horror
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Signs

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I am pleased to report that the incredibly effective music in the preview is in the film, a rarity. Also some of the takes used in the preview aren’t as good as the ones in the film; saving the effective stuff for the Real Show. My summary: Not as good as the Sixth Sense but much better than Unbreakable.

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Scream 3

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Despite the online film criticism community being locked out of press screenings of this movie (despite assurances that we would not post until opening day) by wicked Dimension Films, I still went to see it on opening weekend. Maybe it was the lack of internet-generated buzz that made the seats so empty! Maybe it was fear of a Nightmare on Elm Street-style debacle that kept them away. Me personally, I thought it was a hoot, as did my companion.

Quick note: So, I could have had a third companion, who had only seen Scream 1, but he did not groove on the meta-fictional irony of the first movie. Having been unimpressed by the first, he did not see the second. My companion who did come in pointed out that meta-creation is best appreciated by those who appreciate the original genre in the first place. That made sense. So keep in mind that I dig “real” horror movies and I think Scream 2 was the best of the three. Scream 3 is meta meta meta! Without giving any details, let’s say it’s impossible to describe some of the crazy surrealism of the movie. A close approximation would be Sean Connery playing the bad guy in a new James Bond film and talking about the actor named Sean Connery. It’s more than just a wink-wink cameo, though, it would be like, Indy’s hat and whip showing up on President Harrison Ford’s desk in Air Force Two.

Scream 3 reunites some of the old gang (even a posthumous cameo from Jamie Kennedy, the lovable video store clerk from Scream 1 & 2) while Hollywood makes a franchise loosely based on the original true story (sound familiar?). The nudge nudge aspect of that joke is that Hollywood knows it takes a real story and makes its own monster out of it…witness Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. So, Stab 3 is not based on real life events, as Stab1 was. I promise, this sounds like I am giving away stuff but I am so not! Therefore, there are no rules to be broken – no sequel rules as in 2; no classic horror rules as in 1. Thence the super-meta. Basically it was fun and not dissatisfying, but the meta sort of overwhelmed the story after a while. Me, I dig that play-within-a-play stuff, but it doesn’t make for big visceral scares.

Long-missed Parker Posey plays the actress playing Gale Weathers (Courtney Cox)- and oh my god she cracked me up! Parker’s Waiting for Guffman alum Matt Keeslar plays Deputy Dewey (you know, the role played by real life Mr. Courtney Cox David Arquette) but I don’t think that their actor characters were supposed to be dating…should have been, though. Keeslar, formerly known as Box Office Poison With A Bad Agent, seems to have taken some dialect instruction and gotten a new agent! Yay Matt! Forgive him the mustache, it’s all for art. Seinfeld’s Puddy, Jenny McCarthy (perfect) and some newish faces (Scott Foley, Patrick Dempsey, Deon Richmond) help fill out the cast roster and body count. Now, keep in mind, we have to keep track of all the living Scream 1/2 survivors (Sidney, Cotton, Gale, Dewey) as well as the actors who play them and other characters that die/died – as well as keep up with the back story. So this is no brainless horror film with a bunch of Hollywood inside gags (though they are there too)…

And, in keeping with the Scream franchise in general, no real nudity at all!

Wes Craven directs. This can be good or bad, depending on where you stand. Some of his stuff are classics (Nightmare on Elm Street, the Scream franchise), some are…well, Shocker and The Hills Have Eyes 2. I think he did a good job keeping all the story lines straight, but kind of went for the very gratuitous “get on with it” murder spree that flaws all straight horror franchises. I could say it was intentional and ironic, but it felt messier than Scream 2. The laughs were comparable but the suspense was diminished in 3. He did get a tad heavy handed with his various red herrings, but is partially vindicated for one stupid fax sequence by using Heather Matarazzo as a cameo.

So, go see it. It’s fun. See if you can spot the “homages” also known as “satirical rip-offs.”

MPAA Rating R for strong horror violence and language.
Release date 2/4/00
Time in minutes 116
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films

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The Haunting

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I should say right off the bat that I did not see the original film, The Haunting of Hill House, and I am assured by several people that the original is better (how often is it not?). However, the original does not have THX and by gum they don’t have THIS house. This movie is worth seeing just for the house and for the sound design. I haven’t been this aurally impressed since The Ghost And The Darkness. (Whatever you may think of that film, it was as deserving of its sound Oscar as Saving Private Ryan) Some people go to a huge, insanely huge, amazing gorgeous, impossibly immaculate house in the middle of nowhere and have the wits scared out of them. That’s all you need to know. I was plenty scared during a good portion of this movie – more scared than I was at any time by The Blair Witch Project (but not as enthralled, if that makes sense). If there was an Oscar to be given to Locations, this movie should win it. It had BETTER be nominated for Production Design, oh my lord!

Liam Neeson sleepwalks through his role as the psychologist who has led them all here. Catherine Zeta-Jones pigeonholes her exquisite self as a sexually confident Uber-babe with more moxie than manifestness. Owen Wilson sticks his battered nose into a goodly portion of trouble most of the movie and, like Zeta-Jones, is kind of unimportant. Lili Taylor is the star of this movie – and despite having to shoulder the brunt of the inevitable goofiness attendant in any ghost story, she really comes as close as anyone can to making us believe at least her part of it. Certainly, much of the haunting implicit in the title is expressed via computer, but it’s not as over blown as The Mummy was. Well, until the end. But a great deal of the effects are or look like real things rather than computer things – blowing curtains and the like. I appreciated, from a design perspective, most of how the haunting of Hill House was portrayed. Some things are left for me to rationalize, like the silly, wooden monologue about the house by the housekeeper – I think there was a reason and I think I know what it was but I think it was left on the cutting room floor by mistake. C’est la vie.

I mentioned the sound design earlier. This house, this amazing house which, not unlike the crashed alien craft in Alien, seems to have its own biology and life, breathes. All the time. It’s not a draft, it’s not rumbling score pushing the mood, it’s this great alpha wave or delta wave or something, tickling your bones from within with its low, grumbly register and sleepy rhythm. It’s freaking cool man, and it really added to the enjoyment of the movie overall for me. OK, so some set piece scenes kind of just happen and no big deal – but then seeming throwaway scenes pick up the ball and keep you interested. Sure, Liam leaned on the base of a huge marble column and the foam that shielded a fall against that column gave a little. OK, the various images of the late owner of Hill House are…uh…operatically over the top to the point of drawing laughs from the audience. So what! It’s exciting, the sound grabs your ankles under your chair and Taylor’s performance keeps you interested until the very end when you are just marking time until Zeta-Jone’s blouse falls off. Which it doesn’t, guys, sorry. But by then you have invested over 100 minutes in the film, you should see it through. Man that house is amazing. Every door, every chaise, every light fixture, every statue, every room’s floor! The floors alone should win an Oscar.

My friend, who had seen it before I had, made a very wise observation: Zeta-Jones is stunningly beautiful, but once you get used to her, she is just kind of there. Taylor, who is non-standard in appearance in general, looks more beautiful even in scenes with Zeta-Jones because she is *acting* so well. Not that Zeta-Jones is a weak performer, but her character has nothing to do. Ultimately your eyes are naturally drawn to Taylor instead of that hot Welsh lady.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/23/99
Time in minutes 112
Director Jan de Bont
Studio Dreamworks

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Lake Placid

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I am sure you are as shocked as I was to see this rating for this movie – it is unconscionable how long it has taken me to write this review because I think a lot more people would like it than think would like it. I went, fully expecting Anaconda with legs; The Relic underwater; Deep Rising inland. My friends and I joked all week about the line for Blair Witch being the line for Lake Placid; it’s “No passes” status at the box office made us roll our eyes and use our passes paying for the General’s Daughter so we wouldn’t pay actual money to see Lake Placid. I expected squat.

What I got was the actually scintillating dialogue of writer David E. Kelley (you know, that guy who writes The Practice, Chicago Hope, Ally McBeal, and the upcoming Spooks or something – a show per network!), some nice ensemble work and comic timing from actors I would think were “second choice” (Bridget Fonda at her least annoying, Bill Pullman, Oliver Platt, Betty White, others) but who are still strong carriers in someone else’s vehicle – and I got a pretty swank looking crocodile. Apparently a major child star has a bit part but I don’t really know who she is.

Nice detail: The lake featured in Lake Placid is not actually Lake Placid, and it is never named. It’s a lovely, smooth, glassy bit of nature’s eye candy, so it’s probably in Canada. Rubes and city folk are equally skewered, and Oliver Platt gets to comically carry scenes rather than support them. It’s all very refreshing. If you have had Sprite every hot summer day your whole life, this is a root beer. Different, but tasty.

I always consider beast effects to be good when I have to use logic rather than my own eyes to determine if I am looking at a puppet or a computer generated image. Think the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park – very seamless and pretty cool looking too. Basically I got the idea of what Anaconda should have been – unexpectedly big beastie stalked by amateurs and one expert, the silly summer movie fun of Deep Rising (without the Cthuluesque insanity of something outside known nature), and the groovy visuals of The Relic. Hey, what’s wrong with that?

Lake Placid is not going to win any Oscars, but it’s really very funny – on purpose, and in the right way. In Deep Rising we were guffawing at the over the top wackiness of the whole thing. In Anaconda we were laughing at the executive who actually passed this movie through his GI tract. There was no laughter in the Relic, not even the derisive kind; just head pounding. Some quotable lines and humorous running gags later, we meet the beast of Lake Placid. Generally, showing the monster deflates movies such as this; but the sheer biology of the crocodile makes him better to see in action. Riffling sarcasm without the Kevin Williamson forced irony or amusing but unnatural stilted archness makes Lake Placid a fun movie to watch regardless of the hook they cast to pull you in.

Now let’s hope that smart shark movie will be as good.

MPAA Rating R -violent creature attacks /gore, language.
Release date 7/16/99
Time in minutes 82
Director Steve Miner
Studio 20th Century Fox

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John Carpenter's Vampires

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Avoid at all costs and sue the studio

I have not been this upset by a movie since Anaconda, Batman and Robin, and Sphere, or as bored since The Avengers , Lost in Space, or the X-Files. However, I have not wanted to make a film STOP (either by walking out or by pressing stop and which I regret not doing) since The Silence of the Hams (Dom DeLuise). Oh how awful. No, it’s not campy trashy fun. No, it’s not goofy tongue in cheek faux drama. No, it’s not genuinely exciting, interesting, or even pleasant. It’s awful. Terrible. I walked into that theatre (thank my lucky stars I only used a free pass 5 days from expiring) with the best attitude possible – we had just gotten done doing a vampire musical and me and the girls were going to watch James Woods kick some bloodsucker butt. Oh horrors upon horrors as terrible, not-even-slyly-silly dialogue assaulted us, stupid, motiveless behavior insulted us, and a fat Daniel Baldwin repulsted us. OK, repulsted isn’t a word, but it should be.

John Carpenter, the man who brought us The Thing remake and Halloween for heaven’s sake, now pulls a Dracula: Dead and Loving It and ruins the vampire genre with an abominable piece of crap. Driving home I yelled at my friend on the cel phone how lucky he was that he hadn’t joined us for the movie, and I dug through my mental thesaurus for words to describe the execrable, detestable, fetid, stinky, crappy, ghastly, monstrous, wretched, rancid mess I had just seen.

So, Woods and Baldwin are vampire killers in a town where cops party with prostitutes and vampire killers, and this ethereal very tall actor plays the head vamp, and he busts up the party in a stupidly gory way, only to incite the ire of the vampire killers. But first he bites a prostitute (Katrina, her name was, and I moaned in agony) and so naturally they take her with them, and shove her around, beat her, whatever, then Baldwin loves her inexplicably and Woods keeps walking in slo-mo towards the camera every chance he gets.

My first impression of the beginning of the movie was that the director of photography was kind of a rookie; or else he was playing a little self-reflexive game of “look see it’s a movie – aren’t filters cool?” and that he was purposefully making it look like an expensive, color-matched student film. This impression, after some stupid cuts and shots and horrific continuity, was strengthened by the fact that the movie was visually totally unstimulating, despite blood, sweat and tits. Hmm more adjectives. Heinous. Vile. A total turkey. Now I know some people liked the Avengers, Lost in Space, and the X Files movie, and you can read my reviews if you haven’t already, but by golly, those movies lulled me into a stupor I can’t get with my white noise machine, a gut full of liquor, and a grueling day at work and theatre. I *wish* I could sleep that soundly at home!

I’d almost be willing to see Bride of Chucky just to get the taste of this piece of dreck (drek if you want to be more true to Transylvania) out of my mouth! Jebati, John Carpenter!

MPAA Rating R-vampire violence&gore, language and sexuality.
Release date 10/30/98
Time in minutes 107
Director John Carpenter
Studio Columbia Tristar

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Sphere

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A wise friend, who had joined our party for the previous film (The Big Lebowski, talk about your contrast), refused to sneak into Sphere after the other movie because, “We have nothing to sphere but Sphere itself.” Oh, if he only knew how right he was.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable for movie goers these days to expect competency from all levels of movie makers. With the enormous insurgence of the independent movie scene, the bar has been raised to where we expect kids from the ghetto to be able to churn out an interesting narrative on their dad’s black and white 8mm camera. A movie that someone saw fit to not only green light but throw $60,000,000 at should at least be amusing. That money could have fed the poor!

Sphere has a pedigree: we expect it to deliver. Barry Levinson, Academy Award-winning director of Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman, Oscar winning star of same, and current (and multiple) nominee. Samuel L. Jackson, not frequently nominated but widely recognized as awesome. Sharon Stone, underrated and one-time nominee. Liev Schrieber, the hardest-working indie boy in show business, giving his all even when he’s in a cesspit like Phantoms. Michael Crichton, former director (Coma, Westworld), producer of ER, and crowd-pleasing author (Jurassic Park, anyone?). With all these people, shouldn’t Sphere at least have been PALATABLE? To the movie’s credit, the opening titles were quite cool.

We snuck guiltily into the almost-empty theatre, already prepared to hate it. But we were ill prepared, all the same. The whole movie is telegraphed with every snit of silly, overtechnical dialogue: “You’ll be pressurized sufficiently so that you could even swim out in the water without a suit, in case you need to do that in the third reel when everything goes horribly wrong, but the water will be really cold, OK?” . . . – – – . . .! They were worshipping at the altar of Samuel Morse. It was nice to see one scene where Jackson totally walks all over Hoffman’s dialed in performance. Wham! Hugely overdramatic score and wildly uninteresting dialogue. Hideous editing – and I never notice editing.

Sphere was horrible, stupid, useless, illogical, overly bright and underly written. Ghastly. With the job market like it is, they expected me and my friends to fork out $6.75 (I know it’s $9 in NY) to be subjected to this embarrassing low tech piece of doo doo. I am so pissed, I haven’t been this pissed since Anaconda! I expected Anaconda to suck, between silly plot lines and B-list actors, I expected silly camp. Fortunately, I read Sphere, so I just expected some decent acting and maybe some cool special effects. Oh, no. Matte paintings of underwater scapes that make Star Trek: Next Generation look like Braveheart. Jerry, the angry UMAX box who only taps into the stupid parts of our subconscious. But it had no millennium bug – it’s a Starmax Mac!

I don’t tend to give away plot in reviews but 1. there is none and 2. who cares? The preview gives away the only interesting aspect of the movie which then *does nothing with it!* Basically the sphere kind of gets in people’s heads and like, digs out the worst part of them and then manifests it. So Samuel L Jackson is reading 20,000 Leagues under the sea, so they are attacked by a giant squid. Of course, no one is thinking of the Baywatch babes attacking the undersea habitat. It all goes downhill from here. The people behave stupidly (build a habitat for months then train a bunch of specialist yahoos in 8 hrs how to dive in the unforgiving deep ocean) and just the thought of Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone naked together should have been enough to implode the sphere. I don’t think I need to detail the incredibly Abyss-mal derivativeness of the thing as well, do I? Though after Jackson wakes up after being knocked out, and has a voracious appetite, my friends and I all manifested an alien bursting out of is chest. That would have helped. So would have drowning the increasingly abrasive Hoffman, like in the Abyss, only without reviving him. Oh and hello? Lifeboat too small? Which movie is that stolen from?

It’s corny, bad, disappointing, and annoying. Miss it! Miss it! It’s like Event Horizon without the cool parts. We walked in fearing the movie would be bad and sure enough, it manifested itself right there! Oh if only we, like the undeserving survivors at the end, had the power to forget. But it was vaguely better than Airport 75. Yuck.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 2/13/98
Time in minutes 144
Director Barry Levinson
Studio Warner Brothers

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Orgazmo / Cannibal the Musical

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Orgazmo is not an NC17 movie. I actually saw this at a test screening in June or July and signed a paper saying I was not a reviewer and that I would not tell anyone what I thought. Well the freakin movie is released now, all bets are off. The friend I saw the movie with agreed with me that there was nothing NC17 about the movie, but it was likely the church would picket it. Well, it is certainly, from a religious right standpoint, more worthy of picketing than The Last Temptation of Christ, but it’s not very harmful. I could be wrong, coming from my background, but I also don’t picket movie theatres – I tell you what to spend and then I let you make the choice.

It is a silly, funny, pleasant movie about a Mormon (Trey Parker) who accidentally becomes a porn star, Orgazmo. It has no real nudity at all but LOTS of very graphic talk the likes of which I had forgotten since my college days. It is very very very sarcastic in its representation of religion in general and more specifically, the church of Jesus Christ and his Latter Day Saints, aka The Mormons. To Trey Parker (yes, that Trey Parker, the cute one)’s credit, Mormons are not depicted as evil, like many church bashing comedies tend to do, but they are depicted as hopelessly out of touch with their bodies and therefore with reality or fun. However you will take that, do, but Orgazmo is still no NC 17 movie by a long shot. There is more skin on Melrose Place and more graphic talk…well, OK, nowhere else. But it’s just talk. It’s also a great parody of the silly fringe genre porno movies, the ones that turn out material like Edward Penishands, and Grosse Pointe Spankings.

The concept of the film, a Mormon “accidentally” becoming a porn star, is quite silly, and there are no boners, er bones about that. It is very silly, and quite funny and quite uplifting, too, in it’s hell-in-a-handbasket way. If you don’t know what a choda is (and our test audience almost universally did not, despite the star’s sidekick being named ChodaBoy), it’s the perineum, aka the ’tain’t. Look it up. I am alarmed to admit that I recognized some genuine porn actors in the movie with cameos and one even with the coveted role of the Sperminator or some such bad guy. Well, I do have a male roommate! Porn happens. Knowing that these people were actual porn stars, however, lent the film a cachet I am certain it did not intend – that of pretender to the Boogie Nights throne, a gentle movie about the rigors of the porn industry. I dug it overall, it’s just not all that good. Better than your average Troma film, that is certain.

Re-released only a month or so earlier, Cannibal the Musical (another Trey Parker and Matt Stone venture from a few years back) is another example of simple comedy turned merely amusing. It’s silly and definitely low rent, just for laughs, but also kind of endearing. An 1883 band of explorers vanishes and only one man survives, and he tells his tale of woe from jail, largely in song and flashback, as would be expected. Parker has a nice singing voice, actually, and it’s hard to imagine Mr. Garrison being much of a singer. Unlike what I heard about Baseketball, Cannibal and Orgazmo are only using the lads’ fame to get bankrolled, not suck in audience hoping to hear a Cartman impression. I predict Orgazmo and Cannibal will eventually get some play on cable and then win their following, as the silly, enjoyable but still probably pretty offensive future cult favorites they seem destined to become.

Orgazmo
MPAA Rating BC-17-language, drug use, crude sexual humor, blasphemy, what else?
Release date 10/23/98
Time in minutes 90
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

Cannibal the Musical
MPAA Rating R-violence, drug use, brief nudity I think too
Release date 1996
Time in minutes 92
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

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Scream

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I grew up watching horror films. I saw them too young and too many – and Michael Myers still scares the crap out me even when the film has nothing but crap left in itself. Writer Kevin Williamson clearly shares the same nervous fondness for the genre as myself (and clearly, many others) do – he has managed to make a movie that is both genuine scary movie and arch parody of scary movies. It’s the film’s very self-awareness that makes it different from all the rest. Instead of following the time-honored horror rules that it so carefully details, it leads them – the virgin is immune from death, we are told, but what if she gives it up! oh heavens that wasn’t supposed to happen!

The movie begins with Drew Barrymore and goes somewhere totally different – and by the end you are so amazed that they took you there so adroitly, so smoothly, and yet with so many geniune yuks, you want to see it again! At least, that’s how it was for me. The characters mock the very archetypes they end up playing – and they weave in and out of Red-Herringville with smooth abandon. A groovy cameo by the Fonz himself (as the high school principal) is a nice nod to we who have grown up freaking out that Freddy will come in our sleep. Watch for funny horror cameos and winks here and there.

My favorite moment involves parallel action between the characters’ viewing habits and the reality all around them. I don’t want to give anything away but it involves a van, Jamie Kennedy, and Jamie Lee Curtis. It sums up what I love about Scream. It’s smart, but it’s not too smart – it hands you some information and hides other information – it dances around, pointing you in the direction it wants, but upon repeat viewing it doesn’t suffer like movies like The Game do.

Grab some friends, a big bowl of popcorn, check all the locks in your house…and obey all the rules! This movie makes ’em and breaks ’em! Woo hoo!

MPAA Rating R -graphic horror violence/gore, and language
Release date 12/20/96
Time in minutes 111
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films