Capsule Reviews: John Wick 3, Aladdin, Godzilla: King of the Monsters

I’ve seen some fun movies over the last couple weeks and haven’t had time to write about them until now, so let’s talk about ‘em. First up is John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. I’m a big fan of the John Wick series, and my expectations going into the third movie were pretty high.

Fortunately, director Chad Stahelski and star Keanu Reeves didn’t let me down. John Wick 3 is every bit as kinetic and badass as the previous films in the series. The John Wick movies continue to be an absolute dream come true for action junkies such as myself, and the action sequences in this movie are nothing less than poetry in motion.

Brutally violent poetry, but hey.

Image: Lionsgate

The third movie does have some pacing issues and is maybe a bit overlong, and the plot can be kinda confusing. I’m still not sure who that guy John meets in the desert was supposed to be. But it doesn’t matter, because the movie delivers where it counts: ACTION. Keanu Reeves is such a badass that you’d never guess he’s 54 years old. The dude puts actors half his age to absolute shame.

I could go into more detail about the extent of this movie’s awesomeness, but it’s been a few weeks since I saw it so I don’t think I could really do it justice. It has some flaws but they are more than overcome by the ferocious intensity of its action. Keanu is one of our best action stars and seems like a genuinely cool guy in real life. How much ass does this movie kick? All of it.

Next up is Aladdin. The original Aladdin is one of my favorite classic Disney movies, and it’s one of the first movies that I clearly remember seeing in a theater (I must have been around five), so it holds a very special place in my heart. I was cautiously optimistic about the new live-action version of the movie, since I genuinely love Aladdin but the new movie was directed by Guy Ritchie, a filmmaker that I have a…complicated relationship with. The movie got mixed reviews and plenty of people didn’t seem to like it, so I was prepared for potential disappointment.

Fortunately, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The new version of Aladdin is an absolute joy and I enjoyed the heck out of it. It delivers everything you want from Aladdin: all the characters, all the songs, the great story, all of it. The production design, sets, special effects and costumes are excellent across the board, the songs are vibrant and catchy, and the movie is, above all, fun.

Image: Disney

Will Smith also deserves a lot of credit for taking over the role of the Genie and making it his own. He did a great job with it, it must have been hard taking over from a performance as iconic as Robin Williams was in the original version, but I was very impressed with Smith’s work in the film. I don’t know what more you could ask for from a live-action version of Aladdin. It has some flaws, sure, but much like John Wick the overall experience is so enjoyable that its flaws are easy to overlook.

Guy Ritchie toned down the aggressive stylization that characterizes much of his work and made a movie that honestly far exceeded my expectations. The critics were very mean to it but don’t listen to them. See the movie and decide for yourself. The movie is “Rotten” on Rotten Tomatoes, but I have become increasingly jaded with Rotten Tomatoes ratings and don’t put much stock in them. The popularity of Rotten Tomatoes is something that I think has really hurt the movie industry in a lot of ways, and its ratings hold far too much sway over whether audiences see a movie or not.

This is a discussion for another time, but it boils down to this: if a movie you’re interested in gets a bad Rotten Tomatoes score or whatever, who cares? See the movie for yourself and make up your own mind. Your opinion is every bit as valid as those of so-called “professional critics.” Who needs ‘em?

Speaking of fun movies with mediocre Rotten Tomatoes scores, Godzilla: King of the Monsters is another one. For the last Godzilla movie, which came out in 2014, everyone was like, “there’s not enough Godzilla.” Godzilla appears early and often in the new movie and there’s all the monster-smashing action you could wish for. So what does everyone say? “There’s too much Godzilla.” MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MINDS PEOPLE!!!

I hear people say that the plot of this movie is ridiculous. Of course it is! Have y’all never seen a Godzilla movie before, or any monster movie at all for that matter? They’re all ridiculous, across the board. It’s part of what makes them fun. If you’re complaining about the plausibility of a monster movie, you’re completely missing the point. This is something that should not require explanation.

Image: Warner Bros./Legendary

King of the Monsters was directed by Michael Dougherty, and it’s his first foray into big-budget blockbuster filmmaking. His previous movies included the cult classics Trick ‘r Treat and Krampus, and he’s clearly a guy who loves monster movies. His film brings together some of the most classic monsters from the long-running series of Japanese Godzilla films (there are seriously like 30 Godzilla movies). There’s Mothra (a giant moth, obviously), Rodan (basically a humongous pterodactyl), and King Ghidorah, a massive three-headed dragon who is the movie’s main antagonist.

I don’t know if you knew this, but it’s actually been scientifically-proven that nothing on earth is cooler and more badass than a three-headed dragon, except for maybe John Wick. You can’t argue with this, it’s science.

Again, I’m not saying this movie is perfect by any means. The plot is a bit hard to follow and there are a lot of great actors in this movie who get almost nothing to do. Poor Charles Dance, for example, does almost nothing but glower in the background of a few scenes. So yes, the characters in the movie are not very memorable, despite being played by capable actors such as Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins (the latter two reprising their roles from the 2014 Godzilla film). But it’s no slight against these very good actors to say that they’re not the real stars of the movie.

The stars of a movie subtitled “King of the Monsters” are the damn monsters, and they are AWESOME. They look great, they sound great, they smash stuff real good. A lot of care and attention clearly went into the design and creation of these mighty beasts, and the action sequences in the movie are thrilling and fun. There were multiple times during the movie where I thought to myself, “now THIS is the stuff I pay to see!” and that’s pretty much the highest compliment I can give. I came for fun monster action, and fun monster action was what I got, so I left the theater happy. Bring on Godzilla Vs. Kong, which is set for release next year.

So there you go, three movies that weren’t perfect but hey, what movie is? Other than Die Hard, anyway. John Wick 3, Aladdin and the new Godzilla film are excellent summer entertainment, critics be damned. If you want to see a movie, go see it. If you pick one of these you’ll have a good time. Next up is X-Men: Dark Phoenix and Elton John biopic Rocketman, which came out this weekend but I haven’t seen yet. Next weekend, hopefully! Go have fun at the movies!

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2018: The Year in Villainy

It was a cinematic year that was primarily dominated by two Marvel villains, both of whom made big splashes. It’s hard to pick just one for the coveted title of Villain Of The Year, but ultimately there was one villain who just had to be given the title, and that villain is…

Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War

It had to be Thanos as Villain Of The Year. No other villain made as much of an impact on the lives of a movie’s characters. And not only did Thanos massively change (and, at least temporarily, end) the lives of dozens of superheroes, he also hugely impacted the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has become a box-office juggernaut ever since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With Thanos, Marvel showed that it is not afraid to shake up the status quo of its hugely profitable film franchise. And really, the fact that Thanos actually succeeded in wiping out half of all life in the universe makes him Villain Of The Year pretty much automatically.

Marvel/Disney

Also, remember when he THREW A PLANET AT IRON MAN??? Holy crap that was awesome.

Josh Brolin did fantastic work bringing Thanos to life, and the writers, directors, and special-effects people created a character who was surprisingly sympathetic, instead of the two-dimensional power-hungry jerk the character could have easily been if he had not been handled so well. Infinity War was the culmination of a decade’s worth of blockbuster movies, and thanks to Thanos the Marvel Cinematic Universe will never be the same. And for the record, I am still not over that Spider-Man scene. You know the one. Sniff.

Erik Killmonger in Black Panther

Marvel/Disney

In any other year, Killmonger would have been Villain Of The Year. But thanks to Thanos, he is a very strong runner-up. Michael B. Jordan was excellent and turned Killmonger, much like Thanos, into a deeply sympathetic and even tragic figure. The viewer could understand Killmonger’s point of view, even while disagreeing with his actions. He was charismatic, intelligent and badass. He was everything a great movie villain should be. I’ve got him as a very close runner-up for VOTY, but if he’s your number one I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong.

Captain Wafner in Overlord

Paramount Pictures

In stark contrast to sympathetic villains like Thanos and Killmonger, Captain Wafner was a villain with no redeeming qualities at all. He was a sadistic Nazi captain who was irredeemably evil even before he got half his face blown off and injected himself with an experimental serum that gave him ungodly strength and turned him into even more of a monster. Overlord was one of the year’s goriest thrill rides, and its villain was one of the year’s nastiest.

The Predators in The Predator

20th Century Fox

Speaking of gory thrill rides, it’s a toss-up between Overlord and Shane Black’s much-maligned Predator reboot for the title of goriest movie of the year. The Predator had its share of flaws, but I still found it to be an enjoyable, if bumpy, ride, and probably the best thing about it was seeing the different varieties of Predator that Black and his creative team conjured up. The design of the Predator in the original 1987 Predator movie was great to begin with, so Black didn’t change it too much. But he did add a few new wrinkles that were fun to see even if the Predator dog creatures were a little goofy, complete as they were with Predator dreadlocks.

The Meg in The Meg

Warner Bros.

The Meg is the film that finally answered the age-old question, “What would happen if Jason Statham were to fight an enormous shark?” The Meg is a deeply cheesy B-movie that was nonetheless quite enjoyable, and its massive shark was its crowning achievement. Or should I say sharks, because there are actually two of the giant beasts. The toothy monstrosities are enormous and, of course, hungry for nubile human flesh. The Meg is a thoroughly preposterous movie that is certainly no masterpiece, but it is quite a bit of fun and its gargantuan shark beasts should be more than enough to satisfy any fan of aquatic monster movies.

Solomon Lane and August Walker in Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures

Tom Cruise’s latest Mission: Impossible flick was the thrill ride of the year, and it had two quality villains to give Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and the rest of his team a run for their money. Sean Harris reprises his role as the diabolical Solomon Lane from the previous M:I film, and Superman himself, Henry Cavill, played August Walker, who was more than a match for Ethan in a fight. Give Lane and Walker credit: they came this close to enacting their evil plan, only to be thwarted at literally the last possible second. Being a bad guy can be a thankless task when all your hard work comes to naught. Hopefully they’ll try again in a few years, because I want more Mission: Impossible movies. Or at least Lane can try again, Walker won’t be able to participate on account of being extremely dead.

Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp

Marvel/Disney

It was a year of sympathetic villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Ghost was a young woman who was suffering from a unique condition that gave her the ability to phase through solid objects and teleport short distances, which made her hard to handle in a fight, though her powers are unstable. But she became more sympathetic once the viewer learned about her tragic backstory, how she lost her parents in the lab accident that gave her powers and how shady government types took advantage of her powers to turn her into a weapon. She was the main superpowered antagonist for most of Ant-Man and The Wasp, but the movie ends with her seemingly cured of her affliction so perhaps we’ll see her again down the road.

The Murdersaurus (technically the Indoraptor) Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Universal

You could argue that the main villains of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom were the morons who thought it would be a good idea to auction off a bunch of dinosaurs, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But those people were all idiots and dinosaurs are much cooler, so let’s talk about the Indoraptor instead. I dubbed it the Murdersaurus because it was a genetically-engineered death lizard designed specifically for hunting and killing. It gets to do a lot of hunting and killing in the second half of Fallen Kingdom, and I was kind of sad when it died because it was my favorite character in the movie.

Lizzy and Ralph in Rampage

Warner Bros.

Speaking of monster movies where all of the human characters were pretty dumb, Rampage was another deeply silly movie that I enjoyed quite a bit, it just might have been my guilty-pleasure movie of the year. The monsters were George the albino gorilla, Ralph the wolf, and Lizzy the (I think) alligator, all of whom were mutated to enormous size and exceptional ferocity. I didn’t include George as one of the villains because he ultimately becomes a good ape again, despite causing a lot of death and destruction. The monsters are fun to watch and the special effects are top-notch, and much like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the monsters are much more entertaining the bland human characters.

The Screenslaver in Incredibles 2

Disney/Pixar

For a kids movie, Incredibles 2 had a surprisingly sophisticated villain. Writer/director Brad Bird’s long-awaited follow-up to his 2008 original, Incredibles 2 is that rare movie that is fun for kids but also contains a lot for adults to enjoy. This is a movie that treats its viewers with respect, regardless of whether that viewer happens to be a kid or a grown-up. It’s a tricky balancing act, but Incredibles 2 makes it look easy. The Screenslaver is a villain who takes advantage of the world’s overreliance on technology, and manipulates the omnipresent screens that are all around us. That’s a scary idea. The Screenslaver is one of the most culturally-relevant cinematic villains of the year.

Dryden Vos in Solo: A Star Wars Story

Disney/Lucasfilm

Paul Bettany is one of my favorite actors. He’s the kind of actor who elevates any movie he’s in. Since he frequently plays good guys, it’s always fun to watch him cut loose as a bad guy and really chew some scenery. He chewed scenery with aplomb in the latest Star Wars spinoff as a ruthless crime lord named Dryden Vos, who was at least part alien. Dryden is the kind of villain who acts friendly one moment but can explode into murderous rage at the drop of a hat. I like villains like that because their unpredictability ensures that the viewer is always on edge whenever they are around. Bettany’s role in the film is not a huge one, which is not too surprising if you’re aware of the movie’s behind-the-scenes drama (Bettany’s role was initially played by a different actor), but he makes an impression with a limited amount of screen time, as all great actors do.

Cable in Deadpool 2

20th Century Fox

Okay, so this is another debatable one, since Cable and Deadpool end up as allies. But much like Ghost in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Cable serves as the superpowered antagonist for much of the film, so he counts. It was a big year for Josh Brolin playing Marvel comics characters, and he was perfectly cast as the gruff cyborg Cable. He looks pretty much identical to how Cable looks in the comics, and is placed front and center along with Deadpool in the movie’s biggest action scenes. Deadpool 2 was more cluttered than its predecessor, but it benefited from a more complex antagonist, even though I haven’t forgotten that Cable and Deadpool become pals by the end of the movie and have a long history of teaming up in the comics, so perhaps we’ll be seeing more of him in the future.

Mathias Vogel in Tomb Raider

Warner Bros.

Walton Goggins was another actor who had a busy year playing villains. In addition to playing the main villain in this year’s Tomb Raider reboot, he also played a secondary villain in Ant-Man and The Wasp. Goggins is an actor who frequently plays slimy bad guys, and he was well-suited to both of his villainous roles this year. In Tomb Raider he played Mathias Vogel, the leader of an expedition to find a hidden artifact with Great and Terrible Power. He was not a nice person, but he was at least somewhat sympathetic by virtue of the fact that he had been stuck on an island in the middle of nowhere for years and desperately wanted to return home. Still, he was a nasty fellow and his death was thematically appropriate and quite satisfying.

So there you have it, my favorite villains of 2018. Keep in mind that this was not a comprehensive list of every villain in every movie I saw this year, it was simply a list of my favorites. There were a surprising number of sympathetic villains this year, which makes me happy because if there is one thing I like it is a complex bad guy. 2019 is bringing us another full slate of bad guys, including the return of Thanos and the most dreaded evil clown of all, Pennywise. See you at the movies!

MONSTER MASH: UTTERLY RANDOM EDITION

The theme for this Monster Mash is that there is no theme. That may be cheating, but I don’t care. This is a completely random selection of movies that have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Beware of spoilers. Here we go!

Graveyard Shift (1990)

Graveyard Shift is based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name from his 1978 story collection Night Shift, and is one of several films based on stories from the book. Graveyard Shift tells the story of a Maine textile mill suffering from what could generously be called a rodent infestation. The movie expands on some aspects of the story, giving more details to the main characters and the town the mill is in, which depends on the mill to keep it going and can’t afford to have the mill closed.

Paramount Pictures

The mill is run by a corrupt and cruel foreman named Warwick, who pays off the building inspector to keep the mill open and runs the place with an iron fist. He rounds up a group of employees to clean out the mill’s filthy basement, and in the process the group discovers a warren of tunnels underneath the mill, and a grotesque bat-like monster that dwells beneath. The monster is gross and cool-looking, and hunts the hapless workers through the subterranean tunnels. It also suffers a grisly death when the protagonist traps it in a cotton picker and the beast is ground to bits.

People who suffer from claustrophobia or have an aversion to rodents should avoid this movie like the plague, although it’s a decent horror thriller. The acting is solid and the mill itself and the tunnels beneath it look appropriately worn-out and ancient. The mill looks like it would be a wretched place to work, especially at night, which makes the movie a bit depressing at times, but perhaps that’s the point. You might need a shower and a walk outside in the sunshine after watching this one.

The movie adds more detail to some aspects of the short story, but it also dumbs some of it down. The story has multiple kinds of mutated rats lurking in the basement, but the movie just has the giant rat/bat monster, as well as your garden-variety rodents. It’s too bad that the movie doesn’t have more variety in its icky antagonists, but the rat/bat monster is cool. Maybe that’s where all the special-effects budget went and there wasn’t anything left over, I dunno.

Graveyard Shift isn’t one of the more prestigious adaptations of Stephen King’s work, and won’t be mentioned in the same breath as King classics like The Shining, Carrie, or It. But Graveyard Shift still makes for a solid creature feature, as long as you have a high tolerance for creepy crawlies.

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Pumpkinhead was the directorial debut of the legendary Stan Winston, whose resume includes Terminator, Predator, Jurassic Park, Iron Man, Aliens, Avatar, and many more. It stars Lance Henriksen as Ed Harley, a man living a simple life in the country running a small grocery store with his young son Billy. Ed and Billy and their dog Gypsy are happy together until Billy is tragically killed when he is hit by a motorcycle driven by a guy named Joel, who is in the area camping with his friends, who are also present when Billy is killed. Joel is on probation for a similar motorcycle incident and refuses to let his friends contact the authorities.

Stricken with grief and rage, Ed takes Billy’s body to a supposed witch who lives in a dingy cabin in the middle of a swamp. She tells him she can’t bring Billy back to life, and Ed tells her he wants revenge. That’s something she can help him with, but warns him that vengeance comes with a terrible price. Ed decides to go through with it and the witch brings to life a spindly demon called Pumpkinhead which proceeds to hunt down not just Joel, but all of his friends with him, even though they were not responsible for what happened to Billy and tried to do the right thing in the wake of the accident.

As Pumpkinhead begins to hunt down Joel and the other campers, Ed experiences the beast’s murders through the monster’s eyes. He realizes he has made a terrible mistake and begs the witch to call the monster off. She replies that the monster will not stop until all of its targets are dead, and warns Ed that he will be killed as well if he attempts to stop it. Ed ignores her and attempts to help the surviving campers, leading to a series of tense confrontations with the relentless demon.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

As the monster kills more, Ed and the other survivors notice that Pumpkinhead’s face is becoming more human-looking and that it is beginning to resemble Ed’s face. This leads to the realization that Ed and the monster are connected, and Ed kills himself to stop the demon and save the remaining campers, dooming himself to become the next iteration of Pumpkinhead for the next poor soul who goes to the witch seeking vengeance.

Normally I don’t go into that much detail for the plot of a Monster Mash movie, but in this case I felt it was appropriate. For a film called Pumpkinhead, there is a surprising amount of emotional depth to the story. Ed has a strong character arc for the protagonist of an 80’s horror movie with a cheesy title. He goes from happy with his son to grieving at his son’s abrupt demise, he becomes fueled by vengeance and sets loose a demon upon the people who wronged him, only to realize he made a terrible mistake and that vengeance is not the answer, as well as realizing that his actions have doomed people who were not responsible for what happened to his son, and sacrifices himself to save them.

At every step of this process, Lance Henriksen does great work in making Ed a sympathetic protagonist, his actions are extreme but understandable given his emotional turmoil. The movie also engenders a lot of sympathy for Pumpkinhead’s victims, since most of them are good people who tried to do the right thing after Ed’s son was killed. Even the initially-despicable Joel begins to see the error of his ways.

Stan Winston is responsible for some of the most iconic and influential movie monsters of all time, and the spindly, demonic Pumpkinhead may be one of his most underrated creations. The beast is genuinely creepy and its murder spree, while not as graphic as slasher films like Friday the 13th, is still quite harrowing, made all the more so by the sympathy the viewer feels for its victims.

Pumpkinhead is a surprisingly great movie that absolutely deserves its status as a cult classic. Stan Winston died from cancer in 2008 at the age of 62. It’s a damn shame he didn’t get to direct more of his own films, since Pumpkinhead shows a lot of promise for a first-time director. But his many iconic creations will live on and continue to inspire generations of aspiring filmmakers, and for that we can all be grateful.

Jurassic Park III (2001)

JP3 is the black sheep of the Jurassic Park series, the awkward middle child of the family. There were the first two Jurassic Park movies made by Steven Spielberg, and then there were the more recent Jurassic World movies with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. Sandwiched haphazardly in between is Jurassic Park III, directed by Joe Johnston, who made the first Captain America movie, The First Avenger, in 2010.

JP3 is barely 90 minutes long, in sharp contrast to the other four films, all of which are around two hours long. That’s because JP3 has no plot. None. Some random kid disappears in the vicinity of one of the dinosaur islands, and original Jurassic Park protagonist Alan Grant, played once again by Sam Neill, is hired under false pretenses to help look for him. The movie tries to throw in a couple of extra wrinkles to the plot, all of which are predictable and do nothing to make the movie feel like a complete story.

Universal Pictures

All of that sounded harsh, so let me clarify: I don’t hate this movie. It’s reasonably well-made and entertaining, there are fun action sequences and the Stan Winston-created dinosaurs look great. Admittedly the bird-like velociraptors are kinda dopey and haven’t aged well, but the Spinosaurus is badass. But by the end of the movie, there’s no sense of having arrived anywhere, no feeling that anything important happened. It’s a reasonably diverting way to kill an hour and a half, but it’s no surprise that JP3 is the least-remembered film in the series.

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018)

Deep Blue Sea 2 is the recent direct-to-video sequel to the original Deep Blue Sea. It stars no one you’ve ever heard of and looks like it cost about a buck-fifty to make. The back cover of the Blu-Ray mentions the events of the original film and makes it sound like the new one is a direct sequel, but in the movie itself there are no references to the original whatsoever and aside from a vaguely similar premise the two movies have nothing to do with each other.

I will admit to having a certain fondness for low-budget, straight-to-video sequels to movies that had wide theatrical releases, A-list stars, and much higher budgets. Such low-budget schlock can be quite a bit of fun, but sadly Deep Blue Sea 2 is mostly just boring. The film’s budget must have been so low that they could barely afford to put any actual sharks in the movie, CGI or otherwise.

Warner Bros.

This poster scene is a lie, by the way. It doesn’t happen in the movie. The characters wander endlessly through flooded hallways that all look exactly the same, with different colors of lighting being the only distinguishing feature. There’s no tension or suspense, the characters are boring and the plot, if you can call it that, is a rehash of the original. Honestly, the best thing about this movie is the ample and frequently-displayed cleavage of the lead actress. It’s like the makers of this cheapie knew there was nothing else of any interest going on or anything cool to look at, so they put the lead actress in a skintight, low-cut wetsuit for most of the movie. It’s better than nothing, I guess.

The Pyramid (2014)

The Pyramid is a found-footage movie with lots of jump scares. That sentence alone should be enough to dissuade many people from seeing this film, since people love to complain about jump scares and found-footage horror films. There has been a deluge of such films ever since the massive success of the first Paranormal Activity movie in 2007 and Cloverfield in 2008. It’s been a genre of increasingly diminishing returns since then, and The Pyramid is no exception. It’s not completely terrible so much as it is exceptionally average.

As with other found-footage movies, The Pyramid claims to document actual events, which of course it does not. The fake true events that comprise the film’s story surround the discovery of a pyramid in Egypt buried 600 feet beneath the surface of the desert. This pyramid is three-sided, unlike other pyramids, and a team of five people soon ventures inside. This turns out to be a BIG MISTAKE, as they soon find themselves lost and trapped within the dusty, dark confines of the ancient structure. They also discover that they are not alone.

The problem I have with these found-footage movies is that they’re all the same. Some people hear about some weird stuff going on somewhere and gear up to investigate, only to encounter something horrible and never be heard from again. The most influential movie in the genre is The Blair Witch Project, released in 1999, a film loved and hated in equal measure. The Pyramid is The Blair Witch Project with Egyptian trappings, and follows the exact same structure as you might expect, right down to the frustratingly ambiguous ending.

20th Century Fox

So why am I talking about this film during a Monster Mash? Well, the pyramid is full of emaciated, hairless, feral cats that have adapted to their dark confines and become rather vicious. They cause plenty of problems but the main reason The Pyramid counts as a monster movie is because of Anubis, the half-man, half-jackal Egyptian god who ushered souls into the afterlife. He does quite a bit of afterlife-ushering in this movie, and his pursuit of the hapless protagonists are the best scenes in the film. He looks cool and I like the fact that he’s the main antagonist. How many other films have an actual Egyptian god stalking people? Not many.

Anubis doesn’t make The Pyramid a good movie, but at least he makes it more interesting. The found-footage angle of this movie doesn’t even make sense. These kinds of movies are meant to be composed of footage shot by the characters themselves, and as such two of the people who venture into the pyramid are members of a documentary crew. You’d think that the movie would be entirely made up of their footage, but it isn’t. The movie cheats by frequently showing much of the action in the exact same way any other movie would, only using the found-footage conceit when it’s convenient. This renders the entire point of the found-footage thing moot.

The Pyramid is a decent scare-fest but it lacks originality and its scares are mostly predictable. Anubis is a cool antagonist but his inclusion is not enough to help the film rise from the depths of mediocrity. When the inevitable “History of Found-Footage Movies” book is written, The Pyramid will be little more than a footnote.

Spawn (1997)

Calling Spawn a monster movie is a bit of a stretch, since technically it’s a comic-book superhero movie. But it’s full of enough grotesque demons and hellspawn that I figure it counts as a monster movie. It’s right in the middle section of the Venn diagram of monster movies and superhero movies. It stars Michael Jai White as Al Simmons, a black ops operative who is betrayed and killed by his shady boss Jason Wynn (played by Martin Sheen) and sent to hell. In hell Al makes a deal with a demon called Malebolgia. Al agrees to serve Malebolgia and lead the armies of hell, and in return Malebolgia will allow him to return to Earth to see his wife again.

The demon inevitably screws Al over and soon Al becomes involved in a weird and frankly rather baffling plot. I haven’t read any of the Spawn comics, but I found the story of the film to be very hard to follow. Of course Al seeks revenge on the duplicitous Jason Wynn, but there are a bunch of other characters and subplots that are thrown around haphazardly and the movie feels cluttered and unfocused.

I’ve got to talk about the CGI in this movie. It’s awful. This film has some of the worst-looking CGI characters I’ve ever seen. The Malebolgia demon looks like something from a 90’s PlayStation game, the scenes that take place in hell look like they were created on a laptop, and the final battle is nearly incomprehensible. Maybe the effects looked OK to audiences in 1997, but they haven’t aged well at all. The Matrix came out two years later and still holds up well today, but the same cannot be said of Spawn’s pixelated hellscapes.

New Line Cinema

In contrast to the lousy CGI, the film’s practical effects are quite good. Spawn himself looks really cool, and not all of the film’s CGI is bad. There are some very cool shots of Spawn’s red cape billowing out behind him that I liked a lot. Michael Jai White is an accomplished martial artist in real life (he has seven black belts) and a badass actor. He makes Al a sympathetic protagonist, despite the fact that he spends most of the movie covered in layers of makeup that make him look a bit like The Thing from the Fantastic Four, but with third-degree burns.

New Line Cinema

But White isn’t the movie’s top-billed star. The first name in the credits is John Leguizamo, one of my least-favorite actors. I find him insufferably irritating in every movie I see him in, with the possible exception of John Wick. In Spawn Leguizamo plays a demon named Clown, a fat, crude, repulsive little creature who farts green clouds and eats maggot-filled pizza, and later transforms into an ugly monster called the Violator. He’s obnoxious and unpleasant, but from what I’ve read it’s a pretty accurate representation of the character from the comics. Still, I hated him. Maybe I was supposed to, but the fact remains that he drove me nuts.

Spawn is a profoundly flawed movie, but was still fairly influential in its own way. Its protagonist was one of the first African-American superheroes on film, and the film was one of the first superhero movies to be promoted largely based on the popularity of the then-recent comic book, with Spawn having made his first appearance in 1992. Spawn is a character that could really use a new cinematic incarnation, since special effects have now caught up to the ambitions of the filmmakers of the original movie. There has been talk of a new Spawn movie with Jamie Foxx in the title role and that could be very interesting, but we’ll have to wait and see if it actually happens.

On a personal note, I remember badly wanting to see this film in 1997 when I was nine years old, and my mom steadfastly refused to let me see it. At the time I thought this was a blatant act of wanton cruelty, but of course my mom was completely right in not letting me see it, because if I had seen Spawn when I was nine it would have traumatized me for weeks. Thanks, mom.

So there you have it, a bunch of fun if mostly forgettable movies that have nothing to do with each other. Most of the movies I talked about here weren’t that great, but I still had fun watching and writing about them. I’m not going to rank them because most of them weren’t very good and I feel like deciding which one was slightly better or worse would be pointless and arbitrary, but I will say that the best film on this list is Pumpkinhead, and is the only film discussed here that I would wholeheartedly recommend. So check that one out and skip the rest. I watched them so you don’t have to.

MONSTER MASH: AQUATIC EDITION

Earlier this month I saw The Meg in theaters, and it got me thinking about monster movies with an aquatic setting. Sharks, carnivorous fish and slimy sea monsters await!

The Meg (2018)

The Meg is a movie that I wanted to see as soon as I heard about it, since it can be boiled down to “Jason Statham fights a giant shark.” The Meg is an unapologetically silly B-movie, but it’s an unapologetically silly B-movie with a nine-figure budget. It makes me happy that Hollywood is willing to spend that kind of money on cheesy creature features. 2018 has been a good year for such films, since it has also seen the release Of Rampage and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Both films are full of plot holes and people making monumentally stupid decisions, and I enjoyed them both immensely. The Meg follows suit, and once again, I had a lot of fun with it.

Warner Bros.

The Meg of the title is a gigantic prehistoric shark, now extinct. Or is it? In the movie, of course it is not. Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, who encountered the beast years ago during an underwater rescue operation. No one believed him at the time but it turns out he was right all along. The Meg is a very fun movie, the kind of movie whose flaws made me like it more. Take lines of dialogue like “that living fossil ate my friend!” as an example of things about this movie that are stupid that I still really liked. That was a poorly constructed sentence, but whatever.

The Meg was directed by Jon Turteltaub, best known for the National Treasure movies starring Nicolas Cage. Why have Nicolas Cage and Jason Statham never been in a movie together? Someone needs to make that happen. Turteltaub understands the inherently ridiculous nature of the film he’s directing, and wisely doesn’t take it too seriously. The film moves along briskly and the special effects are top-notch. There’s one bit during the climax that was so awesome it made me want to stand up and cheer. The Meg is a deeply silly movie, but it’s a very enjoyable slice of popcorn entertainment.

Humanoids From the Deep (1980)

In stark contrast to the large budget and A-list stars of The Meg, Humanoids from the Deep is a cheapie from infamous schlockmeister Roger Corman. It concerns the residents of a small fishing town who are set upon by the titular humanoids, who are the result of, you guessed it, a science experiment gone wrong. The movie is every bit as cheap and forgettable as its name implies, although the humanoids themselves look appropriately slimy and gross, thanks to Monster Mash regular Rob Bottin. The movie was directed by a woman named Barbara Peeters, which is surprising when you consider the amount of sexual exploitation present in the film.

New World Pictures

Apparently this was thanks to Corman, who didn’t think Peeters’ initial cut of the film had enough nudity, so he had the movie’s second unit director film additional scenes of the humanoids assaulting women and inserted them into the film without telling Peeters. Classy. With a title like “Humanoids from the Deep,” a certain degree of tastelessness is to be expected, but Corman’s sleazy additions to the film leave a bad taste in the mouth. Let’s forget this piece of junk and move on.

Piranha (1978)

Piranha is another Corman production, and as such contains the requisite amounts of gore and nudity, but thankfully this one isn’t as mean-spirited as Humanoids from the Deep. Piranha was directed by Joe Dante, who made The Howling a few years later. It was one of many films inspired by the huge success of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, and is generally regarded today as one of the better Jaws ripoffs, including by Steven Spielberg himself.

New World Pictures

The hungry man-eating fish of the title are yet another failed experiment, this one a military operation wonderfully codenamed Operation Razorteeth, the goal of which was to produce a resilient strain of piranha that could inhibit the movement of the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Operation Razorteeth was shuttered when the war ended, but some of the specimens survived and are unwittingly released early in the film. Wouldn’t you know it, directly in the hungry critters’ path are a summer camp for kids and a water park resort celebrating its grand opening and is chock-full of tasty human flesh.

Piranha is a fun creature feature, and it must have been tricky to make given the technology of the time and the challenges of filming in and around water. Unsurprisingly, the movie isn’t particularly scary, though I’d imagine it was pretty gory by 70’s standards. Piranha was remade in 2010 and while I haven’t seen the whole movie, I’ve seen enough bits and pieces of it on YouTube to know that the remake is FAR more graphic than the original. Let’s just say that my use of the phrase “bits and pieces” was not coincidental. Damn, that movie is not for the faint-hearted.

DeepStar Six (1989)

DeepStar Six was directed by Sean S. Cunningham, who directed the original Friday the 13th. Despite being responsible for one of the most infamous and influential slasher movies of all time, Cunningham’s deep-sea survival adventure is nowhere near as exploitative as one might expect. It was released the same year as a bunch of other water-based horror/survival movies, including Leviathan (covered in a previous Monster Mash) and James Cameron’s The Abyss, among others.

DeepStar Six follows the same basic structure as Leviathan, right down to the first hour of the movie being pretty boring. It takes more than an hour into the 99-minute movie for the creature to show up, and even then, it’s barely in the movie. It’s some kind of giant crustacean, which is awesome. Or it would be, if it were in the movie for longer than maybe five minutes.

TriStar Pictures

The film’s title refers to the experimental underwater US naval facility in which most of the action takes place. One of the biggest problems with the film is that it doesn’t do a good job explaining what the hell the point of the station is. I didn’t even realize it was a US naval facility until I read some plot summaries online. I spent most of the movie wondering what the protagonists were even trying to accomplish by being there in the first place. Maybe there was something obvious I missed, I dunno. The Meg also had this problem, since it was never clear what the purpose of the research facility in that film was either.

DeepStar Six isn’t a terrible movie, but it is a forgettable one. The acting is solid, the characters are mostly likable, the sets have a lived-in feel, and the special effects are decent for the time. But it ultimately fails to deliver the exciting monster action, which makes it a disappointment.

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

Deep Blue Sea is a hell of a fun movie. It’s best known for one scene, in which Samuel L. Jackson is giving a rousing speech to his fellow survivors about how they are all going to survive and escape their current dire predicament, only to be unexpectedly devoured mid-sentence by a giant shark. It’s a hilarious scene, and even though I knew it was going to happen I still got a kick out of it.

The rest of the movie is quite a bit of fun as well. It was directed by Finnish director Renny Harlin, whose resume includes hits like Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger, as well as notorious flops like The Legend of Hercules and Cutthroat Island, the latter of which is one of the biggest box-office bombs of all time. Deep Blue Sea was a pretty big hit in the summer of 1999, and is my favorite of the movies in this aquatic monster mash.

Warner Bros.

The plot concerns the inhabitants of an undersea laboratory called Aquatica, where Dr. Susan McAlester (played by Saffron Burrows) has been experimenting on the brains of mako sharks in order to develop a potential cure for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain diseases. Something about how shark brains don’t degrade over time like human brains do, I think. I have no idea if that is remotely plausible, but it makes for a fun movie so I’m not too picky.

Anyway, Dr. McAlester’s experiments have also increased the size of the sharks’ brains, which has had the side effect of making them extremely intelligent. I don’t know if that’s how brains work, but again, I don’t much care. Things inevitably go sideways and the facility becomes flooded, turning it into an all-you-can-eat buffet for the three hyper-intelligent sharks.

Renny Harlin has a bad reputation these days, but I’ve enjoyed the films of his that I’ve seen, although to be fair I haven’t seen Cutthroat Island or The Legend of Hercules. His films are cheesy but slickly made. The effects and acting in Deep Blue Sea are solid, although some of the CGI sharks look a bit cheesy. Saffron Burrows and Thomas Jane are likable protagonists that I did not want to get eaten. Jane plays Carter Blake, the facility’s mysterious and heroic shark wrangler. I’m not making that up, he’s called a shark wrangler in the movie. Think Chris Pratt in Jurassic World, except with sharks instead of velociraptors.

Deep Blue Sea is full of fun action, narrow escapes and suspense. There are also some quality pyrotechnics and a satisfyingly gory sharksplosion to close out the movie. What more could you ask for? Check it out, it’s great fun. It’s rated R “for graphic shark attacks, and for language,” which pretty much tells you everything you need to know. And I have to give a shoutout to my favorite aquatic monster movie, Stephen Sommers’ Deep Rising, which kicked off my monster movie binge. The movie recently got a brand-new Blu-Ray release, which is a must-have if you love that silly movie as much as I do.

Buena Vista Pictures

Here’s my ranking for aquatic monster movies, including the two I covered in my first monster mash.

1. Deep Rising
2. Deep Blue Sea
3. The Meg
4. Piranha
5. Leviathan
6. DeepStar Six
7. Humanoids from the Deep

See you next time!

MONSTER MASH: WEREWOLF EDITION

There are a lot of monster movies in the world, and I realized that it would be fun to do themed Monster Mash binges. I decided to start with werewolf movies, of which there are a surprisingly high number, many of which are available for viewing on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Yay! Let’s start with a classic.

The Howling (April 1981)

A surprising number of werewolf movies are based on books. Joe Dante’s 1981 film The Howling is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner, published in 1977. Dante is known for films that mix horror with a dose of black comedy, such as Gremlins and Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

The Howling is a very fun movie. The main character is Karen White, played by Dee Wallace, a TV news anchor who survives an encounter with a vicious serial killer named Eddie Quist at the start of the film. Quist is shot dead during the encounter…or is he?? (Spoiler Alert: he isn’t). Following the encounter, Karen and her husband Bill are sent by her therapist Dr. Waggner to the Colony, which is an experimental resort community in the countryside where Waggner sends patients for treatment. As a side note, Dr. Waggner was played by the late, great Patrick Macnee, a man who defined the word “dapper.” Macnee died in 2015 at the age of 93 and the world is a much less classy place without him.

Dr. Waggner’s intentions are less than therapeutic, however, as it turns out that everyone at the colony (including Waggner himself) is in fact…a WEREWOLF!! These include Eddie Quist, who is very much alive, and Quist’s werewolf transformation sequence is the movie’s crowning achievement. It takes about four minutes and the effects work still holds up today. The werewolves look hairy and smelly. They have long, spindly, clawed hands, pointy triangular ears and bulbous yellow eyes. They’re awesome.

MGM

The effects were done by Rob Bottin, a special makeup effects wizard who I’ve mentioned in previous posts when I talked about The Thing, Mimic, and Deep Rising. He’s also worked on Total Recall, RoboCop, Fight Club and Se7en, among many others. The plot of The Howling is nothing to write home about, but it’s an entertaining and creepy ride with fantastic makeup effects. It was followed by a whopping seven sequels, which I’m not going to watch because apparently (and unsurprisingly) they’re all pretty bad.

The Howling has a great ending, with Karen, after being bitten by a werewolf during the film’s climax, turning into a werewolf herself live on TV and then being shot and killed by her friend Chris. The movie then cuts to a bar where the patrons debate whether what they just saw was real or special effects. We then see that Marsha Quist, one of the werewolves, has survived. She orders a burger (rare, of course) and the end credits play over footage of the burger being cooked while upbeat jazz music plays.

If all that isn’t enough, then you should probably also be aware that this movie has a werewolf sex scene. If you’ve read all that and still don’t want to see this movie, then I’m sorry, there’s nothing more I can do for you.

Wolfen (July 1981)

Wolfen is another film that is based on a book. The book is The Wolfen by Whitley Streiber, published in 1978. Out of all the movies I watched for this post, Wolfen was by far my least favorite. It’s boring as hell. With a two-hour running time, it’s also the longest of the werewolf movies I watched, and it felt like it had the least going on.

The argument could be made that Wolfen isn’t even about werewolves. The Wolfen turn out to be Native American wolf spirits, I think. They’re not actually people that turn into wolf creatures. This was disappointing to me, especially since it takes most of the movie for this discovery to be made. There’s very little action and not much suspense.

Warner Bros.

The movie starts with a wealthy couple and their bodyguard being gruesomely murdered. NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson, played by Albert Finney, investigates the case. Finney seemed bored in this movie. He doesn’t emote much, and I don’t think he smiles once in the entire film. Edward James Olmos is also in the movie, and may or may not be a shapeshifter? It’s unclear, but there is a weirdly long scene where Olmos runs around naked on the beach in front of Finney and howls like a wolf, and Finney doesn’t seem to find this particularly strange.

I like the idea of a movie being based around police investigating murders that turn out to be supernatural in nature, but this movie just didn’t do it for me. Its pace is downright languid, and there are long stretches where dramatic music is playing while nothing interesting is happening. I don’t know, maybe I just didn’t “get” this one. Maybe it was too artsy for me. Maybe I had the wrong expectations. Whatever the case, I did not enjoy Wolfen.

An American Werewolf in London (August 1981)

As you may have gathered, 1981 was a big year for werewolf movies. An American Werewolf in London was the third high-profile wolf movie of that year, and hoo boy, they saved the best for last. An American Werewolf in London is the best werewolf movie ever made, a stone cold classic that has aged like a fine wine. I am going to be effusive in my praise of this wonderful film, so if I sometimes slip into profanity, I apologize for my French in advance.

Universal

That being said, An American Werewolf in London is a goddam masterpiece. It was written and directed by John Landis, best known for classic comedies like Animal House and Blues Brothers. It stars David Naughton and Griffin Dunne as David Kessler and Jack Goodman, two American friends backpacking across Europe. David and Jack have a relaxed, easy chemistry and it is immediately easy to believe that they have been friends for years.

They’re backpacking through the moors in Yorkshire and stop for the night at a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. The patrons give them a frosty reception, so David and Jack decide to leave after being warned by the pubgoers to keep to the road, stay off the moors and beware the moon. David and Jack promptly ignore these warnings and are attacked by a wolf-like creature, which mauls Jack to death and injures David, before it is shot dead by the locals, who have had a change of heart and decided to go out after the hapless Americans.

David wakes up in a London hospital a few weeks later and learns from the police and his doctor the official story that David and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic. David insists it was a large dog or a wolf of some kind, but no one believes him. David is visited by Jack, who appears to him as a reanimated, mutilated corpse. Corpse-Jack tells David that they were attacked by a werewolf, and that David is now afflicted with the curse of the werewolf and will change at the next full moon. Jack urges David to kill himself to prevent him harming anyone, and also to free Jack from being cursed to roam the earth in limbo.

David doesn’t believe him, and moves in with his sexy nurse Alex Price, played very enticingly by Jenny Agutter. I don’t know why Jenny Agutter was never a Bond girl in the 80’s, she was sexy as hell. David and Alex begin a romantic relationship, and David ignores further warnings from Jack, who looks more rotten and decayed each time he appears. At the full moon, David turns into a werewolf and goes on a killing spree.

But just saying “David turns into a werewolf” is putting it far too simply. The transformation sequence is the best werewolf transformation ever put to film. It looks downright incredible, and is 100% practical, with no computer effects. It’s flawless. Upbeat music plays during the scene, which contrasts beautifully with the horrific and painful metamorphosis David undergoes, as his bones crack and his limbs contort themselves in unnatural ways, scraggly hair grows all over his body, his mouth and nose elongate, his teeth and nails become razor sharp, and his eyes turn a sickly yellow. David screams horribly the entire time, and the viewer is left thinking, Damn, it would SUCK to be a werewolf and have to endure that. Not only does the transformation look incredible, it also makes you sympathize with the character.

Universal

The masterful effects were done by Rick Baker, a now-retired effects genius who worked on dozens of films over a career that spanned from 1971 to 2014 and won seven Oscars. He was originally going to do the makeup effects on The Howling but left that film to work on American Werewolf, leaving the job to his protégé Rob Bottin. Bottin did fantastic work on The Howling but Baker’s work on American Werewolf is second-to-none. It holds up to this day and will look every bit as good 20 or 30 years from now. Absolutely classic stuff. Baker’s work on Jack, who looks grosser and more zombie-like with each appearance, is also nothing short of amazing.

John Landis remains best known for comedy, so it should come as no surprise that American Werewolf is frequently very funny. I had to pause the movie a few times because I was chuckling so hard. When a little boy tells his mother, “A naked American man stole my balloons,” hysterical laughter is the only response. There are many other riotously funny lines, like when David tells zombie-Jack “I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!” and David’s attempts to get arrested once he realizes he is in fact a werewolf, when he runs up to a London police officer and starts shouting things like “Queen Elizabeth is a man! Winston Churchill was full of shit! Shakespeare’s French!” that had me laughing my ass off.

But aside from its enormous entertainment value, American Werewolf has great characters. David and Jack are immediately likable, and David is easy to sympathize with. I liked nurse Alex and was rooting for her and David, and the film’s ending, where Alex tells wolf-David she loves him just before he’s shot to death by the police, is surprisingly moving. The performances are great across the board and David Naughton is a hoot, and you’ve got to give him credit for having the guts to do the hilarious scene where he runs around the London zoo completely naked after waking up in the wolf cage the morning following his first killing spree. The soundtrack is full of ironically upbeat songs with names like Moondance, Bad Moon Rising, and Blue Moon. I love this movie so much.

American Werewolf was followed by a belated sequel in 1997 called An American Werewolf in Paris which I would have watched for this post but it’s not on Amazon Video so I couldn’t. But from what I understand I’m not missing much, since that film’s reputation is not very good. But it’s a minor loss, because An American Werewolf in London is fucking awesome. It’s funny, sexy, gory, tense, well-acted, and has incredible special effects. It’s the kind of movie that makes me happy to be alive, because movies like it exist.

Fucking great movie.

Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet is also based on a book. This time, it’s the Stephen King novel Cycle of the Werewolf, which was published in 1983 (King himself wrote the movie’s screenplay). If you’ve never heard of Cycle of the Werewolf, I’m not surprised because it’s more of a novella than a novel (or a “novelette” as the movie’s credits put it, although I’ve never heard that term before). The book is all of 128 pages long, and of those 128 pages, only 54 have actual text on them (I counted).

Each of the book’s 12 chapters takes place during a different month, on that month’s full moon, when a resident of the small town of Tarker’s Mills meets a grisly end. The book even has illustrations from comic-book artist Bernie Wrightson, and is basically a gory picture book.

The movie follows the book’s (admittedly thin) story pretty closely. The protagonist is Marty Coslaw, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair to get around. In the book he’s 10 years old, and in the movie he’s closer to 13 or 14, and is played by Corey Haim, who died in 2010. Marty is a likable protagonist who doesn’t let his disability define him. In the movie, he has a motorized wheelchair called Silver Bullet that was made for him by his Uncle Red, played by Gary Busey.

The werewolf attacks are obviously the best parts of the movie and are quite gory. There’s a decapitation in the first five minutes so you know you’re in for a good time. The makeup effects that create the werewolf are also pretty good, and the obligatory werewolf transformation sequence is well done, although not as good as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling.

Paramount

The werewolf turns out to be Reverend Lester Lowe, the town priest. This gives a layer of irony to the scenes that show the Reverend officiating over the funerals of people he killed as a werewolf. The werewolf is a more convincing villain than Lowe himself, since the movie doesn’t give any background regarding how Lowe became afflicted with lycanthropy, so the reveal of the werewolf’s true identity doesn’t have much impact.

Silver Bullet is still an enjoyable creature feature though, with well-executed werewolf makeup effects and solid performances. It’s not particularly scary and is very much a relic of the 80’s, and all the clothes and hairstyles are universally hideous. These days it’s one of the more obscure entries in Stephen King’s film oeuvre, but it’s still worth checking out, even though you could probably read the book in about the same amount of time it would take to watch the movie.

Bad Moon (1996)

Bad Moon is yet another film based on a book. This time the book in question was called Thor, written by a guy named Wayne Smith. I hadn’t heard of the book or the movie before I started looking for werewolf movies to watch, and since the film is only 80 minutes long I decided to check it out. Thor is a German Shepherd, and apparently much of the book is told from his perspective. He is fiercely devoted to protecting his family, which in the film consists of Janet Harrison and her son Brett, who is around twelve.

Janet is surprised when she hears from her brother Ted, whom she hasn’t heard from in a while. He invites her and Brett over to have lunch with him and tells them that his girlfriend broke up with him. She invites him to stay with them for a few days, which he reluctantly accepts. However, Ted is being less than truthful with Janet, because in the first scene of the film we see Ted’s girlfriend killed by a werewolf and Ted himself is bitten before he blows the monster’s head off with a shotgun. As a result, Ted is now a werewolf.

Thor the heroic German Shepherd immediately senses something is off with Ted, and one night follows Ted into the woods where he discovers that Ted is a werewolf. But because Thor is, you know, a dog, he can’t warn his family of the danger they are in. Ted becomes aware that Thor is on to him, which sets up the main source of tension in the film.

Warner Bros.

I like this setup a lot. It’s a unique take on the traditional werewolf story, and the dog gives the best performance in the film. Michael Pare and Mariel Hemingway are both good as Ted and Janet, but the dog steals the movie. I read that three dogs were used during filming, the main one was a dog named Primo, who must have been incredibly well-trained. His reactions are spot-on and everything he does is entirely believable. It’s extraordinary that the filmmakers were able to get such a convincing performance from a dog. Somebody give Primo a Dogscar (you know, like a Dog Oscar).

The werewolf itself is mean-looking and ferocious, and the gory killings are quite brutal. The movie had to be edited down to an R-rating after it initially received an NC-17, so there is some serious gore. While the werewolf looks good, Ted’s transformation sequence is disappointing, since it uses unconvincing computer effects.

The movie is short, but the brief running time means that there is no wasted space in the movie and that everything there is there for a reason. Bad Moon is inessential werewolf cinema, but it’s still entertaining and worth checking out for the award-worthy canine acting and cool-looking monster.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

Dog Soldiers is aptly named. It follows a group of six British soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands, where they encounter a vicious group of lycanthropes and end up trapped in a remote farmhouse fighting for their lives. The film was the writing and directing debut of Neil Marshall, an English director known for his ultra-gory action and horror films, such as The Descent, Doomsday, and Centurion. He also directed two of the most action-packed episodes of Game of Thrones, “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall”.


Kismet Entertainment Group

Dog Soldiers was a low-budget production, and it shows. The movie has a grimy look and mostly takes place in a single location. This works to the movie’s advantage however, because Dog Soldiers is the scariest and goriest film I watched for this edition of Monster Mash. Marshall is a crafty director who knows how to build suspense and tension with limited resources, and the werewolf attacks in Dog Soldiers are visceral and intense. My heart was pounding by the time the film ended.

The other films I’ve written about here have been gory, but Dog Soldiers substantially ups the gore factor. There are gallons of blood, viscera, and body parts. Dismemberment, decapitation, disembowelment: you name it, it’s here. Marshall’s films and TV work treat the human body as a canvas to be painted in buckets of red.

It’s not all blood and gore though, the movie has its share of dark humor. Take, for example, one soldier’s last words to the werewolves before they tear him apart: “I hope I give you the shits, you fucking wimp!” The end credits show a bloodied photo of the sole survivor on the front page of the newspaper, accompanied by the lurid headline: “WEREWOLVES ATE MY PLATOON!”

The main characters are played by Kevin McKidd, Sean Pertwee and Liam Cunningham, all of whom are veteran actors whose names you might not recognize but would probably recognize if you saw them onscreen and heard their voices. The werewolves themselves look good even if their movements look a bit awkward, which is probably why Marshall wisely keeps them offscreen for most of the movie. It’s impressive that the movie maintains such a high level of intensity even though the monsters are rarely seen in their entirety. Horror directors working with low budgets could learn a lot about how to build and maintain tension from Neil Marshall. He’s very clever, despite his tendency to drench the screen in buckets of gore.

So there you have it, six werewolf movies of varying quality. My rankings for them are as follows:

1. An American Werewolf in London
2. Dog Soldiers
3. The Howling
4. Bad Moon
5. Silver Bullet
6. Wolfen

I had a ton of fun watching and writing about these movies, and I’m excited to do more! Next post is going to be about Ant-Man and The Wasp, so keep an eye out for that later this week.

Until then, remember: keep to the roads, stay off the moors, and most importantly…

…BEWARE THE FULL MOON!!!

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – HUMANS NEVER LEARN

The Jurassic Park franchise has always been based on people making really stupid decisions. Why don’t we ever learn? Because if we did, then there would be no more Jurassic movies, and the studio executives would make no money.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom feels like a movie that was made as a bridge of sorts. The third Jurassic World movie is already set for release in 2021, and Fallen Kingdom feels like the middle of a trilogy, in that it doesn’t have much of a beginning and its ending doesn’t even try to wrap things up.

The movie was directed by J.A. Bayona, a talented Spanish director whose previous films include The Orphanage, The Impossible, and A Monster Calls. I haven’t seen them, but I’ve heard good things about all three and they’re on my ever-expanding watch list, so hopefully I’ll get to them soon. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a well-directed movie with dazzling special effects, but is severely let down in the script department.

Images: Universal Pictures

The script was written by Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, who also co-wrote the previous film in the franchise, 2015’s Jurassic World, which Trevorrow also directed. They should not be allowed to write the third film, because every single character in both of their Jurassic World movies is an idiot who learns nothing.

At the end of Jurassic World, the titular theme park closed for good after a colossal disaster led to the release of the dinosaurs and a bunch of unlikable/boring people being eaten. Three years later, the volcano on the island that formerly housed Jurassic World is on the verge of erupting, and the dinosaurs are in danger of becoming extinct once again. Why anyone would build a theme park on an island with a potentially active volcano on it is yet another mystery that may never be solved.

A debate rages about how to handle the situation, with some people (including Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, who is in the movie for less than five minutes) thinking that since it was a bad idea to bring the dinosaurs back in the first place, it is not a bad thing that nature is about to once again remove the dinosaurs from existence. Others, such as Claire Dearing (played once again by Bryce Dallas Howard), think differently.

Claire, the former operations manager at Jurassic World, has since become an animal-rights advocate who wants to save the dinosaurs. She is recruited by an aging billionaire named Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell) and his right-hand man Eli Mills (played by Rafe Spall) to go to the island as part of a rescue operation to relocate the dinosaurs to a new island where they will be safe. She agrees and recruits her ex-boyfriend Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) to assist. Owen trained the park’s velociraptors back in the day and has a special relationship with Blue, the sole surviving raptor.

If saving a bunch of extremely dangerous giant reptiles from an island with an erupting volcano on it sounds like a dumb idea, that’s because it objectively is. But this is only the first of many dumb ideas the characters of this film have up their sleeves.

From here on out, there are going to be spoilers. It can’t be helped. You have been warned.

It turns out that the dinosaur rescue operation is only half the story. After a sufficient number of dinosaurs have been recovered, instead of transporting them to a different island, they are instead brought back to Lockwood’s mansion, where his evil assistant Mills plans to sell them off to the highest bidders. As an extra incentive to potential buyers, Mills has had Jurassic World geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (played by B.D. Wong, who along with Jeff Goldblum is the only actor from the original Jurassic Park film to appear in the new movies) to create a new, genetically-engineered dinosaur.

You may recall from Jurassic World that the main reason everything went to shit in the first place was because Claire authorized Wu to create the Indominus Rex, a genetically-engineered super-dino who promptly escaped containment and went on a rampage. Well, clearly we stupid humans have CONTINUED TO LEARN ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, and Wu has created the INDORAPTOR, a hybrid of Indominus Rex and velociraptor DNA, a creature designed SPECIFICALLY FOR HUNTING AND KILLING. THERE IS NO WAY THIS COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG.

Now, to be fair, the Indoraptor is actually pretty cool. The reasons for its creation may be deeply stupid, but it’s a cool-looking creature and I enjoyed watching it create havoc and mayhem after its inevitable escape. I called it the Murdersaurus, which is what I will refer to it as for the remainder of this post. Generally, the Jurassic World films have done a good job with the dinosaurs and a poor job with the human characters, since most of them are dull and make dumb decisions.

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both charismatic and likable actors but they don’t have much chemistry in these movies, and I found it difficult, verging on impossible, to care about their on-again, off-again relationship. The supporting cast includes some good actors but most of them get nothing to do. Besides Jeff Goldblum and James Cromwell, both of whom are thoroughly wasted, take Ted Levine. He plays a grizzled mercenary whose name escapes me whose sole character trait is that he enjoys using pliers to rip dinosaurs’ teeth out. You don’t need me to tell you that this macabre proclivity comes back around to bite him (if you see what I mean) as soon as he makes the catastrophically-stupid decision to take the tooth of a drugged Murdersaurus. Let’s just say that tranquilizers don’t keep the Murdersaurus down for very long.

I could go into a lot more detail about all the things in the plot of this movie that make absolutely no sense, but based on what I’ve written above you can probably figure most of them out for yourself. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the kind of movie that’s a lot of fun to watch with friends and drinks and talk about all the dumb things in it, but it’s very hard to take the movie seriously.

My feelings about this movie are similar to my feelings about RAMPAGE, which came out back in April. That movie was also dumb as hell and full of people making drastically bad decisions, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. I enjoyed Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for much the same reason. It was fun. I knew I was in for a good time when the movie opened with a scene involving a helicopter and a T-Rex. More movies should open with scenes involving helicopters and T-Rexes.

Fallen Kingdom is a dopey movie but I still got quite a bit of enjoyment out of it, despite its MANY issues. It looks terrific and the dinosaurs are photorealistic, even the made-up Murdersaurus looks damn good. There are fun and suspenseful action sequences that had the people around me in the theater literally gripping the armrests of their seats and the woman sitting next to me visibly recoiled away from the screen during some of the more intense scenes. It may be dumb but it’s certainly effective, and Chris Pratt is always watchable, even if his character is badly-written.

Speaking of bad writing, Fallen Kingdom ultimately falls prey to the same problem that afflicted The Last Jedi: it’s well-directed but badly-written, and ends up being more than a little bit messy. Still, it’s loaded with fun and intense dino-action, which should be enough for summer moviegoers.

Long live the Murdersaurus. Oh wait, it died. Shit.

MONSTER MOVIE BINGE!! (AKA SUMMER MONSTER MASH)

I love monster movies. If a movie is full of creatures, I’m good and happy. Recently I discovered how easy it is to watch movies on Amazon Video that might be hard to find on Blu-Ray, and I’ve been on a tear of highly-entertaining creature features. Here are a few of my favorites, because there is never a bad time to watch people get eaten by tentacle monsters.

Deep Rising (1998)

Deep Rising was written and directed by Stephen Sommers, who went on to make The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Van Helsing, and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. The movie was originally called “Tentacle.” These two facts should tell you what kind of movie Deep Rising is: it’s not remotely scary, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

The main character is Finnegan, played by Treat Williams. The producers wanted Harrison Ford, but he turned them down. The character is clearly inspired by Han Solo, except instead of a spaceship, he has a boat. He and his crew are hired by a shady group of mercenaries for some nefarious purpose that is not immediately clear, but as long as the pay is good Finnegan doesn’t particularly care what the job is.

This is a practice he will come to regret, because wouldn’t you know it, the mercenaries’ target is a state-of-the-art cruise ship which just so happens to be completely infested with slimy, sharp-toothed tentacle monsters.


Image: Buena Vista Pictures

There are a few more wrinkles in the plot, but it’s pretty rudimentary stuff. The various mercenaries are picked off in grisly ways, and there are a few survivors on the boat, one of whom is played by Famke Janssen, fresh off the success of GoldenEye a few years previously, and two years away from another hit with X-Men in 2000.

The creatures are mostly CGI, and while they do look somewhat dated by today’s ridiculously high special effects standards, they still look pretty good. The look of the creatures is fairly basic, they’re essentially tentacles with sharp-toothed maws at the end, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Is it weird that I had a lot of fun watching the mercenaries get eaten and dismembered? Because I really did. The movie is goofy and gory and predictable, and I enjoyed it immensely.

The Relic (1997)

The main thing people tend to remember about The Relic is that it’s really, really dark. Not “dark” as in “thematically dark”, like it deals with weighty issues and themes. “Dark” as in “lost in the woods in the middle of the night without a flashlight” dark. For much of the movie, it’s kind of hard to see.

This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On the one hand, not being able to see clearly can create tension, since you don’t know where the monster is going to come from if you can’t see much. On the other hand, watching a movie carries with it the completely reasonable expectation to be able to see what’s going on.

So yeah, The Relic is a bit of an oddity in that regard. It’s still enjoyable though, and it’s definitely scarier than Deep Rising, though not as much fun. The movie was based on the best-selling novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, which I haven’t read. The basic plot summary is: ancient South American monster runs amok at museum gala opening in Chicago.

The monster in question is the Kothoga, a massive, wheezing monstrosity that rips people’s heads off and eats the hypothalamus in their brains. That’s a thoroughly nasty way to kill someone, and The Relic features some gruesome kills that are genuinely disturbing, but also kind of funny in a macabre sort of way.

Image: Paramount Pictures

The main human characters are Vincent D’Agosta, a police detective played by Tom Sizemore, and Dr. Margo Green, the museum’s evolutionary biologist, played by Penelope Ann Miller. Sizemore and Miller are likable leads and the only people in the movie I did not want to get eaten. The Kothoga claims quite a few victims, and most of them I didn’t care about, either because they were jerks or I didn’t know who they were.

The Kothoga itself was designed by legendary makeup artist Stan Winston, and as a result it looks pretty great. The Relic was directed by Peter Hyams, who would later make the utterly insane 1999 Arnold Schwarzenegger thriller End of Days, which I covered in a previous post a few years ago.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely wouldn’t want my head ripped off and part of my brain eaten by a wheezing, reptilian beast, and that thought alone gives The Relic a lot of weight in the horror department that the popcorn thrills of Deep Rising can’t provide. If you want an action movie, watch Deep Rising. If you want a horror movie, watch The Relic.

Leviathan (1989)

Leviathan is probably my least favorite movie in this first round of Monster Movie Binge, but it’s still fun. It stars Robocop himself, Peter Weller, as a geologist supervising an underwater mining operation. The crew comes across the wreck of a Russian ship called Leviathan, which holds a deadly secret.

An underwater base is a good location for a monster movie, since the characters have very limited options once the tentacles show up. The monster turns out to be the result of Russian experiments with mutagens on the crewmen of the Leviathan, and they scuttled the ship once the experiment got out of control. The same mutagens infect Weller’s crew, and a mutant that looks sort of like an angler fish with human faces sticking out of it starts running amok, killing and assimilating the various crew members. Angler fish are creepy as hell by the way, google them if you don’t believe me.

Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer

The main problem with Leviathan is that it feels very derivative. It’s basically Ridley Scott’s Alien meets John Carpenter’s The Thing, only underwater. It’s also a bit too leisurely, since it takes about an hour into the 98-minute movie for the monster to really start causing havoc. It was directed by George P. Cosmatos, who made one the quintessential American action movies in 1985 with Rambo: First Blood Part II. His foray into horror wasn’t as successful, but it’s still worth checking out for monster fans. It’s got another monster designed by Stan Winston, so at least it delivers in that department.

Mimic (1997)

Okay, so I wrote the entries for Deep Rising and The Relic before I saw Guillermo Del Toro’s deeply unsettling English-language debut, Mimic. If you can’t stand creepy-crawlies or the words “mutant cockroaches” are enough to make you reach for the barf bag, you will want to stay VERY FAR AWAY from Mimic. It is easily the scariest movie I’ve watched in Monster Movie Binge so far.

As the movie opens, a disease called Strickler’s disease is killing hundreds of children in Manhattan (you know things are serious when a movie starts with a DISEASE THAT ONLY KILLS CHILDREN). Deputy CDC Director Dr. Peter Mann (played by Jeremy Northam) and entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler (played by Mira Sorvino) work together to create what Susan calls the Judas Breed, a genetically-engineered insect which will release an enzyme that causes the metabolism of the Strickler’s disease-carrying roaches to accelerate, thereby causing them to starve to death.

The plan works, Strickler’s disease is eradicated, and Peter and Susan get married. But three years later, all is not as it seems. The Judas Breed were supposed to die off after a couple months, but they have not only survived, they have thrived, and are far more dangerous (and numerous) than anyone could have imagined.

This movie got under my skin. It is a truth universally acknowledged that cockroaches are vile and disgusting, and they get so much worse when they are human-sized and have developed the ability to imitate humans.

Image: Miramax Films

ICK ICK ICK NO NO NO.

Del Toro didn’t have a good experience making Mimic, since he frequently clashed with producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein (yes, that Harvey Weinstein). The Weinsteins were so difficult that for a long time Del Toro disowned the film, until he was able to put together a director’s cut, which was released in 2011 and is the version he prefers. This is the version I watched, and it is damn effective. I was cringing away from my computer screen for most of the movie.

Due to its gruesome subject matter, this is not a film that will be to every viewer’s taste. I liked it overall and appreciate the craftsmanship of it (one of the creature designers was Rob Bottin, who worked on The Thing, which has some of the coolest and grossest monsters in cinematic history), but I am in no hurry to watch it again. It’s harrowing. Still it shows why Del Toro’s name has come to be synonymous with monster movies.

So there you have it, Monster Movie Binge Part One. I’ve got more creature-filled flicks on my watch list, and there’s no time like the present to watch a monster movie.