Tag Archives: Empire Pictures

TerrorVision (1986, Ted Nicolaou)

TerrorVision is a masterpiece of pragmatism. Writer-director Nicolaou works the low budget to the film’s advantage–whether it’s the fifties sitcom nuclear family only with Mom and Dad swinging or how the monster from outer space is cute, even though it’s a disgusting space mutant, with the cuteness makes up for the limited special effects. Or the sound stage “exterior” backyard scenes, which just adds to the sitcom feel. But Nicolaou keeps it in line–TerrorVision never looks cheap, it just looks absurd. If things get too silly on screen, Nicolauo and editor Thomas Meshelski bring in some almost comically gross and ominous space monster noises.

The performances take a similiar, exagerrated approach. The first act quickly introduces the family–Gerrit Graham is the TV-obsessed dad, Mary Woronov is the fitness freak mom, Bert Remsen is the annoying, paranoid grandfather, Chad Allen is the all-American kid, Diane Franklin is the punk rock daughter. Graham’s gesticulation is hilarious. Woronov works great with the other actors. Remsen is fine. He’s all much, but he’s fine. Allen’s a decent kid lead. Franklin’s fine.

All the performances are fine. Whether or not they’re good is immaterial; when Allen’s solid in his scenes with an M–16 pointed at a giant slimy space monster, the importance is the effectiveness. TerrorVision very clearly delineates its limitations in the first act–being effective, within the budget, is more important than being ambitious.

Jon Gries is fun as Franklin’s metalhead boyfriend (with a lot of Ted Logan’s intonations and catchphrases). Jennifer Richards riffs well on the Vampira/Elvira monster movie host. Both Graham and Woronov are good, especially after they work up some rapport. Remsen’s nowhere near as funny as he needs to be as the survivalist gun nut.

The leads–Franklin and Allen–are uneven, both in script and performance. Franklin’s fine but not fun. Gries’s character gets all the personality, Franklin’s functional; she’s around to get him in the door. Literally. She brings him back to her house after the monster has been unleashed. But Nicolaou doesn’t write Franklin any personality outside the caricature (with one exception). It’s similar but different for Allen. He never gets to reflect on the events going on around, which turns out to be a smart scripting move. It lets Nicolauo use avoidance to ratchet up the absurdity.

Nicolauo aims for a fun spoof of a spoof and delivers. It’s silly, it’s gross, it’s fun. Maybe the strangest thing is how good William Paulson’s alien makeup is compared to the rest of the effects; in the midst of goofy alien gore, the mask for Paulson’s alien cop looks phenomenal.

It’s another one of TerrorVision’s many, often pleasant surprises. Nicolauo knows the film’s limits and he does a lot within the constraints.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Ted Nicolaou; director of photography, Romano Albani; edited by Thomas Meshelski; music by Richard Band; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; produced by Albert Band; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Chad Allen (Sherman), Diane Franklin (Suzy), Gerrit Graham (Stan), Mary Woronov (Raquel), Bert Remsen (Grampa), Jon Gries (O.D.), William Paulson (Pluthar), Sonny Carl Davis (Norton), Alejandro Rey (Spiro), Randi Brooks (Cherry), and Jennifer Richards (Medusa).


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From Beyond (1986, Stuart Gordon), the director’s cut

I’m having a hard time with this one. The From Beyond movie poster and VHS box scared the crap out of me as a kid. Even now, having seen the movie and knowing there’s nothing as visually creepy in the film itself, the imagery disturbs me. Villain Ted Sorel apparently having his face melted off. Only he’s not. He’s growing into a huge flesh monster. The film goes all out with Sorel’s flesh monster, while admirably executed, it’s not convincingly executed. From Beyond can’t do with its budget what it wants to do with its special effects and director Gordon doesn’t quite know how to compensate.

Turning Barbara Crampton into an uncontrollable nymphomaniac for a fourth or fifth of the runtime is one of screenwriter Dennis Paoli’s solutions. It’s not a successful solution, it’s an unfortunate one. Crampton plays a compassionless psychiatrist charged with figuring out if crazy man Jeffrey Combs (who’s pretty darn good) is really crazy or if he and Sorel did figure out a way to activate the sixth sense.

From Beyond has a lot of neat ideas but Gordon and Paoli don’t translate them into any good ideas for the film. Even after it promises Crampton, Combs and a wonderfully affable Ken Foree in a haunted mansion, it doesn’t deliver. Crampton and Combs have no romantic chemistry, which gets to be a problem. Especially since–even though Combs can imply a creepy romantic chemistry–all Crampton is doing is a nymphomaniac trope. Sure, she’s being influenced by an enlarged pineal gland but it’s awful. It’s not disturbing because the special effects aren’t good enough. And, like I said before, Gordon doesn’t know how to compensate.

Good supporting performance from Carolyn Purdy-Gordon.

There’s a lot of good technical work on From Beyond. Editor Lee Percy does a fantastic job. Mac Ahlberg’s photography provides a visual continuity Gordon’s direction does not. Richard Band’s music is good. Even Gordon does well, just not when he’s doing the haunted mansion sci-fi stuff. He seems to be banking on the appeal of the cheesy special effects; From Beyond is supposed to be absurdly funny and Gordon just tries too hard to get there. In the end, it’s not absurd, it’s not funny, it’s just exasperating. And with a less than ninety minute runtime, exasperating is a terrible quality. Especially since there’s so much energy and enthusiasm (in so many bad directions).

Hell, I’m exasperated just trying to talk about it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Gordon; screenplay by Dennis Paoli, based on an adaptation by Brian Yuzna, Paoli and Gordon of the story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Lee Percy; music by Richard Band; production designer, Giovanni Natalucci; produced by Yuzna; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Combs (Crawford Tillinghast), Barbara Crampton (Dr. Katherine McMichaels), Ted Sorel (Dr. Edward Pretorius), Ken Foree (Bubba Brownlee), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Bloch), Bruce McGuire (Jordan Fields) and Bunny Summers (Neighbor Lady).


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Re-Animator (1985, Stuart Gordon)

Re-Animator. A romantic comedy about wacky med students who contend with vindictive deans, lecherous professors and student loans. With some good, old-fashioned decapitation thrown in.

No. That description is way too reductive. Even though it’s technically correct.

Director Gordon recognizes that camp possibility for the film, but he never lets the camp overwhelm the characters. No matter how loony its characters get, Re-Animator never plays them for laughs. And Gordon’s got Jeffrey Combs in one of the great comedic performances (undoubtedly so, as Jim Carrey aped Combs in most of his films to box office success) but he’s also got a very difficult role for David Gale. As the aforementioned lech, Gale’s got to make his not-so-brilliant, but way too ambitious surgeon believable through a rather extraordinary character arc. Gale, Gordon–and Gordon’s co-screenwriters, Dennis Paoli and William Norris–make it work, with Gale’s character revealing important ground situation details late in the film. They planted the seeds to these details early and then, to continue the metaphor, watered them discreetly.

If it weren’t for Combs’s awesomeness, Gale would give the film’s best performance.

But Gordon doesn’t have any weak performances in Re-Animator. Lead Bruce Abbott, the straight-edge preppy med student, gets a great arc thanks to his serendipitous introduction to Combs. And he gets that romantic comedy subplot with Barbara Crampton. It’s set in a med school, so she’s dean Robert Sampson’s daughter and he doesn’t approve. But most med school romantic comedies don’t involve getting your girlfriend’s father killed and then reanimating his corpse.

Re-Animator certainly has one up on the rest of the genre there.

Abbott and Crampton are both good. Abbott’s able to sell a somewhat complicated arc. Crampton’s just a damsel in distress but she’s still good.

Some excellent photography from Mac Ahlberg and Robert Ebinger–Gordon plays with depth a lot, to great effect–and the cinematography’s essential. Same with Lee Percy’s editing, especially in Combs’s scenes. Speedily cut scenes always have these wonderful punctuation shots with Combs.

And Richard Band’s music is awesome. Playful, mischievous, saccharine.

Re-Animator is an elegant film. With some great, gross special effects.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Stuart Gordon; screenplay by Dennis Paoli, William Norris and Gordon, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; directors of photography, Robert Ebinger and Mac Ahlberg; edited by Lee Percy; music by Richard Band; produced by Brian Yuzna; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West), Bruce Abbott (Dan Cain), Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill), Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey), Gerry Black (Mace) and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Harrod).

Trancers (1985, Charles Band)

There’s something real strange about Trancers. It’s not the film’s obvious references to early 1980s sci-fi successes, Blade Runner and The Terminator (cop travels back in time to fight zombie bad guys who look like regular people). It’s certainly not the direction–while Trancers is incredibly low budget, $400,000 still was a few bucks in 1985, certainly enough for this story, which doesn’t need its future scenes. No, what’s strange about Trancers is its love story, between future cop Tim Thomerson and local girl Helen Hunt. It’s real good. The scenes between Hunt and Thomerson, though poorly written, are great.

I used to be a huge Helen Hunt fan, until she became a big movie star, then I noticed she was good when she didn’t have a kid. But in Trancers, she’s appealing, with a great acting sense. She’s around twenty-two in this film, but it’s a reasoned, mature performance. Thomerson is also good, but his acting is a completely different style. I saw Trancers initially, years ago, because Leonard Maltin gave it two and a half or something and based the rating on Thomerson’s comedic performance. Thomerson’s got a tough guy self-awareness in Trancers. The opening of the film–the future–is very film noir. The costumes, the dialogue. But, first it’s in a future cafe, so it shouldn’t really work, and then it’s on a sunny beach, so it shouldn’t work either… but it does. The absurdity of it works. But the scenes with Thomerson and Hunt, you get to watch these two vastly different acting styles, which ought to conflict, seamlessly connect. You enjoy seeing these two people act together.

Another bonus to Trancers (but not one significant enough to save it if not for the acting, which I also need to include Biff Manard in, he’s good) is the economical storytelling. It runs seventy-six minutes and, while the first act with all the future stuff is too long, the second and third acts are real well-paced. Actually, given its writers, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo are TV guys, it’s not surprising the second and third acts actually feel like a TV show plugged on to the end of (bad) feature’s first act. The writing’s not good, but the movie moves and it’s not bad enough to hinder the performances.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Charles Band; written by Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Ted Nicolaou; music by Phil Davies and Mark Ryder; production designer, Jeff Staggs; released by Empire Pictures.

Starring Tim Thomerson (Jack Deth), Helen Hunt (Leena), Michael Stefani (Whistler), Art LaFleur (McNulty), Telma Hopkins (Engineer Ruthie Raines), Richard Herd (Chairman Spencer), Anne Seymour (Chairman Ashe), Miguel Fernandes (Officer Lopez) and Biff Manard (Hap Ashby).


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