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What Dreams May Come

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People meet in life, live a lovely harmonious dream and die – then what? What Dreams May Come (and the Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Production Design goes to…) seems to ask the question, how can something that powerful end with death? I saw this movie with every hormone in my body primed for a tear jerker, and instead, I left the theatre with a quiet, contemplative melancholy and only a couple of tears shed. Unlike the bawling I did at the end of say, Boys on the Side, this was a pure, honest weep, one generated by my own feelings and not just the artful swelling of score. Because I was enjoying the movie on such a visceral level, occasionally things (the dog) seemed jarringly false and even unpleasantly stupid. But that is just my perception.

If you’ve ever seen Cirque du Soleil live (oh man! Full Price times two!) you will understand what I say when I declare that the French are going to LOVE this movie. There is nothing more beautiful than a movie that can take dream imagery and pull it off, presentation-wise. From constancy of color and the intermingling of the real world with the afterlife/dream world, it is a feast. However (and after such an initial gush, how could there *not* be a however), the one problem I had with the movie is, oddly enough, the love story. It’s vital to the plot, yes, it’s utter and beautiful motivation, sure. I felt totally committed with Robin Williams on his quest to find Anabella Sciorra. The problem was, they were so perfect, so in love, so much more than any humans should reasonably hope to find, that I felt left out. I felt excluded even as I was emotionally invested in the story.

I suppose that is a compliment to the strength of acting displayed by the Warm Fuzzy Robin Williams (contrasted with the Insane Brilliant Robin Williams), as well as Anabella. I utterly believed their relationship even though if I had just been told they would be cast together as soulmates, I would have laughed. A couple of plot twists involving characters in the afterworld (I don’t like to give anything away) made sense intellectually but it didn’t work on screen. Otherwise, it was a luscious gorgeous movie that makes you think. Nothing wrong with that! Did I mention it was way cool looking?

Unlike Williams’ last major visual orgy, Toys, this movie didn’t contradict itself or build showpieces for the sake of showpieces (though the daughter’s room – WOW – not enough footage taken of the window above her bed!) – and WDMC is also computer generated where Toys was not. It’s good to see computers being used for good (this) and not just for evil (Batman and Robin). Hell (or its equivalent) was very different and extremely…I don’t want to say cool, because it’s not Tim Burton/Terry Gilliam cool. It’s “wow that would be hell how truly awful and look! Look how well they designed and lit and shot it!”

Design students take note: The bar has been raised again. Robin Williams fans take note: That was not him that was in Father’s Day, that was his twin brother trying to earn money to buy Robin a kidney or something.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/2/98
Time in minutes 113
Director Vincent Ward
Studio Polygram Films

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The best thing about Antz, I’ll say it right away, is Gene Hackman. His General Mandible, the facial acting, the vocal acting, the character, everything. Just for him, it’s worth seeing Antz. Additionally, Dreamworks’ debut animated feature is kick ass gorgeously beautiful. And it’s pretty good. It’s not brilliant, OK, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Woody Allen is sooooo very Allen in this movie you have to think, my god, can’t Edward Norton finally take up the neurotic genius torch already? And Sharon Stone? She is visually an extremely glamorous woman, but her voice might as well been cast out of CAA’s “will call” pile. Christopher Walken, Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtin, Danny Glover, Sylvester Stallone, Jennifer Lopez – it’s a weird mix of power players and also-rans, all in the name of stunt casting. Fortunately, unlike the embarrassing stunt casting spectacle of Batman and Robin (the worst movie of the decade until John Carpenter’s Vampires), it does not detract from the movie, it only adds to the budget.

MAN they have got that computer animation thing mostly down. Faces still just don’t move like faces, but compared to Toy Story (and this is not a denigration of that fine film, just a praise of the advancing technology), this movie is Living. The multiplane 3D landscape of zillions of ants, wow cool cool. The character design allows for a lot more different physiognomies than one would expect, and the interior design of the Colony is really spectacular. The other, non-ant insects are all lovely, the backgrounds are gorgeous….one advantage of computer animation is that the moving characters and the background are one seamless canvas, rather than moving cels in front of a generally more detailed and unmoving background. My friends who are animators are going to kill me for saying that, and I don’t want anyone to think I am not *wetting my pants* waiting for the Prince of Egypt to come out – I am also a purist and I think that computers take out a lot of the craft and acting of hand-drawn stuff. My elusive point is that this computer animation looks almost as good as the real thing. John Bell, production designer – kick ass!

The story is surprisingly sinister, and the songs (it’s not a musical but there is music) are surprisingly intrusive and obnoxious. The sinister part I was digging, as many of you know I have a fondness for dark movies that still come out OK. (I am like, sooo Gen X. How passé!) Never you mind the horribly blatant and painful moments of product placement in the middle of the film. It can all be explained away by “well, it has to be *something,* it might as well be someone who can pay for it.

This is the first movie I saw alone since Thelma and Louise, and I think I would have enjoyed it more if someone had been there with me. It has some very good dialogue and some thinly veiled social commentary, as well as the value of an individual *within* a society. It’s pretty funny and sometimes Allen is even funny in his stammering, insecure, neurotic irritating way. Hans Zimmer’s score kept reminding me of Titanic and Danny Elfman kind of mixed together, cultural homogenousness and uniqueness

My final impression in my notes was Bad Ass. Viscerally I really enjoyed it, even though I found a lot to pick on it about here. So go see it, if you haven’t already.

*Note: Obviously, such praise could only come from the pre-Bug’s Life perspective.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 10/2/98
Time in minutes 83
Director Eric Darnell & Tim Johnson
Studio Dreamworks

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The Imposters

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I know some people are going to disagree with me on this, but what is more subjective than criticism? The Imposters is written and directed by Stanley Tucci (co-writer of Big Night with Campbell Scott), and features many of the same actors who were in Big Night including Scott. It’s an ensemble comedy, an homage of sorts to the screwball comedy of the 20’s and 30’s, but intelligent and accessible and above all, great loads of fun. All the faces are familiar and all the performances are great. The best part is the palpable sense of fun that all the actors exude as they work.

The short version: Oliver Platt and Stanley Tucci are actors stuck on an ocean liner, hiding from and discovering dirt about a rainbow of characters, and wackiness ensues. Steve Buscemi, Lili Taylor, Campbell Scott, Tony Shaloub, Jessica Walling, E. Katherine Kerr, William Hill, Alfred Molina, – each has their own story but they brilliantly intersect and resolve and the journey is not predictable, just delicious. I grinned the whole time.

The production design by Andrew Jackness and the costumes by Juliet Polcsa are delicious. I did spend too much time trying to figure out approximately what year the film is set in (and settled on the late 20’s right before Prohibition) but maybe that is just my problem. Interestingly, a man named Andrei Belgrader is credited as “artistic consultant.” The 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s are sort of back in the public eye again with the resurgence of swing and the accompanying dropped hems and dropped stocks, but this production is more concerned with the graceful beauty and naiveté of the times rather than the fashion and the politics. The cartoonish situations that comedic leads found themselves in at that point in cinema are revisited and I am afraid that people will fail to recognize that, instead watching the movie in a modern context.

As with Big Night, the music is constant and mood-enhancing (maybe not at the ball…) and I must find the soundtrack! It’s broad, it’s a little theatrical, but it’s also very tight and very high energy. Almost nothing is sacrificed to low or cheap humor. Scott is particularly cast against type (and maybe channeling the glorious character actors from back in the day) and a wild giggle. Platt and Tucci make a surprising pair on screen. The silent movie style opening sequence is just as natural as their possible siblinghood.

It made me want to see Big Night again and for some of these goofy entertainment magazines to get off their Gretchen Mol/Leonardo DiCaprio tattooed butts and start noticing the relaxed, easy brilliance of this production team.

Well over one or two (or three) dozen viewings later, this is still one of my favorite films. Just gets tastier with reviewings.

MPAA Rating R for some language.
Release date 10/2/98
Time in minutes 102
Director Stanley Tucci
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Rush Hour

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OK, I love Jackie Chan, and I have yet to be disappointed by Chris Tucker (I definitely prefer him to his casting competition, Martin Lawrence and Will Smith and Chris Rock) – but how will they work as a team? They work great! They have absolutely opposite approaches to comedy and police work, and the combination works to a T. The inexplicably titled Rush Hour is naturally a lot more Hollywood than your traditional Hong Kong Jackie Chan movie, but it is not an American world with one lone bad ass Asian in it either, like Rumble in the Bronx.

The actual plot devices are not huge surprises – even the Jackie Chan virgin with whom I saw the movie recognized a room full of Jackie fight props when she saw one – but the enjoyable parts aren’t the action movie conventions, but the interaction between Tucker and Chan. While they won’t win any screenwriting Oscars, they will get a round of applause from the audience. The Chan virgin says the script sometimes reads like a fortune cookie. But less cryptic and definitely more funny.

You want an additional bit of cool pedigree? Lalo Schifrin composed the music (not the obligatory pop soundtrack, of course, but the extra fun adventuresome score)! Let me tell you – it’s a wacky mix of Deep Rising’s music and Chinese music. If you don’t know what I mean with the Deep Rising stuff, well, you’re missing out. But, you can make it up to me by catching Rush Hour.

I don’t say full price because of the predictability and because there’s just not enough Jackie. Like Nothing to Lose, however, the preview gives a lot of joke lines away, but it’s edited together so the lines are heard and enjoyed as a preview, but they are out of context from the film, so it doesn’t ruin the movie as you watch it. Also, the traditional bloopers at the end during the credits are a big, fat, sweet cherry on the sundae.

What else, what else? Oh, it’s like Chinese food (no, seriously) – immensely satisfying and then it’s gone. We got Chinese food afterward and settled into Rumble in the Bronx, and that showed the contrast between Jackie’s solo films and being partnered with an American. The wanton (ha ha wonton) destruction is split between the two stars, but Jackie’s gift for humor is not mined as completely as it could be. In the dialogue arena, it’s Tucker’s movie, and action is all Jackie. A woman behind me was wowed by stunts I am sure Jackie does on his lunch break, but he didn’t ohmygodholycraplookoutwow like he has in the past. Maybe he was hamstrung by American insurance people or maybe he is starting to show his 43 years of rough and tumble living. Nahhhh!!!!!! It’s us Yanks, just the Man holding him down.

I for one am looking forward to a sequel/franchise, or else just a perma-pairing, like Tracy and Bacall or Douglas and Turner…or Gibson and Glover. But without any lameness – bring me Stanley Tong!!! Catch it. Considering that it’s a Hollywood cop buddy movie and a Jackie Chan vehicle, it has a lot of character development and a lack of lame obvious humor. Maybe it’s the stars’ charm, maybe it’s the script – but who cares!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 9/18/98
Time in minutes 97
Director Brett Ratner
Studio New Line Cinema

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For those of you who might have lost sight of the original purpose of my financially-angled reviews, this is the kind of movie that would rate higher on my scale than say, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would rate it. So the reason this movie rates so high is because * for what it is * this is a great movie. It is everything you would want from a wacky, comic book come to life action vampire movie. Lots of ass-kickin’, lots of bloody spectacle, a Star Gate-esque mythos and a bunch of cool set pieces and did I mention the ass kicking? Now, mind you, I never read the comic book – for all I know this is an embarrassing bastardization of a great work along the lines of Batman and Robin; but Blade is a totally fun ride.

Without giving anything away, really, that isn’t covered by the preview, there is a whole hidden world (it would have to be well hidden – their activities are very obvious!) of vampires and they are an ancient race of superior beings, yadda yadda yadda. There’s hierarchy amongst them and racial purity blah blah blah, a legend with a Chosen One, the whole bit. This all has been done to death a million times. Blade (the movie) deals with the serious issues like, why * hasn’t * anyone ever called in a hematologist to study them before? But more importantly, the movie really does try to add new life to the genre and to the species of vampire. Sure, they’re still sexy shoppers at Contempo Casuals and they still refuse to shower or shave, yet still manage to be more appealing than humans, but hey!

Evil evil evil! Gotta love evil. Especially when it’s as transparent as Stephen “SFW” Dorff with electronica blaring through his headphones, squatting disdainfully in clubwear and planning world domination. Wesley Snipes plays Blade utterly straight, growling every line without a trace of irony – but it’s this straight man approach that has defined nudge nudge style comedy for centuries. It’s a hoot. And the ass kicking! Swordplay, strobe lit homicidal rage, and the sexy undertone that vampires have over any other supernatural bad guys make this a fun ride. So I recommend the movie at Matinee plus snacks because for the genre of comic book movies and vampire modern movies, this is as good as it gets, kids. Cool effects, great sets, clever little filmic conceits, you name it. It was a blast.

But my god, I mean, it’s no Saving Private Ryan, OK? But go at night, bring some friends, have a ball. Chomp some popcorn!

MPAA Rating R-violence and gore, language, and brief sexuality.
Release date 9/4/98
Time in minutes 115
Director Stephen Norrington
Studio New Line Cinema

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Your Friends and Neighbors

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This is not a date movie. Anyone who sees Ben Stiller in a comedy of relationship errors and thinks, ahh, I’ll bring my girlfriend, should prepare for some can of worms to pop open. Despite the post-film hook-up of a couple of friends of mine, I would not recommend taking anyone you have designs on. You should recognize something of yourself or your partners in these characters.

From the man who wrote and directed the unapologetic In The Company of Men, Neil LaBute, comes another brutal slice of the unfortunate side of life. This movie is slicker and more professional looking than ITCOM but with the same discomforting honesty and incredible writing. Six people and a smattering of extras, a very few locations (some only seen from one camera angle repeatedly and in an incredibly narrow way) and an emphasis on character & dialogue stirred with frank talk of sex and irritation makes a hearty film. None of the characters ever refer to each other by name, which I didn’t actually notice myself, it was pointed out to me – but it’s the type of detail that contributes to the intimate web of tension among these six people.

Neighbors is graphic without showing anything, incredible yet credible. It’s a testament to the actors in the movie that the whole thing doesn’t come off as some heinous angsty anti-fantasy, but instead is totally
engaging and morbidly fascinating. One speech, shot in one take, late in the film, is just amazing, and the actor in question sells it unreservedly. I don’t want to tell you but one friend who saw it said the audience was utterly vocal in its awe.

The casting is great – and Jason Patric (Cary) (Lost Boys) has totally redeemed not just his own performance in Speed 2 but almost the whole movie (for paying for his acting lessons I guess). The under-famous always excellent Catherine Keener (Terri) is subtle and wonderful. Nastassja Kinski (Cheri) has not aged a MINUTE since Cat People and she’s marvelous. I love Ben Stiller (Jerry) and he’s totally against type and totally perfect here. NYPD Blue’s Amy Brenneman (Mary) is layered and impressive. Aaron Eckhart (Barry) was in In The Company Of Men and he is utterly different in this movie – but, as in the first, he completely inhabits his character so you don’t even get a sense of acting.

It’s really good, OK? Just trust me on this.

MPAA Rating R -sexual dialogue, strong sexuality and language.
Release date 9/4/98
Time in minutes 97
Director Neil LaBute
Studio Gramercy Pictures

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The Avengers

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I don’t know what my friend saw in this movie. Really. My three companions and I all had the same perception of the movie, despite one Avengers fan, three Avengers virgins, and one dozing reviewer. It sucked. It was incoherent, slow paced, and it didn’t even delivery style in spades – it was devoid of pleasure except for seeing Ralph Fiennes naked, sort of. Uma didn’t inhabit her body half the time, and nothing seemed to happen, and then somehow the good guys won, and it was over. Sean Connery turned in a shameful performance as the bad guy.

I walked into the theatre never having seen (or heard of, prior to the movie’s announcement) the Avengers TV show, but sometimes that’s a good thing. I was assured afterward that it was just like the1968 series, in that it was slow, veddy veddy British, and weird and random. However, the reason shows like that aren’t made any more is because they are boring. Fine. I hoped for some slick costumes, some witty repartee if I was lucky, and some cool visuals, like the ones hinted at in the preview. “I’ll bet the scene where they are walking in those big clear balls will be cool – what bad asses they must be!” No such luck! Have you ever watched a movie and dozed off and then awoken just to feel like you missed something * really * important? I felt like that long before the painful old BBC pacing drove me to slumber – and the three people watching with me said they felt the same way – BUT THEY NEVER FELL ASLEEP. I realized about 30 minutes in that I had glazed over, as if I were at a staff meeting (er, at another company of course). The stimulus being processed by my brain was so devoid of content or interest, that it was more diverting to see how far I could reduce my heart and respiration rate without actually dying than to watch the movie.

Oh, I am so angry I paid full price! Don’t make the same mistake I did! I can save you the trouble and pain and bitterness. Listen to me. Don’t go see it! The lone Avenger viewer also assured me that there should be no hookup between Mrs. Peel and Mr. Steed. I didn’t care about them before entering the theatre nor did I care when the inevitable hookup occurred.

Ecch. Fellow detractor Ben Combee says : “This film will be a cult classic. Not all cults are good. Neither is this film.”

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 8/24/1998
Time in minutes 90
Director Jeremiah S. Chechik
Studio Warner Brothers

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Dead Man on Campus

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Definitely watch on cable with beers. I did sneak in, but I would have paid for it. I am wild about Tom Everett Scott but he has himself one terrible agent. However, as Dead Man got started, I settled in to some delightfully amusing opening credits (set up is like a standardized test but about death and suicide). From then, I was totally caught up in the tone, and I had a great time. I’m not comparing Dead Man on Campus to Young Frankenstein, OK, but I chuckled the whole time, and when it comes on HBO in a month because it tanked at the box office, I’ll watch it again.

Mark Paul Gosselar (Saved By The Bell?!?) is Scott’s party boy roommate, and the two of them embark to take advantage of the urban legend that if your roommate commits suicide, you get a 4.0 for the semester. For the record, they do find that rule on the books at school. The movie takes a while to get around to this inciting incident, but all the supporting actors (the other roommate, potential roommates, girlfriends’ roommates, dorm occupants) are interesting and totally funny. New roommate candidate number one in particular is very funny.

The stereotypes are nothing new, but they are funny. The dialogue is funny, even Josh’s descent into probationary scholastics is not as trite as it could have been. Maybe it was my low expectations, but I actually think that people will not appreciate how much suckage was avoided in the making of this film. I can easily see a Police Academy 7 sensibility taking hold of a movie like this and making it more painful than a new ABC sitcom.

Seriously, I had a great time watching this movie – my companions were dozing and neutral, respectively. So I want people who will appreciate it to see it, because I had fun, but I don’t want people getting mad at me for telling them to blow their money on it. So, watch it on cable when it gets there, and you’ll like it, and you can’t resent anyone if you don’t. But you HAVE to like the opening credits – I cracked up the whole time! But again, I think death humor (read: Weekend at Bernies, not The Seventh Sign) is a hoot. When it’s silly and morbid, that is. I know I am alone liking the Bernie movies (please look at them like classic vaudeville – the physical humor alone should be reason to see it – anyway!) but don’t let that taint your opinion of my opinion.

Tom Everett Scott, if you’re out there, save yourself! This is a good start and the Zellweger/Streep vehicle will help maybe, but get back to smart fare like That Thing You Do! before you get pigeonholed into playing my ideal man forever….on second thought…Well, I’ll see this again, next opportunity. Check it out.

MPAA Rating R for drug use, language and crude sexual humor.
Release date 8/21/98
Time in minutes 94
Director Alan Cohn
Studio MTV

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Snake Eyes (1998)

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Not to be confused with the cyberpunk story of the same name, Snake Eyes is a technical tour de force. That said, it is also sadly lacking in one important element – surprise and tension. Two important elements, surprise, tension, and full characters. Besides lacking three elements, surprise, tension, interesting characters, and more distracting MacGuffins, Snake Eyes sure looked great. Seriously great. I was on the edge of my seat not waiting for the plot to unfold but eagerly drinking in Stephen H. Burums kick ass camera work. Walking out of the theatre I felt satisfied, like I had eaten a good meal. I forgot all about the movie as I continued with my day, and then when recounting what movie I had seen, could not quite recall. This gave me pause.

Burum on camera would be nothing without editor Bill Pankow; they joined forces to create what appears to be a long (nearly 20 minutes) unedited tracking shot (but my friend and I counted at least 3 hidden cuts) – this is the best part of the movie without a doubt – that and the fact that the showmanly shot is revisited from different points of view later in the film. This also is way interesting. The credits roll over seemingly innocuous construction work, also unedited (but only like, 5-8 minutes) but stick around – there’s a payoff! The opening tracking shot does little to introduce the plot, but it is excellent in introducing Nicolas Cage’s character and the intricate arena/casino setting. One theory presented by my crowd is that it’s all a constructed soundstage, in which case my hat is off to the art department too. It’s all very underplayed, though – if you’re not looking for it and trying to get caught up in the story, you will not enjoy this movie as much as I did.

As it stands, just as a film, it starts out with a bang and seems to be very intricate and interesting, but (and you know how I hate to give away things) it sort of plays its trump card and then sits there. It’s like the movie starts at 11 and there’s nowhere to go from there. OK, it starts at 10, goes to 11 within say, 30 minutes, and then we are left with the simple pleasure of watching Nicolas Cage and Gary Sinise try and save the film by the sheer force of their charisma and talent. And who is that very pretty girl who looks like she is being shot through a soft focus all the time, like William Shatner’s Star Trek closeups? She’s “all that and a bag of chips,” but they’re Olestra chips. Voom! All gone.

So if you want to study camera technique and the art of a long shot, watch this instead of the execrable Anaconda because if nothing else, Cage makes anything more watchable than Jon Voigt. But if you want to see a movie that will thrill you and blow your mind, save your money. But if you find it available for rental and it’s pan and scan, don’t bother – the best part of the film will be lost to you.

MPAA Rating R for some violence
Release date 8/7/98
Time in minutes 98
Director Brian de Palma
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Halloween H20

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If you loved Halloween, the first one, like I did, you will have a great time at this movie. If you couldn’t care less about Michael Myers or if you don’t find him remotely scary, don’t even bother. The body count is low, the personal drama with the inestimable Jamie Lee Curtis (I mean, the Baroness Haden-Guest!) is thick, and Michael just keeps coming.

The movie has some nice little horror movie nods in it, such as a cameo by Janet Leigh and her car from Psycho, the creepy Mr. Sandman opener, stuff like that. I have always been scared to death of Michael and he is very bold in this movie, coming right up to people and everything. There’s some good creep out, a surprisingly high percentage of off-camera killings, and a bunch of comely teens to draw out the baddie. Who is that girl with no eyebrows, and how did that Jumanji kid get * that * girlfriend? Sure, it seems silly, but it’s a horror movie!

It’s not trying to be all hip and smart and self referential, but it ties up a lot of loose ends that were either poorly dealt with or not at all dealt with by the sequels. It kind of pretends Halloween 3-6 didn’t exist, much like the movie-going public did. This was a wise choice on the part of the filmmakers. I was yelping “Oh my god!” through most of the film and I was generally kept in suspense, but I have to say the ending is kind of not the huge finale Myers deserves. It’s not a small tasteful affair like Kirk’s funeral in Star Trek: Generations either – it just seemed tacked on to the rest of the movie, which was obviously created by someone deeply in love with the original story.

It was fun and scary and definitely cool to have Curtis back again, to deal with the situation properly. I also appreciated the fact that all the harsh language used in the film really felt organic – it felt like genuine, situationally inspired cursing, rather than f@*k for f@*k’s sake. In other words, the dialogue was surprisingly good for a horror movie. And Curtis is truly the rightful heir to the scream queen throne held by her mother.

MPAA Rating R for terror, violence, gore, and language
Release date 8/5/98
Time in minutes 85
Director Steve Milner
Studio Dimension Films