Prepare to face the ultimate boredom...
an ongoing description of my life, loves, thoughts, fears, work and lustings.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The Final Sign That Theatre Etiquette is Truly Dead. RIP.

Well.  I should be working on reviews, but I simply have to get this off of my chest.

As many folks know, I'm covering Screamfest for Horror Freak News - for the sixth consecutive year.  It's a tradition, and I'm thrilled to be part of the Screamfest family.

It's become an epidemic of sorts, for bad behavior by movie-goers.  Talking, texting, looking at their phones, etc.  My other half (it's now become its own tradition at Screamfest and other festivals we usually attend) calls out folks who bring out their phones to check messages, etc., thus lighting up the darkened theatre - IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FILM.

Generally, folks will quickly hide their phones, give a quick passive-aggressive look in our direction (we always sit in the back - another tradition) and we all go on our merry ways for the remainder of the screening.

But tonight - after 5 years of attending film festivals - I experienced something brand new, as far as bad theatre etiquette.

We sat down for one of the feature films this evening.  Not a packed theatre, but an okay house.  We were again in our usual seats (phones off) and ready to fall into the world of the film.  This particular piece was one I had on my schedule as "I will review this one."

I think it was a total of three times we had to tell a group of people (we now know was cast/crew for the film being screened) to turn off their phones.  One person was admonished twice by my other half, and then a third time by myself (and my other half chiming in).  The usual backwards glances of anger (or whatever).

Look.  I get it.  This is your film.  You're celebrating your showing at Screamfest.  And I congratulate you.  Screamfest is a big deal and you made it.

But here are a few things I think should be kept in mind.

Isn't the old saying/belief that once you make your film, complete it and release it -- that it's no longer yours?  Isn't that true of all art destined for an audience?

The last straw for both my other half and I (yes, we left the film with probably 20 minutes remaining on the run-time) was when we called out a DIFFERENT person in the SAME group, for taking photos/video of the film.  This particular person got out of his seat, came up to us and explained that he was the film's DP (Director of Photography).  My other half quickly replied that we were press, there to review his film.  This person then quickly returned to his seat, and we left shortly thereafter - the experience ruined via our complete removal from the film and its story (by that point, how could we not be?)

The thing is, the cinematography of the film was actually quite good (no doubt it would have been praised had I watched the entire piece and then penned a review).  Having a screening experience of lovely vistas and riversides upset by the creator of said loveliness (because he had to take pictures of his -- what I'm assuming is -- completed film).  That's irony, right?  Hammered home in a big way.

And I can sort of understand (certainly not forgive) the general public for less-than perfect behavior in the cinema these days.  But the filmmakers themselves - who should certainly know better, or strive for better etiquette?  Frankly, this whole experience is mind-boggling.

I won't call out the film we walked out on, nor the film's cinematographer by name.  That's just not nice.  But c'mon - wouldn't you want press to have the best and ultimate experience, thus allowing them to get lost in your film and then write a glowing review to hopefully further your film's success?

And if that sounds like I'm touting the power of the press as being TOO powerful, then how about this?  Even if I'm just a regular viewer, who came in off the street to check out a film festival screening, perhaps on a whim, or for my first time.  What about that?  Good old-fashioned word of mouth (and subsequent social media praise from the people) - that's not bad, right?

I've been going to the theatres less and less, because of entitled behavior from other patrons.  But getting this kind of nonsense from a filmmaker at an elite festival screening?

Well, the chances of me returning to the cinema more frequently - have fallen yet again.

And of course: DISCLAIMER.  I in no way blame Screamfest or its amazing organizers and staff for any of this.  They're salt of the earth and awesome.  And before EVERY block, they do remind folks to turn off - AND KEEP OFF - their cell phones during the screenings.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Jealousy & Surface

"Jealousy is an ugly thing.  And so are you, in anything backless."
Sophia Petrillo to her daughter, Dorothy Zbornak.

I've gotten used to a healthy mixture of jealousy and pride when I see the accomplishments of so many of my creative friends.  There's always the "I'm so damned happy for you", but then the little tingle of "I wish that had been me".  I've grown accustomed to it and accept it.  It's part of my life in "the biz".  Perhaps unhealthy, but acceptable in my eyes.

But where my jealousy starts to go off of the rails -- is when I see happy, normal, well-adjusted family lives.

I simply don't have that -- although I had glimpses of it throughout my childhood.

And yes, I am aware that the photos and posts and lovey-dovey stuff we see, sometimes hides the true pain and resentment underneath.  People put up their best faces. 

But I don't even have the surface peace so many might enjoy.

Yes.  I've come to consider my other half as family.  And I try not to take him and our 20-year relationship for granted.  But my immediate family is so damned disjointed now, it's hard to believe that it was ever an actual unit -- if indeed, it actually was.

So many folks are dead now, or were never present in my formative years -- or in some cases -- both.

(this is all coming to a head because of my biological father's recent death -- and our lack of a relationship for the past 35 years).

I see happiness between multiple generations, and I crave it.  Have I been conditioned to want this, or believe that this is "the tops" as far as familial bonds?  Whatever it is, I find myself longing for such bonds.

Large family gatherings -- where we play cards, eat hearty, homecooked meals and listen to old stories from the past.

It's not as if I never had this -- there were years of happiness, but over the past two decades (was the death of our matriarch and my beloved grandmother, the beginning of the end?) -- things have dwindled, until I'm at my current point.  So many of my elders (both close and far) are dead now.  My relationship with my mother is nothing more than surface talk about the weather.  I love my siblings, but only speak to one of them on the regular.  I have little to no contact with extended family -- cousins, aunts, uncles -- outside of the surface connection that is social media.

I've been toying with the notion of writing my autobiography -- for many years now.  And it seems, with the emotional tolls I've been struggling with over the past week (between my father's death and my aunt's death today) -- that now might be a good time to dig into this quagmire of memories, resentment, joy, pain and everything in between.  I've got a lot to get off of my chest, which is why my working title on the autobiography is "Cheap Therapy".

But the point of this discussion, is the feeling of jealousy -- as I see friends with deep and seemingly strong connections with their elders, their cousins and most notably, their parents.  Pictures of a happy family (and all that this encompasses -- at least in my goody two-shoes brain) make me feel bad that my family is so broken, so disconnected and so beyond repair.

I can't discount the love and connection I have with so many chosen family members (friends with whom I share a bond) and of course, my husband. 

But the human mind and the emotions which inhabit it -- are strange things.  I can't just shut off this need for a larger family unit.  I had it, and apparently, I want it back.

"Cheap Therapy".  That's the name of the game here.  And even if I never actually tackle the ol' autobiography, and throw all of my dirty laundry up for everyone to see, marvel at and judge -- there's always this blog to let off some steam.

I'm glad your family units are wide and vast and healthy.  And of course, I don't wish anyone ill-will -- but I would love some of that over here, to share with me and my hubby.

PS.  Writing this on a half bottle of wine...

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


Just a matter of hours ago, I was informed by one of my cousins, that my biological father, Leland Klug, had died.

I posted a blurb of sorts -- over on Facebook, suggesting that a longer blog on the subject (this one here) was forthcoming... as there are a lot of things for me to process, in light of this news.

My mother and father divorced when I was just finishing up with first grade.  My older brother and I were put in the custody of our mother, and she moved us back to our hometown.

A very brief time later, my mother remarried and we moved across the state -- where I lived until I moved away post-college and in the early stretches of adulthood.  While not an ideal childhood overall (plenty of tales for another time), my stepfather was a great guy -- supportive, in every meaning of that word.  He was a good father, no question.

My biological father, however -- basically vanished after the divorce.  Child support payments ended, as did mail correspondence, phone calls and visits.

My older brother and I have the same final memory of face-to-face contact with our dad -- when he came to our new home on the other side of the state, picked us up for a week of touristing around The Black Hills -- all of this when I was in about 4th grade.  He lovingly called my stepfather, "Dead-Head Fred" (perhaps a good indication of the inappropriate things my brother and I were exposed to as children -- Yes, badmouth our new stepfather -- I'm sure that's good for kids to hear).

And that was the last time I saw this man in person.  What age is an average 4th-grader?  8?  I'm 45 now.  Quite a stretch.

There was an additional greeting card (hidden in a card from my paternal grandparents -- also had little contact with this entire side of the family following the divorce) when I graduated high school.  I recall breaking down at the sight of his unique, tell-tale penmanship, and then opening the card to see these well wishes from the man who had deserted us.  My best friend was thankfully with me when this all went down (thank you, Eric).  Clearly some issues with my missing father at that point in my life -- were unresolved. 

He always signed any correspondence with, "Love, P.W.K."  When I was a kid, he was always known as "Pee Wee".  Thus, Pee Wee Klug (PWK).

I have a hard time recalling much correspondence/contact with him throughout college and into my post-college years.  I know that he had remarried (Nell later died.  I had never met her or some step-siblings who exist).  The last time I recall actually talking to him (on the phone) was around 2003.  I had already been with my other half for a few years, and I don't recall the impetus for us getting into contact.  I wanna say it was good old-fashioned curiosity.  And I think that was it.  Of course, about a decade ago, I reconnected with my Uncle Stan (out of Tucson -- and my dad's older brother).  He was a bitter old gay man (i.e. an absolute hoot) and a writer as well.  My other half and I hit it off with him, and once we moved to Los Angeles, visited him frequently.  And I was reunited with my two aunts and some cousins -- whom I'd not seen in probably 40 years!  Last year, Uncle Stan died.

And there were mentions to me (and to my other half -- whispers as not to upset me) that Pee Wee wasn't doing well.  Lots of health issues (including the diabetes I have the pleasure of dealing with -- from both sides of my lineage, thank you very much).  But honestly, I figured there'd be a call when he had died, and that I would acknowledge the information and move on with my day.

After all, what connection do I have to this man?  He was never there for me.  I have memories of him up until the age of 8.  And he had failed to do his job (in practically every way, aside from siring me) as a father.

While I had developed a good relationship with Uncle Stan, and had totally mourned his passing -- what would my reaction be when I got that call that Pee Wee was gone?

Well, today, I can answer that question.

There were tears.  There was also anger.  Resentment.  Pain.  Confusion.

I barely knew this man, and here I was -- in sort of a whirlwind of emotions (which continue at the present moment).  Why should I care?  Why should I grieve?  He clearly didn't give two shits about me or my brother.

Is it a deeper, primordial response to your immediate ancestor's expiration?  Something buried inside of my brain which "knows" that he's gone?  After all, I wouldn't be who I am (biologically and via his absence) without him, right?

I don't like this feeling of helplessness -- as far as properly (and finally) defining what I'm feeling.

Of course, I called my older brother with the news, and we had a long conversation.  Obviously, I won't discuss his thoughts, as that's not my place.  But I can begin a basic understanding that "I (we) was short-changed" -- for so many reasons.  No contact with the complete other side of my family, no relationship with the man (sperm-donor) who helped create me.  Growing up feeling (knowing) that my own father didn't want anything to do with me?  Who does that?  And what does that understanding (to a fucking 8 year old) do to a kid and his psyche and his sense of worth?

I know there are probably other factors which were at play while I was growing up.  And there are too many of those "what if's" to go through at this venue.  But the fact that there are still "what if's" at all -- is a problem.

I'll never have all of the answers.  But I hope (as my brother said) that there will be some sort of closure (albeit, never 100% complete -- there simply can't be now).

I guess I secretly wished that one day, there would have been an apology, a reconciliation -- CLOSURE.

But it's not meant to be.

I liken my feelings to the loss of a great celebrity.  Someone whom you've admired from afar -- and then they were suddenly gone.  "I just always thought they'd be around.  They were a constant in my life.  And now they're gone.  I didn't know them personally, but there was a connection of some kind."

Is it the same thing here?

I didn't know this guy (other than the first 6-8 years of my life) -- but there's a connection and a sense of loss.

Is it because he's now gone, and there is no possible forthcoming apology or much-needed closure -- and there never, ever will be, that I can now put the entire matter to bed -- to place him in the 100% memory box?

Sure, I didn't get the ultimate, death-bed apology (sorry I neglected, deserted, ignored you boys... and I apparently never loved you either) -- but the simple idea that I now KNOW THIS FOR CERTAIN -- is it's own form of closure?

I do believe this will be an ongoing process -- processing my anger, my resentment, my pain and those very real (although mostly hidden) feelings of desertion?

Fuck.  I mean really -- fuck.  It's not a grieving scenario.  It's an "all of this shit is coming up in my brain, my memories and my emotions".

As it is -- the only thing I can say is, "RIP, Pee Wee."  And that's the best thing I can say... 'cause he sure as hell wasn't a "Dad".

Thank you for your time.

And BTW, I had a passing thought, just a week ago -- that I'd be getting this call very soon...  And today, here it was.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It's not that I'm unsupportive -- it's that I'm afraid...

I find it fascinating, that as I age, there are certain arenas of my life and personality, which continue to evolve and strengthen.  And then there are some things inside of me which deteriorate and dwindle, despite my best efforts to hold strong and say "no".

Being in Los Angeles, there is never a shortage of things to do.  It's never been a secret that I love to socialize, but after a humdinger of interaction with other human beings -- say a week long of various events and/or get-togethers -- that I'll need a good week to recover, hiding in my 10th story apartment, away from the chaos of the streets below and away from having to put up my "walls" when dealing with socializing.  Putting on that happy face, etc.  Of course, there are many social events where I'm able to let down my guard, but being in show business, it's certainly a matter of constant networking and of always being "on".

Honestly, I believe this was one of the reasons I burned out on film reviewing after 4 years.  Not only was I just plain tired (and tired of seeing sub-par films which I could not walk out on), but of attending events (screenings, festivals, etc.).  However, not being actually obligated by that gig, to go out and cover a film -- has brought me into my current state.

I wouldn't quite diagnose it as agoraphobia (I always think of Sigourney Weaver's character in the 1995 thriller, Copycat), but how far away am I from such a firm conclusion?

Per the Mayo Clinic, agoraphobia is, "a type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed."

The problem in dealing with the flirtations of such a condition -- whether or not that's what it actually is -- is that I have so many friends who have film festival screenings, stage-plays, social events and life events -- every single week.  And the constant memes from friends of "I'm an introvert" are apt and enlightening, but I feel like my issues/neuroses are starting to go beyond that.

Of course, I want to support the projects of my friends and acquaintances, as they've done for me, but as each day passes (and as I pass right on by middle-aged), I find it more and more difficult to remove myself from the safety of that 10th story safe-house.  I'm proud of these people and want them to know that I love and back them and their projects, but how can I actually prove that if I don't ever make it to their special events?

The thing is, generally -- once I get to an event, anxiety is all but flushed away.  There's something about Los Angeles traffic and/or public transportation which will immediately fire up the "let's get crazy" receptors of my brain.  It's the getting there, not the being there (in general).  Not only is there an increased heart rate, honest-to-goodness sweats and increased body temperature, I also have an innate fear of crapping my pants.  Not a joke, completely serious.

The idea of "no escape" and all which that entails -- including no access to a bathroom should one be needed (I've never actually had an accident involving #2 -- knock on wood) -- is what will filter into my mind when stuck in traffic or when underground on the Red Line, jetting toward downtown.

Can I get out if I need to?

Yes, there are times where my bowels legit need to be relieved, but I've learned over the years, that any "rumblings" or "pinecones" (the term the other half and I have used for decades to describe an impending need to visit the restroom), are 95% of the time -- in my head.  And knowing that, doesn't always keep the panic attack from setting in.  Mentally, I know I'm panicking for ridiculous reasons and that all will probably be fine.

And I know this for a fact, because when the other half and I travel (we do road trips to Vegas and beyond all of the time) is that once we head east and reach the 15 (into a more "rural" area), that my body, my mind and my tummy will inevitably relax.  There's a psychological reason for this.  If indeed I needed to have an emergency stop -- a more "rural" side of the road would be less of an inconvenience or an embarrassment.

You're reading this, thinking, "That's fucking absurd."  And I agree with you.  Absolutely.  But it doesn't change things.

When events are forthcoming on my calendar, I begin to tense up and worry -- at least 2 days beforehand.  The day of an event, I'm on edge and crabby (whether it's the event of a friend, or an event involving me).  When someone flakes out on something and I am spared having to leave the house -- a literal wave of relief which will rush over me.  It's like an inner celebration for my anxieties.  In addition, an evening event will require me to mentally prepare -- all day long -- at the expense of writing projects and obligations.  And two events in one day -- forget about it.

These anxieties are absolutely real.  And so is my support for you and your life events and your artistic achievements.  But there are plenty of times where I let the anxiety win (too many) -- and will therefore flake on your event.  It makes me feel terrible.  It might make you feel terrible.  And for that, I apologize.

It's an ongoing journey and an ongoing struggle.  And for that, I ask your patience and understanding and forgiveness when I back out on an event or when I say "no".

I've had several legit panic attacks in the past several years, and I've learned to control them to a point.  But there's always the lingering spectre of an anxiety flare-up.

But of course -- how many times have I made my way on the train or onto the freeway to get out of the house and support folks and their celebrations?  Probably too many to count.  Which means, in my inconsistent life, my inconsistent emotions -- even my neuroses can't stay consistent.

I'm a mess.  Thank you for your time.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Day of the Dead (1985) Review

Why not get this out of the way – right off the bat?

Day of the Dead – the late George A. Romero’s 3rd installment in the on-going undead saga – is my #1, tip-top, absolute favorite film of all time. And that’s not just horror, folks – that’s tops when looking at dramas, comedies, action flicks, sci-fi and everything else in between.

High praise, indeed, right?

Day of the Dead takes us inside an underground bunker/storage facility in the wilds of Florida. A group of civilian scientists and a bunch of itchy trigger-finger military men share this vast (and yet somehow cramped) space. The scientists spend their days trying to figure out how to fix or how to end the zombie apocalypse up on the surface, while the military faction begrudgingly assists these scientific efforts. Among the group is the only female, scientist Sarah (Lori Cardille) and a semi-domesticated zombie named Bub (Howard Sherman). When tensions between the scientists and the military men comes to a violent head – paired with the looming danger of the walking corpses – all hell breaks loose. Who will survive?

I’ve always found this film to have three major things going for it.

One: Performances. While many believe Joe Pilato’s performance (as lead military man Captain Rhodes) is a little over-the-top, I’ve always found it to be a highly enjoyable bit of scenery-chewing. And beneath these loud line deliveries, there’s the nugget of real fear and desperation from the character as he realizes he is expected to lead this dwindling and fractured group. So I think the insecurities which Pilato brings to Rhodes are overlooked because of his surface anger. Either that, or Rhodes is just an a**hole.

Supporting turns from Howard Sherman as “Bub” and the late Richard Liberty as “Dr. Frankenstein/Logan” are easy highlights in a strong group of solid actors. Liberty perfectly captures Logan’s deteriorating mind and you’ll marvel at Liberty’s quirky character choices – when you’re not completely disgusted by Logan’s actions in the name of science.

As for Sherman – he gets but one line of dialogue and the rest of Bub’s emotions must be conveyed through pantomime and a series of grunts and growls. The fact that we deeply sympathize with this flesh-eating corpse – says a great deal about Sherman’s masterful acting work.

But, as has always been my belief – this film is Lori Cardille’s. She’s a remarkable actress – never hesitating to show the boiling uncertainty beneath the character’s strong facade – most notably in what I’ve termed her “Oscar” clip – when she is forced to do something downright grotesque to save a loved one. Even with so much going at this moment in the story and in the marvelous special make-up effects – you must still keep a watchful eye on all of the lovely detail in Cardille’s performance. She shakes, she sobs and she shows that Sarah’s strength is peeling away – as everything else is falling apart in the world of the film.

The second star of this film is the gnarly make-up work from maestro Tom Savini. You thought he did wonders in Dawn of the Dead – just wait until you see the zombie visages and the gut-crunching he provides here. Of note is the now legendary demise of one of the main characters (I’m sure you’ve seen it, but for the uninitiated, I’ll refrain from spoilers) at the film’s climax. Savini and his practical ingenuity at its absolute finest.

Finally, you’ve gotta love the overall atmosphere of dread and death and hopelessness this film so beautifully captures. Romero was a master at so much (may he RIP), including editing, making his characters’ poor communication mark their downfall and making his audiences unable to escape this horrible unease. Seriously, this film is uncomfortable – for sooo many reasons.

Day of the Dead took a long time to gain the “cult status” it now so richly enjoys. Not originally received with a lot of love – it’s time to finally notch it up as a true horror classic.

This film boasts great performances from a gifted acting ensemble, mind-blowing practical effects and enough zombie-filled, post-apocalyptic dread to fill up an entire underground storage facility (i.e, a lot).

Day of the Dead is available on DVD and Bluray – but my personal favorite version is the Anchor Bay souped-up Divimax edition with the “Bub” head fold-out cover. So many amazing extras and an that eye-catching neon yellow case.

The film was originally released in 1985. And there have been TWO quite inferior remakes of the film since then. Yeah, you can go ahead and avoid those completely.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Review

We’ve all heard and/or read about how George A. Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead is all about anti-consumerism.

And of course, who can argue? The man himself said as much. And, I mean – look at the film for an ultimate confirmation of this theory.

And as prominent as that theme is, it’s never been the big draw for me.

It’s been the dynamics between this semi-random grouping of four personalities – and how they do (and don’t) communicate in a crisis. The first time they’re all together – their differing personalities are on full display – and it’s magic.

Traffic helicopter pilot Steven (David Emge) and his broadcast producer girlfriend Fran (Gaylen Ross) plan to escape the sprawling (and failing) City of Brotherly Love – Philadelphia – when the zombie apocalypse comes knocking at their urban door. Following a violent shoot-out in one of the city’s low-income housing projects, SWAT members Roger (Scott Reiniger) and Peter (Ken Foree) join the couple and escape via the aforementioned chopper – out of this overrun city… eventually finding an abandoned shopping mall. They’ll make this consumer paradise their temporary home, but will have to come to terms with their isolation and their own problems – not to mention the hungry (and ever-increasing) hordes of zombies pounding on the mall doors.

Of the four lead performances, there are some good moments and some not-so-good acting moments from all of them.

If I had to call out the best work, I’d say it’s a toss-up between “bruhs” Ken Foree (Peter) and Scott Reiniger (Roger). Reiniger certainly has a lot to play with, since Roger takes such a sudden downturn, following some unfortunate (and fool-hardy on his part) events. And Reiniger beautifully captures the character’s over-excitedness, obviously deep-seated fears (in spite of his bravado) and later – the very frightening realizations of what could be. (Did you enjoy how I just breezed past potential spoilers – for those who don’t know what happens?)

Foree truly gives Peter a no-nonsense and truly brave side. Other than a semi-strange misstep for a character choice during the film’s climax, Peter is gutsy. And with Foree’s 6’5” frame, he perfectly fits the character’s mental and physical power.

And with that, I don’t think Emge and Ross are quite as strong. They each have amazing moments: Emge’s physicality in the last portion of the film is crazy-good and Ross can deliver Fran’s sassy sarcasm like nobody’s business, but they don’t quite reach the deep emotions I feel characters in this situation might have. I’ve never hated these performances, I just don’t think they are at the same level as Reiniger and Foree.

While Savini will truly come into his own (zombie make-up-wise) in the third chapter of Romero’s original zombie trilogy – Day of the Dead – there are some pretty spectacular gore effects present in Dawn of the Dead – if you can get past the splotchy and mismatched blues and greens of the undead mall residents as a whole. Disembowelings, machetes to the head and plenty of effective (and devastating) bites – prove how good Savini is/was and would be.

The film has plenty of fun “boo” moments (a cat and mouse chase in the mall’s boiler room) and some good suspense (Roger’s overzealous truck hot-wiring fiasco) – but nothing will disturb you or remain in your memory longer than Peter’s haunting delivery of the line “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”. That is also the film’s advertising tag-line – and to this day, it sends shivers down my spine.

There is a 2004 remake of this film, but it takes the original film’s name, the story’s main location and a character’s pregnancy – but not much more. While quite enjoyable in its own right, I’ll have to give the original film a big leg up (obviously).

There are countless versions of this film available (new and used), but I will defer to the “Ultimate Edition” DVD from Anchor Bay. An embarrassment of riches – alternate versions of the film and special features to die for (ahem) can be found there.

On that note, I would recommend the film’s “Extended Version”. It runs a good 30 minutes longer than the better-paced “US Theatrical Version” (Romero’s personal choice), but includes some fascinating extra footage. Most notably, you’ll get an actual scene with one of the dock workers – who we now know is Day of the Dead’s Joe Pilato (he plays different characters).

And in this extended cut, there is a scene so telling and so wonderfully appropriate to make the character’s mindset extra clear – that I was almost speechless when I first encountered it. It’s late in the lease (so to speak) for the character’s mall-stay. And Stephen has discovered a camera. He jokingly takes a photograph of Fran – and her reaction/dialogue is absolutely priceless.

Honestly, you can take a lot of the extra and extended scenes in the “Extended Version” and do away with them – but this moment is one of my favorites out of the entire film – in any of its incarnations.

Romero's 1978 film is a true classic of the genre, and deserves your views, your screams and your respect (mall gift cards accepted).

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Review

Shot in black & white and released in 1968 during the height of The Civil Rights Movement, Night of the Living Dead became a classic.

This eensy-teensy, low budget film about flesh-eating zombies and bickering human beings, was selected by the Library of Congress for safe-keeping in the National Film Registry. It’s been remade, colorized, sequelized (coining that new term) and copied – but never, ever duplicated.

Not too shabby for a film which cost $114,000 to make.

For reasons unknown (with some speculation present), the recent dead are returning to life to attack and feed upon humanity. Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and her brother Johnny (co-producer Russ Streiner) are visiting a family grave in the Pennsylvania countryside – when they’re attacked by one of the “ghouls” (the term zombie was never used in the film). Barbara flees on foot and finds “safety” in a seemingly abandoned farmhouse. Once a stranger named Ben (Duane Jones) also takes refuge in the home, they become surrounded by dozens (hundreds?) of flesh-eaters. When they discover other survivors in the building’s basement, the danger of the zombies becomes practically secondary to a barrage of bitter arguments, debilitatingly poor communication and flaring egos – culminating in one of the most ironic endings in film history.

The film was the first in a long series of “undead” films from the late George A. Romero (thus christened “The Zombie Godfather”). There have also been three remakes of the property (including a Tom Savini-directed 1990 version, with a screenplay by Romero himself).

Some of the performances present are a little underwhelming, while others are simply over-the-top (enjoyably chewing the scenery was the late Karl Hardman as Harry Cooper). The rest of the ensemble cast finds varying qualities somewhere in the middle. But my personal faves for performance here?

Duane Jones and Russ Streiner.

Jones brings us an engaging lead character. His Ben is no-nonsense, intelligent and feisty. It’s been the topic of conversation in the decades since the film’s release, that the fact that he is an African-American actor – was somehow groundbreaking. Romero has been quoted in numerous interviews, including this one from thewrap.com and an article by Joe Kane:

Duane Jones was the best actor we met to play Ben. If there was a film with a black actor in it, it usually had a racial theme, like The Defiant Ones. Consciously I resisted writing new dialogue ‘cause he happens to be black. We just shot the script.”

So even after all of the endless essays on the significance of casting a black man in the lead – that a black man’s presence was incidental. He was simply the best man for the job. And it’s a fantastic choice. Jones brings an immense amount of authenticity to Ben. He’s just a regular Joe in a dangerous and surreal situation. And even though he’s resourceful and smart, he’s also flappable. One of my favorite acting moments from Jones, is when he loses patience with Barbara’s catatonia and uselessness, snapping at her and then catching himself.

And to see Ben take control of the situation, even with the equally strong personality of Harry Cooper opposite him – makes you instantly like Ben. He’s easy to root for, and so much of that credit goes to Duane Jones’ acting abilities.

And then there’s Streiner as Barbara’s smart-ass brother Johnny. He doesn’t have a ton of screen-time, basically appearing in what is a prologue, but he leaves such an impression – perfectly natural in every line delivery, my favorite being his reminiscences of when he and Barbara visited this same cemetery when they were kids. And of course, he stunningly delivers the chilling and iconic line, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

Judith O’Dea does a fine job as the shell-shocked female lead. The thing is, it’s a poorly written character, so she has so very little to do. It’s a wasted opportunity to engage us with a strong female presence, but this would ultimately be remedied with the 1990 remake, and Patricia Tallman’s “Ripley-esque” version of Barbara.

There are plenty of memorable sequences in Night of the Living Dead – many of them creepy, frightening and grotesque.

But for me, nothing quite digs into the primal well of unease, like the moments involving young Karen (Kyra Schon) and her on-screen mother Helen (Marilyn Eastman). The idea of the scene and the way in which it’s carried out (soundtrack and cinematography) has made for an ever-lasting moment in horror – which one could conceivably rank in some sort of top-ten list: The Nastiest Moments of Horror, perhaps joining Hitchcock’s infamous shower scene in 1960’s Psycho and the “crucifix masturbation” sequence of Friedkin’s The Exorcist. These images stick with you.

Night of the Living Dead also contains some of the most unsettling images of flesh-eating – certainly for this time in cinema. Current audiences may find this grisly sequence tame – when compared to the gut-munching of something like The Walking Dead. Frankly, I would have loved to have grown up in that era – to experience these scenes of cannibalism first-hand and in a “simpler” time. As is, however, the entire “let’s go get the gasoline” scene is harrowing and disturbing.

With okay to great performances, a gritty, almost documentary aesthetic and our first introduction to Romero’s vision of a flesh-eating monster apocalypse, Night of the Living Dead holds up beautifully – even 50 years after its release.

A classic and a ground-breaker (from the depths of the very graves themselves) – it’s always a good time for a revisit with these bickering humans, their senseless in-fighting and the threat of ghouls just outside the window.

The film is available almost anywhere and in countless versions (plenty of credit goes to the now-legendary copyright snafu prior to the film’s release) with the elite Criterion Collection putting out its most recent incarnation. I’ve yet to pick up this latest version – but my collection will not be complete until I have it in my grubby, rotting little hands.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) Review

I saw this film in my teenaged hey-day of horror film education.

And to this day, there’s a “boo” moment which ranks in probably my top ten all time scares – in gut-wrenching effectiveness.

The original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – from late director Tobe Hooper – earned (and has kept) a place in not only horror film history – but in cinematic history. Just imagine the joy of oodles of horror fans, who also watch the Oscars’ telecast each and every year – when in 2018, that final image of Leatherface dancing about with his running chainsaw – appeared in a montage of classic films.

Of course, the Academy Awards then neglected to honor Tobe Hooper for the “In Memoriam” segment, but one mention is better than none, right?

It’s a disgustingly hot and humid day in Texas, as five young adults drive down the open highway for a pleasure-seeking road-trip. Sally (Marilyn Burns), her wheelchair-bound brother Franklin (Paul A. Partain), Sally’s boyfriend Jerry (Allan Danziger) and their friends; couple Pam and Kirk (Teri McMinn and William Vail; respectively) stop to visit an old cemetery where Sally and Franklin’s kin is buried. There have been some recent grave-robbing incidents in the area, so they are there to check on their grandfather’s plot. When they later pick up a weird hitchhiker (Edwin Neal) on their way to Sally and Franklin’s deserted old family homestead – it is but a drop in the bucket of what horrors these five young friends will ultimately experience.

Shot like a gritty documentary, the powerful images throughout the film – bring with them an almost “scratch-n-sniff” sensation. You can practically smell the sweat, the blood and in one scene – the slaughterhouse which the group’s van drives past.

In this realism, there is a never-ending sense of unease and discomfort present. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is by no means an easy film – in the way it makes you feel, but also in the subject matter, the knee-jerk scares and most of all – in the unrelenting suspense.

This film was right at the forefront of “final girl” / “chase sequence” slasher films. The final chase between Sally and the grunting, animalistic Leatherface (a now legendary performance from the late Gunnar Hansen) ranks as one of the most breathless and terrifying movie chases ever. Don’t take this as a spoiler. Despite this being a seminal “stalk-n-slash”, we’ve all seen enough films in the four decades since – to easily identify where this film is going. If not, turn in your “movie-audience” card now.

As Sally, the late Marilyn Burns “goes there”. From all accounts, the shoot for the film was grueling. The heat, the lights and the overall working conditions of a low budget film – actually translate well via the atmosphere and the performances. Burns takes Sally to a state of “beyond” in everything she does. She makes Sally likable and authentic in the film’s early moments, but when she must give it her all and endure the unimaginable events which the character is written to endure – you’ll be awed by what you see. Despite some folks’ penchant to demean the term “Scream Queen” – if anyone earns that title, it’s Burns. A remarkable and primal performance. Just thinking about it makes me shiver.

The rest of the cast is quite good – perhaps with the exception of Paul A. Partain. Well – let me rephrase that. I don’t necessarily think his is a bad performance – as the endlessly whiny and irritating Franklin. I guess the fact that we dislike Franklin so darn much, offers up proof that Partain does a fine acting job.

On my most recent viewing (probably over 100 of them, thus far in my life), I thought the final act fell into some The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 – territory. I don’t recall the original being quite so slap-stick and with such grim humor. I’ve always believed the sequel (also directed by Hooper) to be an honest-to-goodness horror/comedy. To see twinkles of that dark humor later in the original (on this latest screening) – somehow turned me off.

With an authentic feel, authentic performances and some of the most jaw-dropping suspense – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece.

Not an easy call to make for any film, but hey, I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.

And if you’re wondering what the moment was – which so jarred me when I was a kid – I need only describe the sequence of Sally pushing Franklin through the rough underbrush of the Texas countryside. It’s late at night and they’re looking for Sally’s beau, Jerry. Franklin is whipping his flashlight back and forth in the search, when he simply says, “Did you hear something?”


And if the voice of the narrator in the film’s opening moments sounds familiar – picture the ‘80s sitcom Night Court while listening in. That’s John Laroquette offering up the chilling details of “what you’re about to see...”

The film spawned three sequels and a remake (which has its own follow-up films – three of them). There are a total of 8 films in this franchise, ending most recently with the lackluster (but potentially intriguing) Leatherface in 2017.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is available on VOD, as well as on multiple versions of DVD/Bluray. A must-see and a must-own.

The Birds (1963) Review

Perhaps not everyone’s top choice for the very best from Alfred Hitchcock’s vast filmography, but I’ll fight tooth and nail (beak, perhaps?) to defend my favorite Hitchcock classic, 1963’s The Birds.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren in her feature film debut) is a confident and beautiful socialite, living the dream in cosmopolitan San Francisco. While at a local pet store to pick up a Myna bird for her aunt Tessa – she meets Mitch Brenner (The Time Machine’s Rod Taylor) – who is also at the store to pick up some birds (for his younger sister’s birthday). After much flirtation and a mistaken identity, Mitch darts away, leaving Melanie more than a little intrigued. She does a little research and discovers that Mitch lives in Bodega Bay – just a hop, skip and a jump from the city. She packs up for the weekend and takes a chance. Once reunited with Mitch in the small coastal town, the flirtations ramp up into a possible love affair. Mitch lives with his mother (Oscar-winner Jessica Tandy – Driving Miss Daisy) and the aforementioned younger sister Cathy (Alien’s Veronica Cartwright) on their family farm. As the weekend progresses, so then do some strange bird attacks throughout the town. Eventually, the group will be boarded up within the farmhouse, attempting to survive these unexplained avian onslaughts.

Most of The Birds revolves around the blossoming relationship between Mitch and Melanie. The bird attacks are somewhat incidental to the many soap opera antics at the story’s forefront (intrusive mothers, lost loves, flirtations), but when the birds do finally swoop down from the sky – there’s no doubt where the focus lies.

The film has no actual music score, but is accompanied by a terrifying design of bird calls, caws and screeches – designed by long-time Hitchcock composer Bernard Herrmann. Having no score (considering the romance at the film’s center) was perhaps a gamble, but it’s so completely effective – almost without an audience even making note of the music’s absence.

Hedren (mother of actress Melanie Griffith) does a great job in her first role. Sure, she doesn’t quite nail the “emotional” scene atop the sand dune, where she first opens up to Mitch, but I find her performance of this spontaneous socialite – forever engaging. She’s a beauty to be sure, but seeing the character go from “prim and proper” to flirtatious to terrified – makes for an interesting and layered performance. As good as she is in The Birds, her follow-up film (Hitchcock’s wonderful Marnie) allows her to… ahem… spread her wings.

Taylor is at his matinee-idol handsomest, and his chemistry with not only Hedren, but with his on-screen mother (Tandy) and his much-younger on-screen sister (Cartwright) proves that his acting work is nothing short of perfect. He connects with his scene partners as effortlessly as he connects with the audience. Mitch is suave, no-nonsense and a total man’s man and Taylor draws us in almost effortlessly. Mitch is a good guy all around (there could be some debate about his previous love affairs, but…) and an audience will have no trouble falling in love with Mitch (as well as Taylor).

In a supporting role as school-teacher Annie Hayworth – Suzanne Pleshette practically steals the show. All of Annie’s history (revealed to Melanie late one night) gives Pleshette oodles of character flaws, dashed dreams and infatuations with which to play. I generally care a great deal for all of the characters in The Birds – but Annie (and Pleshette) brings with her an extra special sympathy – partly because of her ultimate fate, but also because the character is so lonely and slightly obsessive. Pleshette’s is an underrated performance in the Hitchcock pantheon.

I have always marveled at the many tricks which Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks (who worked with Hitchcock on countless other classics) employ in The Birds. Among the many favorites – the gas station explosion. The perfectly-framed faces of the town restaurant’s horrified on-lookers and the quick (and expertly-cut) edits as the flames travel up the street. It’s a beautiful scene – in a breathtakingly gorgeous film.

And of course, there’s the age-old question of any horror film… Is it scary? By today’s standards, probably not. But that doesn’t mean some of the sequences come up empty-handed, as far as the fear factor. The film’s climax – as Melanie takes a flashlight to the second floor of the Brenner home to investigate some strange noises (how’s that for a horror film cliché?) – is the stuff of nightmares. And Melanie absent-mindedly enjoying a cigarette outside of the school – as well as the subsequent moments – is an absolutely perfect example of creating suspense and dread.

So who wants to take me on? Psycho? Amazing. Strangers on a Train? Delicious. North by Northwest? Breathless.

A little birdy told me...” that simply, The Birds cannot be beat. It has it all – man vs. nature chills, a bit of gore, melodramatic (but extremely appetizing) character histories and what I would consider one of the bleakest endings in film history.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t nod my head in everlasting appreciation – of the “bird in a cage” symbolism all throughout the film.

The film is loosely based on Daphne du Maurier’s (Rebecca) short story of the same name.

The Birds is currently available on DVD/Bluray and on various VOD outlets.

The Road Warrior (1982) Review

George Miller continues the Max Rockatansky saga with the 1982 release of Mad Max 2 – or what it’s better known as (certainly in the US) – The Road Warrior.

It’s several years since the events of Mad Max, and the world is now an honest-to-goodness barren wasteland, following the World War only hinted at in the original film. Max (Mel Gibson) drives his old “Interceptor” police vehicle, in a never-ending search for gasoline (“the juice, the precious juice”). He happens upon a somewhat civilized community – complete with their own oil well as well as their own band of outside marauders who surround their well-protected compound – desperate to break in and own this fuel. Through a series of unfortunate events, Max allies himself with the oil-owners, eventually resulting in one of the best car chase scenes ever created.

There’s not a ton of dialogue in the film – certainly from Gibson. Max is the strong, silent type (after the events of Mad Max, we can understand why), but he is smart, insightful and no-nonsense. Gibson is at his matinee-idol best here, handsome and always with that quirky side-smirk he so perfectly executes. It’s a tough call to size up Gibson’s performance, as Max is so emotionally shut down. There’s not much for Gibson to pull from the script, but when he makes a connection with The Feral Kid (a “wild child” who lives in the oil compound), you’ll hark back to the tragedy of the first film, and see how Max still has a soft spot despite his rough history. And Gibson keeps it subtle, which only adds to his iconic magic in this role (one he’ll play a total of three times).

The supporting cast is fantastic, but call-outs to Bruce Spence as the Gyro Captain and Vernon Wells as The Wez are certainly necessary. These supporting performances practically outdo Gibson himself – Wells offering a vision of punk-weirdness and no-holds-barred (and creepy) insanity, while Spence offers up plenty of goofy comic relief. The Gyro Captain’s love interest in the film is a tiny token of sweetness in an otherwise brutal film.

The violence is harsh and this matches perfectly with the breakneck pace of the film’s final act. Keep in mind that the now-legendary car chase which completes the film – involving at least 100 vehicles and countless stunts – was filmed long before the convenience of CGI. In other words, the scrapes, crashes, fire-bombs, destroyed vehicles and life-threatening stunts – were all done practically.

The score from Australian composer Brian May is up to the challenge of properly accentuating the feel of the wasteland and the desperate battle which takes place there. It never distracts from the action in the final reel, but without it – the sequence would certainly be incomplete.

Mad Max (1979) started off on the right foot, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) took this world to Hollywood and Mad Max: Fury Road met up with Oscar. But none of them got it as exactly right as The Road Warrior did.

Gritty, ultra-violent and with epic camera and stunt-work, The Road Warrior is a remarkably made film which only gets better with age. For a film that’s 36 years old and which doesn’t enjoy the “benefit” of today’s filmmaking technology, that’s no small feat.

By the way, the film ranks in my personal Top 20 favorite movies of all time – at the enviable #12 position.

The film is available on multiple VOD services. It can also be found on both DVD and Bluray. Bottom line: It’s a must-own.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review

How dare they? Seriously – plans to remake George A. Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead?

Absurd, unnecessary and frankly, irritating.

Well, imagine my delight – when in the early part of 2004 – the ad campaign began to circulate for Zack Snyder’s (Man of Steel, Justice League) feature directorial debut.

The trailer immediately set me on edge (I have an innate and irrational fear of zombies) and once opening night arrived, I went to the theatre with a great deal of honest-to-goodness anxiety.

To properly illustrate how deeply this remake affected me – the now legendary prologue of the film (those heart-pounding first 10 minutes) – had me so terrified, that if the film would have continued at that break-neck pace (it mercifully cuts to the opening credit sequence), I quite possibly may have left the theatre.

Does the film hold up the same way? Well, not particularly. But in the film’s defense – it’s now made it into my Top 40 Favorite Films of All Time – and I’ve seen it a minimum of 100 times. So…

Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) joins several other survivors – including police officer Kenneth (Ving Rhames) – in the relative safety of a secure shopping mall to avoid the danger and rampant death brought on by a massive zombie outbreak in their city of Milwaukee (and eventually, everywhere else). There are the usual character dynamics (in-fighting, poor communication) mixed in with this epic zombie threat. And so we’ll follow this group as they make decisions about potentially spending the rest of their lives besieged inside this consumer paradise, or will they make a choice to attempt escape?

Other than the location of a shopping mall, flesh-eating zombies and a pregnancy sub-plot – the film has very little in common with the Romero original.

Something which has bothered zombie fans (beginning with 28 Days Later) was the idea of (what my older brother termed) “turbo-zombies”. These undead creatures run. Romero wasn’t a fan of this change, but the idea of these flesh-eaters being able to compete in a marathon – actually works for me. While certainly improbable in the real world, it certainly amps up the suspense, the danger and the terror.

And on the topic of the zombies here – the make-up and gore effects are top-notch. Rotten faces, gun-shots to the head and plenty of munching cannibalism – will appease the gore-lover in you. A bit of trivia: the make-up effects are created by David LeRoy Anderson – who is married to A Nightmare on Elm Street’s Heather Langenkamp. If you have a keen eye, you’ll see her name listed in the credits of this film as part of the production crew.

There’s a solid crew of actors present here (including appearances from character actor Matt Frewer and Modern Family’s Ty Burrell), but the best work comes from House of Cards’ Michael Kelly as security guard, CJ. Perhaps it’s the fact that his is really the only character with an actual arc. CJ isn’t the same person in the end of the film, as what he was when we first meet him. Kelly deftly handles the character’s shift in priorities – while never losing CJ’s entertaining and sarcastic realism.

Of course, Sarah Polley does great work in the lead role. She does an amazing job with the horror side of the story, but in some smaller moments – upon additional inspection – she loses me. I have made note of some of her “improv” abilities. In larger group scenes, when there are arguments afoot, her random interjections never ring true. Perhaps a weird thing to call out, but it’s noticeable. Overall though, her performance is quite good.

Ving Rhames gets the chance to not only match his beefy physique with a character who is basically always no-nonsense – but to find some more tender moments for Kenneth. There’s a survivor at a nearby gun shop (you know that’ll come in handy) who develops a “long-distance” bro-mance with Kenneth – and it’s a welcome softer side to a very bloody, violent film. Rhames hits all of these varying notes perfectly.

Appearing in some clever cameos – a few actors from the original film. Tom Savini, Scott Reiniger and Ken Foree show up as various characters on news broadcasts – before that television signal is lost (uh-oh!)

And keep an eye out on other homages to the original film – most notably the name of a clothing store: “Gaylen Ross” – referencing the lead actress from the 1978 film.

There’s a terrible misstep late in the story. It’s a reveal (not for the audience, but for the characters) involving Luda (Inna Korobkina) and Andre (Mekhi Phifer). If you’ve seen the film, you’ll probably know what I’m referencing. It could have been accomplished with a little more grace. In fact, as a writer, I would have taken a different route altogether – which would have been far more devastating – for the audience and the characters. As is, it’s over-the-top and ultimately ineffective.

And what you all want to know… is the film scary? I think so (see my paragraph about the first 10 minutes). But aside from that, there is some terrific suspense, some amazingly creepy and claustrophobic visuals (the shuttle buses) and plenty of “boo” moments to go around.

The film was written by James Gunn – who would go on to great acclaim as the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise for Marvel.

Dawn of the Dead has great gore, terrifying “turbo-zombies”, a solid ensemble cast and some good-old fashioned effective jump scares. It may not hold the same terror as it did with that original viewing (or the lingering dread of the original film, for that matter), but it’s still lots of fun to revisit this flick from time to time.

Dawn of the Dead is available on DVD/Bluray as well as multiple VOD outlets.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) Review

After two films in the Mad Max franchise, director George Miller took the on-going story of Max Rockatansky to Hollywood (in the real world, not in the film story).

We’re given a little glitz, a little glamour, a higher budget and a legendary rock star.

But what’s most different about this third entry – is the inclusion of one simple concept:


It’s sometime after the events of The Road Warrior and Max (Mel Gibson) is still very much alone (aside from his team of camels and a tiny, but helpful monkey). When his transport is stolen, he ends up in the “civilized” settlement known as Bartertown – built and operated by Aunty Entity (the legendary Tina Turner). In order to get his rig and animals back, he must trade in his quick wit and skills to kill one of Bartertown’s staple citizens – one half of the unit known as “Master Blaster” (“He can kill most people with his breath.”) Through a series of events (including a fight to the death in the titular gladiatorial arena), Max comes into contact with another settlement – this one made up only of innocent children. They all return to Bartertown and we’re treated to another epic vehicle chase through the desert.

Whereas the first two films in the franchise were dark, unsettling and bleak, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome offers up the aforementioned hope, in the form of these children. In that, the film holds a striking similarity to Return of the Jedi. The first two episodes of that original trilogy were also a bit darker. The introduction of the cuddly Ewoks is mirrored by the introduction of these goofy little kids in Thunderdome.

It’s not that it’s bad, but it automatically becomes less violent and terrifying. I mean, back in the day, Hollywood didn’t kill children on-screen. So the painful grit and smelly diesel of the first two films is greatly missed in this third chapter.

You’ve even got a little over-the-top comic relief in the form of one of Aunty’s cronies, Ironbar (Angry Anderson) – who takes the lighter reins of the prior installment’s Gyro Captain. Where The Road Warrior’s Gyro Captain was unique and goofy, Ironbar is a bumbling buffoon – like a keystone cop of cinema days gone-by. And little changes like this seem to move the franchise into a more family-friendly place. This film even managed a PG-13 rating, whereas the other three films in the Rockatansky journey are all a well-deserved R.

The score from Maurice Jarre is a far cry from the more ragged and harsh music of the first two installments. It’s almost romantic at times, incorporating some tribal cues, while still making way for the franchise’s patented intensity when needed. While I love the score (namely Bartertown’s clinky-clanky theme), it serves to take the series in a more epic direction. Even with some amazing and breath-taking action sequences in Mad Max and The Road Warrior, those films still have an appetizing intimacy to them.

Mel Gibson is fantastic in all of his Max incarnations. Thunderdome is no exception. By this point, he’s got the character down to a tee. He understands Max’s history, his need for isolation and his crippling inability to truly connect with others, except when he does. It’s understandable why the filmmakers would take Max directly into the arms of a band of children (considering the events of the original film), and this certainly allows Gibson to re-explore the softer side of the character.

But the real star in this episode is Tina Turner. I’ve said this since I first saw this film in the theatre, in 1985 – why didn’t she do more acting? She commands the screen from the moment she appears. Helping her along is the inspired chain-mesh outfit and high shoulder-pads which Aunty sports. Turner oozes confidence and sexuality as Aunty – but offers up several quieter moments, serving to show that the character still has some humanity. She’s proud of what she’s accomplished with Bartertown, and it shows. I think this performance was a showcase of Turner’s unsung (see how I did that?) talents.

The film ends with another grand car chase, as in The Road Warrior. It’s exciting, thrillingly shot and edited and once again proves that for high-octane craziness, George Miller and his team are the top of the heap.

Followed up by the multiple Oscar-nominated Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome gets a little too “hopeful” for my taste. But that also sets it apart from the franchise’s other films. And I can appreciate that divergence from the formula, even if I don’t totally love it.

When I think Mad Max, I think adrenaline, violence and impressive-ass stunt-work. A “children are the future” message… not so much.

There’s been talk of a Furiosa spin-off for Mad Max: Fury Road, but for my money – I’d simply die to see an Aunty Entity origin story. Then again, if we can’t bring back Turner to do it, I guess I’ll pass.

A little less grit and a little more “Ewok-ness” are matched up with a towering performance from rock icon Tina Turner – and plenty of what you’d expect from the Mad Max saga. All of this makes for a rousing and well-made installment.

While not my series’ favorite, the film has wormed its way into my heart as an all-time favorite. There’s plenty to love, even if you have to wade through some of the “mushy”, PG-13 stuff.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is available on DVD/Bluray and on VOD.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Descent (2005) Review

My college buddy Ryan Newton Harris first introduced me to this film. I was given nothing but a DVD (no cover art) and a message saying, “This is one of the scariest things I’ve seen in a while.”

Well, color me intrigued. Over a decade later, The Descent finds itself in my Top 40 All Time Favorite Films (regardless of genre).

Six female friends take a hiking trip into the Appalachian Mountains for a little spelunking, some female bonding and to get Sarah’s (Shauna McDonald) mind off of her troubles. You see, Sarah lost her husband and daughter in a tragic car accident a year before (a shocking sequence which opens the film). Most of the ladies are skilled spelunkers, but the “leader” of the group is go-getter Juno (Natalie Mendoza). Once inside this vast cave system, the ladies must deal with bad directions, unfortunate injuries, cave-ins and oh yes – a violent and blood-thirsty species of underground humanoid creatures called “crawlers”.

The Descent is good at so many things. But it might surprise you what I will call-out as the best of these amazing things.

It’s the set-up and the build-up.

There is certainly an atmosphere of dread as the film begins, and as the characters go deeper into the cave system, there are multiple dangers. But what makes this film stand out, is the complexity of the characters and their mutual histories.

I’ve always marveled at the fact that the film goes almost a full hour before “that” happens (a major jump scare, ruined by the US ad campaign). Which means we’re spending time getting to know these ladies. And so when crisis after crisis erupts later in the film, we’re already 100% on board with their plight. That, my readers – is good writing.

There’s a reveal (which you’ll get amazing clues to – perhaps in subsequent screenings) which has nothing to do with the dangers of the underground, but with character dynamics. It’s quite a whopper and the film truly earns it. I’m nodding my head in appreciation at this moment – just thinking about it.

But without the epic performances from this gifted ensemble of actors to back up the rich script – the film wouldn’t work.

Luckily, McDonald gets to run the gamut in character emotions. She’s down, depressed, frightened, jumpy (exhibiting some serious PTSD symptoms) and then she brings the character full circle to an almost primal and incredibly strong woman. It’s not often you get such an impressive character arc – or a perfect blend of excellent acting paired up with impressive story.

I do have to call out Natalie Mendoza as Juno. I’ve been in love with this character (as well as Mendoza herself) since I first saw the film. What Sarah is in the film’s beginning – Juno is exactly opposite. She’s cocky, assured and strong in every way possible. Mendoza is a beautiful woman to be sure, but it’s the attitude she brings to Juno which will truly impress.

One of the juiciest horror films in recent memory, The Descent throws every possible bit of bodily fluid at our ladies and you’ll go from “ewwww” all the way down to “I think I’m gonna be sick”.

On that note, the make-up effects are absolutely stunning. Gore for days (all of it spot-on) and the creature make-up for the “crawlers” looks like some monster straight out of The X-Files (in a good way, of course).

And kudos to the actors portraying these spry creatures. I can just see the ad placed when looking for actors to fill these roles, “Non-athletic, non-acrobatic and non-contortionists need not apply.” The “crawlers” are some of the most frightening movie monsters of the last 25 years.

The film borrows from Carpenter’s The Thing (in isolation, hopelessness and even in a few music cues) and Aliens (you’ll be reminded of that film’s claustrophobic search for the colonists).

The film has amazing suspense and jump-out-of-your-seat “boo” moments (too many to count). Be prepared to grab the arm of your fellow audience members.

What might surprise you is the emotional depth which the film offers – particularly in the piece’s final moments. I do caution you – if you want a richer and more deeply fulfilling “don’t make me cry” epilogue – watch the UK version of the film. The ending of the US version feels like a “let’s make this more commercial” cop-out.

I’ve met writer/director Neil Marshall on a couple of occasions – and based on my nerd-gasm as I blabbed about how much I loved this film – I’m sure he’ll avoid me in any future social situations.

A sub-par sequel was released four years later – with Marshall executive-producing. I say this with perfect clarity – in the wish to save you some time… avoid at all costs.

The Descent has a strong following and will hopefully stand the test of time. With frightening mood for days (or nights – you can never tell when you’re underground), bold performances and buckets full of blood and guts – the film is an absolute winner.

The Descent is available on DVD/Bluray and on multiple VOD platforms.

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I'm an actor, writer and director. And I like zombies...A LOT.

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