Category Archives: Horror

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, Jack Clayton)

Nothing connects with Something Wicked This Way Comes, though Jonathan Pryce’s performance is probably the closest thing to a complete success. Jason Robards is often quite good, but he’s both protagonist and subject of the film, which neither director Clayton nor writer Ray Bradbury (adapting his own novel) really seem to know how to transition between. Ostensibly, the leads of the film are young teens Vidal Peterson and Shawn Carson, who find their small town threatened by Pryce’s demonic carnival owner. But they’re just in distress; it’s up to Robards to save them.

Along the way–Something Wicked runs a long ninety-some minutes–strange things happen to the other townsfolk, at least the ones the film has time to introduce in the talky first act. Clayton’s direction is never scary enough, Stephen H. Burum’s photography is never atmospheric enough, and Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon’s editing is always problematic. Something Wicked’s target audience is teen boys but the script is about a fifty-something man coming to terms with waiting too long to have a child. If Clayton just went for creepy, it might have all worked out better.

Especially considering all the special effects until the finale are weak. The finale’s special effects are fantastic. They’re not on screen long enough–that editing is always problematic, like I said–but they’re fantastic.

Also unimpressive is James Horner’s score, which occasionally makes the film seem longer, even though it’s not bad. It just doesn’t work. Nothing in Something Wicked works. Except the aforementioned Jonathan Pryce.

The main supporting cast–Mary Grace Canfield, Richard Davalos, Jake Dengel, James Stacy–don’t help things. They’re too obviously contrived, too obviously pragmatic (except Canfield, all of them have shops in a row so it’s easy to introduce them all to both Peterson and Robards). Bradbury’s script treats everyone as a caricature, except maybe Peterson and Robards. Peterson’s performance isn’t good enough–he’s annoying–and Robards gets some lame material. Poor Diane Ladd has nothing to do, except go from being a tragic abandoned wife to a succubus, entertaining men while son Carson sleeps unawares upstairs.

Pam Grier shows up as one of Pryce’s minions and makes an impression thanks to some solid costumes and terrible special effects, but her few lines aren’t memorable. Same goes for Ellen Geer’s character, mother to Peterson, wife to Robards. Something Wicked’s characters ought to have some interesting backstory, but they just don’t. It doesn’t help whenever Bradbury tries to bring it up, he just goes with blocks of expository dialogue.

The film suffered studio tinkering, but it’s hard to imagine they broke things too much. Something Wicked’s pieces simply don’t add up to anything. It’s a shame, because the production values are great and there’s excellent potential for Robards’s performance. And Pryce’s good, regardless.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Clayton; screenplay by Ray Bradbury, based on his novel; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Argyle Nelson Jr. and Barry Mark Gordon; music by James Horner; production designer, Richard Macdonald; produced by Peter Douglas; released by Buena Vista Distribution Company.

Starring Vidal Peterson (Will Halloway), Shawn Carson (Jim Nightshade), Jason Robards (Charles Halloway), Jonathan Pryce (Mr. Dark), Ellen Geer (Mrs. Halloway), Diane Ladd (Mrs. Nightshade), Royal Dano (Tom Fury), Mary Grace Canfield (Miss Foley), Richard Davalos (Mr. Crosetti), Jake Dengel (Mr. Tetley), James Stacy (Ed) and Pam Grier (The Dust Witch).


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Dead Silence (2007, James Wan), the unrated version

Dead Silence is pretty dumb, but it’s often incredibly well-made, which makes up for a lot of the dumbness. There are a lot of problems with the acting–lead Ryan Kwanten is particularly lacking when delivering the weak dialogue though he’s otherwise acceptable as a scream king. Or, in the case of Dead Silence, where the monster gets you if you scream, he’s acceptable as a non-scream king. But the film relies heavily on exposition. Even when Kwanten’s not talking–or even when he’s listening to one of the better actors (Donnie Wahlberg and Michael Fairman, for example)–there’s the constant threat of a weak performance.

Also bad is Laura Regan as Kwanten’s wife. They’re obnoxiously cute or at least screenwriter Leigh Whannell intends them to be cute. It doesn’t really come off. Partially because of the performances, partially because of the writing. Dead Silence has enormous plot holes and logic gaps. Director Wan manages to get across a lot of them, but there’s only so much style can do. Eventually, the logic gaps catch up with the film. At that point, however, Wahlberg’s got a bigger part so at least he’s chewing the scenery in a terribly written cop role.

Michael N. Knue’s editing is good. The first act is hurried, partially due to the script. It’s only successful thanks to Knue’s editing. He slows it down for the rest of the film, which takes place over a couple unlikely days, and doesn’t get to affect the pace as much. It’s still good editing in the latter part, it’s just not expertly hurried.

Solid photography from John R. Leonetti too, though Dead Silence has been through a lot of post-production for the colors. Director Wan focuses the viewer’s attention, usually obviously, and always pragmatically. Dead Silence is a light film, untold horrors of ventriloquism or not; Wan’s direction at least gives it the impression of heft.

Middling support from Bob Gunton and Amber Valletta don’t really hurt the picture. It’d have been nice if they were better as Kwanten’s estranged family, but it probably wouldn’t have helped the picture much.

Once Dead Silence finds its pace in the middle–after Knue’s no longer keeping things moving through aggressive cutting–it’s a solidly diverting, if questionably acted and definitely poorly written, horror picture. The big reveal is terrible and Wan goes out of his way to forecast it. Maybe not the particulars but at least the concept for the solution. Whannell’s script lacks any depth, it’s just too bad it’s similarly shallow as far as conclusions go.

But Wan does a fine job putting it all together, bad script, weak lead. It’s far more competent than it needs to be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by James Wan; screenplay by Leigh Whannell, based on a story by Wan and Whannell; director of photography, John R. Leonetti; edited by Michael N. Knue; music by Charlie Clouser; production designer, Julie Berghoff; produced by Mark Burg, Gregg Hoffman, and Oren Koules; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Ryan Kwanten (Jamie Ashen), Laura Regan (Lisa Ashen), Donnie Wahlberg (Det. Lipton), Michael Fairman (Henry Walker), Amber Valletta (Ella Ashen), Bob Gunton (Edward Ashen), Joan Heney (Marion Walker) and Judith Roberts (Mary Shaw).


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Alligator (1980, Lewis Teague)

Alligator has quite a few things going for it. Lead Robert Forster is great, Robin Riker’s solid as his love interest and sidekick, John Sayles’s script has some excellent moments in it (some of them just being the attention he pays to Forster and Riker’s relationship), the giant alligator effects are solid, Larry Bock and Ron Medico’s editing is outstanding. Unfortunately, director Teague is a bit of a liability. He doesn’t direct actors well, he doesn’t set up shots well, he doesn’t understand scale when it comes to the giant alligator. The film is also shooting Los Angeles for Chicago, which comes off as pointless since there’s nothing Chicago about the film except the casting. They don’t even have second unit shots of Chicago. They shoot second unit against the mountains. Teague’s lack of ability and imagination with the budget hurt immensely.

Other problems–let’s just get them out of the way now–include the score and the plotting. Craig Huxley’s score rip-offs the Jaws theme way too obviously, but then the rest of the music is bad too so it’s not like it should be a surprise. Joseph Mangine’s photography is generally competent–especially given the amount of sewer shots–but lacks personality. Even though Forster and Riker have personality, Alligator doesn’t.

There’s some nice supporting work from Henry Silva as the absurd great white hunter. He comes off the best besides the leads. Dean Jagger is pretty lame as the evil industrialist who unintentionally creates the giant alligator because he’s an evil industrialist. I’m assuming Jagger’s part was supposed to be humorous, but Teague doesn’t have an ear for comedy. At all.

Michael V. Gazzo should be better as Forster’s boss. The only thing Teague does reliably is direct Gazzo’s scenes worse than anything else in the film. Perry Lang’s okay as a young beat cop, Bart Braverman’s okay as the noisy reporter. If the film just had more perfectly okay performances… well, it would still have all the problems Teague brings to it.

It’s hard to dislike Alligator, but only because of Forster, Riker and the film’s somewhat reluctant concentration on their relationship. Oh, and Silva. Silva’s really amusing. And you want to like Gazzo’s performance. It’s just not well-directed enough to get over the budget issues and it’s not well-written enough to get over the directing issues and it’s not well-produced enough to get over any of it. It’s all right. For a giant alligator movie set in Chicago but filmed in Los Angeles without enough good supporting performances, tepid direction and a too wonky script, Alligator is all right.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Lewis Teague; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Sayles and Frank Ray Perilli; director of photography, Joseph Mangine; edited by Larry Bock and Ron Medico; music by Craig Huxley; produced by Brandon Chase and Mark L. Rosen; released by Group 1 International Distribution Organization Ltd.

Starring Robert Forster (David Madison), Robin Riker (Dr. Marisa Kendall), Michael V. Gazzo (Chief Clark), Dean Jagger (Slade), Jack Carter (Mayor), Sydney Lassick (Gutchel), James Ingersoll (Helms), Bart Braverman (Kemp), Perry Lang (Kelly) and Henry Silva (Brock).


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Night People (2015, Gerard Lough)

Endings should never be too literal; especially not in a film where a character talks about having ambiguous endings to stories. Night People ends too literally, especially after a third act where all sorts of threads dangle near one another. Writer and director Lough doesn’t tie things up exactly, but he does go out of his way to imply the viewer has no idea what’s been going on.

The structure of the film is pretty simple. Michael Parle and Jack Dean-Shepherd are a couple of arsonists who have to pass some time; what better way than to tell a couple scary stories. It’s an old, sturdy structure to a fall back on and Parle’s so good–and Lough’s direction of the present action is awesomely creepy–the film can get away with it, especially after Dean-Sheperd’s story starts.

Unfortunately, Parle’s story is first. He doesn’t narrate it, which probably would’ve helped. Instead, the film cuts to the Michael McLaughlin digging up some weird object and getting his science nerd school chum (Eoin Leahy) to figure out how to make it work. Per the dialogue, Lough seems to be going for something Lovecraftian, but he doesn’t really get there. He also doesn’t try very hard. Some of the problem is neither McLaughlin or Leahy are likable characters, nor are they reliable enough to be sympathetic. Lough’s handling of the sci-fi elements aren’t bad at all, it’s just dramatically inert. And Andrew Norry eventually shows up and provides some solid diversion (he and Parle look like twins though).

Luckily, the second story is awesome and all thanks to its protagonist, played by Claire Blennerhassett. She’s the facilitator of deviant desires and finds herself in a dicey situation as she auditions for a promotion. Lough’s script makes some leaps, but Blennerhassett’s so good it doesn’t matter. The second story also has a lot more locations than the first and Lough has a great eye for placing his actors, something he rarely gets to do in the first story.

The reveals at the end are occasionally surprising, but the film goes out way too literally. Lough sacrifices some of the subtlety he built in the first story to give the impression of tied plot threads. Whether or not they are tied is immaterial, since Night People’s more about the sense of it all.

It’s a fine feature length debut from Lough, with fine photography from Greg Rouladh and effective music from Cian Furlong. And Blennerhassett and Parle are awesome.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Gerard Lough; photographed and edited by Greg Rouladh; music by Cian Furlong; produced by Lough and Tanya McLaughlin; released by Rogue Frame Films.

Starring Michael Parle (Mike), Jack Dean-Shepherd (Luke), Claire Blennerhassett (Faustina), Sarah Louise Carney (Lilian), Aidan O Sullivan (Robert), Michael McLaughlin (Randall), Eoin Leahy (Adam), Philip Doherty (Matt) and Kieran Kelly (Blake).


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