Friday, April 6, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Hellacious Heroes

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.

Demons and angels, werewolves and vampires.


Two years after playing the antagonist in the werewolf movie Howling VI: The Freaks, Bruce Payne played the antagonist in director Anthony Hickox's werewolf movie Full Eclipse - a film which feels like it could have been a comic book adaptation, but was actually an original story from writers Richard Christian Matheson and Michael Reaves.

Mario Van Peebles stars as LAPD officer Max Dire, who discovers there are strange things afoot on the police force when his partner has a miraculous recovery from being shot multiple times and comes back better, stronger, faster, and seemingly indestructible... Until he commits suicide with a silver bullet.

Reeling from his partner's death and with his marriage crumbling, Dire agrees to join what he believes is a police officer therapy group, run by Payne's character Adam Garou. Garou has hand-picked the member of these groups because they have all proven themselves to be warriors dedicated to wiping out crime. And they're all vulnerable because they've had bad things happen to them in the line of duty.


Garou's last name might tip you off to the fact that he's a werewolf, and the group he assembles - consisting of characters played by Patsy Kensit, Jason Beghe, Paula Marshall, and John Verea - doesn't sit around to talk about their problems. Instead, they put on black costumes, take a shot of something Garou calls a vaccine, and hit the city at night to pull off vigilante missions. That vaccine makes them better, stronger, faster... and can also give them monstrous features and make them grow claws. Garou is making his own little crimefighting werewolf army.

Dire is reluctant to get involved with the vigilante stuff, so he's forced to take the shot to save his own life. Garou has made a mistake bringing him into the fold, though, because Dire truly is dedicated to wiping out crime - including Garou's criminal, werewolf-creating actions.

Full Eclipse is a fun B-level action flick, with sequences involving shootouts, car chases, and explosions. Mix that with monsters and you have something that is very appealing to me, even if the film isn't of the greatest quality overall. In some ways, this is sort of a "so bad it's good" situation, as there are a fair amount of cringeworthy moments here, but I wouldn't go so far as to say the movie is bad. It just has some goofy scenes and questionable dialogue.

The concept at the center of the film is pretty cool. The idea of a group of werewolf crimefighters would definitely work as a comic book series, since it's already just basically a variation on the X-Men. It could have served as the basis for a better movie, but I liked watching Full Eclipse well enough as it is.


Between the release of Guillermo del Toro's 2004 film Hellboy and its 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro and Hellboy comic book creator Mike Mignola threw their support behind a pair of animated features that showed further adventures of the heroic demon Hellboy and his fellow Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense agents Abe Sapien, a gillman, and Liz Sherman, Hellboy's pyrokinetic love interest. Not only did these animated features have the blessings of del Toro and Mignola, but cast members from the films also vocally reprised their roles in them. So if the live action features left you wanting more of Ron Perlman as Hellboy, Doug Jones as Abe Sapien, and Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, these animated movies have you covered.

Sword of Storms gets things started right, catching up with Hellboy and his cohorts just in time for an action sequence featuring a giant bat creature and its undead mummy minions, then it tells us the reason for the subtitle. The titular sword is an ancient weapon that a samurai used to stop two demons that had been terrorizing Japan - Thunder, who wielded a mountain-destroying war hammer, and his brother Lightning, who carried a spear of white fire. No ordinary sword could have accomplished this; the samurai's sword was enscribed with words of enchantment that allowed him to capture the souls of the demons in the blade.

All this time later, Thunder and Lightning are seeking to come back into the world with the help of a possessed professor. Hellboy and BPRD agents Professor Kate Corrigan, a folklore and occult expert voiced by Peri Gilpin, and Russell Thorne, a psychic voiced by Mitchell Whitfield, are assigned to the case... and when Hellboy touches the sword of storms, he's teleported into a nightmarish dimension where he's forced to face all sorts of strange creatures of Japanese legend. Keeping track of the situation at BPRD HQ, Abe and Liz realize that Hellboy is no longer on the planet and rush to help Kate and Russell with whatever's going on.

Of course, this is all building up to Hellboy battling Thunder and Lightning, the fate of the world hanging in the balance. But first Hellboy has to figure out how to get back into our reality.

Providing 80 minutes of almost non-stop action (it does have to take a couple minutes here and there to set up and explain the story), Sword of Storms is a fun and breezy watch. There's not a whole lot of substance to it, but you get to see Hellboy and his friends smack around some monsters. I didn't like this movie as much as its live action companions, but it's a nice little addendum.


Ron Perlman's Hellboy, Selma Blair's Liz Sherman, and Doug Jones's Abe Sapien were joined in the voice cast of the second animated Hellboy film by John Hurt, reprising his Hellboy and Hellboy II role of Hellboy's father figure Professor Broom. In modern day, Broom assigns Hellboy, Liz, Abe, and fellow BPRD agent Sidney "the human metal detector" Leach (Rob Paulsen) to investigate reports of a haunted mansion in the Hamptons. Flashbacks to Broom encountering vampire Erzebet Ondrushko (Kath Soucie) when he was a young man in 1939 set up the fact that Erzebet has returned and is responsible for the strange things happening at that place in the Hamptons.

Broom is so determined to stop Erzebet for a second time that he even accompanies the agents on their mission... but he keeps his vampire suspicions quiet at first. The team investigates the case as they normally would investigate a haunting, finding that the mansion is indeed packed with restless spirits. These are the spirits of Erzebet's victims, of which there were many. In an attempt to hold on to her youth, Erzebet killed over 600 women and bathed in their blood. And that was before she even became a vampire.

Not only is Erzebet back, but she is also seeking to summon the legendary Hecate, Queen of the Witches. Which wouldn't be a good thing for the world.

The presence of vampires, witches, and magically-created werewolves instantly makes Blood and Iron more appealing to me than the Sword of Storms animated Hellboy movie, and when you add in the fact that it has a much more intriguing story (despite being several minutes shorter) you have a second film that surpasses its predecessor - much like I feel Hellboy II: The Golden Army was better than the first live action Hellboy movie.

Interestingly, the opening action sequence in Blood and Iron features Hellboy fighting a creature that has a metal hand that can be fired like a projectile and drawn back to the creature on a chain - just like the creature Mr. Wink has in Hellboy II. While Mr. Wink wasn't a character from the comic books, his metal fist was comic-inspired.


Where there are demons, angels don't necessarily always follow. There are a whole lot of horror movies that deal with demons and demonic possession, but not very many with angels in them. Angels don't tend to show up on the scene to deal with these problems. So it didn't seem unusual that the television series Supernatural didn't have any angels in its first three seasons, despite the fact that its lead characters, monster-hunting siblings Sam (Jared Padalecki, at this time fresh off of working on Friday the 13th '09) and Dean (Jensen Ackles, fresh off of working on My Bloody Valentine '09) Winchester, were always going up against demonic threats. It wouldn't have seemed unusual if Supernatural had never featured angels, either. The Winchesters weren't even certain angels existed, because no hunter had ever encountered one. There are a lot of monstrous horrors in their world, but the existence of God and angels remained a mystery to them. There was a great episode in season two that dealt with this issue, wherein the Winchesters look into reports of an angel and find that the being is actually a vengeful spirit.

The existence of angels is confirmed without a doubt in season four, and what better way could there be for angels to enter the picture than to have one pull Dean out of Hell, where he ended up in the cliffhanger ending of season three, and bring him back to the land of the living? The angel who saves Dean is Castiel (Misha Collins), who appears to the Winchesters in the "vessel" of a religious man's body (it's explained that angels have to possess people to walk around in our world just like demons have to) and becomes a major presence in this season. Almost an overwhelming presence - I have to admit, I got a bit tired of seeing this new guy show up all the time.

Dean has been changed by his time in Hell, as you might expect. Although he was dead for four earthly months, every month in Hell is like a decade, so it's like he spent forty years going through horrific, torturous things in the underworld. The things he experienced there weigh heavily on his heart and mind throughout the season, making for some very dark and emotional moments.

Sam has also changed in Dean's absence. On a mission of vengeance, Sam has been turning toward the dark side, increasing his own supernatural abilities with the help of the demon Ruby, who was played by Katie Cassidy in season three and, since she's inhabiting a different body now, is played in season four by Genevieve Cortese. A demon who still retains some of her humanity, Ruby was a lot more likeable and trustworthy when she was Cassidy than she is when brought to the screen by Cortese. Part of that is due to the fact that Sam and Ruby are sneaking around, doing things behind Dean's back that Sam then lies to his brother about because Dean is wary of Sam's association with a demon. Cortese's Ruby isn't so likeable, but Padalecki clearly liked Cortese - the pair started dating after meeting on the show and have since gotten married and had children together.

Beyond having an effect on the character, the events that occurred while Dean was in Hell also have a major impact on the season storyline in that something that happened in Hell broke the first of the 66 seals that need to be busted so the demons can unleash their long-caged leader Lucifer. Lucifer being set loose will start the apocalypse, so Sam and Dean have a very important job to do this season: they have to save the world. To do so, they'll have to stop Lucifer's servant Lilith from breaking more of those 66 seals. The way this story is presented, it's the culmination of everything we've seen in the preceding seasons. Although this plan to bring Lucifer into the picture wasn't mentioned until this season, all of the demonic activity we've seen prior to this is retroactively tied into the plan.

A season of Supernatural is a balancing act, it needs to be a satisfying mixture of episodes that build up a major storyline with simple, standalone (or mostly standalone) "monster of the week" hunting episodes. Sometimes this balance is off; I felt like the first season had too many "monster of the week" episodes and didn't do enough mythology building, and for me season four had the opposite issue. While there are several "monster of the week" adventures, there a whole lot of angel-heavy episodes and seal-breaking episodes. There was a very heavy focus on the mythology, and I felt like these angels were around way too much.

Castiel isn't the only angel the Winchesters encounter. Other notable ones include the unpleasant Uriel (Robert Wisdom), who refers to humans as "mud monkeys", the smarmy Zachariah (Kurt Fuller), and Anna Milton (Julie McNiven), who is first introduced as a girl from Ohio who Dean makes quite a connection with, but she turns out to be an angel who removed her grace. I'm not saying that the episodes involving these angelic characters weren't good, just that it felt like they dominated the season.

The addition of angels doesn't just expand the mythology of the show going forward, these beings also bring in some new information about the Winchester back story. They even go so far as to send Dean back in time in one episode that has some Back to the Future touches. Sent to the year 1973, Dean runs into younger versions of his parents John and Mary at a time when the couple was just dating and makes a shocking discovery. We had been told that John became a monster hunter and raised his children in the lifestyle after Mary was killed by a demon in 1983, when Dean was four and Sam was just an infant. That's a fact, but here we find out that John wasn't the first hunter in their family. In 1973, Mary was a hunter alongside her father Samuel Campbell (Shocker himself Mitch Pileggi), the man Sam was named after. Dean was named after Mary's mother, Deanna. I really wasn't sure how to take the information that Mary was a hunter before she married John. I liked the straightforward history of the Winchesters and didn't really need it to be complicated with this new twist. I was also uncomfortable with Supernatural featuring time travel, that's something I never expected to see in the show. But at least it's a supernatural manner of time travel rather than a scientific one. It was even more shocking given that the time travel happens in one of the first few episodes. The show's creator Eric Kripke, who originally didn't want angels on the show, and the writers drop the viewers right into this surprising stuff and dare them to follow them down this new path.

In one fun episode, the angels also send the Winchester brothers into an alternate dimension where they're a pair of office workers named Dean Smith and Sam Wesson. Of course, the lives of Smith and Wesson are soon disrupted by the arrival of a deadly supernatural entity. This scenario is actually created to prove a point to Dean, who refuses to accept his part in the impending apocalypse. It's meant to show him that fighting the supernatural is his destiny.

There are a lot of demons and angels in this season, but some other creatures do come out to play along the way. You've got the aforementioned vengeful spirits, and one episode dealing with them allows for characters who died in previous seasons to briefly return, including Nicki Aycox as college student Meg Masters, who was inhabited by a demon in the first season. Another vengeful spirit episode gives us more glimpses into the past, showing us Sam and Dean going to high school in 1997. Billie Jean's Helen Slater guest stars in a haunted house episode with a clever twist, while Barry Bostwick shows up in an episode about an immortal magician and Ted Raimi appears in what may be the strangest Supernatural episode made up to this point, one in which the wishes made in a restaurant wishing well start to come true. One wish was made by a little girl, who wants her teddy bear to be large and alive. Unfortunately, teddy isn't very happy to be alive and has an existential crisis. Other episodes feature a flesh-eating creature called a rougarou, a shapeshifter who takes the form of classic Universal monsters (Dracula, the wolf man, the mummy), a ghost called a buru buru that has to be scared to death, a siren, Celtic legend Samhain, and the return of a reaper named Tessa (Lindsey McKeon), who we met back in season two.

Digging deeper into the idea of angels and of Sam and Dean being part of apocalyptic prophecy, the show even goes so far as to introduce an author named Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), who has been having visions of the Winchesters' adventures and has written novels about them under the name Carver Edlund (named after two of the show's writers). In fact, it appears that every Supernatural episode has received a novelization courtesy of Chuck, and apparently the Supernatural novels will come to be known as The Gospel of the Winchesters. Yeah, they really went off the deep end in this season.

Season four shakes things up, and the folks behind the show were clearly aware that some viewers would be accusing the show of jumping the shark. They were so aware that they even titled an episode called "Jump the Shark"... and that episode threatens to do just that, because in it Sam and Dean discover they have a long lost third brother named Adam (Jake Abel). Thankfully, the arrival of Adam isn't really a jump the shark moment.

Things felt rocky and uncertain as I made my way through season four, and I'm still not completely sure how I feel about all the new information and how much it altered the perception of things. I do have to commend Kripke and the writers for going all-in on these things I find to be questionable... if they weren't confident in these changes, it doesn't come through in the show.

I'm still processing all of this and think I need to see further seasons to truly make a proper judgment on season four. I have to see where all of this is going before I can decide what I think of how this stuff started. Until I can get my brain wrapped around it, what I can say for a fact that this season did entertain me. I was still enjoying watching it while I was wondering, "What the hell are they doing?"

Like the seasons that came before, season four also had a strong soundtrack, although it felt like there were less classic rock songs in this one. Still, there were songs from AC/DC, The Allman Brothers Band, Survivor, Bad Company, Foreigner, White Zombie, The Kinks, and Kansas. Dean also professed his love for Led Zeppelin again, naming "Ramble On" and "Traveling Riverside Blues" as his favorite songs. There was an episode named after a Zeppelin song as well: When the Levee Breaks.

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