Friday, March 16, 2018

Worth Mentioning - The World's Gonna End Bloody

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.

25 years of Leprechaun, a low budget monster, and the end of the world.


"Try as they will and try as they might, who steals me gold won't live through the night."

Twenty-five years ago, the horror genre received one of its most underappreciated horror icons with the Leprechaun - a character who gets laughed at more than he gets respected, but that's to be expected given the way he's presented within the movies he stars in. He's a very silly character, and the movies themselves are rather low quality... There's something about him, though. Something about the costume design, the hideous makeup effects, and the lively performance delivered by Warwick Davis that keeps a viewer coming back to the Leprechaun movies even if they rarely reach the level of being good. Something so appealing about him that he was able to carry six movies on his shoulders.

I've been wrestling with ambivalent feelings about the Leprechaun franchise ever since the first movie, written and directed by Mark Jones, was released in 1993. I was not a fan of the film when it first came out. Even though I was nine or ten when I first watched it, I still found it to be too goofy and immature for my taste. But that Leprechaun, he was pretty cool. So I kept watching the movie even though I didn't like it all that much. My viewings were made even more frequent by the fact that my oldest nephew, who is quite close in age to me, loved the movie and wanted to watch it again and again.

The film begins with an Irish immigrant named O'Grady returning to his North Dakota home from attending his mother's funeral Ireland and revealing to his wife, who didn't go with him, that while he was in their home country he crossed paths with a leprechaun and stole its gold. Unfortunately, he didn't realize that the leprechaun's magic was powerful enough that it could follow him to North Dakota to retrieve its pot of gold. Weakened by not having the gold, he's not powerful enough to succeed in this task, though. After the leprechaun kills his wife, the man traps it inside a wooden crate with a four leaf clover (the leprechaun's greatest weakness, he reacts to it like a vampire does to a cross) on the lid. Then he collapses from a stroke.

Jump ahead some years and a man is moving into the long-abandoned O'Grady home with his incredibly annoying L.A. city girl daughter Tory, played by Jennifer Aniston just a couple years before she got famous with Friends. I get the feeling that Tory is supposed to be a bit younger than Aniston's years, but Aniston doesn't come as being any younger than her actual age, early twenties. Which is good, because Tory will strike up something of a romance with house painter Nathan, who's played by thirty-something Ken Olandt, who was in 1987's Summer School. If Aniston came off as being any younger, Tory's scenes with Nathan would feel even more awkward than the "opposites attract" pairing already does.

All it takes is for the four leaf clover to be brushed off that wooden crate for the leprechaun to spring back into action, seeking his hidden pot of gold and killing anyone who gets in his way, dropping one-liners and rhymes along the way. He rides around on a tricycle, he rollerskates, he kills a man by jumping on him with a pogo stick, he speeds around in a tiny car. And you can distract him by throwing shoes at him, because he's compelled to clean dirty shoes. It's all so ridiculous.

Nearly half of the film involves Tory, Nathan, and Nathan's partners in the Three Guys Who Paint company - his younger brother Alex (Robert Hy Gorman) and the child-like Ozzie (Mark Holton of PeeWee's Big Adventure) - being trapped in the house while the leprechaun demands that they hand over his gold. But it's not that simple. 99 of the gold coins are readily available, but Ozzie accidentally swallowed the other coin while trying to bite it to test its authenticity. The leprechaun isn't interested in waiting for the coin to work its way through Ozzie's system, he wants to cut it out of the guy's stomach. So our heroes have to figure out how to defeat the leprechaun so they can save Ozzie's life.

Although I found Leprechaun to be annoying and off-putting at first, it's a movie that grew on me over time and repeat viewings. The more I watched it, the less I would cringe at the humor and childish tone. I started to enjoy it more, and now there's a layer of melancholy nostalgia to my viewings, as memories of childhood viewings come to mind as it goes. There are still things that make me cringe, this is a movie where a leprechaun can smash through a fence and leave a outline of his body in the fence, but I accept Leprechaun for what it is and have a good time with it.


Writer/director William Malone's film Scared to Death has a great story behind it. A twenty-something Halloween mask maker, Malone wanted to get into the movie business, and decided the best way to do so was to make his own monster movie. Working with visual effects artist Robert Short, Malone crafted a story, then began raising a budget, scraping together $74,000 through such means as mortgaging his house and selling car. When the movie was finished, the very first sale, which got the film distribution in Malaysia, already covered the budget and gave Malone some profit. A career was born.

The domestic distribution of the film was handled by Lone Star Pictures, which gave the film a premiere at a Texas drive-in theatre. I don't think there could have been any better place for this one to make its debut. It's a drive-in movie through and through.

Things get off to a great start, with the first shots being from the P.O.V. of the monster Malone created as it stalks through the sewers and up into a residential area, where it peeks in through the windows of a house to watch a young woman changing clothes. Nudity within the first 4 minutes, and the creature scores the first kill within the first 8. That's how you do it, Malone.

As the body count continues to grow, the characters in the film are less entertained by the kills than I am (even though the kills themselves really aren't anything special). It comes down to former police officer, now novelist, Ted Lonergan (John Stinson) to solve the case and bring the killer to justice with the help of Detective Lou Capell (David Moses) and biologist Sherry Carpenter (Toni Jannotta). In this instance, justice involves defeating a monster known as Syngenor, or Synthesized Genetic Organism. This thing was made in a laboratory, and its favorite drink is spinal fluid.

Unfortunately, a large amount of Scared to Death's running time is taken up not by scary or deadly things, but by a romance that develops between Lonergan and a woman (Diana Davidson) he bumps into one day. I did not the find their interactions to be interesting, so it dragged the film down for me a bit as I slogged through these moments waiting for the creature to get back in action. Thankfully Malone dropped in some monster action every 10 to 15 minutes or so.

This may not be a rollicking thrill ride, but as a low budget product of the (end of the) '70s it has some appeal. If you enjoy cheapie creepies of the grindhouse / drive-in era, you'll likely get some fun out of this one, as I did when Lonergan wasn't acting like a romantic lead.

THE CURED (2017)

No matter what, writer/director David Freyne's The Cured (which was originally announced with the title The Third Wave) is going to be known as "the Ellen Page zombie movie", so let's start off by looking at it as an Ellen Page vehicle. As you ponder what an Ellen Page zombie movie might be like, you'll probably wonder - is this "slumming it Page", where she shows up in things like the recent Flatliners reboot, or is this "prestige Page", where she does stuff she gets accolades and award nominations for? Thankfully, this one fits into the latter category - this isn't Page simply working her way through an outbreak movie that's chasing some of that Walking Dead runoff. Freyne clearly recognizes the George A. Romero roots of the zombie sub-genre, where you can use the concept of zombies as the foundation for some social commentary. Sometimes it's fun to watch a zombie movie that's simply about munching guts, but it's also nice to see zombie movies that dig a little deeper.

Freyne first delved into the concepts featured in The Cured with a 2014 short film called The First Wave. He has said that the idea first occurred to him while he was watching the Will Smith-led Richard Matheson adaptation I Am Legend, but the film The Cured most strongly brought to mind for me was 28 Days Later. It has a similar set-up, with a virus called the Maze Virus spreading across Europe, the infected falling into a violent psychosis and turning to cannibalism. (I know there are horror fans who will say I shouldn't even be using the term "zombie" for these things, but I have a broader definition of zombie - rotting or raging, they're zombies to me, and The Cured is widely considered to be a zombie movie.) But this isn't the story of the outbreak or the days of mayhem. This is the aftermath, after a cure has been discovered that has a 75% success rate.

As the title gives away, The Cured is about the people who were once flesh-eating zombies but have been cured and rehabilitated. It's a very interesting approach to take, made all the more intriguing by the fact that the cured have complete memory of what they did during their time as rage cannibals. The film centers on one cured person in particular, Sam Keeley as Senan, who spent four years as one of the infected and is now plagued by terrible nightmares / flashbacks. While the authorities decide what to do with the 25% of the infected who can't be cured, those who have been cured are being reintegrated into society in waves.

Reintegration is essentially handled like convicts being paroled, with regular check-ins with a military representative required. The public's reaction is a reflection of the real world refugee crisis, with some people fearing that the cured are dangerous. Senan is welcomed into the home of his brother's widow Abbie - this is where Ellen Page comes in. Abbie is an American citizen living in Ireland, the country that was especially devastated by the outbreak. She has a young son who was born in Ireland, which is why she hasn't been able to go back to America. They're only letting in uninfected people who were born in the states.

And so we follow Senan, Abbie, and another cured man, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as Conor - who has been rejected by his surviving family - as they deal with this messed up situation they find themselves in. Much like it would be if Senan and Conor were refugees or if they were men returning from combat with PTSD, The Cured is primarily a low-key, serious drama. The touches of horror come in through the nightmares, and through the job Senan gets working among the infected. Keeley, Page, and Vaughan-Lawlor are given some very heavy material to deal with, and they carry it quite capably, but so much of the film consists of them sadly discussing what they've been through and are going through, some viewers might begin to feel anxious for some action.

Of course, they is all building up to everything falling apart. It wouldn't be a satisfying viewing experience if it was just people talking themselves into happiness. Tensions rise, certain characters become very creepy and threatening, relationships crumble, a cured support group becomes a group of revolutionaries... and you can probably predict what happens in the climax. It was exactly what I expected to happen.

Predictable action or not, The Cured is a very intelligent, well made film that features some great actors. I appreciated that Freyne took the social commentary route and took the material so seriously. If you don't buy into the drama, you're going to find the film to be a slog, but if you go along for the ride it does build up to some exciting payoff.

And you get to see Ellen Page hit a zombie with an axe.

The review of The Cured originally appeared on


That troublesome yellow-eyed demon Azazel was defeated at the end of Supernatural's second season, but not before he opened a gate to Hell, releasing hundreds of demons into the world... and giving our monster-hunting heroes Sam and Dean Winchester (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) quite a mess to clean up in the third season.

As if having more demons on the loose wasn't enough of a problem, the Winchester brothers also have to deal with impending doom and tragedy - to save Sam's life, Dean sold his soul to a demon (much like their father John did to save Dean's life at the start of the second season), and his soul is going to be collected and taken to Hell when one year has passed. Season three plays out over the course of that year, giving the season a ticking clock element on top of the usual monster shenanigans. Since Dean is running out of time, it sort of works to the season's favor that it was hindered by the two month long writers strike that lasted from November 2007 into February 2008. The first two seasons each had 22 episodes, but since scripts weren't being written for two months in the middle of this one season three ended up with just 16 episodes - so Dean's deal comes due sooner than it would have otherwise.

Before the hellhounds can come for Dean's soul, he and Sam face not only demons (including the Seven Deadly Sins themselves) but a variety of creatures, as regular viewers would have come to expect by now. There are changelings, a vengeful spirit who brings the most ghoulish moments from classic fairy tales to life, ghostly sailors from the 1800s, vampires, witches, an evil surgeon who has been keeping himself alive for almost two hundred years by frequently harvesting fresh body parts, and the return of some familiar antagonists, like Gordon (Sterling K. Brown), the overzealous monster hunter who believes Sam is the Antichrist because of the powers Azazel passed along to him, and the trickster played by Richard Speight Jr.

The trickster has a part in one of my favorite episodes of the season, a more comedic one in which Sam finds himself trapped living the same day over and over again, Groundhog Day style. A day in which Dean keeps dying, some way, somehow, no matter what choices Sam makes for them.

Another of my favorite episodes was an homage to Assault on Precinct 13, in which Sam and Dean are locked up in a small town police department (law enforcement doesn't tend to believe their stories about supernatural beings, so they're seen as criminals) that is soon surrounded by dozens of people possessed by demons. Windows are lined with salt (which demons can't pass over), "devil's traps" that can stop demons in their tracks are drawn on the ground, and the occupants of the police station arm themselves with holy water and shotguns loaded with rock salt. I love "characters trapped in one location by a lot of enemies" stories like that, going back to my appreciation for Night of the Living Dead.

Villains aren't the only characters who return to interact with the Winchesters once again. The brothers get strong support from fellow hunter Bobby Singer (Jim Beaver), and again cross paths with knuckleheaded amateur ghost hunters who call themselves the Ghostfacers. With the Ghostfacers episode, Supernatural even tries out the "found footage" style, as that one is presented as if it were a TV show pilot the Ghostfacers have filmed and cut together.

That's a special one-off episode, and an even better one-off is the "Christmas special", titled A Very Supernatural Christmas. During what may be their last holidays together, the Winchesters find themselves in the clutches of pagan gods out to relive the glory days when they would receive human sacrifice tributes around Christmastime.

New recurring characters this season included a couple wild cards. One is a demon called Ruby (Katie Cassidy of the When a Stranger Calls, Black Christmas, and A Nightmare on Elm Street remakes), who brings with her the revelation that all demons were once human beings. The torment of Hell burns away their humanity over time, turning them into evil monsters. Ruby doesn't seem to be like that, though. She says she has managed to hold on to her humanity, despite having been in Hell for centuries. To prove her loyalty to Sam and Dean's cause she even carries a knife that can kill her fellow demons much like the powerful Colt the Winchesters carry. But can you ever fully trust a demon? A character more openly untrustworthy but occasionally helpful is Bela Talbot, played by Lauren Cohan years before she joined The Walking Dead. Bela is a thief who sells supernatural objects to the highest bidder and has a very dark back story.

Sam seems to develop ill-advised crushes on both of those characters.

When Supernatural first started airing, I didn't really pay any attention to it. It didn't really catch my interest until season three was going into production and it was announced that iconic slasher Jason Voorhees of the Friday the 13th franchise would be making an appearance in an episode. If Jason was going to be on this show, I would definitely be watching it. There's no way I would miss something like that.

The episode Jason was meant to be in was the tenth of the season, titled Dream a Little Dream of Me. In this episode, Bobby is trapped in a coma by a maniac who has gained Freddy Krueger-esque powers over the dream world. Sam and Dean brew up some African Dream Root so they can enter Bobby's dreams and save him, and while they're in the dream world we also get a glimpse of their own dreams. Jason was supposed to be lurking in Dean's subconscious; Dean's dream would have been presented as if it were something straight out of a 1980s slasher, right down to the film stock. Supernatural creator Eric Kripke wanted the show's version of Jason to be a perfect facsimile of how the character appeared in 1984's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Unfortunately, just days before filming the studio that had granted the show permission to use Jason realized they didn't have the right to grant that permission, so Dean's dream had to be re-thought. Rather than a fun reference, the dream that made it to the screen is more of a deeper character moment, which is always nice to have. It would have been cool to see Jason on the show, though. If his appearance would have taken up the same amount of time as the dream it was replaced with, it would have been extremely brief. It would have been cool, though.

I assume the studio that had mistakenly granted the permission would be Warner Bros., since they co-own the station Supernatural airs on (The CW) and were connected to New Line Cinema, which released the most recent Friday the 13th films (New Line Cinema is now fully a subsidiary of Warner Bros.) A lot of people have their fingers in the F13 pie, though, including the original film's director Sean S. Cunningham and that film's investors. If Kripke wanted to use the Jason of The Final Chapter, he would probably have to clear that with that film's owner, Paramount, as well. The Jason rights are a complicated thing, as the makers of Supernatural found out. And since Jason didn't make it onto the show, it took me another ten years to watch it.

I still got to see Jared Padalecki fight Jason anyway, since he ended up having a role in Friday the 13th (2009).

My favorite horror movie character isn't in it, but this season did feature an episode set in a town I'm quite familiar with; Milan, Ohio. That's the birthplace of Thomas Edison, and that fact is the reason why strange things are happening in Milan. Things strange enough to bring the Winchesters there. Eric Kripke is originally from Toledo, Ohio, and there are a lot of Ohio references throughout the three seasons I've watched so far - the Winchesters, who are from Kansas, even put Ohio license plates on Dean's beloved Impala to help them avoid the police. I did have some issues with the Milan episode: first, the Vancouver landscape it was filmed in didn't look like Milan to me, and even worse, the name of the town is mispronounced when it's spoken. You don't say it like the place in Italy, just like Lima, Ohio isn't pronounced like the place in Peru.

Quibbles aside, season three was a solid chapter in the Supernatural saga. I might rank it below the previous two, but I was still engrossed and entertained. I'm continuing to have a lot of fun watching the Winchesters fight monsters and cruise around to a great soundtrack - this time around there were songs from the likes of AC/DC. Bachman Turner Overdrive, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bad Company, Poison, The Doobie Brothers, The Mamas & the Papas, Asia, Huey Lewis and the News, Grand Funk Railroad, JB Burnett, Lesley Gore, Bon Jovi, and of course Kansas.

Threads were left loose at the end of this season and it ends on a stunning cliffhanger, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the story will progress from here.

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