Thursday, January 13, 2011
35 years ago a movie appeared that began a genre of its own. Loosely based on the horror genre that used any animal from killer shrews to giant ants, the film featured Mother Nature gone wild and becoming the most terrifying of all creatures. That film was JAWS and the movies that paid tribute to in whether directly or not is long. GRIZZLY, TENTACLES and the original PIRANHA all used the set up of a town making money due to the holiday influx of people only to be confronted with a menace putting them all in danger.
Fans of those films, in particular the gory horror films of the eighties, have been making movies that they remember from their childhoods. And now we have one of the better homage to those films with the new version of PIRANHA. Director Alexander Aja states in the extras on this DVD that he loved those movies and saw a chance to offer a tribute to them. He does an exceptional job here. But be warned, this movie is not for kids at all. The extreme combination of nudity and gore make it one for adults only.
The story focuses on spring break in the community of Lake Victoria. Every year thousands of teens commandeer the beaches there to celebrate, which of course for them involves taking off clothes and consuming extreme amounts of alcohol. The woman in charge of keeping order is Sheriff Julie Foster (Elizabeth Shue). Sheriff Foster’s job is usually pretty calm but spring break offers all sorts of new trouble.
Foster’s son is Jake (Steven R. McQueen), about to graduate high school and always tied down babysitting his siblings during spring break which keeps him out of trouble as well. But this year Jake grabs an opportunity when home video producer Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) hires him as a guide to the lake. Jones is shooting a film, one of the many Girls Gone Wild knockoffs. Yes, Jake gets a chance at seeing naked women and alcohol just like the rest of the kids.
Along for the ride is the object of Jake’s affection, Kelly (Jessica Szohr), now a college student and home for break. These two have an obvious affection for one another that for one reason or another never saw the light of day. Her acceptance of a trip on the Derrick’s boat doesn’t make Jake happy but what can he say now that he works for him?
At the opening of the film we witness a minor underwater earthquake that opens up a subterranean lake that releases the titled menace, a prehistoric piranha that is more dangerous than those around today. Its first victim (in what is perhaps the best cameo since Bill Murray in ZOMBIELAND) is Richard Dreyfuss in a minor tribute to his role as Matt Hooper in JAWS. That alone makes this one worth watching.
When a scientific group comes in to check out the seismic activity that happened underwater, they’re the first to officially discover the piranha. Now the Sheriff has no choice but to close the beaches. Of course we know how well that will go over. In one of the most extremely gory scenes of carnage ever filmed the spring breakers ignore the demand to get out of the water and summarily become chow for the rampaging fish. Body parts and blood are everywhere so fans of that will be pleased. Non-fans may find fascinating the way they make it all seem so real.
While the initial attack is going on, Jake and his new friends find themselves in danger as well. Having rescued his siblings (who snuck out and got stuck on an island after ignoring his warning to stay home), their boat crashes and is sinking slowly. Setting aside the fact he snuck out as well for the job, he contacts his mother to come to their aid.
A simple enough story, right? But it all works and works well. The characters are simple ones that could have been cardboard cutouts but each is given enough meat on their bones to make them real. And the acting by everyone involved, from the aforementioned actors to Ving Rhames as Shue’s deputy and Christopher Lloyd as a semi-mad scientist who studies fish, isn’t lame and makes each one believable.
I saw this film when it was released in 3D and even in 2D it works. My initial reaction was that it was a bit hokey but on second viewing the film actually has some scary moments. The pacing, direction, photography, all are top notch here, especially some of the underwater photography and special effects shots.
All in all the film is a great evening’s entertainment for horror and non-horror fans alike. But as I stated earlier, the film has some realistic gore moments and tons of nudity. For the record let me state that exposed breasts in 3D look the same in 2D. While the film makers state (in the extras) that they were paying tribute to the horror movies of the 80s that had both tons of gore and nudity, none had them to the extreme offered here. But if you can get past those two items, you’ll find a movie that offers scares, humor and a great production that makes it worth the price of rental if not purchase.
There are directors who make mega blockbusters that lack story, filling the screen with nothing but explosions. There are directors who are adored by critics. And then there are the directors who are adored by their fans, people who will line up at a midnight screening of their favorite film no matter what night of the week. These directors inspire their fans. One such director is Fred Dekker.
Born in 1959, Dekker was your typical film fanatic. In other words he grew up loving comic books and horror films. This combination paid off later when Dekker had the chance to direct his first feature film in 1986, NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.
A tribute to those grand and glorious low budget films that made the weekly creature feature, Dekker took those themes and brought them up to date, offering a tribute as much as an on its own fright flick. The film starts with an alien experiment gone wrong, moving quickly 27 years later. Fraternity pledges thaw out a cryogenically frozen body only to release the slug like alien inside that goes on a rampage. Soon zombies are walking everywhere and yes, the movie plays for scares as well as laughs.
Dekker also directed THE MONSTER SQUAD, another fan favorite that was released last year. Now NIGHT OF THE CREEPS has received the grand treatment in it’s release from Sony. Included is the original ending Dekker intended as well as the theatrical one. Toss in deleted scenes, commentary by Dekker, featurettes that include a look at star Tom Atkins, trailers, trivia and more and you have a superb DVD to add to your collection.
I was able to contact Mr. Dekker and discuss this release as well as what is going on in his life now. While he was busy with this release to DVD, he was able to answer a few questions.
Fans of your film NIGHT OF THE CREEPS have finally had their prayers answered. The film arrives on DVD this coming week. Not only that but finally in a director’s cut version. How happy are you to see this release, how excited?
Fans of your film NIGHT OF THE CREEPS have finally had their prayers answered. The film arrives on DVD this coming week. Not only that but finally in a director’s cut version. How happy are you to see this release, how excited?
It’s been a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. The love and care that went into the restoration of the sound and the picture, not to mention the numerous special features, felt a lot like when we made the movie in the first place.
NIGHT OF THE CREEPS was your first feature film to direct and you’ve said you wrote it specifically to get into directing. I’ve read several remarks you’ve made about things you would have changed and it not being a great film and yet at the same time fans (of which I include myself) have found a love for this film. Are you being to hard on yourself, do fans not have taste or being so close to it can’t you see how good it is?
I’m probably being hard on myself. I think you have to be if you want to make something good. But, yeah, when I watch the film, I mostly see my freshman mistakes. That said, there are things I’m extremely proud of: Tom Atkins’ performance; the dream sequence that introduces his character; the scene in the dorm room where J.C. reads Chris the riot act for not appreciating his friendship; the little scene in the police armory with Dick Miller; and mostly, the scene where Detective Cameron explains to Chris about his mysterious past, which I think is terrific on every level. So yeah, I have problems with the movie – moments that suffer from my inexperience at the time -- but I also admire its flourishes, its style, and its daring juggling act of genre and tone.
In recent years the popularity of the film has grown thanks to the video revolution way back that changed to become a DVD craze. Fans clamored for the release of the film on DVD and now Sony has come through. Word is you are very respectful to those fans. Do you think it was a major influence of these fans that saw the release of not only CREEPS but MONSTER SQUAD last year?
I think the groundswell of fans took a while to take hold, but once it did, it’s become a force to be reckoned with. Lionsgate took a flier on doing the MONSTER SQUAD DVD and when it sold through the roof, I think Sony sat up and took notice that they might have something in putting out NIGHT OF THE CREEPS.
It seems that Hollywood knows how to make a buck. Rather than a new idea, they churn out sequel upon sequel. That being the case, how come we haven’t seen a NIGHT OF THE CREEPS 2 announced? If this DVD release is as successful as they hope, could it lead to that?
Obviously, studios tend to make sequels to successful films… and CREEPS wasn’t very successful at first. But sure, if the DVD/Blue-ray sells like hotcakes, I can see a scenario where Sony would want to do a follow-up.
And yes, I’ve given some thought to it. Not a lot, but some.
Your influences are obvious in this film. Like myself it seems you were there when the Universal horror stars made their way to television. Was your experience with these a movie matinee type or were you tuned in to a local horror host? They seem to be making a comeback these days on cable access and the internet.
I saw most of the movies that influenced my first two films on television (not including the ones I saw theatrically like ALIEN, ANIMAL HOUSE and the John Hughes films, which were all a big influence on CREEPS).
There was a wonderful guy named Bob Wilkins, who hosted “Creature Features” on KTVU 2 on the Bay Area. I think his show was the first time I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. When I was 12 or 13, a friend and I had made some “Planet of the Apes” masks, and ended up on Bob’s show wearing them. So the circle was complete from very early on!
Are you familiar with any current hosts? Prof Griffin out west or Count Gore DeVol back east and all the ones in between. Have you had the chance to meet with any of them? I’m sure they support the release of this film and MONSTER SQUAD as well.
I only ever met Bob Wilkins and his later replacement John Stanley, who is filmmaker and critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. John has been a big supporter of mine, even giving ROBOCOP 3 a good review in his book, The Creature Features Movie Guide. Now that’s a friend!
Although, speaking of horror hosts, in the late ‘80s I briefly pursued doing a movie based on Joe Flaherty’s SCTV character, Count Floyd. That would have been fun.
Fans of this film might be surprised if they ever gave those classic Universal horror films a watch. Today’s youngsters often refuse to watch these films due to the fact they’re in black and white. Do you think they are cheating themselves out of something fantastic with this bias? If so, how can they be convinced to watch them?
People who can’t watch black-and-white movies remind me of when I try to get my five year-old to eat vegetables. He says, “But I don’t LIKE asparagus!” To which I inevitably respond, “You haven’t tried it, have you?” I can't imagine the Universal monster movies in color. They have such atmosphere!
Are youngsters cheating themselves by avoiding black-and-white? Absolutely. Some of the best movies ever made are in black-and-white! But how can you convince them? That's a tough one. What I might say is, “If you can’t watch black-and-white movies, you also can’t watch anything with CGI in it.” Let’s see what that does!
Some movies released to DVD are given the standard treatment where as this release has been given a shout out with director commentary, original ending and blu-ray treatment. Does this give you the chance to offer fans the ultimate version of the film, the one you truly wanted them to see? And does the blu-ray format work here, presenting them with a pristine version to cherish?
As I alluded to, I think CGI is overused by too many people who don’t know how to use it properly, who use it as a crutch instead of a paintbrush, which is what it is. But one thing digital technology does wonderfully is make pristine new versions of pale old films. The key is not to make them SO digitally perfect that they lose their sense of being “film”. I recently saw an HD broadcast of the Coen Brothers’ BURN AFTER READING and it was so absurdly crisp that Brad Pitt’s pores were visible and he strobed when he moved. I wanted to Burn After Watching. So you can go too far, but with an older film, particularly one that’s well shot (like SQUAD and CREEPS), the digital restoration is a godsend.
An article you wrote discussed your start in film and how you learned that movies were more than just cool shots. It further went on to say that once you learned how to write better scripts, Hollywood changed and rather than storytelling they were now looking for cool shots. So why aren’t we able to see more Fred Dekker cool shot movies that sneak in storytelling as well?
I wrote that for a website created by my friend Terry Rossio (who wrote the PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movies) and sadly, it’s truer today than it was then. There are some directors, who shall remain nameless, whose films are basically nothing BUT cool shots… without any room for story or character. I think the problem’s just getting worse, frankly.
Being known as a horror genre director, what is your take on the current crop of horror films? Any favorites or ones you wish you would have missed?
I hate the remakes of classic ‘80s titles because I just don’t see the point. I’m not a fan of the SAW/HOSTEL/REST STOP torture porn because I just don’t think people being tortured and screaming is remotely entertaining. However, I recently saw A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, [REC], and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and loved them. So I’m definitely interested in the spooky, if it’s done with finesse and character, and not just a bunch of jumps and cheap scares. I can’t wait for the Von Trier film, ANTICHRIST. He’s a hero of mine for the chances he takes.
Do you have anything currently in the works? Rumor for a while was an involvement with CLIFFHANGER 2. Or perhaps SHADOW COMPANY will finally make it to the screen? What can we expect to see with the name above the title reading “Directed by Fred Dekker” any time soon?
Yes, I just turned in my script for CLIFFHANGERS, which Neal Moritz (I AM LEGEND/FAST AND FURIOUS) is producing. It’s a throwback to THE DIRTY DOZEN and the Alistair MacLean action pictures of the ‘60s. I had a lot of fun with it, and I hope they make it. SHADOW COMPANY is probably dead, but you never know.
I’m also developing a features based on a documentary called THE LOSS OF NAMELESS THINGS. It’s the true story of Oakley Hall III, a brilliant young playwright who started a theater company in the ‘70s before suffering a head injury. It’s very poetic and a total change of pace from my other work. We hope to be prepping next year, but we’ll see. That’s the one that excites me the most right now. Curtis Burch is the producer.
Your story is one that shows any kid armed with a camera and the drive to make movies can achieve that dream. Any words of encouragement you’d like to give to budding storytellers?
I’m glad you used the word “storytelling” because that’s the key. Get yourself a DV camera, and just shoot and shoot and shoot. But more than that, set a goal for yourself. TELL A STORY.
Here’s my litmus test. Don’t create something where your viewer goes “ooh” and “ahh” but doesn’t really care if you turn the video stream off. Make something so that when you turn it off, they immediately say, “Wait! What happens next?”
THEN you’ll be on to something.
In 1986 a movie was released that slowly made its way from one end of the country to the other. It showed life in the heartland and what it meant to not just win but to try, to give it your best. It told a tale of impossible odds and how pulling together a team could achieve victory. That movie was HOOSIERS. And now nearly almost 20 years after its initial release, the movie comes to DVD in a special edition.
In that special edition are a number of extras, including a making of featurette that has interviews with stars like Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper. But most importantly are the comments and look behind the scenes provided by its writer Angelo Pizzo and director David Anspaugh, not only the short but their commentary as well. I was able to contact David Anspaugh recently and find out not only what he thought of the DVD release but what was in store for his fans as well. While the movie was obviously a labor of love, the DVD version offers a new experience.
MARK: What did you think of making this new DVD version?
DAVID: One thing about Angelo and I, we haven’t done one of these DVDs before…we spent the entire day in the studio…we did on camera stuff and then we went to sit down and watch the movie and do the commentary and that was a long day, we were tired, we were kind of punchy, you know? Over the years we had talked about this for so many years. We told these stories over and over and sometimes after a while you kind of forget what you said and you’re not editorializing so much. Some of its probably entertaining and other parts I couldn’t believe they left in.
M: How was it you were able to choose HOOSIERS as your first film?
DAVID: First of all I didn’t have the luxury to decide that that’s what I wanted to do. I was working in television at the time. Steve Bochco gave me my first real break in the business with HILL STREET BLUES and actually there was a series called PARIS with James Earl Jones that we did before HILL STREET and it wasn’t until the second season of HILL STREET that I started directing. He gave me two shows to do in the second season. I think he promised me those because he never thought they were going to be renewed for a second season. The first show I directed was nominated for a DG award but I lost to the pilot and the second season I did one which was towards the end of the second season was nominated again in the next year and I won the DG award. So I was directing every third show in the third year…all this time we were trying to get HOOSIERS made…and we finally looked like we had interest, that’s when Jack Nicholson was interested. I left HILL STREET after the third season because I thought we were going to get HOOSIERS made but it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen for almost two years later. So it wasn’t as though I chose that as my first movie, it just happened that way and I was incredibly lucky. It’s very rare that a film maker has a chance to do a movie that’s that personal to them first time out. You usually have to make your bones either commercially of critically or hopefully both and you do 2 or 3 of those and then you can sort of call your own shots and then people say “What do you want to do next?” and you say well I have this script I’ve been saving for years you know that’s always been my pet project but no one really thought much of it…and that’s how you get those things done. WE were lucky. First time out we got to do a movie that I would guess, you never say never, will probably be for me the most personal movie I will ever make in terms of where I came from and the people I knew and the place that I love so much.
M: The film so captures not only the look but the feel of Indiana, the Midwest.
DAVID: Well I thought that it was important, at least in the commentary, we mention the fact that they tried to get us to shoot this movie in Canada and we just said find somebody else because we won’t do it because there is something specific about not only the landscape…I mean you could make the argument that you could find places in Canada that almost look like Indiana but its more about the faces and the people and particularly you put those people in the gymnasium and you don’t direct those extras…it’s all such a part of who those people are and all of us are that grew up in the Midwest in small towns. Those people from New Richmond for example I mean they followed us all over the place where ever we shot whether it was in Brownsville or Knightstown or Indianapolis or whatever. And they weren’t getting paid; we were only able to afford to pay so many extras per day. And then there were a certain who came for the experience and we fed them and a lot of people came consistently and weren’t getting paid. It was pretty amazing. You can’t pay for that stuff.
M: What does Hollywood get in Canada that they don’t get here in the Midwest?
DAVID: What they do get is big tax breaks in Canada. The truth is I am very anti shooting in Canada or anywhere out of the country if you have a story that is really specific to a certain place or geographically particular. If you have a New York story or an Indiana story or a New Orleans story, whatever. I mean these places, they don’t exist in Canada. I remember at one point in time Showtime was proposing a script called TARK THE SHARK which was about his time at UNLV and the whole thing took place in Las Vegas and they wanted to shoot it in Canada. I said “Where in Canada?” Where in Canada does Las Vegas exist? Show me and I’ll go shoot it. If you can convince me that that exist there I’ll shoot it there. Because you’re writing the check and yeah you save a lot of money by going up there. If you’re doing a big special effects movie like MIMIC, they shoot that in Canada because they can shoot it on a sound stage and it doesn’t matter where you are…or you can go to Prague…or many places that are cheaper than the United States. What I’m happy to see happening, its beginning to happen in places around the United States, in particular New Orleans, everyone is shooting in New Orleans now. Because they are offering the same tax incentives pretty much that Canada is, so that’s exciting.
M: Except while on location most actors live in Los Angeles. What was it like for these actors to see the area you recalled so well?
DAVID: (Gene) Hackman grew up in Danville (Illinois) which was kid of similar to the places we were shooting. I think he mentions that in the DVD that he understands the sensibility that lies in that part of the country. You remember Dennis Hopper said “I forgot that I grew up in Kansas and I had a hoop on the side of the barn…” and all that stuff. I think the only one who didn’t was Barbara. The rest of the people, with the exception of Fred Murphy who was our camera man from New York City and he didn’t know Indiana from nothing, he’d never been there before and he didn’t even know basketball. So it was interesting because a lot of people…we hired a lot of local people in our departments like transportation and art department…and the cast was all from Indiana or the Chicago area with the exception of Gene and Dennis and Barbara. So it wasn’t new to most people. The few people it was new to fell in love with Indiana. There were a couple of people ended up buying land and actually staying in Indiana. But then again there was kind of a trade off because a couple of people from New Richmond area and others that decided to ruin away to join the circus (laughs). They left Indiana and came to Hollywood.
M: Speaking of Dennis Hopper, when he made HOOSIERS his career was in a semi slump. And yet that year he made not only this film but BLUE VELVET, RIVER’S EDGE and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. What made you decide to choose him for his part?
DAVID: You know in the…we actually discussed this but they edited it out…Dennis says on camera that when “…I first read the script I don’t know why they wanted me. I told them they wanted Harry Dean Stanton.” The truth is he WAS the first actor, Harry Dean Stanton that we went to for this part and he turned us down. We interviewed, read character actors all over the country, New York, Chicago, LA, and we couldn’t find anybody we thought could pull it off. And then one night I was home watching an old TV movie, I think it was called KING OF THE MOUNTAIN and it was Dennis playing this old hippie guy who lived in LA and races cars on Mulholland Drive and there was something about seeing him again and something about the quality of the character he was playing and I called Angelo and I said “Don’t laugh but what would you think of Dennis Hopper in this part? I just saw this movie”. And Angelo said it’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that we want to act on it right away. While I was thinking about it a couple nights later I happened to be in a restaurant waiting on a couple of friends for dinner and I saw Dennis there. And I had never seen him before. And as he was leaving I just sort of impulsively stepped out in front of him and introduced myself and told him I had this script that I thought he would be right for and would he please read it or could we send it to him and blah blah blah. I think he probably wondered who the hell this guy was, who I was. But he said sure and gave me his agent’s name and about 48 hours later he showed up in our office and we sat and talked for three hours and he had such an understanding of the character. I think he mentioned in the DVD that he was newly sober at that time. He had been sober I think about a couple of years and he talked about his sobriety and his troubled days as an alcoholic and drug addict and it was clear he knew this character inside and out. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. He was brilliant; in fact, he should have won the Oscar.
M: How much do you stay in touch with the actors from HOOSIERS?
DAVID: You know, it’s funny. It took me a while in this business to catch on to the fact…when you’re making a movie you all become very close and sometimes not so close. I’m happy to say that most of my experiences with actors has been really positive. I’ve had lasting friendships. You sort of expect those things. The movie’s over…you try to keep up those contacts…but over the years as you work more and more in more films and with more people, you realize that you can’t keep those things. I mean I don’t hang out with Dennis or Gene or Barbara or anybody that I’ve ever worked with really. I used to sort of with Andrew McCarthy a lot because we played golf together a lot. But I mean….whenever I see Dennis? It’s always a warm hug. There’s a lot of affection and we have a wonderful history there. That’s the sort of thing that took me a while to learn. I used to take it personally. I’d think don’t these people like me? But you know….you start working a lot and after a few years you just can’t maintain those ties.
M: The actors you’ve worked with. There are a number that you started their careers. How does that feel?
DAVID: It’s really fun. Ben Stiller, I put him in his first movie, FRESH HORSES. I think it was also if not his first, one of his first, Vigo Mortensen’s in that movie. He had one scene with Andrew McCarthy where he catches him in his old back woods house. It’s a frightening scene. He is so scary this dude! I mean yeah, there’s so many people like that. It’s really exciting but also makes me feel really old! When I look at all of the work these guys have done I think I was there at day one and now look at them.
M: Another great contribution to the film, and to RUDY, was the soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith who recently passed away. Do you think he added something to HOOSIERS?
DAVID: Are you kidding? He elevated both of those films to a whole other level as any great composer will do. You never know. Even with really great composers they don’t always hit home runs. He sure knocked both of them out of the park with these two movies. I was so lucky to have him as a composer of two of my movies. And more fortunate to have him as a friend. That was one of those relationships that DID stick. And we did see each other and we were very good friends. He was actually starting work on the score of GAME OF THEIR LIVES. In fact I still have one demo cue that he did. He had…he was getting pretty sick at the time and Angelo and I showed him sort of a first assembly of the film a couple of months after we finished shooting it. And based on that, he started noodling with that, you know, playing with some themes and he put some stuff down on the synthesizer and I still have that one cue that he wrote for the movie that never got to be used. But we were also very lucky because we sort of got a guy named Bill Ross who composed the score for GAME OF THEIR LIVES and it’s like he channeled Jerry. When you hear his music you almost can’t believe it ISN’T Jerry. Jerry was one of his heroes. Frankly I had not heard of him. I’d heard his scores but didn’t realize it was him. Like MY DOG SKIP and LADDER 49 and a few other movies and somebody said oh yeah this guy’s like a young Jerry Goldsmith and I went oh no, nobody is Jerry Goldsmith. And then I heard his music and it was pretty amazing. In fact, when we were scoring this movie at Fox for the first two days we had like an 80 piece orchestra and Bill told me that most of the people here in this room worked with Jerry and almost all of these people were your musicians for RUDY. I miss him a lot. I can’t get used to the fact he ain’t with us anymore.
M: Speaking of the new film, what’s up?
DAVID: Our new movie that’s coming out THE GAME OF THEIR LIVES…our marketing did research and it’s coming out sort of the way HOOSIERS did, which was one of the strangest releases of any movie I’ve ever seen because one week it opened in one place and a couple weeks in another city and it never had a real national kind of release, just little pockets from time to time that would open up. They were not going to open it (GAME) in Indiana. They are now. One of the cities I think is Indianapolis I think on April 22nd. One of the reasons they were not going to do it until Angelo and I convinced them of the wisdom of doing so was because Indiana per capita is one of the lowest film going audiences in the country.
M: You’ve mentioned Angelo several times now and I know the two of you have worked together on several films now. Are the two of you more Oscar and Hammerstein or Abbott and Costello?
DAVID: More like Abbott and Costello. (laughs) And believe me you’ll really see that when you run the DVD and you listen to the commentary. I mean we’re like Heckle and Jeckle, Abbott and Costello…we have a good time. Hopefully we compliment each other. I think we mention in a number of interviews that people predicted when we went away to do HOOSIERS that it would destroy our friendship and instead of destroying it it forged it and you know, we’ve done three movies now. That’s pretty rare for a writer/director team. But I don’t think we’re even going to have that opportunity again because he is bent on and determined to direct and I totally support that. I wish I were a writer, I’m not, so I can’t say okay now let him direct. He wants to direct and I think every writer given the opportunity should. I think he’ll do pretty good.
M: What’s coming up for David Anspaugh?
DAVID: I don’t know. I’m looking. There are a couple of things I’d like to do but I’m in competition here. Like I said I don’t write so I’m up against other directors who want to do these things too. But I’m looking forward to moving back to Indiana. Looking forward to opening an acting and film workshop. I think it sounds like a good idea. I did some investigating this fall in the Indianapolis area and there’s virtually no competition at least with people with my experience and the resume that I have. It's something that I really love. I started out as a teacher. The paychecks aren’t as big but you know what? The headaches aren’t as big either. I’m looking forward to doing that in the next few years.
M: I know that your mother and father were perhaps your biggest fans. Were they an influence on your decision to go into film?
DAVID: They certainly were very influential in me doing what I’ve done because of their support in what I wanted to do. I just have to always…you know….been grateful for their love and support when I’m sure to friends and relatives my ambitions were sort of pie in the sky and sort of ridiculous. And I think they had to put up with a lot of that. But they never wavered. That’s hopefully the legacy that I will leave to my daughters. I know with my eldest that seem to be working. It’s pretty easy to do if you love them a lot.
M: Lastly, what did you think of the Special Edition that MGM came up with? The extras and all.
DAVID: I tell you I was thrilled. Aside from…I was a little shocked about some of the things they left in that they didn’t edit out in terms of Angelo’s comments and mine. Other than that I was so impressed with what they did. I am really, really proud of this. I sound like some sort of salesman. But for filmophiles or for people who love basketball or especially people in Indiana…this is something I would own. I would go out and buy it. I have a feeling it will do well in a number of places.
William Castle wasn’t simply a film maker. William Castle was a showman. So much so that going to the opening of one of his films was an event as opposed to going to a movie. Special stunts were what Castle was noted for and several of these films featured those. While audiences can’t appreciate the shows he put on in theaters these days, they can find enjoyment in his films on DVD with the release of THE WILLIAM CASTLE FILM COLLECTION from Sony.
This collection may not include all of his films but it does include a number of his better pictures as well as several never before released to DVD. And those that have already been released are given a well deserved treatment here by including them in this collection. So what’s in it? Eight movies for young and old.
First off is 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS. The catch here was Castle’s search for girls from around the world to portray the members of an all girl boarding school who get involved in spy shenanigans. Light on scares and big on chuckles, the film is a low dose of Castle.
13 GHOSTS tells the story of down on his luck father who inherits a house from a rich uncle, only if he stays there. Too bad that this same uncle made a habit of collecting ghosts, 12 of which can be found there now. And the 13th? Watch to find out. The trick here was a set of glasses with blue and red lenses, one to allow you to see the ghosts, the other to block them out.
HOMICIDAL was Castle’s answer to Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. The film opens with a brutal murder of a justice of the peace by a young woman who returns home to care for an invalid woman. Hateful to her employer’s sister as well as the woman she watches over, what is the secret that is revealed only in the last minutes of the film? For those too afraid to find out we have the countdown clock that permitted patrons to leave the theater and retreat to the coward’s corner in the lobby.
STRAIGHT JACKET features an aging Joan Crawford as a woman sent to prison 20 years earlier for the axe murder of her husband and his lover. Now free, some strange goings on are affecting her life and those of the people around her. Has she gone insane?
THE OLD DARK HOUSE is a remake of a classic Universal horror film, here played for laughs. Tom Posten is the flat mate of a man now deceased, invited to spend the weekend at the family retreat. Too bad this family is far from normal and one after the other gets bumped off as the night progresses.
MR. SARDONICUS, my favorite, tells the story of a doctor who receives a note from his ex-fiancé. Now married to a cruel landowner, she requests he come to her husband’s aide in a cure for what it the most terrifying case of paralysis ever seen. If he succeeds, she is free to leave. If not? The face of Mr. Sardonicus gave me nightmares for years!
THE TINGLER features Vincent Price in a role that gives him a chance to make even some of the lamest dialogue sound Shakespearean. As a scientists who discovers that fear gives birth to a creature that literally squeezes your spine unless you release that fear by screaming, Price is fantastic. The great gimmick here was in select theaters that had certain seats with vibrating mechanisms placed under chairs. At one point in the film, in a theater, the screen goes black and Price calls out that the Tingler is lose in the theater you are in! If you feel it you should scream, scream for your life! Of course this was when the mechanisms would buzz, scaring theater patrons.
Lastly is ZOTZ! again starring Tom Posten. This time around Posten is a language professor whose niece receives a medallion from her boyfriend on an archeological dig. An ancient language is found on the medallion and Posten deciphers it to discover that by pointing at someone he can cause internal pain, by saying zotz he can make them move slowly and by doing the two together he can cause death! When the government doesn’t pay attention to him the Russians do and attempt a kidnapping.
Included in this collection are several episodes of Castle produced TV shows, behind the scenes featurettes on the movies and a great documentary about Castle himself. The master showman took to appearing in most of his films and getting a kick out of the fans reactions to them all. Many fans have gone on to become star film directors in their own right.
This collection might be a bit pricy, but to purchase each film on its own would cost more. If you love good old fashioned scare films, if you have fond memories of these titles, then you’ll want to add this boxed set to your collection. And what better time to give these movies a viewing than now at Halloween? Anyone up for a good scare?
Disney and Pixar have come together over the past few years to bring about a revolution in animated motion pictures. While many studios have faltered in their attempts or fallen back on trying to adapt anime as a way to make movies inexpensively, these two studios have taken a different route and joined the art of animation with cartoon storytelling.
FINDING NEMO tells the story of Nemo, the only offspring of two clown fish raised along by his single father Marlin (Albert Brooks). Having lost his wife and hundreds of unhatched eggs to the sea, Marlin has been overprotective of little Nemo. And when Nemo rebels and is captured his first time out to the big ocean, it seems as though all of Marlin’s fears were right.
Fearful of the ocean himself, Marlin must make a journey to find his son and save him. He heads out to sea not so much boldly and without fear as much as he does out of concern and love for his son.
Along the way, Marlin makes many new friends, among them another fish named Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) who has short term memory but ends up being a help anyway and Crush, a cool dude sea turtle voiced by the films writer/director Andrew Stanton.
Nemo himself finds new friends as well. It appears that he was captured by a snorkeling dentist who intends to present him as a gift to his destructive niece. The other fish in the tank try and help Nemo to escape.
Word of Marlin’s adventures as he searches for Nemo go so far as to reach Nemo’s “ears”. Marveling at the tales of his father’s love, Nemo and the tank fish do all they can to escape. It’s not until nearly the end of the picture that you find out if the father and son are reunited or if Nemo becomes just another fish tossed down the toilet bowl.
The humor in this film is so on the mark it’s fantastic. Not only are there jokes that the kids can laugh at, but there are a few in jokes for parents to get as well. This path seemed to work well for animators in the heyday of cartooning in the 40s and plays well here too.
The animation is nothing short of phenomenal. The waves on the surface, the vibrant colors of the fish, all mingle together to form a feast for the eyes.
But beneath it all is something much more important. The rest is mere icing on the cake. Because at the heart of this movie is the story of two people, parent and child, who may not see eye to eye on all things. But the deep rooted love of that father for son is enough to make him forge ahead and do all within his power to protest and save the one most important thing in his life. His son.
Reports are coming in that this film was the highest box office success the summer it was released and it’s easy to see why. It’s because it works on all levels and appeals to every viewer out there. It is a movie that is one to watch again and again. And when the video comes out, my guess is that it will set records there as well.
For many it seemed that George Romero had lost his touch when he released the final film (at the time) of his Dead Trilogy. In the late sixties, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD scared people with it’s depiction of walking dead, zombies, feasting on the flesh of the living. In the seventies he released DAWN OF THE DEAD. We were treated to the same basic principal, but this time around given a more in depth allegorical story. And full color zombies eating flesh. Then in the eighties Romero released the final film, DAY OF THE DEAD.
More gruesome than its predecessor, the movie offered a harsher reality of a world run over by flesh eating zombies. And critics who had fawned over the first two films missed the point. They didn’t get it. And the movie was trashed by the same. Released in full with an X rating, the film received little advertising and died away except for the few die hard fans that flocked to it.
I was one of those fans. And I loved the film as much as I had the previous installments. And in watching the film, more so now than ever, you can see the growth of the talents of Romero. The black and white gave way to color, the color gave way to higher production values. This movie almost shines in its clarity.
Having seen (and owned) various copies of the film on video and DVD before, all I can say is that Anchor Bay has outdone themselves with this release. It is by far the clearest, cleanest print I have seen since viewing it in a theater those long years ago. The best example of this is in the very beginning when a zombie sans lower jaw walks into view as the title pops up on screen. In the past, he appeared almost black, none of the special effects work of master artist Tom Savini was apparent. Here, it is on view quite well and the rest of the film follows.
For those unaware of the story, in the beginning, something brought the dead back to life with a singular craving for human flesh. There you have it, a simple plot. The second film offered a look at American culture and it’s obsession with commercialism (see my review of this film if you like). This movie takes a look at how the military and research scientist have both seemed to have lost touch with the humanity both claim to want to protect.
As each film was released, the number of zombies increased. The first had a ratio of more humans than zombies, the second about even. In this release, the zombies appear to have taken over. From the opening sequence of a city filled with walking dead, you can tell that humanity’s hopes are all but lost.
The story revolves around a group of soldiers and research scientists holed up in what appears to be an abandoned silo. There, all sense of order is on the verge of breaking down as the scientists search for an answer to this problem. The soldiers, weary from fatigue and unable to comprehend what has gone on, are on the edge and ready to blow. A conflict between the two, each having little use for the other, is inevitable.
The main scientist is Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty) who looks at things differently. Rather than try and eliminate the problem, he’s begun researching the possibility of domesticating the zombies, as seen in the display of his prize “pupil” Bub (Sherman Howard). Bub recognizes items from his past and seems to have the ability to control the urge to devour the doctor.
Our heroine is Sarah (Lori Cardille), another scientist who comes to the conclusion that Dr. Logan’s line of inquiry could lead to the military’s shutting them down and eliminating them all. Her love for one of the soldiers, Miguel (Anthony Dilio Jr) causes a disruption among the soldiers.
Leading the military is Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato), a hard headed soldier who wants results and nothing more. Having just assumed command, he will no longer risk his men in attempts to gather more subjects for research. And he is, in his own way, as far over the edge as Dr. Logan.
All of these characters interact with one another as jealousies, questions of capability and a subdued battle for control runs underneath the blatant story of the zombie take over. Just who will win, who will take charge for real and who will survive is at the very heart of this movie. But more to the point of who is the question of CAN they survive in a world gone mad.
For a group of basically unknown actors (at least by Hollywood standards) the ensemble here does a tremendous job. It’s amazing to think that none of these people went on to enormous stardom. Perhaps it was the fact that horror film actors rarely are given the due they deserve.
Perhaps the main claim to fame of this film is its special effects. Tom Savini rose to the challenge of making it all believable and over the top at the same time. Displays of zombies with internal organs falling out, victims literally pulled apart before our very eyes, the camera never wavering, the basic make up of each and every zombie walking, all are shown with the skill that only a master can summon forth. And his legacy lives on as crew member (and one of the soldiers in the film) Greg Nicotero went on to form KNB Effects, one of the top groups operating now.
If you didn’t already know, this movie was just released in a special edition release from Anchor Bay. The DVD offers the movie in its most complete and clear form on disc one. It also contains commentary tracks of an ensemble including Romero himself, Tom Savini, Lori Cardille and set designer Cletus Anderson and another track from film maker Roger Avery. The second disc contains all sorts of goodies. A 31 minute behind the scenes collection with images from Savini’s private files. An audio interview with Richard Liberty. The featurette THE MANY DAYS OF THE DAY OF THE DEAD, a 39 minute look back at the movie featuring the stars today recalling their experience on the film. Trailers, TV spots, pictures, poster and ad artwork, a Romero biography, make up photo gallery and more. This is one fully loaded package and more than worth the costs.
If you love horror films then your collection won’t be complete without this one. Add it today.
It’s that time of year again when the world freshens up, spring is in the air and the world comes alive. Well with the exception of the release of a new film by Michael Moore. Talk about a downer. Nothing fresh here but rather more Moore ranting about how terrible a country is that pays him millions of dollars to make movies that fewer and fewer people are going to see.
CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY is anything but. What it basically boils down to is Moore’s view that capitalism is an evil idea that should be abolished and replaced by socialism. So instead of a system that uses incentive to get people to work harder to make something of themselves, Moore would be happier if we all just tossed what we made into a pot and dispersed it equally to everyone. An easy thing to believe while being paid the amounts of money he gets.
Moore uses several tactics that have worked for him before. The first is making fun of the stereotypical American family with mom, dad and the kids all living idyllic lives. He treats this as if it is a thing of the past, the good old days ruined now by corporate America.
His next tactic is to label a bad guy, which in Moore’s world are corporate big wigs. Their only concern seems to be making money for the company that they are in charge of, which is actually what they are paid to do. In Moore’s eyes this should be about making money for the workers instead of the stockholders who invested money in the company to begin with.
Then again he never notes that there are more pieces to the puzzle than he lists. Not mentioned are unions that got their employees more money/benefits that the company has to pay resulting in less money to go towards employees resulting in cut jobs or the state of the economy which would raise or lower the costs of goods, etc. But these aren’t important to Moore who has an axe to grind, facts be damned!
Moore pulls out his best trick several times: tugging at the heartstrings of the viewer. He does so here using his own father, walking with him down a broken sidewalk where the plant his father once worked in now stands demolished. When he asks his father what he remembers most, what his best memories of working there were he responds “The people”.
He also takes us to meet people who have been evicted from their homes. I have a great sympathy for anyone in this position. But Moore uses them, making them look like poor innocents who have been mistreated. With the exception of one family who fell on hard times, he never explains why they were forced into this position or even if the bank tried to work with them. Cue violins, pass the tissues.
I will grant that documentaries are supposed to come with the film maker’s point of view. But Moore has done such a shoddy job of avoiding numerous facts while using outlandish ones to support his ideas that it’s become hard to take him seriously. He also tends to attempt to advance his ideas using emotions rather than facts. Toss in the fact that he’s biting the hand that feeds him and you have to wonder why he continues or why those companies would give him money.
Your politics and beliefs will skew the way you look at this film. At one time I was a big Moore fan, loved ROGER & ME (before I found out about the short cuts and alterations of truth contained in it), loved his TV series and thought Moore stood for something. The more I look deeper into the man and his films, the more I discover that he’s less for telling the truth, for getting to the bottom of things and more about pushing an agenda. I was taught that documentaries were to promote and objective look at a topic with perhaps a slight tilt towards the beliefs of the film maker. In Moore’s case we get all the film maker’s beliefs and little objectivity.
With several web sites taking the time to point out the twisting of facts and outright lies told in Moore’s past films, one has to wonder just how much he’s done so on this one. In this film he avoids the fact that greed, not capitalism, is the heart of the problem. And there is greed on both sides of the issue.
Perhaps the only thing different about this film than others Moore has done is who he attacks. This time around he doesn’t limit those to Republicans but goes after both sides. Chances are this will result in fewer people taking him seriously. Then again with the box office returns on this film, I think that’s been demonstrated already.
For a fair and objective observation on the topic, pass this one by. If you think capitalism is terrible though, you’ll love it. And if you are a die hard Moore fan, you’ll get what you are looking for.
Don Coscarelli is one of the most creative minds working in film today. And that alone explains why so few studios will touch anything he makes. Beginning with PHANTASM (which has a huge fan base) and moving on to THE BEASTMASTER, Coscarelli has created his own world of creatures, fantasy and things that go bump in the night. And the same holds true for his latest endeavor, BUBBA HO TEP.
Don’t let the name fool you. This film (based on a short story by Joe R. Lonsdale) is one of the most interesting films you will see all year. The story revolves around Elvis Presley. Yes THE Elvis. As portrayed by actor Bruce Campbell, Elvis has lived past his prime. Having grown bored with the rock and roll life style, he exchanged places with a look alike and went out on the road again as an imitator himself. While both men had contracts signed in case they changed their minds, an accident caused Elvis to lose his. And with the death of the imposter, he had no chance of returning to his once gracious lifestyle.
Now he lives in a small retirement home in Texas. With the affects of a broken hip causing him to depend on a walker and a growth on his private appendage discussed in his mind most of the time (where we learn a lot of what is going on in voice over), Elvis is not living the life of rocker royalty. His best friend is an elderly black man (Ossie Davis) who believes he is Jack Kennedy. THE JFK. When it is brought out that JFK was white, he explains that they dyed him. Who they are is never quite explained.
Problems begin when the residents of the nursing home begin to die mysterious deaths. After an Egyptian looking scarab beetle attacks Elvis, Jack comes over to let Elvis know that there is trouble brewing in the nursing home. After doing some research, Jack believes that there is an Egyptian mummy lose in the home that is sucking the souls of the residents out of their rectums. While he first begins to doubt Jack’s sanity, Elvis is eventually convinced, especially after he and the mummy meet face to face.
Realizing that no one will believe them, the pair set off to save the residents of the home and keep their souls intact (as well as their lower orifices). They set out to take down the mummy and return things to normal. Well, as normal as things are.
Many have said, and it’s true, that this movie is ripe for cult status. The offbeat sense of humor, the weird storyline and the follow through make it a hoot. But more than the simple horror aspect of it, the thing that makes this movie is Bruce Campbell. His portrayal of the aging Elvis who ruminates about how his life might have been, how he made mistakes that have led him here, are truly touching. And his depiction of the King of Rock and Roll is fantastic. The last time anyone did this well was Kurt Russell in ELVIS.
As I said, don’t be put off by the title. Don’t be afraid that the folks around the water cooler will have a laugh at your expense when you tell them what you watched the night before. Let them watch reruns on television while you open up and explore the world of the legend of rock and roll as he takes on the legend of the sands. It’s time to get down and take a hunka hunka load a fun and watch a movie that is unlike anything you have seen yet. And have a few time while doing it.
Fortunately a few years back my son discovered comic books. At least the card sets that were coming out about that time. In so doing, I helped him to find out what was behind all of those cards and found myself immersed once again in the brightly colored world of comics. Except that I soon discovered that comics were no longer a children’s art form but a whole other world of graphic storytelling and imagery that was unlike anything out there with the exception of film. Tales of heaven and hell battling it out for the souls of humans, secret government agencies that allowed people to extract revenge on those who had done them wrong and heroes that actually killed people because they felt it was in the interest of society were all present. And so was John Constantine.
The comic series HELLBLAZER was the story of John Constantine. And unfortunately I never found myself drawn to it. As written by Garth Ennis, it took on a legendary status among fans and helped to increase the popularity of DC’s Vertigo brand, a home for more adult oriented comics like this and SANDMAN. When I heard it was going to be made into a film I was interested. And after watching this film, I may have to take the chance of picking up some of the trade paperback copies of the series. Which brings us to CONSTANTINE.
The film opens with John Constantine (Keanu Reeves) being called to a tenement apartment where a young Hispanic girl has been possessed. With the knowledge he possesses, Constantine is able to bring the demon out of the young girl and send it back to Hell. But something was different here. It seemed that the demon was about to enter our realm and leave its own.
We are next introduced to a woman who dreams of another leaping to her death from the top of a building. It turns out it wasn’t a dream at all and police detective Angela Dodson (Rachel Weisz) saw the death of her twin sister. Called to the scene, she seeks solace from a priest later hoping that he will allow her sister to be buried in consecrated ground. At that time, her path crosses with Contantine.
Constantine is at the same church talking about the gamble between God and the devil which allowed them to put man’s own free will at stake. Either side might try and influence the actions of man, but neither was allowed to be on this plane. Someone is trying to break that deal and Constantine wants to find out whom.
The one fault of the film is in assuming we know all there is to know about Constantine and his battles here on earth. It is at this point that we finally begin to get a glimpse of what transpired in the past as Constantine and the angel Gabriel (Tilda Swinton) discuss John’s past and his desire to do good in the hopes of changing God’s mind into allowing him admittance into Heaven. More details of this transpire later in the film.
Eventually Constantine’s and Dodson’s paths cross once again and they are led down the road that will help them both discover who was behind not only the death of Dodson’s sister but the attempt to enter this mortal plane as well. It’s a long path that leads them both, literally, to hell and back, but the journey they take is one filled with danger, fear and a believable story that draws the viewer in.
The story itself here makes the film, offering a battle of good and evil on this plane that was formulated in the beginning with God and the devil. No balance of power is discussed, no self righteous name calling is produced, simply the battle that is fought is brought to our doorstep with all the souls on Earth hanging in the balance.
The weakest point is Keanu Reeves. While I enjoy his work and think of him as a more accomplished actor than many give him credit for, he seem far too Neoish here. After three MATRIX movies, I see him in black and think of him there once more. He does a good job, as does Weisz, but I still have that mental image of him.
The movie is well made with some great CGI effects that startle and frighten. The images of Hell are what one would expect as are the demons. But all are done with quality here.
CONSTANTINE may not be the greatest movie ever made. But it is one movie that will entertain while you watch. And it may cause a few conversations to rise concerning God, the devil, Heaven and Hell. What more could you ask for in a movie?
Britney Spears has dominated the youth market with her music and image projected nearly every minute of every day for all to see. Entertainment lovers with a few years behind them see her as a talented young lady but nowhere near the talent that performers of the past have had. We can only hope that she matures into the real thing instead of the manufactured image she seems today. Don’t misunderstand; I enjoy some of her music. But the fact is more concerted effort is put forth into her image than her talent.
That being said, I popped in BRITNEY BABY ONE MORE TIME with a tad bit of hesitation. A movie about Spears without Spears? Worse yet, a movie about Spears starring a female impersonator? What are the odds that this movie would be entertaining to watch? Well it turns out my gut feelings were all wrong.
The first clue that this movie had a chance was the fact that its main character, no not Britney but director Dude Schmitz is portrayed by Mark Borchardt. Those who aren’t familiar with him should check out a film called AMERICAN MOVIE, a documentary about his trying to make a film (which he did) called COVEN on no or little money.
This movie stars Borchardt as a director trying to raise money to make his new movie. As he is about to go on the air at a local Minnesota station, the news director has a brilliant idea when his star reporter is tied up at a cheese fire. Send Borchardt, a local celebrity, out to interview Britney Spears, a national celebrity. Armed with a Winnebago full of equipment and a satellite link up, Borchardt and his crew head out. But when he asks the burning question that everyone wants to know (are they real?) he is tossed out on his ear.
Also tossed out by the maniacal road manager is Robert (Angel Benton), a female impersonator who won a Britney look-alike contest. But since he is a female impersonator, he is tossed out on his ear.
At a local restaurant, down because he will end up not getting paid for the interview, money that was to help finance at least a portion of his new film, Borchardt and crew are stunned when Britney walks in and sits down next to them, crying. Yes, this is not Britney at all but Robert who tells them his story.
You can almost see the light bulb glow over Borchardt’s head as he comes up with a plan. He convinces Robert that they are on their way to interview the real Britney at her next stop in New Orleans and wants him to come with them. In reality, he plans on using interviews of Robert to send to the station as exclusive footage. Off they go on the road, camera in hand and wig on head.
The adventures that this rag tag team has along the way become hilarious at times and interesting at others. “Britney” saves a woman and her young daughter from a car wreck, a picture of it ending up in some gossip rag. “Britney” has a run in with a group of truck drivers in a fine establishment (one of the many with an EAT sign out front) that is one of the funniest things you will see.
All of this happens as the trek to New Orleans moves forward. Along the way, the crew begins to see Robert for who he truly is while Dude Does little more than focus on his own project and how to come up with money for it, never considering how he is using Robert.
The movie offers a few laughs, a few moments that speak about who people really are behind the masks that they choose to wear and makes fun of a culture that worships an image so much that they are willing to allow themselves to believe that the person in front of them is the idol they worship even when it isn’t.
The acting is not some of the best ever found but that is part of the charm of a movie like this. It features an original idea with a casts that is more filled with the charm of making movies than of seeking an Oscar. They give it their best but it doesn’t make it the best. In particular is Mike Schank (who was also a part of AMERICAN MOVIE) as Dude’s hapless brother who seems continually lost in the ozone.
If you’re looking for the regular Hollywood blockbuster, then this movie isn’t for you. But if you are looking for something a little bit different that gives you a few laughs along the way, then check this one out.
Fans of director John Carpenter are in turmoil. First off, they saw the franchise he began, HALLOWEEN, turned over to various directors who made some decent and some not so decent films. Now they are preparing for a remake of his horror film THE FOG. And somewhere in between this movie, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, became a remake. And we all know what fans of original films think of remakes.
As a fan of Carpenter, I decided never to be this way. I always approach a movie with an open mind. Granted, many remakes omit every single shred of story that make an original work, relying more on their “own interpretation” which is Hollywood speak for yeah we kept the name to cash in on it but made a totally different movie. But you have to give someone credit for at least trying to get it right. And that happens here.
Original? A precinct house is closing, staffed by few people, no phones or radios, when suddenly a gang who has recently acquired assault weapons attacks. In the midst of this, a prison bus shows up with a sick prisoner and a mass murderer on board. While under attack, cops and crooks join forces to stay alive. More or less a remake itself of RIO BRAVO in some eyes.
This time around the basis is kept intact but the loose threads are rewoven. Rather than taking place in LA in the summer, this movie takes place in Detroit in the midst of one of the worst blizzards of recent memory. Does this affect the story? Simply put, no. The mass murderer is replaced with a cool and calculating killer in the form of Marion Bishop (Laurence Fishburne), a street gangster with blood on his hands who has been captured after killing an undercover policeman and is not on his way to jail.
Along the way, the blizzard forces the prison bus to reroute to Precinct 13, a precinct closing down to make way for the new stationhouse. Staffed by flirtatious secretary Iris (Drea de Matteo) and retiring grizzled old cop Jasper O’Shea (Brian Dennehy). The precinct is headed up by Sgt. Jake Roenick (Ethan Hawke), an ex undercover cop who we watched lose his team at the films beginning. Stuck in a desk job while recuperating from wounds gained in that battle, Roenick has more psychological than physical wounds.
Into the station comes Roenick’s department ordered shrink, Alex Sabain (Maria Bello). The two banter about, he lifts his file and she leaves only to return a short time later, stranded due to the blizzard. And then it happens.
This misplaced group finds itself under attack from outside forces that sneak in with the intent of killing Bishop. Along with his co-prisoners Smiley (Ja Rule), Anna (Aisha Hinds), and strung out Beck (John Leguizamo), Bishop sits stranded in his cell while the killers walk the halls. Stopped by one of the guards, who is then killed, the assassins regroup and begin their siege of the precinct.
Who is this group out to stop Bishop? Is it his gang like Jasper claims? Or someone else? If you’ve seen the previews on this one then you already know that the killers are a group of special forces cops who were in league with Bishop and need to silence him before he has the chance to talk and sink them all. Led by Marcus Duvall (Gabriel Byrne), they will stop at nothing until Bishop and all witnesses are dead.
As the night moves on, the attacks continue and the defenders inside the precinct unite to ward off their assailants. One by one, and in a fashion that actually surprises in its choices, this band is whittled down until it seems that no one will survive and there will be no escape. But hey, this is a movie and things like that never happen.
The movie is filled with tons of action, the sort that most fans of the genre are looking for in films like these. But for those fans, they get more than they bargained for in the performances of the lead AND supporting actors. And the story all makes sense and ties every loose end together leaving nothing hanging (save for the ending in a good way).
This movie may not be John Carpenter’s ASSAULT. But it turns out to be a fast paced, well made action film in its own right. And if that’s what you’re looking for, then you won’t do better than this one at the box office right now.