Sunday, January 21, 2007

One Mother of a Migrane: Pumpkinhead

A while ago I watched a movie called "Darkness Falls."

It was, without a doubt, one of the worst things I have ever seen.

I could go on for ages about the hackneyed acting or the tear-worthy special effects, but all I need to clearly demonstrate the caliber of this film is to reveal the villain.

Are you ready?

The Tooth Fairy.

I'm just gonna let that one sit for a bit.


Someone actually pitched that idea. There was a meeting, and people tossed around things like, "what if the Easter Bunny goes on a rampage?" And then someone had to point out that they did that last fall.

And then, silence. A lone figure stands at the end of the table, his eyes glowing with the greatest idea that ever happened to anyone ever.

In a voice almost inaudible over the sound of reverence, he whispers: "The Tooth Fairy."

For an entire day, no one moves. Finally, the big boss man shoves his chair aside in a gruff manner. Most think he is about to chastise the idiot savant. But then, in a scene of pure Hollywood, he begins the finest tradition of all films. He starts a slow clap.

Now I'm sure this isn't exactly how it all went down, but that about gets the idea.

This movie was made with a sizable budget. People were paid for it, and promotional events were held in its honor. Does that not blow your friggin mind?

We live in a different era, where film writers have lost all sense of originality (save the genius behind "Pan's Labyrinth" who ought to receive a medal for kicking ass and taking names in the sense of magical adventure).

How many remakes of old Asian horror films to we have to slough through before something new comes along?

Why are we rehashing old franchises and cartoon shows?

Why won't Peter Jackson admit he went a little bit overboard with the LOTR trilogy and make the "Hobbit" with my sister as dramatic advisor (and yes, she can have a beating-stick with which to ensure loyalty to the text)?

But back in the 80's, when life was sweet and fashion non-existent, horror movies carried new and interesting characters brimming with storylines yet untold.

Freddy rose from the ashes of our dreams with a bladed-hand.

Jason emerged from the depths of a lake to deal out his own brand of bloody justice.

And one creature stepped forward to right the wrongs of the backwater folk of Hicksville, USA.

That demon was Pumpkinhead.


I actually never saw the original "Pumpkinhead" until just recently. I'd seen the Punky Bruster version, i.e. number two, but I never knew what to make of the whole thing. A demon with a head shaped like a pumpkin went around tearing kids limb-from-limb for no apparent reason.

Maybe it's because I grew up with such plot-oriented horror, like "Child's Play," but throughout the run of "Pumpkinhead 2: Bloodwings" (not to be confused with the KFC tie-in, Pumpkinhead Buffalo Wings) I found myself deeply dissatisfied.

Now, upon revisiting the beginning of this monstrous opus, I realize exactly what was missing from the sequel:


There is a deep and serious story playing out behind the scenes of this monster-from-hell-out-to-kill-horny-teenagers movie.

And yes, I am pulling your leg.

Lance Henriksen ("Aliens") plays creepy farmer Ed Harley. He's a bit "too close" to his son, with lots of affection directed in ways I'd rather not elaborate on in a PG film BLOG. One day, city folk come into town to practice some hardcore biking...right next to Ed's shop.

While Ed goes to get some feed for a farmin' buddy, his son goes a-chasin' after the dog, Gypsy. As luck would have it, he gets run over by one of the kids on a bike.

But this kid already has a record, and he's been drinking since about noon-thirty. And he's so wild, no one can handle him.

Ed comes back from a happy drive to find his son dead and the killers off on the lam, trying to hide in a cabin in the middle of Hicksville...with the friends and family of the boy they just killed.

These kids aren't really packing too much in the brains department. Some would say they aren't playing with a full deck. I assess they brought the card box and forgot the cards.

Ed tracks down Old Lady Haggis (yes, the sumptuous Scottish dish involving sheep intestines and manly chest hair) and begs she help him get some sort of vengeance.

He does this without a hint of emotion, because Lance Henriksen is too badass for any wussy tears.

Haggis tells him of a pumpkin patch where evil grows. And thus our tale introduces the titular demon: Pumpkinhead.

Now...I can't actually explain what this thing looks like, except that its head does indeed resemble the gigantic orange vegetable. The creature itself is one of Stan Winston's creations, the FX genius behind such greats as "Terminator", "The Thing", and "Dracula's Dog."

So, while it looks like the next logical step for Michael Jackson, it moves with a grace only Stan's team can produce.

The disposables in this are...well, just that. Aside from John D'Aquino (A "JAG" regular) no one made it out of this film alive.

These kids have no emotional stability. In one scene, they can curse each other out and prepare for epic blood rivalries, and then forget it all to have lunch in the next. One girl becomes religious after watching the little boy get steamrolled, and by "religious" I mean she goes insane and quotes the bible.

Also, as with most monster films, these people are BLIND AS EYELESS BATS WITH SEVERE MENTAL DISABILITIES. I can't count how many times I asked the TV "why can't you see the monster EATING YOUR FRIEND not FIVE FEET from you?"

Alas, no one answered me but Pumpkinhead himself, whose only response was to eat more brainless children.

Had the beast of this film been a zombie, it would have been sorely in want of a good meal.

At the end of the film, nothing is answered, but you won't ask any questions. Back in the 80s this was something, perhaps a statement of the filmmakers on socio-economic freedom in the fictional South. Today, it's just another B-movie with nothing to show.

I've decided to create a ranking system that will be easier to interpret. Remember that my opinion is just that, and you can't always go on the word of a man who's actually seen "House of the Dead" twice. My brain has been permanently altered.

So from now on, a 10 will be a film I'd recommend renting, as one should never own too many of these types of movies (and please don't ask me how many I own, it's just sad). A 5 will be a movie that is very bad, but still funny as hell to watch, mainly due to its awful nature.

A 1...well, let's just say that I will always warn about the effects of a 1 on your psyche.

"Pumpkinhead" with Lance "The Snake Man" Henriksen gets a 5 out of 10.

Now I've got work calling me that was supposed to be done hours ago, so I'd better get to procrastinating.

Watch carefully.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Feeling Reaped: The Brothers Grimm

Camp can be a good thing.

I'm saying this from a very camp-oriented perspective. I enjoy movies that relish in the styles of the B-movie glory days.

"The Lost World," in all its claymation splendor.

"The Boondock Saints," arguably the best action-ish film...ever.

"Serenity," Joss Whedon reminding us all why he is, in fact, the fifth coming of our Lord, Gilgaminad.

So I often enjoy movies that embrace their roots and really let the cheese flow all over the place.

A little while ago--about a week to be precise--I took a look at a film that embodies the ancient ideals.

"The Brothers Grimm."

Some of you--by which I mean everyone under the age of 409--have heard of the Grimm Brothers' fairytales. Some of these include "Snow White," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Rapunzel."

You know, those cult classics from the age before TV. You know, back when people hadn't yet invented fun and had to make do sitting around telling stories or (shudder) reading.

These stories scared the bejesus out of just about everyone, because they were (you guessed it) rather grim in nature.

"The Brothers Grimm" plays upon this in a very interesting way.

Yes, I did say "interesting", which isn't to say "good" or "worth seeing."

Let's start with the roster.

Matt Damon (go ahead, do the "Team America" thing) plays Wilhelm, the older and more money-oriented brother. Heath Ledger (that heartthrob...oh, girls go ahead and swoon. I'll be in the corner dying inside) plays the idealistic Jacob. Together they are the brains behind a con game that covers most of Europe.

The funniest part of this movie happens in the first five minutes, which is why I feel no shame in ruining it for you.

As you may (or may not, it's your right) know, the Grimm brothers were German, which would ordinarily classify them as either Nazis or fascists--or both. But this film is set around the 1800s, where Germany is just another player in the European empire-garden.

The first scene is a quick introduction of Will and Jacob as brothers who don't-quite-get-along. Then it's on to "present day" in "FRENCH OCCUPIED GERMANY."

I'm going to give you a space to let that sink in.

(sink sink sink)

It made me laugh, too.

The problem is that, after that quite clever line, the movie drops down below the radar.

There are some special effects, but they don't break any ground. I think the most amazing thing done is the nationality swap for Peter Stormare, who trades in his Eastern European accent for a nice, fluid French one.

Jonathan Pryce (the wig-headed governor from "Pirates of the Caribbean") plays a French general, which is amusing in its own right. He pulls it off well, and it's a testament to his ability as an actor to pull off such duality. Unfortunately, it's not nearly enough to save this film.

Monica Bellucci (perhaps the most amazingly attractive woman ever to appear in sci-fi) plays the evil witch-queen of the region. Her make-up (slash ugly-double) is fantastic, but her role is so insignificant that you'll barely notice her as she appears on screens, says her page of dialogue, and dies un-spectacularly.

Lena Heady (A Kera Knightly look-a-like) plays Angelika, the sultry woods-lovin-gal who falls for...well, that's hard to say. No one really "gets the girl" in this film, and both brothers express similar interest in her. She kisses both. I's enough to make any man guess as to her intentions.

The general idea of this film is that, after conning most of Europe into paying them as demon-slayers, the Brothers Grimm are nabbed by the French (evil and wussy at the same time) and forced to find out about another supposed con.

But this time the magic is real.

The inside jokes are abound, such as the old woman offering beautiful girls apples; a young child in a red riding-hood; Hansel and Gretel...the list goes on. There's even a gingerbread man...who eats little girls' faces.

It's a pleasant yarn, but the overall idea isn't very well fleshed out.

It's hard not to like this movie. Matt and Heath really play out well on camera, especially now that Mr. Damon has fully shed his skin to grow from that pretty boy in "Good Will Hunting" to the BAMF in "Bourne Identity." Heath too comes off as more than just a lure for the tween-age lady-types.

As they go about their travels, their banter really does sound like siblings arguing over what is real and what is just "magic beans." In another poke at the idea of the Grimm Brothers, Heath is constantly jotting down notes about the various witches and goblins the townsfolk believe in, which we all know will later turn into the fairytales we grew up with.

Clever? Not nearly enough.

The "love" interest, Heady, isn't attractive enough to really win over the male audience, even if her Kera Knightly look-at-how-pursed-my-lips-can-be-and-yet-I-can-still-speak impression is spot on. Monica comes in too little too late at the end of the film and the only other women involved in the plotline are 10-12 years old.

As far as bad movies go, it's missing that essential visual appeal, the T n' A.

This movie wasn't as bad as many of the films I've seen, but it doesn't deserve much more credit. The writers missed out on making a truly funny piece with unique humor and instead went with an easily forgettable mess that barely holds together to the last line.

I'm trying to shy away from ratings that make no sense (in my not so subtle effort to one day review good movies and thus become an actual movie reviewer rather than the cinematic equivalent of a canary in a coal mine) but this one came so easily that I had to run with it.

Watching this movie is like hanging-out-with-Kera Knightly-on-a-fine-afternoon-only-to-have-rain-wash-away-pounds-of-make-up-to-reveal-Lena-Heady-instead. You start out with high hopes, but the reality is just plain disappointing.

Now I'm off to watch...more crap, I guess. See what I do for you people? And all you give me are complaints that I don't spell check enough...sigh.

No respect.

Watch carefully.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Anti-Chick Flick: The Descent

For those of you who follow my blog, you may remember that I have a theory about movies.

Most films come in pairs.

For "Armageddon", there was :"Deep Impact."

For "DaVinci Code," there was "National Treasure."

For "The Hills Have Eyes," there was "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

You get the idea.

So I was shocked at my own surprise when I learned that a recent review, "The Cave", had its own twin:

"The Descent."

This was a bold movie. for a few reasons.

The first is an all-female cast.

As any good horror buff knows, women usually serve one of two purposes in a film:

A love interest who is cosntantly running away from and into danger.


A friend who remains upbeat until the monster/psycho kills her.

Rarely does Jamie Lee Curtis show up as the heroine.

So it's quite a powerful move to remove testosterone from the cinematic equation.

This film begins with a veritable "we, who are about to die, salute you" introduction. Three girls travel down some rapids whilst the family watches on. After surviving the lackluster water, the girls head on home. But tragedy is only a turn away.

Since the husband of the heroine, Sarah (I'm not gonna bother giving you an actress's name here--all these girls are UK gals and really just up-and-comers), is obviously cheating with the oh-so-hot Juno, he is distracted and crashes into another car.

A car carrying javellines.

While we only see a pole go through dear hubby's head (and yes, we really get a nice shot of that one), we are left to assume that the little girl gets shishka-bobbed as well.

Sarah awakens in a hospital after a BIZARRE dream involving a birthday cake. And thus our tale begins.

Now this is where it all gets...out of place. You see, most horror films use the following techniques to stimulate the audience:

Sound--scary music and sound effects (not to include "The Grudge" and its use of the death rattle)

Lighting--the darker the better (hence a cave being a nice little place to die in horror movies)

And of course, creepy visions and hallucinations, especially those involving a child's laugh.

Now, I hate to go on a tangent (actually, I love it above all things, but you have to say "I hate" in order to keep up the impression that this whole thing isn't really an ego trip for me) but I need to ask: Why is it that a child's laughter is the scariest damned thing on earth?

I mean, aren't children supposed to be cute and represent absolute trust and love?

Since when are they the scariest demons and make you want to ram an ice pick through their puppy dog eyes?


OK, let's forget that last remark.

Never happened, wasn't typed, never thought it while on a subway in New York and some freaky kid with too-blue eyes was staring into my soul and whispering the words of THE BEAST!

Sarah and her friend Beth (not a severe hottie like Juno, but quite funny in a I'm-so-British-and-posh-yet-cheeky-as-well kind of way) go to meet Juno in America with some of their other friends.

This is the part of the movie generally called "Getting to know your disposables."

What makes this segment seperate from other films in the genre is the lack of scare tactics. Nothing jumps out, no music queues up to facilitate the crawling of skin...nothing.

It's like a chick-flick snuck into the editing room and mated with the original production.

Ignore the unintentional erotisicm.

This tone-base confusion actually works in the film's favor, setting up the scares later on. I enjoyed the bland lighting and rather quaint dialogue.

Granted the "Blair Witch" style plot twist came so fast you could almost have written it yourself. And the cheap jump scares start to pile up around the time they get to the first big cavern. I guess, about 40 minutes into the movie, its true colors begin to bleed through.

This is a B-movie, and don't forget that. When the writer/director Niel Marshall (of "Dog Soldier" fame) came up with the idea, he wanted "men in suits".


In the lackluster "The Cave", men were infected by a parasite that caused Batitis, or a complete and speedy mutation into a bat-man-thing.

In "The Descent", cavemen (yes...grunting, club wielding cavemen) became albino-toothed-crazy-men after only a few thousand years in a cave.

And boy do they like to eat people.

Before I go any further, I want to share a tidbit from the DVD. You see, master Marshall wanted his girls to really be scared of the creatures when they first interacted with them. The movie was shot almost in sequence (quite a feat in this day and age), so the scene where they encounter the bat-men happened after many double-take moments of "did we just see that?"

The director had his actors-in-suits hide in the scenery before the girls got on set, filmed a relatively tame scene, and then told the girls a monster had been there with them.

When they finally meet the creatures, the actor really snuck up on them, popped up into their faces, and sent the girls screaming off set.

Damn fine stuff.

Anyways, these are the silliest looking things ever. If you read "Weekly World News" (and I know some of you do) you'll recognize them as Batboy's closest cousins.

The actors inside the suits move very well, and it actually looks...creepy, in a Gollum-slept-with-a-reject-from-the-circus kind of way.

Juno (who is hot, for those of you who haven't followed so far) lied to her friends and took them to a secret cave no one else knows about, so when they inevitably get stuck after a cave-in, they must rely on their fracturing friendship to get them out.

The monsters really just add to the fun.

Using an all female cast means having horrible things happen to women, which is hard to watch. Call me old fashioned; I can take having some dude impaled on ineptly placed poles during a car accident, but watching a purdy girl lose her face to some buck-fanged bat-abortion really irks.

Since Sarah is lost her daughter and husband a year earlier, she's a little kilter. Throughout the movie she wanders off, explores creepy coves where no one should explore, and loses her mind.

She's basically a lia-freakin-bility the whole damn movie.

So when she watches the horrors that happen to her closest (and I'm assuming only, because this lady is really batshite crazy insane) friends, she unhinges and goes postal.

With a human bone as a club.

This movie was made with the knowledge that it was a B-movie. The director says so in the extras. And you know what?

They made it.

This film is a B-movie. That means you can expect all the gore and ridiculous events of any good ol' horror flick.

That also means about half of you will write me telling me how much you hate/loved this movie.

See, that's what is so great about these films. They appeal to certain audiences and repel others.

If I had to rate this movie, I'd go with finding-a-hundred-dollars-in-your-pocket-only-to-remember-you-owe-your-friend-85. It's not that good, but you saw it coming, so you still can enjoy it.

Wait....that analogy made no sense.

But niether does the idea of a caveman-turned-batboy.

Watch carefully.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Don't Blink: A Scanner Darkly

It's hard to review a visually stunning movie.

I come from a line of people who probably should have died out for staring aimlessly at a shiny rock until a dinosaur eats us.

This predisposition toward aesthetics sometimes clouds my ability to be objective. I realized this when I let slide the failures of "The Phantom Menace" for almost a year because the presentation was so impressive.

Of course I came to my senses when George Lucas decided to show the world he can't write or direct his way out of a paper sack.

Movies like "Sin City" and "Sky Captain" wow me with visual tricks, though sometimes the storyline or plot devices fail to cover the gaps as in other films.

CGI is so prevalent in our cinematic society that kids' shows on the Disney Channel are now completely computer generated. It's so simple to pull "Toy Story"-like effects. Even modern-day television packs the special-effects engine of a blockbuster movie, as the show "Battlestar Galacica" proves episodically.

So when I say the eye-candy of "A Scanner Darkly" impressed me, I want you to understand my full meaning.

Now let's not be crazy here. This movie has some flaws inherent to any film about drugs.

It can shall I put it...hard to follow.

This isn't necessarily a major problem, as films such as "Memento" and "Requiem for a Dream" proved that a convoluted plot and trippy visuals can stimulate an audience. Granted, these movies were intentionally off kilter.

But so is "A Scanner Darkly."

To sum up the plot, I would have to take a few mind altering substances, but I'll do my best to give you the sober version.

Robert Arctor is an addict. He has been taken the newest trend drug, D, in order to maintain his cover as a...well a loser druggy. He has infiltrated a small-time group of druggies and wants to work his way to the top.

The problem is that D, unlike some of your lesser hard drugs which only lead to amputated limbs and deviated septums, fries the brain in an amazing way.

Succint to say, the right and left hemispheres of his brain are disconnected and competing. This creates an obvious amount of confusion, both for him and you.

Robert suffers from incredible hallucinations, paranoia, and the usual feelings of depression.

Keanu Reeves ("The Matrix") does a passable job of acting...confused.

See, there is the main problem with casting Keanu. He portrays the stoic stoner well, but mainly because the only emotion he can muster is stark confusion.

This works when he plays a Jesus-esque superhero in a computer-controlled post-apocalyptic future, but not so much when he needs to wax philosophical.

His dialogue comes off as hokey, if not worse, for the entirety of the movie, with one exception.

At the very end, he plays a husk of a man, his brain all but gone. Here he shines as the best actor in the movie.

Now, the overall plotline of the movie is actually pretty good. There are conspiracies and backstabbing and people aren't who they appear to's all been done before, but it's done pretty well here. Some of the twists are so readable its pathetic, but for the most part they do ok.

The characters in the film are enjoyable, especially the practically unnecesary Woody Harrelson("Natural Born Killers"). His antics are hilarious, even they are based on the fact that drugs have melted his brain.

Robert Downey Jr ("Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang") is also perfect in this film, though I have no idea how he prepared for the role of strung-out-junkie. Must have taken years to perfect that

Winona Ryder ("Beetleguise") plays an easily forgettable love interest, but Keanu plays an understandably apathetic lover so I guess it evens out.

The main focus on this movie has been the visual style, so I guess I should address it.

It's gorgeous. However they managed to pull of this level of cell-shading, I applaud them.

But pretty sights don't make a pretty movie.

I have friends who look down on this film, and I can understand, but I won't deny its appeal.

This is a well put together piece of cinema. If you can look past Keanu and the sometimes missing plot, you'll find a rather fun hour and some odd minutes of why not to use drugs.

Now, if you'll excuse me, a bagel is happening in my kitchen and I can't be late.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Coming Soon

A new review is coming. Don't freak out.

-The Management