Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1999)

Release Date: October 27th, 1999 (premiere)
Directed by: William Malone
Written by: Dick Beebe, Robb White
Based on: House On Haunted Hill by Robb White, William Castle
Music by: Don Davis
Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs, Ali Larter, Chris Kattan, Peter Gallagher, Bridgette Wilson, Max Perlich, Jeffrey Combs, Slavitza Jovan, Lisa Loeb, Peter Graves (cameo), Greg Nicotero (uncredited)

Dark Castle Entertainment, Warner Bros. Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Dr. Richard Benjamin Vannacutt. He out-butchered Bundy, made Manson look meek.” – Peter Graves

Man, it’s been a really long time since I’ve watched this but for some odd reason, it holds a special place in my dark heart. I’m not sure if it is due to when it came out and the effect of nostalgia or because I actually consider it to be better than the film it is a remake of, which almost feels sacrilegious to type because Vincent Price, that film’s star, is why I fell in love with horror to begin with.

Generally, I’m not a fan of remakes in the same way I’m not a fan of cover songs. I really feel as if these things should only exist if they can justify themselves by being better or at the very least, being an interesting new take on the source material they are borrowing from.

1999’s House On Haunted Hill is a really good example of a film that takes its inspiration from its predecessor and makes it something else without sacrificing what the original vision was. It’s not an easy task to achieve but Dark Castle really started out on a good foot with this, their first of a few classic horror remakes.

Ultimately, this takes the formula from William Castle’s classic haunted house tale and ups the ante in a way that is very ’90s. It’s more extreme, has a fair bit of good gore and it updates the concept into something contemporary for the time. It’s also more of a psychological horror film and goes places that the original one couldn’t. The scene in the hallucination chamber is well done and actually kind of terrifying, even for a horror aficionado like myself.

That being said, there are three key things that make this remake a solid one.

The first is the ensemble cast. For a horror film with slightly more than a half dozen main players, we have an assemblage of some really good talent. Everyone sort of plays a typical horror archetype but they are all really good at it. I like everyone in this, top to bottom, regardless of whether or not they’re playing the innocent and good character thrown into a literal hell or they’re playing the evil, conniving bastard with some sort of dastardly trick up their sleeve.

Frankly, as good as everyone is in their roles, Geoffrey Rush and Famke Janssen steal every single scene they’re in. I can’t say that they outclass and out act every other actor here but they just rise to a different level and they seriously look like they are enjoying hamming it up in this twisted movie.

The second thing that makes this film work is the atmosphere. This isn’t the house from the original film. Instead, we’re trapped with these characters in a burned out art deco styled fortress of the 1930s, which was used as an insane asylum ran by an evil and sadistic doctor that used to butcher his patients.

Beyond that, the sets are incredible and the art direction in this film was magnificent. I really dig the lighting, the visual effects, the general cinematography and just about everything visual. The practical effects are great and even if the CGI feels dated now, it works for what this is and it doesn’t take you out of the picture like some of the CGI you’d see from this era. The Lovecraftian inspired blob of spirits is actually kind of cool and it works tremendously well with the tone of the film.

The third thing that works wonders is the score. The music is a great mix of a classic horror movie soundtrack and ’90s era industrial styled instrumentals. The film even features Marilyn Manson’s “Sweet Dreams”, which adds another level of dread and atmosphere to the already effective presentation of the picture.

I’d like to give credit to the director, William Malone. He managed this project well and I have to give credit where it’s due, especially since I don’t like the other films that I’ve seen of his: Creature, FeardotCom and Parasomnia. But maybe I will give those movies a re-watch soon, as it’s been a long time.

When this came out, it was a film that critics hated but I remember most people enjoying it. It’s got a ’90s campiness to it but it’s far from comedy and I’d say that it’s aged well. It’s certainly better than what the modern standard seems to be in the horror genre.

I think that I’ll revisit Dark Castle’s Thirteen Ghosts remake soon, as it has been a long time since I’ve seen it but I had a good experience with it, back in the day. I may also finally watch the sequel to this film. I heard it’s nowhere near as good but with this fresh in my mind, I’d like to take another trip to the haunted asylum.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Dark Castle remakes of classic horror films, as well as other late ’90s and early ’00s ghost movies.

Film Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Release Date: October 30th, 2019 (France)
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Mike Flanagan
Based on: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Music by: The Newton Brothers
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Zackary Momoh, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas

Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes, 180 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“You’re magic. Like me.” – Abra Stone, “You need to listen to me. The world’s a hungry place. A dark place. I’ve only met two or three people like us. They died. When I was a kid, I bumped into these things. I don’t know about magic. I, I always called it “the shining.”” – Danny Torrance

*There be spoilers here!

When I first heard that Stephen King was penning a sequel to The Shining, I was pretty excited. If I’m being honest though, I didn’t have high expectations or anything, I just thought that it’d be cool to check in on Danny Torrance after the events of his childhood to see how he turned out and what sort of effect that level of horror had on him.

I wasn’t excited about the book, itself; I was more excited about the possibility of what the book’s existence meant. Especially, as a sequel film is something that has been toyed around with by Warner Bros. before. But luckily for us, they didn’t crap out some inferior straight-to-DVD product, they instead waited decades and decided to adapt King’s own sequel.

Full disclosure, I haven’t read the book and for those of you who have been reading my reviews for awhile, you probably already know that I’m not a massive fan of King’s writing but I’m more of a fan of live action adaptations of his work. Well, the good ones, anyway.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the film either but once I knew what the premise for the story was and saw who was cast as the lead, it was hard to not feel something.

Once I saw the first trailer, I felt that the tone and the style of the movie were solid and I was intrigued.

Unfortunately, I missed it on the big screen, as I had a lot going on and it didn’t stay in my local theater for more than a couple of weeks. Also, it’s hard for me to sit in the cinema now for two and a half hours because I’m getting old, I drink too much soda, hate holding my pee and can’t stand other people around me scrolling Facebook, answering their phones, chatting to their neighbor and making as much noise as possible with their popcorn crunching and candy bag diddling.

So I’m glad that I watched this at home, even though it would’ve been really cool to revisit the Overlook Hotel in a proper cinematic setting.

Getting to the film itself, I was really impressed with Doctor Sleep. I can’t say that it is as good as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining but it is really hard to top or even come close to a masterpiece. Still, this film does the material justice and it justifies its existence, becoming its own story and its own film, independent of the original. Granted, for context and for a richer overall experience, you should still probably watch the original film if you haven’t, as the call backs to it are really neat and it might be better to get the whole experience and not just one half of it.

Furthermore, this truly is a sequel to that 1980 Kubrick version. The hotel is the same, once you travel back there, and the actors cast to reprise that film’s iconic roles were done so with the intent of trying to replicate the performances and the look of those actors. I’d say that this film pulls that trick off, even if it is kind of weird seeing someone else’s face in the place of Shelley Duval’s, Scatman Crothers’ and Jack Nicholson’s. But its done in the best way possible and it respects the work of the actors that came before.

Side note: Jack Torrance appears very briefly and he’s played by Henry Thomas a.k.a. Elliott from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. What’s even more interesting is that he also once played the iconic Norman Bates in 1990’s Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Beyond all that, the actors playing the main roles in this film all give superb performances. I’ve especially got to give credit to Ewan McGregor, as the adult version of Danny Torrance, and Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat, this film’s primary antagonist.

I also thought that Kyliegh Curran was really good as the young Abra. This is the first movie I’ve seen her in and kid actors are usually annoying as hell but she played her part like a veteran and delivered in a way that most adult actors wouldn’t have been able to.

The supporting cast did their job solidly from Cliff Curtis as Danny’s friend, Zahn McClarnon as the evil but awesomely enchanting Crow Daddy, Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi and Bruce Greenwood, as Danny’s boss and leader of his AA group. We also get to see Carel Struycken as the patriarch of the evil gang, he’s probably most famous for playing the Giant in everything Twin Peaks related. He was also Terak, the villain from the second Ewoks TV movie from the ’80s.

The most important takeaway for me was the story. I loved it, I thought it was a great expansion on the already established mythos and even if a return to the hotel initially felt like cheap fan service, it worked and it brought things full circle for the Danny character.

Sadly, he does die, which I thought was a mistake because there is real potential in the idea of Danny and Abra having stories beyond this one. I guess they can utilize Danny as a ghost, as they did with the Dick Hollorann character, but there’s that part of you that wants him to survive this because there’s more good work to do and the end of the story is left wide open for further exploration, especially in regards to what the villains are and how there might be more.

I thought that the direction by Mike Flanagan was top notch. I’m not all that familiar with his other work, other than I know that he’s worked in the horror genre for a little while. This may inspire me to go back and look at his earlier films, though.

Additionally, the movie has great cinematography that is equal parts terrifying and mesmerizing. The film is meticulously shot and presented with perfect lighting regardless of the visual tone of the scene while also boasting magnificent shot framing. There isn’t a weak looking or half-assed scene in the picture and the work of the director and cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, is impressive.

My only real issue with the film is that I think it would have worked much better as a short (six or eight episode) season of a television series. There’s a lot to this tale and there is certainly a lot more context that could have been utilized to enrich the story if it had more time and more room to breathe. I wanted to know more about the villain group, their history, where they come from, what their larger purpose is, etc. I also would have liked to spend more time with Danny, as a new guy in town, trying to reestablish his life.

In the end, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen from 2019. It is also one of the best horror films of its decade, as the ’10s weren’t very kind to the genre and barely gave us a handful of memorable horror pictures.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: the 1980 version of The Shining, as well as good movie and television adaptations of Stephen King’s work.

Film Review: Deathstalker II: Duel of the Titans (1987)

Also known as: Deathstalker II (original title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Neil Ruttenberg, Jim Wynorski
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: John Terlesky, Monique Gabrielle, John LaZar, Toni Naples, Maria Socas

Aries Films International, New Horizons Pictures, Concorde Pictures, 85 Minutes

Review:

“You have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch the prince of thieves.” – Deathstalker, “It is early in the morning!” – Princess Evie

I’ve already reviewed the first and third Deathstalker movies because watching these in order doesn’t really matter. Each film seems to have its own tone, a totally different actor in the lead role and they’re mostly total crap.

However, this one is actually kind of enjoyable.

I think that this chapter is the most palatable because it is actually a lighthearted comedy mixed with sword and sorcery and glorious boobs. It has a charm that the other movies don’t and frankly, the two leads in this are more charismatic than the leads in any of the other films.

That could also be due to the fact that I’ve been crushing hard on Monique Gabrielle ever since I saw her in The Return of Swamp Thing, as a kid. Finding out later that she was a Penthouse Pet was a pretty stellar discovery in my teen years.

Like the other films, this one was made by Roger Corman’s studio but he didn’t direct it. Instead, he hired Jim Wynorski, who had just come off of directing the cult classic horror/sci-fi/comedy, Chopping Mall. I think that his style was beneficial to this picture and how it was presented as a more amusing movie than its predecessor.

The story is pretty cookie cutter stuff for cheap Conan knockoffs but it has some unique bits. For one, we are treated to an intergender wrestling match in an actual ring around the midpoint of the film. Also, it doesn’t try to emulate and ripoff Conan as much as the first film and works as its own thing in a similar setting.

The special effects are pretty cheap but everything still looks okay for what this is. It certainly looks better than the European sword and sorcery movies of the era. In fact, it feels similar in visual tone to the first Beastmaster. Sure, it lacks Beastmaster‘s hard edge but it utilizes the night in the same way, keeping things kind of small scale, production-wise, without exposing too many of its budgetary flaws.

All praise aside, this is still a cheap movie, as Roger Corman associated productions go. But out of the Deathstalker pictures, I’d say that it looks the best and uses its budget pretty well.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Deathstalker films and other very low budget barbarian movies.

Film Review: Warrior of the Lost World (1983)

Also known as: Mad Rider (European VHS title), Warrior: Exterminador del 2000 (Uruguay), The Last Warrior (Germany)
Release Date: 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: David Worth
Written by: David Worth
Music by: Daniele Patucchi
Cast: Robert Ginty, Persis Khambatta, Donald Pleasence, Fred Williamson, Harrison Mueller Sr., Laura Nucci

A.D.I. Inc., Continental Motion Pictures, Royal Film, 92 Minutes

Review:

“Very bad mothers! Very bad mothers! Very bad mothers!” – Motorcycle

This is the final movie in my quest to review every film ever featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s been a long journey and I’m glad that I saved something I kind of like at the finish line.

At it’s core, this is a terrible and shitty movie. However, it falls into a weird niche that I’m a fan of: European (primarily Italian) ripoffs of Mad Max or other dystopian movies. And like a few others, this one has Fred Williamson in it. It also has Donald Pleasence but I’ll get to the actors shortly.

First off, this is a film that feels like it was rushed. The shot set ups are basic bitch shit and there isn’t much cinematography to speak of.

There’s barely any attention to detail given to anything in this film.

Most of the props are shoddy and cheap and even the super motorcycle looks like a lazily slapped together piece of crap. The effects are weak, the vehicle action lacks excitement and I’ve seen better vehicular carnage with my seven year-old self’s slot car track.

Additionally, despite the greatness of Fred Williamson and Donald Pleasence, the acting is abominable. Robert Ginty is so unlikable as the hero, you’ll find yourself begging for his death almost immediately. Persis Khambatta, who you may remember as the bald chick from the first Star Trek movie, is easy on the eyes but hard on everything else.

But with all that negativity I just dumped out, I still like this movie. And that’s because I love post-apocalyptic, Italian car crash movies that have no qualms about stealing from Mad Max, as well as a dozen other popular sci-fi action films from the era. Plus, Williamson and Pleasence sort of legitimize it and raise it up to a level that it could never reach without either of them.

When I started reviewing MST3K movies, I didn’t do it in any particular order and there wasn’t any real planning. I just started watching them pretty randomly while checking them off of the list. It’s pretty fitting that I ended this long, arduous quest with this picture. It’s just the perfect type of schlock for MST3K and it’s one of the movies that I actually like out of their nearly bottomless toilet bowl of cinematic poo.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other foreign ’80s Mad Max ripoffs.

Film Review: The Atomic Brain (1963)

Also known as: Monstrosity (original title), The Brain Snatchers (script title)
Release Date: September, 1963
Directed by: Joseph V. Mascelli
Written by: Sue Bradford, Dean Dillman Jr., Jack Pollexfen, Vy Russell
Music by: Gene Kauer
Cast: Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler, Bradford Dillman (narrator)

Cinema Venture, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Three new bodies. Fresh, live, young bodies. No families or friends within thousands of miles, no one to ask embarrassing questions when they disappear. Victor wondered which one Mrs. March would pick. The little Mexican, the girl from Vienna, or the buxom blonde? Victor knew his pick, but he still felt uneasy, making love to an 80 year old woman in the body of a 20 year old girl; it’s insanity!” – Narrator

This is the second to last movie in my very long quest to watch and review every motion picture that was ever featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is my last Mike Nelson episode, as I saved a Joel one for the very end and because I liked splitting my time pretty equally between the two hosts. For me, Mike edges out Joel just slightly but since Joel gave us this great show, I gave him the honor of being the grand finale of my MST3K review quest.

Anyway, this film is unwatchable. Mike and the ‘Bots make it moderately tolerable as their commentary rips it to shreds and their segments were solid. However, this should never be watched on its own without the added riffing of the MST3K crew.

It’s boring as shit in every regard and there’s nothing that makes it endearing in any way. It’s not one of those “it’s so bad, it’s good” movies. This is just a dreadful, slow, horribly acted, horribly directed piece of shit.

The story is about a rich, old, eccentric lady that convinces a young scientist to transplant her 80 year-old brain into the body of a 20 year-old woman. Three foreign girls are hired as servants but they are really being vetted for the old woman to choose as her future vessel.

The film’s tagline reads, “WANTED: Youth and Beauty. Will Pay Millions. Only Beautiful and Shapely Girls Need Apply. No References Required. Appointments After Dark Only.”

That sounds like a pretty awesome premise but this film only delivers examples of how not to make a movie.

The Atomic Brain or Monstrosity, as it was originally (and more fittingly) titled, is absolute nonsense. It wants to be a B-movie of the atomic horror age but it’s more like an F-movie that wasted perfectly good celluloid that wasn’t born to have its life wasted on utter shite.

Rating: 0.75/10
Pairs well with: the worst science fiction of the era.

Film Review: Rambo: Last Blood (2019)

Also known as: Rambo V (alternative title)
Release Date: September 18th, 2019 (Indonesia)
Directed by: Adrian Grunberg
Written by: Matthew Cirulnick, Sylvester Stallone
Based on: characters by David Morrell
Music by: Brian Tyler
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Paz Vega, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Adriana Barraza, Yvette Monreal, Genie Kim, Joaquin Cosio, Oscar Jaenada

Lionsgate, Millennium Films, Campbell Grobman Films, Balboa Productions, 89 Minutes, 101 Minutes (international cut)

Review:

“I’m gonna tear you apart.” – John Rambo

I may be four months late to the party but I finally got around to seeing Rambo V or, as it is officially called, Rambo: Last Blood.

Getting straight to the heart of it, this is the worst Rambo film. That doesn’t mean it is bad, though, as I still really enjoyed it and it’s better than most other modern action films.

The last fifteen or twenty minutes of the movie are incredible for fans of hardcore ’80s style action. It’s an all out war between Rambo and piece of shit sex traffickers on Rambo’s farm.

The first two acts of the film are a bit weak, however. They don’t feature that much action, really, except for a few scenes of Rambo just beating up some thugs. This picture certainly doesn’t have the level of action as 2008’s, far superior, Rambo.

I think part of the problem is that this movie is too short. It’s less than 90 minutes and if you lob the credits off the film, it’s only about 80 minutes. Now there is a longer international cut that comes in at 101 minutes. I’d assume that this is a better cut of the film and maybe the US version had its violence and action toned down due to the overly bitchified political and social climate of 2019. I mean, this is a movie about a white dude killing off a fuck ton of Mexicans. It doesn’t matter that these people are the scumfucks of the Earth, the Hollywood elites would rather the races be reversed in movies like this now.

That being said, the villains in this are so evil that I don’t feel like the end was satisfying enough. After what these men did to Rambo’s surrogate daughter, his friend’s sister and well, to Rambo himself, I was really hoping for levels of violence and gore on par with the 2008 film.

The big finale is still great, as Rambo lures the scumfucks into his underground maze where he picks them off one-by-one like a silent predator. The murder of the gang leader at the very end is pretty intense and violent but I feel like that piece of shit got off too easily. But maybe this is a sign that Rambo is older and he just wants these men dead, as opposed to playing with them like a cat slowly torturing a mouse.

Like other Rambo movies, this one comes with a message. This time, the film’s message is about how fucked up the cartels are in Mexico between sex trafficking, kidnapping, drugs, etc.

I guess one big difference between this and the 2008 chapter, is that I didn’t leave this one wanting more. The ending is sort of ambiguous, as Rambo may or may not bleed out and die. I think it was left that way to keep the door open for Rambo VI. I don’t think it’s necessary though and now, I don’t think that this movie was necessary either.

The fourth film had a pretty perfect ending and went out on a really high note. This fifth film, while mostly okay, felt like that family member that stuck around a day or two too long after the rest of the family left following the holidays.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Rambo movies, as well as other ’80s and early ’90s Stallone movies.

Film Review: Beginning of the End (1957)

Release Date: June 28th, 1957
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Fred Freiberger, Lester Gorn
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Peter Graves, Peggie Castle, Morris Ankrum

AB-PT Pictures Corp., Republic Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Where do I get off asking the Regular Army for help with a bunch of oversize grasshoppers?” – Col. Tom Sturgeon

Since I only have two more Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies to review after this one, I guess it is safe to assume that this is the last of the Bert I. Gordon films that I have to suffer through. But since I’ve already reviewed roughly a dozen Bert I. Gordon schlocksterpieces, maybe there is still one I missed.

If I’m being honest, this wasn’t one I had to suffer through. In fact, it’s one of the more entertaining Gordon movies I’ve seen. This is, of course, due to its schlockiness but it’s definitely on a level that most of Gordon’s films aren’t.

The real highlight of this picture is the special effects where the giant killer locusts are concerned. The movie uses stock footage of grasshoppers and then superimposes humans and vehicles in front of them to give these tiny creatures a gigantic presence. The best shots, however, are where they took grasshoppers and filmed them crawling over photographs of buildings in an effort to generate the illusion that they are scaling massive structures. In reality, they look like they’re just chilling on a page from an oversized architecture book.

Apart from the awfully bad yet awesome effects, the film is littered with terrible acting, a wonky script and insane situations. They do kind of create a perfect storm of cheesiness that comes across as well aged with sharp, robust notes and a creamy, boldness most cheeses can’t achieve despite proper aging and temperature.

Beginning of the End is a weirdly wonderful piece of cinematic gimcrack that somehow comes across as fun and goofy while inadvertently seeing its faults turn into positives. Well, at least for those of us who love shoddy sci-fi pictures of the atomic age.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Bert I. Gordon schlock, especially the stuff featured on MST3K.