(Submitted by our Ho-rror Ho-mie, Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, ya Goon-ie!! 😉 xoxo)
Willard had a direct sequel after the film’s fan favorite rodent Ben named, well, Ben. I don’t know how well Willard had done in theaters to warrant a sequel, but apparently it did well enough that Bing Crosby backed its production (seeing as he also financed Willard). Yeah, crazy to think that an old school crooner like himself wanted more killer rat movies, but once again this really isn’t about nature striking back. I mean, it kinda has that element going on, but like its predecessor, Ben is more about someone befriending the rodents. Instead of a socially awkward young man using his newfound friends as a means to get revenge, it’s a socially awkward boy just being friends with them and deaths just kind of happen incidentally.
We pick up right where Willard left off and I mean right where it left off. The police find what remains of Willard and uncovering his journal that mentions Socrates and Ben. To be honest, I missed this little tidbit of information at first and was really confused at how the hell the cops could have known the two rats’ names, but after a quick rewind, I saw what I missed. Not sure why I wasn’t paying attention or maybe the detail was glossed over quickly, but nevertheless it’s there. Detective Sergeant Cliff Kirtland is tasked with heading up this investigation, which seems like it should have come to a close almost immediately. Willard has basically been devoured by the rats, so I don’t know if his plan was to arrest all the rats or what. Ben watches menacingly from the rafters above as a single cop, all by his lonesome, hears something behind the wall and decides he should check it out. Now I have to ask because the movie presented it; what the hell was this guy thinking? It’s clearly rats that just ate a person. Why in the love of Nina Hartley’s sweet tits would he crack open the wall? What was his plan here? I’ve been asking, “what’s the plan” a few times now, so it’s safe to assume we’re getting the movie logic of cops that do stupid things in order for events to unfold. So yeah, he gets killed. Surprised?
Being a smart little bugger, Ben knows it’s no longer safe and it’s time for them to find a new home. Luckily, an awkward and lonesome kid named Danny happens to be kind of weird. Hopefully you won’t find him as mildly annoying as I did, because he’s the central character of the film and to desperately make him sympathetic, he has a heart condition that’s never really explained nor is it used to the plot’s convenience all that well other than to occasionally make you feel sorry for him or to build some tension. Sorry, movie, you failed on both accounts.
While putting on his one man puppet show that apparently Danny does to no audience, so it’s in no way kind of creepy, he notices Ben watching him from the window to which Danny tortures the poor rat by submitting him to his little play and the two quickly becomes pals. Don’t count on this ending happily, however, as the Police seem to be narrowing down the places to search and even come by asking questions after Ben and his army of badass rats protect Danny from a bully. In a very creepy turn of his character, Danny stares at the kid accusing him and says to the Police and all of the adults in the room that the bully must have fallen into a rose bush. The bully quickly noticing the Damien from The Omen death stare and agrees he must’ve fallen into a rose bush. It’s almost unsettling and for a brief moment you might be thinking that the movie may take a turn into dark territory with Danny losing his grip on reality, much like Willard had, but nope. They toy with the idea for a moment and discard it. The movie’s credit, it’s at least not trying to repeat Willard and wants to do its own thing.
Ben and the other rats terrorize the city in the sense that they are merely searching for food, but turn over a grocery store in the process and the death toll even spikes a wee bit. Kirtland continues his manhunt, or erm, rathunt and draws nearer and nearer until the film’s climax when it’s an all out war of man versus rats. I may have overhyped it in that last sentence, but I have to admit that it’s a little heartbreaking, especially with Danny desperately trying to save Ben. I can relate to that, because I would do anything for my guinea pigs and the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever experienced is when I lost my first piggie to heart disease. I don’t think the film did very well, so there’s not another sequel, although I have to say I think it would have been great to see the further adventures of Ben. I can say that at least film’s started being kinder to animals around this time, so some poorly composited shots of rats being set on fire is used in place of actually setting rats on fire. Thank goodness this wasn’t an Italian production.
It was nice to finally see rats get some love, at least to some extent, but therein lies the problem… who was this movie made for? The kid becoming friends with the rats and all the whimsy that follows suggest it was made for kids, but the carnage ensues tells me that maybe it’s a horror film. Like with most of these mixed bag films, it can’t seem to decide which it’s trying to be and ultimately doesn’t do well with blending either genres. Although the younger audience might be enticed by the relationship between the humans and animals, they would probably find all the talking and plot development parts boring since it’s trying to speak to an older audience who in turn will find the parts involving Danny and Ben childish and the horror parts rather dull and not scary. While watching it, I couldn’t help but think of Pod People which had the same problem. JP Simon, the director of that film, wanted a horror film and the producers wanted a kiddie film, so both were mixed to poor results (although Pod People is fun as hell to watch, especially the MST3K version).
Ben is somewhat of a lost film in that the original negatives apparently couldn’t be found, but that didn’t stop good ol’ Scream Factory from fine tuning it from whatever source they could find. Seeing as a master source wasn’t used in restoring the movie, so while it doesn’t look as sharp or clean as Willard, I’m genuinely shocked at how good it looks giving what they had to work with. Like Willard, there isn’t much in the way of special features. Aside from a small interview with Lee Montgomery who played Danny in the film who also provides an audio commentary, you get your usual Scream Factory extras, like a theatrical trailer, TV spots, radio spots and a still gallery. Unless you’re a fan of the film or a Scream Factory completist, you’ll probably want to pass on it.
Ben is kind of a forgettable, especially in the horror or nature strikes back or child befriending animal or whatever the hell genre it is, but if there is anything anyone will remember from this movie it’s the theme song sung by Michael Jackson. I know, at first I thought it was a joke too, but an early ‘70s, young Michael Jackson sings the song and even has a giant credit during the opening text. Well, there’s that and Danny’s puppet play with a puppet of Ben which performs in front of Ben. It’s kind of weird. Even Ben looks creeped out. Maybe the movie should have been a puppet play.
(Submited by Andrew Peters…Thanks, ho-mie. I’m totally checking this sucka out! 🙂 xoxo)
How a video game is defined or is played has certainly changed since its existence. In the beginning, you had a dial-type controller and a paddle and ball would appear on screen. You used these color overlays that would go over your TV set and it would be up to you, the gamer, to change the type of game it was. Then we moved on into side scrolling, RPG, racing, sports, whatever it may be and that changed from 8-bit to 16-bit and so on until it eventually became 3D. Worlds opened up and became more interactive and story became so structured and integral to the plot, it nearly takes over (not that it’s a bad thing). Some games are so cinematic, you’re virtually watching a movie and that’s kind of how I would describe Developer Giant Sparrow’s What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s like watching a movie that you in essence control to some extent.
The game may not be considered what is defined as a game in the traditional sense by some gamers, but more of an interactive story. I want to say there isn’t much to do in the game or there isn’t much to explore, but that’s painting it too broad, but what I mean those in a more global sense. It’s not an open world exploration and it’s not about really interacting with things in the environment (although there are items that allows you to do so). This is the game’s strongest point; it’s extremely interesting and the stories are well told that you don’t mind and you want to continue. The aesthetic of the game and the house you explore is something that would be an amalgamation between the works of Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. While I personally am not a fan of either of most of their works, I do appreciate their aesthetics and it really works for this game.
It’s a simple premise, but the imagination behind it is not. Players assume the role of a seventeen year old girl named Edith Finch who is chronicling the lives and untimely – and horrible – deaths of her relatives after inheriting the family house and revisiting it after a decade. I know to some of our readers, pretending you’re a seventeen year old girl isn’t out of the norm for you, but this isn’t that, you creeps. The opening of the game reminded me of Resident Evil VII, making your way up a path to an old, dilapidated house and although moments of the game may have horror elements, this isn’t a horror game. This becomes more clear once you enter the home and make your way about, noticing that each family member’s room has a particular theme that will play into how the story is told. For the most part, you don’t have much option in what order you play the stories, since the game is very linear.
However, being linear doesn’t stop the game from keeping you anticipated. Sure, you know the outcome to each story and you can’t exactly go off the beaten path and explore, but it’s how the story takes shape that will make you eager to participate in it. Being that the game revolves around the demise of these family members, some gamers would be excited about the violence and gore, but What Remains of Edith Finch isn’t about that. It’s not about the deaths of these family members per say, but about their journey and how it came to an end. It’s about telling their tragic end in a magical and beautiful way while giving the gamer a unique spectrum of variety in storytelling, even if you don’t have much in the way of control.
The game does allow you to move the character about freely, for the most part, but you are limited to where you can go and what you can do. Aside from being able to zoom in, allowing you to look at objects around the house in finer detail, there’s nothing else you can do unless you are prompted to hold down a button to open a door or one of the bumper buttons to move an object, but the game tries to get creative with its limitations. For example, during young Walter’s story, while being really short, you are confined to a swing. Normally, you would just push down and up on the thumbstick, but here you push the left bumper to kick out his left leg and right bumper to kick out his right leg. Embarrassingly enough, it took me several minutes to figure that out, because it’s something as a gamer I’m not used to. It’s little things like that that will keep you involved in each story.
As I’ve mentioned before, the stories themselves offer a variety of refreshing ways to tell them. The first story you play as young girl who went to bed without dinner. She notices a bird outside her window and upon opening the window, you transform into a cat, then into an owl and then an octopus monster, gobbling up bigger prey each time. It’s a fantastic way to introduce you into the magical element of the game and by magical, I don’t mean there is mystic powers or something like that. I mean that rather than tell you something horrible happened to these people, leaving you feeling empty and hopeless, it gives them a witty and exciting way to be involved with on this journey. Sure, there are some shorter, more simple stories, like the aforementioned Walter, but another story has an 8-bit Legend of Zelda style to it and another one is telling its story through the viewfinder of a camera. My personal favorite is that of Barbara Finch, an ex-child star who was known for her scream. It’s told through an old EC Comic, even going from panel to panel being narrated by a Crypt Keeper type of character. It even uses the Halloween theme for added effect. The whole experience of What Remains of Edith Finch won’t take you more than two hours and there isn’t much in the way of replay, unless you want to experience a particular story, the game does allow you to skip right to a family member’s tale. It may be a short game, but it’s an experience that’s going to stick with you for a while. I can’t foresee forgetting playing through the stylish segment of Barbara Finch in the near future, but it’s not just about the style. It was also about how well we got to know these characters in a short amount of time. Hell, games that have a much larger playing time can’t even develop characters this good. You’ll get to know these characters in a brief amount of time that it’ll break your heart knowing their fate. You know their gonna die, but you don’t want them to and the entire game foreshadows the ending, but I didn’t want to admit that to myself. You care about these characters, you care about what’s going on. What Remains of Edith Finch, while short, is absolutely beautiful and unique.
Can we all agree that rats have been treated more than unfairly in films? They are always portrayed as filthy, disease ridden, hell spawn with a lust for blood and devastation. They are looked at as these solitary creatures you just toss in a cage and only take out when you want to monologue to something. In actuality, they are social creatures that are incredibly smart and friendly and make amazing friends. I have two guinea pigs myself and I couldn’t have asked for better buddies. I realize it doesn’t help my point when I basically have no friends and talk to my piggies constantly, but I’m not spewing plans for revenge or training them to gnaw off people’s faces, like the tit-ular character from Willard!
At a glance, Willard is often viewed as a killer rat movie and while there are deaths caused by the rats, it’s hardly that. It’s focus is on the aforementioned tit-ular character, Willard, a socially awkward misfit who befriends a large group of rats, trains them and then when things don’t necessarily work out in his favor, he turns to his friends for help and that leads to darker things as Willard’s state of mind begins to slip. While watching the movie, I really wanted things to work out for the guy, but he makes some really dark choices and I became resentful of the guy. Bruce Davison (Senator Kelly from the X-Men films) plays two sides to Willard; his playful and charming side, which we rarely get to see, and his broken, beaten down side. That’s the side you see more often in the film, because you are with him on his journey of unintentional self destruction and it gives him reasons to do the precarious things he does. We are left wanting more of the well intentioned side of Willard, but it’s used sparingly to show you how damaged he’s become. How he got to become so sympathetic may be pretty standard on paper, but you still feel for the guy.
Martin works at a company for the nefarious Al Martin played by Ernest Borgnine (Escape From New York, BASEketball) who had stolen the company from Martin after his father’s passing. Now the young lad spends his days essentially being the office punching bag by having worked dumped in his lap, forcing him to work nights and weekends while Al mocks him and plays grab ass with some of the office gals. Willard’s home life doesn’t seem to fare much better. He lives with his mother and cares for her in a dilapidated house surrounded by her elderly friends that are constantly berate the boy about how he should be living his life. Between work and tending to all his mother’s needs and wants, the poor kid can’t catch a break and has no friends. He’s basically what every emo kid wishes their life was really like. This all changes when Willard’s mother commands him to take care of the rats that are hanging around the house which he then attempts to drown, but he can’t bring himself to do. Instead, he realizes how intelligent the creatures are and quickly admires them, especially a little white rat he names Socrates.
Willard soon begins teaching the rats commands, like “food” and “empty” and the rats are proving themselves to be smart. Things change with the arrival of a bigger rat that he names Ben, seemingly harmless at first. With the help of his rats, Willard crashes one of his boss’s party and has a laugh from the bushes while his rodent friends send the party goers running and screaming. While Willard seemingly loves all of the rats, that affection isn’t nearly as strong for the affection he has for Socrates, who becomes somewhat of his sidekick. Willard brings him to work in his satchel and even cuddles up with him at night and has conversations with him. Ben takes notice of this love and, as any creature does, wants some of that shared love. You get the feeling as if Ben wants them all to be a happy family, but Willard only cares for Socrates and this is what I believe is his biggest flaw.
You see, I’ve always viewed Willard as the, well not villain, but antagonist of the film. He’s not intentionally a bad person, but he’s been molded in such a deformed way that he focuses all his love onto Socrates. Not to the fault of Socrates and I think Ben realizes this, but Ben wants the same affection Willard gives to Socrates and works hard for it, even finding ways to sneak into the bedroom to bunk with them even if Willard ends up throwing him outside the door multiple times. Ben doesn’t want to give up on Willard and believes that he could one day earn that same love. Unfortunately Willard, possibly having been damaged by his relationship with his own mother, seemingly can only give his attention to one being and that’s Socrates. It’s really tragic in my eyes, because this is the beginning of the preventable downfall.
We come to the inevitable point in the movie when Willard’s mother dies and leaves him the house. Unable to afford the home, Willard’s boss is pushing him to sell the place so that he can buy it at a low cost and demolish it to build an apartment building. In desperate need of money, Willard learns of a secret stash of cashHo-ste and sends in his army of trained rats to steal it, but this isn’t the end of the escalation. While hiding Socrates and Ben in the closet after bringing them to work, another employee spots them and the unthinkable happens to poor Socrates and I actually had to stop the movie here to take a breather. As I said, I have a strong affection for rodents that even simulated abuse or death is hard for me to watch, especially for an endearing, sweet creature like Socrates. I know what it’s liked to be attached to an animal and to have that animal show you that it cares back and to have it stripped away horribly is heartbreaking. Unfortunately for Willard, he cannot show his pain, because then his boss will find out all about his misdoings. Alone with Ben, there’s a gaze in the rat’s eyes that says he knew this would happen if the love wasn’t shared and that he’s ready to Socrates place at Willard’s side (or maybe I’m reading too much into this). Realizing what Ben is trying to tell him, Willard readies his friends for some well deserved revenge, but even Willard may not be ready for what follows.
Ernest Borgnine is usually known for playing lovable characters, be it good or bad and here you really get to see him be a bad guy. He’s disgusting and even though you hate the bastard’s guts, you still enjoy seeing him on screen. The performances of rivalry between Bruce Davison and Ernest Borgnine really give you an underdog to root for and a scoundrel to despise. Their performance styles, however, are much different. Ernest Borgnine, along with a majority of the cast, play up the fact that they are in a horror movie about rats and overperform, like they are trying to chew more scenery than their rodentia co-stars. Bruce Davison, on the other hand, gives a much more grounded performance that I’m sure all geeks can relate to, because at one point in our lives we all have been outcasts. We’ve all been shunned by society and you feel alone until that moment where you find a friend in place you least expected. It really adds three dimensions to the character of Willard and it’s that much more heartbreaking when the character finally snaps and turns on his friends. It makes you feel frustrated and angry at how he could do such a thing, but that’s what makes him flawed and relatable.
Willard is a film that wasn’t very well received by critics upon its initial 1971 release and to my surprise has a seemingly small fan base, but that was enough for Scream Factory to release the film in a brand new transfer. The 4K scan of the original camera negative looks phenomenal. There’s some noise and grain, but that’s comes with the territory and is welcomed. It’s just astonishing that for a film of Willard’s caliber with a seemingly absurd plot that it would get a restoration that makes it look brand new makes me smile. However, there isn’t much in the way of special features. Aside from the conventional trailer, TV spots, radio spots and still gallery, there is only a new interview with Bruce Davison (who also recorded a new commentary for the film) who briefly talks about his experience with the film. He’s actually very funny and entertaining in the short time the feature runs and I say “thank you” to him for coming back and talking with the fans about Willard after all these years.
But it really doesn’t matter that Willard isn’t packed to the gills with special features. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about finally having this heartwarming/heartbreaking mildly horror film available on DVD and Blu-ray and looking sharp. I don’t think every horror fan is going to like the movie, in fact even those who love the “when animals attack” movies may not like it. Maybe because it’s more about a mistreated, socially awkward young man’s descent. Willard is so much more than just a killer rat movie.
I have to say I really love Ben and I wish we could see more of him. Of course, I will be eating those words after seeing the sequel, 1972’s Ben.
Ho-stess’s Note: I thought it was worth pointing out that Willard’s mother was played by Ms. Elsa Lanchester, the Bride of Frankenstein herself! Ho-stess’s Other Note: I also thought it was worth pointing out that Crispin Glover is ridiculously hot. 😉 #MCM
Ho-stess’s Final Note: Here’s my own little Socrates. (Real Name: Rat Murdock ” #proudratmama:))
(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo) Music and sound are equally important when it comes to any video game or movie, almost as much as visuals. Just about any John Carpenter film is a great example of a movie can really benefit and improve with an eerie soundtrack. It helps set the tone and amplify the mood while crawling under your skin and making its way to your brain where it will stick. The same can be said about one of the greatest survival horror games to make its debut on Playstation (where video game music really began to take off), Silent Hill from Konami. You know, back when they treated their properties with respect instead of trying to turn them all into Pachinko machines.
I can’t think of a more shining example of a soundtrack that captures the look and feel of the game it accompanies better than Silent Hill. The rustic, dried blood aesthetic is captured perfectly in sound by composer Akira Yamaoka that gives a dooming, oppressive feel to the overall weight of the game. Imagine the sound of old, worn down machinery, the banging of decaying, rusted metals with a piano that sounds like it’s been abandoned in an old house, covered in dust. That is the music of Silent Hill and it’s still chilling to the bone, even after eighteen years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since the game was first released on Playstation. I remember keeping up to date with it through magazines, like Electronic Gaming Monthly and Playstation Monthly (it was cool to add “Monthly” to your magazine back then) and I was at a local video game store the day it was being released. Being in upstate New York, the store’s delivery was late because of the winter weather, but my mom was cool enough to let me wait around at the video store and finally when the game arrived, I bought it right off the truck (literally) ran home, played it and was spooked out of my mind. Looking back, the music had a lot to do with it. It repeated in my mind and as it looped in my head at night, it would be the soundtrack to all my dreams, good or bad.
The soundtrack has an overall vinyl type of quality to it. Like, it’s meant to be played in mono with a warmer sound, that sort of thing. Now that Mondo has been releasing the Contra and Castlevania soundtracks, both of which are 8-bit and 16-bit, we move onto 32-bit sound. This may not sound like a big deal, but we were moving away from computerized keyboard sounds and making a giant leap into being able to use actual instruments. Silent Hill makes full use of this, making an odd variety of hip-hop stylized drum and bass with piano and stringed instruments, mixing aforementioned old machinery and rusted metals. I can’t praise this soundtrack enough. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of and I mean that in the highest regard. Silent Hill was the first soundtrack to really stick in my head and give me chills. It kept me awake at night when I was younger and I’m glad it’s now available from Mondo on a 2XLP.
Of all the images you could use to represent Silent Hill, I’m sure most of us conjure up the images of the nurses, perhaps the school or even Harry Mason, the game’s protagonist, himself. Artist Sam Wolfe Connelly brilliantly uses the subtle image of Harry’s crashed jeep abandoned in a white void. It’s what brought Harry to Silent Hill and it’s the last thought of something that was supposed to keep you safe. The thought of leaving it means you are on your own in unfamiliar territory. To me, it captures the unknown fear you are expecting to encounter that the soundtrack perfectly captures. The inside image captures more of what you would expect upon exploring the hellish place, Silent Hill. A goat’s head on a woman’s body that is partially missing… I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but that can be said about most of Silent Hill (again, that’s a compliment). The discs themselves are a translucent grey with white splatter, perfectly representing the fog and the floating ashes. Each one also has a label of the cult’s triangle symbol.
Silent Hill has always had a remarkable soundtrack, probably some of the best and most memorable and Mondo’s vinyl release is the best way to listen to it and remember how the games use to terrorize you. There are times that the music sounds like it’s warping or wobbling and I honestly couldn’t tell if it were my records or if the soundtrack was intentionally doing that. It doesn’t take away from the listening experience, if anything it heightens it. After all these years, the original Silent Hill soundtrack is still able to raise the hairs on my neck.
(Submitted by his Goon-y Greatness, Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxo)
When Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity, I don’t think he would have imagined that it would give people superpowers or even become sentient and go on a killing spree. As we all know, electricity is basically like radioactivity in comic books; you’re pretty much guaranteed super powers. Electricity grants Horace Pinker god like powers in Shocker and can even transform a serial killer into living electricity that can travel through any current in your home, like in Ghost in the Machine. Hell, it even turned regular earthworms into carnivorous killer creatures in Squirm, but what if electricity itself was the killer? No reason, no logic, no remorse, nothing. There would be no way to stop it! Goddamn you, Ben Franklin!
And that’s the idea behind 1988’s Pulse starring Joey Lawrence, the teenage heartthrob from Blossom who would later make “woah!” a catchphrase. Of course, this is a few years before that and he’s almost unrecognizable, but once you see it, there’s no unseeing it. Although to be fair, he actually gives a good performance as a kid visiting his dad in LA when the evil electricity decides to cause mayhem. That’s basically the premise of this PG-13 horror film and I know from what I just said I am making it seem like it may be bad just because it’s PG-13, but it really isn’t all that bad even if there isn’t much going on beyond the one sentence description I gave it. The film nearly relies solely on Joey Lawrence’s performance as he spends a good majority of the film alone in the house leisurely investigating noises and so on, but you never feel like he’s in any real danger.
Joey plays young David, the child of divorced parents, so you know he already has some turmoil. Rather than bog itself down in it, the film omits any of the messy divorce baggage, but you get the idea David and his father Bill’s (Cliff De Young) relationship has weakened a bit, like friends that are growing apart. David doesn’t act out against his dad or his stepmother, Ellen (Roxanne Hart), like you see in most films about a child of divorce. David is actually calm and understanding, making him much more relatable and you kinda root for the kid. Being in LA away from his home, he has no friends or anyone besides his dad and Ellen to talk to and with his dad being too busy with work for the few scenes they attempt to have them interact. It’s a staple of the divorced-kid-visiting-one-of-his-parents kind of movie. Everyone is adjusting to the best of their abilities and it certainly doesn’t help that the neighbor is mysteriously murdered the night before David’s arrival. At least they’ll all have something to talk about right away. No awkward dinner silence.
Who or what could have done it? Nobody seems to have a clue except the good ol’, typical prophet of doom character who, by the way, is only referred to as “Old Man.” He begins spitting off stories about how the electricity is responsible for the murder, as it once tried to kill him. Understandably, everyone thinks he’s crazy. His character adds no weight to anything, not even as a motivation for David. David’s motivation comes from a neighborhood kid named Steve, played by Joey Lawrence’s real life brother, Matthew and this kid… hoo boy, lemme tell ya, this kid here. With his high pitched, scratchy cartoon voice and over the top enthusiasm, he brings a big eyed, charmingly whimsical cartoon like performance to the role, but like with most of the other characters, he has a very minimal screen time. He’s essentially there to try and give David someone about his own age to connect to and to drop some exposition on what happened in his neighbor’s house. Curious, David decides he should explore the house, but it doesn’t amount to anything.
Apparently already having selected its next victim, the electricity begins to torment David by screwing with all the electronics when he’s alone in the house. Lights flicker, the thermostat goes up and there’s an eerie blue light that darts around on the TV like an ECG and, yeah, that’s about it. There’s not much else it can do, so it screws with David’s comfort. Apparently, this is enough for him to call his mother and cry that he wants to go home, because he doesn’t feel safe. This is solidified once Ellen is nearly burned alive by hot water in the shower, leaving David and his father, who is still skeptical at this point, alone in the house. This is when the movie gets really intense and interesting. The electricity has decided it’s had enough fun and it’s time to kill them. David’s father becomes stuck in the house after nearly everything has tried to kill him. It’s up to David to rescue him, and there were moments where I wasn’t sure whether something bad was going to happen to them.
Pulse is a really simple movie with not much going on and at times it can feel like it’s dragging or perhaps a bit underwhelming, but there are other times when that works to the film’s advantage and creates tension, mostly in the final act… if you’ve managed to make it that far in the movie. It’s really not a bad movie, but I think most horror fans will find it boring and probably will have shut it off before the film’s climax. Giving the idea behind the film is somewhat absurd, I hate saying this, but I feel like this is a film that could have benefited from accidentally being unintentionally cheesy. However, some may find Joey Lawrence’s surprisingly great performance worthy of sticking around.
I think where the film suffers the most from is not having more of a relationship between David and his father, since obviously these two are going to be fighting to survive in the climax, depending on each other to make it through it. They only share a few scenes together, and you do get the idea that they are drifting apart. David is desperately trying to connect with his father who is too busy with work. Surprisingly, David builds a stronger relationship with his stepmother that the film touches on more, but again, it could have used a little more work. Roxanne Hart was fantastic as the compassionate stepmother. It seems like she’s never had to deal with kids, but manages to connect with David and is really sweet to him. Plus, she’s really easy on the eyes which isn’t a bad thing. If I were in David’s shoes, all I would be able to think about is all the pornos about your stepmother coming on to and since dad’s not home… well, maybe not at that age, but you get what I mean, right? Moving on.
There isn’t much else to say about Pulse. It’s not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, there just isn’t all that much going on, like I said earlier. Obviously, the gorehounds won’t be interested in a film that has but a mere few drops of blood and if you’re looking for a body count movie, you should look elsewhere. The single death scene that claims one victim takes place at the beginning and that’s off screen. The most visceral attack to be shown on screen – or should I say at all – is when Ellen is taking a shower and the electricity somehow manages to lock the shower door (which is not electrically locked, so… how?) and turns the heat up, causing some nasty looking blisters and nearly killing her. Cool plan and all, the effects looked great, but if the electricity really wanted to kill her, why wouldn’t it just send a current through the water? As you may be gathering from my nitpicking, the premise is extremely silly and could easily be defeated by simply unplugging stuff, grounding wires or just using common sense. It’s much like having your character do the stupidest thing imaginable in order to move the plot along, only here it’s with electricity. I found my copy of Pulse for only $6 on Blu-ray from Mill Creek. Yes, the same Mill Creek that puts out all those 50 films on a handful of DVDs released a fairly decent looking copy of this movie and at that price, it’s worth watching. Just don’t expect anything extravagant.
There’s an old saying, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” which I would use to describe the slasher boom of the ‘80s. Halloween may not have started it, but it opened the doors and after Friday the 13th, these things were coming out by the dozens. They were cheap, quick and easy to make and movie goers were eating it up so much, studios were guaranteed a profit. It was like printing money. However, like too much of a good thing, people grew tired of it and the slasher genre more or less died, at least in the way it was. Slasher films were still made after the crash, of course, but tried to sprinkle in little unique twists and turns or really developing a more psychological idea. Nothing wrong with adding your own ingredients to a pre-existing recipe. After all, it could still be really good. Maybe.
The Initiation comes to mind as an example. It was sold as a slasher film, but having come out near the end of the boom in 1984, it had more going on for it when filmmakers tried to add a little more spice to their films. It attempted to be very psychological, and wanted to add three dimensional characters you could care about with a twist ending that would shock everyone…Unfortunately, it was bogged down by the slasher formula so much that it couldn’t figure out how to pace those ideas and just dumps them all in at the end and expects it to work. It seems there are a handful of movies from that era that suffered from the same fate, as if the writer and director wanted to do something different to avoid becoming another rip off, or something that would become stale.
The film starts in familiar territory; at a campus with some sexy coeds being initiated into a sorority. Well, looks like they are quite serious with that title. One of the pledges, Kelly Fairchild (Spaceballs’ Princess Vespa herself, Daphne Zuniga), has been having a reoccurring nightmare that she is trying to kill her father while he’s going at it with her mom (Vera Miles) when suddenly another man enters the room and is set on fire. As if that isn’t stressful enough, the sorority decides as part of the initiation, they need to break into a department store that Kelly’s father happens to own. Well, what a happy little coincidence. I guess that kinda defeats the purpose of breaking and entering, but rest assured that there will be plenty of shenanigans from the stock characters and trust me, these are some stock characters. The girls get at least get somewhat of a variety with the virgin, the bitch and the best friend, but all of the dudes… they are just dudes. The kind of dudes that make dick and fart jokes and try to fuck everything. Ya know, dudes.
For some originality and depth to the plot, the film has Kelly exploring her nightmares with the help of her psychology class graduating assistant, Peter Adams (James Read). Dreams just so happen to be Peter’s area of expertise and the two explore Kelly’s nightmare and amnesia, which happened because of convenient plot device. I don’t believe it’s ever explained, but really, does it need to be? Kelly’s mother forbids her grown ass adult college student daughter from talking with Peter anymore about the nightmare or the amnesia, but do you think she’s gonna listen? Hell no! In fact, the two explore it even more resulting in an odd outcome where Kelly responds to a different last name… wonder if that could mean that her father isn’t her father? Kelly even shacks up with Peter, but this was in the ‘80s when it was okay for faculty to hook up with students. I don’t think it could hurt her grades.
The movie movie actually spends a good amount of time with Kelly and Peter as they explore the depths of what this dream could mean, but elsewhere there is a generic slasher film waiting to rear its head. At a nearby asylum, a burned up caretaker may be responsible for the escape of several inmates and the murder of a nurse. The framing of the scene sure makes it seem that way, but that would be too obvious. Kelly’s parents are contacted and informed about the escape and murder, so what could their connection be? I’m sure things are starting to become obvious, but before a light is further shed on any of this information, we have a smorgasbord of teens to kill!
Kelly and some of the other pledges along with one of the sorority sisters finally get around to breaking into her dad’s department store and this is where the movie becomes a paint by numbers slasher. One thing very notable about these victims is that this is an early example of all of the characters being annoying and stupid, so it’s hard to care what happens to them. It’s almost as if the film is self aware of this and dispatches them quickly and some what unimpressively. A couple of them are shot with a bow or spear gun, maybe a stabbed a few times. The best death happens early on in the film when Kelly’s father (who I forgot to mention was Clu Gulager) who’s stabbed in the throat and decapitated with a machete, although the latter happens off screen. The number of teens dwindles down until Kelly is all alone with only the killer. Meanwhile, Peter is trying to locate Kelly, stopping by to get information from her mother who seems a little off her rocker. It’s the classic race for survival as the identity of the killer is revealed and not to spoil anything here, but it’s quite underwhelming mixed with a questionable, “huh?” It feels like it’s coming from nowhere, as if it were added at the last moment to try and shock the audience even though nothing has built up to it and nothing indicated it prior. It’s what you would call an “ass pull” or described as “assumingly out of left field.”
The Initiation may be overly ambitious with all the ideas it has and trying to connect them all together with the twists and turns, but ultimately the interesting and creative parts take a seat about halfway through the film so it can get to the slasher tropes. Honestly, I think this film would have worked better if it were one or the other, but as it is I don’t think it’s great. I don’t think it’s bad either. In fact, I think it’s better than okay, just not great. Not to take away anything from the actors’ performances, mind you. They all do a pretty decent job, but Daphne Zuniga feels like she’s not quite there yet, with her performance feeling slightly dialed back. (Maybe slightly elevated since her bit part a few years prior in The Dorm That Dripped Blood.) You would have to assume the bar would be raised with Clu Gulager and Vera Miles on the cast, but both seem to be phoning it in and Clu Gulager is barely in the movie before he’s dispatched with. Everyone else plays their stereotyped role pretty decently, but nothing stands out to make it unique or different. Not for lack of trying, though.
At the time, a film about students spending the night in a department store was relatively original, but once Chopping Mall came along a few years later and did the same thing, you kinda forgot about this film. That’s a shame, too. Even though it may not seem like I enjoyed The Initiation, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It’s not the best slasher, nor is it the most original or boast some great practical effects and gory kills, it doesn’t really need to be. I think it’s fine just the way it is. Everything that could have been improved with it is still pretty good enough to enjoy on its own.
Arrow Video’s release of The Initiation might be one for the collection if you’re looking for an odd, out of the ordinary slasher. The new 2K transfer makes it look really great. Not perfect, but great enough to where it looks new, but still like an ‘80s slasher flick. There are a few extras, maybe somewhat lackluster, like with the audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues Podcast people that sounds as if it were recorded via Skype. There’s also a theatrical trailer along with a deleted scene and some new interviews with writer Charles Pratt Jr. and actors Christopher Bradley and Joy Jones, but no Daphne Zuniga for you fans out there. Not the greatest features for a movie coming Arrow’s library, but I can imagine finding features or people willing to do features for a movie like this may be a little tricky, especially seeing as it’s not nearly as remembered as most of the other slashers. However, that doesn’t mean you should pass this one up. It may not be as gory or crazy as something like Chopping Mall that does a similar premise, but it’s interesting enough to keep you watching and keep you guessing.
Even though I feel as if the fantasy genre has been more redefined toward films such as Harry Potter-type movies, to me it will always be about sword and sorcery. Movies like Waxwork and yes, even WaxworkII: Lost in Time captured that feeling while mixing and comedy and horror, although not so much with the latter. It must have been around the early 2000s when these kinds of films seemed to have vanished or shifted into something else completely, so what happened?
I’ll tell you what happened. The Wishmaster films happened. Well, I don’t have concrete evidence to back this up and the type of film that I am talking about are still around, but I seem to recall a massive drop off in the genre after the fourth and so far the final Wishmaster movie was in 2002. Sure, it’s purely coincidence, but I feel like the Wishmaster franchise perfectly represents what can go right, but also can go wrong with a franchise. The first film, while overlooked, is great and the second expands upon what the first introduced even if it’s not as good… then you get to the third and fourth films where a different studio is now making the films, totally doesn’t understand the property they have, never takes risks with expanding the lore or characters and just makes pretty, young adult dramas and can’t afford to make the movies. Fortunately, it ends there, unlike the Hellraiser films that just kept going and going.
Before the series quickly dropped in quality (and even some will argue with me on that) the first film was somewhat fanciful, had an interesting story with a very unique character and great special effects, as it should seeing as the film is directed by Special Effects man Robert Kurtzman. You got it, the ‘K’ in KNB. Wishmaster is kinda like Aladdin, a supernatural genie is connected to the person who awoke him and causes all kinds of misinterpreted shenanigans. Only in Wishmaster, the genie’s shenanigans are deadly. Oh, and he’s not called a genie, he’s called Djinn (which to me sounds like a Mortal Kombat character).
Wishmaster opens a couple of hundred of years ago where the Djinn is talking a Prince or King (it’s unclear, but irrelevant) into granting his third wish so that he and his brethren can walk the Earth, basically causing Armageddon. The opening scene boasts some wild and impressive special effects as people are turning into all kinds of reptiles or dying in horrific, body twisting ways. It not only showcases the type of creativity and imagination the film has to offer, but it also displays the overall tone for the movie. Anyway, the Djinn is stopped and encased in a small stone rather than the typical lamp. Cut to present day, or present day 1997 rather, and a rich art collector named Raymond Beaumont (played by Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund) is waiting for the latest statue for his collection to be unloaded off a boat. Unfortunately, a drunk dock worker spills his drink all over the controls, squishes Ted Raimi in his quick cameo and the statue smashes all over the ground. A worker cleaning up the mess notices a familiar looking stone and steals it after making sure no one was looking.
Having pawned the stone off, it eventually gets into the hands of an appraiser, Alexandra (Tammy Lauren) and her boss who is played by the rubber faced son of Jack Lemmon, Chris Lemmon and determine that the stone is worth quite a pretty penny. Alex awakens the Djinn by rubbing the stone on her shirt to clean it, which I have to admit is kind of an obvious clever way to do that since you had to have been wondering how they were gonna work the whole rubbing-the-magic-lamp thing into this. Even though the Djinn is awakened, he is not freed, at least not until Alex passes the stone off to her scientist friend who has the hots for her and he accidentally frees the Djinn who then takes the face (literally) of a corpse on the table to assume his human form. Now, this is where the film is its most entertaining, at least when there aren’t cool special effects on screen. The Djinn is played by Andrew Divoff who, when he isn’t buried under makeup and prosthetics, is quite a remarkable character actor. He speaks with a low, gravely, but commanding voice behind a very sinister, Joker-esque grin. Something I didn’t notice til much later in the film is that Andrew Divoff never blinks when he’s in human form and there’s something very unnerving about that. He’s a man who understands his character and really gets into the role. If you watch this movie for anything, it should definitely be for Andrew Divoff’s performance.
The Djinn is connected to the person who awoken them, so he now has to convince Alex to ask for three wishes, but before doing so, he’s gonna need to charge his batteries for the lack of a better pun. The only way to do that is to grant a person’s single wish in exchange for their soul. Seems like a fair trade to me. Souls are pretty much useless these days. Anyway, this is an easy way for the filmmakers to give the movie a body count, not that I am complaining. Since the Djinn twists his victim’s wishes, this is where Wishmaster gets really creative. Whether it’s tricking Tony Todd into making a wish that traps him in a famous Houdini-esque watery grave or Kane Hodder into glass… oh, that’s right. Candyman and Jason Voorhees also make cameos in this film. That’s one thing I love about it being directed by a really talented special effects guy; all the cameos. It’s actually with Kane Hodder’s character that we learn a very important piece of exposition. At this point in the film, you may be wondering that since the Djinn is all powerful, why doesn’t he just kill people or force Alex to make her three wishes? Well, while trying to enter a building where Alex is, he’s stopped by the security guard who won’t allow him to enter and gives him some trouble about it. He states that it’s frustrating to have all that power and only being able to use it when someone makes a wish. That’s a real smart way to give a being that’s all knowing, all powerful and immortal a serious achilles heel.
By now, Alex realizes that the visions she’s been having are a psychic connection with the Djinn who is tormenting her and she scrambles to stop him. Her story is somewhat uninteresting, but not so much so that you would want to shut off the film. She’s just a rather dull character. The climax of the film is nearly mirrors the opening via Beaumont’s wish, but it’s a little more gory. The special effects remain consistently great throughout the entire film and I should point out that they are so good, that if you pay attention, the little horns or tentacles (whatever they are) that are coming out of the Djinn’s head are always wiggling around. I thought that was a really unique touch and something I hadn’t seen before. Wishmaster takes an old fantasy tale that been watered down by children’s movies for far too long and really turns it on its head, making it a really fun movie to watch.
For Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, they really took it by the horns and got nuts with it. Jack Sholder, who directed A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, directs this picture and I swear he must’ve lost his mind. Everything is dialed up, way up to the point of ridiculousness and some of it is so incomprehensible, you’ll be sitting there bug eyed, jaw dropped at some of the things you will see. I’ll tell you one, because it’s also somewhat sentimental to me. It was shortly after this started playing on HBO or Showtime, whichever, and my step brother and I tuned in right when a prisoner was telling this cartoonishly smirking jerk that he wishes his lawyer would go fuck himself. Sure enough, that man’s lawyer twists and folds over and begins to literally fuck himself. Do you have any idea how many guys out there wish they could do that? Alright, movie, enough with the hard sell. I’m already sold! And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. That may have to go to the film’s finale that takes place at a casino where a woman playing craps actually craps quarters. Yes, that happens in a movie. Complete with fart sounds and all. But hey, let’s talk a little about how we get here.
Once again, the main characters we are supposed to follow are the most uninteresting. A goth chick, Morgana (Holly Fields) and her boyfriend are robbing the Beaumont’s art gallery when things go south, it turns into a shootout, a bullet cracks open the statue, the stone falls out, Morgana finds it and yeah, you see where I’m going. Her boyfriend is fatally wounded by a security who Morgana kills in return, but seems remorseful about it on and off throughout the film. She never turns herself in, but turns to her ex-lover turned beefy hunk priest, Eric, for advice. It’s a priest, what do you think he’s gonna say? God this and god that, blah, blah, blah, I have feelings for you, but I can’t touch your cute little butt, because god, blah, blah.
Taking the blame for Morgana’s crime, the Djinn is now in prison to collect souls. Trying to expand upon what the first film started, the Djinn now needs a thousand souls in order to grant Morgana’s three wishes. This is not only a great way to take the character and story back just a little step and let the climax build, but also allow for more really great random character deaths! Some of these aren’t nearly as outlandish as the first, but as I told you earlier, some of them are pretty damn absurd. A prison has plenty of fresh souls willing to do anything in exchange for a wish, but not nearly enough. Maybe the filmmakers didn’t quite think out this one thousand souls idea, because the final act of the film at the casino feels like a copout. Not only is there far more souls, but the Djinn is now just granting the greedy wishes he overhears rather than having one on one conversations with people like he has previously. It feels like a plot writing device, because the scripts needs it done and quick and it was the only thing they could think of at the moment.
Nevertheless, our really boring duo of the goth chick trying to solve a supernatural crime, which honestly sounds like a failed CW show, learn of a way to defeat the Djinn, one of which is death. Unfortunately for those doomed souls, we find out that Morgana can’t be killed at the moment as she is being magically protected by the Djinn. Seems rather contrived, but I guess how else would you explain something we’ve all been thinking. Regardless, they head of to the casino for the final showdown that’s pretty amusing, mostly due to all the people running around panicking and an increase in the level of gore. That’s something I didn’t notice until the end is that this film is far less gory than the original. They ramp everything else up except for the gore, which is a rather odd thing to do. Sequels are usually bigger and bloodier and while this one is bigger, gotta say, not as bloody.
You can definitely say that like the original, the human characters are the least interesting, but with Wishmaster 2… boy are they REALLY uninteresting. As cute as Holly Fields is in this film, I just didn’t care what was happening to her or her relationship with that human plank of wood priest as her love interest. They were so boring, I didn’t even notice how bad the acting was in the movie until the very end. Not that any of that really matter, because Andrew Divoff as the Djinn appears in this movie more than he did in the first and he steals every scene that he’s in. He’s the reason you watch these movies. Well, him and the good special effects and interesting death scenes and I gotta admit that this one does have some interesting ones. Aside from the two aforementioned ones, my favorite and probably the best looking was when a man tells the Djinn he wants to walk through the bars of his cell. Bad choice of words, bub.
The Djinn is really brought to life, made both frightening and funny kinda like Freddy Krueger by Andrew Divoff. If you take anything away from the first two films, it will be his performance. He’s an actor that can pull his role off whether he is behind all that makeup or not. With some actor’s performances, you can tell whether or not they are enjoying themselves and Andrew Divoff is clearly having the time of his life and it shows. If not for him, this character wouldn’t work and in retrospect, I wondered why more people haven’t heard of this character or why he’s not as remembered as Freddy or Jason… and then I saw Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell.
And now is where the series not just nose dives, but nose dives and hits the side of a mountain. Hard. We’re talking only a few survivors, but they eat each other to try and stay alive, but the last survivor has gone so mad, that he can no longer return to civilization. Wishmaster 3 is… well, it’s… shit. I have no words for it other than “it’s shit.” Rather than expanding on the previous idea or building a new one in what could perhaps be the Djinn’s mythos, the film decides it would rather be a run of the mill, stale, uninspired slasher film that were coming out a dime by the dozen at that time. And if you’re thinking Andrew Divoff is gonna save you, you’re wrong. He’s been replaced by some wormy, lanky British guy who reeks of being a rejected Buffy the Vampire villain. Come to think of it, that’s the best way to describe this movie; like it’s the worst kind of fantasy/drama that not even the WB would show. It’s like an aborted Buffy or Xena episode. Now I know everything thinks a bad movie somehow equates to good because it’s bad, but some movies are just bad and shouldn’t be watched.
Wishmaster 3 revolves around your typical, cliched group of college kids that you instantly don’t care about and they aren’t relatable. Ok, not off to a good start, but unfortunately they are out leads. The center of which is a non-descript student, Diana, whose professor has an unhealthy obsession with her. Come to find out, he’s kind of a sexual deviant, which seems to always be a staple with these college-kids-partying movies. Well wouldn’t you know it, the pair uncover the stone that contains the Djinn and Diana accidentally frees it and almost immediately assumes the identity of Professor Barash. This is a good time to mention that not only has the whole subplot about the Djinn needing a thousand souls to become more powerful been completely forgotten about, but it’s different actors playing the Djinn, one in makeup and one out. Neither manage to capture the character you’ve come to know and neither even come close to living up to Andrew Divoff’s performance. This makes the entire film a chore to sit through, that nothing is worth mentioning.
As I stated earlier, the film is now a early 2000s paint-by-numbers slasher and the most unwatchable variety. Hell, even most of the victims aren’t friends of Diana’s, but more classmates. They weren’t developed, but they dress kinda slutty, so I guess we are supposed to care? In an attempt to try something different, Diana’s boyfriend becomes possessed with the spirit of Michael, an angle that I guess hunts down the Djinn. Sure, that’s fine and all except the previous films had gone out of their way to say that religion has nothing to do with them. Now I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure magical genies aren’t in the bible. Maybe if the film had anything I cared about, I would be more upset about retconning the most obvious thing, but this comes off as so stupid it would be like making fun of the biggest idiot in your class when he does something stupid. It’s kind of redundant.
Wishmaster 3, for whatever reason, is one of those films that was made for the falsely angst, Hot Topic teen that assumes this movie is both horror and fantasy. Nothing about it sticks out, nothing about is fun, nothing about is any good. Everything from the lighting to the cinematography screams TV drama. Angles are stale and the camera rarely moves and I consider this a problem in horror and fantasy, because your shots and lighting and determine whether or not there is any mood. The special effects are pretty bad this time around. The Djinn looks exactly like what it is; a guy in a rubber suit and since we’re cutting costs, the tentacles no longer wiggle. None of the death scenes were memorable or at least worth mentioning. There’s nothing bloody or over the top violent or even creative. It’s so uninspired and lackluster that I actually had to pop the movie back in and watch some of them to be sure I didn’t miss one worth mentioning. I didn’t.
But all the hatred I feel for the third film is nothing like I feel toward Wishmaster 4: The Prophecy Fulfilled. You would think that this movie killed my family and left me for dead with the way I feel toward it. I was seriously dreading watching this one, knowing that there would be nothing of enjoyment to come out of it. For some reason, I want to hate it more than I hated Wishmaster 3, but I just can’t. Seeing as it was shot back to back with the third film, Wishmaster 4 is the same level of quality, if you want to call it that. My complaints are the same only I feel slightly stronger about them, because absolutely nothing was improved. I know, they were shot at right after each other, so there was no time to learn from mistakes. Both are directed by Chris Angel and I know you are all thinking the Mindfreak guy, but no. This is a guy who primarily directs awful video shorts. Clearly, he’s your candidate for a full length feature that relies heavily on special effects and mythology.
Would you believe that this film actually has worse characters than the ones in the previous film? I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Bland college kids looking to party are the worst characters you could ever put into a movie, but Wishmaster 4 is full of sulking, overly brooding, self pitying characters that it’s impossible to even try and like them. The main two are a couple who seem to be so in love, having great sex and and drawing each other naked (you know, like every good relationship). The boyfriend, Sam, gets into an accident and can no longer walk, so he wheels himself around, drinking and feeling sorry for himself while being a total dick to his girlfriend, Lisa. Lisa also mopes around, but to her credit she at least tries to be caring toward Sam, even if most of the time it seems really spiteful. Their lawyer, Steven, is in love with Lisa and even offers her a gift that he accidentally drops and when it breaks open, wouldn’t you know it… the stone that contains the Djinn! How did it get there from the previous film? An explanation is never even attempted and quite frankly, I don’t care. Writing isn’t this film’s strongest feature.
The Djinn soon steals Steven’s face and if you thought the British guy from the previous movie was bad, hoo-boy. Wait’ll you get a load of this guy. He seems like he wants to emulate Andrew Divoff’s performance, but it comes off as a cheap Halloween discount store imitation. Rather than creepy and tongue in cheek, this performance is rather douchey and smarmy. Once again, he’s twisting people’s wishes and just as the previous film, none of them are memorable and not worth talking about. The only thing this film introduces that could have been really interesting was that Lisa actually makes three wishes, but there’s a catch; her third wish cannot be granted by the Djinn as she believes it’s Steven and wants to fall in love with him, so it’s up to her to grant her own wish. Unfortunately, the film fails at doing anything with this and almost seemingly forgets about it often. They also try to throw in another angelic figure that is now sent to kill Lisa so she can’t grant her third wish, although she already made it. Now, the film tries to be like The Terminator for a few moments as he chases Lisa like the T-1000 and trying to terminate her until he’s killed by the Djinn in a Highlander like sword battle. This film just can’t decide what it wants to be.
I would say it’s up to the viewer to decide, but it’s pretty unanimous that this film is total garbage. Like with the third movie in the series, Wishmaster 4 is unlikable and forgettable. Moments after seeing this you will ask yourself, “huh, did I just watch a movie?” Not to repeat myself, but nothing is memorable or worth mentioning. I could go on about the terrible special effects, but once again, I would just be repeating myself. Everything that made Wishmaster 3 a complete waste of time is present here at the same capacity.
All in all you could say that the Wishmaster Collection from Vestron Video is worth owning for the first two films alone and if you are some kind of masochist, then you can watch the last two. Personally, I have no desire to revisit Wishmaster 3 and 4 ever again, but upon watching the first two films, I had an urge to rewatch them. The first disc, which is all about the first film contains a good chunk of the bonus features that are worth checking out. There’s an audio commentary with the director Robert Kurtzman and writer Peter Atkins and another commentary track with Kurtzman and the Djinn himself, Andrew Divoff. There’s a good number of interviews with the cast and crew, including Kane Hodder, Tony Todd and Robert Englund, as well as a vintage making of featurette, some behind the scenes footage and the classic TV spots, trailers and so on. There’s enough for the first film to make this set worth it, but having Wishmaster 2 and all its bonus features is a plus, even if the bonuses are limited to an audio commentary with Jack Sholder, a trailer and the still gallery. Not that I’m complaining, because really that’s all you need for the second film. If you care, Wishmaster 3 and 4 also include audio commentaries, which may be worth it to hear if it’s delusional praise or to listen to them try and defend those movies. So the Djinn may not have the staying power or notoriety of Jason of Freddy, but he’s far better than Horace Pinker from Shocker or the Trickster from Brainscan. Whereas the two latter villains were made to be horror movie icons, the Djinn wasn’t. He just turned out to be interesting and played by a talented guy. Wel, the first two movies anyway, which I highly recommend if you are looking for extremely imaginative horror/fantasy flicks and as for the last two films, I’d encase them in a stone and cement them so that they never may be found and curse the poor fool who unearths them, bringing armageddon to the eyes of those who watch it.
When I was going through high school in the ‘90s, I remember the whole surge of gang violence that was taking our country by storm. Kids wearing loosely buttoned, colored flannels, the bandanas, both of which were colored to signify what gang you were representing. Hey, they managed to be color coordinated, so that’s something. I also remember the media taking complete advantage of this and making lots and lots of TV and movies about gangs. There’s a good message to send to the youth: Violence is cool! Well, I’m not here to be the moral police, but I wanted to touch on the gang violence of the ‘90s and rise of the urban movies (I really hate calling them that), like Boyz N the Hood, Juice or Menace II Society. All the ones I mentioned are great films and captured the economical troubles and gang wars that plagued black culture while we ignored it and they deserve their place in the spotlight, but one that is often overlooked is 1995’s Tales From the Hood.
At a glance, Tales From the Hood would appear as a Tales From the Crypt knock off to the casual movie goer, mostly because of the anthology format and, of course, the title. Okay, so the title seems like it may be ripping off the popular TV show, but Tales From the Hood is an homage to the old Amicus films that made all those moody ‘70s horror anthologies, including Tales From the Crypt. So, there. Whereas most anthologies fall apart during one of the segments or a paper thin wrap around, Tales From the Hood is solid from start to finish. I’m going to say that it’s one of the better anthologies out there since Creepshow. It has a very dark moral theme that stays persistent throughout the movie even when the segment changes tone, which it does. While one of the segments may be more sinister or dealing with a domestic issue, the next one might be a comedy, but there’s no denying that the film is trying to say something with the underlying oppressive, racial tone.
Being an anthology, the wrap around segment or the overall main arching story revolves around three gang bangers, Stack (Joe Torry), Ball (De’Aundre Bonds) and Bulldog (Samuel Monroe Jr.) looking to buy “the shit” from some old guy who runs a funeral home and claims he found the drugs in an alley. Nope, nothing bad happening here. Immediately, their senses are telling them to flee, but their pride won’t allow them and they are greeted by Mr. Simms, played by The Mod Squad TV show’s Clarence Williams III (who totally steals the show with his performance as the enigmatic and rebarbative funeral home director). He’s quite the character to say the least, with a devilish grin and hair sticking up like he’s some Looney Tunes character that stuck his finger in the light socket. Needless to say, he’s not the kind of guy you’d want to visit at night, much less buy drugs from in the middle of the night. Once inside, he asks the youngsters to help him with the drugs, so now they tour the inside of the place and this gives Mr. Simms the opportunity to talk about some of his “customers,” which act as segways into their stories.
Rogue Cop Revelation is about a rookie cop named Clarence who, on his first day on the job, witnesses a couple of white cops (the most racist of which is played by Wings Hauser) beating a black man who just so happens to be an important public figure, much in the vein of Martin Luther King Jr., Martin Moorehouse. Clarence interjects and the other cops break up the beating and tell him that they will take him to a hospital, but instead murder him. A year passes and Clarence has quit the force and spends his days drinking, haunted by the fact he did nothing to prevent the murder. He begins hearing Martin’s voice commanding Clarence to bring them to him. Martin eventually convinces those cops to visit Martin’s grave where at first you are sure of what’s going to happen, but as they begin pissing on his grave, you aren’t sure. It plays with your expectations a bit until the inevitable happens and then it turns into a supernatural zombie flick. Martin rises from the grave to get his revenge and has super powers that vary depending on what the script calls for in that situation. It’s a bit silly, but it definitely feels like a ‘60s b-movie and has some great gory effects, including one of the cops getting his head ripped off.
The following segment, Boys Do Get Bruised, is probably the most serious and deals with abuse and a monster of sorts as a teacher begins to notice bruises on one of his students, Walter, a quiet and shy kid. He tells his teacher that he’s being attacked by a monster. Oh, and Walter also crumples up a drawing of one of his bullies and the bully immediately succumbs to an accident. (That’s important for later.) His teacher visits Walter’s home to talk to his parents where we meet his stepfather, played by David Alan Grier. You remember him for his comedic roles in movies and TV, right? Well, this is a total departure from that and he really displays what a serious actor he can be, playing both menacing and frightening. This isn’t the David Alan Grier you remember from In Living Color otherwise Walter would probably be in stitches, get it? Anyway, this story has a pretty good effect of a body mangling and contorting in all kinds of directions and Paula Jai Parker (who plays Walter’s mom) is absolutely beautiful.
The third segment, KKK Comeuppance, is probably my favorite segment, because it’s also the most ridiculous, but I think it’s because it sort of rings more true now with what’s going on politically. A racist, ignorant piece of shit politician named Duke Metger, who also happened to be a clansman at one point, decides to set up his office in an old slave plantation. Classy and tasteful. A protester shouts tales of haunted dolls possessed by tortured slaves don’t want him there, and I’m sure you can figure out what happens from here. It’s actually pretty tense and Corbin Bernsen is solo for the last half of the segment, leaving it to just his intensity and rising fear. He does a damn fine job of switching attitudes like a pair of drawers, from cocky to puzzled to angry to frightened. The stop motion with the puppets is pretty damn good as well and the situation escalates as the story nears its end. You really feel like you might be going crazy with Duke, so this particular segment is truly a wild ride.
Finally, Hard-core Convert is more, well, I hesitate to say psychedelic. Maybe psychological. Three gangbangers gun down a rival, Crazy K, who’s saved by the 5-0. How’s that for, um, irony? Is that the word I’m looking for? Crazy K is put into a special government program in an attempt to rehabilitate him. They do this by strapping him to vertical table, shaving his head and forcing him to watch horrible footage like he’s Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, but the intention of this is to show him he’s just as violent towards his own community as white supremacists. There is a heavy underlying message in this story, but it gets bogged down in glorifying gory images and maybe is cut a little too quick for those to understand. I think what could have been a really strong story gets lost in reveling in violence instead of speaking against it, which is was it was originally trying to do. Not saying it’s bad, because it’s actually good… but it could have been really good.
Well, that was the last story in this movie, so the only thing left to do is wrap up the main story. Our three gangbangers have a connection to that Crazy K fellow in the last segment there, and it has to do with why they are the funeral home. Mr. Simms is acting whackier than ever and seems to be going crazy. The boys wanna bail, but they still need the shit! What’re they to do? I have to admit, it’s an ending that I’m not sure is fitting for the moral, but fitting for the theme of the movie. It’s one that I didn’t see coming the first time I saw it, but after another viewing it becomes pretty obvious.
I have a very strong fondness for this movie. I first discovered it at the video store when I was fourteen or fifteen with my stepbrother. We rented it and thoroughly enjoyed it and I still do to this day. I couldn’t be happier that it finally got a Blu-ray release, especially from a company like Scream Factory. The transfer looks pretty crisp and clean, but doesn’t take away from the ‘90s vibe of lower produced films that Tales From the Hood has. There’s also a new “Making of” featurette called Welcome to Hell: The Making of Tales From the Hood, which includes interviews with Director/Writer Rusty Cundieff, Producer/Writer Darin Scott, actors Corbin Bernsen, Wings Hauser, Anthony Griffith, Special Effects Supervisor Kenneth Hall, and Doll Effects Supervisors Charles Chiodo and Edward Chiodo. There’s also audio commentary from the director and a vintage featurette with your usual still gallery, trailer and TV spots to round it out.
Tales From the Hood is a solid anthology, mostly overlooked because of its theme that has been lampooned to death, especially around that era. It does have some comedy, but for the most part, it’s very dark and very serious, and unlike most of those other films, it has something to say. It’s incredibly well made with lighting that would remind you of the old Amicus films. The performances are incredible to say the least. I know I already mentioned David Alan Grier and Corbin Bernsen, but I really have to hand it to everyone else in the cast and Clarence William III makes for the most bizarre and likable host. Hopefully the film will get more recognition now that it will be more widely available.
Ho-wdy, Ho-rror Ho-mies! Happy John Waters’ 71st Birthday Day!
In ho-nor of the Pope of Trash’s birthaversary, we have a review of his Serial Mom submitted by our very own Mr.Andrew Peters! Thanks, Ho-rror Ho-mie! 🙂 xoxoxo
The ‘90s was a strange time, especially for movies. The ‘90s didn’t quite have the identity that previous decades had, especially the ‘80s and it seemed like it wanted to forget all about the ‘80s while mimicking it at the same time, making it feel lost. Movies from that time suffered the most, especially the horror and comedy genres. Horror flicks thought they were being clever by attempting to mock the films of the ‘70s and ‘80, but it had a very cynical attitude about it, especially the slasher genre. I think we got the worst slashers out of the ‘90s. Comedies didn’t fare any better. They lacked the heart and characters that carried the films of previous years and decided to focus on cliched stereotypes they felt what their audiences perceived as cool. Oh, and help us if the two genres were attempted to be combined and you know how I feel about those. It’s like nobody knew how to speak to the generation of that time or what was happening in the world.
Nobody except for John Waters, that is. He’s a fashionable man that captures the look and style of a more pop art version of the swinging ‘60s. There’s also something very sleazy and mischievous about him that you can’t help but be fascinated with. He turned everyone’s heads – and stomachs – with the 1972 bizarre trash flick Pink Flamingos that featured both someone performing oral sex and that same person, Divine, eating dog shit. It also showcases someone bending their legs to expose their butthole and open it and close it in a rhythmic fashion. I’m just giving you an idea of what kind of filmmaker John Waters is. He loves to shock you with his sense of humor, but what if you were to take that style out of the trailer park and move it into suburbia? Well, you’d get Serial Mom.
Serial Mom has that humble ‘50s and ‘60s white, wholesome family with a ‘90s aesthetic, but underneath is a sweltering, festering nest of sleaze slowly oozing out and infecting the rest of the film, but by the time you notice it’s too late. Violence and the very mild gore is meant to both disgust you and make you laugh. The film is not only a more subtle parody of the horror genre, but it’s also a very dark comedy that is far more relevant today than it was at the time. It very intelligently brings to attention just what a media circus a famous court case can be and how we over sensationalize and idolize a serial killer, turning a blind eye to the horrors they’ve caused when we shouldn’t. In a way, this movie predicted the OJ Simpson trial if you can believe it. This isn’t just some low budget, made on the fly type of shlock. This film actually looks like a real film, meaning that the production value is high, cinematography is well done and certain things in have a soft focus to give it a very dreamy or more wholesome quality to it. Serial Mom even has a killer cast to help bring it to a more professional sense (even though it’s just a clever disguise), like Kathleen Turner in the lead role as Beverly Sutphin and Sam Waterston as her husband Eugene, with Matthew Lillard in his first role as her son Chip and Ricki Lake (yes, from The Ricki Lake Show) as her daughter Misty. Together, they appear to be the most perfect family. Mom prepares dinner and cleans the house as dad reads the paper and gets ready for work. Chip and Misty bicker before school about their seemingly important teenage lives, but when everyone leaves and Beverly is all by herself, she immediately partakes in her current favorite hobby; making obscene phone calls to her neighbor Dottie Hinkle. Just the look of pure joy that dons Beverly’s face as she asks Dottie about the pussywillows and if the Cocksucker residents live at 4215 Pussy Way. Immediately, a whiplashing tone is set that’s gonna keep juggling you back and forth. It’s like an amusement park ride; it’s gonna spin you around and make you nauseous, but dammit if it’s not fun.
Between her daughter’s unfaithful boyfriend, a neighbor that don’t recycle and her son’s friend that won’t buckle up, now she has to deal with two detectives nosing around. At first, it’s routine. The police are only digging up clues to find the culprit behind Dottie Hinkle’s phone calls, but with everyone misbehaving, Beverly has to do something about it. After the garbage men and her family wish that certain people were dead, she decides that for the good of her family, she must kill those that can’t be nice or abide by society’s rules. Like one of Chip’s teachers, for example, who believes all of the horror movies that Chip watches is affecting his mental health and that he should seek professional help and that Beverly is a poor parent for allowing him to see such garbage. Well, she’ll show him! Using her car, she runs the sucker down and drives away with no one but a stoner as a witness. Still, the witnesses story summons the police to the Sutphin residence and now they are suspicious, especially after digging through her garbage and finding books on serial killers. The suspicion is heightened when Beverly gores her daughter’s cheating boyfriend with a fireplace poker after catching him shopping around with another girl (Traci Lords in a cameo). Now the police are sniffing around long enough to catch her in the act when she goes after Chip’s friend who is ranting about her being a killer, but fortunately he’s literally caught with his pants down by the Sutphin family and is saved. For now.
That doesn’t thwart Beverly’s rampage, but she’s eventually apprehended by the police and taken to court for her heinous crimes, but like they say, innocent until proven guilty. The final act of the film is her court hearing and it has become a full blown media circus with Misty selling Serial Mom merchandise and Chip acting as her agent for the film being made about her life that will be starring Suzanne Somers who appears as herself. With nobody to defend Beverly but herself, the tables seem like they will be against her, but just wait until how she charms the judge and the jury and proves that maybe she’s not crazy… although she really is.
Scream Factory’s release of Serial Mom is to kill for. I don’t believe this is a 2K transfer, but it certainly looks as sharp as a butcher knife and it also has some killer extra features. Sick of my puns yet? Anyway, the main attraction for the features in my opinion is the feature commentary with director John Waters, who is always entertaining. He also does another new commentary with star Kathleen turner which I also recommend checking out. If you aren’t familiar with John Waters’ commentary, check out his commentary on Christmas Evil. He has nothing to do with the film, but he and the director talk about the movie and it’s pretty funny. Other features include John Waters talking with Kathleen Turner and Mink Stole about the making of the movie and there also a featurette called Serial Mom: Surreal Moments that has interviews with the aforementioned trio along with Matthew Lillard, Ricki Lake, Patricia Hearst and a few others. There’s also an original promotional featurette, The Making of Serial Mom along with The Kings of Gore that looks at the works of Herschel Gordon Lewis and David Friedman and the theatrical trailer for good measure.
Serial Mom is one of the funniest horror comedies to come of… well, ever. We seem to be hitting a wave of them now and they all seem to confuse nostalgia and homage with a half hearted attempt at long running fart jokes made of fads from the era they are supposedly paying respects to. Serial Mom is smart, hilarious and dark. It’s a perfect blend of everything you could want and although it’s not as sleazy as previous John Waters’ films, it really doesn’t need to be and I have to say it’s probably his most well made film. Happy Birthday, John Waters! Stay filthy, you Prince of Puke! 🙂 xoxoxo
(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, you Ho-rror Heartthrob, you! 🙂 xoxo)
To me, horror comedies rarely work out. I’m sure I’ve talked about this before, but I feel that most of them fail at either being a horror or a comedy. Usually, the cast knows what kind of film they are in, so they tend to play it up and delivering each line as if they are winking at the camera. The characters are usually stock cliches and more often than not, they confuse blood and gore with horror. Now as nice as those things are, when put in the hands of someone who misunderstand what either a horror or a comedy are, the film comes off as inauthentic and, well, stupid. Not to mention, they seem to be poorly filmed. The shots aren’t well planned and it’s like the filmmaker has no idea where to point the camera. I get the feeling that most of the time they don’t.
Luckily, Night of Something Strange isn’t any of that. Sure, it falls into some of the cliches, but they are done right, if that makes sense. At first, even I was a little worried when the characters were being introduced, but as the film goes on, you understand why they are and how they play into the plot and some of them become likable. Maybe it’s due to the film’s low budget or how the cast has a connection to each other, but they come of as genuine in playing their roles. A lot of heart went into this movie, something you don’t see very often anymore. That’s another thing; it’s shot like a movie. The cinematography is impressive to say the least and the use of lighting is done to effect the overall tone of the film. Everything that most lower budget films seem to misunderstand and mimic are done right here. Indie filmmaking seems like it’s becoming a lost art, but every now and then you get something that restores your faith. Night of Something Strange did just that for me.
Night of Something Strange opens with a tall, brooding hospital worker named Cornelius (Wayne Johnson) who looks like he probably has some issues. Sure enough, he shows us what kind of issues he has when he wanders into a morgue and decides to bang a female corpse. You could say that Cornelius is getting lucky, but I would say he’s getting unlucky seeing as how this particular corpse seems to have a still active STD. Not just any STD, but something that causes a much more serious side effect; you turn into a sex crazed zombie. Cornelius heads home and as the virus takes effect, he pisses all over his bed and then rapes and infects his mother. Talk about starting your movie off with bang. Where else are you gonna find necrophilia, watersports and incest all within ten minutes? Well, the last one I’m only assuming is only incest since the relationship between the two characters isn’t established, but I get the feeling it’s mother and son. It’s easily unsettling and let’s you know what you’re in store for. You would think at this point, the film was only trying to set the bar for absurdity, but it’s only getting started.
With Cornelius now free to run amok, we turn our attention to our central cast of characters in a high school. Or college. I don’t know which. All I know is that I was surprised to see Brink Stevens appear as their teacher in a cameo. Regardless, these are the people you will be spending the run time with and like I said, at first they may seem like cliches and they are all kind of assholes in their own, but stick with them. You will come to like them. The core girl of the group is Christine (Rebecca C. Kasek) and is probably the least douchiest of them all. Her friend Carrie (Toni Ann Gambale), Carrie’s boyfriend Freddy (Michael Merchant) who is probably the biggest douche of the group, token stoner Brooklyn and chubby Jason are all headed for a little getaway with their friend Pam (Nicola Fiore) and her boyfriend Dirk (Trey Harrison) who has suspicions that his girlfriend is cheating on him when he takes a peek at her phone and notices a dick pic. Still, he hasn’t been laid in a while, so he’s gonna let this slide for a bit. At least until he gets laid.
No better place to do that than at the Redwood Motel ran by a rather creepy old man who feels like a runaway member of family from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Now that Dirk has had some time to relieve from sexual tension, he breaks things off with Pam and befriends Christine outside and the two have a rather nice bonding moment and the chemistry feels rather genuine. Freddy, on the other hand, is doing whatever it takes to get some ass, including berating and threatening his verbal punching bag, Jason. Even Brooklyn falls victim to Freddy’s pranks when Freddy attempts a frat, but sharts on his face. You have to wonder why these people hang out with him, but I’m assuming it’s through his association with Carrie. Or I’m over analyzing what doesn’t need to be. Freddy’s sexual conquest – or his attempt at sexual conquest – could be a Porky’s style comedy on it’s own. After being denied sex, Freddy heads outside to the dumpster where he reckons is a great place to rub one out. His realistic style commentary over his fantasy where Jason comes into the room while he goes at it with Carrie makes watching a character beat off a little more comfortable. And funny. Even when Freddy knocks himself out by hitting his head on the dumpster, do you think that stops him from finishing. Not a chance. The champ picks up right where he left off when he comes to.
Now it’s time for shit to really start hitting the fan. Cornelius and the few others he infected show up at the Redwood Motel and begin their rampage, infecting a few more others. Poor Freddy now has this and another situation to deal with; having mistaken Jason for Carrie, Freddy becomes stuck in Jason’s butt and not only has to avoid having the others see him and the mental scarring this will cause, but also battle the undead. Gotta give props to Michael Merchant for spending half of the movie with his bottom hanging out and pulling off stunts while being stuck inside an unconscious man. Hey, give the guy a break. It’s dark in that room. Meanwhile outside, Dirk finds himself fighting off these zombies alongside Christine and they learn that a simple gunshot to the head doesn’t quite work like zombie films have taught us. As the chaos ensues, what are they to do?
I can’t tell you how much I was impressed with Night of Somethings Strange, perfectly blending the horror and comedy genres. I was reminded of Return of the Living Dead while watching and that’s never a bad thing. I laughed at the parts I was supposed to and I ended up even rooting for Freddy, the biggest asshole of the bunch. Maybe I’m a little biased knowing the actor, but every time he was on screen, you were guaranteed a raunchy gag and a laugh and the film uses a lot of sick, gross out moments for laughs. One in particular that comes to mind is when Carrie falls into a blood and shit soaked toilet while trying to pee in it or later when she gets kicked in the crotch by Christine and her shoe gets stuck right in there. There’s also little things, like Freddy getting a bloody condom on his face and the aforementioned sharting scene. It’s a film that would feel at home alongside any given Troma film. I also felt Trey Harrison was a great lead, commanding every scene he was in and Nicola Fiore was a treat and I wish she was in more scenes.
Being a zombie film, it does have some pretty decent special effects for the most part, but at times you can notice a change in the quality. Most times, I thought the makeup was gruesome and disgusting, but then there were times when it looked noticeably different and not for the better, primarily when CG was used. This is due to problems with the previous effects people, as the film unfortunately had to go through a few of them, but I don’t fault the film or the filmmaker for that. After all, it’s about getting lost in the story and the characters and it’s quite easy to do that in Night of Something Strange. It truly was a breath of fresh air in the indie zombie horror sub genre. I can’t tell you how many I’ve had to sit through in the last few years, the majority of which are unbearable to say the least. To see something that has heart behind it made this a pleasure to see. Director Jonathan Straiton really made one of the best indie horror films I’ve seen in a long time. He demonstrated that you can play with the stereotypes and cliches of the genre while also showing how to play against them. He made what should have been a purposely foul and raunchy shlock fest that would have otherwise been ineptly made into something that’s outstandingly terrific and will be remembered (and possibly imitated) for years to come.