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.

TV Review: Creepshow (2019- )

Original Run: September 26th, 2019 – current
Created by: Greg Nicotero
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Creepshow by Stephen King, George A. Romero
Music by: various
Cast: various

Cartel Pictures, Monster Agency Productions, Striker Entertainment, Shudder, 6 Episodes (so far), 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m a few months late to the party but I finally got around to watching the Creepshow television revival on Shudder. And now that I have, it’s just one more great reason to subscribe to Shudder, which has a much lower price than the average streaming service.

Schilling aside, I swear I’m not a Shudder employee, I’m just a happy customer, the show is pretty much what I expected in that most of it is pretty enjoyable but the quality varies from story to story.

I’ve stated before that I’m not a big anthology fan and the main reason for that is because of consistency. Horror anthologies, especially, seem to be like a pendulum swinging back and forth from good to bad within the same film.

While this show isn’t that different, most of what’s here is engaging and the few tales that I didn’t like weren’t terribly bad. Plus, each 45ish minute episode contains two different stories. So even if you aren’t feeling something, it’s not going to take up too much of your time.

I think the only one I really didn’t like was the fat loss leeches one, which was surprising to me as I’m a fan of Paul Dini’s writing, mainly because of Batman: The Animated Series and his run on Detective Comics, and I’ve always liked Dana Gould.

Other than that, there was something about each episode that lured me in. I think some of my favorites were the first tale, which was written by Stephen King, then the ghost head one, the suitcase one and Nessie one. Maybe I’ll do a list where I rank the segments soon.

Anyway, this was a good show that holds onto the spirit of the films. And in a similar vein as those movies, it also feels like it’s channeling the anthology horror comics of old. I felt like I was watching EC Comics come to life.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the Creepshow movies, as well as other horror anthology TV shows and movies.

Documentary Review: Bloodsucking Cinema (2007)

Release Date: October 26th, 2007
Directed by: Barry Gray
Written by: Barry Gray
Music by: Don MacDonald
Cast: Uwe Boll, John Carpenter, David S. Goyer, Corey Haim, John Landis, Kristanna Loken, Leonard Maltin, Cheech Marin, Greg Nicotero, Joel Schumacher, Stephen Sommers, Stuart Townsend, Stan Winston, Len Wiseman, Marv Wolfman

Insight Film Studios, Vamp Productions, 56 Minutes

Review:

This has been in my Starz queue for a long ass time, so I figured I’d give it a watch to clear out some of the stuff that’s been there for too long.

Overall, this was a pretty boring documentary with a lot of talking head interviews edited together pretty sloppily.

There didn’t seem to be a clear direction or objective about this short documentary other than having a bunch of actors and directors talking about vampire films they’ve been apart of.

Frankly, this felt random as hell and features a slew of films that no one cared about when they came out and certainly don’t care about now. While they talk about some solid films like Lost Boys, From Dusk Till Dawn and Vampires, they also spend a lot of time talking about shit movies like Van Helsing, BloodRayne and Queen of the Damned.

I wouldn’t call this informative or entertaining. It’s a pointless, shitty production that only barely scratches the surface on the history of vampire cinema and would rather showcase Uwe Boll and Stephen Sommers rambling about their atrocious movies.

Rating: 3.5/10
Pairs well with: sniffing hobo farts.

 

TV Review: Fear the Walking Dead (2015- )

Original Run: August 23rd, 2015 – current
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Dave Erickson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Music by: Atticus Ross, Paul Haslinger, Danny Bessi, Saunder Jurriaans
Cast: Kim Dickens, Cliff Curtis, Frank Dillane, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Mercedes Mason, Lorenzo James Henrie, Rubén Blades, Colman Domingo, Michelle Ang, Danay García, Daniel Sharman, Sam Underwood, Dayton Callie, Lisandra Tena, Maggie Grace, Garret Dillahunt, Lennie James, Jenna Elfman

Square Head Pictures, Circle of Confusion, Skybound Entertainment, Valhalla Entertainment, AMC, 48 Episodes (so far), 43-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

The Walking Dead really didn’t need of a spinoff. But as these things go, when you’ve got a cash cow, you’ve got to milk it until the teets come off.

What made this spinoff intriguing, however, was that it started when the zombie outbreak started. In The Walking Dead, we follow Rick Grimes, as he wakes up from a coma and enters a zombie infested world, months after the outbreak. Fear the Walking Dead starts on any given normal day and then the shit hits the fan. The first season shows society crumbling and how the main characters respond to it.

That rookie season was good but a somewhat unsatisfying origin story for The Walking Dead world. But once the show moved beyond the initial chaos, it got more interesting.

The sophomore season was broken into two halves, like a typical season of The Walking Dead. This show would follow that formula going forward. And while that season was a bit rocky, it found it’s footing in the second half, once our characters got off of the boat they lived on for eight episodes.

Season three switched things up quite a bit and by this point, a lot of the main characters were already wiped out.

But season four, the current season, is where the show really reinvented itself in a bold way. By the time you get through the first half of the season, only one person from the pilot episode is still alive. Additionally, Morgan from The Walking Dead comes on the show, officially crossing over, connecting this show directly to the events of the more popular parent show.

The fourth season also brings in a bunch of new and interesting characters and to be honest, it’s a completely different animal than what Fear was when it started out.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this show, which I have also had with the regular Walking Dead series, but it’s moving in a really cool direction.

It’s hard to tell where this will end up but I find it to be the more enjoyable of the two shows, right now. But being that this is The Walking Dead, that could change at the drop of a hat.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The Walking DeadDeadwoodSons of Anarchy and Hell On Wheels.

 

TV Review: The Walking Dead (2010- )

Original Run: October 31st, 2010 – current
Created by: Robert Kirkman, Frank Darabont
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Music by: Bear McCreary
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Michael Rooker, David Morrissey, Melissa McBride, Scott Wilson, Michael Cudlitz, Emily Kinney, Chad L. Coleman, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Robin Lord Taylor, Alexandra Breckenridge, Austin Amelio, Khary Payton, Tom Payne, Katelyn Nacon, Steven Ogg, Pollyanna McIntosh, Corey Hawkins, Audrey Marie Anderson, Denise Crosby, Samantha Morton

Idiot Box Productions, Circle of Confusion, Skybound Entertainment, Valhalla Entertainment, AMC, 115 Episodes (so far), 42-67 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Do I even need to review The Walking Dead, at this point? Everyone in the world has seen it by now, right? Everyone already has their own opinion of it, yes?

Well, there are a lot of people that quit years ago and it seems like the ratings have been going down the last couple of seasons. Granted, it is still AMC’s biggest show and rakes in higher numbers than nearly anything else on cable but it’s been on for eight friggin’ seasons, which is a whole hell of a lot in this day and age where decent shows get cancelled all the time.

It’s hard to review the show for the fact that it has been on for so long and that it hasn’t been very consistent from season to season. But at least the show mixes it up and tries new things, reinventing itself every 2-3 seasons. The gist of it is really the same but it’s done a decent job of evolving with the timeline in which the show is set.

However, it sort of ignores some of the real world threats that would be happening in a post-apocalyptic United States. Things that a simple comedy like The Last Man On Earth was smart enough to explore. Things like explosions at unattended nuclear power plants, spewing really bad shit into the air.

I have stuck with this show through thick and thin because as cheesy as it sounds, you grow to know these characters as if they were real people and you care about their story, especially if you’ve toughed it out through the good and bad points of the show.

There have been moments during this show’s run that I thought about giving it up but there isn’t much else to do on a Sunday night and their eight episode half seasons are pretty quick to get through. If this show had 23 episodes a year like most programs, I couldn’t stay committed to it. Plus, there was that part of me that was just waiting for the war with Negan to start. That war wasn’t what I had hoped it would be but I was satisfied with how it wrapped up and am interested in what’s to come in the upcoming season, as there are a lot of changes and a time jump happening.

For the most part, The Walking Dead has been a good show. Sometimes it feels as if it has already ran its course but for whatever reason, I can’t seem to walk away from it like some others have. But that could change with Rick, the main character, leaving the show soon.

In the end, The Walking Dead isn’t a show about zombies, it’s a show about exploring human nature and that’s more interesting than the undead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Fear the Walking DeadDeadwood and Hell On Wheels.

Film Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

Release Date: July 19th, 1985
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: George A. Romero
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, Joe Pilato, Richard Liberty

Dead Films Inc., Laurel Group, United Film Distribution Company, 100 Minutes

Review:

“What kind of progress? What are you talking about, “make them behave?” What does that mean?” – Captain Rhodes

While Dawn of the Dead is regarded as the closest thing director George A. Romero has to a masterpiece, I consider its follow-up (and the third film in Romero’s Living Dead series) Day of the Dead to be a slightly superior film. I know that some agree with me but that the majority are probably against me.

Maybe it’s because the outside areas of the film where shot in downtown Fort Myers, a city in my county or maybe it is because when this film came out, I was incredibly impressionable and saw it first. I think the real reason however, is that this has the most compelling story of the first three films in Romero’s zombie arsenal. In fact, it has the most compelling story out of any film that Romero has done.

This is the first time, at least to my knowledge, where a filmmaker delved into the zombie psyche and experimented with the idea of how their brains might work. In this film, there is one zombie in particular, named Bub, who shows increasing improvement in his mental functions, in that he recognizes people, likes music, learns how to fire a gun, remembers how to use a phone and builds up an almost father/son relationship with the scientist that is studying him.

To this day, Bub is one of the most iconic zombie figures in the history of film. I would even go on to say that he is the most iconic. That alone, puts this film on a higher level than the other Romero zombie flicks. A lot of credit should also go to the actor who played Bub, Howard Sherman. He didn’t speak but his facial expressions made it so he didn’t have to. His performance is what made Bub the first lovable zombie character in cinema history.

As far as style, this film takes the cake in the Romero zombie world. From the sunny and historic Florida streets to the cavernous and haunting mine underground to the brightly lit zombie lab, this film has a good palate of contrasting tones that go on to shape the emotional narrative of the film.

The great effects of its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead, were once again on display but perfected even more for this film. The death of the character named Rhodes is one of the most gruesome yet awe-inspiring scenes of all-time for a special effects junkie.

Yes, the acting can be a bit cheesy and overly boisterous at times but that adds to the fun of this film. The violence, while there is a lot and it might seem gratuitous to some, never really pushes the bar so high that this becomes some low budget gore fest. There is a pretty stark political and social message in this film and it isn’t lost by a filmmaker inadvertently distracting his audience with shock value tactics.

Romero delivered in every way and this is, in my opinion, his best film.

Film Review: Grindhouse (2007)

While I have seen both Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror and Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof multiple times, I never got to see the full-length version of Grindhouse until now.

When it came out in 2007, only one theater near me carried it and it wasn’t there very long, so I missed it. Also, the films were released separately, as expanded editions, when they hit store shelves. There wasn’t a full version of Grindhouse available after its theatrical run.

When I subscribed to Starz via my Amazon Fire Stick, I saw that the full version of the movie was available and thus, I could finally rectify this cinematic injustice. I’m really glad that I did because these films actually play much better in this format, as double-billed companion pieces to one another.

Plus, I finally got to see the trailers, as a part of this overall experience, even though I have seen them on YouTube multiple times since 2007.

Robert Rodriguez’s trailer for Machete was a highlight of the film and it was so good that it became its own motion picture and then expanded into a franchise. Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS trailer was interesting enough, as a trailer, but doesn’t seem like something that will work as a full-length feature. The same can be said for Edgar Wright’s Don’t. Now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving should be made into a full-length slasher film in the same vein as Machete. Roth has hinted at making it and I hope he eventually does.

This film also spawned a contest for fans to make fake trailers in the grindhouse style. This lead to the full-length feature Hobo With A Shotgun, which was a hell of a lot of fun. I need to re-watch it and review it in the near future.

Moving beyond the fake trailers, we have the two big films that make up the bulk of the Grindhouse experience. So let me get into each film and discuss them on their own.

Planet Terror (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey, Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Bruce Willis, Naveen Andrews, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Quentin Tarantino, Tom  Savini, Michael Parks

Rodriguez International Pictures, Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 103 Minutes

Review:

“Now you’ve got a gal in your wrecked truck with a missing leg? A missing leg that’s now missing?” – Sheriff Hague

Planet Terror has always been my favorite of the two movies in Grindhouse. That still stands, as I love just about everything about it. It may even be my favorite Robert Rodriguez picture but it is a close race between this, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.

The film is essentially a zombie outbreak movie but it is really gross, even for that genre. People’s faces start bubbling into puss and there is a lot of blood and other strange bodily fluids oozing out of people throughout the movie. There are also lots of severed testicles and a melting penis. It’s a gross movie but it is still well done and it doesn’t overtake the picture making it a mindless gore festival.

Planet Terror has a lot of depth and character development for a movie loaded with a ton of people. Everyone has an interesting story and it is cool seeing it all play out as these people eventually come together in an effort to escape the growing threat of a zombie apocalypse.

It also really fits the old school 1970s exploitation style of horror pictures that populated grindhouse theaters in big cities. The cinematography really captures the right vibe and kudos to the extra graininess and inconsistent look of different shots in the same sequences.

The practical effects also work well in making this film fit the grindhouse mold. Sometimes there is obvious CGI and it is a reminder that this isn’t a true 70s grindhouse picture but it isn’t a distraction and it serves its purpose well enough.

The cast is also phenomenal. I remember that when I first saw this, that I hoped it would open up doors for Freddy Rodriguez. He’s still not anywhere close to being a household name but his character of El Wray should reappear in some way, in some other Rodriguez picture. He’s a guy too cool to just be confined to this one movie.

This is also my favorite thing that Rose McGowan has ever done. Plus you get a very evil Josh Brolin, an enchanting Marley Shelton, a bad ass Michael Biehn, plus Michael Parks, Tom Savini, Bruce Willis, Lost‘s Naveen Andrews and Quentin Tarantino as his most despicable character to date. Jeff Fahey, who is always stellar, really kills it in this movie as J.T. the Texas B-B-Q king. Also, Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has never looked better.

Planet Terror is unique, even for a film in a tired genre. It takes the zombie formula and ups the ante in every way possible. Rodriguez made a fine picture that should be mentioned alongside other great zombie classics.

Death Proof (2007):

Release Date: April 6th, 2007
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Music by: Rachel Levy, Jack Nitzsche, Mary Ramos
Cast: Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd, Rose McGowan, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Tracie Thoms, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Zoe Bell, Eli Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Parks, James Parks, Marley Shelton

Troublemaker Studios, Dimension Films, 114 Minutes

Review:

“Because it was a fifty fifty shot on wheter you’d be going left or right. You see we’re both going left. You could have just as easily been going left, too. And if that was the case… It would have been a while before you started getting scared. But since you’re going the other way, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to start getting scared… immediately!” – Stuntman Mike

When I first saw Death Proof, it didn’t resonate with me. I mean, I enjoyed it enough but it just didn’t compare to the work that Quentin Tarantino did before it. I still feel this way but I have more of an appreciation for the film now. Also, seeing it in the Grindhouse format, which is more condensed, serves the film better.

The problem I initially had with the film, and some of Tarantino’s other pictures, is that it is way too talky. Sure, he writes great dialogue but sometimes it can run on for far too long. Death Proof in its longer running time falls victim to this. The condensed Grindhouse version, however, is better balanced.

Another problem with the film, is that many of the characters just aren’t likable. This is especially true for the first group of girls we meet. At least the second group felt more like friends and their conversations came across as more natural and authentic.

Kurt Russell initially knocks it out of the park as the killer driver, Stuntman Mike. However, as the film and his character evolves, he completely loses the cool bad ass shtick and becomes a giant whining weeny. His character transformation isn’t a bad thing, it is just how it is executed that makes it a problem.

The one thing that really makes this a cool picture, however, is the cars and the stunts. Tarantino selected some seriously bad ass automobiles that were homages to films that influenced him. The stunt work and action was amazing and the sequence of the first major accident was shot and executed stupendously.

The problem with the film, being that it is supposed to be a grindhouse throwback, is that it needed more balls-to-the-wall mayhem and less chit chat. The fact that this has a lot more dialogue than Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror but somehow can’t develop characters as well is pretty baffling. Tarantino would just rather focus on cool conversations on subjects that directly interest him than to have any sort of meaningful character development. You just don’t care about these people in the same way you care about those in Planet Terror.

Regardless of my criticisms, I do still like this movie. But to be honest, I still think it is the worst film in Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre. Granted, that doesn’t mean much, as everything he’s done has been fairly great in some way.

In the end, this is still entertaining as hell and who doesn’t love muscle car chaos and kick ass chicks?

Additional directorial credits:

Robert Rodriguez – Machete trailer
Rob Zombie – Werewolf Women of the SS trailer
Edgar Wright – Don’t trailer
Eli Roth – Thanksgiving trailer

Additional acting credits from the fake trailer segments: Danny Trejo, Nicolas Cage, Sheri Moon Zombie, Cheech Marin, Udo Kier, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning, Bill Moseley, Will Arnett, Nick Frost, Rafe Spall, Jason Issacs, Simon Pegg, Peter Serafinowicz