bu1057dvd-2http://www.blue-undergrounddvd.com/index.php?pg=il&search=fast+company

 

The films of David Cronenberg reveal a director who is continually finding new ways to explore themes that have preoccupied him since his early work on  Stereo, Crimes of the Future, and Shivers. His films are populated with characters who alter or are involved in altering the human body through violent acts, who represent science or the media or some fringe element of society such as the mob in A History of Violence or Eastern Promises, and where the  logical and ordered reasoning of science or norms are no longer applicable.

While Fast Company is certainly not a horror movie it is certainly not the typical racing movie either. David Cronenberg has substituted grotesque human physiology for the inner workings of the “funny car” which cinematographer Mark Irwin(who also shot Cronenbergs The Brood and Scanners) photographs in various stages of repair and assembly throughout the movie as if it were the inner workings of the human body. How the cars work is detailed throughout the movie without hindering the plot, which is deceptively simple when viewed as a standard 70’s car movie but when looked closer at reveal those themes which Cronenberg has been working through for quite some time. The physiology of the car iself is one theme that plays out through the movie and is tied intricately with the characters. The two main racers, Lonnie Johnson and Gary Black are physically part of the vehicles they race. I am sure that as anyone who races cars would tell you, the vehicle becomes an extension of the driver with every turn and increase of speed. There seems to be a certain appeal in this for Cronenberg who shows the drivers in and out of the car but these characters are only really complete when man and machine are unified. This is important because these characters also exist on the fringe, inhabiting race tracks and trailers and cruising down the highway from town to town. They are not the heroes of NASCAR who have gotten rich driving cars, just ordinary people who do not know how to do anything else but drive.

Then there is the organization called Fast Co. which, in true Cronenberg form, is a crooked and menacing company that is more concerned about selling its product(which is no good of course) then with winning the races that Lonnie Johnson drives for them. The track rep for Fast Co. is played with very dirty gusto by John Saxon as he constantly tries to put Lonnie Johnson and his crew off the track and out of a job. This unseen force which John Saxon’s charcter personifies is not subject matter that Cronenberg completely takes seriously, as there is a sex scene which involves two girls being rubbed down with Fast Co. oil and another where a dumbfounded security guard stands helplessly by as Lonnie Johnson and his crew steal back the funny car that was taken from them after they were fired. There are plenty of moments of good humor in this picture and they are made all the more funny because they are balanced out with the desperation the characters feel as they are drive and as they attempt to hold onto what they have worked so hard for throughout their lives. Lonnie Johnson and Gary Black are set up as polar opposites in this respect with what and who they love stuck in between their rivalry.

You might not think so from watching such movies as Rabid or The Brood, both of which bookend Fast Company, but much like The Fly or some of his other works, Fast Company reveals David Cronenberg to be very humane and compassionate towards his characters. Human suffering and struggle turns out to be a very important  part of the physiology which Cronenberg studies so intently in his films and while he never quite takes a transcendent view of the human condition or is very optimistic about it, he does take his characters at face value and is never flippant about their surroundings or circumstances. It is a shame then that this film has been all but eclipsed by a lack of distribution when it was released and very little critical attention afterwards. Despite all of this Fast Company is a great genre film and one that is an important reference point in the work of David Cronenberg.

charlesjacob; vanheck123@hotmail.com

Advertisements

THE DARK KNIGHT

December 12, 2008

 

The Dark Knight(2008); Dir. Christopher Nolan. Warner Home Video(Dec. 2008)

After the much anticipated dvd and blu-ray release of The Dark Knight on Tuesday and yesterdays announcement of the Golden Globe nominees, of which The Dark Knight is not among them, with the exception of Heath Ledger’s posthumous best supporting actor nomination, it would be almost impossible to overstate the impact of this film since its release this past July. There isn’t a movie website, blog, or critic, who hasn’t weighed in with their thoughts on this filmSo after seeing the movie twice in the theatre and getting the dvd on Tuesday, I will happily join the rank and file of those having nothing but accolades and awe for this motion picture.

 The Dark Knight is one of those movies that puts stars in your eyes, if they weren’t there to begin with. It represents the possibilities of film for a new generation of movie-goers, many of whom, I imagine, will come away with an excitement for the movies  that will lead them to pursue their own creative interests. The Dark Knight has also rescued Batman from the cartoonish peril and absurdity(George Clooney and rubber nipples in case you forgot) of the late 90’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin with the superb script writing of David Goyer and the direction of Christopher Nolan.

I am not sure if you can call it a more “adult” version of the Batman story or that you can deconstruct the film and say that it reflects the moral ambiguity and cynicism of our times. Gotham City and Batman exist in a world completely outside of our own and it would not be right to try and fit them into our reality. Nihilistic characters like the Joker make more interesting fictional villains because they are elevated to the level of “an unstoppable force” as Heath Ledger’s character says to Batman in one of their scenes together. This movie, along with Batman Begins, also shows that the dark corners of the hero’s psyche make for a much more interesting superhero. After all, it is a fine line that separates what we would deem “good” and “bad.” As The Dark Knight suggests, the nature of good and evil is such a precarious one that a character can be pushed one way or the other given the right circumstances. With a single action, Harvey Dent is driven away from being the upstanding beacon of justice to a murderous criminal seeking revenge as Two Face. He is caught between the nihilism of the Joker and the conviction of Batman and it is because of this that I find him to be one of the more fascinating characters in the movie even though he is played more straight by Aaron Eckhart than the extremes of Heath Ledger’s Joker or Christian Bale’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. This was very interesting to me because the last movie I had seen Aaron Eckhart in was Brian De Palma’s Black Dahlia(I admit that I haven’t seen Thank You For Smoking even though I have been meaning to). His sensibility as an actor seems much more suited for a role such as Harvey Dent more than a hard boiled detective.

The one part of the film that did not work for me was the ending monologue and commissioner Gordon’s son running out to his father as the police beging to chase Batman. After all the destruction and bleak territory the film waded through the filmmakers seemed to really try and end the movie in a way that was suspenseful and hopeful and that did not leave the audience feeling too much despair. Personally, I think the best way to end the film would have been with the Joker laughing and swinging at the top of the building. There is a hard boiled crime feel to the story with the characters that populate the story and the visuals of the film  and I think an ending such as that would have emphasized this element a bit more without taking away from the other  aspects of the story. 

The Dark Knight is truly an epic film which finds the time to include  more artful cinematic moments such as the Joker leaning out the window(one of my favorite scenes) of a cop car after he escapes from jail and has set his plan into motion,  with a maniacally blissful look on his face and the sparkling city lights behind him as the sound fades out. This scene is brief but it adds so much to the overall visual impact of the film that you become aware while you are watchingthis picture of these little moments created byChris Nolan and David Goyer  which give the characters and the story a dramatic intensity and demonstrate their craftmenship as film makers.

Charles Jacob; vanheck123@hotmail.com

 

 
 

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian; Dir. Andrew Adamson

 Perhaps it was a feeling when The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe came out that Disney was not the studio I wanted to see working on this film but I recognize that I have been very biased against this film series since its inception. I have very fond memories of reading the books when I was younger but I cannot say that they ever really captured my imagination the way other stories did and while I have always admired the writing of author C.S. Lewis(as much as that of J.R.R. Tolkien for the worlds and mythology they were able to create and the characters they populated them with) I suppose I have to admit that it never really interested me that much and while that might not be the best way to start of a review of this movie, it is the most honest way that I can because it was not an issue I could sidestep while watching Prince Caspian.
Faithful literary adaptations present filmmakers with a very fine line to walk. Especially in situations where the source material is a bit dry or even lacking in some details that would make for a good movie, the filmmaker has to dig beneath the surface of the work to excavate some of the more “cinematic” moments and thematic gems. Characters are flushed out, scenes are brought to life, and the action of a story congeals around what is central to the story, even when it is not directly stated by the author. Andrew Adamson seemed to completely miss the mark in this aspect and ended up creating a movie that seemed to exist only to make room for the next in the series.  Visually, the film glistens with impressive scenes and sets. It is a far cry from the BBC series based on the same material from the late 1980’s, but I am not convinced that this is the definitive interpretation of The Chronicles of Narnia in the way that Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings was. The problem is that there is too much on the surface of the film and not enough beneath that to really make a difference. The allegory of the story itself is very powerful and is historically very compelling when looked at in the context of World War II and the struggle between good and evil. I would not blame  Andrew Adamson for this. He is very capable of telling a meaningful fantasy story as he demonstrated with Shrek and Shrek 2. The fault, I believe, lies with Disney, whitewashing to deliver a movie that spends a great deal of time talking about things you do not understandand, establishing relationships that are sterile and add more confusion to the story and building the conflict to a level that results in a battle sequences which almost feels like an entirely different film than the one you had been watching for the last hour.

There are two scenes in the film which stand out and make you wish that the filmmakers had used this to set the tone for the rest of the movie. The first comes after a disastrous attack on the castle in which Prince Caspian breaks the plan they had developed to lay siege in order to seek revenge against his Uncle, the man who is laying claim to the throne. As Prince Caspian and his forces are driven into retreat, there is a moment where they look back at the men left behind and you realize that the whole attack was a waste of life. The other scene which contains the emotional core of the film is that in which Prince Caspian wavers in his faith and is about to give power to the White Witch in order to defeat his Uncle. Andrew Adamson creates a great deal of dramatic tension in this scene and it is surprisingly not overplayed, as you would expect from watching the rest of the movie. What is disappointing is that these scenes are never quite able to congeal along with the rest of the movie. Perhaps, though, it is more disappointing that they are never allowed to. The characters and plot feel restrained in a way that any creative work should never be and again, I would not not blame this on Adamson’s direction or the story. The acting of Ben Barnes, who plays Prince Caspian the way one would play a tortured prince whose kingdom is being taken away from him, far exceeds that of the actors and actresses who play the Pevensie children and unfortunately, the rest of the cast feels like caricatures of who they are supposed to be portraying, stock characters who try very hard to fit into the picture as if the audience might not be able to figure out who they are supposed to be.

This could  sum up the entire movie. It is like that person at the party who wants everyone to like them and moves from group to group making sure that there is no ambiguity about who they are or what they are about. There is something rather ingenuous about such an experience and one cannot help but feel that there is something  ingenuous about Prince Caspian. I would hope that someday, someone will get it right and make a Chronicles of Narnia that relies on the merit of being a cinematic epic. But I suppose that movie will come as a completely different series with a completely different production company.

Charles Jacob; vanheck123@hotmail.com

Mongol

December 1, 2008

Mongol(2007); Dir. Sergei Bodrov. New Line Home Video(2008)

  • Format:Color, DVD-Video, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: Mongolian
  • Rating:
  • With sweeping, dramatic camera movements that cover the vastness of the Mongolian landscape, one gets the sense while watching the epic Mongol that director Sergei Bodrov is also attempting to give the viewer a sense of the vastness of time as he inter cuts scenes from the childhood and adult life of the main character Temujin in a prophetic tone that anticipates his rise to power as the formidable Genghis Khan, a conqueror and feared warrior across the known world. As we watch Temujin develop from a young boy who watches his father die, to a young man captured and recaptured into slavery, as well as being hunted and imprisoned by the Tangut, we see a character emerge who is pushed towards his destiny by divine and human forces. Temujin, the film surmises, must achieve this singular purpose and there is never any doubt that he will.

    For anyone knowledgeable about 13th century Asian and European history, they are well aware of the importance that Genghis Khan played in this time period and what is known of his life. Perhaps it is this sense of destiny that the film makers imply in every action Temujin undertakes that leaves the film feeling a little shallow. Some of the grandiose aspects of the story actually work at times but when we are constantly made to feel that we are watching the development of greatness and a leader whose destiny was anointed by the gods and the unfolding of history, it is easy to loose a sense of the man Temujin. There is almost something mythological in the portrayal of Temujin. No matter how many times he is captured or beaten or chased, he always manages to come back to the track of his destiny. Sergei Bodrov approaches the subject of his film with reverence and a sacred timidity that does not seem to fit such a bold historical figure as Genghis Khan.

    There is no doubt that Mongol is a powerful film, just as Oliver Stone’s Alexander or Zac Snyder’s 300 were powerful films. They were powerful because they invested a sense of otherworldly significance into the actions of the characters and the events which they participated in.  But like these other pictures, Mongol offers very little of what could be a true character study or even much speculation about what drove these men to such vast conquests. Why did Temujin wish to unite the Mongol people? What was the political and social climate like at that time period? These are questions that I could not avoid while watching the film and wished that the film makers had taken a bit more time with the story and attempted to really construct the character of Temujin and 13th century Mongolia. Historical fiction is indeed a very fine balancing act but that does not always make for good film making.

    Charles Jacob;   vanheck123@hotmail.com

    Salo or the 120 days of Sodom(1975); Dir. Pier Palo Pasolini. Criterion Collection DVD(2008)

    Format:Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen

    Subtitles: English

    Rating:

    Number of discs: 2

    Run Time: 116 minutes

     

     

    I have decided to post my review of Salo before I posted the one for Mongol because it was such a disturbing experience that I felt the need to commit to writing my impressions of the film before I moved on to anything else.  Salo is not only notorious for its extremely graphic content and its lack of restraint in showing and speaking about any kind of human depravity that is imaginable but also for the circumstances surrounding the film and the fact that the director, Pier Palo Pasolini, was murdered shortly after completing the film in 1975. I would like to separate the film from some of its notoriety and examine it as a philosophical and social statement.

    Salo cannot be viewed in the same fashion that one would view Hostel or any of the Saw movies, where characters are graphically tortured and murdered for the shock value and entertainment of the audience. In those movies, we are supposed to believe that there is some moral compass that has gone horribly off course and we have ended up in a nightmare of torture for torture’s sake. The makers of Saw go so far as to try and convince us that this man murders people who do not appreciate the value of life because he himself is dying and cannot stand people who squander such a precious gift. These are so called “torture porn” films and I also wish to seperate Salo from these films because the purpose and intent of Pasolini was firmly rooted in the history of fascist Italy and the rule of Benito Mussolini. Here, the moral compass has been stomped on and completely discarded.

    In this sense the graphic scenes of defecation, urinating into someone’s mouth, anal sex, and the depraved stories told to the group of captives get progressively  worse and worse until they culminate in the brutal scalping, tongue removal, hanging, and burning of the child victims, all play into this philosophy and view of Italy under fascism. What Pasoliniasks us to understand is that the children rounded up by the group of government leaders and imprisoned in a castle where they are subjugated to these acts of brutality is, I think, the way that Mussolini and his government, held Italy captive and both literally and figuratively tortured the country. Each act of violence committed in this film represents a lower and lower level of depravity committed against the minds, bodies, and souls of the Italian people. Taken from the works of the Marquise De Sade, the stories of increasing depravity and violence, I think also illustrate worst aspects of human nature and Pasolini makes it all the more worse but intercutting the violence with scenes of the government officials sitting around for tea, discussing philosophy and their ideas about life. Perhaps the most disturbing scene of the film comes at the end when the government officials are doing a chorus line around the the brutually murdered bodies of the children. It is not whimsical or light hearted in an ironic way, but a revolting dance of death that really highlights the casual disposal of life.

    Salo is above all a radical film from a radical and controversial director and to truly understand his films or any of his work, you must understand modern Italian history and the philosophy that Pasolini held as a communist, homosexual, atheist, and anti-fascist. If you are going to sit down and watch Salo then you must also watch The Gospel According To Matthew which is a very personal statement of reinterpreting Jesus Christ as an Italian peasant in a very realistic and stripped down style, or Mamma Roma which is the story of a struggling prostitute. Taking only one of his film such as Salo or even his poetry and novels, and looking at them in an isolated context cannot be done with such a complex director.

    As a film, Salo might not be one of Pasolini’s best, but it has such a visceral impact that it has often taken its place at the top of his body of work. While watching the movie it is difficult to remind oneself that you are watching actors portray the monstrous government officials and they are not actually committing these atrocities against the captive children. The violence is pornographic but what is most disturbing is that the camera angles make you feel that you are participating in these atrocities. We are placed as if we are actually sitting in the room where all the children are abused and must listen to the graphic stories of sexual depravity from one of the women and at the end of the film we look through the binoculars with the government officials as the children are being murdered in the courtyard. You have to wonder then if Pasolini’s intent is to implicate us in the atrocities as much as those directly responsible. We, as the audience, must bear the guilt and shame of what was done to these children and by extenstion, what was done to Italy during the rule of fascism and Mussolini. Salo, coincidentally, is the name of the town where the children are captured, and where in real life, a great deal of atrocities were committed by the Mussolini government. While the Criterion Collection copy of Salo is wonderfully remastered and packaged, I am certain that I will never sit down and watch this movie again. But, for those who have never watched the film, it is a work that will challenge you more than most other films can do  and it is undeniably important. But it also demands a lot out of the viewer and I wonder if the notoriety of the film’s violence will always overshadow its purpose.

    Charles Jacob; vanheck123@hotmail.com

    Scream, Blacula, Scream(1973). Dir. Bob Kelljan; MGM DVD (2004)

    Scream, Blacula, Scream is certainly a product of its time. I strongly doubt that you would see a movie like this made today, although, Vampire In Brooklyn and Bones come to mind as direct descendants of this movie and the original which this sequel is based, Blacula. For better or worse, Blacula and Scream, Blacula, Screamare some of the first black horror movies and whether or not you consider these films or the other titles in the so-called “blaxploitation” genre good film making, they are a significant portion of American film history that cannot be ignored or simply brushed off as dated.

    In some ways, the historical context of this film and the story behind the studio that made Scream, Blacula, Scream, American International Pictures and executive producer/founder Samuel Z. Arkoff, could eclipse the films that this studio released through the 1960’s and 1970’s. Besides giving directing jobs to Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, and virtually starting the careers of Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro, AIP was also one of the leading genre studios in the United States during this time, specializing in horror, action, and in the 1970’s, “blaxploitation.” While Arkoff and AIP tapped into African American viewers and brought them into theatres in a way that no other studio had done or has done since, in hindsight, one can also see the damage this did to black movie actors and actresses in a system that still offered them limited and stereotyped roles.

    It is important to have that in the back of your mind while you are watching Scream, Blacula, Scream, not because this is a poignant commentary on race or a really strong story in itself, but because a “blaxploitation” movie is often taken as a fun, cultural novelty that shouldn’t be taken seriously. Even if this picture was intended to be nothing but entertainment, the performance of actor William Marshall alone saves it from that. A Broadway and Shakespeare trained actor, William Marshall conveys such a deep sense of anguish and longing as he pursues Pam Grier’s character Lisa in an effort to free himself from the curse of being a vampire. The story itself is very thin and does not quite come together the way it should but William Marshall’s presence really carries the film.

    Lisa is the member of a Voodoo cult whose leader has just died. The opening scene shows a power struggle within the cult(with a lot of jive talkin’) and then shows Richard Lawson’s character, Willis, collecting Bones from a voodoo man and bringing them to life in the form of Blacula. Willis thinks that he is going to control Blacula and have him get rid of Lisa so that he can take over the cult, but instead, Blacula turns him into a vampire and begins to collect his own army of the undead. Blacula wanders through Los Angeles causing death and mayhem until Don Mitchell’s character Justin and the police department begin investigating and become convinced that they are really dealing with vampires.

    The back story from the first film is that Mamulwalde was an African Prince bitten by a vampire and he became one. In this film, he believes that he can find a cure through Lisa and her voodoo practices after meeting her at a party and being enraptured by her. The last portion of the movie becomes intercutting scenes of Lisa trying to exorcise the vampire out of Mamulwalde and the police facing off with his vampire army. There is plenty of screaming from the female actresses, even from Pam Grier who usually had stronger roles. She is always the strong female character who fights against the bad guys, but here she seems a little more relegated to Mamuwalde’s love interest and hanging onto Justin. She is supposed to be a voodoo woman who has not quite discovered the full extent of her power but that is really not conveyed that well in the story.

    While this is an interesting modern take on the Dracula legend, and there are several suggestive scenes in the movie which play with the idea of vampirism as a sexual experience, some of the story also feels a little incongruous with the atmosphere of the story. What is wonderful to watch is that the film makers did not try to reign in the expressiveness of William Marshall’s performance. He really does steal the entire film. He even gets the best lines in the film, which he delivers in his rich and booming voice(a baritone that resonates and deeply with emotion the same way that James Earl Jones’ does). Even when the dialogue seems interjected with statements that come across as calculated to resonate with the audience, Marshall delivers them in a way that adds emotional impact and meaning.  For a “wham, bam, thank you mam” picture, Scream Blacula Scream has some wonderful moments that come from Marshall’s commanding performance.

    Up Next For the November Movie Series Director Sergei Bodrov explores the life of Ghengis Khan in the epic, Mongol.

    charles;

    vanheck123@hotmail.com

    Poltergeist(1982)-Dir. Tobe Hooper; Warner Brothers 25th Anniversary Edition DVD(2007)

    Poltergeistis a perfect blend of Stephen Spielberg and Tobe Hooper. It manages to be both a special effects bonanza that retains a certain amount of nostalgia while at the same time expressing Tobe Hooper’s horror sensibility. I am assuming that it is Hooper’s sensibilities since we have never really seen Spielberg work in that medium again but this is a film in which it is hard to tell where Spielberg the producer stopped and Hooper the director took over. It certainly feels like a Spielberg movie, for the most part, but then again, isn’t a good collaboration about creating a seamless project that doesn’t reveal who worked on what?

     It is also one of the rare horror movies that has achieved blockbuster status. It is a movie that you almost feel obligated to see because it has worked its way so deeply into America’s popular culture psyche. So much so that Heather O’ Rourke’s character Carol Anne sitting in front of the television saying “they’re here” along with Craig T. Nelson have been adopted for the switch to digital television ad campaign.  Particular scenes, the characters, and lines of dialogue from the movie are as iconic as many of the other films Spielberg has worked on.

    The film is also unique because of the fact that it is a special effects ghost story done in a way, thanks to Industrial Light and Magic, that hadn’t been seen before. Horror movies usually are not the films to get the budgets and that is usually a blessing in disguise. But in this case there is no way the story that Spielberg wanted to tell could have been brought to the screen without them; being able to combine a few scenes of visceral scares with the impressive effects of a house disappearing into a sinkhole, a closet that open up and sucks everything into it, and beams of light moving through a house are all pretty impressive. What is impressive too is that we don’t lose track of the characters. They manage to remain at the forefront through the whole movie. Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams play perfectly in Spielberg’s suburban fantasy( a theme he has mined on several occasions-most notably in the almost simultaneous 1982 release of E.T.) as the relatively easy going typical suburban parents and their typical suburban kids  whose lives are disrupted when their house becomes the center of not so typical spectral activity. 

    Throughout the whole movie, the creepy and alarming things that go on in the house, even Carol Anne’s disappearance, are handled in the same matter of fact way that Steve Freeling argues with his neighbor over the t.v. remote signals crossing during the football game or the children sitting around the table at breakfast. The only indication of something being wrong at first is the way that Craig T. Nelson’s character looks after JoBeth Williams’ character excitedly shows him what the chairs can do in the kitchen. At this point in the movie we are left wondering if Steve Freeling is the only sensible person in the house or just an adult who works too much and has no connection to the childhood fantasy world.  I don’t think that question is every properly answered but it does become clear as events take a supernatural turn for the worst that there are no adults equipped to deal with the evil that is wrecking so much havoc. That is really no comfort for any child being terrorized by a dark force but the film suggests in several not so subtle ways that adults have as much control over events as children do in some cases, and sometimes even less than we like to think.

    Whatever your opinion of Stephen Spielberg and his films might be, whether you see him as just an example of a bloated hollywood system that churns out special effects movies, or as someone who just has a natural gift and the “magic touch” when it comes to creating images and movies that resonate with popular culture, Poltergeist seems to exemplify a little of both sides of the argument.  That being said, if you haven’t seen it yet, watch it, for no other reason than to be able to be a little more literate in film and culture.  Besides, how often do you get to see ghosts and giant monsters rampaging around the house?

    Up Next the October Horror Movie Series movies from haunted houses to haunted ruins as we pay a visit to the Tombs of The Blind Dead(La Noche Del Terror Ciego); the first film in Amando De Ossorio’s 1970’s blind dead series.

    I would also like to extend a warm welcome to my good friend Jennifer Sutphin who has joined me here on the movie series staff. She will be helping design the page, contributing movie titles, and many other things.

    Phantasm IV:Oblivion(1998); Dir. Don Coscarelli. Anchor Bay DVD(2008)

    Sadly, the film series with the tongue in cheek tagline “The Sequel With Balls” seems to have lost a few along the way to this fourth installment which attempts to explain the origins of the dreaded Tall Man and the undead horror he unleashed on mankind. Origin stories are such a tricky business, especially when they come years after the original film. While this film works in continuity and following the characters who have been played by the same actors across the series(except for Michael in Phantasm II), the emotional connection that the viewer should have with them just does not exist. It is often difficult in horror films to convince the audience to care about the characters because they are usually convenient plot devices to kill off. This is not the approach that Phantasm IV attempts to take but it falls short in clearly stating what the characters should be doing besides wandering around and fighting for their lives.  The fact that Michael’s brother Jody was converted to The Tall Man’s service in Phantasm III and returns as a force of good or evil trying to either lead Michael down the wrong path or help him is ultimately lost as the film progresses because of the ambiguity of the relationship they have with each other.

    Reggie Bannister again reprises his role as the freewheelin’ ice cream man who has become a soldier in the war against the Tall Man’s minions and is in hot pursuit of Michael as he goes to fulfill his destiny with the Tall Man, who again is played wonderfully by Angus Scrimm. Throughout much of the movie, the action centers around Reggie(who is definitely the most fun character to watch in the movie) more than it does for Michael and in some ways they feel like two story lines that never really intersect except the scenes that involve Jody. Two of the best scenes in the movie involves Reggie’s character and an evil state trooper fighting it out on the highway but at this point the movie has drifted away from creepy, atmospheric horror, to something that resembles mad max meets night of the living dead. Then there is the scene with the woman he saves on the highway and tries to get lucky with only to find out she has killer orbs for breasts and is trying to do him in. The film meanders like this for many scenes, incorporating flash backs from scenes that must have been cut from the original film(which is actually a refreshing use of stock footage rather than recreating the scenes in fuzzy black and white recollection style) and despite the revelation of where the Tall Man actually comes from there seems to be no real resolution to the chain of events set off in the first movie.

    I have to say that after watching Phantasm I would not have foreseen the story taking such a sharp turn into apocalyptic territory. Maybe it is just me, but this seems a little outside of the scope that the story is capable of operating in. The blend of science fiction and horror still works in this film where it becomes an inter-dimensional saga. However, this time travelling and collision of past and present seem to work contrary to the atmosphere of the film which is supposed to be a world in which no one is left. Is the Tall Man supposed to be like a plague that sweeps over the land? Why does he pursue Michael so intently?

    As I stated in my review of  Phantasm, this is the type of movie where the first film was satisfying because very little was explained and the horror was much more palpable. While the acting and production value has certainly not decreased with the passage of time, the more that has been explained the less makes sense as you are watching this series. In the end, I am not sure what to make of this film except to say that it is good fun as long as you don’t try to think about the philosophical issues it attempts to raise or the hints of apocalyptic good vs. evil it tries to mix into the story line. But in the end, isn’t having fun with a movie like this what it’s all about?

    Up next the October Horror Movie Series might be located on top of an old indian burial ground in the Stephen Spielberg produced and Tobe Hooper directed classic Poltergeist.

    I am a few days behind in posting the first two films of my October horror movie series but better late than never, so lets get started. Before I do though let me introduce this column to all of you and thank you for taking the time to stop by and read my humble little movie review journal. Each month I will be taking a look at film currently on dvd from a wide variety of genres, directors, actors, actresses, and pretty much every possible way you can think to group movies together. I will be looking at old and new releases and offering up my thoughts and opinions for your reading pleasure. My hope is that if you are familiar with the title, you will have a new way of looking at the film, or if it is new to you, you might go and watch it. If anyone ever has any titles of interest they would like to share or just opinions about the films reviewed, please feel free to leave comments. All right Here we go….

    Phantasm(1979)-Dir. Don Coscalleri ; Anchor Bay DVD(2007)

    So here is a film that is very minimal on gore(except for a scene involving a fountain of very 70’s blood effects) and that relies heavily on creepy atmosphere and moody music to set the tone for the bizarre story that plays out over the four films of the series. Last year Anchor Bay released this dvd along with Phantasm III Lord Of The Dead and this year they released Phantasm IV:Oblivion but I have not found anything on Phantasm II which, for better or worse, is not available on dvd yet. It would be great to see them put together a really nice box set of all 4 films as they have done an excellent job cleaning up the prints and putting some nice features together for the films.

    Combining science fiction and horror elements, Phantasm tells the story of a young boy who literally stumbles into the horror that is The Tall Man, played with the quiet restraint of a real terrifying presence by Angus Scrimm, who reprised the role 3 more times. The Tall Man steals dead bodies and murders people and brings them back as undead slaves who strangely resemble the jawas from Star Wars. After being chased and terrorized  by nightmares, a severed finger that morphs into a demonic fly, and followed by the notorious killer ball(which along with Angus Scrimm growling “Boy” is probably the most iconic aspect of the film), a young Mike(A. Michael Baldwin), older brother Jody(Bill Thornbury), and ice-cream truck driving best friend Reggie(Reggie Bannister)come face to face with what really goes on at Morning Side cemetery 

    Low budget horror never looked as good as it did in the 1970’s which along with the 1930’s and 40’s, saw the greatest strides(I am convinced) in the development of the genre. The 1980’s just took the foundation  70’s films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween had built and splattered blood all over it. Even in this context though, Phantasm  is an anomaly of 1970’s horror. Even The Exorcist or its regretable sequel did not have some of the bizarre qualities that this movie contains. THe film manages to never take itself quite so seriously while still maintaining a creepy atmosphere and that is very impressive. Combining the science fictional element of a other-worldly dimensional hell that is being populated by the dead from our world and the classic horror element of the lone figure who brings death and destruction and cannot be stopped(at least not until after several sequels) is also a nice touch. Good horror films always seem to know how to effectively use minimalist sets most effectively to create claustrophobia and fear and Phantasm makes exceptional use of the cemetery, mortuary, and elements of the town in reoccurring images that set a very deliberate mood. The whole idea of dreams and being pursued continually set up the idea that this is an inescapable horror. Of course, it is the perfect set-up for several sequels because it leaves so many elements of the plot a mystery but the original chill from that you get from this movie is satisfying enough and I was so absorbed in the atmosphere and strange vision of the film that I was not too concerned with being given an explanation of the events I just watched unfold. In fact, Phantasm works best without any further explanation because it is exactly that which makes this a chilling experience. “Less is more” almost holds true for horror films and this is why many of these films from the 1970’s are so great.

    Up Next is the last film(for now) in the Phantasm  series, Phantasm IV: Oblivion  which I will be posting later this afternoon. Posts for this column will come out regularly every week. I will also include movie reviews and halloween related news and events so stay tuned……..