No More Clowning Around. It (1990) Review

Since the recent adaptation is storming the box office, I thought it’d be appropriate to look at the 1990 TV version of Stephen King’s It.

This two-part miniseries is not the horror masterpiece its reputation would suggest, it’s more of a pulpy horror film similar to tv shows like Tales from the Crypt and Goosebumps, just with more likable characters. Its main weakness however is its pacing.

It 1990 pic
It’s a mixed bag.

If you don’t know the premise, the story concerns a group of childhood friends trying to kill a monstrous entity that takes the form of an individual’s greatest fear, its most common form being a clown known as Pennywise.

The Horror

If you’re expecting heart stopping jump scares like in Paranormal Activity or disgusting body horror like in The Thing, It will disappoint you. If you’re an adult you’re likely to find the horror occasionally disturbing but mostly charming.

With blood filled balloons, living photographs, random monsters and the sadistic Pennywise, the horror is pulpy and childlike. It’s not terrifying but it’s certainly entertaining.

The Characters

In their childhood, we see that most of the friends have a weakness or troubled background. Bill has a stutter, Beverly has an abusive father, Ben is overweight, Eddie has an overprotective mother and Mike is black in a time where people of his race are discriminated against.

Seeing them bond in ‘the Losers Club’, embracing each other’s weaknesses, makes them very relatable and empathetic. When you see them together as adults, you feel their joy and nostalgia because you’ve known them as kids. You feel like you’re reuniting with old friends.

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‘The Losers Club’ in their many encounters with It [Credit: Warner Bros. TV]
With the childlike horror and likable characters, I think It could’ve been a fun horror film like Wishmaster and Killer Klowns from Outer Space. However, I thought the pacing of both episodes was so slow it nearly spoiled the film completely.

The Pace

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‘The Losers Club’ reunited in adulthood [Credit: Warner Bros. TV]
The film has the same issue I had with Harlan Ellison’s 7 Against Chaos. As interesting and empathetic as the characters are, too much time is spent developing them. The first episode is almost nothing but character development and backstory. I thought there were many scenes that could’ve been cut, like Ben’s fight with his cousins, the encounter with the bullies at the cinema, Beverly’s meeting with the Japanese investors and Ben’s suicide attempt.

 

With minimum Pennywise, horror and chemistry It can be a challenging watch. I appreciate that the film tried to get us to really know the characters but there’re seven of them and by the time Richie’s flashback was done, I was feeling bored. If a few scenes were cut out, It could’ve been a single two-hour film.

The horror and characters are great but whether they’re worth enduring hours of filler for or not is up to you. If you like Stephen King and 90s’ horror, then I proudly recommend It.

I give It a decent 6 out of 10.

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What A Strange Little Comic. 7 Against Chaos (2013) Review

When I first read 7 Against Chaos I didn’t know how to feel. I enjoyed it as an intergalactic swashbuckler however some features of the plot’s design puzzled me. I’ve read it a couple of times now and I can state with confidence that 7 Against Chaos is a fun book with a jolly, adventurous tone and a thought-out world, however some parts of the plot have a slow pace and a lack of tension.

This graphic novel by acclaimed author Harlan Ellison and artist Paul Chadwick is essentially Seven Samurai in space. As Earth is being torn apart by a mysterious force, seven rejects from all over the solar system are gathered to use their talents to save humanity.

7 Against Chaos pic
The comic is so strange and entertaining, it aroused all four of my chins.

The Tone and Genre

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Six of the team are assembled, only one remains to be collected [Credit: DC Comics]

While the premise clearly suggests that 7 Against Chaos is a sci-fi, the artwork suggests a more pulpy inspiration. The rocket ships, technology and spacesuits are reminiscent of adventure serials like Flash Gordon. A lot of the art reminded me of the 1980 Flash Gordon film and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

The tone matches the genre precisely. There are numerous action scenes with ray guns and giant monsters, just like from a sci-fi serial. The comic clearly wants to amaze and to entertain and, combined with the pulpy genre, I think it succeeds. 7 Against Chaos is a lot of fun.

 

The World

In just a few pages the book gives you a good idea of the setting while at the same time pushing the story forward. I appreciate this quality as most sci-fi, fantasy stories will either focus too much on establishing the world to the point where it gets boring or do the opposite and explain very little about the world, confusing the reader.

While introducing the seven principle characters, 7 Against Chaos presents a world where humanity has colonized the solar system with the labour of both robotic and genetically engineered slaves. The world seems to be inspired by Dune and Blade Runner with its interplanetary mining and artificial slaves. It feels real and at the same time is presented in a way that doesn’t drag the story.

The Plot

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Urr, a renegade and the fifth member of the team, escapes a mining facility [Credit: DC Comics]
For me, the plot is both the book’s great strength and weakness. Its strength is in its ability to surprise. For the most part the plot is similar to that of any adventure serial as it chronicles the team’s journey to defeat the mysterious menace. However, twists occur that’re much darker than your average sci-fi adventure. I won’t spoil any of them but I will state that the twists present a unique and very grim picture of action and adventure.

The plot’s weakness is in its pacing and forces of antagonism. In the beginning of the book we see six episodes of action, each one establishing a member of the team and their backstory. As stated before I think this is a good way of setting up the world and pushing the story along. However, after the third character has been introduced you notice a pattern. Each episode is around three to five pages long and all seven characters get one. I understand that each character needs to be introduced but when reading I just wanted the introductions to be over and done with so I could get to the actual story.

Regarding the forces of antagonism, towards the end of the story the group must travel back in time to prehistoric Earth, as that’s where the mysterious force is operating. They’re attacked by apes, locusts and octopuses. These forces could make for some tense and thrilling action scenes, however the team defeats them in less than two pages. They’re dealt with so quickly they feel pointless and a waste of time.

With its joyous tone, pulpy sci-fi genre, defined world and shocking plot twists, 7 Against Chaos is such an entertaining graphic novel that the boring and repetitious bits are worth enduring.

I give 7 Against Chaos a jolly 7 out of 10.

 

 

Cuz Why Not?! Frankenhooker (1990) Review

While its certainly not for everyone, I think Frankenhooker is an amusing and brilliant horror comedy with its unique and bizarre mix of tones.

This 90s’ cult film from director Frank Henenlotter is about Jeffrey Franken, a medical school drop-out who is trying to rebuild his deceased girlfriend with body parts from exploded prostitutes.

Frankenhooker pic
Yes, it’s as raunchy as it looks and I don’t care.

The Comedy

You’d fear that Frankenhooker would revel in the obscene side of its premise and would simply consist of toilet humour. Fortunately the film doesn’t do that. It indulges in the ridiculous side, glorifying the silly notion of a scientist making a Frankenstein’s monster out of New York prostitutes.

The best and most amusing example of Frankenhooker‘s comedy is the scene where Jeffrey attains the required body parts. He hires a group of prostitutes and, unintentionally, allows a bag of ‘super crack’ he made to fall into their possession. The substance causes the women to explode like fireworks in an incredible montage of exploding mannequins, with limbs and sparks flying all over the place.

The Drama

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James Lorinz plays Jeffrey as he relaxes by ramming a drill into his brain. That’s not a joke by the way. [Credit: Levins-Henenlotter]
If Frankenhooker consisted of nothing but absurdest humour, I’d probably consider it to be nothing but an intentional so-bad-its-good film that was trying too hard. Frankenhooker doesn’t just indulge in the comedic angle of its premise but also the horrific and dramatic ones.

There’s a very poignant scene where Jeffrey and his mother have a talk, discussing his grief following his girlfriend’s death. He says he’s become antisocial, losing his sense of right and wrong and worries he’s descending into madness. The scene is dramatic as it attempts to make us understand and empathise with Jeffrey.

The Horror

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Patty Mullen as Elizabeth, as she’s brought back as ‘Frankenhooker’. [Credit: Levins-Henenlotter]
There are moments of tension and disgusting body horror in Frankenhooker. The best example of the film’s tension is when Jeffrey goes to a pimp called Zorro to discuss hiring some prostitutes. The atmosphere is tense as Jeffrey enters Zorro’s lair, moving through narrow corridors that are covered in graffiti and crawling with thugs and hookers.

In terms of gore and body horror the most disgusting scene occurs towards the end of the film. I won’t spoil it but in the words of James Rolfe in his 2016 Monster Madness series, “it needs to be seen to be believed”.

With its balance of comedy, horror and drama, I think Frankenhooker is kind of amazing. Its not for everyone, some may find the mixture of tones disturbing but if you want to laugh and see something you haven’t seen before, I highly recommend Frankenhooker.

I give Frankenhooker a loving 8 out of 10.

GOOD But Could’ve Been Better. War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) Review

War for the Planet of the Apes isn’t exactly the film I was hoping it would be but with its great characters and plot, it’s almost as good as its predecessor.

Caesar and his apes have suffered terrible losses while fighting against the army of humans led by Colonel McCullough. Devastated by the fatalities, Caesar embarks on a quest for vengeance while the rest of his people journey to a distant haven. However, during his quest Caesar discovers that his people were captured by the humans as they were travelling and are being used as slaves at the humans’ base. Now, with a handful of other apes, Caesar must free his people from McCullough’s vicious regime.

War for the Planet of the Apes pic
The feelings were mixed.

The Characters

The characters in these films just keep getting better and better. In War, the strongest and most compelling characters, for me, have to be Caesar and Colonel McCullough.

Caesar experiences a real struggle in the narrative. Unlike the previous films where he battled exterior forces, Caesar battles his own heart and desires. He’s been emotionally scarred by the war and has an intense desire to kill the colonel. At the same time however, he is aware that if he gives in to hatred he’ll become like Koba (the xenophobic, warmongering chimp from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). You understand Caesar’s situation and you want to see if he’ll realise his vengeful desires or not.

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[Credit: Fox]
The colonel is a brutal and frightening antagonist. He treats the apes with no sympathy whatsoever, forcing them to work with no food or water. Despite Caesar’s attempts at rebellion, McCullough stands firm and oppresses all resistance. He’s more threatening than Koba in Dawn yet unlike Koba, he has a clear, sympathetic motive. McCullough knows of Caesar’s intelligence and that the possibility of humanity going extinct and apes becoming the dominant species is real. So he does everything he has to, from starving his ape slaves to killing his own men, to ensure humanity’s survival. He’s a powerful antagonist that you both understand and despise.

The Plot

After seeing Dawn, I was expecting War to depict the humans and apes as equal opposing forces. The first two films showed how the apes evolved and rebelled against their human masters, so the third film should show the apes fighting humanity as an equally powerful faction over control of the planet.

The film isn’t about that. War focuses on the apes’ attempts to escape the base. The plot is reminiscent of many escape films like Bridge on the River Kwai and Chicken Run (bizarre comparison, I know). The film puts the apes in an oppressed position, which is something we’ve already seen in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as well as previous Ape films. Hence with this being the third film in the series I was expecting something a bit more original.

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The colonel (Woody Harrelson) about to punish Caesar (Andy Serkis). [Credit: Fox]
Despite the familiar premise however, the plot for War is still very engaging. Like most escape films, a lot of the tension comes from seeing whether the apes can plan an escape without getting caught. There’s also some tension in seeing whether the apes will survive under McCullough’s regime with no food and water. It’s good for what it is but at the same time it could’ve been something so much more epic and original.

“Bad Ape”

Within the first act a chimpanzee called “Bad Ape” is introduced to Caesar’s group. He’s a bit of a hermit and is very clumsy due to his limited experience of the world. He is the comic relief of the film.

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Steve Zahn as “Bad Ape” [Credit: Fox]
I think Rise and Dawn established a serious and mature tone for the series. Now Bad Ape doesn’t ruin the film as his role is quite minor and I did actually find a couple of his scenes amusing. However, I think in relation to the rest of the film he feels very out of place and inappropriate.

While the familiar premise and comic relief make the film lesser than what it could’ve been, the engrossing plot and amazing characters make War for the Planet of the Apes a solid film and a great entry in the series.

I give War for the Planet of the Apes a strong 7 out of 10.

Better Than The First One. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Review

Despite the issues I have with the main antagonist, I consider Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to be a strong sequel with its empathetic characters and engaging drama.

Since the simian flu wiped out most of humanity, Caesar has established a small colony, where he enjoys a harmonious existence with his fellow apes. Suddenly human survivors appear and ask the apes for help with fixing a nearby dam. Caesar agrees but there are some humans and apes who are disturbed by the alliance and start to take action.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes pic
Come at me.

All the Characters Have a Motive and Their Actions Advance the Plot

One big issue I had with Rise of the Planet of the Apes was its antagonists. I thought they were two-dimensional and didn’t feel real as characters. In Dawn however, all the characters have reasons behind their motives and attitudes.

Malcolm, for example, wants to fix the dam for the human survivors at the city. He’s met Caesar and is aware of his intelligence so he tries to collaborate with him, avoiding any violent confrontations.

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Jason Clarke as Malcolm, working with Andy Serkis’ Caesar [Credit: Fox]
Dreyfus on the other hand shares Malcolm’s desire but not his attitude. He is just as concerned about the peoples’ survival as Malcolm but he does not see the apes as sentient beings. He sees them as animals and a threat to the city, hence he is more willing to wage war against them.

While Dreyfus is clearly an antagonist, he has a desire and an attitude and therefore feels more three-dimensional than the antagonists in Rise.

The Plot and Its Intensity

The first act establishes the history and tension between the humans and the apes, showing where particular characters stand in regards to the opposing species. So when Malcolm’s group start collaborating with the apes you feel anxious because you don’t know how long the alliance will last until someone strikes.

Incidents occur that divide the collaboration briefly but each time they happen you see the trust between the two groups weaken, which creates more tension. You feel that there’s going to be an eruption, an incident that divides the groups completely and leads to conflict. For me personally this makes Dawn of the Planet of the Apes a lot more powerful than Rise.

Koba

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Toby Kebbell as Koba [Credit: Fox]
The only main criticism I have of the film is the character of Koba, an ape who hates the humans and triggers most of the conflict. On the surface he’s a good character, he has a motive and an attitude just like Malcolm and Dreyfus. He suffered vicious experiments performed by humans and wants to protect his village and fellow apes.

I understand why Koba hates humans, but for most of the film all we see is him simply displaying his prejudice. He’s never presented sympathetically. Not a lot of time is committed to establishing his character and attitude. He at least has a motive unlike the antagonists in Rise, it just wasn’t developed enough for me.

However, I forgive Koba because with its distinct characters and engaging plot, I think Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film and I give it a great 8 out of 10.

Good Reboots DO Exist! Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Review

Since War for the Planet of the Apes is out at the moment, I thought I should review the previous films in the new reboot series.

I think Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a strong sci-fi film with its empathetic characters and engaging plot. However, the cliché antagonists were a weakness for me.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes pic
My monkey face 

In this first entry of the franchise reboot, a scientist is developing a drug that he hopes will cure his father’s Alzheimer’s disease. When he is fired from his company he suddenly becomes the parent of Caesar, an infant chimp who was exposed to the drug in-utero. The scientist experiments with the chimp in secret as Caesar displays great intelligence, intelligence that could threaten man’s dominion over the planet.

The Characters

Caesar is a child who is taken away from his parents and forced to thrive in a brutal environment. Charles Rodman, the scientist’s father, is a good loving man who is slowly deteriorating. These are archetypes that we can all understand. We can empathize with a lonely child trying to grow up or a loved one losing his character due to age or illness. These understandable qualities make the characters in Rise very empathetic.

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John Lithgow as Charles Rodman [Credit: Fox]
I appreciate the film for its focus on character and emotion rather than world building or referencing past films, as many recent prequels, reboots and sequels have tended to do.

The Tension and Plot

Due to assaulting a neighbor while protecting Charles, Caesar is taken to an animal shelter. Knowing his character and vulnerability, there’s a feeling of great anxiety when Caesar meets the other apes. We know how innocent and childlike he is, we know that he’s never been around other monkeys so we dread what’s going to happen.

As the plot progresses more tension arises, particularly in the third act when Caesar starts his revolution. At this point we know how much control the people have and how easily they can oppress apes, it honestly feels like Caesar is fighting a battle that he cannot possibly win.

If there’s one thing Rise of the Planet of the Apes exceeds at, it’s attracting empathy with the characters and creating tension with the plot.

The Antagonists

Steven Jacobs, the scientist’s boss, and Dodge Landon, the chief guard at the shelter, I think are very unconvincing characters. I understand that they’re supposed to represent humanity’s dominance and arrogance in the animal kingdom, so they don’t need to be particularly empathetic or multidimensional. However, their presentation made them appear too selfish and sadistic.

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David Oyelowo as Steven Jacobs and Tom Felton as Dodge Landon [Credit: Fox]
Steven talks of the chimps at the laboratory with no sympathy and seems more concerned about making money, while Dodge displays clear joy as he torments the monkeys at the shelter. They don’t feel real hence it’s difficult to dislike them as antagonists. If Steven spoke more considerably about the chimps and Dodge acted more professionally and less playfully around the apes, then I think they would have been more convincing as people and as antagonists.

Overall, with its strongly empathetic characters and intense antagonism, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a solid film despite its one-dimensional villains.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes a great 7 out of 10.

Most Underrated Remake EVER! The Blob (1988) Review

There seemed to be a trend in ‘80s Hollywood of remaking old science fiction films, the most famous examples being John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.

However, Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars and Chuck Russell’s The Blob seem to have faded to obscurity in the last 30 years. The Blob, while it may not be as timeless as The Thing, is a very underrated remake.

The film’s premise is pretty much the same as the original. A meteor crashes in small town California and is discovered by a homeless man. As he prods the strange red goo with a stick, it slithers up his arm and sticks to his hand. He’s found by three teenagers and is taken to a hospital, where the Blob devours his body and escapes. Now it’s up to a couple of youths to convince the authorities of the Blob’s existence before it consumes the whole town.

The Blob pic
This was my exact expression after I’d seen the film.

The Tension

In the first half-hour we are introduced to a large cast of characters, all of them of different ages, occupations and positions in the community. In the 1958 original when characters and relationships are established, it’s an indication that they are the main characters who we’ll follow all the way through the film.

In the 1988 version however characters and relationships are established but are abruptly killed off. Within the first act, characters you assume would be the protagonists are devoured by the Blob. This creates a persistent tension that the 58 film did not possess. When a character encounters the Blob, it’s terrifying because you know that there’s a good chance he or she will get killed. No one is safe.

The Characters Are More Complex

When reviewing a remake I think it’s important to consider the film it’s based on, so we can see what the remake is building on. Nowadays the characters in the 88 version may appear like typical film archetypes but compared to the original the characters are a little more complex.

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Brian Flagg for example is more three-dimensional than Steve Andrews (McQueen) was in the 58 film. At first, he comes across as selfish, amoral and overall very unlikable. The complete opposite of the confident and charming Steve Andrews. However, as Brian encounters the Blob and its victims, he takes action and protects others rather than himself.

Another example is Dr Meadows, the leader of the biological containment team trying to stop the Blob. Like Brian he is more than he appears. He and his team come across as allies at first. You think they’ll work with the youths to help find and catch the creature, but when Brian listens in on a conversation Meadows has with his colleagues, we discover that the doctor is willing to go to extreme lengths to contain the Blob, even if it means endangering the townspeople.

The selfish rogue who starts caring for others and the villain who resembles an ally are common archetypes in today’s media. Hence the film’s characters are not that complex seeing them now but as I said I think it’s important to consider the original when reviewing a remake as a remake should be an improvement on the original. So, when comparing 88’s characters to 58’s, I think that the remake is indeed a fine improvement.

The Effects

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[Credit: TriStar Pictures]
Like Cronenberg’s The Fly and Carpenter’s The Thing, the special effects in The Blob are so good they almost overshadow the other elements in the film. The use of puppets, both miniature and large-scale, gives a clear sense of the creature’s size. You are convinced that this thing is a living, expanding flood.

The make-up effects enhance the tension as we see in gruesome detail what happens to people when they’re consumed by the Blob. People dissolve like they’re in acid, we see their skin and flesh burn inside the creature. Whenever it appears you’re on the edge of your seat because you know how fast the Blob can move and what happens when it touches you.

Overall The Blob is a very strong remake with multidimensional characters, persistent tension and outstanding special effects. The only major issues regard the film’s longevity as like the original it’s a product of its time. With the clear ‘80s fashion and music The Blob lacks the timeless aesthetic of films like Carpenter’s The Thing. Those issues aside, I think The Blob is still a strong ‘80s horror film that deserves a lot more attention.

I give The Blob a solid 7 out of 10.