by Steve Habrat
If the 1958 Cold War science-fiction film The Blob wasn’t gory enough for you, then you need to seek out the spiffed up 1988 remake immediately. Yes, there is a remake of The Blob and you’ll be surprised to know that this version goes right for the throat. Director and co-writer Chuck Russell and writer Frank “The Walking Dead” Darabont scrub away some of the innocence that could be found in the playing-it-straight ’58 version and makes things nice and gruesome for the crowd hungry for entrails. While it may not have as much on its mind as the original film did, the film still makes a compelling statement about how the American people could be expendable to their own government in the name of science, making the film worthwhile for those seeking out a heady experience. To me, The Blob ’88 is more concerned about updating the technical side of things and in the process, making our stomachs a little queasy. The Blob ’88 does hold up surprisingly well and the film is a wickedly self-aware little horror offering, but the climax ends up getting tangled in action excess that stalls the film.
After a meteorite crashes to earth and lands out in the secluded woods of Arborville, California, an elderly man begins snooping around the crash site. The elderly man ends up discovering a strange, jelly-like substance that suddenly attaches to his hand and slowly begins devouring the limb. Three high school students, bad-boy Brian (Played by Kevin Dillon), cheerleader Meg (Played by Shawnee Smith), and jock Paul (Played by Donovan Leitch), stumble upon the elderly man and rush him to the hospital. Paul soon discovers that the strange goo has gruesomely devoured the man’s stomach and then finds himself getting attacked by the substance. Meg narrowly escapes the hospital and meets back up with the skeptical Brian, who soon sees the blob in all its horrific action. The two begin trying to warn the local sheriff, Herb Geller (Played by Jeffery DeMunn), who refuses to take their story seriously and instead blames outcast Brian. As the body count racks up, a shadowy government organization led by Dr. Christopher Meddows (Played by Joe Seneca) appears in Arborville, looking to find the blob so they can trap it and study it. Brian and Meg soon discover that the government may not be there to protect them and that there is more to the horrifying organism than they could have ever imagined.
The Blob ’88 has an undeniably effective build-up that erupts in brutal encounters with the alien organism. You see arms eaten off, torsos dissolved, and other revolting injuries from the destructive force. While some of the effects may be showing their age, the gorier aspects of the film are still pretty well done. When the film is keeping the blob largely off screen, with only slight glimpses of it, Darabont and Russell manage to create a seriously creepy B-movie. Naturally, the ending of the film sees the organism in all its goofy glory, causing this shapeless terror to become unintentionally hilarious. The Blob ’88 is also aware of its teen appeal, having the viewer root for two teen heroes who, naturally, morph into barely legal superheroes by the last stand. This is what ends up throwing The Blob ’88 off, the typical 80’s staple of molding the protagonists into unstoppable heroes that can make it out of any situation thrown at them. Yet this teenage perspective also has a number of shining moments, especially an awkward encounter in a drugstore that involves condoms and the local reverend.
The Blob ’88 does have some mighty fine acting for a drive-in update, mostly from stars Kevin Dillon and Shawnee Smith. Dillon, who wears a magnificent mullet, is the stereotypical bad-boy who wears a leather jacket, works on motorcycles, and apparently never attends any school functions. It takes him some time to gain some momentum with Smith, who gets to have some fun as a tough cheerleader. They are a blast to watch in the final crazed moments of this romp. I also enjoyed Jeffery DeMunn as the local sheriff who has a crush on a waitress on the town diner. Things perk up even more when Joe Seneca takes to the screen as Dr. Meddows, who isn’t concerned with helping the townsfolk at all, instead hungry for personal gain. He ends up stealing the movie as a secondary villain who is willing to allow innocent people to perish so he can claim the ultimate prize: A new discovery. The final moments of the film belong to Del Close as the unstable Reverend Meeker, who gets his hands on a frozen sample of the blob and then threatens to use it to end the world.
Director Russell and Darabont refuse to tinker with the handful of iconic moments that made the original film into the classic that it is today. Still firmly in place is the movie theater sequence that features beefed up special effects that swoop down on fleeing audience members. Also, they stage the hospital sequence marvelously and blindside us with a ghastly reveal. Russell and Darabont smartly go ahead and create a few new classic scenes (the sewer encounter is awesomely grim, the sink death is nice and bloody) all while putting their own spin on that question mark that was stamped on the final frame of the original film. The end of The Blob ‘88 descends into full-blown chaos that ended up throwing the pace of the film off, a pace that I thought was utterly perfect and effective. The Blob manages to find it’s footing in a world that isn’t gripped by communist fears and nuclear tension, instead using fear of our own government in its place. There is obvious care for the original film as well as an understanding that the original was silly even if it didn’t want to admit that it was. Overall, I prefer The Blob ’88 to the ’58 version, one of the few remakes I like a bit more than the original film. I’m a sucker for that self-aware grin and its tendency to dump fake blood and guts all over me when I least expect it.
The Blob 1988 is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
The Dead series was always articulate, no one can argue against that fact. Even 2008’s Diary of the Dead had something to say about our current zeitgeist, but I supposed pressure got the best of George Romero, the man who always seems to know how to make a statement with zombies. In 2010, Romero found himself in an odd situation. His Diary of the Dead was a big hit on DVD and there was a scramble to deliver another zombie adventure to his old fans and the new generation who was being introduced to his work. This was all in the span of just under three years and boy does Survival of the Dead reek of rushed ideas and impersonal filmmaking. While there was a minor shift from 2005’s Land of the Dead to 2008’s Diary of the Dead, there was really nothing more to do with his zombies in 2010. It seemed to exist solely in response to the zombie fixation that is gripping our great nation. It’s the only reasonable explanation for the abomination Survival of the Dead to exist and shuffle among us. We have Zombie Soccer, Zombie Highway, and Plants vs. Zombies, all readily available for you to play on your iPhone. We have Call of Duty: Zombies, the massively successful online zombie shooter/survival game. We now even have a television show, The Walking Dead, to satisfy the fan’s unquenchable thirst for more bloodshed. Zombies are as big as vampires, this I think we can all agree on, but they lack the romance factor, which prevents the tween girls from shrieking and crying over them.
Being a fan of the Dead franchise, I was heavily excited to see his latest entry when announced. I was surprised by how quickly he was producing another film, especially after the fatigued Diary. I was convinced that he would find some inspiration and when it was announced it would have a western backdrop, I couldn’t wait to see it. Survival of the Dead was given a limited theatrical release and then shunned to DVD and Blu-ray. It was met with a strong negative reaction, almost unheard of for a Romero zombie film. I rushed out the day of its DVD release and picked it up, eager to add it to my Dead collection. After popping it in and watching it, it was evident that Romero had hit rock bottom. Loaded with even more of the wretched computer effects that paled the impact of Land, Survival applies more farcical death scenes, wisecracking characters, and monotonous scares than you can shake a severed arm at. It made me realize that Diary, for all of its patchiness, at least strayed from the digital gore.
Survival of the Dead does have an old-school feel in its clench, and I enjoyed that. It does feel like a film you would have watched in between sips of a beer that you snuck into your local drive-in. It’s B-movie heaven and I will praise that aspect of it, but Survival of the Dead has absolutely nothing to say. Romero is just going in circles and recycling his idea that we will never be able to get along, even in the face of annihilation. Death does not even stop our grudges. The film follows a group of commandos, much like 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. The motley crew is lead by Sarge Nicotine Crockett (Played by Alan van Sprang), who along with three other soldiers, are trying to figure what to do in the midst of the apocalypse. The world has been reduced to chaos and the cities are being abandoned in attempts to escape the groaning cannibals. Sarge meets up with a young kid (Played by Devon Bostic), who tells them of an island where they could go to be protected from the zombie plague. Two feuding families, the Muldoons and the O’Flynns, who share drastically different views on what to do with their zombified family members, control the remote island. Patrick O’Flynn (Played by Kenneth Welsh) aims to exterminate every last walking stench and Seamus Muldoon (Played by Richard Fitzpatrick) demands they keep the ghouls alive in the chance that a cure is found. They obviously haven’t seen Day of the Dead yet. After Sarge and his gang arrive on the island, they are caught in a warzone that threatens the lives of all the people who live on the island. A side plot involves Muldoon attempting to get the zombies to eat something other than human flesh. They are also desperately trying to catch a mysterious female zombie (Played by Kathleen Munroe) who rides a horse.
Survival of the Dead does not boast a bad premise, and it does every once and a great while show signs of Romero’s wit. The handling of the film is what disgusted me, which appears as if Romero could have cared less about the entire project. It shuffles around and everyone furrows his or her brow. Background characters plea with their stubborn fathers to bury the hatchet and come to an agreement. Sarge seems to have no place in the entire film, just there to fire a machine gun every now and then. His crew is wiped out quickly and we are left barely remembering their names. The film never musters up the scares that Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead blasted their viewers with. The film is just an absolute mess that is more Saturday morning cartoon than horror movie. The performances from everyone involved are too animated, no one offering a lick of concern for their current situation. Why is everyone so calm?
There is some good to be found in all of this, as it does pack two thrilling attack sequences. One occurs at a boathouse where several characters become zombie chow and a gunfight at the end that would seem appropriate in an old school western, if one was to go in and take out the zombie attacks. The cinematography is also crisp and clear, putting the lush and photogenic landscape front and center. There is also some seriously sweet zombie make-up and a hoard of ghouls tearing a horse open and feasting on its guts. I wish I could say more for the characters, who are all unlikable. I wish I could praise Romero’s script or his dialogue, but here it’s disposable and infuriatingly juvenile.
Romero is defeated by his own premise in Survival of the Dead, one that we’ve seen before and to much greater effect. See any of his original three zombie films for further proof. It’s going through the motions, which are rank with decay and in need of life support. It doesn’t help that he shows no subtly whatsoever this time around, something he seems to rejecting as he grows older. The film concludes with the said horse attack, which is both relevant to the series, harkening back to the bug munching going on in Night of the Living Dead while offering a fresh direction for a future zombie film. But that is precisely the problem with Survival, it’s all seems like set-ups for future films. This is just the detour. Romero seems to at least be acknowledging that he’s beating a dead horse, having his own zombies beat and then devour the damn thing. I sincerely hope he gets back on track and soon. The remake of his 1973 film The Crazies was really fulfilling (He produced the remake of his own film). George, we know you still have it in you, man, and I’m not giving up on you, but I can’t be kind to Survival of the Dead. You are capable of so much more than this. Grade: D+
by Steve Habrat
Last year, Hollywood released the highly intelligent but morally questionable Kick-Ass. It shocked audiences with it’s unblinking portrayal of what it would be like if an ordinary citizen decided to don a cape and prowl the streets fighting crime. They would be beaten to a bloody pulp. And yes, Kick-Ass had plenty of Looney Tunes moments sprinkled throughout but it was unfathomably offensive. It also happened to be a wonderful movie that had quite a bit of depth to it. Early this summer, director James Gunn released his indie superhero outing Super, which globs on the black humor and spurting arteries with such maniacal glee, you almost start to question Gunn’s sanity. Yes, it’s THAT twisted.
I will admit that I found moments of Super enjoyable and the climax was an emotional sucker punch. I will confess to chuckling when Rainn Wilson’s dopey Frank would conk evildoers on the noggin with a monkey wrench and yell, “Shut up, crime!” But I sat stirred by how savage the film behaved even outside the inevitable action scenes. It wears a crooked grin even while it blindsides us with rape, child molestation, substance addiction, and endless foul language that would please Judd Apatow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude when it comes to films of this nature but I completely understand why the film was never released into mainstream theaters.
Frank thought he had everything going for him in life. He had a beautiful wife Sarah (Played by the cooing Liv Tyler) and a mediocre job as a cook. He thought he had aided Sarah, who was apparently an ex-junkie, in kicking her habit and changing her life. That all changes when ostentatious drug dealer Jock (Played by Kevin Bacon, who seems to be everywhere this summer) shows up and steals Sarah away from him. One night, in a sequence that appears to be left over from Gunn’s zombie/alien opus Slither, Frank has a vision from God. He is told to don an amateurish suit of armor and parade around the streets as The Crimson Bolt. While building his alter ego, he strikes up a quirky friendship with a local comic book store clerk Libby (Played by an extremely off-putting Ellen Page). She convinces him to let her be his mad, bloodthirsty sidekick and together, they aim to take down Jock and get Sarah back.
Super does offer up its fair share of craggy authenticity. The film is shot with a handheld camera and at times, if the violence isn’t making your stomach groan, the camerawork sure will. It’s twitchy but alarmingly confident. Like Kick-Ass, the film realizes (only every once in a great while) that it has to use some sort of idiosyncratic distraction from the gruesome atrocities at hand. It does this by juxtaposing the action with freeze frames and animated “BOOM”s and “WHACK!”s that look like scribbling from a teenagers own private comic book creation. It’s efficient but also seems like just a petty attempt to soften the blow of the relentless cruelty.
The shining star in this bloody mess is Rainn Wilson’s disciplined and committed performance as Frank. It’s a relief to not see the Office funnyman relegated to tween scum like The Rocker but after Super, I have to wonder about Wilson’s actual character (according to the Blu-ray features, he stood by the project from the get-go). The worst part about the film is the abhorrent performance from Ellen Page, who is downright out of control. I failed to see anything funny about her character and see this as one of the lower points of her career. Everyone else is incredibly underused including the surprising presence of Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Walking Dead) as Abe, Jock’s right hand hitman. All his character does is munch on jellybeans, stare at Frank, and occasionally remember to fire his pistol. There is none of the subtle brewing intensity that he is so famous for. Bacon, however, seems to be having a blast in the role playing another villain (he was also the baddie in X-Men: First Class) and Tyler, who claims she found the script “touching”, seems to be bored to tears.
Overall, the film has an arresting climax that is great compensation for the warped first portion. It is moving and almost becomes a tearjerker. The final showdown between Jock and Frank is guaranteed to shake you up even if you have found the rest of the film despicable. Super is just simply not a film for everyone. If you are in the target audience, you’ll have a blast with it. If not, you will just walk away shaking your head and wondering why Hollywood doesn’t make more wholesome movies like they use to. Either way, it will get a reaction out of you and that is what good cinema should do. While I consider myself in the target audience for a film like this, it left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. I was left wishing the first half were as gratifying as the second. I also could have done without Page but I think all will safely agree that Wilson is downright magnetic. He is the heart and soul of Super and believe it or not, that allows us to forgive most of its morally contestable moments. Grade: B-
Super is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.