Tag Archives: dee wallace

Basketball porcupines from outer space: Nate takes a look at the Critters franchise

This one kind of demands to be observed and reviewed as a quadrilogy instead of four separate films because they flow into one another and so do many horror franchises that spawned a ton of sequels, but each of the Critters films are under ninety minutes and therefore easy to binge. Add to that the fact that there’s a handy DVD four pack floating around out there for extra convenience and you’ve got one cool little package. It would be easy to dismiss these films as a giant ripoff of Gremlins and indeed there are discernible parallels but there is both enough anatomical and characteristically different features to these creatures as well as narrative originality in the films themselves to make them a franchise worthy of distinction. Plus, ya know, Leonardo DiCaprio in his first movie, like, ever.

So what are Critters? They’re an extremely troublesome, destructive race of outlaw aliens that kind of resemble a hybrid between porcupines, gorillas and… basketballs. They arrive on earth and quite literally roll around like basketballs with no real plan other than to evade a couple shape shifting cosmic bounty hunters dispatched to exterminate them as well as bite, chew, maim and terrify every human being they come across. The first film would kind of have an Amblin/Spielberg vibe if the critters weren’t so savage and R rated in nature, which is a perfect example of why this isn’t simply a Gremlins rehash. The evolved Mogwai were nasty little shits, no doubt, but these things are positively murderous and inflict the kind of gore that Romero would be proud of. The first two films take place in wistful Grover’s Bend, one of those sleepy little American towns where nothing bad ever happens until it does and then the town is never known for anything else *except* that incident. An apple pie rural family headed up by the great Dee Wallace must confront them and defend their farmhouse from critter advances in super gory, chaotic fashion. Oh and Billy Zane shows up with a painfully 80’s ponytail too, before being quickly dispatched in a barn. The second film is more of the same although they thought they could sneakily recast the great M. Emmett Walsh with decidedly less iconic Barry Corbin as the town Sheriff, nice try. The third film is the most effective and not just for Leo Dicaprio but also because the setting change from rural county to dilapidated big city tenement building is way more spookily atmospheric, and allows for some hilarious hijinks with a laundry chute. The fourth film should be great because it’s that obligatory horror entry that’s set in space (like Jason X or Leprechaun In Space or.. wasn’t there even a Hellraiser in space?) but it kind of plods along in humdrum territory, the critters don’t even show up until like over halfway through and the only really memorable work comes from the ever awesome Brad Dourif and the luminous Angela Bassett.

The one character besides the Critters that holds these four flicks together is a town drunk turned intergalactic warrior played by Don Keith Opper, who is kind of a weird, aloof dude but provides each new film with eccentric gusto while new supporting players surround him. DiCaprio shows signs of his career to come and carries the highlight third entry nicely, while the first two feel very much akin to one another in a sort of Halloween and Halloween 2 kind of way. Low budget slapdash cheese like this is my bread and butter, I’m very fond of 80’s trash horror franchises like this and was beyond stoked to see the DVD at Walmart last second before going through the til and be able to binge all four films in one night. They’re great fare of this shit is your cup of tea, and they have this maniacal, almost Evil Dead style comedic sensibility to them that I greatly appreciated. My favourite scene of the whole thing: Dee Wallace brandishes a giant double barrel shotgun out her front door to ward off two Critters incoming up the driveway. Suddenly they speak to each other in some Furby gibberish with subtitles, one observing “They have weapons!” “So?”, his buddy retorts. Dee fires off a round that obliterates one of the two beasts into a puddle of fur and blood. The other one looks over and exclaims “Fuck!” in their weird little outer space creole dialect. I love that warped sense of humour gifted unto these scrappy little flicks, they’re a ton of fun.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s 3 From Hell

It’s been roughly fifteen years since Rob Zombie blasted onto the horror scene with his brilliant exploitation block party The Devil’s Rejects, and has now followed it up with 3 From Hell, a long awaited continuation following the further adventures of the murderous, hilarious, never boring Firefly clan. So, does it live up to Rejects? Well… no, but what could? Is it a good film? Hell fucking yes it is and although it’s arguable whether or not a third outing with these characters was necessary, in my eyes it was always more than welcome. Zombie is an inexplicably hated filmmaker and his detractors always make me laugh in their abject refusal to concede that he knows what he’s doing within the genre. It’s fine if it ain’t your thing, it’s all cool if his style doesn’t jive with yours, but whether or not he’s a talented, imaginative horror filmmaker just isn’t up for debate in my opinion.

So the Firefly family survived their Peckinpah standoff with the cops, which if you’ve seen Devil’s Rejects you’ll agree is a move both audacious and sheepish on Zombie’s part. Incarcerated indefinitely and placed squarely on death row, Otis (Bill Moseley), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) make no end of trouble for the buffoonish warden (Jeff Daniel Phillips) and his harried staff. Otis stages a violent prison break (reminiscent of Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers, I might add) with the involuntary help of Danny Trejo’s Rondo, a character who met an even more finality laden death in Rejects but nonetheless hilariously appears here without even a scar. Once he and Baby are free from their bonds they hook up with their equally murderous and profane half brother Winslow Wolfman Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake, Zombie’s newest muse) and take a road trip down to Mexico. There they wade themselves into as much hedonistic debauchery as they can until, once again, trouble comes looking for them.

So the main thing here is how does this hold up when placed alongside the other two in the trilogy and I’ll be the first to admit it’s the weakest of the three. It’s the least grimy, shocking, hallucinatory and overall spiked with madness too. But it’s also the most laidback and straightforward outing, which I can appreciate. It feels like a hangout film with instances of horror, a wistful afterthought to wash down the glory days and carnage of its predecessors. If there’s one thing that *is* crazier than the other two though its Baby; she has a caged animal, untethered ferocity here that even alarms Otis, who remarks that she’s way more nuts than he remembers her, which is quite the statement coming from him. Anywho they are surrounded by Zombie’s beloved, customary and always welcome bunch of forgotten character actors from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including Richard Edson, Dee Wallace, Clint Howard, Daniel Roebuck, Lucinda Jenny, Sean Whalen, Richard Rhiele, Barry Bostwick, Duane Whitaker and Austin Stoker who we lovingly remember as the Sheriff in John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13. As most of you know the great Sid Haig passed away very recently and had been ill for a while before that, so his appearance here is sadly limited to a single scene, but it’s a loving send off from Zombie and a terrific if brief swan song for Sid and Spaulding alike. Was this film absolutely necessary? Of course not, Rejects had the perfect poetic justice ending and this story would have been fine if the buck continued to stop there. Am I grateful for a continuation and appreciative of it? You bet I am. Zombie shows talent again in writing simultaneously funny and scary scenes, crafting beautifully grungy production design and drawing you into this world. I almost saw this as a hazy fever dream had by the Fireflies as they are getting shot to bits at the end of Rejects, like a Jacob’s Ladder type foresight into a future that never happened in the final moments of thought before death. It’s a nice final outing with these lovable, hateful psychopaths and a good time overall.

-Nate Hill

Rob Zombie’s The Lords Of Salem

Rob Zombie’s output has been hallmarked by a series of grungy, profane exploitation throwbacks with in your face violence and a loud, mean grind-house aesthetic. As much as I love *that* sensibility (I’m a hardcore fan of his films), what makes The Lords Of Salem so special is that he tries something different than he’s used to, ditches the comfort blanket of Manson-esque killers and brash, lewd dialogue in favour of mood, atmosphere and the kind of pacing you’d find in early 70’s fright flicks that valued aura over gore. This shows that although pretty much married to his trademark style (the third Firefly Family film is in production as we speak), he knows how to branch out successfully and has made a fantastic piece of slow burn horror with Salem. Set both during the infamous witch trials and in the present day, it focuses on quiet, introverted radio DJ Heidi Hawthorne (Sheri Moon Zombie). Now, if you’ve seen Sheri in the Firefly films you’ll know that the words ‘quiet’ and ‘introverted’ are a far cry from what she’s used to, but she’s brilliant here as a damaged recovering addict haunted by devilish forces. Plagued by sinister neighbours (Patricia Quinn, Dee Wallace and a freaky Judy Geeson), hallucinatory visions of evil and a mysterious music album mailed right to her radio station, it soon becomes clear that the demons of the past have come back to haunt Salem and have chosen her as a dark avatar. Zombie lovingly casts his films with carefully chosen icons of 60’s and 70’s genre cinema, and as such we get the likes of Ken Foree, Richard Lynch, Richard Fancy, Udo Kier, Maria Conchita Alonso, Michael Berryman, Sid Haig and more. Stealing the show is electric blue eyed Meg Foster in a blood freezing turn as Margaret Morgan, leader of the original Salem coven generations before. Foster hails from stuff like John Carpenter’s They Live, The live action Masters Of The Universe and recently Showtime’s Twin Peaks: The Return, but she’s absolutely terrifying and almost unrecognizable here as a freaky old hell hag with a raspy voice and gruesome saggy tits, truly a memorable villain. This is a film that takes its time building up to outright horror, alternating between dimly lit, spooky scenes from the original trials and the mounting tension of present day, including a subplot where an investigative scholar (Bruce Davison) tries to unearth evil and warn Heidi before it’s too late. Jarringly surreal visuals abound here, from neon palettes to a grandiose nightmare sequence involving a demon baby and some seriously strange architecture. It all builds to a searing finale that some may find to over the top or garish, but fits the story and ends the tale on a feverish note of hellish commotion, colour saturation and horrific spectacle that plays like Ken Russell by way of Dario Argento with a dash of David Lynch at his craziest. This is my favourite film in Zombie’s career so far, for its mood, unique visual language and rhythmic pacing, but also for his willingness to blast through the cobwebs of uncharted stylistic territory and bring forth well wrought, fresh artistic style and a damn great horror film too.

-Nate Hill

Ti West’s House Of The Devil: A Review by Nate Hill 

Throwbacks to horror films of the 70’s and 80’s either work or they don’t. The filmmakers are either able to replicate that specific tonal aesthetic and look from back then, or they aren’t. It’s not easy to do, but writer director Ti West makes it seem like a walk in the park with his near flawless House Of The Devil, a gorgeous love note to the satanic works of yester-year that so adeptly recreates that time and place until we really believe we’re watching a film that was made then. From the nostalgic hand drawn poster that beckons with atmosphere of a bygone era, to the use of full on, lovingly lettered credits ahead of the film, it’s pure vintage bliss, like that one perfect vinyl you find in the second hand shop. It starts out like many of these horrors do, with a young teenage girl (Jocelin Donahue) innocently wandering into a situation that leads down an inevitable path of gruesome terror. In this case it’s a seemingly innocuous babysitting job posted on her college notice board, by a cheery enough landlady (horror veteran Dee Wallace). Arriving at a creepy, ornate old manor, she meets Mr. and Mrs. Ullman, two gaunt, old world looking weirdos played by soft spoken yet disconcerting Tom Noonan, and genre legend Mary Woronov. They seem kind yet just kind of…off, explaining to her that the kiddies are alseep already upstairs, assuring an easy night for her. They depart and she’s left alone in the vast empty halls, or so she thinks. She’s been chosen for a bizarre, bloody ritual and soon is plagued by nightly terrors, a ghastly witch, the Ullmans themselves and all sorts of devilish deeds. Noonan could stand there and order a large double double with a honey dip and still make you uncomfortable, the guy is just perfect for horror, and makes a purring gargoyle of a villain for our our young heroine to go up against, backed up by Woronov’s nasty Morticia vibe. Eventually it gets quite graphic and startling, but the slow, solemn lead up is the key in making the horror shock us all the more. Nothing happens for an agonizing first half, filled with silent apprehension, and when all hell finally breaks loose, our nerves are already taut strings waiting to snap, like the ones in the shrill, ragged violin score. That’s how you pace a horror film, and many artists today should take note of this one’s pace, soundscape, mood board and production design, because it’s all about as good as it gets for this type of thing. Essential horror viewing, and I’d love to see a grainy VHS edition complete with box art, if that’s something they even do these days. 

B Movie Glory with Nate: Bone Dry

  
Bone Dry is fantastic little piece of sun soaked, revenge fuelled melodrama that serves as a glowing showcase for its two leads, Luke Goss and a ferocious Lance Henriksen. Lean, mean, gritty and reminiscent of 1970’s revenge outings, it’s a bloody delight of a flick. Luke Goss, an actor who can give Henriksen a run for his money in the intensity department, plays Eddie, a well dressed dude with a suspiciously murky past, winding his way through the desolation of the Mojave Desert. After breezing through a lonely cafe run by a girl (always nice to see Dee Wallace) who clearly has eyes for him, he sets out through a particularly lonely stretch of the terrain, and that’s where he finds himself in serious trouble. He’s soon stalked by a menacing, mysterious man named Jimmy (Henriksen), who is intent on tormenting, taunting and fucking him up at every turn. Jimmy is an ex war monster a man whose taken it upon himself to put Eddie through every ring of hell that the Mojave has to offer, all in service of some deeply buried reasons that emerge from the sand late in the third act, shedding scorching light on the two men’s character arc, and giving the film quite the emotional boost. When I say hell, I mean it. Eddie suffers through some unspeakably horrific scenarios, including a scene involving a cactus that will induce mass cringing among audience members. Director Brett A. Hart has a heightened, almost Walter Hill-esque style to his film, with the intensity metre ratcheted up past the maximum, and editing trimmed down to whip smart strokes that put you right in the middle of Eddie’s clammy desperation and Jimmy’s enigmatic fury. Henriksen spends the first half of the film with his face shrouded, adding to the mystery of his character. He’s a master of the craft who slowly lets the breadcrumb trail fall with every portentous mannerism and glowering posture until we finally see what Jimmy is really about. One his best performances. Goss doesn’t let the energy sag for a single second, something he has always been great at. There’s further work from the legendary Tommy ‘Tiny Lister’ Jr. as well, filling in another subplot stranded out there in the sand. This one is genre bliss, brutal and blistering until it cools off for a conclusion that cuts the viewer some respiratory slack after the breathlessness of its juggernaut setup. Terrific stuff.