Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 05: The Road Virus Heads North (2006)

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 05:
The Road Virus Heads North

Horror author Richard Kinnell (who may or may not have colon cancer) is driving home to Derry, Maine after a writing conference. On a whim, he stops at a yard sale, perhaps looking for a little second-hand inspiration.

He finds it in a dark little painting called THE ROAD VIRUS HEADS NORTH--depicting an evil young man behind the wheel of a muscle car--and quickly shells out the paltry $45 fee.

With the painting in the back seat, and Richard tooling down the road, it seems almost as if the Road Virus is following him. A laughable idea, sure, but when the painting starts changing, and the background scenes depict the car getting closer and closer to Richard's home turf, suddenly no one is laughing.

Something akin to a rock-'n'-roll slasher version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, I wanted to like this one much more than I did--pretty much the same way I felt about the short story that it was based on.

I love Mad Artist stories, but mad ART? Seems a little too Amityville Sequel for my tastes. There are a number of production problems that hurt it as well.

Too much of the soundtrack is comprised of corny, Kool 101 FM-style "jazz", and no matter how good an actor Tom Berrenger might be, even he has trouble pulling off some of the lame, sloppy dialogue the script calls for. Further, there's a convoluted backstory to the painting that is never suitably explored, and the story focuses too often on unimportant details.

Definitely not one of the stronger entries in the series.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings (1994)

Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings

Written by Constantine & Ivan Chachornia
Directed by Jeff Burr

Jenny Braddock...Ami Dolenz
Sean Braddock...Andrew Robinson
Danny...J. Trevor Edmond
Marcie...Soleil Moon Frye

A group of teenagers looking for kicks in the small southern town of Ferren Woods inadvertently conjures up Pumpkinhead, the mythical spirit of vengeance. He scrambles around the town in a traveling thunderstorm, slaughtering local yokels in what at first appears to be an undiscerning manner.

But if the opening scene is any indication, there's more of a method to this monster's madness than meets the eye.

Sean Braddock is the sheriff in town, a once-local boy who has just returned from a lengthy stint in the big city. He investigates the series of murders without realizing that his daughter Jenny was one of the jackasses responsible for summoning the titular creature.

The original Pumpkinhead is one of my favorite horror flicks of all time, so it's odd that it took me so long to seek out the sequel. But, as expected, the follow up simply can't compete.

What made the original so effective was the sympathetic relationship at the movie's core. Lance Henriksen and his son had a bond more believable than almost any ever caught on film, and so when the boy died, the father's pain was our pain as well. We understood why he sought vengeance against those who killed his son. And what's more...we rooted for him!

Here, we have no connection to any of the characters. They're all stock stereotypes ripped from a thousand other horror movies, spouting lame-ass dialogue at the drop of a hat, and we couldn't care less about their "motivations" or final fates.

Pumpkinhead has such a rich folklore behind him, and could easily be a genuine myth in any rural American locale, but it's not played up nearly enough this time. There are few if any references to the first film, and the past seems pretty much ignored completely (it really should have been Lance Henriksen's character "behind" Pumpkinhead, should it not?).

Despite the mediocrity of this supernatural slasher, the scenes with Pumpkinhead in them are still worth the watch, thanks to the fellas at KNB effects. Even if he DOES throw some poor schmoe in a backbreaker like a WWE superstar.

Rated R
88 Minutes
United States

"Some folks say she's a witch."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 04: The End of the Whole Mess (2006)

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 04: 
The End of the Whole Mess

"Why are people so damn mean?"

That's what Bobby Fornoy wants to know. As a boy, he was something of a genius, bouncing from one overriding obsession to another, and conquering them all. He even built an airplane once, and his older brother Howard filmed its first flight--cementing both of their destinies.

Decades later, Howard (our narrator) is a documentary filmmaker and Bobby is still a boy genius, but he has set his sights on a bigger prize: world peace.  By distilling the strange, calming properties found only in the water of La Plata, TX, and utilizing some crazy scheme involving a volcano, Bobby manages the impossible. He brings peace to the world.

But everything has its downside, and just like every medication, there are, of course, side effects.

The acting is fine, but the plot is a little goofy, and this is only accented by the occasional silly editing tricks (meant to mimic one of Howard's films, I assume).

A passable, but rather uninspiring, view of the apocalypse.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boy Wonder (2010)

Boy Wonder

Written & Directed by Michael Morrissey

Sean Donovan...Caleb Steinmeyer
Terry Donovan...Bill Sage
Detective Theresa Aames...Zulay Henao

While I don't typically require a *SPOILER ALERT* in my reviews, this film begs for a slightly deeper examination than usual. So if you haven't seen Boy Wonder yet, do yourself a favor and WATCH IT. Then come back.

Ten years ago, young Sean Donovan witnessed the senseless murder of his mother. Now a socially awkward teenager with a disgust for the crumbling world around him, he takes to the streets of Brooklyn under concealment of night seeking vengeance against the criminal element that ruined his life.

He's alone in his mission, but he's not alone in this film. The dynamic between Sean and his father is dark and complex, and utterly believable--as unsavory as it is. He also makes an accidental acquaintance out of Theresa Aames, the newest homicide detective in the district, who feels bad for the kid while simultaneously investigating him. It's an interesting relationship that they have, both fighting the same fight on opposite sides of the system.

There have been multiple examples of "superheroes in the real world" scenarios in the media, from Kickass to the short-lived The Cape, and, in some respects, even Batman Begins. But all of these "real worlds" are far from real. They didn't show us what a comic book hero would be like in real life so much as attempt to explain away the comic book tropes in a realistic manner, neverminding the fact that said tropes would not exist in the real world.

This is where Boy Wonder excels. Sean has no superpowers, genuine (Dr. Manhattan's control over time and matter) or pseudo (Kickass's lack of pain sensors). He is just an angry young man with a dark past and a bitter fury that has no outlet except the occasional murder of a scumbag pimp or pedophile. Even Batman, one of the more "realistic" comic book heroes in terms of physiognomy and origin, has a superpower of sorts in his genius intellect and limitless resources. Not so with Sean, a blue collar boy with a sharp (but believable) mind. He's what Robin might have become had there never been a Batman.

Don't let the title, the film's conceit, and my geeky ramblings confuse you.  This is not, honestly, a comic book film.  It's a crime thriller with a few parallels to the world of comic books.  There are no cheeky in-jokes, no spandex costumes, no four-color winks at the audience.  That being said, there still has to be some level of crossover appeal.

Sean is doing what so many of us wish we could do, fighting injustice when the justice system fails. All of us are born out of tragedy in some form, and if you haven't been, then you're probably not done growing yet. Tragedy breeds a lot of complex emotions--guilt, grief and anger perhaps the most powerful; a potent concoction that can be used as fuel. But if it's powering the wrong engine, the outcome can be disastrous.

Sean's already-fractured psyche quickly develops even more stress lines, and there's a pivotal and brutal scene in which he beats a mentally ill homeless man on the subway. This man can be viewed as a symbol of the madness that is ensnaring society at every turn, and in the attack Sean "gets a little on him", as it were.

Tragedy begets tragedy. Violence begets violence. Madness begets madness. And vengeance is never the answer. These are the lessons that Boy Wonder so astutely teaches us.

A truly fantastic film that belongs in every collection.

Rated R
93 Minutes
United States

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

11/22/63 by Stephen King Drops Today!

11/22/63, the new novel by the "retired" Stephen King drops today.  Sure, it's seems more sci-fi than horror, and sure, his recent books haven't had the same gusto as his older stuff, but still, the man is a legend for good reason, and it should prove to be an entertaining read.  And hey, at least we get to return to Derry!  Order the hardcover from Amazon,  or a Kindle copy if that's your bag.  Better yet, go support a locally owned bookstore and buy it there.

From the Amazon page:


In this brilliantly conceived tour de force, Stephen King—who has absorbed the social, political, and popular culture of his generation more imaginatively and thoroughly than any other writer—takes readers on an incredible journey into the past and the possibility of altering it.

It begins with Jake Epping, a thirty-five-year-old English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching GED classes. He asks his students to write about an event that changed their lives, and one essay blows him away—a gruesome, harrowing story about the night more than fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a sledgehammer. Reading the essay is a watershed moment for Jake, his life—like Harry’s, like America’s in 1963—turning on a dime. Not much later his friend Al, who owns the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to the past, a particular day in 1958. And Al enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson, in a different world of Ike and JFK and Elvis, of big American cars and sock hops and cigarette smoke everywhere. From the dank little city of Derry, Maine (where there’s Dunning business to conduct), to the warmhearted small town of Jodie, Texas, where Jake falls dangerously in love, every turn is leading eventually, of course, to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and to Dallas, where the past becomes heart-stoppingly suspenseful, and where history might not be history anymore. Time-travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying."

On a side note, why didn't they release this book on November 22nd?  Seems like a lost marketing goldmine to me, just like Captain America not being released on July 4th.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep.03: Umney's Last Case (2006)

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 03:
Umney's Last Case

Clyde Umney (William H. Macy) is a private detective circa 1938.  His job is full of danger and chaos, so he relies on the little things to get him by.  He finds small comforts in the repetitions of his private life: the rain never stops falling; the neighbor's dog never stops barking; his favorite diner never closes; and the paperboy on the corner, the secretary in his office, and the operator on the elevator are always there.

Then one day Umney wakes up.  The sun is shining; the dog is silent; the diner is closed; and all of his acquaintances are either gone or leaving.  His whole world is changing, and he doesn't like it one bit.

A man appears in his office, sharing his face and carrying a wacky typewriter from the future.  He claims to be Sam Landry--Umney's alter-ego from the future, his creator, who has come to take over Umney's life.

I've always enjoyed stories that blur the line between reality and fiction, and this is no exception.  Umney's hardboiled tough guy shtick is a dead on representation of a romanticized time period with very little basis in fact, but that doesn't prevent him from being one cool mother.  It seems slightly padded at times to fill the one-hour running time, and gets a little too slapsticky when Umney is being controlled by Landry, in my opinion.  And while it's not the horror that Stephen King is known for, this fantasy tale is still a pretty fun sixty minutes.

"Stay out of the rain, kid."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Short Film: 10 Things I Hate About Camping (2011)

Filmmakers Warren 'Waz' Bray and Craig Collett show us that the Great Outdoors aren't all they're cracked up to be in this brief, six-and-a-half-minute short film.  Counting down the top ten reasons, it begins as a light-hearted look at the perils of camping--the food, the lodgings, the insects--which is nothing new, but displayed in a cutesy, entertaining sort of way.  Then, as we get to the number one slot, it takes a sudden left turn and we end up in Zombieland.

Click HERE to watch the video for free at the IMDB page, and be sure to stick around to listen to the closing themesong, otherwise you'll be missing half the fun.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nightares & Dreamscapes Ep. 02: Crouch End

Nightmares & Dreamscapes Ep. 02:
Crouch End

American couple Lonnie and Doris Freeman are vacationing in Jolly Ol' England, and a dinner invitation in the neighborhood of Crouch End seems like an innocuous enough proposition.  Despite the warnings of local cabbies that Crouch End is not for strangers, and that Crouch End is home of a thin spot in the barrier that separates this world from the next, the Freemans decide to accept the invite and make an evening of it.

Too bad they lost the directions...

Things are creepy right off the bat, as Doris catches fleeting glimpses of beasts and monsters hiding beneath the surface of everyday things.  Then Lonnie is attacked by some unseen creature, and seems drastically changed afterwards, which doesn't bode well for his wife.

This is Stephen King's stab at a modern-day entry into the H.P. Lovecraft canon.  When I first read the short story that served as the source material, I wasn't too impressed.  But having now read a decent chunk of Lovecraft's work, my opinion may have changed, and I need to go back and try it again.  This television adaptation did pretty good, in my eyes, at filming the unfilmable--or at least another author's rendition of the unfilmable.

Good acting (especially by Claire Forlani as the superstitious Doris and Linal Haft as Archie the cab driver) helped move us along, even through a few of the slower parts at the beginning of the episode.  The special effects weren't bad either, although they perhaps wavered just a bit at the very end.

Over all, TNT is two-for-two with Nightmares & Dreamscapes.



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