The 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
The 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
You 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
If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack while watching Sheri Lewis and Lambchop, or if “Sifl & Olly” make you break out in a cold sweat, or if you’ve ever had recurring nightmares about Kermit the Frog, you may want to stay away from “Uninvited.” Likewise, if cat videos on the Internet make you tense, or if Garfield makes you edgy, or if you can’t stop screaming whenever you see a can of Fancy Feast, you are strongly advised to avoid “Uninvited.” This is because the monster in this direct-to-video monster movie is represented half the time by a perfectly ordinary housecat and the other half by a mangy hand puppet. Those of us who aren’t terrified by such things, however, still have plenty of reasons to avoid it.
“Uninvited” is a movie that doesn’t need to be reviewed so much as interrogated. How did anyone believe anyone would find this scary? Who thought it was a good idea to make the monster so strange? What in the heck is going on with Clu Gulager’s teeth? These are mysteries that are fated to remain unsolved, unfortunately, and without them to hold your interest there’s almost nothing left of “Uninvited” to recommend it. Although the movie features one of the single most ridiculous monsters in horror history, that isn’t enough to pull it out of direct-to-video purgatory. Continue reading
Perhaps the biggest problem with “Project: Metalbeast” is that there is no earthly way any movie could live up to that title. If the filmmakers could have titled the movie with an airbrushed Boris Vallejo painting of a metallic werewolf, I feel like they would have. The title is a screaming electric guitar solo with full pyrotechnic accompaniment, and it ranks among the all-time-great, one-of-a-kind B-movie titles like “Hell Comes to Frogtown” or “Surf Nazis Must Die.” If the majority of movie titles serve as a polite introduction to the audience, “Project: Metalbeast” is a high-five from a complete stranger doing a backflip on an ATV over your head. Continue reading
Horror fans have a unique relationship with the genre. Perhaps no other type of movie has inspired so many to think, “I could do this!” than horror, and because of that horror fans have a symbiotic connection to it. From Sam Raimi and Tom Savini on one end of the spectrum to Mark Borchardt and Mike Schank from “American Movie” on the other, a significant portion of filmmakers who specialize in horror started as fans mixing fake blood in their mothers’ kitchens and shooting yards of Super 8 film. And in many cases, horror returns the favor by making horror fans into heroes. Tommy Jarvis’ effects makeup skills defeat Jason in “Friday the 13th Part IV,” the Frog Brothers’ horror fandom help them identify what’s up with the Lost Boys, and the Monster Squad graduates directly from doodling werewolves to kicking them square in the nards.
One of the lesser-known entries in this subcategory of movies featuring horror nerds as heroes is 1986’s “Neon Maniacs,” a movie that nevertheless feels much closer to a pure expression of horror fandom. Like many of the homemade horror movies Borchardt and the thousands like him made as teenagers, “Neon Maniacs” is not much more than a feature-length makeup test, an excuse to throw as many monsters and murders and severed limbs at the camera as possible, sacrificing opportunities to build plot and character for more mayhem. Continue reading
This has been a big year for religious movies. Not only was there a big-budget adaptation of the story of Noah, but a pair of independent Christian movies have been pulling in impressive box office numbers. The trend continued earlier this month with the release of what I consider to be the most thought-provoking and interesting religious film of this or any recent year. That’s right, the one with the giant nuclear death-monster. Continue reading