Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 21

Hollywood Dinosaurs (1991)
You find the most amazing things in your basement. In a box of old VHSs, tucked in with SatAM and Power Ranger tapes, I found this. The public domain 50-movie box seems to have replaced the humble trailer compilation tape in dollar store dump bins. Which is a shame, because I really prefer a good best-of reel to slogging through hundreds of hours of forgotten dreck. “Hollywood Dinosaurs” isn’t just a straight-up trailer compilation either. It sets out to be a history of dinosaurs in film, starting from the 1920 silent version of “The Lost World” and going from there. Most of the important bases are covered, such as Willis O’Brien’s “Creation,” “King Kong,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” the slurpasaurs, both versions of “One Million BC,” Harryhausen, and lots and lots of Godzilla and his other Toho cohorts. There’s also a few gems thrown out in there, such as “Dinosaurus!,” “The Beast of Hollow Mountain” which I had manage to completely forget about, the hilarious “Reptilicus,” “Gorgo,” and the complete and uncut “Bambi Meets Godzilla.” Early on, a lot of silent movie footage has Godzilla sound effects played over for no particular reason but, luckily, the movie cuts that out soon enough. The movie is lucky enough to have been made in 1991, so they don’t have to talk about “Jurassic Park” and spend a lot of money on expensive clips from that blockbuster.

There’s a wry narration going over the whole thing, which is knowledgeable and fun without being disrespectful to the source material. The movie was written and directed by Ted Newsom, a guy who has made a few of his own B-movies over the years but seems to have mostly worked in the nineties video compilation world. There’s a lot of neat tidbits throw out, most of which a seasoned genre fan probably all ready knows about, but the effort is still appreciated. (The movie at least dismisses the “King Kong vs. Godzilla” ending myth. Thank goodness.)

Though, obviously, the dino-footage is the main drawl here. The “Valley of Gwangi” trailer shown here, with the word “Gwangi!” hissed over and over again musically, remains an all time favorite of mine. (And hard to track down.) The movie really reminded me of how fluid Harryhausen’s creature effects could be. Most of my enjoyment of “Hollywood Dinosaurs” is based in nostalgia, not going to lie about it, but even a veteran sci-fi fan can find a few things in here he hasn’t seen yet. (7/10)

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2011)
Like “Blood: The Last Vampire,” here’s another foreign cult property adapted into a low-budget, astoundingly mediocre direct-to-video American flick. I’ve only read a few “Dylan Dog” comics and liked what I saw. I know enough to know that this movie doesn’t take much from its source material besides Dylan’s trademark red shirt and jacket and his shitty luck with women. Instead of something more surreal or melancholy, Dylan fights vampires and werewolves. Early on, we find out that humans drink vampire blood as a drug… Christ, how many times has that idea been used recently? “True Blood?” “Lost Boys 3?” What’s up with that? Similarly, the idea of combining private detective fiction tropes with the supernatural is similarly worn-out and overused. (Brandon Routh’s unnecessary, irritating voice over doesn’t help in.) The idea of making a mob family and a werewolf clan the same thing is something I’ve definitely seen before as well. Over all, the whole movie has a been-there, done-that feeling to it.

This feels less like a movie and more like an episode of “Buffy” or something. The look is very bland and non-cinematic. The creature effects are half-way decent, especially the zombies and the demonic final boss. But the werewolf make-up is just a mask over dudes in shirts. The plot is fairly episodic and unremarkable as well. Dylan follows all of the leads before discovering the plot’s MacGuffin midway through. (Thanks to a grating infodump from a character introduced solely to drop exposition) Afterward, he walks into a building and, literally, just grabs the evil, mystical item and walks out. There’s a plot twist that comes fairly out of nowhere before, at the last minute, we find out this is a movie about Van Helsing Hate Crimes. And, again, the world ending threat, as often is in these story, is defeated way too easily.

Brandon Routh is terrible in the lead role. This dude is seriously uncharismatic. I liked the zombie sidekick and the idea of a service that provides replacements parts for rotting zombie. But “Dylan Dog” is pretty aggressively unspectacular. (5/10)

Zombie (1979)
Thanks to Blue Underground and the Alamo Drafthouse, I was able to catch this one on the big screen. I’ve never held Lucio Fulci in the same regard as the other pillars of Italian horror, Argento and Bava. His direction is certainly not as stylish. The colors are general kind of drab and dark, and there’s a lot of rough zooms. However, Fulci isn’t without his own stylistic elements. When the zombies rise from their graves, we get several shots from the undead’s point of view, including dirt falling off the lens. Fulci always made good use of music and atmosphere. While the Caribbean score doesn't always work for me, the main theme is a complete classic and very creepy. The scenes of the shambling zombies walking out of the night and slowly approaching the church are quite atmospheric. (The superior “The Beyond” makes great use of this talent for foreboding dread.)

But for the most part, and I don’t think even fans of the film will deny this, “Zombie” is a gore film. It’s really built around a series of gory set pieces. There’s the opening sequence with the zombie on the boat, the meme-tastic “zombie vs. shark” scene, the equally infamous splinter in the eye, and the disgusting discovering of what happened to the wife. Honestly, the movie is a bit slow during the early going scenes. I like the moments of the detective and the girl sleuthing in New York but, once they get to the island but before the zombies show up, things drag just a tiniest bit. It’s really not until we get the Conquistador’s graveyard that the movie kicks into high gear. The throat-tearing and head-bashing that follows is pretty memorable. It’s a blatant steal from “Night of the Living Dead,” but once our heroes board themselves up in the chapel against the hordes of zombies, the film finally finds a stable narrative groove. It certainly leads the most zombie shambling and gory mayhem. The movie also has a great ending. The shot of hordes of the undead shambling towards New York City, cut together with a newly created ghoul pushing against a locked door, makes for a nicely eerie conclusion.

The movie has got some pretty blatant logic holes too, and not the kind of stylish holes you come to accept with Italian horror. Seems like every female character, when faced with approaching death, just stands there and screams, waiting for a man to save her. How long it takes somebody who’s bitten to turn seems to vary depending on the needs of the story. And, honestly, throwing Molotov cocktails around inside a wooden building seems like faulty planning. So is deciding that, in the middle of the graveyard surrounded by flesh-eating zombies, is the best time to start putting the moves on your lady friend. I guess when you’re watching a movie mostly for the blood and guts, you don’t really think about these things too much.

It was fun to see this on the big screen, even if I don’t hold it in the same high regard as a lot of other Italian horror fans. Seeing it in a theater full of like-minded individuals certainly adds to the fun, as it always does. And, of course, since it’s the Alamo, you can eat while you watch the movie. Nothing like gnawing on chicken wings as you watch zombies gnaw on people. Classic. (7/10)

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