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!

Let’s Talk About Killer Under The Bed (dir by Jeff Hare)


Killer Under The Bed aired on the Lifetime network back on October 20th and, at first glance, it might sound like a typical lifetime film.

Recent widow Sarah (Kristy Swanson) has moved into a new house and gotten a new job.  She has two teenage daughters, both of whom are still struggling to deal with the death of their father.  The older daughter is Chrissy (Madison Lawlor), the star athlete who is protective of her younger sister, even if she’s not always willing to admit it.  Kilee (Brec Bassinger) meanwhile is struggling to escape from her sister’s shadow and fit in at her new school.

Consider some of what Kilee has to deal with.  The school’s resident mean girls are determined to destroy her.  She has a crush on one of her teachers and he seems to be growing more and more obsessed with her.  Kilee has a secret that she can’t tell her mother or her sister and Kilee fears that everyone blames her for what happened to her father.

As I said, it sounds like a typical Lifetime situation but here’s the twist.  Almost all of Kilee’s problem can be linked to the rather ugly doll that she stumbled across in her new home.  Much like buying weed in Colorado and then trying to sell it for a profit in Wyomng, having a voodoo doll seemed like a good idea at first.  By making wishes, Kilee not only punished the school bully but she also resolved a conflict between her mom and a co-worker.  And when Kilee wished that her teacher would love her, he went from holding her at a polite distance to suddenly sending her flirtatious texts and photoshopping their faces onto wedding advertisements!

But, much like a Colorado weed dealer spending the night in a Wyoming jail, Kilee soon discovers that nothing’s ever as easy as it seems.  Even the best of ideas have consequences.  For one thing, the doll has the power to drive people crazy.  Secondly, the doll itself is a bit possessive and has a temper.  When Chrissy comes across the doll and tries to throw it away, the doll responds by climbing out of the trashcan and reentering the house.  Later, when the school bully tries to steal the doll, the doll responds by attacking her with a knife.  Soon, the doll is crawling around the house, hiding underneath beds, and creating all sorts of mayhem.

Oh my God, this was such a great movie!  From the minute that doll unzipped Kilee’s backpak so that it could escape to raise havoc, I knew I was watching a great film.  Killer Under The Bed is totally over the top and just so wonderfully ludicrous that there’s no way that you can’t have fun watching it.  Between the killer doll, the bullies that were so evil that seemed like they should be plotting against The Avengers, and the perpetually confused teacher, Killer Under The Bed was way too much fun.

In the past, I’ve been told that Lifetime tends to be resistant to horror movies.  They really should rethink that policy.  Killer Under The Bed is one of the most entertaining Lifetime films that I’ve seen in a while.

A Movie A Day #350: The Chase (1994, directed by Adam Rifkin)


Why so serious?

Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) was just an innocent clown who worked birthday parties.  Then he was mistaken for an outlaw clown and was accused of a crime that he did not commit.  When police incompetence led to the only piece of evidence that could exonerate him being tossed out of court, Jack had no choice but to go on the run.  Now, he’s in a stolen car, being pursued by not just the cops but also the tabloid media, and he’s got a hostage.  Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) turns out to be a willing hostage, though.  She is the daughter of Dalton Voss (Ray Wise, playing a character who is literally described as being “the Donald Trump of California) and what better way to act out against her father than to fall in love with her kidnapper and help him as he tries to reach the Mexican border?

What’s this?

A good Charlie Sheen movie that was not directed by Oliver Stone or John Milius?

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Actually, it may be misleading to say that The Chase is good..  By most of the standards used to judge whether or not a film qualifies as being good, The Chase fails.  There’s no real character development.  The plot is as simplistic as a plot can be.  A good deal of the movie could be correctly described as stupid.  But The Chase has got to be one of the most entertainingly stupid movies ever made.  It is about as basic an action comedy as has ever been made.  Almost the entire movie takes place on highway, with jokes mixed in with spectacular car crashes and only-in-the-90s cameos from Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Ron Jeremy.  The pace never lets up, Kristy Swanson again shows that she deserved a better film career than she got, and Henry Rollins plays a cop.  As for Charlie Sheen, he basically plays the same character that he always plays but at least, when The Chase was made, he was still putting a little effort into it.  Maybe because they had already previously worked together in Hot Shots!, Sheen and Swanson have an easy rapport and make even the worse jokes sound passably funny.

The Chase may not be great and it really would have been improved by cameos from Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson but it’s still damn entertaining.

A Movie A Day #277: Deadly Friend (1986, directed by Wes Craven)


Things I learned from watching Deadly Friend:

Girls love nerds who build robots.

In 1986, nerds could build robots that displayed human feelings.

Angry old neighbors hate robots.

If a nerd can build a robot that displays human feelings, then he can also bring his girlfriend back to life by putting a computer chip from the robot in her brain.

Once brought back to life, the girlfriend will start to behave just like the robot.

Basketballs can be used to do anything.

Deadly Friend is best remembered for the scene where the newly revived Samantha (Kristy Swanson) throws a basketball with such force that it causes the head of her neighbor (Anne Ramsey) to explode.  It is also remembered for BB, the big yellow robot that was built by Paul (Matthew Laborteaux).  Deadly Friend starts out as the ultimate nerd fantasy: a beautiful girlfriend. a big robot, and a killer basketball.  By the end of the movie, the fantasy has turned into a nightmare.

Deadly Friend was Wes Craven’s follow-up to A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Craven intended for the film to be a dark love story between a teenage outcast and his zombie girlfriend, with a strong emphasis on the hypocrisy of the adults around them.  Craven said that, in his version of Deadly Friend, people like Samantha’s abusive father were meant to be scarier than Zombie Samantha With A Microchip In Her Brain.  Warner Bros. wanted a film that would appeal to teenage horror fans and demanded Elm Street-stlye nightmares and buckets of more blood.  As a result, Craven practically disowned the finished movie and Deadly Friend is a tonally inconsistent, with sentimental first love scenes competing for space with heads exploding and necks being snapped.  Despite good performances from Laborteaux and Swanson, the final film is too much of a mess to work.  However, I know that I will never look at a basketball the same way again.

A Movie A Day #171: The Program (1993, directed by David S. Ward)


There’s not a single sports cliché that goes untouched in The Program.

A veteran college football coach who, after two disappointing seasons, is now being told that he must get wins at any cost?  Check!

A cocky senior quarterback who is trying to live up to his father’s expectations?  Check!

A cocky freshman who matures during the season?  Check!

A cocky NFL prospect who suffers a career ending injury?  Check!

Corrupt rich backers?  Check!

Beer?  Check!

Steroids?  Check!

Hazing?  Check!

Football groupies?  Check!

Halle Berry wasted in a one-note role?  Check!

Kristy Swanson as the one girl on campus who is not impressed by football?  Check!  Check!  Check!

The Program has its good points.  James Caan does a good job as the coach and Andrew Bryniarski, playing a player who is always on the verge of flying into roid rage, dominates every scene in which he appears.  Kristy Swanson looks good in a tennis outfit, so it’s not all bad.  But Craig Sheffer is neither credible nor likable as the star quarterback and there is not a single scene that won’t be seen coming.

When The Program came out in 1993, it included a scene where the team bonded by laying down in the middle of a busy street, while cars zoomed by on either side of them.  Things turned out alright for the people in the movie but, for the idiots who tried to imitate the stunt in real life, it was a different story.  It turns out that, in real life, drivers don’t always stay in their lane and, if you lay down in the middle of the street, there is a good chance that you are going to get run over.  After several deaths, the scene was taken out of the film.  If you’re going to die for a movie, do it for a movie better than The Program.

Halloween Film Review: Highway to Hell (1991, directed by Ate de Jong)


Highway to HellHighway to Hell, a low-budget take on the legend of Orpheus, opens with a young couple, Charlie (Chad Lowe) and Rachel (Kristy Swanson), driving to Las Vegas so they can elope.  When they stop to get gas, Sam (Richard Farnsworth) warns them not to drive on the back roads at night.  Charlie ignores him and the couple continues to drive through the desert until they are suddenly pulled over by Sgt. Bedlam (C.J. Graham), a scarred and mostly silent demon who is also known as the Hellcop.  The Hellcop drags Rachel out of the car and then vanishes with her.  Charlie returns to the gas station, where Sam tells him that Rachel has been kidnapped to Hell and will become Satan’s latest wife.  After Sam gives him a shotgun and a car, Charlie heads into Hell to rescue Rachel.

Charlie discovers that Hell is even stranger than he was expecting.  The highways are full of VW bugs and motorcycle gangs.  Charlie passes a road crew made up of Andy Warhol look-alikes.  (In a clever touch, they also work for the Good Intentions Company.)  When Charlie stop to pick up a hitchhiker (played by Lita Ford), he is suddenly attacked by a crazed ice cream man.  Occasionally, a friendly mechanic (Patrick Bergin) shows up and helps Charlie out.  The mechanic’s first name is Beezle.  Did you already guess that his last name is Bub?

There are parts of Highway To Hell that do not work.  Chad Lowe seems lost as Charlie and Highway To Hell’s abrupt ending feels like it belongs in a totally different film.  But Highway to Hell has enough odd characters and weird moments to make it worth watching.  For instance, I liked the scene where the Hellcop stops off at a roadside diner that is full of zombies.  Anne Meara plays the counterwoman who won’t stop talking long enough to take anyone’s order.  (It is Hell, after all.)  Jerry Stiller shows up as another cop and, finally, Ben Stiller plays a short order cook who won’t stop yelling.  Ben Stiller actually plays two roles in this movie.  Later, he shows up as Atillia the Hun, eating breakfast with Hitler (Gilbert Gottfried!) and Cleopatra (Amy Stiller).  Hitler tries to convince them that he is actually a teenager named Bob and that he was sent to Hell accidentally.

Despite the film’s title, AC/DC is nowhere to be heard on the Highway to Hell soundtrack, which is obviously a missed opportunity.  In fact, with the exception of Lita Ford’s cameo, there is no metal to be found in Hell which seems strange considering that this movie was made in 1991.  Music aside, Highway to Hell is an entertaining journey into the underworld.

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Val’s Movie Roundup #15: Hallmark Edition


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Citizen Jane (2009) – I was quite surprised that this was actually a Hallmark movie. The acting was strong. The story stayed focused. They actually bothered shooting in San Francisco. This almost could have been a small time B-Movie or something I would expect from Lifetime.

It begins with Jane Alexander’s (Ally Sheedy) aunt being murdered. Jane lives with a man named Tom O’Donnell (Sean Patrick Flanery) and it’s never really a mystery that he did it. The film is about how they prove it. Jane has assistance from Detective Jack Morris (Meat Loaf). I think Meat Loaf did a great job and so does Sheedy. We care, we follow, we get a decent movie. The only problem I found is the same one that was in the Lifetime movie Cleveland Abduction (2015). That movie was also based on real events. Even not knowing the true story behind it, you could tell that the film was a superficial treatment that needed much more time to properly tell the story. The same is true here. At times things will feel like they just jumped from one gear to another. Otherwise, it’s one of the most well made of the Hallmark mystery type movies. Even if there isn’t much of a mystery to it. More like mystery in the Columbo sense of the word where we know exactly what happened, but find out how the person is going to be caught.

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Garage Sale Mystery: The Wedding Dress (2015) – Again, it’s time for Jennifer (Lori Loughlin) to get involved in a mystery. This time she is at an estate sale and when she returns to her shop she discovers that among the things she has purchased is a vintage 1970’s wedding dress. Great! Except there are blood stains in a pocket. And thank god there are. I say that because this establishes a good reason for her to be investigating while the cops don’t. That’s really nice when it comes to the recent deluge of these murder mystery movies that Hallmark is producing. Usually the woman just comes across as a busybody who should just mind her own business. Here she has something that should spark her interest and the further she looks into it, the more she has a reason to bring her police officer friend into the case. It’s still heavily sanitized in the way you expect from these movies. However, for this series, I think it’s the best one I have seen so far.

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Love Under the Stars (2015) – When you boil it down to the basic plot, this is like the Hallmark movie Class (2010). Except it’s much better. It’s about a college girl played by Ashley Newbrough who needs to come up with her thesis in child psychology. Her college advisor played by Barry Bostwick has a niece that teaches a fourth grade class and has Newbrough go there for inspiration. She meets a guy played by Wes Brown who is raising a daughter as a single parent because the mother/wife has passed away. It plays out the way you expect it to and the way Class did, but it’s just better the whole way through. Especially Wes Brown. We can easily understand why she is attracted to him, but he also comes across well as a loving father who appears happy, but also has an underground river of fear and concern for his daughter constantly flowing through him. He is the real reason the film works as well as it does. Newbrough is pretty good too, but she basically walks around the film like she’s hot and horny, to put it bluntly, all the time she’s with him. It makes it difficult to take her character seriously as a real person the way we do with him. In particular, when it comes to her backstory of also losing her mother and the development of the relationship with the daughter. They should have had her dial it back a bit and act less like an infatuated teenager.

Also, the daughter (Jaeda Lily Miller) is a little annoying. I don’t think it’s the actresses fault so much as it is the way her character is written. I don’t think they give her enough credit and let her be more like a real kid with problems, then a cardboard cut out of a troubled child. A little tweaking of her character would have helped.

I really did like the use of the counting thing. When the father leaves her off at school or somewhere else, he counts down a few seconds because he knows she will turn around, usually opening a door, in order to wave to him one more time. She’s afraid he might be gone like her mother is forever. It’s a really nice touch that of course pays off in the end.

All around, this is one of the top tier Hallmark movies I have seen so far.

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Operation Cupcake (2012) – I mentioned not giving the character of the daughter enough credit in Love Under The Stars and the problem is in this film too. This is about Army Colonel Griff Carson (Dean Cain) who comes home on leave to his wife Janet (Kristy Swanson) who runs a cupcake shop. The whole thing is about Griff adjusting to civilian life while also awaiting a possible promotion to General. The problem is they don’t give this guy enough credit. Instead, they drag out his adjustment way too long. It shouldn’t have taken him so long and the change should have been more gradual rather than played for laughs as long as it could. He works at the shop with his wife, and there was at least one scene where you wonder if he actually comes from the Army. He is mobbed by a ton of people at the cupcake store that he suddenly has to service. He doesn’t really attempt to put some of his training to use in order take a bunch of unruly people and get them to act in a civilized manner. The scene doesn’t work and the movie just doesn’t really work either. I think they should have had Cain’s character transition more gradually rather than having him be essentially a brick wall that only comes down in the end. Hallmark avoided that with Recipe For Love and that’s why it is one of my favorites. I also think that Dean Cain was miscast. I have difficultly buying any kind of machismo from his character. He just doesn’t fit the part. This is one that’s fine if you wind up catching it by chance, but don’t put your lure out into the Hallmark waters explicitly to see it.

Final note: I didn’t even notice till I was looking at the credits, but Donna Pescow is in this. She was a baker at the store who has some back and forth with Cain. Of course for most people she is from Saturday Night Fever (1977), but I will always remember her as the mom on the TV Show Out Of This World. Makes me want to break out my bootleg copies of that show. To the best of my knowledge, they still haven’t released that show on DVD.