Friday, April 10, 2015

Worth Mentioning - Your Darkest Hour

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.

Learn your ABCs with Anacondas, Butchers, and Crocodiles.


Patrick Channing (played by Jeff Kober) is a huge fan of Satan. So much so that he has been killing people in a Pentagram-shaped pattern around the Los Angeles area and sacrificing them to the devil.

Since this film was made in the days before caller I.D., psychic Tess Seaton (Tracy Griffith) is able to call the detective working the case, Russell Logan (Lou Diamond Phillips of Young Guns and Malevolent), at his home to give anonymous tips on Channing's activities, tips which she gives under two conditions: that Channing not be killed when confronted by the police and that he not receive the death penalty.

I don't think arresting officers have any say in what their collar's sentence will be, but when Tess's advice enables Logan to disrupt Channing's sacrifice of his sixteenth victim, he certainly doesn't hold back, firing shots at the killer and then attempting to beat him to a pulp. Still, Channing is taken in alive... but he does receive the death penalty and is executed in the gas chamber.

That's just the beginning of Channing's reign of terror. Soon after his death, Tess and Logan both start having visions of him and more people start turning up dead around L.A., done in using Channing's old M.O. With the aid of nun Sister Marguerite (Elizabeth Arlen), who believed that the pentagram murders were a sign of end times but was stifled by her superiors for having beliefs too extreme for the modern age, the cop and the psychic are able to deduce that Channing's sacrifices were so successful at getting him on Satan's good side that the dark lord has gifted him with "the first power": the ability to live on through possessing the bodies of others.

The second power is the ability to see the future, which Tess has. It's not clear what the third power is, but Sister Marguerite says that the only being who ever had all three was Jesus Christ, and it's only through his power that the heroic trio will be able to stop Patrick Channing once and for all.

The First Power seems to be sort of obscure these days, but it rocked my world when it was first released. It's a great little action horror movie with a wonderfully dark and disturbing atmosphere. I thought it was awesome during my childhood viewings, although it wasn't something that I would watch regularly simply because it creeped me out so much.

The cast is quite stong; Phillips and Griffith are a good pairing, and LDP himself is always a welcome screen presence. Jeff Kober delivers a very memorable turn as Channing - as of this writing, the man has 110 credits to his name, but no matter how many movies and TV shows I see him turn up in, he will always be "The First Power guy" to me. Future Forrest Gump co-star Mykelti Williamson (at this point being credited as Mykel T.) also makes an impression with his role as Logan's partner.

This was the last credit for writer/director Robert Resnikoff and his only directorial effort, which is a shame. The First Power was very capably put together, and twenty-five years later still holds up, providing a chilling and exciting viewing experience.

Watch out for blink-and-miss cameos by Re-Animator's David Gale, Friday the 13th Part III's David Katims, and Bill Moseley of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Night of the Living Dead 1990, The House of 1000 Corpses, and Texas Chainsaw 3D.


Hans Bauer, Jim Cash, and Jack Epps Jr., the writers of the 1997 film Anaconda, receive story credit on its 2004 sequel, although I'm left wondering if Anacondas is indeed based on a new story the trio pitched or if they were given credit simply because the follow-up is so close to being a remake of the first movie.

Screenplay credit goes to two pairs - John Claflin and Daniel Zelman, writers of the killer bug movie They Nest and the Matthew McConaughey/Kate Hudson flick Fool's Gold, and RoboCop creators Michael Miner and Edward Neumeier. Their script was brought to the screen by Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers director Dwight H. Little.

In the original movie, a documentary crew took a small boat down the Amazon in search of a legendary tribe of natives and ended up being terrorized and killed by the titular species of snake, as well as a money-mad poacher. This time, a pharmaceutical company has sent a research team to Borneo on the subtitular hunt for the Blood Orchid, a flower containing a chemical that could prolong cellular life, the idea being that it could be processed into a sort of "fountain of youth" drug that might lengthen human lives.

Since the Blood Orchid only blooms for six months before going dormant for seven years and that window of opportunity will soon be closed, the research team is forced to charter a rickety old boat with a questionable Captain to take them down river to reach the flower's location during Borneo's rainy season.

The group encounters many dangers during their trip - leeches, a crocodile attack, a spider whose bite can paralyze its victim. Their boat even crashes over a waterfall, so they have to take a hike through the jungle in an effort to reach safety. The biggest threats they have to contend with, however, are one of their own - a doctor so determined to attain the Blood Orchid that he's even willing to kill people to keep the expedition on track - and, of course, the unusually large, man-eating anacondas that the area is infested with.

This sequel gives a reason for why its snakes are so big. They've been ingesting the Blood Orchids, which has allowed them to live longer and continue growing during their extra years. What isn't explained is why a species of snake from South America is so prevalent on this island in South East Asia.

Anacondas is so similar to its predecessor, it's somewhat baffling how much less entertaining it is. It comes down to the subdued tone, the writing, and the dull characters that not even a solid cast that includes Morris Chestnut and KaDee Strickland can make involving. I find Anaconda to be a very fun creature feature, and I was all for a sequel. On the surface, part 2 would seem to be exactly what I was hoping for. But the way it was executed, it's an uninteresting slog for me. Both times I've watched it, it has been a challenge to try keeping my attention on it.

LAKE PLACID 2 (2007)

The first Lake Placid had been written by television top gun David E. Kelley and directed by Steve Miner, who has worked primarily in television since the late '80s. When its first sequel came along eight years later, directed by Boa vs. Python's David Flores from a script by Todd Hurvitz and Howie Miller, it went straight to TV, premiering on Syfy back when it was the SciFi Channel.

The cast of Lake Placid 2 is headed up by a couple TV legends: John Schneider of The Dukes of Hazzard stars as Sheriff James Riley, who has to deal with the fact that a lake in his small town is full of human-craving crocodiles. Betty White's frequent co-star Cloris Leachman replaces her in the "foul-mouthed old lady harboring killer crocs" role, playing the sister of the character White played in the first movie. White's character has disappeared since the events of that film, with the assumption being that she ended up being devoured by her pets.

The story primarily follows two groups of characters. While Riley attempts to rid his lake of crocodiles with the aid of his former girlfriend/Fish & Wildlife officer Emma and a pair of poachers, his teenage son Scott and four other youths have a harrowing experience of their own in the area around the lake.

Lake Placid 2 is stunningly poorly made on almost every level, starting with the script: The film is set in the same town as the first, and yet somehow nobody believes there could be crocodiles in the lake. Despite the fact that what occurred in Lake Placid was public knowledge, a giant croc was even transported away from town on a semi trailer and taken off down the highway, the stories of crocs in the lake have been brushed off as rumor and urban legend after just a few years. The direction is bland, the sound quality is atrocious, and the CGI used to bring the crocodiles to life sticks out like a sore thumb.

If you're an avid viewer of this type of Syfy movie even at their worst, you have seen much worse than what this sequel has to offer, but there's nothing here that would win over someone who isn't a fan of them.

THE ABCs OF DEATH 2 (2014)

Last month, I talked about The ABCs of Death and the fact that substitute teacher Sheila Kearns has been sentenced to three years of probation and 90 days in jail for showing the movie in her classroom. I read that Kearns is supposed to start serving her jail time today, so it seemed appropriate to cover the sequel on this date.

Like its predecessor, The ABCs of Death 2 is an anthology film comprised of shorts made by twenty-six different directors (or, in some cases, director pairs) from many different countries, each of whom were assigned a letter of the alphabet and given complete artistic freedom to make a death-themed short based on a word beginning with that letter.

Coincidentally, there is also a school teacher theme to this sequel. The title appears on a blackboard in an image of a skeletal teacher giving lessons to a class full of young students, and that teacher returns at the end of each short to reveal what its title was, from "A is for Amateur" to "Z is for Zygote".

As I said when writing about the first ABCs, with such a wide range of minds and styles at work the odds are against viewers liking every one of the shorts in these movies. However, I actually enjoyed a lot more of the segments in part 2 than I did in the original. There were only a few shorts in the first one I really liked a lot, but this time around I liked several of them... maybe even most of them.

One thing that stands out about the collection of stories here is that not many of the filmmakers took the insanely over-the-top route that so many of the directors who came before them did. Most of these shorts feel more widely accessible, which may be why I found the sequel to be a more enjoyable experience.

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