Friday, February 27, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Power of the Night

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.


Things in these films range from teenie weenie to big ass.


CRITTERS (1986)

This film kicks off with a jailbreak, but the lockup in question isn't your average reformatory. It's an asteroid, floating further out in space than man or our probes have ever gone before, that has been converted into a maximum security prison. The eight convicts who escape from it are not like us, either. They're beastly creatures called Crites, who steal a spaceship and blast their way off the asteroid.

The warden of the prison, a strange creature himself who gets around on a floating platform, calls in the bounty hunter duo of Ug and Lee, who are humanoids with featureless, glowing green heads, to track down the Crites no matter where they may run to.

If these early minutes of Critters seem too cheesy cheap sci-fi to you, fear not, because most of the movie is set on Earth in the 1980s, in the small town of Grover's Bend, Kansas. It's there that the Crite ship lands, on a farm belonging to the Brown family - mom Helen (Dee Wallace), father Jay (Billy Green Bush), and their teenage children April (Nadine Van der Velde) and Brad (Scott Grimes). The Brown farm is the epicenter for the night of horror that ensues.


The bounty hunters are hot on the Crites' trail, and as they near Earth we find out that their heads are featureless because they are shapeshifters. They can transform to match the features of anyone they choose. Fast forwarding through the last century of news and pop culture, Ug finds someone he wants to emulate: musician Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann), whose rock song "Power of the Night" is a current hit.

Since this movie was made in the glorious '80s, Ug's transformation is accomplished not through a quick CG morph. Instead its messy, gross, and practical, as we watch the blood, muscle, and skin form on his head.

Lee, however, cannot find an image that suits him, so throughout the rest of the film he will change his face to match those of various people he encounters.


The Crites are intelligent enough to pilot a ship, speak to each other in their own subtitled language, and are criminals to be put in the hoosegow where they come from, but when the creatures are fully revealed, they look more like something that would be dealt with by pest control here on Earth. These are porcupine-like critters, about the size of a cat, that get around by curling into a ball like a pill bug and rolling around. They are very dangerous animals, though, armed with multiple rows of razor sharp teeth, a voracious appetite, and quills which can immobilize prospective victims/meals.

As the Crites roll around the Kansas countryside, killing and devouring every living creature in their path, it's up to the Browns, the bounty hunters, and town drunk Charlie McFadden, who has long believed that the fillings in his teeth are picking up alien transmissions, to stop the little aliens before too many lives are lost.


The directorial debut of Stephen Herek, who co-wrote the screenplay with Domonic Muir (who wrote of many other tiny terrors for Full Moon under the pen name August White) and Don Opper (who plays the role of Charlie), Critters is a really entertaining creature feature that expertly melds outlandish, amusing elements with the truly convincing terror the Brown family endures as they deal with the Crites.

The actors playing the Browns have great chemistry with each other, really selling that they are the typical American family, while the fear they convey grounds the situation. Dee Wallace seems especially scared out of her wits by the Crites.


The Crites are funny at times, but you certainly wouldn't want to have these things in your house. Their design is perfect for what they are, and with this film, Herek and company gave the '80s yet another iconic horror monster.

I watched Critters and the sequels that followed a lot during my childhood. I thoroughly enjoyed them back then, and continue to enjoy them when rewatching them for the umpteenth time nearly thirty years later.




BIG ASS SPIDER! (2013)

There has been an abundance of "nature run amok" movies in recent years, movies that often feature mega-sized or mutated versions of creatures and are usually pretty bad, sometimes celebrated for how bad they are. Even if you find those type of movies off-putting, director Mike Mendez's Big Ass Spider! is still worth checking out.

The film follows J.J. Abrams regular Greg Grunberg as Los Angeles-based exterminator Alex Mathis. Alex is in the hospital being treated for a brown recluse bite when an unusually large spider crawls out of a corpse in the morgue and sinks its fangs into the mortician. Hearing the mortician telling the hospital director of this ordeal, Alex offers to eradicate the pest in exchange for his medical bills being covered.

While Alex attempts to track down the spider with backup from security guard Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar), a military team headed up by Major Braxton Tanner (Ray Wise) and Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer) shows up on their own spider hunt, as this thing is the accidental result of top secret experiments.

The rapidly growing, immensely strong, acid-spewing arachnid soon escapes into the city, feeding on citizens and causing destruction as the spider hunters unsuccessfully seek to get the situation under control before it reaches kaiju proportions.

What really makes Big Ass Spider! shine among its peers are the performances from the actors and the fact that it was brought to the screen with a great sense of humor, as evident starting with the title. Alternatives like Dino Spider and Mega Spider were on the table, but Mendez knew Big Ass Spider! was the title that fit his movie's tone.

Wise is always dependable and Kramer does well in her role, but the heart of the film is the interplay between Grunberg and Boyar. Grunberg makes Alex a likeable guy to spend the movie's 80 minutes with, while Boyar is hilarious as the thickly accented Jose, who gleefully volunteers to be the Mexican Robin to Alex's Batman.

A rare modern giant creature feature that entertains by being well made and legitimately funny rather than just being dumb, Big Ass Spider! is a lot of fun.



HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989)

A kid-centric take on the old "Incredible Shrinking Man" concept, this family film was conceived by an unlikely group of writers: genre filmmaker director Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator/From Beyond/Robot Jox/Fortress), his frequent producing partner Brian Yuzna, and Ed Naha, who had written the Gordon-directed horror film Dolls. The trio's story, which they had titled Teenie Weenies, was then fleshed out in a screenplay by Naha and Tom Schulman, writer of the same year's Dead Poets Society.

The directorial debut of art director/visual effects designer Joe Johnston, who would go on to helm such films as The Rocketeer, Jumanji, Jurassic Park III, and Captain America: The First Avenger, the film stars Rick Moranis as eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski, whose family life has been crumbling as he spends all his time in the attic laboratory trying to build a shrinking machine.

Although the machine has to this point appeared to be a complete failure, while home alone one day Wayne's teenage daughter Amy (Amy O'Neill) and science-minded young son Nick (Robert Oliveri) discover that is definitely not the case. When a baseball accidentally knocked through an attic window by neighbor boy Ron Thompson (Jared Rushton) hits and activates the machine, Amy, Nick, Ron, and Ron's teenage brother Russ (Thomas Brown) are zapped by its shrinking ray when they go into the attic to retrieve the ball.


Reduced to sizes smaller than the average housefly, the kids are inadvertently swept out with the trash. Now they'll have to traverse the Szalinski family's overgrown back yard, which to them is the equivalent of a several mile hike through a treacherous jungle, in hopes that Wayne will be able to return them to normal size once they get back to the house.

The filmmakers did a fantastic job taking the typical suburban yard and turning it into the setting of a thrilling adventure. The characters have to overcome all sorts of threatening obstacles as they make their way through the towering grass, many in the form of bugs - a bee that plucks a couple of them out of a flower, an ant that they end up bonding with and naming Anthony, a deadly scorpion - but also things like a lawnmower and drops from a sprinkler system that explode like water bombs around them.

At their size, even the most ordinary objects become wondrous. A discarded cigarette can be used to create torches. A dropped cookie makes for a feast. A LEGO piece provides lodging.

The trick photography, animatronics, and oversized props and sets that are used to create the illusion of the actors being tiny are excellent, and though they're not seamless when viewed with 2015 eyes, they still hold up reasonably well and look quite charming.

The cast, which also includes Matt Frewer, Kristine Sutherland, and Tremors: The Series' Marcia Strassman as Wayne's fellow concerned parents, does great work in their roles, and amid the adventure spectacle there is some nice, touching character development.

I was five years old when Honey, I Shrunk the Kids first came out, and its release was a huge event for me. I'm pretty sure I saw it theatrically, where it was preceded by the Roger Rabbit short Tummy Trouble. I loved it back then, and revisiting it as an adult I still found it to be a very enjoyable watch. It's a fun little movie.

2 comments:

  1. I watched Big Ass Spider on Netflix last week after seeing your comments... I really liked it, the security guard was too funny, reminded me of my husband lol....I hate spiders, and as long as they are on the big screen that's fine, in the house, well, that's another story.

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    1. Your husband must be an awesome guy!

      - Cody

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