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.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: The ‘Scream’ Film Series (1996-2011)

*written in 2015.

I was a senior in high school when the first Scream came out. It was huge, especially due to kids my age. Well, mostly kids who were never really into horror or girls who were too terrified to watch something actually scary. This isn’t me taking shots at the film, it is just the reality of it.

Scream changed the horror genre forever. The problem, is that it essentially ruined it. I’ll explain more as I go on but let me get to my thoughts on each film.

Scream (1996):

Release Date: December 18th, 1996 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Matthew Lillard, Rose McGowan, Skeet Ulrich, Drew Barrymore

Woods Entertainment, Dimension Films, 111 Minutes

Review:

“What’s your favorite scary movie?” – Ghostface

I didn’t like this film the first time I saw it when it came out. I thought it was cheesy, not scary and full of too many recognizable stars. Although, everyone else in the theater seemed to be terrified when Drew Barrymore got murdered in the beginning. But then, the audience for Scream is not the real horror fan audience. At least not by 70s, 80s and 90s standards.

The problem with having recognizable stars in horror, as well as a decent budget, is that it feels less real and authentic. It is similar to the use of bad CGI for blood splatter and monster effects in horror now. It separates you from the film by constantly reminding you that you are watching a production. I’m going to feel more for some girl I’ve never seen before, who I have only witnessed going through the horror on screen, than I will some girl that was whiny and moody on Party of Five for several years before this movie came out. Or a cast member of Friends who I would’ve loved to see killed off, yet somehow she survived to be in all four films.

Ghostface, the slasher in these films, is not scary. Maybe he was to the teen audience of 1996 but being a teen at that time, I thought he was shit. The mask is goofy, the cloak looks like it was stolen from the Spencer’s Halloween display and the wavy knife looked like something gimmicky that came with a 80s G.I. Joe toy.

The film was too polished, and just looked too Hollywood. Craven, before this, had been known for his grittiness.

The slasher genre and horror, in general, were pretty much ruined when the characters started discussing the rules of slasher films. The film parodied the genre it was in and put on blast the unspoken rules of horror. Maybe perceived as smart and cool at the time, and maybe it was just Craven’s way of saying “fuck you” to his competition, this approach killed horror going forward. Yes, Wes Craven, a guy who modernized horror in the 70s and 80s, killed it in the 90s.

Due to its success, Scream went on to kill horror even further. It was mimicked by every studio, horror was now free of sex, gore was minimal, it became PG-13 to pull in more teens, known stars were cast, budgets swelled and the rest is history.

Today, I don’t hate Scream. Even with how it altered everything, it is better than the modern horror films we’re stuck with. While Scream was the start of something bad, year after year, that bad has gotten worse. And that wasn’t Craven’s intention. I think he was really just focused on an idea and a concept. That concept ended up bringing an end to his own career, other than pumping out Scream sequels that got worse as time went on.

Scream 2 (1997):

Release Date: December 10th, 1997 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jamie Kennedy, Laurie Metcalf, Jerry O’Connell, Jada Pinkett, Liev Schreiber, Rebecca Gayheart, David Warner, Omar Epps, Portia de Rossi, Luke Wilson, Heather Graham, Tori Spelling, Joshua Jackson

Konrad Pictures, Craven-Maddalena Films, Dimension Films, 120 Minutes

Review:

Scream 2 was a step down from the original but I like that Liev Schreiber got to be a bigger character. I was also glad they killed off Jamie Kennedy. And Aunt Jackie from Roseanne is in it.

The problem with Scream 2, which is made more than obvious in the opening scene, is that it feels like it has to compensate for its lack of black actors in the first film. In fact, the first film really featured no black actors and was thus, accused of being another “whitewashed” slasher picture.

Some people have criticized Jada Pinkett’s monologue about race in slasher films but I enjoyed it. She wasn’t wrong. And at least Craven put it in there to address some of these issues that were brought up after the success of the original film. Although, it did feel like overcompensation.

The film isn’t as good as the first. The reveal of who the killer is this time, is pretty underwhelming. The formula ran it’s course in the first movie and we were stuck with a picture where we were treading the same water without any new scenery. The ending brings with it a twist but it is more of a head-scratcher than a shocking reveal. It also starts the trend of building up a bigger backstory that isn’t necessary.

Neve Campbell’s mom was a slut and her sluttiness is a key factor into why her daughter and her friends have to suffer. And in the third film, her legacy of sluttiness goes back even further.

Scream 3 (2000):

Release Date: February 3rd, 2000 (Westwood premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Patrick Dempsey, Scott Foley, Lance Henriksen, Matt Keeslar, Jenny McCarthy, Emily Mortimer, Parker Posey, Deon Richmond, Patrick Warburton

Konrad Pictures, Craven-Maddalena Films, Dimension Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

The third film ended the trilogy. Well, it was supposed to be a trilogy, where the fourth film years later, was to be the start of a second trilogy. The second trilogy never happened, so we ended up with a single quadrilogy. But, at the time, this was treated as the third and final act.

This was also, by far, the worst movie in the series. It takes the parodying itself shtick to the max. It takes place mostly on a Hollywood set where it gives you a movie within the movie, which is a tactic that is more annoying than clever.

Scream 3 adds the awful Jenny McCarthy to the cast, the typically cool Patrick Dempsey and the indy sweetheart Parker Posey. I almost feel bad seeing Posey plying her trade in this shit picture.

The killer reveal is stupid. It fleshes out the backstory more than anyone needs in a slasher film and the bad guy’s motivations are recycled horror trope schlock. There is nothing imaginative or original about any of this.

This film also loses sight of its whole purpose. In trying to be a clever series in constantly referring to the rules of horror, this one breaks its own rules – or it just doesn’t truly understand them. Especially in regards to what they say about the final film in trilogies, Scream 3 proves that these films have no balls. This is obvious when characters establish that “all bets are off” and “no one is safe”, yet for the third consecutive film, every major character survives. Additionally, the horror gore factor it tries to sell in the film is minimal, the sex factor in horror that this film constantly makes reference to, is nonexistent and everyone who understands the rules, continues to make the same dumb mistakes.

And the sole black character is reduced to a caricature but at least they didn’t “whitewash” this one after meeting their quota in part two.

Scream 4 (2011):

Release Date: April 11th, 2011 (TCL Chinese Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Wes Craven
Written by: Kevin Williamson
Music by: Marco Beltrami
Cast: David Arquette, Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, Emma Roberts, Hayden Panettiere, Anthony Anderson, Alison Brie, Adam Brody, Rory Culkin, Marielle Jaffe, Erik Knudsen, Mary McDonnell, Marley Shelton, Nico Tortorella, Anna Paquin, Kristen Bell

Corvus Corax Productions, Outerbanks Entertainment, The Weinstein Company, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

Oh, there’s Emma Roberts! Why’s she in every thing horror-esque, lately? I don’t dislike her but I’m getting tired of seeing her play the same roles again and again. She’s actually okay and I’m certainly not as sick of her as I am of her Aunt Julia.

Anyway, here we go, years later. The main cast is still alive. Surprise, they live through the end because again, the Scream franchise has no balls.

There’s a bunch of false curveball beginnings to the film, all movies within the movie, which has gotten tiresome with the Scream series. I mean, fuck, has Wes Craven completely run out of ideas? Hire new writers, bro.

This film tries to establish the “new” rules of horror, as it takes place a decade after the previous film. Except, everyone knows that the new rules post-Scream are horrible and the genre has gotten awful.

The killers are predictable. More so than previous films, actually. The two killer formula has been used to death in this series and was only somewhat effective the first time around.

Also, from what I remember, no black people in this one. But there is the reference to gay people surviving horror movies and then a bad in-movie joke where a character being stabbed to death, claims he’s gay in hopes of getting a free pass. I’m not standing on a politically correct soapbox here but Craven isn’t doing himself any favors trying to branch out beyond his audience of straight white teens. I get the attempt at humor but it was juvenile and not that funny.

I’m getting tired of talking about these movies now.

In the end, this film sucks. Although it doesn’t suck as bad as Scream 3.

TV Review: Gotham (2014- )

Original Run: September 22nd, 2014 – ????
Created by: Bruno Heller, Danny Cannon
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, David Mazouz, Zabryna Guevara, Sean Pertwee, Robin Lord Taylor, Erin Richards, Camren Bicondova, Cory Michael Smith, Victoria Cartagena, Andrew Stewart-Jones, John Doman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Morena Baccarin, BD Wong, James Frain, Jessica Lucas, Chris Chalk, Drew Powell, Nicholas D’Agosto, Michael Chiklis, Maggie Geha, Benedict Samuel, David Zayas, Cameron Monaghan

Primrose Hill Productions, DC Entertainment, Warner Bros. Television, 66 Episodes (thus far), 42 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*originally written in 2015, near the end of season 1, plus additional updates written later.

I was going to wait until the end of the first season before reviewing this show, as I do with most new shows. I just can’t get that far and don’t think that waiting till the season ends will change my assessment. I’ve tried desperately to get this to work for me. I’ve tried a hell of a lot harder than most of my friends and Batman fans, who all gave up on this a long time ago. I saw some promise here and there but this show fails in just about every way. In short: it is pretty goddamned awful (*note: I no longer feel this way as revealed in the final update).

There are actually only a few things that this show has going for it but I’ll get to those shortly.

If you barely know anything about the Batman mythos and you find pleasure in watching mediocre cookie cutter detective shows, I can see where you might find this watchable. However, if you are a Batman fan and love and respect the franchise, this is a very painful experience.

On one hand, the producers are trying to spoon feed the audience with fan service in every episode but it is forced, poorly executed and unnecessary. In fact, it feels as if the producers read a couple Wikipedia articles about Batman and thought they had an intimate grasp. And the way they handle certain characters, goes to show that they don’t understand them at all.  At times it just feels like a cruel joke and it is Fox trolling the shit out of their audience.

For instance, Edward Nygma doesn’t need to speak in riddles every scene, Harvey Dent doesn’t need to display a split personality every other appearance, you don’t need to have constant Joker teases across multiple unrelated scenarios, you don’t need to show a little ginger girl playing with plants every time she’s on screen and Selina Kyle doesn’t need to parkour off of every object whenever she makes an entrance. I also don’t need to be reminded every five minutes about how Jim Gordon is a good cop and every other cop on the force is tainted by something. It is fucking overkill.

The acting is questionable, the writing is more often than not atrocious and despite the over abundance of horribly executed fan service, the show is just plain stupid on its own. It is an obvious attempt at being a cash cow and a ratings grabber and somehow it has worked in that regard, as it is coming back for a second season.

The whole premise of the show makes it a failure from the get-go.

To start, the worst part about most live-action superhero adaptations is the origin. The audience usually finds themselves roughing it through the early bits in an effort to get to the comic book action. Also, how many times has Batman’s origin been told? Now we are given a show that is an overly extended version of the lamest part of Batman’s tale. Who knows how long this could stretch: ten seasons, maybe? Hell, one has been enough.

The other main part of the show, is Jim Gordon trying to “save the city” and destroy corruption. Well, he’s doomed to fail because if he were to succeed, why would Gotham City need the Batman?

As far as characters, Bruce Wayne is okay and I like him being a little shit challenging authority and taking on the evil adults of his world but it isn’t enough to anchor a need for him on this show. Selina Kyle is awful and pretty much a caricature that just happens to look like a young Michelle Pfeiffer. The Poison Ivy character is unimportant and so far useless. All the villains who show up are poorly done and easily defeated. Barbara Kean is the worst character on television. Where did Renee Montoya go? Fish Mooney is sometimes great but mostly terrible. However, I don’t blame these actors, I blame the atrocious writing.

When it comes to positives, Robin Lord Taylor is amazing as the Penguin. In fact, at first, I hated that he was way too skinny to be the Penguin but he’s so good in the role that I don’t care. He is by far, the most interesting part of the show. Almost as good as Taylor is Donal Logue as Harvey Bullock. Then again, when isn’t Logue anything short of great? Ben McKenzie does a solid job as Jim Gordon and I do like Cory Michael Smith as Nygma, the man who will become the Riddler – even though the writers force riddles into every situation he finds himself in. Lastly, Sean Pertwee makes a fine Alfred Pennyworth and is my favorite live action incarnation of the character. Pertwee also looks a lot like his father in his older age and seeing him in action reminds me of the Third Doctor from the classic Doctor Who series.

The show is often times too distracted by its own mess and diverts away from characters with potential to focus on too many small parts in a machine that is too large for its own good. When the show is at its strongest is when the Penguin is on screen, Alfred is kicking ass or when it focuses more heavily on the crime families of Gotham City. The episodes pitting Sal Maroni against Carmine Falcone with a little Fish Mooney and the Penguin mixed in are the best that this series has offered up so far.

I still watch this show because I want to buy into it, I just can’t. The good parts keep me engaged but they are too far and few between. I don’t believe that the show will get better but there is enough good stuff to expand on and save it from being the generally uninteresting mess it is currently. But I probably won’t watch the second season on a weekly basis, as I do now. I’ll wait a year for it to be over with and then binge watch it over a weekend. If it picks up steam and corrects itself, consider me reinvested. If not, I’ll find better ways to spend my time.

Update:

Season 2 of Gotham has been infinitely better than the first. The shows is finding its footing and it now knows what it is trying to be. I like that it is creating its own world and veering away from being trapped by the expectations from an already established Batman mythos. The show is doing its own thing and honestly, at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Wayne is killed off before even becoming Batman.

Update 2:

At the end of Season 3, the show has corrected a lot of its early mistakes.

Cameron Monaghan, who plays Jerome Valeska, who may or may not be the Joker but is probably the Joker, is the best version of Batman’s greatest villain I have ever seen in a live-action story. The kid is magnificent and really captures the magic of the comic book version of the legendary character better than anyone I have ever seen. Yes, he’s better than Heath Ledger and he has the same spirit as Mark Hamill who has voiced the character for decades.

Additionally, the show just becomes more interesting as it rolls on, even though it has some dumb plot threads. But when you don’t take this show seriously and just embrace its insanity, it works.

Most of the villains have evolved solidly, especially the Penguin and the Riddler. I also really liked the Mad Hatter story, as well as the plots that focus on Hugo Strange.

Gotham is far from a perfect show but it bounced back, in my opinion. It also works if you just take it for what it is and don’t try to force it into the box that is the already established comic book mythos. I see it now as an Elseworlds Tale, which is a title DC Comics gives to their stories that take place in different realities.

I’m glad I stuck with it as long as I did. For others who have, their dedication has paid off.