Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers has a reputation as one of the lesser quality adaptations of his work, which led me to put off watching it for years. Well I don’t know what film the critics saw, cause the one I watched was wicked good. Nestled in that perfect area of 80’s horror where the blood was corn syrup, the flesh was latex, there wasn’t a pixel or rendering in sight and atmospherics mattered more than excessive violence, this is one serious piece of horrific eye candy with the backbone of King’s wicked imagination to hold it steady. The story tells of a small Midwestern town (is there any other kind in the man’s work?) That falls prey to a pair of vampire werewolf hybrid creatures who subside off the blood of virgins and morph into slimy behemoths that conveniently show off the impressive prosthetics. Brian Krause is one of said creatures, drifting into town with his creepy mother (the wonderful Alice Krige) and setting his sights on severely virginal schoolgirl Madchen Amick, by dialing up the charm past eleven. People and animals start to die all over town and the suspicions arise, but the pair are cunning and have most likely been doing this for centuries almost unnoticed. It’s nothing too unique as far as the concept goes, but the fun of it lies in the gooey special effects and one demon of a performance from Krige, a veteran stage actress. She is one part beautiful seductress (even to her son, in one unsettling scene) and one part volatile banshee, setting your nerves on edge time and time again throughout the film. Krause does the demonic James Dean thing nicely and Amick shows blossoming reilience beneath the required mantle of terrified cream queen. The three of them run amok in a beautifully realized fever dream of psycho sexualized terror, small town atmospherics and a classic old school horror climate. This film loves it’s cameos, so watch for Clive Barker, Ron Perlman as a grouchy state trooper and King himself as the world’s dumbest graveyard caretaker. Baffles me why this was panned upon release. It’s actually one of the best films I’ve seen based on King’s horror work, and there’s a lot to compete with.
I’ve never seen any of the original Conan films with Ahnuld (I know, get the torches and pitchforks), so I don’t really have anything to compare Marcus Nispel’s remake to, but on it’s own I found it to be a solid, servicable sword and sandal outing with a welcome hard R rating and some neat work from legendary actors. Jason Momoa was fresh of his Game Of Thrones stint, jumping right into a very similar role as iconic Conan, a musclebound soldier of fortune on a grisly quest to exact revenge against warlord who decimated his village when he was but a pup. Momoa exudes a different aura than I imagine Schwarzenegger must have, a stoic, silent tunnel vision style as opposed to posing theatrically. It works, but it’s a new Conan from the one I’ve seen in many a trailer and snippet on tv, that’s for sure. My favourite part of the film is the extended prologue, which just somehow feels like the most grounded part, whereas everything else is almost cartoonish, reminding me of stuff like The Mummy. The opening is terrific though, introducing us to a young Conan (Leo Howard) and his father Corin (Ron Perlman, who else?), living in their nomadic village on the edge of nowhere. Enter tyrannical villain Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang) and his super freaky daughter Marique (Ivana Staneva), played later down the line by Rose McGowan, before she got all lame on us. Laying waste to Conan’s home and killing countless people including Corin, he is left to breed fearsome vengeance for years, until he sets out into the wide world on a journey to find Zym and mess him up real good. The story is standard, the action is well staged by Nispel, who has a golden eye for spectacularly orchestrated displays of violence in his films, and pulls no punches here. He also casts roles on the nose, and has for years. Lang is in overdrive, practically frothing at the mouth and turning Zym into something scary indeed. McGowan is straight out of a Takahashi Miike film, all bone white hissing snarls and needle sharp appendages, a hellcat with supreme bloodlust that you just don’t want to encounter. Momoa has the brawn for Conan, but a few extra syllables of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt, if only to round the guy out some more and give Jason something to say, which he rarely gets to do in his work it seems. I think parts of the film, especially the finale, were somewhat ruined for me by the catastrophically bad 3D they used (when oh when will they learn with the damned 3D), so I feel like a Blu Ray revisit is nigh, in which I can fully appreciate some of the set pieces without being reminded of a popup book. It’s a good time at the movies, but like I said, I have nothing to compare it to as far as Conan goes.
Sensation is a very erotic thriller that breathes hot, heavy and hard all over its audience, almost overpowering the murder mystery at it’s center with the large number of sex scenes throughout. It’s essentially trash, and wouldn’t be worth much of a mention if it weren’t for some great actors, and an opening score that sets an eerie mood the film hardly deserves. Eric Roberts is Dr. Ian Burton, a college teacher who is looking for people with vague psychic abilities, for some sort of research. Enter stunning Lila Reed (Kari Wuhrer), a student with the unique ability to experience an object or person’s past simply by physical contact. Roberts is in fact looking for the person who murdered his lover, unbeknownst to her, and jumps at the chance to use her talent for his investigation. Many suspects run about, there’s sex scenes between Roberts and Wuhrer, in which her abilities flash back to… even more sex scenes from the past, and it’s all a wee bit disorganized, but oh well. Ron Perlman, always welcome, shows up as a Detective who thinks he can crack the case, winding up in over his head as well. There’s also a bizarre and inexplicable cameo from a creepy Ed Begley Jr. who hassles Kari in a bar and runs off as quick as he showed up, never to be seen again. It’s sleazy late night cable fun, without much to go crazy over except the actors, and that score I mentioned. Oh and.. you know… all the naughty bits, of which there is an overload
13 Sins is a mean, mean movie, one that pushes it’s audience as far as the central premise does it’s characters. By push I mean it gleefully tries to figure out just how many acts of nasty human depravity it can parade before you before the laughs turn to “oh damn, that’s actually horrible.” Me being the sicko that I am, I laughed pretty much straight through til the bombastic finale, but I recognized the rotten nature in the story and felt the weight all the same. The idea is simple: One day a financially troubled man (Mark Webber, who just has one of those faces you want to punch) gets a mysterious phone call from a game show host sounding dude, telling him to swat a fly, after which one thousand dollars will be deposited into bis account. Easy enough, right? Yeah, sure. Now he’s had a taste of money, wants in on the game and has no clue what soul crushing horrors await. Each new task gets more violent, disgusting, risky, disturbing and (if you’ve got the right mind for it) increasingly hilarious. Make a child cry. Push an old woman down a flight of stairs. Set a church nativity scene on fire. Cheery stuff. Then shit gets real and he’s asked to do things right out of a horror movie, all in the name of green money. The aim, besides of course amusement, is to prove that anyone can be turned into a monster if the price is right. As funny as it is, it leaves a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, like you’ve been kicked in the nuts by every horrible news report of late, a gnawing reminder of what levels humans are capable of sinking too when they have too much time and money on their hands. Ron Perlman plays the obligatory baffled police detective, always one step behind the action, and watch for veteran Tom Bower too. The film kind of falls apart near the end, as what little believability it had evaporates alongside the forced plot twists, but had it remained lean and simple I think it would’ve fared better. All its forgiven when considering the impact it makes though, both as action social horror story, extremely black comedy and alluring thriller.
Titan AE is one of the best 2D animation ventures out there that isn’t Disney. Science Fiction and animation just seem to inherently go hand in hand (affirming my belief that Treasure Planet is the best one that Disney ever churned out, but that’s another story), perhaps because of the dazzling possibilities in a form of creation like that, tools which make the visual patterns of the artist’s dreams and beautiful renditions of the cosmos a reality. This one nails the visual aspect, but it was story that hooked me ultimately. Along with the artwork there is a boundless creative surge, a very human plotline that’s relatable to anyone who’s ever felt lost or like they don’t fit in. In the year 3028 A.D., a marauding race of aliens called the Drej decide that us humans are a threat, and obliterate earth, leaving few survivors. Dark way to kick off an animated movie, amirite? That’s another great thing about it, it’s not exactly for kids and reaches for themes that are a little more than your standard animated flick, getting fairly intense in the process. One of the few human survivors is young Cale (later played by Matt Damon), whose scientist father (Ron Perlman) was working on an idea that could have greatly advanced our civilization. In the years following the destruction, Cale has been left to wander the galaxy with the sparse, impoverished remains of the human race, now looked down upon by other alien tribes for essentially being homeless. When human Captain Joseph Korso (Bill Pullman) comes to him telling of a mysterious device created by his father long ago, Cale is reluctant, resenting his him for disappearing on the Titan ship so many years before. Soon it becomes clear that Perlman’s device is the key to creating a new earth, and reuniting humanity. Thus begins an epic race across the universe to find it before the Drej do. Drew Barrymore lends her sassy voice talents to Akima, Korso’s tough lieutenant, and there’s also work from John Leguizamo, Nathan Lane, Janeane Garofalo, Charles Rocket, Alex D. Linz and rapper Tone Loc who has a perfect voice for this kind of thing, playing a kindly alien mentor named Tek. This one is timeless, feeling fresh and vital with each passing decade it’s allowed to age through. A celebration of imagination and the creative force of will that lies inside each and every one of us humans, no matter how dire our situation. Classic stuff.
Battle For Terra is right up there with Titan AE as one of the most underrated animated films out there. It was shunted to the area off the beaten path of the genre, released quietly and inconspicuously back in 2009, sneaking just past people’s radar. Not mine. I waited eagerly for a theatrical release, which never came, and grabbed the dvd as soon as it hit shelves. It’s a dazzling science fiction parable not unlike Avatar, but a little softer, reverent and easy on the pyrotechnics. The story takes place some years after the remainder of the human race has been left to wander the stars in a giant spaceship called The Ark, left homeless after devastating the resources of earth, and three subsequent planets after. Soon they set their sights on a newfound world they dub Terra. Terra is populated by a peaceful alien race who spend most of their time in harmony, studying their heritage and bettering their existence. They now face annihilation, however, as the humans wish to settle, mine resources and deeply unbalance their way of life. One young Terran girl named Nala (Evan Rachel Wood) is a plucky young inventress and wonderer who finds one of the human astronauts (Luke Wilson) crash landed and stranded in her neck of the woods. They form a bond which may turn out to be the only way to find peace between humanity and the population of Terra. The story is wonderful, universal and carried out in a childlike manner full of earnestness that anyone can relate too. The Terrans resemble something like upright tadpoles crossed with sock puppets, and are fascinating to look upon. More interesting still is the natural world they inhabit; they sort of swim/glide through their thick atmosphere, and coexist with the many strange creatures and bioluminescence around them, including gigantic blue whale type things that fly around with them. I’m describing this to try and impart to you the level of thought and detail which went into creating this world, so you can see how high the filmmakers have jacked up the stakes in attempt to let you see the length humans will blindly go to further their survival, without voluntary compromise. The world the Terrans live on is a lush paradise in perfect balance, and the humans aboard The Ark, no matter how desperate, threaten it. They are led by stern General Hammer (Brian Cox), who is an antagonist, but not a villain in the least, a determind leader who will go to extremes to protect his people if his lack of empathy is allowed to go unchecked. The supporting cast is stacked high with incredible talent, and one can practice ones skill for identifying voices by listening for Danny Glover, Ron Perlman, Danny Trejo, Justin Long, Rosanna Arquette, David Cross, Beverly D’Angelo, Chris Evans, James Garner, Mark Hamill, Amanda Peet and Dennis Quaid. What a lineup. Imagination, storytelling ambition and visual genius govern this overlooked piece, and anyone who is a fan of animation (which is brilliant here, I might add) or science fiction needs to take a look.
“Beowulf meets Predator” boasts the enthusiastic critic blurb on the poster of one of my favourite sci fi genre benders, Outlander. It’s pure outlandish fun, and better yet it knows it is and therfore doesn’t feel any need to spend a bunch of time on grasping exposition to convince you of any shred of authenticity. It simply hums along on a pure rush of unchecked adventure, always aiming to please and for the very most part, doing so wonderfully. Jim Caviesel stars, and he’s an unassuming Ken doll of an actor who has more intensity than anyone gives him credit for, which always makes me spring to attention when he’s in the driver’s seat. Here he plays Kainen, a voyager from a far away galaxy who has crash landed his spacecraft on earth way back in the time of the Vikings, stranded and in need of refuge. Only problem is, he’s been on the run for some time from a large, hideous and very dangerous creature from his home planet called Moorwen. Moorwen has a very personal and deadly vendetta against Kainen, one which threatens the Viking tribe who give him shelter, led by noble king Hrothgar (John Hurt). Kainen comes from a planet with technology and civilization far advanced from Earth at that time, which makes him a hit with the tribesmen and even more so with Hrothgar’s daughter (Sophia Myles). Moorwen threatens their way of life in its rampage against Kainen, causing tragic collateral damage to a rival clan led by Gunnar (Ron Perlman makes heartbreaking and stone tough work of what is essentially an extended cameo). It’s an awesome movie no matter what anyone says. Any film about an astronaut from a far off galaxy who bands together with friggin vikings to battle a fluorescent space dragon is just automatically a winner. In all seriousness though, this one really is something special,and almost seems like a Dennis Quaid vehicle if it were made in the 80’s. Fun, thrilling and never too serious, it knows it’s place and owns the genre shelf it sits on.