10.31.2014

Nightbreed: Director's Cut Limited Edition Blu ray review

Scream Factory's 3 Disc Limited Edition Release

Prologue:
Ever since it's initial theatrical release, Nightbreed has always been a favorite film of mine. I was a huge Clive Barker fan as soon as Hellraiser first came out. After that, I soon set out and collected every single short story and novel Barker had done up until that point, with Cabal being one of them. Even when you watched Nightbreed back before there was ever word of this mythical Cabal Cut, you always felt like something was missing from it, that a lot of it felt rushed or incomplete. It wasn't until word started spreading that a Cabal Cut was hitting the festival circuits and conventions, and it's impending petition to push this version into realization for all to see that all the behind the scenes stories and details began to emerge from the man himself, Clive Barker, that we really got the full story and intentions of his film. Little did I know that Nightbreed had always intended to be a horror trilogy, the Star Wars of the horror genre as Mr. Barker has put it. Sadly, studio meddling all but prevented his original vision to see the light of day. Fearing that they wouldn't know how to market a monster movie, and worse yet, make any money, they decided to sell it as a slasher film, complete with inconspicuous poster and a trailer that makes it look like the film is all about Decker being a serial killer, which in retrospect, would have been cool regardless if that had always been the intent, because after all, Decker has become just as big a figure in the horror community as the Nightbreed. Come to think of it, now I want a slasher film about Dr. Decker.

Well here we are, 25 years later and through a lot of hard work, and a petition to spearhead the effort (Morgan Creek initially had no desire to both look in their vaults for any archive material, nor did they think anyone actually cared about Nightbreed enough to warrant any future releases, that just wasn't in the cards) that took off like a bat out of hell, pretty much forcing Morgan Creek to take notice of the fact that Nightbreed is indeed a valuable property, and that we would take anything and everything Nightbreed related. I have been a strong supporter of this cause, often promoting the petition here on my blog, twitter and facebook as often as I could, with utter glee and excitement at the possibility that one day I may be able to see this Cabal Cut of one of my most favorite horror films. So here I am, a lot older than I was when in 1990, but nonetheless excited to see if all the hard was worth it, or if it paid off.

Review:
I have to admit, as big a fan as I am of all things Nightbreed and Cabal, I was a bit letdown by this new version. With all the things I'd heard about the Cabal Cut and all the new elements found, restored and presented into this new DC, I honestly didn't feel it changed anything drastically enough to say that it feels like a more "complete" film or a "new" version altogether. Trust me, no one is more shocked than I to hear me say this, but it's true. First of all, let's set the record straight; this is NOT the Cabal Cut. There are still plenty of scenes shot and missing from this version that were on that spliced together VHS Cut that took the underground circuit by storm. This is more of a streamlined version of that, because while there is a lot more footage out there, it doesn't all necessarily belong in the film for one reason or another.

I'll admit, I had very high expectations, and that coupled with the fact that I've been such a die hard fan of this film from the beginning may have contributed to my overall feeling of being underwhelmed, but it's how I feel and I simply just can't help it. Not that I disliked it or anything, on the contrary. This new version offers a lot of new things to admire, and some not so much. Overall on a technical level, they cut out 20 minutes of footage from the theatrical cut, and incorporated 40 minutes of all new never-before-seen footage, while also making some slight changes to the structure. The result is a bigger emphasis on Boone and Lori's relationship, and the world of Midian is a much bigger presence than before. Though I had read countless times that Decker's role has been minimized dramatically, I honestly didn't notice. He's still a strong driving force behind why everything falls into place and responsible for the demise of Midian, so he's still a very large and important piece of Nightbreed.

Narcisse doesn't make it through to the end in this version
There are some nice changes to be found though. For one, the ending is much stronger than the tacked on horror movie ending of the theatrical cut, which felt like more of a forced addition by the studio. Most notable is the fact that Narcisse does not live, succumbing to a gruesome death at the hands of Decker, and Boone and Lori share a touching epic moment together on top of a hill that culminates in a dramatic finale more fitting than the "let's get this over with" vibe of the theatrical version. It's much more poetic and beautiful and the film is stronger because of it.

Other new welcome additions are little tweeks like Doug Bradley finally providing his own voice as Lylesberg, and when Boone is Cabal, he's not using a forced strained growl like in the Theatrical Cut. I always found that annoying. It's almost as if Christian Bale modeled his Batman voice after this. In this version, when Boone is Cabal, actor Craig Sheffer is using his own, less gruffy voice, and it sounds a lot better, and less forced. And as I mentioned before, 20 minutes have also been omitted, with some other editing tweeks that slightly change the structure of the film.

Having seen Nightbreed as many times as I have, I easily noticed every single new shot in the film. That alone could be a blessing and a curse, depending on how hardcore you are about this film. For me, it was slightly somewhere in the middle. I liked the new scenes and got excited at each new shot I'd never seen before, yet my mind was so focused on picking out these new scenes that I found it hard to focus on the film itself. Maybe the problem is that I just need to watch it all over again? While the new scenes were cool to see, I didn't need to see Lori singing an entire country song in a bar to add anything to the experience. There were also a lot of new scenes integrated into the climactic battle between the monsters and the town of Shere Neck. These scenes were a mixed bag because some were a welcome addition, like the one with Decker holding Narcisse's head on his knife, while others looked amateurish or unnecessary. There was one scene I found important though. It's a scene of Lori and Sheryl Ann when they first meet at the bar, yet in this expanded version, we see the moment Sheryl Ann meets Curtis, who ultimately turns out to be Dr. Decker (David Cronenberg). Very welcome addition in my opinion, yet I wasn't a fan of the way it was shot. You see a closeup of a hand, after you've been slightly misled when Sheryl Ann looks over at the table and the camera pans to a fat guy in a flannel shirt. I would have chosen a different approach to that whole scene.

I think I should re-watch it again without interruption and see if my opinion changes. As it stands now, I have no problem with the Theatrical Cut, except for maybe the "safe" ending the studio forced onto Barker. It's pace is a lot faster with a slightly different structure. Yet, I wouldn't say the DC is smoother, on the contrary. I found it to be sluggish in a few spots and underwhelming in others, but I don't dislike it. This new Director's Cut is a fine example of an alternate take on an already fantastic film, it's just that I didn't feel that it made the experience any better for me. I'm glad I shelled out for the Limited Edition version though, so now I'll also have the Theatrical Cut on Blu ray also should I choose to revisit Nightbreed the way I remember it. I know I am in the minority on this one, and I'm sure I'll get a lot of flack for not being in love with this new version, but believe me, nobody is more surprised than I at this development.

As you all know, there is so much more to this new release than just the film itself. For the first time we get a shitload of new behind the scenes material that makes the purchase totally worth it, whether you go for the standard release or the Limited Edition. Of course, the Limited Edition has that 3rd disc with more special features, but the 2 disc version still has plenty to "ooohhh" and "aaahhh" over. By now, you've done your research and know what all that entails, so I won't bore you with another list of every single supplemental material included, but believe me when I say, it's fucking gold. The blu ray discs themselves are impressive, but not anywhere near the quality I was expecting for a blu ray release, though I will admit that it is leaps and bounds better than the one DVD release this film ever got. And the same can be said for the newly added 40 minutes of footage. If you weren't a die hard fan of this film like myself, who's seen it countless times in the 25 years since it's release, you'd never know which ones they were as they are on par with the quality of any other image in this film, with smooth transitions and nothing to indicate something's been added.

Epilogue:
This is the product of a LOT of hard work, determination and passion. It was a 25 year long wait for most of us (the old ones), and we honestly thought Clive Barker's vision would never see the light of day. I can't think of another example of a movie that was essentially forgotten about in the horror community for so many years to basically come out of nowhere and take the horror and film community by storm, bringing together fans, nerds, geeks, and die hard enthusiasts together with an outstanding and fucking impressive release that will be the talk of the community for years and years to come. This new Directors Cut of Clive Barkers original vision didn't blow me away as I had hoped, but I'm glad I saw it, I'm glad I own it, and I enjoyed it immensely nonetheless. It's an important release, if anything than for the power of the petition, but more importantly, because it was a great film ahead of it's time that needed to be brought back to the forefront of horror cinema. Too many people had either forgotten about it, or never gave it a second thought. So this release is important for a myriad of reasons, and Shout!/Scream Factory should be commended for doing something that we never thought could happen.

Update:
I've since revisited this cut for a second time, and while my original feelings generally remain the same, when I watched it again, I did appreciate some of these new sequences and scenes a little more. These new scenes, while doing nothing to really change the story, do add a bit of substance to the story and fleshes out some sequences that felt a little too rushed before. Most importantly, Barker was trying to showcase the love between Lori and Boone, making it front and center instead of being somewhat glossed over in the Theatrical Cut. In this new version, you see what drives her to put her life in danger repeatedly to rescue the man she loves. That was barely touched on before. And the new ending epicly and beautifully ties all that together.

Ultimately, I'm still divided. I like both cuts equally. I grew up with the Theatrical Cut, having seen it close to 100 times. That's just a guess though. So I'm fine with that cut. The Directors Cut adds a little more depth, but doesn't make it any stronger in my opinion. All in all, I'm sure I'll be revisiting the DC more often than the TC, just because the ending is so much better. When originally released in 1990 severely cut and altered by the studio, I'm not entirely sure that Nightbreed would have done any better had Barker been given free reign to make, cut and release the film he wanted. Personally, I think Nightbreed was ahead of it's time; simple as that. The world wasn't ready for it then. 25 years later, we've come full circle, and I think this is the perfect time to embrace the tribes of the moon.
~ Jason Elizondo (robotGEEK)

10.29.2014

I met Kane Hodder, and it was not what I expected

Being a HUGE lover of film, movies, cinema, oddly enough I've never been starstruck. I'd never be the one to go up to a celebrity and ask them for an autograph at the airport or a restaurant or something. I know they probably don't enjoy it and honestly, what would it do for me? Probably nothing, other than being worried I bothered them when they wanted to be left alone. When I lived in Austin, TX, celebrities were everywhere. Just during the few years I lived there you could easily run into Sandra Bullock, Mathew McCounaghey, Robert Plant or Robert Rodriguez. I guess what I'm saying is that it was no big deal. They're human beings too, and I'm sure having people walk up to them all day gets annoying.

literally being choked to death by Kane Hodder
But I have a few exceptions, and one of them being Kane Hodder, because I'm such a huge horror nerd. I idolized this guy. I grew up watching his Friday the 13th films in the theaters throughout the 80's and 90's. Yea, I'm that old. And when I discovered the Hatchet franchise recently, I became even more infatuated with the guy. It's fucking Kane Hodder man! And on top of his crazy busy schedule, he's got another horror icon under his belt! So when I learned he would be appearing at this years South Texas Horror Con this past weekend, I was ecstatic. If there was anybody I'd be excited about, it would be him. Of all the horror franchises, the Friday films have always been my favorite. I love the simplicity of them, and I love how there are so many, all with varying degrees of success. And while I think a few of the actors to don the hockey mask were really good, Hodder has always been my favorite. Now, I've always been a strong opponent of actors charging fee's for autographs and pictures. I just don't think it's right. If you've been lucky enough to break into the business and be successful at it, the last thing you should be doing is charging people for the chance to meet you. You should be grateful, and humble because there are literally millions of people every day who try and try and could only dream of having the success that you have achieved working in a field that is one of the hardest to break into. Maybe grateful is not the right word. Maybe appreciative?

But anyway, I thought to myself, "when will I ever get this chance again?". It's Kane fucking Hodder! My girlfriend just so happened to get a convention booth set up right next to his for her Happy Kitty Makeup FX company. Since I was going to help her all weekend, I was lucky enough to be sitting next to Kane Hodder for 2 full days. As soon as I arrived though, I had my eyes set on the guy. I wanted a picture, and an autograph. I didn't care how much it cost (In case you were wondering, it was $10 for a photo with the guy, $35 for him to sign something, or $40 for both a picture and an autograph). Yes, a little steep, but I was willing because I wanted to meet an idol of mine and I wanted to remember it forever. Being as this was a convention and not some random encounter somewhere else, this would be the perfect opportunity. I even brought a few of my rare Jason Voorhees items for him to possibly sign like the 8 Bit Jason Toys R Us Exclusive and the SDCC exclusive Jason 8 Bit from NECA. I had all these things I wanted to discuss with him, about upcoming projects, my love for the Hatchet films, for Adam Green, for his particular portrayal of Jason Voorhees; but everything immediately went sour the first second he laid eyes on me.

Got an autograph, and glad I didn't pay for it.
As I stood in line with my girlfriend, who he'd already met several times earlier in the day (I arrived 6 hours later due to work), he noticed my Pink Floyd shirt. He says "Pink Floyd? You're too young to know who they are.". I replied "Well, I'm almost 40 years old, so not really.". When it was time for my photo, I asked if he could do something cool like pretend to crush my head or something. He said he could think of something as he grabs me really hard to physically turn me around for the picture, wrapping his arm around my neck to seem like he's choking me, only, he was really choking me. Somewhat surprised as I tried to catch my breath, I mentioned how I recently discovered the Hatchet films and love them to death in my haze. I don't remember what he said in reply. Throughout the next two days he would wonder over to our booth to flirt with my girlfriend and any other female nearby, always giving me the stink eye it seemed. On one occasion as he was talking to my girlfriend, which I didn't mind at all. I mean, if Kane Hodder wants to hit on my girlfriend, I'd be proud. As I tried to squeeze past the guy running the booth next to us, Hodder grabs the back of my neck with so much force, I thought I was being assaulted. He grabs my shoulder with his other hand and shoves me against the guy I was trying to squeeze past, knocking both of us over. He immediately reacts as if nothing happened, jokingly of course. When I compose myself, I tell him "That wasn't cool man". He played it off with some kind of joking remark and walked away.
my

It seemed to me that he felt the constant need to impress the females by proving how big and strong he was and how small I am. I'll admit, I'm a little guy, being only 5'5 and skinny. I have an insane metabolism, so I've just always been this way, no matter how much I exercise or eat. I am in shape though, so I'm not a lanky skinny. I do my best to exercise every day doing something, whether it be push-ups, pull-ups, or lifting weights. Yet here we are, at a Horror Convention, where people are here to see "you", and instead of being gracious, or even somewhat endearing, you act like you're 15 years old bullying a much smaller man for no other reason than to show off. I'm not sure where all that came from. Maybe he saw an easy target and went with it. I'm the most non-confrontational guy on the planet. I did nothing but smile every time I saw him, including the weird random moments when I would look up from whatever I was doing and noticed him staring at me. Maybe he was having a bad weekend? Maybe he liked my girlfriend and didn't like the fact that I was there? Or maybe he's just a bully who likes picking on little guys? Who knows? All that is to say is that when it comes right down to it, he was a bully, and a jerk, and my respect for the guy is gone.

As I was posting my weird and awkward encounters on social media as it happened, a lot of the comments were "He's a great guy", "I met him once, cool guy", "Awesome guy!". I'm sure he is, when you meet him for 2 whole minutes as he signs an autograph for you. When you spend a considerable amount of time with the guy as I did, it's a totally different story.

On the flipside, Andrew Bryniarski, who played Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Remake as well as the prequel titled The Beginning, was there with Bob Elmore, who also played Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, though IMDB lists Bill Johnson as playing Leatherface in that film......weird. Bryniarski was crazy, but a very likable and humble guy. He did a Q & A panel with Elmore, though Bryniarski did most of the talking as Elmore sat there like he was annoyed having to be there. Bryniarski, on the other hand, thanked the crowd that gathered to hear him speak repeatedly, and I lost count how many times he said that he appreciated everyone that came to the convention, that spent their hard earned money, and that came to support him. That's class.

I refused to give Hodder anymore of my hard-earned money so buying an autograph was out of the question. A friend of mine had my back though, and graciously flirted her way to a free autograph for me, because despite all this, my love for his work will remain the same. He'll always be my favorite Jason, and his portrayal of Victor Crowley in the Hatchet films is one of the reasons why I love that franchise so much. I'll continue to support his projects, and I'll continue to watch his films. But my respect for him is gone and that's just sad.

10.27.2014

Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser & Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 Documentary Trailer is up!



Being a huge fan of both of the first two Hellraiser movies (Part 2 more so than 1), I recently discovered that some fine gents are currently working on a feature length documentary on everything Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser 2, and today, we finally get the first trailer to wet our appetite. 


The project is still not finished, and the dedicated team putting this together is still in need of some help to complete it. Follow the link to their Kickstarter page below so you can get so much more info on everything about the production behind this, how you can help and even buy a badass Leviathan shirt. Let's help make this happen! I'm excited about this. Are you excited?

KICKSTARTER PAGE:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/878562580/leviathan-hellraiser-documentary-production

10.24.2014

Hammerhead AKA Hammer

Image courtesy of VHS-Ninja

1986/1990
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Category: Action

I have been trying to track this film down ever since I first discovered Hands of Steel, also starring Daniel Greene. Though mainly a television actor up until this point, he did a few Italian Trash films, with both the insanely enjoyable Hands of Steel and Hammerhead being two of them. After Hands of Steel easily became one of my all-time favorite films, I felt it my duty to get my hands on this lost gem no matter the cost, because hey, you just never know. It could very well be another great under the radar masterpiece.

Hammer's (Daniel Greene) friend is murdered. Being undercover cops, he assumes it's a hit made by someone they put away. When he sets out to find the man who killed him, his journey takes him to the Caribbean, where he uncovers a much more sinister and intricate plot of corruption and murder. 

Hammerhead is what I would imagine an action film would look like if Rob Zombie directed it, just not anywhere as gory or violent. Written & Directed by by Enzo G. Castellari, who gave us such classics like the original Inglorious Bastards, as well as a plethora of early 80's Italian Trash efforts like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Warriors of the Wasteland, and Escape from the Bronx, Hammerhead was a nice return to form for Castellari who hadn't really done anything worth getting excited about during most of the mid to late 80's. Though technically Hammerhead was made in '86, it wasn't released until 1990, which is why it looks very 70's/80's to me. But even then, it's a bit of a stretch from late 70's to '86, so I wonder if the overall look was on purpose? Either way, it rules.

Hammerhead is a tough cops and robbers tale made only the way Italians can. It's brutal, violent, and with a frenetic freestyle energy that pushes it into overdrive. In fact, I'd consider this a super-charged version of a late 70's cop thriller, much like the excellent Blazing Magnum, except with a lot more action set pieces than that particular film. Castellari possesses a specific raw style that is hard to duplicate. Sure a lot of it looks and feels "freestyle" or "on the whim", but if you pay attention, there is a pure raw style at play, and it's perfect additive to this specific genre.

The more digging I do, the more I come to learn that Castellari is prolific in the action genre, not just the Italian Trash sub-genre, and I'm getting more and more excited to check some of these out. I've been hearing about Light Blast with Erik Estrada in the cult circuit for years, but Tuareg: The Desert Warrior with Mark Harmon sounds equally intriguing. Sadly though, it seems with the exception of a western from '94, all his work after Hammerhead has been all television, which is a shame because the guy is talented. But that seems to be the norm for great action guys though. Same thing happened to Walter Hill and Craig R. Baxely. They sort of disappear from the genre altogether.

I'm not going to say that Hammerhead is without it's problems, because it's not. But as with any low-budget Italian Trash film, it comes with the territory. Despite it's minor issues, this thing is a hard-hitting badass tough as nails detective thriller with a vibe and tone that is pure late 70's nostalgia, reminding us why this particular sub-genre of film was so iconic in the first place. Writer/Director Enzo G. Castellari has effectively crafted a tried and true cop thriller, while simultaneously working as a homage, or throwback if you will. If you're a fan of these Italian hard-hitting cop thrillers, Hammerhead will leave a lasting impression.

10.22.2014

Society


1989
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Category: Horror

I have been hearing about Society for about as long as I can remember. A somewhat difficult film to come by, it's amassed a rather large cult following since it's initial release in 1989 and since then, has only received a single DVD release. That release, whether deserving or not, can go for big money on the internet, which makes it somewhat difficult to get your hands on especially if you're not even sure if it's going to be any good. I was intrigued though, mainly by it's subject matter and the production behind it.

Let's get down to the nitty gritty. Society is the directorial debut of prolific horror producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, From Beyond, The Dentist) with insane practical makeup effects by Screaming Mad George, who's worked on everything from Predator, A Nightmare on Elm St. 4 to Freaked and Guyver. It's a story about a teenager who feels alienated and lost in his rich Beverly Hills environment. When his sisters ex-boyfriend turns him onto the idea that things are not what they seem in his life and with those around him, he begins to notice things that will disturb him, and as he falls further down the rabbit hole, everything he thought he knew will come into question in the films stunning climax.

With as big of a cult status as it's got, I really didn't find Society to be all that great. I found that it really needed to rely on it's shocking ending to put any real stamp on the film or genre, and in that aspect, it does, but only marginally. It's an interesting story, and while Yuzna and the effects department do offer a few tidbits of what's to come throughout the film, I found most of it to be pretty uninteresting. For a film that is revered for it's practical effects work, you hardly see any of it until the last 30 minutes. When we do get to that "shunting" money-shot conclusion after what feels like forever, it's really more bizarre than disturbing.

As a whole, I found Society to be peculiar. I'm not sure entirely what I was expecting, but regardless, Society is NOT a horror film. It's definitely a satire, with a lot of social commentary mixed with some surreal elements, but overall it's a mixed bag. The fact that it was made in the late 80's helps tremendously. The decor, set design, ridiculous haircuts, and terrible fashion sense speaks volumes about an era that I love, and if it wasn't for these trivial things distracting you visually, Society would be a bore. The problem is that going into this, everyone knows something big is going to happen; it's reputation relies on it. It just takes a while to get there. When the WTF?! climax does come to pass, it's so-far-out-of-left-field sequence, while impressive on a technical level, does nothing to really end the film on a high note. Despite the big reveal, nothing is explained and you still don't know why or how it happens.

I know some enjoy it, but I will probably never watch it again. Kudos to Brian Yuzna for making something ballsy. His decision to not use blood in the film made sure that a lot of the "shunting" sequence stayed in tact, and for that, I admire the guy. Overall though, it wasn't the film I was hoping for.

10.18.2014

Crying Freeman


1995
Directed by: Christophe Gans
Category: Action

I first became aware of French director Christophe Gans when Brotherhood of the Wolf hit the US market and became an underground cult hit. Only after seeing this did I learn that this wasn't his first film. Apparently his first film was a live action adaptation of the super popular Crying Freeman series. This surprised me for three reasons; 1) That a French filmmaker chose this to be his first feature film. 2) I had no idea there was even a live action adaptation to begin with, and 3) Why the hell hasn't this ever been officially released in the US?

Crying Freeman was just about as awesome as I was hoping it would be. Cristophe Gans is a classy director, and much the way I felt when I first watched Brotherhood of the Wolf, Crying Freeman is a visually brilliant film. Before I sat down to watch this, I read some reviews for it and it was surprising to read that most of them were not very positive. Now, I've never seen the anime, and so I base my experience purely on watching this as a film, rather than an adaptation of something else. I don't know the whole backstory on this character or that particular world, other than that he's an assassin who sheds a tear every time he kills someone.

On a technical level, Crying Freeman boasts some really impressive achievements. Gans is one of the few directors left who direct films the way he does, with a constant fluidity that's both impressive and a breath of fresh air. Think a more stylish version of John Woo. I mention Woo because the many action sequences display a very John Woo vibe, only on a much more streamlined level. The action scenes are quite spectacular, and honestly, are some of the best I've ever seen on film that will rival any big budget Hollywood effort. But Gans isn't interested in just giving us another action film, and tries his hardest to make Crying Freeman bigger than that, and on that front, he also succeeds, because with all it's action, Crying Freeman is also a tale of a mans struggle to do the right thing in a world where his job is to basically kill people, yet after meeting a woman who he should kill, but for some reason decides not to, he sets off a series of events and choices that ultimately seal his fate in a world of honor. So in that aspect, Crying Freeman tries to be somewhat philosophical, displaying some impressive moody atmospheric tones that mostly work, if it wasn't for the often silly voice over narration.

One of the best things about this film is that it never strays too far in either direction. While it tries it's hardest to be a crime drama with some philosophical subtext, it knows very well that we are also here for some action and in both departments, it delivers wholeheartedly. Gans use of slow-mo is exquisite, and every fight sequence, sword fight and gun battle is like a ballet of imagery that never ceases to amaze and dazzle the senses. Sometimes the overuse of slow-mo can be jarring and annoying, but it works effectively well here, so I had no complaints in that department. Going into this I had some rather moderate, yet reserved expectations simply based on some of the negative things I read and also the fact that for whatever reason, it's never been officially released here in the states even though it's a good 20 years old now. I can easily say that Crying Freeman exceeded them ten fold and with it's very first sequence, all my fears were obliterated. I loved everything about this film; the look, the tone, the cast, the violence, the old-school choreography and fight sequences - it all comes together so beautifully. His John Woo inspired epic bullet-riddled, sword-yielding ballet of violence is pretty much flawless and is what makes this film such a standout and remarkable achievement in the action genre.

While the film's look and action sequences are great, the casting is a mixed bag. Mark Dacascos, always a welcome addition to any film, shines in the title role. Much like my feelings for Jeff Speakman, Dacascos deserves to be a bigger star than he is, and it's a shame that his most popular films (Crying Freeman, Drive) are actually hard to come by since they've never gotten full-on releases here in the states. While on the positives, I was happy to see Rae Dawn Chong on the screen again, but sad to see her leave so suddenly. It's almost as if she's just completely wasted in this, and that's a shame because the short time she is on screen, she's pretty great. The same goes for Mako. Much like his role in The Perfect Weapon, his appearance is great, but sadly brief. Then we get into the rest of the cast. Tcheky Karyo, who's most remembered for La Femme Nikita, is fine as a detective investigating the Freeman murders. Except, I can't understand why his voice is clearly dubbed, by Ron Perlman no less! Same goes for the female lead, Julie Condra, who plays the woman of Yo Hinomura's (Crying Freeman) affections. Her dubbed performance and narration is a bit distracting. What I can't figure out is why they chose to dub these two slightly minor characters and not even bother with the main bad guy, who's delivery is cringe-inducingly awful on the level of Tommy Wiseau (The Room).

Despite it's mixed bag of casting, which is mainly positive, Crying Freeman is an awesome and classy piece of action filmmaking. It's rare that I'm impressed as much as I was when first watching this, and that's a testament to director Christophe Gans talents as a visual filmmaker. It's a shame he takes such long gaps between projects. I'm hoping he'll step back into the action genre once again after sticking to horror and fantasy for so long.

Here's a quick bit of advice should you choose to track this sucker down. This film in particular is begging to be seen in widescreen. So if you come across it in cropped full frame, don't even bother, it won't even be worth it as so much of the film is gorgeously shot in a 2.35 : 1 aspect ratio, fully realizing the lush visuals that Gans and cinematographer Thomas Burstyn have come up with.

10.16.2014

The Perfect Weapon


1991
Directed by: Mark DiSalle
Category: Action

There's a reason why this film has always stuck in the back of my head after all these years. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but after finally revisiting it in what seems like forever, I now realize why. The Perfect Weapon is hands down one of the best, most brutal martial arts action flicks to come out in the last 30 years. A solidly made effort that displays some of the best talent in the business of martial arts movie-making and a prime example of "if it's not broke, why fix it?".

Several thoughts ran through my head as I sat down to enjoy this immensely entertaining martial arts flick. 1) Jeff Speakman should have been a bigger action star, and 2) Why the hell isn't Mark DiSalle directing more action films? These are two very important and valid thoughts and when you watch this, I feel that you'll be with me on that. With my eyes glued to the screen as my testosterone levels roared into high gear with all the badassery on display, I began to realize that I remember more about this than I initially thought, which is a testament to it's power to entertain you, which also kind of blew me away since I hadn't seen this in 23 years. Yet as the stunning transfer on the Olive Films 2012 Blu ray release rolled, it all came flooding back.

On the surface, there's really nothing about this film that will make it any different from any other martial arts film that is trying to make a star out of it's first timer headlining a big budget studio film, hence my "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" comment. Jeff plays a guy who goes to visit an old friend, and who subsequently gets caught up in a Korean mafia feud. When his friend is killed, he sets out to seek revenge, clobbering anyone who gets in his way. There are no huge action sequences, but there are plenty of fights, and they are fucking brutal, expertly filmed by director Mark DiSalle, and utilizing every Asian bad guy you can think of who always popped up in martial arts action films back in the day. In this same period, Van Damme and Steven Seagal were going toe to toe at the box office, and Brian Bosworth was also trying to make a name for himself with Stone Cold the same year. But for some reason, Speakman never soared the way he should have, and I can't understand why. He's an amazing martial artist, with The Perfect Weapon proving he can certainly hold his own on screen against an army of bad guys, and who's surprisingly a good actor to his credit.

There is so much to love about this film, and there are plenty reasons why. I was surprised that Speakman is a natural actor, and a good looking guy. That's not easily done in these types of films, so it surprises me that people like Seagal - a one-note actor - can be 10 times more famous than this guy. I just don't get it. While we are on the subject of actors, I fucking love the character actors spread throughout this thing. Mako, James Hong, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, shit, even Professor Toru Tanaka is in this and he's just about as badass as he could have possibly been. The film also boasts some impressive technical achievements like for one, there's no slow-mo. Every fight in this is fast, brutal and hard, utilizing Speakman's specific brand of martial arts, Kenpo. And holy shit is this guy fast and brutal. All the insane amount of hand to hand combats he faces throughout notwithstanding, just watch the scene where he's preparing to go to war at the end of the film where he practices by beating the ever-loving shit out of a couch for practice before he heads out the door. Just.......awesome.

The Perfect Weapon was directed by Mark DiSalle. DiSalle cut his teeth in the business as a sometime producer, having helped getting Van Damme's career off the ground producing Bloodsport, Kickboxer and Death Warrant, before producing two Speakman films until he went silent for 20 years in the film industry. In that same period, he only directed two films; Van Damme's Kickboxer in 1989 and then this in 1991. Can somebody please tell me why this guy isn't making more films? Or why he stopped directing with this Grade A masterpiece of martial arts action? DiSalle's restrained style of directing speaks volumes in the overall aesthetic, letting the action take front and center, but also giving us enough controlled directing that is simple, yet effective in the best possible way. And none of this is more evident than in the many, many fight scenes. Each punch, swing, kick and jump is fast, brutal, hard and loud, and insanely badass. Each fight is effective, choreographed and executed with precise precision. So much so that it almost saddens me to think how great a little film like this can be and how they just don't make them like this anymore. As a director, Mark DiSalle is a solid filmmaker, utilizing what he knows to make the best possible martial arts action film.

I think you'll all agree with me that a digital release of The Perfect Weapon has been long overdue. From what I can remember, it only ever came out on VHS and Laserdisc, and neither available in widescreen. In this day and age where everything is released on DVD, it's still shocking to learn that The Perfect Weapon, for whatever reason, was never granted even a sub-par DVD release all these years. It makes no sense and I can't explain it. But Olive Films were wise to this, and graced us with both a DVD and Blu ray release back in 2012. Sadly, there's no Special Features or anything on the discs, but what we do get is a badass and brutal martial arts/action film that deserves a much bigger reputation than it has, and just as important, it's finally available in widescreen. If I had a complaint, it would be that for a bare bones DVD and Blu ray, The Perfect Weapon is surprisingly pricey, but it's money well spent and totally worth the purchase for the amount of awesome you get in an hour and a half.

There's a scene in here that made me both laugh and appreciate how badass this film is on two separate levels. Jeff heads to a gym intent on getting some answers. But of course, nobody wants to help him. When he comes across a man who he thinks can help, the man brushes him off, telling him he's going to get hurt sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. Jeff pauses for 2 seconds as he sizes the man standing in front of him up before he says "I wonder if I can kick your ass?". Fucking. Brilliant. It was a reminder that there was a time when there were some true badasses in the world of cinema at one time. It all started in the 80's, but for my money, it was the 90's that totally encapsulated what it meant to be a badass in action cinema, and Jeff Speakman's The Perfect Weapon is a perfect example of that.

10.14.2014

The Foreigner


2003
Directed by: Michael Oblowitz
Category: Action

For all its lacking in budget, one thing that stands out almost immediately and sets this entry apart from most of his films is that right from the beginning, this sucker is oozing with style. In fact, you could say it's a little too stylish, because while most of it is pretty great, there are a few scenes here and there that come off as silly, but really, that's a minor complaint because this film does what 99% of his other films doesn't, which is that director Michael Oblowitz put some actual thought and technicality into every shot.

The Foreigner came out just as Seagal's film career dived head on into DTV territory. As you all know, a lot of these are not very good, with some of them just being flat out awful. The Foreigner, for all intents and purposes, shouldn't be as good as it is. A strikingly low-budget affair, with an overweight Steven Seagal not really doing much of anything, including his own stunts, except a lot of grimacing and an occasional gunfight here and there. I think I enjoyed this more than I should have. Nothing special by any stretch of the imagination, The Foreigner just seemed to pull off a few things that so many of his films forget to do, which is to entertain you with interesting characters, and give us some cool shit to look at.

Admittedly, there's not much hand to hand action going on in here. Sure he has a quick tussle or two (mainly utilizing stunt doubles unless it's a closeup), but honestly, there's not much in the fight department. But really, that's not something we come to expect from Seagal anymore, is it? He's always been more of a shoot-'em-up kinda action star, and in that department, The Foreigner only marginally delivers. Lots of gunshots for sure, but mainly quick shoot-'em-from-behind assassinations that doesn't give us any real big action sequences. But that's okay, because despite this, something about The Foreigner just gelled with me really well. The curiously international cast was pretty great, and the visual aesthetic was far and beyond better than I was expecting. There's lots of squib work going on throughout and Seagal is indeed a badass in this, easily making this one of the better Seagal films I've seen from his DTV catalog.

Now that I'm done sicking this films dick, let's get down to the problems I had with it. I think most will agree that Seagal's overuse of stunt doubles in the last 20 years is a little out of hand. Now, I haven't seen every single film he's ever done, but I can tell you that the ones I have seen that went DTV, so much of the action depends on the use of stunt doubles, which would be okay I suppose if they weren't so insanely obvious!! In this film for example, the double is at least a good 50 pounds lighter, and try as they might, they'll never find someone who can match his signature frizzy hair. It just gets a little silly when you're watching an action film where the action star hardly does any of the action himself.

I'm a fan of slow-mo, that's just what was the norm in martial arts flicks back in the 80's and 90's. If you really stop to think about it, it's rarely used anymore in the age of quick-edit movie-making. The Foreigner contains an insane amount of slow-mo, most of it unnecessary. So much in fact that you begin to wonder if it was necessary just so they can meet the minimum running time requirements. For the most part though, the slow-mo is used effectively well, but there is something to be said about having too much of a good thing. Then there are some weird and amateurish editing in some areas that kind of throw you off, especially in the last sequence, where all of the films style and creativity just kind of falls apart. But hey, their minor issues because most importantly, The Foreigner is a lot better than most of his films. The plot may be overly complicated and unnecessarily convoluted, but really all you have to know is it's just a lot of double-crosses and assassinations. Sure you can easily pick the damn thing apart with questions like "How did the story turn into a film about Seagal saving a woman and her daughter?", "Why does everyone only wear black?", "What's up with the ridiculous stunt doubles?", "How can people just murder each other in broad daylight and nobody hears or notices anything?", "Why is there so much slow-mo?", but who really cares?

Issues aside, there is something really cool about this film I need to bring up. One of the beauties of The Foreigner is that it displays some great old fashioned practical stunt work, meaning no wires or CGI, and that's just awesome. But the absolute best thing about this film is one sequence in particular that literally blew me away. In fact, as soon as it was over, I rewound it and watched it again, and then again in slow-mo frame by frame. I'm talking about an explosion sequence that is arguably the best practical effects explosion I've ever seen in any film. It's just fucking nuts and an amazing example of practical stunt work. Trust me, you'll know it when you see it. Everything about it is expertly choreographed and it's execution is just flawless and I still think about the logistics of that sequence and how the hell they pulled it off, and it just continues to blow my mind.

Not a lot of fighting, or shootouts for that matter, and the story may be a little too convoluted for it's own good, but it's stylish, with a lot of cool slow-mo, some great stunt work, and a pace that never slows down long enough to bore you. Plus, it's fun trying to count how many times it's not Seagal doing any of the action scenes by spotting the hilariously unconvincing stunt doubles for even the most minor instances. Not a bad way to spend an hour and a half of your time.

10.12.2014

Old-School Horror: Prom Night


1980
Directed by: Paul Lynch
Category: Horror

This low-budget slasher came out in 1980, the same year Jamie Lee Curtis also starred in John Carpenter's vastly superior The Fog, Roger Spottiswood's Terror Train, and 2 years after Carpenter's genre-defining masterpiece of horror Halloween. I think it's more than safe to say that by this time, Curtis was enjoying a healthy career in the horror genre; a certified Scream Queen if you will. As it does for so many of us, October gives us some extra motivation to check out some horror films, whether new or old. It's just the perfect season for that and so I felt it was finally time to check out this classic in the slasher genre. So how does Prom Night hold up circa 1980?

Prom Night was okay. If you're looking to fill your night with an old school horror film, there are better ways to spend your time. It seems that Prom Night came out in the middle of the original slasher craze, which was spearheaded by John Carpenter himself 2 years earlier. That's all fine and dandy, and as with any new craze, quite expected. But here's the problem; most of them aren't very good, for a number of reasons. 1981's The Burning is a prime example of that. These types of films feel like all they need is to have a mysterious figure running around murdering kids until the final big reveal at the end and that we'll be fine with it. For most people, that's just fine, and it's clearly evident in the cult status films like Prom Night and The Burning have amassed, but that shit don't jive with me.

There were a few things I liked about this, but more things that I didn't. On the plus side, I like the year it was made, and the look and feel of 1980. Such a wonderfully visual time for me, and I've just always loved how fashion, music and design transpired during this time period. I'm a total 80's kid, and in this department, Prom Night boasts some pretty awesome aesthetic. Another plus to the film, which is totally random by the way, is there's a way too long dance sequence during, you guessed it......prom night, that is so insanely ridiculous and fun that you just can't help but love it. Like, had the production spent just as much time on the effects/kills/gore that they did on choreographing this out of left field dance number, then Prom Night could easily have been a decent and passable slasher. Unfortunately, that is where my love the film ends because for me, there were too many things that I didn't like that far outweighed what I did like about Prom Night.

Where to begin? I found it hard to invest fully in this because quite surprisingly, it's really slow and dull. The complete lack of gore, violence and really any blood in general didn't help. One thing I noticed almost immediately was that most of the kills happened off screen, and if there was one captured on camera, it wasn't anything to get excited about. You'd think that when you make a slasher film, the money shots are going to be in the kills, but sadly, that's not the case here. And while most of these issues could have been overlooked had the film at least been a fun film, then that would have been something, but Prom Night's low-budget amateurish quality really relies on some gore content to make up for the lack of pretty much everything else and for that, Prom Night fails. Paul Lynch is a very uninteresting director and his lack of vision really stops Prom Night dead in it's tracks.

I have yet to see the PG-13 remake from 2008, but word on the street has not been good at all. Admittedly, I'm still curious because while it may not be a good film, maybe it could possibly be a train wreck in the best possible way? Maybe one day I'll take that leap of faith and give it a shot, because until then, Prom Night will just leave a sour taste in my mouth.