Thursday, December 20, 2012

Creepshow Franchise

Seems I can’t stop talking about horror movies, no matter what time of year it is, even if it’s only a few days until Christmas.  I guess I should watch corny films like Elf or Family Man or Four Christmases, but when I reach for my movie binders, I find myself grabbing the ones marked “horror” instead of “holiday.”  And even when I do take down one of my horror binders, I habitually leaf through them to pick out the Blu-Rays over the DVDs.  I can’t help it, I get a kick out of how good some of these films look all cleaned up and looking more crisp and clear than they did when they were first released in theaters.  

The first movie in question—Creepshow—unfortunately, I haven’t purchased the Blu-Ray disc.  The sole reason being is that the disc is so bare-bones, I don’t think it’s worth it.  It’s probably a simple transfer that wasn’t cleaned up and probably looks just as good as the DVD.  And with the lack of special features, in my mind, it’s just a waste of money.
A while back (maybe 5 or 6 years ago), it was announced that a special edition DVD was to be released, complete with deleted scenes, a “making of” featurette, cast interviews…the works.  But shortly after that was announced, it was publicized that the special edition was only to be issued in the UK, not the United States.  Something to do with the rights of distribution between Universal Studios having overseas rights and Warner Bros. having domestic…I’m not sure.  All I knew, and still know, is that the US wasn’t going to be privy to that release, so we shouldn’t hold our breath.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s talk about Creepshow.

Back in 1982, this movie was released on my birthday—November 12th.  I had just turned 14, but my parents weren’t really big movie-goers, so, in turn, I wasn’t a movie-goer.  I had to sit in class and hear the other kids talk about how cool and scary Creepshow was and wish I could’ve seen the movie as I sat watching the TV spot come on, teasing me from my television set.  It wasn’t until another year went by before I was able to watch it when it premiered on the Showtime cable channel.  Of course, it was only broadcast during late hours, so I was only allowed to watch it until it was my bedtime, so, again, I was only able to watch a fraction of the movie.  It wasn’t until another year or so before I was able to watch it in its entirety and I fell in love with it all over again.

When it comes to horror anthologies, Creepshow is the best, in my book.  It was just a perfect storm for this film to be made.  With the two masters of horror (at the time), Stephen King and George Romero, you couldn’t go wrong.  The beginning of the 80s was the best time for Stephen King.  Nearly every year there was a movie being made out of a novel or a short story by him, so it was a no-brainer for studio execs to give this film the green light.  And with Romero helming this film, it only sealed the deal.  

The anthology features five tales—plus a wrap-around story to book-end the film—and it’s a wild ride.  Most of the film is presented as if you’re reading one of the horror comic books of the 1950s, complete with colorful backdrops and comic book frames shown during some of the terrifying moments to give it that extra thrill. 

With “Father’s Day,” you’ve got Romero’s specialty, the dead body of a father who was killed years ago is reanimated and decides to come out of his grave to get the Father’s Day cake (do people have cake on Father’s Day?) he feels he deserves.  This is an eerie one, especially the ambiance created during the graveyard scenes.

For some of the funniest comedic moments in the film, “The Lonely Death of Jordy Verrill” showcases that Stephen King (in the lead role of this tale) really does have some comedy acting chops.  He plays a country bumpkin who finds a meteorite which has landed in his field.  But the radioactive liquid that spills from the inside of it causes “growing” concern.

“Something to Tide You Over” is a nice little supernatural story, again with corpses becoming reanimated, as an eccentric rich guy decides to punish his wife and the man she’s having an affair with by burying them from the neck down on his beach property, letting the tide come up slowly to drown them.  But they find a way to exact revenge.

My favorite chapter of the whole film is “The Crate.”  That is the one story out of the whole movie that gave me night terrors for a while.  I was afraid to go to sleep and had to check the closet and under the bed for a few years (still do every once in a while).  Basically, it’s an old crate that’s found underneath some stairs in a college, but the crate is home to some creature that’s just waiting for someone to open up the crate so that he can eat.

And for something that’s truly disgusting, “They’re Creeping Up on You” will satisfy you.  This is the one story that really grosses me out, every time I watch it.  An eccentric germ-a-phobe, Upson Pratt, has the most advanced apartment to keep germs and bugs out as he conducts his business and life without stepping out of his apartment.  But somehow, bugs check in…until Mr. Pratt checks out.

I can’t forget about the wrap-around story, which begins at the very start of the movie with Tom Atkins acting like a total dick to his son, all because the kid was reading the “Creepshow” horror comic book.  Right before going into the beginning credits, the kid (played by Stephen King’s son) hopes his dad rots in hell.  A skeletal figure appears at his window and the kid gives the impression that he’s happy about this.  Holy shit!  I would’ve screamed for my dad, telling him how sorry I was that I was reading that crap and that I’d never read that type of comic book again!  But, being that it’s a movie, the kid punches his fist against his other hand, as if he’s going to beat the shit out of somebody, and the introductory credits roll.  The story ties up at the end of the film with the son getting some revenge on his dad.

One thing, for a horror movie, there sure are a lot of stars in it.  You might recognize Ed Harris in the first tale as he boogies it on down during a little disco dance scene.  As I’d said already, Stephen King does a great job in the one tale that happens to be a one-man show.  You’ll recognize the great Leslie Nielson as the antagonist in the third tale, along with Ted Danson.  Hal Holbrook and Adrian Barbeau are featured in the fourth story.  And, last but not least, is another great actor, Mr. E.G. Marshall as Upson Pratt in the last tale.
The practical effects (seeing that this is way before CGI’s time) are pretty awesome and were done by the wizard himself, Tom Savini.  He even has a funny cameo at the end of the film as one of the garbage truck workers.  His creation of the creature from the “Crate” story still chills me.  I love the little touch of having all the drool drip out of the creature’s mouth when it’s about to eat someone.  Savini definitely leaves his signature in this film.

Lastly, I can’t forget the music score.  The composition by John Harrison positively makes this movie all the more creepy.  The piano gives the film the musical nuance it needs, just listening to it gives me goosebumps.  Every time I watch this film and hear the music that accompanies it, I feel I'm watching a spooky movie from the 40s...all because of that movie score.

Now, Creepshow 2 came around five years later, albeit not directed by George Romero, but he still had a hand in it.  The stories were still penned by Stephen King, or taken from his short stories, but there were only three tales this time around, again, with a wrap around story.  Right away, you can tell that this film is inferior to the first one, but still enjoyable nonetheless.

Again, the start of the film begins with the start of the wrap around story, involving a kid, Billy (not sure if this is supposed to be the same Billy from the first movie), and his love for the “Creepshow” comic book.  He rides his bike to where the delivery of the comic books is to be dropped off, greeted by The Creeper as he’s given an issue of the book.  From then on, the credits roll as the live action blends into animation.  Here’s where you see the weakness of the film compared to the first because the animation is not done very well.  The Creeper is now a cartoon character who introduces each story, but if you can put aside the bad cartoon quality, you’ll like this film.

The first tale introduced to us is the story of “Old Chief Wooden Head.”  Set in a small community with Native Americans being the majority, a storefront wooden Indian comes to life to avenge the murders of the store owners.  When I first saw this flick in the theaters, I remember thinking that this first story went on a little too long.  I recalled how tight and to-the-point the stories presented themselves in the first film, and in this film, especially in the first tale, it seemed to kind of lag.  But it’s a good revenge narrative that ends kind of cool.  It stars George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour as the store owners, and even though it’s a little lengthy, it’s still a good yarn.  Although you can tell when the wooden Indian is real or a guy in a suit, the outfit made for the film was pretty realistic, having the appearance of real wood.  Now, even though Tom Savini makes a cameo as The Creeper and consulted a little in the makeup effects, most of the special effects duties went to Greg Nicotero.

The next story is “The Raft.”  Four teenagers head out to a small lake out in the mountains to get high and swim out to an anchored diving platform.  Some floating blob in the water turns out to be a deadly force that kills anything that’s unlucky enough to be caught in the water with it.  This one is my favorite of all the tales.  We get to know the characters as they drive to the lake, the jock, Deke (Paul Satterfield) and his nerdy sidekick, Randy (Daniel Beer), taking their dates and hoping to get some action.  The tension that builds as they’re stuck on the platform and cold from the swim are definitely felt, because I was thinking to myself that I’d go out of mind if I were in their place.  Thinking about the tension and suspense built in this feature, it’s hard to believe they were able to accomplish it simply by having people stand on a swimming platform while dragging some hefty bags around in the water.  But it worked.

Finally, “The Hitchhiker” is a tale about a hitchhiker who’s accidentally hit and killed by a cheating wife, trying to get home before her husband.  In order to keep her rendezvous secret, she flees the scene and leaves the hitchhiker…but the hitchhiker keeps coming back for a ride.  This is a nice Twilight Zone-ish story with a malicious character that keeps coming back no matter how hard you try to get away.  On the other hand, the main character deserves what she endures because it was her fault to begin with.  Nevertheless, it’s still a scary thought to have someone keep showing up even though you’ve passed them and ran over them and smashed into them over and over again.

In between each story, the wrap-around story continues as Billy is confronted by the local bullies as they chase and threaten him.  To end the film, just like the first film, Billy gets revenge on his tormenters. 

So, Creepshow 2  ends with The Creeper blending back into his live-action version, in the back of the newspaper truck as it drives off, throwing out “Creepshow” comic books by the handful.  I always think to myself, Man, that must’ve been a hell of a cleanup job after that shot!  

Without going into it like the detail of the first two films, we all know that there was a Creepshow III made.  I watched this feature, unfortunately, once and wish I had never even wasted my time with it.  It’s an insult to Stephen King for this film to be called Creepshow.  If you look at the ratings on IMDb that are given by users, not critics, you’ll see that the first film received 6.6 stars out of 10, the second received 5.6, and this last debacle received 2.7.  In my opinion, that’s very generous.  

This piece of shit features five tales that are boring and just plain uninteresting, so much so, that I’m not even going to waste my time with synopsizing them.

So there you have it, a great horror franchise, tarnished by the third entry.

What’s my final “bit” on each of these films?

Creepshow is an excellent classic, filled with great performances by many wonderful actors who make this movie come alive.  They’re believable in their parts and never take anything away from the film.  Although the DVD and Blu-Ray discs are plain with not much in the extras department, it’s a must to own.

Creepshow 2 is a worthy follow-up, but not as good and entertaining as the first.  The characters are a little over the top sometimes, taking you out of the movie as you laugh at how one-dimensional they are.  But the stories are very interesting and keep you in it until the end.  While not on Blu-Ray yet, I was able to find a Divimax Edition (which was a high definition transfer some select DVDs were able to get before Blu-Ray came around) a few years back that contains some interesting behind-the-scenes extras.  This one is in my collection and is a must if you own the first film.

Creepshow III…forget it.

Thanks for reading!

You can reach me on Twitter: @CinemaBits

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Birds

A first for Cinema Bits, I present you, the original trailer for The Birds...
Luckily, I outgrew my fear of birds a long time ago, but I did have a fear of them during my childhood and it’s all thanks to my second favorite Sir Alfred Hitchcock film, The Birds. You see, the one small scene—more like a flash—in the movie, where a character walks into a bedroom and sees a man sitting in the corner with his eyes gouged out, leaving two bloody dark holes, changed my life forever. In that time of my life, I was scared shitless of birds for years, avoiding them outside (we lived next to a creek that was lined with eucalyptus trees on either side and they were homes for many murders of crows) and never wanting to hold one if a friend had one as a pet and offered to let me do so. No, Mr. Hitchcock did a number on me by making this movie.

Over the years, I’ve watched this classic dozens of times (seems like it was always on TV when I was a child), especially now that I have it on DVD, and I love it more and more during each viewing.

The movie is based on a 1952 short story by Daphne Du Maurier and was made into a feature-length film in 1963. It’s a simple story (more like two separate stories), really, about a woman named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) following a man named Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) from San Francisco to Bodega Bay after a little altercation in a pet store that leaves her attracted to him. Soon after arriving at Bodega Bay and meeting up with Mitch, birds of all species start attacking the people of the coastal town.

I like how the film has subtle flashes of scenes that show you what’s to come, like the massive flock of birds circling above San Francisco at the beginning of the film. There’s also a bit of a message as well—when the scene plays out inside the pet store, we see dozens of cages with many birds inside, subliminally showing the audience how cruel it is to cage them up like that. Even Mitch mentions it during that scene when he first meets Melanie.

The choice to have the bulk of the story take place in Bodega Bay is brilliant. The view of the town while Melanie is making her way along the winding road shows how isolated and small it is and seeming like it’s in the middle of nowhere. Of course, the scenery is nice as well, showing the view of the bay and the green hills going inland. But probably the best reason to have it set near the coast is to have a reason to include seagulls as the majority of the menacing birds.

Now the special effects are still remarkable to this day. I still can’t believe how convincing each scene is when the birds are attacking. Of course, being older and used to today’s CGI effects in films, I can make out some of the flaws in this film, but they’re few and far in between. One of the most memorable attack scenes come when some of the townspeople are holed up at the local restaurant, right after a car explodes from ignited gasoline. A shot appears from the birds’ point of view, high above Bodega Bay, and seagulls start appearing and hovering over the destruction. It’s an amazing shot and I was amazed when I found out it was a painted matte framed around the people and the fire. It was done a few times in this movie and to great effect, especially the very end of the film…it gave the movie the shock value it needed to end it. But along with a few other key scenes, the attack scenes will make you think twice about walking around outside when birds are present. The scenes where the birds are nearly taking over the screen was created by a sodium vapor process which, being that this was done in 1963, had a much better effect than the use of blue screen many years later. I mean, those birds look like they’re in the same space as the actors…it’s amazing. And let’s not forget about those eerie bird sound effects, because those bird calls still give me the heebie-jeebies when I hear them. Which reminds me…no music score in this film…only the sound effects.

One thing about a lot of movies, especially from this era and prior, was that the dialogue was very scripted. Even movies today are heavily scripted where all the characters take turns with their lines, performing their dialogue one at a time. If you think about it, that’s not how life works. How often have you been able to speak your mind about something without being interrupted? Because that’s what makes this movie stand out from the rest of the films of the golden age of cinema, it’s the constant interruption to the characters speaking their lines. Whether it’s someone on the phone, ringing for someone while another person is talking, then being cut off as the person on the phone starts speaking to whoever’s on the other end of the line, or people having conversations face to face, interjecting each other, I think Alfred Hitchcock made an effort to include that in this film. In fact, as I noticed it happened the first time, it actually started getting on my nerves, just slightly.

Younger audiences might not enjoy this movie because it’s not all about birds attacking and killing people—that’s actually the background to the film. The real plot to it is how Melanie Daniels meets Mitch Brenner in San Francisco, is attracted to him, and follows him to Bodega Bay when she learns he’s travelling there for a birthday party for his sister, Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). As she arrives, she happens to meet a past girlfriend of Mitch’s, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), and becomes the target of contempt from Mitch’s mother, Lydia (Jessica Tandy). So, really the story is a love triangle between Annie, Melanie and Mitch, not to mention how a mother doesn’t think any woman is good enough for her son. With the long and drawn out scenes, playing out the drama, the birds attacking are, at first, a backdrop until the climactic ending that never really comes to a conclusion, which makes this film all the more terrifying. Very few movies, these days, end in such a fashion. Most movies either end happily or crushingly, but almost always have a resolution. And that’s the brilliance of Hitchcock. He knew that ending the film the way he did would continue the terror for the viewer even after the film ended.

My final “bit” on The Birds is that it’s a wonderfully entertaining film with a nice story. One of my two favorite films from the master of suspense and I watch it at least once a year. I was looking forward to purchasing the film on Blu-Ray, but it was only released as part of an Alfred Hitchcock boxed set. I’m sure it’ll be released separately and when it does…I’m getting it. A must for your media collection, The Birds is one of Sir Hitchcock’s best!

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Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Deadly Friend


Oh, boy! The 80s movies are some of the most entertaining features I’ve ever witnessed on the big screen when they were released, playing the VHS and seeing it on my 19” color TV a few years later, continuing to this day when I’m lucky enough to find them on Blu-Ray to view them on my HDTV. Yes, the glorious era of the cinematic 1980s, the decade I feel were the best years for cinema; those were the days where people waited in lines around the block to be the first to see the latest sci-fi, action, or horror flick. Now…kids go (if they go) to the movies to pass time and irritate movie fans like myself with their incessant talking and use of their cell phones, texting or Tweeting or Facebook status updating…UGH!

As you can see…the 80s was a great time for me…the years where I truly became aware of movies. The loving discovery, for instance, of horror movies, to be exact, is what I remember most about it. Back then, more than likely, you’d find me at Meridian Quad in the San Jose/Cupertino area (I never knew what city that was), either attending the latest movie, or be across the Quad in the arcade (do they even have arcades anymore?).

Midway through the 80s, the movies never slowed down and horror movies were the “in” thing, constantly released in theaters as obvious Friday the 13th or Halloween rip-offs, but we all loved them back then. The biggest and freshest one to come out during that time added a new horror icon to join the ranks of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees…a nightmarish man named: Freddy Kruger!

Man, the first time I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street, it freaked me out! I didn’t want to go to sleep that night because that movie absolutely scarred my psyche for a long, long time! The movie catapulted Wes Craven in the limelight as the master of horror for the 80s and made him a household name (if your household was into horror movies). With hits like that, especially one as original as ANOES, the director is always expected to have a great follow-up to top what he or she had done already.

So, after directing a television movie called Chiller (which I remember seeing back then but didn’t know Craven directed it), horror fans couldn’t wait for his next feature film, Deadly Friend.

Whoa…I recollect seeing this film in theaters back in 1986, vividly recalling walking in late and not understanding what was going on.

The story begins with Paul Conway (Matthew Labyorteaux) and his mom travelling to their new home along with Paul’s robot, “B.B.”—a yellow robot, almost a distant cousin of Number 5 from Short Circuit who makes garbled sounds and constantly says his name. They finally get to their new home and right away Paul befriends the local newspaper delivery boy, Tom (Michael Sharrett) and has eyes for the next door neighbor girl, Sam (Kristy Swanson). Shortly thereafter, they become good friends, but it’s obvious Sam’s dad is abusive towards her as she shows up with bruises or a bloody nose. During a prank gone wrong, B.B.’s head is blown away by the psycho neighbor, Elvira (Anne Ramsey) and Paul’s devastated. He saves B.B.’s microchip as he explains that it’s the robot’s extraordinary brain. Later in the movie, there’s obvious love chemistry between Paul and Sam. but that night, Sam’s abusive father goes too far and pushes her down the stairs, causing her brain damage and resorting to her dying. But, as we see earlier in the film, Paul is prodigy in the neurology field in college and decides to take Sam’s body to fuse B.B.’s microchip to her brain. The result is deadly.

Yeah, the plot involving an artificially intelligent robot is absurd, having Paul be this brainy genius and knowing how to integrate a computer chip into a human brain is ludicrous, seeing Kristy Swanson walk around making Mr. Spock hands and showing her point-of-view as terrible resolution is laughable, but this movie is still entertaining. Really, you need to check your brain at the door and don’t put it back in your head until you are well out of range from this movie. It’s nostalgically 80s and cheesy, so you can’t go wrong if you’re a horror fan like me.

First off, at the beginning of the film, when you hear the sounds B.B. produces (voiced by Charles Fleischer of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame) while constantly saying his name, you harken back a year to Gremlins and the sound they make as you say to yourself, “This doesn’t sound like a robot.” But if you can push that aside, the beginning of the film is believable and has a wonderful plot of boy-meets-girl, even the abusive father is believable (man, he just does not give a shit about her, does he?), but when they introduce the plotline of how Paul is this college wonder kid who has better neurological skills than the city’s best neurosurgeon, that’s when it becomes a little ridiculous.

As for the kill scenes (after all, this IS a horror movie), there’s a few involving revenge for both Sam and B.B., but the scene everybody remembers is the basketball to the head gag…I loved it! And although a little dated, the practical effects are still gory and brutal.

As for the filming location, it reminds me a lot of the set of Fright Night or the Universal Studios back lot. But seeing as this is a Warner Bros. film, it’s probably their back lot, which is one place I still have not visited so I can cross it off my bucket list.

The film is adapted from a bestselling book entitled, “Friend” by Diana Henstell. I’ve never read it, but I hear there are certain parts portrayed in the book that would’ve helped the movie if they’d adapted it to the screen. For instance, I heard that Sam slowly decomposes as the story goes on. I think that would’ve helped the creepiness a little if we saw Kristy Swanson start to decay rather than seeing her with that blue eye shadow around her eyes.

What’s my final “bit” on Deadly Friend?

The movie is another 80s film that you have to suspend disbelief—as well as logic—and just sit back and have a good time with it. Like most movies of its ilk, it’s there to entertain us, not teach us anything or preach to us…well…maybe a little bit. Like how you shouldn’t try to bring to life a dead girl with a robot’s computer brain.

Thanks for reading!

You can follow me on Twitter: @JustCallMeManny