Shitty Movie Sundays: Road House

Looking at the list of films I’ve reviewed for Shitty Movie Sundays, there are some real standouts. Most of the films on the list are of such substandard quality that I am genuinely concerned I am wasting precious time in my life that I will never get back when I watch them (Galaxy of Terror, I Spit on Your Grave, Theodore Rex, for example), while others, despite being bad movies, are entertaining. Spacehunter, Raise the Titanic, Reign of Fire, Commando, The Keep — all shitty movies, and all eminently watchable. When I think of my affinity for shitty movies, it is flicks like these that keep me searching for the next great dog. Continue readingShitty Movie Sundays: Road House”

October Horrorshow: Psycho II

I like Psycho II better than Psycho.

— Quentin Tarantino

Slow your roll, Quentin.

I’m taking that quote out of context. It is possible to like one film more versus another, while recognizing that film A is not as good as film B. For example, I have a short list in my head of my favorite movies. Star Trek II is on that list. I can watch that film at anytime. I love it because it’s a wonderful sci-fi flick, with lots of action and a comprehensible story. I also love it because if there had never been any other Star Trek film made, if there had never been any of the television series, it could stand on its own with none of the decades-long backstory. But I will never, ever, say that it is a better film than, say, A Prophet, or Jiro Dreams of Sushi, to name two better films I saw this year. Those two films are better, but they will never come close to attaining the same level of appreciation I have for Star Trek II. It just cannot happen. So I understand how Quentin Tarantino, who has a much more thorough understanding of cinematic history than I, could like Psycho II more than Alfred Hitchcock’s original classic. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Psycho II”

October Horrorshow: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

This film gets a bad rap. Halloween and its sequel featured the silent killer Michael Myers and his constant would-be victim, Laurie Strode. By the time this third film was made, both had become horror icons, especially the masked murderer Myers. The brand association any potential viewers would have between a film with the title Halloween and Michael Myers was strong, so the decision to completely drop Myers, Strode, and the slasher concept for Halloween III was bound to create a backlash. It’s inexplicable, honestly, that producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill expected any other reaction. The two of them were worn out on Michael Myers after the first two films. There’s nothing wrong with that, and no one was putting a gun to their head and forcing them to make another Halloween film, but they were mistaken when they thought the name of their little franchise was more valuable than the characters in it. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Halloween III: Season Of The Witch”

October Horrorshow: Halloween II

Halloween has finally arrived. Across the country the ghouls and goblins are out in force, and scary movies are lighting up the airwaves. We’ve been celebrating here at Missile Test for the entire month of October with the second October Horrorshow, when the site is devoted to watching and reviewing horror films. There’s been no rhyme or reason to it other than one common denominator: blood. Good films, bad films, entire franchises viewed out of order...so what? It doesn’t matter. It’s all in fun, as long as there’s death and gore involved. To close out this year’s October Horrorshow, we present a review of Halloween II, the sequel to John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece from 1978. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Halloween II”

October Horrorshow: Halloween

Halloween, the granddaddy of all slasher flicks. Not the first, to be sure, but a film whose formula worked so well it is still being followed to this day in countless horror films, thirty years after it was produced. It also doesn’t hurt that, unlike many of the films it birthed and inspired, Halloween is well made. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow: Halloween”

The Empty Balcony: Big Trouble in Little China

As I was watching John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China recently, I was struck by the familiarity of the material. I felt I had seen it before, but in some other context. Confined, mazelike, and windowless environments; various tricks and traps the heroes must overcome; goons, monsters, and the bosses that control them, etc. And there it is. Big Trouble in Little China plays like a videogame. Considering it was released in 1986, before videogames became complex enough to compare, does that mean John Carpenter was breaking new ground, that Big Trouble in Little China is ahead of its time? No. It just reaffirms that the pacing and storytelling of today’s videogames are derivative of cinema. There are plenty of other films from around the same time that are akin to videogames (Aliens, Commando, and Total Recall all come immediately to mind, among many others). Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Big Trouble in Little China”

The Empty Balcony: Escape from New York

Escape from New YorkBack before the great wave of gentrification began to hit American cities in the mid-1990s, there was the 1980s, an era when the distressed environment of the cities bottomed out. Long decades of neglect, strained local budgets, and rising crime left our cities veritable war zones. The inner cities were voids of hopelessness, abject poverty, and filth. Even affluent neighborhoods were just dangerous enough to breed well-heeled residents with canny street smarts, always looking over their shoulders for the dark figure hiding behind a tree or in an alley. This kind of palpable fear of urban environments is contagious, and it entered into our lore. We could envision no bright future for the American city because we had seen decay extend its grip for so long. Today’s cities have not fully recovered, and they remain always on the brink, ready to slide back as soon as people’s cares turn elsewhere, but it’s hard to picture just how bad things got unless one were a witness.

There are a few films here and there where our urban legacy is on full display. Wolfen had major scenes, some visually stunning, filmed among the devastation of the South Bronx. The classic film The French Connection was a study in browns — rust and dirt every bit as important a character as Popeye Doyle. Fort Apache, The Bronx was a caricature of the inner city, sometimes offensive, but it came from somewhere real. The Warriors has attained mythical status as New York’s ultimate cult film of the night, playing on our fears of a city gone out of control, at the mercy of costumed thugs. At times laughable, the film still wallowed in very real grit, a symptom of the disease that had befallen the city. Continue readingThe Empty Balcony: Escape from New York”

October Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing

Last week saw a unique event in film. Four John Carpenter films landed in Brooklyn as part of a mini-retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The featured films were Big Trouble in Little China, The Thing, They Live, and Escape from New York. All unique films from a unique filmmaker. B-movie schlock artist or perennially misunderstood genius, depending upon who’s doing the watching, Carpenter is a knowledgeable director who draws on his education, talents, and the best aspects of low-grade cinema to craft films that are unmistakably his. As soon as the opening credits roll, one enters Carpenter’s world. Viewer hears music (usually) from Carpenter’s own synthesizer, and the credits themselves are all the same white serif font on a black background, no matter which of his films is playing. Anamorphic lens effects and dark lighting cross among his works. Finally there is the thematic distrust of authority as a conceptual continuity throughout. All of this makes Carpenter’s films easily recognizable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of his oeuvre. Continue readingOctober Horrorshow, Retroactive: The Thing”