Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review: The Prowler (1981)

The Prowler seems like one of those films that got lost and forgotten in the myriad of slashers released in the 80s - movies that came in the wake of classics like Halloween and Friday the 13th. And to some degree, it sort of deserves to be lost because in some ways, The Prowler just isn't that great. It falls victim  to the cliches of a lot of slashers - an empty storyline, one dimensional characters, etc. - BUT there are some places where the film succeeds, which has maybe saved it from obscurity over the years.

A plot of hack-n-slash: A soldier returning from World War II receives a Dear John letter from his lady, Rosemary, saying she's tired of waiting for him and has found a new man. This rightfully pisses soulja boy off, and he gets revenge by murdering the two of them on the night of the Graduation Dance. Cut to the present - well, 1981 - and the dance hasn't been held in Avalon Bay since the murders. This year it's back, and someone apparently has a problem with that because a "prowler" is stalking kids at the local college dorm and murdering them in gruesome ways.

The story is as thin as a piece of rice paper and never really tries to make any kind of sense. The characters are not interesting at all and you never care all that much when they are disposed of. I figured out who the killer was pretty much as soon as he showed up on screen, and the filmmakers never even really try to make anybody else a red herring. It's too obvious. So then his reveal at the end of the film is not dramatic or shocking but sadly anticlimactic. And his motives never make sense, either. I still don't get it. I did like that the sheriff was played by Farley Granger, though. That was awesome. Loved you in Rope, dude.

Watching all of the bloody and violent deaths in The Prowler, I'm immediately struck by the high quality of the effects. They truly stand out in this film because of how well they are done - and after I watched the film I found out why. Yes, that master of horror makeup Tom Savini (if his name was in the credits, then I must have totally missed it) was the mind behind the film's impressive prosthetic work. And it's a good thing they had Tom for this film because the director and editor seemed to like using lots of unnecessarily long lingering shots on the death scenes, which would have turned out much worse if the makeup hadn't been as effective.

Let's highlight these death scenes, shall we? The first one is Rosemary and the BF getting pitchforked (yes, it's a verb now because I want it to be) while they're making out. You don't see much in this scene, but don't worry, there's more to come. Then that one chick's boyfriend gets a knife through the top of his head which penetrates all the way to under his chin. It gets even more gruesome when his eyes pop open and all you see are the whites. Shudder! The only weird thing is that it takes him a really long time to die even though he gets stabbed directly in the BRAIN. Then the girl taking the longest shower in the history of the world gets pitchforked in the gut. This death is the best one, I'd say, because again, the director likes to linger and the shots of the pitchfork in her chest look very realistic. Thumbs up. 

The second best looking death is the throat slashing of the girl in the pool, which was awesome because he doesn't just slit her throat all quick like. No, he freaking saws that thing into her neck until the blade is almost all the way in, without the shot cutting away at all. Good blood spurting and good prosthetics. Although with the lingering thing AGAIN, there is a very strangely composed shot of the girl's dead body underwater that goes on for way too long, as if something was going to happen - but didn't. It's just weird. Back to the gore, the near-ending of the film gives us one fantastic head explosion courtesy of a shotgun at point-blank range. Nice!

This movie rips off way too many other more superior horror flicks and never once manages to do anything remotely original itself. The music sounds like Friday the 13th at times with the high, screechy noises during those oh-so-scary parts; the killer is a slow moving, emotionless stalker like Michael Myers; and the ending is pretty much completely bitten from Carrie. This annoyed me the most. The music is, again, almost exactly the same as from the ending of Carrie, with the slow, pretty music as Pam walks into the room which immediately escalates into high pitched chords as soon as the guy in the shower reaches out and grabs her arm. And what was the point of this ending anyway? Was this a dream, like in Carrie? Are we really supposed to believe that the guy in the shower could still be alive? And will somebody please turn that shower off because it's been running all night and you are wasting some serious natural resources right there!

Two more random questions: How the fuck did the killer's pitchfork break just by Pam pulling on it?

Why can Final Girls never get out of a door that is locked from the inside? Flip the lock, you stupid bitch!

I'm coming down on The Prowler a lot, but it kind of deserves it. It's an okay set up for a slasher flick that's been used in one way or another in other films, but this one doesn't have any good characters or plot progression to make it interesting. The no-name actors aren't terrible in their roles, which helps the film immensely, but the too-simple story and odd editing choices are mostly what hurt the film. I'd say watch this to admire Tom Savini's gore work - it's still good even by today's standards - and don't expect to be scared or shocked by anything else you see here.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Graboid Week: Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004)

The legend begins and the series ends! Thank you! Because this frankly unnecessary fourth chapter in the Tremors Book of Awesomeness simply does not live up to the rest of the films, especially the first one.

The end of the Graboids: It's 1889 in the town of Rejection, Nevada, and the town's only lifeblood is the nearby silver mine. When several workers are killed by an unseen beast and the mine closes, the owner, Hiram Gummer (Michael Gross), comes from Philadelphia to check things out. New graboids have hatched and the people of Rejection vow to fight them off rather than leave their town.

Oh, Tremors 4, where did you go wrong? Well for one thing, you're BORING. Bo-ring. There are way too many lulls in action throughout the entire movie and not enough freaking graboid action! I had to watch this movie again in about three sittings because it couldn't hold my interest enough for the duration. There's a little bit of action, then a 20 minute lull, then a bit more action, then a lull... blah blah blah.

Michael Gross takes an interesting turn with his new character of the snooty mine owner who is completely out of place in the Wild West. His dialogue is still rather funny, but nothing laugh-out-loud. All the other main characters are nothing special, although it's nice to see that one guy who played Randolph in Free Willy. Remember him? He plays Tecopa, the Native American who tells his ancestors' legends of beasts in the dirt. How convenient.

The only other character of note is Black Hand Kelly, the outlaw gunfighter Hiram brings in to help fight the graboids. He has a few nice moments, especially when he's trying to teach Hiram how to shoot a gun, but he's soon eatted up by a big ole graboid...  and you wonder why he was even there in the first place. His death is one of the few in the entire movie, which is kind of a disappointment. You'd think with all the people just walking around like they do that some unlucky soul would fall prey to the worms, but - and sorry to spoil the ending - all the main characters survive. They could have at least had one dramatic death to shake things up a bit, like Walter in the first movie, but not so much.

The acting is actually not terrible and thankfully never steeps into the cheesiness it comes so close to. This is a nice testament to both the writers and the actors and how they manage to keep the seriousness of the movies alive, despite their fantastical and potentially cheesy nature. The first movie wasn't really that much of a success financially and only gained its cult status through VHS sales and later on, through its numerous runs on television. It is much beloved by fans and the fact that it even had any sequels, much less three, shows that the filmmakers made them to satisfy the fans and didn't want to do wrong by them.

The mechanical graboids are back, people! But first we get to see them as cute little baby graboids that attack Hiram and the miners' camp near the mine. They're about two feet long and can come flying out of the dirt to bite people's heads off or in a coordinated effort pull people under the ground. The big daddy graboids they grow up to be look pretty awesome, especially when we get to see two of them come out of the ground at the same time. No CGI for these dudes, and you know that's how I like it. They look just as good as they did in the first film, orange mucus-y blood and all.

At the end, all three graboids are disposed of rather quickly and without much fanfare. The residents agree not to ever tell anyone about the "dirt dragons," which explains how since this is a prequel that there aren't any records of them like it was established in the first movie. The town's name is changed to Perfection, and everyone lives happily ever after. HO HUM.

Like I said, not as cool as the other movies. It's nice to see the graboids as babies and all, and Michael Gross provides a nice thread throughout the films, but this one was too slow and the comedy that gave the first movie its real charm just wasn't there. See it once just to see it, maybe, but don't expect much.

I could do a short review of the Tremors television series, but I am not THAT much of a dork, thank you very much. Plus, I've never seen any of the episodes and I don't want to go looking for them. Anybody seen them? Are they any good?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Graboid Week: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

Two down, two to go. As the title says, Tremors 3, the third installment of this monsterifically comedic series brings us back to the little desert town known as Perfection (always loved the  name, BTW) where the residents must once again fight off an invasion of the ancient graboid monsters.

Fans of the series will be ecstatic to see a lot of memorable faces from the first Tremors film - played by all the same actors - Burt (of course), Miguel, Nancy and Mindy, and Melvin, as well as a new proprietor of the grocery store, Jodi, who I'm thinking may be Walter Chang's granddaughter or something. I love that all these actors came back 11 years later for a straight-to-video sequel of a little monster movie. Shows they knew how popular and loved the series was and that they were willing to keep it that way.

It feels like this movie should be the concluding chapter of a trilogy with all the references to both the first and second movie. Perfection has become the Home of the Graboid with new tourists attractions and souvenirs at Chang's Market. The characters use a lot of the same techniques to fight the graboids and a cute little reference is made about the low-tech effects of a graboid heading toward people - dust blowing up and wooden fence posts being knocked down one by one. This happens during a tourist trap theme ride through Perfection Valley run by the very annoying Jack Sawyer.

The writers actually seemed to care enough about the "integrity" of the series to logically move this next movie forward in terms of the lore of the graboids and add in lots of fun new stuff about the new mutation the graboids take on. So their life cycle goes like this apparently: they go from graboid, to shrieker, to ass blaster, back to graboid. They lay dormant in their eggs for at least 300 years (???) before they grow up and wreak havoc.

Now these new mutants, the ass blasters (cleverly named by Jodi), have some interesting stuff going on. They can fly, they have flammable acids in their bodies, if they eat enough they go into a food coma, and they shoot off like rockets when flames come out of their butt. Gives 'em quite an edge but also makes them vulnerable to flaming arrows shot out of a quickly crafted potato gun. Good to know.

The thing I keep saying I love about the original movie was the use of a real mechanical graboid to interact with the actors, but for this movie the filmmakers seem to have forgotten how cool that was because nearly all the effects are CGI. Of course with flying ass blasters and stuff it would be almost impossible to do mechanical effects but most of the actual graboids are CG as well. It's neat to see the main graboid - a sterile albino dubbed "El Blanco" by Miguel - sort of undulating as he's eating someone or something but it just doesn't feel the same. It's too obvious and doesn't bring the same kind of realness that the other films had.

But this sequel isn't too bad. It moves faster than the second film and tries as hard as it can to be funny and ironic in some instances - and for the most part succeeds. I like the new character of Jodi, she's just as lovable and funny as Walter Chang and measures up well against Burt, who is funny simply because of who he is. And he gets a very cool little scene when he gets eatted up by a graboid while hiding in a barrel, and must be cut out of its stomach by Jack - with a chain saw. Awwwwwesome.

The sequence in the junk yard where Burt, Jack and Jodi take out the ass blasters with the aforementioned potato gun is well done. It also ends nicely when they force El Blanco into cannibalism by making him eat the last ass blaster. Gotta do what you gotta do.

At the end, El Blanco becomes Perfection's pet, kept around by the residents to prevent Melvin and his real estate company from building condos or whatever and "eminent domaning" them off of their property. I don't see this working out too well in the long run, but I wish them the best of luck. All in all, I'd say the series is still fairly strong with this installment. It's a quick, fun, and interesting monster movie that's loyal to the series - taking it as seriously as possible and bringing something new to the lore of the graboid. I don't hate it, I really don't. I'd still rather watch the first one, though, that goes without saying. You just can't beat that awesomeness.  

Also, R.I.P. Miguel! Not cool, filmmakers, not cool at all. Miguel was awesome. And when I can go see the Siegfried and Roy show with the live ass blaster?! Anybody got word on that? Free tickets or something?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Graboid Week: Tremors 2: Aftershocks (1996)

Ah, Tremors 2. The beginning of the straight-to-video Tremors sequels brings us a new location, new graboids, new wit, and a new bromance love interest for Earl Bassett. It's not as good as the first film, but this sequel from 1996 (damn, I never realized there was such a gap between the two) is actually quite good.

They're back!: Graboids have been attacking people at an oil refinery in Mexico and Earl and the new guy, Grady Hoover, are brought in to eliminate the creatures for a big payday. Things seem to go alright for the monster hunters at first until the graboids reveal that they've got something new up their sleeves.

The movie starts off in a fun way with the reluctant Earl going down to Mexico with the overzealous fan Grady as his sidekick. In the first movie, there were only four graboids total that had to be dealt with, but the numbers have grown exponentially in the second film. There are some funny montages of the buddies blasting away at several graboids with a very cool weapon - dynamite attached to remote-controlled cars.

Unfortunately, it's almost an hour before the movie decides to up the ante with the graboids. Michael Gross shows up first and brings his comedic genius back to the role of Burt Gummer, who is still just as prepared as ever for World War 3. Nice to have you back, sir, truly. Anyway, his return helps stop the film from slowing down completely before the new twist on the movie shows up at about exactly hour one. That'd be my only complaint about the movie is that it takes a little too long to get to the new action. This is a sequel, you know, so something different has GOT to happen.

Things get interesting when Earl and Grady run into one of the creatures that's acting all sluggish and making weird noises. Hmm, what's going on? Turns out the big bastards have EVOLVED. One worm can morph into three cute little graboid-like bipeds with frog legs. The absolute funniest part of the movie is when Burt returns to the refinery after being ambushed by dozens of the creatures and gives a hilarious monologue about how he was able to fend them off. I would include it verbatim here, but that means I'd have to go back and find it on my DVD and type it all out and stuff, and I can't do that right now because my pizza is getting cold.

Don't you just love the hi-techness of the seismographs they use? A blue screen with a little square icon for Grady and Earl's truck and a red oval shaped icon for the graboids. And it does that fast beeping thing when a graboid gets nearby. Whoa, dudes, that's up there in the technology field. Impressive.

That was my sarcastic voice, in case you didn't catch that.

Speaking of technology, how 'bout those graboids! Again, in the effects department the Tremors movies do okay. There's a bit more CGI here than the first film but only when the graboid-babies have to do acrobatic shit like hop on each other's backs and stuff. Oh, and the running. They run like raptors, did you notice that? And raptors are scary so that helps in making the graboid-babies a little freakier too. It also helps to show one of them chowing down on Julio's freaking LEG while Kate helplessly watches through the window. Yuck.

There was evidence of a budding romance between Rhonda and Val in the first film, confirmed at the end when they have their big, smoochy kiss, and confirmed again when Earl mentions in Tremors 2 that they got married. Seems Earl was left out of the love loop, which is sad. What, the older guy can't get the girls? Only the cute and funny friend? However, his chance comes around in the sequel when Kate Riley, the oil company's geologist, is introduced. Another woman in the role of the scientific expert. I like it. Kate's a cool woman whom Earl immediately likes and Kate likes back. There's a great scene where the two of them surreptitiously check out each other's butts. That's true love, y'all.

Oh, oh! I just remembered! The graboid-babies are dubbed "shriekers" in the third movie. That was bugging me all day. I like "graboid-babies" better, though. Makes them sound cuter, which they kinda are.

Anyway. So there's some graboids, some graboid-baby births, some exploding graboid-babies, some more games of rock-paper-scissors, and one big ass oil refinery explosion at the end. Not a bad follow-up to the highly popular creature feature from ye olde 1990 that manages to continue the story along and keep all the elements about the original that we loved so much. One and a half thumbs up.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Graboid Week: Tremors (1990)

That's right, folks. It's the marathon you've all been waiting for - THE TREMORS MARATHON. You better be ready for this.

Tremors is a dearly beloved little creature feature that has been a favorite of mine, and probably MILLIONS of others, for years. Whenever it was on TV (and it played a lot on USA for a while back there), my sister or I would only have to yell through the house "Tremors is on!!!" and the other would come running. A few years ago, I got the Tremors "Attack Pack" DVD with all four movies in it (quick go out and buy it now) so they're all at my disposal.

The Graboid filled plot: An impossibly small and isolated desert town called Perfection is infested by huge, man-eating, worm-like creatures that travel underground. Two buddy handymen, a visiting seismologist, and a couple who collects every gun known to man are amongst the people who must rid their town of these monsters.

Oh, Tremors, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways and junk. As I sit here thinking about how to give a fair review, which to me includes also talking about any flaws in a film, I honestly cannot come up with anything that doesn't work, at least for me, in Tremors. Aside from one small shot where the effects are not as well done, Tremors is actually so well done that I can't think of hardly any nitpicks. The comedy, the creature effects, the acting, the logical actions of the characters, the characters themselves - they are all truly awesome.

Very much similar to Animals Run Amok, Creature Features are high on my list of horror movie awesomeness. And I think we've got possibly the best of best right here. Is it exaggerating to call Tremors a masterpiece of B movies? Methinks no.

And the movie actually almost moves out of the realm of B movie simply because of how good it is. The creature effects are so good, it's ridiculous. Amazing old-fashioned mechanical effects as opposed to obvious CGI help the film's believability and effectiveness. The graboids are really there acting with the actors and they look real - you know, if graboids were actually real in the first place.

Like I've said before, horror comedies always walk that fine line between genuine smart wit and cheesiness while having to still be great in the horror sense. In both of these aspects, Tremors excels. I'd say that's probably the best thing about the film overall, is how seriously it takes itself. There's none of those annoying fights about how this couldn't be possible, that creatures like this couldn't exist, whatever.  The characters all take what is happening at face value, mostly with the help of the requisite expert in the field, Rhonda the seismology student, and do whatever they can to fight these monsters.

The action is well placed and exciting with lots of changes in location and methods by the characers of how to deal with the situation. There's improvised pole-vaulting (who knew that THAT would be such a handy skill to have), sneak attacks with Burt's homemade bombs, and one of the best scenes where a graboid busts through the wall of Burt and Heather's rec room and they shoot the shit out of it with their scary collection of guns. They manage to kill all the graboids in a different way - and in smart ways. The characters are represented as sort of hicks who live in the shittiest little town (seriously, with a population of about 10, can you even call it a town?) but they are resourceful and smart and you want them all to survive this. Except maybe Melvin. With a name like that anyway, it'd be a favor to him if he got eatted up by a graboid.

Sorry. That was harsh. You're okay, Melvin. Just a little annoying.

The awesomest thing about Tremors is of course what I believe Andre at the Horror Digest referred to as the bromance between Val (Kevin Bacon) and Earl ( Fred Ward). These two actors work perfectly off each other and have such a funny but still lovable relationship. Their moments together are some of the funniest in the movie. Their little games of rock-paper-scissors? Cute. So cute. However, survivalist Burt Gummer runs a very close second to being the best thing about the movie, and he is the only character aside from the graboids to appear in all four movies. Thank you, Mr. Gummer. Without you, some of those sequels just wouldn't work.

If you look at my Facebook page, one of my quotes is from this movie. It's when Val and Earl take the horses to Bixbie and as they're gearing up, Walter comes up and says, "Earl, here's some Swiss cheese and some bullets." Nonsequitor? Yup. Funny? Oh, yeah! But there are SO MANY other hilarious highlights that it's a wonder Tremors isn't quoted more:

"Damn, Burt, what's in those things?" (asking about the bombs)
"A few household chemicals in the proper proportions."

"Yeah, well, I guess when I'm your age, I'll forget what I eat too."

"You see, we plan ahead that way we don't do anything right now. Earl explained it to me."

"Stay on those residual boulders!"

If you still haven't seen Tremors, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. A wonderful comedy, and still an exciting monster movie at the same time, it is truly one of the best of its kind. And if you don't fall in love with Val and Earl, well then you're just weird. 

Sidenote: Never liked how the poster shows the Graboid as having teeth like an alligator. Where did that come from?