Friday, November 1, 2013

The HorrorDads Carrie On, And On...

If you're like me, you might be bummed to wake up today to find yourself on the other side of Halloween for another year. To blunt those blues, why not join myself and the rest of the HorrorDads for a lengthy discussion of all things Carrie?

Head HorrorDad Richard Harland Smith recently reassembled the gang - Dennis Cozzalio, Greg Ferrara, Paul Gaita, Nicholas McCarthy, and myself - for a roundtable talk about not just Brian DePalma's 1976 horror hit but also King's novel, the 1999 sequel The Rage: Carrie 2, the 2002 TV miniseries starring Angela Bettis, the new theatrical remake, and Carrie's precursors in film and literature.

It was a discussion so sprawling, it had to be split into two parts.

Click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2. Give it a read, won't you?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Oh, what a trailer this is - what I wouldn't give to see something this promising coming soon to theaters! Also, why can't every trailer have the movie's title smashing through glass at the end?

If they did, I'd see a lot more movies, I'll tell you that!

By now it's probably not fair to describe John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness as underrated as its reputation as one of John Carpenter's finest films seems well established. In 1987 I remember being soooo excited for Carpenter's return to horror. This was the first Carpenter horror film I was able to see in theaters and it did not disappoint.

Released on October 23rd, 1987, this was not the sleeper hit that Halloween had been but it did respectable business and it marked a commercial bounce back for Carpenter.

For me, this is in the very upper ranks of Carpenter's films. I love the mood, the gonzo ideas, the funky, truly ghastly gore, and the amazing score by Carpenter and frequent collaborator Alan Howarth (not as iconic as Halloween's but every bit as good). A great cast here, too, with Carpenter reuniting one last time with both Donald Pleasence and Victor Wong.

Being that it's Halloween and I have many things to do, I don't have time for a long post. Then again, after 31 posts this month I've probably already said too much! To anyone who's stuck around with me this October, I hope it was a kick to spend time reminiscing about the Halloween releases of years past - some of them classics, some of them, ehhh, not so classic, but all were fun to look back on.

Here's hoping for a great crop of new horror next October!

Have a happy and safe Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

The fact that this year marks the 35th anniversary of John Carpenter's Halloween has been just cause for celebration. However, the fact that this year also marks the 25th anniversary of Halloween 4 hasn't gotten nearly as much notice. Subtitled The Return of Michael Myers, this was an effort on the part of Moustapha Akkad to save the series, after the Michael Myers-free Halloween III: Season of the Witch had been roundly rejected.

From a commercial standpoint, going back to basics was an excellent call on Akkad's part and while subsequent entries might've made fans wish that Michael could be permanently retired, 4 was a very good effort all around. For me, it's the pinnacle of the Myers sequels. Director Dwight Little is no John Carpenter but he did an admirable job just the same. The atmosphere is dead on, the suspense is effective, and there's a clear reverence for the original.

Alan McElroy's script picks up where II left off, building on the familial aspects that Carpenter's screenplay introduced in II, but without burdening his screenplay with the kind of mystical mumbo-jumbo that 5 & 6 went for. And the cast is terrific, populated with a set of genuinely likeable young protagonists (why Ellie Cornell's career never took off, I don't get) and topped by the irreplaceable Donald Pleasence.

I'm predisposed to having fond memories of 4 because it was the first installment of the series I was able to see in the theater but I think by any objective standard this remains the gold standard of the series. If they were going to continue the saga of Michael Myers, this showed how to do it right and bringing back Pleasence as Loomis was the real masterstroke. While it would've been easy to leave the character dead, having Loomis miraculously survive an explosion that should've reduced him to ash was the smartest decision anyone involved in this film made, giving it a stamp of legitimacy. As soon as you saw Pleasence ranting about Michael in the trailers and TV spots for this, you knew Halloween was on again.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Halloween II (1981)

It's funny to look at this trailer and remember a time when sequels were still a novelty. Now they're so common but in the early '80s, it was actually something of a surprise when slasher sequels started to arrive because as far as horror goes, sequels were usually reserved for the likes of blockbusters like Jaws, The Omen or The Exorcist.

I hadn't seen the original Halloween by the time II came out but I remember being excited that they made another one as it just seemed like a big deal - and the trailers and TV spots successfully terrified me.

Somehow I had missed seeing much in the way of promotion for Halloween when it was first released. My only exposure to the marketing to that film was through posters and newspaper ads. Really, what creeped me out the most to do with Halloween was the cover of the novelization.

But when Halloween II came out, maybe because it was a heavily hyped major studio release, it was impossible to avoid previews. As a kid, it was the shot of Michael Myers walking down the stairs that really stuck with me for some reason.

The low angle, the way the mask looked, it all just freaked me out.

In some ways, they screwed up Michael's mask in this movie; they just weren't able to recreate the original look but I still like what they came up with. Michael's mask has changed much throughout the course of the Halloween films but I'd rank this look just behind the original's.

Most would say the same about the movie itself but personally I don't think it's the next best Halloween. If anything, I hold something of a grudge against it as I feel like it started the franchise on the road to ruin by making Michael into Laurie's brother and then introducing all the Samhain nonsense. Those developments opened the door to all the ways the series would continue to go wrong.

The ads for Halloween II promised "More Of The Night He Came Home" but as much as I've enjoyed many of the Halloween entries, I think this movie proved that, in the end, sometimes less is more.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Trick or Treat (1986)

Here's a film that could've only been spawned in the '80s, at the height of heavy metal hysteria. Two of the most popular scapegoats parents and authorities turned to when looking to assign blame for bad behavior among teens were heavy metal and horror movies so why not make a horror movie that revolved around heavy metal?

Of course, the problem with Trick or Treat is that it made metal out to be the bad influence that it was accused of being - even going along with that corny old cliché about discovering hidden messages by playing records backwards. So right from the start, Trick or Treat was tone-deaf to the audience it was trying to appeal to.

Released on October 24th, 1986, Trick or Treat failed to make undead rocker Sammi Curr into a household name, even in houses with FANGORIA subscriptions. What the makers of Trick or Treat didn't realize was that in 1986, horror already had a huge rock star on the rise - and his name was Freddy Krueger.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Paranormal Activity (2009)

People often ask whether today's horror movies can ever have the seismic impact of a movie like The Exorcist (1973). In fact, just the other day Badass Digest was asking that exact question in this post.

First, you have to ask if any movie in general could ever have the same impact as movies once did. There are still popular movies today, obviously, that have a "can't miss" quality to them but it's different now. A movie like Gravity is huge by today's standards, most everyone who sees it raves about it, and it's maintaining its hold at the box office but had it been released in the '70s, or even into the '90s, however, it'd be a true phenomenon with lines around the block.

Our culture is just too splintered now for a movie - or, really, I think anything - to be such a focal point anymore. Not only is there so much out there pulling people's attention in different directions but specifically with films, the way we watch them has changed so much. I'm old enough to remember a time before cable and VHS when, if you wanted to see a movie, you had to go to the theaters.

When I was a kid, once something like Raiders of the Lost Ark had left the theaters, that was it - you couldn't see it again until it ran on ABC or something. And that would be a few years down the line, pan and scan (not that most knew what to call it then), and cut up with commercials. Even then, that would still rate as a big deal and you knew that on the schoolyard the next day, everyone would have watched it.

Now, if you don't see a movie in the theater, you know you can get through Redbox or Netflix or whatever just a few months down the line. Of course, that's if you haven't downloaded it illegally while the movie's still in theaters. There's more access to movies, from multiple venues, so the need to see them on the big screen and be a part of a cultural moment, is not the factor that it used to be.

Also, even if people were still going to the theater in the same volume they used to, digital projection means that theaters can have multiple screenings in a way that didn't used to be possible. During the '80s, I remember standing in long lines for every single big movie that came out. As much of an imposition as that was, it always made them all seem like true events - every Indiana Jones, every Star Wars, every Star Trek, Ghostbusters, you name it.

That's because my local theater had just one print of a film, maybe two. Usually it'd be one print that would have to be interlocked between two houses so the screenings would be set ten minutes apart so things would always be mobbed for blockbuster films. Today, sold out shows are practically unheard of because if they think a movie's going to be big enough it's booked into four or five houses with showings spaced every half hour or forty five minutes.

But back to horror - can a movie still wipe people out like The Exorcist did? Eh, yes and no. The reasons why it's tougher for a movie to have that kind of impact are multifold. One, someone has to actually make a movie as good as The Exorcist and that happens very, very rarely. Two, audiences are more jaded and more sophisticated. Not sophisticated as in smart because people now are dumber than they've ever been but sophisticated in the sense that they've seen so many taboos broken by now and special effects aren't mystifying in the way that they used to be. Add to that the fact that people are just bigger douches now and less inclined to give a movie their full attention and you've got a climate where, more than ever, horror movies have their work cut out for them.

All that said, I'm reassured by the impact horror can still have. I think it's kind of a miracle, really. Over the summer, The Conjuring was a big hit and it was generally agreed to be effectively scary. For seasoned horror fans, it was kind of lightweight, yes, but what's interesting and encouraging about The Conjuring's popularity is how old-fashioned its approach was. Nothing explicit, no FX to speak of, just things that go bump in the night and I find it heartening that there's still a big audience that's receptive to that kind of fright.

In 2009, I felt similarly encouraged by Paranormal Activity's success. What Oren Peli's film proved was that you could still scare an audience with very little. Sure, not everyone will be affected equally but that's always been true. I had an uncle who saw The Exorcist in theaters back when it came out and found it laughable.

The magic of movies, horror movies specifically, is that there's a suspension of disbelief involved. For them to work, it requires that we set aside the part of our brain that tells us it's just a movie. It may be that fewer people are able to, or care to, make that leap than there used to be but when a movie like Paranormal Activity does succeed, it's because, like the best classic horror movies, it invites people to stop being jaded smart-alecks and just scream.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Saw 3D (2010)

Whether you like the Saw films or not, there's no arguing that the Saw series has earned its place in horror history. Over seven films, it became the first major horror franchise of the new millennium.

Honestly, they never did much for me - although I give credit to 2006's Saw III for actually making me feel physically ill at a horror movie for the first time in forever and 2009's Saw VI for weaving an intriguingly topical health insurance angle into the Jigsaw saga. Then there's 2010's Saw 3D, which gave the series a big 3D send off.

Saw 3D definitely had the coolest trailer for any of the Saws, pouring on some extra cheese in order to exploit the 3D. I didn't love it as much as the trailer for the My Bloody Valentine remake...

...but it's good.

Even though it was only three years ago, the content of Saw 3D has pretty much passed from my memory. Still love the trailer, though!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Vampires (1998)

Back in the '90s, it was still a given that any new John Carpenter film would open in theaters. No question. Even though he hadn't had a hit in a while, whenever a new movie from him would arrive, there was hope that this would be his "comeback" and Vampires kind of fit the bill in that regard. Released on October 30th, 1998, it opened at #1 at the box office. By its second week, though, it had dropped considerably with the Halloween weekend that had boosted its profile now past and with it getting poor word of mouth due to the fact that it was more of a western than a horror film.

For me, though, this remains one of my favorite Carpenter efforts. Late-era Carpenter has been enjoying a renewed appreciation over the past few years and among that bunch, Vampires definitely rates a more favorable reputation.

James Woods' performance as misogynistic, misanthropic, homophobic and all-together ill-tempered vampire hunter Jack Crow has received criticism for going too far even for a John Carpenter anti-hero, a character that some find abrasive to the point of offensiveness. While it's true that he's way over-the-top, I enjoy Woods' comically surly, doggedly anti-PC approach and I like the chemistry he has with the much more laconic Daniel Baldwin.

As a fan who (somewhat greedily) wishes that Carpenter was still active (well, a little more active, at least) and still getting his films into theaters, it bums me out that we live in a world where we're not likely to ever see another new Carpenter film on the big screen again. At this point it seems like his career has, for the most part, run its course. It might seem unfair to those of us who'd like to see more from him but from interviews, Carpenter seems perfectly content these days and as any undead bloodsucker would be quick to point out, everyone's time in the sun has to end sooner or later.

The legacy of a great body of work, though, is eternal.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The Grudge (2004)

Not all horror franchises are created equal. Not only was The Grudge (based on its Japanese predecessor Ju-On) perceived as a J-Horror also-ran when compared to The Ring/Ringu, but while The Grudge did clean house at the US box office upon its release on October 22nd, 2004, far out-grossing the original Saw, which had been released on the 29th that month, Saw is the series that eventually went on to become the go-to Halloween horror franchise for years to come while The Grudge sputtered out after one more theatrical sequel in 2006 and a direct-to-video third film in 2009.

I don't remember much about The Grudge 2 and I never saw the third film but I really enjoyed the first Grudge. The spooky trailer, certainly, got me excited - mostly due to Sam Raimi's involvement.

1989's The Dead Next Door aside, this was the first major horror film where Raimi served as producer but not director, and it was the first film to be made under his and Robert Tapert's Ghost House Pictures banner, so that aspect seemed very promising, especially with original Ju-On director Takashi Shimizu on board to helm it.

As Raimi had graduated to the big leagues with the Spider-Man series by then, it was nice to see his name still connected with horror. We've learned since that Raimi's name as a producer on a horror film isn't automatically a reason to get excited as his Ghost House films have been hit or miss but at the time of The Grudge, it still seemed like a guarantee of quality.

Next for the company is a Poltergeist remake, which is a risky property to mess with because it's so fondly remembered. If they can pull it off, terrific. But if it's as weak as the likes of The Possession, it could be awhile before horror fans forgive or forget.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Bones (2001)

Dr. Giggles, Brainscan, The Horror Show...if it's a one and done, would-be horror franchise, I'm all over it and Bones is a four-star candidate for that list. They must make these movies just for me because they sure don't make 'em to make money.

Consider the source but I have to tell you that Bones actually is better than a movie trying to launch Snoop Dogg as the next Freddy Krueger has any right to be. In fact, you can call me a fan. Surprise!

Prior to Bones, director Ernest Dickerson had already showed his affinity for action and horror with Surviving the Game (1994) and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight (1995) and his work on Bones shows that he was out to make a legit horror yarn, rather than a kitschy, camp sort of thing as the trailer might lead you to expect.

Yeah, of course it has its share of one-liners but it's no send-up.

As much as I got a kick out of Snoop's horror debut, before it even opened I figured it would never spawn a sequel. Not something anyone would need a crystal ball to predict but to phrase it in cheesy horror villain speak, let me just say I felt it in my bones.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Trick or Trailers: I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

By the time Scream kicked off a slasher revival in 1996, I was already past the target age range for these films. Just the same, I mostly got a kick out of the post-Scream slashers. After such a long late '80s/early '90s drought for horror, it was nice to see the genre experience a resurgence in popularity.

Sure, a better trend with better films would've been preferable but, hey, whaddya gonna do? The movies I embraced as a teen looked like junk to the generation before me so it'd be wrong for me to be (too) snobbish about the next generation's horror fads.

As far as I Know What You Did Last Summer goes, I enjoyed it more than I did Scream. While I liked a lot of what Wes Craven did directorially with Scream, I never thought Kevin Williamson's screenplay was anywhere near as clever as it was credited as being.

His adaptation of Lois Duncan's novel I Know What You Did Last Summer, on the other hand, was much more straightforward and therefore on much safer ground. Also in I Know's favor was Jennifer Love Hewitt, who I thought made for a much better Scream Queen than Neve Campbell, who seemed like such a miserable pill to me.

While the outfit of the killer in the film came in for some ridicule, derided as looking like the Gorton's Fisherman, as soon as I saw it in the trailer, it brought back fond memories for me of the rain slicker worn by the hitchhiker in the Hammer House of Horror episode "The Two Faces of Evil."

I Know What You Did Last Summer was released on October 17th, 1997, and became an instant smash hit. Sixteen years later, long enough for any uncool stigma to have passed, the films of the post-Scream slasher wave still haven't become fashionable for horror fans to embrace and if they haven't by now, I guess they never will.

Still, unfashionable or not, I know what I like and I like I Know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The People Under The Stairs (1991)

At the time The People Under the Stairs came out, it seemed as though the general mood towards Wes Craven among horror fans was one of wishing he'd get back to making the kinds of movies he first made his name on - raw, visceral stuff like Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. As time has gone on, though, his post-Elm Street, pre-Scream era has found more appreciation.

These are the Craven films I'm personally most fond of and this is the time and the style of moviemaking I wish Craven could get back to: when he was mainstream and more polished but was still quirky and subversive. Granted, he did try to get back to that with My Soul To Take (2010) but sadly things didn't come together so well there.

From the trailer, The People Under the Stairs looked as though it might mark a return to Craven's earlier brand of hardcore horror. In actuality, though, it was more satirical than scary. From the start of his career, Craven has dealt in social commentary but never as overtly as he did in The People Under the Stairs. Craven tapped into something in the air in regards to simmering tensions involving class and race and, perhaps attesting to that, five months after the film was released, the Rodney King verdict sparked the LA riots.

Most audiences who saw the film on Halloween weekend back in 1991, however (Halloween was on a Thursday that year and the movie was released on Friday, November 1st), were just looking for a good scary movie rather than a statement on race in America.

It was no more than a base hit on that first count but today the issues this movie deals with (racism, greed, urban misery) are as timely than ever. It's not 1991 anymore but twenty two years later, rich racist sickos are still making life miserable for the poor.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Silver Bullet (1985)

So, based on the early box office returns, we know that the new Carrie didn't set the world on fire. When a horror movie has the Halloween season all to itself and most horror fans still can't be bothered to show up for it, you know you've got a true dud on your hands.

On October 11th, 1985, a livelier Stephen King adaptation was released - the Dino DeLaurentiis-produced Silver Bullet, adapted from the novella Cycle of the Werewolf.

While the big appeal of the novella had been the illustrations of artist Berni Wrightson (above), the movie didn't evoke Wrightson's work at all. If anything, Silver Bullet looks a bit chintzy - a typical mid-'80s, mid-budget horror picture.

Of course, that works in its favor now as a typical mid-'80s, mid-budget horror picture can be a sight for sore eyes in 2013. The cast is good, too, with Corey Haim, Gary Busey, Everett McGill, Terry O'Quinn and Lawrence Tierney all giving Silver Bullet a considerable boost.

I always thought of myself as both a big Silver Bullet fan as well as a big Don Coscarelli fan but somehow I remained oblivious until now about the fact that the Phantasm mastermind had been involved in Silver Bullet as a director, to the point of filming the non-werewolf scenes before he quit over issues with the werewolf suit and being replaced by Daniel Attias. This blows my mind - both the fact that it happened and the fact that it took me this long to find out about it. It definitely goes a long way towards explaining why Silver Bullet is kind of good without being all the way good.

Too bad Coscarelli couldn't stick around and see the movie through. If he had, I bet Silver Bullet would've been a lot closer to pure gold.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Ghost Ship (2002)

Released on October 25th, 2002, Ghost Ship marked Dark Castle's final cruise into Halloween waters. After scoring big at Halloween with 1999's House on Haunted Hill and again in 2001 with Thirteen Ghosts, Ghost Ship was another attempt to make a box office killing in October. Even though it didn't perform quite as well as DC's previous films, it still did ok but for some reason, the Dark Castle logo was never seen on the big screen at Halloween again.

Like Thirteen Ghosts, this was directed by Steve Beck (who, according to IMDB, hasn't directed another feature since) and, like both House on Haunted Hill and Thirteen Ghosts, this was another halfway decent, halfway ehhhh not-so-decent supernatural shocker.

Dark Castle made some good pics after Ghost Ship (ones that I liked, at least), like the underrated House of Wax, the enjoyably daffy Gothika, and the cult favorite Orphan, but after Ghost Ship, regular DC distributor Warner Bros. relinquished that Halloween turf to the likes of Saw, instead going for dates in the spring or late fall/early winter.

Too bad, as DC's brand of semi-schlocky horror was ideally suited for Halloween viewing. Much more so to my eyes than the Saw series, which never struck me as "Halloween-ish" enough. Clearly the vast majority of the movie-going world didn't share that opinion, which is fine, but, you know, I just think Halloween is better suited to ghosts and ghouls than to slasher-style butchery.

Even though it's been awhile, I wish that Dark Castle would get another crack at Halloween. You know, I think they'd have a chance going head to head with the likes of the Paranormal Activity films but at this point, I think that particular ship has sailed for good.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The Dead Zone (1983)

1983 was a banner year for Stephen King adaptations, a year that saw the release of Lewis Teague's Cujo, John Carpenter's Christine, and David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone (kind of hard to believe all these films are celebrating their thirtieth anniversary this year, isn't it?).

Cronenberg's wasn't widely known enough then to be used as a selling point for The Dead Zone so unlike the marketing for, say, Creepshow or Christine in which Romero and Carpenter's names were as prominently promoted as King's own, The Dead Zone's marketing made scant mention of Cronenberg. However, for genre fans Cronenberg's involvement was a very big selling point and this was a highly anticipated collaboration. How would Cronenberg and King's very different sensibilities would work together? As it turned out, they meshed with surprising synergy. Jeffrey Boam's screenplay did a fine job of making King's episodic narrative work within the limited confines of a feature film and the material brought out a greater warmth from Cronenberg than he had previously displayed.

The Dead Zone also brought out a previously unseen warmth from Christopher Walken. I've read that King had wanted Bill Murray to play the lead of tormented psychic John Smith and I don't know if that ever was seriously considered by the producers but while that would've been inspired casting, it's hard to imagine this film without Walken.

Released on October 21st, 1983, The Dead Zone was a modest theatrical success at best, probably somewhat hobbled by the fact that it couldn't be sold at Halloween time as a real scare fest. It garnered critical acclaim, though, and for Cronenberg fans it made it easier to see a possible filmmaking future for him beyond horror.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

Say what you will about Platinum Dunes' Texas Chainsaw remake but one thing that must be agreed on is that New Line totally sold the shit out of this movie.

When this project was announced, horror fans were apoplectic at the idea of remaking Tobe Hooper's 1974 classic. Sequels were one thing but a remake just seemed...sacrilegious. And the fact that it would be produced by Michael Bay was a further cause for concern.

One thing Michael Bay knows about, though, is making hits and whatever expertise he lent the new TCM paid off in terms of this movie's commercial appeal. Director Marcus Nispel (working with original TCM cinematographer Daniel Pearl) gave this movie a slick sheen, miles away from the raw vibe of Hooper's film and the trailer celebrated that, grabbing the attention of a new audience.

While my experience of watching TCM '03 with a very packed, amped up crowd on its opening night of October 17th, 2003, was as ideal as it gets, there was plenty to find fault with (No cannibalism in TCM? What?) and it's a movie I haven't felt the need to go back to since.

Platinum Dunes' subsequent remakes weren't any more memorable, with their 2005 revamp of The Amityville Horror probably being the best of the bunch.

Prior to this, it was assumed (at least by me) that the horror classics of the '70s were sacred ground - that they would forever stay untouched. Why I thought this, I don't know, because I grew up seeing classics of the '50s, like The Blob and The Thing, remade throughout the '80s. Somehow that seemed logical, though.

Special effects had made so many leaps since the '50s that it seemed reasonable to apply that new technology to older classics and go state of the art with them. The advantage of remaking films like Texas Chainsaw, on the other hand, seemed harder to figure.

Hard to figure or not, the TCM remake gave me and fans of my generation a rude awakening as we had to get accustomed to specifying "remake" or "original" whenever we referred to movies like TCM, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, or The Hills Have Eyes.

And that is when I knew I had gotten old.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The Ring (2002)

My first reaction when I saw this trailer was one of relief. It gave me a glimmer of hope that the remake of Hideo Nakata's J-Horror classic Ringu (1999) might not be a disaster.

When an American remake was announced, it seemed like such a doomed-to-fail idea. How could Ringu successfully make the jump to the US? And why should it be forced to for the sake of subtitle-phobic US audiences? Further, the fact that the remake would be helmed by the director of the slap-sticky Mouse Hunt (1997) wasn't any cause for encouragement.

So the US Ring had a few big knocks against it from the start. It definitely was a film that would have to be damn good to ever be embraced by the horror community but this trailer went a long way towards alleviating at least some of that early skepticism. It was like the horror equivalent of the first Tim Burton Batman trailer that sold irate comic fans on the idea that, ok, this might not suck.

When The Ring was released on October 18th, 2002, the general consensus was that director Gore Verbinski and writers Ehren Kruger, Scott Frank, and Koji Suzuki (the author of the Ring novels) had pulled it off. This was one of those rare but happy instances of Hollywood doing right by horror. Sure, some fans still continued to grouse about whatever but by most reasonable standards, The Ring was an admirable remake. VCRs and video tape may have become all but obsolete in the eleven years since The Ring was released (which reminds me that my first viewing of Nakata's film, like that of many US fans, was on a VHS dub) but The Ring still plays great.

US audiences certainly embraced Verbinski's film in a big way, leading to a subsequent wave of J-Horror remakes, including The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse, One Missed Call, The Eye, and The Uninvited. Few were any good, leaving one Ring to rule them all.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Trick or Trailers: The Devil's Advocate (1997)

John Grisham meets William Peter Blatty in this mash-up of legal drama and satanic thriller. Based on the 1990 novel by Andrew Neiderman (who became the ghost writer for Flowers in the Attic author V.C. Andrews after her death), this was a A-class Hollywood production all the way, with Keanu Reeves being one of the biggest stars in the world at the time and Al Pacino still both respected as one of the all-time greats as well as still being a box office draw. With these two, you knew this wouldn't be some hacky production.

Not that it isn't a little cheesy, of course. It's obvious from the trailer that Pacino's performance is going to be gloriously over the top but, really, you wouldn't want him to approach it any other way and, under the direction of Taylor Hackford (responsible for one of the better Stephen King adaptations, 1995's Dolores Claiborne), Pacino's hamminess is integrated seamlessly into the overall serious tone.

Having grown up on the likes of The Omen, The Exorcist, and The Shining, I always appreciate it when Hollywood puts big money and talent into the genre.

I'm all for down and dirty independents but I dig it when Hollywood does something with horror that couldn't have been done (or not done as well) on the cheap. Sometimes it doesn't work out and you get tepid turkeys like 1981's Ghost Story but sometimes, as in the case of Devil's Advocate, you end up with a decent movie - one that couldn't have been made without the deep pockets and resources of a major studio.

Released on October 17th, 1997, Devil's Advocate was a solid Halloween hit. I haven't seen it since its release but I remember liking it quite a bit. Watching the trailer now makes me think less about what a new version of this movie would look like and more about whether anyone will ever think to turn this into a TV show.

With supernatural TV getting bigger all the time and legal dramas still popular, this is a natural premise for TV. Some TV exec should advocate for that, if you ask me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Shocker (1989)

Released on October 27th, 1989, Shocker saw Wes Craven trying to stick it to New Line, who he was feuding with at the time, by creating what was hoped to be the next Freddy at a rival studio.

Even with a Halloween release to boost it, though, and a kick ass trailer to sell it, things just didn't pan out. I'm pressed for time today so I'll step aside and let Siskel & Ebert put in their two cents.

As much as they seemed confounded by horror movies, I miss those guys.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Thirteen Ghosts (2001)

From this trailer, it was clear that this would not be a ghost story crafted in the subtle, suggestive tradition of Henry James or Shirley Jackson. Instead, this Dark Castle production was more akin to being front row at a rowdy WWE Smackdown than it was to taking a hushed journey to Hill House.

Some fans may disagree but I believe this simply honors Castle's own unsnobbish, crowd-pleasing approach, which was all about putting on a show and grabbing the audience's attention by any means necessary. Anyone who'd go so far as to give the audience electrical shocks would likely not balk at whatever approach any remake of his material might take in order to pull people in.

Under the direction of Steve Beck, Thirteen Ghosts is not a perfect movie by any means but it's certainly fun and energetic and I have a lot of affection for it. Mostly I love the production design involving the house made out of glass. That in itself is enough to win me over. We've seen so many haunted houses over the years - some gothic, like Hill House, and some contemporary like the Freeling's suburban home in Poltergeist but never, ever had we seen anything like the one in Thirteen Ghosts.

On top of that, there's the look of the ghosts themselves. These aren't just wispy, ethereal CGI specters; these are real actors in elaborate prosthetic make-up that, with character names like "The Juggernant" and "The Hammer", deserved to have their own line of action figures - or at the very least, stickers and bubblegum cards.

Why these guys haven't been incorporated into one of the big horror attractions that open during the Halloween season, like Universal or Knotts Berry Farms, I don't know.

Created by KNB, the ghosts in this film are wonderfully garish and dripping with gore, looking like they came full-blown out of the pages of a horror comic. They all had their own backstories and mythologies and it's a shame that with all the thought put into developing this world that this film never spawned its own sequel.

Unlike Castle's own films, this didn't have any cool gimmicks to sell it, just some really good ghosts.

Here's the trailer for the Castle original:

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Doom (2005)

I've never been much of a video game guy. While I spent a fair amount of time (and a fair amount of quarters) in arcades as a kid, I've never owned a home system and while I'm dazzled by what I see of modern games, I just don't have the time or money to spend on another hobby. That said, I do have a fondness for movie based on video games. They're seldom good, I know, but that's never been a deterrent for me. I may be ignorant towards video games but I have a very developed palate for bad movies.

Doom, released on October 21st, 2005, followed a group of space marines forced to contend with genetic mutants run wild in a Mars-based research facility. Why they went with that when the game involves an invasion from Hell, I don't know as an invasion from Hell sounds a whole lot cooler and scarier than a viral outbreak but, you know, making movies isn't an exact science. It's all in the execution and the execution here, from director Andrzej Bartkowiak, was just lacking.

My main reason to have hope for Doom was that it centered on a squad of badasses. Anytime that happens, I always hope we'll get something as great as Predator but this wasn't it. Getting The Rock to head things up was a great idea but the movie did not serve him (or future Judge Dredd Karl Urban) well. Not only was Doom not the next Resident Evil, it wasn't even the next Mortal Kombat. On the upside, at least it wasn't a Double Dragon-sized embarrassment.

In 2005, the Halloween season hadn't been officially claimed by the Saw series yet so there was still room for something else to be the go-to Halloween attraction that year. Even though sci-fi isn't a great match with Halloween, in my eyes, I still would've wanted something to stop short the ascension of Saw. But nothing did and once Saw II decimated all other comers when it was released on October 28th, my hopes for a Saw-free Halloween for many years to come were instantly doomed.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Candyman (1992)

As much as I love teen slashers, my hopes always get up a little higher for a horror movie when I see a trailer that features real adults in it. Seeing Virginia Madsen (as well as Kasi Lemmons, who had been Jodie Foster's fellow FBI agent in The Silence of the Lambs just the year before) in the Candyman trailer had me feeling early on that this was going to be a horror movie with something more to it. It was a rare treat in '92 to see a horror film centered on grown-ups - just as it is today.

Even though this was an adaptation of Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden", this trailer makes no mention of that. When something is based on anything by Stephen King, even if it's just a novella or short story, the marketing makes sure everyone knows it.

Then again, in 1992 advertising a film as a Barker adaptation was anything but a safe bet. Barker himself had done the only decent one to date - 1987's Hellraiser - and everything else had been much, much less impressive. Candyman, though, did things right.

Director Bernard Rose had done the outstanding dark fantasy Paperhouse (1988) prior to this, a film described as "the thinking man's Nightmare on Elm Street" and Candyman was similarly smart and scary.

Released in the US on October 16th, 1992, Candyman became a sleeper hit. Despite that, and despite the fact that it even spawned a couple of sequels, I get the feeling it's become a little overlooked these days. If you bring it up, everyone agrees for the most part that it was great, arguably a classic even. But it seems to be one of those movies that isn't that celebrated today. Last year was its twentieth anniversary and I don't recall anything in the horror press about it and there's been no special edition DVDs as far as I know.

Things remain strangely quiet on the Candyman front for some reason. Why is that? I don't know. Maybe the movie was just so effective, people still think they're better off just not saying his name. Or, more likely, they're just worried that talking about it too much will result in some studio executive getting the bright idea to remake it.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Deadly Friend (1986)

While I know exactly how terrible Deadly Friend is, watching this trailer makes me anxious to rewatch this botched Wes Craven effort. Not only that, but if Scream Factory announced they were doing a special edition of it, I'd have to preorder it. Because clearly, based on what I'm seeing in this trailer, I must not have given this movie a fair shake back in the day. I've become convinced that a fresh viewing will completely change my perception of it.

Then again, maybe I'm just getting a little carried away. I've been wrong about movies before, sure, but this is Deadly Friend we're talking about. It's probably best not to forget how bad it sucked.

You'd think that there'd be no wrong way to tell the tale of a precocious teenage boy who uses his knowledge of robotics to bring his dead girlfriend (played by a pre-Buffy Kristy Swanson) back to life. But hey, as it turns out there really is a wrong way.

The only time the audience I saw this with on its opening day of October 10th, 1986, ever perked up was when the old hag played by Anne Ramsey got her head vaporized by a basketball hurled at warp speed.

Of all the Wes Craven movies that have been remade in recent years - Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street - Deadly Friend is the one that could really benefit from being revisited but yet, for whatever reason, it doesn't seem likely to happen.

Maybe the bad experience that Craven had making this made him want to permanently turn his back on it. If so, that's too bad 'cause what this misbegotten movie really needs most of all is a friend.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000)

It's somewhat disconcerting to me that the year 2000 seems like such a long time ago. Looking at this trailer for Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, it somehow seems like even more of an ancient relic than trailers of much earlier vintage. Maybe it's the Artisan logo on the front. Seeing that, it's like "man, what happened to those guys?" They were a thing for a while and then - poof! - gone.

This trailer says it all about how little Artisan understood the phenomenon of Blair Witch in the first place. That movie was a classic case of lightning in a bottle and as soon as this trailer starts to unfold, you know that didn't happen this time around. I expect executives at Artisan really believed that if the first Blair Witch could do so well looking like (in their minds) a piece of crap, then if they made a real movie this time, with slick production values and special effects then people would literally turn out in droves.

Of course, this movie does have its fans - when you come down to it, nearly every horror movie attracts at least a minor cult following eventually - but I don't remember being too taken with it myself.

I definitely think that whatever missteps were made with BW2 proved educational to the people behind the Saw films and, even moreso, Paranormal Activity. BW2 was such a cautionary tale of how to blow a potential franchise that it set an example of what to avoid.

While The Blair Witch Project made plenty of people think twice about cavalierly walking into the woods, its sequel taught other studios and filmmakers to handle their horror franchises with care.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Bride of Chucky (1998)

As the wait for a fourth Chucky film stretched longer and longer after 1991's Child's Play 3, to the point where more than five years had gone by with no news, I kind of figured that was it. All I would have going forward as a Chucky fan would be my memories and my VHS tapes. It would be a somewhat diminished life, for sure, but I'd have to learn to stop pining for Chucky's return and focus on, I don't know, other stuff.

Happily, when Scream came along in 1996 and made horror commercially viable again, circumstances aligned for Chucky's comeback. For me, any Chucky is great - I even like the much-maligned Child's Play 3 - so having Chucky back period, in even the most rudimentary of sequels, was enough to make me overjoyed. The thought that this might be really good hardly crossed my mind.

After all, what were the odds of the fourth installment of a somewhat played-out series being incredible? Pretty slim, I'd say. But getting Hong Kong director Ronny Yu (The Bride with White Hair) to helm this installment was a true stroke of genius. Working from Chucky creator Don Mancini's wickedly funny script, Yu helped to reinvent the Chucky franchise in a way that no one saw coming.

When I first saw the trailer for Bride of Chucky it just popped off the screen as not just looking different from any previous Chucky movie but different from any other American horror movie as well. It was just immediately striking, visually.

Aside from the lavish look that Yu gave Bride, Mancini's brilliant move to give Chucky another doll to bounce off of is really what clinches it for Bride. The dynamic between Brad Dourif and Jennifer Tilly gave this movie a whole new energy and I loved seeing that carry on into the criminally underrated Seed of Chucky (2004).

Released on October 16th, 1998, Bride of Chucky helped make Halloween that year an extra celebratory one and I'm stoked that Chucky is back again this Halloween with Curse of Chucky, which hits DVD today. While I do wish that Universal had given Curse a theatrical release, having a new installment of this classic series with creator Don Mancini calling the shots and Chucky still voiced by the irreplaceable Brad Dourif is enough to make me as happy as Andy Barclay unwrapping his first Good Guy doll.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Terror in the Aisles (1984)

These days, with so many different avenues for movies to be released, even movies that are toplined with fairly big stars can bypass theaters and go straight to Redbox or VOD or whatever. But in 1984, a collection of clips could garner a wide release, like it was a real movie or something. Of course, putting out a "greatest hits" of horror right before Halloween seems like a pretty safe move and sure enough, Universal did fine by releasing Terror in the Aisles on October 26th, 1984, as the movie grossed just over 10 million.

I actually saw this in theaters and, even as a young horror fan, I recognized it as a missed opportunity. Director Andrew J. Kuehn and writer Margery Doppelt are clearly not knowledgeable about horror and when the movie isn't asking dippy, perplexed questions about why on earth do people enjoy being scared, it's wasting way too much time on non-horror thrillers like Nighthawks and Klute. Great movies, sure, but do they belong in a horror documentary? One with an already brief running time of 84 minutes, no less?

On the upside, this did give me the opportunity to see clips from many classic movies on the big screen - many from movies I hadn't even seen on TV yet (I only knew the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dressed to Kill, and other R-rated features by reputation) - and Terror in the Aisles also exposed me to several films I hadn't heard of, like Alone in the Dark. Unfortunately, thanks to the fact that none of the clips were identified, it took me forever to figure out what some of these movies were.

What the trailers for Terror in the Aisles didn't bother selling was the real reason it's great - the priceless hosting segments starring Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen as they sit in a theater full of sketchy dirtbags and ponder aloud about the meaning of horror. Pleasence is especially great as he relentlessly hams it up (you've never heard anyone say "It's only a movie!" the way he says it here).

Forget the movies. Sitting next to someone acting as unhinged as Pleasence does here would likely force even the most hardened of horror fans to nervously flee up the aisles.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Bats (1999)

Having grown up during the peak years of the revenge of nature sub-genre, I'm an easy mark when it comes to animal attack films. So to see that a killer bat movie - one starring Lou Diamond Philips (!) - was coming to theaters was instant cause for celebration. I was so hyped for this and, in the end, it was about as good as I expected - which is to say it was not very good at all.

Nonetheless, I was still filled with gratitude that someone put killer bats and Lou Diamond Philips together in one film. It didn't have to be good, you know, it just had to exist. And at that, it succeeded.

Screenwriter John Logan did ok for himself post-Bats, going on to write the screenplays for Ridley Scott's Gladiator and the James Bond film Skyfall, among others. Director Louis Morneau, on the other hand, didn't go on to do quite as much - mostly direct-to-video horror sequels, like 2003's Hitcher II and 2008's Joy Ride 2. Given that, you'd think he would've also done 2007's made for Sci-Fi Bats sequel, Bats: Human Harvest, but maybe one time at bat was enough.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Trick or Trailers: A Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

At first glance, you might think that A Vampire in Brooklyn looks terrible. On second or third glance, you might be sure of it. But, really, it wasn't that bad. Now, admittedly, I haven't seen it since it opened on October 27th, 1995, but I remember being surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Or at least by how much I didn't hate it. While the box office was weak, the film itself was actually solid, if lightweight, and Eddie Murphy didn't play it campy at all. He's as sincere in his performance as Johnny Depp was in Dark Shadows.

Genre-wise, the fall of '95 was dominated by Seven and Copycat and compared to those two grim thrillers, a "comic tale of horror and seduction" looked way too corny to bother with and, in turn, most audiences didn't. Copycat, in fact, opened the same day as A Vampire in Brooklyn and was easily the bigger draw on Halloween weekend.

Both Craven and Murphy rebounded with some of the biggest successes of their careers - Craven with Scream and Murphy with The Nutty Professor but A Vampire in Brooklyn deserves a little recognition as an entertaining entry in both their catalogs - even if it doesn't have much of a bite.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Graveyard Shift (1990)

Man, back in the day Stephen King adaptations were everywhere. You couldn't go for too long without seeing a trailer like this that promised "the new horror from the mind of Stephen King." Whether they were good or bad (usually bad), King-based films just kept coming through the '80s and into the '90s. Eventually they tapered off - mostly due to middling box office performers like Graveyard Shift. Now it's a much more rare occasion to see King's work come to the screen. On the upside, the quality's better. Whatever their faults may be, I'll gladly take the likes of The Mist (2007) or 1408 (2007) over Children of the Corn (1984) or Silver Bullet (1985). Actually, I kind of have to take that back somewhat. I love Silver Bullet and wouldn't trade it for much - even for a better movie, which doesn't make much sense, I know, but that's me all over.

Anyhow, this Graveyard Shift trailer really brings me back to a simpler time. It's Stephen King, it's Halloween, no need to overthink things. Sadly, being released right before Halloween, on October 26th, 1990, didn't cause a stampede at the box office. But it did well enough and, hey, it's a movie about a giant rat, so the number of people who are going to look at this trailer and think "Whooo!!", like I would, are really small. Speaking of the giant rat, something that this trailer makes me instantly nostalgic for is the days of pre-CGI creatures. In 1990, the CGI era was in its infancy so if a movie featured a giant rat, it actually had to be an animatronic thing or a puppet, or both. And preferably covered in lots of slime, of course. That's the worst thing about CGI monsters. They can't be covered in slime and without that glistening coating of gunk, whaddya got?

Not much, if you ask me.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Dr. Giggles (1992)

I love trailers like this that have material specifically shot for the trailer. I also think that any trailer for any movie would be improved by having a big hand jut into frame with a scalpel and slash the screen apart as seen here. If romantic comedies started using this tactic in their trailers, I'm sure I'd see more of them.

This trailer for Dr. Giggles embodies the film's gleefully grisly attitude as perfectly as any ever could've, spotlighting Larry Drake's cheerfully over-the-top performance as the mad medico of Moorehigh ("Hello Mr. Pancreas!"). The fact that this movie was sold to a "T" and yet audiences still didn't show up means that the time just wasn't right for this comical slasher pic. Released on October 23rd, 1992, Dr. Giggles did not prove to be the cure for the doldrums plaguing horror at the time but yet director Manny Coto, who also had a hand in re-writing Graeme Whifler's original script, created a fun, comic book-styled slasher that has aged very well.

Never getting more than a bare bones DVD in its home video history, I think this would be a perfect candidate for a Scream Factory Special Edition. I can only speak for myself here, of course, but I think a feature length commentary from Larry Drake would be just what the doctor ordered.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trick or Trailers: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

Released on October 19th, 1990, the Halloween horror crowd did not show up for Tom Savini's directorial debut but I dug it then and time hasn't dulled any of my affection for it.

Now that we live in a world where a zombie movie can make over $500 million worldwide and a zombie TV show is one of the highest rated programs on TV it's hard to believe that zombies were ever unpopular but in 1990, zombies actually were, like, dead-dead.

Maybe Michael Jackson's Thriller video was to blame. Or maybe it was the likes of 1988's Return of the Living Dead Part II (which, unlike the classic original, did not successfully mix comedy and horror) or Dead Heat. Whatever the case, zombies were perceived as corny by the mass public while horror fans were fond of the hardcore, unrated style of zombie fare that was not possible in a mainstream US film (even the greatest practitioners of undead mayhem, the Italians, had pretty much stopped by that time) so that left Savini's NotLD remake with a huge uphill battle to fight.

Working from a George Romero script which made some fresh tweaks to the original (even if none of the changes improved on the original necessarily, it was still interesting to see how Romero reapproached the material), Savini did a really fine job. Over the years, he's vented about the various frustrations he encountered while making the film but while a better film might have resulted had he had more time or resources or support or whatever, the film that he made, under whatever trying circumstances, is good.

Granted, it's not the original but at the time (and still now) I appreciated that it was a serious horror movie. The genre was on the wane back then and what little did make it to the screen was often times disappointing latter-day slasher sequels, like Halloween V or Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan. In that context, I appreciated that Savini had directed a sincere, non-campy horror pic that took time for emotional moments (like when Barbara abstains from shooting a zombie clutching a doll) that other films wouldn't have. I also really liked the performances of Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman and thought that the zombies looked terrific - even now they remain some of the most memorable in any zombie film.

I mean, who can forget this guy:

Savini's directing career didn't go far after this, which is a real crime as he has the chops as a filmmaker. While the Night of the Living Dead remake didn't change the face of fear like the original did, I'm still awfully fond of it.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Evil Loves To Party

It's only October 1st but that's not too soon to start celebrating Halloween, right? You know, as great as it is to welcome the arrival of October, it's a big wet blanket on my Halloween spirit to see that there's such a dearth of theatrical horror offerings this year.

The only wide release horror film is the Carrie remake and that looks like the most ho-hum movie ever. It might end up being ok but I can't muster any enthusiasm for it. The only bright spot to this October, horror-wise, is that Curse of Chucky comes to DVD on the 8th. I think it's really stupid on Universal's part that it's not coming to theaters but hey, I'll take new Chucky any way I can get it.

Anyhow, to counter the lack of new horror in theaters, I'm rolling out Dinner with Max Jenke's seasonal standby, Trick or Trailers in an expanded, super-sized, month-long blowout, focusing on films that were released in time for Halloween. Now, I haven't done jack here since June so the idea that I'd keep up with stuff for a whole month seems like a real longshot. Still, if I missed today, I would have had to scrap the whole month right off the bat so I'm putting the first step down and then we'll just see how it goes.

The first in our entirely random procession of trailers is for the House on Haunted Hill remake - a film released in prime Halloween territory on October 29th, 1999. Directed by William Malone, this was the kick-off to a run of William Castle remakes from the genre-orientated production house Dark Castle.

A far superior haunted house outing than the Steven Spielberg-produced, Jan DeBont-directed Haunting remake that had been released just a few months earlier, this movie made for a pleasant Halloween surprise. Aside from the too-cutesy finale where the surviving characters live thanks to the intervention of a good ghost, the HoHH redux was a pretty grisly affair - especially for the late '90s - and Geoffrey Rush did his best approximation of the supreme hamminess of Vincent Price.

I don't know why Dark Castle has tapered off in recent years. My favorite film of theirs was 2009's Orphan, which seemed to point towards a more high end-ish brand of genre fare from them - as did 2010's Splice - but their only theatrical releases this year were the much-delayed (but yet not too shabby) old-school action pic Bullet to the Head and the more-than-likely terrible Ethan Hawke thriller Getaway.

It's too bad they didn't have a horror film ready for this year - they would've had Halloween practically to themselves. Just like back in the day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

As American As They Come

Truth, Justice, and The American Way. That's what Superman has stood for since his inception back in 1938. But in an effort to make Superman "relevant" for our more jaded, ironic age, the makers of Man of Steel (including director Zack Synder, producer Christopher Nolan, and writer David Goyer) have taken steps to ensure that their version of Superman isn't seen as a corny relic from a simpler time. In doing so, they do more harm than good to the character.

Now, if you haven't seen the movie yet, I'm about to jump into spoilers so stop reading now unless you want to know everything about Man of Steel's climax.

I'm serious. If you don't know and don't want to know, come back after you've seen the movie.

Ok, fair warning given. Now let's get into that ending...

At the end of Man of Steel, after a lengthy battle, General Zod is trying to fry a group of defenseless humans with his heat vision, straining against the neck hold that Superman has him in. As Zod refuses to give up, Superman resorts to lethal force, snapping Zod's neck and instantly killing him.

Henry Cavill delivers a powerful reaction immediately following but it's simply a moment that should not have happened. It's just too ugly. As readers know, Superman has killed in the comics before - killing Zod and his Kryptonian cronies, in fact - back at the end of John Byrne's historic run on Superman. In Superman #22, Superman acts as judge, jury, and executioner - exposing a Kryptonian trio to green kryptonite, killing all three. This deed occurs away from any witnesses but although the knowledge of what he's done rests solely with himself, Superman feels the full weight of his deadly actions, ruminating on the fact that none of the people of Earth who look up to him as a hero know that he's been tarnished.

So yes, Superman has killed but Man of Steel handles it much differently than Byrne did, depicting this monumental act in a much less responsible fashion. For one, in the Byrne issue, Superman kills his Kryptonian adversaries by means of a very "comic book-y" method. Seeing characters on a comic page fading away as they succumb to Kryptonite radiation is not nearly the same as the sight of Superman snapping a man's neck on the big screen, with the crack echoing in Dolby digital sound. We're talking about a very real world level of brutality here that is acceptable from a one man killing machine like The Punisher, but not from Superman.

This is a character that has inspired children for decades and still does. To have him straight-up murder someone, no matter what the circumstance, is just wrong. At 44, I'm plenty jaded and onscreen violence is nothing that I'm against as long as it's for an appropriate audience but there are some things that always need to be safe for kids to enjoy and Superman is way up there at the very top of that list. I'm the father of an eight-year-old boy who loves Superman and it was genuinely dispiriting to have our first Superman movie together on the big screen be crowned by the sight of Superman savagely murdering his opponent. Sorry, but it's just not cool. It's a sad conversation to have to have as you explain to your child that Superman was wrong and that he should've found a better way.

For those who want to cite Superman II (1981) as evidence that Superman has killed on film before, in the theatrical cut, the fate of Zod, Ursa, and Nod is left ambiguous and in the longer cut of the film that aired on ABC during its first television broadcast, there's a scene of all three being taken away from the Fortress of Solitude by the feds. So no, it's not quite the same. And for those who want to say, hey, times are different now - are they any worse than during the Depression or during World Wars or the tumult of the '60s? Or is just that people have poorer characters today? I'd say it's the latter.

As poor a decision as it was to have Superman kill, I could've almost gone with it had there been a thoughtful follow-up. But no, it's just glossed over. When Martha and Clark are standing over Pa Kent's grave at the end and Martha's saying she wishes Jonathan could've lived to see the man that Clark has became, my first thought was that he would've surely been appalled. After all, didn't Jonathan raise his son to be better? Couldn't they at least have had Clark acknowledge that he crossed a line that he never wants to cross again - that this is something that will haunt him and drive him to be a better hero? That even though no one blames him for killing Zod, he knows that he has to hold himself to a higher standard?

Some indication of guilt or shame would've been in line with Superman and it actually could've added a richer dimension to the character where he feels that he doesn't deserve the adulation he's receiving because, in his heart, he feels he could've avoided killing Zod.

Unfortunately, this movie was made by people who hold the short-sighted belief that a more violent Superman must naturally be a cooler Superman. It's just sad that the responsibility for this movie wound up in their hands and I wonder how anyone connected with this film (at least those who were in the position to make key creative decisions) can possibly feel good about themselves.

Even in Frank Miller's landmark The Dark Knight Returns, Batman starts to take The Joker's life by breaking his foe's neck but stops short of it. In a final mad act, The Joker finishes the job himself but Batman, the grimmest of heroes, couldn't bring himself to go there. Now we're saying that Superman can? No, I can't go along with that.

In one of Man of Steel's final scenes, Superman assures a general who still harbors a modicum of suspicion towards him that he's "as American as it gets."

And truth be told, in being depicted as content to go for an expedient, lazy, and morally wrong solution rather than working harder and smarter to do what's right, this Superman is as American as it gets.

That just doesn't say anything good about either modern Americans or Superman.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Max Jenke Is DOOMED!

As yet another comic book adaptation rules the box office landscape with Man of Steel's opening bow this weekend, turn your attention to one of the most famous failures in that sub-genre - 1994's legendary Roger Corman-produced Fantastic Four. Never given an official release, the Corman FF remains a popular item on the bootleg circuit.

Filmmakers Marty Langford and Mark Sikes are seeking to expose the story behind this fascinating misfire, a film that struggled with very limited means to do justice to the characters that formed the foundation of the mighty Marvel Universe.

Despite the movie's shortcomings, there's a sweetness and an earnestness that shines through and a clear desire to honor the essence of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's fabulous foursome. And when you're talking about trying to mount an adaptation of a comic that features characters who can stretch their body at will, burst into flame, turn invisible and project force fields, and transform into orange rock all on a $1 million budget, you're talking about working some real miracles! As a film and comic book fan, that's a story that I'd love to hear, told in the words of the people who were there.

Marty and Mark are currently raising funds for their film, entitled Doomed: The Untold Story of Roger Corman's Fantastic Four at this link. Give it a look and see if you'd like to contribute to their cause.

Help make sure this film is not 4-gotten! It's Documentin' Time!

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Purge And The Pain

I have to hand it to The Purge. It's been awhile since a movie borderline enraged me. I run at a real even keel and with all the lousy movies I see, a bad movie is usually the last thing to get under my skin. Hell, most times I enjoy them - but I found The Purge to be such an unforgivable failure on every level that it put me in a sour mood for awhile afterwards. I can definitely tell you that I'll be avoiding all movies written and directed by James DeMonaco in the future. Maybe even ones starring Ethan Hawke, too, just to be safe.

Let's start with the premise, which defies all sense. At some point in the not-so-far future, the US passes a law establishing an annual "Purge Night" during which all crime is legal. The psychological reason behind this being that, given an opportunity to "unleash the beast," that people will be more docile during the rest of the year.

Any successful sci-fi concept has to have a kernel of believability and "Purge Night" doesn't have that. There are many outrageous concepts that can be accepted as within the realm of plausibility but "Purge Night" isn't one of them. This movie would have us believe that people can just go back to their normal lives after a night where their neighbors, co-workers, family members, what have you, have gone out to murder people. The absurdity of that is a hump I can't get over. To even begin to make this concept work, you'd have to take it to a Star Trek sort of level where it's another planet, another species - something where it can be more readily appreciated as an allegorical thing and not something that's taking place in a world that's just barely removed from our own.

And if the idea of Purge Night is that all crime is legal for a 12-hour span and that the solution to surviving it is to go into lockdown with your family, that fails to take into account the possibility that many family members would happily turn on each other on such a night. Not to be overly cynical but how many disgruntled teens or unhappy spouses would let their resentments build up for a year and then take the opportunity to slay their siblings, or parents, or significant others? On a night where murder is legal, being locked in with your family is not exactly the best way to stay safe. Far from it, in fact!

On top of how daft the premise is, the movie additionally requires that every character must act moronic in order to keep the storyline moving. You have to believe that the young son of Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey's characters is a) dumb enough to let a stranger into their house but also b) that he knows the home security code and c) that Hawke and Headey are not keeping a constant eye on their kids during purge night. When you have a night where all hell's breaking loose and there's no recourse to the law, no matter how tight your home security system is you'd think that any parent would insist on everyone sticking close. You'd also think that people would have, at the very least, some concrete bunker action going on. Which brings me to another area of absurdity: Hawke's character sells home security systems and yet we find out that these high-end systems aren't worth a dime. Once a group of would-be purgers decide to break into Hawke's home in order to get to the man that has taken shelter there, it takes them about a hot minute to bust in. Reinforcing how ill-thought out The Purge's premise is, all Hawke can say to Headey when it's clear that their security system is nothing but show are words to the effect of: "Hey, no system is impenetrable! Anyone can get in if they really want to!" Um, shouldn't that be the exact situation that your system is explicitly built for - the times when someone really does want to get in to kill you and they're willing to sweat a little bit to do it? If your system isn't Purge Proof, then some additional work is needed.

Even with all this, had the B-movie goods been delivered, I would have given a pass to The Purge's many illogical elements but yet it completely fails to satisfy on the action front.

While there is plenty of gunplay on tap and various instances of interpersonal mayhem, none of it is handled with any gusto or flair. More critically, a half-hearted anti-violence message is offered during the climax, which allows several heinous characters - characters who were willing to slaughter children - to survive all but completely unscathed and, man, that just doesn't cut it. After asking an audience to swallow such an idiotic premise, to then not reward them with the kind of visceral payoff that might have made it worthwhile and instead basically smugly scold them for even expecting a bloody payoff, is just an outrageous slap in the face.

And in the situation as it plays out in The Purge, the refrain from violence that happens is absolutely absurd. No one would just let things go at the point that they do. No one that you'd ever care to sympathize or identify with, that's for sure. So what you end up with is a movie about "purging the beast" that denies the viewer of any kind of catharsis. How useless is that?

Thanks to its big opening weekend, this nonsense is already getting a sequel and to my mind there's only one thing that could possibly make a Purge 2 watchable - make The Purge be a random event. No more annual Purge Night. Instead, it happens at a random time, on a random day. People are at work, at the mall, out to dinner, whatever. Everything is normal and then sirens go off announcing the beginning of the purge. Then you're really in a dicey situation.

Sure, the idea that the government - or anyone - would think that a Random Purge is a sensible, healthy idea is insane but so is the idea of The Purge itself so why not go with it? I know it'd make for a wild movie.

As for The Purge, well I'm feeling calmer about it now. But not so calm that I'm about to forget it was one of the worst movies I've seen - if not arguably the worst (seriously!) - in a very long time.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Dead Shark

Last month marked an unfortunate milestone in this blog's history: it was the first time that I've gone an entire month (nearly two, by now!) without a single post. Thinking about the status of Dinner with Max Jenke makes me think of Woody Allen's conversation with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall (1977) as they fly back to New York from their trip to LA:

"A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark."

Likewise, DWMJ hasn't been moving forward lately and by now it's looking suspiciously like a dead shark.

The reason for the inactivity mainly boils down to a lack of time. I seldom have the time to watch a movie just for the sake of my own enjoyment, much less devote additional time to writing about it afterwards. Even though things might often seem half-assed here, I do actually like to be able to write to the best of my abilities - such as they might be.

Anyhow, for anyone who's been stopping by to see if things are still up and running - yes, they are. Things have been on a hiatus but for now, the shark is still swimming.