Film Review: Body Double (1984)

Release Date: October 15th, 1984 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma, Robert J. Avrech
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Craig Wasson, Gregg Henry, Melanie Griffith, Deborah Shelton, Guy Boyd, Dennis Franz, Al Israel, Barbara Crampton, Slavitza Jovan

Delphi II Productions, Columbia Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“I do not do animal acts. I do not do S&M or any variations of that particular bent, no water sports either. I will not shave my pussy, no fistfucking and absolutely no cumming in my face. I get $2000 a day and I do not work without a contract.” – Holly Body

Having now seen all three movies in Brian De Palma’s neo-noir trilogy from the early ’80s, I’d have to say that this one is the weakest but it is also the most fun. But I’ll explain what I mean.

The first two movies in De Palma’s noir thrillers came out back-to-back. This third film, however, came out after he did Scarface. I feel like I need to mention that, as this feels like a weird amalgamation of the style from the other noir pictures, as well as the style from Scarface, which was poppier, livelier and had an early ’80s neo-noir aesthetic in its own way due to its use of lighting, shadows and neon accents. Scarface almost had vibrant giallo tones and they carried over into this movie.

I’ve talked about De Palma also tapping into Alfred Hitchcock for these films and honestly, this might be his most Hitchcockian of the lot, as it channels parts of Rear Window and Vertigo.

As simply as I can state it, Body Double channels Rear Window in how it explores voyeurism and it channels Vertigo in how it features two women appearing as one with some noir styled trickery.

This might also be tapping into Dial M for Murder due to the use of the phone as a narrative prop when the girl that the protagonist is obsessing over has a killer in her midst.

There’s really a lot going on in this movie and it’s a solid homage to all of these great things but it is very much its own film that taps multiple creative wells but still comes up with something refreshing and unique.

I thought that the plot was well conceived and executed and even if you can start to put it together fairly early, there is still a bit more to the big reveal than you’ll anticipate.

While this might be the worst acted of De Pama’s neo-noir flicks, no one in it is bad and the performances kind of add to the bonkers proceedings. I feel as if the performances are a bit hammy because the tone of the film called for that. And that’s not to say that this isn’t a serious movie, it is, but it seems pretty self aware that it is tapping into schlock territory while still being real cinematic art.

The film also uses some gore and it works well here. De Palma has used gore before; look at Sisters for instance, as that had some brutal moments in it. But the use of gore really adds something to the dreamlike quality of the film. While this takes place in the real world, there is something fantastical and magical about the look and feel of the picture.

On a side note: I love the use of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” in this film. It briefly turns the film into a bizarre ’80s style MTV music video with a bit of sexploitation thrown in. It may sound odd for someone who hasn’t seen this film but it’s the moment where I realized that I love this picture. And it’s that moment where the film really commits to the bit and shows you that despite the harsh moments and violence, this is a film that’s really having fun with itself. It’s like cinematic masturbation of the highest regard.

And thinking about that moment, it really helps to set this film apart from the other two that are so closely associated with it. Where the first film was really dark and gritty, the second one started to let some light into it and then this third picture, really embraces the bright lights and becomes somewhat chipper, creating a lot of contrast from the beginning to the end of De Palma’s neo-noir work. In fact, the visual tones also remind me a bit of De Palma’s very lively Phantom of the Paradise.

Due to the length of this review, it seems that I have more to say about this picture than the other two, which I still feel edge it out. But I think that’s due to the fact that this gave me the most to chew on and it feels like the most Brian De Palma film of all-time, as he calls back to a lot of his previous work and his main influences.

Despite this being my least favorite of the three noir thrillers, it’s still a damn fine film and honestly, it’s probably the one I will revisit the most.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Brian De Palma’s other neo-noir thrillers from this era: Dressed to Kill and Blow Out.

Film Review: Chopping Mall (1986)

Also known as: Killbots (Belgium/original US theatrical title), Robot Assassins (Spain), Shopping (France/West Germany), Supermarket Horror (Italy), Terror In Park Plaza (Portugal), R.O.B.O.T. (working title)
Release Date: March 21st, 1986
Directed by: Jim Wynorski
Written by: Jim Wynorski, Steve Mitchell
Music by: Chuck Cirino
Cast: Kelli Maroney, Tony O’Dell, John Terlesky, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal, Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Dick Miller, Gerrit Graham, Angus Scrimm

Concorde Pictures, 77 Minutes, 95 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“Let’s send these fuckers a Rambo-gram.” – Rick

Chopping Mall is an unknown film that has grown a good cult following over the years. I saw it on VHS but not until the early ’90s. I’m not sure if it was readily available or distributed in the mid-’80s when it was originally released. It certainly didn’t play in a theater or drive-in near me because Southwest Florida in the ’80s was devoid of any real culture. Well, it still mostly is, thirty years later.

One cool thing about Chopping Mall is that its opening scene stars Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov as the Blands from Bartel’s 1982 movie Eating Raoul. It makes this a sort of crossover film. But then, Dick Miller also pops up as one of the many Walter Paisleys he’s played over the years. In any event, this had a lot of nods to the Roger Corman camp of talent but since his wife Julie was the producer, that makes sense.

The film also has a small role for Gerrit Graham, who popped up in horror movies a lot in the ’80s and ’90s. He even played the husband of Mary Woronov in TerrorVision. And then you also have Barbara Crampton of Re-Animator fame, as well as Kelli Maroney from Night of the Comet.

The premise of this film sees a bunch teens decide to camp out in the local mall overnight, as some of them work at the furniture store where there are beds. You know, so the teens can do that sex stuff that always sets off the monsters in an ’80s splatter picture. What the teens don’t know is that the mall has three robot security guards who have gone on the fritz. This is like Short Circuit if there were three Johnny 5s and they all had a thirst for teenage blood.

This is a really short film but it is full of action, solid practical effects, cheesy non-practical effects, bad acting, hokey ’80s dialogue and breasts. There is also a fantastic head explosion that is Scanners level awesome.

I love Chopping Mall and even though it has that cult following I mentioned, most people have no idea that this crazy gem of a movie even exists.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Night of the CometTerrorVisionThe StuffNight of the Creeps

Film Review: Castle Freak (1995)

Also known as: Stuart Gordon’s Castle Freak
Release Date: November 14th, 1995
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Stuart Gordon
Based on: The Outsider by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Jessica Dollarhide, Jonathan Fuller

Full Moon Entertainment, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I didn’t kill her, I fucked her, Okay?” – John Reilly

Anything that brings the Re-Animator team back together, usually ends with pretty good results. This is the one and only time that it didn’t. I loved the three Re-Animator films and From Beyond but this was pretty friggin’ awful.

Even the acting of Jeffrey Combs, who I usually love in everything, was just off the mark and a bit over the top. Barbara Crampton was fairly decent but not as good as she was in those other films. Jessica Dollarhide, who was only in this movie and had a few TV credits, was actually the high point on the acting side.

The plot, like the other films featuring this director and his cast, was taken from an H.P. Lovecraft story. The film is missing that insane otherworldly feel of the other films though. This is also missing the comedy. Essentially, what we have here is a serious attempt at creating a horror film from a crew that were maestros of really dark comedy movies. It just didn’t work on any level.

The score was exceptionally bad, which was surprising since the man behind the music, Richard Band, worked with this troupe before with fantastic results.

I’m not sure what was wrong with this movie. It was the one time that these people didn’t create magic. It is just so out of tune with their other work that it’s baffling. Maybe it has to do with Full Moon putting out the film, as they’ve made mostly schlock for decades.

Castle Freak unlike this group’s other films, is completely forgettable.

The makeup was decent though.

Rating: 4.25/10

Film Review: From Beyond (1986)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s From Beyond
Release Date: October 24th, 1986
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Dennis Paoli, Brian Yuzna, Stuart Gordon
Based on: From Beyond by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, Ted Sorel, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon

Empire Pictures, 80 Minutes, 85 Minutes (unrated cut)

Review:

“Humans are such easy prey.” – Dr. Edward Pretorius

From Beyond might not be as well-known as Re-Animator but maybe it should be. It is made by the same creative team and even features two of the stars of Re-Animator. Plus, this is also a modern adaptation of another H.P. Lovecraft story. Stuart Gordon made his career off of adapting Lovecraft and this film, may be the most bizarre of all those stories.

To be honest, I like this slightly better than the original Re-Animator but not quite as much as Bride of Re-Animator, my favorite from the series. It is insane in the same way those other films were but this one is different. Where Re-Animator was more like a Lovecraftian version of a Frankenstein story, this is more like Lovecraft mixed with David Cronenberg’s body horror style. Think films like VideodromeThe FlyScanners or The Brood.

Jeffrey Combs is a scientist in this film too but he isn’t like Dr. Herbert West from Re-Animator. He is a good guy that got pulled into some really bad stuff and has been horribly effected by it.

Ted Sorel plays the evil doctor in this. His insane and disfigured Dr. Pretorius (named as an homage to the mad scientist from Bride of Frankenstein) is very similar to David Gale’s villainous Dr. Carl Hill from the first two Re-Animator films.

Barbara Crampton reunites with Combs, as the sexy doctor that is interested in the weird experiments in this story but also gets in way over her head. Horror icon Ken Foree gets some good moments in this film and looked like he was fully invested in his part, especially the more physical demands of this picture.

The special effects in this are friggin’ impressive and eclipse what Gordon and Brian Yuzna did in Re-Animator, a year prior. This is such a colorful film with great lighting, mostly employing a lot of high intensity reds and blues at different levels of depth in the shots. While the visual style probably disguised issues with some of the practical special effects, it actually makes them look even better, as the vivid colors just add to the otherworldly feel.

From Beyond is highly underrated and underappreciated. It is sort of lost to time. When I come across fans of the Re-Animator films, I always ask them what they think about this picture. Often times, I discover that they have never even heard of this movie.

This film is bizarre and unique and a hell of a lot of fun. It is disturbing and uncomfortable but has a charm about it. If you like Re-Animator, I don’t know why you wouldn’t like this.

Rating: 8.25/10

Film Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Also known as: H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator
Release Date: October 18th, 1985
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Written by: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Based on: Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Re-Animator Productions, Empire International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“I must say, Dr. Hill, I’m very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You’re not even a second-rate scientist!” – Herbert West

Re-Animator is one of those movies I have to go back and rewatch every couple of years. And every time that I do, I am always surprised by it, even though I’ve seen it multiple times.

Reason being, is that much of this movie, especially the final third is so bizarre and surreal that it still sort of shocks the senses. The last fifteen minutes or so crosses certain lines that still make you feel uncomfortable, regardless of how many times you’ve seen the picture. I don’t want to go into the details of it, because I’d prefer not to spoil this movie for those who have yet to see it.

This is a 1980s modernization of an H.P. Lovecraft story. It is somewhat of a spin on the Frankenstein tale but goes to even darker places than Mary Shelley’s literary masterpiece.

The villain (or hero, depending upon your point of view), Herbert West, is a medical student that has just returned from a stint in Switzerland. He has expanded on the work of a notable doctor and has found a way to reanimate the brains of the deceased and thus, their bodies or what’s left of them. It sort of marries the Frankenstein concept and the zombie genre.

The special effects in this film are pretty well done for the most part but the budgetary limitations are very apparent. For instance, the scene where the zombie cat is on West’s back is pretty silly and plays like slapstick but the film really is a black comedy and this plays that up with its hokiness. However, the majority of the zombie effects are well handled and executed.

The cast is decent but it is Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, that steals the show and this was a launching pad for his career. He’s since gone on to be a horror icon and become an accomplished voice actor. He also had some great roles in different Star Trek television series, most notably as various incarnations of the villain Weyoun on Deep Space Nine.

Barbara Crampton holds her own and she had to deal with some seriously bizarre and uncomfortable situations in this movie. Props to her for that.

For many, Re-Animator is a bonafide horror classic. It’s a really good film from its era but I’m not as gung ho of a fan of it as many are. I certainly enjoy it and appreciate it but there are many more films from its time that I would put ahead of it. Still, it is effective and has had a lasting impact. It also spawned a few sequels, which I will review in the near future.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Beyond The Gates (2016)

Release Date: June 2nd, 2016 (Los Angeles Film Festival)
Directed by: Jackson Stewart
Written by: Stephen Scarlata, Jackson Stewart
Music by: Wojciech Golczewski
Cast: Barbara Crampton, Brea Grant, Chase Williamson, Graham Skipper

IFC Midnight, Scream Factory, 84 Minutes

Review:

Beyond the Gates came out fairly recently but flew under the radar a bit. I noticed that it dropped on Netflix, so I decided to check it out.

It featured an interesting premise but not necessarily an original one.

Two brothers discover a VCR board game in their missing father’s video store. They discover that it is more than a game and what we have here is essentially a horror version of Jumanji or Zathura. But the VHS twist is a nice addition to the idea, especially for those of us who grew up in the 80s where unique games like this were pretty common but didn’t quite survive the decade.

The film was partially produced by Barbara Crampton who also stars as the mysterious woman who hosts the video tape. Horror fans will probably most remember her from the great 1985 H.P. Lovecraft inspired Re-Animator.

We also have Brea Grant who may be remembered for stints on Heroes and Dexter. Chase Williamson, who I only remember from Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at the End, is also in the picture along with Graham Skipper, who plays his older brother.

This film has some problems though. It is amateurishly acted, for the most part, and the story drags out too much in the first half. Once it gets going, it is pretty good but the interesting stuff feels rushed after the slow start. The film definitely has serious pacing issues.

However, it is still remarkably executed from a visual standpoint and the second half makes up for the slow build. While this film obviously has very limited resources, the most is made out of what was available and most importantly, the film was enjoyable.

It isn’t a great movie and it’s barely a good movie but Beyond the Gates is still worth a watch, especially with its short running time. I just feel that the plot needed more refinement and that the actors could have had better direction. There was a lot of interesting stuff put on the table but it all feels vastly under-explored.

Rating: 5/10