Welcome to my choppin' block. From time to time, by axe or guillotine-blade, I’ll be offerin' up reviews of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films, past to present. Some will get off with only a haircut or a close-shave. Others… Well, we’ll be geekin' quite a few necks and fillin' plenty o' baskets…
Here's how my gradin' system works, so pay attention:
Couple more items: I am The
Headsman, and on the choppin' block - I am God. Nobody tells me jack
on how to run my Guillotine. Not Dr. Mordred, not even those Plutonian
Shore whelps. I am a bad man, but I run a clean gallows. Anybody out
there want me to review a film for them? Tough. I don't do
requests. This section ain't for the weak of heart, so you've been
warned. If you got a spine, then get in line - and enjoy The Guillotine.
Anybody out there got a problem with the Headsman and his reviews can send yer complaints to: email@example.com
Or you call The Headsman's Complaint Hotline at: (666) 555-WANK ext. 86
Ask for Ms. Direxion.
In The Mouth Of Madness
Lived any good books lately? The godfather of modern horror John Carpenter really delivers In The Mouth Of Madness, starring Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, John Carpenter's Memoirs Of The Invisible Man, The Hunt For Red October, Restoration), Julie Carmen (Fright Night II), and Jurgen Prochnow (The English Patient, The Keep, Dune, The Seventh Sign, A Dry White Season, Das Boot).
Inspired by the classic tales of H.P. Lovecraft, this movie follows insurance investigator John Trent (Sam Neil) on the trail of missing best-selling horror novelist Sutter Caine (Jurgen Prochow). Trent believes the writer's disappearance has been staged by Caine's publisher, Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston) to boost already-soaring book sales. The missing author's latest novel is literally driving its readers insane; another publicity gag, according to Trent. Accompanied by Caine's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent is led to a town that only exists in Caine's books…that's when the real terror begins. Trent's convictions of what is fact and what is fiction begin to crumble as he realizes the end of the world is the final chapter in Sutter Caine's novel.
It can be argued that this film - along with the likes of Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, and Escape From New York - is Carpenter's finest work. He is the first to effectively capture the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft for film, which ain't no easy task. While other great - if not notable - H.P. Lovecraft-inspired films have been made (The Haunted Palace, Reanimator, Bride Of The Reanimator, From Beyond, Necronomicon: Book Of The Dead, The Ressurected), this movie stands out above them all, because it centers on the ever-rationalizing hero - and his eventual hopelessness when his own reality comes crashing down on him. This is a common theme in many H.P. Lovecraft stories, and thanks to Carpenter and a marvelous tour-de-force performance by Sam Neill, we get to watch the world of a strong-willed cynical man who's "always looking for the con" turn to terror and dread.
This is a damn good horror movie. More than a horror film, it's an "apocalyptic" film, which - if done right - is the most terrifying kind of horror film. Carpenter knows this formula well, and he exemplifies it to the nth degree in this movie. His other two "apocalyptic" films (forming an unofficial trilogy) are The Prince Of Darkness (1987) and The Thing (1982). The pacing and storytelling of this film are pure Carpenter as he grabs your attention with the first frame. It's clear that Carpenter gave this film detailed attention, and he did his homework (as he always does). Gary B. Kibbe's beautiful cinematography complements Carpenter's story-weaving. The lighting alone in some scenes is enough to bring on the chills. Kibbe is a pro and there are few that rival his work in the field today. This flick is a fun thrill ride; full of suspense and wit. It also has plenty of Lovecraftian "inside-jokes" that many fans of Lovecraft will be sure to spot and get a kick out of.
A strong cast did not hurt this film either, with a supporting cast that includes John Glover (Gremlins II: The New Batch, Scrooged, and the voice of the Riddler in the Batman animated series), Bernie Casey (Never Say Never), the distinguished and always-great Charlton Heston (Planet Of The Apes, Omega Man, Solent Green), and veteran Carpenter player - and one of my personal favorites - Peter Jason (Village Of The Damned, Prince Of Darkness, They Live, Escape From L.A.). ), David Warner (Star Trek IV: The Undiscovered Country, Time Bandits, Time After Time), who is no stranger to Lovecraft-inspired films (look for him in Necronomicon: Book Of The Dead) makes a cool guest appearance as a psychiatrist charged with the uncomfortable task of interviewing Trent.
Another difficult task in bringing Lovecraft to the big screen is creating some of the Lovecraftian creatures that were known to lurk throughout the author's stories. Word to the maker of Lovecraftian films: rubber tentacles attached to piano wire, a green gel over a light or green jello does not a Lovecraft monster make. I've seen some really wanky creatures on screen in my time, but the really lame ones can be seen in some of those older Lovecraft -inspired flicks. We won't name any names here. I'm sure I'll have 'em on my choppin' block soon enough. In this movie, you won't find any monsters made out of old carpets or cheap rubber masks. With the aid of spectacular make-up and creature effects from Kurtzman, Nicotero & Berger EFX Group, Carpenter allows us only glimpses of these horrors; allowing our imaginations to do the rest. But, this is an effective tool that horror directors should use more often. As he did in The Thing, Carpenter makes good use of that tool. This film also features some spiffy visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic.
Then, there is the trademark Carpenter music score. What Carpenter film would be complete without it? As with all John Carpenter films, his music places yet another layer of fear and suspense over the films that he scores. Teaming up with Jim Lang, Carpenter gives us one of his darkest and atmospheric scores ever; capturing the unknown worlds of H.P. Lovecraft to a "T".
Okay, so I dug this flick. Now go out and see it. If you've seen it already, go see it again. If you like John Carpenter films, you should own this one. If you don't like his films, then I guess I'll be sharpenin' my axes for ya.
In The Mouth Of Madness is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. The DVD features awesome Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, theatrical trailers, cast and crew filmographies, and a fascinating running commentary by John Carpenter and Gary B. Kibbe.
In a Tim Burton flick, you usually get the kind of movie that packs plenty of visuals, with the story occasionally getting lost amidst all that gothic eye candy he manages to cook up for each film. There's no doubt that the man is an artist. There's no doubt that the man's films are undisputed masterpieces in the realms of art direction, production design, and cinematography. Unfortunately, many of Burton's films suffer as the story takes a back seat to his visuals. Many of you doom-'n'-gloomers and wannabe weekend vampires out there would take what I'm sayin' about the man to be cardinal sacrilege, but Burton has often been criticized for injecting too much style and not enough substance in his movies. It ain't just me whinin' about the guy. The absolutely brilliant Ed Wood was arguably his finest attempt at storytelling, if not his best directorial job. Beetlejuice was entertaining and innovative, but we saw too much of that same telltale "Beetlejuice world" in Burton's later flicks, like Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Edward Scissorhands was tough to sit through. Despite Jack Nicholson as the Joker and a great overall look, Batman made me wince and bite my thumbs in despair more than once. Mars Attacks was just a huge, retchin' bore. Don't even get me started on that one. I couldn’t get to my executioner's axe quick enough for that stink-fest. But, in Sleepy Hollow, Burton has found his niche. Thought I was greasin' up my blades for the guy, didn't ya?
I was skeptical about this film from the get-go. I expected another artistic triumph/directorial flop. In this movie, Burton creates a near-perfect balance of story and dreamy atmosphere; keeping the visuals as a backdrop for the story. The story, albeit a familiar one to most, is never lost. Set in gloomy 1899 New England, Burton's updated version features the rather nervous Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) as a constable looking into the grisly crimes of the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken). While trying to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman and stop his murderous rampage, Crane falls for the mayor's beautiful and adopted daughter, Kristina Van Tassal (Christina Ricci). Kevin Yagher and Andrew Kevin Walker's story and screenplay does deviate quite a bit from the original story, but then again, so has every screen adaptation of the famous Washington Irving story. This doesn't hurt the film at all. In fact, the new spin makes the story more interesting, providing a look into the Horseman's dark past.
Looking back at the ultim-o lame-o Mars Attacks, one would expect Burton to return to the same film formula he used in Ed Wood, and he did. Excellent casting choices make all the difference for Sleepy Hollow. This film includes some of the finest actors and actresses today in supporting roles (as a matter of fact, many of them were also featured in Ed Wood). Jeffrey Jones (Ed Wood), Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Michael Gough (veteran Hammer Films actor who also played Alfred in the Batman films), Ian McDiarmid (the evil Palpatine from Return Of The Jedi and The Phantom Menace) Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Lisa Marie (Ed Wood), and the ever-awesome Christopher Walken (Dead Zone, The Prophecy, King Of New York, The Funeral). It's tough not to be inspired by a cast like that. Another absolutely cool treat is a guest appearance by the legendary Christopher Lee, which should delight fans everywhere. I went all giddy-like when I saw his scene come up. Kudos to Burton for that.
While I wasn't a terribly huge fan of Christina Ricci before Sleepy Hollow, I certainly am now. The young starlet turned in a captivating performance, which will keep her forever safe from my commemorative Drew Barrymore choppin' block…where so many young and promising actresses seem to end up these days.
And what about the film's main antagonist? At last, Washington Irving's Headless Horseman has finally been made into a serious threatening figure, and Christopher Walken was the best man to sell it. Walken's Horseman is frighteningly effective - even though he does not actually speak in the film (which made him even more terrifying). Appropriately un-Disney in just about every way, Burton's Horseman shakes off any of that tired, cartoonish stigmatism generated in past incarnations.
Now's a good time to talk about Johnny Depp. This guy just gets better and better, always turning in astonishing performances. He completely transforms into each role that he undertakes. He is quickly approaching the top of my best male actor list.
Let's get into the music. I have to admit, Burton's favorite pet composer Danny Elfman managed to pull off something original for a change. When I first saw his name flash across the credits in the film's opening, I thought, here we go. It'll either be another re-hash of Batman, Beetlejuice, or Pee Wee Herman. Elfman is notorious for ripping himself off. Don't believe me? Okay. For all you Elfman-lovers out there, take the Elfman film score challenge. Listen to the following film scores back-to-back. Batman, Dick Tracy, Darkman, and The Flash (T.V. series). 'Nuff said. To my surprise, his score complemented the film, and is probably his best work to date since the first Batman film. I used to be a big Elfman fan once upon a time, and Sleepy Hollow gives me a reason to not forsake the man just yet.
This movie left me eagerly anticipating Tim Burton's next film (which is reportedly the new Planet Of The Apes remake), which is something I can't say I was doing before I saw it -so my hood is off to Mr. Burton for winning me over. The movie offers a perfect blend humor, action, mystery, and it has its scary moments too. It is a must-see around Halloween time.
All of that aside, the movie boasts great effects, especially during the beheading scenes. When it comes to beheading, I'm an expert in that department. As the ads promised, heads did roll quite nicely. If you don't like Tim Burton; you're not into the Washington Irving story; you don't like the actors/actresses; or you don't like gawkin' at Christina Ricci or Miranda Richardson; then you should at least see this movie for the great head-rollin' scenes. Check out the fantastic fight sequence between the Horseman, Brom Bones (Casper Van Dien), and Ichabod Crane. It's no Phantom Menace fight scene, but you won't be disappointed by how the Horseman dispatches with poor Brom.
Sleepy Hollow is currently available to rent or purchase on VHS or DVD. I highly recommend you see it on DVD if you're DVD-equipped. The DVD features stunning Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, theatrical trailers, director's commentary, a photo gallery, cast and crew interviews, and a cool behind-the-scenes featurette.
Writer-director Stephen Sommers gives us a loose remake of the 1932 classic, revamping the legend of Imhotep with computer-generated effects and Indiana Jones-style adventure. The film stars Brendan Fraser
(George Of The Jungle, Blast From The Past) as gun-toting mercenary Rick O'Conell, who teams up with bookish British archeologist Evie (Rachel Weisz) and her brother Jonathan (John Hanna) in search of ancient treasure in the lost city of Hamunaptra, circa 1923. Instead, they manage to unearth and unwittingly resurrect a 3,000 year-old mummy known as Inmhotep (Arnold Vosloo). With the help of desert warrior and magi Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr), they try to stop Imhotep from gaining power and ultimately plunging the world into darkness. Early on in the film, Imhotep takes on a cowardly but treacherous mercenary as his human servant, named Benny (Kevin J. O'Connor) who aids him in his unearthly endeavors.
A good example of a bad sequel.
The Mummy Returns re-teams writer/director Stephen Sommers with the original cast of 1999's
The Mummy for this disappointing and very annoying sequel. Suffering from an acute case of sequel-itis, Imhotep (Arnold Vosloo) is resurrected again in hopes of finding the ancient Scorpion King (Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. WWF star "The Rock") to secure his pursuit of world domination. Indiana Jones wannabe Rick O'Connell (Brendan Fraser), his wife Evie (Rachel Weisz), brother-in-law Jonathan (John Hanna), and desert warrior Ardeth Bey (Oded Fehr) are out to foil the Mummy's plans and save their son who's being used by Imhotep and company to locate the Scorpion King's resting place.
"The Scorpion King has no sting". If you were to read no further, that one sentence sums up this film to a freakin' tee. This "spin-off" or prequel to Universal's
The Mummy/The Mummy Returns franchise centers on the Scorpion King character first introduced in the latter film. World Wrestling Federation super-hero "The Rock" (a.k.a. - Dwayne Johnson) plays the painfully-obvious Conan-esque character in the "pre-pyramid" days of ancient Egypt, years before his transformation into the ridiculous "man-scorpion" creature seen at the end of the equally-ridiculous
The Mummy Returns. The plot is fairly predictable: Mathayus (the Rock) is a member of an elite group of Akkadian assassins hired by the oppressed enemies of bad-guy Memnon (Steven Brand) to kill the sorcerer that gives him his "edge" in battle. Mathayus discovers that Memnon's sorcerer is really this hot chick Cassandra (Kelly Hu), and stays his hand from wasting her. This brings a whole lotta problems into the muscle-bound Akkadian's life, as he winds up leading the remaining resistance forces in battle against Memnon and his armies. Along the way, Mathayus teams up with wisecracking horse-thief Arpid (Grant Heslov) and eccentric, archetypical old alchemist Philos (Bernard Hill). Mathayus also finds the time to wrestle with bandit-leader Balthazar (Michael Clarke Duncan) and tries to get it on with Cassandra in a rather stilted love scene.