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 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: Everybody Wants Some!! (2016)

Release Date: March 11th, 2016 (SXSW)
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Written by: Richard Linklater
Cast: Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Glen Powell, Wyatt Russell, Austin Amelio

Annapurna Pictures, Detour Filmproduction, Paramount Pictures, 116 Minutes

Review:

“Have you noticed whenever we’re around baseball all we talk about is pussy. Now, we’re actually around a few potentially interesting young women, all you talk about is baseball. It’s a little fucked up!” – Finnegan

I really anticipated Everybody Wants Some!! when it was coming out. It was Richard Linklater’s spiritual successor to his coming of age classic Dazed and Confused. Also, Linklater seems to really nail it on the head when it comes to coming of age films.

While I enjoyed the experience of Everybody Wants Some!!, it wasn’t on the level of Dazed and Confused. That’s okay though because even if they share narrative and style similarities, they are very different movies.

This film picks up in the summer of 1980 as it follows a college freshman as he moves in with the baseball team to prepare for the upcoming year. The story then captures their lives and their camaraderie while becoming a team and chasing girls. The film ends the moment the first class starts, so it really just focuses on the main character’s introduction to his four year college journey.

The cast is pretty fantastic and Linklater has a way of steering ensembles into great territory. This film is no different in that regard. All the main actors hold their own and feel like authentic teens and twenty-somethings.

I do have to say that Austin Amelio really steals the scenes he’s in but maybe that is because it is hard to envision Dwight from The Walking Dead as some collegiate baseball star. But his comedic timing and presence are great and it was really cool seeing him do something that is such a departure from his more famous character.

I really liked Zoey Deutch in this but she didn’t have a lot of screen time compared to the guys. Speaking of which, Jenner, Powell and Hoechlin had a great chemistry. The other scene stealer though was Wyatt Russell, who just commands attention without really trying but when you are the son of the legendary Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, that shit’s in your blood.

Everybody Wants Some!! is pretty enjoyable but it doesn’t have the lasting impact of Linklater’s Dazed and ConfusedSubUrbia or Slacker. It is a nice companion piece to those films however and sort of adds a fourth chapter to those pictures that I always thought of as a loose trilogy.

Film Review: Detroit Rock City (1999)

Release Date: August 13th, 1999
Directed by: Adam Rifkin
Written by: Carl V. Dupre
Music by: J. Peter Robinson
Cast: Edward Furlong, Giuseppe Andrews, James DeBello, Sam Huntington, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss, Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty, Ron Jeremy

Base-12 Productions, Takoma Entertainment Group, New Line Cinema, 94 Minutes

Review:

“God forbid one day you have a son like you, Jeremiah. A boy who lies through his teeth, buys demonic records, and smokes the dope!” – Mrs. Bruce

A lot of people a generation older than me usually get miffed when I tell them that I don’t like KISS. They have a song or two I can tolerate but I’ve just never been a fan of the Coca-Cola of rock and roll and I really just don’t get it. But I was born after KISS and can’t really understand what it was like to be there, in the moment, when they took over the airwaves in the early 1970s and had their likeness all over every product imaginable like Chewbacca and E.T. That being said, I don’t hate KISS and some of them are pretty amusing guys when I see them in interviews. Plus, Gene Simmons was a marketing genius: the Don Draper of rock and roll.

I did enjoy this film though, regardless of how I personally feel about KISS’ music and cartoon nature.

I’ve always liked Edward Furlong, even if he’s been a thorn in Hollywood’s side due to his issues when he was younger. However, just watch American History X or Animal Factory if you don’t think the kid can act, he can. This is one picture where Furlong just seems to be having a lot of fun and enjoying the material. He’s also the glue that holds this thing together.

You also have Giuseppe Andrews, an actor that I have always felt should be working more than he does. He’s a fantastic talent and has had a wide range of characters. But like Furlong, he got to sink his teeth into something fun and straightforward with this movie and he does a good job with it.

Sam Huntington and James DeBello round out the group of friends and both carry their own, as well. You also have a lot of great actors in minor roles: Natasha Lyonne, Lin Shaye, Melanie Lynskey, Shannon Tweed, Joe Flaherty and Ron Jeremy. And of course KISS is in the movie.

The story follows four friends and band mates, as they travel to Detroit to see KISS. However, they don’t have tickets and each friend goes on their own adventure in an effort to secure tickets with less than two hours to spare. The film essentially breaks out into four separate adventures that weave back together by the end. I actually really liked the narrative structure and it was well handled, well edited and flowed nicely.

Detroit Rock City is not a teen sex comedy classic but it is as good as some of the films that many consider to be classics of the genre. Had it starred someone like James Van Der Beek or Freddie Prinze Jr. it would have probably gotten more recognition, at the time. However, it stars the kid John Connor from the Terminator franchise before he fell off the map, two guys from Cabin Fever and Superman Returns‘ Jimmy Olsen. That’s not a knock against any of these guys but three out of the four hadn’t quite gotten bigger opportunities before this.

This is definitely a movie worth checking out if you like mostly mindless fun, especially from the teen sex comedy drama. Plus, it is less derivative than most of the films in the genre.

Film Review: Band of the Hand (1986)

Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Leo Garen, Jack Baran
Music by: Michel Rubini
Cast: Stephen Lang, Michael Carmine, Lauren Holly, Leon, John Cameron Mitchell, Danny Quinn, Al Shannon, James Remar, Laurence Fishburne

TriStar Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“One sharp knife can feed you, clothe you, keep you warm and dry.” – Joe

I have been a huge fan of Miami Vice my entire life. Somehow, Band of the Hand eluded me until recently. It is sort of married to that show, as they were both produced by Michael Mann, came out around the same time, have similar themes, similar style, similar music and take place in and around Miami.

Band of the Hand also stars a young Stephen Lang, who is a guy that has become one of my favorite actors in recent years. It also features a young Lauren Holly, Leon and another one of my favorites, James Remar.

The film really has two parts to it. The first half sees a bunch of teenage punks sent into the Everglades. They are given a last chance, if they can learn from Miccosukee bad ass, Joe (Stephen Lang). They have to survive and make it to the end of their swamp quest becoming bad asses themselves. The second half sees the teens return to Miami and become vigilantes alongside Joe, in an effort to rid the city of the drug dealers who hold it hostage.

The two halves of the movie really have different tones. The first half is mostly goofy and comedic, as our urban teens can’t get along and want nothing to do with life in the Everglades. The second half becomes much darker and serious and plays like an episode of Miami Vice but with more violence, as it isn’t catering to television executives.

Band of the Hand is pretty enjoyable. It is far from a classic and not as good as the better episodes of Miami Vice but it fills its 109 minutes well.

The action is great, especially the big street shootout between the gangsters and the teens at their home.

Stephen Lang was exceptionally bad ass in this and it was cool seeing him in his younger days, as he’s just now becoming more of a household name due to being in Avatar and Don’t Breathe.

If you are into 1980s crime movies, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you are also a big Miami Vice fan, this is a good companion piece to the show.

 

Film Review: Cry-Baby (1990)

Release Date: April 6th, 1990
Directed by: John Waters
Written by: John Waters
Music by: Patrick Williams
Cast: Johnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, Polly Bergen, Kim McGuire, Darren E. Burrows, Mink Stole, Willem Dafoe

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“I’m so tired of being good.” – Allison

I’ve been a big fan of John Waters since I was pretty young. Granted, I didn’t see his more vulgar offerings until I was in my late teens but I had a real appreciation for Cry-BabyHairspray (the original) and Serial Mom. I just loved the style of the films and the humor was my cup of tea.

I then realized that it has been a long time since I’ve sat down and watched a Waters picture. So I wanted to go back to where it all started for me: 1990’s Cry-Baby.

This was also one of three films that made me a fan of Johnny Depp’s work. The other two films being Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood. Granted, I also love that he’s in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Cry-Baby is a light musical. While I generally don’t like musicals, this one is pretty great in that it uses a 1950s rockabilly style and there isn’t an overabundance of musical numbers.

The story is about Cry-Baby (Depp) and a girl he meets, Allison (played by Amy Locane). They are from opposite sides of the tracks, Cry-Baby essentially being a Greaser and Allison being a Square, which are like the Socs in The Outsiders. The movie is a sort of Romeo and Juliet story with a cool rockabilly soundtrack and a 1950s style. The climax, which sees Cry-Baby and Allison’s Square ex-boyfriend play chicken while on top of the cars, is pretty well done and a really enjoyable finale.

The film also stars a bunch of interesting people. For one, you have Iggy Pop, who I love in everything and wish he had a bit more meat to chew on in this. You also have former underage porn star Traci Lords and Waters regular and future talk show host Ricki Lake. Willem Dafoe even cameos as a pretty hilarious but no nonsense prison guard. The cast also includes a lot of people who worked in several of Waters’ other films.

Cry-Baby is a short and fun movie. It doesn’t need to be more than it is. Ultimately, it is entertaining and not only drums up 80s and 90s nostalgia but it channels the 1950s, so its like a time capsule with triple the goodness.

While this isn’t Waters’ best film, it truly embodies what a Waters film is while being accessible to those that might not want to see a large drag queen eat dog poop.

Film Review: House Party (1990)

Release Date: March 9th, 1990
Directed by: Reginald Hudlin
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Music by: Lenny White, Marcus Miller
Cast: Kid ‘n Play (Christopher “Kid” Reid, Christopher “Play” Martin), Full Force (“Paul Anthony” George, Lucien “Bowlegged Lou” George Jr., Brian “B-Fine” George), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, A.J. Johnson, Groove B. Chill (Gene “Groove” Allen, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell), Kelly Jo Minter, John Witherspoon, Clifton Powell, George Clinton

New Line Cinema, 100 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know why they named that boy that African name. Knowing he from Cleveland!” – Pop

I loved this film the moment I saw it for the first time when it debuted on premium cable, a year after it hit theaters. I had already been a Kid ‘n Play fan at that point but this immortalized them as cool, as far as I was concerned at twelve years-old.

House Party benefits from having an all-star cast before these actors were really all-star players.

Robin Harris is probably the biggest name and he was well-known for his stand-up comedy but he really had some great moments in this that brought him to a higher level. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after this film came out and didn’t get to reap whatever benefits would have came from the success this film had.

House Party also features Martin Lawrence, just on the cusp of his superstardom, as well as John Witherspoon, Tisha Campbell, Clifton Powell, Kelly Jo Minter and musicians George Clinton, Full Force and Groove B. Chill.

The picture was originally intended to be a vehicle for DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (Jeff Townes and Will Smith) but Kid ‘n Play got the project. This could have been due to Smith’s big sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air creating a conflict.

With high school teen sex comedies being all the rage in the 1980s, House Party follows suit but gives us a film from the African-American perspective. Ultimately, there isn’t much of a difference other than the added hip-hop flair, which by 1990 was a welcome change following a decade of high school comedies scored to new wave pop music.

The film was critically acclaimed. Roger Ebert loved the film stating, “House Party is a light, entertaining teen comedy with an infectious energy.”

House Party is a great movie for its type. It gives something fresh to its genre and helped pave the way for a lot of up and coming talent. Additionally, it opened doors for black filmmakers, who would really make an impact on cinema throughout the 1990s. House Party was an African-American comedy that really went mainstream and helped in creating a shift in American entertainment, at the time.