Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) - Review

Going by the cinema today all ghosts are trying to possess you, drive you mad, or drag you to hell if not all three. This was not always the case. In 1945 author Josephine Leslie under the pseudonym of R. A. Dick penned a beautiful story about a widow and a ghost and their bitter sweet relationship over the years, and even before it saw a North American distribution its film rights were optioned by 20th Century Fox.


The Ghost and Mrs. Muir follows Mrs. Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) a young widow and mother of daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) as she decides to strike out on her own, much to the consternation of her in-laws. Lucy Muir is a strong and independent woman who clearly hasn’t enjoyed her year of mourning in the house of her mother in law and sister in law so after a brief argument she, along with her daughter Anna and Martha their housekeeper (Edna Best), they leave for the lovely seaside town of Whitecliff.

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The ever radiant Gene Tierney.

Her only income is from shares from a gold mine owned by her late husband and as the dividends from these shares are not much she needs to find a very affordable place. Lucky for her rent on haunted cottages are low. The rental agent tries to dissuade her from seeing the place but she insists and when eerie laughter chases them both out it seems at first that he may have been right. Of course Mrs. Muir is made of sterner stuff than that and she quickly decides that Gull Cottage will suit her just fine.  Ghost and all.

Captain Gregg 
Who wouldn’t be okay with a ghost like this?

Now this is the first instance when I thought, “Don’t you have a daughter to think about?” You may be cool with roaring laughter out of the dark but what of your little girl? This leads to my one and only criticism of the film and that is in the character of Anna, though sweetly played by a young  Natalie Wood she is constantly forgotten by the screenplay. Anna is more a roommate you hardly see than a daughter. When Mrs. Muir finally comes face to face with the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) they quickly come to an arrangement that he will refrain from haunting anywhere in the house but the master bedroom, where it just so happens she sleeps of course, and that Anna is too young to see ghosts so Captain Gregg will not contact her. Thus Anna vanishes from the bulk of the film.

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Anna seen here praying her mother doesn’t forget she exists.

Things seem great and Lucy finds herself becoming quite fond of the Captain despite his coarse language and penchant for watching her undress, but then storm clouds appear on the horizon in the form of the gold mine drying up. Her in-laws show up to take her back to London because she can no longer support herself or her daughter, but Captain Gregg implores Lucy to turn them down assuring her that he will think of something. She does and Captain Gregg throws the two busybodies out of the house.

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Ghost Writer.

Captain Gregg’s brilliant plan is that he will narrate to Lucy his life story and that it will be published as “The unvarnished life of a seaman.” Writing takes time so Lucy is forced to sell her jewels so that they can eat and Daniel vows to chase of any solicitors that try and kick them out for not paying rent. This is a definitely a brilliant plan. The only real hurdle now is getting a publisher to read it as women authors are looked down upon for the most part. Enter Miles Fairley (George Sanders).

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Smooth talking George Sanders.

Mr. Fairley is an author who writes children’s books under the pen name “Uncle Neddie” and he is immediately captivated by Mrs. Muir as one would because Gene Tierney is exotically beautiful and one can’t help but be entranced by her. He lets Lucy have his appointment with the publisher who is at first wants nothing to do with her manuscript but when he does eventually read it he falls in love with the book. It looks like smooth sailing.

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Until jealousy rears it’s ugly head.

Unfortunately Captain Gregg doesn’t like the cut of Fairley’s jib and tells Lucy that he is a “Perfumed parlor snake.” Now earlier Daniel told Lucy that there can be no relationship between a ghost and the living and that a woman as young and as beautiful as she should be out meeting people and falling in love, so this apparent jealousy over Miles Fairley has her confused. Eventually the tensions gets worse as Lucy and Miles become closer.  Eventually a final argument between Daniel and Lucy over her dating habits leads to the ghost exiting her life. Captain Gregg stands over a sleeping Lucy and with whatever ghost mojo he has makes her believe that he has been nothing but a dream and that she in fact wrote the book on her own.

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Sleeping Beauty.

Not surprisingly Lucy shortly finds out that Miles is married with children and that he has done this sort of thing before. Heartbroken she retreats to Gull Cottage where she and Martha spend their years alone as Anna (remember her, the daughter?) has gone off to college and to eventually marries. Finally on a dark night, old and grey haired Lucy retires to her room with a glass of milk, provided by the ever faithful Martha, and she passes quietly away. Captain Gregg appears and lifts the youthful spirit of Lucy Muir out of her chair and the two walk off together into the afterlife.

The End 
*sniff*

I have seen this movie a half dozen times and I tear up at that ending every damn time. This is a story about two souls perfect for each other but who unfortunately meet when it’s too late for one of them. Gene Tierney’s Lucy Muir is a complex and interesting character; she is strong, willful and could easily be called an early feminist, but her Achilles heel is romance. She married her first husband after reading a romance novel and then one kiss in the garden later she was “In love.” Early in the film Captain Gregg calls her out on not ever being in love with her late husband and she can’t deny it. Then she falls for the oily charm of Miles Fairley when it’s clear that his romantic patter is just a game, one he has played before. It’s the acting skills of Gene Tierney that make us love Mrs. Muir despite her faults, so we just sit back waiting for the time when she can be with Daniel, her true soul mate.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was made during the heyday of the studio system and with the great Joseph L. Mankiewicz at the helm, as well as being scored by music master Bernard Herrmann it is no surprise this movie turned out as good as it did. The chemistry between Tierney and Harrison makes this one of my all-time favorite love stories, that it is about a ghost as well just makes it a bonus.

The Cave Girl: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Men of great deeds and action who, with noble purposes at heart, let none stand in their way as their mighty physiques carve a path to victory; this best describes your standard Edgar Rice Burroughs protagonist and is what really sets The Cave Girl apart from most of Burroughs’s books as the hero of this story does not start out all that heroic. Originally published as two stories; the first entitled “The Cave Girl” saw print in 1913 in the magazine All-Story and its sequel entitled “The Cave Man” was printed 1917 in the pages of All-Story Weekly and the tale of hapless Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones is a fascinating departure for Burroughs…well a little departure.

Our story begins on the storm swept beach of a jungle island where Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones finds himself after being swept overboard during a storm. Due to his failing health, and advice from his doctor, he took an ocean voyage in the hopes of turning around his lifelong ill health. Things did not go as planned. Now poor Waldo isn’t your typical castaway of romantic fiction, no this gentleman is of Boston Blue Blood and hasn’t worked a day in his life, spending most his time nose buried in books of esoteric learning and nothing with much practical application. Also Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones is a coward. These are not ideal characteristic for survival in a danger infested jungle.

Yet Waldo does survive, even though he spends his first days cowering in fear and racked by his ever persistent cough. Then one day, eyes red from crying, he reaches the end of his emotional tether and chargers screaming into the jungle hoping that the dark figure that was been spying on him will end his pitiful existence. Its then that Waldo discovers that the inhabitants of the island are Neanderthalic throwbacks to a bygone age. With luck, and a little help from a beautiful cave girl, Waldo survives his first encounter with the cruel and brutal savages. Later he learns that the girl, Nadara, believes Waldo to be great hero because he openly slept on the beach without fear of the great panther Nagoola (he of course had no idea he was in danger from local wildlife) and misinterpreted his panicked screaming charge of terror for war cries. It’s Nadara’s woodcraft and knowledge of the island that keeps Waldo alive but when he finds out that she is bringing him back to her village so that he can kill the two fearsome cavemen, who rule her people through savage brutality, he balks and makes a run for it.

As I said this is not your typical Burroughs protagonist; Waldo is a weak, sniveling coward that lets a sweet primitive girl believe him to be some great badass when he is quite the opposite, and then ditches her when things get scary. But this is of course a pulp adventure story so Waldo will eventually step up and do the right thing. Living on his own Waldo quickly finds himself feeling physically better than he has even been in his life and with his cough is gone he proceeds to start a physical regimen that will get him into shape that will allow him to return to Nadara and somehow make his earlier cowardice right.

With the new name of Thandor, meaning Brave One, Waldo starts to turn things around and becomes the hero he never thought he would be. He fights and kills many of the cave dwellers as well as the deadly panther, and soon the name Thandor becomes one to be reckoned with.
So The Cave Girl is kind of like Robinson Crusoe and his Girl Friday only Waldo was in much worse starting position than what Mister Crusoe was in. This is a fun and entertaining read as we make the heroes journey along with Waldo and his lovely cave girl; filled with headhunters, pirates and earthquakes The Cave Girl earns a top spot on in the Burroughs archives.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Constantine (2014) Pilot

It’s been many years since John Constantine first wandered into the pages of Alan Moore’s run of Swamp Thing and to eventually become the longest running Vertigo title and certainly one of the most popular. His take no shit from any tosser of demon attitude as well as his very questionable moral standings has made him easily the most interesting characters to appear in comic books and no small reason for his popularity. In 2005 Warner Brothers brought Constantine to the big screen but instead of a smart ass Britt working the occult side of London England we were saddled with Keanu Reeves fighting demons in Los Angles, though not a terrible movie it certainly was a little disheartening to fans of the comic.


Flash forward to 2014 and another attempt to bring Constantine to life only this time to the small screen. Shows like Supernatural and American Horror Story have proven there is a market for horror on television and that the only danger is on how far the show runners are willing or able to go. As a network show there are definite limitations so you’re not going to see the gore and sexuality of say something like you get in an episode of Penny Dreadful, but already in the pilot we see that this Constantine is pretty watered down even by regular television standards.

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The pilot was directed by Neil Marshall so that gave us some hope but as David Goyer is also attached as one of the writers that hope faded rather quickly. The show opens with John Constantine (Matt Ryan) having committed himself to a hospital for the mentally ill for the apparent purpose of having the medical field prove to him that demons don’t exist. You see something really bad went down resulting in a young girl being yanked down to hell were her soul is now damned forever and I guess Constantine would rather think himself crazy than culpable. This is pretty idiotic. Not that a hero with a tortured has dark past that he wants to forget, no that is pretty standard stuff, but burying your head in the sand via nuthouse is just stupid. It makes Constantine out to be either a coward or stupid…or both.

Just as he is settling into group therapy he is yanked out of retirement by a possessed patient, a woman possessed by the soul of dead friend of Constantine’s. It seems this dead friend has a daughter that is in danger; a nasty demon from the inner circle of Hell is after her.

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“Noooooooooooo!”

She is of course in the United States so good all John Constantine must cross the Atlantic and save the Network a bundle on shooting locations. The damsel in question is Liv Aberdine (Lucy Griffiths) and our introduction to her is watching her pull a can of pepper spray on Constantine after she was almost swallowed by a fiery sink hole. Yeah it’s a stupid as it sounds, you see while leaving work her car starts acting up before dying completely, then the power goes out in the parking lot, next the ground begins to cracking open and then suddenly collapsing into a huge fiery pit and that is when Constantine shows up in a cab and her reaction is to aim a can of pepper spray at him as if he could somehow be responsible for these events. This is classic lazy screenwriting 101. False conflict is not dramatic Mister Goyer, it’s just lame.

Constantine - Season Pilot 
“I find dead people.”

So it seems that Liv has inherited some of her father’s abilities and with a magical pendant in hand she can see that dead and because of this some high ranking demon wants her dead. With the help of cabbie an apparently immortal Chas Chandler (Charles Halford) Constantine must do battle with the forces of Hell all the while being harassed by the angel Manny (Harold Perrineau) who wants Constantine’s’ help in the coming apocalypse. Is it me or is Manny a really stupid name for an angel?

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“I’m the angel on your shoulder.”

So that’s the set-up for the show, will helping the angels fight the legions of Hell save John’s soul which apparently got damned for his failure to save the little girl? Will Liv use her abilities as a scrivener to help in Constantine’s fight? Will the show’s producers allow John Constantine to light up a cigarette or are we stuck watching him constantly play with his fucking lighter? Will any or all of these questions be answered before this show is cancelled? Answer: Doubtful.

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“Flame on!”

Now the show isn’t without merit, Matt Ryan does a fine job with the script given, the look of the show is decent and the effects around the magic side of things are excellent, if only it all just didn’t seem so tepid. John Constantine is suppose to be a right bastard and this show has given us a Diet Coke version of him with a clichéd backstory and uninteresting supporting cast. Of course this is just the pilot so who knows maybe they’ll turn it around before it joins the ranks of the damned.
Constantine (2014)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Many Faces of Godzilla

Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond have each been portrayed by several actors and with vastly differing styles but to me Godzilla stands above all as being the most varied movie icon of all time. So today we take a look back across the ages at the many incarnations of Godzilla to see what makes him The King of the Monsters.

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Gojira (1954)

In answer to the popularity of such creations as King Kong (1933) and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Japan gave us Gojira (Godzilla for American audiences) but this Toho monster movie was of a much darker tone than its predecessors. This move was a nuclear fueled allegory for the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki focusing on man’s responsibility when it comes to creating weapons of mass destruction. The film is full of haunting images of people fleeing from the creature’s atomic fire or later dying from radiation poisoning. Such bleak elements are pretty much abandoned in the later films.

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Don’t cry, we’ll be with daddy soon, just a few more minutes and we’ll be with daddy again.

Unable to match the effects budget of films like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms Toho Studios decided to forgo the costly stop motion process in favor of the man in a suit technique and this is probably the weakest element in the 1954 film as even though the rampaging action is great some of the shots of Godzilla’s head are a bit goofy in its puppety way.

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“Hey, you guuuuuys!”

The Shōwa series (1954 -1975)  With but a few exceptions the Godzilla films of this era are as divorced from the original as one can imagine. Gone is the dark shadow of Hiroshima and is replaced with a Godzilla who though still a rampaging monster that causes untold destruction he has become a bit more light-hearted and up to a point even reaches anti-hero status. In many cases he is a savior of mankind as he battles creatures such as Ghidorah, the Three Headed Monster an alien menace and a greater threat to the world. If you thought Godzilla looked a bit goofy in some shots in the original those moments are nothing compared to his “Victory Dance” after defeating King Ghidorah in Invasion of the Asto-Monster.


It’s hard to tremble in awe and terror before a giant behemoth if said behemoth is doing an Irish jig. Now I’m not saying there were no dark moments during the Shōwa years as some of his battles got down right bloody with arterial spray going everywhere, and in films like Godzilla vs Hedorah (aka The Smog Monster) we see toxic sludge killing countless people including babies, yes babies! Of course moments like that are kind of undercut by shots of Godzilla holding his tail and rocketing through the sky.

Godzill Vs Hedorah 
“Dignity, always dignity!”

In 1977 Marvel Comics got the licensing rights to publish a Godzilla: King of the Monsters comic and in this 24 issue run pitted Godzilla against various foes from the Marvel Universe with “Dum Dum” Dugan Agent of S.H.E.I.L.D. tasked with bringing him down. In most cases Godzilla is portrayed as the lesser of two evils and as in the case of the Shōwa years he is more a reluctant hero than a villainous monster. It also leads to one of the greatest moments in the history of Godzilla where everyone’s favorite atomic lizard is shrunk and sneaks around New York City in a trench coat and hat.
Godzilla shrunk 
“Leapin’lizards!”

Godzilla: The Animated Series (1978-1981) was co-produced by Toho and Hanna-Barbera Productions and pushed Godzilla even further into full on good-guy status. The show followed a group of scientists who travelled around the world via a hydrofoil research vessel, investigated strange events that were usually monster related, and whenever they got into a jam the Captain would press a button that would summon Godzilla.
This cartoon is most known for bringing the world Godzooki who is basically this shows Scooby-Doo as he’s a smaller version of Godzilla but there mainly for slapstick comedy. Godzooki was for those who didn’t think Godzilla’s son Minya was annoying enough.  Watching the show one wonders if they called Godzilla for anything else but rescuing, I know that if I had a button that called Godzilla I’d be using it all the goddam time.

The Heisei series (1984–1995) It is in 1984 that we get his first big reboot in which we are told to ignore all the sequels that came before and that The Return of Godzilla is a direct sequel to the 1954 original. Back is the destructive Godzilla and also back are the darker themes and tone.  In this series we also start getting some really boss Godzilla suits and he takes on some really amazing adversaries such as the new and improved Mechagodzilla, Space Godzilla and my favorite being the awesome plant monster Biolante. Who can but love a creature created from combining Godzilla’s cells with genetically mutated plants and the soul of the scientist’s dead daughter.

biolante 
Godzilla vs Biolante is mad science at its best.

The Millennium series (1999–2004) This series is interesting as almost all of them are stand-alone reboots. Each film, with the exception of Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. is considered a direct sequel to the 1954 original.  These movies are much in the same vein of the Heisei series as Godzilla is still a terrible force that plagues mankind but when something nastier comes along its lucky for mankind that Godzilla is around to kick its ass. For me the stand out in this series is Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack where it is discovered that Godzilla is imbued with lost souls of World War II and who are angered that their sacrifices have been forgotten.  Now they want to destroy Japan.

Evil Eyes 
He’s got those Evil Dead eyes.

Enter Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich with their CGI travesty. There aren’t many good things that can be said about the 1998 Godzilla film; Matthew Broderick was horribly miscast, Maria Pitillo as the ex-girlfriend was beyond annoying, and the creature itself just wasn’t Godzilla. And I’m not saying that because it wasn’t a man in the suit but because it just wasn’t Godzilla.

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Godzilla (1998)

The design was more angry iguana than atomic fueled dinosaur, and he didn’t fucking breathe fire! If you have found yourself making a Godzilla film where at no point does he unleash atomic fire on his enemies you have made a grave mistake and should retire to making romantic comedies about fish.

Sixteen years later Gareth Edwards shows the world you can do a decent CGI Godzilla.

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Godzilla (2014)

Now in 2014 Godzilla has Hollywood going for the millionth reboot in the franchise to see if maybe they can get it right this time. Taking a page out of the Millennium series they depict Godzilla as a violent force of nature and then pit him against some other giant nasty monsters. There is something in this film about an EOD soldier trying to get home to his wife and kid, and who occasionally runs into some of the giant monster action, but really who cares about that shit when we have Godzilla smack downs to watch. In this film we may not get a lot of monster on monster action but what we do get is pretty damn spectacular and certainly has me eager to see the next installment in the Legendary Godzilla series.

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So there you have it, a quick look at the history of everyone’s favorite atomic lizard; he started out as an allegory for the dangers of nuclear weapons, drifted into some series goofy camp stuff, and then took a long trip back to being a dangerous badass. Here’s hoping for sixty more years of Godzilla!

 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Child of Glass (1978)

Not all ghosts are hell-bent on dragging poor mortals to their deaths some just want to find peace after roaming the spectral plain for ages; this is the kind of ghost we find in Disney’s Child of Glass a made-for-television movie based on the book The Ghost Belonged to Me by acclaimed Young Adult author Richard Peck.

Young Alexander Armsworth (Steve Shaw) finds his life uprooted when his family moves to a large antebellum mansion in the heart of Louisiana. His mom (Barbara Barrie) is more concerned with getting the place in shape for her big party, and social event of the season, than what shenanigans her youngest child is getting up to. When Alexander is visited by the ghost of Inez Dumaine (Olivia Barash) the problems of the chores and a bossy sister fall to the wayside. It seems this sweet creole girl was murdered by a river pirate because she wouldn’t reveal where the family treasure was hidden, and murder wasn’t even enough for the bastard as he cursed her as well, causing her to forever roam the plantation after death.
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Alexander and Blossom Culp.

Aiding our young hero is a local girl from the wrong side of tracks, Blossom Culp (Katy Kurtzman). She insists that Alexander is gifted, information she got from her palm reading Aunt Lavina (Nina Foch)  and that only Alexander will be able to help Inez find the rest she desires. And of course the ghost has a time table; her curse must be lifted by midnight on All Hallows’ Eve which gives Alexander and Blossom only two days to solve the riddle that will release Inez from her Earthly bonds, “Sleeping lies the murdered lass, vainly calls the child of glass. When the two shall be as one, the spirit’s journey will be done.” 

In the barn with a ghost 
Someone should inform ghosts that information via riddles isn’t all that helpful.

Because solving a riddle to ease the suffering of a tortured soul isn’t enough for a young boy to handle the movie tosses in drunken handy man Amory Timmons (Anthony Zerbe) who he gets fired for repeatedly drinking on the job. To get revenge on this “unjust firing” Amory decides to burn the barn down but unfortunately for him Alexander was inside chatting with Inez at the time and witnesses the crime. Amory chases after Alexander who tries to hide in an old work shed and ends up hiding too well by falling into…a well.

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What good is a kid’s movie without a dangerous drunk?

Of course Alexander will be rescued, Amory apprehended, the riddle solved, the treasure found, and Inez will be reunited with her family in the afterlife. As ghost stories go it is not one to send shivers down the spine of any but the youngest viewers and as a mystery it kind of falls flat as well. What does work is the child actors who are both quite engaging, especially Katy Kurtzman as Blossom. There were three other books written by Richard Peck featuring Blossum Culp and I for one would have liked to have seen those made into movies as well.

Ghost belonged to me book cover

Speaking of the novel there quite a few differences from the book to the movie; the book takes place in the year 1913 while the Disney movie is a contemporary piece, the “riddle” that Inez gives Alexander in the book is a premonition of disaster which he is able to avert and becomes a bit of a celebrity, and what releases Inez from her ghostly haunts is the standard “find her remains and bury them properly” schtick which actually makes more sense than the way it was handled in the movie which was she just needed her doll back.  Though to be fair it was a really nice doll.

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Note: Inez’s dog was not cursed just loyal from beyond the grave.

Disney’s Child of Glass is a sweet and entertaining ghost/mystery story well worth a watch though tracking a copy could be a bit tricky, but I do highly recommend going to your local library and checking out the book.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Pumpkinhead (1988)

When you think of iconic movie monsters you have Frankenstein’s monster, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, the xenomorph from Alien and the alien hunter from Predator, just to name a few, and the last one I mentioned was a creation of the late great creature effects genius Stan Winston. In a career spanning over forty years of movie making his creatures have instilled awe and horror in countless moviegoers, but before passing on to the great make-up studio in the sky he did try his hand at directing and while doing so brought us another great iconic monster, Pumpkinhead.

Pumpkinhead is a strange mixture as horror films go; on the one hand it has this Grimm’s fairy tale aspect of this demonic monster being brought forth to avenge a wrong and then on the other hand we get the slasher movie aspect of young city kids coming into the woods to get butchered. It’s as if the film has a split personality.

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Tonight’s therapist.

The movie begins with a 1957 prologue where the residents of the backwoods cower in their homes as a dark force stalks their little community. Someone has called forth a demon to get revenge for a killing. We never find out who called forth this demon, or the details of the supposed murder, but we do see that once the creature is on your trail you will die, and die horribly. Young Ed Harley witnesses this and it certainly leaves an impression on him.

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Yep, that will stick with you.

Jump ahead to the present and Ed Harley (Lance Henriksen) runs the local grocery store for this backwoods community and is the single parent to cute as a button Billy Harley (Matthew Hurley). Ed is a widower who truly loves his son and it is their interactions during the first act of the movie that really set the stage for the horror that is to follow. You can totally believe that if someone was to harm that sweet child that Ed Harley would not take such an act lying down, and then when a bunch of young city folk larking about cause Billy’s death we completely understand Ed’s rage and hate. Now would I personally call forth dark powers to rain death and destruction upon those I deem guilty? No, but that’d be mainly because of my innate cowardice and laziness and not from any moral high ground.

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World’s most adorable victim.

Ed finds out where the witch  (Florence Schauffler) who can bring forth Pumpkinhead lives and after getting cryptic warnings he finds himself making a trip to the graveyard in Razorback Holler to retrieve the mummified remains of the creature. Grief, anger and hate; these three powerful emotions are required to justify anybody going to cemetery at a place called Razorback Holler to dig up a demon.

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This place not found on most tourist maps.

Once he returns with the curled up Pumpkinhead creature the witch does a blood ritual that will not only revive and send it on its mission but unbeknownst to poor Ed it will link him with the monster. Till death do they part. The price of dark magic is a high one but a grieving father doesn’t think long term.

The Witch 
Who would think an old crone like this wouldn’t be completely forthcoming?

The film then enters its “Cabin the Woods” section as Pumpkinhead begins to stalk and kill the city kids. We don’t spend much time with them to get to know them that well; there is Joel (John D’Aquino) the asshole who accidentally killed the kid while dirt bike riding drunk, Chris (Jeff East) his unmemorable brother, Kim (Kimberly Ross) a girl who goes into hysterics after the little boy his run done, and then there is Tracy (Cynthia Bain) the final girl. Joel’s character isn’t your stock slasher film asshat because even though his first reaction to the crisis is to flee the scene of the crime, and then pull out the phone lines so his friends can’t call the police or ambulance, but once he has time to think he realizes he’s totally screwed up and he will have to set things right. Unfortunately for him and his friends it’s a little late for redemption.

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“Go get’em boy.”

Now what sets Pumpkinhead apart from the likes of Jason or Michael Myers is his showmanship. Where Jason and his ilk will brutally murder someone and then rig the body to surprise his next victim in some clever if not improbable way Pumpkin head doesn’t go for the quick kill. He will maim his target; watch them try to get away before pulling them back into his clutches, and then he will drag the still living bastards to taunt his next targets with. Poor Kim gets her face rubbed up and across the kitchen window until her friends spots her, and then Pumpkinhead smashes her through the glass leaving her to bleed out. Pumpkinhead is kind of like a demonic cat playing with its food.

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And he’s sacrilegious to boot.

The interesting catch to this particular vengeance demon is that Ed Harley is linked to the creature and feels all the horror and terror of each kill, this is not something he had figured on, and when he goes to the old crone to get her to call the whole thing off he learns there is no way to stop it, it must run its course. The movie works as a fantastic morality play looking at people and their actions from different points of view and is on the most part fair and balanced towards all parties.

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“Boo!”

As for the Pumpkinhead creature itself it certainly earns a spot in the pantheon of great monster creations, designed and put together by Stan Winston’s team with Tom Woodruff Jr. as the man in the suit this is an artistic achievement. I can’t say enough about how good it looks and how well it moves. It only has to step into a room, not jump just step in, to scare the bejesus out of you. To make things even more incredible is watching the transformation of Pumpkinhead as it starts to look a little like Ed Harley while poor Ed starts to take on aspects of the demon. Simply horrifying in its ramifications and the incredibly dark and depressing ending says it all when it comes to making deals with dark forces. DON’T!

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A cautionary tale.

Pumpkinhead didn’t get a fair shake in the theatres due to Dino De Laurentis Entertainment Group (DEG) going bankrupt resulting in Stan Winston losing his distributor which resulted in the film’s release date getting delayed a year and then when finally got released it was on a very limited amount of screens. Luckily it has garnered much cult status with subsequent releases on video so long after the master has gone the creature continues to thrive.

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Now available on Bluray for the first time and once again Shout Factory does an awesome job with a cult classic.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Outlaw of Torn - Edgar Rice Burroughs


Original cover Outlaw of TornOne of only two historical fictions written by Edgar Rice Burroughs the story of The Outlaw of Torn was first published in 1927 as a five part serial for New Story Magazine. Though the story maybe fictional it is set amongst the true events of 13th Century England where King Henry III was greatly abusing his powers, much to the detriment of the common man, and which caused Simon de Montfort, the 6th Earl of Leicester, to lead the rebellion against him in the Second Baron’s War.

The plot of The Outlaw of Torn deals with the mysterious and fictitious Prince Richard, who as a small child is kidnapped by the King’s French fencing master de Vac. The reason for the abduction is that the King insulted and spit upon de Vac during a fencing match that the King fairly lost due to the incredible prowess of the Frenchman. Already not a fan of the English Monarch de Vac hatches a diabolical plan to avenge this affront. He kidnaps three year old Prince Richard and then proceeds to raise him as his own, teaching him to be the world’s greatest swordsman as well as to hate all Englishmen and to become the greatest outlaw in the land. The final stage of the plan will be when the King unknowingly places his own son on the gallows.

Going by the name Norman of Torn the lost prince does become a most feared outlaw and with a band of one thousand of the toughest knaves and cutthroats in the land as his army no noble manor or castle is safe. The only fly in the ointment of de Vac’s plan is that even though he has spent twenty years teaching Norman to hate the English he can’t turn Norman into a true villain, as his very nature fights against it, and helping this attitude along is a local priest who teaches Norman to read and write as well as the arts of chivalry. Think Robin Hood in full body armor, leading a marauding army.
The battle of Nature versus Nurture is a theme that pops up in many of Burroughs books, The Mucker a perfectly example of this, and one of the things that makes him stand out among other pulp fiction writers. The other surprising element in his books is his characters views on religion; in the Barsoom books John Carter discovers that the religion of Mars is all a huge scam, while in The Outlaw of Torn the hero derides the existence of God and refers to the almighty as “Man’s scapegoat”. These are ideas you don’t expect to see in an adventure book written in the early 20th Century.

outlaw of torn book cover
 
Norman of Torn is your classic Burroughs hero; his sword arm never fails him, women can’t help fall in love with him and his enemies tremble in his very presence, and this story contains much of what you will find in many of Burroughs novels; a savage hero with a noble past, a damsel that loves him despite his station, great escapes, mistaken identities, cruel and reprehensible villains, and of course a heaping helping of sword fighting and swashbuckling. Any fan of the genre must put The Outlaw of Torn on their reading list right next to Robin Hood and Ivanhoe.