Category Archives: Movies

Birdemic: Shock and Terror

A couple of months ago, I attended the RiffTrax live screening of Manos:  The Hands of Fate.  The original Manos episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is consistently rated as one of the best episodes of the series, and for good reason.  Manos is a terrible, terrible movie and MST3K did a great job of actually watching it.  During the RiffTrax Live screening of Manos, MST3K veterans Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy had a whole new script of jokes.  It was a fantastically funny time.  At the end of the performance, they invited everyone back in October to see them take on Birdemic: Shock and Terror.  I’d never heard of Birdemic, but of course I was going to be there.

Prior to attending last night, I discovered that Birdemic was actually available to stream on Netflix.  Dare I see what kind of painful experience that someone would be in for by watching it without jokes?  Yes, I dared and…..

HOLY CRAP!  I couldn’t stop watching.  It was a trainwreck of the above proportion and has catapulted itself to the top spot on the list of worst movies that I have ever seen.  Troll 2 is almost Shakespearean by comparison.  It is the most inept attempt at filmmaking I’ve personally witnessed. The acting, story, pacing, editing, audio, directing, dialogue, and special effects are tragically and uniformly awful.  The entire thing must be seen to be believed.    Mere words can not attempt to do Birdemic the injustice that it deserves.  But I will try.  If you want to experience this mess unspoiled, then you best stop reading here.

Birdemic is the brainchild of Vietnamese born “writer/director” James Nguyen.  You could probably guess from watching Birdemic that filmmaking wasn’t Nguyen’s day job.  Nguyen was a software salesman in Silicon Valley who grew up watching the films of Alfred Hitchcock.  Part of his inspiration came from The Birds and part of it came from his interest in the dangers of global warming after seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.  Oh.  Nguyen also had to largely self-finance his picture with the princely sum of $10,000 from his day job.  You put all that in a blender and out comes Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Birdemic begins with young Silicon Valley software salesman, Rod (played by Alan Bagh, with all the charisma of an android that doesn’t understand how human emotion works), trying to hit on his former high school classmate turned fashion model Nathalie (Whitney Moore) after running into her at a diner.  They exchange very awkward pleasantries and business cards as Rod wonders if he can keep in touch.  Then Rod closes a big million dollar sale at his job and Nathalie learns that she just became the cover model for Victoria’s Secret after leaving a photo shoot at a one hour photo store in a mini-mall.  They go out for an awkward dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant to celebrate followed by some awkward dancing in front of a blurry green screen shot of a club.  The next day Rod plays some awkward basketball with his horn dog work buddy and talks about his date with Nathalie.  Then they talk about the potential for their software company to be sold off making them filthy rich.  It is all very, very believable.

Despite their complete lack of chemistry, Rod and Nathalie’s relationship progesses.  Rod’s company is then sold for a billion dollars!  Allowing Rod to cash in his stock options which he uses to found a startup solar energy company.  He is able to then get immediate funding for his company of 10 million dollars after he gives a one slide powepoint presentation to a group of venture capitalists.  Despite his android-like personality, Rod just falls ass over ankles into money and success.  The timeline isn’t very clear but it seems this all happened in the course of a few days.  Nathalie then takes Rod for an awkward meeting with her mother.  They go on another awkward date with the most awkward dance scene yet and then back to a motel for some awkward sex.

Right about here, you are probably wondering:  WHERE THE HELL ARE THE BIRDS?!  We are about 47 minutes into the movie without even a single solitary bird attack.  Well prepare to be amazed.  Because as Nathalie and Rod are still sleeping, the Birdemic is about to blow up.  The peaceful town of Half Moon Bay is suddenly descended upon by a horde of angry exploding eagles and vultures.  Yep.  They are able to perform kamikaze style attacks a la a Japanese WWII zero where they explode upon impact.  Oh.  I almost forgot to mention that the bird effects are simply animated GIF’s.   The birds start congregating outside of Rod and Nathalie’s room.  Rod and Nathalie are unable to escape because Rod somehow lost his car keys and forgot to charge his cell phone.  They have to run next door to neighbors Ramsey and Becky for help.  They devise a plan to get to Ramsey’s van which involves standing back to back while swinging coat hangers at the attacking birds as they advance.  Leading to this:

Fortunately once that make it inside the van, they have the firepower to fight back.  For some reason, Ramsey was already packing an M16 and a couple of semi automatic handguns.  The rest of the movie is pretty much them driving from place to place without any semblance of a plan looking for gas and fresh water while they wildly fire away at birds that are less realisticly rendered than the ducks on Duckhunt.  I kept expecting this jerkwad to pop out of the weeds.They pick up some orphaned children, inexplicably have an OUTDOOR picnic, talk to an old man claiming to be an ornithologist who ham handedly blames the whole thing on global warming, Becky gets killed by an eagle while taking a crap, and Ramsey gets killed when the birds explode into acid in his face.  Rod and Nathalie and the orphaned kids then meet the Tree Hugger who again ham handedly blames the whole mess on global warming and spruce bark beetles.  They drive until they run out of gas next to a beach.  They get attacked a little bit more until some doves show up and inexplicably chase the evil eagles and vultures back out to sea.  FIN

As ridiculously bad as the plot of Birdemic is, the technical aspects might be the worst part of the movie.  It appears that every scene was filmed in one take and that every single second of footage was actually used.  The actors would frequently flub a line or the sound would completely drop out but Nguyen still put those scenes in the final cut.  It appears that is the case because Nguyen realized he needed to pad the running time out to feature length.  I say this because there is probably a solid 20 minutes of the picture of people doing nothing more than driving, parking, and pulling out into traffic.  The movie begins with Rod slowly driving his Mustang for a solid five minutes only to accomplish the opening credit roll.  A short time later you get to see him leave his house, get into his car, back  out of his driveway, stop for gas, pump the gas, pull out of the gas station, drive to work, park at his work, get out of his car, and walk into his building.  In near real-time.  Nguyen doesn’t seem to trust his audience to fill in the blanks on how Rod was able to get from his house to his job.  The rest of the movie is similarly edited.  Scenes will either end too abruptly or uncomfortably drag on for ten seconds too long.

Watching Birdemic on it’s own is enough of an experience.  You wonder how such a thing actually got made in the first place.  Watching it while the RiffTrax crew took it apart was amazing.  Two straight hours of laughing left my face sore.  The next time you notice a RiffTrax Live event in your area, I can not recommend the experience highly enough.

Oh, one more thing.  There will actually be a Birdemic 2.  Made by all the same people that made the first one so special.  You’ve been warned.

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Halloween Movie Countdown #1 – Young Frankenstein

#1 – Young Frankenstein 1974

MY NAME – IS FRANKENSTEIN!!!”

Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) is the grandson of the mad scientist Dr. Victor Frankenstein and currently working as a brain surgeon and lecturer at a medical school.  He is so ashamed of his family’s past that he inists upon pronouncing his name as “Fronk-en-steen”.  He is informed that his great grandfather, Baron von Frankenstein, has passed away, leaving Frederick as the heir to his estate in Transylvania.  He travels to Transylvania to check out his new castle where he meets the Frankenstein family’s hunchbacked servant, Igor (Marty Feldman), and his new laboratory assistant, Inga (Teri Garr).  One night, Frederick and Inga hear some mysterious music coming from somewhere within the castle.  They discover a secret passage behind ‘ze bookcase that leads to his grandfather’s secret laboratory.  He begins reading his grandfather’s private journal entitled,  “How I Did It“.  Frederick incredulously declares that “IT CAN’T WORK!”  Frederick becomes intrigued and decides to take up his grandfather’s work in the reanimation of dead tissue, despite the suspicions of the townsfolk that have experience this five times already.  Frederick decides to correct his grandfather’s error by using the genius brain of recently deceased scientist/saint Hans Delbrück.  He sends Igor to retrieve Delbrück’s brain.  Igor becomes startled by lightning, dropping the Delbrück brain.  He grabs the next best thing, a brain in a jar labeled “ABNORMAL” and returns it to Frederick, who transplants it in the corpse.

The idea for Young Frankenstein came about in a conversation between Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks as the two were wrapping up filming on Blazing Saddles In 2010, The LA Times interviewed Brooks about the film’s adaptation into a Broadway musical.  He said regarding the film’s origins:

I was in the middle of shooting the last few weeks of Blazing Saddles somewhere in the Antelope Valley, and Gene Wilder and I were having a cup of coffee and he said, I have this idea that there could be another Frankenstein. I said not another — we’ve had the son of, the cousin of, the brother-in-law, we don’t need another Frankenstein. His idea was very simple: What if the grandson of Dr. Frankenstein wanted nothing to do with the family whatsoever. He was ashamed of those wackos. I said, “That’s funny.”

Mel Brooks took great care in his effort at recreating the look and feel that James Whale first put on film, which led to some problems in the beginning.  He wanted to shoot the film in black and white, considering it a “sin to shoot a Frankenstein movie in color”.  However, Columbia Pictures did not believe that a black and white movie could be successful in the 1970’s.  They also didn’t want to give Brooks the slightly larger budget he wanted to complete the movie.  These problems led him to take Young Frankenstein to 20th Century Fox, who were much more cooperative with Brooks’ vision.   Young Frankenstein was shot in the same castle as the original Frankenstein and even used many of the exact same laboratory props that Brooks was able to track down.  Both Brooks and Wilder are on record as saying that Young Frankenstein is their favorite of the films they have been involved with.  Young Frankenstein was inducted into National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2003.  It is also listed at #13 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest Films in American cinema.

I saw Young Frankenstein before I ever saw any of the movies that inspired it.  It was hilarious then.  Seeing the Frankenstein movies that it references only makes the jokes even funnier.  Crazy how that works, eh?  Of all the movies I have the urge to watch come October, Young Frankenstein has the greatest rewatchability factor for me.  I’ll often just throw it on just to have it in the background, even if I’m not able to devote my full attention to it.  It never gets old and I seem to appreciate it more and more the more times I watch it.  That is why it earns the top spot on the my list of favorite Halloween movies.

Halloween Movie Countdown #2 – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

#2 – Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein 1948

Chick Young:  “I know there’s no such a person as Dracula.  You know there’s no such a person as Dracula.”

Wilbur Grey:  “But does Dracula know there’s no such a person?”

Wilbur (Lou Costello) and Chick (Bud Abbott) are freight handlers working at a railway station.  They get a call from Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.)  in London warning them not to deliver a certain crate to McDougal’s House of Horrors, because the crate contains the bodies of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Frankenstein Monster (Glenn Strange).  Naturally, Wilbut thinks it is crank call so he hangs up.  McDougal himself shows up to claim the crates.  In typical Lou Costello fashion, Wilbur clumsily bumbles around while retrieving the crate, potentially damaging it.  McDougal demands that they deliver the crates to his museum so that an insurance agent can inspect them for damage.  When they do, Wilbur sees that the crates actually do contain the bodies of Dracula and the monster.  Dracula arises from his crate and revives the monster, hypnotizing Wilbur in the process.  Of course all of this action happens while Chick is offscreen doing something else.  Dracula and the Monster escape before McDougal and the insurance agent arrive.  Upon finding the crates empty, McDougal demands that Wilbur and Chick be arrested for theft.  Dracula takes Frankie to a nearby castle where Dr. Sandra Mornay is making preparations for their nefarious scheme.  They want to replace the abnormal, uncontrollable brain currently in the Frankenstein monster with a more cooperative, stupid brain.  She has found just the perfect brain for this and has been posing as this poor schmuck’s girlfiend in order to acquire it.  That brain, of course, belongs to Wilbur.

The success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was pretty remarkable, considering that the popularity of both Abbott and Costello and the classic Universal monster movies had largely already peaked.  The movie was so successful that Universal decided to keep pairing up Abbott and Costello with other well known characters from other movies, including:  The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, Captain Kidd, and The Keystone Kops.  As excellent as Meet Frankenstein is, there are some Abbott and Costello buffs that don’t even consider it to be their best horror-comedy.  Hold That Ghost (1941) is also very, very funny.  It originally featured the moving candle gag that was effectively recycled in Meet Frankenstein.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was just narrowly edged out by what turns out to be my favorite Halloween movie ever.  I initially saw it in a college film class that I wasn’t even taking.  My girlfriend was.  Her class was showing it that Halloween evening, so I tagged along because I thought it sounded like fun.  It was.  Dracula throws a potted plant at the Wolf Man.  It can’t really get any better than that.  Pretty soon I was hooked on both Abbott and Costello and the classic Universal monster movies of the the 1930s and 1940s.  This was in the late 1990s and before the DVD format really began to take off, so it was really quite a bit more difficult to get exposed to older movies.  When the DVD box sets of the various Abbott and Costello movies and those of the classic Universal monster movies started gettting released, I began snatching them up and they still get pretty steady play to this day.

Halloween Movie Countdown #3 – Shaun of the Dead

#3 – Shaun of the Dead 2004

Big Al says ‘Dogs can’t look up.’ “

I have seen Shaun of the Dead referred to as the world’s first RomComZom (Romantic Comedy w/ Zombies).  The movie follows the unambitious and directionless life of Shaun (Simon Pegg) as he tries to sort out his love-life problems and mother/stepfather issues during the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse.  The movie begins with Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz, expressing her dissatisfaction at  their lack of a social life.  All they ever seem to do is hang out at Shaun’s favorite pub, The Winchester, with Shaun’s loser best friend, Ed (Nick Frost).  The next day, Shaun forgets to make reservations at a nice restaurant for their anniversary, causing Liz to dump him.  Shaun goes to the Winchester to drown his sorrows with Ed.  The next day, they are too hung over to realize that the town has become overrun with zombies until one attacks them in their backyard.  Shaun tells Ed they need to go get Liz and his mom then find somewhere safe to hole up until the whole thing blows over.

Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie movie, probably because I have a hard time taking “serious” zombie movies seriously.  While it technically not a movie, The Walking Dead would be the one exception to that.  Shaun of the Dead was my introduction to Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright.  While working together on the British television show Spaced (along with Nick Frost), Pegg and Wright discovered they shared a mutual appreciation of George Romero zombie movies.  They decided to try their hand at making of zombie movie of their own.  They used many of the cast and crew that worked on Spaced as well as many other well known British comedians and comic actors.  Even many of the zombie extras were fans of Spaced that responded to a casting call posted on a fan website.

Shaun of the Dead was released to nearly unanimous positive reviews, many of which stated in one way or another that the movie would be appreciated by both casual viewers and zombie genre fans alike.  The horror movie review website, Bloody Disgusting, listed Shaun of the Dead #2 on their list of best horror movies of the decade, saying “it isn’t just the best horror-comedy of the decade – it’s quite possibly the best horror-comedy ever made.”  George Romero was so impressed with the movie that he offered Pegg and Wright cameo roles in his next movie, Land of the Dead.  They turned down the more noticeable roles they were originally offered because they insisted on being zombies.

Halloween Movie Countdown #4 – Sleepy Hollow

#4 – Sleepy Hollow 1999

Heads will roll”

Every Halloween during my childhood I would watch the Walt Disney version of Washington Irving’s story. Ok, I admit, I still watch it every Halloween now that I am in my thirties.  But now, the Disney version has been supplanted by Tim Burton‘s adaptation even though it is distinctly lacking the narrative talents of one Bing Crosby.  Burton’s twist on the familiar folk tale is to turn it into a horror/murder mystery.  In the year 1799,  New York police constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) is dispatched to the tiny town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of gruesome murders that have left the victims decapitated and their melons missing.  He arrives to stories from the town’s elders that the killings are being perpetrated from beyond the grave by a Headless Hessian Horseman (Christopher Walken, with pointy teeth).  Crane doesn’t buy the story because he approaches his investigations from a scientifically skeptical position.  He insists the killer must be a man of flesh and blood.  Until he comes face to face with Headless Horseman himself.

The reimagining of Sleepy Hollow was not initially Tim Burton’s concept.  Makeup artist Kevin Yagher had partnered with Andrew Kevin Walker and pitched the idea of Ichabod Crane as a banished New York detective to several producers in the early nineties.  The project was eventually bought by Paramount with the plan of Yagher directing and Walker scripting.  Yagher wanted to make Sleepy Hollow into a low-budger slasher movie with “a spectacular murder every five minutes or so.”  Paramount wasn’t amenable to that concept and demoted Yagher’s involvement in the project back to makeup design.  One of the Sleepy Hollow producers that had also worked on Edward Scissorhands suggested Burton as Yagher’s replacement.

Of all the movies on my list, I think that the art direction and cinematography in Sleepy Hollow work together to create the most impressively effective atmosphere.  It is a visually gorgeous picture.  It has a loaded cast, a very eerie soundtrack (by Nightmare Before Christmas collaborator, Danny Elfman, plenty of comedic moments (often at the expense of Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod Crane’s awkward squeamishness), and enough to gore to satisfy those that want it without going over the top.  Watching this movie around Halloween always makes me wish I had the talent to create a prosthetic, decapitated version of my own head to set out on the porch to greet the trick-or-treaters.  But I probably wouldn’t be able to stop there.  I’d have to make the rest of the costume and learn how to really ride a horse, so that I could really scare the bejeezus out of people. Since I don’t A) have the money to buy a horse, or B) have anywhere to house Satan’s steed, I suppose it’s better for everyone that I just stick to carving jack-o-lanterns. Damn logistics.

Behind the scenes of Sleepy Hollow:

Part 2, Part 3

Halloween Movie Countdown #5 – Ghostbusters

#5 – Ghostbusters 1984

Back off, man.  I’m a scientist.” – Peter Venkman

Ghostbusters is about a trio of recently fired university paranormal research scientists who choose to leave the confines of academia to open a start-up supernatural ghost and spirit extermination business in the private sector. (Insert obligatory “Obama, You Didn’t Build It” joke here)  Peter Venkman  (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spangler (Harold Ramis).  They get a call from the manager of the Sedgwick Hotel that their upper floors are haunted – by Slimer.  They come, they see, they kick its ass.  After that, it doesn’t take long for business to pick up, ghosts to start being busted, and the three to become to New York celebrities.  They are then hired by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate the demonic haunting of her apartment by a demigod named Zuul.  The Ghostbusters discover that Dana’s apartment building was constructed as a gateway to summon Gozer, a Sumerian god of destruction, which they must prevent from happening.

The idea for Ghostbusters came about from Dan Aykroyd’s keen interest in the paranormal.  Want to know where that interest came from? Notice this book, A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts, and Ghostbusters. Author’s name look familiar?  That’s right.  Peter Aykroyd is the father of one, Dan Aykroyd.  Which makes Dan Aykroyd a second generation demon hunter, sort of like Simon Belmont or Dean Winchester.  Holy Crap.  Aykroyd used his “demon hunting experience” during his script development for the movie.  As you learn in the commentary track on the DVD, Venkman’s treatment of Dana during her possession by Zuul is the actual recommended treatment for an individual that is possessed by an evil spirit.  Even the technical jargon wasn’t just made up.  Well, at least it wasn’t just made up just for the movie.  For example:  The term “ectoplasm” was actually coined by Nobel Prize winning physiologist, Charles Richet, to denote a substance or spiritual energy “exteriorized” by physical mediums.”

Ghostbusters was, and to a large extent still is, extremely popular. It spun off toy lines, video games, cartoons, and a lackluster sequel. The theme song, sung by Ray Parker, Jr., was also a smash hit. It occupied the top spot on the Billboard charts for three weeks and is probably still played today in roller rinks across the country. There are rumblings about another potential addition to the Ghostbusters franchise. I’m not sure how I feel about this considering what a massive failure it was to dig up Indiana Jones for a fourth a time after two decades had passed.  Shia LaBeouf swinging on hanging vines through the jungle with a bunch of monkeys a la Tarzan?  Really, Spielberg and Lucas? Really?! I now just pretend that the sequel that shall not be named doesn’t exist. I don’t want the Ghostbusters to shame themselves in similar fashion.

Begging your pardon, but I will conclude with a somewhat related tangent involving one of my pet peeves:  “Ghost Hunting” shows……….

Ghostbusters was so awesome to me during my formative years, that I went trick-or-treating as one for Halloween one year, complete with khaki coveralls, plastic proton pack, and vaccuum ghost trap. This was me………

But eventually you need to grow up and stop taking the subject matter so seriously.  Or else you might end up with your own TV show on the SyFy Network or the Travel Channel believing that you are actually hunting ghosts with a bunch of instruments you don’t know how to operate and don’t understand what they were designed to do in the first place.  Like this guy.  Judging by his exhaustive wardrobe of Affliction style apparel, Zak Bagans isn’t even qualified to properly dress himself, let alone understand that an EMF meter wasn’t designed to hunt ghosts.  “Ghosts are said to give off electromagnetic energy, therefore if we come across a spike on our EMF meter that we can’t personally explain, it is reasonable to assume a ghost might be present.”  Sound scientific methodology there, Bagans.  Who says ghosts give off electromagnetic energy, again?  Citation please.

Halloween Movie Countdown #6 – The Wolf Man

#6 – The Wolf Man 1941

Even a man who is pure in heart

and says his prayers by night

may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms

and the autumn moon is bright.”

The Wolf Man begins with Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returning to England to reconcile with his father (Claude Rains) after the death of his brother.  As soon as Larry gets home, he wanders into his father’s observatory and starts using its telescope to spy on the neighboring village.  Local antique shop girl, Gwen, soon catches the eye of Peeping Larry and he likes what he sees.  He goes into town to creep on Gwen a little bit more, buys a cane topped with a silver wolf’s head, then tells Gwen he’ll be back to stalk her later than evening after she repeatedly turns him down for a date.  Larry returns and needles Gwen into going to get their fortunes told by the band of gypsies that just rolled into town, only to have her third wheel friend, Jenny, insist on coming along with them.  Jenny has her fortune ominously told to her by the Bela the gypsy (Bela Lugosi) and runs away frightened into the woods.  Larry hears a scream and charges toward the commotion where he finds her being attacked by a wolf.  He whips out his trusty silver wolf’s head cane and bludgeons it to death, getting bitten in the process.  Larry later returns to the gypsy camp where an old woman informs him that the wolf he killed was really Bela, and that Larry will now become a werewolf himself.

Originally, the audience was never actually going to see the werewolf.  The movie was initially intended to be more of a psychological study into Larry Talbot’s character.  Was he actually turning into a werewolf, or was he just suffering through a psychotic breakdown? Eventually the studio decided that the movie would probably be more successful if it just went ahead and showed the goods.  Talbot’s transformation is one of the few areas I think could have been improved upon even considering the technical limitations of the time. As it happens, you only get to see his feet.  Other than that, the fog covered set pieces and soundtrack both work very well in providing the movie a successfully spooky atmosphere.

The Wolf Man is my favorite of all the classic Univeral monster pictures and the quintessential werewolf movie, narrowly edging out Teen Wolf. (Who doesn’t want to watch werewolf Michael J. Fox dunk a basketball? If that answer is you, we can’t be friends.)  But seriously, while not technically the start of the werewolf movie bloodline (that honor goes to Universal’s 1935 Werewolf of London), The Wolf Man is the one from which all other werewolf movies have sprung.  It established much of the now canonical werewolf lore, such as how they can only be killed by a silver bullet silver knife, or silver etc. You can thank it for influencing good movies like An American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, and Teen Wolf. You can also probably place some blame on it for Werewolf (however, MST3K version = Full Of Win), whichever Twilight movie/s has/have the werewolves (not going to look it up), and Teen Wolf Too (Why, Jason Bateman!? WHY!?!?)

The popularity of the film spawned four sequels that Lon Chaney, Jr. returned to star in.  This was actually a rarity among the classic Universal monster pictures.  The actors that made the roles famous in the original movies were replaced by different actors playing the role in the sequels.  There was a subpar remake released in 2010 starring Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins.  Although the film has its problems, I appreciated that the effects remained respectful to the spirit of the original movie.  Rather than just rendering the werewolf effects and transformations solely using CGI, the producers put makeup wizard Rick Baker, of An American Werewolf in London fame, to work.  This netted the movie the Academy Award for Best Makeup in 2011.

 

Halloween Movie Countdown #7 – The Nightmare Before Christmas

#7 – The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993

Kidnap the Sandy Claws

Beat him with a stick!

Lock him up for ninety years

See what makes him tick!”

I have never been sure if The Nightmare Before Christmas is supposed to be classified as a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie.  But I only have the urge to watch it at Halloween, and never at Christmas.  So, Halloween it is.

The Nightmare Before Christmas tells the story of Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, who hails from Halloween Town.  Although Jack is seen as the rock star of Halloween Town’s yearly festivities, he has grown bored with repeating the same routine.  After the most recent Halloween has been completed, Jack goes for a walk in the woods.  There he discovers a grove of trees with symbols of other holidays drawn on them.  He approaches the one with a Christmas tree on it, which turns out to be a portal to Christmas Town.  Jack is in awe with what he witnesses.  He returns to Halloween Town and tries to relate what he has just seen.  Soon, he convinces the residents of Halloween Town that they should be the ones to carry out Christmas, and give Sandy Claws (Santa Clause) a break this year.

Tim Burton‘s idea for The Nightmare Before Christmas originated in a poem that he wrote while working as an animator for Walt Disney in the early eighties.  He initially intended to adapt it into a televison special that would be narrated by Vincent Price.  Burton was inspired by the popular animated Christmas specials of the sixties, such as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  He was in talks with Disney to do this, but development eventually stalled as the company deemed the project’s tone and direction to be a little too weird for its tastes.  Shortly thereafter, Burton left Disney to work on other projects, finding commercial success on Beetlejuice and Batman.  After making more of a name for himself, he was able to return to the idea in 1990, but Disney still owned the rights to the project.  He would collaborate with Disney animator, Henry Selick, to produce a full length film.  Burton was too busy with Batman Returns and seemed too put off by the potential frustrations involved with stop-animation to direct, so that job fell to Selick.  Renowned movie musical maestro, Danny Elfman, was responsible for the soundtrack of The Nightmare Before Christmas.  He even provided Jack’s singing voice.

Halloween Movie Countdown #8 – The Cabin in the Woods

#8 – The Cabin in the Woods 2011

Yes, you had “Zombies.” But this is “Zombie Redneck Torture Family.” Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.”

When I first started seeing trailers for The Cabin in the Woods, it initially appeared to be another brainless, run-of-the-mill slasher flick.  Not really my can of Slurm.  Of course, that was before I realized that this guy was involved.  SOLD!

The Cabin in the Woods is best experienced when viewed without any prior knowledge of the movie’s plot or premise.  Since it really isn’t possible to offer any further commentary on the movie without spoiling the whole enchilada, I strongly suggest that any uninitiated eyes that may be reading to stop doing so now.  If any of you Cabin in the Woods virgins choose to ignore this warning, my conscience is clear.

This blog posting will continue after this short intermission…..

Still here?  Alrighty then!

If you go into The Cabin in the Woods expecting merely another rehashed slasher flick where a group of dumb teenagers take a vacation to some remote location simply to be tortured/murdered/eaten by hillbillies/serial killers/zombies, you might be a little confused at how the movie actually opens.  It seems to be a completely different movie.  Two middle aged guys, Sitterson (Richard Jenkins) and Hadley (Bradley Whitford) are milling about what looks like some sort of facility that Ernst Blofeld might be plotting world domination from.  They are preparing for some sort of global operation.  Another technician enters and informs them of a problem at their sister facility in Stockholm.  Sitterson and Hadley shrug it off, assuring her that the facility in Japan will get the job done and bemoan the fact their U.S. facility always comes in second.  They board a golf cart and zoom off down a tunnel, possibly to see how close the laser is to reaching James Bond’s crotch.

Next, we get our introduction to the dumb teenagers as they prepare for their trip to, you guessed it, a cabin in the woods.  Every good slasher bait stereotype is well represented:  Jock, slutty hot chick, shy hot chick, comic-relief stoner.  They all pile into an RV and head off to their destined murders.  But in hilariously awesome fashion.  Because it turns out that what they experience at the cabin in the woods is just one scenario among many across the globe that are actually orchestrated ritual sacrifices to the “Ancient Gods” that once controlled the Earth.  The nameless organization in the beginning of the movie is responsible for conducting these sacrifices to appease them so that they don’t return, thus bringing about the end of the world.

Joss Whedon and writer, co-director Drew Goddard, came up with the inspiration for The Cabin in the Woods in response to what they felt was the devolution of the horror genre into “torture porn”.

It’s basically a very loving hate letter,” he told us.

“On some level it was completely a lark, me and Drew [Goddard, director] trying to figure out what the most fun we could have would be. On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies.”

On his own genre passion, he added, “I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful.”

And on the things he hates about lame horror, Whedon said: “The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction.”

What’s really great about The Cabin in the Woods, is that it actually works really well was a horror movie in spite of its intention to lampoon the genre. There are some genuinely tense moments and scary effects, which I found sorely lacking in many of the films that Whedon and Goddard are poking fun at. It is quite an accomplishment to be more successful at achieving the same goals in jest than lesser filmmakers are in earnesty.

Halloween Movie Countdown #9 – The Monster Squad

#9 – The Monster Squad 1987

Bogus.” – Frankenstein’s Monster

In retrospect, I find it a little indefensible that I have The Monster Squad ranked above The Bride of Frankenstein, which is universally critically acclaimed and enough of an important milestone in film history to earn a place in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.  The goal of which is to list up to 25 “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” each year, showcasing the range and diversity of American film heritage to increase awareness for its preservation.”  But apparently I do.  Probably because I was in second grade when the movie came out and it contains this scene.  So sue me.

I like to describe The Monster Squad as a poor man’s Goonies vs. the classic Universal Monsters.  How can that concept not be awesome?  Answer:  It can’t.  It could only have been more awesome.  By using the real Goonies.  <Sigh>.  What could have been?  Oh well.  Enough fantasizing about my Platonic ideal of The Monster Squad and on to the actual, imperfect version of the movie that we do have.

The Monster Squad of the film’s title is a club composed of pre-teens obssessed with the classic monsters of the golden age of monster movies.  They hold their meetings in the treehouse of club leader, Sean.  Somehow, Sean has just come into possession of the diary of Abraham Van Helsing, vampire hunter of Dracula fame.   However, none of the Monster Squad is able to read it because it has been written in German.  Lucky for them, there is neighbor just down the street known as “Scary German Guy” who might be able to translate it for them.  “Scary German Guy” turns out to be not so scary, just German.  He translates the diary for the Monster Squad, revealing that one day out of every century, the forces of good and evil reach a precarious balance.  Conveniently for the plot, this century’s potential day of ushering in global evil, chaos, and destruction is just a couple of days away!  In order to save the world, the Monster Squad needs to secure a magical amulet that will banish the monsters to Limbo, which Van Helsing unsuccessfully attempted to do a hundred years before.  Somewhere nearby, Count Dracula is forming an alliance including Frankenstein’s monster, a Wolfman, a mummy, and a gill-man to recover the amulet first.

Like several of the other movies on my list, The Monster Squad has developed its own cult following.  Prior to it’s release on DVD, a 20th anniversary reunion screening was organized at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas.  It was attended by the director, Fred Dekker, and other cast members.  Lines extended around the block for the two showings, with some people coming from as far away as California.

It also appears that a remake is in the works.  I’m pretty certain this idea needs to be shot with a silver bullet, have a wooden stake driven through its heart, burned with fire and then have the ashes placed on a rocket which is then shot into the Sun.  I am only settling for the Sun because the Phantom Zone from Superman does not actually exist.  Remakes are almost unanimously inferior to the originals.  Especially of movies from the 1980’s, which was just a decade full of unadulterated awesomeness.  There is also the fact that Micheal Bay is listed among those involved.  Have you seen what this jackass wants to do to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?  NO THANKS.  Leave The Monster Squad alone.