Film Review: Willow (1988)

Release Date: May, 1988 (Cannes)
Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Bob Dolman, George Lucas
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Warwick Davis, Billy Barty, Jean Marsh, Patricia Hayes, Pat Roach, Gavan O’Herlihy, Phil Fondacaro, Tony Cox, Kenny Baker (uncredited)

Imagine Entertainment, Lucasfilm Ltd., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 126 Minutes

Review:

“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.” – High Aldwin

I wish that Willow was more beloved than it is. It definitely has its fans but for whatever reason, it never quite reached the levels of popularity that Lucasfilms’ other big properties reached: Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

To be fair, I’d say that this isn’t as good as those other two properties but it is still in the ballpark and not far off.

Willow is an imaginative and fun adventure that was one in a string of special effects milestones in the early days of Lucasfilms’ digital effects mastery. This film had a major breakthrough in its use of visual morphing technology.

But apart from the special effects wizardry in the film, it also came to life with its spectacular sets, wardrobe and art direction.

What makes this click on a level much higher than just being a standard blockbuster is the ensemble cast. Everyone in this film is good and fun to watch, as they all felt like they were giving the movie their all, they had good chemistry and they were believable in their roles. I especially like the chemistry between Warwick Davis and Val Kilmer, as well as Val Kilmer and Joanne Whalley, who became my third or fourth childhood crush because of this film. Apparently, she became Kilmer’s crush too, as they met on this film’s set and married shortly thereafter. And they stayed together for almost a decade, which is in eternity in Hollywood time.

The casting of Jean Marsh as the film’s main villain, an evil sorceress named Bavmorda, was a stroke of genius. One, because she is a damn good actress but can really be terrifying. Two, because her appearance in a similar role from Return to Oz was still fresh in my childhood mind when this came out. And I’m sure it was fresh in a lot of kid’s minds, who were scarred for life by the witch with the interchangeable heads.

I’ve really got to tip my hat to Warwick Davis, though. I don’t think that most people realize that he was just seventeen when this movie was filmed. He carries himself like a true veteran and even though he’s not the top billed star, he is the main character of the film, which is also why the movie’s name is his character’s name. Willow is his journey.

I wish that this had led to more leading roles for Davis but I think that was also the intent had this film done as well as the other Lucasfilm tentpole movies. It underperformed, even though it did make a profit, and that’s probably why this didn’t get the trilogy treatment. Granted, there are still talks of bringing the world of Willow back to the screen and there was also a sequel novel trilogy written by Chris Claremont with the plot outlines done by George Lucas.

Willow is one of the best fantasy epics of its time. I think that revisiting it is long overdue and I assume that it’s going to happen, especially with Disney now owning Lucasfilms and needing content for their Disney+ streaming service. And with that being said, I think a sequel television series would actually work better for this property than a theatrical movie.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other Lucasfilm movies from the ’70s and ’80s, as well as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Film Review: Troll (1986)

Release Date: January 17th, 1986
Directed by: John Carl Buechler
Written by: Ed Naha, Joanna Granillo (uncredited)
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Michael Moriarty, Shelley Hack, Jenny Beck, Sonny Bono, Phil Fondacaro, Brad Hall, Anne Lockhart, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Gary Sandy, June Lockhart

Altar Productions, Empire Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“[looking for Wendy in the basement] Have you been playing with dead cats?” – Harry Potter Jr.

This is the first Harry Potter movie and it actually features two Harry Potters. But sadly, this is unrelated to the J.K. Rowling franchise.

This also isn’t related to its sequels, as those are two different movies that stole the Troll name to market themselves better. Which is actually quite odd, as this Troll was far from a success.

Like the real Harry Potter series, though, this is a fantasy movie that features magic and creepy little critters.

It also features Sonny Bono as a pervy swinger, a very young Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Michael Moriarty from The Stuff, Atreyu from The NeverEnding Story and June Lockhart, who is pretty much a legend with close to 200 credits to her name. Also, Phil Fondacaro does double duty as the actual troll in the film, as well as playing a regular character. I love Fondacaro’s work and it’s cool seeing him get to be the centerpiece of a movie.

Now this motion picture is pretty damn bizarre. But it’s that ’80s, over the top, “What the fuck did I just watch?” kind of bizarre. The best of all forms of bizarre.

It’s humorous, baffling and amusing. You kind of just have to surrender yourself to the film and let it play out in all of its gloriousness.

Sure, critics hated it, as did most people. But this film’s audience is a small segment of society. And while it’s not a classic, even as far as weird movies go, it’s endearing and charming in an unexplainable way. I guess it’s like Howard the Duck or Ghoulies or Munchies or Garbage Pail Kids or C.H.U.D. II in how they are mostly bad films but they found a way to touch a enough of a certain type of people that they live on as cult favorites.

But above all else, it is the incredible performance by the young Jenny Beck that is the glue that holds this picture together. Almost immediately, she becomes possessed by the evil troll and man, she commits to the bit throughout the entire film. For a child actor without much experience, she was tremendous and has to go down as one of my favorite kids from an ’80s movie.

I love Troll. It is just one hearty spoonful of strange after another.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: it’s amusing but unrelated sequel and then any ’80s horror movie with little creatures.

Film Review: Ghoulies II (1987)

Release Date: October 5th, 1987 (video premiere)
Directed by: Albert Band
Written by: Charlie Dolan, Dennis Paoli
Music by: Fuzzbee Morse
Cast: Damon Martin, Royal Dano, Phil Fondacaro, J. Downing, Kerry Remsen, Dale Wyatt, Jon Pennell, Sasha Jenson

Taryn Productions Inc., Empire Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I am a magician, you sons of bitches. You can’t kill me!” – Uncle Ned

Ghoulies was a stupid, fun movie. It was hardly great and it certainly isn’t a film that will resonate with most people. I like it. However, I haven’t seen any of the sequels in maybe two decades or so. So how would Ghoulies II fair, after having just revisited the first movie?

Well, I actually like this better than the original film. So let me get into why.

First, as bat shit crazy as the first movie was, this chapter in the franchise really ups the ante and succeeds in making a bigger and even more bat shit crazy motion picture.

I love the carnival setting. Having the Ghoulies run rampant in a horror funhouse was fantastic and a nice nod, intentional or not, to the Tobe Hooper film Funhouse. I also like that the monsters eventually “break out” of the funhouse and take over the carnival itself.

This is also the sort of dumb that I can get behind because it does completely nonsensical things, ignores physics and doesn’t give two shits about it. For instance, in one scene, a Ghoulie bites through a power cable to use it to shock and kill a character. A few minutes later, a Ghoulie is shown to have a weakness to electricity. I mean, what the shit? But I love this sort of nonsense in these kind of movies.

A big highlight was also the big finale, where the heroes summon a large Ghoulie that then goes around and eats all the little ones. However, once that’s done, the big Ghoulie wants to eat the humans that summoned him. It’s not what I would call a twist but it isn’t a situation you probably expected to go down in the movie. I loved it, especially the large Ghoulie’s rubber suit.

This is mindless fun for about 90 minutes. While there are probably a hundred ’80s horror movies that are better than this, this one is too stupid to be ignored.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other three Ghoulies films, the Munchies films, Hobgoblins and Sorority Babes In the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama.

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: Bordello of Blood (1996)

Also known as: Tales From the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood (complete title)
Release Date: August 16th, 1996
Directed by: Gilbert Adler
Written by: A. L. Katz, Gilbert Adler, Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale
Music by: Chris Boardman
Cast: Dennis Miller, Erika Eleniak, Angie Everhart, Chris Sarandon, Corey Feldman, Aubrey Morris, Whoopi Goldberg (cameo), William Sadler (cameo), John Kassir, Phil Fondacaro

EC Comics, Universal Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[talking to a she-vampire] I’d rather Crazy Glue my dick to the bullet train than fuck you.” – Rafe Guttman

I recently revisited Tales From the Crypt‘s Demon Knight. So I figured that I’d also go back and revisit Bordello of Blood. I remember not being as fond of this as I was Demon Knight but hey, it’s got Corey Feldman as a vampire in it, which is probably something that every teen girl wanted to see since The Lost Boys came out. I’ve never been a teen girl but I did like The Lost Boys and Corey Feldman.

This also has Dennis Miller in it as Dennis Miller. Well, not really. Miller always seems to play some version of himself though and here, he is Dennis Miller as a private eye trying to woo Playboy model Erika Eleniak. His character’s name is Rafe Guttman, which seems fitting for a Miller character.

Probably the real highlight from a casting perspective is Chris Sarandon, who was a fantastic vampire in the classic Fright Night. Here, he isn’t a vampire he is a guitar-wielding rock star televangelist that runs a megachurch but is somewhat responsible for the vampiric activity in the film. Sarandon plays such a kooky character in this and he’s simply great.

The story was penned by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, the guys behind the Back to the Future movies. This is nowhere near the greatness of those films but it is a fun and entertaining movie.

I don’t think this is as good of a picture as Demon Knight but that is mostly because this doesn’t even come close to the level of insanity and intensity that we got in that film. This movie is crazy and has some nice gory bits but Demon Knight was batshit crazy, where this is just more of a wild ride.

This is definitely worth a watch if you’ve got ninety minutes to kill and just want some dumb, mindless, badass fun in your horror. It’s certainly a product of the ’90s and fits well within the Tales From the Crypt franchise.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Anything related to Tales From the Crypt.

Film Review: Invaders From Mars (1986)

Release Date: June 6th, 1986
Directed by: Tobe Hooper
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Don Jakoby, Richard Blake, John Tucker Battle
Music by: Sylvester Levay, Christopher Young, David Storrs
Cast: Karen Black, Hunter Carson, Timothy Bottoms, Laraine Newman, James Karen, Bud Cort, Louise Fletcher, Tony Cox, Phil Fondacaro (uncredited)

Cannon Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t worry, son! We Marines have no qualms about killing Martians!” – General Climet Wilson

*written in 2014.

This is one of those films that seems to be forgotten. Granted, it wasn’t a huge success when it came out but it was still directed by Tobe Hooper who is most famous for directed the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

This film is about a boy who sees a big UFO land behind his house. Suddenly, his parents start acting weird, as does almost everyone else. Why? Because evil Martians have implanted some weird device in their necks that controls them.

The effects are hokey and at the same time brilliant. This is a unique looking film and is at times, part campy and part terrifying.

Horror legend Karen Black plays a nice character in this film, as the school nurse who is trying to protect the boy after his parents have become alien slaves. Louise Fletcher, best known for her Oscar-winning performance as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was a good sport in this film and jumped into the insanity and became a stellar addition to this bizarre movie. James Karen, who I loved in The Return of the Living Dead, shows up as the Army general on a mission to wipe out the evil Martians.

Invaders From Mars is pretty much the epitome of a really good 1980s b-movie. It has horror, it has sci-fi and it is just fun as hell with very colorful effects. It’s also quite imaginative.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The original Invaders from Mars, as well as Spaced Invaders.

Film Review: The ‘Star Wars’ Original Trilogy (1977-1983)

*Written in 2015.

I decided to watch through all the previous Star Wars films before going to see The Force Awakens next week. I reviewed the prequel trilogy already and now it is time for my two cents on the original trilogy.

These were the first three films. Two of them came out when I was too young to know anything about film but I do remember my experience seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was four. It is actually the first movie I remember seeing on the big screen and I absolutely loved it. Of course, I had already seen A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back and thus, developed a lifelong obsession with everything Star Wars.

But now I am older, I’m a bit jaded and I experienced everything wrong with the evolution of this beloved franchise. So how would I feel about each of these films, after having not seen them as one unified body of work for several years?

Well, let me address each one individually.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977):

Release Date: May 25th, 1977
Directed by: George Lucas
Written by: George Lucas
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, James Earl Jones

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 121 Minutes

Review:

“I have a very bad feeling about this.” – Luke Skywalker

The first Star Wars film ever released was A New Hope, which was simply known as Star Wars at the time. It was also the only film in the original trilogy to be directed by George Lucas. That is probably why the quality of this trilogy was much better.

This is the smallest feeling film of the Star Wars franchise. It really only takes place on two worlds and one of those worlds is shown only briefly. The rest of the film takes place in space. However, they don’t even leave the first planet for like an hour, which is pretty crazy for a Star Wars film.

This movie also moves the slowest. Not that it is dull or boring but there is more time given to storytelling and character building than any other Star Wars film after this. The interactions between Luke Skywalker and the old Obi-Wan Kenobi are the most intimate in the entire franchise.

The addition of Han Solo and Chewbacca, and later Princess Leia, to the team feels organic and natural and everyone works well with each other. The cast and their camaraderie between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy is night and day. The strength of their bond only gets better with each installment in this trilogy.

Now this is my least favorite of the original three films. There is just one mediocre lightsaber battle with strange effects, that even after the special editions were released, doesn’t match up with the effects of all the other lightsaber battles.

This film is more about understanding the Force and the mythos of Star Wars, where all the other films just go full action.

But despite a few flaws, that aren’t really worth mentioning, it still plays wonderfully today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode V – Empire Strikes Back (1980):

Release Date: May 17th, 1980 (Washington D.C.)
Directed by: Irvin Kershner
Written by: George Lucas, Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, James Earl Jones, Clive Revill (original version), Ian McDiarmid (Special Edition)

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 124 Minutes

Review:

“I have a bad feeling about this.” – Princess Leia

This movie seems to be the favorite amongst most Star Wars fans. It isn’t my favorite but it is damned good.

I will say that this is the best chapter, as a film, out of all six movies. It is almost a masterpiece. The acting is superb, the tone is magnificent and the big twist in the plot is Earth-shattering if you are not prepared for it. My young mind back in the day nearly exploded.

In this film, you understand the motivations of the characters better. The universe gets much larger, the story gets much darker and our heroes are pitted against odds that seem insurmountable. The stakes are much higher and there is a great sense of loss, doom and gloom before it is all over.

You are introduced to the awesome ice planet Hoth, the characters of Yoda, Lando, the Emperor and Boba Fett (if you don’t count his brief cameo in the special edition version of A New Hope). You also get a glimpse at all the other cool bounty hunters, Vader’s Super Star Destroyer, Snow Troopers and the AT-ATs.

This film acts as a perfect second act, setting up the big climax and solidifying your love of the story and the characters within.

Empire Strikes Back is to space operas what The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was to westerns.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983):

Release Date: May 25th, 1983
Directed by: Richard Marquand
Written by: George Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Billy Dee Williams, Frank Oz, Ian McDiarmid, Alec Guinness, Warwick Davis, James Earl Jones, Phil Fondacaro

Lucasfilm Ltd., 20th Century Fox, 131 Minutes

Review:

“Artoo, I have a bad feeling about this.” – C-3PO

While I don’t consider this as good and as perfect of a film as Empire Strikes Back, it is still my favorite in the series. The reason being, is it is the most fun and is the largest of the three films. Sure, people hate the Ewoks but I don’t. Wookiees would’ve certainly been cooler than Ewoks in the big final battle but they are like a bunch of James Deans when compared to the Gungans of the prequel trilogy.

This film has my favorite sequence out of any Star Wars chapter and that is the mental chess game played between the Emperor, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. It also has the greatest space battle in the history of cinema. Not to mention that the unfinished skeletal Death Star looks a lot cooler than the complete one from A New Hope.

The first part of this film, dealing with the heroes banding together to rescue the once selfish Han Solo, goes to show how far they have all come and what true friendship means. It was a great lesson to learn as a kid and this is probably the best example of it from my childhood. Plus, Jabba the Hutt and his minions were one of the coolest things in the entire trilogy.

Return of the Jedi is one of the funnest pictures in film history. It is the happy ending you want but still comes at a great price.

It is the near-perfect ending of a near-perfect trilogy.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: This specific Star Wars trilogy of films.