Film Review: Demon Knight (1995)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight (complete title)
Release Date: January 13th, 1995
Directed by: Ernest R. Dickerson
Written by: Mark Bishop, Ethan Reiff, Cyrus Voris
Music by: Edward Shearmur
Cast: Billy Zane, William Sadler, Jada Pinkett, Brenda Bakke, C. C. H. Pounder, Thomas Haden Church, Dick Miller, John Schuck, Gary Farmer, Charles Fleischer, Chasey Lain, Traci Bingham, John Larroquette (cameo), John Kassir

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Fuck this cowboy shit! You fucking ho-dunk, po-dunk, well then there motherfuckers! All you had to do was give me the goddamn key! Then we could get on with our lives. [cuts his hand to make new creatures] Alright… this house is hereby… condemned…” – The Collector

As a horror loving kid in the ’80s, I used to watch the shit out of HBO’s Tales From the Crypt. So when the show ended but they turned to producing movies, I was saddened but also kind of stoked.

I saw Demon Knight when it first came out in my local theater and I even got a copy of it on VHS when it was released later that year. It has been a really long time since I’ve seen it, however. Actually, the last time I saw it was when I still had a working VCR. Seeing it now, I forgot how absolutely insane and fun this movie was.

The film is directed by Ernest Dickerson, who started his career doing the cinematography in Spike Lee’s earliest films. Before directing this, he was in the director’s chair for Juice and Surviving the Game, two films I really liked as a teen and still enjoy today. Dickerson was a young, up and coming filmmaker when he got this gig. I feel like his work on Demon Knight enriched his oeuvre.

It didn’t hurt that Dickerson had an all-star cast in this thing. The two top roles went to William Sadler and Billy Zane. To be frank, this is still my favorite role that Zane has ever played. The film is rounded out by Jada Pinkett, Thomas Haden Church, C. C. H. Pounder, Dick Miller, Brenda Bakke and Roger Rabbit himself, Charles Fleischer. As a huge Dick Miller fanboy, I love him in this and he got his just desserts, at this point in his long career, as he gets to star opposite of a horde of big breasted naked ladies in his final scene.

This is a film that pulls no punches and just goes for it and that’s why it works so well, has held up nicely and is infinitely more fun and entertaining than 99 percent of modern horror. The demons are cool, Zane is cool, Sadler is cool, Dick Miller is Dick f’n Miller and this is just a bonkers movie in the greatest regard. In a lot of ways, Dickerson out Joe Dante’d Joe Dante.

I’m glad that I revisited this, which also has got me enthused about revisiting that other Tales From the Crypt movie, Bordello of Blood.

Film Review: Batman Forever (1995)

Release Date: June 9th, 1995 (Mann Village Theater)
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Written by: Lee Batchler, Janet Scott Batchler, Akiva Goldsman
Based on: Batman by Bob Kane, Bill Finger
Music by: Elliot Goldenthal
Cast: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Drew Barrymore, Debi Mazar, René Auberjonois, Don “The Dragon” Wilson, En Vogue, Ed Begley Jr.

Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

“Can I persuade you to take a sandwich with you, sir?” – Alfred Pennyworth, “I’ll get drive-thru.” – Batman

People like to trash Batman & Robin as one of the worst films ever made. It’s far from one of the worst ever. But most people haven’t really dug as deep into the shit barrel as I have. And truthfully, this movie is much worse.

People also love trashing the Schumacher Batman films as a whole but typically say that Batman Forever is okay. No, it absolutely is not okay. It is one of the worst comic book adaptations of all-time. It doesn’t understand the source material at all and it is a clusterfuck of biblical proportions capped off by horrible characters, horrible acting, ugly as hell sets and a hefty helping of several awful ’90s tropes.

Generally I like Val Kilmer. He’s horrible in this and either severely miscast or had such a bad script and direction that he just showed up, read his lines dryly and went back to his trailer to bang babes. I’m going to say that it is both of those things. It’s like no one that made this movie gave a shit about it at all and they just did a bunch of cocaine and then took a shit ton of downers before going on set.

Well, except for Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, they acted like they were on cocaine mixed with speed. And really, their versions of Two-Face and the Riddler made no sense within the context of who those characters are.

Tommy Lee’s Two-Face was like a crazier version of the Joker and turned up to 11. He was a coked up gorilla dressed like a circus performer. Carrey’s Riddler was another crazier version of the Joker mixed with his Fire Marshall Bill character from the sketch comedy show In Living Color. But I’m also someone that never got Jim Carrey’s appeal and always thought of him as an annoying asshole, excluding Dumb and Dumber and his dramatic work after the ’90s.

Nicole Kidman is completely wasted as the overly horny psychiatrist trying to get into Batman’s head and pants. Chris O’Donnell wasn’t necessarily a bad Robin but the character is a kid, not a thirty year-old. It’s like they took their casting cues from Beverly Hills 90210, a show synonymous for trying to pass off thirty year-olds as high school students.

Well, at least Pat Hingle and Michael Gough are back as Commissioner Gordon and Alfred but really, I just feel bad for them. Hopefully they got paid well.

The film also features nipples being added to the Bat-suit, I’m not shitting you. Plus, it has gratuitous Bat-butt and Bat-crotch action shots.

Lastly, the beautiful Danny Elfman score has been replaced by an awful brassy explosion that never lets up, courtesy of Elliot Goldenthal, who was apparently trying to destroy our eardrums. The Elfman theme and scores were a magnificent part of the Burton films but I guess if Warner Bros. wanted to distance themselves from quality and align themselves with a foot long double meat shit sandwich, than this was a necessary change.

This movie is a steaming pile of neon accented bear droppings. It most certainly needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Film Review: Billy Madison (1995)

Release Date: February 10th, 1995
Directed by: Tamra Davis
Written by: Adam Sandler, Tim Herlihy
Music by: Randy Edelman
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bridgette Wilson, Bradley Whitford, Josh Mostel, Norm Macdonald, Darren McGavin, Chris Farley, Steve Buscemi, Robert Smigel

Universal Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“Whoa whoa whoa, Miss Lippy. The part of the story I don’t like is that the little boy gave up looking for Happy after an hour. He didn’t put posters up or anything, he just sat on the porch like a goon and waited. That little boy’s gotta think ‘You got a pet. You got a responsibility.’ If your dog gets lost you don’t look for an hour then call it quits. You get your ass out there and you find that fucking dog.” – Billy Madison

I have never been much of an Adam Sandler fan. I don’t dislike him though and I have enjoyed his more serious stuff, which I think he has a gift for. Yet, time and time again, he gives us really dumb and bad movies. Billy Madison is a film that people love but even when I was a teenager and this was a current film, I just didn’t care for it.

There just isn’t very much in this movie that I find funny. It’s not because I don’t like goofy humor but the movie doesn’t have much of a point to make and it follows a completely unlikable character that we are supposed to be rooting for.

Billy Madison, the character, is just a childlike selfish asshole. No, he doesn’t deserve anything his rich father could leave him, even if he proves that he can go back to elementary school and pass. He has to get through high school too but the majority of the movie sees him in third grade, trying to win the heart of his teacher, who can’t stand him and then suddenly, has the hots for this billionaire buffoon. I’m just going to say that she swallowed her pride and wanted the money.

This is one of those comedy movies that is nothing more than a series of gags that only really work once and even then, they mostly don’t. For some reason, twenty-plus years later, I still hear assholes in bars yell out, “O’Doyle rules!” But this film isn’t too dissimilar from what was the norm in the 1990s and hell, the norm now. Adam Sandler was at the forefront of movie comedies becoming bad and bad comedy being accepted en masse.

Billy Madison is a film that exists and for some reason, had some success that gave us a comic that has the intelligence and wit to give us special movies but ultimately chooses to make stupid ones. And in modern times, Sandler has been relegated to making Netflix movies that get incredibly bad reviews but truthfully, Billy Madison isn’t any better than the schlock he’s hated for now.

 

Documentary Review: American Cinema: Film Noir (1995)

Release Date: 1995
Directed by: Jeffrey Schon
Music by: Thomas Wagner
Narrated by: Richard Widmark
Hosted by: John Lithgow

PBS, 54 Minutes

Review:

I have been casually watching episodes of PBS’ documentary television series American Cinema. Since I have been watching a ton of film-noir movies for Noirvember, one of my favorite cinematic celebration months, I had to dig up the episode Film Noir. Luckily, it is streaming on YouTube, as many old PBS documentaries are.

What makes this cool when compared to other film-noir documentaries is that it doesn’t explain away the style or the elements that make noir. It focuses more on talking head interviews of actors, directors and scholars who simply just discuss film-noir. While the interviewees are alone, it still plays more like an open forum of ideas and thoughts on the noir style and its importance in American filmmaking.

It was a really nice touch that Richard Widmark, my choice for a 1950s Joker if ever there was a serious Batman movie made back then, got to narrate this short documentary. I also enjoyed seeing John Lithgow host the episode, even though he is way too young to have been in classic film-noir. But Lithgow is certainly a guy that understands film and the important things in the long history of the art.

Film Noir is one of my favorite episodes of the American Cinema series but then again, I have a strong bias in favor of noir. Ultimately, though, this is a really good educational piece on the style and its significance.

Film Review: Devil In a Blue Dress (1995)

Release Date: September 16th, 1995 (TIFF)
Directed by: Carl Franklin
Written by: Carl Franklin
Based on: Devil In a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney

TriStar Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“It was summer 1948, and I needed money. After goin’ door-to-door all day long, I was back again at Joppy’s bar trying to figure out where I was gonna go looking for work the next day. The newspapers was goin’ on and on about the city elections – like they was really gonna change somebody’s life. But my life had already changed when I lost my job three weeks before. ” – Easy Rawlins

You know what is refreshing? Seeing a black lead in a film-noir picture, even if it happened half a century after the height of the style. But who was a better choice than Denzel Washington for this picture? He’s handsome, debonair, classy and has the gravitas and charisma that a film-noir lead needs to have. He’s so good in this, actually, that I would have loved to see this character return in a series of films.

Even though this came out in the 1990s, it does feel like authentic noir, more so than a lot of the neo-noirs of that era. Washington is perfect in this, as is his charismatic buddy, Don Cheadle. Tom Sizemore also pulls his weight and gave life to an interesting character that pulls Washington’s Easy Rawlins into this noir web. Then you also have Jennifer Beals, who immediately makes an impact in anything she is in due to her natural beauty and solid acting chops. I never felt like Beals got as many good roles as she probably deserved. Here, she feels like a true woman of film-noir.

In this film, we see Easy Rawlins take a job form the mysterious DeWitt Albright (Sizemore). He is hired to track down Daphne Monet (Beals) and it is said that Albright was looking for her on behalf of Todd Carter (Terry Kinney). Daphne is suspected of hiding out somewhere in the black community of Los Angeles. As the film rolls on, you discover that Carter did not ask this of Albright and that Albright is not who he seems. And this is when the real noir twists come in.

Devil In a Blue Dress is a jazzy and energetic film that doesn’t have a dull moment. This was a film that really felt tailor made for Washington. Unfortunately, it wasn’t hugely popular and that is kind of disappointing, because this film could have given birth to a cool trend of long overdue black film-noir. Sadly, black Americans were hugely underrepresented in classic noir, even though they had a large presence and cultural influence on urban America, where most noirs took place.

This is one of the best neo-noirs of the 1990s, hands down. While it isn’t quite on the level of The Two Jakes, a film I love but the critics, not so much, Devil In a Blue Dress feels right at home next to it.

This is one of my favorite Denzel Washington films and it also features one of my favorite Don Cheadle characters of all-time. What’s not to love?

Film Review: Castle Freak (1995)

Also known as: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak
Release Date: November 14th, 1995
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on: The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller

Full Moon Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t kill her, I fucked her, Okay?” – John Reilly

Anything that brings the Re-Animator team back together, usually ends with pretty good results. This is the one and only time that it didn’t. I loved the three Re-Animator films and From Beyond but this was pretty friggin’ awful.

Even the acting of Jeffrey Combs, who I usually love in everything, was just off the mark and a bit over the top. Barbara Crampton was fairly decent but not as good as she was in those other films. Jessica Dollarhide, who was only in this movie and had a few TV credits, was actually the high point on the acting side.

The plot, like the other films featuring this director and his cast, was taken from an H.P. Lovecraft story. The film is missing that insane otherworldly feel of the other films though. This is also missing the comedy. Essentially, what we have here is a serious attempt at creating a horror film from a crew that were maestros of really dark comedy movies. It just didn’t work on any level.

The score was exceptionally bad, which was surprising since the man behind the music, Richard Band, worked with this troupe before with fantastic results.

I’m not sure what was wrong with this movie. It was the one time that these people didn’t create magic. It is just so out of tune with their other work that it’s baffling. Maybe it has to do with Full Moon putting out the film, as they’ve made mostly schlock for decades.

Castle Freak unlike this group’s other films, is completely forgettable.

The makeup was decent though.

Film Review: Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers – The Producer’s Cut (1995)

Release Date: September 29th, 1995
Directed by: Joe Chappelle
Written by: Daniel Farrands
Based on: characters by John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: Alan Howarth, Paul Rabjohns
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitch Ryan

Miramax Films, Nightfall Productions, Trancas International, Dimension Films, 88 Minutes (theatrical), 95 Minutes (Producer’s Cut)

Review:

“I’ve wanted to believe it. But I’ve felt Michael’s presence, behind these walls, just like all those years ago. Plotting, staring, Staring. Waiting for some signal. I can’t go through this again, not alone. Please, as my colleague, as my friend. Help me.” – Dr. Loomis

For those that don’t know, there are two different versions of the film Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. There was the theatrical cut and then there was a producer’s cut, which was lost and never to be released.

In the late 90s, The Producer’s Cut started to circulate at horror conventions on a crappy bootleg VHS tape. The quality was generally poor on every copy in circulation but the fans who did get to see it, considered it a far superior version of the film.

Recently, it was released commercially as an added bonus to the Halloween Blu-ray box set. After demand increased and people didn’t want to have to buy all the movies again, just to access The Producer’s Cut, it was released on its own. I was able to rent it on Amazon.

So is it truly “a masterpiece” as some have said?

No, not really. It is an enjoyable slasher flick if you are a fan of the genre and especially if you like Michael Myers. The problem with it, is that the gist of the plot that made up the theatrical version is still intact. In fact, this version expands on it further. What I’m specifically referring to is all the stuff surrounding Michael’s origin and the cult that commands him.

Yes, apparently Michael Myers has been controlled by a cult all this time. I’m not really sure how it all works and the film attempted to explain some things but it did a poor job of it.

What makes these films work is the mystery of who Michael Myers is. We know he killed his sister when he was 6 years-old and we know he shows up on Halloween to murder his family members but we didn’t need an over bloated explanation. Knowing how the trick works destroys the magic.

I thought that the approach and story they wanted to tell was ambitious and maybe it could have actually added something good to the mythos. The execution was just bad in either version of the film. Yes, I love the Halloween mythos and you have to try and offer up something new with each picture. I’m not against the cult idea, I just don’t like how it panned out.

It was interesting to see a very young Paul Rudd in this film, his debut, but with the stardom he has now reached, he becomes more of a distraction in this tale. But at least you get to see Ant-Man versus Michael Myers – a dream match no one asked for.

The ending in both versions of the film are different. They are also both pretty bad. At least the theatrical film ended with some action, where The Producer’s Cut ended with (*spoiler alert*) Paul Rudd dressing up like a warlock and putting runes on the floor, which basically just turned Michael Myers off – allowing the good guys to escape. I thought Michael Myers was really just Rain Man and he was counting runes like Dustin Hoffman counted toothpicks.

Additionally, The Producer’s Cut has less gore than the theatrical version. I don’t really care about that either way but the studio wanted an overabundance of violence and that was added to the film after re-shoots. Also, the character of Jamie Lloyd lived longer and had more of a story in The Producer’s Cut.

It was cool to finally see this version of the film but it wasn’t the over-hyped magnificent Michael Myers magnum opus that horror snobs who saw it, bragged about. I was left disappointed by what I was anticipating but pretty satisfied with what the film was overall. And, at least, it is better than any Halloween film that came after it, except for H2O, which is better than I remembered but I’ll review that one next.