Archive for the ‘ Movie Reviews ’ Category

SPLICE (2010)


Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac
Written by: Vincenzo Natali, Antoinette Terry Bryant, and Doug Taylor
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali

There are lines that should not be crossed. Moral lines. Ethical lines. Things that should not be tampered with, and societal taboos that should never be explored. This has been the basis for Sci-fi Horror since its inception at the hands of Mary Shelley. A little story named Frankenstein. Then, a new scientific discovery (electricity), in the hands of a mad scientist, created a now famous monster. Nearly two centuries later, SPLICE writer/director Vincenzo Natali has taken Shelley’s formula (substituted genetic manipulation), and has given birth to a creature most rare: the thinking person’s Horror film.

Clive and Elsa (Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley) are our modern day Dr. Frankensteins; smart and driven biochemists. They live together, work together, sleep together (under hugeAnime posters!), and they share their successes and their failures. Sure, they have their differences…Elsa listens to Industrial music, Clive prefers Jazz. He wears funny T-shirts under his lab coat, she goes for plain zippered hoodies. Clive wants to start a family, and Elsa…well, Elsa would rather let an artificial womb do the work.

And work it does.


The duo has succeeded in splicing the genes of countless animals and plants, creating hybrid creatures that resemble giant slugs. These slugs secrete enzymes that could lead to new medicines, new patents, and a lot of money. The company that funds Clive and Elsa’s research is happy as can be, but the scientists aren’t satisfied. No. They want to take their patented genetic soup and add one more ingredient…human DNA. (Gasp!)

When the short-sighted, public-opinion obsessed corporation says no (The fools!), Clive and Elsa go rogue and proceed with the experiment anyway. After a montage of failed attempts and technobabble, the duo have their Eureka Moment. The result is an odd, chicken-like creature, designated H-50. Clive immediately has second thoughts and wants to destroy it, but Elsa has other ideas.

She names it “Dren” (Nerd spelled backwards).

As Dren grows (at an excellerated rate, of course), she becomes more humanoid, forging a bond with her creators and the audience. She starts out cute and innocent, completing puzzles and IQ tests, vying for love and approval. But, as Dren matures into a young “woman,” she develops a strong will and a mind of her own. She tries make-up, sneaking out of the house, dancing, even sex, and she does not respond well to being grounded.

New parents Clive and Elsa find themselves unprepared to deal with a rebellious teenager, and, as the situation spirals out of control, their attempts at tough love have disastrous consequences.


Like its creature, SPLICE is something truly special.

Let’s start with the casting. Most Horror filmmakers go to the CW lot and grab the youngest, most perfect-looking up-and-comers to populate their movies. Not here. No, here we have Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody (The Pianist) and Oscar-nominated writer Sarah Polley (The Sweet Hereafter). And these stars aren’t just doing a genre film to collect a paycheck. Not at all. They turn in stunning performances here, the weight of every decision clearly visible in their eyes and facial expressions.

And then there’s Dren. It would have been easy for the producers to have opted for a fully computer-generated creature, but, if they had, so much would have been lost. Without uttering a single word of dialogue, Delphine Chaneac makes us pity Dren and fear her at the same time. When Dren looks at her “mother,” then at her own reflection, we see the realization that she is “different.” When she scoops up a cat and pets it in the corner, we feel her loneliness. And when she flashes a smile, it can be cute one minute, chilling the next, and at times…very seductive.


Director Vincenzo Natali (CUBE) has delivered another brilliant study of the human condition. Right and wrong. Love and lust. Sane and insane. All are explored equally and without a heavy hand, leaving the viewer to make their own judgments. And, unlike recent by-the-numbers Hollywood offerings, you will be thinking about this movie long after you leave the theater.

As Sci-fi Horror films go, SPLICE is a cut above the rest, but the moral/ethical questions it poses recall the film of another Canadian: David Cronenberg’s brilliant remake of The Fly. That was more than twenty years ago. Yes, my friends, truly great Sci-fi Horror is a rare and wonderous thing indeed.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Dark Ride (2006)


Directed by: Craig Singer
Written by: Robert Dean Klein and Craig Singer
Staring: Jamie-Lynn DiScala, Patrick Renna, David Clayton Rogers, Alex Solowitz, Andrea Bogart, Jennifer Tisdale, and Dave Warden

I’m sorry to say that I missed much of the After Dark Horrorfest: 8 Films to Die for. I was, however, able to catch a Tuesday night encore featuring two of the festival’s entries: Takashi Shimizu’s Reincarnation and Dark Ride. One film was an example of the heights which horror could attain, given a good story and writing, great acting, wonderful direction and special effects. The other was Dark Ride.


The film opens in 1989 (We’ll discuss the appropriateness of that a bit later). Twin sisters enter a New Jersey Amusement Park to go through the horror-themed funhouse ride, and once inside the attraction, they are quickly killed by a hulking man in a mask. Cut to an opening credit montage of newspaper clippings that start by showing the discovery of the girls bodies, move on to the trial and conviction of their killer, the killer being sent to an asylum, and then ends with a headline that the ride is about to re-open. Ooooh…scary! Next, we are introduced to a group of college kids who are leaving school for Spring Break in a van. During a stop at a gas station and restaurant, they find out about the rides grand re-opening and dare each other to spend the night inside. Meanwhile, the crazed killer who was responsible for the death of the twins escapes from his mental institution and heads for the Amusement Park. Bet you can’t see where this is going? Yes, before you can even get the first rule to surviving a slasher movie out of your mouth, these young adults are smoking dope, having sex, and getting killed left and right, causing the viewer to wonder not who will live, but how these morons ever got into college to begin with.


By setting the opening of their film in the slasher’s playground of the 1980’s, writers Robert Dean Klein and Craig Singer show a great fondness for the sub-genre. In fact, it’s quite clear that the pair never met a slasher film they didn’t like and want to steal from. The entire plot is lifted directly from Tobe Hooper’s far superior Funhouse. The escaped mental patient idea has been used and used again, but add that to the smiley face mask and some shocking strobe-lit shots, and you’ve got yourself a rip-off of Clownhouse. While traveling down the road, the group picks up a hitchhiker, ala Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, who bares more than a passing resemblance to Rob Zombie’s wife from House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. There is a practical joke setup that reminds us of Killer Party and April Fool’s Day. The ending has the distinct echo of Happy Birthday to Me, and I could go on, and on, and on.


The acting was often the sore spot of a slasher movie, and Dark Ride is no different. As the killer, Dave Warden gives the only truly good performance in the entire film, and that might be because he doesn’t have to utter a single word of dialogue.


Was there anything at all to recommend Dark Ride? Sure. There is a killing near the end of the movie. A man’s head is literally split in two. Compared to the film’s other make-up effects, it is very well done. Also, the filmmakers were somehow able to afford the talents of composer Christopher Young (Hellraiser, The Fly II) to write the main title theme. It’s a wonderful piece of creepy carnival organ and music box chimes that adds a grand sense of menace and maniacal glee. It’s a shame the rest of the movie could not live up to the promise of that cue.

2 out of 5 stars.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)


Staring: Harrison Ford, Ray Winstone, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, and Karen Allen
Written by: David Koepp (screenplay)
George Lucas and Jeff Nathanson (story)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg

I remember the summer of 1989 very well. A lot of good movies that year: Tim Burton’s first Batman, James Cameron’s The Abyss, Richard Donner’s Lethal Weapon 2, and of course, Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That’s right my friends, hard as it is to believe, it has been nineteen years since Harrison Ford’s whip-cracking adventurer literally rode off into the sunset. At the time, I was a teen-aged college student. Now I have a teenager of my own.

Indy and his creators (Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas) are all in the same boat. Nineteen years older, and with children who were not even born when that bullwhip last snapped across the movie screen. Together, they have dusted off the fedora and created a new chapter in the saga, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, ready to spark the imaginations of a whole new generation, and at the same time, rekindle those joyous memories of summers past in their parents and grandparents.


In the 1981 original, Raiders of the Lost, archeologist adventurer Henry “Indiana” Jones (Ford) said to his true love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), “It’s not the years, honey…it’s the mileage.” Now 65, the years appear to have caught up with poor Indy, and the mileage is plainly visible on his face. His hair and trademark beard stubble have grayed; the desert sun has turned his skin to leather. But becoming a senior citizen hasn’t stopped him from getting into trouble.

Kidnapped by Russian baddie Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett), our old friend Indy must help recover a fabled crystal skull and return it to a hidden temple in the Amazon, for the person who returns the skull will be given unspeakable power…or so legend has it. Along the way, Jones must once again rescue his maid Marion—this time, with the help of her teenaged son, Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf); battle giant ants and ancient traps, and prove that after all these years he can still pack a mean punch.


Seeing Ford and Allen together again is a real treat, and even after 27 years apart, the chemistry is still there. The script by David Koepp, however, gives their characters little to do but bicker back and forth. “But Mike,” you say, “they always bickered like that.” True, however, Raiders managed to allow them a few quiet scenes where they could explore their relationship rather than some musty old tomb. Here, Allen joins the action very late in the game, and the lack of a romantic moment makes the idea that these two could ever reconcile seem like a screenwriter’s contrivance more than fate.

Having the Soviets and KGB as villains is another great nostalgic touch, and Blanchett is clearly having a blast as the film’s #1 heavy. She is sensual, ruthless, as skilled with a sword as she is with a machine gun, and her plan for converting the free world to the ways of communism is truly insidious. Koepp’s script even suggests that she might have psychic abilities, but the film never bothers to explore them or put them to any real use.

And then there’s “Mutt,” a motorcycle rebel without a cause. Spielberg gave LaBeouf a copy of Marlon Brando’s The Wild One to study before filming began, and the young man appears to have done his homework well. The writing is never better in this film than it is when Ford and LaBeouf share the screen. Indiana Jones has always been a professor, but he has never acted like one before Crystal Skull. Hearing Indy calmly describe to Mutt the difference between dry sand pits and quicksand, as he and Marion slowly sink deeper and deeper, is truly priceless.


Steven Spielberg’s direction shows flashes of his brilliance. In the opening of the film, Indy is revealed in silhouette as he puts on his fedora. Later, a magnetic box is uncovered, and we suddenly see all the overhead lights pulled toward it. And during a campus chase scene, Indy is yanked into a speeding car by KGB agents, gets into a fistfight, then climbs out the opposite window onto the back of Mutt’s bike. But even a master like Spielberg needs a good story; otherwise a film becomes a bunch of loosely connected images with no substance.

As I watched the end credits, John Williams’ music slowly built toward the crescendo of the now famous Raiders march, and then…it just changed into something else altogether.

This is the problem with the entire film.

Koepp may have been credited with the final screenplay, but everyone from Frank Darabont (The Mist) to M. Night Shyamalan (Signs) has had a crack at the story over the years, and at times it feels as if George Lucas took the best parts of each draft, wrote them on index cards, and then threw them up in the air. Whatever order they landed in became their shooting script. FBI agents are brought in to investigate Indy as a communist, driving him from the university. One could say this was Spielberg’s allegory for abuses of power under the Patriot Act, but it is never explored. Then Mutt shows up to get Indy to leave the country, which he was going to do anyway. And still other characters seem to change motivation from one scene to the next, simply to push the plot along. It all leads to a climax that is not only anti-climactic, it feels as if it comes from a completely different movie—more X-Files than Indiana Jones.


Despite its many, many flaws, I found that I really and truly enjoyed myself while watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Spielberg, Lucas, and Ford may not have been able to resurrect everything that made the original Raiders of the Lost Ark such a classic, but they have somehow managed to channel its spirit—something the middle two entries in the saga sorely lacked.

So don’t look too deep into the Crystal Skull. Just fasten your seatbelts, hold onto your popcorn, and enjoy the ride. If you’re not whistling the Raiders march on the way home, I guarantee you that your children will be.

4 out of 5 stars.

Cloverfield (2008)


Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Drew Goddard
Starring: Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T.J. Miller

“You know what’s wrong with the Matthew Broderick Godzilla, Mike?”

This is a question a friend of mine asks whenever the topic of the 1998 American film raises its ugly head, and each and every time, before I can offer my own opinion, he always tells me what he thinks.

“The makers of Godzilla don’t realize that we want to see a monster movie. ‘Who cares about the giant creature that’s out there stomping the city to rubble? No, what the people really want to see is a film about two people discovering their love for one another and that giant lizard just gets in the way of their romance.’”

The same could be said for the plot of the new blockbuster Cloverfield, but in this case, the filmmakers know we’re here for the scares, and better yet, they know how to deliver them.


Like The Blair Witch Project before it, Cloverfield is presented as “found footage” from a recovered video camera.

As the “tape” begins, we are introduced to Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a young executive who has just taken a job offer in Japan, and Beth McIntyre (Odette Yustman). The two have been friends for years, but their relationship has now become physical. After spending the night together, Rob offers to take Beth to Coney Island for a day of fun.

The tape then cuts abruptly to a month later. Rob’s camera is now in the hands of his brother, Jason (Mike Vogel). It seems that Jason’s girlfriend, Lily (Jessica Lucas), has planned a surprise farewell party for Rob, and she’s asked Jason to walk through the crowd to record well wishes from all of their friends. Jason is less than thrilled with this duty, however, and he talks mutual friend Hud (T.J. Miller) into taking the job from him.

As Hud rolls tape, distant explosions rock the building, bringing the party to an end. Something has come out of New York harbor, a huge, monstrous creature. It is now rampaging its way through the streets of the city and no one knows where it came from or how to stop it. Rob, his brother, and their friends try to escape, but a frantic cell phone call from Beth sends the group on a rescue mission right into the heart of the action instead.


Ask any kaiju (giant monster) fan about human characters and they will probably roll their eyes and tell you that this has traditionally been the weakest aspect of these films. We don’t care if the scientist gets the girl! We want to see monsters beating each other to a pulp!

Thankfully, the 21st centruy monster movies are an entirely different animal.

Like Bong Joon-ho’s The HostCloverfield focuses on rich, believable characters whom we care deeply about. Writer Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, LOST) has experience taking outlandish situations and making them seem plausible. By feeding off our 9/11 fears, even going so far as to re-create some of the events of that horrible day, he has made his giant monster a very real threat to our heroes and heroines. He also knows a thing or two about pacing. The film is a lean, mean 85 minutes, and just when you think a scene is running out of steam, he delivers some new shock to get our adrenaline pumping again.

Be warned! Just as in Goddard’s television work, people are going to die, and it will be who you least expect and when you least expect it. This serves to create unbelievable tension in each and every scene. At one point, during a leap from a collapsing rooftop, I was literally gripping the arm of my theater chair.

I cannot remember the last time that happened.


Director Matt Reeves has created a horror film for the YouTube generation. In this age when we are unsure if what we are seeing online is real or staged, Reeves orchestrates scenes that feel incredible authentic and carry with them great emotional impact. Looters stop in their tracks to watch the horror unfolding on plasma televisions. A mother calls to check on the safety of her children, only to be told that one of them is dead. Movies shot on film stock tend to be one step removed from reality. By using video, Reeves has made everything in Cloverfield seem hyper-real, and ultimately, far more terrifying than a traditional horror film.

Much credit also goes to the technicians the video camera never captures, from editor Kevin Stitt to the technicians at the Tippett Studio who brought the horrible beasties to life. By using quick cuts and fast movements (but surprisingly little shaky-cam), the creatures remain frightening no matter how many times we encounter them.


Cloverfield is everything the 1998 Godzilla film should have been and wasn’t: a frightening thrill ride with characters we care about and a monster that is more terrifying than a simple over-grown iguana. If you remember loving the Japanese monster films of old, or you just want to see a fresh spin on traditional horrors, you need to run to the nearest theater and strap yourselves in, because like the Coney Island-going main characters, you’re in for a wonderful time!

Fan boy note: You must stay for the end credits! No, nothing is going to jump out at you in the final frame, but “Roar! (Cloverfield overture),” composed by Michael Giacchino and performed by the Bratislava Orchestra, is a throwback to the wonderful classic Godzilla themes that will have you smiling for days.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Sweeney Todd (2007)


Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, and Sacha Baron Cohen
Written by: Stephen Sondheim (Musical)
John Logan (Screenplay)
Directed by: Tim Burton

September 1982. I sat spellbound in front of my television as HBO broadcast a performance of Stephen Sondheim’s Broadway hit Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Starring George Hearn and Angela Lansbury, the story was twisted, with humor dark as an unlit cave, and at its core lurked a deeply pessimistic view of the world and of humanity. Needless to say, I thought it was utterly amazing!

Now, 25 years later, director Tim Burton has brought the horror musical to a much larger screen, and in the process, he has created a modern masterpiece.


Johnny Depp stars as Benjamin Barker, a poor but happy barber with a loving wife and infant daughter.

“There was a barber and his wife,
And she was beautiful.
A foolish barber and his wife.
She was his reason and his life,
And she was beautiful,
And she was virtuous,
And he was… naive.”

All is right with the world until a lascivious judge (Alan Rickman) sets his eyes on the beautiful Mrs. Barker. Mad with lust and power, the judge arranges to have Benjamin arrested, wrongly convicted, and imprisoned. With the barber of Fleet Street out of the picture, the judge is free to make his advances.

Fifteen years have now passed, and Barker has escaped. Bitter and hollow, he returns to London under the name Sweeney Todd.

“There’s a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren’t worth what a pig could spit
and it goes by the name of London.”

There, he meets shopkeeper Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), who informs him that his wife committed suicide, and that his daughter is now a prisoner in the judge’s home. Filled with rage, Sweeney retrieves his beloved razors and begins hacking and slashing the throats of those responsible for all his misery.


(Sung in unison…)

”You there, my friend,
Come, let me hold you.
Now, with a sigh,
You grow warm
In my hand…
My friend,
My clever friend…”

“I’m your friend too, Mr. Todd
If you only knew, Mr. Todd.
Ooh, Mr. Todd,
You’re warm
In my hand…
You’ve come home…
Always had a fondness for you,
I did.”

As with Joss Whedon’s brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical, the producer’s were wise to give those with limited singing ability less to sing. Purists may complain that several numbers from the Broadway production have been cut, but keep in mind that Depp, Bonham Carter, and Rickman are not trained singers. They’re actors. What they lack in voice, however, they more than make up for with rich performances, using their eyes and body language to convey emotions like bubbling rage, secret longing, and menace, bringing Sondheim’s lyrics to vivid life on the screen.

And the talent behind the camera shows just as much enthusiasm for the material. While true to his source, John Logan’s screenplay has made the production less “stagy,” setting the action throughout London. And Dariusz Wolski’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design work in congress to paint this vast tapestry of turn-of-the-century horrors, creating haunting images that could have sprung from one of Dickens’ worst nightmares. The final touch comes from Colleen Atwood’s costumes and Nana Fischer’s make-up design, providing a very Goth appearance to Sweeney and his friends.


“Demons’ll charm you with a smile, for a while,
But in time…
Nothing can harm you
Not while I’m around…”

Director Tim Burton is no stranger to the horror-themed musical, having guided both The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride through production, and he is working with familiar themes of loneliness and the outsider as hero. For the first time, however, he has released a picture with an R-rating, giving us body parts and Monty-Pythonesque gluts of blood with every throat slashing. Yes, my friends, more than ever before, his macabre sense of humor is allowed free reign, and at times, we are laughing as we grimace, and grimacing even as we laugh.

This is Burton’s masterwork, the fusion of style and substance, of art and ideas, and it is sure to please his fan base as much as it will romance more mainstream success.


“And life is for the alive, my dear
So let’s keep living it,
Just keep living it
Really living it!”

Few creative partnerships have yielded more fruit than that of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, and none have tasted so sweet as this. The duo have always done solid work independently of one another, but when they decide to collaborate on a project, it creates a very real sort of dark magic. I left Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street singing Sondheim’s tunes, but it is what Burton and Depp brought to the work that stuck with me long after the music faded from my memory.

This is one of the best pictures of 2007; a cinematic experience that, like great theater, just gets better with each subsequent viewing, and I for one cannot wait to catch this company’s next performance.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

I Am Legend (2007)


Staring: Will Smith, Alice Braga, and Charlie Tahan
Written by: Richard Matheson (Novel)
Mark Protosevich and Akiva Goldsman (Screenplay)
Directed by: Francis Lawrence

What is it about H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend? It seems that every time there is a major conflict raging in the world, a new interpretation of these novels gets produced. Wells’ classic was first turned into the famous Orson Wells’ radiobroadcast of 1938, as the rest of the earth was engulfed in a very real war. In 1953, at the height of cold war panic, George Pal brought the story to the silver screen, and in 2005, as the Iraq War raged on, Steven Spielberg committed another version to film. Matheson’s work has had a similar history. First filmed as The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price in 1964, amid continued cold war fears, and later as Charlton Heston’s Omega Man, during the Vietnam War in 1971, the time has now come for I Am Legend to get a post 9/11 update of its own.


This time around, two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith steps into the lonely shoes of Dr. Robert Neville, sole survivor of a global pandemic. By day, he wanders the vast, empty streets of New York city with his trusty dog, Sam, gathering supplies from abandoned stores and apartments, hunting the deer that now run freely across an overgrown Times Square (that is, when the zoo’s escaped lions don’t bag them first). By night, however, he is a prisoner in his own home. His windows are covered in thick sheets of metal; his doors are latched and barred. At night, you see, the vampires come out to play. Oh, the movie never calls them vampires, but that’s what they are. The plague has reduced humanity to a race of hairless, vein-laced creatures who feed on blood, and exposure to sunlight now burns them to cinders.

Dr. Neville searches frantically for the secret to his own immunity, hoping to formulate a serum that will cure these creatures and return their humanity, but his efforts have met with frustrating results. Now, however, it appears he may be on the brink of a vaccine.
He captures one of the creatures, injects it with the concoction, and records the progress, hoping to restore civilization before his own isolation drives him to insanity.


Like Tom Hanks (Castaway), Will Smith is certain to get another Oscar nod for his work here, showing us how Man deals with total isolation and the absence of all human contact. He dresses mannequins at a local video store, chatting with them as if they are old friends, even trying to work up the courage to say hello to a beautiful (plastic) woman. And of course, there is his dog, Sam. Like Friday to Neville’s Robinson Caruso, the animal never says a word, and yet it provides an anchor that keeps the scientist moored to his sanity. While Smith’s banter can be humorous at times, there is always a great sadness in his eyes, and it says more about his loss than any words could express.

Director Francis Lawrence and writer Akiva Goldsman should be applauded for the storytelling they are able to accomplish without dialogue. News clippings plastered around an apartment tell the story of the end of the world, signs hung beside the road say, “God still loves us,” shots of the fallen bridges and vacant urban landscape call to mind the horrors of 9/11, and in one of the most heartbreaking scenes in recent cinema, the image of an empty crib screams volumes.


While the first two-thirds of this film are masterfully rendered, the final act takes much of the wind from its sails.

Neville discovers another survivor and her son (Alice Braga and Charlie Tahan). In his apartment, he tries to get used to being around living people again, then must fight to save them from the creatures. While this section provides the explosions and gunfire the trailers like to display, it does not have the emotional firepower the film possessed when Neville was on his own.

Which brings us to the weakest portion of the film: the ending, which calls to mind the works of much-maligned director M. Night Shyamalan.


The three film adaptations share their source material’s use flashbacks to tell the story of Neville’s family. Today, this is a common technique, used in everything from 1984’s The Terminator to TV’s Angel. Here, we are shown a single memory in pieces: the evacuation of New York. Each piece moves us further along until, near the end of the movie, we understand what really happened. Then, in the film’s final moments, Neville has a kind of religious epiphany that ties what is happening now to those flashbacks. It reminds the viewer of the climax to Shyamalan’s Signs, and the final scene even had this reviewer thinking of Shyamalan’s The Village. Had the filmmakers shown some of their earlier ingenuity to suggest what was coming throughout the film, this ending might have come off brilliantly. As it is, it seems anti-climactic, almost as if the creative team had given us everything they had too soon and were spent by the final frames.

Still, the opening and middle of I Am Legend are so very good, and Smith’s performance is so strong, it would be a crime not to join the last man on earth in a theater near you.

4 out of 5 stars.

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)


Starring: Lilyan Chauvin, Robert Brian Wilson, Linnea Quigley, Danny Wagner, and Will Hare

Written by: Paul Caimi (story)
Michael Hickey

Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr.

“You’ve made it through Halloween, now try and survive Christmas!”

So reads the tagline for Silent Night, Deadly Night. The movie caused an angry uproar upon its release in December of 1984, when parents groups, who thought the film depicted jolly old St. Nick as a homicidal maniac, picketed theaters. These groups obviously never saw the film, but their crusade was a success. Cinemas across the country pulled the flick from their screens within a week. In the summer of 1985, the film appeared on VHS, but by that point, it had been heavily edited. And then it was gone, stuck in moratorium; an all-but-forgotten bit of Slasher films past.

Until now.

Thanks to the merry elves at Anchor Bay and Starz Home Entertainment, we can celebrate this holiday season with the release of a new uncut and uncensored edition of arguably the best Christmas-themed horror movie ever made.


The film opens with young Billy Chapman (Danny Wagner) on a road trip with his parents to visit Grandpa (Will Hare) in the local insane asylum. Grandpa appears to be catatonic, totally unaware of the world around him. When the doctors take Mom and Dad aside to discuss a plan of care, Grandpa suddenly snaps out of his trance and talks to Billy.

“You scared, ain’t ya? You should be! Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year!”

Grandpa goes on to tell little Billy that Santa only brings presents to children who haven’t had a single naughty moment all year long. The rest of the boys and girls out there…he punishes.

“You see Santa Claus tonight you better run boy, you better run for ya life!”

(Author’s side note: If you happen to be surfing the net some night, look up “Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino do Silent Night, Deadly Night,” and you will see the directors act out this classic scene before a live audience!)

On the way home, Billy’s parents stop to help a stranded motorist dressed in a Santa suit. Unfortunately, this is a crook who just knocked over a gas station and shot the clerk. The crook kills Billy’s father, then rapes and murders Billy’s mother right before the boy’s tender young eyes.


Billy is sent to an orphanage, where a caring nun wants to get the boy psychiatric help, but the sadistic Mother Superior (Lilyan Chauvin) will have none of it. When the boy has nightmares about the night his parents were killed, she ties him to the bed to keep him in his room, and when Billy catches two teenagers having sex, he watches as the Mother Superior beats them with a belt.

“What they were doing was naughty,” she tells him. “They thought they could do it without being caught. But when we do something naughty, we are always caught. Then, we are punished. Punishment is absolute. Punishment is good.”

Now 18, Billy is given a job at the local toy store. There, he dreams about one of the cashiers and is plagued by guilty nightmares where Santa kills him as punishment for his secret desires. But all is well and good until Christmas rolls around again. As fate would have it, the man playing Santa is out sick on Christmas Eve, and Billy’s boss drafts him to fill the boots. This leads to a complete mental breakdown where Billy thinks he is Santa, and he spends the night doing what Santa does: punishing people with box cutters, arrows, axes, and in one famous scene, impaling a naked young woman (scream queen Linnea Quigley) on reindeer antlers.


This is quintessential grindhouse cinema. Anchor Bay has used all the footage it could find to reconstruct the print, and some of it was in better shape than others. This leads to bright, colorful shots being intercut with dark, grainy frames, but it gives us, for the first time, the entire film as it was originally envisioned. Like the picture, the acting runs the spectrum from horrible (any of the bit players and victims) to downright brilliant (Chauvin and Hare), and the direction is all over the map. Many scenes are filmed with a camera mounted on a tripod, zooming in from a great distance on points of interest, other shots show more of a visual flair, with cameras peeking through keyholes and rushing down stairs. And the screenplay by Michael Hickey, for all of its flaws (and there are many), succeeds in showing how a sweet little boy’s psyche could be shattered enough to turn him into a cold-blooded killer. It’s the same tale Rob Zombie tried to tell with his re-imagined Halloween. The difference is that Silent Night, Deadly Night works.

If you are feeling nostalgic this holiday, or perhaps more than a little bit naughty, this is the film for you!

4 out of 5 stars.

Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)


Directors: Colin Strause and Greg Strause
Writer: Shane Salerno
Starring: Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, Johnny Lewis, Tom Woodruff Jr., and Ian Whyte

“So…what do you want for Christmas?”

It’s a commonly asked question this time of year. You get it from your family, your friends, maybe even that co-worker who pulled your name in the office Secret Santa drawing. Well, if you love the ALIEN and PREDATOR franchises, and the countless graphic novels and video games that have had the two fanged nasties battling it out for over a decade, you might be hoping for a big-screen match-up that finally meets all your fan-boy/girl expectations. Lord knows, 2005’s ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (or AVP as the marketing geniuses at Fox wanted you to call it) wasn’t it. That movie was a watered down, PG-13 rated action flick for 12-15 year-olds who had never seen either series, and though they may have thought it was cool, it left true aficionados waving their fists and gnashing their teeth at what might have been. Now, on Christmas day 2007, Fox brings those disgruntled fans a present: ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: Requiem, or AVP:R. (Gotta love those marketing guys!)

This new round is an R-Rated, all-out melee designed to thrill everyone who was disappointed in the studios previous offering, and while the film is far from a perfect, it’s a very big step in the right direction.


The action picks up the moment the first movie ends. As a Predator spacecraft leaves orbit, a new kind of alien erupts from the chest of a dead hunter. It is a hybrid, possessing traits of both creatures, and it immediately starts to attack Predators and damage their ship. Soon, the craft falls back through the atmosphere and smashes into wooded mountains outside a sleepy Colorado town. Their stasis tubes damaged in the crash, crab-like facehuggers quickly crawl from the wreckage and begin the process of creating a hive right here on earth. But this infestation will not go unchallenged. The ship’s distress signal reaches a far-off Predator outpost, and a special operative (an extraterrestrial Green Beret, if you will) is immediately dispatched to destroy these multiplying aliens and anyone that gets in the way.


AVP:R has a lot going for it. The directors, Colin Strause and Greg Strause, clearly love these extraterrestrials, and they go to great lengths to pay homage to their previous incarnations. They brought back Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc., the creature effects gurus who have worked on every film in both series. This time around, the ALIENS appear just as they did in James Cameron’s classic 1986 film. They crawl across the walls and ceilings as they did in ALIEN 3, and swim like the beasts of ALIEN RESSURECTION. While thePREDATOR goes back the look of the 1987 original, using an inventive mix of old and new weapons to battle the growing alien horde. The editing is fast-paced, but the brothers thankfully resist the urge to use hand-held shaky-cams prevalent in so many action films of recent years. (Yes, I’m looking at you Michael Bay!) Die-hard fans will even thrill to the musical score by Brian Tyler, which features cues from ALIEN and PREDATOR films of the past.


As the title combatants, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Ian Whyte give stellar performances while encased in latex and servo motors. These creatures do not have a single line of dialogue, yet their body language speaks volumes. Whenever there is drooling monster on the screen, the film is engrossing and thrilling to behold. When the humans take center stage, however, the movie suffers. Shane Salerno’s screenplay subjects us to a parade of movie stereotypes. There is the brother (Steven Pasquale), just out of prison and looking to do right; the young kid (Johnny Lewis) in love with the popular girl, bullied by a group of sadistic jocks; and there’s an army officer (Reiko Aylesworth) home from war that exists only because the filmmakers needed somebody who could fly a helicopter during the climax. While the actors who show their faces do a workman-like job with the stock roles they are assigned, they can do nothing to elevate the laughable dialogue they are forced to deliver. At one point, a girl who just watched her father get eaten is seen crying. “Is she gonna be okay?” someone asks. The girl’s mother replies, “She’s had a bad night.” And the audience shook its collective head and giggled when it should have wept. If Mr. Salerno had written a basically silent film, where Predators and ALIENS do battle while humans to nothing more than scream and run away, this might have been a four or five star film.


The original PREDATOR and James Cameron’s ALIENS are classics of modern cinema. AVP:R is not. But then, it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s meant to be a fun, gory rollercoaster, and that’s exactly what it is. Blood, cool gadgets and weapons, and inventive set pieces all rush by at warp speed, and when it came to a stop, I wanted to get right back in line. Merry Christmas, Brothers Strause! Merry Christmas, Amalgamated Dynamics! Merry Christmas, Fox, you old studio! Sorry I didn’t get you anything. Oh, wait…I bought a ticket.

You should too.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Mist (2007)


Staring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Laurie Holden, and Nathan Gamble
Written by: Frank Darabont (screenplay)
Stephen King (story)
Directed by: Frank Darabont

When I first heard that Stephen King’s early 80’s novella The Mist was being made into a feature film, I must admit I was more that a bit concerned. A movie based on a classic story is always a scary proposition. There are just so many ways it can go wrong. People have lived with the tale in their heads for so long; painted so many lasting mental pictures…the images you put up there on the screen are sure to suffer by comparison. And God forbid you make changes! The fan boys will eat you alive.


For those unfamiliar with King’s twisted, apocalyptic tale, let be give you the basic details. After a horrible thunderstorm, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) takes his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), into town for groceries and a few supplies. Soon a thick mist rolls in, cutting the supermarket off from the outside world. When some run out into this fog to try and get to their cars, their departure is followed almost immediately by screams of terror and pain. Yes, it soon becomes evident that the mist is hiding something truly grotesque, but even more monstrous than the unseen evil in the swirling haze is the breakdown of humanity happening within the confines of the store. Believing this to be God’s wrath, local crackpot Mrs. Carmody (Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) begins to build a dangerous and deadly cult, and soon David is left with a terrible choice: face almost certain death outside, or risk his son becoming a human sacrifice on Aisle 2.


The cast assembled here is top-notch. You can see the determination to survive in Jane’s eyes, hear it in his voice. Young Gamble gives an amazing turn as his son. Frightened, funny, and at one heartbreaking moment, clearly just as shocked as the audience. And Gay Harden gives her religious zealot a few moments of tearful vulnerability that show she’s not a broad caricature. Some may watch the treatment of her character and call The Mist anti-Christian. It’s not. It’s just anti-insanity. Those who are unwilling to believe there are monsters in the mist are just as crazy as those willing to believe any of this carnage could possibly be for God’s benefit.


To heighten the film’s dramatic intensity, Darabont chose to shoot with hand-held cameras, using the crew responsible for FX’s The Shield. Many horror and action directors of late have confused “hand-held” for “shaky-cam,” giving us scenes that look as if they were filmed by people on jackhammers, but not Darabont. The images are just tight enough and jittery enough to convey tension and unease, but they never confuse or nauseate. And as a fan of King’s work, Darabont knows what scenes readers have been waiting to see for twenty years. Rest assured, we see tentacles whip and witness spiders the size of Great Danes crawling across the screen (yes, friends, the trip to the pharmacy next door is just as creepy as you remember it), but even more frightening are the things we don’t see. Something comes up to the door and drags off the carcass of a dead shopper, but it is never shown. Something else has claws and legs that lash out of the mist and snap people in half, but it remains shadowed…mysterious…chilling.


And just as the writer/director knows what to preserve from King’s text, he also knows what needs to go. There was a romance in the story. It developed too quickly and felt very wrong considering the fate of their families trapped out there in the haze. I wondered how Darabont would be able to make it work. Simple. It’s not there. A minor change, but one that was necessary and—in my opinion—improves upon the source material.


Which brings us to the ending.

Quite frankly, King didn’t have one. In his story…The Mist just…well, it just stops. The reader has no idea what happens to David, his son, or the other survivors. For all his faithfulness, Darabont deserves major applause for having the guts to go where King failed to tread, giving us an actual conclusion. It is as shocking as it is improbable, but it is a finale that will have you talking and thinking long after the final credit fades from the screen. And as you exit the theater, look at the people around you, look at your own children and loved ones, and ask yourself…what would you do if you were in that same situation? The fact that none of us really knows may be the most frightening thing of all.

4 out of 5 stars.

300 (2007)


Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller
Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, and Rodrigo Santoro

I’m a member of what I like to call “The Star Wars Generation.” Maybe you are too. I was a kid of about 7-years-old when George Lucas brought forth the first Star Wars film. I sat there, in a theater that only had one, huge screen, and when the lights went down and the six-track Dolby stereo kicked in, I was plunged into a festival of the senses that I never wanted to end. In fact, the moment it was over, I wanted to buy another ticket and see it all over again. Nothing I had seen before Star Wars could have prepared me for this experience, and though I have taken countless cinematic journeys since that fateful day, few have captured that same feeling. It is the moment that sparked my love of cinema, of movie music, of art. In many ways, it is the moment my life began.

Now, I foresee a whole new generation of film fans being spawned, and it will be known as “The 300 Generation.”


Based on the graphic novel by artist Frank Miller (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City), the story is a fairly simple one. The forces of the evil Persian Empire, led by god king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), arrive on the shores of Greece with one thing in mind: total conquest. The Greek city-states can either become slaves and live under Persian rule, or they can stand and fight for freedom and democracy. King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) wants to protect the Spartan way of life, but the council has forbidden the army to get involved. With no other options available, Leonidas takes up his spear and shield, gathers together 300 of his best men, and marches off into battle while his queen, Gorgo (Lena Headey), tries to win support for the war at home.


But we didn’t come to the cinema, our modern-day coliseum, for a history lesson on Thermopylae. No, good citizens, we came to see some battles. And like the emperors of old, writer/director Zack Snyder knows how to satisfy our bloodlust. In 2004, he took the slow-moving zombies of George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead and gave them a turbo boost. Now, with the help of computer technology, he does the same for the sword and sandal picture, transforming stale sword fights into sadistic ballets. Heads go spinning through the air; limbs are hacked off in mid stride; and countless warriors find themselves impaled on Spartan steel. Snyder lets his horror roots show in these sequences, and you can almost hear him laughing with glee at the bloody mayhem he is able to unleash upon the screen under the guise of historical epic.

This film is as much Frank Miller’s vision as it is Snyder’s, and you can see it in each and every frame. Backgrounds are painted and animated around the actors, capturing the world of the comic with a degree of artistry never before attempted. Scenes of ships being smashed on rocks, armies of elephants, temples erected on rocky spires that could not possibly exist in reality…all are breathtaking spectacles in their own right.


As good as these visuals are, the sound design is even more incredible. At one point, a character throws a dead body and startles a flock of sea gulls. When they take flight, I literally jumped and turned my head. I thought there was a bird trapped in the theater with me. Weapons and battle cries wiz by on all sides, and when the blood does splatter, you hear the droplets hitting stone all around you. It is as if you are there on the cliffs, part of the siege, and it makes your jaw drop. To complement all of this action, Tyler Bates has composed a magnificent score. Rousing, beautiful, and haunting, it adds emotional weight at just the right moments.

If there is any sour note to be heard here, it is that of the dialogue. Someday, when the movie hits DVD, there will be a drinking game created. Every time Butler’s Leonidas yells out “Sparta” (usually preceded by a “We are…” or a “This is…”), take a shot. And when that game is created, someone will die of alcohol poisoning. Like Star Wars, there are dozens of memorable, quotable lines, but just because something is quotable, doesn’t make it great. Given this type of over-the-top dialogue, it would have been easy for the actors to turn the whole affair into a cheesefest, but to their immense credit, they play it all straight, adding depth and breath to characters that simply did not exist on the page.


Movies like Star Wars come around only once a generation, plunging the viewer into another world, a world that exists only in the dark of the theater, appealing to the inner child in us all. Like the world’s greatest rollercoasters, they are thrilling, exhilarating, and over far too quickly. As soon as you exit, you have the urge to run back to the end of the line and get another ticket.

is just that kind of ride, and even as I write this, I want to go again. Come on, I’ll race you.

4.5 out of 5 stars.