An A-Class B-Movie. Wishmaster (1997) Review

Wishmaster is a wonderful little horror film with its great characters and glorious blend of horror and humour.

This 1997 film revolves around a gemologist, Alex, who unknowingly frees the Djinn (an evil genie). His mission is to grant Alex three wishes so that upon the granting of the third wish he can free his race and rule the earth.

Wishmaster Pic
This’ll be a raving review just so you know.

The Djinn, Horror and Cheese

The Djinn is a great horror villain. He has a motivation and numerous methods of killing people. That, with his devilish charm, makes him a lot of fun to watch. While trying to persuade Alex to make her wishes, the Djinn collects souls from other people by granting them a single wish. This is where the film is both scary and cheesy as the wishes backfire at the grantees in absurd and disturbing ways.

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Andrew Divoff as the Djinn [Credit: Live Entertainment]
A good example of the film’s cheese is a scene at a police station, where an officer reveals his desire for a nearby criminal (who’s never been charged) to commit a crime so he can shoot him. The Djinn grants his wish and takes control of the criminal’s body, making him snatch a gun and shoot everyone. It’s ridiculous that the cop just openly states what he wants with little persuasion from the Djinn. On top of that, the way the criminal just stands up yelling and starts shooting people is hilariously silly.

A good example of the film’s horror is a scene where a medical student finds the Djinn pealing the face off a dead body. “Am I to understand that this is something you do not wish to see?” asks the genie. “Uh huh” the student replies and with a slight hand gesture, the Djinn fuses the student’s eyelids shut.

The Characters and Plot

Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn's opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)
Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn’s opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)

Despite the far-fetched premise, the characters and plot are quite solid. They’re a lot more engaging than those in your average horror film.

Alex is an understandable and decent protagonist. Whenever she’s on screen, you’re not bored and waiting for the Djinn to come back, you’re engaged. She has a flaw (her guilt following her mother’s death) and a reason to pursue the Djinn (he murdered her best friend). You won’t be invested in her as you’d be in Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy but you’ll be watching to see if she defeats the Djinn or not.

 

Some of the supporting characters are pretty fun and likable, Alex’s Boss Nick Merritt for example. He’s a greedy, patronizing, sassy man who loves cash and valuable items.

Wendy Derleth, a Uni professor Alex meets for info on the Djinn, is also a fun character. As well as being funny and grumpy, she comes across as very wise and honest.  When she tells Alex about the history and legacy of the Djinn, she makes it sound quite chilling.

While Alex, the Djinn and the supporting characters make Wishmaster an engaging film, the plot produces some real fun and tension. The Djinn tries everything to get a wish out of Alex, such as tormenting her with visions of the souls he’s taken and threatening to kill her sister. She tries to resist but as the Djinn’s methods become more extreme she struggles. The plot escalates to an explosive climax with a rather clever resolution and a surprisingly happy ending.

I’ve known Wishmaster for over seven years now and have been watching it every Halloween since. Its horror, humour, characters and plot are hard for me not to like. It’s a beautifully wacky film to watch with a group of friends this Halloween.

I know how biased this may seem but for what it is I give Wishmaster a wonderful 9 out of 10.

 

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Tis the Season to be SCARED. Dawn of the Dead (2004) Review

I was going to start this days ago but since going back to Uni (starting my third and final year) I’ve been very busy.

This Halloween I’m hoping to crank out four reviews, one for each week of October. They’re all going to be of horror films I’ve known for years, so it should be a fun Halloween for me as I’ll finally get to write down why I love these films.

This week I’m going to start by looking at the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) pic
Was in the mood for this one.

It’s an epic, thrilling and intense horror film with its unstoppable zombies and escalating plot. The premise is pretty much the same as the original. All over the world the dead have risen and a group of the living are forced to take refuge in a shopping mall.

The Originality

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The Original Dawn of the Dead directed by the late George A. Romero.

It’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the influential 1978 film. I see the remake as just another take on the same premise. After all there’s a lot you could do story wise with survivors locking themselves in a mall during a zombie apocalypse.

Unlike the 1978 film, the plot focuses more on the survivors’ struggle to keep the zombies out and escape the mall, rather than on them simply living in the mall. I don’t think this film should be measured by the original’s standards, it should be viewed as its own piece because that’s what it is. A serious, action-packed, large-scale zombie film, something the original is not in my opinion.

The Zombies

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A swarm of zombies pursue the survivors [Credit: Universal]
With a Hollywood budget Dawn of the Dead is able to depict thousands of sprinting flesh eaters that can fill up a room like water. The idea of someone ripping you apart and eating you alive is terrifying enough, so when seeing an army of people in Dawn of the Dead, sprinting at our protagonists and trying to eat them, it’s a physically intense experience. Whenever they appear you feel like panicking and dashing away.

The zombies drive terror and adrenaline into the film, making Dawn of the Dead a heart racing experience.

The Plot

While time is devoted to the characters and their struggles at cooperation, most of the plot focuses on their struggle against the zombies, both those outside the mall and inside the mall that have not yet manifested.

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[Credit: Universal]
The stakes are low at first, concerning only the security of the mall and disposing the infected survivors. However, the stakes are immediately heightened when the survivors want to leave the mall. This leads to an incredible climax full of zombies, gore, running and panic.

With its original take on a familiar premise, terrifying zombies and escalating plot, Dawn of the Dead is an amazing film and I recommend it to everyone for this Halloween.

I give Dawn of the Dead a thrilling 8 out of 10.

I CAN’T SLEEP. It (2017) Review

With terrifying imagery, an unpredictable antagonist and empathetic characters, It is an intense and engaging horror film.

Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the film focuses on a group of kids living in 1980s Maine. They encounter an evil entity that is able manifest as an individual’s greatest fear, its most common form being a horrifying clown called Pennywise. The kids then attempt to destroy the entity, facing their worst fears in the process.

It 2017 pic
The emotion is real.

The Characters

It’s hard for me to review this film without comparing it to the 1990 miniseries. The characters here are just as empathetic and relatable as they are in the 1990 version. They all have weaknesses and degrading backgrounds such as Beverly with her abusive father, Ben with his weight, Eddie with his overprotective mother and Bill with his stutter and crippling grief following his brother’s death. They come together in ‘the Losers Club’, becoming great friends regardless of their flaws.

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‘The Losers Club’ [Credit: Warner Bros.]
However, what makes the characters more compelling here than in the miniseries is the amount of time they get. The film focuses entirely on the Losers Club as children encountering It for the first time. There are no flash forwards to them as adults. Plots that were barely apparent in the miniseries like the love triangle between Bill, Beverly and Ben, are expanded and have a stronger impact. You feel their joy and horror, without any flash forwards interrupting the journey.

The Horror

The scares in It aren’t that different from those in the miniseries or the Goosebumps TV show.

The entity can adopt various forms, all of them uniquely terrifying such as a diseased man, a living painting and of course Pennywise. We’ve seen random, imaginative monsters many times before in Goosebumps and A Nightmare on Elm Street but they’re usually depicted with unconvincing practical effects. Using recent digital technology and updated makeup effects however, It manages to present its monsters with heart-racing realism. Creatures and images that we could only imagine are brought to life.

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Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) stands obliviously before his greatest fear [Credit: Warner Bros.]
While I loved the imagination and detail in the film’s horror, I thought the use of jumpscares was very gratuitous. Every time It appears there’s a loud booming noise. The film cannot show It and let it be disturbing on its own, there has to be a loud noise to make the audience jump. There are many scenes that can be scary without a loud noise.

It’s unfortunate that a film with fantastic nightmarish imagery, exploits the jumpscare as cheaply as Blair Witch and the Paranormal Activity sequels.

Despite the countless loud booming noises however, this adaptation of It is a scarier and more emotional experience than the miniseries. If you want characters you’ll love and monsters that you haven’t seen before, I strongly recommend it.

I give It a solid 8 out of 10.

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.

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.