Film Review: Tremors (1990)

Also known as: Land Sharks, Beneath Perfection, Dead Silence (working titles)
Release Date: January 19th, 1990
Directed by: Ron Underwood
Written by: Brent Maddock, S. S. Wilson, Ron Underwood
Music by: Ernest Troost, Robert Folk (uncredited)
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Victor Wong, Bibi Besch

Stampede Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t ya you bastard!” – Burt Gummer

I know that Tremors somehow spawned a franchise that a lot of people seem to like. However, I’ve never been a big fan of it. In fact, I’ve only seen this film, the original, in its entirety. I’ve seen bits and pieces of others but never cared enough to watch them all the way through, even if Michael Gross’ Burt Gummer is damn entertaining.

So I’d say that this one is the best but I don’t really know. But I’d assume so, as it’s the only one to get a proper theatrical release and wasn’t just made for video, DVD or the SyFy Channel.

Also, this one has the best cast with Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Victor Wong, Reba McEntire and Bibi Besch all alongside Gross. Plus, Gross wasn’t the star of the series yet. He wouldn’t really become the centerpiece till the third film after Fred Ward dropped out following part two.

This movie is enjoyable. I mean, I love giant killer animal movies and even if these maneating sandworms aren’t the size of kaiju or the Shai Hulud from Dune, they’re cool creatures that, at the time, offered up a pretty cool and original threat for horror audiences.

There is just something terribly frightening about being swallowed alive through the ground you’re walking on. The victims in this film get sucked under in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to how the killer shark from Jaws pulled his victims underwater, chomp by chomp.

Overall, this is a well cast movie that allows its stars to ham it up. I was kind of sad to see Victor Wong go so early though, as I was hoping he’d have a bigger presence and get to kick some ass. But we get some solid Fred Ward material, which is always a plus for me as he’s been underutilized and underappreciated his entire career. Sure, that’s my opinion but it’s probably fact too.

For a 1990 film, the special effects are good, practical ones that exist in the real world. This isn’t chock full of CGI, which seemed to become the norm as the series rolled on into the future. This one was lucky enough to come out a few years before Jurassic Park changed the game with digital monster effects. But everything onscreen looks great. I also loved the first person point-of-view of the sandworms chasing their victims, even if it didn’t make sense because they hunted underground and blindly chomped at vibrations.

Tremors is a dumb but fun movie. It may have gotten flushed down the memory hole if it weren’t for all the sequels but it’s definitely mindless and entertaining enough to provide 96 minutes of amusing and lively escapism.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: all the other films in the franchise, as well as any other killer animal movies.

Film Review: Black Mass (2015)

Release Date: September 4th, 2015 (Venice International Film Festival)
Directed by: Scott Cooper
Written by: Jez Butterworth, Mark Mallouk
Based on: Black Mass by Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill
Music by: Tom Holkenborg
Cast: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Cochrane, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Dakota Johnson, David Harbour, Adam Scott, Juno Temple

Cross Creek Pictures, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, Warner Bros., 122 Minutes

Review:

*written in 2015.

“Take your shot, but make it your best. ‘Cause I get up, I eat ya.” – Whitey Bulger

Black Mass is the latest mobster biopic to come down the pipeline. What makes this one interesting is Johnny Depp wears a bunch of heavy make-up that looks odd and makes him look like the elderly love child of Ray Liotta and one of those reptilian aliens that I heard are taking over the U.S. government.

The film is directed by Scott Cooper, who also did the critically-acclaimed Crazy Heart and the mediocre Out of the Furnace. He also acted in an episode of The X-Files a long time ago. I wouldn’t say that this film brings back the bright shining star status Cooper had with his debut Crazy Heart but it isn’t a bad film by any means. It is more eventful than Out of the Furnace but unlike that film, I don’t care about any of the characters in Black Mass.

Depp’s portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger is interesting and well executed for the material but there is a real lack of material there. There is no character building or development. What you have is a one-dimensional psycho on screen from the opening bell to the closing bell. His backstory is casually mentioned, his relationship with his friends and family is bland and he just feels like a cookie cutter bad guy in a cookie cutter mob film. I don’t care about Bulger, good or bad. I don’t sympathize with him or hate him. I should feel something, correct? And that is how it is for every character in this film.

For a movie boasting a cast of names like Depp, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kevin Bacon, Peter Sarsgaard, Joel Edgerton, Jesse Plemons, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Juno Temple – I expected more. Additionally, Rory Cochrane from Dazed and Confused and Empire Records has an integral role, as does Dakota Johnson, who I am not as familiar with but she is some sort of big deal because she was in Fifty Shades of Grey (hopefully that’s not all she’s going to be known for).

This film seems to be getting a lot of love from critics. I’m not sure why. It plays from scene-to-scene and has a logical and fairly fluid plot but there just isn’t a lot of suspense or build up. Everything is predictable. You know who is going to die and when, you know what this psycho is thinking. Realistically, shouldn’t the psycho surprise you? I know that this is a biopic but some of us don’t know the whole “Whitey” Bulger story and the film would benefit from giving us a few surprises instead of blatantly foreshadowing everything to the point of eliminating any real tension or drama in the movie.

Black Mass is more good than bad, even though I am being somewhat harsh. The thing is, it is pretty forgettable in the grand scheme of gangster movies. It is interesting enough to watch but it certainly isn’t a classic in the sense of Goodfellas, The Godfather, Scarface or even Depp’s 1997 film Donnie Brasco.

Film Review: The ‘Friday the 13th’ Film Series, Part I – The Original Trilogy (1980-1982)

Friday the 13th was a cultural phenomenon when I was growing up. While I have always been a bigger fan of Freddy Krueger, I still loved these films, which followed Jason Voorhees, as he murdered sexually active teens that got too close to Crystal Lake.

This is one of the most successful film franchises in cinema history, despite being panned by critics. There have been a total of twelve films between sequels and a remake, as well as an entry that saw Jason fight Freddy of A Nightmare On Elm Street fame. There was even a television show that didn’t directly tie into the movies but was inspired by their tone and spirit.

It is rumored that there is a new films and a television show currently in development. Although things seem to be at the very early stages.

In this review, I am going to cover the first three films. The second review will cover what I call The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy as Parts IV, V and VI focus on the character of Tommy Jarvis and his three film battle with the masked killer. Part three will cover Parts VII, VIII, Jason Goes to Hell and Jason X – the films featuring Kane Hodder as Jason. I will review Freddy vs. Jason and the 2009 remake at a later date.

Friday the 13th (1980):

Release Date: May 9th, 1980
Directed by: Sean S. Cunningham
Written by: Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Betsy Palmer, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartram, Mark Nelson, Jeannine Taylor, Robbi Morgan, Kevin Bacon

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

The first film was created to cash-in on the success of its slasher predecessor Halloween. It was also the first film of its type to be distributed by a major studio – Paramount Pictures. The studio heads were geniuses taking a risk like that because it turned into a massive franchise. Well, they sold the rights to New Line Cinema years later but someone definitely got a huge bonus.

The first film sets the tone for all the others. It even features a young Kevin Bacon.

What makes the first film so unique, is that people have come to associate these films with Jason as the killer. However, in the original film, Jason was not the killer. I thought this was pretty much common knowledge until my girlfriend watched it with me and was shocked at the reveal. While she had seen many of these films, the first movie was not one of them and it was cool to see someone effected by the reveal for the first time.

This seems to be considered the best film, despite Jason only being in it for a few seconds. It’s a good slasher movie but I don’t feel that it is the best, as the films evolve and develop over time.

It still plays well today, and it is still effective despite aspects of it coming off as cheesy. The practical effects still look better than modern CGI blood splatter and gore but I constantly beat a dead horse with that point in my reviews of older horror movies.

The atmosphere of this film is great. It has a similar environmental vibe to Wes Craven’s Last House On the Left but it is lighter in tone, with comedic elements being sprinkled in. It certainly doesn’t make you as uncomfortable as Last House On the Left. Oddly enough, Sean S. Cunningham, who directed and produced this film, worked with Craven on Last House. He wanted to distance himself from that film and wanted to create something a bit more approachable and fun. He succeeded.

Friday the 13th, Part II (1981):

Release Date: April 30th, 1981
Directed by: Steve Miner, Sean S. Cunningham (additional scenes)
Written by: Ron Kurz, Phil Scuderi
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Amy Steel, John Furey, Adrienne King, Betsy Palmer

Paramount Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

The second film picks up with Jason looking for revenge. Revenge for what? Well, watch the first film, if you don’t know.

Jason is finally the killer and introduced as a menacing hulk for the first time. Although he doesn’t have the hockey mask yet and walks around with a potato sack over his head. While that is bizarre, there is still something scary about it and about his one eye – peering through a small tear in the sack.

Another group of teens show up at Crystal Lake and the body count starts to rise.

This isn’t as strong of a film as a few of the later installments but it does set the course for the franchise. It becomes the template to follow, even more so than the first part. There is more violence, more boobies and the most important element: Jason!

The only real negative about this chapter, is that they kill off Crazy Ralph. That dude should have been in every Friday the 13th movie.

Friday the 13th, Part III (1982):

Release Date: August 13th, 1982
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson, Petru Popescu
Based on: characters by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz
Music by: Harry Manfredini, Michael Zager
Cast: Dana Kimmell, Paul Kratka, Richard Brooker

Paramount Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

This was a 3D film. It is funny to watch because there are all these bizarre shots done that were made specifically for the 3D format. So when you watch them now, they look bizarre and out of place. But even if you didn’t know this was a 3D film, it is made pretty obvious with some of the gags and angles.

The most important thing about this movie, is that Jason finally gets his hockey mask! And even though it takes three films to get to completely familiar territory with this franchise, I do love the slow build over three movies. While it wasn’t necessarily intentional at the time, it now plays out really well. It also keeps the films from becoming too similar, up to this point.

Another group of teens show up because Jason likes killing a specific type of people and a senior citizens convention wouldn’t be as exciting.

Teens die, other people die, Jason fucks shit up and then we get our final battle of the heroine versus the monster. Not to give too much away but the final fight sees Jason take an axe to the head, which is how he got that iconic mark at the top of his mask.

This film is more comedic than its predecessors, especially in regards to the marijuana jokes and hippie characters that were obviously put in the film to appeal to the Cheech & Chong crowd at the time.