Need a reason to go to LTUE? Here’s one:
(Hmm… I don’t think of myself as a “horror author” so much as an “author who write a lot of horror,” but I think it’s only a distinction in my own mind…)
Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998) – Despite writer-director Don Coscarelli commenting at the end of the shoot for Phantasm III that he really had no more ideas for the series, this sequel came only four years after the last one (the shortest gap between installments in the series). Of course, that’s enough time for the child actor who played the precocious-and-annoying child warrior in the last movie to age out of his part, so we’ll let the smash-grab of him at the end of Phantasm III pull him right out of everybody’s memories and pretend he never existed, okay?
The budget for Phantasm IV was roughly $650,000, a definite step backwards for any installment since the beginning ($300,000 for the original, $3,000,000 for II, $2,500,000 for III), and it shows; this is a very spare movie, with only six characters listed in the closing crawl. At least there’s more of Mike in this one — instead of being catatonic or imprisoned for most of the movie like the last one, he’s dragged by the Tall Man to Death Valley for a series of surreal encounters, including clues as to the origin of the Tall Man as a 19th century mortician who invented a steampunked version of the “dimensional forks,” crossed over, and came back… changed.
Meanwhile, Reggie tries to follow Mike’s path, supplying the requisite scenes of action and cock-blocking by the spheres. (Reggie really needs to realize that his libido comes with a body count.)
There’s some expansion of the dimly seen Phantasm mythos here, but I recognize in the scriptwriting a failing I see too often in my own writing: treading water. Many things happen, and most of them are interesting things, but they largely fail to move the story along — in fact, they’re not meant to move the story along, because Coscarelli didn’t know where to go. Only in the last ten minutes is there real momentum, and the final scene — the first one in the series so far that doesn’t have someone being smash-grabbed through a window — is a cliffhanger with Reggie following the Tall Man through his dimensional forks to wherever he comes from, leaving Mike dying in Death Valley…
And that’s where things stood, for eighteen years.
Phantasm: Ravager (2016) – The foundational decision to make this final sequel (extra-final because of the death of Angus Scrimm between production and release) a movie completely about Reggie, told almost exclusively from Reggie’s viewpoint, meant that there’s no way that the promise of Phantasm IV‘s cliffhanger ending could ever be fulfilled. Instead, drawing inspiration from such throwaway lines such as the Tall Man’s taunt from Phantasm IV, “Ice Cream Man, it’s all in his head,” this movie gives us a Reggie trying to follow and fight the Tall Man, while being increasingly unsure that he knows what reality is anymore.
The first half of the movie is largely composed of footage originally meant for an aborted Phantasm webseries, with Reggie inexplicably back from wherever he jumped to at the end of Phantasm IV, regaining his ‘Cuda in the desert, being chased by silver spheres, and — naturally getting involved with a cute female driver when her car breaks down spectacularly. (See previous comments about Reggie’s libido’s body count.) But after following that storyline far enough that it seems like we’re actually getting somewhere —
— we’re suddenly with a grayer, creakier Reggie (meaning they washed the Grecian Formula out of his hair) in a wheelchair in a rest home, while Michael (at 52, no longer a “Booooyyy”) gently explaining that he’s been diagnosed with dementia.
Reggie keeps flipping back and forth between those two realities, plus one more in which his been in a brain-draining dimensional fork contraption for the missing eighteen years, awakening into a world in which Michael leads a handful of resistance fighters against the Tall Man’s forces, which have taken over and transformed our world.
Oh, the Tall Man. Angus Scrimm didn’t look particularly unhealthy here — certainly not for being almost ninety years old — but he sure didn’t look like himself. Even just comparing his face in 1998 with his appearance here…
…well, the last glimpse we get of the Tall Man is almost cuddly.
Being an independent genre movie made in the 2010s, Ravager is awash with CG effects — huge city-leveling spheres sometimes fill the sky, an army of Tall Men waits in a Matrix-like white nowhere, the three realities which Reggie hops between bleed into each other — but it somehow all feels impoverished. And maybe that’s because, just like Phantasm IV (and, to a lesser degree, Phantasm III), the screenplay’s coyness with answering any of the franchise’s enduring questions means that we play keepaway with resolution right to the closing credits… and beyond.
Ultimately unsatisfying, but for those of us who’ve been following the franchise for decades, I guess we’ll take what we can get.
High Plains Invaders (2009) – It was inevitable: A SyFy Channel Original, shot at the standing western town set at Castel Film in Romania (which grew out of Charles Band’s Bucharest-based Full Moon productions in the ’90s). It’s a multi-generational B-movie cross-pollination!
But is it any good? Well, there’s an upper limit to how good one of these SyFy Originals can be:throw cheap CGI effects together with a script that combines easy characterization and mind-atrophying bad science, and you’ve pretty much got a feature for Friday night. There were a few glimmers of quality early on, but by the end it had pretty much outworn its welcome — again, like most of its ilk.
Exciting news! I’ve (finally) arranged things so that you can order your favorites of the “B-Movies That Never Were” (I need to come up with a catchy catch-all brand name for them) directly from this website, with print-on-demand order fulfillment from ThePrintful.com. That means that even if you can’t come see me at local events like Life, the Universe and Everything or Salt Lake Comic Con FanX, you can still get your hands on things like Nazi Sharks:
…or Rage of the Were Piranha:
…or any of the other bogus B-movie posters, with more coming.
Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994) – My love affair with Phantasm II has been well documented, so I won’t rehash that here. This installment, released six years after the last one, brings back original actor A. Michael Baldwin as Mike (after having been replaced by James Le Gros in Phantasm II), then promptly relegates him to second banana behind Reggie (Reggie Bannister). There’s a feeling here that writer/director Don Coscarelli had a basket in his office labelled “Phantasm Ideas” into which he threw jotted scenes and plot threads until it was full enough to be pasted together into a screenplay — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, given the intentional dreamlike vibe of this entire series; one can’t be dreamlike without being a little illogical. Phantasm III doesn’t hit the same threshold of awesome as Phantasm II — largely because of the inclusion of the hated “precocious kid who can outwit professional thugs” trope — but there’s definitely some meatiness here, as well as a growing sense of a full mythology that is only dimly seen by anyone, Coscarelli included.
Finding Dory (2016) – My reaction to all of the recent Pixar sequels is similar: “Good, but unnecessary.” So it is here. Aside from the fact that the fish with an Etch-a-Sketch memory (and who speaks whale) was one of the clever and memorable parts of Finding Nemo, did we really need to focus an entire movie around what shold really stay a supporting character? I mean, granted, it was better than Minions, but still…
1776 (1972) – A musical about the few weeks leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Sure! Written in the ’70s? NO! That was not the decade to create ANYTHING that could be taken seriously by future generations (at least until 1977). Which is too bad, because it’s great material — the script is best when it simply uses the actual words of the cutting wits assembled in the Continental Congress — and William Daniels (of St. Elsewhere and Boy Meets World and the voice of KITT on Knight Rider) is probably the best person ever to cast as the acerbic and ill-liked John Adams… but absolutely forgettable songs simply doom this to obscurity or, at best, a mediocre novelty.
The Jungle Book (2016) – As is the Disney M.O. these days, this version of The Jungle Book is a live-action remake of their own 1967 animated feature, which was only only very loosely based on a 25-words-or-less summary of the Rudyard Kipling book. In other words, as far as this 2016 version is concerned, the 1967 version is “the original.” Thus, we have a Bill Murray-voiced Baloo singing “The Bare Necessities,” and a lengthy segment with King Louie (Christopher Walken, letting that Queens accent out and about). I think that Neel Sethi as Mowgli should win an Academy Award for managing to maintain a performance as practically the only live-action element in a sea of greenscreens.
How fortunate that Mowgli is not only a mancub, but one blessed with a genius level of engineering talent. Given the contraptions he was able to MacGyver out of vines and sticks, he could probably have turned the Coke bottle from The Gods Must Be Crazy into a drone-mounted deathray.
I think it’s irresponsible verging on criminal the way that Hollywood blithely features fires — house fires, or in this case forest fires — and completely ignores the effects of smoke. Ain’t no way that Mowgli and Shere Khan could have their half-mile steeplechase through the treetops above a raging ground-level inferno and neither even cough, much less curl into a teary, chocking ball and plummet to the ground.
The main difference in this version — spoilers! — is that Mowgli decides in the end, and is afforded the right, to stay in the jungle. You can see how much the world has changed since 1967; the original, from a very establishment-friendly company, resolved the story with the idea that there are things you’re supposed to do or be based on immutable biological factors, and the sooner you realize that there is something you’re supposed to be and make peace with it, the happier you’ll be. The 2016 version, on the other hand, effectively says that it’s okay that Mowgli, human raised by wolves, ultimately decides to “identify” as a wolf (or at least a jungle-dwelling critter) and have everyone treat him as one.
Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) – I always meant to get around to seeing this; I’ve watched it now because of an ultimatum — a “watch this within 30 days or we can’t be friends” ultimatum. (Are you happy now, Jane?)
Most of the awesome comes directly from the premise (from a story by Joe Lansdale): Elvis (the mighty Bruce Campbell), who switched lives with an Elvis impersonator in the early ’70s and now lies in a Texas rest home with a broken hip and an infected mantackle, teams up with an elderly black man who swears that he’s JFK dyed dark by a nefarious LBJ to fight a cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing mummy who’s sucking the souls out of the rest home’s other clients.
Honestly, you’d have to go out of your way to screw up the appeal of that premise, and writer-director Don Coscarelli doesn’t; he mostly just plays it straight and lets the premise unfold to its inevitable conclusion. There aren’t really any surprises beyond what you could extrapolate from the paragraph above, but who needs surprises at that point? (I could have done without quiiiite so much introspection on Elvis’ part regarding the state of his junk, but…)
Phantasm (1979) – Speaking of Don Coscarelli! In preparation for watching Phantasm: Ravager, the fifth and final (definitely, because Angus Scrimm died earlier this year) installment released recently in the decades-long franchise, I’m rewatching the earlier four movies in fairly quick succession.
I hadn’t seen the original movie in almost thirty years; all I could really remember was that, having seen Phantasm II first, I was very disappointed that the first one was a very different beast: moody, meandering to the point of almost being plotless, ’70s-flavored, and understated, entirely unlike the existential road trip that comprises the sequel. I’m not as disappointed with it as I was that first time, but I’m certainly not devoted to it; the best thing about the original Phantasm, I think, is that it spurred the creation of the superior sequels.
Ta-dah! I’m behind on uploading these to the print-on-demand services that can give you a physical copy, but at least you know it exists!
As has been my habit for the last several presidential elections, I made two graphics in reaction to the two possible outcomes of the election, only one of which ever sees the light of day. (Actually, in 2008, I only set about to make the graphics on Election Night itself, and victory was announced for Obama so quickly that I never got as far as making the alternative graphic for McCain.) I would have posted the appropriate graphic last night, but the election was still undecided when I was ready to go to bed, and I didn’t have enough emotional investment in either candidate to keep me awake.
With that preamble, my official comment on the election:
Movies Seen Recently: Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United, Event Horizon, I Am Not a Serial Killer
Iron Man and Captain America: Heroes United (2014) – I haven’t seen many of Marvel’s recent direct-to-video animated features, so I can’t say how this compares. I will say that the comic-influenced CGI in which it was produced is probably the best medium for a non-live-action, non-$200-million-blockbuster superhero movie — all of the exaggerations of motion and color that are comics’ hallmarks can be preserved, but lips can actually articulate words.
This story is set in a pseudo-version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, at least as character design is concerned. Iron Man’s voice sounds too snappy and Spider-Mannish for me, but apparently Adrian Pasdar has voice-acted Iron Man in roughly a bazillion animated things, so he IS the animated Iron Man.
Oh, story? The Taskmaster and the Red Skull team up to take out Iron Man and Captain America. Fights ensue, and ensue, and ensue. It’s very much like a special one-shot team-up comic, in a not entirely good way.
Event Horizon (1997) – The original Space Eldritch! A rescue mission of talented actors explores a spaceship that disappeared and was thought lost years ago in an experiment with the first hyperspace drive; unfortunately, “hyperspace” is another word for “Hell,” and it came back infected by Lovecraftian ickiness.
A lot of nifty ideas here and spooky images, but not what I would call a good script — from the perfunctory “ticking clock” plot mechanism, to inconsistent character development, to…
All in all, it’s a pretty-good-but-inferior version of the story Howard Tayler did for the first Space Eldritch anthology.
I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016) – I went into this movie wanting to like it. I enjoyed Dan Wells’ novel on which it is based, and I enjoy Dan Wells himself, in a totally socially acceptable, non-creepy way. That said, I think his book suffers unavoidably in its translation to the screen, both in terms of loss of the internal monologue of the first-person narration, and in terms of the necessary jettisonning of story material which, unfortunately, matters.
In fact, the title is rendered almost irrelevant, because protagonist John Cleaver’s constant dread — that his diagnosed sociopathic tendencies will blossom into full-on murderous habits — gets downgraded to a minor subplot. In the novel, John’s investigation of his small town’s sudden spate of mysterious murders (with him, as the self-taught serial killer expert, being the only one with a chance of figuring out what’s going on) forces him to bend or break the “rules” that he has set up to keep his behavior within acceptable limits; as he gets closer to identifying and stopping the monster, he gets closer to becoming a monster himself. I challenge anyone seeing this movie without having read the book first to find that as an overriding theme in the movie.
I saw the movie with a grown son who had not read the novel, and he was completely lost in the plot, having interpreted the growing fantastic elements as evidence that John Cleaver was in fact going crazy and committing all the murders himself; we who had read the novel had to explain to him afterward what he had missed, which really wasn’t his fault because what he had missed was what the movie had forgotten to tell him.
(And then there are all of the director’s choices to make the movie “indie” — not just lower-budgeted, but self-consciously non-Hollywood, with handheld shots galore and meandering editing and deliberately “quirky” music choices. Spare me.)
At best, I think the movie will end up being popular only with those who have already read and loved the book, which is not really what translating a work from one medium to another is really about.