[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 7 – Q: The Winged Serpent (1982)

Director: Larry Cohen

Cast: Michael Moriarty, Candy Clark, David Carradine, Richard Roundtree

Screenplay: Larry Cohen

93 mins. Rated R.

 

Larry Cohen (Original Gangstas, As Good as Dead) is not talked about enough, and he’s a filmmaker that should be on the level of a Roger Corman. For decades, Cohen rocked out many low-budget horror films and genre pictures, and he unfortunately passed away this year. Today, I thought we would discuss Q: The Winged Serpent, Cohen’s response to Godzilla and kaiju films.

There’s something big killing people in New York City, and police have been receiving reports of a big flying lizard. As detectives Shepard (David Carradine, Kill Bill vol. 2, Bound for Glory) and Powell (Richard Roundtree, Shaft, TV’s Being Mary Jane) search the streets and skies for the killer, loser crook Jimmy Quinn (Michael Moriarty, The Yellow Wallpaper, TV’s Law & Order) believes he can help…for a price.

Gosh, I really wanted to love Q. I didn’t love it. I thought it was okay, very cheesy but mostly in a good way, but the film just plain isn’t that good. It’s biggest problem is that I don’t like anyone in the movie, and no one in the film is interesting enough for me as an audience member to attach myself to. Hell, I was more attached to Q, the creature, than to anyone else in the movie.

I’ve never seen Michael Moriarty play a character quite like Jimmy Quinn. His performance is great but he’s in a movie where he seemingly is the lead and I couldn’t stand him. Jimmy Quinn is so damned unlikable that most of the scenes he was in just stalled the movie out. I was more into the performances and chemistry between Carradine and Roundtree, but they didn’t get much time to shine.

The creature is pretty cheesy but it mostly works. It fits the tone that Cohen is trying to craft. I would argue it is more fun to see this type of old-school creature design than a CG monster-fest, but this is who Larry Cohen is. This is the type of film he excels at. It’s what he’s good at. It just doesn’t work as well as other Cohen films have.

Q: The Winged Serpent is a less-than-stellar monster movie. It’s too bad because the problems with the film could’ve been easily avoided if the characters were either more likable or more interesting. Quinn is not enjoyable to focus on, and we don’t get enough time with any of the other characters that could’ve been more fun to follow. There are better Cohen films, and I feel like hardcore Cohen fans could find a lot more to love than the average movie viewers.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Star Trek Day] Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Director: Nicholas Meyer

Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Bibi Besch, Paul Winfield, Kirstie Alley, Ricardo Montalban, Merritt Butrick

Screenplay: Jack B. Sowards

113 mins. Rated PG for violence and language.

 

I won’t begin to act like I’m a genius when it comes to Star Trek. I got into the movies in high school and the show a bit more during my college experience, but I’m no expert, but I recently heard that September 8th is considered Star Trek Day (the first episode aired on 9/8/1966), so I figured we would talk about what is considered by many to be the best of the Star Trek films, The Wrath of Khan.

It’s been fifteen years since the crew of the starship Enterprise marooned the treacherous Khan Noonien Singh (Ricardo Montalban, Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over, The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!) on Ceti Alpha V after Khan attempted and failed at taking the ship, and now, the crew of the starship Reliant have been taken captive as Khan seeks vengeance upon the Enterprise and especially its former captain, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner, Aliens Ate My Homework, Batman vs. Two-Face). Khan blames Kirk for the death of his wife. As Khan sets his trap into place, the Admiral takes control of the Enterprise once again and sets off to answer a distress call, unaware that he is about to enter a situation he has never faced with a foe he never expected to see again.

The Wrath of Khan is, to my knowledge, the first time a film in any series was made as a direct sequel to a television episode, and the first time I watched it, I had never seen Space Seed, the episode in which we are first introduced to Khan, and I would guess a great many casual fans would not know that Khan has been there before, which is a testament to director Nicholas Meyer (Vendetta, Company Business) and screenwriter Jack B. Sowards (Desperate Women, Cry Panic) in crafting a standalone story that is also enhanced by the show which came before it and the film which preceded it. It’s a captivating screenplay and story that tackles the task of saving a franchise and shepherding it into the future without forgetting the past.

This sequel also excels at the most important element in the difference between television series and movies. When you have a weekly series, especially one as episodic as Star Trek, you have your team and they go on an adventure, but by the end of the episode, most everything has turned out okay. Now, this is not always the case, but most of the time, in these procedural shows, it is. In the case of Star Trek, though, and transitioning from television to film, there’s a bigger budget, there needs to be a bigger scope, or audiences are going to question why they are dropping serious money to see something on the big screen that they should be able to see at home. So spectacle is key, something that Wrath of Khan handles quite well. The other notable change for the series is now that you have an event series with only one story every year or two, you need that story to be very important. It needs to be something that forever alters the story, and by the end of Wrath of Khan, this story has had an effect on the Enterprise and its crew.

I need to give specifically high marks to Leonard Nimoy (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Adventures in Zambezia) as Spock, James Doohan (Skinwalker: Curse of the Shaman, The Duke) as Scotty, and Kirstie Alley (Drop Dead Gorgeous, Look Who’s Talking) as Saavik, a new recurring character in the franchise. Everyone is quite solid in the film, especially these three. Add their work to Montalban’s scene-chewing performance and you have a good recipe for excitement. I even have to say that Shatner’s work as Kirk is great here too. He doesn’t do anything really different here but he has just honed his character over his time in Star Trek to the point where he just captivates the screen.

Overall, The Wrath of Khan is a great entry point for anyone looking to get into Star Trek but finds the daunting task of three live-action seasons, two animated seasons, and a not-so-great first film. It’s filled with dazzling characters, real tension, and stunning visuals. This is a Trek film for people that don’t normally call themselves Trekkies. Seek this one out. Happy Star Trek Day!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Robert Wise’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture, click here.

[Happy 35th Birthday!] Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Director: Amy Heckerling

Cast: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Brian Backer, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston

Screenplay: Cameron Crowe

90 mins. Rated R.

 

Fast Times at Ridgemont High had an interesting genesis. Screenwriter Cameron Crowe (TV’s Roadies, Almost Famous) actually went undercover at a high school for some time and fictionalized a book out of it. He later adapted that book to be the film we are discussing today. It goes further than that, too. There’s even a Fast Times television series that I’m trying to get my hands on for my own twisted curiosity. The show is apparently terrible but I have my reasons…

Fast Times at Ridgemont High is one of the earliest slice-of-life films in the high school setting, or at least one of the most well-known and reputable ones. There are several characters intersecting at its core, most memorably Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn, Mystic River, The Angry Birds Movie), a stoner who finds himself at odds with teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston, TV’s My Favorite Martian, The Sting), who expects the highest respect from his students. Then there’s the Hamiltons, brother Brad (Judge Reinhold, Beverly Hills Cop, Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts) and sister Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight, Morgan). Brad is about to finish his high school career as a blip and he just can’t seem to get a win. Stacy is exploring her sexuality with anyone she comes across but can’t seem to understand the different between sex and love. She is pined for by Mark “Rat” Ratner (Brian Backer, The Burning, Loser) who gets all his romantic advice from the slimy Mark Damone (Robert Romanus, The Runaways, American Pie presents The Book of Love) who may just be getting a kick out of watching Rat fail.

Fast Times is an engaging and funny take on high school relationships of all kinds, and director Amy Heckerling (Look Who’s Talking, Vamps) spends equal time developing strong characters and seemingly important moments in the fleeting high school experience.

The strongest and most enjoyable performance is Sean Penn’s Spicoli. Penn is virtually unrecognizable in his portrayal of the over-the-top stoner but there is an energy to his performance that made me remember all the people I knew in my adolescence that were Spicolis in their own way. He isn’t out of place, but he is the epitome of all the youths who didn’t think out their plans after high school, the ones that stayed in the moment, in the now, for better or worse.

Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Stacy Hamilton is another relatable character in that, in high school, everyone was looking to get laid as a personal status symbol. It’s weird to think of it that way but so many do, and this conceit seems to feed into itself as more high school comedies surfaced over the years. In her comparisons with friend Linda (Phoebe Cates, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Drop Dead Fred), Stacy is seen in a sad light, rarely rising to the level of self-acceptance she so wants.

If there’s a faulty character in the bunch, it’s Brad, who shares a number of great moments in the film (and yes, I’m including the scene with Phoebe Cates Moving in Stereo), but overall, his character just doesn’t really go anywhere. I feel like I get what the attempt was, but it wasn’t entirely successful.

Thankfully, the strong writing of Cameron Crowe really impacts this film and peppers quotable and memorable moments throughout that have allowed Fast Times to endure the test of time. I feel like this is a film about high school that stays with you long after high school, and it also feels accessible even for youths that didn’t grow up in the era of its release. It’s a film that feels good to watch, and it’s one that says that yes, we’ve all been there. It has fun with its loose premise and is completely re-watchable. If you haven’t seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High, now is the time to give it a go.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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[31 Days of Horror 3] Day 31 – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

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Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy

Screenplay: Tommy Lee Wallace

98 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here we are again, at the end of it all. I had another great season, and I hope you did too.

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So today, we will look back on, arguably, the strangest Halloween entry, Halloween III: Season of the Witch. As you may be aware, this is the only film in the series to not feature Michael Myers, and the story behind the film is incredibly interesting and perhaps too ahead of its time.

Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins, Lethal Weapon, Drive Angry) takes an interest in the mystery surrounding his newest patient, Harry Grimbridge, a local shop owner who was attacked and left for dead. After meeting and sexing Harry’s 20-something daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin, Bullets Over Broadway, Everything’s Relative), who joins him on his quest, Dan discovers that the attack is linked to Santa Mira, California and Silver Shamrock Novelties, owned by the very rich and unusual Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy, RoboCop, Fail-Safe). As he digs deeper into the odd happenings of Santa Mira, Dan and Ellie discover that the link between Harry’s attack and the Silver Shamrock Halloween masks that are sweeping the nation.

Now, let’s discuss the story behind the story. So John Carpenter and Debra Hill had just finished Halloween II, and they had no interest in continuing the story. From their point of view, the story was done. But when pressured by Universal Studios, they came up with a rather interesting idea: make Halloween an anthology series with a new installment each year centered around the holiday but telling a different story. They brought in Tommy Lee Wallace and crafted Halloween III: Season of the Witch. When the film was released, it was panned because everyone went to the theater expecting to see Michael Myers. It was upsetting for fans of the slasher, and the film’s poor reception put the Halloween franchise on hold for six years.

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So is Halloween III really that bad? Not terrible, but it has some problems. A convoluted plot, masked in confusion and the occasional scare, but it relies more on the eerie presence that the setting conveys. I enjoy the film a lot more after knowing the intention behind the film, but it is the dark horse of the Halloween franchise, though not its worst installment. Atkins is a fine lead and O’Herlihy a menacing villain. As it stands, there are multiple underdeveloped plot points and an ending which borders on the silly, but fans of horror anthologies will enjoy the possibility of what might have been. Worth a look.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 30 – The Thing (1982)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David

Screenplay: Bill Lancaster

109 mins. Rated R for adult situations/language and violence.

IMDb Top 250: #164 (as of 03/04/2016)

 

Last year, I discussed remakes that add something new and become better than the original. The Fly came up, and I was also thinking about The Thing, a 1982 remake from director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward).

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At a remote Antarctic research station, a creature has been discovered; an alien creature from another world is terrorizing several Americans with its ability to mimic their look perfectly. As paranoia sets in, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell, Grindhouse, Furious 7) has decided that the Thing needs to be stopped before the rescue party arrives and It gets out of Antarctica.

The Thing is one of my absolute favorite films. John Carpenter’s emphasis on practical effects by using effects master Rob Bottin is shockingly elegant and horrifying.

Kurt Russell leads an all-star cast of individuals, each able to perfectly exemplify frightened man lashing out at an almost unwinnable situation. He is aided by some terrific work from Wilford Brimley (Cocoon, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) as the unhinged Dr. Blair and Keith David (TV’s Community, Platoon) as the anger-filled Childs.

Carpenter understands what needs to be said in his film. His usage of themes like paranoia, isolation, and violence explode in this colorful and scary presentation of people without the proper resources to handle a situation.

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Seriously, there isn’t enough praise for this perfect piece of horror cinema. As far as the prequel goes, I would avoid it if you haven’t seen the original. Check out 1982’s The Thing. I know you’ll love it.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 7 [Bottom 100 Wednesday] – #99: Oasis of the Zombies (1982)

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Director: Jesus Franco

Cast: Manuel Gelin, Eduardo Fajardo, France Lomay

Screenplay: Jesus Franco

82 mins. Not Rated.

IMDb Bottom 100: #99 (as of 10/7/2015)

 

In the spirit of horror and one man’s journey to find the perfect film, sometimes one must sift through the shit to find the treasure, and in that way, we begin a new series today where I scour the worst 100 films of all time (according to the Internet Movie Database) to see if they really are the bottom of the bottom. We begin with #99 on the list in this 31 Days of Horror: Oasis of the Zombies.

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It’s tough to even tack down the plot of this garbage pile, but I’ll try. When a young man learns of his father’s murder, he sets off to find hidden Nazi gold that was lost decades earlier during World War II in the African desert. There’s only one catch, others are looking for the gold and they all discover that it is being guarded by the living dead Nazis themselves.

Generally, speaking, I’m going to make this review quicker by talking about the films high points.

There, now that’s settled, and we can talk about low points. The performances suck, the writing is sloppy, and the direction is so foul that I can get lost from shot to shot as to what the hell is exactly going on. The film hasn’t aged well as evidenced by the poor visual representation, and it feels like whole subplots were omitted mid-shoot. I found myself unable to care about any of the leads, and the music ruined every semblance of enjoyment I might have gleaned.

Oasis of the Zombies is, to be clear, awful in just about every way. I cannot be more clear about this.

 

But is it Good?

No, no it isn’t. Fun is Birdemic: Shock and Terror. Oasis of the Zombies is too poorly put together to be enjoyable in the slightest.

Can it be Fun?

There are a couple ways to liven up the party. First, a standard drinking game. Drink every time someone says “Oasis” (please drink responsibly). Another fun way: the film is foreign-language. Turn down the volume and get funky by creating your own dialogue. It could help.

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Oasis of the Zombies absolutely belongs on the list of the worst films of all time. It really really does.

 

1/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

[Oscar Madness] Poltergeist (1982)

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Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Beatrice Straight, Heather O’Rourke

Screenplay: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor

114 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Music, Original Score

 

Poltergeist is an interesting film. It is equal parts comedic and utterly chilling, and not without an ounce of controversy.

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From director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Mortuary) comes Poltergeist, a tale of the Freelings: Diane (JoBeth Williams, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Big Year) and Steve (Craig T. Nelson, TV’s Parenthood, The Incredibles). Their new home has been having some issues…issues like a living tree and clown doll trying to kidnap their son,  a closet that warps daughter Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) into some purgatorial dimension, and chairs that slide across the floor. You know, normal new house problems. When Carol Anne is lost somewhere in the house, the Freelings must join together with paranormal researchers to save the young girl.

JoBeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson command their roles with precision and chemistry as the chief parental units. In fact, the relationships of the entire Freeling clan are what holds this family and the entire film together. If you don’t feel for the family, you don’t feel for the film, and thankfully, this family works. Director Hooper commands a completely different tone for this film than previous efforts like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Eaten Alive, the tone being more alike Spielberg’s other 1982 work with E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but more on that later…

What makes this film a classic is the practical effects. Some of them are still realistically well put together over 30 years later. A few of them are still horrifying, like the mirror dream sequence and the actual skeletons in the pool (seriously, they were real skeletons). All in all, the film is still really shocking, especially for a PG film (the PG-13 didn’t really exist at the time).

So, there was some controversy about who the real director was: Hooper or writer Steven Spielberg (A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Close Encounters of the Third Kind)? Tonally, it looks to be Spielberg, but reports have surfaced that could go either way. Spielberg does seem like a backseat director to me, but I’m thinking Hooper myself.

Finally, let’s discuss the Curse. This film has often been considered to contain a curse much like the one that the Freelings are attached to (perhaps because of the real skeletons used during filming). Actress Dominique Dunne, who played Dana Freeling, was killed by a former boyfriend in 1982 after filming completed. Then, Heather O’Rourke, who played Carol Anne, died in 1988 after surgery to repair a bowel obstruction at the age of 12. She was filming Poltergeist III at the time.

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Poltergeist, a movie with history, permanently engrained in history. While the film does run on a bit longer than it needs, and featuring one too many paranormal investigators, but still a strong horror classic. Check it out, if you haven’t already. There is a reboot/remake on the way.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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