11.17.2017

Thor: Ragnarok Review

"Thor: Ragnarok is like Flash Gordon on crack, breathing new life and energy into a stale franchise"
By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

Of all the Marvel films that have come out since they began dominating the box office with 2008's Iron Man, the Thor films have always been my least favorite, next to Doctor Strange. While I can appreciate what Kenneth Brannagh brought to the table by directing the first one, it still wasn't enough for me to really get excited about. Don't get me wrong, I love the cast: Hemsworth is spot-on brilliant casting and Tom Hiddleston is arguably one of best Marvel villains ever to grace the screen, if not the most entertaining. I just never have been a fan of the character or the mythology, which is probably why I could never get into franchises such as Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

Like most people, I still saw the first two entries. I enjoyed the first one enough to actually make the effort to watch the second, but I just didn't like it at all. I'm sure on paper the idea of hiring someone who directed a bunch of Game of Thrones episode sounded great, but if the films reception is any indication, that decision was a bad one, at least from a fanboy perspective, because ultimately it still made a ton of money for Marvel. But again, based on that films reception, they knew they had to make a drastic change to the Thor franchise if they wanted to keep us from getting bored. Enter Taika Waititi, a New Zealand filmmaker and comedian, most famously known for the hilarious and brilliant What We Do In The Shadows. All I can say is that Waititi on board completely and totally changed everything that was wrong with Thor, and breathed new life into a stale franchise. And not just within the Thor universe, but for me personally, the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has just felt more of the same as of late. Wonder Woman was what the superhero franchise in general needed, and Thor: Ragnarok was what Marvel needed to spice things up.


Of all the choices that were ideal for bringing a new fresh spin to the Thor films, Taika Waititi would  seem the most unlikely one. Having only directed less than a handful of films, all comedies or drama, nothing suggested that he could handle something so big, much less a Marvel film full of CGI. Yet, miraculously, he did just that. In fact, he did a far better job than most directors who have been working in CGI for years. I'll admit, when the trailers began rolling out, I was a bit turned off by the excessive CGI, where most of it looked terrible. Yet when I saw the film, it was leaps and bounds better. I can only assume that from the time between the trailers and the release date, they did a significant amount of polishing to them. Sure it's still unmistakably CGI for a good 90% of the film, but Waititi knew how to composite it in a much more realistic way; meaning he had a grasp of perspective, making things in the background realistically blurry as they would be. That's something that always drives me crazy with these movies. With all their talent and money, directors rarely ever take into consideration that not everything in the background should be crystal clear as the image in the foreground. It's a pet peeve and it drives me nuts.

Taiki Waititi did a phenomenal job on the visual tone of the film. Right from the first trailers, you knew you were in for something radically different in the best possible way. It's a retro-infused hyperspace odyssey full of bright colors, and a pleasantly refreshing fun atmosphere that literally had me smiling and laughing from start to finish. Of all the many great qualities this film possesses, one of it's greatest strengths is that it's genuinely hilarious, something that might have thrown most of us off at first, but once that initial shock wears off, you realize that you hadn't laughed so hard and so consistently in a very long time. I know I certainly haven't. And I think most people will be surprised to learn that Chris Hemsworth is a legitimately funny guy. His comic timing is impeccable, almost effortless. Who knew!? Apparently Waititi did and utilized that to it's full effect, making for a much more fun and entertaining flick all around.



The cast is ace, with Cate Blanchett never looking hotter, Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are legit hilarious, and even Mark Ruffalo gets in some solid laughs. But the real standout is hands-down Jeff Goldblum as Grandmaster. Goldblum is clearly having a blast, chewing up the scenery every second he's on screen, really digging deep into his Jewish roots and delivering a hilariously subtle performance that only he could deliver. He literally steals the show.

You might be surprised to learn that despite the frequent marketing, the actual arena fight between Thor and Hulk is just a very small moment in a very large film. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that the trailers really don't do the film justice at all. Yea it shows us the direction it's headed and how different it is compared to the previous films, but it doesn't really capture just how great this film is. And honestly, I'm not even really sure if they could. Of course they show us all of the action, and the one fight between Hulk and Thor, but there's so much more going on, most of which are in the smaller subtle moments that can't translate well in a 2 minute trailer. So I understand.



If I had a single complaint, it would be the score by Mark Mothersbaugh. If you noticed in the trailers, they threw a very strong synth score at us in keeping with the whole retro theme going on, and it was amazing. Yet in the actual film, it's very minimal, only really coming into play in the second half of the film. But even then, it's still very minimal as it's mixed with a standard orchestra. It's like Mothersbaugh, or whoever was in charge of these decisions, were still trying to play it safe by not straying too far into that area, which is a bummer really because when the synth score did hit, it was awesome. It just could have been more. It would have made it stronger in my opinion.

Thor: Ragnarok and the Flash Gordon-On-Crack aesthetic had my eyes glued to the screen in glee. I really felt like a little kid watching this one. It reminded me of the type of superhero film they used to make decades ago, where they were actually fun, colorful and full of creative energy. With the exception of just a few in the last 10 years, you really can't say that anymore about these. But they're trying hard to fix that I think. Wonder Woman was a big slap in the face to studios, and this one did so phenomenally well right out of the gate that you can bet Marvel is going to start figuring out how to sort of steer in this direction in the future. Hell, even the new Black Panther coming out looks like a pleasant departure from Marvel's usual fare. If Thor: Ragnarok did anything, it was proving that Marvel, and possibly the superhero franchise in general, is heading in the right direction.

11.16.2017

Marvel's The Punisher Premieres Tonight

"The Punisher is set to dispatch some vigilante justice to Netflix"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

Don't forget, Marvel's The Punisher premieres tonight at midnight on Netflix. Or you can just wait until tomorrow to start binge-watching the entire season for what's sure to be Marvel's next big hit with Netflix. Speaking of which, it may also be one of the last as Marvel just recently announced it will be streaming their own content exclusively on their new streaming site coming soon. So that could be a major bummer for Netflix as they were primarily the key place for Marvel to drop their ultra-violent shows. But we'll see.

Punisher has always been my favorite comic book character, going all the way back to about '88 or '89 when I began collecting. I was immediately drawn to that vigilante character that was brought to life by amazing artists such as Jim Lee and Mike Zeck. While I would eventually dig into everything from Iron Man to Spiderman and Spawn, Punisher was and still is my personal favorite.

Sadly, this landmark character, despite 3 previous attempts on the big screen, still hasn't found a proper adaptation, or one that fans could connect with. While each film interpretation has it's share of strong points, none of them have come close to delivering a definitive Punisher film....yet. War Zone would probably be the closest to depicting the comic character the most accurately (and I do very much love that film), but my personal favorite will always be the Dolph Lundgren starring 1989 version, which still remains in my Top 5 favorite films ever. But that's another story.

When Netflix and Marvel premiered the character of The Punisher into the Daredevil storyline and series, fans went nuts. He was an immediate hit. And though initial reports of Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead) playing the character were met immediately with dubious uncertainty, his portrayal quickly won people over, including the skeptics. In fact, even though he was just a minor character in a totally different series, he became most people's favorite Punisher and a lot of peoples first introduction to the character. Needless to say Marvel saw the potential and gave him his own series, which is what brings use here today.

Marvel's Punisher premieres on Netflix at midnight, November 17. 

11.15.2017

Netflix Recommendation: Mindhunter

"The one-two punch of David Fincher and Netflix delivers one of the most intensely riveting detective thrillers in years"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

I'll be honest. When Netflix began rolling out these trailers ahead of hit's debut, they did nothing for me. I didn't even pick up that David Fincher was involved, so I'm not even sure that was mentioned in those trailers. Maybe if they had, I would have been far more intrigued because as they were, I didn't even give it a second thought. Even when this first season premiered on Netflix, I still didn't consider actually watching it. It wasn't until a few online friends posted how great it was that I finally gave it a shot, and boy I'm so glad I did. Mindhunter immediately became an addiction, and though I'm not big on binge-watching shows, I have to admit it was terribly hard not to with this one.

Mindhunter takes place in the late 1970's as two FBI agents (Holden Ford and Bill Tench) begin a new program within the FBI bureau studying the minds of killers, trying to figure out what makes them do the things that they do. It's through this series of interviews and investigations with prolific killers of the time that they ultimately coined the term "Serial Killer". Their hope is that by understanding how serial  killers think, they can help solve unsolved murders and in the greater scheme of things, possibly even prevent them from ever happening. 

Based on the book Mindhunter: Inside FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas, David Fincher produces and oftentimes directs while series creator Joe Penhall writes most of the episodes, delivering one of the best, most infectious detective thrillers on TV. While not necessarily in the same boat as the first season of True Detective, I felt it definitely resides somewhere within that same feel and genre. It may not deal with the same subject matter, but their dark, gritty realism is on full display in both series and it's a world we can easily get lost in. Fincher's masterful touch and attention to detail only make it all the more palpable in a very real way.

Actor Cameron Britton (left) as real life serial killer Ed Kemper (right)
What makes this series so enthralling is how detailed it is in it's execution. Let me put it this way. If you loved Fincher's Zodiac, then you'll most certainly love this. In fact, Fincher directed a majority of the episodes himself, and they're just as stunning visually as they are emotionally. You get sucked into the worlds of newbie Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff), who's brilliant, yet naive, and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), a veteran on the force and tough as nails, as they travel the country interviewing killers of multiple people who are currently in prison. And it's in these long moments of interviewing serial killers where Mindhunter really finds it's stride. Not only are these interviews engrossing, intense and stimulating (the Ed Kemper segments being the most fascinating), but the meticulous detail that Fincher applies to every single aspect of this show's production is mind blowing. It all looks and feels like it really is 1977, and the soundtrack is nothing short of amazing. Mindhunter is a visceral punch to the senses from all angles and it's a show you're sure to get hooked on. Just don't say I didn't warn you.

11.14.2017

Blu-Ray Review: Popcorn (Synapse Films)

"Synapse Films breathes new life into a forgotten cult classic"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)


When Synapse films announced they would be releasing this on Blu-Ray, it was a fresh reminder that I really needed to revisit this early 90's classic. While a lot of these little-seen or undiscovered and forgotten horror gems are finally finding their audiences through wide releases on Blu-Ray, that wasn't the case during their initial theatrical or home video releases. In fact, it's quite the opposite. But the internet was also in it's infancy, and not yet the free marketing tool we have today. What's more, all of these releases are usually big news leading up to the date because of savage collectors, social media and the internet. The releases themselves are done to the nine's, with new artwork, a fresh restoration of the original transfer, and a host of goodies for die-hard fans to dig through. Comparatively, these old cult classics are getting more of a push on Blu-Ray today compared to the marketing and promotion done during their original theatrical or home video debuts. In this new age of digital marketing, restorations and releases, Synapse Films is one of the leading brands spearheading the movement.

Which brings me to Popcorn, a 1991 horror film that literally seemed to come and go with very little attention upon it's original theatrical release. I can confirm that in my little hometown in South Texas, it didn't even make it into theaters, instead going straight to home video months later, which is where I would ultimately discover it. And I recall enjoying it, but never really revisiting it for some reason. Flash forward to 2017 and Synapse Films announcement that they would be giving this forgotten classic the HD makeover for the very first time in a Limited Edition to 3,000 copies DVD/Blu-Ray Steelbook. While I remember people complaining about the steep $40 price tag, they still snatched it up in droves. It sold so well in fact that Synapse decided to release it again, this time in a standard Special Edition Blu-Ray this past October for a much cheaper $20, which would contain all of the special features included in that original Steelbook release. Once I saw this cheaper release, I immediately jumped on the bandwagon and grabbed myself a copy. So let's dig in.

When film students put together a Horror-thon in an abandoned movie theater, they discover a lost and mysterious film called "The Possessor", made by a madman who ultimately killed his entire family at that same theater years earlier. Maggie (Jill Schoelen) has been having nightmares that seem to connect her to the killer and this film and soon the classmates begin getting killed one by one during the Horror-thon. Will Maggie figure out who this killer is in time to stop them from killing everyone?

To say I enjoyed this would be an understatement. I absolutely loved it and I'm shocked I never made the effort to revisit this earlier. There's just such a fun vibe and tone to the entire thing and despite having so many odds stacked against it, it ultimately delivers nonstop entertainment from beginning to end. It's a classy horror film, made with a deft touch and care that you rarely ever saw in films like this to begin with. Throw in the fact that it's also a loving homage/love-letter to the classic campy horror films of the 50's with a better-than-you'd-expect cast and you're in for a great time.

Behind the scenes was a totally different story though, and the fact that the movie turned out as great as it did is quite frankly, astonishing. For starters, they fired their original lead actress Amy O'Neill with Jill Schoelen (The Stepfather, Phantom of the Opera) 3 weeks into production, as well as replacing original writer and director Alan Ormsby (Cat People, The Substitute) with Porky's actor Mark Herrier, who would make Popcorn his only directing credit. Though the film kept all of Ormsby's work with the films within the film, there's much debate as to how much he contributed to the rest of the film and how much of it's success goes to first time director Mark Herrier. Also of special note is that though you'd never guess it, Popcorn was shot entirely in Jamaica (Huh??). I'm telling you, the film's production was pretty much chaos from the beginning, though you'd never know it. Which brings me to my next point. This excellent release also comes with a full-length documentary "Midnight Madness: The Making of Popcorn", which digs deep into the films troubled production offering new insight into the chaos, with new interviews from the cast and crew. There was even controversy regarding it's original poster design for Pete's sake! Honestly, this documentary alone is worth the price of this release and all the startling revelations will leave you dumbfounded.


The cast of Popcorn is nothing short of exceptional, starting with the legendary Dee Wallace, who I feel like has been popping up in so many random films I've seen lately both new and old. And while the entire cast is great, I really have to give it to the late-great Tom Villard (shown above), who just steals the show here. He's an actor I always remember seeing in random things throughout the years, such as a regular on The Golden Girls, one of the Stork twins in the 80's classic One Crazy Summer, and even as a cadet in Heartbreak Ridge. Needless to say seeing him in here was a nice surprise, but his performance will go on as the best in his career. Hands-down.

Overall, Popcorn is a blast and such a surprisingly competent and effective horror/comedy that also plays as a homage to classic horror films. The cast is great, the script is strong, and the tone keeps everything in check effectively. For me, this ended up being one of the best times revisiting an old horror film in years and I'm proud to include this one in my collection, because I know it will be one that I will continue to revisit.

Just The Disc:

Synapse films did a bangup job on this restoration, featuring an all new 2K scan of the Archival 35mm Interpositive. The transfer is stunning and looks far better than I anticipated. And let me assure you, it makes a difference. Seeing it in this state is damn near similar to seeing it for the first time on the big screen in it's original 35mm presentation. The colors are bright, the darks deep and the picture is sharp. Synapse did a fantastic job restoring the transfer (the film has never looked better), and the plethora of supplemental material will give you hours of fun to dig through.

Here's what's included:

  • All-New 2K Scan of an Archival 35mm Interpositive
  • All-New Blu-ray 7.1 Surround Sound Mix Supervised by Synapse Films (Original 2.0 Stereo Mix Included)
  • Audio Commentary with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Malcolm Danare, and Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls
  • Midnight Madness: The Making of "Popcorn" featuring interviews with Director Mark Herrier, Stars Jill Schoelen, Derek Rydall, Dee Wallace, Malcolm Danare, Ivette Soler, and Elliott Hurst, Special Makeup Effects Artist Mat Falls, Composer Paul Zaza, and Distributor Executive Jonathan Wolf (55 minutes)
  • Electric Memories An Interview with Actor Bruce Glover
  • Original Theatrical Trailer, Television Trailer and TV Spots
  • Still Gallery
  • English Subtitles for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Blu-ray Reversible Cover Art by Chris MacGibbon
  • All Region Encoded/Playable Worldwide!
You can pick up this new All-Region Synapse release from a number of different online retailers, as well as the original Limited Edition Steelbook directly from Synapse Films HERE.

11.13.2017

90's Action Attack!: "C.I.A. Codename: Alexa"; A Low-Budget La Femme Nikita

"PM Entertainment showrunners Pepin & Merhi band together to deliver one of the best films in their insanely prolific catalog"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

VHS scan courtesy of VHSCollector.com
1992
Directed by: Joseph Merhi
Category: Action

PM Entertainment is my second favorite film production studio, right behind Cannon Films, and it's because of films like this La Femme Nikita ripoff/low-budget action masterpiece. Seriously, this film has it all, and I'm shocked this doesn't get more love. I'm not even really sure how I came across this one. Sure it's a PM film, but PM has well over a hundred films under their belt. Something had to make me specifically seek this one out. What that thing is I can't tell you, but I'm so glad I did. Let's dig in.

So Alexa begins with a random scene that really doesn't have any connection to the film at all, but it's a doozy of a beginning. Mark Graver (Lorenzo Lamas) arrives at a hostage situation very reminiscent of the one at city hall in Robocop. There's an army of local police on the ground as they attempt to persuade the kidnapper to give up. But really, all it takes is Graver to break protocol and decide to steal a motorcycle, drive it through the building, up the stairs and deliver some rogue justice, FBI style. While not necessarily a setup for anything that's to follow, it's sure one helluva kickass opening to a film that had me smiling from ear to ear with it's glorious cheesiness and insane nonstop action and stunts.

One of the first things I noticed during this killer opening sequence and credits were the names of Richard Pepin as the DoP, and Joseph Merhi as the director. If you don't already know, Pepin and Merhi are the head honchos of PM Entertainment and oftentimes direct some of the films themselves. While they're not all winners, when they're on fire, they both delivered some incredible action classics under their banner such as Hologram Man, Last Man Standing and T-Force being a few personal favorites and standouts. So when I saw "both" of their names listed as both the Cinematographer and the director, I just knew it would be something special visually, and I wasn't wrong. If nothing else, C.I.A. Codename: Alexa excels in the action department with some crazy-cool stunts and nonstop action that, while absurd, leave you stupidly satisfied. And honestly, isn't that the reason we watch these to begin with?


Essentially, the majority of the storyline is lifted right from Luc Besson's La Femme Nikita. Kathleen Kinmont is serviceable as the lead assassin, and Lamas is trying too hard to be cool as the FBI mentor. It's a little silly to always be wearing this over-stuff leather jacket, literally almost every second he's on screen wen he's not wearing a suit and tie. Doesn't he get hot??? But I'm just giving him a hard time because he does a fine job. Maybe he's not believable as an FBI agent with a long ponytail, perfectly trimmed stubble beard, tight jeans and a puffy leather jacket, but that's just me. While we're on the subject of casting, I must admit, it was a bit surreal seeing O.J. Simpson as one of the main characters in this; here playing another FBI agent. But he's not even the most unusual actor in here. That honor goes to Alex Cord as the main villain, who is supposed to be foreign, but I honestly couldn't tell you from where because his accent was so hilariously awful that I cherished every second he was on screen. For a good half hour I kept thinking "who the fuck is this guy?? He's terrible". And then it hit me. It's Briggs from Airwolf; the guy who gives Stringfellow and Santini their jobs who sports a white suit and eye patch. Holy shit! So he's American, trying to do an awful accent, but his delivery is so bizarre that you just assume he's just an awful actor, which he very well isn't. It's just crazy. But hey, in doing so he certainly makes it memorable.

I really can't recommend this one enough. If you love low-budget action cheese that's made remarkably well, this is for you. The action sequences alone will blow your mind. One sequence in particular sticks out, and I loved it so much I shared it on all my social media. A guy, after being surrounded by an army of armed cops, jumps out of the back of a van and begins firing on the cops. Naturally they return fire, causing the van to explode, and then he's immediately engulfed in flames. He keeps shooting and so the cops keep shooting while he's still on fire, which causes another explosion. Of course it's in slow-mo, and with both Pepin and Merhi behind the camera, you can guarantee the shot setups are killer, and they are. It's crazy and awesome! While none of the other action can match the beauty of that one sequence, fret not; there's plenty and it's virtually a barrage of nonstop shootouts, fights and crashes. If you're looking for a PM film that delivers, look no further.


11.12.2017

"Creepshow" Turns 35; A Look Back At The Horror Anthology Classic

"Two titans of horror's love letter to the controversial EC Comics of the 1950's remains one of the most celebrated horror films, and the best horror anthology, in the past 3 decades"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

Creepshow was released on this day in 1982, November 12th, 35 years ago today. Though Stephen King had been writing novels since 1976, with most of them immediately being adapted to the silver screen, Creepshow was his very first screenplay that he wrote himself. George A. Romero, fresh off the heels of his misfire Knightriders (1981), was looking for a hit. Since both he and King were personal friends looking for a project to work on together, the idea of a horror anthology was just too good to pass up. Little did these two horror giants know that this film, a love letter to the EC Comics of the 1950's, would go down in the history books for a number of reasons, not the least of which as one of the best horror anthologies ever made.

While anthologies in general were never big moneymakers, something magical happened here at a time when horror just wasn't doing big business. Sure we look back at films like The Fog, The Thing, Halloween III, Alone in the Dark, Evilspeak, The Pit, The Beyond, The Prowler and Evil Dead and consider them classics today, which they very much are, but back then they were anything but. In fact, most of them were flops, or didn't even make it into theaters at all, only finding their audiences many years later on the home video market. And while King had some recent success with his film adaptations of Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining, still, Creepshow very easily could have been a dud. Thankfully it wasn't, which is why we still love it today, 35 years later, and consider it to be one of the genre's best films, as well as one of the strongest entries in both George A. Romero's and Stephen King's filmography's.


One of Creepshow's many enduring qualities is that it was made at just the right time, by just the right talent (all bringing their A-Game) in just the right genre. I mean, it's a winning trifecta of talent if there ever was one. Stephen King (screenplay), George A. Romero (director), and the legendary Tom Savini (makeup effects) delivered such fresh passion and energy into a genre that while prolific, wasn't really bringing anything genre-defining to the big screen. But that would change with this film. King, fresh off the success of several big budget high-profile adaptations of his novels, the most recent being Stanley Kubrick's brilliant The Shining in '81, Romero who misfired with Knightriders the previous year, but blew the roof off the zombie genre several years earlier with the legendary classic Dawn of the Dead in '78, and Savini, who was fast becoming one of the best special effects makeup artists in the business having previously worked on horror classics such as Maniac and  Friday the 13th in 1980, as well as The Burning and The Prowler in 1981; all relatively new raw talent itching to deliver something memorable in their favorite genre.

As we all know now, Creepshow was a massive hit for all of them. In fact, it was the only film in director George A. Romero's resume to ever open at #1. But that wasn't the case behind the scenes. The studio, either reluctant to go wide right off the bat because of other recent failures in the genre, or because they just weren't sure if what they had in their hands would connect with audiences, didn't release Creepshow wide theatrically in the beginning. Instead, they gave it a soft 4-week opening in Boston, which did stellar business. When Halloween III fizzled at the box office rather quickly, the studio saw an opportunity to go wide and capitalize on the Halloween season, which was just 2 weeks earlier. It worked, and Creepshow did great business, ultimately grossing close to 20 million dollars on an 8 million dollar budget. That's impressive business in the horror genre, and since that impressive release, Creepshow would go on to endure a long-lasting legacy as not only one of the best horror anthologies ever made, but one of the best films in the genre period.



And it's not just Savini's, King's and Romero's involvement that makes it so great. The large eclectic cast, most of whom were little known at the time, make it so memorable. Seeing a young Ed Harris, Tom Atkins and Ted Danson, as well as well-known legends such as Leslie Nielson, Hal Holbrook and E.G. Marshall deliver some juicy performances in a genre that most of us would never associate them with is fascinatingly fun. Of course, we can't forget cult icon Adrienne Barbeau (John Carpenter's wife at the time), who would end up being one of the most memorable characters in the film, as well as being just one of many connections between John Carpenter and this film. Seriously, you could easily play "Six Degrees of Separation" with Carpenter's connection to most of the talent involved in Creepshow, such as; John Carpenter would direct Stephen King's Christine the following year (1983), Tom Atkins, Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook all appeared in John Carpenter's The Fog in 1980, and Barbeau was married to Carpenter at the time. You could certainly dig deeper if you tried, and make far more connections, but then we could be here all day.

Looking back on it, it's almost astonishing that this film turned out as well as it did, when nothing really before it's production, especially not from the three major talents involved, lead you to believe they were capable of delivering something so exotic and unconventional. Romero had never shot a film before, or after, the way he shot this, by utilizing a strong primary color palette and comic book-style backgrounds for certain scenes that made it so distinctive, and quite frankly, remarkable. Writer/Director John Harrison, a close friend of both Savini and Romero, would also mark Creepshow as his soundtrack debut, providing an unforgettable score that is still going strong 35 years later. Harrison would go on to provide another memorably haunting score for Romero's followup to Creepshow, Day of the Dead in 1985.

Creepshow continues to hold it's ground as a genre-defining film, even with 2 lackluster sequels in the franchise and countless imitators. What makes it all the more special is that King would try this formula again, just 3 years later with Cat's Eye, only this time - while entertaining - nowhere near the quality or legacy of Creepshow. While not perfect, as with any film, it has so much going for it that you can easily overlook some of the films weaker elements, and 35 years later it continues to be a highlight in the career's of all involved, most importantly King, Romero and Savini.

In Case You Missed It:

There are countless releases of Creepshow to keep track of, including a bare bones 2009 Warner Brothers release on Blu-Ray, which I do not own so I can't vouch for it's quality. But what I do strongly recommend is the Synapse Films 2016 release Just Desserts: The Making of Creepshow, which is a 90 minute documentary detailing the making of this landmark film, with both new and vintage interviews, behind the scenes footage, and so much more. The documentary is just fantastic, but this Special Edition release also contains a host of other extras that will give you hours upon hours of fun as you dig through all of the insane content. Really, if you're a fan of this first film, it's a no-brainer; you owe it to yourself, as a fan of either of these horror giants, or just a fan of horror in general. You can pick this up directly from Synapse Films HERE, or on the secondhand market for cheap. It's worth every penny.

11.11.2017

"Die Hard on a..." Showdown: Under Siege VS Sudden Death

"A navy cook and a fire captain go head-to-head with terrorists in the action 90's. Who will be the winner?"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

Most action stars took a stab at the Die Hard-style action film, primarily in the 90's. In fact, the 90's was the decade where this specific type of action film; the terrorist taking over "whatever", was prominant. Keanu Reeves did it with Speed (1994), Wesley Snipes in Passenger 57 (1992), Ken Wahl in The Taking of Beverly Hills (1991), and Stallone in Cliffhanger (1993) just to name a few. And then there are the low-budget ripoffs, which are also great, like Anna Nicole Smith's Skyscraper (1996) and the Shannon Tweed starring No Contest (1995). In reality, no action star could get away with "NOT" making one of these, especially since they were so damn popular and guaranteed moneymakers.

Today I bring you Steven Seagal and Van Damme's Die Hard films; Under Siege (1992) and Sudden Death (1995). What makes these two films exceptionally special is that these two were going head-to-head at the box office as the 2 leading martial arts/action stars at the time, always trying to outdo each other and remain the top marquee name, much in the way Stallone and Schwarzenegger had done for decades. Little did these guys know that they were already nearing the end of their box office star power. Van Damme's last starring theatrical release in the U.S. would be just the following year in 1996, while Seagal's would be able to hold out a little longer, with 2001 being his last starring theatrical release with Exit Wounds. But in the early to mid-90's, these action giants were delivering some great films, and these two would mark their entry into the "Die Hard on a ..." genre. Let's dig in.

Under Seige (1992)

Seagal actually beat JCVD to the punch with Under Siege in '92, here re-teaming with his Above the Law director Andrew Davis (Code of Silence). Under Siege, which is "Die Hard on a ship", is a great film if I'm to be completely honest. In fact, it's considered to be by most action fans Seagal's best and strongest film. And I'd have to agree. But what's a bit surprising is that Seagal does very little actual fighting in this. So really, almost any action star could have starred in it. There's nothing in this particular film that utilizes his specific set of fighting skills, which might surprise most people. Oh there's action, make no mistake. But it usually comes in the way of shootouts, explosions and a knife-fight. All that is fine really, and Seagal does a decent job in the lead as the badass head chef of the navy ship who doesn't take orders from anybody other than the captain. But shockingly, he's not the reason to see this film. Because unlike any of his previous releases, it's the supporting cast in this one that really seals the deal and makes it worth watching.

For starters, there's Gary Busey in all his unhinged glory. While insanely busy around this time, putting out about 5 films a year, it was just the year before where he would deliver one of his more memorable roles, that of Pappas; Keanu Reeve's partner in Point Break. I'd have to say that this is also a solid standout for him. Just watch him dress up as a woman dancing around the ship to catch my meaning. Tommy Lee Jones joins the fun as the main terrorist bad guy, here hijacking the navy ship with his small army intending to utilize the nuclear missiles on board to decimate Hawaii just because he's sour. The rest of the cast is rounded out with a slew of notable character actors that did a ton of these action films in the 80's and 90's, including a "blink and you'll miss him" Bernie Casey, who literally only pops in for 2 scenes and is severely underused. Oh, and the luscious Erika Elaniak costars as a stripper for hire who gets caught in the middle, who also manages to have just enough time to appear nude (YES!).


The film moves along at a breakneck pace, and combined with the excellent supporting ensemble cast, which is quite large to be honest, Under Siege delivers the action goods. Director Andrew Davis, who would follow this up with another box office hit, The Fugitive, again re-teaming with Tommy Lee Jones (who earned an Oscar nomination for that role) handles the action well. Nothing flashy, just solid and straight to the point. Did it need to star Steven Seagal? Certainly not. It would have worked fine with any other big name in the lead because there's nothing about Under Siege that would justify his casting, but lucky for him, it ends up being one of his best films.

Sudden Death (1995)

JCVD was riding high right up to this point. His only real misfire was the previous year's Street Fighter: The Movie. But that's really just a matter of taste. I happen to love it because it's so cheesy, and so much fun. But financially, it was a critical and box office disaster as well as a troubled production right from the start that has gained legendary status as one of the most fascinating behind the scenes stories ever. Let's just say that JCVD was not on his best behavior on set. If you care to read about that massive trainwreck and the hell that writer/director Steven E. de Souza went through in trying to make it, check out this fascinating article that chronicles everything that went wrong in detail. It's a blast to read. But fear not! Jean-Claude would recover with this killer flick, Sudden Death, his "Die Hard in a sports arena".

Here he re-teams with his Timecop director Peter Hyams, one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, and the result is another winner for both JCVD and Hyams. JCVD plays a fire captain working the local skating arena during a big hockey game when it's taken over by terrorists, led by the ultra-cool Powers Boothe, who has a bone to pick with the FBI. JCVD must not only find his son, who disappeared in all the craziness, but must also prevent a bomb from going off in the city. I would have to say that this is probably my favorite JCVD flick. It's got everything you'd want in one of these "Die Hard on a ...." style films and Hyams shoots it all with such class. In fact, compared to Under Siege, on a visual level, this looks far more like a Die Hard film.

Another area that one-ups Under Siege is that unlike Seagal, JCVD actually does some fighting in this one. Sure you notice the body doubles, and it's not a whole lot of fighting, but it's a Van Damme flick through and through. It's got action, fighting, killer stunts and a terrorist. The terrorist by the way is the one and only late-great Powers Boothe, who, much like the villain in Under Siege, is a disgruntled former employee looking for revenge. But man he can play it classy and evil at the same time like nobody's business. Speaking of Boothe; he and Raymond J. Barry, who plays the kidnapped Vice President in here, both also appeared together in Brandon Lee's Rapid Fire 3 years earlier in 1992. Now that I think about it, Powers Boothe and Brandon Lee are both gone. Damn.



Ultimately Sudden Death, along with Timecop, is one of Van Damme's most accomplished films. It's such a slick looking action film, the kind they rarely make anymore, where the director took the time to set up nice shots, and everyone is bringing their A-Game to the table. It's a skilled accomplishment on both Hyams and Van Damme's resume's, and hands-down one of the best "Die Hard on a..." films out there.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
Man, this is a tough one. Under Seige is Seagal's most polished film to date, and though there's very little actual fighting, it does deliver in the "terrorist taking over..." department. While Seagal is being his usual Seagal (zero range), it's really the insanely strong supporting cast that brings this one to life. Gary Busey, Tommy Lee Jones, Bernie Casey, Erika Elaniak, and a huge ensemble cast of notable character actors and bad guys from the 80's and 90's all lend a hand at making this one a nonstop thrill-a-minute blast. There are no real memorable moments that stand out, but it's at least consistent with the action and tension.

Sudden Death on the other hand, while not delivering nearly the same amount of action, offers up an equal amount of entertainment in other ways. Unlike Seagal in Under Siege, Van Damme does a lot of fighting, with the most memorable moment being his fight with a mascot in the kitchen that's badass as much as it is ridiculously hilarious. The film plays on all the Die Hard elements beat for beat in a classy way and writer/director/cinematographer Peter Hyams does a phenomenal job giving the film a far better aesthetic than you'd ever expect for a film like this. Compared to Under Siege, this looks more like a Die Hard film. In fact, it's one of the best Die Hard-style films out there in both it's execution and entertainment value. While Van Damme isn't necessarily a better actor than Seagal, he does present far more range and that definitely helps.

VERDICT:
I'd have to go with Sudden Death. It's a much better looking film all around. JCVD isn't trying to play it cool here. He's a man who's trying to rescue his son, and goes through hell to do it. All of the emotions that go along with that are plastered all over his face and it makes a huge difference. There's more fighting, and  more thrills because Hyams and writer Gene Quintano take the time to realize the repercussions and effects of certain actions, making them more real and palpable. Plus, it's such a visually impressive film all around and I can watch it just for the visuals alone. Sudden Death takes it's time setting the situation up, and in doing so, gets us all invested by the time the shit hit's the fan. It doesn't bring anything new to the table, instead sticking to all the standard tropes within this sub-genre, but doing it all the "Peter Hyams On Fire" way. Hyams was a master at making his films look incredible, every so often making some of them better than they had any right being (The Presidio comes to mind). But that was his gift, and if a film was directed by Hyams during the 80's and 90's, you can guarantee it was going to be great, and this one was greeeaaatt!!

11.09.2017

Blu-Ray Review: George A. Romero - Between Night and Dawn (Arrow Films)

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)


Between the seminal classic Night of the Living Dead (1968), and his socially brilliant zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead (1978), George A. Romero directed a total of 4 films; There's Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, The Crazies and Martin - considered by many to be lost gems in Romero's filmography and films that don't get nearly enough the attention they deserve, especially when you look at how starkly different each one is. Believe it or not, George Romero could make other films outside of his legendary zombie franchise/universe and in doing so, delivered some solid gems in various genre's - a personal favorite being Creepshow.

Arrow Films has culled together 3 of Romero's long-forgotten gems from the 70's (There's Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch and The Crazies), and given them the 2K and 4K restoration treatment, along with a host of extra goodies in a fantastic package that includes a 60-page booklet. Let's dig in.

The Crazies: (1973)

I remember vaguely seeing this one many years back, and not caring too much for it then. Of course, I was young, and couldn't appreciate it fully. Watching it now and it's mind-blowing how nightmarish this film is in such a real way, and was dumbstruck at how painfully intense it is right from it's opening frame. Romero's very unique editing style only amplifies the intensity. The quality of the performances range from strong to not so good, but Romero's gift as a quality filmmaker is unmistakable.

Watching this new 4K transfer is really the only way you should ever see it. Some of the images are haunting, even more so in their crystal clear clarity on this blu ray. With each new sequence I was blown away by not only their restoration, but their brilliance in the context of that scene. This was the first time I ever noticed the strong color palette that marks each scene like a punch to the gut. The colors are vivid and pop with an intensity that can only be truly appreciated with this new restoration.


The Specs:
- Brand new 4K restoration of the original theatrical version from the camera negative
- Brand new audio commentary by Travis Crawford
- Vintage never before seen behind-the-scenes footage
- Alternate opening titles
- "Romero Was Here": featurette revisiting The Crazies filming locations
- "Crazy For Lynn Lowry": An interview with cult star Lynn Lowry
- 2016 Q & A with actress Lynn Lowry fro Abertoir Film Festival


Season of the Witch: (1972)

This is one I had actually never seen before, but I do remember coming across it on VHS way back in the 80's at my local mom and pop video store. I remember that terrible, yet slightly intriguing cover, which now I realize is a total misrepresentation of the film in general. But due to the opportunity to review this new Arrow release, I finally got the chance to see it and I'm so glad I did.

Season of the Witch is nothing like I was expecting, and that's a good thing. I intended to sort of skip through it initially, just really checking on it's new 1080p quality, only a funny thing happened. Right from it's opening surreal sequence, I was sucked in and couldn't stop. It was surprisingly good and oddly fascinating. And though there's been countless debate about what genre this falls under, my personal impression is that it's definitely "folk horror", rather than straight-up horror. The way Romero directs this film is impressive and I can tell you that the sloppy original trailer doesn't do the film justice. This is the best presentation available of the film; a brand new 4K restoration taken from the original film elements and it's truly a uniquely fascinating film experience.

The Specs:
- Brand new 4K restoration of the theatrical cut (90 mins.)
- Alternate extended cut (104 mins.)
- Brand new commentary by Travis Crawford
- "When Romero met Del Toro": A career-spanning interview by Guillermo Del Toro as he speaks with Romero candidly about his career.
- The Secret Life of Jack's Wife: An interview with star Jan White
- Alternate opening titles
- Image Galleries
- Trailers

* I strongly suggest checking out "The Secret of Jack's Wife" interview. Jan White is such a treat to listen to as she recalls how she got cast, her experience starring in her first film, the nudity issue and it's enduring legacy. "When Romero Met Del Toro" is also an interesting watch, if a bit too long. While neither Del Toro or Romero are quite as engaging as Jan White, listening to Del Toro geek out over Romero and Romero being insanely humble, is fascinating as these two movie giants exchange stories and perceptions of Romero's work. 

There's Always Vanilla: (1971)

With There's Always Vanilla, Romero's first film after Night of the Living Dead, he decided to take a stab at a comedy/drama/romance and the result is a mixed bag. Some love it, others despise it. Me? I'm indifferent really. I neither love nor hate it personally. It feels like a made-for-tv movie more than anything, and not really the kind of film I would ever revisit on purpose, or associate George Romero with. But that's just me. It has its moments, and the performances are strong, especially from Raymond Laine, who also costarred in Season of the Witch the following year.

The story centers around the emotional relationship between a young drifter and famous local model, who ultimately becomes his sugar mama. When life gets too real, the true instability of their relationship rears it's ugly head.




The Specs:
- Brand new 2K restoration
- Brand new commentary by Travis Crawford
- Brand new interviews with actors Judith Ridley, Richard Ricci, producer Russ Streiner and sound recorder Gary Streiner
- "Digging up the Dead: The Lost Films of George Romero": Archive interview of Romero looking back at his early films There's Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch.

This Limited Edition Blu-Ray set contains:
- High Definition 1080p presentation
- Anamorphic, Limited Edition, NTSC, Widescreen
- Region-Free
- Original Mono Audio (Uncompressed PCM)
- English subtitles
- Reversible sleeve featuring original cover art and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
- Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writings on all 3 films

Arrow Films Between Night and Day Limited Edition Blu-Ray Set Releases in the U.S. on Nov. 14 and retails for $66.99.

If you would like me to review a film or new Blu Ray release, please feel free to contact me at jasonisageek@yahoo.com

11.08.2017

"They Live" Turns 29; A Look Back On John Carpenter's Cult Classic

"I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass....
and I'm all out of bubblegum" - Nada

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)
Can you believe it's been almost 30 years since this cult classic hit theaters? 29 to be exact. And while it didn't blow audiences away initially, it's only become more and more worshiped, beloved and appreciated in the decades that have followed. Even today, it strikes a familiar chord with people as it feels all too real in this world right now with it's messages of big brother, corporate capitalism and it's social commentary. It's a very special kind of film that, at the time, seemed so far out of left field that audiences didn't know what to make of it, let alone appreciate it's brilliance. Yet today, it's regarded as a masterpiece of cult cinema, and deservedly so.

I can't remember when exactly I first came upon this one, but I know it was years after it hit theaters. Somehow I saw it on home video and enjoyed it, but not enough to watch it frequently. Years later, older and wiser, I would revisit it (probably on DVD) and absolutely loved it. Since then it's been a film I've been obsessed with and constantly revisit on a regular basis. I'm so obsessed with it in fact that I want to get a They Live tattoo. Haven't done it yet, but it's always on the back of my mind. I have They Live art prints, posters, the score on vinyl and even the alien mask sitting on my shelf to further my visual obsession with this incredible film. I just love this movie so much; everything comes together flawlessly on a technical and emotional level. I probably hadn't seen it in about a year, so I threw it on last week out of sheer chance, not knowing the anniversary was coming up, and loved it just as much as that very first time I really learned to appreciate it all those years ago. It hasn't lost a beat, and hits all the right notes on a consistent level. It's one of those rare films that only gets better and better with age, and as mentioned earlier, seems to be more relevant than ever.




Revisiting it this last time though, I was struck by something really hard. And that is that Roddy Piper was just perfect in this. Sure there were better actors, but none could have matched what he had to offer. He transformed into Nada and nothing he could ever do after, or before (especially in the ring) could match what he did in this one single film in my opinion. His personal touches made this character so incredible. Sometimes he didn't have to say a word - his mannerisms spoke volumes. In fact, he barely utters a single word for the first 30 minutes. It's all in his body language and his facial expressions. For a guy who hadn't starred in a film before, let alone as the lead, he did an incredible job.

1988 was a special year for Piper. Not only did he continue to appear in WWF as a wrestler, he also had 2 minor roles in 2 direct-to-video flicks (Buy & Cell and Brutus the Beefcake Barber), but he also starred in They Live and the cult classic Hell Comes to Frogtown. While both films would continue to grow their cult status respectively throughout the following years, it's really They Live that would become Piper's most iconic role ever, resulting in merchandise, cosplay costumes and countless memes. He would continue to act regularly (quite frequently to be exact) in low-budget films; some memorable like Back in Action, Tough & Deadly and No Contest, but most of them forgettable. But even in his less memorable films, he was never lazy and gave his all. Which brings us to one of the highlights of They Live, the fistfight between Piper and Keith David; a sequence that would go on to legendary status and a fight that goes down on the record books as one of the longest fights in cinematic history. Below is a video where costar Keith David and producer Larry Franco discusses that sequence, working with Rowdy Roddy Piper, and how that film's appeal continues to grow. Enjoy!

On a side note. If you don't already own it, I strongly urge you to pick up Shout! Factory's DVD or Blu Ray release for the incredible commentary by Roddy Piper and John Carpenter. Seriously, Piper is a hoot to listen to and one helluva storyteller. Just listening to his thoughts and perspective on that landmark film is worth the price alone. 

As originally published on Syfy Wire:

11.07.2017

80's Thriller Throwback: Miracle Mile

"A quirky romance, threat of a nuclear disaster , and a neon-drenched 80's L.A. collide in this visceral underrated gem"

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)

Every so often a film comes my way, whether I'd heard about it before or not, that completely blows me away. Even more so when I realize that said film flies so far under the radar of most moviegoers, that it's damn near criminal. This is one of those films, and it could very well be one of the most underrated films in history, and one of the best, most intense films about the threat of nuclear war ever made. Sure, there are others out there. But none are as uniquely special as this one.

Harry (Anthony Edwards) meets the love of his life in a chance encounter. When he misses his second date with her, he tries calling her from a payphone to no avail. But then the phone rings. Thinking it's her, he picks up, only to hear a scared and agitated man on the other end warning of a nuclear war that will happen in 50 minutes. Harry doesn't know what to make of that news, but knows he must find Julie (Mare Winningham) and try to flee in case it is true. Harry soon descends on a dark surreal odyssey through the streets of L.A. in the middle of the night, while the city falls into utter chaos.


Immediately upon it's opening credits, something is starkly clear; this is going to be something special. From the very first frame, Miracle Mile presents to you, the viewer, with incredible visuals and similarly impressive compositions that only someone who's heart and soul is in it could render. Writer/director Steve De Jarnatt spent insurmountable time in framing each shot to perfection in such a way that very few films can convey. Watching this film you know it's his baby, and he takes great pain's in giving it life. And next to the films tone and subject matter, that's the biggest thing that left an impression on me. Miracle Mile looks fantastic, and it's mind-numbingly frustrating that De Jarnatt didn't get a nomination at any awards for his direction in this. So many of the images presented here will stay with you long after the film is over, and that's a quality you just can't manufacture tediously. It's a gift, and Steve De Jarnatt has it. It also helps that he worked alongside his Dutch cinematographer Theo van de Sande, who a few years later would deliver more amazing visual work with some of my personal favorite horror/thrillers like Body Parts and The First Power. This dream-team of visual power culminate in one of the most visually arresting films I've ever seen.

But it takes more than just the visuals to tell the story, or to keep you invested. De Jarnatt's script is sharp, engaging, quirky, exciting, thrilling, scary, intense, charming, and most of all, fascinating. Then there's Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham, who do a phenomenal job as the two love struck 20-something's who fall head over heels in love, only to have that love tested immediately. Tangerine Dream's electrifying and immersive synth score add yet another layer of genius to the table, further cementing their status as one of the most talented and influential synth prog rock composers in the industry. This score was fantastic. I've since been listening to it via YouTube for days and I just can't get enough.



How this film never gets the love it deserves blows me away. Because that's what this film did. It blew me away on such a visceral level that I haven't been able to stop thinking about it ever since I saw it. It hit's you on such a raw level. Though the film, at it's core, is a bit quirky (in the best possible way; think After Hours and Into the Night), it hit's a nerve because it's done in such a strong and far more serious way than either of those films. It's like the most intense version of that special kind of quirky 80's "serious boy meets free-spirited girl" love story, only set against the threat of a nuclear disaster filled with awesome cameo's and a killer ensemble cast that was impressive as it is freshly exciting. Seriously. The nonstop barrage of notable character actors and faces you continually recognize throughout the entire film was a lot of fun, and though they weren't big back then in 1988, they've certainly become cult icons in their own right. My personal favorite, and one that took me completely by surprise, was the one and only Brian Thompson, here stopping in towards the final act to deliver one of the more memorable small roles, and absolutely killing it in his very brief screen time.

Visually, Miracle Mile is a tour de force of the senses. Director Steve De Jarnatt painstakingly sets up each shot with such precision, you'd think he'd been directing films for decades. Yet, oddly enough, his only previous full length film was the low-budget sci-fi cult classic Cherry 2000, which I really need to revisit now. So it's safe to say that nothing he'd done previously, certainly not the single episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (his only other directing credit prior), would lead you to believe he was capable of delivering such a riveting slice of cult cinema. But it happened, and it's happened time and time again. It's a rare thing indeed, but not unheard of. The most recent example for me would have to be John Patrick Shanley's incredible directing debut with Joe Versus The Volcano. Another quirky romance that was as magical as it was darkly gothic in the most delightfully twisted way. Here, De Jarnatt's unconventional approach to somewhat unmarketable material proves that you can still breathe some life and vigor into a scary topic. It's just remarkable that most people have never seen it.



The scenes that seem to make the rounds more than any other are the ones of Harry (Edwards) either by the phone booth, or standing in the midst of a traffic jam as cars lie upside down and aflame around him. But the film is so much more than that and really, that's just a tiny bit of it's appeal. Sure the allure of the nuclear disaster, or the "big one dropping in less than an hour" is what pulls you in, but there's so much more going on. Harry encounters countless colorful characters, some who aid, others who impede, his quest to find the love of his life, Julie (Winningham), who's home heartbroken and hurt at their broken second date, completely unaware that Harry is literally going through hell to find her so they can escape in time. It's all of those random encounters, (some scary, others positively life-changing) that build the mild-mannered Harry into a stronger, more confident man. The kind of man who would tear through a city, no matter the cost, putting his life on the line and nearly getting killed multiple times in the process. In Harry's mind, if he's going to die anyway in less than an hour, he would rather die trying to find Julie and escaping than sitting idly by for the big bomb to drop on the city. He's never known happiness like he just experienced earlier that day, and the thought of spending just one more moment with Julie is worth risking his life.

I remember vividly seeing this cover at every local video store I would hit on a regular basis in the 80's and 90's. As intriguing as that cover is, I never made the effort to actually rent it. And it wasn't a film that I ever remember coming across on HBO or Cinemax, because if I had, I would surely have made the time to watch it. And until this very year, I've never heard anyone actually bring this up, discuss it or recommend it. How?? It blows my mind. We're talking 29 years since it's release, yet that's exactly what happened and it's criminal. Instead, it took a random comment somewhere online to strike a chord with me and finally make the effort to hunt it down, and I'm so glad I finally did. Do I feel dumb for waiting so long to finally see it? Sure. Because I can guarantee you, I would have loved it just as much as a teenager as I do now. I might not have appreciated the quirky love aspect to it (then), I most certainly would have been immersed in it's haunting imagery and amazing visuals.

It's the type of film that is so hard to categorize, so hard to pin down in any specific genre. I put it in there with films like After Hours, Into The Night and Joe Versus The Volcano; all uniquely riveting films that dare to be different in the most unconventional yet completely fresh way. If you've never seen it, or it's been a while since you have, I urge you to seek this one out. It might very well be the best hour and a half you've spent watching a film in a long while.

Fun Fact: Steve De Jarnatt also co-wrote Strange Brew in 1983. Go figure. 

How to see it:

Miracle Mile has been release on VHS, Laserdisc, DVD and most recently by Kino Lorber on DVD and Blu Ray in 2015. Any of these releases can be picked up on the cheap for under $20. I watched the Kino Lorber DVD, which comes packed with interviews, commentaries and a mini-reunion of it's two main leads. I can tell you that the DVD transfer was excellent. So excellent in fact that honestly, I can't imagine the Blu Ray looking any better. That's how good the Kino Lorber DVD quality is. Since I don't actually own a copy of this film yet, as I rented it through Netflix, this NEEDS to be in my collection because I already know it will be  a film I will want to revisit again and again and I will want to introduce unsuspecting friends to it and watch their minds get blown. So I will ultimately grab the Blu, just so I know in the back of my head it's in HD.

11.05.2017

Bad Movie Night Presents: The Deadly Spawn

"First time writer/director Douglas McKeown offers a classic creature feature that impresses on a technical level
....if nothing else."

By: Jason E. (robotGEEK)



As big as this film is in the low-budget horror and bad movie night community, and as big a fan as I am of these films in general, it took me until now to finally see it. I'm not really sure why either. I guess I just didn't know enough about it in general or ever heard anyone actually say it was worth watching. I know the original VHS release goes for big money, making it one of the most sought-after tapes on the market, but even still, I've never actually heard anyone talk about the film itself. When I came across the 2004 Synapse Films release recently while browsing eBay I figured what better time than now? Especially for that price! Let's dig in.

When an alien creature and it's alien parasites crash land in a rural town, they take refuge in a house and devour each inhabitant one by one before they attempt to make their way towards the entire town and soon, the world. 4 teenagers and a kid are all that stands between the aliens and total world domination.

I think one of the biggest things that surprised me the most was how competent it is all around; from the direction, the acting, and most notably, the practical effects work. And really, it's in the effects work that makes this one worth watching. The monster effects are damn impressive, and when you consider the films minuscule budget, it's even more impressive. Throw in the fact that this is the only film on writer/director Douglas McKeown's resume, and I'm almost floored. What they're able to accomplish is really nothing short of astonishing, and I can understand why they would want to plaster the thing all over the marketing material.

With that being said, I wish I could say that I loved it, because I really wanted to. It has all the things that make for great Low-Budget Cheesy 80's Horror, but unfortunately it's saddled by too much talking and not enough actual alien carnage, which is really the reason why we all go into this or any film like this. I mean, the damn thing is plastered all over the marketing material instead of wanting to keep it a secret until the big reveal. Yet it only creeps and teases into scenes sporadically until the final act. But I will say that when it does show up, and even in it's brief moments early in the film, it's mightily impressive and a colossal achievement.

Special Effects master Jon Dod doing a touch-up job on the alien creature

I think most people, because I certainly was, will be surprised by the fact that the acting across the board is pretty confident and strong. Especially the old women in the film, who end up doing things I couldn't believe I was seeing in a hilariously cheesy unintentionally funny and amusing way. And this may very well be part of what saves the film, because had the acting been terrible, and since there's so much dialogue compared to the alien monster action, this could have been a real chore to sit through.


Ultimately I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I finally got to see it, but it didn't blow me away. I was impressed and wowed sporadically with the effects work and Douglas McKeown's solid direction on a minimal budget, but the endless conversations that lead nowhere and tiresome dialogue constantly left me looking at the clock, which is never a good thing.

The Synapse Films 2004 Special Edition:

In 2004 Synapse Films released a Special Edition DVD and Blu Ray with a newly remastered transfer taken from the original 16mm camera negatives and a host of extra features. This is the version I saw, with the transfer, considering it was shot in an 1.33:1 aspect ratio on 16mm film, looking the best you're going to get. Meaning it's better than any of the previous VHS presentations. I wasn't expecting a miraculous digital transfer, because that's not the kind of film this is and it's not how it was made, but given the materials they had to work with, it's solid. You may have to crank up the sound significantly, which is what I had to do, to hear it very well as the audio isn't all that great, but in doing so you do get to enjoy the killer synth score courtesy of Paul Cornell, Michael Perilstein and Ken Walker. Which reminds me. I really need to track this soundtrack down.


SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:
– New, Digitally Mastered Windowboxed Transfer in the Original Filmed Aspect Ratio of 1.33:1
– Two Audio Commentaries
– Extensive Still Galleries of Behind-the-Scenes Photos, Make-Up Effects, and the Premiere in New York City
– A Comic-Style Prequel with Its Own Musical Score
– Original Theatrical Trailer
– Alternate Opening Sequence with New Effects and Credits
– Animated Menus
– Outtake Reel
– Cast and Crew Biographies
REGION: 1
Running Time: 80 Minutes
NTSC – Full-Frame[1.33:1]
RATED R
1983
I have to tell you though. You really have to be a big fan of this film to enjoy the extras on this release. While I enjoy and admire special effects master Jon Dod's impressive work in this, as a person, the guy is annoying as hell when you see him in behind-the-scenes footage and interviews. But hey, that's just my opinion. The guy is clearly a talented beast, and that's really what we should be focused on. If you do enjoy the film, then this release is a definite buy.

Ultimately I think I was hoping for something along the lines of The Brain, an enjoyably bad cheesy low-budget horror film from the 80's that also boasts a large alien creature, just like this one.  But this ended up not being bad at all, or cheesy for that matter. It was actually quite a competent film overall, with great effects and better than expected acting. It was just too dull for it's own good, and didn't deliver enough of the alien action you expect going in. At least with The Brain, it was hilariously dated, cheesy, and unintentionally hilarious often enough to make it fun, especially with a group, which is what I was really hoping for with this one. In a completely weird way, this one fails because it's almost too well made, and not bad enough, if that makes any sense.