Friday, August 18, 2017

Worth Mentioning - The Ultimate Clash of the Forces of Evil

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.

Apes fight humans. Van Damme fights terrorists. A slasher fights zombies. A werewolf fights a vampire.


Although it was director Rupert Wyatt who proved to the world with Rise of the Planet of the Apes that a new approach to the Apes franchise was viable and could result in a legitimately great film, director Matt Reeves took over the new series with the second installment, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and returned to finish off the trilogy with War for the Planet of the Apes - which he also wrote with Mark Bomback.

War picks up fifteen years after the events of Rise and two years after what remained of the U.S. Army was contacted at the end of Dawn and a Special Forces battalion was sent on a mission to wipe out the ape leader Caesar (again brought to life through an Andy Serkis motion-capture performance) and his community of super-intelligent apes. That means we're already two years into the titular war between apes and humans when the movie begins, and I felt it was a nice touch to drop us into the midst of a lengthy conflict rather than just show us the entire fight, beginning, middle, and end, over the course of one film. Not only does that allow the film to start with a bang, literally, but it also has an effect on the emotions of the characters and the tone of the film.

War is a very somber film overall, with things getting even darker when Caesar's wife and son are killed in a raid. That makes the story a personal mission of revenge for Caesar, who seeks to kill the leader of the Special Forces team called Alpha-Omega. That leader is an intense Woody Harrelson as The Colonel, a man determined to restore order to the world, decimated by a super bug called the Simian Flu, no matter what the cost.

The chances of the world ever going back to normal seem to be getting less likely, because even the survivors of the Simian Flu are starting to show side effects from their exposure to the sickness. While apes have gained the ability to speak, humans are losing the ability - paving the way for a world like the one shown in the original Planet of the Apes. A character from the original POTA is even introduced in this film: Amiah Miller as a child version of Nova, who was played by Linda Harrison in the 1968 film. Really, these two characters only share a name and the fact that they're both mute. Reeves has acknowledged the fact that the events of the '68 movies are too far in the future for the two Novas to be the same person.

Beyond the action, the drama, and the fan service, I found the highlight of War to be the inclusion of a chimpanzee called Bad Ape and portrayed by Steve Zahn. The CGI that brings Bad Ape to the screen is mind-blowingly incredible. This guy truly looks like a real chimpanzee. Somehow this chimp is acting and they've just dropped Zahn's voice in there when its mouth moves. That's how it looks. Bad Ape is an endearing, funny, and heartbreaking character.

War for the Planet of the Apes didn't interest me quite as much as Rise and Dawn did, it was too long and dreary for my taste, but it was an exceptionally well made film that continued to treat the material seriously and with deep respect. These are movies about talking apes and yet they're some of the most intelligent movies being made in the Hollywood system these days.


This could just be my personal perspective, but it seems like the 1994 video game adaptation Street Fighter marked a bad turn in Jean-Claude Van Damme's career. It tarnished his brand, the movies usually weren't as good after that point. For several years, I had been a big Van Damme fan, through Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Lionheart, Death Warrant, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Nowhere to Run, Hard Target, and Timecop. Looking at the basics, Street Fighter should have been a win - an adaptation of a very popular game, starring a very popular action star. But the film was cartoonishly atrocious, and Van Damme was so miscast as the all-American Colonel Guile (sure, "the muscles from Brussels" had played Americans plenty of times before, but this time it just felt wrong), it ended up being a disaster. That's when 11-year-old Cody abandoned his Van Damme fandom, and I left it behind for several years.

Before Street Fighter, I would have been excited that a new Van Damme movie was coming out, but I didn't care much when Sudden Death came out a year after Street Fighter.

Reuniting Van Damme with his Timecop director Peter Hyams, Sudden Death is one of those "Die Hard in" movies, in this case "Die Hard in a hockey arena". Taking on a role that had been turned down by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis (and it's a good thing Willis did turn it down, since it's a Die Hard knock-off), Van Damme plays Darren McCord, a Pittsburgh firefighter who has become fire marshal at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena after an on-the-job tragedy. When a group of terrorists led by a disgruntled former CIA agent (played by Powers Boothe) infiltrate the arena during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, a game McCord has brought his two young children to, and take the attending Vice President of the United States hostage, threatening to blow up the arena if they aren't given $1.7 billion, it's up to McCord to handle the situation.

The teams on the ice are the Chicago Blackhawks and the Pittsburgh Penguins, since the chairman of the Penguins was one of the investors in the film. Early on, McCord gets in a fight with one of the terrorists while she's in the costume of the Penguins mascot Iceburgh, and this was a moment that was featured in the marketing - one of the things that put me off of Sudden Death before it was even released. Street Fighter had been way too goofy, and after that I was in no mood to see Van Damme fight someone dressed like a giant penguin. Taken out of its mid-'90s Van Damme career context, the Iceburgh fight is much more enjoyable. So is the moment when he stabs another terrorist in the neck with a drumstick bone. In '95 / '96, I wasn't laughing. Now I can appreciate these things.

Sudden Death is very standard stuff, playing out exactly how you would expect "Die Hard in a hockey arena" to go. It's nothing special in any regard, but it's not the failure I thought it was twenty years ago. If you're an action fan in general or a Van Damme fan in particular, it's not one of the best choices you could make, but it's perfectly fine movie to watch.

The best thing about the movie is really Powers Boothe's performance as the lead villain. It's a performance that kind of deserves to have a better movie around it.


One of the major selling points for director Brett DeJager's slasher / zombie movie mash-up Bonejangles is the fact that Reggie Bannister is in the cast, but while the genre icon is featured heavily in the marketing materials, you shouldn't put this film on expecting to see much of him in it. If you've watched enough low budget independent productions of this sort, you know what to expect. Actors of Reggie Bannister's stature tend to have cameos rather than substantial supporting roles, and such is the case with the part Bannister plays in Bonejangles. He has one scene early on and pops up a couple more times over the course of the story, but you really don't see much more of him in the film than you get in the trailer.

Bannister's low amount of screen time is something horror fans and Phantasm phans should be warned of up front to avoid disappointment. The overall film is so much fun, it would be a shame if viewers were to consider it a letdown because it doesn't deliver as much Reggie as they were hoping for. Anything could always benefit from having more Reggie Bannister in it, as he has a great screen presence, but here he uses that presence to make his character fun and memorable even though he's only around for a couple minutes.

Bannister makes his cameo as serial killer Edgar Friendly, a.k.a. the New Brunswick Ripper, who happens to be the father of the film's titular serial killer, Bonejangles, who is a mute, masked unkillable slasher of the Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers variety. Having a homicidal lunatic for a father certainly didn't do Edgar Jr. any favors, but you can't blame dear old dad for all of Bonejangles' peculiarities. Legend has it that his mom was a voodoo priestess, and she gave him the dark supernatural powers that have kept him going, racking up over a hundred kills over the years while surviving being shot, stabbed, burned, drowned, doused with toxic waste, and frozen.

That list of the attempts that have been made on Bonejangles' life brings to mind the injuries Jason Voorhees has sustained, and the influence of Jason on the character comes through in the film. You get the feeling that screenwriter Keith Melcher (who also plays Bonejangles) came up with the idea for this movie by imagining what might happen if Jason were dropped into the middle of a zombie outbreak.

Oh yes, there are zombies. Bonejangles can't be killed, but he can be incapacitated by electricity, so after being tazed into submission he's given a sedative through an IV drip (shades of Jason X and Freddy vs. Jason here) and tossed into a van to be transferred to Smith's Grove Sanitarium (hello, Halloween reference), a route that will take him through the small town of Argento (!) City. Unfortunately, this transfer is taking place on April 18th, which happens to be the date when the dead rise in Argento every year.

The people of Argento have been dealing with this zombie issue for a long time, the curse was put on their town by the succubus Rowena Abernathy (Elissa Dowling) way back in 1872, and all they have to do to survive the night is gather together in the local rec center. But they never counted on a slasher getting loose in the town on zombie night.

The police officers overseeing Bonejangles' transfer are Hannah Richter as busty nymphomaniac Lisa Gutierrez and Kelly Misek Jr. and Jamie Scott Gordon as Doug Partridge and Randy Myers, a bumbling and cowardly pair who are sort of like a live action Scooby and Shaggy, if Scooby and Shaggy were cops. And Scooby were a human. It's really no surprise that this trio manages to screw things up and lose track of Bonejangles, allowing for the deaths of a lot of Argento townspeople, but it's not entirely their fault. The zombies cause the van to crash. Of course, being an Argento native, Doug could have warned his fellow officers about the whole zombie thing...

But Bonejangles isn't about rationally thinking, responsible characters. This is a goofball, off-the-wall comedy that is aiming to make viewers laugh and cheer, and maybe even say "Oh shit!" with a big grin on your face - like when it cuts directly from Bonejangles escaping out the back of the transfer van to a shot of some campers sitting around a campfire in the nearby woods. Of course this Jason-inspired slasher needs to hack his way through some campers on his way to the heart of zombie town.

This is a film that plays on your knowledge of the horror genre quite often, from that cutaway to campers to all of the movie references. The franchise that may get the most nods is the Evil Dead series, with talk of rapey trees, quoting of the Army of Darkness tagline, a use of a chainsaw, and the inclusion of a character who isn't that far off from being Ash, but isn't as likeable as Ash because he isn't our hero this time, he's our hero's romantic rival.

Bonejangles is a very enjoyable throwback overall, but its reverence for films of decades past may go too far for some viewers in one instance. There is a character in here who some may find offensive, and I have to assume that he's just part of the nods to the '80s, because he is the most flamboyantly gay black man to reach the screen since Lamar in Revenge of the Nerds and Hollywood in Mannequin. The character is Juan Larumba, played by Lawrence Wayne Curry, and he's the driver of the transfer van. He is so over-the-top that he's like a living cartoon - this is a guy who will gleefully follow a trail of Twinkies that have been left in the dirt, gathering these "Twinkles" up until he has stumbled into the middle of a trap set by a couple redneck rapists straight out of Deliverance. And he's happy to be trapped. The writing and portrayal of Juan is highly questionable.

The sexual situation Juan finds himself in is just one example of the fact that Bonejangles is rather pre-occupied with sex overall. There's a lot of sexual subject matter in there - gay threesome sex, nympho sex, a groom sneaking off to have sex with a stranger 30 minutes before his wedding, campers having sex, virgins wanting sex, succubus sex, etc. Traditionally, slashers punish the fornicators, and the way DeJager and Melcher use that trope within their story is actually pretty clever. Eventually we see that there was a reason for all of the sex talk and sex having.

Its comedy won't be to the taste of everyone, but if you're a fan of slashers and the movies that Bonejangles references I would recommend checking it out. At just 78 minutes long (including more than five minutes of end credits), the movie flies by, and there is a lot of entertainment packed into that short running time.

The Bonejangles review originally appeared on


Howling IV: The Original Nightmare and Howling V: The Rebirth writer Clive Turner would return to the franchise for the seventh installment, but he sat out part 6. A writer named Kevin Rock got his first credit with this film, and while the notation in the title sequence that this is "Based on a Series of books 'The Howling I, II, III' by Gary Brandner" isn't quite true, Rock's mostly original story does draw some inspiration from Brandner's third Howling novel. 

Directed by Hope Perello, who had previously worked as a production coordinator on movies like From Beyond and Dolls and was a producer on the original Puppet Master, Howling VI begins with a young girl carrying a teddy bear being attacked by an unseen creature in the middle of the night. When British drifter Ian Richards (Brendan Hughes) comes wandering into the small community of Canton Bluff in the American Southwest, he is carrying that teddy bear... Along with a satchel full of clippings about a traveling carnival called R.B. Harker's World of Wonder.

Although Canton Bluff has been emptying out, the residents fleeing a drought, the sheriff (Carlos Cervantes) doesn't take kindly to seeing an outsider strolling through his town. Luckily for Ian, before he can be thrown out of town he is taken in by local preacher Dewey (Jered Barclay) and given room and board in exchange for helping Dewey fix up his rundown church. While spending all this time around the church, Ian starts to form a bond with the preacher's daughter Elizabeth, played by Michele Matheson.

At one point, a very sweaty Elizabeth attempts to seduce a sweaty Ian, but even though he wants to take things to that level as much as she does he resists for some reason.

We know that Harker's carnival will be coming to Canton Bluff, and we get the sense that Ian is really just biding his time until he can go to the show, which will coincide with the full moon. When the moon rises, we see why Ian was keeping Elizabeth at arm's length: he is a werewolf. He's not an impressive looking werewolf, either. He's of the wolfman variety and sprouts longer, thicker hair on his body, but his face remains largely hairless. He just grows a bit of a beard and his eyebrows get bushier. There are some changes to the shape of his face and he gets some major dark circles around his eyes, but this is not my idea of a werewolf.

Ian ends up being captured by Harker (Bruce Payne), who forces him to perform as one of the freaks and geeks that his carnival is built around. This is when Howling VI crosses paths with Brandner's Howling III in a way - that novel featured a werewolf character who was a drifter until he is taken in by a traveling carnival, where he performs as The Animal Boy. That's all the film and book have in common.

Getting to this point has taken about half of the movie, and I've been on board with it, following the set-up. The film slows way down once Ian is locked up in the carnival, though. We're given a whole lot of chit chat as locals try to figure out what's going on with that carnival and as we watch interactions between the evil Harker, who can make Ian transform into wolf mode by saying some kind of chant, and his evil servants. Ian also has some time to make friends with fellow freak Winston (Sean Gregory Sullivan), whose skin condition has earned him the nickname Alligator Boy.

It takes too much time for this section of the film to play out, which explains the too-long 101 minute running time. However, the ride becomes worth it as we near the climax, when the main drawing point of Howling VI is revealed: this isn't just a werewolf movie, this is a werewolf vs. a vampire movie. Harker is a vampire, he wiped out Ian's family and left him with the curse of lycanthropy. Ian has been tracking him ever since, following the trail of murders, and these monsters are going to solve their issues once and for all with a physical altercation.

In a movie with such a unique looking werewolf, the vampire should be unique as well, and they certainly deliver on that idea. When in full vampire form, Harker is the hideous Nosferatu type. And he's purple. I saw this movie for the first time(s) when I was a kid, and I could never forget the battle between Smooth Faced Wolfman and Purple Nosferatu.

Howling VI isn't a great movie, but I have to give them credit, they did put in an effort to make it a great movie. They took their story seriously, approached it with respect, and tried to tell it in an emotionally involving way, if not exactly an exciting one. This is definitely up there as one of the best Howling sequels, even if it does drag at times.

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