Film Review: Altered States (1980)

Release Date: December 25th, 1980
Directed by: Ken Russell
Written by: Paddy Chayefsky (as Sidney Aaron)
Based on: Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky
Music by: John Corigliano
Cast: William Hurt, Blair Brown, Bob Balaban, Charles Haid, Thaao Penghlis, Drew Barrymore, John Larroquette, George Gaynes

Warner Bros., 103 Minutes

Review:

“Fight it, Eddie. You made it real, you can make it unreal.” – Emily Jessup

I was pretty excited to see Altered States pop up on FilmStruck, a mighty fine streaming service. It’s a film I have wanted to see for a very long time but it wasn’t very accessible.

The film deals with an abnormal psychologist who gets a bit too addicted to his work and pays a hefty price for it. His work involves seeing what will happen if he mixes hallucinogenic drugs and an isolation chamber. What we get to experience is a man tripping his balls off, seeing some strange and really messed up shit. However, each trip gets more and more intense and the man starts to have physical changes. He starts regressing and at one point becomes a savage neanderthal. He even goes so far as to regress into primordial matter.

Calling this film unique and bizarre is a serious understatement. It is those things but it embraces the weird so genuinely and effectively that even if this tale is quite fantastical, you are sucked right into it.

I think the real reason why this picture works so well is the skill of its director, Ken Russell. By this point, he had already directed three Oscar winning films: Women In LoveThe Devils and The Who’s Tommy. This film would also go on to win Oscars for Best Sound and Best Original Score. But it was Russell’s uncanny vision and his ability to manufacture such vivid and intense images throughout this film that prevented this from turning into some hokey, LSD-laced, run of the mill sci-fi thriller.

William Hurt was exceptional as the psychologist, Eddie Jessup. Every single scene felt believable and he sold everything that was happening to him on screen. Not bad, as this was actually his debut film. He also had help from a young Bob Balaban, as well as Charles Haid, who became my favorite guy in the movie.

Eddie’s family was comprised of Blair Brown, who played his wife, and Drew Barrymore, as his daughter. This was also Barrymore’s debut film. We also get to see a very young John Larroquette play an x-ray technician and there’s a small role for George Gaynes, as well.

The special effects are good for its time and the hallucination sequences are amazingly orchestrated.

There are a slew of films that deal with scientists going mad over their own experiments. There are also a slew of films that are serious mind fucks. Altered States is one of the best, though. And after finally watching it, I can see where other films were inspired by it. It is a great “body horror” film and it will make you uncomfortable at times. In some regards, I think it’s comparable to earlier David Cronenberg films, as well as 1990’s Jacob’s Ladder.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other body horror flicks from the era: VideodromeThe FlyScannersFrom BeyondEraserhead, The Thing, etc. Also, Jacob’s Ladder.

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: Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Release Date: June 1st, 1984
Directed by: Leonard Nimoy
Written by: Harve Bennett
Based on: Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Music by: James Horner
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, Merritt Butrick, Robin Curtis, Christopher Lloyd, John Larroquette, Miguel Ferrer, Grace Lee Whitney

Paramount Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

[Witnessing the destruction of the Enterprise] “My God, ‘Bones’… what have I done?” – Capt. James T. Kirk, “What you had to do, what you always do. Turn death into a fighting chance to live.” – Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy

This is the second part of a trilogy of Star Trek films that I refer to as The Genesis Trilogy. It isn’t officially a trilogy but all three films are linked together and happen successively. These films are Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), this film from 1984 and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). All three films have to deal with the Genesis Project and the consequences of those events.

In this chapter in the film series, we see the beloved crew of the USS Enterprise returning home from their battle with Khan, as well as having just endured the loss of their friend and crewmate Spock. We soon learn that Dr. McCoy has Spock’s mind trapped in his head and that it is Spock’s wish to have his body and mind returned to Vulcan. The crew, lead by Kirk and McCoy, have to stage a mutiny and steal the soon-to-be decommissioned Enterprise from Spacedock. They must return to the Genesis Planet, recover Spock’s body and return him and McCoy to Vulcan. What we also soon discover, is that the Genesis Planet has resurrected Spock but without his mind he is just a living shell. All the while, the crew has to deal with a rogue Klingon commander who wants the power of the Genesis Planet for himself.

This is a film that gets a bad wrap but that is probably because it is wedged between two superior films. Still, The Search for Spock is a damn good Star Trek movie. However, it might not have the impact on a casual fan, as it does for someone who has watched the original television show and been emotionally invested in these characters for a couple decades.

What I love about this picture is that the crew truly comes together as a family like they never have before. They put themselves and their careers in jeopardy all to help a fallen friend fulfill his final wish. I almost get a little teary eyed writing about it.

This film also introduced us to the coolest ship in all of Star Trek lore, the Klingon Bird of Prey. It really is the Millennium Falcon of Star Trek. We also, get our first real look at the Klingons of the ’80s and ’90s, that would have a major impact on the two long running television series Star Trek: The Next GenerationStar Trek: Deep Space Nine and other Star Trek films before the modern J.J. Abrams era.

Christopher Lloyd is absolutely stellar as the Klingon commander Kruge. Without his incredible performance, the Klingons might not have had as prominent of a role going forward. This was my favorite era of Star Trek in films and on television and I feel that Lloyd was instrumental in the shape of it all because he helped make Klingons something different in the best way possible.

At its core, this is a film that comes with its own sense of tragedy but also carries a sweetness with it. The cost of fulfilling the mission is a huge price for the crew to pay, especially Kirk. In the end, the crew gets to see their comrade again but the future is very dark and uncertain. There is a lot of emotional weight here and maybe that’s why the fourth film would be more of a lighthearted comedy after the doom and gloom of TrekII and III.

Leonard Nimoy did a fine job directing this and man, that James Horner score is incredible.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, both nice bookends to this film and all three sort of form a trilogy.

Film Review: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Release Date: October 1st, 1974
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Music by: Wayne Bell, Tobe Hooper
Cast: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, Gunnar Hansen, Teri McMinn

Vortex, Bryanston Pictures, 84 Minutes

the_texas_chain_saw_massacre_1974Review:

Originally, I wanted to review the first four Texas Chainsaw films as a series, as they are considered to be the original run of films before the remakes, prequels and other alternate sequels started. However, every single film bearing the Texas Chainsaw name, follows its own continuity. Part 2 is one of many versions of a sequel. Part 3 ignores Part 2. Then you have Part 4, which ignores Parts 2 and 3 and establishes a “next generation” of characters. After that, the series was rebooted. Then the reboot got a prequel. Years later, another alternate sequel to the original was made. Now there is another prequel coming out within the next year or so; I’m not sure which of the films it is attached to. Needless to say, the continuity is confusing as hell, so I would rather review each film separately.

Artistically speaking, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is the best film in the series, although I can’t call it great. Sorry, it just isn’t. It also isn’t my favorite in the series, that honor would go to the second part, which I will explain when I review that chapter in the franchise.

This film is insane and scary. The atmosphere and the characters create a sense of dread that has never been replicated in the series. The dinner scene is one of the most legitimately frightening moments in 1970s horror. The sets, the cinematography, the characters, the music, the sound, everything just melds together in a good way. The film does the job it set out to do.

The only thing about the movie that I hated, and many will probably agree, is the invalid brother Franklin. He was beyond obnoxious, stupid and annoying. I don’t see how anyone could feel bad about his death in the picture. I only wish it had come sooner and been a lot more violent.

One of the common misconceptions about this movie, is that people remember it as being extremely violent and bloody. It isn’t. Most of the actual gore happens out of the shot or is implied somehow. There is very little blood, overall. The film is just so intense, at the right moments, that it doesn’t need to slap you in the face with blood and guts.

I know I am in the minority, but I have never held this in the same regard as classics like A Nightmare On Elm StreetHalloween or Friday the 13th. It certainly isn’t as good as Black Christmas, another well-noted horror film from 1974. I have always liked it but it just doesn’t hold a special place for me like the other movies. And out of all the big time horror franchises, this one has spawned the most awful sequels.

Regardless of my criticism, Tobe Hooper made a solid horror picture for 1974. This is considered to be one of the greatest scary movies ever made. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been in 1974 when the world hadn’t really seen something this brutal. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre opened the flood gates for what was to come in the horror genre and that, more than anything else, is why this film is important.