Friday, August 2, 2013


Starring: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt, James Woods 
Written by: Carl Sagan
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Year: 1997

Rating: * * * *   Stars           +      (Fan Bonus -)       Total: * * * * 

An astronomer receives a radio message that is alien in origin. How does humanity cope with the knowledge that we are not alone?

If you're looking for a movie with martians coming to Earth, you'll want to pass on this film. If, however, you're looking for a well crafted story that examines what contact with an extra-terrestrial race would be like, based on sound scientific principles, and chock full of dramatic emphasis, than look no further.

Jody Foster plays Dr. Arroway, a radio astronomer who's dedicated her career to S.E.T.I. work. After years of disappointment  shut downs and relocations, she receives a coded message that seems to come from outer space.

The government quickly moves in, and decoding efforts reveal a signal from Earth that was returned back. Further decoding discovers schematics to build a machine presumed to be a transport of some type. Meanwhile, the program is demonized by religious fanatics and taxpayers who want their money spent on more important issues. 

Matthew McConaughey plays Palmer Joss, a religious author who had a brief relationship with Arroway, only to reunite years later to understand the religious implications of the message and the meaning of life elsewhere.

Where this film is truly brilliant is its study of the war of faith vs science, in which neither is vilified. Instead, it illustrates that Dr. Arroway, a self-professed atheist and woman of science is in fact, a person of faith. Her faith in science, reason and logic carries her throughout the film to the climatic ending when she must take it on faith the whole experience with the contact was real, despite no evidence whatsoever.

Based on a novel by Carl Sagan, the film faithfully interprets Sagan's hopeful vision of an alien contact, using our technology and current scientific knowledge to finally answer the age old question of are we alone?


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday the 13th part 6: Jason Lives

Starring: Thom Mathews, Jennifer Cooke, David Kagen
Written by: Tom McLoughlin
Director: Tom McLoughlin
Year: 1986

Rating: * *  Stars           +         (Fan Bonus *)    Total: * * *

Jason returns from the dead and is out for revenge.

This film features the return of Jason Vorhees in his most iconic incarnation, that of an undead, unstoppable force of destruction. It also rounds off the Tommy trilogy, in which an adult Tommy must confront Jason one last time.

Jason Lives is the film in which this series jumps the shark. In this, the sixth episode, Jason appears first as he is now, 25+ years later, iconically remembered. Not as the little boy in the lake, or the wild man with the potato sack over his head, but as the rotting corpse of a killer with Mother issues. Jason is more brutal and relentless than ever before.

The casual audience will find this dull and predictable, as Jason slashes his way from one obnoxious, soulless, empty-headed victim to the next. There is little tension or suspense as we are not ever emotionally vested in any of them. Fans however will delight in Jason's killing spree as he never seems to kill anyone in the same way twice. The motor home scene is pretty cool, culminating with Jason standing over it like a big game hunter who just killed a charging elephant.

The quality of acting and directing is on par with the rest of the series, but despite Jason's return and pushing the envelope in his methods of killing, the remainder of this series drops off sharply. So dull did this series become that even putting him in outer space did little to resurrect this series.

In many ways, this is the best of the series, if sadly, plants the seeds of its eventual demise.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O'Herlihy
Written by: Tommy Lee Wallace
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Rating:   * *   Stars       +       (Fan Bonus - )    Total: * *

A halloween mask company sells masks with a sinister secret.

Perhaps the most clever aspect of this film lies in its title. By having "3" in the title, it suggests a continuation, or at least some continuity with its previous titles. Season Of The Witch has absolutely no connection to any film in this series. And judging from the film itself, the name Halloween seems to be the only thing going for it.

The on-call doctor investigates what seems to be a murder-suicide. He discovers a plot from an insane toy-maker who uses the masks, along with an ancient Celtic ritual and fragments from a boulder at Stonehenge, to kill millions. Tiny fragments are placed in each mask, and when the children wear them and watch the advertisement from Silver Shamrock, the company that makes the masks n Halloween night, the unthinkable will happen.

As time draws near, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) must stop the evil Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) before it's too late. He has to stop the broadcast, but first, he must come out of the factory alive.

Even those wanting something outside of Michael Myers and his slashfest, fans will feel the lack of John Carpenter's writing and directing. With the name of Halloween, it almost seems that the producers expected a failure without a marketable title. The quality of the acting and direction justifies their fears even with the plot having some redeeming quality. Halloween fans generally pass on this film, however some speculate that the events of this film are from a cultist from the Cult of Thorns, the cult that is introduced in Halloween 4, and those responsible for Michael Myers. However, this is speculation, and never confirmed.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Exorcist

Starring: Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller
Written by: William Peter Blatty
Director: William Peter Blatty

Rating: * * * * 1/2     Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *   )  Total: * * * * * 1/2

A mothers worst nightmare comes true as her vibrant young daughter succumbs to an illness that is neither physical or mental. She realizes the truth, her daughter is being possessed by a demonic force, and if someone can't help her soon, her daughter may die. 

Ellen Burstyn plays Chris MacNeil, a single mother and actress currently residing in Georgetown, while on location filming a movie. Her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) begins exhibiting strange behavior, including foul language, urinating on the carpet, sleepwalking, etc. She takes her to physicians who recommend psychiatrists, who then send her back to doctors, yet all tests prove inconclusive. 

Nearby is a church where Father Damien Karras (Jason Miller) works as a priest who specializes in clinical psychology. Karras wrestles with his own torment as his sickly mother is put into a nursing home against her wishes, and blames him for it. She soon passes away, and the guilt eats him up.

Meanwhile Regan's condition is getting worse. She exhibits supernatural abilities, including strength, speaking in strange voices, and causing objects to move around by themselves. Still, no one seems to be able to help, and attribute the more fantastical elements as a form of hysteria. Finally, the doctors recommend an exorcist be brought in, viewing it as a form of hypnotic suggestion.  She seeks out Father Karras who also believes she's mentally ill until Regan begins speaking about his Mother, and other things she couldn't possibly know. Karras turns to the diocese and they bring in Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), an elderly priest who's performed an exorcism years ago. The demon in Regan is the same as the one he confronted, and is looking forward to facing him again.

Perhaps one of the scariest movies ever made, and the best so far regarding this subject matter, The Exorcist is an assault on our ethical nature. Sure, it has all the hallmarks of standard horror fair, including strange noises, murder, shocking surprises, and creaking floorboards. But the true horror of this film is how William Peter Blatty unashamedly displays the nature of evil as the foulest, most crass and dehumanizing force on Earth. This young girl uses language that would make a truck driver blush. She uses a crucifix to masturbate with till she reaches a bloody climax. She shoves her Mother's face into her crotch screaming "lick me, lick me." Although it's based on religious subjects, even the staunchest atheists in the audience will still feel a sense of foulness. When first shown in theaters, reports of people passing out in the aisles hit newspapers. The Catholic Church had a rise in confessions. How William Peter Blatty got this movie past the censors in 1973 is amazing. Perhaps he made a deal with the devil.

The performances by the cast are powerful and believable. A longer than usual run time allowed for character development, making Karras and Ms. MacNeil fully fleshed out characters. Innovative techniques that hold up today make it frighteningly believable when her head contorts backwards, or walks down the stairs like a distorted spider. The voice over work of the demonic voice is chilling to the bone. 

If you're looking for a good scare, you need not look further. Except for an interesting effort in Exorcist III, avoid the other sequels. This movie has captured lightning in a bottle, something the others can never duplicate.


Saturday, October 22, 2011


Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Ian Holm
Written by: Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Director: Ridley Scott

Rating: * * * *     Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *   )  Total: * * * * *

In the future, a space mining vessel picks up a distress call and the crew investigates. What they discover is a life form of pure terror.

The crew of the Nostromos are awakened from hypersleep to discover their orders have been changed. The company they work for wants them to investigate an SOS signal they've picked up in the vicinity. The ship descends upon a small moon and three of the seven crewmen investigate. They discover a derelict spacecraft that had crashed there some time ago. While investigating they find a cargo hold containing thousands of eggs, roughly three times the size of a football. One of the crewmen, Kane (John Hurt) gets too close to an egg, and the egg opens, where some form of parasite latches onto his face. Immediately the others rush him back to the Nostromos, where they bring him aboard despite 2nd in command Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) protest as it would violate quarantine protocols. Yet Ash (Ian Holm) seems to disregard her order and opens the hatch anyway. 

Try as they might, they cannot remove the organism from Kane's face. It seems to be breathing for him, and any attempt to forcibly remove it causes it to tighten its grip around Kane's throat. The real problem lies when they try and surgically remove it. Just a mere incision causes the organism to bleed. Only its blood is a concentrated form of acid that eats its way through several decks. 

Some point later the parasite dies, seemingly from natural causes, and Kane checks out ok. What no one realizes, is the thing implanted an embryo into Kane as part of its life cycle. While the crew enjoys dinner, Kane suddenly goes into a seizure as an alien creature bursts from his chest. It scutters away where it finds a dark and quiet place on the ship and begins to grow. As the crew begins to hunt for it, it begins to hunt them. One by one it kills them. The remaining crewmen try and devise a way to deal with the Alien, yet Ripley grows ever more suspicious of Ash, who doesn't seem quite right.

From start to finish, Ridley Scott establishes the dark and brooding atmosphere of this film. The claustrophobic nature of the Nostromos, the isolation of being alone in deep space, and the idea of a xenomorphic creature blend together to create an unsettling feeling all throughout the film. The alien itself, inspired by the works of H.R. Geiger, is one of the most terrifying, yet original monsters to ever hit the big screen. From its frightening visage, to its inhuman life cycle, and its amoral nature, the Alien is truly something straight out of our collective nightmares.

The pacing of the film is like that of our own frightened heartbeat. Slow at first, establishing characters and plot, but increasing beat by beat as more and more people get killed. Fear, desperation, and panic set in, not just with the crew, but with the audience as well. And if an unstoppable alien isn't enough, discovering what Ash is, and why he's doing what he's doing only adds to the feelings of despair and hopelessness. 

Over 30 years later, this film still holds up. The effects are still tight, the actors all put in incredible performances, and it can still cause today's audiences to jump out of their seats. Whether you've seen it a hundred times it still entertains. And if you lived under a rock and never seen it, you owe it to yourself to enjoy a fright as well crafted as this.

The Alien franchise has grown with several sequels, comics and video games, as well as match-ups against another on screen creature, the Predators. Outside the phenomenally successful Aliens, directed by James Cameron, the rest of the series is real hit and miss. 


Friday, October 21, 2011


Starring: Bela Lugosi, Helen Chandler, David Manners, Dwight Frye
Written by: Hamilton Deane, Bram Stoker
Director: Tod Browning

Rating: * * * *     Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *   )  Total: * * * * *

Count Dracula moves to Englund and begins to prey upon it's citizens. When he turns to the virtuous Mina, Dr. Van Helsing is called in, and recognizes her illness as the work of a vampire.

Renfield arrives at Dracula's castle after a harrowing journey through the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. He is there to finalize the purchase of Carfax Abbey, in London. After signing, the Count drugs Renfield, turning him into his ghoulish slave. Renfield watches over Dracula by day while they voyage by sea. When Dracula sets up shop in London he turns Lucy into a vampire. But then, he turns his attention towards Mina, who he tries to woe away from her betrothed, John Harker (David Manners). Mina's father, Dr. Seward, calls in Van Helsing after Mina falls ill to a strange illness. Van Helsing tells them she is falling prey to the work of a vampire, and tells them what is involved in destroying such a creature. But will they be up to it?

The story adapted from Bram Stoker's novel has been told dozens of times, but this is the definitive and iconic version. Bela Lugosi pulls off the performance that defines his career, and sadly, defined his life. The pace of the film starts off strong, but begins to wilt, which actually is something of a benefit to this film. Director Tod Browning brilliantly uses techniques throughout the film to keep Dracula's presence felt, even when not on screen. 

It's almost hard not to love Dracula. Certainly one of the first hull length horror talkies, Dracula has endured for 80 years, and shows no sign of slowing. Bela's method of acting made the Count sexy, spellbinding, and sophistication that was very sensationalistic for its time. Credit also goes to Dwight Frye's performance as Renfield, the man turned psychotic slave of Dracula's. His laugh alone is still echoed today, even if people today don't realize its origin.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors

Starring: Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, Patricia Arquette
Written by: Wes Craven, Bruce Wagner
Director: Chuck Russell

Rating: * * *     Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *   )  Total: * * * * 

Freddy returns to terrorize a new crop of teenagers. But this time, an old rival of his has trained them to fight back.

Kristen (Patricia Arquette) has a unique ability, that of drawing people into her dreams. But her nightmares are growing worse, and she is sent to a local hospital for clinical study. In the hospital she meets others who are tormented by the same dream monster, Freddy Krueger. Kristen is able to join in their dreams, and draw them into hers, doing what they can to hold off Freddy's attacks. At the hospital, they meet a psychiatrist who specializes in dream therapy, Nancy (Heather Langenkamp). Nancy survived Freddy in the first film, and now grown up, realizes Freddy has returned and is after her charges. She teaches them how to recognize when their in the dream world, and in the dream world they can do anything. She instructs them on how to use their special skills becoming dream warriors. When Freddy captures one of the patients, the dream warriors band together to save him from the depths of Freddy's lair. 

A fantastic follow up to the original film, and certainly makes up for the less than memorable Nightmare On Elm Street, part 2. Robert Englund hasn't lost any enthusiasm as he reprises the roll of Freddy again. Outside of the first film, the Nightmare series tends to be more comical, with Freddy being less creepy, and more of a sarcastic bully. Freddy's death traps are more innovative and big budgeted than ever. The dream sequences are more surreal. Special effects are stellar and creative for a film of this budget. More akin to action than horror, the Dream Warriors is a fun ride and great popcorn flick. It also serves to expand on Freddy's heritage, and cement him as a horror icon.

Further installments in the franchise became more of the same, save for A New Nightmare which presented and interesting twist, and Freddy vs Jason, which gave us the most sinister and demonic Freddy Yet. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Starring: Kimberly Beck, Corey Feldman, Crispen Glover, Peter Barton, Ted White
Written by: Barney Cohen
Director: Joseph Zito

Rating: * * 1/2     Stars       +       (Fan Bonus *   )  Total: * * * 1/2 

Thought to have been killed in the last installment, Jason returns to the lake to kill the inhabitants.

A group of teenagers come to the lake and rent out a cabin for a weekend of fun in the great outdoors, which just happens to be next door to another cabin occupied by Mrs. Jarvis, her teenage daughter Trish, and tweve year old son, Tommy. While Trish makes friends with the new neighbors, Tommy mostly keeps to himself, reading horror magazines and making molds of monster masks. Tommy is very much into horror.

Meanwhile, at the morgue, Jason suddenly revives and begins a murder spree all the way back to Crystal Lake. As has been the formula, teenagers get killed one by one, each in a ghastly and unique manor. The Jarvis's learn about Jason and the grizzly killings he's perpetrated in the past. As Jason comes to kill the Jarvis family, young Tommy is ready for him. By being so engrossed in monster make-up and horror movies, Tommy has gained insight into Jason's psyche, allowing him to distract Jason long enough for his Sister to deliver a fatal blow. Of course, just when everything seems OK, Jason begins to move. Tommy quickly grabs the weapon and proceeds to hack Jason to pieces. It would seem this truly is the end for Jason. But has Crystal Lake produced another monster in the form of another small child?

Make-up and monster effects guru Tom Savini returns to the Friday franchise with the promise that he get's to kill Jason. In fact word has it that the character of Tommy, the little boy who makes horror masks, was inspired by Tom Savini himself. 

Of course this isn't the "Final Chapter", as Friday the 13th goes on for another 6 sequels, a reboot, and a showdown with Freddy Krueger. But this is the last time you'll see Jason resembling anything that could pass as human. 

This also marks the first time a Friday film doesn't live up to its predecessors, where the body count is less, the suspense is watered down, and the plot feels cliche'd at this point. Still, there is some decent performances, and this is the Friday the 13th with the most nudity. If you've come this far in the franchise, it's time well spent. Sadly, the next one, oddly enough, entitled "A New Beginning" is one of the franchise's worst.