Film Review: The Burning (1981)

Release Date: May 8th, 1981
Directed by: Tony Maylam
Written by: Brad Grey, Tony Maylam, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Peter Lawrence
Music by: Rick Wakeman
Cast: Brian Matthews, Lou David, Leah Ayres, Brian Backer, Larry Joshua, Jason Alexander, Ned Eisenberg, Carrick Glenn, Fisher Stevens, Holly Hunter

Miramax Films, Filmways Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“You’re crazy.” – Karen, “Yeah, I know. Crazy for you.” – Eddy

Sure, The Burning was made to cash in on the success of the previous year’s smash hit, Friday the 13th. In fact, the whole 1980s slasher genre was just riding on the coattails of Friday the 13th and Halloween but that doesn’t take away the fact that The Burning is a pretty good film in its genre and I would dare say, a classic.

Sadly, it is underappreciated today and maybe it wasn’t even that appreciated when it came out, as it was one of many Friday the 13th clones lost in a sea of teenage blood.

In this slasher picture, there is a summer camp caretaker named Cropsy. Some teenage boys decide to play a prank on him late at night. The prank has disastrous results, as the frightened Cropsy accidentally sets himself and his home on fire. He nearly burns to death but falls into the river. Years later, he returns to the camp to get murderous revenge. Of course, he doesn’t just look for the teens who pranked him, he just goes on a killing spree of all teenagers because that’s what you do in a slasher film.

There are a few highlights to this film. The first being the cast.

Several people here would go on to be pretty notable stars. George Costanza himself, Jason Alexander, is in this, slimmed down and with a full head of hair. It is actually weird seeing him very un-Costanza-like. He is almost a cool jock type, which is pretty amusing.

The film also features Leah Ayres, who might be more recognizable as the leading lady in the Jean-Claude Van Damme classic Bloodsport. There’s also Brian Backer, who I will always love for his role as “Rat” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and his one-off appearance in Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol. You have Fisher Stevens, who would star in the two Short Circuit movies and play the villain in Hackers. Ned Eisenberg, a guy who is in just about everything, plays the generic teen asshole that exists in every proper slasher flick. I also have to point out Carrick Glenn, who didn’t do very many movies, but really steals the show in this and not just because of her bare boobs. The biggest star of this thing, other than Alexander, is Holly Hunter. While her role here is far from massive, she would go on to have a hell of a career.

Another highlight is the special effects and the makeup. This thing was essentially made on a limited budget but the practical effects are absolutely top notch. I actually think the effects in this are superior to the much more famous Friday the 13th. The burnt flesh of Cropsy is fantastic and his face is truly disgusting without looking cheesy or having to be visually obscured to hide some sort of cosmetic imperfection. The raft murder scene is particularly well done, especially the killer’s point-of-view shot where he chops off Fisher Stevens’ fingers.

While so many slasher flicks miss the mark, The Burning just gets it. I’m kind of surprised that this didn’t generate sequels, as Cropsy was a spectacular slasher, his origin story was simple but well-handled and the overall vibe of the picture was a good balance of creepy and fun.

That final pursuit scene, through the woods, is one of the best in the genre, even if Brian Backer was the intended victim and not a damsel in distress. Granted, he was still a damsel in distress and required rescuing from the bad ass male hero. But the ending does make it rather unique, as there isn’t a scream queen present.

The Burning is a remarkable picture for what it is. While it isn’t as beloved, to me, as the entirety of the Friday the 13th film series, I do enjoy it more than the first couple movies in that franchise. It is kind of hard to top Friday the 13th parts IV and VI. However, The Burning is an example of how good a slasher picture can be, even if the vast majority of them are just rehashes of a few that came early in the genre.

Film Review: The First Power (1990)

Release Date: April 6th, 1990
Directed by: Robert Resnikoff
Written by: Robert Resnikoff
Music by: Stewart Copeland
Cast: Lou Diamond Phillips, Tracy Griffith, Jeff Kober, Mykel T. Williamson. Elizabeth Arlen

Nelson Entertainment, Interscope, Orion Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“See you around, buddy-boy.” – Patrick Channing

I remember seeing this film when I was in sixth grade. I rented it from the video store because kids could do that shit in America back before parent groups ruined our culture and started coddling children into pussies suckling the teat for participation trophies.

I also remember thinking that this movie was cool as hell and it burned Jeff Kober’s face into my mind due to how terrifying and creepy he was in this as the killer. So whenever I see him pop up in things now, like Sons of Anarchy and The Walking Dead, I return to the fond feeling I had for this movie when I was in my first year of middle school.

The film also made me have an even deeper appreciation for Lou Diamond Phillips, a guy I really liked in Stand and DeliverYoung Guns and La Bamba. Nowadays, he’s a guy whose work I absolutely love because of how great he is on Longmire and how much I enjoyed him popping up in The Ranch.

Unfortunately, The First Power is not as good as I remembered it. Give me a break, I was like eleven when I saw it. It is still entertaining and effective though but so many similar films have come and gone that are much better in the genre.

Basically, you have a cop (Phillips) that is in pursuit of a Satanic killer (Kober). He catches the killer and sees him killed in the gas chamber. However, the killer has made some sort of unholy deal and is basically an unstoppable, unkillable force of nature like Jason Voorhees but with more personality and a broader objective.

The cop teams up with a psychic (Griffith) and a nun (Arlen) and they try to stop the killer. In the process, a lot of crazy shit happens and there is a cool scene where the killer rips a ceiling fan down and somehow electrically animates it to use as a shield and to repel our heroes away, as they don’t want to be sawed in half.

The killer’s mask is also pretty cool, even though he doesn’t wear it nearly enough and spends most of his time showing his face or possessing some random person in an effort to surprise the heroes.

I still liked this movie, not having seen it in like twenty-five years, but it wasn’t as dark and insane as I thought it would be. It hasn’t aged well but it also hasn’t aged so poorly that it is a bad film.

Film Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

Release Date: Septmeber 23th, 2009 (TIFF)
Directed by: Sean Byrne
Written by: Sean Byrne
Music by: Ollie Olsen
Cast: Xavier Samuel, Robin McLeavy, Richard Wilson, John Brumpton, Victoria Thaine, Jessica McNamee

Screen Australia, Madman Entertainment, Mars Distribution, Optimum Releasing, Paramount Pictures, Insurge Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I’m gonna go to your house now and stab your mummy just like you did my Daddy. Then I’m gonna go find Holly and stab her in the heart just like you did to me.” – Lola

I mostly wanted to check out The Loved Ones because I really liked Robin McLeavy in Hell On Wheels. She’s a damn good actress that I feel should be getting a lot more work now that she isn’t tied up in that fantastic show. Also, I’ve always loved Australian movies and I am a fan of horror, in general. Plus, people have talked this film up quite a bit since it came out.

When I first saw the trailer for this a few years back, I wanted to see it. Unfortunately, it did not show up in my town and then it got lost in the shuffle of the million other movies that came and went. I always have a lot that I want to see on my list and if I am not vigilant enough, the tide of new stuff washes away the old. Luckily, I saw a post about this on a blog and made it a point to watch it that day.

While I’m glad that I have now seen the movie, I wouldn’t consider it anything exceptional. Enjoyable, sure… but not exceptional.

The trailer really gives too much away and while there are a few extra layers of madness thrown into the narrative towards the end, this is pretty predictable and doesn’t really do anything to set it apart from other psycho killer family hostage torture movies. Maybe I’ll just start referring to this sub-genre as PKFHT.

In the story, we see a girl named Lola ask a boy named Brent to the school dance. Brent declines, as he has a girlfriend and is going with her. Brent is then abducted and wakes up tied to a chair at a dinner table with the girl, her father and her father’s lobotomized love interest referred to as “Bright Eyes”. The rest of the film features torture, power drill lobotomies, some moderate gore, a lot of hints at incest and a creepy surprise in the hidden cellar. I’d prefer not to give away too much, as the trailer does just that.

The Loved Ones is only 84 minutes, which is short but you really don’t need more time than that. In fact, it could have been even shorter and still have been effective. There’s a whole side story about Brent’s friend and the girl he takes to the dance, which is mostly unnecessary other than to show she is emotionally broken due to her brother being one of Lola’s victims. Without this side story, you could cut a third off of the film.

The acting is solid, especially from McLeavy and Xavier Samuel and it really is up to them to carry the picture. Despite their best and great efforts, there just isn’t much here that you haven’t seen before. I was sort of expecting some big twist or surprise, considering that the trailer mapped out the entire plot and because the Australians typically surprise me.

The Loved Ones is a better than decent horror flick but it doesn’t deliver anything new or fresh. Although, it is worth your time if you like these sort of pictures.

Film Review: Hatchet For the Honeymoon (1970)

Also known as: Il rosso segno della follia, lit. The Red Mark of Madness (Italy), Blood Brides (UK), An Axe for the Honeymoon (alternate)
Release Date: June 2nd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Mario Bava, Santiago Moncada
Music by: Sante Maria Romitelli
Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Dagmar Lassander, Laura Betti, Femi Benussi

Manuel Caño Sanciriaco, Mercury Films, Pan Latina Films, Películas Ibarra y Cía., 105 Minutes

Review:

“My name is John Harrington. I’m 30 years old. I’m a paranoiac. Paranoiac. An enchanting word, so civilized, full of possibilities. The truth is, I am completely mad. The realization which annoys me at first, but is now amusing to me. Quite amusing. Nobody suspects I am a madman. A dangerous murderer. Not Mildred, my wife. Nor the employees of my fashion center. Nor of course my customers.” – John Harrington

For those who read this site fairly regularly, my love of Mario Bava and the giallo genre in general should be pretty apparent. As I’ve been working my way through Bava’s oeuvre, I have come across several films I know and some I have never seen. Hatchet For the Honeymoon is one I have known of but never had the pleasure of experiencing.

While it is generally a giallo, it differs from what I’m used to in that the identity of the killer is known upfront. There is no mystery about the killer’s identity, although the motive isn’t entirely clear until the end and there is still a bit of mystery thrown in. In fact, this film takes some crazy twists and turns in the narrative, as you never really know what’s real or if the main character is just imagining things.

This film plays kind of like American Psycho well before American Psycho, the novel by Brett Easton Ellis, was even written. Our killer here is a high society type, incredibly insane and violently kills those around him. Except our main character isn’t a successful Wall Street player, he is the head of a very successful fashion house in Europe.

He has an obsession with brides and wedding dresses and believes that a woman should love once and die before marriage. While he is in a disastrous marriage himself, he often times seduces beautiful women he comes in contact with through his work. It doesn’t end well for these women.

Hatchet For the Honeymoon is an alluring picture. It uses the vibrant colors of a typical Italian giallo, employing the visual style that Bava helped to create and that several other directors have tried to emulate for decades. While this isn’t as overtly colorful as Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, it still looks like a painting come to life.

Mario Bava weaved an interesting tale with this picture. While it isn’t my favorite of his films, it still enchants like Bava’s more superior work. It draws you in with its strong grip and doesn’t let go until the final moments. It is engaging and beautiful in all the right ways.

20 Animated Properties That Haven’t Gone Live-Action Yet

*written in 2015.

I recently did a list called 20 Comic Book Properties That Haven’t Gone Live-Action Yet (see here). This is a sequel to that.

Considering that Hollywood is out of ideas and they keep resurrecting old stuff from my childhood as live-action blockbuster films, I figured that I would list twenty awesome cartoon or anime properties that they haven’t turned into a live-action spectacle yet.

Now some of these have been in live-action development, whether in film or on television, but for the most part, those that have been in development, have been in a state of limbo for quite some time.

Sure, I’d like to see Hollywood take a crack at some of these depending upon who is involved in them. I’d prefer Michael Bay to stay away, however.

Also, a few of these may have had a live-action version but it is either really obscure, very poorly done, really outdated or for a foreign market.

1. Robotech: The Macross Saga
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion
3. ThunderCats
4. Star Blazers
5. Voltron
6. Space Pirate Captain Harlock
7. Akira
8. Ninja Scroll
9. Johnny Quest
10. SilverHawks
11. Mobile Suit Gundam
12. Dino-Riders
13. Captain N: The Game Master
14. Defenders of the Earth
15. She-Ra: Princess of Power
16. M.A.S.K.
17. Captain Planet
18. Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors
19. Gargoyles
20. Filmation’s Ghostbusters (the one with the Gorilla)

Film Review: Vampire Circus (1972)

Release Date: April 30th, 1972 (UK)
Directed by: Robert Young
Written by: Judson Kinberg, George Baxt, Wilbur Stark
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Adrienne Corri, Anthony Higgins, John Moulder-Brown, Lalla Ward, Robin Sachs, Lynne Frederick, David Prowse

Hammer Film Productions, Rank Film Distributors Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 87 Minutes

Review:

“The Circus of Nights! A hundred delights!” – Michael

Vampire Circus is a little known Hammer Studios film from the early 1970s, when they were on their way out as a dominant horror studio. It came out at the same time that Hammer’s Dracula series was winding down.

I have always liked Hammer’s non-Dracula vampire spectacles, however. And to fanboy out a little bit, Vampire Circus has always been a favorite of mine. That may have something to do with Darth Vader himself, David Prowse, being in the film, as well as one of my favorite Doctor Who companions of all-time, the second Romana, Lalla Ward. Realistically, I just love the premise.

The story is pretty original and really fun. A troupe of circus gypsies shows up in town and captivates the people. The reality is that they are vampires out to get revenge on the town for killing their master Count Mitterhaus.

Speaking of which, the opening sequence, which features the original defeat of Mitterhaus, is one of the best things Hammer has ever created. It was also a great way for director Robert Young to start his career, as it was the opening to his first feature film.

Vampire Circus is really imaginative and it certainly isn’t a cookie cutter vampire flick. The circus twist is really cool and freshened things up for the genre. Everything from the live performances to the animal stunts just added a really cool vibe to the picture. It certainly had a bit more flair than other Hammer vampire movies.

Additionally, the cast was really good. I really enjoyed the performances of Adrienne Corri and Anthony Higgins. Higgins was particularly mesmerizing as the sexy male vampire that transforms into a black panther. Skip Martin, as the sinister dwarf, was a big highlight too. He was legitimately scary and intimidating for a little fellow. He played up the creepy clown shtick quite well, before creepy clowns were even a thing.

The style of the film mimics what was the norm for Hammer’s gothic horror pictures. Even if it may have felt dated for the time, its creativity certainly makes up for it being stylistically derivative. Plus there is a naked body painted tiger lady that rolls around all frisky and seductive.

Vampire Circus is probably only a good film for those who love the work of Hammer Studios in their heyday. But if you are one of those people, this is a unique experience that deviates quite well from their typical formula while not venturing so far away that it isn’t a Hammer picture.

Plus, Count Mitterhaus, Emil and the Gypsy Woman were pretty cool villains, as was their troupe of circus themed henchmen.

Film Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator
Release Date: October 18th, 1985
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Productions, Empire International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I must say, Dr. Hill, I’m very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You’re not even a second-rate scientist!” – Herbert West

Re-Animator is one of those movies I have to go back and rewatch every couple of years. And every time that I do, I am always surprised by it, even though I’ve seen it multiple times.

Reason being, is that much of this movie, especially the final third is so bizarre and surreal that it still sort of shocks the senses. The last fifteen minutes or so crosses certain lines that still make you feel uncomfortable, regardless of how many times you’ve seen the picture. I don’t want to go into the details of it, because I’d prefer not to spoil this movie for those who have yet to see it.

This is a 1980s modernization of an H.P. Lovecraft story. It is somewhat of a spin on the Frankenstein tale but goes to even darker places than Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece.

The villain (or hero, depending upon your point of view), Herbert West, is a medical student that has just returned from a stint in Switzerland. He has expanded on the work of a notable doctor and has found a way to reanimate the brains of the deceased and thus, their bodies or what’s left of them. It sort of marries the Frankenstein concept and the zombie genre.

The special effects in this film are pretty well done for the most part but the budgetary limitations are very apparent. For instance, the scene where the zombie cat is on West’s back is pretty silly and plays like slapstick but the film really is a black comedy and this plays that up with its hokiness. However, the majority of the zombie effects are well handled and executed.

The cast is decent but it is Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, that steals the show and this was a launching pad for his career. He’s since gone on to be a horror icon and become an accomplished voice actor. He also had some great roles in different Star Trek television series, most notably as various incarnations of the villain Weyoun on Deep Space Nine.

Barbara Crampton holds her own and she had to deal with some seriously bizarre and uncomfortable situations in this movie. Props to her for that.

For many, Re-Animator is a bonafide horror classic. It’s a really good film from its era but I’m not as gung ho of a fan of it as many are. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate it but there are many more films from its time that I would put ahead of it. Still, it is effective and has had a lasting impact. It also spawned a few sequels, which I will review in the near future.