Film Review: Psycho (1998)

Release Date: December 4th, 1998
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrman, Danny Elfman (adapting), Steve Bartek (adapting)
Cast: Vince Vaughn, Julianne Moore, Viggo Mortensen, William H. Macy, Anne Heche, Robert Forster, Philip Baker Hall, Anne Haney, Rance Howard, Chad Everett, Rita Wilson, James Remar, James LeGros, Mike “Flea” Balzary, Gus Van Sant (cameo)

Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.” – Norman Bates

If you ever thought that a shot-for-shot remake of a masterpiece with added gore and vibrant color was a good idea, you’re in luck because this motion picture exists!

If you’d rather see someone take old material and give it new life and a fresh perspective, well… don’t watch this motion picture.

It’s baffling to me that the director, Gus Van Sant, came right off of the critically acclaimed and multiple award winning Good Will Hunting and churned out this pointless, vapid turd.

I’ll be honest, I never wanted to see this film because the original Alfred Hitchcock classic is damn near perfect. However, it’s the only Psycho-related thing that I haven’t watched and reviewed. Sadly, it makes the worst of the sequels and re-imaginings look like classics by comparison. Hell, even the strange Bates Motel TV movie from the ’80s is much better than this.

What’s weird is that the acting actually isn’t bad, it’s just that this uses the same script and only really alters it to feature some extra violence and to update it due to technology changing from 1960 to 1998. The problem with that, is that this feels more like the actors trying to emulate what came before with just a little bit of their own flourish added to it. But I can’t really say that it’s their fault, as how can one not be influenced by the great performances that already turned this same script into a real cinematic classic?

As a film, this is embarrassing. I feel bad for everyone involved in it and I just don’t understand why this was made and who thought it’d be a good idea. Some of the sequels and other takes on the material were good. It would’ve been a lot cooler to see a new take on the story, as opposed to just making it in color, more violent and more modern.

Eh, whatever… fuck this movie.

But I guess it’s worth checking out if you’ve ever wanted to see Vince Vaughn fap.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: spoiled milk and stale Zebra Cakes.

Film Review: SolarBabies (1986)

Also known as: Solarfighters, Solar Warriors (alternative titles)
Release Date: November 26th, 1986
Directed by: Alan Johnson
Written by: Walon Green, Douglas Anthony Metrov
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Richard Jordan, Jami Gertz, Jason Patric, Lukas Haas, James Le Gros, Claude Brooks, Peter DeLuise, Peter Kowanko, Adrian Pasdar, Sarah Douglas, Charles Durning, Frank Converse, Terrence Mann, Alexei Sayle, Bruce Payne, Willoguhby Gray

Brooksfilms, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“It’s an odd name for a skateball team, don’t you think? “Solarbabies.” Too soft, not menacing enough. Why do you suppose they chose it?” – Grock, “They don’t seem to need anything more menacing, do they? They always seem to win.” – The Warden

Researching this movie for this review, I discovered that Mel Brooks was the executive producer on this. Somehow I must’ve always missed that. Then again, I hadn’t seen this since the early ’90s when it would pop up on TV from time to time.

I used to really like this movie, despite its overabundance of flaws. Seeing it now, I’d say it’s less palatable than it was when it was more current, however, it’s still got charm and a really likable cast of young people, most of whom would go on to have memorable careers.

The film follows a group of teens and a younger kid that escape from a dystopian juvenile prison. They also befriend an alien orb that exhibits some special powers. The majority of the film deals with these kids being on the run from the fascist military group that is led by Richard Jordan, who I most remember as the obsessed Sandman that hunted Michael York in 1976’s Logan’s Run. I’ve always liked him since that film and seeing him in a similar role, albeit with an army at his disposal, is pretty enjoyable. This also features Sarah Douglas, as a secondary villain.

The special effects are pretty underwhelming, even for the time, but some things did hold up well. I love the matte painting work used for the landscapes and the effects sequence where the teen’s hand dissolves into bone and ash looks really damn cool.

The film’s score is a mixed bag but more on the negative end of the spectrum. It’s mostly just cheesy synth tracks that are repetitive and pounding. There’s a pop track or two, which livens things up but the music drags the film down quite a bit due to just how generic and basic it is.

One thing I do like is that this has a very spaghetti western vibe to it. Since it is mostly filmed in Spain, it really reflects the look of those deserts. It actually fits well within the slew of Spanish and Italian Mad Max ripoffs from the decade. I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually used some of the same props and set pieces from some of those films, due to the similar dystopian atmosphere.

While this has a 4.8 out of 10 on IMDb, it’s a better movie than that. I understand why the general public would look down on it and rate it as below average but it’s got character, it’s got heart and it’s got a rare youthful energy that is missing from similar post-apocalyptic films of the era.

Plus, it’s got Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones in it.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other cheesy ’80s sci-fi movies.

Film Review: Phantasm II (1988)

Also known as: Phantasm II: The Never Dead Part Two (Australia)
Release Date: July 8th, 1988
Directed by: Don Coscarelli
Written by: Don Coscarelli
Music by: Fred Myrow, Christopher L. Stone
Cast: James Le Gros, Reggie Bannister, Angus Scrimm, Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar, Michael Baldwin (archive footage), Phil Fondacaro (uncredited)

Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“You think that when you die, you go to Heaven. You come to us!” – The Tall Man

I saw this in the theater way back in 1988. I was 9 years-old. I about shit myself and my older cousin thought that the whole fiasco was hilarious. But really, I had already seen the first Phantasm before this and I thought I was pretty prepared. But that scene with the creature thing in the girl’s back really freaked my little brain out. But I’ll explain as I get into the review.

Phantasm II is a fairly good sequel, especially considering that there were 9 years between this and its predecessor.

To get this out of the way, I didn’t like the recasting of Mike but I understand why a larger studio like Universal did it, as Michael Baldwin (who would play Mike in all the other films) didn’t have a lot of acting experience. Still, he was good in the original movie and decent in the ones that followed this. I hold no ill will towards James LeGros but he just sticks out like a sore thumb. That’s not his fault and he did a good job here but he just doesn’t feel like Mike.

At least Reggie and the Tall Man weren’t recast though because I love both of the characters and they are the highlights of this film. Well, Reggie and his four-barreled sawed off shotgun and the Tall Man and his larger collection of killer spheres and minions.

What’s strange about this film, however, is that it was produced by a larger studio than the first film and therefore had a more substantial budget but a lot of the effects didn’t seem to be as good as the original film. The bits with the killer spheres had noticeable wires and the camera work wasn’t as clean. Also, the rehash of the sphere murder from the first movie didn’t look as good and it cut away at certain parts that the original didn’t. I don’t know if this was to save money on effects or if Universal was trying to tone down the gorier bits. Whatever the reason, the scene didn’t have the effectiveness as the original. And really, this is a sequel, you need to up the ante not tone it down.

There were some violent and gruesome reveals, like when the guy is turned over to reveal a buzzsaw sphere stuck in his mouth, but these were all just effects without the flourish of the gore happening in the moment.

I thought the best effect in the film was the one I mentioned in the first paragraph about the creature in the girl’s back. Basically, Mike finds a girl that’s been tortured, notices something moving on her back and then pulls back her shirt to reveal a demonic head that rises up out of her body. It was a message left for Mike by the Tall Man but it was probably the highlight of the film, other than the big final battle. The animatronics were fantastic and this is the moment that scared the crap out of me, sitting in a theater back in 1988.

Overall, this film is pretty solid and it enriched the Phantasm mythos. It added some new elements and kind of just solidified how cool these films are.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Phantasm movies.

Film Review: Near Dark (1987)

Release Date: October 2nd, 1987
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Written by: Eric Red, Kathryn Bigelow
Music by: Tangerine Dream
Cast: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Tim Thomerson, Joshua John Miller, Marcie Leeds, James Le Gros

Dino De Laurentiis Group, 95 Minutes

near-darkReview:

With the passing of Bill Paxton, I wanted to revisit one of my favorite roles that he played. In fact, this is my favorite Paxton character after Hudson from Aliens.

The problem with Near Dark is that other than Paxton’s great performance as the vampire Severen, there isn’t much else to really get behind.

This film is beloved by many and some have even called it one of the greatest vampire movies ever made. I disagree with that.

Near Dark is dreary and for the most part, not exciting to look at. It is a marriage between the horror and western genre and its setting makes it a dirty, dusty and desolate looking film. It is marred by pretty lackluster cinematography that doesn’t really add any life to it. Sure, it is a contemporary western with vampires, so being dark and dirty makes sense. But it doesn’t need to be nor should it be. The result is a movie that is aesthetically dull.

It also doesn’t help that the story isn’t very interesting and that things happen in it that don’t make a lot of logical sense. There are multiple times where the vampires are outside, then a minute or two later, sunlight is all of a sudden beaming in and burning them. The passage of time is nonsensical and it just exposes the film as being poorly written.

The music by Tangerine Dream is pretty awful. But even that isn’t as bad as the performance by Jenny Wright. Her acting was amateurish and it didn’t help that she had some horrible dialogue.

I do have to point out that the special effects were pretty good though. The scene where the vampire kid is burning while running down the street was well executed, especially for the time. The makeup was also well done, as well as the knife slashing and gunshot effects.

The interesting thing about this movie is that it has three actors from Aliens, which was released just a year prior. The vampire gang is led by Lance Henriksen’s Jesse, his girlfriend is played by Jenette Goldstein and of course you have Bill Paxton.

Near Dark is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who would have a lot of success later on with The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. She was also, for a brief time, married to Aliens director James Cameron. Near Dark was the first feature film she directed on her own.

The film also has another James Cameron connection through the Terminator franchise, as Paxton had a small role in the first film and one of his victims in this movie had a small role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Goldstein also appears in the second Terminator as John Connor’s foster mother.

Regardless of all the negatives, Near Dark certainly isn’t unwatchable. Most people seem to enjoy it. But again, I only really like it because of Bill Paxton’s presence.

Honestly, with as strong as Paxton was, I felt like he should have done more in the film. His character was the only thing fun about the picture.

Rating: 6.25/10