Horror Film Review: Buffy the Vampire (dir by Fran Rubel Kuzui)


Watching this movie was such a strange experience.

Now, of course, I say that as someone who grew up watching and loving the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Back when Buffy was on TV, I was always aware that the character had first been introduced in a movie but every thing I read about Buffy said that the movie wasn’t worth watching.  It was a part of the official Buffy mythology that Joss Whedon was so unhappy with what was done to his original script that he pretty much ignored the film when he created the show.

So, yes, the 1992 movie version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer showed how Buffy first learned that she was a slayer, how she fought a bunch of vampires in Los Angeles, and how her first watcher met his end.  But still, Joss Whedon was always quick to say that the film should not be considered canonical.  Whenever anyone on the TV show mentioned anything from Buffy’s past, they were referencing Joss Whedon’s original script as opposed to the film that was eventually adapted from that script.  (For instance, on the tv series, everyone knew that Buffy’s previous school burned down.  That was from Whedon’s script.  However, 20th Century Fox balked at making a film about a cheerleader who burns down her school so, at the end of the film version, the school is still standing and romance is in the air.)  In short, the film existed but it really didn’t matter.  In fact, to be honest, it almost felt like watching the movie would somehow be a betrayal of everything that made the televisions series special.

Myself, I didn’t bother to watch the film version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer until several years after the television series was canceled and, as I said at the start of the review, it was a strange experience.  The movie is full of hints of what would make the television series so memorable but none of them are really explored.  Yes, Buffy (played here by Kristy Swanson) has to balance being a teenager with being a vampire slayer but, in the film, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to do.  Buffy is just as happy to be a vampire slayer as she is to be a cheerleader.  In fact, one of the strange things about the film is just how quickly and easily Buffy accepts the idea that there are vampires feeding on her classmates and that it’s her duty to destroy them.  Buffy’s watcher is played by Donald Sutherland and the main vampire is played by Rutger Hauer, two veteran actors who could have played these roles in their sleep and who appear to do so for much of the film.  As for Buffy’s love interest, he’s a sensitive rebel named Oliver Pike (Luke Perry).  On the one hand, it’s fun to see the reversal of traditional gender roles, with Oliver frequently helpless and needing to be saved by Buffy.  On the other hand, Perry and Swanson have next to no chemistry so it’s a bit difficult to really get wrapped up in their relationship.

I know I keep coming back to this but watching the movie version of Buffy is a strange experience.  It’s not bad but it’s just not Buffy.  It’s like some sort of weird, mirror universe version of Buffy, where Buffy starts her slaying career as a senior in high school and she never really has to deal with being an outcast or anything like that.  (One gets the feeling that the movie’s Buffy wouldn’t have much to do with the Scooby Gang.  Nor would she have ever have fallen for Angel.)  Kristy Swanson gives a good performance as the film version of Buffy, though the character is not allowed to display any of the nuance or the quick wit that made the television version a role model for us all.  Again it’s not that Buffy the movie is terrible or anything like that.  It’s just not our Buffy!

A Movie A Day #219: Wild Bill (1995, directed by Walter Hill)


The year is 1876 and the legendary Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Bridges) sits in a saloon in Deadwood and thinks about his life (most of which is seen in high-resolution, black-and-white flashbacks).  Hickok was a renowned lawman and a sure shot, a man whose exploits made him famous across the west.  Thanks to his friend, Buffalo Bill Cody (Keith Carradine), he even appeared on the New York stage and reenacted some of his greatest gun battles.  Now, Hickok is aging.  He is 39 years old, an old man by the standards of his profession.  Though men like Charlie Prince (John Hurt) and California Joe (James Gammon) continue to spread his legend, Hickok is going blind and spends most of his time in a haze of opium and regret.

Hickok only has one true friend in Deadwood, Calamity Jane (Ellen Barkin).  He also has one true enemy, an aspiring gunslinger named Jack McCall (David Arquette).  McCall approaches Hickok and announces that he is going to kill him because of the way that Hickok treated his mother (played, in flashback, by Diane Lane).  Hickok does not do much to dissuade him.

Based on both a book and a play, Wild Bill is a talky and idiosyncratic Western from Walter Hill.  Hill is less interested in Hickok as a gunfighter than Hickok as an early celebrity.  There are gunfights but they only happen because, much like John Wayne in The Shootist, Hickok has become so famous that he cannot go anywhere without someone taking a shot at him.  Almost the entire final half of Wild Bill is set in that saloon, with Hickok and a gallery of character actors talking about the past and wondering about the future.

At times, Wild Bill gets bogged down with all the dialogue and philosophizing.  (To quote The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: “When you have to shoot, shoot.  Don’t talk.”)  Luckily, the film is saved by an intriguing cast, led by Jeff Bridges.  In many ways, his performance was Wild Bill feels like an audition for his later performance in True Grit.  David Arquette is intensely weird as the jumpy Jack McCall and Ellen Barkin brings the film’s only underwritten role, Calamity Jane, to life.  Smaller roles are played by everyone from Bruce Dern to James Remar to Marjoe Gortner.

United Artist made the mistake of trying to sell Wild Bill as being a straight western, which led to confused audiences and a resounding flop at the box office.  Ironically, years after the release of Wild Bill, Walter Hill won an Emmy for directing the first episode of HBO’s Deadwood, an episode the featured Wild Bill cast member Keith Carradine in the role of Hickok.

A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)


This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.

Horror Trailer: Bone Tomahawk


Bone Tomahawk

We never have enough horror set in the Old West. It’s a setting that should be rife with infinite possibilities for some very scary storytelling.

When we do get Old West horror they tend to be direct-to-video and low-budget affairs. Now don’t get me wrong low-budget horror sometimes are some of the most effective. The closer it gets to it’s grindhouse roots the better. Then again some do end up being a pile of turds that end up getting relegated in the dollar bin at supermarkets.

My hope is that the latest Old West horror starring Kurt Russell will be the former and not the latter.

Bone Tomahawk made it’s premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest and from all intents and purpose had a very positive reception to it’s genre mash-up of cowboys vs cannibals. Now what better way to follow-up The Green Inferno but with another cannibal fare set in the dusty plains and canyons of the Old West.

Back to School #57: Never Been Kissed (dir by Raja Gosnell)


Never_Been_Kissed_film_poster

The 1999 romantic comedy Never Been Kissed is a definite guilty pleasure of mine, and that’s not just because of the fact that James Franco has a small role in it.  Never Been Kissed is a genuinely sweet movie that might not be extremely realistic but is still enjoyable.

Never Been Kissed requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, largely because Josie Gellar, the character who has” never been kissed,” is played Drew Barrymore.  Oh, it’s not that Josie hasn’t ever been kissed.  Instead, it’s that she’s never gotten the type of kiss that every girl dreams of getting.  She’s never been kissed by someone who she was truly in love with.  She’s never had the type of romance that everyone dreams of having (especially when they’re in high school).

However, Josie is about to get a chance to find that kiss.  Josie works for a newspaper and her editor (John C. Reilly) has just assigned her to go undercover at a local high school.  Unfortunately, Josie was traumatized by her experiences the first time that she went to high school.  (She wrote a poem for a boy, he responded by asking her to prom and then throwing eggs at her.)  On her first day as a “student,” Josie finds that she is just as unpopular as the last time but now she’s also absolutely out-of-touch with her classmates.  Fortunately, she’s befriended by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) and, soon, Josie has finally managed to find a place with the Denominators, a group of intelligent students.

Unfortunately, hanging out with the good kids isn’t producing the type of stories that Josie’s editor wants.  He orders Josie to reject Aldys and to befriend the school’s mean girls.  After her brother, Rob (David Arquette), also enrolls in high school, he helps Josie to become the most popular girl in the school.  Soon, Josie is no longer hanging out with Aldys and has been asked to go to the prom by the loathsome Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan).

However, Josie has fallen in love with her English teacher, Sam (Michael Vartan).  Sam likes Josie too but, of course, he thinks that she’s a student.  Will Josie tell the truth and risk losing Sam?  Will she be able to maintain her cover even when she discovers that her new friends are planning to humiliate Aldys?  Will Josie ever truly be kissed?

Well, you can probably guess all the answers.  Nothing really surprising happens in Never Been Kissed but it’s still a likable film.  For the most part, the actors all do a good job with their stock roles and David Arquette, especially, is hilarious as a professional slacker who thrives in high school precisely because he’s never bothered to grow up.  (Of course, by the end of the film, his new high school girlfriend is wanting to know what he’s planning on doing with his life after he graduates….)  At no point is the film in any way realistic but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend 110 minutes of your life.

Never

Film Review: Scream 4 (dir. by Wes Craven)


Before I start, note that Scream 4 is also referred to as Scre4m. While this is true and cool in a hacking/cyberpunk sort of way, I refuse to call it that as it just erodes my writing ability (which is rough enough as it is). I keep that up by the end of the year, everything I write will have numbers in it.

Compared to some of his earlier attempts, Scream 4 is pretty much a triumph for Wes Craven. With Kevin Williamson’s help, they manage to take the fourth part of a story and turn it into something remarkably enjoyable and surprising. The audience at my showing loved the way it started and ended. Although it retreads some of the older themes of the series, it does so in a way that almost makes fun of itself and the genre it’s a part of. Since it’s not taking itself too seriously, the audience doesn’t have to either.

Scream 4 basically brings what’s left of the remaining cast back to the tale. The Arquette’s (Courtney Cox and David) have returned as Gail Weathers-Riley and Sheriff Dewey Riley, respectively. Neve Campbell returns to form after a long hiatus, and really, it’s almost as if none of them ever left. The film starts off in a way where it pays homage to the original Drew Barrymore opening while still managing to keep it fresh. Cameos by Anna Paquin and Kristen Bell help to move that along.

After the events of the last three films (ten years of time in the movie), Sidney Prescott (Campbell) has managed to put her life back together by writing a novel about being a survivor. Thanks to Gail’s book on the Woodsboro murders and the multiple “Stab” movies that were created for them, the town has become famous for something it really shouldn’t be. Ghostface masks are a dime a dozen now, yearly Stab marathons are all the rage and the town kind of looks at it all like Crystal Lake – people died there, sure, but it’s just so much to say “I was there!”.

Sidney’s fame did little for her niece, Jill (Emma Roberts) and her friends, Kirby (a short hairdo wearing Hayden Panettiere) and Olivia (Marielle Jaffe). Having to grow up as a relative to the most famous person in town means everyone has something to ask her about Sidney when she returns to Woodsboro on her book tour. The younger trio keep their distance from Sidney as they consider her trouble. After all, all these deaths seem to occur when she’s around or has something to do with her. However, when a new rash of murders start when Sidney arrives, everyone has something to worry about. What follows is a bloodbath in typical Scream fashion, and as always, just about everyone is a suspect.

The Positives:

– Conspiracy Theory

What worked for me in Scream 4 was the conspiracy aspect. Williamson paints a picture that basically says “Here’s your cast. Any one of them could be the killer. Can you figure out who?”. The misdirection isn’t on a Harry Potter like level, but it does serve a purpose here. By the time everything was brought out, I found myself nodding and smiling. It’s actually worth it to ride out the movie to get to the big reveal. Without giving anything away, both that reveal and the story behind it was damn near excellent.

-Sidney as Ripley

Another good thing about the film is that Sidney is pretty much a powerhouse here. She takes on the Ghostface without too much fear. So much so that it sometimes seems like she’s like a Jason Bourne type character. It’s nice that she’s able to hold her own, though after 3 films, you’d expect the character to probably do that.

– Remembering the Original

Another element that proved useful was the homages to the original Scream films. There are a few scenes that even if you only watched the Original Scream, you’ll recognize them instantly. Some serious recognition goes to Panettiere’s Kirby, who at one point spits out the name of nearly 30 horror films in the space of a minute. All in all, it might seem like rehashing, but the context they were set up in were enough to warrant a whispered “Wow” from me. Maybe I’m just easily impressed. Craven also managed to bring back Roger L. Jackson (Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls) as the voice of the Ghostface Killer. So much fun to hear his voice again after all these years. That was definitely a plus.

The Negatives:

Not a lot of Bodies Hitting the Floor.

If Scream 4 suffers from any problems, it’s that there really isn’t that much of a body count. Granted, I wasn’t expecting anything like Dead Alive or Dawn of the Dead, but as slasher films go, it’s pretty light on the numbers, and as always, most of the people who are dispatched are done well, but I left the theatre wondering if there weren’t just a few more people who could have been taken out. That, and outside of the main players, I didn’t really care about the rest of the cast. They were pretty much cannon fodder for Ghostface.

– The Rules have Changed, but aren’t Exactly Enforced

While the movie seemed to be big on changing what the rules for how horror movies go, they weren’t really mind-blowing. In some ways, it seemed it was useful, but perhaps it would have been better to simply say that there were no rules and leave it at that. The rules here didn’t seem as enforced as the first film. Anything kind of goes.

Overall, Scream 4 is a fun ride, and quite possibly the best entry in the series since the first Scream. It peppers original elements with a few new ideas. It’s not all perfect and there some moments that are over the top, but in the end, it’s refreshing when compared to the 2nd and 3rd parts of the series.

Quickie Review: Eight Legged Freaks (dir. by Ellory Elkayem)


In 2002 there came a film in the tail end of that year’s summer blockbuster film season which took me by surprise. The film I’m talking about was Eight Legged Freaks. It was from Kiwi-born director Ellory Elkayem and he did a wonderful job of bringing back just a small peek at those fun 1950’s giant monster and insect movies like Them! and a host of others.

The film pretty much follows the same conventions as those old-time monster movies. It has the smart and bookish teenage boy whose love for all things spiders will come in handy as the film moves along. Then there’s the eccentric and creepy loner who collects spiders and learns that the water he has been giving them has now been tainted by toxic chemicals from a drum container that has fallen into a nearby river during transport. This river and the creek it feeds is right next to a down-and-out mining Arizona town, ironically named Prosperity. The film  wouldn’t be complete without the arrival of its prodigal son, Chris McCormick (played with quite a bit of understatement by the usual over-the-top David Arquette) whose father used to own the gold mines which the town relied on for its economy.

With a reluctant hero comes the woman he left behind and pined for years ago, but now much older and with kids of her own from a previous marriage. Kari Wuhrer — of MTV and B-movie fame — plays Samantha Parker. McCormick’s love interest who also happens to be Prosperity’s current town sheriff and single mother to the aforementioned teenage boy with the thing for spiders and nubile teen daughter Ashley (played by pre-superstardom Scarlett Johansson). Then there’s Wade, the town mayor whose failing ostrich farm and unused mega-mall is leading him to sell the town wholesale to some nameless giant corporation.

With the basic plot set and characters introduced all hell breaks loose as toxic-mutated spiders grow to giant proportions and begin to terrorize and devour the townspeople. At first, it’s isolated attacks until their numbers grown in size and they attack the town itself en masse. This may be a B-movie but it sure had great CGI-effects when it came to the giant arachnids and how they behaved on the screen. The many different types of giant spiders ended up having distinct personalities to distinguish themselves from each other. From the tank-like tarantula to the agile jumping spiders and the cunning trapdoor spiders. In fact, these spiders were also given some sort of voice which sounded like chipmunks on helium as they screeched, yipped and screamed their way around the screen.

Eight Legged Freaks was not something great to write mom home about, but it was a fun film to sit through, especially one full of teenagers who seem to scream and shout the loudest. This was a type of film that actually needs a rowdy audience to really entertain. There’s really no need to follow the dialogue since most of it is quite forgettable. The action on the screen from the giant spiders chasing motocross-riding teens and their attack on the townspeople at the mega-mall does well without the need of extraneous dialogue.

Ellory Elkayem did a great job in making Eight Legged Freaks not just a fun movie but also a throwback to the 50’s monster movies that we see now on syndication. This movie showed Elkayem had great potential as a genre filmmaker. It’s a shame he had to follow up Eight Legged Freaks with two very awful and forgettable sequels to the Return of the Living Dead franchise. I’m still hoping that he’ll rebound from that double-debacle and make more fun monster movies. Until that happens we’ll always have his little flick about giant, mutant spiders who sounded like chipmunks on helium.