movie, I was expecting something much different. Oddly enough, it was Matt Damon who stole the show for me as the swellheaded Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced LaBeef by Bridges).
The story and the characters develop so well through the first two-thirds of the film, that by the time Chaney finally shows up and the plot really kicks into gear, you almost don’t want to see it come. At least I found I didn’t, since I was so wrapped up in the interactions between Mattie, Cogburn, and LaBeef. That said, seeing Josh Brolin and Barry Pepper–an unrecognizable Pepper thanks to make-up and prosthetic teeth–play such scoundrels was a treat and made for great antagonists for the ragtag trio.
The movie is easy to recommend to anyone, whether they’re a fan of westerns or not. It’s just a really fun, kind of poignant film, and should appeal to all ages.
The Hum and the Shiver
by Alex Bledsoe
Tor Books (2011)
I received an advance uncorrected proof of this novel early in the summer, eager to read my first Alex Bledsoe novel after hearing good things about Blood Groove and Dark Jenny. But what I wasn’t expecting, even after reading the plot summary on the back of the book, was the kind of story Alex had cooked up in The Hum and the Shiver.
Set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, Private Brownyn Hyatt has returned home to great fanfare as a wounded war hero from Iraq. She doesn’t feel like a hero, however, emotionally wounded as well as physically. Her real healing begins once back home with her parents and younger brother in the hills outside of town, among her people, the Tufa, a rather mysterious race with no known origin–they were simply there when the European settlers arrived. Music plays heavily in the Tufa heritage, and it’s through Brownyn’s reintroduction to music through her mandolin, Magda, she hopes to start feeling normal again.
But, a haint is looming around her family’s home, a ghostly omen that waits for Brownyn with a threat of death in the family–and not necessarily hers. If spirits weren’t haunting enough, her past comes back to visit her as well. A wild child with a reputation as “The Brownynator”, her restless spirit is still trying to find its way, as her ex-boyfriend tries to rekindle their hard-edged romance, and reporters lurk around every corner to get her life story. Not to mention, a new preacher in the area is compelled to get to know the aloof war hero, too.
While I originally thought this novel would concern itself primarily with the haint and its deathly premonitions, and what Brownyn must do to prevent someone close to her from dying, the book is much less plot driven than it is hinged on the strength of its characters. Brownyn is at once tough as nails, but vulnerable to her fiery demeanor and aimless recovery. And the specter of death poses as much a threat to her reliving her trauma in the war as it does to enduring any impending tragedy in the family. She’s the kind of girl, who at arm’s length would earn the reputation as promiscuous and an all-round bad seed, but there’s a genuine and sympathetic story to how she earned that reputation.
The supporting characters came off equally strong too, with a steely father who wants to protect his daughter without coddling her, and a mother who is relieved to have her home, yet harbors her own tumultuous emotions around Brownyn’s return and future. The preacher is likable as well, offering a great outsider’s view of Brownyn and the Tufa, as he tries to learn more about her and build a congregation among a people with no need or want of him and his religion. Even the “villains” are spared the standard template and given sincere motivations for their behavior. Her ex-boyfriend might be a grade-A dick, but at least you learn why and can relate to a small degree.
The book does take its fantastical turn about halfway through, and honestly, I found it a bit jarring when it happened. I was worried it might throw the pace of the novel off and send the story veering off into left field, but once those elements were finally brought out into the open, it all seemed to fit quite well. I did find there was one character, the reporter with a Tufa connection, to be a bit tacked on, it didn’t really hinder the story. As a whole, the book is as much a modest bit of magic as the Tufa. Strong storytelling, damn near perfect characterization and dialogue, and a wholly satisfying end. I’m even more eager to read more of Alex’s work after reading The Hum and the Shiver, and I bet you will too.
I was late to the dance when it came to The Walking Dead. I didn’t start reading the comic books until this year, so I had no clue what to expect when in the hype machine began at ComicCon 2010 for the TV series. And when the show finally premiered on AMC, a channel I don’t have, I had to wait for a chance to see it as a DVD collection. Well, this past summer I finally got the chance to see it, and now I can appreciate what all the hype was about.
As the first episode, “Days Gone Bye,” starts with Sheriff Rick Grimes crossing paths with a little girl turned zombie and roundly blowing her brains out, Frank Darabont lets the audience know that this is not going to be run-of-the-mill popcorn fare. Within the first two minutes, it is about as bleak and violent as it can get. But, it does get more bleak–and most certainly more violent. And, while the whole waking up from a coma to a post-apocalyptic landscape is far from original, like the graphic novel, it worked in setting tone and the stage for which the story would play out. Plus, taking a bicycle from a legless zombie offered its own macabre spin.
There were only six episodes to this first season, which seems really strange in the world of American TV, but the concise nature of that first season gave it a potent vibe, forcing the creators to pack a lot of punch in those episodes and get the audience hooked, not to mention willing to wait an entire year for the second season. The show seems to spend even more time getting to know each character than the graphic novels, and there are even a couple of characters I don’t recall seeing in the first few volumes of the books. The show effectively strikes its own chord and sets itself apart from not only the source material, but anything you can find on television.
In fact, there are moments through this series that feel like they slipped under the censors radar. Yeah, CSI and other forensic shows have some gruesome scenes from time to time–poking around inside cadavers isn’t pretty business-but The Walking Dead has to be the first time I’ve ever seen characters smear their clothes with zombie guts to camouflage their scent. The gruesome appearance of some scenes with the zombies are not the focus of the show, which is important if the show is going to survive with a mainstream audience. It’s the brutal nature of the relationships, and how some endure while others disintegrate over the course of events, which really acts as the heart of the show and keeps it moving forward.
The cast seems pitch-perfect. Andrew Lincoln captures the frailty and resilience of Sheriff Grimes, and disguises his English accent really well. I had no clue he wasn’t American until I watched the DVD extras. Sarah Wayne Callies is superb as Frank’s wife, Rachel. Jon Bernthal seems to be the guy of actor born to play the conflicted heel, as he portrays Shane, Rick’s best friend, and Rachel’s secret lover in the wake of the apocalypse. An added treat was seeing Michael Rooker as Merle, the hard-nosed bigot biker, since he is always fun to watch in films and television.
The second season starts very soon, but I won’t be able to see it until it comes out on DVD. Ah well. But if you have a chance to watch it, I say do it. And go find the first season on DVD somewhere, and watch that. It ought to be very easy to get caught up on what has happened so far, and the cliffhanger at the end of the first season promises to give some even more brutal storylines heading into the second season. It’s just a shame that Frank Darabont has walked away from the show. I don’t know why that is, but I really hope The Walking Dead doesn’t go the road of NBC’s Heroes, which fell apart at the seams after its first season.