Friday, June 20, 2014

Worth Mentioning - Squelch with a Vengeance

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody watches more killer toys, Jason drives a big rig, Sandler loves Barrymore, and Paul Kersey is still killing bad guys.


DOLLS (1987)

In the midst of making adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories (Re-Animator, From Beyond) for producer Charles Band, Stuart Gordon also directed a project for Band's Empire Pictures that had subject matter much more along the lines of Band's usual output, something that seems to be dear to the producer's heart. Small creatures that kill people. In this case, as evident from the title, the creatures were killer dolls.

The screenplay by Ed Naha has a very fairy tale-esque quality to it, and that feeling translates to the finished film.

The lead character is a seven-year-old girl named Judy, who has been dragged along on a European vacation with her inattentive father David and his new wife/Judy's new wicked stepmother Rosemary. When their rental car becomes bogged down on the muddy road while this dysfunctional family is driving in a forested area during a dark and stormy night, the three are forced to abandon it and seek shelter.

While they trek through the forest, Rosemary cruelly takes Judy's beloved teddy bear away from her and tosses it into the bushes. Being a very imaginative little girl, Judy daydreams that teddy comes back for revenge, now a giant that towers over her father and stepmother, transforming into a vicious beat and tearing into them. The image of this bear-monster in the woods, illuminated by sporadic flashes of lightning, used to freak me out when I would watch this movie as a young child.

Eventually, the trio comes across a large old home nestled deep in the woods. Entering the home, they find it's inhabited by an elderly couple, Gabriel and Hilary Hartwicke, and a great many dolls, as Gabriel is a doll maker.

Soon, three more travelers are forced in by the storm - nice guy American Ralph, and a pair of wild punk rock chick hitchhikers he picked up, Isabel and Enid.

Gabriel and Hilary feed their surprise guests, then provide them all with bedrooms to spend the night in. But as the storm continues to rage outside, the night that commences is anything but restful.

The trouble starts when Isabel leaves her room to go snooping around the house for items to steal. Instead of scoring some ill-gotten gains, Isabel finds herself being attacked by a small - in more than one way - army of Gabriel's dolls, who repeatedly bash her face into the wall, then drag the bloody woman off down a hallway... as Judy watches.

From that point on, the characters try to figure out just what is going on in the Hartwicke home. Judy finds a supportive friend in Ralph, but the more unpleasant of the houseguests get picked off one-by-one in bloody, brutal ways - shot down by toy soldiers, attacked by dolls wielding knives and saws - and then are magically transformed into dolls themselves.

As it turns out, all of the dolls in the house used to be people, people who didn't live up to the Hartwickes' standard of what it means to be a good person. And everyone who gets punished during this long, stormy night, "the longest night in the world", certainly deserved to receive some punishment.

It's almost a shame that there is so much blood and violence to the doll attacks in this film, because without it Dolls could more easily be widely accepted as a good, although creepy, kids movie. It even has a perfect running time to be enjoyed by little tykes, a mere 74 minutes.

The blood and violence didn't keep it from being a movie that was in my regular viewing rotation when I was young, I watched Dolls a whole bunch of times on cable TV while being babysat by my grandmother. I was such an established fan of Dolls at such a young age that when Puppet Master II, another Charles Band production, hit video shelves when I was just seven-years-old, I rented it immediately, thinking it was a sequel to that doll movie I liked. And that is how I became a fan of the Puppet Master series.

The movie's cast all played their roles well, with Guy Rolfe (who went on to play puppet master Andre Toulon) and Hilary Mason coming off kindly and otherworldly as the Hardwickes, Ian Patrick Williams and especially Carolyn Purdy-Gordon being appropriately despicable as Judy's parental figures, and Cassie Stuart and Bunty Bailey (who was The Girl in the famous music video for a-ha's "Take On Me") being an amusing presence as the punk rock mini-Madonnas.

The astoundingly tiny Carrie Lorraine is adorable as the daydream-prone Judy, while Stephen Lee makes Ralph one of the most endearingly sweet and pure hearted adult males ever put on film. At times, he even has a sort of Lou Costello vibe to him.

I loved Dolls as a child, and I still greatly enjoy it to this day. I would highly recommend it to anyone who's in the mood to spend some time watching a twisted fairy tale. Don't mind the blood.

JOY RIDE 3 (2014)

After enjoying a good working relationship with director Declan O'Brien (Sharktopus) on the third, fourth, and fifth installments of their direct-to-video slasher series Wrong Turn, Fox Home Entertainment has handed him the keys to another of their franchises, hiring him to bring homicidal truck driver Rusty Nail, originally co-created by J.J. Abrams for the 2001 film Joy Ride, back into people's homes.

When O'Brien's Joy Ride sequel begins, you might wonder if you've somehow accidentally put the wrong movie on, as the first few minutes are completely dedicated to showing a pair of fully nude crackheads cavorting in a hotel room; hitting their crack pipe, tumbling around on the bed, cursing at each other. Finally, once they've run out of drugs, the man comes up with a CB walkie talkie and a plan: they trick a trucker coming to the room for a tryst with the woman, whose name is Candy, and once the trucker arrives, the guy will knock the trucker out and they can steal his drugs and money, whatever he has on him.

Things don't go as they planned. Rusty Nail is the trucker who responds to their radio proposition and shows up at their hotel room. And this hulking brute of a man is a bit tougher than the tweaker who tries to assault him.

Rusty Nail likes to toy with his victims, he has ever since the first movie, and his games got even more brutal and sadistic in 2008's Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead. O'Brien is no stranger to crafting elaborate ways to tear bodies apart, he did quite a bit of that in his Wrong Turns, and he has Rusty Nail play an intense, sick, and ultimately fatal and gory game with Candy and her boyfriend in this film's lengthy opening sequence.

What Rusty Nail does to Candy and her guy does stretch plausibility, as he drives down a road with them hanging off his truck for more than a mile in broad daylight, and somehow gets lucky enough that no cars are anywhere in sight in any direction... But he does get away with these murders without anyone witnessing it, leaving bits and pieces of Candy and her boyfriend all over the road.

Said road is Highway 17, known to people in this area as Slaughter Alley because more people die or disappear on it than any other road in the United States. There's even a rumor that a serial killer truck driver patrols Highway 17 looking for people to kill. Hmm.

The group of characters who run afoul of Rusty Nail this time around and spend the majority of the film trying to escape from him are the members of the Wells Racing team: drivers Jordon Wells and Austin Morris, mechanic Mickey Cole, newbie Bobby Crow, Jordon's girlfriend and manager Jewel McCaul, and Mickey's girlfriend and the team's head of public relations, Alisa Rosado.

The racing team's trouble with Rusty Nail starts when the drivers are giving their car a test run down Highway 17 while they're making their way from Kansas to a race that's going to be held in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada. Austin gets a little too cocky and wild while speeding along the road and gives a truck driver a scare by cutting in very close to the front of his semi after passing him.

Unfortunately for Austin and his friends, the trucker he scared with that reckless maneuver was Rusty Nail. And Rusty Nail does not forgive people who upset him. Austin just signed death warrants for himself and every one of his friends.

The point at which the group gets Rusty Nail on their tail, the point at which the movie should really just be picking up steam, is also the point at which I felt it went off a cliff quality wise. Although Rusty's wrath is occasionally interesting in a slasher movie sort of way when the trucker gets his hands on members of the group and knocks them off one-by-one in brutal, bloody manners that utilize his truck or trucking equipment in some way or another, there's nothing interesting about the way he toys with the characters this time around... In fact his toying only amounts to having Jordon drive to a couple different desolate locations.

Worst of all, the first act seems to be setting up actress Kristen Prout to be the heroine of the film as Jewel. She's tough, she wants to do the right thing, she's quick to stand up for her boyfriend and to tell of someone who's being an idiot. And then she gets kidnapped as the first stage of Rusty Nail's mission of vengeance and is nothing but a helpless, screaming damsel in distress for the rest of the movie.

Instead, Jesse Hutch's Jordon is the typical, bland hero. A rather inept one at that. The fact that he takes on the hero role does, however, set up the climactic scenes to be a Freddy vs. Jason rematch of sorts.

There were two big selling points for Joy Ride 3 when I first heard that it was announced. One just being the fact that it was another entry in the series, I'd be watching it regardless. But the other was that the man playing Rusty Nail this time around, stepping into shoes that had been filled by Matthew Kimbrough in the first film (with his voice provided by Ted Levine) and Mark Gibbon in the second, was Ken Kirzinger. The Canadian stuntman who had been the primary performer to portray slasher Jason Voorhees in Freddy vs. Jason.

Jesse Hutch played a victim of Jason's in that movie, he got stabbed multiple times with a machete and then folded in half in a bed. This time he fares better against Kirzinger's character.

Kirzinger makes for a fine Rusty Nail, and could have a new franchise role for himself in further sequels are made. I'd gladly see Kirzinger continue on as the killer trucker, hopefully doing more interesting things that he does in this installment. Mark Gibbon sort of did a Ted Levine impersonation in part 2. Kirzinger doesn't attempt to sound like Levine, he just adds a bit of a Southern drawl to his voice, which is probably the better approach. I thought Gibbon might have been slightly hampered by trying to keep up the Levine sound. I think that was more important for the first sequel anyway, while 3 is far enough away from the original that the Rusty Nail actor can do their own thing.

There is some fun to be had from watching Joy Ride 3, there are a couple good vehicular chases and crashes and the kills are gruesome, but the script was very lacking. O'Brien directed the action quite capably, but didn't type up the screenplay quite as well.

BLENDED (2014)

There was a long stretch of time when I would go see every movie that had Adam Sandler in a lead role at the theatre. I was a pretty big fan of his career; I loved his comedy albums and concerts, and even though I didn't buy copies of most of his movies, I did enjoy seeing them on the big screen. I had Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore on VHS, and once we entered the DVD age, there were only four more Sandler movies that I went ahead and bought: the branching-outside-of-his-comfort-zone films Punch-Drunk Love and Spanglish, and of his more standard films, his Drew Barrymore pairings, 1998's The Wedding Singer and 2004's 50 First Dates.

It wasn't a displeasure with Sandler's comedy that led to my decision to stop seeing his movies theatrically. Initially, it was simply the fact that I was annoyed with how many remakes were coming out in the early 2000s. The first Sandler movie I skipped, I skipped because it was a remake. The Longest Yard in 2005. Since then, most his output hasn't seemed appealing to me, either I didn't like the scenarios they presented or they seemed to be aimed at a younger audience. Between Blended and Spanglish, the only Sandler movie I ventured out to see was his 2011 romantic comedy with Jennifer Aniston, because I'm a sucker for a romantic comedy.

So given the fact that The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates were only regular Sandler movies I thought worthy of buying on DVD and my proclivity for romantic comedies, it's no surprise that I was happy to hear that Sandler and Barrymore would be reuniting for a third rom-com.

In Blended, which was also directed by Sandler and Barrymore's The Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci, the pair's characters - Jim and Lauren - start off the way men and women often do in rom-coms. They don't like each other. After a disastrous blind date and a couple following encounters that don't go well due to the fact that he's clueless and she's too judgmental, they have no need to see each other again.

Then the story presents you with a huge coincidence that you'll need to get your suspension of disbelief over - when Lauren's best friend Jen finds out that her boyfriend, who happens to be Jim's boss, has five kids, she calls off the relationship... leaving her ex with seven tickets for a vacation at a resort in Africa. Jim, who has three daughters, pounces on four of those tickets, and unbeknownst to him, Lauren and her two sons snatch up the other three. It's very convenient for the story, not so convenient for the characters when they realize they're stuck in each other's presence for the duration of the vacation.

As you expect going in, the more Jim and Lauren are around each other, the more they start to see beneath the exterior behavior that had repelled them before and start to understand and like the people that each other really are. Jim bonds with Lauren's sons, Lauren bonds with Jim's daughters, and by the time the end credits roll, they have become a happily blended family. A modern Brady Bunch with one less member. This is no spoiler, anyone who goes to this movie knows exactly what they're going to get from it, it's what happens along the way that matters.

Blended hasn't been as well received as Sandler and Barrymore's previous pairings and has taken a harsh critical drubbing, but I actually enjoyed it. Sure, the story requires Sandler to continue being in the family man mode he has been in lately and so a lot of the comedy is aimed at both parents and their children, and so not at me since I'm neither a parent nor a child - the man who once sang "At a Medium Pace" has gone on to get too kid-friendly for my sensibilities - but unlike critics that found it offensive, I thought the movie was rather cute and charming.

I don't think the movie is as great as The Wedding Singer or 50 First Dates, I would have liked to have gotten a better film than Blended from Sandler and Barrymore's third pairing, but I wasn't especially disappointed with it. In fact, my main issue with it wasn't the story or the content, but the fact that it went on a little too long at 117 minutes. I have a problem with long running times. That's why I skipped Funny People.


A parking garage late at night. So late that hardly any cars remain parked in it. One car belongs to an attractive young business woman, who soon comes walking out into the garage and gets inside her vehicle. It doesn't start. As the woman repeatedly tries to get the engine to turn over, she is frightened to see men with stockings over their heads begin to appear in the garage one by one. When there are three men, they attack, busting out the car's windows, dragging the woman out of it, holding her down on the ground, brutalizing her, ripping her clothes... The attack would get much worse if it wasn't for the arrival of Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson reprising the role of the vigilante hero from the previous three films) in the garage.

Introducing himself as "Death" and pulling out a gun, Kersey blows the criminals away in the same way they showed up. One by one. Ignoring pleas for mercy, Kersey kills all three of them. But when he turns the corpse of the final attacker over, he's shocked to see his own face staring back at him.

Kersey awakes from the nightmare. Even though he has left his vigilante days behind him, continuing to work as an architect in Los Angeles, two years into dating a journalist named Karen (Kay Lenz of The Initiation of Sarah '78) who's just a few years off from being young enough to be his granddaughter, caring for his girlfriend's teenage daughter Erica as if she were his own (great-grand)daughter, he's clearly a man haunted by his past deeds, no matter how right they seemed to be at the time.

Regardless of how he feels about his past now, he'll be back to his old tricks soon enough.

Film fans may recognize Dana Barron, who played Griswold daughter Audrey in the first National Lampoon's Vacation movie, in the role of Erica, but they shouldn't expect to see very much of her in Death Wish 4, because promising young Erica is dead of a cocaine overdose within the first 15 minutes.

Later that very night, Kersey grabs a gun and hits the street. He witnesses Erica's boyfriend confront her drug dealer, who kills the teen when he threatens to report him to the police. Kersey then kills the dealer. A momentary lapse back into vigilantism.

Or, it would have been if a note reading "I know who you are" wasn't left at his home soon after. The note was sent by wealthy newspaper owner Nathan White (John P. Ryan), who has Kersey brought to his mansion in a limo. There, White tells Kersey the story of his daughter Lisa, who died of a cocaine overdose three months before. White wants revenge. He applauds what Kersey did to the dealer who got Erica killed, but the problem in Los Angeles doesn't end with a lowly pusher. White has put a great deal of money into collecting information on the city's major drug dealers, and now, with Kersey's help, he plans to wipe them out.

Kersey takes some time to think about it. After Erica's funeral, he and Karen both set out to strike back against the L.A. drug scene in their own ways. While Karen embarks on writing an exposé, Kersey goes to war. Bankrolled and supplied with weapons by White, he begins tearing apart the city's two major drug running organizations, the Zacharias gang and the Romero gang.

Adding more and more scumbags to his already lengthy bodycount in scene after scene, Kersey takes a different approach to his vigilantism this time around. He's not just roaming the sidewalk with a gun in his pocket looking for street punks now, in this sequel he basically operates like a hired hitman, infiltrating places and picking off his targets, targets who are making good money off of their criminal pursuits, wearing suits and living well. He's come a long way from beating a mugger with a sock full of quarters.

As a series based around death scenes goes on, said death scenes will almost always get flashier and more spectacular as the movies continue. That's how it tends to go with slasher franchises, and the same can be said for Death Wish. Kersey just shot people in the first movie. In the second, there was a bit more variety. In the third, he got his hands on a machine gun and a rocket launcher. In this installment, bad guys aren't only shot down, they also get blasted with a grenade launcher, dropped out of a high rise, blown up with a time bomb hidden in a wine bottle, etc.

Among the bad guys in The Crackdown are the familiar faces of Danny Trejo, Shocker himself Mitch Pileggi, and Tom Everett. Everett is most well known to me for his role in Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, so it's a fun coincidence that his character in Death Wish 4 operates out of a room in the back of a video store and to get to this room Kersey has to pass by a promotional standee for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. For a few seconds, Charles Bronson shares the screen with a cardboard Leatherface.

Texas Chainsaw 2 was from the same studio as Death Wish parts 2 through 4, Cannon Films. Producer Dino De Laurentiis apparently hadn't seen the franchise potential in Death Wish after the success of the 1974 original, but Cannon certainly did, getting their hands on the rights and making sure to churn out sequels throughout the '80s. The only thing that stopped them from continuing was the demise of the company.

For the fourth film, Cannon commissioned a screenplay from writer Gail Morgan Hickman, who had previously co-written the story for the Dirty Harry sequel The Enforcer, pitched multiple rejected ideas for Death Wish 3, and written the 1986 Charles Bronson/Cannon film Murphy's Law. While the first three entries in the series had been directed by Michael Winner, who also worked with Bronson on The Mechanic, Chato's Land, and The Stone Killer, Bronson had been quite unhappy with how Death Wish 3 turned out, so that film marked the end of their working relationship. Another director who had frequently collaborated with Bronson was brought on to helm the latest sequel - J. Lee Thompson, who had directed the star in St. Ives, The White Buffalo, Cabo Blanco, 10 to Midnight, The Evil That Men Do, and Murphy's Law. Following Death Wish 4, they would work together again on Messenger of Death and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects.

Thompson did a fantastic job stepping into the franchise and handling the fast paced, action packed sequel. He had a great story to work with, in fact I find Death Wish 4 to be the best sequel of the bunch, and while the original film is a true gritty classic, this one comes out on top for me in the entertainment department.

Most of the film's running time consists of Kersey knocking off criminals and stirring up bad blood between the rival drug gangs, but it isn't a simple, straightforward kill fest the entire way. Twists and turns are thrown in there along the way, there are double crosses, corruption, and hidden agendas. Kersey gets betrayed, he suffers devastating loss (as usual), but he always gets the job done, and I have a great time watching him do it in The Crackdown.

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