Film Review: Frankenweenie (1984)

Release Date: December 14th, 1984 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Lenny Ripps, Tim Burton
Music by: Michael Convertino, David Newman
Cast: Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Joseph Maher, Paul Bartel, Sofia Coppola, Jason Hervey

Walt Disney Productions, 29 Minutes

Review:

“I guess we can’t punish Victor for bringing Sparky back from the dead.” – Ben Frankenstein

There was a time when Tim Burton was my favorite director. That was mainly due to a string of movies from the mid-’80s through 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. Things went a bit sideways in the ’00s but I still have a lot of love for his first few decades as a director, especially his two early short films: Vincent and this one, Frankenweenie.

This would go on to be remade by Burton, years later, into a feature length animated film. While I’ve never seen that one, I can’t imagine it captured the magic and charm of this original live action short film. I’ll probably give it a watch in the near future though, as I’ve been meaning to for quite some time.

Focusing back on this film though, it’s a lighthearted and heartwarming piece that showcases how damn good Barret Oliver was as a child actor. While he doesn’t get as much time in this as he did in The NeverEnding Story and D.A.R.Y.L., this is my favorite performance of his and he’s definitely the glue that keeps this movie together, even though Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern are also wonderful in this.

The story is an homage of the classic Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley. However, in this, Frankenstein is a boy and he uses the power of lightning to resurrect his bull terrier, who was hit by a car in the opening of the film.

Initially, this was made to be paired up with the theatrical re-release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but upon seeing it, Disney executives thought it was too dark for little kids. They were wrong, as I would have loved this as a kid just as I had loved Gremlins earlier that same year. I was five years-old at the time but I think us ’80s kids weren’t total pussies like the kids today… but I digress.

Frankenweenie plays like an episode of an anthology television series; Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories immediately comes to mind. It’s a really good length, covers a lot of ground but also has enough time to develop these characters in a way that makes you care for them.

Tim Burton showed tremendous talent with this short film and I’m sure it played a big part in him getting his first feature film gig, directing the original Pee-wee Herman movie, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the feature length animated remake, as well as the Tim Burton short film Vincent and his animated feature The Corpse Bride.

Film Review: C.H.U.D. (1984)

Also known as: C.H.U.D. (Caníbales Humanoides Ululantes Demoníacos) (Spain), C.H.U.D. – Panik in Manhattan (Germany)
Release Date: August 31st, 1984
Directed by: Douglas Cheek
Written by: Parnell Hall, Shepard Abbott
Music by: Martin Cooper, David A. Hughes
Cast: Daniel Stern, John Heard, Christopher Curry, John Goodman, Graham Beckel, Jon Polito

C.H.U.D. Productions, New World Pictures, 88 Minutes, 96 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Are you kidding? Your guy’s got a camera. Mine’s got a flamethrower.” – Captain Bosch

This was the first film featured on the full-time revival of Joe Bob Briggs on television. I’m talking about his show The Last Drive-In, which is now streaming weekly on Shudder.

But like Joe Bob, I’m apparently one of the few that isn’t too fond of this motion picture. It’s not really bad but it’s pretty damn dull for about 80 percent of its running time and there are so many better movies from the era. This is probably why I haven’t reviewed this yet, as I just didn’t have the urge to revisit this, even for review purposes.

In all honesty, I prefer the sequel more. Yes, it’s actually a worse movie but it’s batshit insane and pretty much a black comedy spunoff from the C.H.U.D. concept.

People have been asking me for my opinion on this movie for quite awhile, though. So I guess a review is overdue and if Joe Bob can sit through it again, I guess I can too.

It’s still dull as shit. But it does have several known stars in it to at least distract me from my boredom enough to get through this.

On the flip side of that though, I do like the scenes that feature the actual creature or some of the gore it’s responsible for. I also like the idea for the film, I just thought that this spent too much time boffining it up and not enough time spent on cool monsters eating dumb people.

The performances can be a bit over the top but not so much so that I’d call the acting bad. And at least the performances provide some energy where the story fails to do so.

It may sound like I’m a hater, I’m not. But I’m certainly not a lover of C.H.U.D. I understand that a lot of people have a nostalgic soft spot for the movie but it didn’t really resonate with me as a kid, even though I pretty much lived in ’80s video stores and loved the horror genre tremendously.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: it’s really bizarre sequel, as well as Street Trash and Neon Maniacs.

Film Review: Leviathan (1989)

Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: George P. Cosmatos
Written by: David Peoples, Jeb Stuart
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Peter Weller, Richard Crenna, Amanda Pays, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Michael Carmine, Hector Elizondo, Lisa Elbacher, Meg Foster

Filmauro, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Talk about having a bad day.” – Justin Jones

Leviathan is hardly a unique movie. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering that most movies are just rehashes of things we’ve seen before.

This film is a hybrid of Ridley Scott’s Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. But there were a lot of films like this in the 80s; films that took a crew, isolated them and then had them face some sort of terrifying monster. In fact, there was a very similar film to this, which was also released in 1989, Deep Star Six. Out of the two, this is the superior picture.

This film benefits from having a really solid ensemble cast.

Peter Weller, Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai himself, is the crew leader. Then you have Richard Crenna a.k.a Col. Trautman from the Rambo movies, Daniel Stern, Ernie Hudson, Hector Elizondo, Amanda Pays from the original Flash TV series, Meg Foster from a ton of cool movies and Michael Carmine, who was charismatic and entertaining in Michael Mann’s Band of the Hand and Steven Spielberg’s Batteries Not Included.

The creature effects in this film were handled by Stan Winston’s people. While the creature and the effects are pretty good, they do get a bit cheesy when you see the man-eating fish-mouthed tentacle. Still, most of the film was comprised of solid work by Winston’s crew.

Peter Weller did a superb job pretty much playing a normal character and not a cyborg cop or an uber cool 80s superhero. He’s always been an accomplished actor and would do Naked Lunch a few years after this picture, which was some of his best work. Here, he shows signs of greatness but is bogged down by his surroundings, a better than decent but almost throwaway sci-fi horror spectacle. But this is a movie with a cast whose talent level probably deserved a better script that emphasized more suspense and less in your face scares.

Despite some of the film’s hokiness, the sets and effects feel pretty real and this is a good looking film for 1989 and for being limited by its budget, as it was produced by an Italian studio. It had the backing of the De Laurentiis family, who weren’t necessarily known for quality but were often times able to make chicken salad with chicken shit.

I have always liked Leviathan. The fact that it stars a lot of people I adore might have something to do with that but it still plays out well and is better than most of the Alien and Thing clones. There were a lot of these types of films back in the 1980s. Hell, they still knock those movies off today, almost forty years later. But Leviathan, is still, one of the better ones.

Rating: 7/10