Ah, good. After my brief bout of insanity reviewing a good movie yesterday, I’ll return to reviewing films most people haven’t heard of.
Today’s gem is the 1990 children’s flick Spaced Invaders. I haven’t the foggiest notion when I first saw this—it might have been at the theater, but I think it was probably on HBO or something, since I distinctly remember my father cracking up while watching it at home. The film is a comedy about five Martians who accidentally crash-land in a small town on Halloween night. Chaos—and hilarity!—ensues.
The aliens, led by the Napoleonic Captain Bipto, include the mad scientist Dr. Ziplock (har har), the Jack Nicholson imitator Blaznee, the hyperactive Giggywig, and Pez, whom I don’t remember anything about. The Martians crashed after overhearing a broadcast of Orson Welles’ famous War of the Worlds radio show and thinking the Martian fleet was attacking Earth.
For the most part, I prefer to review films that aren’t necessarily considered classics (by any stretch of the imagination). Some are “cult” classics, a la Evil Dead II, but few of them would be deemed “culturally significant” by the United States Library of Congress. There are a few reasons I tend to avoid reviewing “good” films, but the main one is that I just don’t feel qualified. I don’t have a film degree; I really haven’t even seen all that many movies. I only recently saw The Godfather for the first time. I’ve never seen a John Wayne movie, and so forth. I do believe there should be some modicum of respectability to the profession of critiquing works of art.
Dude, grunge is so fifteen years ago.
On the other hand, there’s a difference between analyzing the themes of a film for an art journal and assessing how entertaining it is for a general audience, and on that level, I feel I can make a few comments about Dawn of the Dead. Of course, Dawn of the Dead is not exactly Citizen Kane or Requiem for a Dream, but it still has a better critical reputation than most of the stuff I review on the site. So think of this less as a “review,” and more just general ruminations on a topic.
I can’t recall whether I saw The Monster Squad (1987) in the theater, but something makes me think I did. Even as a kid I thought of it then as a sort of store brand Goonies, albeit a very fun, entertaining, and surprisingly violent one. Except for the infamous “Wolf Man’s got nards” line, I more or less forgot about the film until I saw it in 2004 while visiting a friend (thanks, Scott—always the classy host!).
That Gillman suit rocks.
The Monster Squad is basically a kid’s horror film featuring what are traditionally thought of as the Universal Monsters: Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Gillman (a.k.a. the Creature from the Black Lagoon). However, unlike other monster mashes like the recent Van Helsing, The Monster Squad wasn’t a Universal film; Universal only owns the trademarks to the character names (meaning you can’t call your movie just “Dracula”). In the case of Dracula and the Monster, the novels are long out of copyright; while the Mummy, the Wolfman and the Gillman are just generic monsters (though I do think they’re on shaky ground with the Gillman, given how much he resembles the Black Lagoon creature).
From the 1930s through the 1950s, Universal Studios had a run of horror film hits featuring what we now think of as the classic Universal Monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Wolf Man, and The Mummy. As immensely popular as these films were (and still are), Universal has yet to really try and capitalize on them via remakes. Sure, there’s The Mummy, which wasn’t bad (though The Mummy Returns was); and then there was the travesty that was Van Helsing. But if we can get an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink remake of King Kong, why not Frankenstein or Dracula?
Michael Douglas in a rare shower scene.
You might point to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Bram Stoker’s Dracula in answer. Neither of these films was released by Universal, who own the trademark on the titles (for film purposes) but not, obviously, the copyright to the stories. The reason the author’s names were added to the titles of those films was to differentiate them from the Universal trademarks. More importantly, the plots of the Universal films are modified (often significantly) from the storylines of the novels. The Bride of Frankenstein is quite different from Shelley’s novel, yet it’s a classic in its own right.
NOTE: Again, this was one of the first reviews I wrote for this thing, and I forgot to get screencaps. Please forgive me.
About two-thirds of the way through Deep Rising, I turned to DG and, referring to the role of protagonist Treat Williams, said, “I think Kurt Russell would have been good in this.” In fact, the role seemed so much like Russell’s roles in movies like The Thing, Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China that I went looking on the Web to see whether Russell had been offered the role and if John Carpenter had ever been attached to direct. I found no evidence for either theory, though apparently Harrison Ford was offered the Williams role (and presumably said, “Wait, is this a rip-off of Aliens or Speed 2? Either way, not interested”). The film was directed by Stephen Sommers, who handled the enjoyable Mummy, the slightly less enjoyable Mummy Returns, and the not-so-enjoyable Van Helsing.
A stupid CGI monster-thing. Evs.
I can’t remember exactly how I first encountered the Evil Dead films. I think a high school friend of mine introduced me to more than ten years ago, in 1994. I became fairly obsessed with all three movies, but The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987) hadn’t been released on videocassette in years.
Seclusion in a root cellar: not good for the skin. Take note, geeks!
But my parents, who had frequently proven their willingness to go the extra mile to get me a hard-to-find Christmas present, obtained copies of both movies from a Canadian video store that year. I quickly came to prefer Evil Dead II, followed by Army of Darkness (1992). Languishing at the rear of the pack was The Evil Dead, which, prior to my recent viewing, I may only have watched two or three times.
Deepstar Six beat Leviathan to theaters by about two months. For all that your average moviegoer would notice, they’re more or less the same film: a team of underwater scientists are attacked by a sea monster. What are the odds of the same high concept showing up twice in the same year? At least as good as Deep Impact and Armageddon, apparently.
Feed me, Seymour!
I reviewed Leviathan a few days back, and I’ll complete the Sea Monster Trilogy with Deep Rising in a few days. Leviathan was a mixed bag; decent actors, a decent monster and okay screenwriting made for a middling cinematic experience. I didn’t regret my time or money (see my upcoming Deep Rising review), but I definitely wasn’t getting it on DVD.
NOTE: I forgot to take screencaps of Leviathan before returning it to Netflix. You’ll just have to do without. My bad.
One of my greatest pleasures growing up was catching a stupid monster movie on a lazy weekend afternoon. As a wee tyke, Boston’s WLVI 56 filled that need with the famous Creature Double Feature block. But that was long gone by the time I was in high school; and besides, contrary to popular belief, I did have a social life in high school and had better things to do on a Saturday afternoon than watch old Godzilla flicks. Sundays, however, were a different story; and I spent many a Sunday in my room, watching a monster flick on TV while drawing (or, on more than one occasion, working on homework).
When I say monster movie, I don’t mean slasher flicks like the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th series. I was never into those; psycho-murderers are kind of boring and I don’t like gratuitous gore (though I did enjoy Jason vs. Freddy, by which point both characters had more or less become hammy supernatural monsters). In general, though, give me something with tentacles or gross bug eyes or claws. Give me a bug monster or a sea monster or an alien hellbeast. I always considered C.H.U.D. to be the archetypal Lazy Sunday Monster Flick (partly because it’s the only one I specifically remember watching).
In 1968, a relatively unknown filmmaker named George Romero made a little film called Night of the Living Dead. Though relatively low-budget, it became one of the earliest cult films and spawned an entire sub-genre of horror movies that continue to this day.
Casting calls for Thriller.
Romero wrote the screenplay with Night of the Living Dead with a fellow named John Russo. According to the film’s Wikipedia entry (which, in a refreshing change, cites most of its sources), the story grew from a horror comedy involving aliens into a straight, gruesome horror film that drew inspiration from Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend.
Ah, C.H.U.D.. C.H.U.D. (1984) is the archetypal Lazy Sunday Movie. I vaguely remember watching it (probably on WLVI 56, maybe Fox 25) in my room in Carver during early high school.
I rewatched C.H.U.D. for the purposes of this review. I was mildly surprised to find that I remembered virtually nothing about it except: 1.) “C.H.U.D.” stands for “Cannibalistic Human Underground Dweller,” and 2.) chuds have glowing yellow eyes.
That’s not Leonardo. Or Michaelango. Or Donatello. Or even Jackson Pollock. Trust me.
I certainly didn’t remember that the cast included Daniel Stern (of Home Alone, The Wonder Years and Leviathan fame) and a very young-looking John Goodman, not to mention Kim Greist, who I saw a few weeks ago for the first time in Brazil, her second film—right after C.H.U.D.!