Brad Dourif

Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie)

The only good thing about Halloween II are the end credits. They run like nine minutes, meaning the movie is closer to ninety-five minutes than 105. Even though the ninety-five minutes feels like an eternity.

The movie starts with director Zombie making fun of the idea of making another Halloween II. He’s not remaking Halloween II; well, he does for the first twenty-five minutes of the movie but only to make fun of the idea of remaking Halloween II. It’s kind of the best sequence in the movie? If only because there’s not as much cynicism as the rest of the picture. Less cynicism, less “lead” Scout Taylor-Compton trying to emote, less Sheri Moon Zombie as a color inverted Morticia Adams ghost making scary-ish faces as she inspires Tyler Mane to kill people. It’s a hallucination but not. Chase Wright Vanek, as the young version of Mane, is also in the scenes. He could be worse. Moon Zombie couldn’t be worse, but Vanek has some lines in the prologue and he’s atrocious so it’s a surprise when he’s better later. Because he doesn’t get dialogue. It’s a good move from Zombie amid a film full of bad moves.

After the riff on the original Halloween II, Zombie jumps ahead a year to Taylor-Compton trying to recover from her trauma. Meanwhile, Malcolm McDowell is on a book tour capitalizing on Taylor-Compton’s trauma. McDowell’s not good and the part’s thinly written–all the parts in the film are paper thin–but he’s bad in entertaining ways. Taylor-Compton isn’t bad in entertaining ways. She’s got a terrible part and gives a terrible performance in it. She’s living with fellow Halloween I survivor Danielle Harris and her dad, sheriff Brad Dourif.

Harris is just about the only likable character in the film. She also doesn’t give a terrible performance. Many of the cast give terrible performances, so Harris is constant refreshing. Dourif’s haircut gives more of a performance than the actor, which is too bad. It’s a crappy part though.

The worst supporting performance is Angela Trimbur. She’s one of Taylor-Compton’s friends; she gets to personify Zombie’s prevailing conjecture in the film–empathy doesn’t exist, which is problematic because Taylor-Compton’s only in her current situation because of empathy. Halloween II is the perfect storm of cynicism and stupidity, with Zombie trying to cushion the stupidity in symbolism so he can get away with it. But it’s stupid symbolism so who cares.

The best cameo performance is Bill Fagerbakke as a deputy. The worst is Mark Boone Junior. Margot Kidder is somewhere in between, mostly because her therapist isn’t believable at all.

Technically, the film’s competent. Brandon Trost’s photography is definitely competent. Glenn Garland and Joel T. Pashby’s editing gets all the jump scares. Zombie relies heavily on them. He starts with gore, then he goes to jump scares. They’re effective but entirely cheap.

Tyler Bates’s music… could be worse.

Garreth Stover’s production design–presumably under Zombie’s instruction–is grungy to the point of absurdity. Since surviving their serial killer attacks, Taylor-Compton and Harris have apparently embraced nihilism based on their interior decorating but never in their characters. Taylor-Compton’s behavior sometimes flips scene-to-scene so Zombie can move things along. It’s not like she’d have essayed the role better if the writing were better.

Trost’s photography holds things together. Without it, the movie would be stagy. If the acting were better. And if Zombie cared about the acting. It’s really bad.

But it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. The end credits could run eight minutes instead of nine and there might be another whole insufferable minute of content to Halloween II.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Brandon Trost; edited by Glenn Garland and Joel T. Pashby; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Garreth Stover; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode), Tyler Mane (Michael Myers), Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Samuel Loomis), Brad Dourif (Sheriff Lee Brackett), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah Myers), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett) and Brea Grant (Mya Rockwell)


Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie)

Halloween is very loud. It’s about the only thing director Zombie keeps consistent throughout. It gets loud. It starts kind of quiet–comparatively–then gets loud. Jump scares always have some noise. But once the jump scares are every two seconds, there’s just loud noise. Giant spree killer Tyler Mane destroys a house in the third act, with his bare hands. Because it’s loud to destroy a house. A different filmmaker with different goals might try to have the destruction of his childhood home, where he became a tween spree killer, mean something. Especially since Mane’s current target is long lost baby sister Scout Taylor-Compton (now a teenager). He’s destroying her house too.

But not Zombie. He’s just being loud. The only reason they’re at the house is because Zombie wanted to avoid similarities to the original Halloween. It’s a very strange remake, because you always get the feeling Zombie would rather be doing anything else. Zombie’s not enthusiastic about anything. The noise, sure, and the violence–sort of, it’s violent and bloody as all hell, but not really creatively. Cynically. Zombie condescends to his own film, which is interesting. You can’t really dwell on it too long because loud noises interrupt reflection.

The film spends almost the first hour outside remake expectations. Zombie’s doing his own origin story for Michael Myers (played by Daeg Faerch as a kid). It’s the late seventies. They’re kind of white trash. Mom (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper with a heart of gold. Sister Hanna Hall is a jerk. William Forsythe is Mom’s abusive, drunken, live-in boyfriend who’s immobilized from injury. Zombie’s really bad at the writing of the family. He can’t take it seriously.

Moon Zombie’s almost all right as the mom. She takes it seriously in a way no one else does. Not the stunt cameos, not Forsythe, who’s kind of funny but also clearly very cynical in his performance. Zombie does all these things in Halloween’s first section but he doesn’t do any of them right. It’s not exactly potential, but the most similar thing to potential the film’s ever going to have. Because once it gets to the “present”–the early-to-mid nineties–Halloween’s got zilch. Eventually you hope–remembering the plot of the original–it’ll end after this next riff on a scene from the original but it never does. Zombie keeps it going for ages, just to mess with expectations of the target audience. And also for those viewers who just want to believe sometime it’ll finally end.

And then it gets so loud.

Until the last third or so, the film relies entirely on John Carpenter’s original Halloween score. Maybe a little louder, set to all sorts of scenes it doesn’t fit, over and over. It’s omnipresent. The finale is just Tyler Bates being loud. Because it’s all about being loud in Halloween.

It’s not about Halloween at all though. Loudness, sure. Halloween, not so much. Even though there’s a kid dressed up as a skeleton boy or something, Halloween doesn’t play in during the present day stuff. Not even as Taylor-Compton being too old for it or whatever. Zombie doesn’t care about Halloween. How appropriate for the movie, Halloween.

He likes his cameos, but he doesn’t care about them. Ken Foree has the best one. Though Sid Haig’s isn’t terrible either. Zombie’s got no more enthusiasm for the successful ones than the bad ones. Sometimes they work, most times they don’t. Udo Kier’s is the most superfluous and Danny Trejo’s the most disappointing. Trejo’s turns out to be Zombie at his most painfully obvious and trying. It’s one of the first exhausting elements in the film.

By the time Taylor-Compton comes in, the movie’s only got a few moments of narrative drive left. Zombie burns it all up with the transition from past to present. It gets so long in such a short amount of time. Maybe because Malcolm McDowell can’t even pretend to try. Of course he goes away for most of the film, which doesn’t turn out to improve anything because Taylor-Compton is so unlikable. Zombie doesn’t care about any of the characters so it’s hard to care much for them either. Big problem given Taylor-Compton is the “lead.”

Technically, the film’s competent. Zombie’s not a good director and he composes poorly for the Panavision, but he’s not incompetent. Phil Parmet’s photography is fine. It’s not any good or ever interesting, but it’s not any good. Glenn Garland’s editing is effective. It’s cheap, but it’s effective. Anton Tremblay’s production design is phenomenal. As crappy as the film gets, it always looks amazing. Even when Zombie’s not showing it in an amazing light.

Occasionally it seems like Zombie wants to spoof Halloween, but instead tries to let his contempt inform the film instead. He never succeeds, because it’s bad, but there are missed opportunities. They all have caveats, but they’re around.

The closest thing to good performances are from Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif. Neither have any good material per se, but they at least try with what they’ve got. It’s more than most anyone else is doing. Even the bad actors seem to know not to try too hard with a lousy script.

Dee Wallace goes all out though.

Halloween is long, loud, unpleasant, and underwhelming. If Zombie can’t convince himself his ideas are good and explore them, how can he convince an audience.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Phil Parmet; edited by Glenn Garland; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Anton Tremblay; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Malcolm McDowell (Samuel), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda), Brad Dourif (Lee), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Nick Mennell (Bob), Danny Trejo (Ismael), Sid Haig (Chester), Dee Wallace (Cynthia), Pat Skipper (Mason), Hanna Hall (Judith), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), William Forsythe (Ronnie) and Daeg Faerch & Tyler Mane (Michael).


Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie), the director’s cut

Halloween II is terrible. Unquestionably terrible. It sounds as though the director’s cut, which I watched, is even worse than the theatrical cut, based on the items director Zombie added back to the film.

But I wanted Halloween II to be good. It can’t be good–even with Zombie’s dumb ideas, there’s terrible writing and an awful performance from Scout Taylor-Compton in the lead–but I wanted it to be good. Because Zombie, after teasing the audience with a direct remake of the original Halloween II as an opener, does come up with an interesting concept. What happens to Taylor-Compton after the horrific events of the first film, with all “real life” psychology thrown in–including Malcolm McDowell making a jackass of himself as “famous TV psychiatrist”–it could be really interesting.

Zombie has all the pieces–Taylor-Compton’s friend, played by Danielle Harris, and her dad, an excellent Brad Dourif, take her in, which creates all sorts of problems and new situations. Juxtaposed against McDowell tormenting his media handler (Mary Birdsong), it all could have worked out. There’s some good stuff with Harris and Dourif, Birdsong and McDowell, but it’s all accidental. It’s actors with ability transcending terribly written material.

Oddly enough, Zombie cares. He cares about his dumb story invalidating every idea of the Halloween franchise–instead of a soulless shape, Michael Myers is driven to kill by his mystically evil (and undead) mother. Zombie spends most of the movie upset he can’t show Tyler Mane’s face until the end. Zombie puts it off so long, the reveal has no point–not as commentary on the Halloween franchise, which the film could’ve been perfect for, and not for his dumb evil, mystical Myers family thing.

Great photography from Brandon Trost on 16 mm. Occasionally okay music from Tyler Bates.

And, real quick, Sheri Moon Zombie is awful in it (though not worse than Taylor-Compton); it’s sad since the film opens with a flashback where Moon Zombie’s actually good.

Halloween II is not at all worth watching, but it should have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Brandon Trost; edited by Glenn Garland and Joel T. Pashby; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Garreth Stover; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie Strode), Tyler Mane (Michael Myers), Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Samuel Loomis), Brad Dourif (Sheriff Lee Brackett), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah Myers), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett) and Brea Grant (Mya Rockwell)


Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie), the director’s cut

Halloween is a very bad film. It’s an ambitious film but it fails with everything it’s trying to do. Director Zombie wants to do a revisionist look at the original film (and franchise to some extent). He wants to make it real. He wants to write long monologues for Malcolm McDowell’s psychiatrist, long, ridiculous monologues. They make McDowell seem like a joke. Except the script doesn’t function if he’s a joke. Zombie wants to make fun of the original Halloween. Halloween, the remake, is the idea of remake as overcompensation.

Of course, Halloween isn’t just a remake–though it is, for the majority of its runtime, a terrible updating of the original film. Zombie (intentionally) doesn’t give years, but it seems to take place in the mid-nineties, which makes it a reference to the release of the original film. There’s so much symbolism, both visually and in the narrative, it actually gets uncomfortable. I’m not sure if Zombie could make the film more desperately obvious.

Zombie front loads a back story for Michael Myers (played as an adult by Tyler Mane–who actually gives an okay performance given the nonsense going on–and Daeg Faerch in the opening). Personifying Faerch, while teasing his “true” nature, might–in the second part of the film–lead to some audience curiosity about Mane’s actions (instead of focusing on his intended victims’ fright), but it doesn’t do anything. Zombie does a crappy TV movie version of an abusive home life, generic bullies, evil older sisters, drunk stepdads (a hilarious William Forsythe). And even though cinematographer Phil Parmet appears able to handle the lighting, Zombie doesn’t have a style for it. He does a bland Panavision, nothing else. The handful of okay shots in the movie are just because Mane’s really tall and he’s breaking down walls because–to be realistic, of course–the monster has to be an actual monster.

But front loading Mane’s backstory distracts from Halloween’s biggest problem. “Lead” Scout Taylor-Compton is terrible. Zombie writes the teen girls terribly. Intentionally. He wants to get rid of the artifice, he wants to get rid of the sympathy. Because without sympathy, the audience has to get it from the terrible fates of the characters. It’s a slasher movie, right? But it doesn’t work. Zombie’s approaches to the slasher set pieces are all terrible. He even tries to distract from them with ludicrous plotting to keep those viewers familiar with the original (you know, the target audience) guessing where the story is going.

And then Zombie wants it all to be about the death and beauty of the American family. Sincerely. He even gets Dee Wallace to play Taylor-Compton’s mom. Halloween is a movie made for people who get E.T. references. It would’ve been better with more, because at least with bad cameos and lame jokes, Zombie is appearing interested.

Brad Dourif’s okay as the sheriff. He’s not in it enough. Sheri Moon Zombie is almost good as Faerch’s mom. Danny Trejo gets casted for the visual recognition but does a fine job. Danielle Harris probably gives the film’s best performance. Well, except the little kids. Both Skyler Gisondo and Jenny Gregg Stewart are fantastic.

Malcolm McDowell is bad. Zombie doesn’t know how to direct him and he’s got the film’s worst role, which is saying a lot, but McDowell is still bad.

On the other hand, even though I can’t stand the movie, I really want to see it pan and scan. I want to see Rob Zombie’s Halloween cropped to 4:3. Maybe he’s directing for 4:3. I doubt it, because the script would still be terrible and the acting awful and Tyler Bates’s music lame (though not as lame as the soundtrack selections–from Zombie). But maybe.

Wait, I almost forgot–even though her acting is unbelievably bad and anyone would have been better–Taylor-Compton is good at pretending to be scared.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Zombie; screenplay by Zombie, based on the film written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Phil Parmet; edited by Glenn Garland; music by Tyler Bates; production designer, Anton Tremblay; produced by Malek Akkad, Andy Gould and Zombie; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Malcolm McDowell (Samuel), Scout Taylor-Compton (Laurie), Danielle Harris (Annie Brackett), Kristina Klebe (Lynda), Brad Dourif (Lee), Jenny Gregg Stewart (Lindsey), Skyler Gisondo (Tommy), Nick Mennell (Bob), Danny Trejo (Ismael), Sid Haig (Chester), Dee Wallace (Cynthia), Pat Skipper (Mason), Hanna Hall (Judith), Sheri Moon Zombie (Deborah), William Forsythe (Ronnie) and Daeg Faerch & Tyler Mane (Michael).


The Exorcist III (1990, William Peter Blatty)

The Exorcist III is a weird movie. It’s a somewhat surreal detective story–one seeped in Exorcist continuity, only without the original cast (mostly) returning. That disconnect from the original, along with its incredibly uneven tone (the opening titles cut between a big action sequence with helicopters and some scary church imagery), actually helps the film.

The film has some infamous post-production tampering; as stands, the film spends its first third as an almost boring character study of George C. Scott’s angry old policeman and his best friend, priest Ed Flanders. Both Scott and Flanders find some really good moments in this opening section of the film. Not actually having been in the original film, their scenes discussing its infamous events play peculiarly. Even though there are spooky, evil goings-on, Flanders and Scott are in this separate world from it. Director Blatty carefully compartmentalizes. To usually good result.

Then the second section of the film is a confined murder mystery at a hospital. Until Scott discovers Brad Dourif locked in a cell–along with someone familiar to fans of the first film–and Exorcist III enters its really strange third act. Gerry Fisher’s photography is a little flat throughout the film–though he does well with the first act location shooting–but the flatness never looks cheap. Even when a sequence is entirely misguided, like when Scott all of a sudden becomes Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead.

The film’s editing, from Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay, is awesome. It’s never a scary or even gross movie; it might never even be creepy. But Lee-Thompson and Ramsay cut it in such a way to keep the viewer on edge. By the end, when it toggles between a bad action movie and Scott and Dourif doing dueling monologues, there’s absolutely no reason for the narrative to keep one on edge. The big twist–part of that troubled post–is so narratively incomprehensible, it just lends to the movie’s oddness.

Some good supporting performances–Grand L. Bush, Nancy Fish, Lee Richardson–help. Don Gordon and George DiCenzo play Scott’s dimwit police sidekicks and go for stereotypical laughs. Odd. But definitely engaging.

Sadly, Nicol Williamson and Scott Wilson, both in somewhat important supporting roles, aren’t particularly good. Scott never makes the film believable, but he’s still trying, though one can’t help but wonder what kind of swimming pool he had installed with his paycheck. Flanders, however, manages to keep it all on the level. And Dourif’s good.

Problems aside, Blatty and company present a film where Patrick Ewing and Fabio can cameo as angels and it can be done entirely straight-faced. It’s almost like Exorcist III is a parody of the idea of a third Exorcist movie but done earnestly, possibly because Blatty didn’t get it. But it’s why the film’s watchable, even though it’s a complete mess.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by William Peter Blatty; screenplay by Blatty, based on his novel; director of photography, Gerry Fisher; edited by Peter Lee-Thompson and Todd C. Ramsay; music by Barry De Vorzon; production designer, Leslie Dilley; produced by Carter DeHaven; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring George C. Scott (Kinderman), Ed Flanders (Father Dyer), Grand L. Bush (Sergeant Atkins), Brad Dourif (The Gemini Killer), Harry Carey Jr. (Father Kanavan), Nicol Williamson (Father Morning), Scott Wilson (Dr. Temple), Nancy Fish (Nurse Allerton), George DiCenzo (Stedman), Don Gordon (Ryan), Zohra Lampert (Mary Kinderman), Lee Richardson (University President) and Jason Miller (Patient X).


Amos & Andrew (1993, E. Max Frye)

The problem with Amos & Andrew is the execution. Frye has a good concept—a black professional moves to an island community filled with guilty white liberals and suffers thanks to their community interest, finding he has more in common with a two bit criminal than his neighbors. And the stuff between Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage is occasionally quite good. Cage’s performance reminds why him no longer doing comedies is a loss. Jackson isn’t awful (his character is a stereotype—Frye never gives him anywhere near the depth of, say, Lionel Jefferson–but no telling if Jackson could handle it if he had).

Frye sets it up as a comedy of errors. Islanders Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin mistake Jackson for a thief (because he’s black). It gets worse when the dumb, racist white cops arrive (there’s an oxymoron). Oddly, the villain—Dabney Coleman’s politicking chief of police—is one of the few white characters who isn’t racist. He’s just an ass. And Frye gets points for not shying away from the bigotry. Lerner and Colin never get redeemed, even after he makes them primary supporting cast members.

Maybe with a different director—Frye has no sense of scale—it could have worked out. He shoots a major media event in a shoebox.

Lerner and Coleman are caricatures, but Colin’s got some good moments, as does I.M. Hobson. Giancarlo Esposito, Loretta Devine and Bob Balaban all do well in thankless roles.

Amos & Andrew is almost worth watching for Cage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by E. Max Frye; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Patricia Norris; produced by Gary Goetzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Andrew Sterling), Nicolas Cage (Amos Odell), Dabney Coleman (Chief of Police Cecil Tolliver), Michael Lerner (Phil Gillman), Margaret Colin (Judy Gillman), Brad Dourif (Officer Donnie Donaldson), Chelcie Ross (Deputy Earl), I.M. Hobson (Waldo Lake), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Ernie the Cameraman), Giancarlo Esposito (Reverend Fenton Brunch), Loretta Devine (Ula), Bob Balaban (Fink), Aimee Graham (Stacy) and Tracey Walter (Bloodhound Bob).


Child’s Play 2 (1990, John Lafia)

When George Miller made the third Mad Max, he got someone else to direct the kids. John Lafia had directed one movie prior to Child’s Play 2—maybe someone should have made a similar suggestion. Under Lafia’s direction, ten-year old Alex Vincent’s performance is an abject disaster. The performance is so terrible, it isn’t even amusing. Lafia manages to suck the “so bad it’s good” right out from it.

I’ve seen some of Child’s Play 2 before. Years ago, it used to play a lot on some channel and I know I caught the end at least twice. The end is probably the best part of the movie, if only because the lapses in logic aren’t as pronounced and at least it’s going to be over soon. There are so many plot holes, one would have to watch the movie with a pen and paper ready. They’re usually just the stupid ones—like why does Christine Elise McCarthy, with the killer doll on her bumper, run into a pole when there’s a wall (the impact would crush the doll) about six feet away. Or, my personal favorite, how come no one ever discovers the murder victims? There are at least two who should be discovered—they have jobs, people will miss them—and nothing. It’s like Don Mancini couldn’t be bothered with any logic.

If I hadn’t seen the first one, I’d probably dismiss this movie as a failed concept, something without any possibilities. But the first one’s well-done so this sequel obviously has problems. Lafia’s probably the biggest. Well, no. I suppose the lack of budget is the biggest problem.

But Lafia can’t direct Vincent or McCarthy or Jenny Agutter or anyone else. He can’t even direct cinematographer Stefan Czapsky. The whole thing’s shot with this distorting lens—to show the world from Vincent’s perspective perhaps—and it’s silly. Czapsky can do the shot, but Lafia doesn’t seem to understand why he asked for it.

There’s lots of special acting too. Jenny Agutter’s performance is horrid. Grace Zabriskie is bad too. Greg Germann approaches all right in a small role. Gerrit Graham is good. McCarthy is bad but likable enough. She’s fine, compared to the rest of the cast.

Writer Mancini’s approach to the killer doll is different here. He’s more of a central character, but there’s no suspense. The movie completely fails to frighten, which instead leaves one to concentrate on the characters’ fear. Except none of the characters are smart enough to be afraid.

I’m real mad Agutter’s death scene was off screen. I think if they’d left it in, the experience would be rather cathartic. Besides her, the only character I really wished harm would befall is Vincent. The kid’s obnoxious and the role’s a writing disaster. However, Lafia doesn’t deliver. It’s weird to watch the deserving killer doll in trouble—Brad Dourif does a fine job with the voice work—and feel bad because it isn’t the innocent little kid.

And Graeme Revell’s music is okay too. Oh, and the big reveal when McCarthy discovers the doll is alive is well done.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Lafia; written by Don Mancini; director of photography, Stefan Czapsky; edited by Edward Warschilka; music by Graeme Ravell; production designer, Ivo Cristante; produced by David Kirschner; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Jenny Agutter (Joanne Simpson), Gerrit Graham (Phil Simpson), Christine Elise McCarthy (Kyle), Brad Dourif (Chucky), Grace Zabriskie (Grace Poole), Peter Haskell (Sullivan), Beth Grant (Miss Kettlewell) and Greg Germann (Mattson).


Child’s Play (1988, Tom Holland)

Child’s Play barely makes any sense. Or maybe some of it does, but there’s a big voodoo component and it gets used as a crutch for the more fantastical elements (with its own problems with rationality). But the film opens with a shootout in downtown Chicago–Child’s Play uses its Chicago locations very well, never excessive–between cop Chris Sarandon and serial killer Brad Dourif. Serial killer Dourif who has a sidekick and doesn’t use a gun to kill his victims. My suspension of disbelief can go for the possessed doll out to kill those who wronged him, but a serial killer with a sidekick? It’s a more interesting story than a killer doll.

But the film also has some problems deciding what way it wants to go. The script can’t decide if it wants to convince the audience–or try to convince the audience–six year-old Alex Vincent has snapped and is talking to his doll and killing people… or if it’s the doll. The indecision doesn’t last long, but it does come after the rather literal opening where Dourif recites a spell while touching the doll. The trailer never has the money shot (the animated doll), but it certainly goes far towards suggesting it… so maybe theater-goers in 1988 knew what to expect. Given four sequels, even though I’d never seen the film before, it was hard to imagine it could have been anything but the doll.

The killer doll is maybe not the most ludicrous idea for a slasher movie, but Child’s Play isn’t really a slasher movie. The thriller elements play a lot more–down to the out-of-control speeding car going through Chicago–and Holland never lets Dourif (voicing the doll) go over the top, even after the doll’s got its own scenes. The special effects are great on it too.

Acting helps too. Dourif’s serial killer might not make much sense, but his performance is excellent. Sarandon’s solid as the cop (though I question his sweater for the opening shootout… it just doesn’t seem like something a movie cop would wear). Catherine Hicks is okay as Vincent’s disbelieving mother. She’s maybe the film’s weakest performance, especially since Dinah Manoff (as her friend) is so good. Young Vincent might not give the most soulful youth performance ever or anything, but he makes the film. It isn’t so much his dialogue, but how Holland directs him physically. It’s a strong performance.

Holland’s best scene comes at the end–there’s a quiet Halloween homage–and it’s worth the wait. Early in the film, Holland has to do a lot of sight gags to confuse the viewer (well, to create the impression of confusing the viewer), and he repeats them a few times… The film also cheats a lot, like why does Vincent have money to ride the ‘L’ or how does Hicks know where all the homeless hang out (she visits multiple places). The film skips over some of the post-murder stuff, just to create–first, in the viewer’s mind, then in the characters’–some suspicion Vincent is the guilty party. The omissions get obvious after a while.

But Child’s Play works. It’s not exactly scary or disquieting or uncanny… but it’s entertaining and suspenseful.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Tom Holland; screenplay by Don Mancini, John Lafia and Holland; director of photography, Bill Butler; edited by Roy E. Peterson and Edward Warschilka; music by Joe Renzetti; production designer, Daniel A. Lomino; produced by David Kirschner; released by United Artists.

Starring Catherine Hicks (Karen Barclay), Chris Sarandon (Mike Norris), Alex Vincent (Andy Barclay), Brad Dourif (Charles Lee Ray), Dinah Manoff (Maggie Peterson), Tommy Swerdlow (Jack Santos), Jack Colvin (Dr. Ardmore), Neil Giuntoli (Eddie Caputo), Juan Ramírez (Peddler) and Alan Wilder (Mr. Criswell).


Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the special edition

Joss Whedon has never met a cheap, cheesy one liner he didn’t like. He also feels the need to revise future technology based on modern developments (androids with wireless modems, which they would have had in the first Alien movies… except the lack of that technological possibility when said films were made). The first problem is an exceptional one (especially since he can’t go two minutes without one of those awful one liners), while the second one is just stupid. Alien: Resurrection is the first fanboy-written film. Its failure means it isn’t responsible for what came next (the utter eradication of quality science fiction or “genre” films from Hollywood), but it’s perfect foreshadowing. Even when it’s really bad, it’s no worse than the crap coming out today. With the exception of the bad CG, it’s probably even better.

The film–I watched the 2003 special edition–is actually all right for a bit at the beginning. Accepting the idea such an extraordinarily useless, artistically-soulless commercial venture can be all right, anyway. Then Winona Ryder and the crew of “Firefly” show up. Whedon essentially turned an Alien sequel into a pilot movie for his characters. Fine, whatever, it’s 115 minutes and there are some occasionally interesting moments… but I don’t like watching movies and pitying the actors. Watching Alien: Resurrection, one just has to pity Sigourney Weaver. It’s just terrible in parts. The other interesting thing about the pre-Ryder moments is Jeunet’s direction. Most of the film just looks dirty and green, but the beginning has some real Jeunet flourishes–which the new opening credits sequence illustrate well, even if the CG is cheap. While Brad Dourif’s got terrible dialogue, he, J.E. Freeman and Dan Hedaya really look like they belong in the film.

Alien: Resurrection being an acceptable waste of a couple hours comes mostly from the cast (there’s some effective scoring too, I suppose). Weaver does have some good moments–though it wasn’t until I watched the film this time, my fourth time in ten years, I realized Weaver and Ryder’s relationship was supposed to mirror the Ripley and Newt relationship from Aliens or something (yes, Joss Whedon is that incompetent). By the end, the good ones even outweigh the bad and embarrassing ones. Dourif’s not good, but Freeman and Hedaya are both excellent. Ron Perlman and Gary Dourdan are both saddled with terrible lines, but they’re fine. Michael Wincott and Kim Flowers are both really good (Flowers’s death scene is fantastic, the only effective death scene in a film with a dozen or more).

Alien³ is a film incapable of supporting a sequel, certainly one with Weaver anyway, but Resurrection isn’t as terrible as it could be, I suppose. It’d be much worse if it were made today. I remember when it bombed–after Fox spent a fortune making it–I realized no one had been really asking for another Alien movie. Fox was just trying to jump-start the franchise, a slur I’d never use against the Alien films. But there were comic books and toys and–really, Whedon seems like he learned how to write off of comic books, with no real understanding of how dialogue plays out off the page.

It’s an interesting film in parts, the way it’s made, some of what Jeunet does, but it’s so idiotically written–and I think that aspect is what makes it most like Hollywood films today, the absurdity of the writing being acceptable to someone who… can read–it doesn’t really matter. Even if it’s interesting, it’s still a stinky pile of crap.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet; written by Joss Whedon, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Herve Schneid; music by John Frizzell; production designer, Nigel Phelps; produced by Bill Badolato, Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Winona Ryder (Annalee Call), Dominique Pinon (Vriess), Ron Perlman (Johner), Gary Dourdan (Christie), Michael Wincott (Elgyn), Kim Flowers (Hillard), Dan Hedaya (General Perez), J.E. Freeman (Wren), Brad Dourif (Gediman), Raymond Cruz (Distephano) and Leland Orser (Purvis).


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