[Stephen King Day] The Mangler (1995)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Robert Englund, Ted Levine, Daniel Matmor

Screenplay: Tobe Hooper, Stephen David Brooks, Harry Alan Towers

106 mins. Rated R for gory horror violence and language.

 

I always had a fondness for the adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mangler, a strange film about a possessed laundry-folding machine, so I took a chance to revisit the film this year in honor of Stephen King’s birthday. In hindsight, I wish I had kept this one buried in my memory.

The laundry press at Gartley’s Blue Ribbon Laundry service has been acting funky. First of all, a woman named Sherry, niece to owner Bill Gartley (Robert Englund, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell), cuts her finger on a lever, and later that same day, the machine goes haywire and traps Mrs. Frawley, an older worker, in its safety shield, dragging her through the machine, crushing her body in the process. John Hunton (Ted Levine, The Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) and his brother-in-law Mark (Daniel Matmor, Hit It, A Dark Truth) are on the case, investigating the accident, but what they discover is more horrifying than any normal work-related problem. The laundry press is possessed by a demon, and it’s out for more blood.

The Mangler is not a good movie, and at 106 minutes, it’s quite a slog of a movie. This was one difficult sit-through that I did not remember or expect. I recall more recently reading the short story from King, and the added mythology and plot in this adaptation don’t add much of merit to the film. In fact, having really liked King’s story, which, like so many, offered an EC comics or Twilight Zone-style to them, would have made a great movie in the right hands, but it seems now that Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) was not the right person for this job. There’s so many strange changes made to the story that benefit neither the adaptation nor the overall feeling and tone of the movie.

Robert Englund is horribly miscast, appearing almost like a version of Freddy Krueger that had survived to old age. He brings a nose-twisting grossness and annoyance to Gartley, but then you have Levine, who struggles with some of the more cringe-worthy dialogue here (he starts swearing at a possessed ice box as one point in an absurdly laughable moment taking itself too seriously).

There are several times in the film that something interesting comes up, and it almost seems that Hooper is righting the ship, only for it to devolve into a wholly unlikable mess. I really liked the setting mostly being placed at the Blue Ribbon Laundry, and I think the setting is hyper-unclean in a way that I would have been able to believe. I really like the production design and the overall look of the laundry press. I even kind of the dug the finale, though it has aged very poorly, but even after all that, the film sort of limbers on past the point of my minor enjoyment.

The Mangler was advertised as the product of King, Hooper, and Englund, three horror geniuses, but I doubt anyone involved in this film would have been happy to have their name associated in such a way, especially King, who wrote a solid if somewhat absurd short story but had no hand in the film. This is one of those adaptations I would caution even King fans to shy away from. You have better things to be doing…like the laundry, for example.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 28 – Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Director: Alexander Witt

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Jared Harris, Mike Epps

Screenplay: Paul W.S. Anderson

94 mins. Rated R for non-stop violence, language and some nudity.

 

The Resident Evil games are beloved the world over. The movies, not so much. Especially the second film in the series, Apocalypse, which I feel gets a lot of negative attention. I just recently revisited the sequel, and I have a hot take: it’s the best one in the series.

Raccoon City is overrun with the undead. S.T.A.R.S. member Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory, Love Actually, TV’s Fortitude) attempts to find a way out of the city, and she comes across Alice (Milla Jovovich, The Fifth Element, Zoolander 2), last survivor of the Hive, a hidden facility owned and operated by the Umbrella Corporation, the company responsible for the T-Virus which is reanimating the dead. Together, they join Carlos Olivera (Oded Fehr, The Mummy Returns, Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants) and others in an attempt to rescue the daughter of Umbrella researcher Dr. Charles Ashford (Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, TV’s The Terror), who claims he can get them out of the city before the Umbrella Corporation puts their quarantine into place.

Apocalypse looks very cheap. That’s the major criticism of the first two films in this series. They just feel very cheap at times. The aging CG has not helped. They’ve become akin to Syfy Original Movies in a lot of ways. The acting from a lot of the supporting cast isn’t up to par here. There’s also the necessity to fall back on video game references that lingers throughout the entire franchise. That being said, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is probably the closest to the feeling of the games that I’ve gotten without forcing it.

First of all, this one takes place during the time frame of the games. Whereas the first film was planned as kind of a prequel to the games and the third film onward kind of forge their own path, Apocalypse is in the meat of the games. Utilizing what I think is the best creature/villain of the franchise in Nemesis helps here, and taking the well-received lickers and zombie dogs from the first film really add to the enjoyment of the film. Apocalypse feels like a Resident Evil game.

There’s also some nice marketing that works as an in-film meta short commercial for an Umbrella product called Regenerate. The commercial was helmed by Marcus Nispel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th fame. Watching the trailer all these years later still brings me back to the joy I felt in the theater watching it for the first time.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a B-horror movie, but it knows that it is. Much in the same way as The Fast and the Furious franchise, Apocalypse has learned not to take itself overly serious. The goal here is to have fun, just like the video games intend. Jovovich and Guillory are standouts here along with the incredible creature design for Nemesis. This is a simpler film in the franchise that expands the mythology to make way for the crazier shit we’ll see in future installments. I had so much fun watching this again, and I hope you do too.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 21 – Eaten Alive (1977)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: Neville Brand, Mel Ferrer, Carolyn Jones, Marilyn Burns

Screenplay: Alvin L. Fast, Mohammed Rustam, Kim Henkel

91 mins. Rated R.

 

I remember catching a television cut of Eaten Alive almost a decade ago. I recall thinking, “Oh, it’s a movie about a guy that kills naked people and feeds them to a croc. So Texas Chainsaw with a croc.” Yes, Kyle from a decade back, exactly.

Judd (Neville Brand, Stalag17, Tora! Tora! Tora!) runs the Starlight Hotel in Texas. He caters to the lowest-common-denominator of guests. He’s also a killer. He prefers a scythe and loves to feed his victims to his crocodile. But when Harvey Wood (Mel Ferrer, Lili, War and Peace), the father of one of Judd’s victims, comes calling with his other daughter and the assistance of the local police, Judd’s backed into a corner, and he’s forced to protect himself in any way possible.

Golly, Eaten Alive is just downright bad. It really is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with a croc standing in for the chainsaw. And also so much worse. The film looks cheap and dated, it hasn’t been kept up in the decades since its release, and it sloppily put together. Director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) does nothing here with the style he is known for. This is video nasty grindhouse at its most cringeworthy.

The screenplay is very repetitive and doesn’t allow for any character development from the potential victims and/or Judd himself, who is insane for the sake of avoiding creating a compelling arc. None of the performances are much, but I do have a respect for Robert Englund’s work here. He isn’t likable nor interesting but he surely is memorable.

I want to explain the magic of this movie and how it could be good, but it just isn’t. For your time and money, stick to TCM, or better yet, check out Hooper’s amazing collaboration with John Carpenter on Body Bags. Eaten Alive is trash.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter’s Body Bags, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part V: A New Beginning] Day 17 – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

 

Director: Marcus Nispel

Cast: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, Andrew Bryniarski, Erica Leerhsen, Mike Vogel, Eric Balfour, R. Lee Ermey

Screenplay: Scott Kosar

98 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence/gore, language, and drug content.

 

Remakes are a touchy subject, I don’t think that’s an unfair thing to say. People expect their remakes to suck, especially in horror, where it seems almost sacrificial to destroy one’s expectations with a terrible remake. I actually saw remake to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before watching the original, and it bothered me. There’s one scene in particular that truly haunted my nightmares for years. It stays with me while I write this. The movie is…actually a pretty solid remake.

The year is 1973. Five young adults are on the way to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert when they almost run into a young woman walking along in the middle of the road. When they let her board their van, she begins to tell them that all her friends are dead, and that they cannot keep driving the direction they are going. The five are about to discover that the young woman is absolutely correct to be terrified. They are traveling through a remote town in Texas. The town’s law enforcement is run by Sheriff Hoyt (R. Lee Ermey, Full Metal Jacket, The Watch), an inept and strange man. When Erin (Jessica Biel, The Illusionist, Hitchcock) and her boyfriend Kemper (Eric Balfour, A Midsummer’s Nightmare, TV’s Haven) get separated from the others, they find an old house in an empty and unkept field. Erin and the others are about to find out exactly what the young woman was so scared when they come across a towering man with a chainsaw known as Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski, Street Fighter, Mother’s Day).

The remake is strong because it doesn’t follow the plot of the original to a T. The main characters fit archetypes but they are the archetypes of the original. I would go as far as to say that the remake implores more likable character, but the performances are still just okay. Jessica Biel is a fantastic scream queen in the film, and she makes for a terrific lead overall. The inspires choice to use Bryniarski as Leatherface was terrific. His performance is quite good as the darkly tortured and mentally unhinged Hewitt boy. Perhaps the best casting in the whole film is R. Lee Ermey as Sheriff Hoyt. Hoyt is absolutely terrifying. His performance is so dark and sickening that he steals the movie.

Director Marcus Nispel (Pathfinder, Friday the 13th) uses a terrific dark and dreary tone throughout. The depressing look of the film leads to the draining experience of watching these likable characters become tortured and attacked by Leatherface. I just love the look of the film. It’s unique enough to stay with you.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is one of the best horror remakes in memory, and while it isn’t as strong as the original, it’s a damn good experience. It’s hinged by a couple good performances in an otherwise underwhelming pool of actors, but the visual storytelling from its director make the film so much more watchable. This is a fun time even with all the dreariness.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Marcus Nispel’s Friday the 13th, click here.

[31 Days of Horror: The Final Chapter] Day 21 – Body Bags (1993)

Director: John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper

Cast: John Carpenter, Tom Arnold, Tobe Hooper, Stacy Keach, David Warner, Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Mark Hamill, Twiggy, Robert Carradine

Screenplay: Billy Brown, Dan Angel

91 mins. Rated R for sexuality and horror violence.

 

Body Bags was to be the pilot episode of a series on Showtime to rival Tales from the Crypt. At some point during production, Showtime pulled the plug, leaving us with thoughts of what might have been. So was Body Bags not worth the time? I checked it out.

Body Bags is another anthology film, this one from John Carpenter (Halloween, The Ward) and Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). It features three stories with wraparound introductions from a Coroner played by Carpenter in heavy makeup. The Coroner is showing us how the bodies ended up in his morgue. The first story, “The Gas Station,” is a classic small set horror story that you might find in a pulp magazine about a young woman by herself running an overnight gas station and a killer stalking her. The second story, “Hair,” features Stacy Keach (American History X, Cell) as a balding man named Richard who wants more than anything to have thick lustrous locks, and he’s willing to sacrifice anything to get it. The final story, “Eye,” features baseball player Brent Matthews (Mark Hamill, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Bunyan and Babe) who loses an eye in a car accident and gets a transplant, but the eye he gets isn’t the one he wants.

We’ve talked a lot about anthologies this month, and, as before, I’ll say it again: anthologies can be hit or miss. That being said, Body Bags is so much fun, the flaws hide behind the flavor. Having cameos from tons of other horror aficionados like Wes Craven and Roger Corman, Body Bags is a lot like desert for horror fans. It’s sweet and enjoyable and you can never have enough. I personally think the first story is the best one and it’s very simple, and Robert Carradine (Django Unchained, Tooth and Nail) is exemplary in it. The second and third stories are only flawed in that they are rather similar to each other. The framing device, though, is quite fun as John Carpenter just kind of lets loose and has fun in a very Cryptkeeper-esque role.

If anthologies and horror are your thing, then I highly recommend Body Bags. It’s not a film that pops up often and it isn’t always easy to find (I was able to hunt it down on my Roku for free, though), but if you can get a copy, I think you’ll be happy you did. It’s rare to see someone like Mark Hamill get to really flex some insanity, and that alone is worth the price of admission.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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

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

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot, click here.

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[Stephen King Day] Salem’s Lot (1979)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Cast: David Soul, James Mason, Lance Kerwin, Bonnie Bedelia, Lew Ayres

Screenplay: Paul Monash

184 mins. Rated PG.

 

Today, we look at the second official adaptation of Stephen King’s work in Salem’s Lot, from director Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist). Salem’s Lot premiered in a 2-part miniseries back in the late 1970s, and I watched the complete cut of the film in order to best collect my thoughts. Let me be clear, this review is for the 184-minute cut of the film as opposed to the shortened European cut released to cinemas after its US release.

Salem’s Lot is the story of Ben Mears (David Soul, Filth, TV’s Starsky and Hutch), successful novelist, who returns to his hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot in Maine to write a book on the Marsten House, a creepy old house on the hilltop at the edge of town. Mears discovers that the house has already been rented out to Richard K. Straker (James Mason, North by Northwest, Lolita), a mysterious new resident who is planning on opening an antiques store in town with his absent partner, Kurt Barlow. After moving into a boarding house, Mears quickly becomes acquainted with the townspeople, especially the attractive Susan Norton (Bonnie Bedelia, Die Hard, TV’s Parenthood). Mears also strikes up a friendship with a former teacher, Jason Burke (Lew Ayres, All Quiet on the Western Front, Battle for the Planet of the Apes). But all is not well in Salem’s Lot. People start going missing while others come down with a mysterious illness. Mears and company suspect the true cause is something far more horrific when victims appear with two puncture wounds on their necks and the truth behind the small town makes itself known.

Now, I thoroughly enjoyed the original Stephen King novel on which this movie is based, and while I enjoyed the adaptation, you can easily tell the budget is not where it should be. This being fairly early in Tobe Hooper’s career, it is pretty obvious that he doesn’t have the tools in place to make this film what it needs to be. I liked David Soul’s portrayal of Ben Mears, and the chemistry with Bonnie Bedelia’s Susan Norton works well enough. I even enjoyed James Mason’s take on Straker. Fred Willard even appears in a small role as the slimy real estate agent who resides in Salem’s Lot.

The losses in the film comes from the tone and the excitement. Hooper seems to be checking off important scenes that build narrative but the actual fear and horror are so few and far between that the film just doesn’t have that…uh, bite.

There’s also a decision in the design of our main vampire (okay, he’s on the cover, deal with it) as a Nosferatu-type misses the mark of the character and becomes fairly flat and without villainy. He’s creepy to be true, but it seeks to remind viewers that this has been done before, and better.

Salem’s Lot appears to appeal to fans of the source novel in more ways that a general audience, but it is missing that classic Stephen King feeling in favor of exposition overload. It’s just missing that fear and horror, so much so that the PG rating becomes a slap in the face. This is one I would only recommend to fans of the novel. All others need not apply.

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist, click here.

 

 

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[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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