Friday, March 24, 2017

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1993) Review:

In Stan Winston's career, he was known as the master of visual effects. Whether that was practical or special effects, filmmakers could always rely on the creativity and quality of Stan Winston and his team. With credits belonging to films like The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986), it would be difficult to find someone match his integrity. As good as he was at his craft, Winston did delve into other positions of the movie industry. Being in the makeup department was his second most utilized role. However in 1988, Winston took a stab at directing a feature film and thus ended up producing Pumpkinhead (1988). Although it did not achieve the accolades that other horror films had garnered before it, Winston's directorial debut has gained much love over the years. It was not a masterpiece in every aspect but it sure entertained. The film is underrated and rightly deserves its cult following. But like every starter film comes sequels that baffle. Unfortunately not even Winston's creation was immune.

"Uhhhh,....I thought this was Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth"
In this sequel, Sean Braddock (Andrew Robinson) is a new sheriff in town who's looking to do some good. Regrettably, Sheriff Braddock is not greeted with warm smiles. A local by the name of Judge Dixon (Steve Kanaly) feels he's entitled to whatever he pleases because he's rich. On top of that, Braddock has an unstable connection with his daughter Jenny (Ami Dolenz). Meanwhile Jenny has a love hate relationship with Danny (J. Trevor Edmond), the son of Judge Dixon. Trying to fit in, Jenny heads out with Danny and his gang when they end up crossing paths with a witch who has the spell book to summon Pumpkinhead. Believing it to be a myth, Danny goes through the ritual and ends up summoning the demon he thought wouldn't appear. Interestingly enough Constantine and Ivan Chachornia are the writers of which never went anywhere after this. It's quite sad because this film has several flaws in its execution. Even weirder is that three of the writers from the original film served as creative consultants. And it's still bad.

Of all things, the biggest sin this sequel commits is dating itself. The story is all too familiar dealing with characters that are in over their head and others that know things before the main leads. There really is no value to this kind of twist. Then there's the actors themselves. Aside from Andrew Robinson and Ami Dolenz, the rest of the actors are largely annoying and forgettable. J. Trevor Edmond and his gang consisting of actors the likes of Soleil Moon Frye, a very young Hill Harper (CSI: NY) and Alexander Polinsky are all very obnoxious. The overall attitude is "let's take things to the extreme", a very 90s mentality. Of course once chaos erupts, then everybody fends for themselves in the silliest ways. It's all very stock and unoriginal. Nobody cares for these people. There's also several areas that go unexplained. The reason as to why Pumpkinhead is brought to life isn't for the reason a fan might think. The good news Pumpkinhead doesn't have any particular bloodline that he follows.

However the reason that is used, carries little emotional weight because it is all indirect in its story telling. There's also unclear continuity as to when and if this story is tied at all to the original Pumpkinhead (1988) movie. There's another scraggly old lady in this movie, is it the same witch from the prior film? If so when does this story take place? Before? After? Does it matter? Plus there's a subplot about the mayor (Roger Clinton) of the town popping in and out of a few scenes discussing whether Pumpkinhead's killings would bring in revenue from the media. Not a necessary plot thread. Poor director Jeff Burr. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre III: Leatherface (1990) was an average film at best and now he has another sequel with lackluster quality. It's obvious that Burr likes making horror films but the studios that oversee him always give him problems. Surprisingly even the minor characters are played by other familiar actors. Gloria Hendry, R.A. Mihailoff and Joe Unger are some to name a few.

Ami Dolenz & J. Trevor Edmond
For a direct-to-video film, the practical effects are acceptable. Mark McCracken as Pumpkinhead has the height and the costume itself looks similar to that of the original film. It is apparent that the facial articulation and smoothness in its movements aren't as polished as before though. Even the violence and gore is alright. This makes up for some of the dull writing seen throughout. The cinematography by Bill Dill was frustrating to watch. Several times the lenses move in and out on Pumpkinhead as if to look scary when all it does is make the experience feel cheaper than usual. It won't give the viewer a sense of the surrounding and it's also a bit disorienting. The music was thankfully a plus for what it was worth. Jim Manzie a composer who worked hard with Jeff Burr to release his score to the third Texas Chain Saw film, unfortunately did not get a chance to do it in full here. The main title although recognizable doesn't sound as creepy as the original but works when it has to. Mostly.

By all means it could've been a lot worse, but it is not good entertainment either. The effects aren't bad for a home video release and the film score isn't out of place. Yet a very small number of actors come off trying and the story lacks continuity and compelling storytelling.

Points Earned --> 4:10

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Shining (1980) Review:

For many horror fans and filmmakers especially, site director Stanley Kubrick as a part of their inspiration to make movies. Kubrick had a reputation for being a director with a unique vision. Many of his films had aesthetically pleasing visuals and shots that were hard to find amateurish. He was after all a photographer before a filmmaker, which helped give him that edge. When it came to stories, another person who was constantly sought after to get permission for their works was Stephen King. Although King was not in the Hollywood business full time as other people, what he did provide were foundations to creating new horror films. Since its release, Kubrick's interpretation of Stephen King's The Shining text was widely praised for how intense the viewing experience was. Since then, much of the crew members have surfaced and spoke about the film and the level of involvement Kubrick demanded. Oddly enough, King wasn't that impressed with it. Believe it or not, King might be right.

"Son,...look into my eyes and tell me I'm pretty"
Adapted by Kubrick and Diane Johnson (in her first and only screenplay), the story is about writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) looking to find a place of seclusion to finish his project. He ends up finding an opening position as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Finding it worthy of his goal, Torrance brings his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to live with him from the fall to the summer of next year. Little do they realize that the hotel harbors an ominous spirit that has connections to a horrific past. As an overall story, the execution is very well done. However there are certain elements that if omitted, would not have impacted the experience in a negative way. Danny has a psychic ability where one can see events from the past and future. This talent is called "shining". This is only revealed to Danny and the audience when Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) concedes that he can do it too. What isn't mentioned is how on earth anybody knows what "shining" is. How does one contract such a power? Is it through genetics or by other  entities that be? The other big hole in the story is the lack of explanation for certain key events. How is a viewer supposed to understand what Kubrick's message is? 

It doesn't make any sense and it's sometimes sillier than it is disturbing. Everything else about the production on a written and visual level all work effectively to create a dark and disconcerting haunted house feature. The performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are neck and neck in quality. Nicholson easily can look off his rocker while Duvall reacts perfectly to her co-star's outbursts. Nicholson's eyebrows also add to his menacing look (as weird as that sounds). Danny Lloyd is definitely not as skilled as Duvall or Nicholson but can still freak out the audience with his mouth agape look. Very unsettling. There's also other short appearances from Barry Nelson as the prior caretaker to Mr. Torrance and Mr. Durkin (Tony Burton). 

Scatman Crothers as the cook to the hotel is an interesting character. It is because of his talk with Danny that adds to the suspense of the dangers that lurk within the building. The imagery that is displayed however is what really drives home the concept of dread that precedes the hotel. What is great about how Kubrick directs this film, is that it is not treated like many other mainstream horror films. Jump scares do not exist in this film. It all relies on mysteries and off-putting flashes of different scenes. These quick scene cuts are not annoying either. They're intriguing because it makes the viewer question "what is going on". At first "REDRUM" is a questionable component to the narrative but overtime, the meaning is exposed. Though it may be obvious or rather uneventful to some when light is shed on the matter, it will be for those not use to the Kubrick method of execution. Remember, Kubrick was also the director to Paths of Glory (1957), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and A Clockwork Orange (1971). 

Shelley Duvall
If anyone is looking for gore though, the volume is very low. Is there bloody violence - yes, but not enough to satisfy someone who enjoys lots of victims. Camerawork by John Alcott was wonderfully captivating. Having worked with Kubrick before, Alcott knows how a scene needed to be shot. Every scene has wide angle lenses that have static movements that rarely rotate. Also the technique of very slow zoom-ins are implemented and that helps the viewer focus in on what Kubrick was trying to convey. Alcott also worked on Terror Train (1980). Music on the other hand was a mixed bag. Composed by Wendy Carlos (best known for her score to Tron (1982)) and Rachel Elkind, the music used is effective but only in certain areas. In some parts its perfect with its deep drawn out strings and synths, which represents the dire threat that lives with the Torrance family. While in other places, it gets dragged out far too long when a scene is no longer that worrisome. It's not bad but could've been used better.

Some parts within the script could've been left out completely and the story would've run smoother. The music works but far extends some scenes for no reason. Aside from this, the acting, creepy imagery and unique cinematography make this a different horror film worth seeing.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Get Carter (2000) Review:

Unless the people involved in a remake of an original film from the past truly have a passion for what they're doing, most people do not have high hopes for the overall outcome. Many viewers do not believe there are needs to reconstruct or modernize their favorite film property. Different interpretations are not normally accepted because the deviate too far from what made the original so memorable. Actor Sir Michael Caine has proven in many projects that he is quite the capable performer. Even before he starred in the first Get Carter (1971), Caine had had a number of good roles. Get Carter (1971) was one his best roles of the 70s and it forever stuck with him. By the late 1990s, Sylvester Stallone on other hand had hit a slump in his career. After supposedly retiring from action films (which does hold up today), Stallone took part in lesser acclaimed films. Most of these tanked or were not even theatrically released. This film is one of those blunders during that time but it isn't as bad as some say.
Image result for get carter 2000
"Hmmm,...not sure as to why people don't like me...."
Basing its premise off the original, Jack Carter (Sylvester Stallone) learns the death of his brother. Feeling his brother's death was no accident, Carter begins investigating who and what might be the reason for his personal loss. The people Carter begins questioning are suspects like Geraldine (Rhona Mitra), Eddie (Johnny Strong), Jeremy Kinnear (Alan Cumming), Cliff Brumby (Michael Caine) and Cyrus Paice (Mickey Rourke). All of these individuals have some kind of connection to Carter's brother. On top of that, Carter tries to figure out to reconcile his personal career with his family. His brother's wife (Miranda Richardson) doesn't really want him around and her daughter (Rachael Leigh Cook) doesn't understand him. Both of which are trying to cope with their loss. All in all the rewritten screenplay by David McKenna wasn't bad. McKenna was also the writer to widely acclaimed American History X (1998). It's not flawless like many scripts but it is workable. Here's what doesn't work first though.

There are several unnecessary aspects going on throughout the running time. Unlike the original where Carter was a gangster, this time he's a hired bouncer of sorts. There's a subplot where Carter is having an affair with his boss' mistress. There's no real payoff for this plot thread. It gets resolved but there isn't much to feel for it because of how little it's focused on. Also some specific and significant plot points are not as clear as some might think. This can get confusing if one isn't paying attention enough. The other problem belongs to the editing executed by Gerald B. Greenberg. Greenberg who's had a long career should know better. The problem is having fast to slow film editing for quick snippets of the movie. What's the point of speeding up a scene for a few seconds, then to have it play a regular speed for a few seconds and then speed it up a few seconds again? That's not style, that's needless speed adjustments. Other than these issues, the film plays out okay.

Although he hasn't gone on to direct numerous other theatrical features, Stephen Kay's direction was doable for the story. Kay has had more recent credits as an actor in general hospital. The actors achieve what they set out to do. Sylvester Stallone's acting is not at the level of emotion hard hitting level and that's not expected with this character. His performance is supposed to feel relatively disconnected from everyone else because nobody else does what he does. That's why his niece and sister in law is not sure how to converse with him. Rachael Leigh Cook is believable as Carter's niece considering she starter her career much earlier than this feature. Alan Cumming and Mickey Rourke both play their characters well. Rourke plays his role the most relaxed and comfortable. Even Michael Caine has a significant role, of which he has quite a harsh tongue as well. Even with Stallone saying he was retiring from the action genre, this film still has action sequences.

Rachel Leigh Cook
Are they as brutal as some of Stallone's other R-rated films - no. However this is 
made up by Stallone's ferocious anger that is portrayed on screen. Almost the entire movie has Stallone with a clenching his teeth with rage. There's a lot of built up energy there.  The action ranges from shootouts to fist fights. The camerawork by Mauro Fiore was decent. The only weird thing is that much of story takes place in rainy settings. Not sure if that was just due to filming location during a certain season or was intentionally filmed on days like those. Either way, the lighting was good as well as the scenes filmed. Fiore also worked on other films like Smokin' Aces (2006), Avatar (2009), The A-Team (2010) and Southpaw (2015). The film score by Tyler Bates was unique listening experience. Most scores rely more on orchestra. However Bates focused more on percussion, which gives the sound a smoother feel. Bates also reprises the original Get Carter theme. Even the softer themes are acceptable. Not bad.

Editing and subplots are the only big issues among this production. This remake is terribly unwatchable as viewers say. It doesn't surpass the original but it's not awful. The acting is fine, the action is fun and the music is nicely updated.

Points Earned --> 6:10