Film Review: Lethal Weapon (1987)

Release Date: March 6th, 1987
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Shane Black
Music by: Michael Kamen, Eric Clapton
Cast: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey, Mitchell Ryan, Tom Atkins, Darlene Love, Traci Wolfe, Steve Kahan, Mary Ellen Trainor, Ed O’Ross, Al Leong, Jack Thibeau, Renée Estevez (uncredited – Director’s Cut)

Silver Pictures, Warner Bros., 109 Minutes, 117 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I’m too old for this shit!” – Roger Murtaugh

Since there have been rumblings, once again, about Lethal Weapon 5, I was reminded that I haven’t really watched the original film in quite awhile. So, since I have the DVD box set, I figured that I’d give them all a rewatch and a review.

I actually forgot how dark this first film was in regards to Martin Riggs’ depression and suicidal thoughts. Sure, I remember that part of the story but I see a lot more layers with it now, as an adult that has dealt with depression his entire life and many of the experiences and thoughts that come with it. I can also relate to the loss and grief that Riggs felt over his wife’s death, as I lost someone very close to me, which had me in a similar head space for a few years.

As a kid and a teen, I don’t think I understood the real depth of Riggs’ despair and I also didn’t fully understand how this is a movie about a broken man finding something to live for and that he is essentially adopted by a family that grows to love him as one of their own. And honestly, I’m not sure if Shane Black’s script meant to take it that deep but Mel Gibson and Danny Glover add so much to their roles and this story, emotionally, that lesser actors couldn’t have achieved this on quite the same level with this much human emotion.

That being said, the film is really about a man emerging from absolute darkness and finding his way in the world again. And while this isn’t the main plot thread of the sequels, it helped to establish the bond between Riggs and Murtaugh so well, that the emotions and connections in this film created such a strong foundation that it made the camaraderie in the sequels natural and frankly, easy.

The movie is an action comedy, despite the really heavy emotional stuff, and within that, it has a great balance between the darker stuff and its lighthearted playfulness. It’s also full of badass action and just makes me wish that Hollywood could still make pictures like this that are this good.

Action comedies in the modern era just don’t hit the right notes. You can’t compare any of those Kevin Hart buddy action comedies to the Lethal Weapon films and that’s not a knock against the talented Hart, I think it is just a product of the times we live in and their contrast to what the 1980s (and ’90s) were.

A lot of the credit has to go to Richard Donner, who was on his A-game as a director in the ’80s, as well as producer Joel Silver, a man that was involved with some of the most iconic films of all-time, especially in this era and the action genre.

But it all really comes back to the greatness that is the pairing of Gibson and Glover. They’re bond and their banter is absolute perfection. You buy into what they’re selling and they feel like they’re your friends too. On top of that, Glover’s family is great and they make the scenes they share with the two leads pretty special.

While the actual plot dealing with the crime element in the film is a bit thin, it’s still interesting and it also brings in great performances from Gary Busey, Tom Atkins and the grossly underappreciated Mitchell Ryan. I also love seeing and hearing Al Leong actually speak in this beyond just being a voiceless henchman.

On top of all that, the action sequences are superb, the stunts are fantastic and this is a movie that still packs a punch and is just as exciting as it was over thirty years ago.

Lethal Weapon is a stupendous film. It has the greatest tandem in buddy cop movie history and it has aged tremendously well.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Lethal Weapon films, as well as most ’80s buddy action movies.

Film Review: Escape From New York (1981)

Also known as: John Carpenter’s Escape From New York (complete title), Escape From New York City (script title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1981 (USA Film Festival)
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Nick Castle
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Issac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, Nancy Stephens, Buck Flower, Ox Baker, John Diehl, Carmen Filpi, Jamie Lee Curtis (voice)

Embassy Pictures, International Film Investors, Goldcrest Films International, 99 Minutes, 106 Minutes (extended version)

Review:

“It’s the survival of the human race, Plissken. Something you don’t give a shit about.” – Bob Hauk

When I was a really young kid, walking up and down the aisles of mom and pop video stores throughout Florida, I always used to come across the box art for Escape From New York and stare in awe. It’s one of the coolest and most iconic posters of all-time. Luckily for those who have seen the movie, it actually lives up to the incredible art that adorned the walls of movie theaters and video cassette boxes.

In fact, I’d call this the second most quintessential Kurt Russell movie just behind Big Trouble In Little China. The reason that other film gets the slight edge is because it shows the fun, comedic side of Russell more so than his gruffer more badass performance as Snake Plissken in this movie. Still, this is Kurt Russell at his absolute best and it’s not a surprise to me that he views this film as his favorite.

What’s great about this movie though, is that it doesn’t need to be carried by Russell. You’ve got a pretty solid ensemble cast of great character actors, all of whom bring their A-game and make this a much better picture than it would have been otherwise.

John Carpenter tapped the well of talent that he’s familiar with in Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins, Frank Doubleday, Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis (doing a voice cameo) but he also brought in legends like Lee Van Cleef, Harry Dean Stanton, Ernest Borgnine and Issac Hayes. There are even bit parts for guys who are in a ton of flicks, most notably John Diehl, whose death I still haven’t gotten over in Miami Vice, and Carmen Filpi, who always played the old crazy guy in everything.

The film is about a post-apocalyptic New York City that is walled off from the rest of America and is now run by ruthless gangs. Snake is sent in to rescue the President, who is being held hostage by the baddest of all the gangs. If he fails, he will be killed by an implant that was injected into him. Honestly, that’s a little plot detail that was probably stolen for the Suicide Squad comics and movie. But then again, the whole concept of a walled off metropolis run by gangs was also stolen for the superb Batman story No Man’s Land.

That being said, this film created a lot of urban post-apocalyptic tropes that other films, television shows, books and comics would heavily borrow from.

John Carpenter really made magic with this film though. It was one of those perfect storm scenarios where everything seemed to go right, at least if you’re looking at the final product.

The film looks great, sounds great and has such a thick, brooding atmosphere that there really isn’t anything else like it. Sure, people have tried to emulate and recreate what this movie was but no one else has come close to it. Not even Carpenter, who gave us the sequel Escape From L.A., fifteen years later.

It’s hard to peg what makes this film so great but if I had to, I’d say that it’s everything. From the cast, the visual style, the story and the musical score, which was done by Carpenter, himself, and Alan Howarth, every thing just works and comes together like a perfect casserole.

Escape From New York is moody and cool. It’s a great example of Carpenter using all of his strengths and sort of misdirecting away from his weaknesses. While this isn’t his best film, it’s in his top two or three and definitely takes the cake out of his action flicks.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as other ’80s and ’90s John Carpenter movies.

Film Review: The Fog (1980)

Release Date: February 1st, 1980
Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Music by: John Carpenter
Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Nancy Loomis, Charles Cyphers, Buck Flower

Debra Hill Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don’t wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog.” – Stevie Wayne

I was never a huge fan of The Fog but for some reason, I like this film a lot more now. I did enjoy it when I was younger but it wasn’t something I felt the need to revisit as often as the typical slasher films of the day. This has slasher elements to it but it certainly is not a clone of HalloweenFriday the 13th or anything else similar.

This is a quintessential John Carpenter flick. It also stars just about all of his top dogs except Kurt Russell and Donald Pleasence. You do have Adrienne Barbeau, in what is my favorite role of hers, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins and Carpenter regulars Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis. The cast also boasts Hal Holbrook, who starred with Barbeau two years later in Creepshow. We also get to see Janet Leigh, Curtis’ real mother who is most remembered for Psycho.

The threat in this film is a mysterious fog that rolls into a small coastal California town. The fog carries some swashbuckling zombies that want their gold back. The nautical zombies don’t actually swashbuckle, instead they use their blades like a slasher would.

Barbeau plays a single mother who owns a lighthouse where she broadcasts over the radio. From atop the town, she can see the fog rolling in and tries to give the town a play-by-play on what is happening but ultimately, the ghosts come to haunt her as well.

I like this film a lot and I think it is underrated, even if it did get a crappy remake in 2005.

Unfortunately, the swashbuckling ghost zombies aren’t the most unsettling thing about the picture. Something about the Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis hookup was just bothersome to me. I like both actors but when this was made Curtis was 21 while Atkins was 44. As a 38 year-old man, I can’t even talk to a 25 year-old girl and find anything in common with her, just sayin’.

The Fog is a solid movie. It also has one of the best scores that John Carpenter has ever produced. It uses its fog and lighting effects perfectly and the monsters are damn cool.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Release Date: October 22nd, 1982
Directed by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Music by: John Carpenter, Alan Howarth
Cast: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Nancy Loomis, Jamie Lee Curtis (uncredited voice), Tommy Lee Wallace (uncredited voice)

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Debra Hill Productions, Universal Pictures, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I do love a good joke and this is the best ever: a joke on the children.” – Conal Cochran

*written in 2015.

Prepare to be scared shitless. Okay, maybe not shitless. But prepared to feel really uncomfortable, unsettled and really creeped out by this unique and bizarre film that truly is one of a kind.

This film currently has a rating of 4.4 on IMDb. That’s some bullshit and I think that the only reason it rates so low is because it is a film with the name Halloween on it and Michael Myers is nowhere to be found. Had this been its own film with its own name, it would probably not have some weird stigma or Michael Myers fanboy backlash. Then again, had it been called something else, it might not have survived as long as it has, simply because its existence is an enigma.

So why is this a Halloween film when it doesn’t feature Michael Myers or anything related to those stories?

Well, back in the day, John Carpenter didn’t even want to do the Halloween II that we got. His original plan for the series was to have a different story each year for each new film in the series. The studio however, wanted more Michael Myers and an agreement was reached that Carpenter would give them more Michael Myers and he would be allowed to make a third film in the series any way he saw fit. What resulted was confusion. Confusion that led to a big hiatus between this film and the fourth film, which ultimately, brought Michael Myers back to the franchise and saw him go on to star in every sequel and remake thereafter. In the end, this film gets an unfair bad rap and is usually skipped over by those having a Halloween marathon or sneered at when it pops up on AMC during the MonsterFest season. In fact, AMC may be ignoring it now too, as I haven’t seen it in the TV listings this year.

The thing is, this film is great. It is actually one of my favorite horror movies of all-time. I can’t come upon the Halloween season and not pop this into the DVD player. Actually, I’m sure I will catch shit for this, but I prefer this movie over all other films in the Halloween series. Yes, even more so than the 1978 classic that introduced the world to Michael Myers.

This film has the absolute best atmosphere of any film in the series. It is beyond creepy and as a kid, this terrified me much more than some guy in a mask walking around silently and slowly with a knife. There is just something more sinister to a child viewer (me) seeing another child in a film put on a Halloween mask that turns their head into a pile of bugs, worms and venomous snakes in a very painful way. Sorry, this is way more effective than another slasher film. And no, despite claims from everyone, Michael Myers was not the first slasher and the concept of Halloween was lifted from the original Black Christmas and what its director wanted to do with his plan for sequels – an anthology of films all associated with different holidays.

Tom Atkins plays the lead in Halloween III and is as great as always. He’s never a likable character really, he is just a solid actor that doesn’t try to be a hero, he is usually just a typical human male caught up in an inhuman or extraordinary situation.

Dan O’Herlihy (best known as the head of OCP in the original Robocop) is awesome as the evil Conal Cochran, the man who wants to kill the world’s children and pretty much everyone else. His tool of destruction is his best-selling Halloween masks. And although his motivations are never really made clear and his sinister plot never really explained in a way that makes much sense, you know that you are looking at pure evil and he embodies an almost satanic presence.

This film almost has a Lovecraftian vibe to it, mixed with that magic John Carpenter touch and a bit of dark science fiction. Even though Carpenter only produced this film, it promotes his visual style well and it is only enhanced by his majestic and eerie soundtrack.

4.4 on IMDb? People have no fucking taste.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: the other Halloween films.

Film Review: Creepshow (1982)

Release Date: May 16th, 1982 (Cannes)
Directed by: George A. Romero
Written by: Stephen King
Based on: various stories by Stephen King
Music by: John Harrison
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Fritz Weaver, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ted Danson, Ed Harris, Tom Atkins, Tom Savini, Stephen King

Laurel Entertainment, Warner Bros., 120 Minutes

Review:

“I drove out there with the remains of three human beings… well, two human beings and Wilma.” – Henry

Creepshow was one of the first modern horror films I experienced as a kid. However, I was a kid in the 80s, so this was modern then. Now it is thirty-five years old. Revisiting it now though, is still a real friggin’ treat.

I love this movie. I admit that a lot of my warm and fuzzy feelings for it can be due to the fact that I’m a total sucker for nostalgia but it is a damn good picture for its time. I’m not even a huge anthology horror fan but when these films are good, I absolutely love them.

Creepshow is one of the best horror anthology films of all-time. Each story works and George A. Romero created a true piece of cinematic magnificence outside of his Dead series. Plus, having the help of Stephen King’s pen made this a bit more unique than other films like it.

There isn’t a dull story out of the five that we get within this film. Six stories if you count the intro and ending.

The weakest story is probably the one that stars King himself, as a man that becomes possessed and overcome by some sort of alien plant life. Even that one is entertaining because King plays the role so hilariously. It is also the shortest chapter.

The best story of the bunch is The Crate, which really could have been its own film and worked really well. It is also the longest chapter and feels like a throwback to an H.P. Lovecraft tale. In this story, we see a janitor discover a strange crate under a staircase at a college. It is from an expedition, decades earlier. Inside the crate is a hungry beast that pretty much want to devour everyone. But it is the monster itself that is the star of the movie, in my eyes.

The film has a good all-star cast with two highlights. The rivalry between Ted Danson and Leslie Nielsen is well orchestrated and they play off of each other like the pros they are. The other is the relationship between the quiet and sweet Hal Holbrook and his annoying as hell wife played by Adrienne Barbeau. It is such a comedic mismatch but it works too a t.

The visual comic book style highlights within the film, give it an otherworldly life that really wraps the movie in that old school pulp feel.

Creepshow is so enjoyable and the funny bits are still funny. Yes, it has a real sense of terror but it is a load of fun.
Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Maniac Cop (1988)

Release Date: May 13th, 1988
Directed by: William Lustig
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Jay Chattaway
Cast: Tom Atkins, Bruce Campbell, Richard Roundtree, Robert Z’Dar, Laurene Landon, William Smith, Sheree North, Buck Flower

Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, 85 Minutes

Review:

This is a film that stars four incredible bad asses. First you have Tom Atkins, who kicks the bejesus out of anything in his path even if he doesn’t look like a traditional action star. Then you have Bruce Campbell a.k.a. Ash Williams from Evil Dead and Brisco County Jr. from The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Add in Richard Roundtree, who will always be known as Shaft, and Robert Z’Dar, most famous for his role here, as the Maniac Cop, but who has also been in a slew of bad ass roles over his career.

If that isn’t enough to sell you on this film, I don’t know what is.

In the film, there is a serial killer who seems to be picking random people to murder. It isn’t long before it is discovered that the killer is a cop. Bruce Campbell’s character gets blamed for the killings but he isn’t the guy doing it. Tom Atkins is leading the investigation and has to answer to his boss, Richard Roundtree. The killer is a hulking giant of a man in a police uniform. The Maniac Cop is actually Robert Z’Dar and the story tries to put the pieces together in an effort to discover his identity and why he’s become a murderous maniac.

While this film fits the slasher formula, it is more of a whodunit mystery. This film is also more of a crime thriller, whereas its sequels went the more traditional slasher route.

It is a pretty decent film overall but it isn’t anything exceptional. The cast makes it much better than it should be. The movie is bogged down by poor editing, direction and a shrill and incomprehensible score. The music is fine to a point but there are scenes where the score takes over and is a distraction, most notably in the shower fight scene.

The cinematography is pretty good though. While the film is dark, for the most part, the highlights and subtle lighting work add a depth to the visual side of storytelling. The scene where the Maniac Cop is flashing back to his demise in prison, is a good example of how a really dark shot can have life, as the sliver of light highlighting the character’s eye while his body is a black silhouette adds a sense of humanity to the monster.

Maniac Cop is not so much a classic, as it is just a really cool slasher picture that is different from the norm. It takes itself more seriously and it has a bit more gravitas than your run of the mill 1980s masked killer movie.

Film Review: Night of the Creeps (1986)

Release Date: August 22nd, 1986
Directed by: Fred Dekker
Written by: Fred Dekker
Music by: Barry De Vorzon, Stan Ridgway
Cast: Jason Lively, Steve Marshall, Jill Whitlow, Tom Atkins, Suzanne Snyder

TriStar Pictures, 88 Minutes

night-of-the-creepsReview:

“What is this? A homicide, or a bad B-movie?” – Detective Cameron (Tom Atkins)

Night of the Creeps is a classic. Well, it is to me, anyway.

While most people have probably never heard of this film, I discovered it about a year after it came out on VHS when my video store clerk told me that it was an awesome film written and directed by the guy who did Monster Squad – another classic in my book.

This film starts like a cheesy alien sci-fi film, quickly turns into 1950s horror and then transitions into a fun, campy and ridiculously awesome 1980s teen horror film. Of course, back then horror films were still rated R and as was common with the era, we get lots of good gore, boobies and 80s humor. Not to mention, a stellar 80s horror film score and great practical effects that are better than a lot of the other 80s B-movie horror flicks.

Tom Atkins plays the bad ass disgruntled detective. He was great in all these 70s and 80s horror films he found himself in and in Night of the Creeps he is at his best. He’s a no nonsense ass kicker that holds his own in a time when pop culture was ruled by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

The teen actors are good enough and the cast of young talent is led by Jason Lively, who you may remember as the second Rusty Griswold. You will also see a very young David Paymer as a scientist.

The film is essentially a zombie movie but it is done in a new and interesting way unlike anything else I had seen before this. An evil alien sends a pod full of parasitic space slugs to Earth, which enter people through the mouth and turns them into the walking dead. There is also an axe murderer subplot.

The film is fun, the effects are great and the cast and director did a superb job in making one of the most unique low budget 80s horror films. It’s films like Night of the Creeps that really make me miss that era of filmmaking.