Thursday, September 11, 2014

PUMPKINHEAD: NEW MONSTER DELIVERED CORRECTLY

I've always been a horror film fan from early on. I grew up on the classics, staying up late at night and watching monster movies on the Cleveland stations all in glorious black and white. While most kids have no idea who Karloff, Lugosi or Chaney Jr. are, for me they were the monsters of my childhood. Knowing that and remembering what a great time I had with them, I'm always excited to hear that a new monster is on the horizon. Unfortunately of late that has meant slashers and stalkers rather than monsters. Wouldn't you know one of the last great monster to come along happened in 1988. The good news is that the movie that introduced this new monster is now available on blu-ray from Shout Factory.

PUMPKINHEAD offers a new creation rather than relying on something old. If you've never seen the movie then this blu-ray edition is by far the best way to introduce yourself. Not only will you get a beautiful copy of the movie itself but it offers some killer extras that fans and non-fans alike will love and appreciate. These include a new tribute to monster creator and the director of this movie, Stan Winston; interviews with the producer and several actors; PUMPKINHEAD-UNEARTHED, a documentary on the making of the movie; a featurette about the toyline that featured the creature and more.

The story itself begins in 1957 in a backwoods area where a young Ed Harley witnesses the wrath of the legend known as Pumpkinhead, a creature called forth to exact revenge on an individual or group at the bequest of someone wronged. Years later Ed (Lance Henriksen) is grown up and living with his young son, running the local general store. An accident involving a group of young people and their motocross bikes leaves Ed's son dead and Ed determined to have his revenge.

Ed finds his way to the creepy old lady of the hills and pays what she asks to help him fulfill this wish. She warns him that the cost is deep but blinded by grief he agrees. It isn't long before the creature of vengeance is unleashed upon the earth and the group of youngsters hiding in their cabin is not safe behind closed doors. Before the end of the night Ed will have to decide if the price for his revenge is worth it. Can he decide before each of the victims is claimed by Pumpkinhead?

That might not sound terrifying but in reality this creature is fantastic. Director and special effects genius Stan Winston used practical effects to create this creature and the effort pays off hugely. It appears to be a real live creature. Keep in mind in 1988 the age of CGI monsters was not around yet. When you look at this monster it is indeed scary to look at and one that you hope never comes knocking.

The whole movie has an eerie vibe to it that seeps through each and every frame. It's not just the monster that is scary but the havoc that it unleashes as well. Not only that but the effect it all has on Ed as it begins to fulfill his wishes makes for some creepy moments as well. Rarely has a new monster been created that could cause nightmares but this time they've done it and done it well.

To say that Shout/Scream Factory has outdone themselves again is beginning to become redundant in my reviews of the product they've released. They truly get that fans want to see these great horror films in blu-ray format but not cleansed so much they don't remain faithful to the original print. Not only that, they take these movies and add to them extras that show they truly appreciate these movies rather than just toss them out there with nothing special. They've done an amazing job on this release and it only makes us, the fans, look forward to what comes next. If you love this movie buy it immediately. If you like it, buy it and learn to love it. This is a great new release and one that deserves space on your shelf.

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MOM'S NIGHT OUT: MOM'S DESERVE THE BEST

It is rare to find a movie that will make you laugh so hard that you find yourself scrambling for the remote. Not so that you can fast forward to get away from the movie but because you were laughing so hard that you missed something else and now have to rewind to catch that joke as well. It's a good thing and so is the movie MOM'S NIGHT OUT.

Allyson (Sarah Drew) is a part time blogger/full time mother trying to wrangle three pre-school children at home. Her husband Sean (Sean Astin) is an architect who tries to help when he is home but more often than not is out and about working or taking guy time out with his friend Kevin. Needless to say Sarah's stress level is about to explode.

Allyson's best friends are Izzy (Andrea Logan White) and Sondra (Patricia Heaton). Izzy is Sarah's age with two kids of her own and a husband with a fear of children. Sondra is the oldest of the three, the wife of the pastor of their church and dealing with her own child, not pre-school mind you but the next step of aggravation, a teenager. When Allyson has had enough she suggests they have a night out, just the three of them. With a coupon at the local high class restaurant plans are made.

Things start to go wrong when Sean's half sister Bridget (Abbie Cobb) comes to dinner and asks Allyson to watch her baby while she starts a new job that same night. Allyson turns her down but Sean steps in, learning for the first time about the girl's night out, and says he'll baby sit. He wants Allyson to go out, to unwind and to have a good time. He appreciates her and all she does believing more in her success than she does.

All seems fine right? That is until it all starts to unravel beginning with their reservation messed up. Mix that with ever ringing cell phones from husbands who can't seem to deal with the same things these women do every day and it gets worse. I'm not talking about worse because of the cell phones either. By the end we have babies in tattoo parlors, stolen vehicles, bikers, cops, waste heads and children with the uncanny ability to find a way to get into trouble at the local pizza and gaming establishment. And that's just a few things that happen.

The energy if frenetic in this film and never seems to let up. Something seems to constantly be happening here. Each opportunity to turn one of these negative things into something funny is taken and it works each and every time. But more than that the movie also provides an opportunity to bring about a message about faith, about God and about mother's deserving praise non-stop. It becomes something that offers a positive message among the chaos that begins in the first moments and runs through till almost the last image.

If you have children, or if you have relatives with children, you'll certainly relate to so much that happens in this movie. Perhaps not the same circumstances but at least the same sort of minor life explosions that come with having children. At the same time you'll be reminded that children are a blessing and that even some of the worst things they seem to do can turn around to be amazing displays of creativity and affection.

As I said when beginning this review to find a movie that is laugh out loud funny from start to finish these days is rare indeed. When you can find one that is inspiring as well it makes it even more special. I know that MOM'S NIGHT OUT will find a comfortable space in my collection to be watched every now and then when I need to do two things: to have a laugh and to be reminded how great mothers are. My guess is you'll want to do the same after watching it the first time.

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DUCK DYNASTY-QUACK OR TREAT: HALLOWEEN FUN

Let's just say this up front: if you don't like the show DUCK DYNASTY or can't stand the Robertson family, then don't bother reading any further. On the other hand, if you're like me and enjoy both, then by all means read on.

Fans of the show will know this episode by heart having aired this past season. I should say the main show on this disc as it offers a trio of episodes here. The main episode deals with the Duck Dynasty warehouse being turned into a haunted house for the local kids to go through. CEO Willie Robertson loves the Halloween holiday and goes all out for this event. Unfortunately no one seems to think Willie is scary no matter what he tries. It doesn't matter because the rest of the group pulls together to make a scary night for the kids that they'll enjoy and talk about the rest of their lives.

If that episode doesn't strike your fancy then another deals with Uncle Si as he looks for the infamous black panther that he swears he's seen for years in the area. Needless to say no one else is convinced. If that isn't enough there's another episode where Willie approaches his mid-life crisis by dying his beard and buying a motorcycle he has no idea how to ride. This leads to a battle of the brothers between Willie, Jase and Jep to determine just who the best of the three is.

One of the beautiful things about the DUCK DYNASTY series is the simplicity of it. As you can see you can sum up what an episode is about in just a few sentences. Like the ducks they hunt, each story is like the animal they hunt at the center but it's covered with feathers all over to make it better to look at. I know, a weird analogy, but it works.

I may have oversimplified the biggest reason the show has done so well. It's not just the simplicity of the stories. The biggest reason is the family and the love shared between them. Sure they may tease or make fun of one another or they may prank one another, but the genuine affection they feel and express here shines through each and every episode. When you add to that the religious convictions that they stay true to but don't overkill on you have something special. If that weren't enough already, each episode ends with a family prayer almost always said at the dinner table where they gather together.

It's funny how none of the networks seems to understand the reason for the success of the show. Perhaps the two closest programs they have along this line are WHALBURGERS where we have the Wahlberg family and BLUE BLOODS where we have a devout Catholic family of cops that share a bond as well. Both shows play to an audience tiring of the usual garbage tossed on the air. While they claim that sex sells it's amazing to consider the amount of viewers and sales of DUCK DYNASTY products on the market that are doing amazing numbers. It's been this way as far back as LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE which had great ratings yet wasn't copied either.

So if you're looking for a fun time with the Robertson boys for Halloween then by all means pick up this disc and enjoy. I know it's on my keep shelf here right next to the copies of each season. I know I'll enjoy them again and again.  

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HEAVENLY SWORD: BIG GAME TO BIG SCREEN

I'm not an avid gamer so when I read that the movie HEAVENLY SWORD was based on a tremendously successful video game I had to take the producer's word on that. From the look and feel of the movie I can believe that every word of that is true.

The story takes place in the orient where a weapon known as the heavenly sword was used in the far past to bring peace and tranquility to the world. Used to defeat a madman intent on ruling the world, it has been placed in the care of a clan whose sole responsibility is to protect it from the world. Only the chosen one can wield the sword as it drains the life force from anyone who would take possession of if be it for good or for bad.

As time passes the sword is protected by the clan until word reaches them that King Bohan has set his sights on taking the sword so that he can rule the world. Born a prince and treated unmercifully as a child, Bohan killed his father to take the crown and now uses evil magic to work his way across the land, taking it all for himself.

A problem rises in the clan when they can find no chosen one to wield the sword. The ruler of the clan is ashamed because he had a daughter, Nariko, as his first born child rather than a boy. Trained in secret by her mentor and her father's best friend, as Bohan attacks their stronghold Nariko and her best friend Kai must find the chosen one and stop Bohan at all costs.

The duo set out to find this chosen one using what little clues they have. Along their journey they discover so much that they never knew, starting with the fact that they are sisters of the same father. Clues later lead them to find that the king did indeed give birth to a son but he and the child had no idea. This is where they head with the sword, Bohan on their heels trying to put an end to the last remnants of the clan.

This sword and sorcery epic does a good job of telling its tale using computer animated graphics to bring the game to life. The animation here falls in line with what you find these days in games found on Play station 3 or X-Box which can be quite good. But if you enjoy these sorts of stories then you're not overly concerned with that. Instead you're more concerned with the story and here there is plenty of that.

While HEAVENLY SWORD might not be for everyone I have little doubt that gamers will love this movie. Fans of the classic swashbuckling films will find something in it for them as well. As for myself I enjoyed it from start to finish and have found a place for it on the collector's shelf here at home. I have no doubt that from time to time, when the mood strikes me, I'll pull it down from the shelf and enjoy it all over again.

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THE MIDNIGHT GAME: BETTER THAN EXPECTED

Things have certainly changed for the horror genre. Where once it horror films were few and far between it now seems like there are several being released each week. Fortunately most of those are straight to DVD because they honestly aren't that great, but at least their trying. When I saw the cover for THE MIDNIGHT GAME I felt for sure that I was in store for another low budget devil worshipping/cult film that would deliver no chills and little horror. I can tell you now that while it had a number of stereotypical items in the plot, it was actually a decent movie.

The film centers around a group of teenagers (don't they all) who get together at one girls house when her mother goes away for the weekend. Apparently one parent households create a revolving door for parties. At least according to horror films. Strangely enough it's an odd combo with one couple, another pair trying to possibly start dating and the girl whose home the party takes place at.

As the beer runs down and the night runs long the group decides to play a game, one that the jock boyfriend saw online earlier that day in the library. I'm not sure if it was a good or bad thing but the amount of things involved with this game seemed lengthy to me. Suffice to say that you must take the game seriously or bad things will happen. Predictably the group doesn't take it as seriously as they should and danger then lurks all around.

The game involved each one talking about the things they feared most and as the night progresses each of those playing finds themselves confronted by that very fear. A fear of heights, a fear of madness and more brings the teens to the edge of terror. Perhaps it was because I'd just finished watching another horror film that had some of the worst acting possible but those involved here did a great job of being convincing in their roles.

What made the movie work well on top of the performances though was the evil creature that's rarely seen in the film and the story that takes you where you least expect it to by the end. The use of the creature here works well because it is indeed visible from time to time but it's never overused as some horror films have done in the past. As for the direction of the story before the end credits I don't intend to spoil that here. You'll have to rent or buy the movie to find that out.

In the end I can tell you that the movie is indeed worth renting. If you're a horror fan then chances are you'll enjoy this one. Keep in mind the budget they had to work with here and don't expect the money found in the EVIL DEAD remake. You'll be pleasantly surprised. As a matter of fact horror fans might even want to add this one to their collection. It delivers the goods.

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SANCTUARY-QUITE A CONUNDRUM: EXAMPLES OF GOOD AND TERRIBLE ACTING

This is the second film that I've watched from Midnight Releasing. The first (whose name I won't mention) was so bad that bleach could not have cleaned the scum it left on my eyes. While this one isn't quite as bad, it will reach the bottom of the barrel when it comes to horror films.

The problems are visible right from the start when we see an older, fat man with an eye patch in bed with a younger woman who doesn't seem the least bit interested in what is going on. So why is this a problem? I have no difficulty in having an older man and younger woman together. The problem is that there is no way that a guy who looks like this is going to find himself with an attractive young woman. To hear that he's married and this is an affair makes it even more unbelievable.

But that's not the only problem here. The other problem is that the woman in question is supposed to be a college age student living in her father's home. While this actress (I'll save to disgrace of naming her here) may be attractive enough there is no way that she qualifies for college age. A quick search online found the smallest of bios that didn't include her age. From the looks of things I'd say late twenties. Before anyone goes off about misogynistic tendencies and sexism I'm not slamming her for her appearance. I'm just saying no, she doesn't look 19 years old. Neither does the actress playing her best friend.

In any event she, her roommate and her sister plan on having a big party that night where she plans to hook up with her roommate's best friend, her sister might be having her first encounter with her boyfriend and her roommate will continue to jump her boyfriend each moment she can. Things seem to go along fine until the big, bald guy from the start of the movie shows up naked and kills himself, falling into the backyard pool. This being her father's house (and the man in question being a staff member of her father's law firm) they can't let the body remain or call the police.

As the saying goes, the best laid plans... Things go from bad to worse as the wife of the dead man storms in. The boyfriend disappears, leaving everyone behind to take care of the problem. The young sister's boyfriend gets completely wasted prior to the suicide and ends up walking around with in a perpetual state of excitement (think perfect add for Viagra). And then something happens that makes it even worse.

So is there anything good here? Well perhaps. Joe Coffy, who plays the intended hookup for the main character, turns in a decent performance. I would love to see him in something else other than this movie. Again, he looks far too old for the part. Between the receding hairline and the fact that he's 32 years old in real life, he should not be playing someone involved with a college age girl.

As a fan of horror films I can tell you that this one is not worth your time. Keep in mind this is from someone who can appreciate horror films that fall into the category of "so bad they're good". The bad acting, bad cinematography, bad story and more make this one to avoid.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR: TV'S BEST DRAMA REMAINS UNRECOGNIZED

So the Emmy awards have come and gone for another year and once again the best drama to be found on television has been snubbed. I'm talking about THE WALKING DEAD which is indeed the best drama found right now. Don't poo poo me and suggest that I don't know what I'm talking about or bypass this show simply because of the title and the horror filled storyline on display. That's the same mistake the Emmy folks continue to make year after year. Instead they should focus on what the real story is here. Not zombies but people.

If you haven't seen the previous four years of the show then stop reading and go back and do so. If you have then know that the release to DVD of Season Four holds so many great items for you to see that as they unfold you'll find yourself both screaming at the TV because of what's happening or tearfully sitting on your couch joyous that you do not have to live in the world portrayed here. The series picks up with the survivors getting along fine in the world they've created for themselves in the prison having defeated the Governor at the end of season three. But things are a bit different.

Series centerpiece Rick Grimes continues to feel the need to protect the people he's taken in but his friend Hershel has convinced him it's time to lay down his sword and take the time to raise his family now. This works for a time but the inner beast set loose upon the world by Grimes remains just beneath the surface ready to come forth should the need arise. Unfortunately for Rick that need comes up more than once in this season.

The first half of the season takes place mostly in the prison as people begin to adapt. And then problems begin when a simple virus nearly wipes them out. As one group goes off to find the medicines necessary to save them all the rest eventually have to contend with the long lost Governor who returns to seek vengeance. While he gets plenty of air time for his own adaptation to the world around him, the pure evil that drives him remains and he sets his sights on Rick and his people. But again, that's just the first half of the season.

I hate to reveal much of the second half because it would spoil one of the biggest events in season four. Suffice to say that things change leaving Rick wounded both mentally and physically. It also places his son Carl in the role of adult having to take care of Rick. The relationship between the two is put to the test in the second half here. More than that the caged animal that has long resides within Rick breaks out once again as it has in the past revealing an opponent that you would not want to be on the bad side of.

As I said at the beginning, most people only see the name of the series or hear that it involves zombies and turn their noses up at it. The truth of the matter though is that while there are some amazing special make up effects to be viewed here, the amount of screen time actually given to the zombies and mayhem that surrounds them is rather small. Instead the story here revolves more around the various characters and how they interact with one another. It's not just how they behave because of the zombies but also how they act with one another given the circumstances around them and between each other. There are jaw dropping moments, moments that will make you shed tears and moments where you will feel frustrated as you realize that there is no other course for them to take but the one they do.

There were moments in this season as with the previous three where I just sat stunned as I watched the story unfold in a direction I never saw coming. There were also moments when I yelled in anger at the screen as characters were wrung through the ringer by the situations around them. And then there was that moment of joy near the very end when Rick sums up what we all felt from the start concerning the group. Split apart due to circumstances I haven't revealed they come together once again. Now all we can do is wait till season five to find out the results of their reunion.

As if the act of storytelling here wasn't enough to make this the best drama on television the combination of directing and acting make this must see TV. There isn't a single performance that doesn't ring true here. I constantly say that the best actors are the ones where I don't even notice that they're acting. Instead I completely buy into their performance as being that person I see on screen. My mind may know different but the way they work here makes the suspension of belief quite easy to do.

Don't let yourself be fooled that this is a simple horror tale that comes on every week. Don't let yourself be led to believe that the show is about nothing but zombies. Realize that it has more to do with the characters and their interaction with one another more than anything. Many of the best moments are ones that involve no creatures or effects at all, just two people talking to one another. When you realize this and watch, you'll find that the show is as I've said the best drama on TV. Now if only those in charge of the Emmys would take notice.

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