Tag Archives: 2003

Throwback Thursday: “Willard” (1971) and “Ben” (1972)!

“Willard” (1971) and its sequel, “Ben” (1972), were another pair of 1970’s movies that got plenty of airtime on 1980’s television.  I read both books when I was a kid too.

First I picked up Stephen Gilbert’s Ratman’s Notebooks at a yard sale, because that’s how you found cool horror books during summer vacations when you were too young to drive.  (Sometimes adults had few compunctions about what they sold to minors too.  I bought a vampire book in gradeschool that was full of nude photos, for some reason, and that led to what I’m sure was an interesting conversation between my parents and the neighbor-proprietor down the street.)

Anyway, I absolutely loved Ratman’s Notebooks (despite its lamentable absence of nude photos) and I finished it in a day or two.  The novelization of the “Ben” film by Gilbert A. Ralston was somewhat less impressive, but I still enjoyed it.

If you’re a comics fan, like I am, then it might occur you that “Willard” and his army of trained rats seem to inspire a villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery — Ratcatcher.  Ratcatcher has been a minor league villain since he debuted in DC Comics in 1988, but he’s a pretty neat bad guy when placed in the hands of the right writer.

I feel certain that anyone will recognize Ernest Borgnine in the first trailer below– his  face and voice are impossible to confuse with those of another man.  If the disaffected, spooky, eponymous Willard looks familiar to you, that’s none other than a young Bruce Davison.  He’s a good actor who’s been in a lot of films, but I think a plurality of my friends will know him as Senator Kelly from the first two “X-Men” movies (2000, 2003).

You’ll note the presence of flamethrowers in the trailer for “Ben.”  Flamethrowers were a staple of 70’s and 80’s horror films; it was just part of  the zeitgeist.  They were handy for heroes fighting any nigh-unstoppable nonhuman baddie — think of “The Swarm” (1978), “The Thing” (1982), “C.H.U.D.” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), and “The Blob” (1988), for example.  Hell, 1980’s “The Exterminator” featured a vigilante using a flamethrower to kill criminals.   It was a weird time.

 

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A very short review of “Halloween” (2018)

I just cannot be partial to slasher films.  It’s never been my preferred horror sub-genre to start with, and, at this point in my life, these movies have become so predictable and devoid of story that I often find them boring.  There are exceptions — some of the the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” films (1984- 2003) and “Child’s Play” (1988) were grotesquely creative and had terrific supernatural setups that were well executed.  But even the attraction of  John Carpenter’s original “Halloween” films (1978, 1981) is still mostly lost on me.

With all of that said, I’ll still say that my horror fan friends were right when they told me that 2018’s “Halloween” was a superior sequel.  It looks a lot better than the segments I’ve seen of of the campier followups in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It’s far better filmed and directed, it’s occasionally scary and it benefits from a very good cast. (Jamie Lee Curtis is of course quite good as the film’s heroine and perennial “final girl.”  I’m also always happy to see Will Patton on screen, and I like Judy Greer a lot.)  The script occasionally shines unexpectedly, too — the screenwriters have a truly impressive talent for making minor characters vivid with funny throwaway dialogue.  (One of the three screenwriters is actor-writer-comedian Danny McBride, who I liked quite a bit in 2017’s “Alien: Covenant.”)

I’d be lying, however, if I told you that I wasn’t occasionally bored by this latest “Halloween” — simply because its basic, boilerplate plot and conclusion seem endlessly redundant with those of other slasher films.  There are few surprises toward the end — one “gotcha” moment was especially nice — but the overall story is just too tired.  I’d rate this film a 7 out of 10 for its merits, but I can’t actually get excited enough about it to recommend it.

 

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A review of “Jeepers Creepers 3” (2017)

Jeepers.

The first two “Jeepers Creepers” movies are vastly underrated classics, in my opinion — they’re well scripted and boast a truly original and frightening bogeyman.  The third, regrettably, struggles to retain even a B movie charm.  It’s a substandard horror film that I’d only grudgingly rate a 4 out of 10.

“Jeepers Creepers 3” (2017) is cloddishly written and awkwardly filmed.  The film also suffers from action sequences that are absolutely cartoonish.  A lot of this stems from the titular Creeper’s antique vehicle, which is now inexplicably depicted as being … conscious?  Possessed by the Creeper?  It drives itself, deflects bullets, launches projectiles, and contains booby traps that defy physics.  This leads to some Wile E. Coyote-style fight scenes with the story’s various protagonists, in which the saddest victim is the franchise’s credibility.

About those protagonists — there are far too many to examine with any real success; the two ostensible teenage main characters fall a bit flat.  There are so many characters that have backstories connected with the Creeper (and his signature, decades-hopping supernatural murder sprees) that the film simply becomes confusing.  And that confusion is made worse by this film’s chronology with the previous movies — it takes place immediately after the first, but before the events of the second.  (In all fairness, maybe the problem is me … I am being quite honest when I write here that I just do not follow movies as well as other people.)

With all of this exposition, though, one bit of lore is egregiously omitted – contrary to some of the movie’s advance press, we learn nothing about the creature’s origins.  And this is extremely odd, because a bunch of characters do.  There is a befuddling central plot point where the good guys methodically gain knowledge of their otherworldly foe by … touching one of its severed body parts.  But we, the viewers, learn nothing.

Even the makeup and special effects were inferior to the prior films.

I’m confused by all of the things I’ve written above, as “Jeepers Creepers 3” was written and directed by Victor Salva, who wrote and directed the excellent previous movies in 2001 and 2003.

I hope I’m not being too hard on the movie, because there’s still some fun to be had.  Jonathan Breck still chews the scenery quite nicely as the Creeper, and the monster’s character concept still manages to please.  In a horror movie market often dominated by seemingly interchangeable serial killers and undead little girls, the Creeper is a truly inventive monster — part human; part gargoyle; part body-stealing, feral Frankenstein’s monster.  He’s fun to watch, particularly for horror fans who’ve grown tired of the Patrick Batemans and the various angry ghost children that endlessly haunt the zeitgeist.  You could do a lot worse for a plot-driving antagonist.

And, thanks to so brutal a bad guy, there are occasional moments of tension in the movie.  It’s a bit scary, for example, when he attacks a group of teenaged motorcyclists.

This isn’t enough to make recommend paying for the movie, however — even if you’re a fan of the franchise, as I am.  I’d wait for “Jeepers Creepers 3” to hit Netflix or Hulu, or wait until it’s playing on SyFy again.

 

 

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A baffled review of “Lucy” (2014)

Everything you’ve heard about “Lucy” (2014) is correct — it’s exactly as trite and nonsensical as its multitude of unfavorable reviews have described it.  Maybe this was intended as some sort of weird, meta, inside joke by writer and director Luc Besson … after all, it’s a movie about increased “brain capacity” that is, ironically, really dumb.

I can’t imagine why Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman would sully their reputations by starring in this film.  Although, sadly, even the wonderful Johansson is not at her best here.  She seems to try to portray increased intelligence by delivering some of her lines like a robot.  (Seriously, she reads some of her lines like a speedy automaton, and it’s a bad creative decision for her performance.)

I could go on and on about the silly things in this movie.  So could you, if you’ve seen it.  But it’s a lot more fun listening to the surly wise-asses over at Cinema Sins.  Their trademark “Everything Wrong With” video for “Lucy” is particularly harsh.  At one point they call it “an aggressive dickhead of a movie.”  Here’s the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3rZmnJ66Po

There is one overriding problem I need to address myself … and that’s how its premise seems to relate so little to the events of the story.  We begin by understanding that the titular Lucy is affected by a drug that increases her brain capacity.  Before the movie reaches its halfway mark, she appears to gain omniscience.  (She doesn’t need to actually learn anything — she simply knows virtually everything already.  This is evinced by her ability to translate foreign languages instantly, with no books or instruction at all.)  She also appears omnipotent by the film’s end.  Her powers become literally godlike.  And I’m not talking about Thor or Odin from the Marvel Cinematic Universe — we’re talking the all-powerful,  Old Testament God of Abraham.

Why?  Why should increased intelligence, no matter how incredibly vast, give her power of matter, space and even time?  If she were as smart as a thousand Stephen Hawkings, she still shouldn’t be able to do the things she does in the movie.

Believe it or not, I’d rate this movie a 4 out of 10.  (That’s far kinder than the other reviews I’ve read.)  I managed to have fun with this movie by rewriting some of it in my head while I watched.  Instead of Lucy benefiting from a drug that increases her brain capacity (which borrows a bit from 2011’s excellent “Limitless,” anyway), I pretended that I was watching a movie in which Scarlett Johansson became God.  (Think of 2003’s “Bruce Almighty.”)  Honestly.  I swapped out the plot device in my head, and imagined a different movie.  That made it fun — watching Scarlett Johansson as a wrathful God was strangely satisfying, especially when she wreaks havoc on the bad guys.

And speaking of bad guys … that is actually one thing that this otherwise clueless movie manages to get right.  No, I’m not kidding — the Taipei gangsters that serve as the story’s antagonists were performed to perfection by their actors.  The villains were repulsive and terrifying, and they aroused more interest in me than the good guys.  Min-sik Choi was terrific as the homicidal patriarch of the Taiwanese crime syndicate.  Even better, though, was Nicolas Phongbeth as the cherubic-faced, vaguely androgynous, sociopathic lieutenant.  If they were vanquished in this brainless movie, it’d be nice to see them resurrected in a James Bond film or a season of Fox’s “24.”  It’s weird seeing a movie so bad do one important thing so successfully.

There are really only two reasons why anybody should see “Lucy.”  One is morbid curiosity.  Two is if they are a learning to be a screenwriter, and are looking for a feature-length example of what NOT to do.

 

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But is it nutritious, do ya think?

Remember last week I was elated after seeing a beaver?  That kinda didn’t happen.  Turns out that the subject of my ecstatic interest was actually the unceremonious nutria (myocastor coypus), or, as I like to call him, the giant wannabe-beaver-rat.

I spotted the (apparently solitary) bugger again yesterday, and I was confused when I finally got a look at his rounded tail.  Was it a huge rat?  I followed him down the creek, because I am nothing if not a strange man with a lot of time on my hands.  He appeared to submerge, swim underwater through an underground pipe for about three minutes, and then emerge casually on the other side of the road where the creek terminates in a sump.

I should have known it was a nutria before I looked him up.  Believe it or not, I actually have heard of them before.  A horror movie nerd like me remembers the species was supposedly used to portray giant rats for either “Willard” (2003) or its 1971 original.  (I do forget which.)

They’re bad guys, too — at least from an environmental perspective.  They’re an invasive, rapidly reproducing, semi-aquatic species that destroy wetlands and compete with the native muskrat.  They themselves are not native; they were brought to the United States and Europe from South America by fur ranchers.

Anyway … if you’re able to catch 2003’s “Willard,” I highly recommend it.  It starts Crispin Glover and R. Lee Ermey, and was penned by “X Files” greats Glen Morgan and James Wong.  For the full spooky experience, first read Stephen Gilbert’s excellent 1969 novel, “Ratman’s Notebooks,” which served as the basis for both films.

 

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Photo credit: By Philippe Amelant – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2027013.

“You see, I’m Irish — but I’m not a leprechaun!”

“You wanna fight?  Then step up and we’ll get it on!”

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

And Happy Throwback Thursday, too.  House of Pain’s “Top O’ The Mornin’ To Ya” dates from 1992.  It actually has a pretty nifty “Return of the Jedi” reference, for you Star Wars fans who currently rule this little thing called the Internet.

And the song is memorable to this comic book fan for being a great intro track for Colin Farrell’s Bullseye in 2003’s “Daredevil.”  I actually am the rare (or possibly unique) individual who really likes that movie.  I bought it on DVD, and I’ve seen it more times than I care to publicly admit, given its ignominy.