Film Review: Orca (1977)

Also known as: Orca: The Killer Whale, The Killer Whale (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 15th, 1977 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Michael Anderson
Written by: Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati, Robert Towne (uncredited)
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Richard Harris, Charlotte Rampling, Will Sampson, Bo Derek, Keenan Wynn, Robert Carradine

Famous Films, Dino De Laurentiis Company, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’d insisted on leaving South Harbor with them. I told myself that somehow I was responsible for Nolan’s state of mind. That I had filled his head with romantic notions about a whale capable not only of profound grief, which I believed, but also of calculated and vindictive actions, which I found hard to be believe, despite all that had happened.” – Rachel

I was originally introduced to this movie by my 6th grade science teacher circa 1991. While most of the class was dozing off, I really enjoyed it, even if it was one of several dozen ripoffs of Jaws.

Orca is somehow better than almost all of the Jaws wannabes, except for Joe Dante’s magnificent Piranha. But the reason for that is due to the movie’s ability to create great sympathy for the killer killer whale as well as Richard Harris’ ability to take a total bastard of a character and make him somewhat noble and redeemable.

I also really enjoyed Charlotte Rampling in this, as she added so much to the film’s context in a great way, as well as having a really organic chemistry with Richard Harris.

Being that I haven’t seen this in its entirety since that day in 6th grade, I was actually pleasantly surprised by the film all these years later. It was actually better than I remembered and there were some scenes I had completely forgotten, like the whale fetus on the boat deck scene, which my 6th grade teacher may have omitted from the movie when he showed us his VHS copy of it.

While this was a Dino De Laurentiis produced picture, which means it had a limited budget, most of the special effects were damn good. Even though I knew that some of the whale celebration moments with destruction in the background were composited shots, they actually look pretty great for the time, even when being seen in modern HD.

The two sequences that stood out to me the most were the coastal house being destroyed by the whale and collapsing into the sea, as well as the scene where the female whale is gruesomely captured and maimed, leading to her death and the death of the baby she’s carrying, all while the male whale watches on in agony. It may sound kind of cheesy but it’s surreal and haunting. Most importantly, it was incredibly effective. You felt the whale’s pain and understood his quest for vengeance against Richard Harris’ captain character.

I also really dug the Ennio Morricone score. The guy is an absolute legend and his score here is enchanting while also being brooding. While it’s not on par with John Williams’ Jaws score, it is very different and fits the tone of this movie, which wasn’t exactlyJaws ripoff. This just used the timing of its release to capitalize off of the killer marine life craze of the late ’70s.

The story is actually closer to Moby Dick and just modernized with a different species of whale. But that didn’t stop it from potentially taking a shot at Jaws by having the killer whale murder the crap out of a great white shark at the beginning of the film.

All in all, I was really satisfied with this. It’s not an all-time classic but it is better than most killer animal ocean movies not named Jaws.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other killer animal horror movies, especially those that take place on the water.

Film Review: Creepshow 2 (1987)

Also known as: Dead and Undead: Creepshow 2 (alternative title)
Release Date: May 1st, 1987
Directed by: Michael Gornick
Written by: George A. Romero, Lucille Fletcher (uncredited)
Based on: stories by Stephen King
Music by: Les Reed, Rick Wakeman
Cast: Lois Chiles, George Kennedy, Dorothy Lamour, Tom Savini, Frank Salsedo, Holt McCallany, Don Harvey, Will Sampson, Paul Satterfield, Jeremy Green, Daniel Beer, Page Hannah, Tom Wright, Stephen King (cameo)

New World Pictures, Laurel Entertainment Inc., 92 Minutes, 85 Minutes (UK video)

Review:

“Ooooh, mucho ecological, Poncho! Mucho ecological!” – Deke

While this doesn’t get as much fanfare as the original movie, I like it just as much if not slightly better.

Something about these stories just stuck with me.

To start, the first story about the wooden Indian is fantastic and my second favorite of all the Creepshow tales. It’s surprisingly well acted and chilling and by the time the wooden Indian comes to life, you’re so ready to watch the scumbags get murdered in horrible ways.

I’ve got to especially give props to Holt McCallany for playing the shitty, sadistic gang leader. The guy has had a good career but he showed he had real acting chops here, in only his second role, as he was so good at making you hate him. While the script is written to obviously make you dislike him, McCallany took it to a deeper more convincing level.

I also loved the dynamic between George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour.

But most importantly, the effects of the wooden Indian were spectacular. Especially for the era and the small budget that this film had.

The second story is the one Creepshow tale that has stuck with me the most over the years and it actually creeped me out as a kid. It’s about these party teens trapped on a raft in the middle of a lake, as a sludge monster is waiting to devour them. Once the creature gets ahold of its human victims, it literally digests them alive as they scream in pain and horror, dissolving before your eyes.

This sequence does a great job of building tension and terror with very little.

I think that it stuck with me the most because I grew up in and around the Everglades. So as I kid, I used to swim in swamp rivers and lakes fairly regularly. And while I wasn’t afraid of alligators or snakes, I was always on the look out for some sort of demon sludge in the water that might show any sign of sentience.

The last story is my least favorite but it is still damn enjoyable.

A woman accidentally kills a hitchiker and then her entire trip is comprised of the ghostly, zombie-like hitchhiker haunting her at every turn. It’s a simple setup with a simple story but it’s still entertaining and I love the practical effects used in this sequence.

Overall, Creepshow 2 is better than I remembered and it probably deserves as much respect and admiration as the original film.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: everything else under the Creepshow banner, as well as other horror anthologies from the same era like Twilight Zone: The Movie and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie.

Film Review: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986)

Release Date: May 23rd, 1986
Directed by: Brian Gibson
Written by: Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Based on: characters by Steven Spielberg
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: JoBeth Williams, Craig T. Nelson, Oliver Robbins, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Julian Beck, Will Sampson, Geraldine Fitzgerald

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 91 Minutes, 130 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“You’re all gonna die in there! All of you! You are gonna die!” – Kane

Most sequels aren’t created equal and the general consensus is that this one isn’t very good. Hogwash! I love it! Not as much as the first but it’s still a great ’80s horror film and better than most movies like it.

What makes this a solid entry into the short lived film series is that it broadens the mythos. Really, in the first film, there wasn’t much of a backstory. All you knew was that the house was haunted by evil and as the movie rolled on you discovered that it was built on top of a graveyard. This film sort of ignores the generic graveyard under the house idea and puts something even worse under the house: Reverend Henry Kane and his dead followers.

Kane, as played by Julian Beck in this movie, is absolutely fucking frightening. He is, hands down, one of the greatest screen villains of the era and more of a horror icon of the time than modern history seems to remember. He was a pure force of evil in a time when slashers ruled the horror genre. He wasn’t a slasher, he was something more powerful and more cunning. Julian Beck played Kane so profoundly that it is impossible not to get chills during the doorway scene when he confronts the family on their front porch. Honestly, it is my favorite moment in this entire franchise.

The film also adds in Will Sampson as a Native American named Taylor, who is actually known as the Medicine Man and is Kane’s nemesis. Taylor arrives at the family’s new home, convinces them that he is there to help and then lives with them in an effort to keep them safe from Kane’s attempts at stealing away Carol Anne. I loved Sampson in this and it is probably my second favorite thing he has done after One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The entire family returns for this film, except for Dominique Dunne, as she was murdered by her boyfriend in real life. But that’s just one of many tragedies that surround the cast of this film series, which some consider to be cursed.

Zelda Rubinstein also returns as Tangina, the clairvoyant that helped the family survive the first movie. Some of her lines in the film are pretty cringe worthy but I can look past this stuff in ’80s horror pictures. But it is probably worth noting that she was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress. She would also be nominated again for the same award for her part in Poltergeist III. However, she did win the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress for the first Poltergeist.

Craig T. Nelson had more to do in this movie, as he took a bit of a backseat to JoBeth Williams in the first one. I thought he did really well and his emotion and doubt were conveyed pretty convincingly, as he just wanted the forces of evil to leave his family alone.

The special effects in this were also spectacular for 1986. While some of the cloud effects and matte painting work is very noticeable in modern HD, the CGI ghost effects were stellar and have held up well. The scene where young Robbie is attacked by his braces still looks incredible. Also, the practical creature effects used for the beast form of Kane, as he crawled through the bedroom without legs was stupendous. This definitely deserved the Academy Award nomination it got for special effects.

Lastly, Jerry Goldsmith’s score seems to come alive more in this chapter. His theme to the series is expanded on and presented in new ways. I miss movies that had scores like this. Movie music nowadays just isn’t as memorable.

Poltergeist II is not on Poltergeist‘s level but there is a part of me that enjoys it more because the villain was clearly defined and scary as hell. Plus, Sampson and the Native American influence were great additions to the proceedings.

And sure, the big final battle with Kane on “the other side” is ’80s cheese to the rind, but I still friggin’ love it.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake.