Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maniacs, Hulks, and Sci-Fi Classics: Tons of Reviews to be read and believed!

2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of a sequel to 2001 Maniacs, with news trickling through the websites about various attempts to develop the films story and casting difficulties. The project still remained within the capable hands of the films first director, Tim Sullivan, and that was all the promise a fanboy like me really needs. He promised more comedy, more blood, more grue, and when it came time to deliver he rushed his cast together and shot at a breakneck schedule in order to deliver on that promise. So, 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams hits the store shelves in a direct to DVD market that was frankly thirsting for some fresh blood.

Returning to the cast are Granny, Hucklebilly, and the two brothers. All four manage to steal just about every scene they’re in with psychopathic delight in the roles they were already familiar with. Granny, especially, manages to focus her character on more than just the occasional insane laugh or slapstick comedy by providing a sort of depth and emotional stability to the rest of the cast. The gory gags splatter the screen with due regularity and we even get a re-imagining on the infamous “Barrel Roll” scene from the original 2000 Maniacs that had been notably absent from the remake. But that’s about as far as the remake goes in satisfying any expectations.

Most notably absent from the original cast is Robert Englund as Mayor Buckman, who is replaced by horror veteran Bill Moseley. But this just isn’t any Mayor Buckman, this is George W. Buckman (GET IT?!?!?!!) and we are reminded of this fact with just about every appearance that Bill Moseley makes in the film. It’s a gag they repeatedly hit us over the head with, along with many more gags to come! Racial and cultural stereotypes strut across the screen with varying lisps, speech impediments, physical attributes, prowess, and on and on and on… some of it humorous, most of it insulting, and none of it really well done. Moseley lacks the charm and natural boyish humor that Englund brought to the role, taking the role in a far more slapstick villain direction as he rants and raves to one of his most disappointing roles to date. Moseley is capable of better and I don’t quite understand his failure in this film. Also notably replaced was the role of Harper by Skinny Puppy lead singer “Ogre” who lacks even the slightest shred of Southern Gentleman dignity that had been brought to the role by Guisseppe Andrews. With his black locks and eye make up, Harper comes across as a gothic poser rather than the ghost of a vengeful Gentleman displayed in the first film. Ahmed Best also joins the cast with little effect and stereotypes are filled out with the laughable performance from the character of “China Doll.”

I haven’t even started on the premise, which immediately jumps the shark by developing a scenario in which our proud and vengeful Southern Cannibal ghosts are forced to pack up and head out on the road. A chosen number of Happy Valley residents hop on a bus and scour the North in order to fulfill their debt of 2001 victims. So we get an opening montage of travel photos of the clan mugging for the camera before we meet our new cast of would-be victims. Celebrity sisters touring the U.S. in a camper are supposed to be heading into the southern state of Georgia (where Happy Valley is supposedly located) but make a wrong turn and end up in Iowa. There they decide to film their “Georgia” episode with the Happy Valley Travelling Jamboree… Oh dear god, why not just pop them in the real Happy Valley to begin with? I guess budget concerns forced the film to progress with little more than pop tents for location shooting? If you think that would be the end of your questions, you’d be horribly mistaken as you simply can’t lose yourself in the film as one moment after another makes you want to throw your hands up at the screen. The cheapness and rushed quality of the product continues to spiral around the toilet as we sink further and further into lazy writing, terrible puns, uncomfortable casting choices and moronic stereotypes. Director Tim Sullivan had a great many hurdles to overcome in bringing his vision to DVD and while the film occasionally delivers, the whole thing felt rushed and unpolished.

3 out of 5, barely.


Back in the late 80’s, you couldn’t throw a tennis ball in a video store without hitting a movie that featured Steven Guttenberg. His boyish charm and playful manners brought tremendous success to the Police Academy series, Short Circuit, and numerous other projects at the time. He popped up sporadically in a number of other projects in the 90’s, but the Guttenberg brand had pretty much gone past it’s expiration date and rendered the talented actor to large obscurity. When I saw his name attached to this low budget Indy horror project, I threw this baby to the top of my rental queue and waited for the Guttengerg Express to bring me to a new location.

Guttenberg’s appearances are mostly bookends to most of the films’ narrative. A serial killer is on the loose, dubbed the “Convenience Store Slasher” by the media. Steve is the delivery driver for several stores within Los Angeles and makes his appearance when he chases off an abusive john for one of the local “ladies” in the neighborhood. By that point, however, we’ve met most of our main cast of characters... several below average folk who work in a run down convenience store and a call girl who works the nearby corner. The store crew often get together for a poker game in the late evening and it seems the aforementioned “slasher” may have overheard them chatting about the terrible things they would do if they had a chance to cash in on the reward.

Largely a typical slasher film, the movie operates within the confines of a single location and comes up with a number of gruesome effects sequences. It was interesting to see Guttenberg in action and he still has a lot of his boyish charm and quirky humor. While having him in the film was actually the big seller for me, the rest of the cast manages to win over the audience with their unabashed sleaziness and underdog representations of society’s underbelly. Then again, I may be reading too much into the film and it’s not nearly as good as I thought it was… who knows? I actually thought it was a pretty fun little project and definitely worth the time I took to watch it. It was Gutten-riffic!

4 out of 5.

Galaxy of Terror

A number of Roger Corman’s classic projects are seeing new DVD distribution releases this year, including this somewhat obscure gem from the 80’s. Corman is the B-Movie king and he makes no apologies for blatantly ripping off several big budget Hollywood blockbusters and throwing them into a hodgepodge formula to eke out profits and often give younger film makers an opportunity to hone their craft. Galaxy of Terror was an early design project with a lot of influence from a much younger James Cameron and it featured a rather fantastic cast of future and past talents within the business. The film found notoriety through the inclusion of a rather graphic and risqué scene featuring the demise of a character beneath the crushing weight of a thrusting giant maggot.

The starship Quest is sent on a rescue mission to a distant planet where the crew discovers an ancient pyramid. After finding some of the remains of the crew they’ve come to rescue, some of the Quests’ crew members begin to face their own horrible deaths. There are a number of fantastically gruesome effects, especially for such a low budget affair. The story holds up against the test of time and the film is still relevant today.

*Special Featurette* The first disc includes a special featurette about the making of the film with a retrospective look back from Corman and members of the cast and crew. Notably absent, though much regarded (both positively and negatively) was James Cameron whose perspective on one of his earliest projects would have made an interesting tidbit in and of itself. Especially interesting was the actual and very real shame and dismissal of the film from the Writer and Director, who both felt the movie was beneath them and were surprised that it had any sort of a following. Other members of the cast and crew have much fonder recollections of the film and stories surrounding it’s production. Robert Englund, who constantly proves he’s a class act whenever I watch these features, puts the film in proper perspective as an open doorway for him to find better projects and learn more about his crazy profession. He actually ends the featurette, however, with a personal story regarding the film… attending an art exhibit and having a rather haughty and distinguished film critic approach him after he’d done a number of films, call him by name, and commend him for his work on Galaxy of Terror.

I normally don’t talk about the featurettes and extra stuff on a DVD but felt that it was warranted in this case. Galaxy of Terror has a warm spot in my own heart because it acted as an early introduction to films of the bizarre and twisted nature for me. I was very young when I first watched this movie at a friends house, but it left such a strong impression on me at the time that I’ve seen the film a number of times since. I’ve actually made friends with people through this movie as well as many others. It’s not the best film in the world, but it’s a fun little trip and I love it a lot.

4 out of 5.

Planet Hulk

Based on a successful Marvel storyline in The Incredible Hulk series, “Planet Hulk” starts off with the big green monster hurdling through space in a rocket ship. A recorded message from Earths’ mightiest Heroes explains their decision and the giant winds up crash landing on a rock populated by several warring races. Imprisoned, enslaved, and forced to fight within the Gladiatorial pits for the amusement of the Red King, The Hulk quickly earns the respect and admiration of the planets’ population.

With kids’ gloves fully removed, The Hulk smashes and rips through several monsters, aliens, and robots before the final act sees him take a stand against the Red King. The brute struggles with his own identity in this film as Bruce Banner never makes so much as a token appearance, and we find out whether Hulk is the savage monster Earth believes him to be or if there’s something more within him than a desire to crush and smash and break everything around him.

3.5 out of 5. (Very good!)

Summer’s Moon

Whether I’m writing about a good movie or a bad one, there’s always a sort of passion that drives me create a dialogue within a proper context. Summer’s Moon hits all the right chords for a film that should shock, appall, and ultimately sicken the casual viewer but lacks any sort of passion in pulling it off. The whole project seems a little bland despite the psychotic sickness that unfurls, and that becomes the films’ ultimate failing. It doesn’t really revel in its sickness and ultimately struggles to NOT be what it is: A grindhouse exploitation film. The script is decent, but the films execution comes off as dull and passionless. It’s a shame because there are some really good elements in this movie, but it just isn’t a lasting worthwhile experience.

2 out of 5.

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