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.

Film Review: Leviathan (1989)

Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: David Peoples, Jeb Stuart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Eilbacher, Meg Foster

Filmauro, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Talk about having a bad day.” – Justin Jones

Leviathan is hardly a unique movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that most movies are just rehashes of things we’ve seen before.

This film is a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. But there were a lot of films like this in the 80s; films that took a crew, isolated them and then had them face some sort of terrifying monster. In fact, there was a very similar film to this, which was also released in 1989, Deep Star Six. Out of the two, this is the superior picture.

This film benefits from having a really solid ensemble cast.

Peter Weller, Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai himself, is the crew leader. Then you have Richard Crenna a.k.a Col. Trautman from the Rambo movies, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, Amanda Pays from the original Flash TV series, Meg Foster from a ton of cool movies and Michael Carmine, who was charismatic and entertaining in Michael Mann’s Band of the Hand and Steven Spielberg’s Batteries Not Included.

The creature effects in this film were handled by Stan Winston’s people. While the creature and the effects are pretty good, they do get a bit cheesy when you see the man-eating fish-mouthed tentacle. Still, most of the film was comprised of solid work by Winston’s crew.

Peter Weller did a superb job pretty much playing a normal character and not a cyborg cop or an uber cool 80s superhero. He’s always been an accomplished actor and would do Naked Lunch a few years after this picture, which was some of his best work. Here, he shows signs of greatness but is bogged down by his surroundings, a better than decent but almost throwaway sci-fi horror spectacle. But this is a movie with a cast whose talent level probably deserved a better script that emphasized more suspense and less in your face scares.

Despite some of the film’s hokiness, the sets and effects feel pretty real and this is a good looking film for 1989 and for being limited by its budget, as it was produced by an Italian studio. It had the backing of the De Laurentiis family, who weren’t necessarily known for quality but were often times able to make chicken salad with chicken shit.

I have always liked Leviathan. The fact that it stars a lot of people I adore might have something to do with that but it still plays out well and is better than most of the Alien and Thing clones. There were a lot of these types of films back in the 1980s. Hell, they still knock those movies off today, almost forty years later. But Leviathan, is still, one of the better ones.

Film Review: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Release Date: October 13th, 1989
Directed by: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Written by: Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, Shem Bitterman
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Wendy Kaplan, Tamara Glynn

Magnum Pictures, Klasky Csupo, Trancas International, Galaxy Releasing, 97 Minutes

Review:

“No, of course you don’t forget. How could you? You never looked into his face, did you? You never saw his eyes. You never saw that- that nothing, no expression, blank. My memory goes back twelve years to the night I offered… I’m gonna show you- show you something. Look. [lifts up his burned hand] Look at this, look at that. I prayed that he would burn in Hell, but in my heart I knew that Hell would not have him.” – Dr. Loomis

After the success of Halloween 4, the fifth installment was quickly pushed out. It follows the events of the fourth film but picks up a year later.

While not quite as good as 4Halloween 5 still captures the same tone and utilizes the strengths of the returning cast members.

I always really liked the opening sequence of this one. It shows how Michael Myers survives the ending of the fourth film, after being blasted to bits and falling down a mine shaft. This film even puts an extra cherry on top by having the town mob throw some dynamite down the well, which wasn’t seen in the finale of the fourth film.

This is also the first film to show Michael maybe express some empathy when he is about to murder his young niece and she asks to see his face and a tear is revealed. It can possibly be assumed that he isn’t really in control of himself, which is something that will be answered in the next film. However, this also sort of cheapens the long held idea that Michael is nothing other than evil personified.

Danielle Harris really ups the ante in this one and cemented herself as a scream queen and not just some one-off screamy kid in a sole slasher film. Donald Pleasence also returns and is at his best. He even gets some good shots in on Michael, after he’s been beaten, battered and slashed by the monster.

Also, this film is the first to show Michael’s tattoo, which would be significant to the plot of the sixth film. It also introduces a mysterious character, at the end, that assists in Michael’s escape from the police station. This also sets up the sixth film. Really, this is the first film that felt like it was actually planning to move forward, even if the sixth installment didn’t come for another six years.

If you like Halloween 4, there really isn’t a reason to dislike Halloween 5. It’s more of the same and might not be as good but it makes up for its small drop in quality with some new and interesting plot developments.

Film Review: Kill Me Again (1989)

Release Date: October 27th, 1989
Directed by: John Dahl
Written by: John Dahl, Rick Dahl
Music by: William Olvis
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Michael Madsen, Jonathan Gries

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), PolyGram Movies, Propaganda Films, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

John Dahl started his career out on a pretty good foot with his directorial debut, Kill Me Again. It is a part of his first three motion pictures that I consider a trilogy. While they aren’t a linked story, all three of those films share a common thread, they are modern noir pictures – two of which take place in the American southwest with the other taking place in New York. The other two films are Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.

Kill Me Again is the weakest of the three but it is still a pretty solid crime thriller with a good cast.

Most of the acting duties fall on the then married Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. Their chemistry is pretty uncanny, just as it was when it was first seen in the George Lucas and Ron Howard fantasy epic Willow.

Michael Madsen plays a psychotic criminal similar to his role a few years later as Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs. In fact, after seeing this, I’m pretty sure that it was his work in this picture that got him that more iconic part. Also drawing comparisons to Mr. Blonde, Madsen violently tortures a man strapped to a chair in this film. That man is Jonathan Gries, by the way, an accomplished actor but still probably most famous as Uncle Rico in Napolean Dynamite.

The story of Kill Me Again isn’t anything a noir fan hasn’t seen before but it is a good homage to those great old classic tales that featured femme fatales, deception, conspiracy, greed and murder. In this picture, Faye (Whalley) and her abusive boyfriend Vince (Madsen) rob a mobster transporting a briefcase full of $850,000 in cash. Faye then turns on Vince, knocking him out in a gas station bathroom. She escapes with the money and seeks out a P.I. named Jack (Kilmer) to help her fake her death. Of course, Faye also double crosses Jack and we get a dysfunctional love triangle where the femme fatale is playing both sides against one another while trying to escape the mob, who are in pursuit of the stolen money.

The film isn’t long and it speeds along pretty quickly, as every scene is pretty pivotal to the plot and advances things forward at a swift pace while still developing the characters and exploring their relationships and inability to trust one another.

Although the ending wasn’t that satisfying and was sort of a quick and simple way to wrap things up, the film doesn’t suffer because of it. All the suspense and tension were really well managed. You never once think that anyone isn’t really out for themselves and they are all fairly deplorable characters but the actors played the roles quite well and kept you engaged in the story.

Dahl’s work would improve after this but for a debut film, he certainly created something better than most directors’ rookie pictures. Plus, he was able to assemble a good cast that made the material come alive.

Film Review: Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Release Date: October, 1989 (Sitges Film Festival)
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: Rick Fry, Woody Keith, Brian Yuzna
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, David Gale, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont

Wild Street Pictures, 50th Street Films, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Blasphemy? Before what? God? A God repulsed by the miserable humanity He created in His own image? I will not be shackled by the failures of your God. The only blasphemy is to wallow in insignificance. I have taken refuse of your God’s failures and I have triumphed. There! There is my creation!” – Dr. Herbert West

I know I am in the extreme minority here. However, I actually prefer Bride of Re-Animator to Re-Animator. Not that I dislike the original in the slightest. This one just has an edge on it, in my opinion. But I will get into that.

This film brings back the important people. Jeffrey Combs returns as Herbert West, the mad doctor behind the grisly experiments that are responsible for the monsters in these films. Bruce Abbot returns as his reluctant partner Dan Cain and David Gale reappears as the villainous Dr. Carl Hill. In this film though, the severed head of Hill is given bat wings so that it can travel around with ease, scaring the crap out of everyone at every turn once we get to the final act of the story.

The film also adds in Fabiana Udenio, as a nice love interest for Dan. However, Dan is also obsessed over Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont), a deceased patient that becomes re-animated as the title character of the film in a similar fashion to the Bride from various Frankenstein stories and adaptations.

The reason I like this film better than the original, is that it seems to have a higher level of quality. The practical special effects have improved, the lighting, cinematography and overall camera work are also better. Plus, the characters are more established and the actors seem to be really embracing their roles and the story with much more vigor than in the first film. There is just a level of comfort and familiarity that seems to come through the lens and onto the screen.

Also, I just like this story better. Where the first film was a reinvention of the Frankenstein tale with an H.P. Lovecraft touch, this one is a reinvention of the Bride of Frankenstein. While I love Frankenstein it is the Bride of Frankenstein that I have always loved more and the same is true with these great reinventions of those stories.

Jeffrey Combs is just so at home here, as Dr. Herbert West. This is the film where he became more than just a one off character and really cemented himself as a horror icon. It was unfortunate that it took so long to get another sequel after this one, as he could have become his generation’s version of Peter Cushing’s Dr. Frankenstein. And maybe he has reached that status but I could have watched him do this for six or seven films like Cushing’s awesome run from the late 50s into the early 70s.

As good as the first Re-Animator was, I wouldn’t have bought into the concept of it as much, had it not been for this film turning it into a series, albeit a short one with just three films.

Film Review: Best of the Best (1989)

Release Date: November 10th, 1989
Directed by: Bob Radler
Written by: Paul Levine, Phillip Rhee
Music by: Paul Gilman
Cast: Eric Roberts, James Earl Jones, Sally Kirkland, Phillip Rhee, John P. Ryan, John Dye, David Agresta, Tom Everett, Louise Fletcher, Simon Rhee, Christopher Penn, James Lew

The Movie Group, SVS Company Inc., Kuys Entertainment, Taurus Entertainment, 97 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah! Drop him like a toilet seat, Tommy!” – Travis Brickley

The late 80s were rife with modestly budgeted martial arts movies. While Stallone and Schwarzenegger owned the action genre at the box office, it was the Van Dammes, Seagals, Dudikoffs and Kosugis that killed it on video store shelves. Best of the Best tried to capitalize off of the martial arts genre and it actually did a pretty fine job.

Phillip Rhee, one of the writers, plays the role of Tommy Lee. While he is not the main character, he does have the most important story, fights in the grand finale and would go on to star in all four pictures in this film series.

The top two stars were Eric Roberts, who has an electric mane in this picture, and James Earl Jones, who played the coach of Team USA. Chris Penn is also in this as one of the American fighters, as is John Dye, who would become most famous for his role on the TV series Touched by an Angel.

Eric Roberts was a pretty solid lead and really believable as his character. He had an intensity and charisma unmatched by many actors in the martial arts genre. He did return for the second film but wasn’t in the third or fourth.

James Earl Jones was great as the coach. This is actually one of my favorite Jones roles, as he nails it every time he is on the screen. His passion as coach came out in every scene and he had an energy and earnestness that couldn’t be ignored. His mission to prepare the American fighters for the fight of their lives was a well-balanced game of tough love and respect. He was like the Vince Lombardi of karate.

The fight choreography was much better than average for this sort of picture. The action felt authentic and real. It was fluid and dynamic unlike the later films in the American Ninja series that seemed to stop caring.

In this film, a team of Americans is selected to go to South Korea to fight their best martial artists. It is mostly a competition for bragging rights but in the end, the film displays an amazing exchange of sportsmanship between the fighters of both proud countries. In fact, if you don’t cry like a little bitch at the end, then you aren’t a real man. Shit still gets me every time when you see these fighters earn each other’s respect.

Best of the Best wasn’t as big of a hit as it should have been in video stores. It was overshadowed by the growing popularity of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. However, it still did good enough to warrant three sequels.

Film Review: The ‘Police Academy’ Film Series, Part II – The Post-Mahoney Years (1988-1994)

These three films differ from the first four in the series in that they are missing the character of Sgt. Carey Mahoney. Steve Guttenberg left the series and thus, took the main character with him. For the first two films post-Mahoney, we got a new lead actor played by Matt McCoy. Now McCoy is a decent enough actor but he is a straight laced kind of guy and not a great funnyman like Guttenberg.

Some people think the series should have ended with Guttenberg’s exit but then some people thought it should have ended after the first movie. If that were the case, it would have been forgotten and not have become a beloved comedy franchise. Personally, I think it should have ended with the sixth film but I will get into how horrible the seventh and final film is after I discuss the two before it.

Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach (1988):

Release Date: March 18th, 1988
Directed by: Alan Myerson
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Janet Jones, Tab Thacker, René Auberjonois

Warner Bros. Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Proctor! Where is Proctor?” – Capt. Thaddeus Harris

This is the first Police Academy film to take our characters out of their familiar setting. Since it is the fifth film, the producers were probably out of ideas and wanted to turn the fifth film’s production into more of a vacation.

Audiences weren’t happy going into a film without Mahoney, as the focal point, but what made all of these films work was the ensemble cast. Now without Mahoney, the spotlight was a little bit brighter on his cast mates. Hightower, Tackleberry, Jones, Hooks, Callahan, Harris, Proctor, Commandant Lassard and House all had more to do in this movie. I like this film because it expands on them and lets them continue on with these great characters.

Sure, the film is a step below the previous ones but it isn’t as bad as critics and IMDb would make you believe. If you are a fan of the series up until this point, you should still like this installment.

The Capt. Harris and Proctor bits in this film are some of the best of the series. The action sequences are also well done, as they take to the Everglades on airboats in an effort to chase down the villain. And the villain, who is played by René Auberjonois, is my favorite bad guy in the film series. It may also be my favorite Auberjonois role after his parts on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Benson.

Police Academy 6: City Under Siege (1989):

Release Date: March 10th, 1989
Directed by: Peter Bonerz
Written by: Stephen Curwick
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: Bubba Smith, David Graf, Michael Winslow, Marion Ramsey, Leslie Easterbrook, Bruce Mahler, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Lance Kinsey, George R. Robertson, Matt McCoy, Kenneth Mars, Gerrit Graham

Warner Bros. Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, crapola!” – Mayor

The sixth film isn’t very good. It has some redeeming things about it, as the cast of familiar characters are there once again, providing the audience with laughs. Watching this though, you could tell that the creative staff were out of material and out of jokes.

This was the first film in the series to play like a whodunit mystery but that felt out of place in a series where the movies were a series of random comedy gags with just a bit of plot sprinkled in to string it all together.

The villains were the cheesiest of the series, the big mystery reveal at the end was awful and the actors didn’t even look like they were having fun anymore and instead realized that if they wanted to keep making a paycheck, they were stuck churning out Police Academy films annually.

When this movie ended, so did the schedule of having a new Police Academy film each spring. In fact, for a long time, I thought this was the end of the series. It should have been. But then five years later, someone thought it’d be a good idea to do a seventh film.

Police Academy 7: Mission to Moscow (1994):

Release Date: August 26th, 1994
Directed by: Alan Metter
Written by: Randolph Davis, Michele S. Chodos
Music by: Robert Folk
Cast: David Graf, Michael Winslow, Leslie Easterbrook, George Gaynes, G.W. Bailey, Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Lee, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani

Warner Bros. Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Everything about me… is real.” – Callahan

This film is easily one of the worst movies that I have ever seen. It pains me, considering that it still has some of those characters I love. But at this point, they have become absurd cartoon characters.

The director of this film is an idiot. For whatever reason, he must be really into acrobatics because there was a lot of characters jumping around doing bizarre flips throughout the film. It made no sense and it was, for lack of a better set of words, fucking stupid.

There were also sound effects that didn’t fit and were bizarre as hell.

Additionally, the camera was often times zoomed in way too close to the actors’ faces. It was disorienting and visually annoying.

This film features the talents of the legendary Christopher Lee and the bad ass Ron Perlman. I feel sorry for them for having even been anywhere near this picture. Also, Claire Forlani is in this for some reason.

You would do yourself a huge favor by steering clear of this film at all costs.