Friday, May 18, 2018

Worth Mentioning - Gunter Glieben Glauten Globen

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.


Class action, monsters and monster hunters, a movie so wrong it's right.


DEMOLITION HIGH (1996)

Corey Haim was apparently not in a good place in his life when he made this low budget "Die Hard in a high school" action flick. The '80s glory days were fading far behind him, and according to director Jim Wynorski he needed a "babysitter" with him to make sure he stayed out of trouble. Despite all that, and even though he (in his early twenties) looks too old to be playing his teenager character, Haim still managed to do a decent job of carrying Demolition High on his shoulders.

Haim's character is Lenny Slater, the "new kid" at Mayfield High, having moved to town from the Bronx with his father (Alan Thicke), who has taken on the job of being the new police chief. You wouldn't expect the chief of police to have much to do in Mayfield, but that assumption is proven wrong when a group of criminals who have just stolen crates of weapons from a military warehouse ride into town and create a hostage situation at Mayfield High.

It's after school hours when the villains arrive, so Lenny shouldn't be there anymore, but he was kept late for detention after a misunderstanding in the girls' locker room. The most shocking thing in this entire film is the fact that Wynorski directed a girls' locker room scene in an R-rated movie that somehow doesn't feature copious amounts of gratuitous nudity.


Led by Luther (Jeff Kober, an actor who has creeped me out ever since I saw The First Power as a little kid) and Tanya (Melissa "Rocky" Brasselle), who wears more revealing clothing than someone in her situation and of her vocation probably would, the terrorists round up everyone who's still in the building - everyone except Lenny - and start working from the Hans Gruber playbook, making fake demands of the police and responding FBI agents (one of whom is played by Stacie Randall of Puppet Master 4, Trancers 4 and 5, and From Dusk Till Dawn 2) while advancing toward their real goal. Here that involves aiming a missile at the nearby nuclear power plant.

Meanwhile, Lenny turns himself into a mixture of John McClane from Die Hard and Kevin McCallister from Home Alone, using supplies at hand to craft deadly traps and weapons. He himself is a weapon as well, since he knows martial arts. Sort of. I don't get the impression that Haim did much training before the start of production.


One trap Lenny makes results in a chemistry lab explosion, while my favorite involves spilling motor oil on the floor so a terrorist will slip and slide headfirst into a spinning power saw blade.

Demolition High isn't exactly good, but it's entertaining if you approach it in the right way. Which is to say, with low expectations. The screenplay by Steve Jankowski is a ridiculous take on Die Hard, and the movie is fun because it's ridiculous. It's obvious very early on that you can't take it seriously, so just relax and enjoy its 84 minutes of so-so action beats.



SYNGENOR (1990)

I didn't think the monster in director William Malone's 1980 film Scared to Death was anything special, it was just another version of the often imitated, never duplicated (except in sequels) xenomorph from Alien. But for whatever reason, producer Jack F. Murphy was blown away by the Synthesized Genetic Organism when he saw the movie. So much so that he wanted to make sure the creature returned to the screen in a movie produced by him. This wouldn't even be a direct sequel to Scared to Death, Murphy couldn't benefit from title recognition because the movie was too obscure to be sure that audience members would have seen it. There would be no continuation of the storyline, no returning characters. Murphy just loved that monster.

So the monster comes back to rampage through a brand new story, written by Brent V. Friedman and Michael Carmody, with George Elanjian Jr. replacing the busy Malone in the director's chair. This time around, the Syngenor is Norton Cyberdyne's attempt at creating the "soldier of tomorrow". It's bad business for them, then, when their prototype soldier manages to escape from Norton HQ and go on a killing spree in suburbia... And it comes as a surprise to them that a Syngenor reproduces asexually every 24 hours. Murphy didn't get just one of these things into a movie, he got several.

One of the Syngenors' first victims in the film is their own creator, Ethan Valentine (Lewis Arquette). While Norton Cyberdyne works to keep a positive reputation, Ethan's niece Susan (Starr Andreeff) and reporter Nick Cary (Mitchell Laurance) work together to bring down the company and stop their spinal fluid-drinking soldiers.


With drive-in era aesthetics replaced by early '90s direct-to-video aesthetic, Syngenor didn't quite have the level of charm for me that Scared to Death did, and overall I found the film to be less interesting. Too much of the running time was taken up by dialogue exchanges between dull characters, and the monster attacks didn't make up for that. The best thing the film has going for it is the presence of Re-Animator villain David Gale as bureaucratic villain Carter Brown, a powerful and successful man who is shown to be very off-balance in his private time. Gale was an awesome actor, and was actively trying to build up a body of work within the horror genre. Sadly, Syngenor was among his last roles, as he passed away just one year after this film was released.

Gale alone makes Syngenor worth watching. It's also amusing that being "impervious to conventional weapons" is a selling point for the Syngenors, but they're actually put down rather easily. Shooting them works just fine. They even react in pain when they have water splashed on them.



THE WRONG ROOMMATE (2016)

Although the David DeCoteau films I'm most familiar with are the Puppet Master sequels and prequels he directed (under his own name and pseudonyms), I have seen a good amount of his other movies as well - but far from all of them, as he is one of the most prolific feature directors out there today. Over the course of 33 years, he has directed nearly 150 movies.

One of those is the 2016 TV movie The Wrong Roommate, which I recently checked out because I saw that Robert Brian Wilson (who played the slasher Santa in Silent Night, Deadly Night) had returned to acting after a 24 year break to appear in it, and my friend / blog contributor Priscilla and I were both interested in catching up with him.

Written by Matthew Jason Walsh (who had acting roles in the Ohio-shot indies Zombie Cop, Kingdom of the Vampire, and Ozone back in the early '90s), The Wrong Roommate stars Bloody Murder's Jessica Morris as Laurie, a woman who is staying at her absent sister's mansion while working through a break-up. Her sister also happens to have rented out the guest house to a mysterious man named Alan (Jason-Shane Scott), who ends up causing some disturbing trouble for her. I'm not sure someone who's staying in a guest house can really be called a roommate, but the title is one of the least questionable things going on with The Wrong Roommate.


I went into this only anticipating seeing Wilson on the screen again 32 years after SNDN, and while I got that I also got to watch a movie that was way more fun to watch than I would have expected. While it doesn't have anything to show that you haven't seen before, it was highly entertaining to watch the way it handled the thriller formula on an obviously low budget and very short production schedule. An example of something we had fun spotting: Eric Roberts is in the cast, and it appears that he was only on set for one day, wearing the same clothes for most of his appearances, showing up in scenes where he was obviously not on set at the same time as the other actors in the scene, and never taking off his sunglasses - not even when his character is sporting a bandaged eye that prevents him from actually putting the glasses in front of his eyes.


Robert Brian Wilson does indeed show up in a couple scenes, and it was cool to see him back on the screen. DeCoteau gave him a cameo in another film this same year, the TV movie rom-com A Husband for Christmas, in which Wilson appears alongside Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 star Eric Freeman.

I wouldn't say The Wrong Roommate is a good movie, more like so bad that it's great. I'm not sure viewers were meant to laugh as much as we did while watching it, but the fact that it entertained us and amused us as much as it did is a win for DeCoteau.



SUPERNATURAL: SEASON FIVE (2009 - 2010)

If you had any misgivings about the changes that were made to the Supernatural mythos in season 4, you should strap yourself in before making your way through season 5, because this takes everything that was introduced in 4 and blows it up even bigger. Were you uncertain about the addition of angels? Well, this one has angels all over it - even says characters we met before angels were revealed to exist were angels, and has angels chasing characters through Heaven. Actual Heaven. Did you think it was odd that there was a prophet writing a series of Supernatural novels about the adventures of our monster hunting heroes? Here there's even a Supernatural convention with fans of the books roleplaying as their favorite characters. Not sure about that time travel episode? This time there are two time travel episodes, one to the future and one back to the past.

I was a bit uneasy about all of these crazy changes and additions in season 4, and I was still adjusting to them as season 5 went on. I'm getting more used to the idea of this being "the new Supernatural", and think I enjoyed 5 more than 4 overall, mainly because this feels like an ending. Things are getting wrapped up, we're heading for a final destination. This is the end, so why not blow the lid off?


Of course, this wasn't really the end. There are a lot more seasons of Supernatural beyond this one. But it was the end of series creator Eric Kripke's time as showrunner, and before he stepped back he completed the story he wanted to tell.

In the beginning, Kripke had an idea that involved Stull Cemetery in Stull, Kansas. This real life location has its own urban legend: rumor has it that it's the site of a gateway to Hell, and that Satan himself can be seen roaming among the tombstones twice every year, on Halloween and during the spring equinox. Kripke created Supernatural because he was fascinated by urban legends, and he made the lead characters, monster hunting siblings Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) be from Lawrence, Kansas because Lawrence in the next town over from Stull. Kripke expected Stull Cemetery to be a more important location in Supernatural lore than it ended up being, and had even intended for it to be the location of the gateway to Hell that was opened at the end of season 2. For some reason, Kripke and the show's writers had trouble actually working Stull Cemetery into scripts, though, and that gateway to Hell on the show was in a cemetery somewhere in Wyoming. Stull Cemetery finally made its way onto the show at a very appropriate time: the last episode Kripke wrote was the season 5 finale, and it all builds up to a confrontation that takes place in Stull Cemetery.

The event that brings the Winchesters to Stull Cemetery is the apocalypse, which they inadvertently caused at the end of season 4, their actions accidentally beginning and ending the process that releases Lucifer from the underworld. You might think that the world would crumble into complete chaos as soon as Lucifer rises. I picture madness in the streets, fire bursting out of the ground, sulphur raining from the sky. This apocalypse is more chill than that, it's a bit of a slow burn - the Winchesters still have some time to make things right... and to ponder whether or not they want to play the roles in the end of the world that representatives of both Heaven and Hell say they're meant to play. There are a lot of bad things going on in the world, but most of them are just things the characters hear about on the news - natural disasters, outbreaks of disease, etc.


It is clear in some episodes that apocalyptic events are occurring, because at different points Sam and Dean will travel through towns that have been emptied out for one reason or another - like a siege of demons, or a wholesale slaughter of the residents by Lucifer himself. I really liked seeing these empty town scenes, mainly because they reminded me of moments from Phantasm sequels. It's pretty similar - a pair of heroes in a classic muscle car, riding through towns that have been devastated by an evil being.

I've frequently commented that I like Supernatural seasons to have a good balance of standalone episodes and ones that deal with the mythology / major story arc. As you might expect, with the characters being at the center of the apocalypse, that balance is way out of whack in this season. Standalone, monster of the week episodes are few and far between. The majority of the episodes, I would say around 80%, are directly tied to the apocalypse, endeavors to stop it, or repercussions of it.


There are some random villains encountered, like shapeshifting pagan god Leshi (here in the form of celebrity guest star Paris Hilton), the ghosts of Gore Orphanage (an Ohio legend), a witch who wins years of their opponents' lives in poker games, a wraith, and a teenage boy who learns a Satanic spell that allows him to switch boys with Sam (a highlight of the season for me). Those more directly tied in with the apocalypse include the Four Horsemen, who don't actually ride horses; the Whore of Babylon; overzealous angels, one someone we didn't know was an angel before and another who I was disappointed to see turn bad; hellhounds; zombies; and a bunch of demons, among them the demon we've known as Meg since season 1. Meg was really the name of the person the demon was possessing, played by Nicky Aycox, and that body is now dead, so it's not really appropriate that the demon is still called Meg when it's inhabiting a different body (Rachel Miner), but how else are we supposed to know it's the same demon?

There's also an episode in which Sam and Dean meet a child who has the potential to become the Antichrist, but who hasn't yet chosen his path in life. That episode tells an interesting story and was one of my favorites of the season.

Like the demons, Lucifer has to possess a body to walk the Earth, and the body he possesses here belongs to a downtrodden man played by Mark Pellegrino. Lucifer isn't really given a whole lot to do over the season, but it's interesting to see how he's portrayed. The spirit of Lucifer is so powerful that it slowly destroys the man's body and he has to consume the blood of demons to keep from blowing apart. Lucifer has some well-written scenes in which he tries to get others to see his perspective of his falling out with God and his fall from grace. It's good stuff, even if he is whiny and petulant beneath his "I'm not such a bad guy" deliveries.


Despite dealing with Biblical apocalypse stuff, Supernatural doesn't show much reverence for scripture or religion. In one episode there's a gathering of multiple gods - Kali, Baldur, Ganesh, Zao Shen, Odin, Baron Samedi - that aren't handled entirely respectfully. Don't think they're letting Christianity off lightly, either. There's a line directly stating that the Bible gets things wrong.

Of course, the presence of so many villainous angels might be more insulting to some than that line. Angels get a lot of screen time in this season, almost an exhausting amount. I'm really hoping future seasons will pull back on the angel stuff.


To take on all of these enemies, Sam and Dean need help from returning allies - fellow hunters Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), Rufus Turner (Steven Williams), Ellen and Jo Harvelle (Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal), prophet Chuck Shurley (Rob Benedict), and rebellious angel Castiel (Misha Collins). Even their deceased buddy Ash (Chad Lindberg) shows up. I was surprised to see Ash go when he did, but I wasn't sorry that he was gone. Still, his appearance in this season was fun. Sam and Dean's dead half-brother Adam Milligan (Jake Abel) is given something to do here as well...

Sam and Dean also get some help from new pals like the playful demon Crowley (Mark Sheppard), who has some entertaining interactions with the Winchesters, and Supernatural fangirl Becky Rosen, who I liked mainly because she was played by Gingers Snaps' Emily Perkins. He's not much help, but Jon Gries is in one episode as Martin Creaser, a monster hunter who resides in a mental hospital. A fan of Gries, I'm hoping to see Martin again.


Season 5 contains one of Kripke's favorite episodes of the series, one titled Changing Channels because it finds Sam and Dean getting trapped in TV land by the Trickster (Richard Speight Jr.), forced to play along as they live through a medical drama, a herpes medication commerical, a Japanese game show, a sitcom complete with theme song, and a twist on the Knight Rider concept. It's a fun one.

Although I wasn't sure about the time travel in season 4, the time travel episodes in 5 were a couple of my favorites. In one, Dean is sent forward five years to a dystopian 2014, where the world has been overrun by people infected with a demonic virus and the future version of Dean and his allies (including a woman played by Lexa Doig of Jason X) are gearing up with one final confrontation with Lucifer. In the other, Sam and Dean go back to 1978 to save their parents John and Mary (Matthew Cohen and Amy Gumenick) from an angel that has gone back in time to kill them before Sam and Dean were born. The time travel episode in season 4 had a Back to the Future flavor to it, while this one draws some inspiration from The Terminator.


There is a lot of good to be found in season 5. But it also marks the first time Supernatural ever made me angry, and it did so within the very first episode. I got upset because the show cheats to benefit a popular character, the Winchesters' fellow hunter / substitute father figure Bobby Singer. Bobby has been on the show since the end of season 1, and the season 5 premiere should have been his exit. The Winchesters have had access to two weapons that can kill demons, a specially designed Colt handgun and a knife they acquired from a demon. The problem with using these weapons is that you also have to accept the fact that they're going to kill the person the demon is inhabiting, and that's not always an issue because these people often die even when our heroes take the exorcism route. Any damage the body sustained while the person was possessed catches up with them as soon as the evil spirit exits them. Sam was going down a dark path in season 4 because he wanted to be able to easily exorcize demons, he didn't want to have to kill people with the Colt or the knife. The knife in particular is the issue here - every possessed person we've ever seen get stabbed with the knife has died. There has never been any mention of a person surviving a stabbing, and it always seemed to me that the knife needed to inflict a mortal wound to kill the demon within. But in the first episode of season 5, Bobby gets possessed. While possessed, he gets his hands on that knife, and when his own consciousness is able to emerge for a moment, he plunges the knife into his own stomach. The demon inhabiting his body is killed... but Bobby survives. He's injured badly enough that he's confined to a wheelchair for the rest of the season, but he lives. I like Bobby, but this made me mad because it's poor, obvious storytelling. There is absolutely no precedence for someone being able to survive a stabbing with this knife, it isn't explained why the demon spirit would die while Bobby survives, and no other possessed person who gets stabbed as the season goes on manages to survive. The Winchesters don't even try to spare these demon vessels, using the knife to go for the kill every time. Supernatural saves its characters from impossible situations all the time - Sam and Dean have died before and been resurrected, it happens again during this season, Dean has been sent to Hell and was rescued from the depths. Their angel pal Castiel has also been killed and revived. But I can accept when the characters are saved from death by deals with demons, the interference of angels, or the grace of God. I can't accept it when there is no reason given at all. The only reason Bobby survives is because he's a beloved recurring character and the show brushes right past it. It annoyed me when it happened, and I got annoyed all over again every time Bobby would show up in another episode.

Bobby being able to take back control of his body while possessed does set up something important later in the season, but the knife issue could have been handled in a less annoying way.

So yeah, season 5 upset and annoyed me, but the overall show is still so good that I remained entertained... And I continued to enjoy the musical choices. Season 5's soundtrack includes songs from AC/DC, Foreigner, Norman Greenbaum, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Contours, Jeff Beck, Bob Seger, Warrant, Molly Hatchet, Bob Dylan, and The Bachelors. "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas is back, and Def Leppard's "Rock of Ages" is nicely used.


If the series had ended here, I would have been perfectly content. As the season finale comes to a conclusion, it feels done. Kripke and company did everything they needed to do with the show in these first five seasons.

Despite the feeling of things being over, the show continues on, so I will continue to watch it. I'm very intrigued to see where things can go from here... and I hope I won't be looking back at the season 5 finale and wishing it really had ended here.

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