New World Pictures

House (1986, Steve Miner)

House has got technical failures, acting failures, plotting failures (sort of), but it also has the mystery of William Katt’s hair. In some scenes it’s the standard Katt blond, but in other scenes, it’s brown. Sometimes it’s dark brown. Sometimes it looks like a perm. And it never looks like a perm when Katt’s been wet, because–of course–whenever Katt gets wet, his hair’s immediately dry the next shot.

Sadly, the mystery of Katt’s hair color isn’t part of the film. It almost seems like it might be, when Katt decides not to finish brushing his teeth but to instead go investigate the haunted closet in the haunted house he’s living in. It’s all very silly. And not in a good way.

For a while, it seems like House might be silly in a good way. It’s never funny and it’s never scary. Problematic as the film’s supposedly a horror comedy. Or a comedic horror. Katt can’t act comedy, Miner can’t direct comedy, screenwriter Ethan Wiley technically does in fact write comedy, but it’s so bad co-star George Wendt can’t even make it work. In fact, he seems mildly confused at the film’s inability to land a joke.

Wendt’s still awful, regardless of his confusion. The more lines you have in House, the less likely you are to escape unscathed. A handful of actors make it out without embarrassing themselves. Mostly. And sort of Kay Lenz. Watching House, you feel bad for Kay Lenz. She’s part of the “joke,” which is kind of ick since she’s Katt’s ex-wife and they broke up because their son disappeared because the House ate him. Though, really, maybe it isn’t why she left Katt. Maybe I had already glazed over. Because they’re both kind of great considering their son disappeared. Lenz’s a successful nighttime soap star and Katt’s a horror author. Except he’s trying to write a book about his time in Vietnam with Bull from “Night Court” and Kevin Costner’s dad from Field of Dreams.

Sorry. The mind wanders when watching House; you can’t help but wish you were watching almost anything else with the actors involved.

Anyway, once the haunted house starts taunting Katt with his missing son, there’s a lot of Katt emoting. Some of it with blond hair, some of it with brown hair. Katt’s not good at the emoting. Katt’s not good at much, though he is able to wear a V-neck sweater down to his belly button and make it seem reasonable for his character. V-necks are at the beginning when House seems like it might be dumb fun.

But Katt trades in those deep v-necks for military fatigues. Starting when he rigs a bunch of camera to photograph the haunted house but then somehow never takes any pictures, not even ones of not haunted things. Wiley’s script has a lot of dumb moments. You don’t have to think hard to be thinking too hard for House.

Like when Katt calls the FBI to check in on his missing son and the FBI tells him to stop calling the CIA too.

Actually, the movie doesn’t start off with much promise of dumb fun. I’m wrong. Michael Ensign, in the third or fourth scene, kind of ruins any potential for fun. He’s desperately unfunny and the scene needs to be funny, because Katt can’t play straight man. Katt’s terrible when he mugs through a “comedy” sequence, but he’s even worse when he’s trying to be reasonable.

There’s nothing reasonable about House.

Also Katt’s really bad at his timing. Some of it is no doubt on Miner and editor Michael N. Knue, but a lot of it is Katt. He’s always late reacting to action or other actors.

Also bad is Harry Manfredini’s score. And Mac Ahlberg’s photography. Even if Katt really was dying his hair throughout filming and it’s not just Ahlberg shooting it poorly, the film would still be shot poorly.

The special effects design is good. The execution is iffy. Miner doesn’t know how to showcase any of it. Because it’s a bad movie–poorly made, poorly acted, poorly everything. Miner’s direction is a bust.

I haven’t even got time for the terrible Vietnam flashbacks. They’re also dumb. Because Wiley’s script is dumb. And the acting is bad. And the directing is worse. And they’re all obviously on sound stages because there’s never any sky, though who knows… it’s not like Miner knows how to compose a shot on location either.

As a horror movie, House gets a fail. As a comedy, it gets a fail. It’s never funny, it’s never scary. Successful comedy probably wouldn’t have helped (who’d have done it–just Wendt, I suppose–because never Katt), but successful horror might have been nice. Some danger would’ve been fine.

A lot of things would’ve been fine but no. House is never fine (much less very, very, very fine).

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Ethan Wiley, based on a story by Fred Dekker; director of photography, Mac Ahlberg; edited by Michael K. Knue; music by Harry Manfredini; production designer, Gregg Fonseca; produced by Sean S. Cunningham; released by New World Pictures.

Starring William Katt (Roger Cobb), George Wendt (Harold Gorton), Richard Moll (Big Ben), Kay Lenz (Sandy Sinclair), Mary Stavin (Tanya), Michael Ensign (Chet Parker), Susan French (Aunt Elizabeth), and Dwier Brown (Lieutenant).


The Stuff (1985, Larry Cohen)

According to IMDb, Larry Cohen cut about a half hour out of The Stuff. It’s entirely possible with that added footage, the movie might have made sense. As it’s cut now, it’s a somewhat diverting–at least until the third act–cross between The Blob and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Unfortunately, Cohen’s direction is weak throughout, so when he loses track of the story in the third act… there’s nothing to keep the film going.

As a satire, it’s only moderately successful. Cohen has a lot more success when he’s dealing in absurdity, like Paul Sorvino’s extremist militia leader who ends up saving the world. The way Cohen presents the character–clearly a nut job, but also one who genuinely cares about people and is completely ethical–is maybe the best thing about the film. It’s a small thing, but it just makes for some great scenes.

Sorvino’s not the lead though. Michael Moriarty is the lead. I’m not sure Moriarty could ever give a bad performance and he doesn’t here, he just doesn’t have a character arc. It seems like Cohen cut out the romance between Moriarty and Andrea Marcovicci, which is unfortunate. It would have given them both something to do when they weren’t doing the horror scenes.

I was a little surprised by Cohen’s bad direction, since it’s pervasive. The budget contributes to some of the problems, but certainly not all of them.

Garrett Morris is wasted, as is Danny Aiello.

Anthony Guefen’s goofy music doesn’t help.

Still, never boring.

1/4

CREDITS

Written and directed by Larry Cohen; director of photography, Paul Glickman; edited by Armond Lebowitz; music by Anthony Guefen; produced by Paul Kurta; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Michael Moriarty (David ‘Mo’ Rutherford), Andrea Marcovicci (Nicole), Garrett Morris (‘Chocolate Chip’ Charlie W. Hobbs), Paul Sorvino (Colonel Malcolm Grommett Spears), Scott Bloom (Jason), Danny Aiello (Vickers) and Patrick O’Neal (Fletcher).


Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988, Tony Randel)

So, Hellbound is a British production, but it dubs over the British cops (who are dressed like American cops and carry guns and don’t know how to use them–because they’re British?) with American accents. It’s a lame decision and one of the few gaffs in the film not related to the story itself.

Even with Christopher Young’s really overbearing score, the film’s at least somewhat successful, if only because half of it plays a little like Tron in hell. It also features a decently plotted story this time, with plot progression and so on.

Unfortunately, it makes absolutely no sense in the context of the first film (and not just because it starts immediately following the first film, which ended with a house burning down, with the house still intact). It’s also never clear what happens to the Hellraiser box from the first movie.

Anyway….

The really confusing elements come about halfway through, when resurrected (and strangely top-billed) Clare Higgins has superpowers. Then she reveals she’s on a mission from hell to recruit souls but she does a really bad job of it, only getting one and she can’t even bring him to hell, she needs mute Imogen Boorman to do it. Kind of.

Boorman’s character arc is an example of the best thing about Hellbound. It’s implied evil doctor Kenneth Cranham (who apparently is a supervillain out to take over hell) kills Boorman’s mother just so he can perform brain surgery on her, but never made clear.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tony Randel; screenplay by Peter Atkins, based on a story by Clive Barker; director of photography, Robin Vidgeon; edited by Richard Marden; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Michael Buchanan; produced by Christopher Figg; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Clare Higgins (Julia Cotton), Ashley Laurence (Kirsty Cotton), Kenneth Cranham (Dr. Philip Channard), Imogen Boorman (Tiffany), Sean Chapman (Frank Cotton), William Hope (Kyle MacRae), Doug Bradley (Lead Cenobite), Barbie Wilde (Female Cenobite), Simon Bamford (Butterball Cenobite), Nicholas Vince (Chatterer Cenobite), Oliver Smith (Browning) and Angus MacInnes (Detective Ronson).


Hellraiser (1987, Clive Barker)

So, Hellraiser is supposed to be scary, right?

Because it seems like a poorly directed, completely illogical (if a wall split open in front of you, would you walk into it?) mess. It’s only ninety-four minutes, including credits, but it’s this exceptionally boring “scary” movie. The scariest thing in the movie might be the off-screen clean-up of the maggot-infested kitchen. It’s the scariest idea in the movie, anyway.

Someone, somewhere, has got to have come up with a theory about Hellraiser‘s rather negative view of heterosexual sex in relation to Barker’s homosexuality. But I can’t muster the interest to look it up. His romantic scenes between Ashley Laurence and Robert Hines are awful. Hines isn’t the worst actor in the film, but he’s close, so he doesn’t help anything.

Laurence is okay. She’s not particularly good, but not bad either. Clare Higgins and Oliver Smith are terrible. Only Andrew Robinson is good. He’s really good, but it’s Andrew Robinson and he’s always been really good and Hellraiser does give him some opportunity to flex. It’s not worth sitting through it to wait for him to have his best scenes, but he is good.

Barker opens the movie with a really gross skin pulling scene, which kind of makes everything subsequent–which tends to be a lot tamer–not so eerie or scary. Christopher Young’s music, which I think is supposed to lend mood, doesn’t help either. It’s a terrible score.

Hellraiser‘s much worse than I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Clive Barker; screenplay by Barker, based on his novella; director of photography, Robin Vidgeon; edited by Richard Marden; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Michael Buchanan; produced by Christopher Figg; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Andrew Robinson (Larry), Clare Higgins (Julia), Ashley Laurence (Kirsty), Sean Chapman (Frank), Oliver Smith (Frank the Monster), Robert Hines (Steve), Anthony Allen (1st Victim), Leon Davis (2nd Victim), Michael Cassidy (3rd Victim) and Frank Baker (Derelict).


Humanoids from the Deep (1980, Barbara Peters)

Maybe it’s James Horner’s score–which is solid, if a little too Jaws inspired–but if you squint your eyes and turn off your brain, Humanoids from the Deep almost seems like a real movie. It’s not, of course, it’s a New World picture.

It’s got to be hard for a film to waste Doug McClure, but this one does. McClure’s phoning it in so much here, the scenes with him and the infant son are funny. Oddly, the scene where he and wife Cindy Weintraub go looking for their dog, holding hands, works rather well.

Vic Morrow’s the bad guy until the monsters show up and he’s fine. Anthony Pena is really good as Morrow’s nemesis (a well-meaning Native American). Ann Turkel’s hilariously bad as the scientist who has all the answers about the monsters.

The monsters themselves are almost well-designed (Rob Bottin designed them). At times, they almost look good, and then Peters gives them a full reveal (or maybe whoever shot all the gore and nudity gives them a full reveal) and it’s silly. The premise–monsters who mate with human females–is trashy, but the film’s pretty mellow.

It’s kind of slow, but not in a bad way–until the last couple scenes, it seems like it’s going to end better than it should. I think I may have seen it before, but maybe not–I would have remembered the carnival, which goes unmentioned until it’s clear the monsters are going to attack it.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Barbara Peters; screenplay by William Martin, based on a story by Frank Arnold and Martin B. Cohen; director of photography, Daniel Lacambre; edited by Mark Goldblatt; music by James Horner; produced by Cohen and Roger Corman; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Jim Hill), Ann Turkel (Dr. Susan Drake), Vic Morrow (Hank Slattery), Cindy Weintraub (Carol Hill), Anthony Pena (Johnny Eagle), Denise Galik (Linda Beale), Lynn Theel (Peggy Larson), Meegan King (Jerry Potter), Breck Costin (Tommy Hill), Hoke Howell (Deke Jensen), Don Maxwell (Dickie Moore), David Strassman (Billy), Greg Travis (Mike Michaels, Radio Announcer) and Linda Shayne (Sandy, Miss Salmon).


Piranha (1978, Joe Dante)

More than anything else, I think Pino Donaggio’s score sets Piranha apart. Initially, anyway. The film’s a very self-aware Roger Corman Jaws “homage,” but Donaggio’s score very quickly establishes it on firm ground. The score’s delicate, without any spoof-related cynicism (there’s no attempt to mimic the famous Jaws theme, Donaggio has some piranha attack music, but uses the score differently), and rather lovely in parts. With the score opening the door, Piranha‘s other singular elements come through.

Director Joe Dante and writer John Sayles maintain some of the Jaws mores, but quickly go their own way. The scale of Piranha is much smaller and it’s hard to believe how much time Dante and Sayles can get out of the story. There’s the pre-titles prologue (the biggest Jaws rip), but then Piranha immediately changes gears. The film’s got a constant sense of dread–something Dante does really well, especially for the scenes at the summer camp–and it’s difficult to notice the low budget aspects after a while, just because the film’s so ruthless in who the piranhas get. The scene at the summer camp is fantastic; the wholesale piranha attacks on the campers is startling. That scene alone puts Piranha on its own, in terms of cinema.

The film does have some playful elements, mostly at the beginning. There’s some good stop motion work from Phil Tippett; it doesn’t go anywhere and just serves to kill some running time, but it’s well done and a fine time passer. The rest of the film mostly gets its humor from Paul Bartel as the summer camp director. He’s a complete jackass and his scenes do provide a little relief.

It’s hard to say what’s more important for the film, Dante’s direction or Sayles’s script. The film looks so much like a Joe Dante picture–with Dick Miller, Kevin McCarthy and the stop motion tangent–he seems the easy answer. But Sayles doesn’t just bring a fine attention to turning the little scenes with throwaway dialogue into real scenes (I’m thinking most of the scenes with Melody Thomas Scott and Shannon Collins, but also the even shorter water skiing scene), his pacing also makes the film work. There’s a break in the action during the second act, when the piranha attacks cease for about ten minutes (in a ninety-some minute picture, ten is a lot). Sayles is able to turn the dread to eleven here, with the summer camp attack then realizing it. But it’s Dante who makes that attack so visceral and affecting.

It’s complicated.

The acting’s decent–Bradford Dillman’s a solid lead, Heather Menzies is fine as the private investigator (though it’s unclear why her boss, a good Richard Deacon, doesn’t trust her). McCarthy, Miller and Keenan Wynn are, no shock, the best. Thomas Scott and fellow camp counselor Belinda Balaski are both good.

I think I’ve seen Piranha before, but it’s been ten or eleven years and I barely remember it if I did. It’s a lot better than I thought it would be; it seems to be overlooked and under-appreciated, regarded as a trifle instead of a credible film. It’s certainly the latter.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by John Sayles, based on a story by Richard Robinson and Sayles; director of photography, Jamie Anderson; edited by Dante and Mark Goldblatt; music by Pino Donaggio; produced by Jon Davison; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Bradford Dillman (Paul Grogan), Heather Menzies (Maggie McKeown), Kevin McCarthy (Dr. Robert Hoak), Keenan Wynn (Jack), Dick Miller (Buck Gardner), Barbara Steele (Dr. Mengers), Belinda Balaski (Betsy), Melody Thomas Scott (Laura Dickinson), Bruce Gordon (Colonel Waxman), Barry Brown (Trooper), Paul Bartel (Mr. Dumont), Shannon Collins (Suzie Grogan), Shawn Nelson (Whitney) and Richard Deacon (Earl Lyon).


The Punisher (1989, Mark Goldblatt)

Back in the late 1980s, The Punisher was part of that period’s comic book movie wave. Most of these films had little to do with Batman’s success and most of them failed, both commercially and artistically. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, of course, succeeded financially. Watching this Punisher film (I have no interest in the new one) again–I’ve seen it multiple times, as the teenager looking for the action film where cars inexplicably blow up, and again as an adult, when it came out on DVD–I noticed just how much of it did succeed. The key to The Punisher is forgiveness. One has to forgive the bad opening credits (with tinted action shots from the film), the direction, and the music. Once those three factors are forgiven, and the viewer can accept the film as a 1980s action film, The Punisher can offer a lot… really. Well, at the least, it can offer quite a bit.

Director Mark Goldblatt edited a number of 1980s action films–The Terminator and Commando–and The Punisher is a well-edited action film. It’s Goldblatt’s direction. He doesn’t know how to frame a shot, doesn’t know how to move a camera, doesn’t know how to direct actors. His previous directing experience including second-unit work on Robocop and it shows in The Terminator. There are some very Robocop-influenced shots in the film… The lack of good framing hurts The Punisher the most (except the terrible score), since there’s only one bad principal performance–Nancy Everhard is way too spunky. The rest of the performances are good. Jeroen Krabbé is particularly excellent in the film–oh, another problem with the film, though it’s not really its fault–the costumes, bad 1980s jackets and such. Sorry. Krabbé wears a terrible denim jacket at the end and I couldn’t let it go. But anyway, he’s great as the crime boss. Louis Gossett Jr. is great as well, as the Punisher’s old partner. As for Dolph… Dolph’s pretty good. He’s not great (his accent breaks in at a few inopportune moments), but he’s got a few great scenes in the film, particularly when he’s working with kids and he and Gossett have a good scene together. He also manages to deliver the Punisher sound bites well.

There’s a certain amount of right-headedness working for the film. The wrong-headedness, which runs rampant of course, includes the Punisher running around with Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum. It looks really silly. The film works because of the writing. Boaz Yakin has probably dropped the credit from his filmography (maybe not though, I mean, Dirty Dancing 2 is on there), but it’s a well-constructed script. The film moves fast (though it’s not particularly engaging for much of the middle), slowing down for the occasional action sequence, but Yakin gives the characters some meat, particularly Gossett’s. He lets Gossett tell a character-defining story, a device I always like. Given how much Garth Ennis’s relatively recent (three years?) handling of the Punisher character has changed my view of the character, its limits and its possibilities, Yakin does a great job. The film puts the Punisher alone a lot, something comic book movies have never been comfortable doing, and it works out. Lundgren does make some silly expressions, but the emphasis (and his performance) work out, overall.

There are fifteen more minutes of The Punisher out there (I always expected a special edition DVD to tie-in to the recent adaptation, but it never happened) and they might be what the film needs–more scenes without guns. The film’s a difficult proposition in the first place and the handling of it, given its era and the budget and the cast and crew, has a lot of problems. So its relative successes become prominent. They make it a memorable film, which is odd–remembering a Dolph Lundgren film because it works… to a degree.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Goldblatt; written by Boaz Yakin, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru; director of photography, Ian Baker; edited by Tim Wellburn; music by Dennis Dreith; production designer, Norma Moriceau; produced by Robert Mark Kamen; released by New World Pictures.

Starring Dolph Lundgren (Frank Castle), Louis Gossett Jr. (Jake Berkowitz), Jeroen Krabbé (Gianni Franco), Kim Miyori (Lady Tanaka), Bryan Marshall (Dino Moretti), Nancy Everhard (Sam Leary), Barry Otto (Shake), Brian Rooney (Tommy Franco) and Zoshka Mizak (Tanaka’s Daughter).


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