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Mini Review: Silent Night (2012)

Silent Night #1

by Steve Habrat

In November of 2012, Anchor Bay Films quietly snuck Steve C. Miller’s Silent Night, a loose remake of the 1984 Christmas slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night, into select theaters and then quickly released it on Blu-ray and DVD just a few short weeks later. Were us horror fans really that bad that we deserved a lump of coal like this?! Apparently yes, yes we were. From the get-go, it is obvious Silent Night is winking at the horror fans that will undoubtedly flock to it over the years. But too often, the film is awkward and amateurish, consistently confusing pulpy gore for honest scares to the point where it is almost maddening. To make it worse, this abysmal waste of time can’t seem to smoothly deliver anything resembling a good joke. It’s so bad, folks, that even a beloved genre star like Malcolm McDowell can’t even sell it, and believe me when I tell you that he tries very, very hard to make this formulaic snoozefest work. The only positives that you will find in Silent Night are the homicidal Santa, who prefers to toast his victims with a flamethrower, and a scene in which one character gets their head chopped in half with an axe. That is where this turkey’s joys begin and end.

Silent Night picks up on Christmas Eve, where the citizens of a small Midwestern town are gearing up for a massive holiday celebration that invites hundreds of Santa Claus impersonators to get in on the fun. Among the citizens looking forward to the holiday activities are Aubrey Bradimore (played by Jamie King), a sheriff’s deputy still attempting to get over the loss of her husband. The celebration seems to be getting off to a smooth start, aside from one belligerent Santa (played by Donal Logue) who is making children cry in a local park, but things take a nasty turn when a small-time porn director and his star wind up brutally slaughtered at a local motel. Bradimore, fellow deputy Giles (played by Andrew Cecon), and the town Sheriff, Cooper (played by Malcolm McDowell), launch an investigation, but they realize that this massacre isn’t an isolated incident. After watching a videotape that was rolling during the murders at the motel, the officers discover that their suspect is dressed as a morbid Santa Claus, making it extremely difficult to track down the killer and bring him to justice. As the sun sets and the celebration kicks into high gear, several more citizens turn up dead, but the quest to track down the maniacal Santa gets personal when one murder strikes close to home for Aubrey.

Silent Night #2

Silent Night opens with a pitch-black opening credit sequence that suggests that what we are getting into is going to be a straight-shooting horror movie that wallows in shadowy suspense. Miller’s camera is trained on the killer as he makes his chilling Santa mask, suits up in that jolly red suit, and torments one victim with an axe before offing him in a totally unexpected manner. It’s a sturdy stage setter, that you cannot deny, but once Miller emerges from that dark cellar and lets his killer loose on the town streets, the film quickly plummets. Almost every death scene is completely wooden, shot with a jittery camera and strung together through fast edits that resemble something out of a heavy metal music video. These death scenes will undoubtedly please gore fans, as the blood sprays in every single direction, but they never rise above being gross. Now I’m certainly not one to complain about gross, but Miller never even considers injecting an ounce of terror into any of these scenes. They just flail around on the screen with sudden blasts of music, the same old lazy jump scares that we have all come to expect from uninspired horror exercises such as this. Furthermore, the “ick” moments seem to lack a punch of originality, especially a scene in which a wannabe porn star is crammed into a wood chipper. It’s nauseating enough, but it seems like more of an obnoxious cry for attention rather than a vicious little surprise.

In addition to the lack of solid scares, Miller can’t seem to get his actors to do much with Jayson Rothwell’s clunky script, which is bogged down with clichéd dialogue and leaden one-liners. McDowell taps into his fiery wit and bug-eyed smugness, but even he can’t make some of the jokes work. It’s almost painful watching him spit out lines like “what is this, Glee?” to one caroling officer. And to think that this is the same man who played the sadistic Alex De Large in A Clockwork Orange! King’s Aubrey fares no better, as she just sulks around and forces a brooding side to her one-dimensional heroine. Cecon’s Giles is also pretty painful, a dimwit only present to bite it in an idiotic death scene. The only two actors who seem to rise above the material are Logue, who gets to have a bit of fun as a cranky Saint Nick who rants and raves about the holiday season, and Ellen Wong, who shows up as the perky Brenda, the wisecracking secretary of the police station. Overall, while all of the bloody mayhem and tongue-in-cheek approach may sound tempting to horror fans, Miller’s Silent Night is a flat, clumsy, and scare-less affair that bores more than it thrills. Aside from it’s chilling killer, it is just another careless remake that should have remained shelved at the studio.

Grade: D-

Silent Night is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

TRAILER TUESDAY!

“Warm flesh, wet blood!” The holiday trailers get extra gory with 1984’s Don’t Open Till Christmas, directed by Edmund Purdom.

Don't_Open_Till_Christmas_FilmPoster

TRAILER THURSDAY!

What’s the holiday season without an axe-wielding Santa Claus?! Here is the trailer for the 1984 Christmas-themed slasher movie Silent Night, Deadly Night, directed by Charles Sellier.

silent_night_deadly_night poster

Wild Werewolves: The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves #1

by Steve Habrat

Perhaps one of the most visually striking werewolf films every released is director Neil Jordan’s 1984 cult classic The Company of Wolves, a fairy-tale horror film that explores a young girl’s dreamlike journey into womanhood. Based on short stories by Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves is an eerie reworking of the Little Red Riding Hood tale, molding it into a complex look at sexual maturity and the idea that all men are beasts in disguise. At a mere hour and thirty minutes, The Company of Wolves drags in places with its storytelling, but the visual side of the film is never short of astounding as Jordan’s camera explores a labyrinth of gnarled trees, cobwebs, and gloomy 18th century villages. While it is easy to loose yourself in the gothic set design, Jordan also makes sure that he gives you quite a few good scares throughout the film’s runtime. One of the keys to the werewolf horror film is an unblinking transformation sequence, and let it be known that The Company of Wolves features several transformation scenes that will simultaneously gross you out and petrify you for life. To this very day, the effects of the transformation scenes top anything you would see in a CGI heavy blockbuster.

The Company of Wolves begins in modern day, with a young girl named Rosaleen (played by Sarah Patterson) sound asleep in her bedroom surrounded by dolls and stuffed animals. We then enter her dream world, where she is mourning the death of her sister with her parents (played by David Warner and Tusse Silberg) and her Granny (played by Angela Lansbury). A wolf has killed Rosaleen’s sister, and while her parents come to terms with the death, she is sent off to live with Granny in the woods. While at Granny’s cabin, Rosaleen is treated to several cautionary tales about men being wolves in disguise, and she is also warned to stay far away from men whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Granny also warns her to never stray from the path when she is walking through the woods. After a few weeks, Rosaleen returns to her home, and when she arrives she finds that a young amorous boy (played by Shane Johnstone) has developed a crush on her. One day, Rosaleen decides to take a walk through the forest with the amorous boy, but as they wander the woods, they realize that there is a wolf prowling around. Terrified, the two rush home to warn the villagers about the lurking threat. Enraged, the villagers storm the woods to capture and kill the wolf. After setting a trap and pumping the beast full of bullets, they believe they have rid the woods of evil, but a few days later Rosaleen decides to make a visit to Granny’s and it appears that there is still a threat in the woods waiting to strike.

While a good majority of werewolf films ask the viewer to sympathize with the hairy beasts, The Company of Wolves seems to show no compassion for its werewolves. Whether it’s through the cautionary tales Rosaleen hears from her Granny or if it’s the final face-to-face confrontation, Jordan never really offers the viewer a sympathetic monster that struggles with their full-moon curse. In fact, a majority of the male characters seem to somewhat enjoy their monstrous transformations, all of which are pretty grotesque. This implication that all men are dogs waiting to prey on young girls could stem from Carter, who co-wrote the script with Jordan. While the feminist approach does offer food for thought, Jordan manages to milk several terrifying transformation scenes that deliver on the gore while also sending a few shivers. In one tale told to Rosaleen, a young traveler (played by Stephen Rea) marries a young woman whom he abandons on their wedding night. Several years later, the young woman has remarried, but the young traveler returns for his bride. After pushing him away, the traveler is enraged and begins to transform right before our very eyes. In true werewolf horror fashion, the camera rarely cuts away, allowing the viewer to glimpse him pulling strips of skin from his face. In graphic close ups, we see his muscles and bones pulling, grinding, and stretching into the features of a wolf, complimented by horrible shrieks and screams. It’s amazing and the use of practical special effects has allowed the sequence to still stand up.

The Company of Wolves #2

Equally impressive are the performances, which all keep us transfixed on the stylish drama playing out on the screen. Sarah Patterson’s Rosaleen is sweet and innocent as she snakes her way though a knotted forest prowling with panting wolves. Her final confrontation with Micha Bergese’s huntsman is mesmerizing, emitting female empowerment while also showing a bit of understanding for the threat that has backed her against a cabin wall. Angela Lansbury brings the star power as Granny, a little old lady with plenty of wisdom about what is waiting to pull her granddaughter into sexual maturity. Shane Johnstone also holds a bit of innocence as the amorous boy, who pines after Rosaleen and searches desperately for an opening for a kiss. Stephen Rea flashes a softer side but then turns on us with an evil that will undoubtedly haunt your dreams. Also on board is Dawn Archibald as a vengeful pregnant woman, who tracks down the rich nobleman that abandoned her (there is no fury quite like a woman scorned). There is also Terence Stamp in an uncredited role as the Devil, who sells a mysterious potion to a young boy with some sinister side effects.

Another stand out element of The Company of Wolves is its must-see set design that simultaneously adds an enchanting surrealism and a gothic chill to the film. Almost every single frame plays up the dead forests, snowy graveyards, and quite villages, all of which look like they were left over from a lost Hammer horror film from the 1950s. Jordan doesn’t let the set design and effects do all the heavy lifting when it comes to the scares. In addition to the slimy transformations, the viewer is subjected to a nightmarish opening that finds one character being attacked by giant dolls that have sprung to life inside that misty forest. There is also the tale of the young pregnant girl confronting the wealthy nobleman on his wedding day, a scene that finds the pregnant girl casting spells and turning the dog like guests into wolves—something that is glimpsed through a cracked mirror. There is also the white-knuckle conclusion, with a pack of wolves bursting through the dream bubble and entering the modern world. In their wake they leave shattered glass and trampled dolls, suggesting that innocence has been shattered and sexual maturity/liberation has arrived. Overall, The Company of Wolves is a gothic, eerie, and intelligent take on Little Red Riding Hood. The film’s feminist perspective could have been overshadowed by the moody sets and unflinching special effects, but Jordan manages to keep things stable even when certain places start to drag.

Grade: B

The Company of Wolves is available on DVD.

Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Bubbawheat

by Bubbawheat

I was actually quite honored when Steve asked me to be a guest contributor for his Halloween spectacular. One of the hardest things for me to do is to come up with a list of favorite anythings. If you put something in front of me, I can tell you whether or not I liked it, but it’s hard for me to honestly place one thing above another. Luckily, this is just a list of “five films that scare me” so that’s a plus. I’ve never really been a huge fan of horror movies, the ones I’m most familiar with are the classics that spawned dozens of sequels that were all pretty formulaic and tired. Even when I was younger, I never really got caught by the allure of watching a horror movie that I wasn’t supposed to be watching. I think that’s partly because of the first movie on my list.

Gremlins (1984)

I had to have been about 6 or 7 when I first saw this movie, I don’t recall the specific details, but I believe I really wanted to watch it based on the previews, and I enjoyed watching it. But that line at the end must have stuck with me “…turn on all the lights. Check all the closets and cupboards. Look under all the beds. ‘Cause you never can tell. There just might be a gremlin in your house.” I remember that it was the movie Gremlins that made me scared of the dark for about a month. And even though my daughter is currently infatuated with all things monster (from Monster High to Hotel Transylvania) I made her skip that movie when I recently re-watched it.

Of course I have seen my share of horror movies once I passed my teenage years, usually not due to my own choice but rather due to the choosing of my girlfriend or later on, my wife. And while it’s not on my list, I will give an honorable mention to The Grudge which scared the living daylights out of my wife when she first watched it, and not only that but it was the movie that really introduced both of us to the wide world of Asian horror movies, and led us to a more obscure series that fascinates me more than scares me but I have to share it with you.

Tomie: Replay (2000)

There are quite a few Tomie movies that have been released over the years, but my favorite is probably the second one, even though (or possibly because of) it’s the one that most closely follows the conventions of a typical Western horror movie. The concept behind Tomie is that she is a beautiful demon that makes men fall totally in love with her and drives them crazy until they eventually kill her and chop her into pieces. And then those pieces grow into new Tomies and she goes on to start the process over again. It’s such a bizarre premise, but it’s a pretty great movie. Well, this one and Tomie: Rebirth are probably the best, some of the later ones get way to bizarre for my own liking.

Event Horizon (1997)

This movie is on my list because it’s probably the first horror movie that I watched for the purpose of watching a scary movie. It caught my interest because of the sci-fi aspect, and it was recommended to me by a friend. I don’t think I’ve watched it again since, but when I think of movies that are actually scary rather than just movies in the horror genre, this movie usually comes to mind. The scene with the guy (or girl?) suspended by all the hooks was the singular image that really stuck with me for a long time, I also remember the scene where they spend a brief time in the vacuum of space, shutting their eyes tightly to keep them from exploding. It’s interesting what details can stick with you after so many years.

Havoc (2005)

I’m almost ashamed to admit that the only reason why I rented this movie in the first place is because it had Anne Hathaway’s first nude scene in it. It was her first “grown up” movie to try and keep from being pidgeonholed into movies like Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted. The movie itself isn’t really anything worth mentioning, but for whatever reason the initiation scene which contained the reason why I wanted to see the movie in the first place disturbed me a little more than I thought it would. If you haven’t seen it, and I wouldn’t really recommend it, Anne Hathaway and Bijou Phillips play gangsta wannabes who end up trying to get into a real gang. Their initiation is they roll a die and that’s how many guys they have to sleep with. Hathaway is lucky and rolls a one and has her tender moment with the guy she likes, but her friend rolls a 3 or 4 and only after they start to they find out that it’s how many guys they have to sleep with, at the same time. I can’t put my finger on it, and it probably sounds silly to describe it but when she’s bouncing back and forth between two guys, it just stayed in my mind in the worst way.

Son of the Mask (2005)

The final movie on this list scares me to think that it somehow actually got made in the first place. It is one of the most awful movies I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen quite a few awful movies. They took a good movie, a couple good actors (and several bad ones), and came up with a movie where I wanted to hide my eyes more times than any so-called scary movie I’ve ever seen, and I had to figure out some way to toss in a superhero/comic book movie, I just couldn’t help myself.

A little about Bubbawheat:

Bubbawheat is the author of Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights, a review site focused on reviewing superhero and comic book movies, as well as featuring superhero themed fan-films and interviewing the fan-filmmakers. When he’s not watching superhero movies, he spends his time with watching children’s movies and romantic comedies with his wife and 5-year old daughter and has recently moved to the Chicago area. You can follow him on Facebook facebook.com/flightstightsandmovienights , on Twitter twitter.com/Bubbawheat , and he’s also a member of the As You Watch podcast podomatic.com/asyouwatch

Halloween Guest Feature: Five Films That Scare… Craig Thomas

A BRIEF NOTE FROM STEVE:

Hey boys and ghouls,

It’s that hellish time I warned you about! Welcome to Anti-Film School’s Halloween Guest Week, where seven demented film writers are going to unleash terror beyond your wildest imagination. They are discussing five films that scare them and I told each of them to put their own creative spin on the topic, which means anything can happen. First up is a familiar name you’ve seen at Anti-Film School before. It is none other than our UK contributor Craig Thomas tackling the topic in a very unique way. So, lock your doors, say your prayers, and board your windows. They are coming for you!

-Theater Management (Steve)

PS: Body bags are available at the box office.

Without further ado, here’s Craig…

by Craig Thomas

Firstly, a confession. Films do not scare me. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good (or bad) horror film as much as the next person but they are not scary. They can be disturbing, or very jumpy or incredibly gross. But not scary.

So I was a bit unsure about what to do when writing about five films that scare me.

I decided the best thing to do would be to trawl through my memory for films that either represented my worst fears or had a profound impact on my mental state, or both. I considered re-watching all of them to give a detailed re-appraisal but decided it would be better to write about them from memory, to focus on those scenes/themes that are indelibly etched into my mind. Therefore this may not be the most accurate guide to these films, but it will more accurately represent what scared (or should that be scarred?) me at the time.

Firstly, I’m going to go with a classic, namely, The Terminator. Yes, the second one is bigger, badder, louder and had the definitive robotic killing machine in the T-1000, and it did scare the pants off me when I was younger, but it is the original that makes the list. It is more visceral (it had an 18 certificate whilst T-2 had was certified 15) and as a child I remember being distinctly freaked out watching Arnie cutting his own eye out. But that isn’t what scared me. That would be the nature of The Terminator. That unstoppable killing machine. Completely relentless and pretty much indestructible.

I think the idea of such a monster is a historic constant, with every generation having its own version. Only this generation’s version could actually happen. Some might even go so far as to say it is inevitable. I am much more optimistic and think the human race will be destroyed by a nuclear war long before we are able to build our own destroyers.

Still, for years the idea of the unstoppable evil haunted my dreams and made going to sleep a potentially terrifying experience. Therefore, it makes the list.

Secondly, I’m going to go with one of my more recent fears. As I get older I find myself more and more concerned about my own mortality (whether or not this had anything to do with my discovering the works of Woody Allen is open to debate). But regardless of its origin, the scenario in this film is horrific and is essentially my second worst ever fear. The film is Buried.

A man wakes up in a coffin with a mobile phone. He has been buried in the Iraqi desert and has to raise an unrealistic amount of money or else he will be left there to die. Pretty grim, right?

Now, what makes this film so scary is not just the idea of being buried alive (which is second only to the fear of being cremated alive) but the way in which it is filmed. The entire movie is set in the coffin. It is shot from a million different angles, but it never leaves the box. It is so claustrophobic that you just want to switch it off and walk through open fields to get a sense of freedom. To get through it I had to consciously remind myself that I wasn’t actually in a coffin and that I didn’t need to conserve my air supply by holding my breath.

The third film is the only traditional horror film in the list. As with 95% of horror films these days, it uses the found footage gimmick. “Oh no” I hear you proclaim, “not another found footage horror film!” Yes, another one. Only this time there is a difference. This one is actually good. The film is called [Rec].

As with every moderately successful horror movie nowadays it has spawned a series of sequels ([Rec] 3 came out this year and [Rec] 4 is scheduled for 2013) to predictably diminishing returns. And because it is in a language other than English, it has had the compulsory remake (renamed Quarantine), of which I will speak later. But none of this should be allowed to take the shine off a great horror film.

As with a lot of these, the beginning is somewhat mundane, but once the action starts the pressure continues to build until the horrifically tense climax. This is one of the main reasons it made the list. There are no lulls in the action, no boring bits while you wait for the next jumpy thing. The stress levels never relent. To show how impressive this actually is, it is worth watching [Rec] and then watching Quarantine because the latter, despite being a shot-for-shot remake, lacks pretty much all of what makes the original so good.

Another reason for its inclusion is that it mixes a bunch of my favourite horror conventions and comes up with something fresh. It’s about a group of people trapped in an apartment building trying to avoid flesh-eating zombies and the flesh-eating zombie disease whilst the government lurks mysteriously (and brutally) in the background. What more could you ask for?

Watch it alone in the dark. You will be scared of what is lurking in the shadows.

Number four on the list (and the second non-English-language movie) is I Saw The Devil. Directed by Jee-woon Kim, it is the film that made me aware of the brilliant work that has come out of South Korea in the past few years.

This is easily the most difficult film to watch on the list. Indeed, after the first ten relentlessly brutal minutes I didn’t think I would be able to watch it all. But I persevered and it was well worth it. It is a brilliant film, but not for those with a weak stomach. At times it walks the line between horror and torture porn, with explicit violence being splashed across the screen and whilst it can sometimes be somewhat a bit much (and therefore a bit of a distraction), it is nonetheless a great film.

It tells the tale of a vicious serial killer who kills the pregnant girlfriend of a cop who then plays an increasingly violent game of cat and mouse with the killer, where he captures him, tortures him and lets him go only to hunt him down again.

It makes the list, not only for its unrelenting bleakness, but because it’s a tale about the thin divide between good and evil and how easily it possible to slip from one to the other and become the thing you hate the most.

It was difficult to decide on a fifth choice. I considered writing about a number of films, which I think deserve an honourable mention.

The Cube is a tense, sci-fi horror about people who wake up trapped in a series of booby-trapped cubes and is a great film.

Julia’s Eyes is worth a mention for touching on my fear of blindness, whilst she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister.

Despite not being a fan of David Lynch, I nearly included Eraserhead, which whilst it bored me to tears, left a lasting imprint in my memory with its desolate scenes and horror-like depictions of married bourgeois life.

I’m also going to include Death Wish 3, which I saw at far too young an age. Death, drugs and extreme violence which really stayed with me, particularly the super-violent booby traps. A proper scar from youth.

But the film which makes the list is in fact, not a horror film and to be honest it doesn’t really scare me. But at the time I did find it deeply disturbing and to this day think that one particular moment was a bit much for the rating, which was Universal. Yes, the final film is for children.

It is The Neverending Story.

No, seriously.

I’ve never been a fan of fantasy and always found the genre as a whole somewhat unsettling, but there is one particular scene that really scarred my psyche, probably more than any of the violent films that were a staple of my formative years. I remember little of the plot, though it involves a young boy going on some kind of adventure through a magical world for some reason, with his best friend who happens to be a horse.

The particular scene which added this film to the list is one where the horse get trapped in the Swamp of Sadness and just stands there, sinking deeper into the swamp waiting to die as the young boy watches on helplessly as his best friend essentially commits suicide in front of his eyes. I state again, this is a children’s film.

This is why it is properly disturbing and that is why it makes the list. Perhaps if I re-watched it, it wouldn’t seem so bad and it was just my youth and hazy memory that makes it seem so terrible, but I have no intention of checking that out, so it will always be a disturbing childhood memory and one of the ways cinema has scarred me for life.

And on that happy note, I leave you to watch the ultimate film for Halloween (or any other occasion, for that matter), Ghostbusters!

Happy Halloween!

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

by Steve Habrat

After the flawless Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was impossible for producer George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg to make another Indiana Jones film that would be able to compare to the first film. In 1984, Lucas and Spielberg released Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, an equally rollicking adventure that goes heavier on the supernatural horror but pales in the story department.  It also boasts the coolest title in the Indiana Jones saga, sounding like a forgotten B-horror movie from the 50s. The Temple of Doom cuts back on the globetrotting and outdoor scope that Raiders of the Lost Ark had and opts for damp, atmospheric caves that are crawling with bugs, humid jungles where giant vampire bats swoop from above, and underground sanctuaries that are lit by torches, candles, and dotted with rotting skulls. Acting as the prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom embraces a much sillier plotline that reeks of something that would have been right at home in an EC Comic with lots of icky gore to compliment the comic book feel. With The Temple of Doom, Lucas and Spielberg choose to push the action further, wasting absolutely no time at all to jump into all the shooting, running, jumping, and punching, eager to quicken your pulse and get your adrenaline pumping.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom picks up at a swanky Shanghai nightclub in 1935. Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones (Played by Harrison Ford) narrowly escapes a brutal encounter with dreaded gangster Lao Che (Played by Roy Chiao), who is searching for the remains of Nurhachi, an emperor from the Ming Dynasty. Indy narrowly escapes the confrontation with Lao Che, dragging local singer Willie Scott (Played by Kate Capshaw) and ten-year-old sidekick Short Round (Played by Jonathan Ke Quan) with him. The trio boards a plane for India but they have to make a quick exit when they realize that the flight has been sabotaged. Indy, Willie, and Short Round finally end up in India where they are brought to a desolate village. The village elders enlist the help of the trio to locate Pankot Palace where the sinister Thugee cult is currently hiding. It turns out this cult, lead by the evil Mola Ram (Played by Amrish Puri), have kidnapped the villager’s children and have stolen their Shiva lingam stone, a stone that supposedly brings the village good luck. Indy, Willie, and Short Round set out to find Pankot Palace but they soon realize that this cult is dabbling in dangerous black magic and may be deadlier than they had anticipated.

Unlike the cleaner cut and handsome Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Temple of Doom is a scroungy and homely blockbuster, one with multiple foul moments. It’s a movie made by overgrown kids for kids. The movie gleefully leaps into mud puddles searching for one nasty visual gag after another. There are monkey brains here, exotic insects there, slimy baby snakes, and a still beating heart ripped out of one poor saps chest. When it comes to the plot, there is no question that the storyline here is stretched thinly and Spielberg fills the film out with lengthy action sequences. At one point, he blatantly addresses the idea that this film is a roller coaster ride in the extended mine car chase that at times resembles an indoor roller coaster. Yet the spirit of adventure is alive and well in The Temple of Doom, the same spirit that kept Raiders of the Lost Ark aloft. There is no question that The Temple of Doom is also a much darker movie than Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film that dabbles in child slavery, human sacrifice, and includes prolonged sequences where horror hangs heavy in the air.

While Harrison Ford’s Indy is still as likable as he was in 1981, in The Temple of Doom, he becomes the familiar 80’s action hero that he avoided in Raiders of the Lost Ark. He rips his shirtsleeves off to show off his biceps, is dipped in fake sweat, and pummels every foe that stands in his path. There is never a moment where you fear he won’t make it out of a situation alive. I wish that Spielberg had sidestepped this 80’s staple that was okay other places but a bit out of place for the Indiana Jones films. He does get one moment that is evocative of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Indy trading punches with a hulking Thugee guard that is once again played by Pat Roach (the same guy who played the Nazi mechanic in Raiders). It ends in a fittingly gruesome death that mirrors the propeller death in Raiders. Indy finds himself aided by the consistently shrieking Willie, who is appalled by everything she stumbles across. She freaks over bugs, bats, lizards, elephants, and Mola Ram. I have to say that I prefer the tougher Marion Ravenwood to fraidy cat Willie Scott, although Willie does get one hell of an introduction, belting out “Anything Goes” in Mandarin. Another character I remain iffy with is Short Round, who has good and bad moments. At times, he annoys me, there to serve as eye-rolling comic relief for the kids and at times, I rooted for him, especially when we learn about his background.

As far as the villains go, Mola Ram has to be the most bizarre of the Indiana Jones realm. A deranged cult leader with wild bug eyes and with a fetish for tearing the heart from his victim’s chest, he is usually drenched in bright red lighting, his mouth curling into a sick smile. When he puts his demonic headdress on, he is really an intimidating sight. He is also found of dragging his lines of dialogue out, adding extra menace to each and every word. The introduction belongs to Lao Che, a cocky gangster who likes toying with Dr. Jones. They have a delectable war of words in the middle of a crowded nightclub, both Dr. Jones and Lao topping each other’s threats as the seconds pass. Ford himself gets to do bad when he is hypnotized by Mola Ram, which he seems to have a blast doing. It’s only for a short stretch but it is a nice little change of pace for the all-American hero.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom does embrace some of the 80’s overkill, which does detract from the overall quality of the film. At times, it seems more concerned with production value and special effects over a lasting story.  The effects in The Temple of Doom have not aged gracefully but there are a number of gags that still do hold together, mostly the heart being ripped from the chest. With the cranked up violence, the film is responsible for creating the PG-13 rating and it is easy to see why. Despite having a weaker story, The Temple of Doom has a number of iconic moments that elevate it to classic status. There was no way that Spielberg would ever live up to the first film and in a way, we don’t really expect him to. Featuring one hell of a final showdown on a rickety bridge that will have those who suffer from vertigo covering their eyes, a dazzling opening musical number, and plenty of eye candy for the entire family, Spielberg delivers an essential action film that more than holds its own.

Grade: B+

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is available on DVD.

The Hunger Games (2012)

by Steve Habrat

If you are someone who refuses to get swept up in The Hunger Games fever and dismisses the film as just a Twilight wannabe, you need to get to a theater immediately and check the film out for yourself. The Hunger Games is the first must-see movie of 2012 and it certainly lives up to the hype surrounding it. I went into the film with a neutral attitude, never having read one of the books and not overly excited to see the movie. About halfway through, I was fully immersed in the film because of the way director Gary Ross sold me Katniss Everdeen’s story and how he shaped the world of Panem. When it comes to other teen franchises, mostly Harry Potter and Twilight, I have to say that The Hunger Games is the most impressive debut film, one that establishes characters that I want more from, action that was both uncomfortable and yet exhilarating, and a cliffhanger of an ending that makes a sequel necessary. But The Hunger Games refuses to go flat stylistically much like Harry Potter and Twilight did on their first run, and I have to say that I ate up the Battle Royale meets District 9 meets A Clockwork Orange meets THX 1138 meets 1984 appearance of The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games drops us off in the totalitarian nation of Panem, a post-apocalyptic world that is made up of the futuristic Capital and the twelve poorer districts that surround it. We arrive in the mining town of District 12 where we meet 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Played by Jennifer Lawrence) who shacks up with her younger sister Prim (Played by Willow Shields) and her mother. Every year, the nation of Panem huddles around their televisions to watch the Hunger Games, where twenty-four children are selected by the government and then forced to fight each other until only one survivor remains. During “the reaping”, an event in which the gaudily dressed Effie (Played by Elizabeth Banks) selects one boy and one girl from the Districts, Prim ends up being one of the names that gets called. Katniss volunteers to go in her sister’s place, an offer that is accepted by Effie. The boy who is selected is Peeta Mellark (Played by Josh Hutcherson), who hides feelings for the prickly Katniss. They soon make the trip to the Capital where they meet their mentor Haymitch (Played by Woddy Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Played by Lenny Kravitz), grandiose announcer and host Caesar Flickerman (Played by Stanley Tucci), and the leader of Panem President Snow (Played by Donald Sutherland). As the kids begin training and battling for sponsorships, Katniss emerges as the most deadly in the Hunger Games, but soon Katniss and Peeta learn that there is more to the games than just simply fighting for your life.

The style that Ross applies to The Hunger Games is reminiscent of past works but all it’s own too. The dystopian decay and totalitarian rule brought District 9, THX 1138, and 1984 to my mind while the games themselves acted as a smoothed over Battle Royale. The futuristic style seemed like they were ripped right out of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the scenes where a group of kids laugh at their own violence brought images of Alex DeLarge and his “droogs”. Yet The Hunger Games feels vaguely fresh and is a beast all its own. It reflects on our willingness to hang on reality television and violence. There are several kids competing in the games who are all too eager to kill off fellow competitors. You can’t help but reflect on the violence that is sold to children both in video games and cinema itself. Yet The Hunger Games doesn’t exploit the carnage, much of it remaining of screen and to our own imagination. The opening moments of the games are extremely brutal as kids with swords, hatchets, knives, and more hack other kids up, some doing it with a faint smile forming on their faces. The Hunger Games suggests desensitized times but throws in a sensitive heroine who only kills if she has to, and she certainly doesn’t do it happily, making Katniss the last good kid alive. The film will no doubt spark discussion about violence and it is justified. Still, I think it is something that children can handle. The violence is never injudicious or excessive and when it does erupt, Ross smartly makes it tough to swallow.

Unlike Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen is a female hero that girls should rally behind. She is a bit unsure of herself when she is in the spotlight, but she remains strong willed, crafty, and resourceful, a “girl on fire” as the film suggests. She isn’t a shallow, scowling teen who broods over two guys fighting over her, whining about how horrible it all is. Early on, she is juxtaposed with Effie, who bathes in glamour, beauty, and excesses, hanging on the glittery material items surrounding her while caring less about the real matter at hand. Ross and screenwriters Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray illustrate Katniss as a more thoughtful character, someone who looks out for the ones she loves rather than strictly herself in these selfish times. While Katniss does brood, it helps that Ross, Collins, and Ray give Katniss a reason to mope. Her life is on the line.

The rest of the characters are just as captivating as Katniss, leaving the viewer actually wanting more of them too. I loved Tucci’s theatrical blue-haired talk show host and I hope to see more of him in future. Another big surprise is Lenny Kravitz as stylist Cinna, a character of quiet warmth for our dear Katniss. A scene right before the beginning on the game between Cinna and Katniss is truly a standout. I also really liked Harrelson’s Haymitch, a reluctant and drunken mentor who finally comes around when our heroes need him most. And I can’t leave out Elizabeth Banks as Effie, a colorful character who is eccentric but I wish they had pushed her character a bit further. She is deliciously sinister when she is drawing the names for the games, resembling a manic jester relishing in misery. The Hunger Games does work in a slight love story, hinting at a blossoming love triangle between Katniss, the sensitive Peeta, and Gale (Played by Liam Hemsworth), a character who is more seen by the audience not really heard from. I wish the film would have developed his character a bit more, but I feel he will have a strong presence in the future. I just hope and pray the series doesn’t morph into a repetitive soap opera like Twilight did.

Of all the young adult books that have been developed into movies, I firmly believe that The Hunger Games is the best and most important of all of them. The Harry Potter series fell victim to too many artistic approaches and clunky tones, as there was not one consistent director at the helm. The end result is a series that is an absolutely mess with little to no flow between the movies. Twilight was more concerned with selling itself on sex appeal rather than developing a proper story that we can invest in, resulting in a petty franchise with little regard for the fan’s intelligence. I just wish they would wake up and see it. Now we have The Hunger Games, which I hope doesn’t fall victim to what destroyed the Harry Potter franchise. On this first run, it seems that it avoided what has plagued the Twilight saga. I sincerely hope they keep Ross behind the camera, the entire cast committed, and the ideas pulsing. We’re off to a good start with The Hunger Games, and may the odds continue to be in this franchise’s favor.

Grade: A