Film Review: The Stuff (1985)

Also known as: Larry Cohen’s The Stuff
Release Date: June 14th, 1985
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Anthony Guefen, Richard Seaman (jingles)
Cast: Michael Moriarty, Andrea Marcovicci, Garrett Morris, Paul Sorvino, Danny Aiello, Patrick Dempsey (uncredited), Mira Sorvino (uncredited)

New World Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

The Stuff was a film that flew under the radar when it came out in 1985. Its theatrical release was very limited. Also, when it was released in New York City, a hurricane hit on that day and newspapers weren’t able to be delivered. Apparently, as the director Larry Cohen claims, the film had good reviews that never made it into the audience’s hands. In 2017, the film does hold a 70 percent critics’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

There was also probably some genre confusion about the film. While it appears to be a horror film in all its marketing material, which it is, the film is also a satirical comedy that pokes fun at the health fads of the 1980s, which saw a huge influx of “diet”-branded foods hit the market that people jumped on like hotcakes covered in crack cocaine.

I never even heard of this film until the early 1990s and I was a kid that spent a great deal of time in video stores, wherever I went. I think that most people discovered this later, as it has since developed a pretty large cult following.

One thing this film has, is pretty brilliant special effects. Different substances were used throughout the movie to represent “The Stuff”, as it moved and attacked people. The scene with a lake of “The Stuff” was done by superimposing imagery and using animation techniques. It came off great for a film from this era with a very small budget. Also, the rotating bedroom set used in two scenes of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street is used in The Stuff to recreate the same effect but instead of blood crawling up the walls, we get homicidal marshmallow goo.

The effects that were especially cool where when people’s bodies started to rip apart and ooze out “The Stuff”. The scene, at the end, where Garrett Morris’ head starts to tear apart is a fantastic practical effect and still pretty horrifying.

Now the acting is far from commendable but this picture does feature the always great Garrett Morris as well as Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino. Also, Michael Moriarty’s “Mo” is an entertaining character.

The Stuff is a fun movie and it is hokey in all the right ways. I’d almost like to see a sequel that is sort of the reverse of this that pokes fun at all the anti-GMO hysteria and the religiously pro-organic people.

Film Review: It Follows (2014)

Release Date: May 17th, 2014 (Cannes)
Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Music by: Disasterpeace
Cast: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Daniel Zovatto, Jake Weary, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe

Northern Lights Films, Animal Kingdom, Two Films, RADiUS-TWC, Dimension Films, 100 Minutes

Review:

I kind of regret not seeing It Follows when it came out a few years ago. A part of me wanted to give it a chance but it came out in the middle of summer and I had a lot going on then, as well as having lost my faith in horror over the last decade or so.

Well, there have been a few horror films in recent years that have been pretty exceptional in a genre that is now predominantly PG-13 and full of cheap-o CGI ghost stories. It Follows is one of the few that stands out and proves that horror isn’t a dead genre and that there are still some new things to explore.

The film isn’t terrifying because what is anymore, really? But it is quite effective and a sort of dark and enchanting picture that is made even better by its great young cast, the direction and writing of David Robert Mitchell, the cinematography of Mike Gioulakis and the stupendous score by Disasterpeace.

The premise was interesting and while nothing really unpredictable happened and this film stays on the traditional rails, it did a good job of building suspense until the end. It didn’t focus on jump scares or any other cheap tricks, it just gave you characters you mostly like and it built a sense of dread around them. You want them to survive, which in a horror movie these days, is pretty exceptional, as I usually cheer the monster because everyone else is a moron or just horrible in some way.

Maika Monroe was better than fantastic. Her friends were also all believable characters but maybe needed a bit more story.

The music by Disasterpeace is great. He created one of the best scores I’ve heard in years and I hope this opens a lot of doors for other film projects.

Mike Gioulakis is becoming one of my favorite cinematographers between this film, as well as his work on Split and being involved in the visuals of John Dies at the End.

It Follows is a film that gives me hope. Hope that horror will not die a slow and painful death and that it will rise from the ashes like a phoenix to burn all the horrible shit the genre has been putting out for far too long now.

Ranking the King Kong Films

When King Kong came out in 1933, I doubt that anyone thought it would be a film that would continue to resonate for over 80 years. Throughout the years it has had reboots, remakes and sequels of those films. There have been four separate film series and one standalone, in that time.

The original King Kong spawned Son of Kong the same year.

In the 1960s, King Kong vs. Godzilla spawned its own sequel King Kong Escapes.

The Dino de Laurentiis 70s remake, also just called King Kong, spawned a sequel in the 80s, King Kong Lives.

Coming off of the heels of his success with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson did his own remake in 2005. That was the first to not get the sequel treatment.

Then, earlier this year, we got Kong: Skull Island, which leads into Kong’s eventual meeting of Godzilla in an upcoming joint sequel between the American versions of the two monsters.

So with all these King Kong pictures, I figured that I would weigh them against each other and attempt to rank them. While I’m sure everyone won’t agree with me, that’s what makes these sort of lists fun.

And now, the list!

1. King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
2. King Kong (1933)
3. King Kong (1976)
4. King Kong Escapes (1967)
5. Kong: Skull Island (2017)
6. Son of Kong (1933)
7. King Kong Lives (1986)
8. King Kong (2005)

Film Review: Devil Doll (1964)

Release Date: September, 1964
Directed by: Lindsay Shonteff
Written by: Ronald Kinnoch, Frederick E. Smith
Cast: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Associated Film Distributing Corp., 81 Minutes

Review:

Devil Doll is a bad movie.

However, it is still entertaining and kind of unintentionally hysterical in certain parts. Those parts make the film endearing and overall, the picture is pretty cool.

It isn’t well made and the acting is not great. The direction did nothing to steer this ship in a good direction from a quality standpoint but for whatever reason, the picture resonates for gluttons of cheese, such as myself, due to its strange hokiness.

The title character, the “devil doll” Hugo, is a cool monster. Sure, he’s not a traditional beast but he is certainly a prototype of the infinitely more famous Chucky from the Child’s Play film series.

Hugo is a ventriloquist dummy but he is possessed by evil. He talks and walks around during stage shows, even when the ventriloquist “The Great Vorelli” is across the room. This impresses audiences but is also baffling, as no one understands how it is possible.

The scenes where Hugo stalks his prey are played by a person in a costume made to look like the dummy. It’s a bizarre and unsettling sight but also cheesily magnificent.

A notable thing about this film is that it stars some people who would go on to do some great things.

“The Great Vorelli” is played by Bryant Haliday, who would go on to establish Janus Films, a distribution company that introduced several films now considered masterpieces and classics. Also, they are closely related to the Criterion Collection.

The film also stars William Sylvester and Alan Gifford, who would both appear four years later in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sylvester was the original Dr. Heywood Floyd (later the star of 2010: The Year We Make Contact where he was then played by Roy Scheider).

The best version of this film to watch is the riffed version that appeared as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Bryant Haliday would also be featured in another MST3K episode when they riffed another one of his movies, The Projected Man.

Film Review: The Love Witch (2016)

Release Date: November 11th, 2016
Directed by: Anna Biller
Written by: Anna Biller
Music by: Anna Biller
Cast: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford, Robert Seeley, Jennifer Ingrum

Oscilloscope Laboratories, 120 Minutes

Review:

The Love Witch definitely flew under the radar when it came out back in November of 2016. Granted, I doubt anywhere near me had it in the theater anyway. I did see a trailer recently though and it captivated me from a stylistic standpoint. Also, I saw that this was pretty well regarded by critics, as it holds a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So when it dropped on Amazon Video, I had to check it out.

I haven’t seen Anna Biller’s other film Viva but after seeing The Love Witch, I am pretty stoked to check that one out too.

In a nutshell, the story follows a witch named Elaine. We learn that she went through a lot of emotional turmoil after her husband left her well before the start of the film. Since that time, she turned towards witchcraft and found herself, in a sense. She uses her power to attract men through magical means but her love spells come with unforeseen and tragic consequences. This doesn’t deter her, however, as she is hellbent on finding a man that will love her.

Elaine is played by virtual unknown Samantha Robinson. Robinson is absolutely stellar in her role and I hope that this opens doors for her because this film is destined to grow into a cult classic and develop a loyal following. She is alluring in the right way and even though she has selfish motivations and seems to be mostly indifferent to the negative effects of her magic, you still feel deeply for her and want her to find find love, at least in the beginning. As she gets deeper into her schemes and her cycle of wreckage continues, she goes on from being a sad and tragic character to an out of control despicable narcissist. Realistically, she was this all along but as the film progresses, you come to understand that she will not stop until she is satisfied and by this point, you know that she will never be satisfied.

When I read about the production of this film, I was pretty astounded by the level of detail and design that went into it. Not only is it directed, written and musically scored by Anna Biller but she also did the paintings that populate the film and made the costumes, as well. Everything is visually enchanting and the attention to detail really makes the film take on a life of its own, existing in a surreal and magical world but still feeling grounded in reality, in some way.

The Love Witch looks like a picture from the 60s or 70s. It has vibrant giallo-like tones, which serve the film more than just being window dressing. The tea room scenes are exceptionally beautiful. On top of that, everything is well shot; the cinematography is perfect through its lighting and in the way that it captures the vivid and lively visual tones. It is a fantastical film but it feels lived in and real, which isn’t an easy feat with something so stylized.

This is a highly entertaining film. The only thing I can really be nitpicky about is the running time. It comes in at exactly two hours and it moves along nicely but the second act felt like it could have moved along a wee bit quicker.

The Love Witch is enchanting, mostly due to its visual style and the execution and allure of its star. Also, it benefits from the use of its presentational acting style. It feels more like a stage performance where we, the audience, are sitting front row and drawn deeply into the production. Additionally, the dialogue in just about every scene is perfect. I loved the banter in this movie and it was incredibly well-written and presented on screen.

I was surprised by how much I liked the film and I appreciate how much effort went into it. While I wouldn’t consider this a picture for everyone, it is certainly one that will find its audience and develop a much deserved level of respect and admiration.

Film Review: Varan the Unbelievable (1958)

Also known as: Daikaijū Baran, lit. Giant Monster Varan (Japan)
Release Date: October 14th, 1958 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumio Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Varan the Unbelievable was a kaiju film that I was never a big fan of. It was a total drudge to get through. However, I had only seen the English language version, which is vastly different than its original Japanese counterpart.

The American version is a short 68 minutes or so but it is edited into a completely different film and lacks the suspense and the terror that makes the Japanese version infinitely superior. The American version was also bogged down by a love story between an American soldier and a Japanese girl that felt forced and superficial.

The Japanese version, which is the one I just watched and for the first time, was an absolute delight. Finally, I got to see the monster Varan in the way that his creators intended. He was menacing, looked terrifying with his dagger like spikes and he felt like a real credible threat.

The film was made by the Toho dream team of Ishirō Honda (the director), Eiji Tsuburaya (the special effects maestro) and Akira Ifukube (the greatest kaiju film composer of all-time). While these three worked together quite often over a decade or so, one could always rest assured that when the three were a part of the creative process, as a unit, you were certainly going to get a quality kaiju epic.

Unlike most of the earlier Toho kaiju pictures, this one doesn’t recycle a lot of the acting talent. The only notable cast member in relation to their work with Toho is Koreya Senda, who played Dr. Sugimoto. He also worked in the other Toho pictures The H-Man and Battle In Outer Space, neither of which were kaiju movies but fit the general tokusatsu genre.

The film plays out similarly to the original Godzilla picture. A monster appears, gets hellapissed and decides to take his anger out on humans. The majority of the story is Varan fighting the military, as the heroes try to find a way to get rid of the giant beast.

There are some fantastic looking scenes. The one that shows Varan taking shelter underwater as the military drops depth charges is marvelous. Also, the scene where the military is dropping poison into the lake is beautifully shot and vivid, even in black and white.

The miniature work is good for a black and white picture, as it hides some of the imperfections but ultimately, Tsuburaya’s work wasn’t as good as it would become once Toho switched to making all these films in color.

Varan is an evil looking creature and he can take flight similar to a flying squirrel. Additionally, he would also go on to live in the Godzilla mythos as he appeared years later in Destroy All Monsters and the Nintendo video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, where he was the boss of one of the stages and continued to appear throughout the game.

Varan isn’t as popular as Godzilla, Mothra or Rodan but he is similar in that he got a solo debut film. While he didn’t appear as sporadically as the other three kaiju, that may have been a missed opportunity for Toho. A straight up Varan versus Godzilla showdown would have been interesting to see.

If you can get a hold of the Japanese version of the film, you definitely should check it out. If all you can find is the awful American version, put it back on the shelf. The easiest way to tell the difference is the running time, as the American version has twenty minutes chopped off.

Film Review: Beyond The Gates (2016)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2016 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: Jackson Stewart
Written by: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Music by: Wojciech Golczewski
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper

IFC Midnight, Scream Factory, 84 Minutes

Review:

Beyond the Gates came out fairly recently but flew under the radar a bit. I noticed that it dropped on Netflix, so I decided to check it out.

It featured an interesting premise but not necessarily an original one.

Two brothers discover a VCR board game in their missing father’s video store. They discover that it is more than a game and what we have here is essentially a horror version of Jumanji or Zathura. But the VHS twist is a nice addition to the idea, especially for those of us who grew up in the 80s where unique games like this were pretty common but didn’t quite survive the decade.

The film was partially produced by Barbara Crampton who also stars as the mysterious woman who hosts the video tape. Horror fans will probably most remember her from the great 1985 H.P. Lovecraft inspired Re-Animator.

We also have Brea Grant who may be remembered for stints on Heroes and Dexter. Chase Williamson, who I only remember from Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End, is also in the picture along with Graham Skipper, who plays his older brother.

This film has some problems though. It is amateurishly acted, for the most part, and the story drags out too much in the first half. Once it gets going, it is pretty good but the interesting stuff feels rushed after the slow start. The film definitely has serious pacing issues.

However, it is still remarkably executed from a visual standpoint and the second half makes up for the slow build. While this film obviously has very limited resources, the most is made out of what was available and most importantly, the film was enjoyable.

It isn’t a great movie and it’s barely a good movie but Beyond the Gates is still worth a watch, especially with its short running time. I just feel that the plot needed more refinement and that the actors could have had better direction. There was a lot of interesting stuff put on the table but it all feels vastly under-explored.