Friday, August 15, 2014

Worth Mentioning - And Then, Tragedy Struck

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 nature go wrong.


The Exorcist's Linda Blair stars in and was associate producer on this slasher/creature feature from actor-turned-director Joe Tornatore and actor-turned-writer Mikel Angel (who, going by the dates on his IMDb page, would've been about 70 years old when he was penning the script).

Blair's character Lisa is the daughter of famed special effects artist Orville Kruger, who regularly takes a break from the hustle and bustle of Hollywood by retreating to his cabin in the mountains with his wife. Lisa is coming to visit her parents as the film begins, and she brings along her pal Kathy (Donna Wilkes of Jaws 2 and Angel).

During the drive to the cabin, Lisa and Kathy have a couple unnerving encounters with a group of tweaked-out punkers cruising around in a VW microbus. Unbeknownst to the girls, and tragically for them, these are not the only interactions they're going to have with this group.

One of the punkers, a girl named Belle, used to come up to this area when she was a kid, and there were always rumors amongst the locals that the Krugers had some kind of big secret hidden away within their cabin. Money? Jewelry? Drugs? Whatever it is, the punkers want it, and they're willing to kill to get what they want. The family they recently massacred in Nevada found that out.

Lisa and Kathy arrive at the Kruger place, hang out with Lisa's mother and father, then go to bed as a dark and stormy night descends upon the cabin. Under the cover of night, the punkers gain entry into the home, take its inhabitants hostage, and demand that they be given whatever the Krugers have been hiding.

When the punkers don't immediately get what they want, their homicidal tendencies begin to come out. As their hostages are roughed up and murdered, one female punker is so turned on by the violence that she can barely contain herself, while another randomly starts making monkey noises.

Soon enough, the punkers realize what the Kruger secret is, but it's nothing like they were hoping for. In a hidden room behind a bookcase, a nursery room with garish red lighting, resides another Kruger, a man with a terribly disfigured face (the grotesque thing of the title) and the mind of a young child... And when he sees what the punkers have done to his family, he flies into a violent rage and embarks on a rampage of vengeance. One-by-one, the punkers are picked off as the secret Kruger tears into them with great strength, breaking necks and backs.

Grotesque isn't the most well put together film, nor is it all that thrilling, but it has a quirkiness that made it appeal to me.

For the most part, it's a rather straightforward little killfest of a movie, but as it goes on it takes some strange twists and turns, with the last 25 being something very unusual for this type of movie, and largely a dead zone when it comes to entertainment. It's like there's a spin-off short tacked on after the main feature, and it gets pretty ridiculous. In the final moments, it does indeed feel like it was written by a 70 year old man who had a message he wanted to get across.

Despite the fact that one of its characters is a Hollywood effects artist, the makeup on the secret member of the Kruger family is very underwhelming. And surely Orville's brother Rod (Tab Hunter), who shows up to take over the movie late in the running time and is a plastic surgeon, could have done something to help out his appearance.

Orville has quite a collection of movie props and monster masks in his den, and horror fans may recognize a couple of them as Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Those masks aren't the only products that make notable appearances in the film - Tornatorne must have had some kind of product placement deal with Burger King and a motorhome manufacturer, because during their drive to the cabin Lisa and Kathy make a quick stop at a Burger King and then appreciate a motorhome that's parked in town, and these moments serve absolutely no purpose other than to bring attention to the restaurant and the vehicle.

The punkers are the true highlight and the main selling point of this movie. As soon as they came on screen with their face paint, spiked hair, mohawks, and multiple colors of hair dye, it was locked in that this movie was going to have to fail hard somehow during its running time not to earn my recommendation. It tried its best, but did not succeed in throwing me off. Played by the likes of Robert Z'Dar and Bunky Jones, with a mixture of normal names (Shelly, Eric) and wacky ones (Scratch, Ear Box), these punkers are completely out of control, drugged out of their minds, and the actors deliver performances that are way over-the-top. I don't really have strong feelings about anything that surrounds them either way, but the punkers were a delight to watch.


Made to coincide with the release of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, the prequel to the 2003 remake, this E! special is a 43 minute long examination of the Chainsaw franchise that provides an overview of each installment, with a particular focus on the original film and the remake entries.

The documentary begins by delving into the concept's roots in the true story of Ed Gein, sharing the details of Gein's murders and grave robberies through interviews with an author, an FBI profiler, the prosecutor from Gein's trial, as well as actor Steve Railsback, who played the man in the 2000 release entitled Ed Gein, and master of horror John Carpenter.

Director Tobe Hooper, his co-writer Kim Henkel, and actors Gunnar Hansen and Edwin Neal sit down in the interviewee chairs once the documentary moves on to covering the production and release of the 1974 classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (drive-in king Joe Bob Briggs chimes in as well), and there's really nothing in here that fans of the film haven't heard multiple times before. Short versions of all the standard stories are told as the show speeds on through its running time.

The sequels are quickly summarized, but the only people involved with any of them who are interviewed are Hooper, who returned to direct part 2, and Henkel, who directed part 4. However, there is some nice behind-the-scenes footage from the makings of 3 and 4.

Ironically, part 4, the least popular entry in the series among fans, gets more respect in here than 2 and 3 do. The preceding sequels are disappointingly looked down upon, while the harshest words on 4 come from Hooper. Mike Fleiss, a producer on the remake and its prequel, seems especially unenthusiastic about 2 and 3, and come on... I really don't need to see the creator of The Bachelor badmouthing movies that I love.

The interview with Fleiss continues on through the coverage of the movies he produced alongside Michael Bay/Platinum Dunes, and since The Beginning was about to hit theatres at this time, the glimpse behind-the-scenes of its production gets special attention.

There's also a brief segment on the Chainsaw fan base in there. I don't think any of the franchise's fans who are going to check out an E! special on Chainsaw are really going to expect to learn anything, and they're probably not going to. Still, I always find some interest in watching people involved with a series I care about telling their stories of what it was like to work on the movies. Even if I have heard the stories before.


An unspecified distance into the future, in a time when intergalactic travel is commonplace and there are many more worlds and species known to us, a bounty hunter named Johns is escorting the dangerous criminal Richard B. Riddick to a maximum security prison on a civilian transport ship called the Hunter Gratzner. There are around forty passengers on board, all kept in cryosleep during the ship's auto pilot journey along remote "ghost lanes". Riddick is the only one of them who's awake. Cryosleep doesn't work on him. Still, his restraints keep him from getting loose.

The Hunter Gratzner's star trek comes to an abrupt end when the ship passes through the tail of a comet and red hot space rocks come smashing through the hull, sending the transport into emergency. Members of the crew are woken up to deal with the problem, but the captain is unable to join them. Some of those space rocks went right through his body.

As the Hunter Gratzner begins to plummet through the atmosphere of the nearest planet, one crew member, a woman named Fry, desperately tries to keep it from just smashing into the surface. She begins to jettison sections of the ship in an attempt to pull it out of its nosedive. She's so intent on saving herself that she even attempts to jettison the section with the ship's passengers in their cryo-lockers. Fortunately for them, Fry's fellow crew member, Owens, doesn't agree with this tactic and stops her. Owens and several passengers are killed when the Hunter Gratzner finally does crash into the ground, but Fry and a handful of others do survive... And their troubles have just begun.

Not only does Riddick manage to escape from the wreckage, with Johns painting him to be the most dangerous man who ever lived, convincing the survivors that the criminal will massacre the group if he gets the chance, but they also find that they're in the middle of a vast desert on a planet with three suns and no sign of civilization.

The search for water and help takes them through the desert, past the skeletal remains of what once were massive beasts, to a small research camp. Abandoned for years. But its former inhabitants did leave behind some things that will come in handy getting the Hunter Gratzner castaways out of their predicament. And an orrery that shows that the planet is about to be plunged into darkness by an eclipse.

There is life on this planet. Ravenous subterranean creatures kept at bay by the sunlight. When the eclipse happens, these creatures crawl to the surface... and begin picking off the people from the Hunter Gratzner one-by-one.

As they fight to survive the endless night and escape from this planet, the group has to form a tenuous alliance with Riddick, who isn't quite the monster Johns has made him out to be, but who is quite a capable monster killer and has the ability to see in the dark thanks to a "surgical shine job" he received in one of the prisons he has spent time in.

Directed by David Twohy from a screenplay he co-wrote with Ken and Jim Wheat (old schoolers with credits like A Nightmare on Elm Street 4, The Fly II, and The Birds II to their names), Pitch Black is a fantastic sci-fi creature feature in the tradition of such films as Alien, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, Predator, The Thing from Another World, etc. You name it, aliens are bad news.

Although the primary draw is simply seeing people take on these monstrous alien lifeforms and that provides some great sequences of action and suspense, Twohy and the Wheats didn't skimp on filling out the characters they pit against these things. In between the monster attacks, there are effective turnarounds - Riddick isn't as bad as you're led to believe he is, Johns is more of a creep than you'd expect, one of the survivors isn't who they initially appear to be - and Fry has a strong character arc. She starts off as someone who feels her life is worth more than the lives of forty others, but by the end is someone who is willing to risk her life to save others.

Twohy gathered a great cast to bring these characters to the screen. Radha Mitchell plays Fry, who would be our obvious heroine if she hadn't tried so hard to pull that jettison lever at the beginning. Cole Hauser is such a sleazy jerk as Johns that he could be starring in Bad Lieutenant: Alien World. Of course, the standout performance and character is Vin Diesel as Riddick. Pitch Black was really Diesel's breakthrough, the movie that showed the bald dude from Saving Private Ryan could also be a headliner. Calm, cool, always in control and dangerous, even when he's in shackles, Riddick is one of the greatest cinema badasses of the last twenty years.

It's been a constant mission for Twohy and Diesel to bring Riddick back to screens as many times as possible over the last fourteen years. They've succeeded twice, but Pitch Black remains, by far, my favorite of their chronicles of Riddick.


Directed by James Cameron protégé Steven Quale from a screenplay by John Swetnam (who also wrote this weekend's Step Up All In), Into the Storm is a fluffy piece of summer popcorn movie carnage candy that will have left your mind soon after you've finished watching it, as if blown out of your memory by winds even stronger than those featured within it.

Set over the course of one day in the town of Silverton, Oklahoma, this (natural) disaster movie is presented as an awkward blend of found footage and traditional filmmaking. The footage shot by the characters generally looks the same as the unsourced angles, and the look of the video is also largely interchangeable from character to character, so sometimes it gets confusing as to whether or not someone in the movie is shooting a scene, and which one of the characters the camera operator might be.

The characters filming the events of this day and enduring the tragedy of Silverton being ravaged by tornado after tornado - building up to the climactic sequence that sees the town being struck by the largest tornado there has ever been - are a mixture of locals and visiting storm chasers/documentary filmmakers.

The storm chasers are very well prepared for the situation they're driving into, at least until they have to deal with the world's first Category Six twister. The lead vehicle is heavily armored, covered in cameras, and equipped with anchors so it can park right in the path of a tornado and not budge. Much of the film concerns this makeshift tank cruising around Silverton, the documentary crew bumping into other characters who happen to be lugging around cameras, like the local high schoolers who were filming time capsule documentaries of their lives (to be viewed in twenty-five years) when the storms blew in and the comic relief pair of redneck YouTube daredevils who decide to become amateur tornado chasers themselves.

The problem with Into the Storm is that nothing works quite as well as it should.

The tornado destruction sequences that appeared so intense in the promotional materials come off as rather bland when viewed in context. There are certainly some  impressive moments when the tornadoes are hitting (and they hit quite frequently), but nothing to make them a must see.

Bland is also the word that can be used to describe the characters. We get behind Sarah Wayne Callies' put-upon meteorologist a little, actors Max Deacon and Alycia Debnam Carey have strong dramatic scenes when their teenage characters are facing certain death, Matt Walsh makes an impression as the storm chaser who's determined to get some great footage, but for the most part they're just camera-toting cardboard cut-outs going through motions you've seen umpteen times before.

I understand the drive to watch something like Into the Storm. I wanted to see an action-packed movie filled with terror and destruction, and there is plenty of that on display here, but I was underwhelmed by the delivery. When I'm checking the time during an 89 minute movie, there is an entertainment deficiency going on. Those who are interested in seeing it will likely do so regardless of reviews, but I would recommend waiting until you can see it for as cheap of a price as possible.

In the meantime, your tornado needs can filled by sticking with the 1996 duo of the TV movie Tornado! (starring Bruce Campbell) and its big screen counterpart Twister, to which there is a nod in Into the Storm, when a tornado rips through a steakhouse and blows a cow statue through the air.


One year ago, writer/director James DeMonaco introduced audiences to his vision of a future America where a regime called the New Founding Fathers have found a way to reduce unemployment and crimes. Their answer was to create The Purge, an annual twelve hour stretch during which all crime is legal.

Many viewers wondered why DeMonaco crafted such a complicated backstory for a movie which was, for the most part, a standard home invasion story. But a year has passed, it's time for another Purge, and DeMonaco has returned with another story to tell that's set within this world he created, one which has a broader scope than its predecessor.

At the center of The Purge: Anarchy is a man known only as Sergeant, who is planning to carry out a mission of revenge during this year's Purge. The drunk driver who killed his young son was let off the hook due to a technicality, so Sergeant is going to bust into the man's house and execute him. Sergeant stocks up on weapons, does a DIY armor job on his car, and when the twelve hours of lawlessness begins, he hits the streets.

Sergeant's drive across town doesn't go very smoothly at all. A man who believes in justice, he can't see people in trouble and just let them be prey for the predators stalking the city.

Not long into the night, Sergeant finds himself playing protector to four characters whose storylines we've also been following up to the point where they all converge: A married couple on the verge of separation whose car broke down after a gang tampered with it during a pre-Purge stop at a supermarket, a single mother who has been stressing about her father's medical bills, and her daughter, who is a fan of an anti-Purge revolutionary.

Joe Carnahan, writer/director of The Grey, was attached for a while to remake Death Wish, and he intended to cast actor Frank Grillo, who was in The Grey, as one of the main characters. When Carnahan left the project, Grillo's part in it may have gone away as well... so on one hand, the fact that Grillo portrays Sergeant in this movie sort of makes up for the loss of Death Wish, as he's still getting to play a character seeking to avenge a family member.

On the other hand, The Purge: Anarchy has a very graphic novel feel to it. There's colorful lighting, a gang of bikers who wear masks and face paint, a man in a butcher's smock who fires a mini-gun from the back of a semi trailer, an auction scene where the rich bid for the chance to murder stragglers caught off the street. It's so comic booky, I began to see Grillo's character himself in such a fashion. Sergeant does share a similar motivation with one of my favorite comic book characters. Both are heavily armed. Both can handle themselves in a fight. I began to feel like DeMonaco had made a covert Punisher movie here.

In every scene of Grillo in action, I couldn't help but think, "He is the Punisher!" Frank Grillo is playing the Punisher in a story where America has gone mad and the rich hunt people. And I have to say, watching Anarchy as if it were an adaptation of a really whacked-out Punisher graphic novel did make it a rather awesome experience.

So if you imagine you're watching a Punisher movie, it's great, but even if you don't, I still found The Purge: Anarchy to be a very solid film that continues to build on the intriguing concept that DeMonaco wrote up, and I enjoyed getting a better view of what happens on these crazy nights.

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