I apologize for the fuzziness of Figure 1; I carved that pumpkin in 2002, and I was using my first digital camera to photograph it. The camera was a point-and-shoot Kodak (either 4 or 8 MP) I bought at a local flea market. I did that carving long before there were dozens of carving templates available every Halloween; I used a photo of Boris Karloff from an old Famous Monsters of Filmland as my template. I was kind of proud of it, so I thought I’d share it here. That particular Halloween was a fun one; at the time we had a light by the front door and a deck overhead—and both light and overhead were covered with real spiderwebs. (I never saw the spiders, but they had to be active at some time to make such impressive webs.) I put a sign on the front door: “CAUTION: REAL spiders overhead!” In an appropriate bloody font, of course. So, since Halloween is coming up, I thought I’d do a couple of quick Halloween-y reviews to stay in the spirit. We will return to Andre Norton later, I promise. By the way, since I have a 3D TV, I looked for 3D Halloween movies featuring Dr. Tongue, like Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Pancakes, but no luck.*
First off, it’s my obligation to warn you about Walking Dead in the West: STAY AWAY FROM THIS CLUNKER! It was originally titled Zombie Cowboys, but in a bid to attract fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I think, it was retitled—because titles are not copyrightable. I first went to IMDB, as any sensible film fan would, to check it out. Although it only had a 3.2 rating, the first review that showed was 8 out of 10; and most of the reviews were that good or better; but here’s the clincher—it was co-written by Gahan Wilson! (Wilson, of course, is the well-known cartoonist—the only possible challenger to Charles Addams’s supremacy as master of the funny-macabre cartoon. Wilson’s been published most often in Playboy and National Lampoon, I believe, over the last thirty years.) And that same review on IMDB said it was “family friendly” and funny. (Family friendly? A zombie movie?) Not a lot of gore, no nudity, and no coarse language, the review promised. Well, the movie was co-written by Paul Winters, directed by Paul Winters, executive produced by Paul Winters and—Marshal Frank Wilcox (a main character) is played by… guess who! So the reviewer forgot to say it also had no budget, no plot, no acting skills, no authenticity as to costumes, setting or anything else. We didn’t make it through the first half hour. Your mileage may vary, but I doubt it. Rating: 1 what’s-it: ¤.
Because I’ve been a Steven Seagal fan from whenever it was he did his first movie (and I still maintain enough remnants of that fannish liking today), I thought I’d throw one of his into the “bad movie” cauldron. Not that it’s a hard task to find a Seagal movie that’s bad; years ago, I think he decided that he was basically in it for the money. When he started—I believe it was 1988, with Above The Law—he was a recognized world-class Aikido expert and had his own dojo in Japan—the only Westerner at that time to do so. That movie had Pam Grier and Henry Silva in it; its modest budget of seven and a half million brought in nearly 20 million, so the studio decided he was a bona fide action star. Over the next few years, Seagal made a series of good action movies—among his co-stars were Kris Kristofferson, Sharon Stone, Brian Cox, Damon Wayans, William Sadler, Kelly Lebrock, William Forsythe, Marg Helgenberger—in fact, a whole galaxy of fine A- and B-list actors. And the quality—at least until about 2005—has gone up and down like a piston.
From well-written (including humour and action) and acted films like Fire Down Below and The Glimmer Man, we’ve seen him drop to the level of the True Justice TV series/compilations. In fact, the majority of his films since 2000 have been direct-to-video, with all that implies. So the hard task is not finding a bad Seagal, but finding a genre Seagal movie; but if it’s post-2000, odds are that it will be bad. Fortunately, he has done one that I know of that is science fiction (although one might argue that Under Siege 2—Dark Territory, was more or less SF). As is usual with the low-budget and/or direct-to-DVD movies Seagal makes, he is not the central onstage character; his name is on it to bring in viewers, but he’s not in the film very much.
Narration tells us that a virus has killed much of the Earth’s population, and there is no cure and, apparently, nobody is immune (which is highly unlikely—it’s possible only one-half to one percent of humanity will be immune to something like that, but there will always—as far as I know—be natural immunes to any plague or virus) and, if you are exposed to it but don’t die, you will become either a blood drinker (vampire) or flesh-eater. The survivors, according to the narration, either barricade themselves into buildings during the daytime or if, for example, they’re ex-military, join up with hunter groups and go around swinging swords and other sharp objects at the infected. One such group of hunters is led by Seagal, as Tao. Inside a hospital, which appears to be Kingdom Hospital—well, it has the same symbol on it (that red thingy)—from the Stephen King series of the same name (Figure 5), two different groups of people come together. (Maybe that sign is something hospital-related in Europe.) One group of two (she says she used to be a nurse) was already inside the hospital, which still has power from an auxiliary generator; the other four come in through a broken window in search of drugs to help cure a young girl’s pneumonia, they say. The ex-nurse tells them all the drugs were stolen earlier by people trying to cure the virus, but offers to show them the “safe” way out.
She says that the emergency generator is failing, and once it does, the security door will lock down and they’ll all be stuck inside the building with all the infected. They then take down a hastily-built barricade that lets them into an area marked (in blood!) with “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here” and head off with the lights flickering into an area swarming with vampires. Meanwhile, Tao (Seagal) and his group of six or so hunters are attempting to clear the area of vampires/flesh eaters, building by building and room by room, mostly with swords and other sharp weapons. (Oddly enough, Seagal doesn’t employ his usual katana; this sword is slightly curved at the end, somewhat like a scimitar.)
And there’s a complication: the military (led by Keith David, who previously starred with Seagal in Marked For Death, a much superior action movie) is about to bomb the hospital. Unfortunately, there’s not much more sense in this movie than there was in Zombie Cowboys/Walking Dead in the West. The infected seem to be evolving into a separate species; in one scene, one of the hospital group says “They’re not vampires, they’re mutants.” Eventually, I guess, at least some of the original group makes it out of the hospital, aided by Tao’s group… by that time, you will have—as did I—given up entirely and let it play out while you read your book. It’s dismal writing and acting; the movie was (mostly) filmed in Romania, and reads (or plays) as if it was somehow translated from Romanian to English. In one of Seagal’s early scenes—not that he’s in a majority of the movie, ‘cos he’s mostly in the last 20 minutes or so—he says to his squad “We’re not here to decide who’s right or wrong; we’re here to decide who lives or dies.” What the heck does that even mean, given the context?
Steven Seagal has, if you haven’t noticed—and how could you not?—bulked up a lot; in most of his recent (say, in the last decade) movies, he never takes off his overcoat so you won’t see how fat he is. (I do have to say that, in person, he looks quite imposing—he’s about 6’ 4” or so; I saw him signing autographs at a local casino a few years ago.) And he’s been going bald, too… so that for a period of a few years, you never saw him in a film without a head covering—either a bandana wrap or a ball cap turned backwards—until his hair transplant took. He now has a permanent “widow’s peak” of very black hair, unlike his hair in earlier movies. Not a movie you want to waste your time on this Halloween. I’ll be kind and give it one thingy: Rating: One thingamajig: 1 ¤.
So do yourself a favour—somehow, find this movie and watch it for Halloween. Young Frankenstein is Mel Brooks’s tribute to the Frankenstein monster movie genre, and it is high on my list of near-perfect movies. (That being said, if you haven’t already, to appreciate this film you need to watch at least the original Frankenstein, directed by James Whale, starring Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Dwight Frye and the rest of that crew. Then you also should watch Son of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein… and this movie will make perfect sense to you at every turn! (By the way, if you click on the link at the movie’s name, you will be taken to a complete transcript of the film.) The movie was written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks—and they gave screen credit to Mary Shelley for her original novel Frankenstein. The movie stars Wilder, Marty Feldman, Gene Hackman, Cloris Leachman (“Frau Blucher!” Whinny!), Teri Garr, Peter Boyle, Madelein Kahn and Kenneth Mars in major roles. (Unfortunately, of those named, only Hackman, Garr and Leachman are still alive.) Unlike Blazing Saddles, which kind of fell off at the finish, this movie shines from beginning to end, and Brooks and crew expect you to keep up—or at least know the source material. Even at their silliest—“Eyegor, please help me with the bags”…“All right, you take the blonde and I’ll take the one in the toiban!”—the timing in this film is comic gold. If I could give it six out of five tokens, I would. Rating: Five whosits! 5 ¤¤¤¤¤!
*Viewers of SCTV may recognize the title of this column and the 3D movie (imaginary) referenced.
**Figure 2 is copyright ©1974 by Gahan Wilson; used under “fair use” (review) principle.
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