Monday, March 29, 2010

You're Only As Big As Your Battles

As badly recieved as 1998's Americanized Godzilla was, it was inevitable that it wouldn't be the last US attempt to do justice to the King of Property Damage. Now it's been announced that Legendary Pictures, teamed with Warner Bros., will be giving the atomic age icon another shot at stateside glory. There's been few films I hated more than Roland Emmerich's Godzilla (but the teasers and trailers for it were great, weren't they?) but that kind of animosity tends to happen when you adapt a pop culture staple and throw everything that's readily indentifiable as the character away. When you do that, people can't help but call bullshit.

In the mid-'80s, director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2) and writer Fred Dekker (Monster Squad) tried to get a 3-D US remake of Godzilla going which would've been the first non-Toho Big G film and also the first to ditch the much loved man-in-a-suit approach and make a state-of-the-art Godzilla. That project sadly died thanks to budget concerns (check out one of the original storyboards below) but I often wonder how that one would've panned out, 'cause it sure looks like they were heading in the right direction.

The new Godzilla (due in 2012) doesn't have to be a man-in-a-suit to be great (although it sure wouldn't hurt, in my eyes) but it does have to have the classic look. You know, like this:

If it ain't that, don't bother calling it Godzilla. You can't just put any giant lizard on the screen and expect us to cheer for it.

Maxed Out

For those who come by here on a regular basis, sorry for the lack of updates lately. Things have been kind of tweaked on my end with the looming threat of unemployment darkening my doorstep - a worry that's made it hard for me to focus on much of anything. The theater chain that I've been working with for the past ten years was recently bought out and despite some initial assurances, there's no guarantee I'll be asked to stay after the transition is over. Time will tell where my paychecks will be coming from but in the meantime, thanks for sticking around - things will pick up eventually.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Every Thing In Its Right Place

I'm sure John Carpenter finds it ironic that almost thirty years after the box office failure and critical trashing of his 1982 remake of The Thing prompted Universal to fire him from an adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter (a project that went to director Mark Lester) that Universal is mounting a big budget ($38 million) prequel to that once-notorious film. While the idea of a prequel intrigued me from the start, in recently rewatching Carpenter's The Thing, I realized that my memory had hazed out on the overlap between the Norwegians' doomed attempt to put an end to the Thing and the story of the men of Outpost #31. While I had remembered the dog-disguised Thing arriving at Outpost #31, I had blanked on the fact that it had been pursued there by the last two Norwegians (some Thing fan I am!).

Seeing the opening scenes of the '82 Thing play out, it struck me as cool to realize that this would be the final moments of the upcoming prequel. These two characters would have their backstories fleshed out but, inevitably - once the other members of their camp have been either taken over, killed, or have taken their own lives - these two survivors would take a futile helicopter run across the Antarctic in a last ditch effort to keep the Thing from reaching other potential hosts.

That one is incinerated when a grenade accidentally goes off close to their landed helicopter and the other is shot dead through the eye by Outpost #31's bushy eye-browed commander - with his last sight being the Thing now safely in the company of another group of humans - makes for a nicely nihilistic ending, one that can't be altered by studio notes or test screenings. Knowing that the prequel's storyline has to dovetail with what we see in Carpenter's film (down to such details as why there's an axe embedded in a door in the Norwegian camp or who it was that committed suicide with a straight razor and whose remains were torched outside the camp) makes me think that, if done with care, seeing this mystery unlocked could make for a great film. I just wonder if they'll be incorporating the actual footage from Carpenter's film for the conclusion of the prequel. I'd love to see that - and with subtitles provided for the last Norwegians' final words that he shouts out to the men of Outpost #31 before a bullet blows through his brain.

While there's much about those two Norwegians we don't know yet, we do know that they had escaped infection by the Thing, which makes them a resourceful pair. They may have died in vain but at least they died as men.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Repo Men

If you have any interest in catching Repo Men in theaters, I suggest you don't wait because I don't see this one sticking around for long. That's not to say it's bad. I mean, it's not exactly what you'd call good, either, but it ranks as a watchable sci-fi actioner. It's just too grisly and oddball for the mainstream while not being a superior enough genre effort to get hardcore sci-fi fans excited. It's kind of a 'whatever' movie but my hat is off to whoever convinced Universal to finance it - whether it be director Miguel Sapochnik, the producers, or whoever.

I'm sure many commercially sound scripts are collecting dust at studios all over Hollywood as we speak, left hanging in limbo, while Repo Men is playing to near-empty theaters around the country (if this turns out to be a big hit, or even a modest hit, I'll be flabbergasted) so it makes me wonder: what advanced powers of persuasion did it take to make this project look like a good bet to the powers-that-be? I'm totally stumped on that one. I never saw Repo: The Genetic Opera (2008), by the way - and I have no plans to do so - so I can't comment on any similarities. That's another movie that I can't figure how it got funded in the first place (even if it was a much more low-budget affair than Repo Men) but I have a gut feeling that we won't be seeing any more of these films - musical or otherwise - any time soon.

For my full review of Repo Men, click over to Shock Till You Drop.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Hunt Is On!

If there's one film franchise that never reached its full potential, it's the Predator series. After a classic kick-off with John McTiernan's original Predator (1987), the 1990 follow-up, Predator 2 (directed by Stephen Hopkins) was fun but just wasn't in the same league as the first film. Recent attempts to revive the Predator's box office clout by pairing them with another flagging sci-fi franchise with AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and AVPR: Alien vs. Predator - Requiem (2007) could be charitably be called mixed bags. Or they could just be called lousy. Thanks to Stan Winston's design work, I think the Predators rate as one of the top movie monsters of the modern age but it's a shame they haven't been showcased in better films lately.

With July's release of Predators, however, hopefully a new film worthy of these intergalactic bad asses will arrive. Debuting the new Predators trailer and behind-the-scenes footage at the South By Southwest Film Festival on Friday, producer Robert Rodriguez, director Nimrod Antal, and FX artist Greg Nicotero gave the public their first look at what's in store for the latest hunt and while the trailer isn't available online yet, the Predators site does have a sneak peek of clips, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage that looks frankly awesome. Some might disagree on that point, and bring up some stupid shit that just sounds like empty noise to me ("It's set in a jungle? How original!"), but whaddya gonna do?

I'll admit that I'm not the biggest Robert Rodriguez fan. I do love how he's created his own mini-empire; the fact that he's a guy who can basically wake up, walk down to his garage and make a movie is cool as hell. But the movies themselves haven't always won me over. He isn't directing Predators, just producing, but despite Nimrod Antal calling the shots, in many ways this will be a Robert Rodriguez film. I think he knows exactly what the audience wants to see in this case, though, just as he did with Planet Terror, his half of Grindhouse (2007). That movie may have tanked but Planet Terror itself was built to be a crowdpleaser and it handily mopped the floor with Tarantino's contribution, the talk-fest Death-Proof (the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar to Rodriguez's Black Cat). Tarantino's segment may have been about a homicidal stunt driver but Rodriguez designed Planet Terror to be the B-movie version of a pimped-out muscle car. Rodriguez had the perfect instinct for what Grindhouse should've been and I think that'll be true of Predators, too.

I'm pretty free of cynicism when it comes to movies. It's just the way I'm wired, so seeing the initial Predators footage is enough to get me totally jazzed. Seeing the original Predators in theaters at a midnight show remains one of my favorite summer movie memories and I'd love it if Predators turned out to be another great memory to match it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

When Manimals Attack

When I was a kid, the only entertainment magazine that my parents subscribed to was TV Guide. During summer vacations when I'd be home at the time the mailman was making his rounds, I used to look forward to hearing the familiar thud of the squarebound Guide as it landed on our porch floor. Of the 52 issues of TV Guide that were published each year, though, the most essential was the Fall Preview. I loved finding out what new shows would be premiering and how many, if any, would be in the sci-fi/horror or action category. For years during the late '70s and early '80s, that turned out to be a high number of shows. The tragic catch was that while I'd get excited for these new programs each season, almost all of them would tank within a few episodes. They'd be gone after a few months or sometimes just a couple of weeks and I'd be left to wonder why so few of the shows I liked ever stayed on the air.

As I got older, I came to realize that most of what I liked was terrible and of little interest to others. But if fans of garbage like King of Queens can have their favorite show successfully run for years, it hardly seems fair that the shows I loved got knee-capped so early on. Now that more and more vintage TV shows are getting issued in complete seasons on disc, however, it's my hope that all those shows that got yanked off the air too soon will eventually be a part of my DVD collection.

I used to think that was a pipe dream but this week the short-lived detective series Tenspeed and Brownshoe, starring Jeff Goldblum and Ben Vereen, arrived on DVD. Originally airing in 1980 and lasting a mere twelve episodes past the two-hour pilot, this failed P.I. show seems like an unlikely candidate for a DVD release. It didn't even last a full season and it's thirty years old. The easiest explanation is that it's been released simply for the fact that it's the work of prolific TV producer Stephen J. Cannell, the creator behind a string of legendary programs including The Rockford Files, The A-Team, and 21 Jump Street. But whatever the reason, seeing Tenspeed and Brownshoe on DVD gives me renewed hope that the following six short-lived series of the early '80s have a real chance of finding their way onto disc:

6. Mr. Merlin (1981-1982, 22 episodes)

This light comedy that centered on the efforts of Merlin the Magician (played by Bernard Hughes, best known as the grandfather in The Lost Boys) to coach his newfound apprentice in the ways of magic was pretty corny, even by the standards of early '80s TV but I found it to be endearing. It helped that I had a crush on co-star Eliane Joyce, who played Merlin's liaison with his magical superiors.

5. Strike Force (1981-1982, 20 episodes)

This cop show brought Untouchables start Robert Stack back to the streets and during its brief run, Strike Force earned a reputation as being the most violent show on the air. My memories of the specific episodes are pretty dim by now but all I know is that it was a Friday night staple for me for a few months and I was pissed to see it go.

4. The Powers of Matthew Star (1982-1983, 22 episodes)

As much as the networks tried to find a hit with science fiction, the genre proved time and again to be ripe ground for failure. This story of a member of alien royalty hiding on Earth from the forces that enslaved his people was epic cheese of the highest order. Adding to Matthew Star's appeal was the fact that Friday the 13th Part 2's Final Girl Amy Steel was part of the regular cast.

3. The Phoenix (1982, pilot movie & 4 episodes)

While The Phoenix only ran for about a month, I still have fond memories of watching it on Friday nights back in the fall of '82. This tale of a benevolent, super powered alien revived from his ancient slumber in a Peruvian sarcophagus, and who quickly finds himself on the run, was a riff on the Fugitive formula (just as The Incredible Hulk series had been). Lasting only four episodes past its pilot, it's a shame that TV audiences didn't get to see more of Richard Lynch as a governmental shit heel pursuing Judson Scott (best known as Khan's son in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) as the medallion-sporting Bennu.

2. The Master (1984, 13 episodes)

Destined to one day be immortalized on Mystery Science Theater 3000, The Master starred Lee Van Cleef as John Peter McAllister, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who became the first Westerner trained in the ninja arts. On a search for his long lost daughter, McAllister teams with an unlikely partner/pupil, the brash, none-too-bright Max Keller (Timothy Van Patten) - a van-driving, odd job-working drifter who has a big heart but yet who is hot-headed and quite possibly mentally challenged. As the pair travel across the country, they can't help but assist other people with their problems along the way. Luckily, that brand of problem solving always involved throwing lots of ninja stars, life lessons for the slow on the draw Max, and provided plenty of work for Van Cleef's black pajama-clad stunt double.

1. Manimal (1983, pilot movie & 8 episodes)

When you fight crime, you need an edge. And what better edge is there on the street than being able to change into a dolphin, or a mouse? Manimal centered on the exploits of Dr Jonathan Chase (Simon MacCorkindale), a shape-shifter with the power to transform into any animal (an ability passed down in his family from one generation to the next) who assisted the police in solving crimes (although his abilities were hidden to all but his two closest friends, played by Melody Anderson and Michael D. Roberts). Thanks to the FX wizardry of a young Stan Winston, several times an episode, Chase would metamorphose into either a hawk or a black panther. This would always be the same footage recycled from week to week but regardless, it still looked great for television in 1983. Not only does this show belong on DVD but I think a big screen adaptation is warranted, too. They can finally afford to expand Chase's repertoire past just the hawk and panther transformations (whenever the script called for Chase to change into a different animal, it occurred off-camera). Forget werewolves - Chase was a were-everything and how cool is that?

Keeping in mind that enthusiasm should always be tempered with some reality, I begrudgingly admit it's unlikely that these shows will ever get legit DVD releases but hey, you never know. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that Tenspeed and Brownshoe was coming out so I'll keep hoping. The least I can do as a fan is keeping holding a torch for Manimal and the rest of these old favorites. Believe me, it's no burden. In fact, it's an honor.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Terror In The Oscar Aisles

When Terror in the Aisles, a feature-length compilation of horror highlights, was released in 1984, it was greeted by genre fans as a film that didn't have much insight or knowledge about its subject. While the idea of a film celebrating the best of a chronically underappreciated genre was a welcome one, the execution was lacking. It was hard to find much good to say about a tribute to horror films that spent so much time on peripheral genre titles like Marathon Man (1976) or films that, even by the most generous definition, were not horror at all (such as the 1981 Sylvester Stallone cop movie Nighthawks).

The Oscars delivered their own version of Terror in the Aisles during last night's awards ceremony with a 'tribute' that seemed to be assembled by people with only a dim affection for, and only a passing familiarity with, the horror genre. I'm not a hater of the Twilight series (I have no strong feelings about it - more power to those that love it but it's just not for me) but I also feel that assigning two of the stars of that series (Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart) to handle the tribute's introduction got things off on a bad foot - especially when Academy honoree Roger Corman would've been a more apt choice. It was also galling that Lautner and Stewart wrongly cited The Exorcist (1973) as the last horror film to receive attention on the Oscar stage. It's not Lautner and Stewart's fault that whoever wrote their intro forgot about 1991's The Silence of the Lambs (directed by Corman grad Jonathan Demme) but the oversight was an immediate signal that horror was already getting slighted in the midst of its own tribute.

As for the clips themselves, it was a perplexing grab-bag that bumped classics like Jaws, The Exorcist, and Psycho up against Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (at least the original TCM was accounted for as well), Twilight: New Moon (if a recent vampire film had to be included, shouldn't it have been Let The Right One In?), and Marathon Man (Terror in the Aisles flashback!). While I'm all for stretching the definition of what a horror film is and I'm all for spreading the love to marginal genre titles (and I'm also all for time-wasting trash like Leprechaun), with only about five minutes to honor the history of horror, should any non-horror films, or any titles that weren't A-class examples of the genre have been included at all? Also, with clips from Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands (?!?), and Sleepy Hollow, director Tim Burton earned the distinction of being the individual filmmaker with the most films represented in this 'tribute' to horror (only one film apiece made it onto the reel for Romero and Carpenter, two for Craven, and none at all for Argento, Fulci, Bava, or Cronenberg) and that's just wrong. Best Director winner Kathyrn Bigelow's vampire classic Near Dark (1987) should've merited an inclusion as well.

Maybe some love is better than none but this tribute to horror was the definition of a missed opportunity. A once-in-a-lifetime chance to give the zombie vs. shark fight from Zombie (1979) a venerated place in Academy Awards history was missed last night and to me, you can't call a shout-out to horror that doesn't include any Fulci a real shout-out at all.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Alice, Sweet Alice

With Tim Burton's sure-to-be-abominable Alice in Wonderland opening in theaters today, I thought I'd give some attention to an altogether different Alice - director Alfred Sole's giallo-esque chiller Alice, Sweet Alice (1977). This film has always ranked high as a favorite among horror fans thanks to its quirky characters (like the obese, cat-loving Mr. Alphonso), its perplexing mystery, and its provocative backdrop of Roman Catholicism but I've got to single out the unforgettable look of its masked killer as an integral part of its lasting appeal.

Slasher icons like Freddy, Jason, Michael Myers, and Leatherface are celebrated for their iconic looks but to my mind, none of them can hold a candle to the creepy countenance of Alice's diminutive killer. With a yellow rain slicker with the hood pulled up and a dime store Halloween mask of a blank, translucent face with bright red lips and blue eye shadow printed on it, the mystery killer in Alice gets my vote as the scariest masked killer in horror history. There's a hint of Don't Look Now (1973) in that outfit, with the figure that Donald Sutherland pursues in that movie having memorably sporting a red rain slicker. I don't know if Sole had seen Don't Look Now and purposely appropriated that look for his film but whatever the inspiration was, he choose wisely.

The great thing about the appearance of the killer in Alice is that it's so simple. There's something very relatably low rent about it that you wouldn't see in a horror movie today. The trio of psycho killers in The Strangers (2008) had scary masks, to be sure, but they looked like someone custom-made them (even the bag mask in that film looked pimped out - well, as pimped out as a bag over someone's head can be). The same with the cupid-masked killer in Valentine (2001). In Alice, though, it was an outfit that needed no special assembly or preparation. It was cheap and ordinary and that's what made it scary.

Made just prior to the slasher wave of the late '70s/early '80s, Alice, Sweet Alice was a film that had the good fortune to predate the rise of horror franchises. Once slasher films became the stuff of multiple sequels, and the look of characters like Freddy and Jason became part of their appeal, the chances of a killer in a kid-sized rain slicker and a common, store bought mask became very slim. Instead, it's more likely to see nonsense like this:

I'm all for nonsense but it's a shame that when it comes to psycho killers, for the most part, 'kick-ass' has prevailed in horror over scary. If you want to know what scary is all about, go ask Alice.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Night Man To Remember

The history of television is littered with hundreds of atrocious programs and each one of them has a faithful fanbase that continues to celebrate them. Even the most devoted followers of bad television, however, may be unaware of the existence of Night Man.

Airing from 1997 to 1999 in syndication (in my area, it played on Saturday afternoons after Soul Train), Night Man was adapted from a comic created by writer Steve Englehart (among his many credits, he was responsible for a seminal run on Detective Comics in the late '70s that inspired the story for Tim Burton's first Batman film) that was published through Malibu Comics as part of its Ultraverse line.

Developed for television by the legendary producer Glen A. Larson (whose credits include Knight Rider, Battlestar Galactica, The Fall Guy, and too many others to mention), Night Man told the story of Johnny Domino, a San Francisco-based jazz musician who has the ability to telepathically recognize evil (thanks to being struck by lightening in a cable-car accident) who suits up (at night, natch) with a high-tech, bulletproof outfit that allows him to fly, grants him invisibility-style camouflage abilities, and also shoots frickin' laser beams out of the costume's left eye-piece.

Night Man was a special kind of asinine. It was crafted with the kind of pure, unaffected idiocy that isn't seen anymore. Sure, they still make lousy shows but they're all pretty serious on their way to sucking. Night Man, however, was goofy from the get-go but not self-conscious about it at all. I guess this was Larson's idea of old-fashioned escapism and, hey, he wasn't wrong about that. Night Man was so old-fashioned, in fact, that it featured shoddy blue screen work that would've been embarrassing even twenty years earlier.

My favorite aspect of the show was how when Johnny had to go into action as Night Man in the midst of his sax act he'd have a holographic image of himself take his place on the stage of the House of Soul jazz club where he performed. Actor and stunt man Matt McColm played Johnny Domino aka Night Man and he has the kind of charisma in this role that can only be compared to Marc Signer's acting prowess in the Beastmaster movie series. McColm mostly went back to stunt work after the cancellation of Night Man and that seems about right.

Night Man ran for two seasons and while the second season lacked the charm of the first (thanks to changes in the cast), the second season did host the history-making team-up between Night Man and the star of an earlier Glen A. Larson production, Manimal as the two crime fighters joined forces to take on Jack the Ripper himself (!).

Original Manimal star Simon MacCorkindale returned to play Professor Jonathan Chase and this episode alone justified the existence of Night Man as a series. I only wish that the show had gone on just a little bit longer so Larson could've teamed Night Man up with the title character of another of his short-lived '80s action series, Automan (the Tron-inspired tale of a hologram that was able to leave the confines of the computer to fight crime).

Just thinking about what might've been is enough to keep me up at night, man.