Film Review: Hellhole (1985)

Also known as: Hell Hole (alternate spelling)
Release Date: April 26th, 1985
Directed by: Pierre De Moro
Written by: Aaron Butler (as Vincent Mongol), Lance Dickson, Mark Evan Schwartz
Music by: Jeff Sturges
Cast: Ray Sharkey, Judy Landers, Marjoe Gortner, Edy Williams, Mary Woronov, Terry Moore, Robert Z’Dar

Arkoff International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

This is a film that I didn’t even know existed until recently. Somehow it evaded me in countless pillages of mom and pop video stores throughout the ’80s and ’90s. But it does have some people I like in it, so why not check it out?

The film sees a woman murdered by some crazed madman that looks like a middle aged punk rock mobster hybrid. Kind of hard to describe him but it’s the ’80s and this isn’t even a B-movie it’s more like a D-movie. Anyway, the woman’s daughter sees the murder, is then pursued and chased until she falls about ten feet and gets amnesia. She is then locked up in an insane asylum where they do crazy experiments that turn female patients into killer zombies. Also, the man that murdered her mother is there, working as an orderly.

In a lot of ways, this is an absolutely awful movie. However, it isn’t all a waste because it’s got some great character actors in it and frankly, it’s full of so much ’80s horror cheese that it should satisfy you, if that’s your thing.

The film has Mary Woronov, who was great in Death Race 2000Eating RaoulRock ‘n’ Roll High SchoolNight of the Comet and so many other B-movies. We also get Marjoe Gortner, who I enjoyed in Starcrash and as the villain in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt. Then you have the “Maniac Cop” himself, Robert Z’Dar in an early role before he’d star in a slew of B-pictures, usually as a psycho killer… okay, always as a psycho killer. But he’s a guy with serious gravitas, a good presence and a chin that would make Bruce Campbell’s take a month off.

I’ll be honest though, there isn’t a whole lot here, apart from the cast, that is all that great. However, I was a bit surprised with how well it played out for what it is. At its core, it is a women in prison movie with a horror twist. There are boobs, lesbian stuff and whatnot. Sadly, there isn’t as much of it as you’d expect from this type of film. But hey, we get killer women prison zombies, so things balance out.

Hellhole isn’t a complete waste of time and it is only ninety minutes. If you didn’t get your fill of Woronov being a psycho in an operating room in Night of the Comet, then this should be up your alley.

Film Review: The Living Daylights (1987)

Release Date: June 29th, 1987 (London premiere)
Directed by: John Glen
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Michael G. Wilson
Based on: characters by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Timothy Dalton, Maryam d’Abo, Joe Don Baker, Art Malik, Jeroen Krabbé, John Rhys-Davies, Robert Brown, Desmond Llewelyn, Caroline Bliss

Eon Productions, United International Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Believe me, my interest in her is purely professional.” – James Bond

I tend to go against the grain. I usually say things about movies or other pop culture stuff that leaves people baffled. For instance, Timothy Dalton is my favorite James Bond. Yes, he is. And yes, I loved every other actor that played the character and especially have a soft spot for the Connery and Moore chapters in the franchise but Dalton was and always will be my James Bond.

Maybe my love for Dalton is because he was the current Bond when I really got into James Bond movies. The Living Daylights was the first Bond film that I saw in the theater and as a kid, a year later, I was on the set of Licence to Kill in the Florida Keys. I didn’t get to meet Dalton but I got to see him standing around, as James Bond in the flesh.

Unfortunately, due to lawsuits in the early 1990s, Timothy Dalton only got to play James Bond twice: in 1987’s The Living Daylights and in 1989’s superb Licence to Kill. This film is my least favorite of the two but I still thoroughly enjoy it.

The thing that brings this chapter in the Bond franchise down a notch or two, is that it still carries over some of the cheesiness from the Roger Moore era. While that stuff worked for Moore, it really wasn’t a beneficial approach to Dalton’s style as the character. And frankly, it feels as if the movie was written with Roger Moore in mind, before Dalton was cast as the British super spy.

However, some of the hokey bits are still amusing, like the cello case sled scene, for instance.

Another weak point with this film though, is the villains. While I like Joe Don Baker and always have, he just doesn’t feel like a Bond villain. He plays more like a one-off baddie from a show like Magnum P.I. and doesn’t truly feel like someone worthy of Bond’s attention like members of SPECTRE, Francisco Scaramanga, Franz Sanchez, Raoul Silva, Alec Trevelyan, Hugo Draz or hell, even Max Zorin. At least Baker would get a second go in the series when he appeared in two of the Pierce Brosnan films a decade later: Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

I did enjoy Maryam d’Abo as the Bond girl in this film. She was a departure from the overly glamorous women of previous movies. Not to say that she wasn’t beautiful and classy but she played a musician, a real artist type. She was cute and sexy but not a supermodel out trying to marry a rock star. She was also sweet and innocent, even though the first time you encounter her, she’s wielding a sniper rifle.

We also get the great John Rhys-Davies in this and I kind of wish that his character would have returned to the series later on. I feel as if he would have been an ally to Bond again, had Timothy Dalton’s run as the character lasted longer than two films. But the man got to team up with James Bond and Indiana Jones in his career, not to mention being a pivotal member of the Fellowship in the The Lord of the Rings movies.

The Living Daylights is a better than average James Bond outing, enhanced by the charm and gravitas that is Timothy Dalton. Plus, the followup to this film would be one of the best in the entire series. The Living Daylights was a good introduction to a really good Bond that we unfortunately didn’t get to see much more of.

Film Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (TIFF)
Directed by: David Lynch
Written by: David Lynch
Music by: Angelo Badalamenti
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay, Brad Dourif

De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Baby wants to fuck! Baby wants to fuck Blue Velvet!” – Frank Booth

I was a pretty big David Lynch fan when I was a teenager, as well as in my twenties. His work was unique, bizarre, borderline insane and so surreal, that everything Lynch touched became otherworldly. My appreciation for his work really started with Twin Peaks. I never understood the show as an adolescent but it lured me in. Truth is, I don’t particularly understand it now. But I guess that’s Lynch’s modus operandi.

The thing is, as I get older, I expect more from my films than just beautiful surrealism and crazy madness. Lynch’s films get harder to watch with age and I’m just less accepting of incredible style over real substance. To be blunt, despite fantastic performances by the actors he casts, a lot of his work just comes off as pretentious faux-academic bullshit. You can call it art, that used to be my label for it, but his movies and his television show are weird just to be weird.

Blue Velvet, while it has a decent narrative and isn’t as confusing and baffling as Lynch’s other work, still falls victim to style over substance.

Now I don’t hate the film, I do mostly like it, but a lot of that has to do with the cast and how good they performed in this. This is Dennis Hopper at his most insane, which says a lot if you are familiar with his early work. It also features a very young Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern at their sweetest. Bit parts by Dean Stockwell, Frances Bay and Brad Dourif are all enjoyable too. I thought that Isabella Rossellini’s performance was over the top but I guess a lot of professional critics liked it.

Lynch’s films always have great cinematography, especially in regards to lighting and the angles used to capture the scenes. Blue Velvet is technically sound. Although, I am not a fan of the score. It feels disorienting and out of place at times but then again, this is Lynch and that is probably the point because why not be weird just to be weird, right?

Blue Velevet is a mid 1980s neo-noir. It is a good example of the neo-noir style, even if it is pretty far outside the box. It’s not bad, it’s just decent. It’s far from exceptional and severely overrated, in my opinion. But I can’t discredit the visual allure and the talented cast, especially Hopper.

Film Review: Clue (1985)

Also known as: Clue: The Movie, Cluedo (France)
Release Date: December 13th, 1985
Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Written by: Jonathan Lynn, John Landis
Based on: Cluedo by Anthony E. Pratt
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Colleen Camp, Lee Ving, Jane Wiedlin, Howard Hesseman

PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Communism was just a red herring.” – Wadsworth

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see Clue on the big screen. I never did get to see this in theaters, as a kid, but it was one of my favorite films to watch around the time that it first hit video store shelves. Seeing this in the theater was a lot of fun and it made me remember just how much I love this movie. I own it but I haven’t actually watched it in probably a decade.

The one thing that stands out, watching it now as an adult, is how great the writing is. Jonathan Lynn and John Landis made a hilarious movie that was well thought out, well constructed and had multiple endings, all of which were great in their own way.

And that is one of the cool and unique things about this film. In the theater, you only got to see one of the multiple endings. Which ending you got was pretty much random. So if you saw this in one theater and then watched it again in a different theater, you would have seen a different conclusion. When this came out on home video, all three endings were included and the way that they edited these together was really kind of cool. The version I just saw in the theater, handled the ending like the home video release. The true and final ending is the best, by the way, even though all three scenarios were good.

This movie makes use of a great ensemble of actors. Everyone was good in their role and there wasn’t a weak link. Each actor owned the character and gave them depth and personality that even enhanced the board game experience after this film came out. Instead of randomly picking characters before the film came out, all the kids I played with that saw this movie, would base their character selection off of who they liked from the film. I was usually Professor Plum because I loved Christopher Lloyd. Although, I really wish they would have added Wadsworth to the game.

I also liked that this was a bit of an homage to House On Haunted Hill, as the film starts out the same way and the mansion is called “Hill House”, making the comparison a bit more obvious. The film was also produced by Debra Hill, most known for her collaborations with horror director John Carpenter.

Clue proved that you could make a good movie based off of a board game. Granted, that doesn’t mean that it should ever be attempted again. Years later, Battleship was adapted into a film and it was awful but I don’t know how that game could’ve been adapted into something decent.

For years, several other board games have been in development hell. I’ve read stories about movies for MonopolyLifeCandyland and a bunch of other board games. There has even been a Clue remake that has been discussed for years and seen many incarnations come and go without actually going in front of the camera.

Clue was a perfect storm that had the right talent assembled at every level of the production. It probably isn’t something that could be successfully replicated again. Besides, Clue was initially a failure at the box office. It wasn’t until it hit home video that it really became somewhat of a cult classic.

Film Review: Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

Release Date: June 22nd, 1988
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman
Based on: Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary K. Wolf
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Bob Hoskins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Fleischer, Stubby Kaye, Joanna Cassidy, Kathleen Turner, Mel Blanc

Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Is he always this funny, or only on days when he’s wanted for murder?” – Dolores

Back in 1988, I saw this movie in the theater. It was a pretty memorable experience, as this was an incredibly unique and enjoyable motion picture. I used to watch this a lot as a kid but I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Watching it again, I realized how much I missed this film. I mean, what’s not to like?

The film uses animated characters in a live action world. When I was young, this was a really cool experience, as I hadn’t seen anything like it before, at least not an entire movie like this. After Roger Rabbit, this would become a technique that was fairly common but this was the first movie to do it on such a large scale.

The really cool thing about the use of animated characters, is that everyone was in on the movie. For the first time, we got to see Disney characters mingle with Warner Bros. characters. One scene, in particular, has both Bugsy Bunny and Mickey Mouse on screen together. The film really is a cool crossover before crossovers even really became a thing.

Roger Rabbit stars Bob Hoskins and Christopher Lloyd, as the main human components of the movie. The film provided iconic roles for both men and they hit it out of the park. Hoskins was tailor made to play a noir type private dick while Lloyd had the perfect balance of being sinister, chilling and completely insane when the reveal of his true identity came out.

Charles Fleischer was perfect as the voice of Roger and he instantly made this character a megastar and worthy of a place alongside the great animated stars of the Disney and Looney Tunes characters he shares the screen with. Roger truly felt like he belonged, which wasn’t an easy feat but Fleischer gave the character real life and comedic charm.

Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman wrote a great script that had elements of film-noir, comedy, fantasy and lightheartedness mixed in with some really dark material. The scene where a character gets steamrollered was pretty harsh stuff for a kid but it is counterbalanced by the fantastic absurdity of how that moment plays out. This is truly a living cartoon.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a real classic. It still hits the right notes and being a period piece makes it a pretty timeless motion picture that still works just as well today, as it did in 1988.

Film Review: The Shining (1980)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1980
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson
Based on: The Shining by Stephen King
Music by: Wendy Carlos, Rachel Elkind
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, Danny Lloyd, Joe Turkel, Philip Stone, Tony Burton

The Producer Circle Company, Peregrine Productions, Hawk Films, Warner Bros., 146 Minutes (premiere), 144 Minutes (US cut), 119 Minutes (European cut)

Review:

“Here’s Johnny!” – Jack Torrance

My big Halloween treat this year was getting to see The Shining on the big screen!

People often ask me what the greatest horror movie of all-time is. The Shining is always the first motion picture to pop into my mind and frankly, it has always been my favorite. John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very close second.

The reason I love this film so much is because it is a masterpiece. It is perfect in every regard. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the music, the sound, the lighting, the whole overall ambiance: everything.

Some people, Stephen King included, were critical over the fact that Stanley Kubrick didn’t include some of the elements of King’s novel. King was even instrumental in the film being remade as a miniseries for television in the 1990s but that version falls short in every way. While this is based off of King’s writings, the film is very much a Kubrick picture and to be honest, Kubrick is the stronger artist of the two, especially behind the camera, because do you really want to try and compare King’s directorial effort Maximum Overdrive to The Shining?

Books and film are two different mediums and even then, The Shining film is better than The Shining book. Besides, walking shrub animals just wouldn’t fit into this film in a believable way.

As great as Jack Nicholson has always been, it is hard to think of a film where he shined more than he did here, pun intended. As Jack Torrance, Nicholson became the top movie monster, as far as a singular performance goes. Sure, he might not look as cool as Dracula or Freddy Krueger but he is much more terrifying and has a presence that no other actor has matched in a horror picture.

Shelley Duvall also nailed her role and honestly, she has never been better than she was in The Shining. A lot of her performance was enhanced, behind the scenes, by Kubrick terrorizing her on set. He did this in an effort to generate an authentic performance and it worked. His technique was harsh but it wasn’t any different than what many auteur directors have done in the past. I can’t think of a better actress for the role and Duval really is the character of Wendy. She’s terrified, frail but sweet in a way that your heart goes out to her and you wish you could go into the film and pull her and Danny away from mortal danger.

The film also has a few character actors sprinkled in. There is Scatman Crothers, who plays Mr. Holloran, an older cook that has the power to “shine” like the child Danny. His death still bothers me every time I watch the film because all he wanted to do was help Wendy and Danny escape the hell they were trapped in. Joe Turkel, most known as Tyrell from Blade Runner, plays the hotel bartender. Tony Burton, Apollo Creed’s trainer from the Rocky films, also has a small role as the owner of a garage.

While this is considered a ghost story and a haunted house movie on the grandest scale, it is more about madness and isolation. While the Overlook Hotel is incredibly haunted and ghosts appear to steer Jack into his state of madness, you feel as if none of this wouldn’t happen if the family wasn’t trapped in this massive snowed in lodge, by themselves for five months. You also get the feeling that Jack was already going to lose his mind and just needed a little push. It is also a film about abusive relationships taken to the extreme.

The film is full of violence, a good bit of gore and grotesque things but it is so artistic in the application of its imagery that everything seems to have some sort of deeper meaning than what is seen on the surface. People have been debating the “hidden messages” in this movie for years. There is even a whole documentary that analyzes that stuff. It’s called Room 237 and I already reviewed it here. It’s not great but for fans of this film, it is still a fun experience.

The Shining is a perfect motion picture. Some people take issue with the way Kubrick handled certain parts of it. Some people also think that it is lacking in substance. It really isn’t something that should be compared to King’s style or other haunted house stories. It is as unique as Stanley Kubrick was. It is the most terrifying tale that the auteur director has ever crafted and horror films like this just don’t exist anywhere else.

Film Review: The ‘Burbs (1989)

Release Date: February 17th, 1989
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: Dana Olsen
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Rick Ducommun, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Courtney Gains, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo, Nicky Katt

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Studios, 101 Minutes

Review:

“[finds a femur] Ray, there’s no doubt anymore. This is real. Your neighbors are murdering people. They’re chopping them up. They’re burying them in their backyard. Ray… this is Walter.” – Art Wiengartner

The ‘Burbs is a rare dark comedy that hits all the right notes. Joe Dante was the perfect person to direct the script and the film was also perfectly cast.

While Tom Hanks was already building a name for himself and was a really good comedic performer that could handle more serious or dramatic material, it was this picture that really cemented his status, at least for me.

Hanks wowed people with a dramatic turn in Nothing In Common and even though The ‘Burbs doesn’t get as serious as that film, Hanks could flip the switch from comedy to serious on a dime, which he did here flawlessly. This and Big, which came out just a year prior, are the two films that made me a Tom Hanks fan. Following this up with the underappreciated Joe Versus the Volcano was also a great move by Hanks.

The cast is rounded out by Bruce Dern, Carrie Fisher, Corey Feldman and Canadian comedian Rick Ducommun – a guy that probably should have had more prominent roles like this. The Klopek family, who were the focal point of suburban curiosity, were played by Henry Gibson – who is always fun, Brother Theodore – who was tailor made for this film, as well as Courtney Gains, who creeped out audiences a few years prior in Children of the Corn. You also get to see a young Nicky Katt, before he would become more recognized in his work with director Richard Linklater. Joe Dante also dips into the well of his regulars and gives us cameos by the great Dick Miller and the awesome Robert Picardo.

Mundane suburban life is at the center of the movie, as it follows three very bored suburban men and their wariness over the strange new neighbors who moved onto their street: the Klopeks. As the story progresses, they suspect the Klopeks are murderers. The plot escalates to the point that they can’t resist the temptation of digging up the Klopek’s yard and breaking into their house when they leave one day.

The film is highly comedic but is also a mystery and a thriller with a touch of horror added in. It is a pretty awesome mix and Dante worked his magic to great results.

It is also a highly stylized picture but in a subtle way. It was filmed on the Universal backlot and utilized some of the houses seen in famous sitcoms and other films. In fact, the house that Hanks lives in was used a few years earlier in another Hanks film, Dragnet. The generic suburban look makes it so that this neighborhood could be any neighborhood but it also has a sort of fantasy feel to it. It’s grounded in reality but it skews reality.

The ‘Burbs is solid, through and through. While it has gotten more popular over time, it wasn’t a critical success in 1989. When I first saw it, most of the kids I talked to hadn’t seen it. As I got older and time rolled on, I found more and more people that loved the film after discovering it on video or cable. Still, it surprisingly only has a 49 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

While not explicitly horror, this is a film I have to pop on almost annually around Halloween.