Film Review: From A Whisper To A Scream (1987)

Also known as: The Offspring (original title)
Release Date: May 13th, 1987 (Cannes)
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr, Mike Malone
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Vincent Price, Susan Tyrrell, Clu Gulager, Terry Kiser, Harry Caesar, Rosalind Cash, Cameron Mitchell, Martine Beswick, Lawrence Tierney

Conquest Productions, Manson International, Whisper Scream Limited Partnership, 99 Minutes, 92 Minutes (VHS cut)

Review:

“One thing I’ve learned, my dear, is that one is never too old for nightmares.” – Julian White

I’ve stated in the past that I’m not a big fan of anthology horror movies. However, as I’ve reviewed more and more over the almost five years that this website has existed, they’ve kind of won me over.

Sure, many are bad and most are inconsistent from segment-to-segment. However, even if something doesn’t hit the right way, it’s over pretty quickly and the viewer gets to move on to the next chapter.

With From A Whisper To A Scream, we get an anthology picture where every chapter was pretty decent. Plus, the story that connects everything together stars horror legend Vincent Price in his last true horror role.

I don’t know if Price would’ve been a fan of the level of gore in this movie but it’s pretty standard for an ’80s horror flick that’s going for the jugular. I don’t think it’s overly gratuitous and it’s fine for the style but it’s definitely edgier and bloodier than the film’s one would typically associate Price with.

Each story was interesting and pretty creative. Unlike Creepshow, the Twilight Zone movie, Tales From the Darkside and the Tales From the Crypt TV show, this didn’t have source material to pull from and adapt. Still, the situations were cool and unique and frankly, pretty f’n bonkers.

From A Whisper To A Scream was enjoyable from top-to-bottom. For me, that’s rare in an anthology horror picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971)

Release Date: October 17th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Brian Clemens
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Ralph Bates, Martine Beswick

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I walked the streets, brooding on the bitter irony that all I wanted to do for humanity, for life, would be cheated by death… unless I could cheat death.” – Dr. Jekyll

This is strangely a Hammer horror film that I hadn’t seen. It’s always cool seeing one of these for the first time because it’s like looking at it with fresh eyes without nostalgia grabbing hold and taking you back to a magical time from your youth.

That being said, I quite enjoyed this and the gender bending twist to this classic story was a fun, interesting take.

The plot sees the legendary character of Dr. Jekyll develop and test out his own serum. However, in this version, he doesn’t turn into Mr. Hyde, he turns into a hot chick.

With that, his female persona uses her beauty and her gender to trap women in her web before horrifically murdering them Jack The Ripper style. In fact, this was most definitely inspired by the Jack The Ripper killings, as much as it was inspired by the famous Robert Louis Stevenson horror story about the duality of man and science run amok.

I love Ralph Bates, especially in his Hammer movie roles. I really liked Martine Beswick, as well though, as she plays the murderous female version of the character.

Additionally, whoever cast this film did a stupendous job in finding two leads with a very similar look despite their different genders.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde may not be the best version of the Stevenson tale but it’s certainly a really cool take on it, made by a solid classic horror director and two leads that committed to their parts and ultimately gave us cinematic magic.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the early ’70s that explore sexual themes.

Film Review: Thunderball (1965)

Release Date: December 9th, 1965 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, John Hopkins, Kevin McClory, Jack Whittingham, Ian Fleming
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi, Luciana Paluzzi, Rik Van Nutter, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Philip Stone, Martine Beswick

Eon Productions, United Artists, 130 Minutes

Review:

“My dear girl, don’t flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don’t think it gave me any pleasure, do you?” – James Bond

After Guy Hamilton directed Goldfinger and took the Bond film franchise away from focusing on SPECTRE, Terence Young came back to direct the fourth film and made SPECTRE a focal point once again. And I’m glad because as much as I like Goldfinger, I’d rather see Connery’s Bond duking it out with Blofeld’s minions on a grand stage. Auric Goldfinger just seemed like a chump when compared to a high ranking SPECTRE agent.

This chapter in the franchise also feels a bit like a call back to the original film, Dr. No. Mainly just in aesthetic and geography though, as this film’s big finale takes place in the Bahamas, which draws some similarities to Dr. No‘s Jamaica sequences.

Also, the villain in this is Emilio Largo, one of the all-time greatest Bond villains of all-time. See, I said “all-time” twice to solidify the point. In fact, I ranked him third on a list where I did a countdown of James Bond baddies. The only villains I ranked higher were Blofeld (obviously) and Francisco Scaramanga because c’mon man, that’s Christopher Lee. Largo is just perfect as a top SPECTRE operative and “Number 2” to Blofeld, who Bond would finally face in the film after this.

In a lot of ways, this sets up the big Bond vs. Blofeld showdown that was coming in You Only Live Twice while also being a culmination of the events that started in Dr. No and From Russia With Love. This is a vital chapter in the Connery era, as it acts as a bridge linking the important SPECTRE plot points. Plus, it’s just damn good.

While this Bond film is tropical and beautiful, it also has a grittiness to it. It feels more real than the previous outing. Granted, that’s a bit undone by the hokey speed boat finale but the technology to make that sequence less cheesy, didn’t exist yet. And really, that whole stopping the super speedy boat from crashing is really my only complaint about the film.

I love Connery’s James Bond. I also love Largo, as I have already pointed out. The scenes that the two share together really take this film to a different level though. Red Grant was good in From Russia With Love and Dr. Julius No was solid in Dr. No. But there is just something larger and more threatening about Largo. Sure, he can’t physically match Bond like Red Grant but he effectively uses other tools and plays to his strengths.

Underwater sequences in movies usually suck, let’s be honest. But the ones in this film just work and there’s a lot of underwater stuff. Plus, you get to see Bond literally swimming with sharks and I mean “literally” in the grammatically correct way and I’m not using “sharks” as a metaphor. I mean actual sharks.

Thunderball is better than just being a popcorn movie set in majestic scenery. If you ever wanted to pick a handful of Bond movies to have a mini marathon with, than this should definitely be in that handful.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: From Russia With Love (1963)

Release Date: October 10th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Daniela Bianchi, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Martine Beswick

Eon Productions, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but of the whole stupid. Yes they’re stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE… he strikes!” – Blofeld

After the huge success of Dr. No, Eon Productions didn’t waste any time in fast tracking a sequel. While that usually results in shoddy results, what we actually got was one of the best James Bond films of all-time and my personal favorite out of the Connery pictures.

This also serves to establish SPECTRE as a much bigger threat than you might realize that they were when watching Dr. No. Blofeld makes an appearance here and he employs two of his best agents (and two of the best Bond villains ever) Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE’s “Number 3”, and Donald “Red” Grant, an incredibly talented and deadly assassin, who really is the evil counterpart to James Bond and the first time we’ve seen this sort of character.

What I really like about the Connery Bond pictures, especially the earliest ones, is that they had a seriousness about them. Sure, they were also playful, as Bond movies should be, but they also knew how to balance it really well. Bond doesn’t yet feel invincible and with the opening scene in this picture, where we see how astute Grant is at killing, the danger in this film feels much more real. I think the very dark opening, regardless of its narrative swerve did a lot in foreshadowing the tone of the rest of the picture.

This movie has a real grittiness to it. However, that grittiness started to dissipate with each new Bond film after this one. A grittiness that is mostly non-existent in the era of Roger Moore.

Part of that is due to the fight scenes. This has some of the best cinematic face offs that you will see from the 1960s. The confrontation between Bond and Grant on the train is almost strenuous to watch because it has a real sense of authenticity to it. It’s might vs. might, skill vs. skill, as two well trained men with deadly hands try to kill one another.

Also, Bond still has all of the elements that made him cool and tough in the first film but it’s at a whole different level here. Dr. No was the trial run and now, by film two, Connery seems more comfortable and familiar with the territory. And the best part, is that this was before the character started to become watered down and cliche. Connery’s Bond has a certain panache and gravitas and the writers weren’t trying to purposefully maximize it or fine tune it yet. Connery just put it out there, carried the film and it was all natural. Or at least it felt that way.

And while you don’t need a lot of money to make a good picture, this film had double the budget of its predecessor and it shows. All the on location stuff was great and even though I love the beauty of Jamaica, the Turkey scenes in this are majestic and made the scale of this film come across as much more epic.

From Russia With Love isn’t just one of the greatest James Bond films, it is one of the absolute best in the entire spy thriller genre.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: The ‘Critters’ Film Series (1986-1992)

As a kid, I used to love watching the first two Critters films over and over. And since I recently reviewed the Gremlins series, I thought I’d get reacquainted with its best knockoff.

Critters (1986):

Release Date: April 11th, 1986
Directed by: Stephen Herek
Written by: Stephen Herek, Domonic Muir, Don Keith Opper
Music by: David Newman
Cast: Dee Wallace, M. Emmet Walsh, Billy “Green” Bush, Scott Grimes, Nadine Van der Velde, Don Keith Opper, Billy Zane, Terrence Mann

New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

critters-1Review:

After producing a massive hit with A Nightmare On Elm Street, New Line Cinema joined several other studios in trying to make their own copycat of 1984’s Gremlins. It was a similar trend to what happened after Jaws came out in the 70s and it inspired a ton of copycats through the rest of the decade.

Critters is probably the best of the Gremlins wannabes. The main reason, is that it is still its own film with its own identity. Sure, the two pictures share similarities but Critters is darker, more ferocious and has that great low-budget 80s horror vibe to it. Plus, it establishes the creatures as vicious aliens and brings in two cool alien bounty hunters.

While, from a critical standpoint, Critters is considered the best of its franchise. I do feel that the second one edges it out a bit, which I will explain when I get to that one.

This film is still pretty fantastic though. It is comical, at times, but it does seem like the most serious of the movies. Overall, it might also be the most fun.

Dee Wallace, who was the queen of 80s horror, plays the mom. She doesn’t get as dirty as she has gotten in other films but it is always great to see her embracing the genre of horror. Scott Grimes plays the son, who would also reprise his role in the sequel. Then you have a small part by Billy Zane, before he was well-known.

Most importantly, the film introduces us to Charlie (played by Don Opper) and Ug (played by Terrence Mann). They would go on to be in all four of the films in the series, playing a pair of bounty hunters. Granted, Charlie is a drunk Earthling buffoon in the first movie but he would evolve into a sober bad ass buffoon over time.

The first movie still plays pretty well. The effects are good for the time and mostly hold up. I can see why this is considered the best of the series but let me get into the second picture and why I prefer it.

Rating: 7/10

Critters 2: The Main Course (1988):

Release Date: April 29th, 1988
Directed by: Mick Garris
Written by: David Twohy, Mick Garris
Music by: Nicholas Pike
Cast: Scott Grimes, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Liane Curtis, Barry Corbin, Tom Hodges, Sam Anderson

New Line Cinema, 85 Minutes

critters-2Review:

The reason I like this installment the best, is because it is a lot less confined than the others. The first film takes place primarily on a farm, the third film is mostly set in an urban apartment building while the fourth and final chapter is on a confined space station. Critters 2, on the other hand, encompasses an entire small town and the areas around it. And honestly, it just feels like it has the biggest budget. It utilized what little it had with maximum effects. Plus you get the giant Critters ball at the end of the film, which was just really cool when I was a young kid.

The film also features Charlie as an actual bounty hunter. In fact, it features the bounty hunters the most and they are the coolest characters in the series, especially Ug. We are then introduced to Lee, a third bounty hunter, who takes the form of a nude Playboy Playmate. Granted, she acquires clothes after her introduction. But it was great seeing amazing breasts in a PG-13 movie when I was nine.

The film brings back Scott Grimes from the original. It also adds in Liane Curtis, who I was crushing on, back in the day. Barry Corbin joins the cast as the sheriff and I’ve always been a fan of his work. Sam Anderson, who you may know from a slew of television appearances, has a small role as Liane Curtis’ overprotective father.

Critters 2 is the quintessential Critters movie. It has everything you would want from one of these pictures. Although, a bit more gore would have been better. While there are more creatures and more overall destruction, it seriously lacks in showing the audience anything graphic. You get a few bones and skeletons but that is the gist of it.

Rating: 7/10

Critters 3 (1991):

Release Date: December 11th, 1991
Directed by: Kristine Peterson
Written by: David J. Schow, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: David C. Williams
Cast: Aimee Brooks, John Calvin, Katherine Cortez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Geoffrey Blake, Frances Bay, Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann

New Line Home Video, 85 Minutes

critters-3Review:

Critters 3 is the worst of the films.

While it does feature a very young Leonardo DiCaprio, he isn’t the main character and he has little to do other than hating his dork stepfather and being a romantic interest of the teen girl lead.

Most of the characters in this one are pretty unlikable. Especially Frank. Frank is just an awful and annoying human being. I cherished his death.

Although, Frances Bay’s character was cool. She has always been a great character actor and her meat cleaving bad ass grandma was fun to watch.

This is just a pretty weak film. It doesn’t serve much purpose other than trying to make money without spending any. The creatures weren’t really funny anymore and everything felt like a rehash of things we’ve already seen in the other movies.

And nearly everyone survives, which is a big failure for a movie series that prided itself on eating people.

Rating: 4/10

Critters 4 (1992):

Release Date: October 14th, 1992
Directed by: Rupert Harvey
Written by: David J. Schow, Joseph Lyle, Rupert Harvey, Barry Opper
Music by: Peter Manning Robinson
Cast: Don Keith Opper, Terrence Mann, Paul Whitthorne, Angela Bassett, Andres Hove, Eric Da Re, Brad Dourif, Martine Beswick (voice)

New Line Home Video, 105 Minutes

critters-4Review:

Critters 4 is a step above Critters 3 but not by much.

It is the ugliest film in the series as it utilizes dark and dreary space station sets. Everything in this movie looks 90s and not like something that should represent the 2040s, when it takes place.

The sets look like every other generic horror movie spaceship set of the era. Everything is dark and back lit. The computer screens look outdated, even for the 90s. Nothing about it is imaginative or cool. By comparison, it makes Jason X look like a science fiction masterpiece.

On a positive note, we are back to seeing these creatures devour everyone in sight. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of characters. Most of them die horrifically though.

We also get to see a young Angela Bassett, just before she found fame playing Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do With It. The film also stars Brad Dourif most known as the voice of Chucky in the Child’s Play movies and Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings films.

Strangely, Ug returns as the villain in this chapter. His turn to the darkside is never really explained and the opportunity to add depth to the story and the relationship between Ug and Charlie was wasted.

Critters 4 is just more of the same. Except it is all acted out on the ugliest sets in the series.

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: A Bullet For the General (1966)

Also known as: El Chuncho Quién Sabe? (Italy)
Release Date: December 7th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Damiano Damiani
Written by: Salvatore Laurani, Franco Solinas
Music by: Luis Bacalov, Ennio Morricone
Cast: Gian Maria Volontè, Klaus Kinski, Martine Beswick, Lou Castel, Jaime Fernández

M.C.M., Indipendenti Regionali, AVCO Embassy Pictures,Warner-Pathé, 118 Minutes (Italy), 115 Minutes (USA)

a-bullet-for-the-generalReview:

I’ve been watching through a lot of spaghetti westerns that I haven’t seen before, mostly stuff that was critically acclaimed or touted a lot by film historians of the genre. I’ve especially been trying to see more Zapata westerns (films that focus on events surrounding the Mexican Revolution). I had heard people talk about A Bullet For the General but never saw it until recently.

Directed by Damiano Damiani, who would later go on to work with spaghetti western maestro Sergio Leone, this film is one of the very best in the genre. It has epic landscapes, geographical desolation, intense action, political and social commentary, a good amount of violence, a lot of humor, an intense musical score and colorful characters – all likable in their own way.

The film is heavily accented by the great acting talents of Gian Maria Volontè and Klaus Kinski.

Volontè, who played the villain in A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, plays a character who is just as ruthless but is totally different in tone. It is exciting to see if you are a fan of his work with Leone, because Volontè isn’t cold and impersonal in this film, he is the polar opposite – warm, exciting, over the top and hilarious.

Kinski plays the brother of Volontè’s character and he has a very religious nature even though he is a cold-blooded bandit full of political idealism. This is one of my favorite roles that I’ve seen Kinski play (next to Count Orlock in the beautiful Nosferatu remake of 1979).

Lou Castel rounds out the cast as the American who gets mixed up with the two bandit brothers and their involvement in the Mexican Revolution. He is mostly a despicable character but the performance by Castel is top notch. And he is a character that is full of surprises: adding some good twists to the plot.

A Bullet For the General is one of the top five spaghetti westerns I have seen that wasn’t directed by Sergio Leone. It has a big budget feel for a time when there were dozens upon dozens of lesser spaghetti westerns that reeked of cheapness.

If you are a fan of the genre and you haven’t seen A Bullet For the General, you are missing out. And if you want to experience a Zapata western, this is a good starting point.

Rating: 9/10