31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 17 – Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder

Screenplay: Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren

92 mins. Rated PG for adult situations/language and violence.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Makeup

 

I remember really enjoying the animated Beetlejuice television series as a kid. When my mother finally introduced me to the idea that it was preceded by a live-action film, I just about went crazy. When she told me that it was going to be on television that night, I lost it. I saw it. I loved it. I still love it.

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Meet the Maitlands: Adam (Alec Baldwin, The Departed, Aloha) and Barbara (Geena Davis, Thelma & Louise, In a World…). They just died and now confined to an afterlife in their home. But when Charles (Jeffrey Jones, Sleepy Hollow, 10.0 Earthquake) and Delia (Catherine O’Hara, The Nightmare Before Christmas, A.C.O.D.) Deetz move in, accompanied by outcast daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder, Black Swan, Homefront), they are forced to go to extreme situations to haunt the Deetzes into moving out. In steps Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton, Birdman, Minions), a bioexorcist who specializes in getting people to move out of their dwellings, but the self-described “ghost with the most” has an agenda of his own, and the Maitlands have just gotten in too deep.

Beetlejuice came after director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Big Eyes) greated great success as director of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and used his clout to reveal his true genius with the visual medium as a gothic director of merit. Beetlejuice is an excellent exercise in tone, cinematography, storytelling, and excitement.

It seems as though everyone knows their place in this film, from Baldwin and Davis playing the timless Maitlands to the big city quirky Deetzes, and especially an often overlooked performance from Glenn Shaddix, who plays the smug and cynical Otho (after Shaddix’s death in 2010, the famous Day-O from the film played at the end of the funeral). Otho’s role in driving the plot with his hubris-filled attempts at showing his wide array of skills gives the story so much flavor.

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From a storytelling perspective, Beetlejuice proves that you don’t have to explain away the mysteries of your film. The script from Michael McDowell and Warren Skaaren was rewritten from being a straight horror film with several cliché plot points into the afterlife character study that it is today. It is arguably one of Tim Burton’s finest works, and is easily viewable to any audience in any time, even if some of the effects have not dated well.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Batman, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, click here.

For my review of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows, click here.

Tammy (2014)

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Director: Ben Falcone

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Susan Sarandon, Allison Janney, Gary Cole, Mark Duplass, Toni Collette, Sandra Oh, Nat Faxon, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates

Screenplay: Melissa McCarthy, Ben Falcone

97 mins. Rated R for language including sexual references.

 

Melissa McCarthy (TV’s Gilmore Girls, St. Vincent) has the acting chops for both comedy and drama, yet she chooses to write comedies that just aren’t very good. Thus is the case with Tammy, her newest effort from husband-director Ben Falcone.

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In Tammy, McCarthy plays a down-on-her-luck food server who has just lost a car and a job and now decides to just leave town with her elderly grandmother Pearl (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, The Big Wedding). I know, it doesn’t make much sense. Along the way, she meets Bobby (Mark Duplass, TV’s The League, Mercy) and his father Earl (Gary Cole, Pineapple Express, The Town That Dreaded Sundown) who both take a shine to ladies. Somehow. There isn’t a whole lot of chemistry, but apparently they do. They also meet up with lesbian lovers Lenore (Kathy Bates, TV’s American Horror Story, Titanic) and Susanne (Sandra Oh, TV’s Grey’s Anatomy, Rabbit Hole) who are also related to Tammy but it doesn’t seem that way. Again, I must say that it isn’t a good plot.

Essentially, this story was terrible. These characters were flat and unlikable. Melissa McCarthy isn’t funny. Susan Sarandon is disappointing. Also, the ages kind of mess with you. How is Susan Sarandon the mother of Allison Janney (TV’s The West Wing, Get On Up) who is also the mother of Melissa McCarthy? Seriously, how?

Then there is the terrible chemistry or lack thereof with Mark Duplass. I mean, c’mon, there wasn’t a single moment when I believed these two.

Let’s not forget the misuse of Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, The Boxtrolls). That’s right, she is in this movie, but look fast or you’ll miss it. The same is true with Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters, Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return).

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All in all, Ben Falcone’s absent directing of a bad screenplay between himself and wife McCarthy does nothing to make this movie anything more than a turd. Yes, I said it, a turd.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Happy 5th Birthday!] The Lovely Bones (2009)

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Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, Michael Imperioli, Saoirse Ronan

Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, Peter Jackson

135 mins. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Stanley Tucci)

 

Certain directors get going and when they do, they just can’t stop. Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, King Kong) is one of those directors. The last film he made that truly disappointed me was the splatter-fest Dead Alive, a gore-lovers delight from some twenty years ago. Then came cult classics like The Frighteners and major wins like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and King Kong. And like I said before, he just couldn’t stop. In 2009, he gave filmgoers something that they hadn’t seen from Jackson yet. His adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was much awaited and polarized many who saw it, but it’s Jackson’s most personal work in years. It dives to the core of human emotion and digs until it hurts.

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Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan, Atonement, The Grand Budapest Hotel) is a pretty smart young girl living in the 1970s with parents Jack (Mark Wahlberg, Boogie Nights, Transformers: Age of Extinction) and Abigail (Rachel Weisz, The Mummy, Oz the Great and Powerful). She has a bright and shining future ahead as her most important growth period of her life looms ahead, but sadly, her light is cut short all too soon when an encounter with the strange George Harvey (Stanley Tucci, The Hunger Games, Muppets Most Wanted) leads her to an early grave. As her family struggles to grieve, Susie enters an ethereal plane of existence and must overcome her need for revenge before it tears her family to pieces.

This movie is equal parts visual candy and horrifying family tragedy. I love that its struggle in tone is much like that of its lead characters. The film goes to extremes treating little pieces of genre with the intensity of a mood swing. I find this, whether intentional or not, to be so jarring that it works. Jackson’s visual style is here and it looks gorgeous.

Now let’s talk performances. Wahlberg’s is terrible, this is easily one of the most disappointing areas of this film. He can’t handle the tragedy that Jack Salmon is supposed to experience. Rachel Weisz’s is passable but he really isn’t a fully-realized character. Susan Sarandon (Thelma & Louise, Tammy) is Susie’s Grandma Lynn, who jumps in as prime caretaker when Susie’s parents fail to care for the siblings. Michael Imperioli (TV’s The Sopranos, Oldboy) also does passable work as Len Fenerman, the detective charged with finding Susie’s killer.

And then you get George Harvey, played perfectly by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s performance is so painful and disgusting to watch that every scene with him becomes a living car wreck, one that is so terrifying that you can’t look away. George Harvey is perhaps Tucci’s best work to date and remains a truly chilling piece of work.

The script-work by Fran Walsh, Philippa Bowen, and Jackson, the same writing team Jackson has used on much of his previous work, does a great job here with the source material. They helped to piss me off as the film’s events meandered through life in the 70s. That’s what this movie does best, it pushes one through the stages of grief while equally pissing me off. I hated this movie, and that’s what I loved so much about it.

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When I look back on Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones, I remember my anger. I also remember the film’s beauty and the search for a passable moment of happiness in a sea of sadness. If you have yet to see this strange odyssey of death, please do so, and let it anger you, but also, let it take hold of you and show you something you haven’t seen before.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 30 – The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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Director: Jim Sharman

Cast: Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick

Screenplay: Jim Sharman, Richard O’Brien

100 mins. Rated R.

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, like one of its characters, something that keeps coming back. Every year, it is a ritual to which many dance the Time Warp all the way to Transexual Transylvania. The film currently holds the record for longest running theatrical release, as it has been playing at theaters since 1975. Quite a feat to behold. Explaining the plot isn’t easy, so I’ll try to be as literal as possible.

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show is an homage to older RKO and Universal style horror movies mixed with the B-style eroticism of the Hammer Horror films of yesteryear. Brad Majors (Barry Bostwick, TV’s Spin City, Hannah Montana: The Movie) and his new fiancé Janet Weiss (Susan Sarandon, Thelma & Louise, Tammy) have just set out to visit an old friend when their car stalls. They follow a road leading to an old castle where they hope to get a phone to call a tow. The castle is the resident of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry, TV’s The Wild Thornberrys, Burke and Hare), a twisted doctor of sinful pleasures who is making a man for himself. The castle is home to many strange faces like the handyman Riff Raff, his sister Magenta, and a groupie named Columbia. As the storm settles them in, Brad & Janet discover that this is no picnic.

I love this movie. I love that it isn’t laid out in stone as far as interpretations go. I love that it embraces its badness and has a lot of fun. This is the kind of movie to watch with a bunch of friends and a couple of brews, and the rest of the world has realized that too. Around the country and other parts of the world, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show play, encouraging audience participation (yelling at the screen, throwing items like rice at the opening wedding scene) and shadowcasts (performers acting in front of the film as it plays in the background). It is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the film world.

I really enjoy the performances, from actors that are having fun making a movie and it shows through. For many years, Tim Curry was able to convince people that someone else played Frank-N-Furter, that is how abstract the performance is. Sarandon and Bostwick are lovable 50’s and have such an arc in their character development, albeit a tragic story.

Let’s not forget the incredible musical numbers. Everyone knows about the Time Warp and Science Fiction, Double Feature, but I enjoy songs like Over at the Frankenstein Place and Dammit Janet, Eddie’s Teddy and Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me are terrific songs as well.

Sure the film is far from being a perfect film, but it continues to age very well. This is a great movie, so perfectly constructed that it is difficult to ascertain which parts were accidental and which were purposely accidental…I guess.

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Let’s Do the Time Warp Again!

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. Only watch the U.K. Version, the extra song in it actually sums up the characters’ journeys perfectly.

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

31 Days of Horror: Day 22 – Monkey Shines (1988)

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Director: George A. Romero

Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, Janine Turner, William Newman

Screenplay: George A. Romero

113 mins. Rated R.

 

George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead, Bruiser) has tackled zombies. I think we all attest to that. He has mastered camp horror (please check out his work with Stephen King in Creepshow, awesome film). There are a lot of things he can do with a horror film. Maybe a killer monkey just isn’t one of those things.

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I recently discovered Monkey Shines, a film I had been looking for since I saw the VHS cover some years back at a rental store (remember all those things?) and I was finally able to watch it.

Allan Mann (Jason Beghe, TV’s Chicago P.D., Thelma & Louise) is a successful athlete who is run down in a traffic collision and becomes a quadriplegic. Suffering from depression and the inability to cope with this new life, Allan is gifted with a monkey from his friend Geoffrey (John Pankow, TV’s Mad About You, Morning Glory). The monkey, named Ella, has been trained by gifted support animal trainer Melanie (Kate McNeil, The House on Sorority Row, Glitter). Unfortunately, Ella forms an obsessive and violent bond with Allan and begins to kill those around him. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

I think the major flaw with Monkey Shines is exactly what doomed it from the start. It is a horror film that lacks horror. Here is a film with an animal that doesn’t seem all that dangerous, and it doesn’t convince me that Ella is. It isn’t easy to convince us that an animal with such an affectionate bond with a human can alter that love so quickly. We have stories that have succeeded where Monkey Shines failed. We have Stephen King’s novel Cujo, an excellent little exercise in creative horror about a dog who becomes the embodiment of fear when rabies (or as King hints at, pure evil) inhabits its body. Cujo (the book, not the movie) was an achievement. Monkey Shines was not. It just plain isn’t scary. Some of it just comes off as funny.

We don’t have any horrible performances. We get some early work from Stephen Root (TV’s King of the Hill, The Lone Ranger) and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games, Transformers: Age of Extinction) here, but little more.

Although it feels tough to fully blame writer/director Romero, who had his finished film taken away from him multiple times and finally after being completed, the studio put a different ending in that makes it feel very un-Romero.

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Monkey Shines was taglined as “An Experiment in Fear.” I had my hypothesis. I had my conclusion. This is one experiment we need not try again.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

 

For my review of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, click here.

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