Film Review: Dragonslayer (1981)

Release Date: June 26th, 1981
Directed by: Matthew Robbins
Written by: Hal Barwood, Matthew Robbins
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Peter MacNicol, Caitlin Clarke, Ralph Richardson, John Hallam, Peter Eyre, Sydney Bromley, Chloe Salaman, Ian McDiarmid

Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Productions, 109 Minutes

Review:

“[to Galen] It’s a shield. I made it. Might keep the fire off of you, might not. You know, you’re an idiot. You’re going to die tonight. You’ll be ripped, limb from limb. This is the last time I’ll ever speak to you!” – Valerian

I never saw DragonSlayer, which is kind of odd, as it is in a genre I watched a lot of as a kid. I think that I saw trailers for it but it never excited me enough to rent it from the video store.

I wanted to check it out now because I’ve been watching a ton of sword and sorcery and fantasy films from this era. Overall, this wasn’t a disappointment but for the most part, it was pretty drab and uneventful.

But on the flip side of that, I was pretty impressed with the special effects, especially for 1981.

All the dragon stuff comes off remarkably well for the time. I thought the final battle was really entertaining, even if it was pretty hokey and had some noticeable flaws seeing this almost 40 years later in HD. But they’re the sort of minute visual flaws that would’ve been hidden by the technology of the time and I can’t really come down on the film for that. But I find it to be worth mentioning, as this is one of many films that has had its magic ruined or exposed by finding itself remastered in high definition for modern eyes.

The scenes that employ large dragon props and animatronics all work really well though, even today. The scene where the dragon is stalking the virgin in his lair towards the beginning of the film is still pretty chilling and effective.

I also liked Peter MacNicol in this. He was charming and it was fun seeing him much younger than the role I most associated him with, which is Dr. Janosz Poha from Ghostbusters II. Also, the Emperor himself, Ian McDiarmid, shows up in this. And here, he’s actually using the light side of the Force.

DragonSlayer is fun in parts and it was imaginative and the effects were superbly executed. However, it’s slow moving with lots of unnecessary banter and a plot that is too simplistic to be stretched into a 109 minute motion picture.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other fantasy and sword and sorcery films of the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Film Review: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Release Date: August 21st, 1981
Directed by: John Landis
Written by: John Landis
Music by: Elmer Bernstein
Cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Sydney Bromley

PolyGram Pictures, The Guber-Peters Company, Producers Sales Organization, Universal Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“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 MovieAnimal 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.

Film Review: The NeverEnding Story (1984)

Release Date: April 6th, 1984 (West Germany)
Directed by: Wolfgang Petersen
Written by: Wolfgang Petersen, Herman Weigel
Based on: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Music by: Klaus Doldinger, Giorgio Moroder
Cast: Noah Hathaway, Barret Oliver, Tami Stronach, Moses Gunn, Patricia Hayes, Sydney Bromley, Gerald McRaney, Deep Roy, Tilo Pruckner, Frank Welker, Alan Oppenheimer

Neue Constantin Film, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

I really like Flashback Cinema and the fact that they bring beloved classics back to the big screen for modern audiences. I was especially excited to revisit The NeverEnding Story, as it was one of the first films I saw in the theater as a kid. I also must have watched it a few hundred times on VHS from the mid-1980s through the 1990s. I had planned to review this a few months back but when I got wind that it was on Flashback Cinema’s docket, I decided to wait and see it on the big screen again.

It was cool seeing this in a theater, over thirty years later, with a new generation of kids present. Unlike most family films I have seen in recent years, the children were quiet and pulled right into the film. It didn’t feel hokey or aged or like an ancient relic that couldn’t compete with the giant blockbusters of the 2010s. The audience was engaged and it was nice seeing parents genuinely happy that their kids connected to something that they once held dear.

That being said, The NeverEnding Story still plays really well. Sure, it has aged and the effects are outdated but the magic is still alive and strong in the picture and it rises above its limitations and still transcends the screen.

I wasn’t a great judge of an actor’s performance when I was a kid, as most kids aren’t, but the performances by the child cast are phenomenal. Noah Hathaway is beyond amazing as Atreyu, Barret Oliver made Bastian relatable to every kid and Tami Stronach, even with limited screen time, is sweet, elegant and perfect in the role of the Empress. It is rare that you can see one good child actor but this is a film that features three great performances by children, who I wish had done a lot more work after the film. They are the real force that makes the film work.

Moses Gunn, Deep Roy and Tilo Pruckner were all fantastic as well, even though each of them had little time to shine. Gunn’s stoic but serious presence added a legitimacy to the narrative. However, it was Thomas Hill’s Mr. Coreander that really takes the cake, as every line he delivered was perfect and chilling. It is great seeing him return in the sequel, even if that film doesn’t live up to this one.

The special effects are really well done for a German film that didn’t have the budget of bigger American movies. The creatures and their facial animatronics were superb, especially those used for Falcor the luck dragon and G’Mork the evil gigantic wolf. Most of the sets were well designed and accompanied by fabulous matte paintings for their backdrop. This was also a great time for matte paintings in cinema and this film features some of the best work in the pre-CGI era.

The success of this film lead to great things for director Wolfgang Petersen, who would go on to do many more English language films and find a permanent place in Hollywood. He had already got an Oscar nomination for Das Boot before this picture but it was The NeverEnding Story that gave him a career that allowed him to direct later films such as Enemy MineIn The Line of FireOutbreakAir Force OneThe Perfect Storm and Troy.

The NeverEnding Story is a family classic. It is one of the best fantasy films ever made and based off of my experience, seeing it in the theater in 2017, it is a timeless motion picture. Hopefully, later generations will also find the film and appreciate it like millions already have.