“Eat and Run”

eat-and-run-movie-poster-1986-1020203726I didn’t realize “Eat and Run” had made any kind of impression on me at all until I saw the picture of its main monster on the VHS box recently. Years ago, when I was a kid and a voracious reader of movie reviews in the newspaper, certain movies just stuck with me because the critics’ plot descriptions made them memorable. That’s why it would be years before I ever worked up the courage to watch “Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge,” thanks to Gene Siskel’s description of Freddy tearing his way out of the main character’s chest.

The review for “Eat and Run” came complete with a picture of Murray, the movie’s alien maneater. Murray was fatter than any human being I had ever seen in my life up to that point, so much so that I assumed he was some kind of Jim Henson puppet, and his bald head and shark-like mouth made me imagine a movie in which this mountain of flesh and teeth would be tearing people into bloody ribbons. It terrified me for days. So when I found the movie this week, the plot sounded familiar, but the sight of that creature on the box made it official. I had to see this movie at last. Continue reading

“Sharkenstein”

small_1645952The art of movie making essentially is a sleight of hand trick. The filmmaker’s craft is convincing the audience that what they’re seeing is real, in a limited sense. What works in filmmakers’ favor is that they only have to make what’s directly in front of the camera seem real. The movie screen creates a very thin slice of reality that only exists as light and sound. By carefully selecting the evidence and manipulating it in front of the camera, a filmmaker can make an audience believe in something, even if that belief is fleeting. For example, Steven Spielberg knew the robotic shark built for “Jaws” wouldn’t be as convincing to an audience as he had hoped. But, by carefully choosing how much of that shark to show and when, coupled with John Williams’ music, Spielberg made an entire generation scared to even dip their toes into a swimming pool. Continue reading

“Gremloids” (aka “Hyperspace”)

5434676687_a4ca31a421_b“Star Wars” is about as big of a pop cultural phenomenon as you can get, but there are still some areas where its influence is practically non-existent. For example, even though the major characters of “Star Wars” are global icons with name recognition in even the farthest corners of the world, none of them have ever received enough votes to stand on the dais with the leading candidates for British Prime Minister. However, Lord Buckethead, main villain of the 1984 “Star Wars” spoof “Gremloids,” has. This past June, Lord Buckethead received more than 200 votes in the United Kingdom general election, which was enough to get him on a stage with the top vote-getters and the requisite attention from Twitter. So yes, “Star Wars” may have billions in box office revenue, the respect of high-minded critics, and a merchandising empire responsible for more plastic than Dow Chemical, but “Gremloids” has Lord Buckethead. Continue reading

“Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh”

bloodsuclking-pharaohs074We’re living in a time of uninspired movie titles. Part of that is because the major studios are so fixated on building franchises that they approach movie titles the same way McDonald’s approaches naming menu items. (“Jalapeno McChicken” vs. “Marvel’s Ant-Man,” for example.) Part of it is because streaming services’ recommendation algorithms do a lot of the studios’ marketing work these days. Part of it might also be because there’s just less creativity at work in the movies these days, although I hope that’s not the case. In any event, they don’t make movie titles or movies like “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” anymore. Continue reading

“King Kong Lives”

1986-king-kong-lives-poster1The moment a movie’s title appears on-screen is always a huge opportunity to set the tone for the audience. So what does it say about “King Kong Lives” that the movie’s title appears over a shot of desktop computers with gentle music better-suited for something with Sally Field? This is a title that demands an exclamation point, but gets a weak little shrug instead. “King Kong Lives, I Guess.” Or, considering what actually happens in the movie, you could call it “King Kong Lives…For A While.” But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Continue reading

“Blue Monkey”

mv5byzk5ndq4odqtzdvmmy00m2vllwe0otctmjm2mmmymti2yjbkxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzu0nzkwmdg-_v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_I have to assume that the people who made “Blue Monkey” intended it to be a withering screed against the Canadian healthcare system. Yes, the movie points out that the hospital it takes place in was built around the time of the Civil War and they reference Washington D.C., but this movie is very obviously Canadian well before the credits thank the good people of Ontario. The presence of Joe Flaherty is enough on its own, but there’s also the way all the characters say “oat” when they mean “out.” So, when a string of administrative blunders in this hospital leads to a giant grasshopper ripping people’s heads off, it’s hard not to think there might be some veiled commentary about the socialized medicine of our northern neighbors.

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“Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”

220px-attack_of_the_killer_tomatoesAttack of the Killer Tomatoes” was guaranteed to be a perennial entry on numerous “worst movies ever made” lists even if a single frame of it had never been shot. The kindergarten-joke-book nature of the title ensured that it would be an easy target for the likes of Michael and Harry Medved’s “Golden Turkey Awards” and other fans of “so bad it’s good” cinema. Everything you need to know about what kind of a movie this is can be found right there in the title, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if a lot of the people who rank it up there with “Plan 9 From Outer Space” actually haven’t seen it. To say “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” is one of the “worst movies ever made” only indicates that you need to see more movies. Continue reading

“Transformers: Age of Extinction”

transformers-age-of-extinction-poster-dinobotsAt the end of an especially long and acrimonious election season, it’s totally natural to want to just escape into some mindless entertainment. After more than a year of doom-saying and apocalyptic imagery pummeling you into submission, there’s nothing wrong with wanting some spectacle, some whiz-bang action and some light-hearted adventure to remind you that not everything is about hate and resentment. That’s what big blockbuster summer sequels are made for, after all. Well, most of them are. Unfortunately, there also exist movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” which leaves you feeling like you just watched a Super Bowl commercial for nihilism.

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” has the distinction of being the second-most misanthropic movie I’ve ever seen, topped only by Sylvester Stallone’s “Cobra.” At least that movie had the excuse of being an R-rated cop movie made in the 1980s based on a trashy pulp novel. This movie is based on a line of toys and cartoons made for children but still somehow manages to be hateful, bleak, and practically irredeemable. This is a movie in which a villain character flippantly says “Just run them over!” during a car chase through a crowded street and it doesn’t land as a joke because it seems so thoroughly consistent with everything else we’ve seen up to that point. This is a movie where the hero solemnly says “Honor to the end” seconds after stabbing his enemy in the back and splitting his head open. This is a movie where not a single character is motivated by anything other than greed, mistrust, or hatred. It is a grueling experience, and ranks up there with “Happiness” as one of the most uncomfortable movies I’ve ever watched. I write this review as a form of therapy. Continue reading

“Gnaw: Food of the Gods II”

affiche2You really have to hand it to “Gnaw: Food of the Gods II.” Most giant-rat movies would be content to feature a handful of people being chewed to death by radioactive rodents and call it a day. But “Gnaw” is one of those B-movies that uses its monsters merely as a starting-off point and builds from there. Yes, plenty of giant rats nibble on plenty of throats, but that doesn’t include the amoral scientist who is turned into walking cream of mushroom soup, the dream sequence where the hero turns into a giant while having sex, the synchronized swim meet that turns into a literal bloodbath or the 10-foot-tall 10-year-old who kicks off the movie’s plot.

The best place to begin talking about “Gnaw” is its hero, an unusually buff geneticist who is trying to find a cure for an experimental growth hormone used by one of his colleagues. The hormone is responsible for the gigantic fourth-grader’s unnatural size and aggression. (“I’d like you to meet my colleague,” the kid’s doctor says. “I’d like you to get the fuck out of my room!” the kid retorts.) Our hero, Neil, takes the hormone back to the lab, where he does science in a montage that feels like a training montage from a karate movie. Neil gets so STOKED about science that he even gives an enthusiastic fist pump at his computer. Continue reading

“KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park”

mv5botqxzti0ytitnjq3os00odkxlwfkn2qtmzg5mje5njbln2uzxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntc4njg5mja-_v1_I don’t mean it as an insult when I say that KISS is the ultimate triumph of style over substance. Musically, there isn’t much to distinguish them from Van Halen, Aerosmith, Boston, or any other arena-rock staple of the late 70s, but none of those other bands have had their own action figures or lunchboxes or credit cards. KISS combined the blunt, dick-swinging machismo of their music with a fire-breathing stage show and a look straight out of a Halloween party, creating something 13-year-old boys of any age could love. Their style elevated them from a rock band into comic-book characters. In other words, it’s hard to imagine another band that could have inspired the 1978 TV movie “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.” Who else but KISS would even attempt to make something that aspired to be “A Hard Day’s Night” crossed with “Star Wars?” Who else but KISS could survive its reputation as one of the worst movies ever made? Continue reading