Category Archives: 1990s

Village of the Damned (1995)

*. Apparently John Carpenter remarked in an interview somewhere that he didn’t particularly want to do a remake of the classic 1960 film Village of the Damned. He wasn’t personally invested in the project at all, and only agreed to do it because he was under contract.
*. That would normally send off some alarm signals, but (1) contract work can still be highly professional and of good quality, and (2) aside from The Thing, I’m not sure how many movies Carpenter ever made that gave me the sense that he cared very much about them. I think he’s always been pretty up front about directing being just another job.
*. Still, this version of Village of the Damned seems particularly uninspired and unnecessary. Unlike The Thing, which largely skipped over the Howard Hawks film to return to the original story, Carpenter’s Village of the Damned sticks very close to the 1960 film and doesn’t reach back to John Wyndham’s novel The Midwich Cuckoos much at all. In fact, if you told me that Carpenter hadn’t read The Midwich Cuckoos I wouldn’t be surprised.
*. To take just the most obvious example, Wyndham’s novel has nothing in it about the children being able to read minds. This was new to the film, and Carpenter adopts all of it here, down to the imagining of a mental wall to hide thoughts behind and the satchel at the end with a bomb in it.
*. A brief history of taboo words. In the 1960 original they actually make it through the entire first part of the film without ever saying the word “pregnant.” In this movie Kirstie Alley, in her public address to the villagers, says that “the choice is yours” as to whether they want to terminate their pregnancy, and that the government will even perform the procedure for them. That’s actually pretty bold, but you never hear her say the word “abortion.”
*. Reading a few of the contemporary reviews, it seems people were expecting Carpenter to come at them with more blood and guts. I’m surprised how tame it is. The camera shies away from the gore for the most part. Unfortunately, there’s only the one decent kill and that’s the man who accidentally falls on top of the BBQ when he passes out. I thought that was clever.
*. The glowing eye effects were overdone, and I got tired of them quickly. They also don’t make much sense. But again, this is a borrowing from the 1960 film.
*. Hello Michael Paré! And . . . good-bye Michael Paré! For getting near top billing he doesn’t hang around very long does he? With Eddie and the Cruisers (1983) he seemed like he was on his way to becoming a huge star. Goodness knows he’s stayed busy over the years — no small achievement in the movie business — but stardom never really happened.
*. And, tragically, goodbye Christopher Reeve, at least as a leading man. This was the last film he shot before the riding accident that left him paralyzed. At the time he was a guy who pretty much embodied the traditional figure of the handsome leading man.
*. It’s too bad that none of these movies really dig into the basic premise of the novel about the incompatibility of the two species, and how there can be no peaceful coexistence between them. I mean, this is a point that’s always mentioned in passing, but it seems important enough, at least to me, that I wanted them to argue about it more. Why would Reeve want to help the kids if he knows what’s really at stake, for example? And how much empathy should we humans really feel for them?
*. Perhaps the biggest change they made to the story was in having one of the kids develop a bit of empathy, then saving him from destruction. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this character much (he’s so cute he even speaks with a slight lisp) and sort of wished he’d died with the others. As it was, I expected a final twist where we’d see his eyes glow, sort of like the rash breaking out on the little girl’s skin at the end of The Brood. But I guess we’re supposed to end up feeling that everything is going to be OK, at least until David hits puberty and starts taking girls out. Then I’m afraid it’s all over for us.

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2 Days in the Valley (1996)

*. It may be hard to remember now, or even outside of some readers’ memories, but Pulp Fiction was quickly followed by a lot of clones. They’ve been mostly forgotten, or will be soon.
*. 2 Days in the Valley was one such clone. There’s a fractured narrative following the incidentally connected lives of a bunch of Angelenos hailing from high life and low. There are some violent hoods included in the mix. One of them has a favourite routine he likes to go through before killing someone. There’s a cool retro soundtrack. The action is laced with knowing humour. You know the script.
*. None of it works this time. The different narrative threads are awkwardly stitched together. The jokes are laboured (for example, Hopper telling Dosmo that he takes him seriously as a professional when Dosmo’s pants are down around his ankles). Dosmo is afraid of dogs. That’s a joke. Teddy Peppers made a bad TV-movie with an elephant in it. That’s a joke.
*. Charlize Theron wasn’t supposed to be here, but she was available so this became her first leading role. She was only twenty. There’s one reason to watch this movie. She’s it.
*. There’s nothing else to say. The dialogue isn’t very fast or very clever, and it needs to be both. Most such movies are a slow build to a clever conclusion, but while Roger Ebert found the ending here “neat and ingenious” I thought it was predictable. I guess they didn’t know what to do with Alvin (Jeff Daniels). Or with the massage parlour subplot. And I guess Teddy is going to marry the nurse. In a final in-joke Dosmo (Danny Aiello) says he’s going to Brooklyn to open a pizzeria. But that was years ago.
*. I’ll leave you with something nice. Here’s a pic of Charlize Theron.

 

Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995)

*. Under Siege made a lot of money. It was jokingly referred to as “Die Hard on a battleship.” So what next? Die Hard on a train! Make it happen!
*. The French titles make the formula even more obvious. Cuirassé en Péril. Express en Péril.
*. There’s not much to care about here. The fights and stunts are better than in the first film. There are more explosions. The plot, however, is identical. A pair of bad guys hijack a train, taking control of a powerful James Bond-style weapon in the process that they plan to auction to the highest bidder. Only one man stands in their way . . .
*. There is a climactic explosion. There is a final fight between our hero and the villain that they insist on performing mano a mano. The evil plot is foiled. Everybody cheers.
*. Today a movie like this is just barely watchable. A little more so though than Under Siege. Surprisingly, Everett McGill and Eric Bogosian stand up pretty well alongside Gary Busey and Tommy Lee Jones. Katherine Heigl doesn’t jump naked out of a cake, but she’s cute as a button and her role as Ryback’s niece is a little meatier than Erika Eleniak’s stripper. Comic relief is provided by a black porter. It was 1995 and we were just starting to get offended by things like that.

*. The only thing I found interesting this time around was the nice sexual tension between McGill’s Penn and Heigl’s Sarah. Heigl was 17 at the time and McGill 50, but it’s clear he’s attracted to her in a way beyond his appreciation of her training. It made me think of the similar taboo heat between Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis in Cape Fear (1993). And I don’t think this is just because I have a dirty mind.
*. I wonder when the first portrayal of the villainous nerd/hacker was. Bogosian is good in the part here, though perhaps a little too goofy. He really needs McGill to back him up. And of course that CD-ROM of Death is funny now. There are young people today who don’t even know what CD-ROMs were.
*. I watched a lot of movies like this in the ’80s and ’90s. I don’t remember many of them now. This one I had almost completely forgotten except for the little bit with the pepper spray. In any event, after peaking with these two films it was all downhill for Seagal. You wouldn’t have thought he had a long way to fall, but in that you would have been mistaken.

Under Siege (1992)

*. There was a time when Steven Seagal wasn’t a joke. His career got off to a good start, and he seemed like something a bit different from the usual run of ’80s action stars. Maybe it was because he was a big guy but not totally buff like Stallone or Van Damme. Maybe it was the quiet voice. In any event, he was fun to watch.
*. Under Siege would prove to be his biggest hit, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s actually a pretty good action flick. Formulaic as all hell, but not too badly done.
*. Did I say formula? As soon as it came out it was labeled, not without reason, “Die Hard on a battleship.” And indeed its release actually threw a monkey wrench into the Die Hard franchise because the next Die Hard movie was going to be set on a cruise ship so they had to change the script.
*. The characters are familiar. Gary Busey had the part of obnoxious heel down pat, after having just played similar parts in Lethal Weapon and Predator 2. Tommy Lee Jones was in a groove as the threatening and not quite balanced villain. Erika Eleniak, the real-life Playboy Playmate for July 1989, was typecast.
*. Of course Eleniak is best known for her turn bursting out of the birthday cake. You couldn’t rent this movie on VHS in the ’90s without the tape being damaged at this point from the number of times people had been trying to freeze it and advance it frame by frame. I mean, everybody did this.
*. Aside from this star turn, her part is terribly written, even for comic relief. The way she has to behave and the lines she has to deliver are cringe inducing. In fact, her character had not been included in the original screenplay and Seagal says that he made the suggestion to add her only because he thought he needed a sidekick.
*. The politics are the usual boo-yah stuff. Notice how the one bad guy dresses up like a rocker and the other like a woman. The heroes, meanwhile, are squares. Seagal’s Casey Ryback even had to lose his ponytail. Men are soldiers and women are strippers and villains are psycho punks. That’s all you need to know.
*. I sure as hell wouldn’t call this one of the best action films of the period. Jones is dispatched far too quickly at the end, and when you get down to it there really aren’t any good fights at all. The idea that Ryback is communicating with the Dr. Strangelove gathering of the joint chiefs of staff via satellite uplink the whole time is awkward to say the least. I don’t think the plot throws us a single surprise or moment of originality. But it moves along at a snappy pace and I was impressed at how well it’s managed to hold up lo these many years later.
*. For Seagal, however, it was all downhill from this modest elevation. All aboard for Under Siege 2: Dark Territory!

Audition (1999)

*. I started off my notes on Visitor Q by saying that Takashi Miike deserves some consideration as one of the top directors of the twenty-first century. Certainly right at the turn of the millennium he was churning out brilliant, ground-breaking work at speed. Titles like Visitor Q, Gozu, Ichi the Killer, and Audition.
*. Miike’s stories, when his films have a story, aren’t that important. What stands out is his ability to conjure a weird and grotesquely violent parallel reality that’s located just next door. He does this mainly through his photography. Miike’s world is very much our own — domestic, urban, blighted and dirty — but it’s made to seem infused with a spirit of art. It is our world transformed through the way a shot is framed and composed, and through correspondences that we might not notice.
*. I’ve talked about Miike’s eye before, most extensively in my notes on Ichi the Killer. The only thing I want to add here is how it is used in a way that isn’t obvious but which nevertheless works to reinforce other aspects of the film.
*. I’ll give just a couple of examples. In the first place we have Asami’s audition. We build up to this slowly through a checklist of candidates being crossed off. We haven’t met Asami yet, so we’re curious. And yet what happens? We don’t get a long zoom into where she’s sitting placed in front of us, but instead the camera turns around. We don’t see Asami at all but the camera slowly pulls in toward Aoyama. He is the one who is auditioning for her, the one being seduced. That’s the real action that’s happening in the scene.
*. Another example: In the scene before he takes her to bed for the first time, Aoyama looks at Asami standing by the bedpost. The bedpost is a weird corkscrew design, and it’s set quite deliberately against Asami, who is a narrow column, with her long straight black hair accentuating her smooth verticals. I think the way this shot is set up is clearly made to suggest how twisted Asami really is, how far from the plumb-line true of her profile.
*. These are both little things but Audition is full of such details and they combine to make the story, which is really just the usual psycho-woman Fatal Attraction set-up, work as well as it does.
*. On the Criterion DVD for Crazed Fruit there’s a moment when Donald Richie expresses confusion as to where the extreme anti-social violence of directors like Miike came from. It can’t be that surprising though. One of the things Audition presents itself as is a “state of Japan” film. It’s a nation full of lonely people, with the widower Aoyama looking for the stereotypical object to fit his home and lifestyle: a (much) younger woman who is “beautiful, classy, and obedient.” Well, to hell with that.
*. Given that anyone watching even for the first time would know where all this was going, Audition nevertheless sets its hooks and drags you along, making it impossible to look away even during the quieter moments.
*. I like how the score changes from the lounge-style pianos to edgy strings for the climax. That’s something else that sets the mood that you don’t necessarily recognize at the time. But then what’s with the pop song that plays over the end credits? It seems quite out of keeping with what we’ve just experienced. I know Miike likes to throw these curve balls into the mix, but still.
*. The only problem I have is with the dream sequence that occurs when Aoyama goes unconscious. This is a very important part of the film as it provides a deeper look into Aoyama’s feelings and gives us as a lot of information explaining items that had until now been left mysterious. Most obviously, it shows us what’s in Asami’s bag.
*. But can we credit it? It seems clearly meant to be an exploration of Aoyama’s subconscious, as it contains characters Asami hasn’t met (like the co-worker and Shigehiko’s girlfriend) and doesn’t proceed logically. On the other hand, Aoyama hasn’t seen the bag, so it makes no sense that he would know what’s really inside it. But we know there is a bag because we’ve seen it. Is there any way of resolving this?
*. I wonder if they should have bothered with the story of Asami’s childhood abuse. Usually in such stories they don’t, because in the end it’s only going to be a throwaway bit of amateur psychology. I would have been fine if they’d just left her back story a mystery.
*. As it is, Asami’s psychology doesn’t do much for me. She fears betrayal so she wants to make men totally dependent on her, like pets. Her amputation of their feet obviously recalls the hobbling of James Caan in Misery. She also fetishizes pain because it’s more real, which should make her into a cutter but the only scars we see are the old burns on her legs. If the experience of pain is so enjoyable, why isn’t she trying it?
*. This one isn’t as weird as some of the other movies Miike was making at the time. In some of the ways I’ve mentioned, it’s very much in a Hollywood tradition. For years there has been talk of making an American version, but that seems pointless to me as that film has already been made many times, both before and since. Furthermore, I don’t think a remake would work. This is an old story, but it’s presented in a way that’s so polished, accomplished, and sure of itself that I don’t think it can be improved upon. We should let a sleeping Asami lie.

Body Bags (1993)

*. The original idea was that Showtime was going to create a series out of the concept here, along the lines of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt. For whatever reason that didn’t work out, and so all we have is this horror anthology consisting of three stories and a frame set in a morgue.
*. As far as framing narratives go, it’s actually a pretty good one. I could have imagined this turning into a horror-comic Six Feet Under. But it was not to be.
*. Things get off to a decent start with the parody of the MGM roaring-lion logo, only this time with John Carpenter playing The Coroner wielding a roaring chainsaw above the motto Sanguis Gratia Artis.
*. From there we enter the morgue, with Carpenter done up in make-up recalling The Phantom of the Opera. There are a lot of groaner puns that come with the territory. They might have been delivered by the Crypt Keeper. Carpenter isn’t that great as an actor though and doesn’t ham the part up enough.
*. Body Bags is, however, Carpenter’s baby. There are a bunch of cameos made by other horror directors (Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper), but they’re just walk-ons (or fall-ons, in the case of Raimi). Carpenter directed the first two segments and Tobe Hooper the third.

*. I thought something more interesting might have been done with the first story. The isolated gas station has the look of the fishbowl under siege that was later used in Splinter and ATM. But things settle down into a routine pretty quickly. There’s a slasher killer. There are comic interruptions. There are bodies to be discovered. The villain is “killed” only to come back to life, rising up behind the last girl in a shot right out of Halloween. Can you rip off your own earlier work? Maybe not, but this is all uninspired, routine stuff, and aside from Craven’s creepy appearance I can’t think of any reason to recommend it.

*. The third story is disappointing as well. The innocent guy (Mark Hamill) is in an accident and receives a transplant. In this case it’s an eye. Before you can think of such classic riffs on the theme as The Hands or Orlac or Mad Love, he’s having violent visions. It seems this eye came from an executed serial killer! Who would have ever guessed.
*. The visions might also make us think of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which, perhaps coincidentally, Carpenter wrote. In any event, things work out predictably, to the point where we even get the Bible verses about what to do if your eye offends you thrown into the mix. It’s a shame to end on such a tired note.
*. The saving grace here is the middle story, which has Stacy Keach as a balding man who is desperate to get his hair back. He goes to a clinic which, through some unstated procedure, infects him with an alien life form that uses him as a host. His “hair” is actually a nest of writhing worms, like tiny serpents, that feed on his brain.

*. Such a story is pure Stephen King, with its Everyman faced with a problem that is easy to relate to ending up on a sidetrack to hell. The set-up reminded me a lot of the story “Quitters, Inc.” in Cat’s Eye, with a main character who should have been more careful about what he wished for.
*. But what really makes it work, and makes it so memorable, is the unnervingly real quality of the infection. Basically the alien parasites are just another kind of worm, of the sort that millions of people get every day, either in their guts or just under their skin (tapeworm, ringworm, etc.).
*. Body Bags is a much better film than its origin as a failed TV pilot would lead you to believe. The morgue frame is good, and comes with a nice twist at the end. There are several interesting cameos. And at least one of the stories, the second, is great. The rest of it is pedestrian and uninspired genre stuff, but this is a genre (the anthology horror) that isn’t known for a lot of memorable moments. Twenty-five years later, I think it holds up better than a lot of similar films that were released on a bigger screen.

Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993)

*. This one was also released as H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, which it certainly is not. But very free adaptations of Poe have a long film tradition so there’s no reason Lovecraft should be treated any differently. I only wonder why so few directors have tried to do Lovecraft straight up. He’s certainly weird enough on the page.
*. Once again we have the conceit of the horror anthology film as a book. Sometimes it’s a dusty old tome (Twice-Told Tales, ABCs of Death 2), sometimes a comic book (Creepshow, Trick ‘r Treat). Here it’s that ghastly grimoire the Necronomicon. Though this makes me question why Lovecraft (the character in the film, played by Jeffrey Combs) wants to sneak into that ashram library just to read these spooky stories anyway. Doesn’t that make him a plagiarist?
*. The first story up in this three-parter is “The Drowned” (directed by Christophe Gans) which is ostensibly an interpretation of “The Rats in the Walls.” About the only thing the two have in common is the house on the cliff and the main character’s last name. This was a bit of a disappointment, as I’d love to see a faithful adaptation of “The Rats in the Walls.” It’s also disappointing that Lovecraft’s story has been replaced with the old morality tale about how bringing back the dead never works out the way you think it will because (as the line from Pet Sematary has it) “sometimes dead is better.”
*. Once things get going, however, we get some fun practical effects, with lots of slime and tentacles. And a much better Cthulhu than we got in The Haunted Palace. Or is that Nyarlathotep? Or Shub-Niggurath?

*. “The Cold” (directed by Shusuke Kuneko, who didn’t know any English at the time) is based on “Cool Air,” which is just Lovecraft’s version of Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” but with some gruesome changes like having the doctor killing people for their spinal fluid, and keeping a baby alive for years in the womb. This is good stuff, and Valdemar’s (or Dr. Madden’s) dissolution is very nicely done.
*. The final story, “Whispers” (directed, along with the wraparound library material, by Brian Yuzna) is, I am led to believe by reputable sources, based on “The Whisperer in Darkness.” Apparently the script went through a number of revisions however, so what it has in common with Lovecraft’s eldritch tale of alien ventriloquists inhabiting the backwoods hill country of Vermont is anybody’s guess.

*. As far as these things go, this is a decent enough modern interpretation of Lovecraft: nowhere near close enough to satisfy purists but close in spirit to the pulp sensibility of the original. As I began by pointing out, few directors have tried to produce a literal adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, and that isn’t attempted here.
*. The idea of having Lovecraft himself as a character was interesting, but nothing is done with it, and to be honest I didn’t think there was anything to the frame story at all. These are so rarely done well that I understand why so many anthology horrors don’t even bother. I wonder why it’s been so hard to come up with something as clever as the frame in Dead of Night.
*. Not that the story structure really matters. This is very much an effects movie, of the old school sort (meaning a lot of practical in-camera effects rather than CGI). If you like this kind of gore then you’ll find this worth checking out despite the narrative weakness. The splatter is disgusting and inventive. The aquatic zombies are better than the ones in Creepshow, though not as good as Davy Jones and his crew in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The tentacles shooting out of the dead woman’s eyes are great. Dr. Madden’s demise is a highlight. Only the final story is a let down. It’s a real chaotic jumble of action and tone, and left me mystified as to what was actually going on.
*. There aren’t a lot of “classic” anthology horror films. Dead of Night. Kwaidan. Aside from those two titles, it’s a genre that sets a low bar. Adjust your expectations accordingly, also keeping in mind the date, and you won’t be disappointed by this one.

Two Evil Eyes (1990)

*. Damn, Adrienne Barbeau was good in a lot of junky little roles.
*. The first half of this Poe-inspired double-bill had me thinking about Barbeau, as there was little else to hold my attention. Poe’s story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” is a one-trick pony, with little to recommend it to filmmakers aside from its ending, where Valdemar dissolves into a puddle of putridity. It’s a story that’s been filmed several times, beginning (I believe) with the Italian silent from 1936 Il caso Valdemar. Usually it’s done as a quickie. What makes Romero’s film stand out is both the fact that it takes its time (at 55 minutes it’s longer than any of the other versions I’ve seen) and that, despite Tom Savini providing the special effects, it doesn’t give us the satisfaction of seeing Valdemar’s liquefying corpse at the end.

*. Instead of a messy corpse, it has Adrienne Barbeau. She’s so fierce and intelligent, with a toughness that only makes her vulnerability more real. Even face-to-face with a zombie she’s the most frightening figure on screen, and she routinely upstages whoever she’s playing against, even behind sunglasses. There’s also something about her presence that hasn’t dated. While other stars of the 1980s now appear a bit ridiculous, Barbeau holds her own.
*. So George Romero’s “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar” is watchable because of Barbeau. She isn’t given a lot of help though. I don’t see where Romero was inspired by this material, and it ends up being a pretty standard little story about scheming lovers getting rid of an unwanted rich old spouse. They stick his body in the freezer but he comes back. We’ve been here many times before (more imaginatively, and with humorous effect, in Asylum).
*. I think the ending is flubbed. Usually the shorts in an anthology horror end with a kind of gruesome punchline. This was a given with this particular text, but Romero doesn’t do much with it. As already noted, we don’t see Valdemar decomposing before our eyes, like, for example, David Warner does at the end of the Lovecraft Valdemar tale in Necronomicon: Book of the Dead. Instead, this whole sequence is done as a false climax before Ramy Zada gets his.
*. The finale lacks punch, and nothing about the film is very scary. There are some interesting ideas suggested, but they don’t go anywhere. Romero himself was unhappy with the result, thinking it could have been better if he’d been able to do sound work post-production and had more “bread” to do special effects. As it is, it’s got Barbeau and that’s about all.

*. Dario Argento’s “The Black Cat” has more zing. It takes Poe’s story as inspiration, and gives it a suitably ghastly climax (with a crazy twist!) as the body behind the wall is revealed. In addition, there are also various other nods to the Master. Harvey Keitel’s character is Rod Usher. His girlfriend is Annabelle. He visits crime scenes dressed up after “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “Berenice.”
*. I think there must have been another form of homage intended in the scene where Martin Balsam stands looking up the staircase in Usher’s house. Surely we’re all thinking he’s about to pull another Arbogast. And that would have been fun. Argento must have considered it, especially given how carefully constructed the stairway set was.
*. All things considered, this strikes me as one of the better horror shorts I’ve seen in any of these anthologies (though I say that while admitting that having only two films doesn’t really make this an “anthology”). Keitel seems a bit uncomfortable, but that actually helps. There are some good red herrings and misdirections, and the extreme parts come as real shocks. I was only left a little confused as to what Usher was up to at the end. Was he really trying to escape? Or just kill himself?

*. This isn’t the film anyone had planned. Argento (who was the driving force) originally wanted to do four stories but couldn’t get Stephen King and John Carpenter on board (I’ve heard Wes Craven was considered as well). Also, the two stories were at first going to be “The Masque of the Red Death” (as an AIDS parable) and “The Pit and the Pendulum” (set in a South American dictatorship), but these projects were abandoned.
*. I wonder, if they’d had four episodes, if they would have done more in the way of a frame. As it is there’s just a brief intro that visits some Poe sites in Baltimore but nothing else.
*. Two Evil Eyes didn’t get much of a release and did next to no domestic box office. I think it deserves a bit more credit. Most critics and audiences seem to agree (and I would as well) that Argento’s is the stronger half of the bill, but Romero’s piece is not without interest. In the lists of Poe adaptations and anthology horror films, which is admittedly setting a low bar, I think this one actually rates pretty high.

Point Break (1991)

*. I remember seeing this one with a group of friends when it first came out and I think we all were left wondering what to make of it. Sure it was a cops-n-robbers action film with car chases and gun fights, and the usual bullshit about the unorthodox and mismatched buddy cops with the hard-ass jerk of a boss, but, at least at times, it did seem like something different.
*. Maybe it was just trying a bit harder. I like how the footrace plays out with a number of interesting elements. It starts off with Johnny fighting the man in the Reagan mask while that man is on fire. That was kind of interesting. Then you have little things like the way the perp closes and locks the glass door behind him when he cuts through the house, and then throws the dog at Johnny. These aren’t things that make you go “Wow!” but they help to perk up what is an otherwise conventional chase sequence.
*. Then there are the sympathetic villains. It’s established early on that they don’t kill people when they rob banks, and the ex-presidents theme shows wit. They are “adrenaline junkies” looking for a way to finance their “ultimate rush”-seeking lifestyle, because, let’s face it, working sucks. I think we can all relate.
*. This relatability is an important point that I felt the 2015 remake flubbed badly. In that movie the gang struck me as depressingly downbeat. They wanted to die, but die beautifully. At one point in this film Johnny accuses Bodhi of having a death wish, but that’s not right. As he makes clear in his big campfire speech, what Bodhi wants to do is show that the human spirit is still alive. The gang accept death, but they’re not really directed toward it. You could argue that Bodhi is suicidal at the end, but at that point all his options have been removed.
*. Kathryn Bigelow also nicely captures the romance of the gang’s lifestyle. The surfing and skydiving are a kind of ballet. And Patrick Swayze just has too much energy and charm to be a real villain, or to lead us to think that he wants to die.
*. If there’s a big problem with the movie (I’m ignoring all the little problems) it’s in how quickly Bodhi turns from someone who is essentially non-violent to being almost indifferent to killing. His whoops and cheers after landing in the desert next to the body of his dead friend struck me as particularly jarring.
*. Then again, Johnny doesn’t do much to revenge Gary Busey’s Pappas does he? I guess he never bonded with his partner as much as he did with Bodhi.
*. Keanu Reeves. Pretty awful, as usual. But Bigelow knew him and could use him for what he was: a beautiful man who looks great in a wet t-shirt. Put a couple of more animated figures on either side of him (Swayze and Busey) and he seems almost normal.
*. Roger Ebert: “The plot of Point Blank, summarized, invites parody (rookie agent goes undercover as surfer to catch bank robbers). The result is surprisingly effective.” It’s interesting how often this happens. It doesn’t matter that a plot is ridiculous or “invites ridicule” so long as it works dramatically.
*. Some of the dialogue is very bad, and Reeves’s delivery just takes it up (or down) another level. His final words to Bohdi on the beach are hard not to smile at. But it’s a script that’s also knowing enough to undercut its own badness in this department. Example: Reeves bellowing at Tyler “My name’s Johnny Utah!” and having her call back “Who cares?” Or Reeves (again bellowing) to Bohdi “This is your fucking wake-up call! I am an FBI agent!” and having Bohdi reply “Yeah, I know. Ain’t it wild?”
*. It’s sometimes labeled a cult film today, but I don’t know if it quite makes that cut. I think it’s well made, and Swayze is terrific. Some of it is very conventional, and some of it very stupid, but it seems at least aware of these shortcomings. It’s not a movie I return to, because at the end of the day I don’t think there’s much to it, but it’s weird enough to have lasted this long and it may be around for a while yet.

An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)

*. Maybe this was just ahead of its time. Yes, An American Werewolf in London was a horror/rom-com too, but the story here seems bending toward the twenty-first century and YA romantic horror. Think Twilight and Underworld. An American Werewolf in Paris might have just been jumping the gun.
*. It was also jumping the gun with its use of CGI for the werewolf effects. But you don’t always want to be an early adopter of technology. By today’s standards, the CGI looks really bad.
*. Or maybe it was behind the times. I had to keep reminding myself while watching it that it came out in 1997. It seems so 1980s, right from the opening scene on the train introducing the three buddies. Surely one of them must be Ferris Bueller, right? And the soundtrack . . . were we listening to music like that in the ’90s? I wasn’t listening to much music in the ’90s so I don’t know.
*. This is a good example, perhaps the perfect example, of a sequel that has suffered badly because of comparisons to the original. In fact it has almost nothing to do with the original, and was so belated (a reported six years in development hell) that comparisons are almost useless. The actual link between Serafine and Alex Price is, for legal reasons, only implied. There are a couple of nods to An American Werewolf in London — the double-fake dream, the ghosts of the victims following the hero around — but it’s really a stand-alone effort and I think needs to be approached as such.
*. It has enough of its own problems. Aside from Julie Delpy the cast is forgettable. Tom Everett Scott seems too goofy for his part. The direction, by Anthony Waller, is just workmanlike. The plot is full of wild improbabilities, beginning with the dive from the Eiffel Tower. The werewolf effects, as already noted, are terrible. But I think the biggest problem is that there’s just too much going on. All the business with Serafine’s back story, the clan of werewolves led by Claude, the two ghost victims, the buff bro Chris (Phil Buckman) hanging around in a dungeon (couldn’t they have at least given him a shirt to put on?), a police investigation, the old ambivalence in Franco-American relations, the attempt to find a cure for lycanthropy . . . all of this and a boy-meets-girl werewolf story too. It’s hard to keep focused on what’s important.
*. This is a shame, as there some things to like here. I know most people didn’t find it funny, but I thought it had its moments. The condom-bubblegum bit. Andy’s animal instincts being activated by the hottie in the zebra-print skirt. The cop, upon being asked by Andy what he’s being arrested for, replying dryly that “the possibilities are limitless.”
*. But instead of staying light on its feet with witty banter and letting the two leads work together (admittedly, without any trace of chemistry between them), the film gets bogged down in a lot of extraneous matters and predictable action sequences.
*. An American Werewolf in London got a lot of flack when it came out for not knowing what it was about. I don’t think that was a fair criticism of that movie, but it really fits here. The comedy and the romance and the horror remain completely distinct elements. At some point someone had to decide which way they wanted to go with this. They didn’t, and ended up going nowhere. It’s not as painful as some critics have made it out to be, but it sure isn’t very good.