Monday, September 19, 2011

100th Post: Some More Stuff I Won't Review

Well, this is my 100th post on this blog. It's amazing that I started this blog back in February and I've reached one hundred posts in just seven months. This is what happens when you're unemployed with a lot of time on your hands. For all of you who've been reading the reviews and giving me support, I sincerely thank you because I had no self-confidence in my reviewing abilities whatsoever when I started. I've always felt I ramble and go all over the place but many of you have said I'm a great "critic" so I appreciate the love.

My 100th post was originally going to be another review. It was going to be on an independent, shot on video film called Vamps: Deadly Dreamgirls. It was one of several movies my friend Jeff Burr sent me because he felt I might get a kick out of them. All it is is a semi-porno that's trying to be a vampire flick at the same time. There's so much skin in it that it's unbelievable. I tried to watch the movie again to review it but I got about forty minutes into it and turned it off. I don't feel like reviewing something like that and I also don't understand movies like that where they clearly just wanted to make a porn but decided to try to put a story in as well. I'd say just make a porno. I won't watch it, mind you, but at least you'll be upfront about giving those who want to see it what they want. I'm not going to review it not only because of that, though. Honestly, I'm not going to waste my time reviewing no budget, shot on video independent films like that. That's not a slam on independent filmmakers, mind you. In fact, I applaud anybody who does that because I'd imagine that it's hard to make movies to begin with, even more so when you don't have much of a budget and aren't guaranteed that it'll get distributed. So you guys deserve to be commended. That being said, I just don't find those type of independent films fun to watch and most of the time, there's not much to them. Like I said, my review of that Vamps movie would have been, there's lots of tits and ass, a priest shacks up with a woman who becomes a vampire, etc., the end. Maybe I'm biased but I like movies that have at least some semblance of a budget and try to tell a story, which some independent filmmakers nowadays just don't. I'm sorry if I sound snobby towards no budget independent films but that's honestly how I feel.

Here's something else I want to talk about. As you know, I'm a big fan of the horror genre. I like everything from movies that try to be atmospheric and creepy to just out and out splatter flicks that show off their gore effects. Those movies are fun. But in recent years, a new type of horror film has emerged that I'm not a fan of. I'm talking about all these extremely brutal horror flicks that boggle down to just being pure exploitation. Granted, some horror films that I like such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes are exploitation movies but I feel that those try to be more than that. Some exploitation movies that don't do that can still be enjoyable but that's the point. They're enjoyable. The movies that I'm talking about like Inside, Martyrs, the August Underground films, the Guinea Pig movies, The Human Centipede, and especially A Serbian Film, all those movies are are fake snuff movies. They're not enjoyable, they're just sick and depressing. I'll admit that I do like Cannibal Holocaust, which is a pretty messed up film that has actual animal killings in it but I think that movie has a lot more to it. These other movies are just meant to shock you and honestly, I don't want to see them. In fact, I haven't seen any of those movies that I mentioned. You can call me out for bashing movies that I haven't seen but in this case, I don't care. To me, these movies, especially A Serbian Film, just ooze pure venom and hatred for the human race from the filmmakers. What's funny is that the late Gene Siskel said that one of the few movies he ever walked out on was William Lustig's Maniac, which is a pretty horrific film. It'd be interesting if Siskel had lived long enough to see some of these movies and what he would have had to say. I'm sure, if not growing to like Maniac, he would have been a little less harsh on it. Also, Brad Jones, aka the Cinema Snob, was so horrified and disgusted by A Serbian Film that he said he regrets seeing it and if you watch his videos, you know that he watches some messed up movies. His favorite movie is Caligula, so that should tell you something right there. So you can call me a wimp or whatever but I'm not watching and reviewing any of those movies because there's some stuff that I just don't want to pollute my brain with.

Related to these movies are the so-called mainstream "torture porn" movies like the Saw and Hostel movies, Touristas, Captivity and so on. Most of these movies I won't review either but for a different reason. These movies are depressing as well but I don't think they're as venomous as those movies I mentioned earlier. However, I don't like them because I don't understand the entertainment value derived from seeing someone slowly tortured. I do like the first Saw but that's a psychological thriller for the most part and even then, I parted with my DVD of it because the endless sequels which are more torture porn ruin it for me. I may review the Hostel movies just so I can rip on that schmuck Eli Roth, whom I consider an enormous hack, but other than that, I don't think you'll see any reviews of these types of movies because they just don't interest me, much like why you won't see any reviews of romantic comedies.

That's all I've got to say. If you're disappointed that I'm not reviewing some of those movies, I'm sorry but I don't think I'll change my mind. Anyway, get ready for an awesome batch of horror reviews in October. You won't see a review every day because that would kill me but there's going to be a lot of stuff coming. See you then!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Movies That Suck/Stephen King Cinema: Dreamcatcher (2003)

Although I saw some TV spots for it when it was released, the first time I became aware of Dreamcatcher was, oddly, a poster in the classroom of my 12th grade Spanish teacher. I knew what a dreamcatcher was but I didn't get what the cover, a woman sitting in the middle of a snow-covered road, meant exactly but it did seem interesting. The cast looked very promising. You had Morgan Freeman and Tom Sizemore and over the years, I became familiar with and grew to like Thomas Jane, Jason Lee, and Timothy Olyphant. So cast-wise, this movie had a lot going for it. I didn't see the movie until I was twenty in 2007 and I found it at Wal-Mart for $5. I figured, "What the heck" and picked it up. After I watched it, I was... stunned to say the least. It's not the absolute worst movie I've ever seen but it's a mess with a lot of wasted potential.

Four lifelong friends, Henry, Jonesy, Beaver, and Pete, have shared a bond along with a mentally-challenged kid named Douglas "Duddits" Cavell that they saved from some cruel bullies when they were kids and who eventually gave them each a strange, unique power. One day, Jonesy sees a vision of Duddits on the other side of a street and when he tries to cross over to him, he's hit by a car. Six months later, the four friends are on their annual hunting trip in Maine at a cabin they call, "Hole in the Wall." Jonesy, who's recovered from the crash but whose legs are still a little weak, admits to everyone that he's been thinking a lot about Duddits lately and the others admit the same. One day when Henry and Pete are in town, Jonesy and Beaver encounter a lost man while out hunting. The man, who's apparently ill with bad belching and flatulence as well as a strange red rash on his face, goes to rest in their cabin. After witnessing weird events like all types of forest animals running from something and the military quarantining the area, Jonesy and Beaver find the man dead in the bathroom, killed by a hideous creature that erupted from his anus. Beaver is eventually killed by the monster as well and while trying to keep it trapped in the bathroom, Jonesy encounters a tall alien who possesses him. At the same time, Henry and Pete crash their van after nearly hitting a frost-bitten woman sitting in the middle of the road. Henry tells Pete to stay with the woman and as he tries to head back to the cabin, his bond with Jonesy lets him know that something very sinister is afoot, prompting him to take action to save Jonesy and the entire world for that matter.

Is that not the longest plot-description I've ever written or what? The fact that I had to go into so much detail just so you could get the basic gist of what's going on shows you how this movie is. It's all over the place. Anybody who's ever seen it will say that it starts out very promising. The beginning with the four friends spending a hunting trip together and reminiscing about how their lives were changed when they were kids makes you believe that this is going to be like Stand By Me, only with a sci-fi/horror twist. The four actors work very well off together, as well as their child counterparts in the flashbacks, and you're thinking, "Why does nobody talk about this movie? This is awesome!" Then the real plot starts and the movie quickly becomes an incoherent mess. Two of the friends are quickly killed off, an insane subplot involving a military group trying to kill the aliens comes in, and an even more insane subplot involving the lead alien's attempts to use Jonesy's body to achieve world domination also comes into play. I don't think I've ever seen a movie start out with a such great initial premise and then shoot itself in the foot as badly as this one does.

Like I said, the acting is not this movie's problem because it has some really top-notch talent here. Thomas Jane, Timothy Olyphant, Jason Lee, and Damian Lewis all play off each other very well and you really do believe that they're lifelong friends. Lewis is very likable as Jonesy, who has the cool gimmick of what he calls "The Memory Warehouse", where his brain is depicted as an enormous storage area for all his ideas and knowledge. When he becomes possessed by the lead alien, Mr. Gray, he stays in the warehouse and often looks out the window from a safe spot to see what's going (it makes more sense if you've seen the movie). Thomas Jane plays a nice, laid back character as Henry, who is a psychiatrist and ends up humiliating a fat patient of his and is clearly shaken when he later learns that the guy ate himself to death. He has thought about killing himself a couple of times but never goes through with it, even joking about it at one point that one day he's thinking about killing it quits and the other, he's trying to stay alive. Jane plays his part very well and is quite likable. Jason Lee is also great as Beaver, the "nerdiest" of the four. He's really funny and jokes a lot (his "bitch in a buzzsaw" line when the lost man belches really loud cracks me up) but is also serious when he needs to be. As for Timothy Olyphant as Pete, he's probably the least likable. He drinks a lot and is a bit of a jerk but not out and out loathsome. He does have some funny moments. Finally, Donnie Wahlberg appears in the last quarter of the film as Duddits, who's dying from leukemia. He doesn't have much to do but the makeup job on Wahlberg is really good, to the point where it doesn't even look like him. Unfortunately, as we'll see, Duddits is also the character where the entire film falls apart.

Morgan Freeman shows up about forty minutes into the film as Curtis, the leader of a military unit who's quarantining all the people infected by the aliens and killing the aliens themselves. Curtis has been battling the aliens all his life and it has clearly taken a toll on his sanity. He shoots a soldier in the hand when he realizes he's lying to him and reveals to his subordinate, Owen, that he plans to kill all the people who've been quarantined, not caring whether or not they're actually infected. He claims that it does turn his stomach even though he feels he has to do it but you have to wonder if that's sincere. He also despises the commanding officer of the real military, telling Owen that if that general had been left in command, "you wouldn't have lived to your first jerkoff." When his Owen betrays him to help Henry catch Jonesy, Curtis decides to kill him since he crossed "the Curtis-line." Freeman, being the awesome actor that he is, does do a good job and it's an opportunity for him to play against type but I think his whole subplot wasn't needed in the grand scheme of things. Finally, Tom Sizemore plays Owen, Curtis' subordinate. While Owen does look up to Curtis, he becomes convinced that he's lost his mind when watching how he acts and he's a good enough person to do what's right about it, ultimately sacrificing himself. It's a shame Sizemore's drug addiction ruined his career because he is a really good actor and his performance here proves it.

The film's director is Lawrence Kasdan, who's a rather capable writer, having done work on The Empire Strikes Back as well as Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I haven't seen any of his other movies as director because they honestly don't appeal to me but they are very well admired by many, especially The Big Chill. Since Kasdan had a hand in writing the screenplay for this film, it's easy to immediately blame him for how insane and incomprehensible the film's plot is but from what I hear, the film sticks very closely to the original book. Because of that, I'm more willing to blame Stephen King. Needless to say, King has written a lot of good stories which have made for some terrific movies but here, I think he piled up too much material and should have stuck with a simpler story.

The very core of this movie is flawed beyond belief. Duddits gave these kids some telekinetic powers when they were young and you later find out that it was to prepare them for the arrival of Mr. Gray decades later. First off, they hardly use their powers. Other than Jonesy being able to go inside his mind and Pete having the ability to find something by twirling his finger, the only power they share is being able to hear people's thoughts. Beaver and Henry don't seem to have powers specific to them unlike Pete and Jonesy (and Jonesy's Memory Warehouse I thought was metaphorical but I guess not since he hides from Mr. Gray in there). But what's really insulting is that Beaver and Pete are unable to help in the battle with Mr. Gray because they get killed very early on. Beaver gets killed in a dumb way. He's keeping the creature that came out of that guy's butt in the toilet by sitting on it but drops his toothpicks, which he chews on as a nervous tic. While trying to grab a toothpick, he gets off the toilet, allowing the creature to escape and eventually kill him. Pete is captured by the possessed Jonesy and when he refuses to help, he's slaughtered, so he was completely pointless as well. I don't understand why you would build these characters up so much, establish their friendship with their powers, and then just kill two of them off needlessly.

But even that's not the dumbest part of the plot. Duddits himself is an alien. Pete hints at it early on so it's not entirely out of left-field but when he transforms at the end of the film while battling Mr. Gray, it's still like, "You're really going this route?" Like I said, Duddits knew all this time that Mr. Gray was coming and gave these kids their powers to prepare for him. Despite the fact that two of them get killed, you have to wonder what was Duddits' plan? He's an alien but he comes to Earth, becomes a human child (a mentally-challenged one, no less), gives these guys powers, grows up, gets leukemia, and he himself takes out Mr. Gray. Henry and Jonesy do nothing except respectively provide a vessel for Mr. Gray to possess and get Duddits to the final battle. What was the point of giving these kids powers if he himself was going to fight Mr. Gray? And if he knew all along about Mr. Gray's coming, why didn't he just stop him before he even landed on Earth? Is Duddits a mentally challenged, ill alien as well as a human? In the novel and the original version of the movie, Duddits is telepathic but he's not an alien. Originally, he died before they get to the reservoir and Jonesy ends up killing Mr. Gray. While picking up Duddits and taking him to the reservoir would have still been pointless since he died, it would have made more sense. If Duddits was just a normal human who happened to have telekinesis, it would have been easier to accept that he couldn't just stop Mr. Gray himself. So that crap about him being an alien himself was written into the script so I can't fault King for that but he still killed off Beaver and Pete senselessly. This movie would have been a whole lot better if it had been about four friends with this gift teaming up and battling this alien menace. That's all.

The subplot with Curtis and Owen I feel is completely unnecessary. It feels like it should be a separate movie. Like I said, it's nice to see Morgan Freeman play a villain for a change but he and Sizemore are so superfluous to the overall plot that they're not needed. They're both dead by the end of it and had no part in the final battle with Mr. Gray so they did nothing except eat up screentime and make this movie much longer than it should have been (136 minutes). Owen does give Henry and Duddits the ride to the reservoir but you could have just had Henry find an abandoned car, pick up Duddits, and go on from there. It just makes the plot even more convoluted that it is, which is saying a lot. Also, I'm sure the only reason they got Freeman for this role is because he was the biggest actor they could get and they needed somebody well known to headline the movie, even though he's not the main character by a long shot. It's just a useless subplot that happens to waste really good talent as well.

Now let's talk about the aliens. Let's start with the eel-like creatures that explode out of people's rear ends after a long gestation period. You know what they're called? Shit-weasels. That really is their name. It's appropriate but honestly, how am I supposed to take that seriously? The first time you see one of these things is when it falls out of that lost guy's butt while he's on the toilet. The thing is long, slimy, and brown, which makes it seem as though Beaver just got killed by a big turd with teeth. This is beyond ridiculous. Stephen King tried to say that he had it be tied with the bathroom because the bathroom has so many taboos attached to it and I think he mentioned the shower scene in Psycho but a monster that looks like a turd with teeth coming out of a guy's butt is stupid. I do think King's a good writer but, man, he dropped the ball on that one! Having one of your main characters killed by a shit-weasel doesn't help your credibility at all. It's like the dumb inverse of the chestbursters from the Alien movies. Speaking of which, the bizarre, rash-like infection that appears on the infected is called the Ripley. Do I have to say anything else?

The main aliens are also bizarre. What few times you see them, they usually look like big, buff versions of the gray aliens you always hear about in abduction cases. But that's just a benign image they create to hide their true form, which is basically an enormous version of the shit-weasels except with legs. Do the shit-weasels eventually grow up to look like that and if so, why can they lay eggs as soon as they explode out of someone's butt? All these creatures are completely CGI, which I don't think look that bad but it's still clearly CGI, which always manages to take me out of the movie. But what gets me is Mr. Gray's voice when he speaks through Jonesy. He has a refined, British voice. Huh? Okay, when I think of aliens speaking, the last thing that comes to mind is a voice that sounds like it should be in a Monty Python film! The aliens can create voices to fool people so I guess it is explained but still, why a British voice? Has Mr. Gray been spending the years watching British TV shows whose signals he's picked up from Earth and grown to like them so much that he decides to mimic them? Even when he's trapped Jonesy in the Memory Warehouse and is using his real form he uses that voice. That's just surreal.

I don't even understand the title. What does a dreamcatcher, which is a handmade object that certain Native American cultures believe can catch nightmares, have to do with any of this? There is a dreamcatcher in the film but it has no significance to the story whatsoever. Beaver at one point even says that Duddits is their dreamcatcher, I guess because they drew pictures of some when they were kids, but other than that, it has no significance. When Duddits and Mr. Gray are both destroyed at the end, the mist they evaporate into does become a dreamcatcher briefly but, again, what's the significance? The tagline and the trailer would have you believe that it was important, saying, "Sometimes evil slips through" but as we've seen, this evil was expected. It didn't slip through at all.

Despite its numerous flaws, the music score for this movie is very well done. James Newton Howard is a great composer and he writes a nicely atmospheric score for the movie. The main theme is an eerie, catchy tune that does suit the movie and I like a lot of the background music in the movie as well. The really scary music is well done, even if the visuals don't convey the same type of emotion. Also worth mentioning is the music that plays in the opening when the friends are calling each other and they all have weird feelings that are disturbing them. Even if the movie itself isn't very good, I would gladly listen to the score any time because it's awesome.

Dreamcatcher is THE definition of an epic failure of a movie. It starts off well enough but quickly becomes an incoherent, schizophrenic mess of a narrative with characters who are killed off too soon, useless subplots, insanely dumb aspects, and a story whose very core is horribly flawed. It was doomed from the start because some of the stuff King wrote was bad but it was crapped on even further when worse details were added into the script. The fact that there are so many great actors in it makes it even more of a waste. If it had been rewritten and had been about these four friends coming together and using their powers to battle the aliens, it would have been so much better. As it stands, the movie bombed big time and Lawrence Kasdan, so far, hasn't directed another movie since. While I don't out and out hate this movie, I put it in the Movies That Suck category because of all the wasted potential. It's just a shame.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Movies That Suck/Werewolf Flicks: Ginger Snaps (2000)

I first heard about Ginger Snaps during the commentary for Freddy vs. Jason when Robert Englund mentioned it while talking about Katherine Isabelle. I didn't think any more about it until I heard about it again on IMDB and that's when I learned that it was a werewolf movie that treated it as a metaphor for puberty. I'm a big fan of werewolf movies anyway but that sounded like an interesting new take on the mythology. The guys at said good things about it and when I saw some clips of on one Bravo's Scariest Movie Moments specials, I knew I had to see this film. And when I did, I wished I hadn't. This movie is considered a cult classic so it has an audience but I don't see what enjoyment anyone could get out of this plodding, ugly, and downright unpleasant bullshit movie. This flick pissed me off to no end.

Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are two death-obsessed Goth girls who love staging and photographing fake death scenes. They're generally disliked at their school and when a certain cheerleader irritates them, they decide to kidnap her dog. However, when they go out to do so, Ginger is attacked and nearly killed by a violent creature that's been killing a lot of dogs in and around the town. The creature is killed when it's hit by a vehicle while pursuing the girls but shortly thereafter, Ginger begins to go through bizarre changes. Her hair starts turning silver, unusual fur starts appearing in the wounds left by the beast, and she develops a violent sexual appetite. Ginger believes that this is just a bad period but Brigitte thinks her sister is becoming a werewolf after being attacked by one. As Ginger's violent behavior and anger increases along with the physical change, Brigitte must find a way to cure the werewolfism before it's too late.

The idea of drawing a parallel between becoming a woman and becoming a werewolf is, as I said, an interesting idea and kind of a logical one. The werewolf has often been seen as a metaphor for the id, that wild part of ourselves that we're told to keep a leash in the civilized world. Naturally, since most werewolf movies involve men being the monster, the werewolf is viewed as the sex-hungry beast that lives within every man, ready to come out at a moment's notice. Take for example An American Werewolf in London. After the main character's first transformation, despite his initial confusion of having no memory of the night before and waking up naked at the London Zoo, there's a moment where he crawls onto the bed with his lover while she's on the phone and begins kissing her a lot, even making growling-like noises while doing so. Basically, he's becoming a wolf in every sense of the word. In the Hammer film The Curse of the Werewolf, it is said that the vices of man can weaken the soul and allow the werewolf to come to the front. One of these is described as lust and the main character does kill a woman who tries to shack up with him. For God's sake, the movie The Howling has a scene of two people turning into werewolves while having sex, so you can't get more literal than that! Bottom line, since the werewolf is seen as such when it comes to the usual men, it's only natural that it would be used as a metaphor for the sexual awakening of a woman and exploring that was an interesting an idea for a movie. Unfortunately, for me anyway, this deeper meaning becomes completely pointless due to a major flaw in the film that I will now discuss in length.

Katherine Isabelle and Emily Perkins play the two leads, Ginger and Brigitte, and these two characters are the reason why I despise this film. What's a common theme among werewolf movies? You care about the person who becomes afflicted with this horrible curse and feel bad for them becoming a bloodthirsty monster every full moon or so. There are exceptions like Silver Bullet but that was a movie where the man who was the werewolf wasn't the main character and was an out and out villain. These girls are two of the most selfish, hateful, despicable characters I have ever seen in any movie. I'll admit that Goths genuinely turn me off because I just don't understand their life style of dressing all in black and being preoccupied with death but it's their life. However, these girls are complete assholes to everyone around them: their parents, their classmates, even each other most of the time. While they're standing on their school's playing field, they play a game they call "Search and Destroy" where they pick out someone they don't like and talk about how they think that person would die. What they say about a cheerleader is so loathsome that it's unbelievable and this movie tries to make me feel bad for them when this girl spends the rest of the movie picking on them but they were complete bitches to her. If she'd been mean to them before for no reason, I may been a little more forgiving but that makes them look like bullies more than anything else and Ginger's subsequent attacking and ultimately killing this girl made me hate her even more as a result. Later at the dinner table, their mom asks Ginger about the backaches she's been having lately and she acts like a complete smart-ass about it, describing how nerves send pain messages to the brain. She was just asking, you bitch! You don't have to be so condescending about it.

Ginger's the bigger asshole of the two but Brigitte isn't much better. What really gets me is a scene where this drug dealer who's been trying to help her calls her over to the side of the playing field so he can tell her what he's come up with. What's her reaction? She gives him shit about talking to her in public and tells him to meet her privately. His reaction is, "Excuse me for giving a shit", which would have been my reaction. He's trying to help you and you bitch him out? I would have just told her to go to hell and not tried to help her ever again. And when Ginger later attacks the cheerleader they insulted, she says something like, "She's an asshole, she's not worth it." No, you and your sister are the assholes!

I've heard some people say they identify with these girls, which kind of scares me to be honest. I don't know, maybe I was just clueless but when I was in high school, while there were some jerks, none were as loathsome as these two. I just don't see how anyone could identify with these two downright mean skanks. As a result, their attitudes make me not care about what happens to them. I don't care about the horrific transformation Ginger goes through or the emotional toll it takes on them because there's no reason for me to. It's the same problem I had with Rob Zombie's Halloween movies. Almost everyone in those movies were so hateful that I wanted Michael Myers to butcher them. No matter how deep or fascinating the metaphor is, if I don't care about the ones I'm supposed to, I'm not going to be interested. By the end of this movie when Ginger becomes a full-blown werewolf and attacks Brigitte, I was wishing this ugly piece of trash would just end already.

Speaking of which, these two sisters made some sort of blood pact that they would die together by sixteen and yet it seems like they hate each other most of the time. I know siblings fight but these two have just enormous amounts of contempt for each other. It doesn't make it any easier to accept when they keep going back and forth between hating and loving each other. Near the end, one moment Brigitte curses Ginger for destroying everything that's important to her and then, she suddenly wants to cure her, saying, "She needs me." That was a complete turn of emotions in a few minutes! And while we're on the subject, Ginger spends the majority of this movie demoralizing and making her sister feel like garbage whenever she even gets the hint that a boy likes her. The stuff she says is just such vile venom that it's disgusting. Some try to argue that it's probably the werewolfism getting to her but since she was a horrible person to begin with, I'm willing to bet that being turned into a werewolf just magnified that personality. Even when she becomes a full werewolf, Ginger kills Brigitte's supposed love interest out of spite when she refuses to join her. I'm supposed to care about her again because...?

This movie's metaphorical look at puberty would have been easier for me to enjoy and explore had the two main characters been likable and normal, for that matter. Someone who's a Goth is already an outcast and considered weird to begin with so it's hard for me to see them becoming a monster as horrific. If the two girls had been normal, everyday high school students who are going about their lives when this happens, it would have been a lot more powerful to me. They don't have to be overly bubbly but making them likable enough girls with friends and a lack of sexual experience who go through this would have been more potent. Seeing a fairly nice girl who's sexually repressed become a sexy, violent woman with a blood-lust and ultimately a werewolf would have hit a stronger cord with me. That said, Katherine Isabelle is sexy, I'll give her that. However, I'm not sure how to critique her and Perkins' performances. If that was how they were supposed to play it, mission accomplished but they fail in making me care about them.

The other characters are hit and miss. Kris Lemche is the most likable person as Sam, who tries to help Brigitte find a cure for the werewolfism... and yet, he's a drug-dealer, so I don't know how to feel about that. I'm guessing Danielle Hampton as Trina Sinclair, the cheerleader who was insulted by and ultimately killed by Ginger, is meant to be a snobby person but, again, I saw her as someone who was treated like crap by those two jerks and identified with her being bitchy back at them. I even kind of liked Jesse Moss as Jason, a jock who gets infected by the lycanthropy after having sex with Ginger, mainly because I just thought he was a goofy dumb jock. Mimi Rogers as the girls' mother Pamela was a little too over the top for my taste in how she was a stereotypical mom who's out of touch with her kids and when she decides to help the girls get away with murder at the end, I was thinking, "Give me a break!" And John Bourgeois as their father Henry just acted like a hen-pecked husband who did nothing whatsoever.

The werewolf transformation is much different in this film than the typical one. Instead of transforming into a full blown monster every full moon, Ginger gradually metamorphoses into a werewolf over time, similar to Seth Brundle's transformation in David Cronenberg's version of The Fly. It starts with her wounds healing not long after she's attacked and escalates to her growing a violent sexual appetite, her hair slowly becoming silver, her fingernails becoming claws, a tail appearing above her buttocks, all leading up to the final wolf that she becomes. I'll give credit where credit is due: the makeup effects are very well done. They're appropriately disgusting and what's even more striking than the ultimate werewolf is the stage before that, where Ginger is still human but her face is very canine in appearance. The ultimate werewolf is impressive in its full animatronic glory. Curious thing about it, though, as well as the werewolf that attacked Ginger: they have no hair. Ginger has a bit of a mane in her final form but other than that, none whatsoever. It doesn't kill it for me but I thought that was strange. Her final transformation in the back of Sam's van is also well done, similar to the great latex transformations in the werewolf flicks of the 80's. I've heard some comments as well that the puberty metaphor is way too obvious and it really is. Granted, I wouldn't care if it was better done because of the characters but let's face it, it's about as obvious as a brick to the head. It could have been done classier is all I'm saying.

I see Ginger Snaps as a huge missed opportunity when all is said and done. What could have been an interesting exploration of puberty as told through a werewolf transformation is ruined by the two lead characters being absolutely unlikable. Some may be able to look past that to enjoy the metaphor and others have said they can identify with the girls but I just don't get that. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned but I need likable characters to be horrified at what's happening to them. Even the most hateful slasher movie teens (and there are some really terrible ones, don't get me wrong) don't offend me as much as these two sluts did. If you're one of the fans of this movie, power to you but to me, it's a huge example of a movie that sucks and I will never watch this unabashedly ugly piece of trash ever again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Mask Maker (2010)

This was one of many little known movies my good friend filmmaker Jeff Burr sent me to look at, feeling I may get a kick out of some of them. This was the only one that actually came with a DVD case and it looked interesting enough: a guy with a hatchet and skinned faces hanging from trees around a house, giving it the appearance of a slasher movie with the feel of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Wasn't expecting anything groundbreaking but it looked like it could be a gory fun time. Summation: it was okay. I was right in that it was nothing special and the premise is cobbled together from a bunch of other horror films but it's not horrible. (The title itself is weird. The DVD cover says Meet Your Maker under the title, which I assumed was a tagline but it actually appears as part of the title in the film. I don't know if that was a mistake or what but I'd never seen that happen before.)

College student Jennifer is surprised when her boyfriend Evan takes her out to a large old mansion in the South. He reveals to her that he purchased it for a fairly cheap price and plans to use the investment to pay off their student loans and eventually get married. Jennifer is at first skeptical but when she realizes how sincere he really is, she goes along with it. While investigating the house and grounds, Evan comes across a strange grave in the woods near the house. He pulls a pole stuck in the mound out and notices a strange object hanging from the top. Not long afterward when they visit the town store, they notice a couple of the locals seem a little disturbed about the fact that they've bought the house. Their friends come out to celebrate Jennifer's birthday but a mysterious man begins picking them off one by one and flaying off their faces. Jennifer eventually learns the horrific history behind the house and then must survive against the killer, who happens to be one of the former residents who won't stay dead.

The young actors in this film aren't the best but they're acceptable and not that annoying or loathsome. Nikki Deloach and Stephen Colletti are decent as Jennifer and Evan. Neither of them are the best actors in the world, particularly Deloach, but they're a likable young couple who are trying to get their own life started. There's a hint that they've been off and on a lot in the past but it's never expanded upon. Unlike most lead slasher characters, both of them are dead by the end of the movie and also, both deaths are fairly unexpected. The other four college students are typical slasher fodder. My favorite was Ross Britz as Mike because he seemed like a laid back, fun-loving jokester of a guy. Not much to say about A.J. Allegra as Ken other than he's kind of brainy but is as sex-starved as the others. I can't tell you the difference between the other two girls, Annette (Anabella Casanova) and Hillary (Mariah Bonner), because they're interchangeable for the most part. I remember Hillary mainly for her and Ken doing Russian accents before and after they have sex for some reason. I only remember Annette because she supposedly wasn't going to bang Mike during the weekend and they even bet on it but she does anyway. (I may be getting her confused with the other girl. Again, there's nothing distinctive about them at all.)

Like most independent horror films nowadays, this film does have some recognizable genre favorites in the cast as well. Michael Berryman from the original The Hills Have Eyes plays Fred, the owner of a store in the small town near the house. Not much to say about him as he's not in the movie that much but he feels like a nice guy who's concerned about what's going on at the house, particularly towards his friend Mr. Peck. And that brings me to the best actor in this film by far: Terry Kiser. He's very good as Mr. Peck, who lost his infant child years ago to a voodoo-style sacrifice and killed the monster, Leonard, that he was sacrificed to. He's now a paranoid drunk who knows what will happen if Leonard is unleashed and when he discovers that that's exactly what's happened, he takes matters into his own hands. Kiser is the man in the movie's climax, where he takes on Leonard, mocking him and fighting back against him, even after he's stabbed in the back with an axe. It's too bad that he dies near the end because he was awesome. One last character who I thought was completely unnecessary was Joe Chrest as this pervy electric worker who comes out to turn the power on in the house. This guy is a complete scumbag who intentionally scares Evan when he's investigating Leonard's grave and then says, "I'm here to turn you on... your power?" He's the first to get killed, which is good, but that wasn't necessary at all.

The killer, Leonard Tucker, is a supernatural mixture of Leatherface and Jason Voorhees. From what I can gather, he's a child that the former man of the house had with a French maid. He was born retarded and when he became an adult, he developed a skin condition that ate away the flesh on his face. His mother tries to use voodoo to sacrifice Mr. Peck's child and presumably heal Leonard's sickness but she's killed before she can complete it and Leonard is killed shortly after. Apparently, though, the voodoo spell that was cast made Leonard undead and unless he's buried with this pole jammed into him, he'll come back to life. I'm guessing that's what the trick is. It doesn't explain everything particularly well. Jonathan Breck, who played the Creeper in the Jeepers Creepers movies, plays Leonard and he does a pretty good job. Like I said, he's basically playing Jason, only he's skinning and wearing his victims' faces like Leatherface (in fact, the idea of him doing this because his real face has been eaten away by a disease is very similar to the characterization of Leatherface in the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as well as that movie's prequel). There's even a moment where Jennifer pretends to be Leonard's mother, similar to the climax of Friday the 13th Part 2, and Leonard's "death" is similar to Jason's in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Breck is fairly intimidating and the kills are nice and gory. The ending, though, made me roll my eyes because it's typical sequel-bait. I doubt a sequel to this will ever be made.

As I said, the kills are good gory slasher movie fun. The first kill, the sleazy electric worker, looks like he got something shoved right through his head. Ken is killed by first having his throat slit and then his head being twisted around (another very Jason-esque kill). I can't remember how Hillary gets it. I think she gets decapitated. Mike gets butchered basically when he's attacked in the house's basement. Annette gets decapitated while in a bathtub. Evan's death came as a shock because I honestly wasn't expecting him to die, since both members of the main couple in slasher movies usually survive. He first gets stabbed in the gut with a pitchfork but that doesn't kill him. Later on, Jennifer finds him alive but wounded in Leonard's lair but before she can save him, he's decapitated in a really unexpected kill. The build-up to that kill was filmed quite well and the payoff was surprising, so I really commend this film on that. Mr. Peck, as I said, gets an axe in the back but he doesn't die from it right away. Finally, before she can destroy Leonard for good, Jennifer is stopped by the police, who stupidly remove the pole shoved into him. Leonard eventually finds Jennifer, having killed and wearing the skinned face of a police officer, and snaps her neck before putting her body in the squad car and driving away, ending the movie. That was a surprising ending, don't get me wrong, but after the initial shock was over, the fatigue set in, like, "Really? You're trying to sequel-bait me? That's pretty lame."

There is some good music in the film as well. Nathan Furst composed a fairly memorable main theme that is haunting enough to give the movie a fairly creepy atmosphere. None of the other music is that memorable and the ending theme is some really bad heavy metal music but I'm glad that he did give the movie a memorable main theme, if nothing else.

Like many of these recent horror flicks, writer and director Griff Furst clearly meant for Mask Maker to be an ode to horror films. Besides the ones I've referenced, it has some odes to The Silence of the Lambs and The Last House on the Left, as well as a little bit of The Evil Dead with the movie occurring in a house in the middle of nowhere. It may not be anything new and it's honestly kind of forgettable but it didn't try to pass itself off as a full-blooded throwback to 80's slasher movies with a lot of internet hype like Hatchet did and Furst doesn't make you feel like you should kiss this movie's butt. The movie is clearly cheap (you can tell the driving scenes are in front of a green screen) but horror movies don't need big budgets to be effective. All in all, not awful but not something I'll watch again. I do suggest seeing it at least once if you're bored and want to watch a slasher movie.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Vampire Flicks: 30 Days of Night (2007)

To start off, I had no idea about this film at all when it was released. I had never heard of the graphic novel and I only became aware of this movie when I saw commercial spots for it. From what I could tell, it looked fairly promising. The vampires looked scary and the visuals were quite stunning. I didn't see the film in the theater, however, and I only finally got a look at it around Halloween of 2010. I made sure to see it on Blu-Ray because the film already had a reputation for being visually stunning and high-def would no doubt bring that up to maximum. I was right about that. The movie was pretty to look at. Unfortunately, that's one of the few things the movie as a whole had going for it. I was so tempted to make this an edition of Movies That Suck because I remember vividly the emptiness I felt by the time this movie was over but upon watching it again for this review, I decided not to because I don't think it's that bad. However, I still feel it's a prime example of a film that's all style and no substance.

Barrow, Alaska is a small town in the Arctic Circle that is approaching the "30 Days of Night", a time period where the sun sets and it stays dark for an entire month. On the last day before it begins, a series of unusual events like the gruesome deaths of several people and sled dogs, as well as vandalism of cell-phones and the town's only helicopter, occur. The town's sheriff, Eben Oleson, investigates these crimes while dealing with his estranged wife, Stella, who's planning to leave before the darkness sets in. However, an accident prevents her from leaving and as the darkness settles in, more strange events happen, including the appearance of an unknown man in the town. Eben and Stella arrest the man, who keeps saying stuff along the lines of, "They're coming." "They" turn out to be a bunch of violent people who are revealed to be bloodthirsty vampires who ransack the town. Now the survivors must try to survive the month of darkness while fending off the monsters.

This movie was directed by David Slade, who had done only one other movie up to that point: a horror movie called Hard Candy. I've never seen that film but I've heard a lot of good things about it as well as it being very hard to watch. As I've said, he manages to bring a great visual style to the movie but that's all he does here as far as I'm concerned. But before I begin bashing on this movie, let me comment on those visuals. They are amazing. Many have compared the look of this film to John Carpenter's The Thing and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and I can see why. The opening scenes in the daytime with the setting sun over the snow-covered landscape are breathtaking and I do like the fact that when the film gets dark, it literally does get dark. In fact, it looks like a black and white movie done in color, if that makes any sense. It's like there's black ink over the filter of the camera. It's hard to explain in words and you have to see it for yourself to understand. Since this was based on a graphic novel, I'm pretty sure that's the look Slade was going for and he succeeded with flying colors in that regard.

Let me also say that the basic idea for the story has potential. Being isolated in snowbound, cold places usually makes for great horror films (like those two classics that I mentioned). Whether it's being trapped with an alien life-form that can take you over like The Thing or stuck in a haunted hotel with a madman like The Shining, horror usually works well in the snow. The idea of having vampires attack an area where the sun disappears for months on end is a great one because it solves the sort of "stop/start, sunset/sunrise" formula that vampire movies always run into. So, yes, the story can be a good one... if told well and that's where this movie drops the ball as far as I'm concerned.

The biggest problem is the characters. These are some of the blandest, most hollow people I've ever been expected to care about in any movie, let alone a horror movie. To be fair, most of the actors are okay but they're so poorly developed that I honestly can't remember any of their names or faces and well into the movie, I forgot about a good majority of them. I'd be seeing some characters and I'd say to myself, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about him." That's a sign of bad screenwriting (and one of the writers of the comic, Steve Niles, helped in writing the screenplay so that makes me wonder if the comic itself is worth a crap as well). But, as I said, most of the actors aren't that bad. Unfortunately, the two leads are played by two abusively of the most uncharismatic, boring actors imaginable.

The worst part of the movie is Josh Hartnett as Sheriff Eben Oleson. A friend of mine once referred to him as a "black hole of charisma" and that's the truth in a nutshell. Ben Affleck is often excused of being really bland but Hartnett makes him look like Sir Laurence Olivier. This guy is so monotone, wooden, and uninteresting that it's unbelievable. The first time I watched this movie, I almost fell asleep because of him. I don't understand why the remaining townspeople look to him as a leader when the chips are down because he does nothing to keep their spirits up. That leads me to another flaw with this character: this guy's the sheriff and he's not even thirty? I'm not saying someone that young couldn't be sheriff but I just don't buy him as one because he doesn't feel or look like one. If anything, I'd expect him to be more like the deputy. Maybe I'm just biased about this but that and his terrible acting didn't help me care about the guy. Another thing, too, although this is a bias that has nothing to do with the film itself: I just don't like the fact that Hartnett starts off his career with a horror film (Halloween H2O, which he was okay in), basically turns his back on the genre once he becomes a big star for some ungodly reason, and when mainstream roles dry up for him, he crawls back to horror. Screw this loser.

I didn't care much for Melissa George as Oleson's estranged wife, Stella, either. She had more personality than Hartnett, granted, but she's still uninteresting and bland. The subplot of her and Oleson having marital problems becomes completely pointless by the time the shit hits the fan and by the time the movie's over, they've reconciled their differences. Okay, two things. One, we're never told why they're having marital problems. Did one cheat on the other? Did she have a miscarriage and things went south for them after that? You've got to give me some detail for me to care about it other than to just simply state that they're having problems and say nothing more about it. Second, they've reconciled by the end of the movie. How? When did they have time to talk when they were either hiding from or trying to keep from being butchered by vampires? Some may say the situation brought them together again but I'm just like, "Bull!" They also try to make the ending mean something by having Oleson inject himself with vampire blood so he can fight them off and then die in Stella's arms when the sun comes up. Sorry but after not giving me a reason why they're having marital problems and how they managed to reconcile, this ending that's meant to be tragic means completely nothing. You FAIL!

As I've said, the supporting actors are fair but they're so terribly developed that I don't even remember half of their names. I remember Mark Boone Junior as a character named Beau but I only remember him because of his role in Batman Begins. I remember Mark Rendall as Jake Oleson, Eben's younger brother, mainly because he's the only other baby-face around. I also remember his grandmother but that's only because it's revealed that she grows pot (I don't remember the character or the actor's name). The most memorable character other than the lead vampire is Ben Foster as the disturbed man who shows up and is locked in the town's jail because of the trouble he causes. He's interesting because he knows about the vampires and seems eager to join them. Where he came from and what he's connected to the vampires is an intriguing mystery that I wanted to know more about. I'd much rather he'd have been the main character.

As for the vampires, I thought the characterization of them was intriguing. Since vampires are often portrayed as sexy, seductive creatures, I commended the filmmakers for going back to the Nosferatu-style vampire and making them out and out monsters. Even though I don't care for 30 Days of Night, I wish it had been a much bigger success than it was since it could have spared us from the Twilight garbage that turned vampires into pasty, emo parodies. The vampires in this film are quite frightening for the most part. They act more like a pack of wild animals than anything else, which is a cool take. You can still kill them with sunlight but beheading them works too and, as always, if you're attacked by one and survive, you become one yourself. Don't know if crosses, holy water, and stakes through the heart work since the townspeople don't happen to have this stuff lying around but the general rules of the vampire are still followed in spite of the actual portrayal. Danny Huston as the lead vampire Marlow is memorable for his look and the fact that he speaks in an ancient language. I was originally going to blast this because I thought it was crap that the vampires have their own language when they're just undead humans and not a different species. But when I understood that Marlow is supposed to be ancient and is the only one to speak that language while the other vampires either just scream or speak English, I accepted it, although I wish they'd made that clearer in the actual movie instead of leaving it for me to find out later through research. And I do like the infamous moment where a trapped woman says, "Please, God" and Marlow coldly says, "No God." That was a nice moment.

While the take on vampires here is original, I'm afraid I'm going to have to poke a few holes in it as well. First off, whenever they attack someone, their crazy, sporadic movements and wild feasting on their victims' blood reminds me of the stuff you see in 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake. Other than the mere fact that it's vampires instead of hyper-kinetic zombies, I just can't help but feel like I've seen this many times before and, therefore, can't get interested in it. Also, where the vampires came from is another good question. I commend them for not giving them an origin in an attempt to make them mysterious but when you think about it, these vampires have probably lived for centuries, right? So, why haven't they ever attacked Barrow before? If it's because they're not from Alaska, where did they come from and how did they get here? You see an abandoned ship at the very beginning of the film and Foster's character is looking at it, so is that where they came from? If so, how did they pilot this ship during the day-time? Finally, the vampires kill most of the townspeople on the first day and the rest of the film involves a handful of survivors taking shelter. What exactly are the vampires doing all this time? They've obviously got plenty of food left over since they killed a lot of people but what do they do when they're not using still-living people as bait to draw out the survivors, as they do in a couple of instances? It makes you wonder.

The pacing is another problem this movie has. The first twenty minutes or so are exciting when the vampires first make their presence known but once all but a select group of people are left and have to take shelter from the vampires, the movie drags horribly. There are long instances where nothing interesting happens and it doesn't help that this is one of those annoying movies where everyone talks so softly and quietly that you can barely hear them. Some may say that they whisper so the vampires won't here them but they talk that way even before the vampires come, which makes them more boring in my opinion. This movie is also way too long for its own good. While 113 minutes may seem like a fair length for a movie, it's not so good when you've got a movie that blows its load in the first twenty and drags for a good majority of the rest. Oh, and remember when I said that the basic story could keep it from falling into the "start/stop" formula of most vampires movies? Well, this movie manages to avoid that... and then, replaces it with another type of formula, this one being, "people hiding, vampire attack, people hiding, vampire attack" and on and on. It gets tiresome really quick and has you wishing it would just end, which is the sign of a bad movie. As for the vampire attacks, while they're nicely gory, they're shot in that frantic style where you can't tell what's going on for the most part, spoiling the build-up to them.

The music by Brian Reitzell is also a mixed bag. There are parts of it that I like, such as the opening theme and the atmospheric music that plays over the ending credits. I especially liked the music that plays when the vampires set fire to the town at the end and Oleson, with vampire blood running through his veins, marches down the center of the town for the final battle. But, as with everything else in this movie other than the visuals, most of the music is forgettable and just silently drones off in the background.

30 Days of Night just isn't my type of vampire movie. The visuals may be amazing but the rest of the movie is not appealing at all. The characters are bland as all get-out, Hartnett's acting is atrocious, the vampires, while initially cool, fall into the rut of feeling like rage zombies, the action scenes are choppy and hard to follow, the pacing is bad, most of the music is forgettable, and the movie's much longer than it should be. The only reason I even watched this a second time was in order to do this review because I couldn't remember a damn thing about it from the first time I watched it and that's not a good sign. If you like this movie, that's cool but as for me, when I want to watch a vampire movie, I'll stick with the Universal and Hammer Dracula movies along with Fright Night and Nosferatu, thank you very much.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Video Game Corner: Jaws Unleashed (2006)

Seems like a pretty fun concept for a game, doesn't it? Getting to play as the gigantic, man-eating great white shark in Jaws and stalking the ocean around Amity Island, attacking anyone and anything that gets in your way, destroying boats and eating animals and people alike. It sounds like a fun game. When I saw this game at a store one day, I couldn't believe it. I'd heard that there was a Jaws game being developed but I expected it to be a game where you'd play Brody and try to kill the shark. When I realized that you play the shark, I knew I had to play this. Eventually, I got a Playstation 2 (which I didn't have until Christmas of 2006) and a few games, this being one of them. When I finally played the game, it was fun being the shark... at first. But then, as you go through the various missions and spend your time attacking people, it loses its luster fairly quick. I eventually stopped because I was getting confused on one level but I recently went back and finished it and I can now say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this game isn't very good.

The storyline for the game is that Amity Island is expanding in its economy by making connections with wealthy corporations who are building industrial factories like drilling platforms, underwater facilities and the like in and around the island. With the Fourth of July coming up, the amount of tourists on the island is swelling as well. However, all this activity attracts an enormous great white shark (i.e. you) to the island as well. As you progress through the stages of the game and cause more havoc throughout the island, the cutscenes create a familiar scenario: local biologist Michael Brody (who acts more like Matt Hooper than any relative of Roy Scheider's character) continually tries to warn the greedy mayor that opening the beaches with the shark prowling around would be disastrous but he refuses to listen to him at every turn, providing more cannon fodder for you to kill and destroy.

After the opening tutorial and first real level, the game's layout becomes similar to the Grand Theft Auto games: you have a free-roaming mode where you can simply swim around Amity Island, attacking people, animals, and watercraft at your whim. You use the map-screen to see where your next mission is located and you can swim there whenever you're ready to do so. The shark (which is actually called "Jaws") has a menu of upgrades that you can access from both the main menu and Pause screen. In order to buy upgrades, you have to earn points by completing missions, destroying boats and eating people in either mode of play, collecting bonus items, or completing the many side-missions strewn throughout the free-roaming mode. You can upgrade five different aspects of the shark: power (the amount of damage you can cause when attacking), speed, hunger (how long you can go without food), accuracy, and health. There are save points throughout the free-roaming level that you can use to save the upgrades that you acquire. Besides your standard health meter, you also have a hunger meter. When your hunger meter starts to go down, that means you have to eat something because your health will start diminish. Naturally, your health also diminishes whenever you take damage. You have a variety of attacks: biting (of course), ramming things with your snout, and a tail whip. You also have a stealth attack that I was never able to pull off properly, mainly because I don't think the game instructed me well on how to pull it off. As you get more upgrades, you can acquire more attacks like a "corkscrew" charge where you spin while charging and the body-bomb, where you leap out of the water at a boat and do a body slam (I've never been able to pull this off successfully).

As I said, the game is fun at first but after a while, the repetitive nature sets in. There are only so many times you can swim around Amity in the free-roaming stage and attack all the swimmers, water-skiers, sea animals, boats and so on before it gets old fast. The missions aren't much better. I'll go into greater detail about them shortly but for the most part, they're either repetitive, ridiculously easy, or cruelly hard. As for the side-missions, I've only done a few because they're not fun and the game is overly snippy about how you must do them. One that was fun to do was a mission where a helicopter is trying to rescue some drowning swimmers and your task is to destroy it before it can do so. This was well done and referenced back to a scene in Jaws 2 where the shark destroys a helicopter trying to rescue the trapped teenagers. Other than that, the side-missions were nothing special and were mainly lame mini-games. If you didn't know where you were allowed to go and where you weren't, you could easily swim outside the "playing range" of the mission, ending it. Other missions sometimes didn't specify where you were supposed to go to do what you needed. One mission involved you having to kill a water-skier before he could complete a jump. I didn't see any water-skier anywhere around and suddenly a message saying that I failed the mission because the skier made the jump came up. Maybe if you'd shown me where I was supposed to go, I wouldn't have failed! There were also three levels to each side-mission but they were just varying degrees of difficulty for the same challenge.

The game also has its share of control, camera, and graphic problems. You have to hold down a button in order to swim but there were plenty of points in the game where I would be moving and would stop to look around but when I would push the button, the shark wouldn't move and I would have to press the button again for some reason. This would become really annoying in boss battles or levels where there were a lot of enemies and would often get me killed. It was also very easy to get stuck, either between to objects or just when I brushed up against one object in particular for some reason. There was one instance where I got stuck in a weird limbo sort of position and I eventually had to reset from my last save point because I couldn't fix the problem. In some stages, the sonar on your HUD would prove to be not as useful as it should be. Your objective is always marked by a red circle on the sonar and points of interest, like items that could help you in a battle, were green blocks. You'd think to get to where you needed to go, you would just until the marker on the sonar that indicated you would reach the aforementioned object right? Normally, this is the case but the sonar doesn't tell you everything. For one, in areas where there long drops downward that you had to swim or where the surface is very high above you, you have no way of knowing if the object is up near the top or below you. Your marker on the sonar could be right on top of the objective but you still wouldn't know if you need to go up or down. It's also frustrating in levels where you're swimming through a series of tunnels and you're going by the sonar when you hit a wall that's not indicated at all on the sonar and you have to go around it. Bottom line, a map layout would have been a lot more helpful.

The camera is really annoying as well. The transitions between above and below the surface of the water are the worst. There were so many times when I dove under the surface but it took the camera far longer than necessary to follow me. Also, the camera would often switch to above the surface when I didn't want it to. There were many times where I would get very close to the surface but not entirely break it and yet the camera would suddenly go above it. This is not something I needed when I was trying to turn around and face something that was attacking me. Speaking of turning, the camera often gets in bad spots off to the side of the shark instead of being directly behind it, making it difficult to see what I'm turning to face. There's a button you can press to make the camera go directly behind you but it often doesn't stay that way, causing you to be constantly battling it. You also turn really slow, leaving you open to attack. The graphics are constantly glitching up. The frame-rate sometimes gets really slow, objects glitch on and off the screen when they shouldn't, and when doing the jumps out of the water to attack ships, the camera would suddenly go crazy and get stuck in weird positions. So, yeah, this game is bugged up the ass. I've heard that the PC version didn't have as many glitches though.

Your health bar is a joke. It's fairly long and you can upgrade it to bigger sizes but the problem is that it's way too easy to lose a lot of health very quickly. The health goes down rather quickly, even when the attack shouldn't have damaged you that much, and there are some enemies that attack you so quickly that you sometimes can't see them. Also, enemies that shouldn't be that much of a threat like people on boats shooting at you or various sea creatures like dolphins and smaller sharks can drain your health so quickly that it's incredibly frustrating. In the first mission of the game, there's a moment where you come across a bunch of piranhas and these little bastards can drain your health so quickly that it's almost like instant death. Animals like dolphins can kill you very easily too. This is ridiculous! I'm a huge great white shark and freaking dolphins and seals are killing me? I wasn't going to kill these animals when I first started playing but when they kept killing, I just said "To hell with it" and slaughtered them. That's another thing: eating and restoring health is a lot more difficult than it should be.You have to grab something, hold the button, and then shake the control stick back and forth to shred it apart to kill it and eat it. Chewing it by pressing the "bite" button doesn't work that well and when holding a victim in its mouth, the shark will sometimes let it go for no reason. It sometimes feels like you can't kill and eat things fast enough to make up for the damage you're taking. Killing divers is the worst because you usually have to bite and shake them two to three times to kill them and when they don't die, they keep shooting harpoons at you, depleting what health you got back. It may sound like I'm being too nitpicky but this game really does have a lot of frustrating problems.

Besides your sonar, you can also switch over to "shark vision", a mode where all enemies and special objects glow so you can see them better. You can also lock onto enemies in order to focus on killing one in particular at a time. But, like a lot of aspects of this game, this doesn't work nearly as well the game would like you to think it does. While you can lock onto a specific enemy, locking onto the one you want to is really difficult because there are times where you'll try to lock onto one right in front of you and the shark vision will target one that's fifteen to twenty-feet away. Also, the ways you're expected to use the shark vision is preposterous and no rational person would ever think to use it in this way. The shark vision not only highlights food but also specific objects that can aid you in your missions. For instance, there's a mission that begins with you in front of an underwater minefield and your shark vision which mines you can destroy without setting off the whole field which results in instant death. However, since I'm playing a shark and not Superman, I didn't think to turn on my shark vision because sharks don't have X-ray vision and, logically, can't see the difference between a dangerous mine and a not so dangerous mine. I know this is a game but that leap in logic is something no one in their right mind would think to do unless they read a walkthrough ahead of time or something.

The graphics and AI of the human characters are really flawed as well. There are some major cutscenes that look decent but the majority of them have really bad character animation with no facial expressions and hardly any body movements whatsoever. (The voice acting is also pretty bad.) The main story of the game features characters that try to tie it to the movies, like having a character named Michael Brody, who, as I said, is more like a substitute for Hooper than Roy Scheider and there's even a shark hunter who's a blatant ripoff of Quint (his fishing boat is named the Orca II for God's sake). There's also a character named Shaw (no explanation needed). While it's cool that they tried to make a connection to the films, the laughable acting, bad character animation, and ridiculous nature of some of the missions make it feel like a mockery than a tribute. Also, the human characters that you can actually attack just say the same stuff over and over again, usually, "Never going to make it!" or "Where is it?!" or simply, "Shark!" It gets old very quick, like everything else in this game.

The music in the game is pretty bad too. The main theme is an uninspired version of the legendary shark theme and there are bits and pieces of John Williams' score strewn throughout the game as well. While it is close to swim and attack people to that awesome music, the bits are really brief and most of the music is generic and unoriginal. The music that plays during the free-roaming level whenever you attack is particularly uninspired. Since this game is backed by Universal, I don't see why they couldn't have just used the majority of the scores from the movies but whatever.

Before we get to the missions, one more general aspect of the game I have to comment on is the bonus items. These come in the form of license plates or tin-cans you see sitting in random parts of both types of levels which give you points to get upgrades. Fair enough. However, what's really dumb is what you get if you acquire them all. I can't remember which one it is but if you get either all the license plates or tin-cans, you win a selection of clips from the movie Jaws. Um, yeah, that's not incentive for me to bust my butt to collect all of these things. Why? Because Jaws is a really famous movie that you can easily get and if I want to watch the movie, I'll just watch the movie! That's why it always annoys me when movie-licensed games feature clips from the movie they're based on but making said movie clips a special feature they expect you to torture yourself trying to unlock is just redundant.

Now for the missions. I'll go through each one and talk about particularly interesting or frustrating aspects of them (most will be the latter). Before we begin, let me just say that some aspects of these missions are really stupid to put in a Jaws game. Some objectives feel more appropriate for a James Bond game and I feel really stupid trying to do this stuff as a shark.

The Break Out: This first stage is a lot like Jaws 3: you're captured and put on display in a high-tech SeaWorld style amusement park and your objective is to escape. Right off the bat, they prove my point about having dumb objectives that don't feel appropriate for this type of game. Your first objective is to grab a scientist, hold him in your mouth, bring him over to a card-reader next to the water and doing so activates the underwater gate you need to swim out of. See what I mean? I'm a shark and I have to use a scientist's ID card to get out of my holding tank. Even during my first time playing, I was thinking, "This is ridiculous." The third section is where you run into this school of piranhas that can kill you too easily. That is so frustrating because you have to charge a jammed door in order to get to the next part of the level but the piranhas won't leave you alone long enough to do so and you have swim away from them or they'll kill you. Once again, I'm a big shark and a bunch of piranhas are able to kill me. Really stupid. In the last section, you fight a killer whale. This fight is very underwhelming because all he does is swim clockwise around the tank without changing direction once and all you have to do is either charge or bite him and keep doing so until he's dead. Don't let him get behind you, though, or you're in for it. Really dull first boss battle.

Dead of Night: The objective here is to destroy a refinery that's polluting the water. First you have to get past an electrified fence by chomping the batteries that are on either side of it. Because of the controls, I would always accidentally touch the fence and set off the alarm. It didn't result in failing the mission but it did make things a little more difficult. After getting through the fence and eating some swimmers to advance to the next section, you have to avoid these searchlights or you get shot. You can destroy a dock where a sniper is standing but I had search a hard time doing that for some reason because I kept getting killed. I don't know if it was by him or someone else but it was frustrating. The last part of the mission is grabbing these explosive barrels people are dumping in the water and spitting them at a certain pipe in order to destroy it. Other than people shooting at me, I never found it that difficult to spit a barrel at the mouth of the pipe and destroy it utterly.

Hunted: This is basically a rehash of the previous mission. You have to remove batteries (three this time), avoid spotlights, and, once again, your main objective is to destroy something by spitting explosive barrels at it. Did the game designers just get lazy and decide to redo the previous level, only beef it up in terms of busywork? Anyway, there are a bunch of mini-sub-like things here that will plague you throughout the rest of the game. They are so annoying with how they shoot torpedoes at you, constantly killing you just when you're about the complete your objective. There were so many times when I was about to spit a barrel at the large tank you're supposed to destroy when I would suddenly die because I got hit by a torpedo. Of course, you can destroy these crafts all you want but they'll still respawn. Also in the first section are a bunch of boats patrolling the surface with dragging nets that you have to be careful not to get caught in. I don't know if it results in instant death or not because I never got caught but I imagine you want to avoid those nets as best as you can. Not a hard level overall but really annoying.

Predator in the Bay: This is where I began to get fed up with the game's difficulty and glitches. First, you have to destroy two diving cages and eat the divers. I've already told you what they do if you don't kill them right away but that's the least of your worries here. After dealing with them, you have to destroy three oil platforms but before you can do that, you have to destroy four turrets on each platform. This is where your shark vision comes in handy because still active turrets have spotlights shimmering through the water when you active the vision. After doing so, you have to go back to the sunken submarine where the diving cages were, grab a torpedo from a pile on the ocean floor, swim back to the oil rig, and hit two of its pillars with the torpedoes in order to destroy it. You have to repeat this process for the other two but that's not the annoying part. There are a bunch of dolphins here that will attack you the minute they see you and I got killed so many times by these little assholes just when I was about to complete this section!

The second part of this level has you swim into another section of the area and into the main power supply of the facility controlling the oil platforms. Once inside, you have to destroy two pillars while avoiding this big fan in the middle of the room (which is really difficult because the thing keeps sucking you towards it and you're constantly fighting the controls). Once you have done so, you have to go back out the way you came and this is where I ran into an annoying glitch. Just as I got out, I died due to a low health bar and a lack of food but getting out triggered the next cutscene. After that, I figured I had to go back in this room and repeat the process since I died but I found that the door to the room wouldn't open when I smashed the bars. Not only that but you're supposed to fight a boss in the last part of the level but it wouldn't show up because I guess the game got confused when my death screen and the next cutscene came up one after the other and didn't know what to do. I had no choice but to reload my last checkpoint and try the whole mission over again. That about tore it for me but I decided to persevere so I could at least say I beat the game.

Fighting the boss was difficult for me but not for the usual reason. The boss is an enormous boat that movies into the harbor. You can attack it with your ramming and biting but it would take forever so the best course of action is to use those torpedoes again and this is where the problem started. When I was destroying the oil rigs, I could get as close to the rig as I wanted in order to shoot the torpedoes but during this fight, I had to stay away from the boat otherwise the explosion from the torpedo would kill me instantly. Trying to line up a shot while staying a safe distance was hard enough but the constantly moving boat just made it even harder and the lack of consistency in how close you could get to an object with a torpedo was annoying. (And those dolphins once again plagued me to no end here!)

The Angry Armada: There's nothing to this level except destroying a bunch of boats that are trying to kill you. Destroying the boats isn't that difficult but they're once again dragging nets so you have to be careful. Here, I did get caught in the nets a few times and you have to rock the control stick back and forth to escape, draining your health before you could do so. There are plenty of animals to eat in order to regain your health and this section wasn't too hard. The boss, a big coastguard ship, was a little more difficult. First off, those little mini-sub things show up again and constantly blast you with torpedoes, often killing you just as you're about to succeed. The way to destroy the boss is to grab the orange mines it drops that don't explode and throw them back at it. The difficult part is that it takes a lot of hits to destroy the boss (sometimes its health bar doesn't go down even when you score a direct hit) and the mines you can use are strewn so far from each other that you often get killed while trying to grab them.

A Taste for Blood: This level is divide into two sections, one being very frustrating and the other being enjoyable. The first section involves you having to navigate through an underwater minefield, destroying certain mines that won't set off the entire field  that you can see by using your shark vision. You have to destroy these mines by spitting barrels at them but staying a reasonable distance from them so as not to take damage from the explosion. The barrels have a tendency to either fly right over the mine (sometimes hitting another mine in the background, setting off the whole field and killing you instantly) or almost get to it but then hang above it for some reason and explode when it feels like it, usually when you've gone to get another barrel because you think you've messed up. To make matters even worse, swimming through the gaps without touching the other mines is so hard. I swear the entire field went off at points when I was sure that I didn't touch a mine. Also, no matter how careful you are, you're going to take damage and getting food is a problem because these seals that swim around will often lead you into the mines when you try to bite them. Also, killing one often results in its brethren attacking you and you're defenseless because you can't move around much due to the cramped quarters. (One last note: the cutscene before this level involves a drunk idiot getting himself blown up and the first thing you hear is him laughing like an idiot. This game is good enough to allow you to skip cutscenes but I got killed so often that I heard this moron's drunk laughter so many times that I about went nuts.)

Now, the second section of this level is quite enjoyable. It involves you hunting down four injured divers whose blood trails you followed into this little cove. Finding their hiding spots and getting to them is actually quite rewarding and makes you wish the game had more levels like this (in fact, this is what the majority of the game should have been instead of these dumb 007-style missions). One diver takes refuge on a piece of floating debris and you simply have to destroy it and eat him. The trickiest one is hiding in a sunken that has two cracks on either side of it. Approaching him and biting scares him from one side to the other and you have to quickly swim around and get in the section in-between sides that you can fit into in order to attack him. Another diver is hiding amongst a pile of debris and all you have to do is charge the debris and follow him while charging to flush him out so you can get him (you have to destroy some nearby mines before you can do this though). And finally, there's one that involves you simply entering a pipe and smashing some debris.

The Deep: This time, you swim around the tunnels of a big mining rig deep below the surface of the ocean and destroy four power generators. The first difficult aspect of this one is an awful hazard that lies at each entrance to one of the four pipes leading into the cliff: boulders that get sucked down into the pipe. You have to wait for these boulders to come by before swimming into the tunnel because if you don't, they'll catch you out nine times out of ten. Getting caught by them means instant death because you get sucked down to a grinder. Navigating and turning in the cramped tunnels is difficult because of the less than perfect camera controls and it's very easy to get lost. I think all the tunnels in the cliff walls are connected but after destroying one generator, I would always swim back out and just go to the other entrances outside. This is one level where your sonar can really hinder you because it doesn't show any walls in your way. Finally, one tunnel has connections to all the generators and it can difficult to remember which ones you've destroyed and which you haven't when picking a direction to follow. Not the hardest level overall but it can be confusing.

The Facility: The first part of this level is a battle with a giant squid in a large tank. This has to be the most annoying boss battle in the entire game. First, the squid is constantly swatting at you with its two longest tentacles, which are almost impossible to avoid bumping into and every once in a while, it'll smack you hard enough to where you take damage. Second, its most damaging attack is one where it lunges at you. You have to get out of the way as quick as you can and if it gets you in your tentacles, you have to jiggle the control stick like mad to get loose and it takes a lot of health. It wouldn't be so bad if the camera controls didn't suck so much. You can't keep the squid in front of you long enough to wait for it to charge and when you see it coming, you usually can't get out of the way in time. Third, the area where you're battling is really cramped, with the squid taking up half of it, so there's not a lot of room to move around and avoid the attacks (this also makes the camera suck even more so). Fourth, you have to tear off the squid's tentacles. After you bite a tentacle off, you should be able to chomp on it later when you need health but I found that every time I tried to approach a tentacle to chomp it, it would go flying off and I would lose my chance to get health. Another annoying game glitch. Finally, there's the final part of the battle. After you've torn off all but the squid's longest tentacles and both its eyes, you have to lure it into charging into the electrified pipes on the sides of the wall. You have to do this four times and there were so many times where I died just before I could finish the squid off. My best advice is to just keep swimming around in a circle and eventually, the squid will slam itself into the pipes four times.

The other part of the level isn't as bad. You have to destroy another generator, flood a control room, and then kill the owner of the facility before he kills you (this last challenge is timed and you only have two minutes). The only difficult part up until the final battle is killing and eating all the divers that can damage you. During the final battle, you first have to take out two underwater craft that shoot torpedoes at you and then get the owner, who moves like a bullet. You have to be careful not to get caught in-between the tanks in the room because he'll sometimes lure you there. It's not that hard a fight, though (certainly not as annoying as that damn squid!).

Blood on the Beach: This is simply a couple of timed challenges. First, you have to kill five swimmers before they get to shore. This should be simple but some of these people just won't go down no matter how many times you attack them. The game is good enough to tell you when a person is dead but there were so many times where I was able to kill two to three people when everyone else would make it to shore and I would fail the mission. Maybe I just suck, I don't know. The second part challenge occurs when you use explosive barrels to blow a hole in an electrified net to enter an inlet. You have fifty seconds to destroy five boats here. I found this to be much easier than the first challenge, mainly because it's easier to destroy boats (for me, anyway). The third part of the mission is a boss battle with the mayor's yacht. You can't just simply chomp and charge the boat like before. Here, you actually have to push the boat into the barges in the pond until its energy bar goes down. Despite the yacht's high speed, it's not hard to complete this mission. The only difficulty is healing yourself after you get shot constantly by the snipers on the barges and then getting back to attacking the yacht.

The Final Chase: The last level is really just a final boss battle, this time against Brody and the Quint-esque shark hunter on the Orca II. It doesn't take much to destroy the boat but this is still difficult. First, the cutscene shows Brody fire a homing device on the shark and during the fight, if you swim too far from the boat, the device explodes and kills you instantly. To add to the difficulty, those annoying underwater crafts are out in full force here and respawn ridiculously fast. You'll die a lot of times right when you're about to destroy the boat because of those damn things and their torpedoes. The water surface is also really choppy, making it difficult to keep your head above water so you can see what you're doing. With a little perseverance, you will eventually win but the ending cinematic does make it feel like you've accomplished anything. All it does is show a helicopter finding the wreckage of the boat and dropping a bomb hoping to kill. The last shot is of your dorsal fin following the helicopter back to Amity. Big whoop.

Jaws Unleashed is a cool idea of a game but the execution is lackluster. The gameplay is repetitive and downright annoying at times, the controls are awkward, the camera is constantly fighting you, and you get killed far more often than you should. I never played the Jaws game for the NES back in the day but I have seen playthroughs of it and while this does have more to do, it doesn't seem like that much of an improvement. It's just a frustrating, annoying Grand Theft Auto wannabe that doesn't live up to the promise of its licensed source material. I only recommend it for the curious and trust me, if you don't have a lot of patience, you'll get sick of it pretty quick as I did initially.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Deadly Mantis (1957)

This is another one of those movies that originally came to know through the Crestwood House books that I would find at my school library. Those books came in two types: they either told the story of one particular film or they did so as well as provide background information on the movies. This was the former. It told the entire story of the film from beginning to end and, naturally, as a little kid it enthralled me. (If you remember back in my review for It Came from Outer Space, as a little kid I thought that was a sub-title for The Deadly Mantis, since on the listing of the books on the back, that title came right after the it. As a little kid, I didn't put two and two together even when the book just said The Deadly Mantis and there was no mention of the mantis even being from outer space at all.) Years later, I saw an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 on the film and finally, when I was around thirteen, I saw the actual film. I enjoyed it then and I still enjoy it now. It may not be among the best giant monster films of the 50's but I think it's above average for this type of flick.

An outpost of the Distant Early Warning System (the DEW Line), a system of radar stations ranging from Canada to the North Pole, is found destroyed with odd skid-mark like tracks in the snow outside and no sign of the men who were operating it. Afterward, a mysterious flying object appears on the radar screens but disappears before a squadron of fighter jets can find it and not long after that, a cargo plane disappears and is later found crashed on the ground. This time, in addition to the same strange skid marks, an odd pointed object that appears to have been broken off of something is found aboard the wreck. The object is sent to Washington, where it is eventually examined by top paleontologist Dr. Nedrick Jackson, who theorizes that it must be from an enormous insect. Tests eventually prove that it is from an insect: a huge praying mantis to be exact. It's not long before the monster makes its presence known to the world, killing more people and eventually threatening the United States, with the military doing its best to stop it.

This movie's director is an interesting one: Nathan Juran. Juran was a Romanian-born Jew who immigrated to America with his family when he was just five years old and got his start in the film business as an art director, winning an Oscar in 1941 with How Green Was My Valley and was nominated again for The Razor's Edge in 1946. His first film as director was The Black Castle, a 1952 Gothic mystery featuring Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. He directed quite a few films and television episodes from the 50's to the early 70's, including beloved sci-fi classics like 20 Million Miles to Earth, B-movie favorites like The Brain from Planet Arous and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, fantasy films like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jack the Giant Killer, and episodes of shows like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Lost in Space. Visually, he was fairly skilled in most of his work but when it came to directing actors, he seemed to suffer. The performances in this and many of his other films aren't bad but they could have been better.

Craig Stevens plays Col. Joe Parkman, the hero of the film. He's a fairly charismatic lead, even if he comes across as a little too laid back for a colonel. I don't know if the military was different back in the 50's or what but this guy just doesn't strike me as the high-ranking officer that he's supposed to be. Still, he is courageous and does take the mantis on himself twice in the film, in a fighter jet and in the finale in the Manhattan tunnel. William Hopper plays Ned Jackson, the paleontologist who identifies the creature that's causing the crashes and disappearances near the DEW Line as a giant praying mantis and stays on hand to help the military deal with the monster. Hopper plays the role pretty straightforward: he identifies the hook found at the wreckage of the cargo plane as a spur from the mantis's forelimbs, he concludes that this creature could be one of the deadliest living things ever, and gives the military advice about the mantis when necessary. He's not one of those scientists in these types of movies who wants to keep the monster alive. He knows that the mantis is a threat to mankind and does everything he can to help the military destroy it. Not much to this character but he is likable. Alix Talton plays Marge Blaine, a reporter for the Museum of Natural History's monthly magazine who works with Ned. She comes across as the type of go-getter woman who knows a scoop when she smells one and hopes to get a fairly big story when it appears that Ned is being consulted by the Pentagon on something secretive. After that, she really doesn't do much other than become the obligatory love interest for Parkman. At one point, she does come up with a plan that could help find the mantis but, as with most of the characters in this film, she's just kind of... bland.

Donald Randolph plays General Ford, who doesn't do much for a general. Randolph isn't bad in the role but the only thing of importance that he does in the entire film is give all the military guns along eastern seaboard freedom to fire at any object not identified as friendly when the mantis is flying in the skies above them. One character that I do kind of like is Paul Smith as a corporal at Red Eagle One who's basically tripping over himself when Ned arrives with Marge. When he first tells Parkman that Ned has arrive with Marge, he says, "He's with a woman. A female woman. I thought they'd stopped making 'em." I liked not only him but how starved for women the rest of Parkman's men were and how they reacted when they saw Marge. After she introduces herself, someone off-camera wolf-whistles, causing Parkman to say, in a rather embarrassed tone, "Uh, that'll be all, men." And then there's the scene were Corporal tries to ask Marge to dance but he stumbles over his words and Marge accepts, probably in pity for him. It's not much of the movie but that aspect does make me smile.

Let's talk about the mantis itself. I've never been able to figure out exactly how they brought it to life. It's not stop-motion and, other than one brief moment, it's not a real mantis on a miniature set. It looks to me like it's a model of a mantis that's operated around miniature buildings and landscapes. However it was realized, I think the mantis looks pretty good. Granted, it doesn't move very fast and at times its movements do feel a bit clunky but I think it works for the most part. What really helps bring the mantis to life are the sound effects that accompany it. Its main sound is a loud roar that you've heard in many monster movies. While it's unlikely that no insect, no matter how big, would be able to make such a sound, that roar does make the mantis threatening. It also hisses a couple of times (it sounds like it's saying "piss off" when it makes this sound) and growls. I'm pretty sure I heard the growl of the Creature from the Black Lagoon at one point during the finale in the Manhattan Tunnel. And, like most of these giant monsters, when it's mortally wounded at the end, it makes a mournful wail that tries to make you feel sorry for it (although you can't really feel sorry for a giant bug that's killed a lot of innocent people). Besides its roar, the mantis' other signature noise is the loud droning its wings make whenever it's flying. It's actually two sounds: a high-pitched buzzing (that was reused the following year for the giant dragonfly in Monster on the Campus) laid on top of the really loud droning. It's quite an unpleasant and intimidating noise when you listen to it.

The first time you see the mantis is when it attacks an Eskimo village but you really get to see it strut its stuff when it attacks Red Eagle One, the command center of the DEW Line. It's an exciting sequence, as the mantis slowly creeps up on the base and smashes through the roof of the base, leading to a brief battle between the soldiers and the monster. I like the part where Ned, Joe, and Marge are discussing the mantis' origin, with no idea that it's right outside the base at that very moment, hovering over the building. I often wondered exactly what the mantis is doing as it lingers around the base before finally attacking. It's probably inspecting the base, wondering what it is. At one point, the mantis manages to fool the air force into thinking they've killed it but it slips underneath the radar with the aid of fog and begins prowling around Washington D.C., attacking a train and then a bus. I've always liked the shot where you can see the mantis standing in the fog, obviously waiting for something to come by and when a bus does so, it springs to attack. I think the final battle in the Manhattan Tunnel is well filmed. The tunnel is filled with smoke in order to keep Parkman and his men covered when they go inside to attack it and it gives the scene an eerie, film-noir quality. You can hear the mantis roaring at the back of the tunnel but you can't see it except for closeups when it's shown trashing a bunch of piled up cars. Finally, the mantis appears out of the smoke and attacks upon seeing the men. When I was a little kid, I always felt the mantis looked especially creepy in this last scene. It was something about the way its head looked or something amid the smoke and darkness.

When I read that Crestwood House book as a kid, the reason that I still thought the mantis was from outer space was because the book never explicitly stated its origin except in some guessing by the characters. However, the movie itself shows you the mantis' origin from the get-go. A volcanic eruption in the Arctic Circle triggers a violent seismic reaction at the North Pole that reveals the glacier where the mantis is frozen. The ice melts, solving the mystery of where the mantis came from. Later in the film, Ned states that the mantis is of an ancient species from the prehistoric ages where insects were much bigger than they are today. One thing he says that I find funny is when he says that in the mantis' ancient world, the smallest insects were the size of humans and, failing to find those insects now for its food, it's simply doing the best it can, referring to the missing people that were undoubtedly devoured by the monster. I thought that was a nice, subtle bit of black humor.

This movie has one of the most unusual beginnings for this type of flick. The first thing you see after the Universal-International logo is a map of the world, with a narrator saying, "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." (Sources say that this narrator is veteran voice actor Paul Frees but it doesn't sound like him to me.) After the opening credits, the narrator returns, telling of the importance of radar in defending the United States against enemy attacks. He then proceeds to show us the various radar fences that stretched across Canada up into the North Pole, ending with the DEW Line. The narrator then shows and tells us how the DEW Line was built with stock footage from various other sources. A first time viewer would probably thinking, "Am I watching a monster movie or one of those old documentaries from the 50's?" This segment ends with the arrival of Col. Parkman to Red Eagle One and the movie actually begins. I guess it was necessary to talk about the radar fences since they play an important part in the story and the average Joe who has no knowledge of them would need to know about them but it's still an odd opening for a monster movie. I can't think of a way that the filmmakers could have incorporated this into the narrative but it's just bizarre. The narrator comes back briefly when we shift to the offices of CONAD in Colorado Springs to introduce General Ford in order to tell us about the significance of CONAD as well as its emergency hotlines. After that, the narrator doesn't return again. There's plenty of other stock footage throughout the film as well, chief among them the footage of the Eskimos fleeing from the mantis, ground observers searching for the mantis when it drops below the radar net during a jet pursuit, and footage of people at radar stations tracking the mantis (which you would see in other monster movies like Gorgo).

What really makes the movie exciting for me is the music by Irving Getz and William Lava. The main theme that plays over both the opening and ending credits is really awesome in its sound and the action cues I think really work in getting the adrenaline pumping. One part of the music that would be used quite a bit in a film from the same year called The Monolith Monsters is the piece that plays when the mantis climbs up the Washington Monument and also during the finale in the tunnel. I've always liked that music in particular because of its exciting and urgent sound. The score also has some nice atmospheric cues like when Parkman and his partner investigate the wrecked weather shack and airplane wreckage. What tends to happen with me when it comes to movie music is that sometimes the score is so good that it makes the movie itself seem much better than it really is and this may be one of those cases. Still, this movie has an awesome score nonetheless.

Okay, so The Deadly Mantis is no classic. True, the characters are a little shallow, there could be more action scenes, and the effects aren't the best for this time period but I still really enjoy this 50's monster flick. I think the effects used to bring the mantis to life are interesting and, while, as I said, a little iffy, help give it just enough personality to make it threatening, there are some great sequences in it, and the music really helps make the movie seem better than it is. For those who like 50's monster movies, I would recommend seeing it at least once. It's only 79 minutes so even if you don't care for it, you won't have wasted that much of your time.