|Yet more pumpkins.|
One of my favorite things about going to the Alamo are the pre-shows. In-between each film, a reel of classic horror trailers were presented. Each one had a theme. One was a collection of "Don't!" movies, including "Don't Answer the Phone," "Don't Open the Door," and concluding with Edgar Wright's "Don't." Another set was of "blood" movies, giving us trailers for "Blood Beach," "Blood Orgy of the She-Devils" and more fun stuff. I enjoyed Mr. Lobo's antics but you can't overstate the fun of a good old fashion collection of bizarre and sleazy movie trailers. On with the reviews!
Rebirth of Mothra III (1998)
Mosura 3: Kingu Gidora raishu
Last time, I said that Toho clearly didn’t care what the kaiju otaku thought about their movies. Maybe not but the studio at least seemed aware of when they made a bad movie. After the lackluster response to “Rebirth of Mothra II,” the studio got their shit together for the third of the Heisei Mothra movies. “Rebirth of Mothra III” dials back the kid friendly angle a bit, beefs up the monster action and mythology, and wraps things up on a fairly decent note.
It also introduces a fan favorite enemy. King Ghidorah returns to Earth after millions of years. The kaiju was responsible for destroying the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous period. Now he’s back to do the same to humanity. He kidnaps the kids of Japan, putting them in a weird bio-bubble in the jungle. Mothra, his fairies in hand, shows up to save the day. However, the mystical moth is out-matched. Deciding to take the fight to Ghidorah, Mothra travels back in time to defeat the monster in the past when it’s weaker. Meanwhile, a trio of young siblings have to help the fairies, and humanity, survive in the present.
Another big difference between this and the previous two “Rebirth of Mothra” flicks is that the audience is actually invested in the kids and the fairies. Holy shit. I know, right? The hero kid is the oldest of the three siblings. Shota is a bit of a misfit and a truant who frequently skips school to explore the near-by forest. When Ghidorah abducts all the children from the school, he’s the only one left, forcing him to save his siblings. He’s older and edgier then your usual “Rebirth of Mothra” protagonist, which helps. The fairies, meanwhile, are directly involved in the plot. Belvera and her sisters put their differences aside to stop Ghidorah. Apparently even the bad fairy draws the line at killing kids. There’s some business about stones that transforms the Elias’ tiny daggers into magical swords. I don’t care about that. However, it is nice that the fairies are directly involved in the story, trying to stop Ghidorah and helping Mothra out.
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah.” Cretaceous Ghidorah is thinner, more agile, and has a thornier armor. In the past, we see the dragon eating dinosaurs, which is cool, and the two monsters really beat the crap out of each other. Like last time, Mothra undergoes several transformation. At least they actually feed into the plot though. Leo turns into Light-Speed Mothra to travel back in time, Armored Mothra to survive being buried in lava, and Millieum Mothra after everything’s over. The monster fights are satisfying and fun, easily pleasing this kaiju nut.
None of the “Rebirth of Mothra” movies are great. None of them even remotely approach the quality of the Heisei Godzilla series. However, part three is the one that comes the closest. It has the least cutesy nonsense, even though there are still plenty of kids and musical numbers, and the most focused storyline. Thankfully, there is no overdone moral message this time, which also helps. I doubt this is a series I’ll revisit much but at least part three gives me a valid reason for owning the shiny new Sony Blu-rays. [6/10]
Night of the Creeps (1986)
I considered opening this review with the phrase, “Fred Dekker is the most under-appreciated horror director ever.” This, however, isn’t true. The two horror films Fred Dekker made are genuine cult classics and widely beloved by thousands of fans. It’s not that Dekker is obscure. He just doesn’t work enough. It’s proof that cult cache doesn’t count for much in Hollywood, even though everyone loves “Night of the Creeps” and “The Monster Squad.” Maybe it’s a miracle that a project as offbeat as “Night of the Creeps” got made in the first place. Considering the movie wasn’t a hit originally, maybe it’s a miracle that Dekker made as few films as he did.
The film immediately asks an audience to accept a lot. We begin with aliens running around a ship, pursuing another alien. That alien drops a tube out of the ship, which lands on Earth in the 1950s. In a black-and-white opening scene, we see a necking couple. The man of the group discovers the tube, a black slug flying into his mouth. The girl, meanwhile, is hacked to death by an escaped mental patient with an axe. Thirty years later, we meet Chris and J.C., a pair of nerdy college kids trying to score with chicks and win some popularity. A pledge prank gone horribly wrong results in the same boy from the opening being awoken from cryogenic sleep. More black slugs explode out of his skull, reviving anyone they encounter as undead zombies. Now Chris and J.C., teaming up with an eccentric detective, have to team up and save the campus. Oh yeah, and the world too.
Plan 9 from Outer Space,” what with the zombies being controlled and motivated by aliens. (The script skips the Solaranite, though.) The movie even acknowledges this connection, by having “Plan 9” play on a TV at one point. Most of the characters are named after noted genre filmmakers. George Romero, John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, James Camerson, David Cronenberg, John Landis, Sam Raimi, and Steve Miner are all name-dropped. The college is named after Roger Corman. Hell, even the cat is named after Stuart Gordan. Dekker never pushes the referential tone too far, making the in-jokes never more then a fun time for hardcore watchers. There are elements of a slasher, when the axe-wielding maniac comes into focus. The ins-and-outs of Chris and J.C.’s friendship, the relationship with Cindy, and the fraternity recalls “Animal House” and countless other college comedies. The movie becomes a full-blown zombie flick at the end and even throws in a little “Evil Dead” when power tools are utilized. Basically, there’s something for everyone here and the whole package is wrapped up in fifties drive-in nostalgia.
However, the lovable cast of characters is the real reason the movie endures. The friendship between Chris and J.C. is gracefully realized. The movie never lets J.C.’s crutches define him as a character while acknowledging how the disability affects his life. Little moments characterize how realistic the friendship is. The two resolve an argument with kind words and a pillow fight. When Chris wins over Cindy, he secretly make a triumphant fist to J.C., who returns the gesture. Their dorm room is littered with little mementos and trinkets, small details that build on their personalities. J.C.’s death provides an unexpected amount of pathos in the middle of the movie. The note he leaves for Chris, describing how the slugs taking over his brain allowed him to walk for the first time, is touching. Jason Lively and Steve Marshall are both great in their roles.
Billy “King of the Assholes” Zabka play the Bradster? Missed oppretunity there.
“Night of the Creeps” builds quite successfully to an awesome final act. The movie operates on witty comedy and flashes of gruesome horror for most of its run time. For the big finale, the movie has a horde of creep-ified zombies laying siege to the sorority house. The film then front-loads with zombies getting their heads blow open and the rest of them getting set on fire from a flamethrower. My favorite bit, and a favorite of many others I suspect, is when Chris and Cindy lock themselves in a tool shed. Grabbing up a lawnmower, they fight back. Atkins gets to overact, plug some creeps, and the camera spins. Then the whole thing goes up in a massive fireball. Awesome. Depending on which version you’re watching, the movie either ends with a callback to the aliens or a fun house jump scare. I like both.
The Monster Squad (1987)
“Night of the Creeps” is a hell of a first act to follow. I’m referring to both Fred Dekker’s career and to the movie marathon I attended. Somehow, with the help of iconic scribe Shane Black, the director topped himself with his second feature. I love “The Monster Squad” and have raved aboutit a few times before on this blog. Because I have seen the movie a zillion times, I was a little disappointed that it replaced “Evilspeak,” which I’ve never seen, on the Dismember the Alamo bill. This is kind of a silly thing to say though. Every time I see “The Monster Squad” my love of it is reaffirmed. This movie is a blast from beginning to end.
“The Monster Squad” is set in a classical American small town during that magical time – the late eighties – when pre-teen kids were still obsessed with classic monster movies. Best friends Shawn and Patrick form a club about those movies, along with overweight Horace, younger Eugene, cool kid Ruby, and Shawn’s noisy little sister Phoebe. Unexpectedly, the Monster Squad’s interests become relevant to saving the world. As often happens in fiction, the planets align, and good and evil struggle for control. Sensing he has an advantage, and seeking a magical amulet, Dracula recruits the Wolfman, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein's Monster. Being a gentle soul, Frankenstein should joins up with the kids. The Monster Squad has to scrap together all the tools a ten-year old can find, including a helpful book and an old Scary German Guy, and prevent Drac from plunging the world into darkness.
Part of that is the reason why certain viewers respond so strongly to the film. (And why it should have been a bigger hit in its day.) “The Monster Squad” is told from the perspective of the pre-teen lot. So it’s got all the stuff kids that age likes. In addition to the obvious appeal of the monsters, there’s wacky comedy, instantly memorable dialogue, bikes, fast cars, cute girls (though they aren’t the focus), and big explosions. The movie’s view of what’s cool is childish enough – and I mean this in a good way – that the kid in the leather jackets and penny loafers is the cool one, like some sort of Fonzie throwback. Because “The Monster Squad” accurately reflects the world of its protagonists, things aren’t always cute and fun either way. Horace is bullied relentlessly and even his friends call him “Fat Kid.” In a move that’s deeply un-P.C. by modern standards, “homo” and “fag” are used pretty loosely. I don’t know how it is now but, when I was in middle school, that’s what twelve year olds talked like. Yet “Monster Squad” is also a fantasy, so the bullies get punished and Horace proves himself a bad ass.
At the screening, JD and I were Those Guys. We were quoting the movie, laughing and clapping at probably inappropriate volumes, and flashing thumbs-ups and clenched fist during the right moments. I’m not going to disguise my love for this movie, especially not during a midnight screening. It just further confirms that “The Monster Squad” is one of my favorite flicks. It’ll never happen but maybe Universal should look this one if they really want to reboot their classic characters. [9/10]
Night of the Comet (1984)
Out of all the films we saw last night, “Night of the Comet” is the one I’ve seen the least. I first saw it many years back, enjoyed it enough, but slightly wondered what the big deal was all about. Coming off an enthusiastic screening of “Night of the Creeps” and “The Monster Squad,” the film definitely seems like the weakest of the lot. But it’s still pretty good and has its own cult-y pleasures to give.
During the Christmas holiday, a comet approaches Earth. People all over the world gather around, looking up to the skies in excitement. What they don’t expect is that the comet’s tail will contact a deadly powder, that reduces most everyone to red ash and turns the survivors into deadly zombies. This fate befalls most of Los Angeles. Except for sisters Regina and Sam. Tough, resourceful Regina spent the night in a steel-plated projection booth with her sort-of boyfriend. Flighty cheerleader Sam, fighting with the girl’s step-mother, slept in a steel tool shed. Both survived the apocalypse and awaken to a different world. The post-Armageddon city is both fun and terrifying. However, things change when zombified ghouls show up, along with asshole government scientists with less then noble intentions.
Tempest and seems to have a weakness for hunky guys too. When both are feeling down, they go on a shopping spree at the mall. Catherine Mary Stewert and Kelli Maroney have a great chemistry together and easily carry the film. Even the smaller characters, like the two little kids the girls save at the end, are likable and memorable.
Like “Dawn of the Dead” or the later “Zombieland,” “Night of the Comet” also shows that the apocalypse can be fun. Characters race down the L.A. freeways, which are now completely empty. Samantha takes over the local radio station, turning herself into a make-shift D.J. She even admits that now no one has to worry about school, test, or cheer practice. Hector, the male hero of the film, swipes a flashy sports car and races around the city in it. Later on, a character notes that he has “about a hundred” fancy new cars. In this case, “Night of the Comet” plays like “The Omega Man” re-designed for teenage girls.
I’ll admit, by the time “Night of the Comet” started, most every at the screening had baled. Even Mr. Lobo left before the movie started. I could tell the energy of the few remaining patrons – about ten by my count – was low. This film, with its slower pace and weak ending, probably wasn’t the best choice to end the night on. It’s still a good time and the film is propelled by some dynamite performances. [7/10]
Dismember the Alamo was the first time I've ever done an all-night horror marathon like this before. It was exhausting truthfully and my ass was ready to be out of the theater chairs by the time it was over. Yet a good time was still had by all. Hopefully, Mr. Lobo will be back at the Alamo next year. This would be a good yearly tradition.