TAMMY AND THE T-REX (1994)

REVIEW BY LL SOARES

I guess “thank you” to Vinegar Syndrome is in order for saving yet another obscure cult movie from oblivion. Strangely, I hadn’t heard of TAMMY AND THE T-REX before, but upon checking it out, I’m glad I saw it.

This is one wacky flick, made memorable by a pretty cool animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, and early starring roles for Denise Richards (former Mrs. Charlie Sheen, and star of STARSHIP TROOPERS, 1997, and WILD THINGS, 1998) and Paul Walker (the celebrated actor from the FAST AND THE FURIOUS films).

It’s directed by Stewart Raffill, who previously made family fare like THE ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY (1975) and the notorious McDonald’s-linked E.T. ripoff MAC AND ME (1988), as well as a few more interesting films like THE ICE PIRATES (1984) and THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT (also 1984). The story goes that some guy who ran a theme park had a great big animatronic T-Rex that he was selling to a buyer in Texas. There was a short window before it’s being moved to its new home, and director Raffill was offered the chance to use it in a movie. But he only had the dino for just two weeks for filming. So he had to make every second count.

Needless to say, with this kind of deadline, the script had to be whipped up fast, and because of that, TAMMY AND THE T-REX is one of the craziest flicks I’ve seen in a long time. It doesn’t make a lot of sense – but then again, it’s not really supposed to. It’s supposed to entertain you, while making use of a limited-time-only robotic dinosaur. And, with those goals in mind, it mostly succeeds.

So we get one of those completely over-the-top stories that were so common in the 80s and 90s. Tammy (called “Tanny” in the credits for some bizarre reason), a high school cheerleader played by Denise Richards, is sweet on football quarterback Michael (Paul Walker). They talk, they flirt, and they inch closer and closer to going on an actual date. That is until Tammy’s ex-boyfriend, Billy (George Pilgrim, also in TIMEMASTER, 1995) who is some kind of psychotic gang leader (although his “gang” doesn’t look very tough), gets wind of it. He shows up with his gang and proceeds to start a fight on the school lawn. It gets broken up, and the cops take Billy away, but not before he vows to kill Michael if he ever goes near “his girl” again. Since Tammy shows absolutely no interest in Billy, it’s obvious that their relationship, now that it’s over, is all in Billy’s mind. Not that that stops him from threatening anyone he sees as competition for her affections.

It’s obvious that Tammy avoids dating because she knows it will end with Billy having a psychotic episode, but Michael perseveres (by the way, he’s a high school quarterback, but we never see any of his football buddies. Wouldn’t they want to get in on the fight with Billy’s gang to protect one of their own? I never saw a handsome quarterback kid who was complete loner before!). When he sneaks up to Tammy’s bedroom window, some of the neighborhood snitches call Billy, who shows up, acting like a lunatic again. He bursts into the house, despite Tammy’s parents objections (he isn’t afraid of them, and doesn’t listen to anything they say – so why don’t they call the cops?), and forces his way into Tammy’s room, catching Michael.

His gang drags Michael outside, and they take him to the local zoo, where they leave him in what looks like a wide open area with wild animals! Michael wakes up, not realizing where he is, and then is promptly mauled to death by a lion.

When the body is found, a wacko mad scientist named Dr. Gunther Wachenstein (Terry Keiser of WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S, 1989) shows up to abscond with Michael’s brain. His goal is to put into the body of a big animatronic dinosaur (of course). When we first see the dinosaur, it’s being controlled by one of the doctor’s henchmen from a control room, but after the operation is a “success,” the dinosaur is able to move around on its own. The doc says that he’ll do a lobotomy on the brain in the morning, so that he can better control his new mechanized slave, but overnight, before he can do that (of course) the dinosaur wakes up and runs off on its own, spreading havoc across the town as Michael tries to get revenge on Billy and his thugs.

Other characters of note include Dr. Wachenstein’s tough lady sidekick named Helga (Ellen Dubin, also in NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, 2004), who does his dirty work, and Tammy’s best friend is Byron Black (Theo Forsett, also in the TV-movie M.A.N.T.I.S., 1994), who is black, gay and witty, and who is constantly running afoul of his dad, who happens to be the local sheriff (J. Jay Saunders). Sheriff Black also has two hillbilly deputies who make occasional racist and homophobic comments throughout that are supposed to be funny, I guess, but seem really creepy now (ugh!).

For the most part, the actors in TAMMY AND THE T-REX do their best to ham things up, especially Keiser and Pilgrim. Richards, Walker, and Forsett stand out, not because they’re amazing actors, but because they’re pretty good compared to the rest of the cast.

Meanwhile, during his rampage, T-Rex Michael spares Byron’s life when he’s chomping on kids at a party (his victims include Billy and his gang), and later he crosses paths with Tammy, who quickly realizes who he is (“Oh my Michael!”) and is determined to get his brain back in a human body (in one scene, Byron shows DinoMike bodies in a morgue to see which one he wants to come back as). She does everything she can to make sure he isn’t destroyed by the cops or lobotomized by Dr. Wachenstein!

The movie is as completely bonkers as it sounds, but it’s also way more fun than it has any right to be, considering how quickly this one was thrown together. While this isn’t going to make anyone’s “Best Movies” list, it’s an entertaining ride, and if you’re into this kind of campy exploitation flick, you’ll have a good time with it.

© Copyright 2020 by LL Soares

 

(Note: In 2020, I’ll be reserving ratings for new releases only)

TERRIFIER (2016)

Review by LL Soares

I was pleasantly surprised by this effective little horror film. I’m sure it cost almost nothing to make, and the story isn’t all that original (killer clown goes on the rampage). But, man, that clown makeup is creepy as hell! Filmmaker Damien Leone has served up a treat in the character of Art the Clown!

Based on a 2011 short of the same name by director Leone, TERRIFIER takes place over the course of one blood-drenched Halloween night in the big city.

It starts with a creepy interview on TV between a morning talk show host and a poor woman who was a victim of Art’s LAST Halloween rampage (he’s done this before!), who had her face torn off, and who looks suitably disturbing. Then it moves to the main story.

It’s late, and Tara Heyes (Jenna Kanell, also in “THE BYE BYE MAN,” 2017) and her friend Dawn (Catherine Corcoran, “AMITYVILLE: VANISHING POINT,” 2016) are going home after a drunken party. The thing is, Dawn’s too intoxicated to drive, so they argue about who’s going to get behind the wheel. During the argument, Tara sees a weird-looking clown (David Howard Thornton, also in the TV series, “NIGHTWING: ESCALATION,” 2016-2017) staring at them. When she points it out to Dawn, he’s gone.

Eventually, the two of them end up in a pizzeria (Dawn is hungry), and the clown comes in and sits down a few tables from them, just in Tara’s line of vision. He doesn’t speak, but there’s something spooky and threatening about him. Tara’s scared, but Dawn shows she isn’t by going over and taking a selfie with the clown. The clown goes to the bathroom and one point and is chased out of the restaurant when he does something disgusting (what, we don’t see).

When the girls feel sober enough to leave, Dawn sees she has a flat tire and so Tara has to call her sister, Victoria (Samantha Scaffidi, “DEMON HOLE,” 2017), who’s up studying for law school, to come pick them up. While they’re waiting, Tara has to go to the bathroom, and they end up going to a nearby apartment building, where an exterminator (Matt McAllister) is on the front stoop, taking a smoke break. They ask if they can use the bathroom, and he says he could get in trouble, but he finally relents. The exterminator, Mike, leads her to a filthy toilet stall in the back of the building and then he goes about spraying for rats with headphones on (so he can’t hear anything that’s going to happen).

Tara is repulsed by the condition of the toilet, but what’s a girl to do? Afterwards, she wanders around, lost and looking for Mike, and finds herself in a back alley behind the building, where she sees a weird, crazy cat lady (Pooya Moheseni, “GHOST SOURCE ZERO,” 2017) who lives on the grounds. It’s not long afterwards that good old Art the Clown shows up again (he doesn’t speak, so I’m not sure how we know his name), and starts killing everyone he comes into contact with.

He chases poor Tara around the property, and Art goes about proving why the movie is called TERRIFIER. For a movie that is supposed to take place on Halloween, there’s hardly anyone around on the streets (sure, it’s the city, but still), and this eerie stillness adds to the atmosphere (even if it doesn’t make total sense).

There’s not much more to it. Just an evil clown going on a killing spree. A half dozen brutal murders. And of course, there’s the last scene in a morgue, that sets thing up for a sequel. Of course! And frankly, that doesn’t sound like a lot to recommend it, even if there are some nice gore scenes, including one where Arty has someone tied upside down and cuts them in half with a hacksaw.

But there’s something really effective about Art’s black and white clown makeup, and the fact that he doesn’t speak makes him even creepier, as he goes about his (bloody) business. Art’s one of the best-looking killer clowns I’ve seen on film, and for that reason alone I enjoyed this movie better than I should have.

Art the Clown also appeared in Leone’s anthology horror film ALL HALLOW’S EVE (2013), where he was played by Mike Giannelli, and which I need to check out. And there’s a sequel – TERRIFIER 2 – again played by David Howard Thornton –that’s currently in the works (that has Felissa Rose from the classic SLEEPAWAY CAMP, 1983, in the cast, too!).

Director/writer Damien Leone is also a special effects guy and did them for TERRIFIER. Aside from the Art the Clown-related flicks I mentioned, he also directed FRANKENSTEIN VS. THE MUMMY (2015), which I also want to check out, for that title alone!

I really didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. It’s well-paced, and it works. And I want more Art the Clown. So, I give this one 3 knives.

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

LL Soares gives TERRIFIER ~ 3 1/2 KNIVES!

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IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

Review by LL Soares

If you enjoyed IT (2017), based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, there’s a good chance IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019) will bring things to a satisfying conclusion for you. CHAPTER TWO expands on the previous film by showing us the Loser’s Club, who defeated the demonic clown Pennywise in the first film, now as adults 27 years later, brought back to their hometown to take on the monster once again.

The strong cast includes Jessica Chastain as Beverly Marsh (she was played by Sophia Lillis in the first film), James McAvoy as Bill Denbrough (he was previously played as a kid by Jaeden Martell), Bill Hader as Richie Tozier (previously played by Finn Wolfhard from STRANGER THINGS), Isaiah Mustafa as Mike Hanlon (previously played by Chosen Jacobs), Jay Ryan as Ben Hanscom (previously played by Jeremy Ray Taylor), James Ransone as Eddie Kaspbrak (previously Jack Dylan Grazer), and Andy Bean as Stanley Uris (previously Wyatt Oleff). Even though this is the adult part of the story, we still get flashbacks to the kids once in a while.

It turns out most of them moved away from Derry, Maine, and lived lives independent from their childhood trauma, but not everyone has made the most of their second chances (after not getting killed by Pennywise as kids). For example, Beverly is married to an abusive jerk, while chubby kid Ben has grown up into a handsome and successful businessman. It also turns out that, the more time they spent away from Derry, the less they remember living there, and the monster clown they united against. The one person who stayed behind is Mike Hanlon, who might be the saddest character in the film, because he never got a chance to forget it (having never left) and his life is sort of a shambles. He lives alone in a room above the town library, where he collects clippings of anything nefarious that sounds like old Pennywise is back. He also consulted with a local shaman for ways to prepare for the demon’s inevitable return. But really, there’s no way to prepare for Pennywise.

Mike is the one who calls everyone back when Pennywise returns from whatever hibernation he was in and starts killing again—making it clear that their mission is not yet done. Everyone comes back home, if reluctantly, except for one of them (I won’t say who). Immediately upon returning to Derry, each of them is singled out and confronted by Pennywise in various disguises, creating illusions that are meant to overwhelm them and scare them half-to-death. The objective is clear, Pennywise wants these people to leave, since they almost finished him off last time. But they’re not going. Despite their combined sense of fear, they also get strength from one another, and realize they have to finish the job they started.

It’s clear that, with 27 years between the two films, the adult versions find it hard to believe that they were able to defeat Pennywise the first time, and doubt that they could do it again. But they have reservoirs of courage that they haven’t tapped into yet.

The big showdown underground, while action-packed, feels a bit like a retread of the similar battle that capped off the first film. But it mostly works. And the cast is strong. I especially like Chastain here, and Hader, in a rare dramatic role, steals just about every scene he’s in. And Hader’s Richie plays well off hypochondriac Eddie throughout.

I still find this version of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgard) kind of fascinating, as he alternates between acting child-like and innocent one moment, and all teeth and murder the next. It’s definitely a different take than Tim Curry’s when he played Pennywise in the 1990 TV miniseries based on the same book. It just wouldn’t have worked if Skarsgard just imitated Curry’s much-loved performance, and I like what he does with the character.

The sequel, like the first film, is directed by Andy Muschietti, who does a fine job here. The script this time is by Gary Dauberman (the first film was written by Dauberman with Chase Palmer and Cary Joji Fukunaga), based on King’s novel. And Stephen King himself has a cameo in the film as a shopkeeper when Bill Denbrough stops to buy a bike that looks just like the one he had as a kid.

At two hours and 49 minutes, IT: CHAPTER TWO is almost three hours long, and there are times when it feels it (in comparison, the first film was a measly two hours and 15 minutes!). Strangely, there was also a kind of childhood magic that imbued the first film, which is clearly lacking here. Not all of the characters are as interesting as adults as they were as kids. McAvoy, in particular—an actor I normally like a lot—didn’t feel like he had a lot to do in this one. And, while it does a good job showing us what comes next, there was something lacking about CHAPTER TWO that made it slightly less enjoyable for me than the first one.

I’m sure fans of King’s novel will have problems with some of the differences between the book and the movies, but, as I said in the beginning, if you were happy with the first film, chances are good you’ll like the second. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid conclusion to the previous film’s story, and it has some terrific moments (and some tedious ones). I give it three and a half knives.

LL Soares gives IT: CHAPTER TWO ~  3 1/2 knives!

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© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)

Review by LL Soares

First of all, let me say that GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is the best American Godzilla movie so far. But that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Featuring a strong cast of both humans and monsters, KING OF THE MONSTERS (KOTM) falls into the same trap all American versions have fallen into so far – the need to provide a substantial human plotline. Why? Nobody goes to a Godzilla movie for the human stories. Well, not any hardcore fans I know. The main reason being that almost always, the human storylines are just plain boring.

The human melodrama in KOTM is no different.

The movie is directed by Michael Doughery, who previously made the decent anthology horror film TRICK ‘R TREAT (2007) and the Christmas -time nightmare KRAMPUS (2015), and it’s based on a screenplay he co-wrote with Zach Shields (based on a “story” by Dougherty, Shields, and Max Borenstein, the guy who wrote the previous 2014 GODZILLA film).

That mysterious government organization MONARCH is back—the device that links the movies of this particular “monster universe” (they were also part of the plot for KONG: SKULL ISLAND, 2017, and the previous GODZILLA, 2014, and have a hand in the next movie in the series, GODZILLA VS. KONG, 2020)—and they’re appearing before Congress (represented by Ken Watanabe, Sally Hawkins and Thomas Middlemitch as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, Dr. Vivienne Graham and Sam Coleman, respectively) to plead the case that the giant monsters we’ve seen so far need to be studied rather than destroyed (despite the fact that Godzilla pretty much leveled San Francisco in the last movie). The military wants the okay to just go in and kill the “Titans.” Oh, and since the last movie, more giant monsters (called kaiju in Japan, and Titans here) have shown up, including a giant larvae version of Mothra.

Meanwhile, we’ve got the main human story here, revolving around the Russell family led by Mark (Kyle Chandler, who was Coach Taylor on the great series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2006-2011, as well as being in movies like SUPER 8, 2011, and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, 2016) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga, who plays Lorraine Warren in the CONJURING movies, and was also in THE DEPARTED, 2006 and was Norma Bates in the series BATES MOTEL, 2013-2017).  The Russells lost their son in Godzilla’s previous rampage in San Francisco (five years earlier), and now are having a tug-of-war over their daughter, Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, best known as Eleven from the Netflix series STRANGER THINGS, but you should also check out her performance as a different Madison in the British series INTRUDERS, 2014), now a teenager. Dr. Emma has custody of the girl and has developed some weird contraption called an Orca, that uses sonic waves to communicate with the Titans, while Mark has since become an alcoholic and left, doing who knows what. He wants back into his daughter’s life, and Emma is not thrilled.

There’s also a storyline about a group of eco-terrorists led by Jonah Alan (Charles Dance, best known as the evil Tywin Lannister from GAME OF THRONES, now an effective bad guy here), who want access to the Titans in order to use them to “restore balance” on a planet now plagued with the woes of climate change, by setting them free to fight it out and basically run amok across the world. Let’s just call it what it is – he wants to bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Larvae Mothra escapes and soon after has built a cocoon under a waterfall. Then King Ghidorah, the three-headed, lightning-spouting dragon, is freed from a massive block of ice. The giant pterodactyl Rodan emerges from a seething volcano and is described as a “fire bird.” Other Titans emerge across the world, including Behemoth, a giant mastodon-like creature with ape-like limbs (he looks pretty cool), a MUTO (one of those freaky mutants from GODZILLA, 2014), a giant spider (Kumonga from the old Toho movies?) and some others. The secondary monsters don’t get much more than cameos, unfortunately. I wanted to know more about them, especially Behemoth.

There are some fights among the “Titans” – the main reason we’re here – with the dynamic mainly involving Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (the two alphas) for supremacy. The difference being that Godzilla is some kind of ancient Earth god, and Ghidorah is an “invasive species” from another planet. Once Ghidorah is free from that ice, Godzilla shows up right away to put him in his place (or at least try). Rodan is reduced to being one of Ghidorah’s minions, while Mothra, once she emerges from the cocoon, is in full moth mode (with very cool praying mantis arms) and, also being a Earth-bound goddess, tries to assist Godzilla is restoring planetary balance.

Of course there’s a scene where Godzilla sort of dies and has to be revived (the continuing resurrections of the lizard god…), and mankind tries to get in on the battle with their weapons. There are tons of Easter eggs here that long-time Godzilla fans will notice. Among them: the fact that Ghidorah is first referred to as Monster Zero (the monster’s alternate name in 1965’s GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO); the military coming up with their ultimate weapon to stop the Titans, which just happens to be called the “oxygen destroyer” (which goes all the way back to how they defeated Godzilla in the original GODZILLA, 1954, aka GOJIRA, and pops back up in GODZILLA vs. DESTROYAH, 1995); and there’s even a mention of the tiny Shobijin fairies (played by the twin singing duo The Peanuts in the old 60s Mothra movies) who used to sing to Mothra (and may have a modern-day equivalent).

The monsters, er…Titans, now done via CGI rather than actors in rubber suits, look very cool, and the monster fights are decent (including a battle that should have made a smoking crater out of Boston’s Fenway Park), even though just about every monster battle is obscured by rain or smoke. But whenever things get interesting, the human storylines interfere and have to take center stage again. The whole eco-terrorist thing isn’t too bad, at least it has a direct correlation to the Titans. But the whole “parents fighting over their daughter” thing gets annoying very fast, and takes up way too much screen time. Which is too bad, because Chandler, Farmiga and Brown are all really good actors and sounded like great additions to the cast when they were announced (remember, the previous GODZILLA movie had Bryan Cranston, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Elizabeth Olsen in the cast, all good actors, who were also kind of wasted).  It’s not the actors’ fault, so much as the script, which just doesn’t provide for a very compelling human story.

But see, hardcore fans go to Godzilla movies for the kaiju, not the humans, and almost all of the human stories in previous Godzilla movies (American and Japanese) aren’t much more than glorified filler, so this is nothing new. Frankly, I wouldn’t care if the human stuff was scaled back a lot (and needn’t be played by such talented people). In a Godzilla movie, the screentime should be 60% or more given over to the kaiju, with as little time as possible spent trying to humanize things on the people end. All said, KOTM probably gives the Titans about 40% screentime (still a big improvement over the previous American films), but it still could have jettisoned a chunk of the histrionics.

And there were some wince-inducing scenes that should have been cut as well. Primarily every scene where a gigantic creature somehow becomes aware of a little tiny human (and seems able to tell who they are, despite their tininess). These huge creatures don’t care if you’re a good guy or a bad guy, you’re just an ant to them. And when, say, Godzilla leans in real close to a tiny Millie Bobby Brown and then snorts (to let us know he isn’t going to eat her, and he’s a good guy), that’s the kind of stupid, idiotic crap that should be left on the cutting room floor. What is this a Gamera movie? LOL. I laugh because I love Gamera, too, especially the 90s Japanese movies, but remember back in the 60s when he was called the “Hero of Children.” Man! There’s also a “monsters bowing” scene later on that was just pure silliness, and made me think back to the days when these monsters actually talked in some of the Japanese movies (GODZILLA’S REVENGE, 1969, or GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, anyone? I’ll pass, even though I loved REVENGE as a kid).

But what the movie gets right is very good, and clearly things are going in the right direction. Next time maybe don’t stack the deck with so many big name stars who get paid to take up screen time, and instead use the money for more cool monster effects!

As a Godzilla fan, I give GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, three and a half out of five knives. But for everyone else, it’s probably just three knives. This isn’t Masterpiece Theater. But then, it’s not meant to be.

(By the way, I saw this one in 3D, thinking it would actually add to the experience. But it didn’t. And stay for some secret scenes during the end credits.)

© Copyright 2019 by LL Soares

 

LL Soares gives GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS ~ 3 ½ knives!

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