Documentary Review: Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)

Release Date: February 7th, 2019
Directed by: Xavier Burgin
Written by: Ashlee Blackwell, Danielle Burrows
Based on: Horror Noire by Robin R. Means Coleman
Music by: Timothy Day
Cast: Robin R. Means Coleman, Ashlee Blackwell, Rusty Cundieff, Keith David, Ernest R. Dickerson, Ken Foree, Richard Lawson, Kelly Jo Minter, Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Paula Jai Parker, Jordan Peele, Ken Sagoes, Tony Todd, Rachel True

Stage 3 Productions, Shudder, 83 Minutes

Review:

I’ve seen quite a few documentaries on the history of horror as well as ones on blaxploitation and grindhouse movies. What makes this a unique film is that it examines the history of black horror, specifically.

This is well organized, fabulously presented and the thing that really gives this a lot of life is all the people that they were able to bring in and chat about the subject matter.

Also, this was told from the perspective of black people. We were able to see how certain things in movie history effected them, which is refreshing when most documentaries that cover black cinema usually feature a lot of white voices trying to interpret what they assume black people were feeling.

I think that this film gave a lot of clarity to the cultural impact of certain horror tropes regarding minority characters, as well as Hollywood tropes about race in general.

Most importantly, this honors the films it features, as well as all the talent that worked behind the scenes and on the screen.

This is a Shudder exclusive but between this, the new Joe Bob Briggs show and all their great horror film selections, you should already be subscribed. Plus, it’s cheaper than all those other streaming services.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other retrospective documentaries on horror and blaxploitation cinema.

Film Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Release Date: August 16th, 1985
Directed by: Dan O’Bannon
Written by: John Russo, Rudy Ricci, Russell Streiner, Dan O’Bannon
Music by: Matt Clifford, Francis Haines
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Linnea Quigley

Hemdale Film Corporation, A Greenberg Brothers Partnership, Orion Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, there’s a bunch of people from the cemetery who are stark, staring, mad, and they’ll kill you and eat you if they catch you. It’s like a disease. It’s like rabies, only faster, a lot faster. That’s why you’ve got to come and get us out of here now… right now!” – Burt Wilson

There are very few movies as awesome as The Return of the Living Dead. It is, hands down, the greatest zombie comedy ever put to celluloid… sorry, Shaun of the Dead. It is also balls to the wall insane from beginning to end while being full of punk teens, great older actors and the best zombie hoard in the history of motion pictures.

Like Dawn of the Dead, which was George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, this film is also a sequel (in a way), as John A. Russo was the other half of the creative duo that gave birth to that original film back in 1968.

The Return of the Living Dead is an alternate continuity to Romero’s Living Dead universe, though. In fact, the original film is mentioned in this picture, as it is a movie that exists within this alternate timeline. However, the movie is referenced and casually dismissed as a Hollywood version of the “real story”. This film continues off of that original story, which is established in a conversation between two of the characters very early on.

The reason for the split continuities, is that Romero and Russo had creative differences over the property. Romero even went as far as to send Russo a cease and desist order over this film, which effected the marketing but ultimately, didn’t stop the film from being released and spawning its own sequels.

Romero purists will probably hate me for saying this but this is my favorite Living Dead film. It is also my favorite zombie picture. I wouldn’t say that it is the greatest, as far as overall artistry is concerned, but it is the one that I watch the most and have the largest amount of appreciation for. The film is just fucking cool and that is really an understatement.

Initially, Russo wrote a Return of the Living Dead novel and shopped it around Hollywood to be adapted. At one point, Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 & 2Poltergeist, The Funhouse) was slated to direct the film but that fell through. Ultimately, what we got was this, which is better than what the Hooper film probably would have been.

In this film, we quickly learn that zombies don’t die by destroying their brains. The zombies can be dismembered, have their heads knocked off and still keep coming. They’re essentially impossible to kill. At one point, they cremate a pile of animated zombie parts. However, the smoke from the crematorium goes up into the clouds, which rain onto the graveyard, reanimating the dead. There really isn’t an effective way to kill the zombies, which makes the threat in this film, infinitely worse. Not to mention the fact that they move with speed and want to eat human brains.

I know that they don’t give out Oscars for pictures like these but James Karen put on a performance that was legendary. He was a hilarious and useless doofus that accidentally set the zombie threat free. All he did from that point forward was freak out and whine but he did it with such believable gusto that it is impossible not to be captivated by his absurd character and to love the scenes that he’s in.

We also get Miguel A. Núñez Jr. in my favorite role that he ever played. He’s a punk rocker that kind of acts like a damsel in distress but it works. Linnea Quigley also shows up, gets butt naked and dances on a tomb because this is the kind of stuff she was best known for. It is also her most memorable role, in my opinion. Don Calfa, probably best known as the killer in Weekend At Bernie’s is the guy who works at the crematorium and he’s also fantastic in this. Clu Gulager is perfect as the no nonsense older alpha male lead; Thom Mathews, one of the Tommy Jarvises in the Friday the 13th film series, pulls his weight too.

This film, for what it is, is absolutely perfect, which is why I have to give it the highest score possible. I used to love watching this when it rotated in and out of Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision on TNT back in the 90s but nothing beats watching the unedited non-television version. How else are you going to see the beautiful gore and Ms. Quigley’s glorious breasties? Her bum is quite exceptional too, for the record.

The Return of the Living Dead could make a case for being the coolest movie of all-time. It probably isn’t for everyone but for kids who grew up watching horror in the 80s, this thing is a friggin’ masterpiece.

Plus, it features music from The Cramps, who were the most perfect band to feature in this film. It was tailor made for their tunes.

Film Review: The ‘Friday the 13th’ Film Series, Part II – The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy (1984-1986)

Friday the 13th, Part IV – The Final Chapter (1984):

Release Date: April 13th, 1984
Directed by: Joseph Zito
Written by: Barney Cohen, Bruce Hidemi Sakow
Based on: characters by Victor Miller, Ron Kurz, Martin Kitrosser, Carol Watson
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Kimberly Beck, Peter Barton, Corey Feldman, E. Erich Anderson, Crispin Glover, Alan Hayes, Barbara Howard, Lawrence Monoson, Joan Freeman, Judie Aronson, Camilla More, Carey More

Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

This film is the start of The Tommy Jarvis Trilogy. Reason being, all three films (IV-VI) feature the character of Tommy Jarvis at different ages, battling Jason Voorhees. Well, Part V doesn’t, as he battles a lame copycat killer.

In this film, Tommy is a small boy, played by Corey Feldman when he was still a cute kid. In fact, this is the best thing Corey Feldman ever did, even though the original The Lost Boys was pretty awesome and I am a fan of License to Drive for some odd reason.

The film also stars one of my favorite actors, Crispin Glover – most famous for playing George McFly in the original Back to the Future.

In this installment, Jason kills a house full of horny teens and decides to move on to the neighbor’s house where a young Tommy Jarvis lives with his older sister and mother. Tommy and his family also have the protection of Rob Dier, who is the brother of one of Jason’s victims from the second film. Rob has returned to Crystal Lake to destroy Jason. Considering there are like eight more films after this one, we know how that turns out for him.

I find this film to be better than the three before it. While the first is the most unique and the template of the series, The Final Chapter is more refined, fluid and engaging. It also features Crispin Glover’s dance scene, which is the best dance scene in film history.

This is the first film where Jason really feels like the Jason everyone is used to. And for a long time it was my favorite film in the series but upon re-watching these again, was upstaged a bit by Part VI – Jason Lives.

Although this film’s bizarre and intense ending is still my favorite in the series.

Friday the 13th, Part V – A New Beginning (1985):

Release Date: March 22nd, 1985
Directed by: Danny Steinmann
Written by: Martin Kitrosser, David Cohen, Danny Steinmann
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Melanie Kinnaman, John Shepherd, Shavar Ross, Richard Young, Marco St. John, Juliette Cummins, Carol Locatell, Vernon Washington, John Robert Dixon, Jerry Pavlon, Caskey Swaim, Mark Venturini, Anthony Barrile, Dominick Brascia, Tiffany Helm, Richard Lineback, Corey Feldman, Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.

Paramount Pictures, 92 Minutes

Review:

Tommy Jarvis is back! But Jason isn’t.

That doesn’t make this a bad film even though fans of the series seem to hate this installment. Sure, the killer is Roy. Who the fuck is Roy? No one cares. What is Roy’s motivation? Still, no one cares. The point is, there is a psycho in a hockey mask murdering teens and other people who seemingly don’t fit the Jason Voorhees victim profile.

Tommy is older, he is slightly mad and somehow a master of judo, which he somehow forgets about when the sixth film rolls around a year later. He has visions of Jason and when the copycat killer springs up, it makes Tommy have to face those demons.

The film features a few scenes with Miguel A. Núñez, Jr, an actor I love in just about everything. In horror, he has been in the first Return of the Living Dead and Leprechaun 4: In Space. He is probably most known for being the star of the somewhat awesome, mostly awful Juwanna Man. The film also features a young Shavar Ross a.k.a. Dudley from Diff’rent Strokes and Vernon Washington, who played Otis in The Last Starfighter.

The film also features the second greatest dance scene in movie history when Violet the goth girl is putting her stellar 80s moves to the tune of Pseudo Echo’s “His Eyes”. She dies violently immediately afterwards, as Fake Jason apparently wasn’t impressed.

There is also the crazy backwoods redneck mom and her dufus son. They are over the top and entertaining. And strangely, the actors had great chemistry being the comedic distraction in a film about murdering teenagers.

This isn’t as bad as many say it is. It isn’t even the worst film in the series. It is the low point of this trilogy of films but it is still an entertaining and worthwhile bridge between the two best installments of the series.

Friday the 13th, Part VI – Jason Lives (1986):

Release Date: August 1st, 1986
Directed by: Tom McLoughlin
Written by: Tom McLoughlin
Based on: characters by Victor Miller
Music by: Harry Manfredini
Cast: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen, Renée Jones, Kerry Noonan, Darcy DeMoss, Tom Fridley, Ron Palillo

Paramount Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

Tommy is back, again! But this time, so is Jason!

Wait, is that Horseshack?! Yes, it is!

This film starts with the oldest version of Tommy Jarvis we will see in the series, fresh out of the psych ward. He is healed but needs to make sure Jason is actually destroyed before he can move on with his life. He brings Horseshack from Welcome Back, Kotter with him to dig up Jason’s grave and burn the body. Except he inadvertently causes Jason to resurrect and for the first time, we know that Jason is some sort of supernatural zombie demon.

This film is the start of Jason looking truly undead and a lot less like just a human with a facial abnormality.

Where The Final Chapter was a more refined version of the formula, Jason Lives shocks new life (literally) into the franchise, and is even more refined. In short, this is the best film in the series. Pretty crazy, I know, considering that this is the fifth sequel to the groundbreaking original.

This is the best Jason has ever been before Kane Hodder took over the roll for the four films following this one. He looked truly predatory in his movement and felt like an unbeatable zombie hulk. The resurrection scene is actually the coolest scene in the entire series and showed Jason at his absolute best.

Thom Mathews (also great in the first and second Return of the Living Dead) is perfect as the aged and more experienced Tommy Jarvis. He feels like a bad ass, even though he is missing his ninja skills from the previous film.

Jason Lives also looks the best visually. I don’t know if it was just the talent of the director, the cinematographer or the person lighting the set and setting the tone but it just looks perfect.

While I adore the fourth film, this one here, is the cream of the crop for me. This is the perfect Friday the 13th film in every way. It has everything you want and nothing that you don’t.

Film Review: Street Fighter (1994)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1994
Directed by: Steven E. de Souza
Written by: Steven E. de Souza
Based on: Street Fighter II the video game by Capcom
Music by: Graeme Revell
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Raul Julia, Ming-Na Wen, Damian Chapa, Kylie Minogue, Wes Studi, Miguel A. Núñez

Capcom, Universal Studios, 102 Minutes

streetfightermovieReview:

The Street Fighter video game series is still one of my favorites. It is the premier fighting game series of all-time, in my opinion. At the time that Street Fighter II was the current game on the market, the world was experiencing an obsession over the franchise. That obsession created mania and that mania created a slew of Street Fighter knockoffs. Some of them were good and created their own long running franchises. That mania, however, also gave birth to this film.

I saw the cinematic Street Fighter the day it came out in 1994. I had just turned sixteen and it was the first film my friends and I drove to ourselves. In fact, we drove to the theater after each blowing through twenty bucks or so playing Street Fighter II at the arcade close by. We were pumped. And in our defense, we all loved Van Damme back then (I still do).

Our experience ended up being a massive disappointment.

At the time, we were baffled by how wrong they got most of the characters. We were also distraught over how awfully cheesy it was. We expected a darker, more serious tone – similar to how all the Street Fighter animes played out when they were released after this movie. What we got was a daft and insipid cheese fest!

Street Fighter solidified my fears. It was the next film in the growing genre of video game movies that didn’t even come close to representing its source material. It rounded out an awful unofficial trilogy that included a couple unrelated video game pictures: 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and 1994’s Double Dragon.

Over twenty years later, despite my teenage broken heart, I finally decided to give the film a second chance.

Now that I know what the movie is and how badly it turned out in relation to the property it is based on, I have had a lot of time to process all of that and move on. I wanted to go into this fresh, without emotion and I did. I gave it an honest and pretty much unbiased viewing.

Well, I’m glad that I did.

To start, Street Fighter is absolutely ridiculous. It is a collage of everything good and bad about the 90s. It is also kind of magical in a weird way. Sure, it isn’t Street Fighter, at its core, but it is a fun movie with a ton of odd characters capped off by an intense and ludicrous final showdown between Jean-Claude Van Damme and the incredibly talented Raul Julia.

In fact, I didn’t appreciate it in 1994, but Raul Julia is actually pretty amazing in this film as the villainous M. Bison. He delivered his lines with a gusto and confidence that were unwavering despite the awful script he probably shook his head at when the cameras weren’t rolling. The scene where he is trying to woo Ming-Na Wen’s Chun Li is almost perfection.

Van Damme was bizarre as the American bad ass Guile. Sure, he was great in that JCVD sort of way that always makes him great but here we have an American colonel with a strong Belgian accent. Not to mention an obviously fake American flag tattoo on his shoulder.

Ming-Na Wen as Chun Li was decent but mostly because it was cool seeing her as a serious ass kicker two decades before her role as Agent May on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Kylie Minogue was passable as Cammy and quite cute. Wes Studi was a convincing Sagat but I have always appreciated his work. Jay Tavare played Vega and looked the part more than anyone else in the movie. But props goes to Miguel A. Núñez, who knocks every role out of the park. That’s mostly because I adored him in Return of the Living Dead and Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning.

Street Fighter is still a pretty dumb movie but it is an enjoyable dumb movie. It never gets boring like a bad movie should. There are a lot of poorly developed characters but most of them provide enough material to keep you engaged from scene-to-scene. Also, almost everyone in the film is fairly likable, even the bad guys.

Street Fighter is just a weird mixed bag. But it is a bag I have come to enjoy with age and without feeling like an angry teen whose heart was stepped on.