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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Prom Night (2008 remake), + closing thoughts on the PROM NIGHT series

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

At a glance the PROM NIGHT of 2008 doesn’t seem like a remake at all, but more of a re-use of the title. It doesn’t take any major elements of the original or its unrelated sequels – there’s no children’s game turned deadly, no principal’s son or masked killer or prom queen burned alive and back as a ghost or evil priest, no Hamilton High or Brock Simpson or even ambiguity about which North American country it takes place in (it’s in Bridgeport, Oregon, though filmed mostly in L.A.). It does take place on prom night, though, so I totally get why they wanted that title.

If you look closely it is arguably based on a somewhat forgotten plot point of the original 1980 PROM NIGHT, but if so that detail is now a xerox of a xerox of a xerox of the fifth revision of the 13th draft. The part in question is the original’s red herring about the pedophile who was blamed for the sister’s death and now has escaped and the police are trying to make sure he doesn’t come to the prom for revenge. The remake/”remake” uses a similar escaped lunatic template, but in this one it’s ex-teacher turned stalker Richard Fenton (Johnathon Schaech, ACTS OF VENGEANCE) who, three years ago, became delusionally obsessed with his student Donna (Brittany Snow, PITCH PERFECT, BUSHWICK) and murdered her family in front of her. Unlike PROM NIGHT (but like PROM NIGHT IV and their original inspiration, HALLOWEEN) there’s no whodunit mystery in this one. He definitely did it, he really is here, he for sure is killing a bunch of people, and we’re seeing it. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Prom Night IV: Deliver Us From Evil

Monday, June 4th, 2018

By the time they finished off the PROM NIGHT series it was 12 years after the original. The ’80s horror cycle that had given rise to Mary Lou Maloney had petered out. This was a year of studio auteur horror (BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, RAISING CAIN, DEATH BECOMES HER), genius cult directors getting to work with more resources (DEAD ALIVE, ARMY OF DARKNESS), shitty horror with morphing (Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS, not Stephen King’s THE LAWNMOWER MAN) and in my opinion the best horror movie of the decade (CANDYMAN). The PROM NIGHT series was part of another trend of lesser or totally unwanted sequels, arguably including PET SEMATARY TWO, HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH, HOUSE IV, STEPFATHER 3, WITCHCRAFT IV & V, 976-EVIL 2, CRITTERS 4, AMITYVILLE 3: IT’S ABOUT TIME, BASKET CASE 3: THE PROGENY, THE GATE 2: TRESPASSERS and SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER (and some might say ALIEN 3).

PROM NIGHT IV: DELIVER US FROM EVIL, the finale of the original Canadian PROM NIGHT series (so far), ditches parts IIIII‘s story of the avenging prom queen ghost for some new religiously themed horror about some Catholic school students and their boyfriends from Hamilton High who get dressed up and rent a limo and do not go to prom. (So there is no disco, no rock, no Maestro Fresh-Wes, no popular music at all.) (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss

Thursday, May 31st, 2018

PROM NIGHT III: THE LAST KISS is the only PROM NIGHT movie to directly follow up on the previous one. It opens on the grave of Mary Lou Maloney, who we see is now in Hell, where chained up dead girls in underwear and torn stockings do a kick line barefoot on burning-hot bricks to the tune of ’50s rock ‘n roll saxophone and moans of agony. But somehow Mary Lou (now played by Courtney Taylor, COVER ME, CAMP BLOOD) got a hold of a nail file, and when she manages to file through her chain she explodes out of her grave and EVIL-DEAD-cams right back to the school, where she manifests a working jukebox to lure in the night janitor (Terry Doyle, NIGHT FRIEND) and ask him to dance with her. She knows him by name because he was one of the many boys she dated in high school.

It’s a depressing commentary on small town life that this poor guy would still be living in the same god damn town where he grew up, mopping floors, and so mush-brained that when a mysterious sexy trespasser calls him by the same pet name as the girl he dated in high school who was burned alive in front of his eyes and recently came back from the dead, killed several students and burned down the gym during the prom he smiles nostalgically and says “I haven’t heard that name in 30 years. There was a girl–” (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018

HELLO MARY LOU: PROM NIGHT II doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the first PROM NIGHT, but it follows the same basic template of opening with a tragic past incident and then skipping to the present day, when older actors playing some of the same characters await impending tragedy at the senior prom.

This one seems even more CARRIE-inspired than the first one, even having a part where the protagonist is teased while playing volleyball in P.E. and gets hit in the head with the ball and knocked to the ground. But instead of having an obvious HALLOWEEN influence it’s the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series. This is, after all, a relatively late sequel – seven years later, in a whole new era of horror.

The classics were just pouring out in 1987: EVIL DEAD II, THE STEPFATHER, THE MONSTER SQUAD, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: DREAM WARRIORS, HELLRAISER, PRINCE OF DARKNESS and many others. There was so much going on in the genre that this didn’t make the cover of Fangoria when it came out in October – that honor went to Jason Voorhees, with THE HIDDEN, PUMPKINHEAD, THE UNHOLY, GHOULIES II and WEREWOLF on the sidebar.

When PROM NIGHT came along in 1980 the modern age of horror had been just kind of kicking off. By ’87 it was an industry, it had a built-in audience that worshiped special effects artistry and loved franchises. So hey, PROM NIGHT was a big one. Time for another PROM NIGHT. Doesn’t even need Jamie Lee. She would’ve graduated by now. Who was the killer again? The brother? Well, that doesn’t work. Do a new one. Make her a prom queen. And put her name in the title. Maybe make it rhyme? (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Prom Night

Tuesday, May 29th, 2018

PROM NIGHT is one of the early slasher cash-ins. It has a 2008 remake, though, so it’s a classic. It kind of seems like there’s not alot going on, because the body count is pretty low and the killings don’t start until 2/3 of the way in and there’s a surprisingly long uninterrupted disco dancing scene. But at the same time there’s a couple movies’ worth of things going on.

1. There’s the whole HALLOWEEN plot. A killer (also child molester) has been locked up (and burned up) and now it’s the anniversary of the murder of a little girl and he’s escaped and kidnapped a nurse and the police are trying to find him and I hope he doesn’t come after Jamie Lee Curtis (this time playing prom queen Kim, whose little sister was the murder victim).

2. Also there’s the CARRIE plot. A mean popular girl named Wendy (Eddie Benton, DR. STRANGE, HALLOWEEN II, Sledge Hammer!, married Michael Crichton and co-wrote TWISTER with him) is jealous of Kim getting to go to the prom with her ex-boyfriend Nick (Casey Stevens, THRESHOLD) so she gets a thuggish gum-chewing neanderthal lookin guy named Lou (David Mucci, “Quick Mike” in UNFORGIVEN) to help her with a cruel prank planned to take place when the king and queen are being crowned. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Friday, May 25th, 2018

Note: I believe I’ve seen the Mario Van Peebles version, but I don’t remember it at all, so I won’t be able to make a comparison.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY is the movie about Han Solo when he was a little younger than in STAR WARS. This is a generalization, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that no one in their right mind wanted to see a movie about young Han Solo. The only exception is George Lucas, who actually had Lawrence Kasdan writing this before he sold everything to Disney. I’m guessing it was his idea of what the fans who hated his prequels wanted to see.

The trouble is that if there was one Star Wars character who would be the MOST difficult to recast, it would definitely be Han Solo. This is a character that’s all about the specific charisma of Harrison Ford. If Kurt Russell or somebody had gotten the part then it might’ve still been a cool character, but it would not be the same. And you can’t re-create that. You can’t reverse engineer it.

So, with that in mind Alden Ehrenreich (the funny cowboy actor from HAIL, CAESAR!) has done as good a job as one could hope in an impossible task. He only looks a little like him and only sounds a little like him, but he gets some of his mannerisms, some of his attitude, some of his charm without ever seeming like he’s doing an impersonation. (If there’s one area in which it’s an uncanny reproduction I’d say it’s in his gun poses, which always look ready for a promotional poster.) (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Silverado

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

SILVERADO is Lawrence Kasdan’s upbeat 1985 western about some cowboys and, you know… they meet up and ride together and there’s guns and a jail and a saloon and a guy trying to steal land and all that. I don’t know, it’s a western.

This was Kasdan’s third time directing, after BODY HEAT and THE BIG CHILL. But consider that in the half decade before this he co-wrote THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and RETURN OF THE JEDI. This is his rare directing job that has some of the vibe of those George Lucas productions. He wrote SILVERADO with his brother Mark (CRIMINAL LAW) and all these decades later he wrote SOLO with his son Jonathan (who had a bit part in SILVERADO at the age of 14) so I thought it would be a good time to write about this one.

(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2018

May 19, 1998

Fresh off of the hard-hitting journalism of Tea Leoni in DEEP IMPACT and Maria Pitillo in GODZILLA, summer of ’98 offered an alternative approach. Johnny Depp (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) plays Raoul Duke and/or Hunter S. Thompson in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Thompson’s 1971 Rolling-Stone-two-parter-turned-book about covering the Mint 400 desert motorcycle race for Sports Illustrated. You do see a glimpse of dirt bikes (well, mostly dirt), but the real story is his crazed debauchery while “searching for the American Dream” with his lawyer (who we never once see doing legal work) Dr. Gonzo (Benicio del Toro, SICARIO), ingesting much of the contents of a briefcase containing “a serious drug collection,” turning hotel rooms into Vietnam War movies and barely avoiding death or prison like some silent film clown accidentally dodging a series of falling objects.

And the movie itself keeps ducking dangers with miraculous precision. This is 118 minutes of what mostly feels like aimless madness, depraved variations on bad behavior and hallucinations, but to me it never gets old. I actually feel more exhausted at the end of Gilliam’s more polite movies like BRAZIL, THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN or TWELVE MONKEYS. Somehow I’m endlessly amused by Duke and Gonzo’s deadpan craziness as they live out the type of lifestyle where you’d only be a little surprised to wake up with an alligator tail growing out of you, a microphone taped to your face and a giant smoking hole in your hotel bed. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Godzilla (1998)

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

“We got approached with GODZILLA, and Dean was really in favor. I said, ‘Are you crazy? Have you seen a Godzilla film? How does the monster look? They put a guy in there.'” –Roland Emmerich

May 20, 1998

Man, LOST IN SPACE was a terrible summer blockbuster, but I was kind of excited to take a look at it because I had skipped it at the time and there was 20 years of curiosity build-up. And there’s another one coming later in the summer that I despised at the time, but it ended up being influential and kickstarting an in-my-opinion-bad-but-oddly-fascinating filmography, so I’m looking forward to finding out how I’ll feel about it now.

GODZILLA has neither of those factors going for it. I thought it sucked then and it has not grown better or more interesting. Director Roland Emmerich (WHITE HOUSE DOWN) has gone on to make fairly successful (but widely mocked) FX movies, often in the disaster genre. The only significance to this one is that it deflated his premature ascension to blockbuster-A-list after the still-befuddling-to-me smash success of INDEPENDENCE DAY in 1996. TriStar Pictures managed to build up fevered anticipation with a series of teasers that kept the design of the monster a secret. I remember one used the scene where the fisherman runs down the dock as Godzilla’s spikes tear through it. The tagline “SIZE DOES MATTER” simultaneously promised thrilling spectacle and giggled “ha ha, you get it, because of penises.”

I was skeptical on account of my belief in the auteur theory. I was one of the rare wet blankets who hated ID4 (which stands for “Independence Day takes place partly on July 4th”) and as much as I wanted to see a cool modern Godzilla movie I didn’t think this guy had the skills to do it. On May 20th most of the world ended up agreeing with me. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

The Horse Whisperer

Monday, May 21st, 2018

May 15, 1998

THE HORSE WHISPERER is a drama about healing and romance and horses. It’s pretty simple and intimate, focusing mainly on three characters, but it’s on an epic canvas; it’s nearly 3 hours long and it spreads out to widescreen when it moves from New York to the wide open fields of Montana, photographed lovingly by Robert Richardson (U-TURN, THE AVIATOR, DJANGO UNCHAINED).

Sixteen year old Grace (Scarlett Johansson in her followup to HOME ALONE 3) has a horrific horse-riding accident – I was actually unprepared for how fucked up the accident is – that results in the death of her best friend (Kate Bosworth [THE WARRIOR’S WAY, HOMEFRONT] in her first movie) and her friend’s horse, plus the loss of one of her legs and the mangling of her horse, Pilgrim. (This is the third movie of the summer where a semi-truck plowing into someone is a crucial plot point, but I don’t think this one involved a tired driver.) The experts want to put the horse out of his misery, but Grace’s mom Annie (Kristin Scott Thomas, UNDER THE CHERRY MOON) never gives permission, so he lives in a barn all scraped up and violently freaking out when approached. Grace is kind of the same, hating her mom and her life and breaking down when she sees Pilgrim scared of her.

But Annie reads a magazine article about this horse expert in Montana named Tom Booker (Robert Redford [THE HOT ROCK], his first time starring and directing at the same time). When she can’t get him to come to New York she packs up her daughter and horse against their will for a long drive conveyed through the medium of longer-than-expected driving montage. Grace dodges all attempts at conversation and bonding – thankfully the movie doesn’t give Annie any horse troubles on the trip. That would be a nightmare. I don’t know how helpful a horse whisperer is when your psychotic horse gets loose at a truck stop. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.