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The Blob (1988)

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.

Grader: B-

The Blob 1988 is available on DVD.

The 25 Horror Films That Have Scared Steve…Pt. 2

by Steve Habrat

Part 2 is here, boys and ghouls! Here are five more horror films that will have you dying of fright! They sure spooked me!

20.) The Mist (2007)

            To judge Frank Darabont’s 2007 creature feature by it’s cover and basic premise alone would be an incredibly gross error on your part. I am here to inform you that it’s like the 1950s best kept sci-fi secret! And it’s actually an A-list film masquerading as B-movie absurdity. Aiming its focus on a mysterious, otherworldly mist that floods the streets and traps a group of people in a grocery store, the mist brings with it insects that look like they have been spit out from the depths of hell. And these insects bring lots and lots of hell indeed. They dispatch the desperate citizens with incredibly savage brutality. As for the film itself, think Alien smashed with Dawn of the Dead with the artful approach of 28 Days Later. Do I have your attention yet? If that’s not enough to convince you to see it, it features an incredibly chilling performance from Marcia Gay Henderson as an end-of-days-is-here Bible nut who may actually be more dangerous than the man-eating bugs. It features an end so shocking and devastating, you will be shaken to your core. The bugs will make your skin crawl and then your muscles too right of your bones. And on the DVD, you can actually watch it in glorious black and white. If you’re not scrambling to add this to your instant-que on Netflix, you should be.

19.) Nosferatu (1922)

A word of advice for all you Twilight fans out there: If you LOVE vampires, like, so much, then you should do yourself a favor and seek out the roots of vampires in cinema!!! Oh, and you may actually discover a beautiful and haunting horror film in the process. F.W. Murnau’s German Expressionist silent film is the first portrayal of Dracula, but due to certain circumstances, it had to be renamed. Either way, Nosferatu will awe you with its gothic style (It’s like a Tim Burton flick, kids!). While I know most of you are already fairly familiar with the appearance of Count Orlok, it’s worth your time to seek the film out for it’s dreamlike imagery that will creep its way into your dreams. You may just keep your eyes on the shadows in your room in the middle of night! Actually scarier than Dracula, it’s does exactly what The Phantom of the Opera did, it forces you to fill in the sound effects. You paint the images in your head. And the images you are not left to create on your own are some of the most iconic in the history of film. Being a big fan of this film, I recommend you make it a double feature with The Phantom!

18.) Seven (1995)

Before EVERYONE was talking about that Facebook movie, The Social Network, David Fincher spun a film noirish nightmare about a serial killer who chooses his victims by their violations of the seven deadly sins. Bleak even in the landscape, which is an unidentified city where it rains more than it does in Seattle, it establishes and maintains the feeling that no one gets out of this scenario alive or untouched by evil. And this is all waaaayyyyy before its devastating conclusion. If you haven’t seen it yet, wait until you get a load of the climax. While the gruesome murders will keep you busy trying to keep the last meal you ate before watching this safely in your stomach, try to keep it on simply to marvel at Kevin Spacey’s unforgettably calm, cool, and calculating monster John Doe. It’s his performance alone that anchors this doom-drenched masterpiece confidently in the waters of truly unforgettable.

17.) Targets (1968)

Oh what a shame it is that many people have never heard of Peter Bogdanovich’s 1968 film that is loosely based off the atrocities committed by real-life serial killer Charles Whitman.  While ultimately an exploration of the death of the fantastical movie monster and the emergence of the everyday monster, the premise still manages to be alarming relevant in the world we live in today. And the film has aged with magnificent grace! Following two storylines, one follows Boris Orloff (played awesomely by monster movie legend Boris Karloff) who is starting to realize that his monster movies are beginning to be old hat. On the other side of town, All-American Bobby decides to murder his family and sets out on a killing spree armed with several sniper rifles and a number of other assorted firearms. Sound chilling? It is. Especially when Bobby casually eats his lunch while brutally killing innocent civilians. The film leaves the viewer with the unsettling feeling that every moment could be your last. The scariest part of all is that fact that there is no motive. That someone could simply entertain himself or herself by committing mass murder is one of the most chilling things imaginable.

16.) Halloween (1978)

I will give Rob Zombie credit, his remake of the John Carpenter classic and last year’s sequel where littered with his cinematic fingerprints and where truly his own visions. Splattered with his trademark hillbilly horror and copious amounts of blood, it definitely strayed from Carpenter’s original vision, which was an exploration of pure evil. But it’s the 1978 original that will forever stand as the crown jewel. Everyone is familiar with it and our antagonist, Michael Myers, would send both Freddy and Jason heading for the hills. Yup, he’s THAT scary. Dressed in a mechanic’s jumpsuit and wearing a whited-out William Shatner mask, Michael dispatches teens with surprisingly no remorse and shockingly little bloodshed. And the whole time you will be begging to know why. Carpenter gleefully turns the other way and leaves you right in the middle of Michael’s wrath. It’s what the film refuses to reveal that is truly terrifying and we are left to contemplate what this embodiment of evil ultimately means. Though it’s had countless imitators and sequels, it is still the undisputed king of teen slasher flicks.

15.) Audition (1997)

I can finally breathe a giant sigh of relief for two reasons: 1.)  Hollywood FINALLY realized that they are incapable of making good American versions of Japanese horror films. Sure, The Ring was pretty good, but seriously, every other one SUCKED! The Ring 2? Ummm, did you see that scene with the deer? The Grudge? Come on! The Eye? Yawn. The Grudge 2? You gotta be fucking kidding me. Pulse? No, you’re not even trying anymore, Hollywood. So, my point is that Hollywood seems to have moved on from defecating all over some fairly interesting horror films from another country. This leads me to my next reason: 2.) Audition was never plucked from the J-Horror pack to be remade. THANK GOD! A heartbreaking love story with some seriously dark and twisted stuff lurking beneath the surface, the climax of this film is like a sucker punch right to the gut. It will knock you right off your feet, and then proceed to chop them off with razor wire. Following an older Japanese man who in the wake of his wife’s death holds an audition for young women to attempt to grab his eye is quite a chiller indeed. If while watching it you’re thinking to yourself: “Steve, why on earth did you say this is scary?” Be patient. The climax is ranks among some of the most horrifying stuff ever committed to celluloid. Murder and torture are just the beginning. And it’s torture that will make you cringe. And possibly upset in ways you never thought possible. But most importantly, scare the absolute shit right out of you. If that’s not enough, wait for the man who’s kept in a sack, is missing an arm, leg, and a good majority of his fingers, and who laps up human vomit like a dog. ENJOY!

Tune in tomorrow, boys and ghouls, for more thrills and chills. In the meantime, click the vintage Halloween photo above and vote in our tiebreaker poll! Hope you are all having a ghastly Halloween!

Survival of the Dead (2010)

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+

Super (2011)

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.