Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mini-Monsterthon: Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

I normally try to close out these marathons with something really good, but that's not entirely necessary. Even bad movies have their appeal, and though Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth is pretty much the precise point where the franchise jumped the tracks and started to speed downhill, it ends up doing so with a certain idiotic panache. To its credit it does actually build from some of the story developments of Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but it blows its potential with a dull buildup followed by a ridiculous payoff.

Mini-Monsterthon: Child's Play

Chucky is an anomaly among movie slashers, and not just because he's battery operated. The killer doll with a foul mouth came in at the tail end of the 80s slasher craze, and the original Child's Play doesn't follow most of the familiar clich├ęs of the genre. Instead of taking a small group of gullible people, throwing them in an enclosed space and killing them one at a time, Child's Play actually tells a fairly ambitious story mixing the supernatural and psychological, and putting a lot of effort and effects money towards selling the illusion of an evil My Buddy toy. It's fairly restrained and reasonably slick, and if it backs away from exploring the satiric possibilities of its premise, it manages to spin a good yarn anyway.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mini-Monsterthon: Night of the Creeps

Blending comedy and horror is something filmmakers have done a lot, but it's always fraught with peril. Unless you're outright spoofing the genre, you have to balance the tone and make sure the audience doesn't get whiplash, and too often a horror comedy (or comedic horror film, or whatever) will turn into a bland mush without the courage of either conviction. Night of the Creeps stays on the lighter side of the equation for about 90% of the time, throws in just enough drama to keep things interesting, and the resulting mixture is fairly pleasant. There are a few amateur touches and some problems with the story, but it's definitely one of the good B-movies.

A strange canister is ejected from an alien spacecraft and lands on Earth in 1959, disgorging a worm creature that burrows itself into the head of a local college student. Local scientists put the student on ice, until years later, when freshmen Chris (Jason Lively) and J.C. (Steve Marshall) accidentally thaw him out when trying to pull a prank to get into the college's most exclusive fraternity, so that the former can get closer to sorority dreamgirl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow.) The unfrozen student, now a host for alien brain worms, soon dies explosively and releases many of the sluglike creatures, which hide around campus and slowly start infecting people, just in time for the big dance.

This is a very silly film, which is established when the first scenes of the films show babylike aliens shooting rayguns at each other in a half-scale corridor. The 50s sequences are shot mostly in black and white, there are references to that immortal alien-undead classic Plan Nine from Outer Space, and Cynthia Cronenberg isn't the only character named after a prominent genre director. J.C., a nice amiable paraplegic, provides some gentle comic relief, and the Beta fraternity is straight out of Animal House (or one of its many ripoffs.) By 1986, the initial wave of slasher films had played itself out, and there was a move towards different, more inventive kinds of horror, including the comical. Night of the Creeps checks off a few of the required cliches, including gratuitous sex and violence, but doesn't overdose on either- there's a certain comic restraint that makes it agreeable.

The film isn't entirely a comedy, and its detours into more serious horror have mixed results. There's a lengthy subplot involving Tom Atkins as a detective obsessed with a serial killer who axed his estranged girlfriend on that fateful night in 1959, and it's never clear how seriously we're supposed to take all this, and though it's relevant to the overall story it feels like a subplot that's been grafted on. More successful is a scene involving one character's enslavement by the creatures and their strange, heartfelt goodbye as the alien mind takes over.

The best moments of the film are when it's focusing on delivering full creature feature mayhem in all its implausibility. It's never really scary, but it's lively and inventive, with one sequence in particular anticipating Peter Jackson's Brain Dead. The climax revolves around an attack on the sorority house by zombified fraternity brothers, which leads to the classic line, "The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is, they're dead." It's that kind of movie.

Night of the Creeps isn't the most memorable of horror comedies but it's successful at negotiating the balance between the two genres, and that's a rare accomplishment in and of itself. It's got a solid if occasionally oddly constructed story, some interesting visuals, and an overall good-natured vibe that makes one inclined to forgive its shortcomings. It's a solid addition to any seasonal horror marathon, warts and all.

Written and Directed by Fred Dekker

Grade: B

Saturday, October 26, 2013

In Theaters: Gravity

Gravity poster

I'm writing this review under a bit of a time crunch, partly because I want to jump ahead to Halloween stuff but also because Gravity is a film that needs to be caught while it's in theaters, and while it's playing in 3-D on a good large screen. The movie is a rare event, a roadshow spectacle, and that makes it a little hard to judge. The common thinking that if a movie is so dependent on visual splendor that it needs to be seen in the best circumstances to have its full impact, it can't be that good. But the impact Gravity has is so powerful that it feels unfair to downgrade it for its exclusivity. I of course expected great things when the director of Children of Men tackled science fiction (or something like it) again, but had my doubts as to how to sustain the story of two people lost in the void of space. But the film's conceptual simplicity is its great strength, resulting in a disciplined, tense, and beautiful experience, one which shows just how difficult it can be to cling to our lives.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Frasierquest 5.15: Room Service

Lilith and Niles, the morning after

Lilith: Stan was a contractor we had hired to extend our master bedroom.  It's ironic, isn't it - no sooner do I get the closet of my dreams than my husband comes out of it.

Three straight classics in a row is rare for any show, even one as good and long-lived as Frasier. "Room Service" is, again, an example of bedroom farce, but not quite as pure a genre riff as "Ski Lodge". Instead it's there to move along some character relationships and get even further mileage out of the story of Lilith Sternin, the one woman Frasier can never keep out of his life. At least here he makes some emotional progress.