THE PREDATOR (2018)

Review by LL Soares

I went in really wanting to like THE PREDATOR, the latest film in a franchise that began in 1987, but I was ultimately disappointed. The buzz beforehand was this would be the movie to reboot those dreadlock-wearing aliens who love to hunt humans and rip out their spines, and while some of it works, overall, I just wasn’t jazzed.

As mentioned, the first movie in the series, simply called PREDATOR, was an excuse for action star Arnold Schwarzenegger to go toe-to-toe with one of the predatory monsters of the title in the middle of jungle. Invisible for most of the film (these creatures love their cloaking devices), we didn’t get to really see the monster until the end when its invisibility device breaks, and Arnold has his final showdown. I didn’t think it was an amazing movie, but the monster was very cool, and it’s one of the better Schwarzenegger actioners of the time.

Clearly something about these creatures captured the movie-going public’s imagination, because those nasty Predators have been popping up in a lot of movies since, including sequels, and an “Alien vs. Predator” spinoff that was never all that good, despite combining two of the coolest aliens of the 80s.

The last time we saw these title baddies was in the 2010 “reboot” PREDATORS, which somehow continues to be overlooked, even though it was the best entry in the series. And yes, I’m including THE PREDATOR in that group. PREDATORS featured a bunch of human killers, including Adrien Brody, Danny Trejo, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins and Topher Grace, who find themselves transported to an alien planet where the Predators hunt them down. It was a cool concept of bring humans to them instead of their coming to Earth, and it was dark, and well-written, and very cool. And yet no one seems to mention it when they talk about the franchise, which just boggles my mind.

In the new movie, your typical clandestine government agency led by a ruthless dude named Traeger (Sterling K. Brown, currently on the show THIS IS US, and who was terrific as Christopher Darden in the first season of AMERICAN CRIME STORY, 2015-2016, about the O.J. Simpson trial), has been aware of the Predators since the late 80s and have been keeping an eye on their comings and goings. Each time they’ve shown up on Earth, they’ve upgrade themselves to be more formidable (as we all know, this is what Predators do). A scientist named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn of IRON MAN 2, 2010 and MAGIC MIKE, 2012), who happens to be an expert in evolution, is “recruited” to join them after a crashed Predator ship is spotted in Mexico. There’s a big debate over why they’re called Predators (as Dr. Bracket points out, predators kill for survival, while these aliens kill for sport; shouldn’t they then be called Hunters? She’ll bring this up again in the movie.)

As for that crashed ship, it showed up just when our hero, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook, who was previously the villainous Pierce in LOGAN, 2017, as well as being in GONE GIRL, 2014), a mercenary working for another clandestine agency, is lining up a shot to take out some kidnappers who are part of a drug cartel. The ship messes everything up, and Quinn makes sure to grab some tech (mainly a helmet and an arm gauntlet/weapon) and mail them back home for safe keeping. The package shows up at his house, where his genius level son (who also suffers from autism), Rory (played by Jacob Tremblay of ROOM, 2015, and THE BOOK OF HENRY, 2017), opens the box and can’t resist playing on what’s inside. Since he’s a genius, he figures out to get them to work, thus alerting other Predators who are in pursuit of the crashed ship, and leading them right to Earth.

Meanwhile, Traeger’s men are doing their best to frame up Quinn for any casualties at the crash site, in their effort to cover it all up, since that’s what these government agencies do. Quinn is sent off to military prison, on a bus full of other wackos who seem to be both talented killers and, for the most part, total psychos. Nicknamed “The Loonies” by Quinn, they include leader Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes, from the movie MOONLIGHT, 2016), wise-cracking Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key of KEY AND PEELE and KEANU, 2016), Tourette’s sufferer Baxley (Thomas Jane of THE PUNISHER, 2004, and THE MIST, 2007), religious Nettles (Augusto Aguilera, of the upcoming series TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG, 2018) who keeps mentioning “The End Times,” and demolition guy Lynch (Alfie Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy on GAME OF THRONES).

It also turns out that Traeger has the body of the Predator who was recovered from the crash in his lab, which is why Dr. Bracket was drafted to help. But when that Predator wakes up from its heavy sedation and escapes, Dr. Bracket is yet another intended casualty to be eliminated for knowing too much. The doctor is rescued from mission-mandated death from Quinn and his Loonies, who are then on the run from the government, after they themselves escape from that prison bus. They high-tail it back to Quinn’s house, where his tough military wife, Emily (Yvonne Stahovski, of the shows CHUCK, 2007 -2012, DEXTER from 2012-2013, and, currently, THE HANDMAID’S TALE), lives with that genius kid, Rory.

Traeger and his guys are hot on the train of that escaped Predator, who is hunting for Rory, but who’s also being hunted by another, much bigger Predator, who even has Predator Dogs! This would be a cool new twist, if Predator Dogs didn’t already exist. They first popped up in that underrated movie PREDATORS from 2010, which I say again is still the best entry in the franchise.

THE PREDATOR is directed by Shane Black, who also directed some good movies (KISS KISS BANG BANG, 2005 and the underrated THE NICE GUYS, 2016) and some bad ones (IRON MAN 3, 2013), and he does a slick job with this one, although way too often it seems more like a generic action movie, with lots of car crashes and explosions, and people leaping from high-up stuff, than a cool sci-fi flick. The script by Black and Fred Dekker (based on characters created by Jim and John Thomas) is uneven at best, and thinks it is way cooler than it actually is.

Let’s see. The pluses here are Boyd Holbrook as our hero, Quinn. He is more than capable as the action star this time around, and could clearly have a future as a leading man in these kinds of things. The dude has the charisma necessary to be a star. The Loonies can be fun at times, and Olivia Munn is good as the scientist in peril.  Sterling K. Brown is really good as the bad guy here, but he’s not given a lot of depth, and could have used a little more humanizing. The Predators, as usual, are cool as hell, and the main reason these movies exist, even if the human storylines have too many ups and downs.

The negatives include those “downs” I just mentioned, the times when the script seems too much like a by-the-numbers action movie (too often), and some big lapses of logic, including a bunch of guys surfing on top of a giant alien spacecraft that’s trying to zoom away. Not only do they somehow stay on top of it, but they also find a way to bring it down (this is not really a spoiler, is it? Unless you’ve never seen an action movie before), and it’s just hokey as hell. There are a few moments like this, and none of them make the movie better.

And, of course, the ending blatantly sets thing up for a sequel. Which will probably happen.

Yet another big budget movie that got a lot of buzz before its release and then turned out to be mediocre at best, I give THE PREDATOR two and a half knives. Not horrible, but you’d be much better off seeking out 2010’s PREDATORS instead.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives THE PREDATOR – two and a half knives.

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VENOM (2018)

Review by L.L. Soares

Yet again, Hollywood underestimates the popularity of a comic book character.

In some ways, the history of VENOM (2018) reminds me a lot of DEADPOOL (2016). Both were successful characters introduced by wunderkind comics book artists (and then-future founders of IMAGE Comics) during the time they worked for Marvel (Venom during artist Todd McFarlane’s run on THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and Deadpool during Rob Leifeld’s run on THE NEW MUTANTS). Both had dismal “first appearances” in the world of movies. For those who forgot, Venom has been onscreen before, in the absolutely abysmal Sam Raimi flick SPIDER-MAN 3 (2007), where he was played by That 70s Show star, Topher Grace. Rumor has it that Raimi didn’t want to include Venom in the movie, but the studio (Sony in this case) insisted. For some unfathomable reason, Grace (a young comedic star from a television show) was cast as world-weary Eddie Brock, a reporter who in turn becomes Venom. Horribly miscast, and in a horrible film, Grace’s version of Venom is rightly forgettable. Deadpool, on the other hand, also had a dismal debut in X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) played by Ryan Reynolds as a wisecracking character who doesn’t have much to say in the film (thus negating his most significant superpower, his wit). Reynolds was smart and savvy enough to know that Deadpool deserved better and pushed for the solo movie that made the character (and Reynolds) a household name. The summer before DEADPOOL the movie came out, I saw tons of people in Deadpool costumes at my local version of ComicCon, heralding the fact that the movie was going to be the huge hit that it was.

People also love Venom from the comics; they just wanted the version they loved to be done right onscreen. SPIDER-MAN 3 failed to give them that. So when VENOM, an overall goofy movie that has some real fun parts, finally opened in theaters, and people got a character who was very obviously their hero (anti-hero) from the comics (as opposed to that forgettable Topher Grace character), they ate it up. Just like Venom does to some lowlife criminals in the movie.

The star of VENOM is Tom Hardy, and it’s interesting that we have yet another link to the “bad first appearance” theme I’ve started here. Hardy has had big success in superhero movies before, having played the iconic Bane in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012), after Bane had been done (badly, and forgettably) first as a henchman for Poison Ivy in Joel Schumacher’s BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997), where he was played by wrestler Robert “Jeep” Swenson.

Which is all a long way of bringing us to a review of the new VENOM movie, starring Hardy.

In the comics, the origin of Venom is a long, convoluted tale that begins when Spider-Man gets an alien costume during the cosmic “Secret Wars” storyline. A costume that turns out to have a life of its own and an evil agenda, leading Peter Parker to ditch the “cool new black costume” he brings back to Earth. The costume, actually a parasitic alien called a “symbiote” that needs a host to survive, then latches on to suicidal reporter Eddie Brock, whose life has just fallen apart.  Brock hates Parker for his own reasons, the costume hates Parker for rejecting it, and the costume retains the knowledge of Parker and his secret identity, turning Brock into a powerful bad guy who also just happens to know all of Peter Parker’s secrets. But no longer was the symbiote portrayed as a cool black version of Spider-Man’s costume. On Eddie Brock, the costume became much more horrific: a monster with rows of dagger-like teeth, and a horrid and very prominent tongue. In other words, the Venom that comics fans would recognize and love.

The new VENOM movie, having less time for an origin story, and (legally) no real access to Spider-Man, creates a new/truncated origin for our hero, involving alien symbiotes come to earth, and world-weary Eddie Brock, but eliminating the Spider-Man connections. Of course, I’m sure plans are afoot to somehow have Venom and Spider-Man interact onscreen someday, despite the boundaries of who owns what. Marvel has, afterall, acquired Spider-Man himself from Sony in a kind of studio collaboration process, as seen in the movie SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING.

Anyway, back to this movie. Rich tech tycoon Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, who starred in the HBO series THE NIGHT OF) has financed a space shuttle to go to a passing asteroid and collect some samples (proving there’s life on there!). Coming back to Earth, the shuttle crashes in Malaysia, creating headlines. Drake’s staff is able to retrieve all of the samples except one, that hops from person to person until it eventually comes home to Mr. Drake. But that takes awhile.

In the meantime, Drake is secretly experimenting on homeless people that have been abducted from the streets, combining them with the samples – those alien parasites called symbiotes – to create a new, stronger human. The symbiotes can’t live in our atmosphere without a host, and, if Drake can find the secret of combining them, not only will the aliens be able to survive in our atmosphere, the human hosts will be able to survive in space, thus creating a race of symbiotic supermen who are so much cooler than weak, ordinary humans. The sad part is, every time Drake tries to unite a human and a symbiote it ends in rejection, and the humans end up dead.

Enter investigative reporter Eddie Brock, who can’t help trying to expose wrongdoing, and who gets a chance to interview Drake. When he brings up some of the overseas shenanigans Drake’s company is involved in on-air, the powerful businessman makes sure Brock is fired from his job. And for good measure, Drake also fires Brock’s fiancée, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams), who is one of Drake Corp.’s lawyers. This leads to Brock and his girlfriend breaking up, along with Brock being jobless.

By the time he finds out about the human experiments, thanks to the conscience of Drake Corp. scientist Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), Brock wants to never hear the name Carlton Drake again, but eventually comes around, taking up Dr. Skirth’s offer to sneak him into the labs to take pictures.

While he’s there, Brock is exposed to one of the symbiotes, and is pursued throughout the building by security. Somehow, he escapes, but this turns into a city-wide chase throughout San Francisco, ending up at Eddie’s apartment, where all hell breaks loose, in the form of Venom’s “coming out.” It starts as a voice in Eddie’s head, until the creature manifests itself when attacked, making mincemeat of anyone who tries to harm its host human.

The rest of the movie involves Drake and his minions trying to get Brock and bring him back to the lab, since he’s the one case where the human/symbiote experiment succeeded! Oh, and for good measure, Drake eventually gets a symbiote of his own and turns into a similar creature called Riot, who is Venom’s superior on their home world, but Venom isn’t exactly the type to go along with the whole hierarchy thing now that’s he’s had a taste of freedom here on Earth.

The movie starts out a little awkward. At first, Tom Hardy seems miscast as Brock; it’s hard to picture this sad sack character as a successful/charismatic TV reporter, and even his relationship with successful/sophisticated lawyer Anne strains credibility. But things change once Eddie meets his new “partner.” The interaction between Brock and Venom can be pretty humorous at times, and its their interplay that eventually turns this movie from potentially awful to a very fun ride. The Brock/Venom dynamic reminded a little of a similar concept in another recent movie, UPGRADE (2018), where Logan Marshall-Green gets a passenger inside his body (and his head) when an AI is implanted into his damaged body. I actually think UPGRADE is the better movie, but VENOM is more goofy fun, and Hardy turns a performance that at first doesn’t seem to be working into one that’s very entertaining.

Of course, Venom and Riot are going to eventually have a showdown, at the site of another space shuttle launch (part of a very sinister master plan on Drake’s part), but this movie is more of an origin story than anything else. Carlton Drake and his alter ego aren’t all that amazing; they’re just a (almost generic) bad guy for Brock and Venom to team up to defeat.

Because, obviously, Venom is pretty much the only reason to see this movie.

You can tell this isn’t a Marvel Studios (and therefore Disney-adjacent) blockbuster, because it’s not as slick as the Marvel movies, and the CGI, while mostly good, looks a little hokey in some scenes. But the Venom on the screen is the one comic book fans love, and they’ve already proven that they have totally embraced him, based on the box office receipts. VENOM just feels more low-budget in comparison to what we’re used to from Marvel, from the scenery to the character development (or, in most cases, lack thereof). VENOM isn’t exactly flashy and awe-inspiring, but it is a faithful presentation of the character, and in this case, that’s enough.

The cast, for the most part, is pretty much wasted. The great Michelle Williams, who I’ve loved in everything she does, isn’t given a lot to do in the girlfriend role, even though she does get to wear the symbiote briefly in one scene (Go, Lady Venom!), and she’s a little more hands-on and helpful than most human sidekicks. It doesn’t hurt that her Anne is smart (probably much smarter than Eddie). Riz Ahmed is a good actor, but his Carlton Drake is yet another one-dimensional billionaire who thinks he’s above the law (an archetype we’ve been seeing a little too much of lately).

But Tom Hardy makes the Eddie Brock thing work, despite itself, and has some funny moments as he bonds with his inner (and outer) monster. Hardy is one of my favorite current actors, but I have to admit, early on, I was a little unsure of whether he could pull this off. Eddie Brock isn’t one of most nuanced or best written roles he’s had, and at first he doesn’t seem sure what to do. Let’s face it, in a lot of ways, this is a step down for him acting-wise. But once Venom finally shows up, the movie redeems itself, and so does Hardy (here). And, in a perverse way, it’s nice to see an actor of Hardy’s caliber (normally) get his own piece of the superhero/cash cow pie.

The movie’s directed by Ruben Fleischer, who previously gave us ZOMBIELAND (2009) and GANGSTER SQUAD (2013), and he does a good job here. The script has its ups and downs and is one of the movie’s weakest links (luckily Hardy and Williams are better than the material) and it was written by Jeff Pinkner (who also wrote the screenplays for THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, 2014, and THE DARK TOWER, 2017), Scott Rosenberg (CON AIR, 1997, HIGH FIDELITY, 2000, and JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE, 2017) and Kelly Marcel (SAVING MR. BANKS, 2013, and FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, 2015). It’s based, of course, on the character created in the comics by David Michelinie (writer) and Todd McFarlane (artist).

Like Marvel movies, we even get some extra scenes during the end credits. One gives us a peak at Woody Harrelson as a guy who’s none other than Venom’s biggest enemy (all set up for the sequel). The second one, at the very end of the credits, is a prolonged scene/commercial for the upcoming animated film SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018), that Sony is putting out this December. That’s overlong and not really worth sitting through, unless you’re looking forward to that movie, too.

VENOM isn’t a great movie, but I’m a fan of the character and by the end, I didn’t feel cheated (like I did with SPIDER-MAN 3) and it’s a fun ride while it lasts. So, because I had such a good time with it, I’m giving VENOM a rating of three knives.

And I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequel.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

 

 

LL Soares gives VENOM ~ three out of five knives.

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HARD Back In Print!

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted some writing news.

My novel HARD, published in 2013 by Novello Blue (an imprint of Novello Publishers), went out of print earlier this year. Well, it’s back in print now – with a a brand new, beautiful cover – from Crossroads Press! Available now for Kindle, with the paperback coming soon. And here’s the new cover:

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HELL FEST (2018)

Review by LL Soares

Since I’m a fan of 80s slasher films, I’m always curious to check out any new films in the genre, even if they’re almost always disappointing. Bad slasher films have been the norm over the past 18 years, and it hasn’t done much to help the genre at all. The latest example is HELL FEST (2018), directed by Gregory Plotkin, who also gave us PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION (2015).

One of this movie’s pluses is the location. It takes place over one night at a Halloween-themed festival, made up of scary mazes where people in costume jump out at you. The killer is a guy in a zombie mask and a hoodie, whose face we never see, who kills a girl and strings her up from the ceiling in the opening scene. Jump two years ahead to our current story, where a bunch of kids show up at the titular HELL FEST for some scares. The kids feature a few more sympathetic members, especially Amy Forsyth (also currently in the movie BEAUTIFUL BOY, and on such shows as RISE, 2018, and CHANNEL ZERO, 2017) as Natalie, who is pretty much the lead here. Sweet, shy, and very likable, Natalie is having a rough time with classes in college when she comes back home for a little R&R, namely hanging out with her BFF Brooke (Reign Edwards, of the TV shows MACGYVER, 2017-2018, and SNOWFALL, 2017-2018).

Natalie is a little bummed to see that Brooke now lives with roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus, who was terrific as “Bullet” on the third season of the AMC series THE KILLING IN 2013, but isn’t given much to work with here), a punky girl who they both went to school with, and who Natalie is sure doesn’t like her (Taylor frequently calls Natalie the nickname “Grade School”). But any discomfort is sidetracked by the fact that Gavin, a boy Natalie likes, has gotten them all tickets to the annual HELL FEST of the title. While Natalie clearly isn’t a big fan of being scared, the idea of spending some time with Gavin (Roby Attal), who actually asked about her while she was gone, clearly makes the visit home a little better. Like Natalie, Gavin is awkward but sweet, and they clearly seem to be hitting it off once everyone gathers at the festival to be scared. Also along for the ride are Taylor’s boyfriend, Asher (Matt Mercurio), and Brooke’s boyfriend, Quinn (Christian James), who are also friends of Gavin, and regularly tease him for being so nerdy. Asher and Quinn, however, are easily the least interesting of our college-aged protagonists.

Our killer from that first scene/flashback, who then wore a devil mask, comes to the same festival Natalie and her friends are at, this time with a rather generic zombie mask, and the hood of his hoodie pulled up. He fixates on Natalie pretty early on after killing another girl in front of her (the kids think it’s part of the show, but Natalie thinks something is wrong, since it seems to “real”), and starts following her around the park.

The park and horror mazes themselves are interesting enough, providing lots of spooky tableaus where we wonder if the threats are real or not. Lots of jump scares where costumed creeps pop out of hidden doors, and of course, our homicidal bad guy mixed in for good measure. Who will die and when? Well, our killer takes his sweet time being a creepy stalker before he actually commences with the slaughter. In the meantime, at least we get a  cameo by Tony “Candyman” Todd as a master of ceremonies during an on-stage guillotine bit, but his appearance is “cut” much too short. 

Natalie is creeped out to keep seeing the zombie-mask guy always nearby and watching her, but everyone else laughs it off. They only take her worries less seriously when they reach a part of the maze/park where numerous people are dressed exactly like the killer (thus making it hard to figure out which one is really dangerous). When he finally gets tired of watching and starts killing, however, the murders come pretty close together.

Aside from park where it’s set (which actually gets to be fun at times) and some of the acting (specifically Forsyth and Edwards, who are likable and sympathetic throughout), there’s not much new here to reinvigorate the genre. Slasher movies gotta slash, and this one is no exception. As I mentioned, I found the killer’s mask particularly bland in this one, and there’s not much to distinguish him from lots of similar killers in lots of other movies. Although a semi-clever ending clearly sets things up for a sequel that may or may not ever happen (I don’t think this did very well at the box office).

HELL FEST is directed well enough by Plotkin, with a scrift by Seth M. Sherwood, Blair Butler, and Akela Cooper, based on a story by William Penick and Christopher Sey (that’s a lot of people involved for a script that’s so forgettable). But in the end, it’s a pretty mediocre movie, and an unremarkable slasher entry.

I give it two knives.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives HELL FEST – two knives.

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MANDY (2018)

Review by LL Soares

MANDY (2018) has just come to theaters after a very positive run in film festivals. It’s also available for rental on streaming services such as Amazon and Youtube, as well as iTunes, where you can buy it. What you think of the movie may be affected by what you think of lead actor Nicolas Cage. But this is the most-buzzed about movie he’s made in years, a grindhouse-worthy, gory revenge thriller by director Panos Cosmatos, who previously made the surreal masterpiece BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW (2010), with a screenplay by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn.

Lumberjack Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) works hard in what looks like the forests of the American northwest. He works hard, then comes home to his signifcant other, Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough), who is an artist. They live in a little house in the middle of a forest, and pretty much keep to themselves. Sometimes Red wonders if they should move somewhere else, but Mandy likes it there.

One day, a van drives past Mandy on a rural road. Inside are cult leader Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roche) and his “flock,” who have dubbed themselves The Children of the Dawn. The group includes Brother Swan (Ned Dennehy), who drives and is Jeremiah’s right hand man; Mother Marlene (Olwen Fouere) who appears to be the woman who has been with Jeremiah the longest; Sister Lucy (Line Pillet), a younger woman who does what she can to please Jeremiah; and a few other men who aren’t as memorable.

Jeremiah is convinced that Mandy is special and that he must have her, even though he only glimpsed her from the car window. He demands that his people get her for him, so Brother Swan leads the way.

A group of them go out in the middle of the forest and blow something called the Horn of Abraxas. In response, some demonic-looking bikers come riding out of the woods, on jet-black motorcycles. The bikers lead the others to Mandy’s house, where she is abducted and Red is beaten.

When Mandy wakes up, she is put through an initiation of sorts and brought before her new master. But she refuses to be dominated. Instead, she laughs at Jeremiah, who then has her killed. Red, who is tied up behind the house with barbed wire, is forced to watch. Then the group of freaks heads out into the night.

Red gets free, mutliating himself in the process. He then decides to exact his vengeance. He goes to the trailer of a guy named Caruthers (Bill Duke) and gets a crossbow he had left with the man. Caruthers also gives him other weapons. Red also does some blacksmithing and forges a special one-of-a-kind battle axe. His first mission is to hunt down those maniac bikers.

We’re not sure if the bikers are human or not. They look otherworldly, like extras from the HELLRAISER movies. But Caruthers says that they’re just killers who were given a bad batch of LSD that drove them insane with pain. Either way, Red proves they’re mortal, using his weapons. But it’s not easy, and he’s further injured in the fights.

He then hunts down Jeremiah and his band of merry murderers, covered in blood and a little crazy himself.

At one point, Red comes across a man called The Chemist, played by Richard Brake (who was the best thing in Rob Zombie’s 31, 2016, where he played Doom-Head), who has a tiger and who goes into a trance to tell Red where Jeremiah has gone. I kind of wished the tiger had gone along with Red to assist him in his bloody tasks.

There are also some dream sequences, where Red dreams of Mandy, that are animated. This shouldn’t work, and could have looked very goofy, but somehow it does.

It seems that, online at least, the movie has been polarizing. Some people have complained that the pacing is slow, but I found the way the movie moved seemed just right, with enough gory punctuations to keep you engaged. Some people found Cage’s performance too over the top, but frankly, this is the kind of crazed performance people have come to expect from Nicolas Cage, and I think the movie works well with his particular brand of crazy. The rest of the cast is solid, including Ms. Riseborough as the titular Mandy, and especially Linus Roache as the evil Jeremiah. When we first see the cult leader, he reminded me totally of actor Richard Lynch, back when he appeared in movies like Larry Cohen’s GOD TOLD ME TO (1976); there’s the same strong sense of menace. Jeremiah has a vulnerable side too, but if he shows it to you, then he’ll have to kill you.

The movie leads up to the big final confrontation between the wronged husband and the vile sociopath who believes he is above the law. The results are predictable, but no less effective.

If you’re already of fan of Mr. Cage, then chances are that you’ll love this movie. The feel of the movie and the visuals, go very well with his intense performance. If you’re not a fan of his, then there may be a few scenes where you think he’s overdoing it, but even then, you may enjoy it, just because it’s so unusual and well-made. Mr. Cosmatos has a powerful style and a strong visual sense, that made this movie special for me.

I really loved this one, and I give it four knives.

(Also, keep an eye out for a scene where Red and Mandy watch a commercial on their television for a product called Cheddar Goblin. It’s a special laugh-out-loud moment, tucked inside all the intensity and gore.)

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives the movie MANDY ~ four knives.

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THE PROWLER (1981)

Movie Review by LL Soares

And here we have another review of an 80s slasher movie I always meant to see, but somehow missed. This one puts enough of a spin on the basic formula to make things a little interesting, but it’s still another excuse for a relentless murderer to pick off a bunch of party-going kids.

THE PROWLER (1981), however, begins during World War II, when a soldier gets a “Dear John” letter. We hear the letter’s writer reading it over the opening credits. This was common at the time, when a girl back home felt she had waited a long time for her boyfriend, and couldn’t wait any longer for him to return. After all, he might soon be dead, if he wasn’t already, and she wants to go on with her life. Rosemary Chatham (Joy Glaccum) is young and rich and enjoying her college graduation dance in the 1945, when a mysterious figure in a uniform kills her and an amorous boy in a gazebo with a pitchfork. The murderer is wearing a uniform and his face is concealed. He leaves a single rose at the murder scene. And that’s the set-up for our little story.

Jump to 1981. The local college hasn’t had a graduation dance since Ms. Chatham’s demise, almost 40 years previous, but maybe it’s been long enough for old wounds to heal. We’re in a small New Jersey town, and Sheriff George Fraser (Farley Granger of Hitchcock’s ROPE, 1948, and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, 1951) is just about to leave for his annual fishing trip, leaving his young deputy, Mark London (Christopher Goutman, also on episodes of CHARLIE’S ANGELS and BOSOM BUDDIES in 1981) to watch over things. Even though there’s word of an “escaped prowler” on the radio, the Sheriff says he doubts the guy will even make it to their town, and Mark should have an uneventful weekend.

Thinking it should be a piece of cake, Mark drives over to the college to watch over the dance and his girlfriend, Pam MacDonald (Vicky Dawson, CARBON COPY, 1981). Except it’s not as easy as it sounds when a killer shows up to slaughter college kids, such as Pam’s roommate, Sherry (Lisa Dunsheath) and her boyfriend Carl (David Sederholm) in a gruesome shower scene, involving first a bayonet through Carl’s head and then a – surprise! – pitchfork to finish off Sherry. While fleeing when she discovers a body, Pam finds a man in a wheelchair in the yard—neighbor Major Chatham, the father of the Rosemary character from earlier, and played by Lawrence Tierney of such classics as BORN TO KILL, 1947 and RESERVOIR DOGS, 1992), whose role is so short it’s one of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety—who tries to grab her. Was he the killer, or someone trying to help? We’ll never know, because we don’t see him again. Even when Mark and Pam go to his house to search for clues, he’s nowhere to be seen.

The killer continues to stalk the kids and leaves a single rose near the body of each dead girl (he must have an account with the local florist!). Victims also include a teacher chaperoning the dance named Miss Allison (Donna Davis), and Pam’s friend Lisa (Cindy Weintraub), who at one point tries to steal Mark away at the dance. When Mark tries to call the Sheriff for help on his vacation, the motel clerk can’t even be bothered to look for him. The guy (Bill Nunnery) just puts the phone down for a few minutes, pretending to go look, and then comes back on to say he can’t find him. Thanks for nothing, Mr. Lazy! There’s also a crabby guy named Pat Kingsley (John Seitz) who runs the local hardware store and his creepy brother Otto (Bill Hugh Collins), who makes a surprise appearance later on.

The WWII connection, and those signature roses the killer leaves behind makes THE PROWLER a little more interesting than some of the other ’80s slasher films (there were a lot of them!), but the plot doesn’t do much with it. It’s just another chance to introduce us to more college kids who will get knocked off one by one. Goutman is good as Deputy London, and, as usual, the most interesting character is our female lead/”final girl” Pam, played here by blonde Vicky Dawson, who is fine as our protagonist, even if she isn’t given much to do besides running around, either looking for clues or fleeing from the mysterious murderer.  There’s even a jump scare at the end that no doubt was trying to cash in on the similar one in Brian DePalma’s CARRIE (1976). I’m just sad Dawson didn’t have a bigger career.

THE PROWLER was directed by Joseph Zito, who went on to make more famous films like FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984, a job he got probably because of THE PROWLER); the action movies MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and INVASION U.S.A. (1985), both starring Chuck Norris; and the Dolph Lundgren action flick RED SCORPION (1988). The script was by Glenn Leopold and Neal Barbera.

Not the best of the 1980s slasher flicks, but far from the worst, THE PROWLER is probably most memorable for graphic murder effects by the great Tom Savini, and worth checking out by afficionados of the genre.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

DUDES (1987)

Review by LL Soares

In 1981, director Penelope Spheeris got some attention for her documentary THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION, chronicling the hardcore punk scene in Los Angeles at the time, a louder, more angry-sounding version of the music that made the Sex Pistols such a big deal in the 1970s. With performances by bands such as X, The Germs, Black Flag, and Fear, DECLINE has become a classic for fans of music documentaries. Between this film and the movie that made Spheeris a Hollywood player, the megahit WAYNE’S WORLD (1992), she made several movies, both fictional and documentaries, that might not be as widely known, such as SUBURBIA (1983), THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (1985) and a sequel to DECLINE, called THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS (1988), which are also worth checking out.

Spheeris made DUDES in 1987, and while it has some elements that are cheesy (a staple of a lot of 1980s movies for some reason), it has a decent story and characters, and is worth checking out.

It begins with three punk rockers named Grant (Jon Cryer), Milo (Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Biscuit (Daniel Roebuck). They hang out in New York City, where they go to concerts, mosh, stage dive, and basically just live from day to day, working dead-end jobs. One day, Milo says that he inherited some money from an insurance policy and plans to go across the country to California. He talks his two buddies into going along with him. Since they don’t have much else to do, they pile into a Volkswagen Bug and head out for sunny Los Angeles.

In Utah, while camping for the night, they’re attacked by some rednecks led by a guy called Missoula (punk rocker and actor Lee Ving). Just so he doesn’t forget his name (I guess) he’s got it tattooed on one of his forearms. From what these guys say to each other, it sounds like they make a habit of attacking campers in the vicinity, usually Mexican immigrants trying to cross the border, and stealing their stuff.

Things get violent, and Milo is killed. The next day, Grant and Biscuit go to the local police, who don’t seem to be very interested in tracking down Milo’s killers. So, Grant becomes determined to track them down himself. Despite being the biggest of the three guys (and sporting a huge Mohawk hairdo), Biscuit doesn’t want anything to do with it, and wants to keep going to L.A., but Grant eventually wins him over. With just the name Missoula to go on, they head toward Montana, stopping at various landmarks along the way, asking questions and making progress.

Early on, they help out a singer and rodeo performer named Daredelvis (Pete Willcox) whose trailer is stuck on the road. He’ll show up again later to help the boys out later at a rodeo.

Along the way, they also meet up with a mechanic named Jessie (Catherine Mary Stewart, also in THE APPLE, 1980, NIGHT OF THE COMET, 1984, and WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S, 1989) who takes a liking to Grant. After their car is forced off the road, Jessie takes the boys in and teaches Jessie how to shoot. Biscuit, who has suffered a concussion, wakes up believing he’s a real Mohawk Indian (in the movie’s most cringe-worthy plotline). Jessie lets them borrow a car with big bull horns on the hood, and gives them guns and ammo. Eventually, they track down the bad guys and there’s a final showdown.

I actually liked Cryer a lot here. For anyone who just knows him from his role as Alan on the sitcom TWO AND A HALF MEN (2003 – 2015), you might be surprised to know he actually had a movie career in films like this and PRETTY IN PINK (1986), SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE (1987), HIDING OUT (1987), and HOT SHOTS! (1991). Daniel Roebuck had previously been in CAVEGIRL (1985) and the acclaimed movie RIVER’S EDGE (1986), and went on to have a long career in movies and television, mostly recently on the Amazon series THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. Flea has had a long career in one of the most popular bands of the past few decades, but still occasionally acts, most recently as a criminal in BABY DRIVER (2017). Lee Ving, my favorite of the bunch, has also done a lot of acting, outside of his gig as lead singer of the band Fear, having appeared (mostly as bad guys) in such films as FLASHDANCE (1983), STREETS OF FIRE (1984), CLUE (1985), THE TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS (1991) and FAST SOFA (2001). I wish he’d do more acting, and more music as well.

After DUDES, Penelope Spheeris went on to direct such movies as WAYNE’S WORLD, THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1993), THE LITTLE RASCALS (1994), and BALLS TO THE WALL (2011). The script for DUDES is by Randall Jahnson, who also co-wrote THE DOORS (1991) with Oliver Stone, and was one of the writers of THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998), starring Antonio Banderas.

DUDES is a quirky 80s buddy movie, with a good soundtrack of punk and metal songs (by bands like The Vandals, Keel, W.A.S.P., Jane’s Addiction, and Megadeth), that has a definite “midnight movie” appeal to it. Check it out if you have the chance.

© Copyright 2018 by LL Soares

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