Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Halloween 2018: October 12

Deep Blue Sea (1999)

As I said the other day, the record-breaking popularity of “Jaws” inspired countless other killer shark movies. Most of these movies are exploitative cash-ins. This trend never really slowed down. In the late nineties and early 2000s, the direct-to-video market was flooded with cheaply produced, shitty shark movies. More recently, the “Sharknado” franchise has picked up these reins. Occasionally, however, a major studio will drop some money on a shark movie. This year saw the release of the highly entertaining “The Meg,” which did good business. Back in 1999, Warner Brothers dropped a sizable chunk of cash on “Deep Blue Sea.” The R-rated creature feature did okay at the box office. Countless television screenings since then has made “Deep Blue Sea's” reputation grow. Nowadays, some even consider it the best shark movie outside of Spielberg's masterpiece.

The idea that sharks never get cancer is bullshit but “Deep Blue Sea's” entire premise is based around it, so just accept that and move on. Dr. Susan McAlester is looking for a cure to dementia. To achieve this, she has genetically modified mako sharks – which are said to never get dementia – and made their brains bigger. This has had the side effects of the making the sharks super-intelligent. While millionaire Russell Franklin is visiting the underwater research facility, the sharks break loose and reek havoc. Soon, the motley gang of survivors, made up of several scientist and diver Carter Blake, are fighting for their lives.

“Deep Blue Sea” was directed by Renny Harlin, who was still trying to get out of director's jail following the record breaking failure of “Cutthroat Island.” Harlin's direction has always been characterized by flash-bang excess. With his killer shark epic, Harlin really doubles down on brain-dead action theatrics. There's quite a bit of slow-motion, usually during action scenes that already border over-the-top. Harlin makes the water look crystal clear, the entire film having a clean, music video sheen. There's far more CGI than was advisable in 1999. This is most obvious during the multiple death scenes, as the human characters become floppy, unconvincing, computer-generated mannequins as soon as they go into the shark's mouths. The CGI sharks don't look great either. The animatronic effects are much stronger.

So “Deep Blue Sea” is obviously a very silly motion picture. I mean, that should be evident from the “we made super-smart sharks to cure Alzheimer's” plot. Most of the time, the movie's dumbness is fairly boring and insulting. The moment where the sharks destroy a helicopter, which causes a chain reaction that cripples the entire research facility, is completely ridiculous. So is a sequence where L.L. Cool J blows up a shark as revenge for it eating his pet parrot. However, “Deep Blue Sea” is occasionally kind of clever in its blockbuster silliness. The sharks using a bound human as a projectile to bust a glass barrier is cool. When L.L. hides in an oven, the shark turns the heat on.  Most of the time, the sharks just act like vicious man-eaters, smart enough to escape but not smart enough to do anything but kill their captors. Yet there's definitely some novelty to the premise.

The other thing that “Deep Blue Sea” does well is make it tricky to guess who will die next. The most famous example has been spoiled due to pop culture osmosis. Yes, the biggest star – Samuel L. Jackson as millionaire Russell Franklin – is chomped halfway through the movie and halfway through an inspirational monologue. This is not the only surprise attack. Stellen Skarsgaard getting his arm suddenly bitten off is a decent shock. Most shockingly, Saffron Burrows' heroine survives through most of the movie just to be offed about ten minutes before the credits. Still, some of the deaths are easy to spot. There was no way Michael Rappaport's scrappy scientist or Jacqueline McKenzie's tomboy doctor were making it to the end. I would've much prefer the latter live over L.L. Cool J's obnoxious comic relief character. Thomas Jane's blandly gruff tough guy hero was obviously going to survive.

I wanted to like “Deep Blue Sea” more than I actually did. A big budget B-movie, from the same era as “The Relic,” “Starship Troopers,” and “Hollow Man,” should've been right up my alley. Yet Harlin's approach is generally too senseless to be pleasing. Many of the actors are miscast, annoying, or somewhat bland. Many of the special effects have not aged well at all. Still, I can see why people like this one. Imagining being a teenager, on a lazy Sunday with nothing else to do, renting this from Blockbuster or catching it on cable. Under those circumstances, “Deep Blue Sea” was probably a hoot. In our jaded age of streaming and Marvel movies, it's pleasures are considerably more humble. I honestly think that hilariously dumb rap song may be my favorite thing about the movie. [6/10]

Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead (1974)
El buque maldito / The Ghost Galleon

It's impossible to find specific box office results for the “Blind Dead” movie. However, it seems that the first two films must have been successes because, in 1974, Amando de Ossrio upgraded his two-parter into a trilogy. The third film, as has now become normal, has several different titles. It's original Spanish title translates literally to “The Damned Vessel.” It was originally released in America under the generic title of “Horror of the Zombies.” It's most commonly known now as “The Ghost Galleon,” the catchy title that Blue Underground chose for their DVD release. I first encountered the film as “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead,” the title which best slots in alongside the other films. So that's the one I'm going with.

Once again, “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead” shares no continuity with the previous two films, being about an identical set of blinded zombie Templar Knights that hunt humans. We begin with two bikini models being set adrift in the ocean, as a publicity stunt. This soon goes wrong, as the two women collide with a mysterious ship. It appears to be a sixteenth century galleon but is seemingly abandoned. A rescue party is sent out, soon locating the ship. However, the ghost galleon is not empty. It is occupied by eyeless, blood-drinking, Satan-worshiping, undead Templar Knights. Soon, everyone living aboard the ship is being stalked by the unholy attackers.

The first two “Blind Dead” films got a lot of mileage out of spooky atmosphere. That score, full of ominous chanting, combined beautifully with images of gnarly zombies pulling themselves from their graves. The films even managed to mine the ridiculous image of the Blind Dead, riding in slow-mo on their horses, for some chills. By setting itself upon a derelict vessel, “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead” maximizes the spooky atmosphere. The ghost ship is strewn with cobwebs, caked in dust, and feels genuinely haunted. Moreover, the ghost galleon occupies its own dimension, something the characters comment on repeatedly. It's always overcast, a chilly blue moon above. You almost don't need the Blind Dead to crawl out of their hiding places. The ghost ship is creepy enough on its own.

Unfortunately, the excellent atmosphere of its seafaring location is the only thing “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead” really has going for it. After taking up most of the last film, the titular zombies only put in a few appearances here. While they gorily dismember one of the models, they are later ushered back into the ship just by someone reciting a prayer and making a cross. There's also not a single scene of the Knights hunting via sound. Far too much of “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead” is made up of people wandering around. The first victims navigate the creepy ship, eventually deciding to spend the night there despite that being an awful idea. When their would-be rescuers arrive, they expend far too much time arguing among themselves. The climax comes suddenly and lacks much punch, concluding with the image of what is obviously a toy boat being set on-fire.

The characters are also a very thin and unlikable set. Maria Perschy, whose dub voice sounds a lot like Cathy Moriarty, comes off as fairly bitchy. The other female characters are helpless and uninspired. The men are all fairly unlikable. The most prominent guy is an expert in the paranormal, who provides the Knights' origin story, denying us a spooky flashback. This being a “Blind Dead” movie, there's yet another attempted rape scene. Included before the gang gets on the ghost ship, it comes off as especially gratuitous and unnecessary. The ending is downbeat and incredibly ominous, the Blind Dead rising out of the ocean and claiming the beached survivors. You really aren't sad to see them go.

So I'm very torn on “Ghost Ship of the Blind Dead.” On one hand, the gothic atmosphere is incredible. As Halloween mood setting, Ossorio's third zombie flick could not function better. As an actual narrative movie, it's harder to recommend. I've frequently heard the film criticized as boring and that's pretty fair. Not a lot actually happens here. There's not even nearly enough action involving the Blind Dead themselves. But, damn, I really do like the spooky ship. That makes me like this one a little more than I probably should, considering it's something of a snooze otherwise. [6/10]

Tales from the Cryptkeeper: Fare Tonight

“Fare Tonight” is probably the most adorable episode of “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” yet. It follows Camille and Mildred, two teenage girls obsessed with monster movies, vampires in particular. A big point of contention between the best friends is that Camille thinks vampires are real, while Mildred is a skeptic. Camille talks her friend into investigating sightings of a bat-like humanoid, around a spooky all-night diner. Using a vampire detector she found instructions for in a monster hunting manual, they hunt a suspicious figure to an abandoned warehouse. It appears their limo driver friend Eugene is in danger.. Or is he?

Camille and Mildred could not be more precious. They wear fake fangs to classic monster movie festivals, casually drop references to Buster Keaton, and ride their bikes into sketchy neighborhoods at four o’clock in the morning. The antics the two get into, such as leaping their bikes over an elevated bridge, are a little too manic at times. However, their best friend banter makes up for a lot. Once the vampire is revealed, he’s surprisingly grotesque, with red eyes, clawed fingers, and a twisting, shape-shifting face. It’s easy to imagine young kids being scared by the scene where he attacks Camille in the limo. The way he’s dispatched - melted by sunlight - is also more graphic than expected. I think the episode’s moral is supposed to be about trusting your friends. From a modern perspective, it reads more like “don’t trust older men who hang around teenage girls, especially if you’re a teenage girl.” The episode is charming enough to make up for some repetitive animation, during a moment where Mildred is trying to figure out the limo’s controls. [7/10]

Forever Knight: Love You to Death

For its final episode of its first season, you'd expect “Forever Knight” to pull out something really special. Instead, it's mostly business as usual for the vampire/cop show. A lingerie model is found dead in a park, her body perfectly posed by whoever left the corpse there. Nick and Schanke are sent to investigate the modeling company. There, Nick meets Lucy Preston, a model who bares an uncanny resemblance to Sylvaine, a ballerina Nick fell in love with at the turn of the century. Soon, Lucy is kidnapped as well. The cops determine that an obsessed fan must be responsible.

As is often the case, the crime-of-the-week plot is the weakest part of this “Forever Knight” episode. The kidnapper objectifies the women, treating them as pure angels he can dress up however he wants. Once they step outside his specific fantasy, he has to kill them. No attempt is made to connect this attitude with how the fashion industry at large treats its women. The crime story is resolved in a fairly uninvolving fashion. The girl escapes on her own, Nick flies in, and the bad guy accidentally disposes of himself.

The flashback sequences prove more interesting. Seeing Nick so starstruck is interesting. Ultimately, this episode depicts the moment Nicholas and LeCroix became enemies, as the master vampire decided to kill Nick's ballerina crush because he could feel the woman luring Nick away from the dark side. What a dick move! No wonder the two hate each other now. This is fairly juicy stuff and also sets up the finale's cliffhanger, the sole concession “Love You to Death” makes to being a season finale. After a whole season of only existing in flashbacks, LeCroix has officially been brought back to life. It's a strong note to take the season out on and makes up for “Love You to Death” being a somewhat lackluster episode overall. [6/10]

Thus concludes my write-up of season one of “Forever Knight.” Revisiting this show has been fun. In many ways, it's a very typical cop show of its time and place. The vampire element is not always used in the most creative or interesting way. However, I've become attached to the cast and characters. Geraint Wyn Davies is a compelling actor, Nick and Natalie's will-they-won't-they relationship is cute, and Schanke is lovably goofy. It's fun to live for a while inside the show's moody take on vampire life. It's pretty campy and cheap by modern standards but I still like it. I'm looking forward to covering the next two seasons over the next two years.

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