Category Archives: Horror

The Car (1977, Elliot Silverstein)

Sitting and watching The Car in 2006, it was amusing to know what Universal studio executives were saying about the film some thirty years ago… “It’s like Jaws, but with a car.” At first, I thought the movie was some kind of Duel remake, but then the Jaws comparisons became obvious, but not obvious in any sort of interesting way, not any sort of amusing way. Instead–in between scenes of the demonic (literally) car–the movie’s filled with some really lame melodrama and some really lame performances. R.G. Armstrong, who I thought was good for some reason, is terrible as a wife-beating husband. The only amusing role he plays in the film is when it turns around and heroizes him. John Marley is laughably bad, Ronny Cox is on the lousy side of mediocre, and lead James Brolin’s most interesting contribution is his unmoving hair helmet. John Rubinstein is good in his one scene and Kathleen Lloyd–who I watched the movie for in the first place–varies in degree, getting quite appealing at some points… usually when she isn’t acting alongside Brolin.

The film’s almost indescribable to those who haven’t seen it and I wonder if it didn’t sustain my interest just as a relic. Universal pictures from the 1970s have some distinct common elements and I kept recognizing them throughout The Car. Not the bad acting or the visually stymied direction from Elliot Silverstein, but the setpieces. Somehow, they were all familiar, like Universal had gotten a formula from The Birds and just kept on using it. The writing is horrendous too, with the aforementioned bad melodrama, but also the stupidity of the film’s situation. I kept waiting for it to get freaky or interesting (like what if someone got in the driver-less, devil car or what if the guy who kept Clark Kenting during the car’s appearances had something to do with it), but it never did. The resolution, which looks like it was filmed on someone’s front lawn in parts, is ludicrous. It’s unbelievable it passed studio muster, though the film might have just been a B-picture, though I always thought Brolin was actually a movie star in the late 1970s. I’m most upset about Kathleen Lloyd, who’s only been in a handful of movies and one of them had to be this piece of–somehow perplexing enough to be watchable–crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Elliot Silverstein; written by Lane Slate, Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack, from a story by Butler and Shyrack; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by Michael McCroskey; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Silverstein and Marvin Birdt; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Brolin (Wade Parent), Kathleen Lloyd (Lauren), John Marley (Everett), R.G. Armstrong (Amos), John Rubinstein (John Morris) and Ronny Cox (Luke).


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The Call of Cthulhu (2005, Andrew Leman)

Here’s an interesting one. A modern silent drama. When I saw Gance’s Napoleon at Northwestern, someone besides a film professor introduced it. I can’t remember what he did, but he was just a big fan of silent films. In his brief introduction, he talked about how silent films and talkies vary not just by the audio, but by the storytelling methods. The Call of Cthulhu is a silent drama. The goal of the filmmakers (the H.P. Lovecraft historical society) was to adapt the 1920s story in that time period’s film medium. From the language of the title cards to the expressions and make-up of the actors, they succeed.

The silent drama is more of a visual storytelling medium than the talkie. Through the 1930s, when people were getting used to talkies, you still had some of these visuals–communicating information to the audience through a means outside the characters’ experience. A reasonable modern example is the maps (the moving dots) in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not a precise example, but it’s a similar method. While these visuals do not currently “work” in film, in The Call of Cthulhu, they’re brilliant. The original story–I’ve never read any Lovecraft and don’t necessarily plan to do so, but he’s got a lot of great fans (John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro)–is multi-layered, four or five story timelines going on at once, and the visual storytelling allows easy understanding for the audience.

The film’s official website attests there’s no CG, but some of the direction is obviously influenced by post-1920s work. It’s not disconcerting at all and I only noticed the shots because I watched the film with such mad love. With many of the “location” sequences, there’s raw, brilliant filmmaking innovation. CG has all but done destroyed that sort of innovation (to the point it’s surprising to find out something is not CG), and The Call of Cthulhu certainly shows film needs that innovation–needs that struggle–to achieve. This particular film achieves a whole lot through such innovation.

Though the film is out on DVD and has been reviewed at many mainstream DVD websites, Netflix isn’t carrying it, so it’s $20 from the official website. (You can also get it at Amazon). It’s well-worth the price.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Leman; adaptation and screenplay by Sean Brannery, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, David Robertson; edited by Robertson; music by Chad Fifer, Ben Holbrook, Troy Sterling Nies, Nicholas Pavkovic; produced by Brannery and Leman; released by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Starring Chad Fifer (Henry Wilcox), Ralph Lucas (Professor Angell), Matt Foyer (The Man) and John Bolen (The Listener).


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Scream (1996, Wes Craven), the director’s cut

Poor Matthew Lillard, he was already looking way too old to be a teenager in this one (he was twenty-six). I probably haven’t seen Scream since 2000 or so, sometime before the third one came out. Maybe even further back than that. What I’m trying to say is… I’d actually forgotten how bad Skeet Ulrich is. He’s incredible.

I haven’t been able to see Scream since laserdisc, because there’s an unrated cut that Disney refuses to release stateside. There’s some extra gore and a Freddy Krueger cameo–which is in bad taste if you think about it–nothing to really “enhance” the experience. Still, Nicheflix got the Japanese disc so I rented it (when I was a kid, I had a similar problem with Aliens–my dad had the director’s cut on laser, and I had the theatrical cut VHS, these problems only got worse once I understood letterboxing).

Scream‘s not bad. Wes Craven is a good director (though his cinematographer on Scream couldn’t stop lens distortion, which is kind of embarrassing, if you think about it). The performances run hot and cold. Lillard, for example, is good briefly, not when he’s being loud and obnoxious. He’s such a fantastic, sincere actor, but he never gets roles for anything but the loud prick. Jamie Kennedy–I’d forgotten I even knew who this guy was–is fairly obnoxious and shitty. Courteney Cox, David Arquette, even Rose McGowan, they’re all okay, nothing better. Henry Winkler cameos and is fantastic. The most troubling aspect of Scream isn’t the acting–not even Ulrich–but how indifferent its characters are to death around them. I hadn’t ever thought about it, but a comparison between Scream and O would probably be worthwhile. Scream puts no value on human life….

And no, I’m not going to make a comment about how awful Drew Barrymore was. I could, but I won’t.

Scream does have an important factor, however. One so important, I don’t think I can just dismiss the film. Neve Campbell is an unspeakably wonderful actor. I guess I’d forgotten or it hadn’t occurred to me that my memory of her ability was correct. She’s astoundingly good. I’ve just run through my Blockbuster Online queue and added all her films.

Wait… shit. I had something else. Neve Campbell’s great, Drew Barrymore sucks. Not another Skeet Ulrich joke–what was it….

Nope, I’ve lost it. Damn.

Oh. I remember. Never mind.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Kevin Williamson; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Cary Woods and Cathy Konrad; released by Dimension Films.

Starring David Arquette (Dewey Riley), Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott), Courteney Cox (Gale Weathers), Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis), Rose McGowan (Tatum Riley), Matthew Lillard (Stuart Macher), Jamie Kennedy (Randy Meeks), Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker), Joseph Whipp (Sheriff Burke), Lawrence Hecht (Neil Prescott) and Liev Schreiber (Cotton Weary).


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Tremors (1990, Ron Underwood)

When I first rediscovered Tremors, around 1995, it was on laserdisc. In the 1990s, Universal was one of the finest laserdisc companies, probably the finest. They put out a special edition of Tremors and, remembering that I liked it when I saw it on video (everyone saw Tremors on video), I bought it. Probably from the expensive place next to this movie theater… laserdiscs were hard to find in suburbia. At that time, somewhat due to the mad-love for their laserdiscs, but also because Universal still made generally acceptable films back then, I actually believed Tremors was a willful decision–a film to invoke fond memories of Universal’s 1950s sci-fi films. Tonight, I watched Tremors over It Came From Outer Space, also set in the desert….

Tremors, quite nicely, holds up. Perfectly acted, amazingly well-constructed, it’s a shame the team behind it hasn’t gone on to more. They actually went on to more Tremors, during Universal’s 1990s direct-to-video rush… Sequels that are all right. The first film being made for cheap probably didn’t hurt the following films from being cheap either.

I’ve had Robert McKee on the brain all day, reading him for the first time today, all about the deconstruction of a scene. Tremors doesn’t work like that. It has some scenes, sure, lots of them, but it’s mostly action and it’s almost all in one setting. I’m not going to sit around and pick at it–it’s too good–but, for me, thinking about McKee, it’s interesting. I’m reading McKee for fiction writing and McKee writes for screenwriting. So how come he doesn’t work for Tremors? It is–arguably–one of the more lastingly popular films to emerge in the last fifteen years….

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it in awhile, check it out again. I always watch Tremors after dark, though. Don’t know why, it’s just one of those films that you watch after dark.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Underwood; screenplay by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, based on a story by Wilson, Maddock and Underwood; director of photography, Alexander Gruszynski; edited by O. Nicholas Brown; music by Ernest Troost; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by Maddock and Wilson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Kevin Bacon (Valentine McKee), Fred Ward (Earl Bassett), Finn Carter (Rhonda LeBeck), Michael Gross (Burt Gummer), Reba McEntire (Heather Gummer), Bobby Jacoby (Melvin Plug), Charlotte Stewart (Nancy Sterngood), Tony Genaro (Miguel), Ariana Richards (Mindy Sterngood), Richard Marcus (Nestor), Victor Wong (Walter Chang), Sunshine Parker (Edgar), Michael Dan Wagner (Old Fred), Conrad Bachmann (Dr. Jim) and Bibi Besch (Megan).