Horror Film Review: Stir of Echoes (dir by David Koepp)


It’s blue collar horror!

As the 1999 film Stir of Echoes shows, ghost don’t only haunt the rich and famous.  Sometimes, they haunt ordinary guys who live paycheck to paycheck and just want to be able to take some pride in having a home that’s free of secrets and evil spirits.  “Ghosts, they’re a real pain the ass sometimes, y’know what I’m saying?”

For instance, in Stir of Echoes, Kevin Bacon plays Tom Witzky.  Tom is a phone lineman who lives in Chicago.  Tom wishes that he could have been something more than a phone lineman.  He wishes that his band could have taken off and he could have been a rock star.  But, now Tom’s reached his 40s, he’s got a wife named Maggie (Kathryn Erbe), a son named Jake (Zachary David Kope), and another child on the way.  So, he works hard and then he comes home and he has a beer and sometimes, he might go to a high school football game.  It’s not a glamorous life but at least it’s something with which Tom can be happy.

Of course, then Tom makes the mistake of going to a party that’s being given by his friend, Frank (Kevin Dunn).  When Maggie’s sister-in-law, Lisa (Illeana Douglas), says that she knows how to hypnotize people, Tom scoffs and challenges her to hypnotize him.  Lisa does so and, the next thing that Tom knows, he’s sitting there with tears in his eyes and everyone laughing at him.  Even though it was only a few seconds to Tom, he was apparently under hypnosis for quite a while.  He talked about being bullied as a child.  He stuck a safety pin through his hand.  He even accepted Lisa’s suggestion that he “try to be more open-minded.”  Upset over being revealed to be vulnerable, Tom leaves the party.

Tom soon learns what it means, in his case, to be more open-minded.  Soon, Tom is hearing voices and seeing what appears to be the ghost of a teenage girl in his house.  He starts to have disturbing and violent visions.  When Tom tries to pretend that nothing’s wrong, Jake tells him that it’s okay because he can see the ghost as well.

Growing obsessed with his visions, Tom is soon tearing his own house apart in an attempt to discover what the spirits are trying to tell him.  Is Tom truly seeing ghosts or, as so many in the neighborhood suspect, is he losing his mind?

When I first started rewatching Stir of Echoes for this review, I have to admit that I was a little bit concerned.  Kevin Bacon is one of the most likable actors on the planet and this film is usually cited as featuring one of his best performances but, in the first few scenes, he seemed to be almost going a little overboard with the whole “I’m just a working class guy” routine.  But, as the film progressed, I actually came to realize that Kevin Bacon was giving a brilliant performance.  The fact that he played Tom as being so rational and almost boring during the first half of the movie made it all the more effective when he started tearing his house apart during the second.  During those scenes, Bacon plays Tom as not only someone obsessed with discovering the truth but also as someone who just wants his life to be normal again.  If he has to destroy his life to get it back, that’s what he’s going to do.

(That said, my favorite character in the film was Lisa, mostly because we share the same name and she was played by the brilliant Illeana Douglas.  The thing I loved about Lisa is that, when she was informed that she had messed up Tom’s mind, she was both sorry and proud of herself at the same time.)

Stir of Echoes is still a frightening film, one with plenty of jump scares and a subtext of paranoia as it’s revealed that both the neighborhood and Tom’s friends are full of secrets.  Because they both came out in 1999, it often gets compared to The Sixth Sense.  I like The Sixth Sense but I actually prefer Stir of Echoes, just because it’s not quite as self-important as M. Night Shyamalan’s film.  The makers of Stir of Echoes didn’t set out to change the world.  They just wanted to make a scary ghost story and they succeeded.

 

Film Review: To Die For (dir by Gus Van Sant)


The 1995 satire, To Die For, is a very clever film about some seriously stupid people.

Of course, you could debate whether or not Suzanne Stone-Maretto (Nicole Kidman) is actually dumb or not.  Suzanne may not know much about anything that isn’t on TV but she does have a natural understanding for what makes a good story.  She knows exactly the type of story that the public wants to hear and she does a good job of faking all of the right emotions.  As she proves throughout the course of the film, she’s also very good at convincing people to do stuff.  Whether it’s convincing the local television station to put her on the air as a weather person or convincing two teenagers to murder her husband, Suzanne always seems to get what she wants.

Of course, what Suzanne really wants is to be a celebrity.  She wants to be a star.  As she explains it, that’s the greatest thing about America.  Anyone can become a star if they just try hard enough and find the right angle.  If the film were made today, Suzanne would be a social media junkie.  Since the movie was made in 1995, she has to settle for talk shows and murder.

So maybe Suzanne isn’t that dumb but her husband, Larry (Matt Dillon) …. well, if we’re going to be honest, Larry’s more naive than dumb.  He’s the favored son of a big Italian family and it’s obviously never occurred to him that a woman would possibly want something more than just a husband and a lot of children.  He thinks it’s cute that Suzanne’s on TV but he’s also fully convinced that she’s going to eventually settle down and focus on starting a family.  It never occurs to him that his wife would be willing to sacrifice him on her way to stardom.

Of course, if you really want to talk about dumb, just check out the teenagers who Suzanne recruits to kill her husband.  They’ve been appearing in a documentary that Suzanne’s been shooting.  The documentary’s title is “Teens Speak Out,” which is something of an ironic title since none of the teens that Suzanne interviews really has anything to say.  Lydia (Allison Folland) is just happy that the “glamorous” Suzanne is pretending to care about her.  Russell (Casey Affleck) is the type of grinning perv who drops a pen just so he can try to get a peek up Suzanne’s skirt while he’s on the floor retrieving it.  And then there’s Jimmy (Joaquin Phoenix), with his flat voice and his blank stare.  Jimmy is briefly Suzanne’s lover before he ends up in prison for murdering her husband.  It doesn’t take much to convince Jimmy to commit murder, either.  Apparently, all you have to do is dance to Lynard Skynard while it’s raining outside.  Media interviews with Lydia, Jimmy, Suzanne, and Larry’s sister (Ileana Douglas) are sprinkled throughout the film and Jimmy continues to insist that he will always love Suzanne.

As for Suzanne, she’s got stardom to worry about….

Though the subject matter is a bit familiar and the film, made before the age of Twitter and Instagram, is a bit dated, To Die For‘s satire still carries a powerful bite.  One need only watch A&E or the Crime and Investigation network to see that Suzanne was absolutely correct when she decided that killing her husband would make her a star.  If To Die For were made today, you could easily imagine Suzanne leveraging her infamy into an appearance on Dancing With The Stars and maybe Celebrity Big Brother.  At the very least. she could get her own house hunting show on HGTV.  Delivering her often sociopathic dialogue with a perky smile and a positive attitude, Nicole Kidman is absolutely chilling as Suzanne.  Meanwhile, Joaquin Phoenix’s blank stare will continue to haunt you long after the film ends.

And speaking of endings, To Die For has a great one.  You’ll never hear Season of the Witch the same way again!

Horror Film Review: Cape Fear (dir by Martin Scorsese)


And I beheld as Scorsese remade a classic movie and, Lo, there was De Niro, decorated in india ink and speaking in tongues…

In 1991, Martin Scorsese remade the 1962 horror thriller, Cape Fear.  Both versions deal with the same basic story but each tells it in a very different way.  If the original Cape Fear was straightforward and to the point, Martin Scorsese’s version is so stylized that occasionally, it’s tempting to suspect that Scorsese might be parodying himself.  Zoom shots, negative shots, sweeping camera movements, Scorsese’s Cape Fear is full of all of them.  When a storm rolls in for the film’s operatic finale, the red clouds look as if their on fire.  Hell is coming to North Carolina, the film appears to be announcing.

While the plot largely remains the same, there are a few significant changes to the characters involved:

In the first Cape Fear, Robert Mitchum’s Max Cady was an arrogant, swaggering brute.  In the remake, Robert De Niro’s Cady is still an arrogant, swaggering brute but he’s now also an evangelical who is tattooed with bible verses and who speaks in tongues.  Cape Fear‘s approach to Cady’s religion is so over-the-top that it almost makes Stephen King’s approach to religious characters seem subtle and nuanced.  De Niro also speaks in a broad Southern accent.  Occasionally, De Niro gets the accent right but most of the time, he sounds like he’s in a Vermont community theater production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.

In the first Cape Fear, Gregory Peck’s Sam Bowden was a lawyer who caught Max while Max was attacking a woman and who then testified against Max in court.  That’s not the case with the remake’s version of Sam Bowden.  Despite being played by Nick Nolte, the remake’s Sam Bowden is such a wimp that you can’t help but dislike him.  His wife (Jessica Lange) doesn’t trust him.  His teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis) resents him and his attempts to control her life.  In this version, Sam didn’t testify against Max in court.  Instead, Sam was Max’s lawyer and withheld evidence that could have secured Max’s acquittal.  What Sam didn’t realize is that Max would spend his time in prison studying the law and that Max would eventually figure out what Sam did.

As in the original film, Max shows up in North Carolina and proceeds to stalk the Bowdens.  Unlike Mitchum, who was all quiet menace, De Niro plays Max as being loud and obnoxious, the type who will sit in a theater, light a cigar, and intentionally laugh at the top of his lungs.  Max knows enough about the law that he knows exactly what he can get away with.  He poisons Sam’s dog.  He rapes Sam’s associate, Lori (played, in a heart-breaking performance, by Ileana Douglas).  In one of the film’s most unsettling scenes, he pretends to be the new drama teacher and toys with Sam’s daughter.

With the help of a private eye (Joe Don Baker), Sam tries to get Max out of his life.  Eventually, Sam pretends to be out-of-town, all as part of a ruse to get Max to break into his house so that he can be shot in self-defense.  It’s here that Nolte’s wimpy performance becomes an issue.  It’s impossible not to laugh at the sight of Sam, all hunched down and desperately trying to run from room to room without being spotted through any of the windows.

To a certain extent, I suspect that were meant to see Sam as being a rather pathetic figure.  Scorsese doesn’t really seem to have much sympathy for him or his dysfunctional family.  If anything, the film seems to argue that Sam has been a bad lawyer, a bad husband, and a bad father and Max has been sent as a type of divine retribution.  Only by defeating Max can Sam find forgiveness and hope to have the type of life that Gregory Peck enjoyed in the first movie.

Scorsese’s Cape Fear is an uneasy mishmash of styles.  Is it an art film, a religious allegory, a horror film, or just a generic thriller?  It doesn’t seem to be sure.  Cape Fear‘s a Scorsese film so, of course, it’s always going to be worth watching.  But there are times when the film definitely runs the risk of overdosing on style.  Sometimes, Scorsese seems to be trying too hard to remind everyone that he’s a legitimately great director and ends up getting so invested in the film’s visuals that he runs the risk of losing the story.  De Niro has some scenes in which he is genuinely chilling but then he has other scenes where he is basically just a live action cartoon character.  The same can be said of the film itself.  It’s always watchable.  At times, it’s rather frightening.  But other times, it’s just too cartoonish to be effective.

If anything, this remake proves that sometimes, it’s best to keep things simple.

Film Review: Factory Girl (dir by George Hickenlooper)


Oh God.  Factory Girl.

Released in 2006, Factory Girl was a biopic about Edie Sedgwick, the tragic model/actress/artist who was briefly both Andy Warhol’s muse and one of the most famous women in America.  Before I talk too much about this film, I should probably admit that I’m probably the worst possible person to review a movie about Edie Sedgwick.

Why?

Allow me to repost something that I wrote when I reviewed Edie’s final film, Ciao Manhattan:

“In the late 60s, Edie Sedgwick was a model who was briefly the beautiful face of the underground.  Vogue called her a “youthquaker.”  She made films with Andy Warhol, she dated the rich and the famous and for a brief time, she was one of the most famous women in America.  But a childhood full of tragedy and abuse had left Edie fragile and unprepared to deal with the pressures of being famous.  She was fed drugs by those who claimed to care about her, she had numerous mental breakdowns, and, when she was at her most vulnerable, she was pushed away and rejected by the same people who had loved her when she was on top of the world.  Edie died because, when she asked for help, nobody was willing to listen.

 

Edie Sedgwick (1943 — 1971)

I guess I should explain something.  I don’t believe in reincarnation but if I did, I would swear that I was Edie Sedwick in a past life.  Of all the great icons of the past, she, Clara Bow, andVictoria Woodhull are the ones to whom I feel the closest connection. (Edie is the reason why, for the longest time, I assumed I would die when I was 28.  But now I’m 29, so lucky me.)”

(Incidentally, I wrote that two years ago and I’m still alive so, once again, lucky me.)

Anyway, my point is that I’m always going to be a hundred times more critical of a film about Edie Sedgwick as I would be about any other film.  If you’re already guessing that I didn’t particularly care for Factory Girl, you’re right.  However, there are some people whose opinions I respect and some of them love this film.

Anyway, Factory Girl is a biopic that’s structured so conventionally that it even opens with Edie (played by Sienna Miller) narrating her story to an unseen interviewer.  I can count on one hand the number of successful biopics that have featured someone telling the story of their life to an unseen interviewer.  It’s a conventional and kind of boring technique.  Anyway, the film follows all of the expected beats.  Edie arrives in New York.  Edie is spotted by Andy (Guy Pearce).  Edie makes films with Warhol.  Her famous dance in Vinyl is recreated.  Edie becomes Andy’s platonic girlfriend but then, she meets and falls in love with Bob Dylan…

Oh, sorry.  He’s not actually Bob Dylan.  According to the credits, his name is Folksinger.  He says Bob Dylan type stuff.  He rides around on a motorcycle.  He carries a harmonica.  Oh, and he’s played by Hayden Christensen.

See, the first half of Factory Girl is actually not bad.  Sienna Miller gives a pretty good performance as Edie, even if she never comes close to capturing Edie’s unforced charisma.  Despite being several years too old, Guy Pearce is also credible as Andy Warhol.  The film itself is full of crazy 60s clichés but, even so, that’s not always a terrible thing.  Some of those 60s clichés are a lot of fun, if they’re presented with a little imagination.

But then Hayden Christensen shows up as Bob Dylan and the film loses whatever credibility it may have had.  Hayden, who gave his best performance when he played a soulless and largely empty-headed sociopath in Shattered Glass, is totally miscast as a musician who once said that if people really understood what his songs were about, he would have been thrown in jail.  The film attempts to portray Dylan and Warhol as two men fighting for Edie’s soul but Christensen is so outacted by Guy Pearce that it’s never really much of a competition.  Even though the film makes a good case that Edie’s relationship with Andy was ultimately self-destructive, Guy Pearce is still preferable to Hayden Christensen trying to imitate Dylan’s distinctive mumble.

Anyway, Factory Girl doesn’t really work.  Beyond the odd casting of Hayden Christensen, Factory Girl is too conventionally structured.  In its portrayal of the Factory and life in 1960s New York, the film never seems to establish a life beyond all of the familiar clichés.  (Before anyone accuses me of contradicting myself, remember that I said that the old 60s clichés are fun if they’re presented with a little imagination.  That’s a big if.)  At no point, while watching the film, did I feel as if I had been transported back to the past.  If you want to learn about Edie Sedgwick, your best option is to try to track down her Warhol films.

Edie!

2015 in Review: The Best of SyFy


Well, here we are!  It’s the first week of January, 2016 and that means that it is time for me to start listing my favorite movies, books, songs, and TV shows of the previous year!  Let’s start things off by taking a look at the best that the SyFy network had to offer in 2015!

Below, you will find my nominees for the best SyFy films and performances of the previous year.  The winners are starred and in bold.  As you’ll quickly notice, it was a good year for films about sharks.  Especially films about zombie sharks!

ZombieShark_Image

Best Picture
Lavalantula, produced by Anthony Frankhauser
Night of the Wild, produced by David Michael Latt
Ominous, produced by Peter Sullivan
Sharknado 3produced by David Michael Latt.
They Found Hellproduced by Anthony Frankhauser
*Zombie Sharkproduced by Sam Claitor and Eric Davies.*

Best Director
Nick Lyon for They Found Hell
Mike Mendez for Lavalantula
Eric Red for Night of the Wild
*Misty Talley for Zombie Shark*

STEVE-Guttenberg-2

Best Actor
*Steve Guttenberg in Lavalantula*
Jason London in Zombie Shark
Barry Watson in Ominous
Ian Ziering in Sharknado 3

zombie-shark-26d805394971ee282f2c7dab4adb9646f62f1dce-2

Best Actress
Illeana Douglas in Mega Shark vs. Kolossus
Sarah Dugdale in The Hollow
Alexis Peterman in Roboshark
*Cassie Steele in Zombie Shark*

Syfy-movie-Lake-Placid-vs-Anaconda-Robert-Englund

Best Supporting Actor
Tony Almont in Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf
*Robert Englund in Lake Placid vs. Anaconda*
David Hasselhoff in Sharknado 3
Roger J. Timber in Zombie Shark

catherine oxenberg rubber glove

Best Supporting Actress
Becky Andrews in Zombie Shark
Laura Cayouette in Zombie Shark
*Catherine Oxenberg in Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf*
Annabel Wright in Lake Placid vs. Anaconda

Best Screenplay
*Lavalantula, written by Mike Mendez, Neil Elman and Ashley O’Neil*
Robosharkwritten by Jeffrey Lando and Phillip Roth
Sharknado 3written by Thunder Levin
Zombie Shark, written by Greg Mitchell

Best Cinematography
Lavalantula, Richard J. Vialet.
OminousStuart Brereton.
They Found HellRichard J. Vialet.
*Zombie SharkMatt S. Bell.*

tfh

Best Costume Design
Mega Shark vs. Kolossus
OminousDarragh Marmorstein.
*They Found Hell, Irina Kotcheva*
Zombie Shark, Kellye Bond

Best Editing
Lavalantula, Robert Dias and Mike Mendez.
Sharknado 3, Christopher Roth.
They Found HellDon Money.
*Zombie SharkMisty Talley.*

Best Makeup
The HollowJoanne Kinchella
*Lake Placid vs. AnacondaDesislava AlexievaRalitsa Roth, Atanas Temnilov*
Ominous
They Found Hell

Roboshark-SyFy

Best Score
LavalantulaChris Ridenhour.
Mega Shark vs. KolossusChris Cano and Chris Ridenhour.
*Roboshark, Claude Foisy*
Sharknado 3, Chris Ridenhour and Chris Cano.

Best Production Design
Lake Placid vs. AnacondaBorislav Michailovski
*Mega Shark vs. Kolossus, Fernando Valdes*
OminousStephen Hass.
They Found Hell

sharknado 3 sharks in space

Best Sound
The Hollow
Night of the Wild
*Sharknado 3*
Zombie Shark

Best Visual Effects
Lavalantula
Roboshark
*Sharknado 3*
Zombie Shark

Congratulations to all the winners!  Thank you for keeping us entertained in 2015!

Check out last year’s winners by clicking here!  And 2013’s winners by clicking here!

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at the best from Lifetime!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2015:

  1. Valerie Troutman’s 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw in 2015
  2. Necromoonyeti’s Top 15 Metal Albums of 2015

Let’s Talk About Mega Shark vs. Kolossus!


It was while watching Mega Shark vs. Kolossus that I discovered that, apparently, I have the power to kill fictional characters with my tweets.  As soon Dr. Sergie Abramov (Patrick Bauchau) first appeared on screen, I tweeted out my prediction that he was “doomed,” largely because he was “eccentric and old.”  15 minutes later, a group of gun-toting mercenaries showed up and gunned Dr. Abramov down.

AGCK!, I thought, I didn’t really mean to kill him…

Now, normally, I would have to admit that discovering that I possessed that much power would lead to a lot of thought and reflection on my part.  But you know what?  I was enjoying myself way too much to really feel that bad about getting Dr. Abramov killed.  That’s the type of film that Mega Shark vs. Kolossus is.  It’s a lot of fun and, if the cost of that fun is that Dr. Abramov had to die … well, so be it.

Produced by the Asylum and directed by Christoper Douglas-Olen Ray (who also directed A House Is Not A Home and Shark Week), Mega Shark vs. Kolossus premiered on SyFy right after Roboshark.  I have to admit that, when the film began, I wasn’t sure that anything could successfully follow the brilliance that was Roboshark.

But, Mega Shark vs. Kolossus proved my doubts wrong.

Mega Shark vs. Kolossus is not only a good SyFy film and a worthy entry in the Mega Shark franchise but it’s also a lot of fun.  If I could only pick a handful of movies to justify my love of SyFy and Asylum films, Mega Shark vs. Kolossus would definitely be right there with End of the World and Jersey Shore Shark Attack.  Mega Shark vs. Kolossus has everything — from the knowing humor to the over-the-top action to the flamboyant monsters — that you could possibly want from a SyFy film.

MEGASHARK-VS-KOLOSSUS-1-600x338

At heart, Mega Shark vs. Kolossus is a delirious homage to the old school Godzilla films where Godzilla would have to reluctantly save humanity from yet another giant monster.  (Kolossus is even reminiscent of the robotic Godzilla from Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla.)

As the film starts, the world has been thrown into chaos as the result of all of the previous Mega Shark attacks.  Admiral Jackson (Ernest Thomas) is determined to track down and destroy Mega Shark but Dr. Alison Gray (Illeana Douglas) argues that if we would just leave Mega Shark alone then Mega Shark would leave us alone.  Billionaire Joshua Dane (Brody Hutzler) claims to agree with her but is it possible that he has ulterior motives of his own?  Well, consider this: has there even been a truly benevolent billionaire in an Asylum film?

Meanwhile, in the Ukraine, Kolossus — a giant robot that was created during the Cold War — has accidentally be activated.  Can secret agent Moria King (Amy Rider, who totally kicked ass and who deserves to appear in every subsequent Mega Shark film) and CIA analyst Spencer (Edward DeRuiter, who also wrote the film’s script) figure out how to control Kolossus?

And, finally, will Kolossus and Mega Shark meet and fight?  Well, the answer to that one is right in the title of the film.

Mega Shark vs. Kolossus is delirious fun, a surprisingly well-acted and entertaining homage to the great monster movies of the past.  Obviously, Mega Shark is the top-billed star here but, for me, the film is really stolen by Kolossus.  This behemoth of robotic mayhem dominates almost every scene in which he appears and hopefully, he’ll return for a future movie.  Could Sharktopus vs. Kolossus or Roboshark Meets Kolossus be in the future?  I certainly hope so!

Mega Shark vs. Kolossus is terrific and entertaining.  If you missed it the first time, keep an eye out for a future showing.  You will not be disappointed!

We love you, Kolossus!

We love you, Kolossus!