Release Date: February 22nd, 1985 Directed by: John Landis Written by: Ron Koslow Music by: Ira Newborn Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Richard Farnsworth, Irene Papas, Kathryn Harrold, Dan Aykroyd, Bruce McGill, David Bowie, Vera Miles, Clu Gulager, Art Evans, John Hostetter, Jack Arnold, Rick Baker, Paul Bartel, David Cronenberg, Jonathan Demme, Amy Heckerling, Jim Henson, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Mazursky, Carl Perkins, Dedee Pfeiffer, Don Siegel, Jake Steinfeld, Roger Vadim
Universal Pictures, 115 Minutes
“[to Diana] I need you to appease Shaheen. She will demand blood; yours will do.” – Monsieur Melville
After recently watching Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, I couldn’t help but want to revisit a similar film from the same year by John Landis.
However, after revisiting this, it’s not all that similar other than it’s a “yuppie in peril” story. Also, the girl makes it to the end of this film and it’s more of an actual love story while also being more lighthearted and action heavy. The two films certainly have some parallels but this one is more accessible and probably more fun for most filmgoers.
Personally, I don’t like this as much as After Hours but it’s still a movie that I enjoy quite a bit.
It’s hard not to enjoy a film with Jeff Goldblum and Michele Pfeiffer as its stars, though. Both of them are great in this and I liked their chemistry and kind of wished they were paired up in more movies.
Beyond the two leads, we have a film full of lots of great talent, as well as more than a dozen cameos with other filmmakers and behind the camera legends in small, bit parts. Hell, even this film’s director, John Landis, plays a roll throughout the film as one of the four thugs in pursuit of the main characters.
I really liked David Bowie in this, though. He steals the scenes he’s in and it made me wish that his role was bigger.
The story sees a man, after catching his wife cheating, stumble upon a woman running away from some dudes with guns in an airport parking garage. They speed off together and we’re sent on an action adventure romp through Los Angeles, as they try to figure out how to get her out of trouble and survive all the trouble that’s coming for them.
There are so many great characters in this and every sequence in the film is pretty damn memorable because of that.
It’s strange to me that this isn’t considered one of Landis’ top films but it was also the first film of his to come out after the tragedy that happened on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. I think that because of that, this wasn’t promoted as well as it should have been and the public already had a bad taste in their mouths and probably, rightfully so.
However, looking at this as its own thing, separate from the grim reality of an unrelated picture, this is a solid comedy that did just about everything right.
Rating: 8.25/10 Pairs well with:After Hours and other “yuppie in peril” movies.
Release Date: October 17th, 1986 Directed by: Sondra Locke Written by: Rob Thompson Music by: Lennie Niehaus Cast: Sondra Locke, Sharon Baird, Robert Townsend, Christopher Hewett, Larry Hankin, Sydney Lassick, Gerrit Graham, Louie Anderson, Billie Bird, John Witherspoon, Gary Riley, Courtney Gains, M.C. Gainey, Jon Lovitz, Bill Maher
The Malpaso Company, Warner Bros., 104 Minutes
After seeing the trailer and checking out the critical consensus on this film, I thought that I might still enjoy it due to how weird it looked. But honestly, it was kind of hard to get through and the novelty of it wore off really quick. But hey, the French liked it.
This was Sondra Locke’s directorial debut and man, it was a complete misfire. So much so, that she never really bounced back from it and only had four total directing credits to her name, one of which was a television movie. She also got nominated for a Razzie for her performance in this, although she lost out to Madonna’s performance in Who’s That Girl?
I had read that this was made as a sort of allegory to her long relationship with Clint Eastwood, which was dissolving at the time. She saw herself as victimized and exploited and for whatever reason, this script spoke to her. I’m not entirely sure if she saw herself as the Ratboy character and Clint Eastwood as her character but this vapid Taylor Swift moment seems pretty petty and immature.
Locke also had Eastwood’s production company produce the film, so maybe that was her final “fuck you” to the guy.
Anyway, apart from Rick Baker’s solid effects used to create the Ratboy character, there is next to nothing about this film that is impressive. Hell, it even has a great cast with several talented character actors but they can’t come close to saving this, as it’s a complete dud from top-to-bottom. Granted, I do like Gerrit Graham in everything and I did enjoy him here, even if the film felt like a waste of his time.
This is just slow, drab, predictable and boring as fuck. There are a few amusing bits like the scene with John Witherspoon trying to hustle Ratboy but these moments are far and few between and it’s not worth sitting through the whole, dull picture to pull out the good bits. Besides, the clip is probably on YouTube.
I had hoped that there would be something worthwhile in this. Other than the few things I already mentioned, there isn’t.
Rating: 4/10 Pairs well with: I honestly don’t know, as it’s so bizarre and unique.
Release Date: February 8th, 2019 (Santa Barbara International Film Festival) Directed by: William Conlin Written by: Thomas R. Burman, William Conlin Music by: Shawn Patterson Cast: Thomas R. Burman, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Guillermo del Toro, Richard Donner, Dana Gould, John Landis, Leonard Maltin, Greg Nicotero, various
Gravitas Ventures, The Burman Studio Inc., Hellcat Productions LLC, 86 Minutes
This recently popped up on Prime Video, so I added it to my queue. I didn’t want to watch it, however, until I was done revisiting the original run of Planet of the Apes movies.
This was a great thing to watch following the five original films, though. And it’s especially cool for those who love practical special effects, movie makeup and/or the film franchise.
From the start, this documentary gets right into the development of the first Planet of the Apes movie and how everything from the effects side of the film came to be. It also gets into the sequels and talks about the advances in technology and how they changed the way the future Apes movies were made.
The thing I liked best about this, other than learning about the makeup process, was getting to know the creatives behind it all and how their craft changed filmmaking forever. It was also interesting seeing how their relationships evolved with one another and in a few instances, dissolved.
This really is a great piece on special effects filmmaking but it is made even better by telling a really human story about people that should be regarded as legends.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: other recent documentaries on filmmaking.
Also known as: The Visitor, Return of the Apes (working titles) Release Date: July 26th, 2001 (Hong Kong, Puerto Rico) Directed by: Tim Burton Written by: William Broyles Jr., Lawrence Konner, Mark Rosenthal Based on:Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle Music by: Danny Elfman Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Tim Roth, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Clarke Duncan, Kris Kristofferson, Estella Warren, Paul Giamatti, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, David Warner, Lisa Marie, Glenn Shadix, Erick Avari, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston (uncredited)
Tim Burton Productions, The Zanuck Company, Twentieth Century Fox, 119 Minutes
“Get your stinking hands off me, you damn dirty human!” – Attar
I feel as if I was one of the few people that didn’t seem to mind this film when it came out. It certainly deviated greatly from its source material but I liked some of the ideas that were explored in this picture and I liked that it took a well-known concept and tried to create something new out of it without rehashing things we’ve already seen five times within its own franchise and a dozen times over with all the ripoffs of it.
This hasn’t aged well, however, and it is pretty apparent that the movie just seemed to be aimless without much meat to chew on. It honestly feels as if the film wasn’t completed and it’s missing an entire act.
There’s just a real lack of story and context and while you can follow the simplicity of the narrative, all the characters come across as paper thin and there is obviously a history between many of them that needed to be expanded upon.
However, the film did have production issues, as its start date was delayed and one of the major locations was suffering from a drought and needed water pumped in. There have been other issues alluded to in interviews with those involved, over the years, but a lot of that could be brushed off as hearsay.
One thing I like about the movie is that it used practical, physical effects for the Apes. Everyone in the film wore prosthetics and it gave the film an authentic sense of realism where most movies were already reliant on CGI in just about every regard.
Additionally, I like the visual tone of the film and its general style. It looks cool and the world feels lived in and legit.
Still, it’s just lacking a real sense of plot and character development and because of that, it feels soulless and flat.
Also, while I liked this initially, it’s kind of a boring movie once you look passed the very distracting and alluring visuals. I honestly feel like I have a love/hate relationship with this film as there are many things that went wonderfully right but there are major things that didn’t deliver.
In the end, the film feels half-assed, rushed and like a wasted opportunity. This could have been the start of a new, exciting version of the Planet of the Apes franchise but instead, it’s a disappointing dud that left a pretty harsh blemish on Tim Burton’s career, which was still damn solid in 2001.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: the other Planet of the Apes movies, regardless of era, as well as late ’90s/early ’00s blockbuster science fiction.
Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title) Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida) Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew
Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes
“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO
Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.
It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.
However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.
The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.
Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.
Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.
Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.
The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.
Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.
Rating: 6.25/10 Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.
Also known as: Carnival of Terror (alternate) Release Date: March 13th, 1981 Directed by: Tobe Hooper Written by: Larry Block Music by: John Beal Cast: Elizabeth Berridge, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Miles Chapin, Kevin Conway, Sylvia Miles, William Finley
Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes
“…Who will dare to face the challenge of the Funhouse? Who is mad enough to enter that world of darkness? How about you, sir…?” – Funhouse Barker
I’ve never been a big Tobe Hooper fan. I don’t dislike the guy’s work either but it has never stood out as anything exceptional. He’s better than your average horror director and certainly made better movies than the sea of PG-13 teenie bopper diet horror flicks that rule the industry these days but he never had that one great film that made a mark on me. Sure, Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a game changer in 1974 but I never felt like it was all that great. In fact, I liked its hilarious and gory sequel better but that wasn’t great either.
The Funhouse may be the best picture in Hooper’s filmography, though. Sure, the average horror buff may scoff at my assessment of it, especially after what I said about his Chainsaw movies but it is Hooper’s one picture that I actually want to rewatch around Halloween every year. There is a certain mystique about it but a lot of what sells the picture is the work of Kevin Conway, who plays a different carnival barker at just about every tent. He sets the tone effectively and lures you in.
Also, I have always loved the monster in this movie. He’s a sort of tall, skinny, mutant beast that one could assume was the creation of generations of incestuous inbreeding. However, he seemed to be a really gentle and misunderstood monster that was unfortunately in the care of an asshole and surrounded by shitty people. Realistically, he was probably just a disfigured horny teenager but the film doesn’t really do much to explain the monster. But his look is cool, the makeup was superb and he has always stood out in my mind when looking back at slasher pictures from this era.
The film takes a lot of time getting to the slasher parts but the build up is good and sets the tone. Going through the carnival with the kids in the picture, for the first thirty or forty minutes, is fun. They’re all mostly likable and carnivals are cool. Once they decide to spend the night in the spooky funhouse though, their fate is sealed. Well, three of the four teens fate is sealed, as one girl gets out alive.
The final showdown between the final girl and the slasher is really good though. It takes place in the room under the funhouse with all the gears and dangerous hooks and chains.
The Funhouse also has a pretty impressive score. The music is well orchestrated for a slasher picture and it adds a sense of quality to this low budget feature. It does have some bits that feel repetitive but it may only be noticeable after seeing this a dozen times.
Also, the lighting is great. The use of colors and shadows to make the funhouse even spookier is executed well. I’m also a sucker for old school funhouse rides and this film is set in one. The place feels a lot larger than the outside lets on, which is probably true with the big sets but it gives the funhouse a maze-like structure that is hard for the frightened teens to traverse.
With all the shoddy slasher remakes that have come out over the years, I’m surprised this one has remained untouched. I personally prefer it that way but it makes me think that this one is sort of forgotten and underappreciated.
The Funhouse is a quality slasher picture from the early 80s that isn’t just a retread of the Halloween or Friday the 13th formula. The setting is cool and unique and gives this film its own distinct identity in a sea of slasher clones.
“How could there have been witnesses? It was so dark. We were running, and I fell and Jack went to help me up, and this thing came from nowhere. I don’t know what they’re talking about.” – David
The 1980s were populated with horror movies from indie studios and a lot of straight-to-VHS fare. Sure, the major studios were in on the game too but they turned out only a few real gems compared to what the indie filmmakers were churning out to fill the mom and pop video stores and the remaining drive-in theaters. An American Werewolf In London is one example of a big studio film that really hit the mark for horror aficionados.
It was a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom and was filmed in the UK with a mix of American and British actors.
This was John Landis’ second attempt at a horror picture after his directorial debut, 1973’s Schlock. That movie was a horror comedy that saw an apeman fall in love with a blind girl and terrorize a Southern California suburb. Between Schlock and An American Werewolf In London, Landis directed the cult comedies The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers.
While this film is more serious and has a lot of dark humor, as opposed to slapstick and parody, it is still quite funny and hits its mark well. The stuff with David talking to his undead friend Jack are some of the best bits in the film, as they bring humor into a really dark and disturbing situation.
I loved this movie when I was a kid and the main reason was because of Rick Baker’s magnificent special effects. In the day of practical effects, this picture really set the bar at a new level. The werewolf transformation scene is still the best in the history of cinema. Sure, you can do more with CGI effects today but they don’t look as cool and certainly don’t have the same sense of realism that real life physical effects have on camera. Now these effects may look dated today but there was nothing better than this in 1981. While I love the effects in The Howling, which was another 1981 werewolf movie, Rick Baker upped the ante with this picture and he would take this experience and go on to wow audiences for years.
The animatronic werewolf puppet still looks cool as hell and this beast was huge. Frankly, this is my favorite werewolf in film history. The design was absolutely perfect.
The special effects makeup that was applied to Griffin Dunne’s Jack was also stupendous. Each version of Dunne’s character was great, as he rotted away with each appearance until he was mostly just an animatronic corpse in the movie theater scene at the end. His makeup in his first appearance as the undead Jack was just brutal.
The film also benefits from great dream sequences, the best one being the hoard of Nazi monsters that shoots up David’s family.
There is also a brief cameo from Yoda himself, Frank Oz.
It also doesn’t hurt that Jenny Agutter is in this because she was a woman I was crushing on hard when I was kid, between this film and Logan’s Run.
An American Werewolf In London is a perfect storm for an 80s horror movie. It would go on to inspire a slew of other great 80s horror pictures and without it, the world just wouldn’t be as cool.
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
“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
“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
“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.
Release Date: December 9th, 1977 Directed by: William Sachs Written by: William Sachs Music by: Arlon Ober Cast: Alex Rebar, Burr DeBenning, Myron Healey, Janus Blythe
American International Pictures, Columbia Pictures, 84 Minutes
The Incredible Melting Man is probably most remembered now for being featured in the seventh season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I thought it was a good but somewhat odd fit for the show, as it was a bit more gruesome than what they typically featured.
It is not a spectacular movie by any stretch of the imagination but the special effects are pretty decent for a late 70s low budget American International picture. Credit for that goes to the accomplished and now legendary Rick Baker. While the effects aren’t as refined as his style would later become, they’re definitely an example of passion triumphing over limitations.
The story isn’t great, it is a typical monster movie. In this one, an astronaut survives after a blast of radiation hit him on a trip to Saturn. Two other astronauts died. He is then seen in the hospital wrapped in bandages and doctors aren’t sure what is happening to him. The astronaut awakens and discovers his flesh is melting away. Obviously he panics and we have a gross out humanoid roaming the Earth scaring the bejesus out of people. The astronaut, having gone insane, discovers that he must consume human flesh to stop the melting. So we essentially have a radioactive melting space zombie.
The film, written and directed by William Sachs, was initially intended to be a parody. The humorous bits were eventually edited out, making this a straight up horror movie. Sachs was influenced by Night of the Living Dead. However, many considered this to be more of a remake of First Man Into Space, which itself was influenced by the Hammer film The Quartermass Xperiment.
The Incredible Melting Man was a box-office bomb and was critically panned. It isn’t really good other than some impressive effects. It currently holds a 3.8 rating on IMDb. It feels long, a bit too drawn out and is just a pretty clunky picture. Now this could be due to the film changing from parody to serious during production but the end result is the end result. In this case, the end result is a picture that is hard to watch and mostly a waste of time.