Friday, April 20, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Waiting for Someone to Believe

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.

Mind-altering substances, Snoop Dogg, bad dreams, and schoolyard fights.


The artwork for the '70s-set stoner comedy The Stoned Age features the bold claim that the movie is "better than Dazed and Confused", which I don't think is true. Not even close, and they're very different films anyway. But the fact is, I might not have ever watched The Stoned Age if it weren't for Richard Linklater's '70s-set, marijuana-fueled classic, which reached VHS roughly one year earlier. During that year, Dazed had gotten a lot of play in my household, so when another period piece party film showed up in the local video store, it got snatched up quickly.

Directed by James Melkonian from a screenplay he wrote with Rich Wilkes, The Stoned Age takes a broadly comedic approach to the idea of teenagers in the '70s drinking and smoking their way through a night while desperately trying to have fun. Michael Kopelow and Bradford Tatum star as our lead characters, the thoughtful Joe, who had a life-changing experience when a lazer hit him at a Blue Oyster Cult concert, and his buddy Hubbs, who is pretty much a douchebag creep. The guy is disgusting.

Spending yet another night driving around Torrance, California, these two are on the search for "chicks" - and they catch word that there are a couple girls who are ready to party staying in a house down by Frankie Avalon's place. Never mind that a criminal with a violent temper, Michael Wiseman as "Crump's brother", has already called dibs on these girls, or that a dweeb called Tack (Clifton Collins Jr., at the time going by the name Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez) came up with the idea of stealing these girls from Crump's brother, Joe and Hubbs are on a mission to score. Even if Joe feels guilty about it. Skank weed and peppermint schnapps in hand, they locate the girls and knock on their door.

The girls everyone is after are wild child Lanie (Renee Allman) and her bookish pal Jill (China Kantner), both of whom threaten to stray from them at any moment. In an effort to entertain them, they steal beer, take them to a party in the rich part of town, and take over a neighbor's pool. At the liquor store, they have an interaction with Taylor Negron in a memorable role as the disco-loving clerk. As the night goes on, the beer runs and parties are repeatedly interrupted by the arrival of Officer Dean (Kevin Kilner), who is always trying to relate to the teens by referencing his glory days when he had all sorts of "cool" nicknames.

Joe is quite awkward, but he manages to make a connection with Jill... and this connection leads to a turn of events that has always disturbed me.

The Stoned Age is a bit of cheap fun that moves along at a quick pace and has its fair share of amusing moments. It's somewhat dragged down by the fact that most of its characters aren't very good people, but Joe is a good enough guy carry things along. The film is also bolsted by the great soundtrack, which includes songs from Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath, Foghat, T. Rex, Deep Purple, Ted Nugent, and Wild Cherry, among others.

This was the movie that introduced me to the existence of peppermint schnapps, and due to the schnappster's presence in The Stoned Age and American Movie that became one of my go-to drinks back in my drinking days. Peppermint schnapps doesn't get built up in a positive way here, the stuff makes Joe puke, but I was still inspired to get it. A good friend of mine had a similar reaction to Joe's when he tried to drink it with me. It went down, and then immediately came back up.

I've watched The Stoned Age several times over the years. Not on a regular basis, but it's one I return to now and then. It's not great, but it's entertaining.


When screenwriter Jeffrey Reddick was a teenager, he saw the original A Nightmare on Elm Street on the big screen and was so blown away by it that he was inspired to write a treatment for a prequel. He sent that treatment to Elm Street's home studio New Line Cinema, and of course it never got turned into a movie - I know from personal experience that studios and production companies have no interest in putting unsolicited material sent by teenagers into production. However, Reddick was so persistent that he made sure New Line founder Robert Shaye took a look at his treatment. Shaye then contacted him about it, and the pair stayed in touch through letters and phone calls over the years until Reddick eventually got a job working at New Line. Although Reddick worked at New Line for several years, he never did end up working on an Elm Street movie for them.

Knowing Reddick's history with the franchise, my first thought when I heard about the film Dead Awake - which Phillip Guzman directed from a script by Reddick - was that this was basically the writer finally getting a chance to make his own version of an Elm Street movie. The plot synopsis said it was about "an ancient evil stalking its victims through the real-life phenomenon of sleep paralysis"... replace "an ancient evil" with "Freddy Krueger" and you've got another Nightmare on Elm Street.

The Elm Street inspiration is very obvious in the finished film. The House of the Devil's Jocelin Donahue stars in a dual role as Kate Bowman and her troubled twin sister Beth (you can tell them apart because Beth has a white streak in her hair, like heroine Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), which allows her to carry the film while also being the first victim in it - that sleep-stalking ancient evil takes Beth out within the first 20 minutes.

If you've never experienced sleep paralysis, it's a brief moment in which you're awake but unable to move your body because your limbs haven't quite caught up with your consciousness just yet. It can be as simple as that, and that's the way it was on the one or two occasions I've experienced it. However, some people have much more intense experiences and will sense the presence of something in the room, or even hallucinate during their sleep paralysis. By exploring sleep paralysis, Reddick was actually going back to the root of the word "nightmare". Long ago, sleep paralysis was believed to be caused by visits from evil entities called mares. Thus, if you had a nightmare, a moment of sleep paralysis rather than just a bad dream, you were being visited in the night by a mare. Mares were also called "old hags", which is why sleep paralysis was also known as Old Hag Syndrome. That description inspired the look of this film's Freddy stand-in; she's just a hideous, shriveled up woman.

The old hag can only be seen by someone experiencing sleep paralysis. From Beth's perspective, she's being strangled to death by the old hag. In the waking world, she just stops breathing. Her death is blamed on an asthma attack (as was a death in A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master).

Soon Katie is experiencing sleep paralysis and seeing the old hag as well, including a scene where she has a close call in a bathtub (another thing from Nightmare 1). She starts investigating her sister's death with the help of Beth's boyfriend Evan (Jesse Bradford) and their friend Linda (Brea Grant), both of whom are also seeing the hag - by digging into the "old hag syndrome" and finding out exactly what happened to Beth, Katie might be able to save herself and the others. Along the way, they encounter a man suffering from terminal insomnia - he hasn't slept for a year, he's so terrified of the sleep paralysis hag, and stays in a room flooded with light. They also enlist the help of a doctor in the film's standout scene.

In the year between my viewings of this film, that scene with the doctor, Jesse Borrego as Dr. Hassan Davies, was the only one I really remembered well. Davies himself hasn't slept in 4 months, and he has a plan: Katie will allow herself to sleep while Davies and Evan watch. When it appears that Katie is struggling with the hag, Davies will give her a shot of adrenaline to wake her up so she can escape the hag's clutches - a step toward defeating the fear-loving creature. Yes, that plan comes straight out of Elm Street, which is why I remembered it.

Dead Awake is mainly worth watching if picking out the Elm Street influences sounds like a good time to you. It's a decent supernatural horror movie, but doesn't go beyond the level of "decent". It's very middle-of-the-road.

I was assigned to review Dead Awake for Arrow in the Head last May, but personal tragedy struck before I could get the review written - and when that happened, I wasn't able to write a review for a little while. So I didn't get to review Dead Awake last year. If I had, I probably would have given it a 6/10 review.

If you're an Elm Street fan, you might want to check it out.


Van Robichaux, Evan Susser, and Max Greenfield are the only credited writers on the comedy Fist Fight, but Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi really should receive some credit on there as well, because this film was very clearly inspired by the 1987 teen comedy classic Three O'Clock High, which was written by Matheson and Szollosi. Somehow Fist Fight isn't legally a remake of Three O'Clock High... but it is a new version of Three O'Clock High.

The stories are the same: our lead character pisses off an intimidating peer during a high school schoolday, a fight between them is scheduled to happen as soon as school ends, and the lead spends the entire movie desperately trying to find a way out of the fight. The methods used to try to get out of the fight are basically the same: a failed attempt to make things right, a failed attempt at framing their enemy for a criminal act, a failed attempt at having someone else beat up their enemy. The details are different, but it's the same movie.

Our beleaguered hero this time around is Charlie Day as Andrew Campbell, an English teacher at Roosevelt High School - and there you have one of the different details; the characters who are going to fight are teachers instead of students. Even if the fight scenario didn't come up, Andy would be having a bad, hectic day, because it's the last day of school - prank day - and the place has turned into a madhouse, his job is in jeopardy, and he has to find time to join his young daughter at her talent show. Things get really bad when Andy witnesses high-strung history teacher Ron Strickland (Ice Cube) lose his temper in a very over-the-top way during class. His job on the line, Andy has to report Stickland's behavior to the principal... and Strickland decides he's going to get payback by beating the hell out of Andy after school.

I was drawn to Fist Fight just due to the fact that it looked like a Three O'Clock High rip-off, but the cast helped as well: although I haven't watched his television show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I have enjoyed what I've seen of Day in movies. He has a really likeable screen presence. Cube is a great antagonist, and the supporting cast includes Tracy Morgan, Jillian Bell, Christina Hendricks, Kumail Nanjiani, Dean Norris, Dennis Haysbert, and JoAnna Garcia. It's a great ensemble, and their characters are a lot of fun to watch. As Andy's daughter Ally, child actress Alexa Nisenson also has a very funny and memorable moment during the talent show.

It may not be original, it somehow got away with being a carbon copy of another movie, but Fist Fight was a lot of fun to watch - not as much fun as Three O'Clock High, but enjoyable. The comedy is amusing, I got some laughs out of it, and the climactic fight - you know the fight has to happen, it's the only satisfying way to end the movie - is pretty epic.

If you liked Three O'Clock High, check out this remake that isn't officially a remake but totally is a remake.

BONES (2001)

This is the story of Jimmy Bones 
Black as night and hard as stone 
Gold-plated deuce like the King of Siam 
Got a switchblade loose and a diamond on his hand 
They took his life, he never rested in peace 
Now his vengeance will be unleashed.

The idea of a horror movie being built around rapper Snoop Dogg might be off-putting to some, but in the hands of screenwriters Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe and Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight director Ernest Dickerson the project actually turned out to be a decent genre movie.

Snoop Dogg stars as Jimmy Bones, a 1970s gangster who was a character straight out of a blaxploitation movie. He even had the ultimate blaxploitation era girlfriend - Pam Grier as a woman named Pearl. Unfortunately, Bones was betrayed by those closest to him, misled by a power-hungry friend into doing business with a corrupt cop, and that was a deal that went so horribly wrong it ended in Bones's death.

Twenty-plus years later, Bones's home is purchased by a group of youths who intend to turn the place into a nightclub called Club Illbient. As soon as they enter the building, it stirs up the spirit of Bones, who has been keeping his home empty of trespassers for the last three decades. But rather than just wipe out this new group of interlopers, Bones starts to take a different approach, building up his energy so he can re-emerge into the world and seek revenge on the people who murdered him.

Those people include the father of three of the youths, the still-corrupt cop, other associates... and Pearl, whose daughter Cynthia (Bianca Lawson) has become a love interest for building owner Patrick (Khalil Kain). And isn't it interesting that Cynthia mentions she doesn't know who her father is? Hmm.

Some of the horror elements in Bones are pretty cheeseball, like the shadowy spirit moving around in the building and Snoop Dogg's face appearing to people - his face even appears on a dog, and his delivers a line while in that dog form - but the movie is well made and entertaining enough that I can get past that silly stuff. My favorite part of the movie is the blaxploitation aspect of the flashbacks to Bones's 1979 demise; it's cool to see that mixed into a then-modern supernatural horror tale.

Things really get fun when the nightclub opens. Opening night is when Bones returns to the land of the living, the flesh re-forming on his skeletal corpse (which is buried in the building's basement), and proceeds to get his revenge. As soon as Bones rises from his grave, the nightclub becomes infested with maggots, and that's the one thing that stuck with me during the years between my viewings of the film.

Bones earns major extra points for having Pam Grier involved, and gets extra genre cred from the fact that one of the youths is played by Katharine Isabelle of Ginger Snaps, American Mary, Supernatural, See No Evil 2, Freddy vs. Jason, etc.

If you haven't seen Bones, it's not like a classic has been passing you by for the last seventeen years, but it's better than you might expect it to be. Especially if you're amused by the sight of talking severed heads.

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