Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Tuesday 28 October 2014

Burl reviews Halloween H2O! (1998)

Trick or treat, Burl’s on your doorstep! Ha ha, no, just here in my usual spot! Yes, it’s time already for another Halloween series movie review, and I’m kind of relieved that this one, Halloween H2O, is meant to follow Halloween and Halloween II directly, while ignoring all the stuff set up by Halloween 4, Halloween 5 and Halloween 6! Though, the ending of 4 was pretty effective, and its implications intriguing; but these were apparently dispensed of by 5 and 6, neither of which I can remember all that well, ha ha, so this one, the seventh in the series, had little choice but to make itself a reboot avant la lettre!
Of course, Halloween H2O is a silly title, because it makes us think it takes place in the water, or perhaps on a boat like Friday the 13th part 8! Ha ha, but there’s no water here, just a tony private school in Northern California at which Jamie Lee Curtis, playing Laurie Strode but with a new identity, is the dean! At such a setting we miss the old neighborhood feel of some of the earlier installments, but the filmmakers try to redress this with a lengthy neighborhood-set prologue in which Michael Myers kills the nurse from the first picture along with two youngsters (one of whom is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt from Looper), who get killed by hockey equipment!
At the school, Laurie Strode is a competent administrator but a mess behind the scenes: alcoholic, jumpy, overprotective of her teenage son (Josh Hartnett from The Faculty), and seeing phantom Michael Myerses everywhere! So when the real Michael shows up to exercise his inexplicable desire to put a poking on his kinfolk, she thinks he’s just another hallucination! Ha ha! But pretty soon we get some pretty garden-variety stalking and slashing, with Laurie’s boyfriend Adam “Full Moon High” Arkin, young Michelle “Species” Williams, and a few others on the Shatner-masked madman’s kill list!
LL Cool J, well-known from Wildcats, plays the romance novel-writing school security guard, and, of all people, Janet “Psycho” Leigh appears in a small role as the school secretary! She escapes a poking this time, though! We also get see Beau Billingslea from The Blob, whose purpose is simply to explain to viewers that Michael Myers is still young enough to be a formidable slasher!
Michael has always had some pretty sadistic tendencies – recall the hot tub incident in the second picture, for example – but they seem a little ramped up here! He doesn’t poke or slice many people, but several of these deaths are uncomfortably protracted by director Steve “Friday the 13th part 2” Miner!
I recall being a little excited when this picture came out (in the summer for some reason), because the word was it would be good – almost as good as the first one! Ha ha! Well, it turned out to be just okay, and this time around when I watched it, I didn’t care too much for it! It had a couple of effective scenes, and Jamie Lee is always good, and the supporting cast of up-and-comers is pretty strong too; but there’s just something a little flat about it, and I think it was just the wrong characters, the wrong story, the wrong location for this movie! That’s why the neighborhood scenes are better, maybe! They’re almost a mini-movie of their own, appended to the head of this picture like The Crimson Permanent Assurance Company is to The Meaning of Life!
Well, in the end I have to award Halloween H2O a measly one and a half headchops, which the next, and worst, installment informs us was of the wrong guy’s melon anyway! Ha ha! Happy Halloween everybody!

Monday 27 October 2014

Burl reviews The Devil Doll! (1936)

Eh bonjour, c’est Burl! Hà hà, the picture I wanted to tell you about today is The Devil Doll, which is to say the old Tod Browning one, not that spooky British cheapie from the early 60s! This one is typically eccentric for a Browning picture, featuring as it does a vengeance-crazed Devil’s Island escapee donning old lady drag in an absolutely batty plan to get satisfaction from the bankster blackguards who lied and killed to put him behind bars!
The murderous ex-banker is played by Lionel Barrymore, who was also in Browning’s Mark of the Vampire! Ha ha, his Hal Holbrookian voice is not very Parisian (which all the characters are supposed to be), but his performance is a cured-ham delight, particularly when he’s dressed up as old Mme. Mandelip!
Let me back up a bit: Barrymore’s character, Paul Lavond, busts out of Devil’s Island with a chum: an ailing old scientist with a bonkers idea to save the world from the hassles of overpopulation: shrink everybody to one-sixth their size! Ha ha, the idea is that there’s a lot more food for us! But the plan neglects to take into account the problems of raising and slaughtering, say, a cow as big as a double-decker bus! Or how to fish for a tuna the size of a small submarine! Ha ha, what about all the houses? The clothes? The machines? The cost involved in replacing all of this, even if smaller, would be astronomical! And who goes into the shrinking machine first, and who last? Wouldn’t there be gangs of stubborn giants roaming the world? Or is everyone compelled to be miniaturized? That sounds unworkable!
Ha ha, you can see I’ve put some thought into this! But this bizarre plan is only a small part of the picture – the real crux is Barrymore’s revenge against the confederacy of bunces he blames (correctly) for ruining his life! When he sees that the old scientist can create doll people controllable by mental impulses, he gets an idea that’s only slightly less bonkers: assume the persona of Mme. Mandelip, an old lady who makes hyper-realistic dolls; sell a doll person to his enemies, then have the doll person poison the enemy during the night! Robert Greig from Tower of London plays the chief enemy, and he gets a poking whilst in his bed – a poking from which he’ll never recover!
Meanwhile there’s drama with the now-deceased scientist’s wife, who is a sort of cross between the Bride of Frankenstein and Igor, and who wants Barrymore to help continue her husband’s kookywork! Barrymore, however, only wants revenge, and then he’ll have nothing to do with miniaturizing the world! And of course there’s Barrymore’s daughter, played by Maureen O’Sullivan from Too Scared to Scream, and who believes her father to have been a crook and a murderer and hates him for it; and her romance with a penurious cab driver! There’s a marvelously melodramatic ending to cap it all!
That’s a lot packed into a short running time, and, perhaps as a result of this there’s a lot of weird atmosphere in the movie; very indistinct, though! Hard to pin down! But one thing worth pointing out are the excellent special effects, and in particular the amazing oversized sets built to show the homunculi in close-ups! Wow, ha ha! Maybe the movie could have used a few cigar-chomping midgets disguised as babies, but you could say that about most movies! I give The Devil Doll three stricken bankers!

Sunday 19 October 2014

Burl reviews Out of Print! (2014)

One please, for Burl! Ha ha, I was just pretending to be a movie patron there, in preparation for reviewing a new picture I just watched – a documentary called Out of Print! Ha ha, now this is a funny sort of movie: pretty much a personal essay in the form of a ninety minute doc! If it was a subject I was uninterested in, it might have been intolerable! But the picture had me from the very beginning and kept me interested all the way through!
Have you ever been to the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles, California? I have, but only once – in fact, that’s where I saw Innerspace! I can tell you that if I lived in L.A., I’d go there all the time! Ha ha, I might well have ended up in this very film, talking about how much I enjoy attending films at the New Beverly! (I did spend a lot of time in London's legendary Scala Cinema, even though I'm not and never have been a Londoner! Ha ha, that was some great place!)
Because that’s what this picture is about: how much people enjoy attending films at the New Beverly! We get some details about how it was started as a reparatory cinema back in 1978, and how the fellow who ran it, Sherman, was a very nice and quirky love hippie; and about how Sherman sadly passed on and the movie theatre was saved from becoming a fast-food restaurant by the quick-thinking action of its clientele (specifically Quentin Tarantino), and management of the place was turned over to Sherman’s son Michael!
Much of the movie is about how great it is to watch movies projected on 35mm film, and how marvelous it is to see a movie with a big audience! I agree heartily, ha ha! And the New Bev is, or was, indeed a wonderful place to see a picture! So a lot of this picture is simply people, be they filmmakers like Joe “Explorers” Dante and John “Into the Night” Landis, or simply celebrities like Kevin Smith and Seth Green! It’s all just a celebration party for a place, and a format, and a social ceremony that everyone who loves these things secretly knows is not going to last forever!
So there’s a certain melancholy hanging over the picture, and a few touching moments in there too, like when New Bev regular Clu “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” Gulager reveals just how important the place is to him! But really, there was and is more drama surrounding this modest movie palace that’s taken place since the movie was finished! The lady who made it, Julia Marchese, was an employee there, and was briefly made a manager before the powers that be – Tarantino’s assistant, apparently – decided she wasn’t management material!
She may well not be, and she may be right about the wrongheaded approach they’re taking in running the cinema! On the other hand, she may be totally wrong, and I hope she is! I don’t know for sure, but I do know that the picture of the New Bev she paints in this movie is so appealing that I can hardly conceive of any change that would be for the better! The word is that Tarantino will only screen 35mm prints there, and that’s fine, but I sure hope he doesn’t lean as heavily on his own work as it appears he might!
Out of Print itself is not a great documentary – it’s poorly organized, chatty and repetitive! It’s also a sterling example of preaching to the choir, which I don’t mind so much! There are some nice images – at least some of it appears to have been shot on 35, which is grand – and it makes an excellent case for preserving that format! So as a call to arms it’s not bad at all! It also has a nice parade of New Bev regulars, and some good stories! I’m not sure how I’d feel about the movie without knowing the backstory, which certainly gives it an extra dimension! Anyway, you can watch it yourself and see what you think, and then go out to your local independent cinema or rep house and see a movie, ha ha! I give Out of Print two golden Gulager plaques!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Burl reviews The Horror Show! (1989)

Once again, and without prejudice, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, this unplanned trek through late-80s horror continues with a picture I think I’ve seen before, many years ago, but all I could remember of it were the stills printed in Fangoria magazine! And, ha ha, the funny thing is that almost none of those moments made it into the heavily cut final version of the picture!
The movie’s called The Horror Show, and it was sort of the poor cousin to that same year’s Wes Craven extravaganza Shocker, or like a grindhousy version of The First Power! It’s got some mainstays in the mix, like Lance “Nightmares” Henrikson in the role of the haunted cop, and of course Brion “Blade Runner” James, well known from his role in Armed and Dangerous, as Max, the cleaver maniac! What happens is that Henrikson and his partner, played by Terry Alexander (whom I didn’t even recognize as being John from Day of the Dead), close in on Max as he’s just hacking his way through the warehouse district or something, and, after the poor partner gets the chop, Max is somehow captured!
Well, it’s Old Sparky for him, ha ha! The putative execution is easily the movie’s best scene, but it turns out that Max has been practicing with a home-built electric chair, and somehow uses the voltage to turn himself into electricity! (Ha ha, great plan, but what if they’d used drugs to kill him?) All of this background comes from the picture’s most unforgivably silly character, a weird young professor played by the weird young professor from Prince of Darkness, Thom Bray! (Was he from Simon & Simon or Riptide? Either way, I always think of him as the Buddy Love to Eddie Deezen’s Julius Kelp!)
The electric Max, whose powers and limitations are never really discussed (though the weird professor suggests a method of stopping him which then is never really used, ha ha), begins a campaign of terror against Detective Henrikson and his family! His realistic-looking wife, played by Rita Taggart from Go For Sisters, inured to strangling simply by being married to him, catches a ghostly chopping from Max, who seems to reside mainly in the family furnace! Deedee Pfeiffer from Moving Violations and Vamp plays the teenage daughter whose boyfriend gets bisected (material you’ll only see in an old Fango, ha ha), and Matt Clark, a guy who seems very familiar to me every time I see him, and who was in Pocket Money and lots of other pictures, is the ineffective police therapist!
There’s even a very cursory appearance from Lawrence Tierney, well known from Junior and Silver Bullet! So you can’t fault the cast! But the movie, which, like Bad Meat and The Long Ride Home, was a Troubled Production, I gather, ha ha, doesn’t make much sense, and spends a lot of time being one of those Freddy Krueger “anything weird can happen” type of pictures, which have never been my favourites for some reason! But the tone is interesting: it somehow has one foot in grim, but the other straddled way over in cartoonland! It’s an impressive feat of acrobatics at least!
Too bad so much of the gore was cut out, because that might have helped! I’ll tell you, a lot of people think this is a hambone classic, endlessly entertaining, but I got a little bored with it! It has a weird TV-sitcom ending that keeps threatening to turn into a sting, but rather charmingly never does! Ha ha, I liked that! Still not a very good movie though, and I’m going to give The Horror Show one Jenke-faced turkey!

Saturday 11 October 2014

Burl reviews Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers! (1988)

Ha ha, trick or treat, it’s Burl at the door! Boy, it’s certainly getting close to Halloweentime, and to bring on the spirit a little bit I thought I’d watch one of the Halloween pictures I haven’t seen in years, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers! I was a little confused going in, because I thought this one had lots of goofy backstory and druids running around, and the psychic visions that do their best to ruin any slasher picture, as we know from The Initiation and Sorority House Massacre!
But I think all the weird mythology of this series is packed into episodes five and six! This one is a little more like Halloween and Halloween II: lots of talk about Michael Myers’s inhumanity, but more or less a straight up, relatively dry slasher picture! Halloween III: The Search For Michael Myers is of course ignored, which is too bad because it would have been nice to see those mythologies mixed together; and for those casual fans who maybe haven’t seen the first two pictures in a while, the whole story of Michael to date is blurted out by a nerdy security guard! This prompts the thought “Ha ha, surely there must have been some other way to deliver this information!”
Michael is being transferred somewhere for some senseless reason, but Dr. Michael Pataki, from The Bat People, is glad to get rid of him! Of course Michael wakes up from his coma, pushes his thumb through a guy’s forehead and begins killing his way toward Haddonfield, with Dr. Loomis waddling close behind! The masked maniac, it turns out, is after a little girl, his niece, and his reason for this pursuit, whatever it might be, is treated as though self-evident and so never disclosed to the rest of us! Ha ha! But there are plenty of people to kill along the way, so Michael gets busy with his kitchen knife and some of his best shock-wrestling moves! Soon Loomis, who is of course once again Donald Pleasance from Prince of Darkness, and Sheriff Beau Starr from Fletch are running the masked man all over Haddonfield! Ha ha!
There’s a supporting cast of vaguely familiar faces, like Carmen Filpi from Garden of the Dead; Sasha Jensen from Dazed and Confused; Kathleen Kinmont from Fraternity Vacation; and Gene Ross, who faced an iconic slasher before when he appeared in Friday the 13th part 4! So it’s nice to have these people scattered throughout, and just as comforting are the bursts of score from the original picture! The mask looks as creepy as ever, and we also get a very nice opening credit sequence (kudos to the second unit, ha ha!), some pretty good bits with a mob of town louts right out of Silver Bullet, and a genuinely disturbing finale!
Those are the good points! But there are plenty of dull stretches, dumb dialogue and stock characters, so it’s hardly a masterpiece! But on the whole it was a better picture than I remembered, and not a bad pick if you want a bit of autumnal atmosphere! Ha ha, it’s a bit like The Devonsville Terror in that way – a crouton for the most part, but an evocative one! There are even a couple of Special Makeup Trick Effects, which the first Halloween didn’t have, as good a movie as it otherwise is! The thumb in the head is one, and then there’s a bit of a face-ripping, ha ha! The rest is stabbings and suchlike, and a few pretty stiff neck twists! (Of course there’s some putty on Dr. Loomis’s face and on Michael’s hands, and I guess those putties count as Special Makeup Effects too, ha ha!)
It’s an okay picture, I guess, and there’s really not much else to say about it! I enjoyed it while it was on, except the parts where I was bored, and I’m going to give Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers two ponky deputies!

Friday 10 October 2014

Burl reviews The Blob! (1988)

Blup blup, it’s Burl, here to review a very blobby picture: the 1988 remake of The Blob! Ha ha, I saw this one in the theatre when it was released in August of 1988, and to me it remains the quintessential Late Summer Horror Picture – the kind of movie you could count on seeing as the toasty months wane and school approaches! The tradition has slacked off in recent years, and I count that as a real shame!
Well, ha ha, it’s not the end of the world! But I sure enjoyed The Blob when I first saw it, to the point of including it in alongside The Thing ‘82, The Fly ‘86 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers ‘78 on the list of Remakes Which Justify The Practice; and a recent viewing confirms that it is indeed a pretty enjoyable film, if not on the level of those already-named remakes!
Like all good remakes, it makes One Big Change from its forbear! The Thing reclaimed the shapeshifting premise; The Fly made the metamorphosis gradual; Invasion changed the setting from a small town to a big city; and The Blob makes the titular creature not a random passer-by from space, but a man-made organism gone screwy from space bacteria or something! Ha ha, it’s a pretty good dramatization of the post-Iran Contra cultural cynicism, which itself was an echo of the post-Watergate cultural cynicism from a dozen years earlier!
Filmmaker Chuck “A Nightmare on Elm Street 3” Russell kept all the right things from the 1958 version of the story! We have a small town, a fiery meteor and a fatally curious stewbum (played by the grandpa from Moving Violations, Billy Beck) who figures “Somethin’ fell from space, better poke it with a stick!” The town of course includes a motorcycle hoodlum (Kevin Dillon, fresh from his travails in Remote Control), a cheerleader (Shawnee “Summer School” Smith) and a football hero (Donovan Jr., well known for Cutting Class), all of whom will encounter the pulsating pink menace!
The hoodlum and the hero are kind of like the two sides of Steve McQueen’s persona in the earlier movie, and the picture manages a nice surprise when it dispenses with one half of this dyad early in the action! Another new character is Dr. Meddows, the initially avuncular but ultimately evil government scientist! Ha ha, they really made a great decision in casting Joe “The Evil That Men Do” Seneca in this part, because it’s so unexpected! Also, he’s very good in the role!
The casting in general is strong: the great Del “Next of Kin” Close plays a reverend driven into an apocalyptic mania by his experience with the blob; Mittens himself, Art La Fleur from Cobra and Zone Troopers, plays a grumpy dad; Candy Clark from Q and Amityville 3-D is a sweet diner lady, and Jeffrey “The First Deadly Sin” DeMunn is the sheriff whose efforts to romance her would have been successful if not for that darn blob! Plus we get people like Jack “Dune” Nance and Beau “Star Trek Into Darkness” Billingslea in small roles, and Paul McCrane is once again reduced to a jelly, just like he was in Robocop!
The picture looks great, with soft pink photography from the portly cinematographer, Mark “Fast Company” Irwin; and the makeup trick effects are superb and frequently gory! The visual effects, however, are not so hot, and are at times on the level of the jam-on-a-picture-postcard effects of the original! Ha ha! Then you've got the physical blob itself, which does resemble a puppet, or at other times, a pile of giblets! Russell’s direction sets up some good stuff, but as often as not misses the opportunity for tasty suspense or scares! And the white shirt worn by Kevin Dillon? Ha ha, it’s horrendous!
Despite its flaws I remain fond of this picture, and although the older one is still scarier, I’ll go to bat for the remake any day! Ha ha, I give The Blob two and a half annoying movie theater talkers who get their comeuppance!