Punisher: War Zone
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wished for a proper Punisher movie. As a diehard comic book reader and collector, there was a point where I discovered the idea of vigilantism and The Punisher immediately became my favorite superhero (actually, more like an anti-hero and minus the “super” part since he has no legitimate powers other than being a complete and total badass). With over 30-some-odd years of history and through various directions that comic creators have taken the character, it would seem that there are plenty of great stories to cull from in order to make a solid movie adaptation. But for whatever reason, while all the Punisher movies have incorporated different aspects of the original source material, none of the cinematic translations have been 100 percent successful, either financially at the box office or critically among both reviewers and fans. However, if you’re well-versed in the run by writer Garth Ennis over the course of the last decade or so, then Punisher: War Zone comes pretty darn close to capturing the over-the-top gory lunacy of Ennis’s books.
The movie wastes little time in getting right into the violent action. After a brief title sequence, the film opens at a grand dinner gala with several heads of the mob congregating to discuss business and celebrate with Uncle G, the Godfather-esque elder of the East Coast mafia. But their dinner is cut abruptly short when the Punisher drops in and literally slaughters just about all 30 of these bad guys in the span of a few short minutes. The action is brutal, highly stylized, fast in pace, and so over the top that you won’t be able to process everything going on with just one viewing. The Punisher manages to cut a head off, break a neck, lodge his hunter knife into a skull, kick a chair leg into the eye of a thug, then hang upside down from the chandelier where he unloads a never-ending spray of bullets from his machine guns into whomever is left in the room, as well as anyone else stupid enough to enter it. Did I mention this is all just in the first 10 minutes?
It’s interesting to revisit Chuck Russell’s 1994 adaptation of The Mask, now almost 20 some-odd years later knowing that this was the second of three Jim Carrey movies (the other two being Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Dumb & Dumber) that would catapult the funnyman into super stardom. Also, considering that this is a far cry from the original comic book version of the character in which the Mask was conceived as a darker and more violent vigilante, who would’ve thought that when Dark Horse Comics first debuted the character he’d eventually spawn an animated series and kid friendly sequel?! But I digress…
In the movie, Jim Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a mild-mannered, overly nice and yet kind-of nerdy bank teller who, for the most part, can’t catch a break anywhere in his personal life. His female co-workers don’t want to date him (and in fact, take advantage of his niceness); his boss is always riding him (despite him being a model employee), and he’s even getting ripped off by his local mechanics. His best friend Charlie (the late Richard Jeni) believes in him, though, and tries to boost his confidence by bringing him out to the hot new club in Edge City, the Coco Bongo. Meanwhile, gangster (and Coco Bongo manager) Dorian Tyrell (Peter Greene) is plotting the hostile takeover of city turf from mob boss Niko once he and his crew have established their cred by pulling off a risky bank robbery.
Taking a cue from the infamous Twilight Zone episode “Talking Tina,” as well as the Zuni doll segment from Trilogy Of Terror, director (and writer) Tom Holland was not only able to craft a “killer doll” movie rich with mythology that is both suspenseful & terrifying, but also arguably the best of this particular sub-genre in horror. And Child’s Play wastes no time as it opens in the middle of a police pursuit with Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) hot on the trail of Charles Lee Ray (Brad Douriff), the notorious serial killer known as the Lakeshore Strangler who has just been ditched & abandoned mid-robbery by his accomplice Eddie Caputo (Neil Giuntoli). The chase ends in a local toy store where, after a brief gun fight, Ray is mortally wounded. But before he dies, he performs a voodoo ceremony to transfer his soul into that of a Good Guy talking doll. Does the mumbo-jumbo spell actually work?
Karen Barkley (Catherine Hicks) is a recently single mother who wants nothing more than to provide for her 6-year-old son Andy. And Andy wants nothing more than to get a Good Guy doll for his birthday. When a peddler out behind the store where Karen works offers to sell her a Good Guy doll for $30 bucks over the normally excessive $100 dollar retail charge, she takes advantage so she can give her son the gift she knows he so desperately wants. All seems fine at first and Andy now has a “best friend to the end”. But then, bad things start happening around Andy.
Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man
As someone who manages the “cult” section in our Hollywood location, I pride myself on both the knowledge I have of these films, as well as the immaculate organization I strive to maintain in all of the sub-sections within “cult”. (Psst… they’re alphabetized!) But of all those sub-categories, the one I know the least about is “Poliziotteschi”. Simply put, these films are a sub-genre of Italian crime and action movies that emphasize the brutal and over-the-top violence; much in the same way that “giallo” films are a series of Italian horror murder/mysteries with similar aesthetics. So I’ve always wanted to delve in and see what these “Poliziotteschi” movies were all about.
With a kick-ass title like Live Like A Cop Die Like A Man, this seemed like the ideal candidate as an introduction; after all, it carries a tremendous amount of horror pedigree with it. It was directed by Ruggero Deodato, most well known for his controversial horror classic Cannibal Holocaust. It stars Marc Porel who appeared in Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Duckling and The Psychic, as well as Ray Lovelock who also worked with Fulci in Murder Rock and appeared in the Spanish zombie flick Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. The screenplay was written by Fernando Di Leo who is well known for penning the scripts for a chunk of these “Poliziottechi” films. And then when my buddy Zane Grant (a fellow “giallo” enthusiast) started explaining to me the plot (and I use that term lightly) of this movie, I honestly couldn’t believe what he was telling me could possibly be true. I had to see this for myself. And sure enough, it’s as insane as he’d described.
Morgan Stewart's Coming Home
Bold as it is to say, if you’re a horror fan and you appreciate the style of teen comedies that were often made in the ‘80s, then I think Morgan Stewart’s Coming Home is pretty much the most romantic movie ever made. What follows is my evidence to support this statement.
Jon Cryer (Pretty in Pink’s Duckie, as most of you know him) plays 16-year-old Morgan Stewart, a sweet prankster currently serving time at his 10th prep school who just also happens to be a huge horror fanatic. The opening shot of the movie starts out on a close-up of his vintage theatrical one-sheet poster for Lucio Fulci’s Zombi and then pulls out and pans across his room to reveal a barrage of masks, a mechanic moving severed hand, and a slew of posters ranging from Dawn of the Dead to Tales of Terror to The Exorcist. He ends up meeting the girl of his dreams, Emily, (Viveka Davis) while waiting in line at a mall to get George A. Romero’s autograph. She insists on being called “Em,” “just like in Dial M for Murder, the only film Hitchcock ever did in 3D.” Their first date is to see a late night screening of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Hell, even Em’s parents are cool and give her crap over her choice of a date movie, "when William Castle’s Strait Jacket is playing at the Inner Circle!" (And clearly it’s the better choice.) She convinces Morgan to jump into the shower with her while wearing Halloween masks in a wonderful nod to Psycho, which of course always warms my black and bitter little heart. See? Most romantic movie ever, right? Oh wait; there is a story and a plot here, too!
Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon
If you ever sought to find a modern day horror film that both celebrated and homaged the great "slasher" era of the '80s, while simultaneously adding something new, fresh and unique to that particular sub-genre, then you need look no further than Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon.
In the world of the film, our modern day real life boogeymen don’t exist. There’s no Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer. But the cinematic baddies that we’re all well versed in – Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers – all exist in the world of Behind The Mask. They are in fact folklore. Camp fire tales. Legends. The next great killer to join their ranks, whose name will evoke terror and fear to the small, little town of Glen Echo, will be Leslie Vernon. To document both his training and first onslaught, Vernon (Nathan Baesel) has invited a small crew of college filmmakers, fronted by aspiring journalist Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethels), to join him as he becomes the sure-to-be-legendary masked maniac. The results are both frightening and hilarious.
The Dead Zone
David Cronenberg. Stephen King. Christopher Walken. You need no other excuse to check out this movie other than the fact that it’s the one and only time that those three names shared credit space at the opening of a film; and at a time when they were all creatively at the top of their game as director, writer and actor respectively. The Dead Zone is based on King’s successful novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Boam (with a polish by David Cronenberg) and stars Christopher Walken at a time just before he became the "go-to" eccentric character actor in just about everything.
Walken plays Johnny Smith, a content school teacher who has a passion for his job, the admiration of his students and is engaged to the love of his life. But one fateful night, he’s involved in a terrible car accident that puts him in a coma. When he awakens, six years have passed, his limbs have suffered from atrophy, his job is gone and his fiance is now married to another man and a mother to a child that isn’t his. But he’s also awoken from his deep slumber with an unlikely gift; the gift of second sight. One mere touch and he’s able to not only see your past and present, but also see your future.
Let me cut right to the chase. Bereavement is a real-deal horror film in the sense that it depicts some of the most horrific things I’ve ever seen in a genre movie. But the nastiness is necessary and the payoff is earned in the delicate and capable hands of a skilled filmmaker/storyteller such as writer/director Stevan Mena. Yes, this film also acts as a prequel to Mena’s debut feature Malevolence, but it’s also a rare anomaly in the genre. It’s a film that strives to satisfy two different audiences; those that love the first film and want to learn the backstory that comes before the original. And then there are those who are simply walking into it blindly just wanting to see a new, original horror movie. In that regard, he succeeds at delivering what both audiences would want with Bereavement. The biggest difference between the two is that if you already know the previous feature, you kind of know where this story has to inevitably end in order to line-up with Malevolence; whereas newcomers will probably be shocked by the grim, dark descent that the story takes.
Bereavement opens pretty much the same way that Malevolence does; with the kidnapping of little Martin Bristol at the hands of deranged serial killer Graham Sutter. It then cuts 5 years later, and we follow Allison Miller (Alexandra Daddario), a young teen who is forced to move in with her uncle Jonathan (Michael Biehn) and his family after losing her parents in a car accident. She takes some solace in her budding new relationship with her neighbor William (Nolan Funk), whom her uncle doesn’t approve of. But William also has problems of his own. He struggles to care for his verbally abusive, invalid father with hopes of one day "getting outta this town." The great thing about the story arcs of both Allison and Martin is that they run concurrently and eventually collide. Much like Mena did with Malevolence, he’s again combining two genres in the same feature. For Malevolence, it was the action heist film that became a “slasher” movie. Here, it’s pretty much a serious, straightforward hardcore drama that eventually becomes a "slasher" flick.
One of the most remarkable things about the movie Malevolence is how much it authentically captures the vibe and spirit of the early '80s “slasher” films it tries to homage with such reverence. In fact, after I initially saw it in its limited theatrical run back in 2004, I immediately jumped online to confirm that it was in fact a recently made feature film and not a long lost gem from the '80s that was only just then surfacing. Sure enough, upon a bit more research, I discovered that the goal of writer/director Stevan Mena was to emulate the horror films that had had such a profound impact on him growing up. And in that regard, he completely succeeded.
Malevolence opens with the kidnapping of Martin Bristol, a 6-year old boy from Pennsylvania who is forced to watch the evil deeds of his deranged captor, serial killer Graham Sutter. The film then cuts ahead 10 years later where we’re introduced to Julian (Brandon Johnson) and Marylin (Heather Magee) who along with Marylin’s brother Max (Keith Chambers) and Kurt (Richard Glover) are planning a daytime bank robbery. When things don’t go according to plan and the robbery is completely botched, the criminals flee with 2 hostages to their rendezvous point out in the countryside of Pennsylvania, just next to the old Sutter place and meat & poultry slaughterhouse. When they venture out towards the Sutter property, they inadvertently garner the attention of the long dormant killer at the house and uncover the horrors that have been going on there for over a decade. From then on, it’s just a matter of trying to survive the night.