20 February 2012

The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is a Creepy Little Treat.
By Kristin Battestella

In all my Vincent Price, Roger Corman, AIP, and Poe celebrations, it’s been quite tough to find The Haunted Palace again.  Though this 1963 tale borrows much more from Lovecraft than it does Poe, all the creepy, freaky moods and twists are here in fine form.

In the 18th century, Arkham townsfolk burn the warlock Joseph Curwen (Price) for using the Necronomicon and local women in sadistic experiments- but Curwen vows to return and curses the village descendants. 100 years later, Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) and his wife Anne (Debra Paget) inherit Curwen’s mansion and return to the New England ruin. Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell) informs the couple of the town’s twisted history, but the rest of the villagers fear Ward as local strange occurrences and bizarre deaths increase.  They use their deformed children to frighten Anne, and she begins to suspect the spirit of Curwen is indeed trying to take over her husband.  Unfortunately, their caretaker Simon (Lon Chaney, Jr.) knows more than he’s saying…

Writer Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone, Premature Burial, The Masque of the Red Death) teams with director Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) for this Lovecraftian adaptation that got unfortunately shoehorned into American International Picture’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle. Yes, it’s based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward more than any reaching at Poe titles or poetry- which might automatically put off the Poe faithful or the Lovecraft purists alike. However, the spooky moods and sinister atmosphere are here from the onset, with great traditional jumpy moments and heck, it’s actually scary in some scenes.  Even if you expect the smoke and mirror twists, it’s still dang suspenseful as the sinister past increasingly takes hold.  Indeed, the Necronomicon back story and Cthulhu allusions could be better explained, and the revenge plotlines are similar to later films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  There’s reused fire filmmaking for the finale and the end is somewhat abrupt, too, but overall, this is an entertaining and scary little picture.

Naturally, the resemblance between Curwen and Ward is uncanny! Our Man Vincent differentiates the two men nicely to start, allowing a slow possession to brew. The naughty implications, man handlings, and great outbursts build perfectly as the Victorian gentleman Ward becomes increasing overtaken with the ruthless warlock Curwen.  The tender scenes and inner torment as Ward realizes the takeover is happening are well done, too.  Again, I don’t see any over the top acting. Price’s subtle inner conflict and physical alterations are quite the opposite in fact. The pacing on the possession is good, but I do wish the film were a bit longer, as Debra Paget (The Ten Commandments with Price) as Ward’s wife Anne does become a bit typical. She’s active, suspects, and doesn’t scream too much, but it just seems like they ran out of time in developing her suspicions on Curwen overtaking her husband. Of course, Paget looks wonderful- and looks good scared, that’s not always an easy thing to master.  The Wards also sleep in the same bed, whoa! Anne ends up the good little woman, but their tender relationship and its explosive breakdown are well done, and it adds an extra personal dimension to the twistedness at hand.

Instead of the usual stock company throwaways, the supporting village men in The Haunted Palace lift up the horror here. Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man) is perfection as the creepy and most definitely not so innocent caretaker Simon.  Of course, he knows more about Curwen than he lets on to the Wards, and his scary introduction is great. Frank Maxwell (Our Man Higgins) does fine work as the would be voice of reason among the otherwise superstitious townsfolk, but again, I wish there were more of his Dr. Willet and town scaredy cat Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, House on Haunted Hill). Leo Gordon (McLintock!) is also a lot of fun, as are the weird, deformed, and disturbed village descendants. Oh, girls with no eyes or freaky eyeless men and worse shouldn’t be so scary, but when used in full force here, it’s downright frightening.

Although the Cthulhu- like tentacles and dungeon scenery leave something to be desired, the other period styles and designs establish The Haunted Palace wonderfully. The spider web motifs over the credits will be dang freaky for arachnophobes, and the opening colonial mayhem looks on form. The fog and lightning create all the atmosphere needed, and eerie music tops off the titular mansion’s décor, red candles, and sweet candelabras.  Those dungeons, however, are a little too dark to see- even when its daylight. Of course, the video is due some restoration, and the matte paintings supposedly providing scope are fairly poor, but that is to be expected.  Thankfully, the Victorian standards, ornate frocks, and wispy nightgowns more than make up the difference. 


Unfortunately, The Haunted Palace is dang tough to find. Netflix is mum and its double bill DVD release with Tower of London is downright elusive. For Price Fans, Corman completists, and old school horror fans, however, The Haunted Palace is well worth the hunt.  Catch it whenever you can or delight again on a spooky late night whenever you need that hint of Lovecraft. Or Poe for that matter, hehe.

17 February 2012

100,000 Hits at I Think, Therefore I Review!

We've had a significant mini-milestone today at I Think, Therefore I Review with our 100,000th hit! 

While we'd been steadily climbing in our hit totals and statistics in the six years we've been on blogger, as our articles, links, and association connections increased in 2011, we saw a significant jump in virtual attendance.  Averages of 50 to 100 hits per day have doubled to 200 or more thanks to our recent horror escapades and series reviews.  Spam commenting has also decreased significantly in favor of actual real comments of appreciation and discussion!  

I know I Think, Therefore I Review isn't always a timely blog for the newest film and media releases, we go at our own old fashioned weekly pace and most often talk shop on classics, off beat genre fair, old school horror, even vinyl!  So indeed, big big, huge hugest, mostest thanks to those who have visited, read, and enjoyed our sometimes lengthy, bizarre, or avante garde reviews!  We like nothing more here than to be read and thus enlightening audiences with musical selections, family friend films, or great books one might not otherwise have taken a chance on.  

Golly for sure, some might think 100,000 hits is paltry compared to the big mainstream sites online today or quick and instant social media pages. However, seeing the stats totals climb has made reviewing and posting at  I Think, Therefore I Review, a true joy and reaffirms we're not just some penny collecting depressing job that doesn't take internet criticism seriously.  We care about our opinions and copy here, and are truly blessed to share our thoughts with our readers.  

Thank you, bless you!


15 February 2012

Thief of Hearts

Thief of Hearts So Bad It’s Good.
By Leigh Wood

Do gooder thief with a past Scott Muller (Steven Bauer) thinks he’s made the score- only to find a bunch of diaries in his hot safe instead of author Ray Davis’ (John Getz) millions. Scott decides to read the juicy journals, finding the fantasies and kinky hidden desires of interior decorator and lonely housewife Mickey (Barbara Williams) within. Scott quickly becomes obsessed with the books and a lifted portrait of Mickey; he misses theft jobs with Buddy (David Caruso) as a result- eventually making him a wanted man when a heist goes wrong. Nevertheless, Scott plays the legitimate businessman as he woos Mickey into redesigning his apartment, appearing to be just an innocent charmer who knows what makes Mickey tick- from the sexuality of water and Rum Raisin ice cream to her favorite radio station and political affiliation, oh yes.

Yeah. I saw parts of this preposterously kinky 1984 romance believe it or not produced by Jerry Bruckheimer (CSI, The Amazing Race, Pirates of the Caribbean, National Treasure, the list goes on…) off and on years ago on television as a kid- you know, exactly when I wasn’t supposed to see it! It’s taken this long- just short of forever it feels like- to find it again. Fortunately, all the cheesy eighties juice remains in the best guilty pleasure fashion. Writer and director Douglas Day Stewart (An Officer and a Gentleman) mistakenly creates what he thinks is every chick’s fantasy- to be roughed up by a criminal who isn’t really that bad of a guy and maybe even ends up a changed man because of you! While I’m not saying that isn’t a perfectly good fantasy indulgence- this movie makes a wonderful case for letting your mind roam, indeed. But spoiler alert, the romantic elements are totally unrealistic against the criminal aspects of the film and the reality of such a dangerous and deceptive relationship. What chick is okay with this? Honestly, a hood literally bumps into a rich housewife at the grocery store and the over the top seduction goes on from there. Thief of Hearts would have the audience believe this is a good thing- but is it really? This blooming and blossoming sexual experience is wrapped in deceit, trading one possessive guy for another, and if you think about it too much, it’s all a little too weird. Toss in the mixed attempt of heavy eighties crime and danger with the iffy housewife romance, and the double fantasy just doesn’t work. The running jokes about Mickey’s horny friend and design partner Janie (a lovely Christine Ebersole, SNL) living dirty and liking her brand nasty is also much more about the guy’s idea of a woman liking it rough more than the reality of the roughness. Hmph.

Unfortunately for Thief of Hearts, this unbalanced bias creates quite a problem. Even with the fictitious ideas of women and would be dangerous heist action, this movie isn’t a drooling guys’ picture. Unless men really have a secret spot for eighties sappy would-be soft core, ‘I know he’s reading them. I can feel him.’ Really, despite a man’s man name like Bruckheimer probably trying to disassociate himself from Thief of Hearts, one of intelligence from either sex doesn’t openly admit to watching this kind of film. Again, it doesn’t mean we don’t- the sauce is the reason to watch- but the pre-huge erotica market purple film prose here is flawed and suffice to say, not for dudes. However, having said all that, the uneven presentation doesn’t stop one from watching solely for that sauce. Especially today, since Thief of Hearts is wrapped up in a guilty pleasure eighties bow complete with ridiculous music cues indicating an untouched desire fulfilled! Just in case we missed the slow motion feel up steamy at the shooting range (again, dudes thinking a chick with a gun is some power turn on), before the over the top dialogue moves to the smashingly Duran Duran decorated bedroom. Yes, this is a shitty movie, but the sex scenes are sweet, and who knew a 1984 film would be spot on in predicting six years as a long marriage? So what if the goofy music is unnecessary just like the touchy feely that kind of borders on molestation. Taking a gal’s bra off at the gun shop? Why yes, go right ahead! It’s so bad its good and the actual getting down scenes are both laughable and damn decent juice. Strangely, though, there doesn’t seem to be as many quickies as I recalled. Thief of Hearts is just that memorable in its cheese, but the %$@#$$^&* DVD is edited!

Hey, don’t knock it, Steven Bauer (Scarface, Sword of Gideon, Raising Cain) was the quintessential eighties Latin hunk trying not to be a Latin hunk (Estaban Echevarria just wasn’t Hollywood enough?) who just couldn’t help being the sauciest Latino around nonetheless. Being married to Melanie Griffith for a few years helped, too. Looking back, his career is an interesting sign of the time. Bauer was the only real Cuban deal in Scarface, but had to appear American typical to continue being successful- even if his brief success was because of the exotic style. Go figure. Resplendently, Thief of Hearts provides plenty of opportunity for Bauer to box, sweat, and otherwise get down and nude. Amen. Just to show us what kind of guy Scott really is, there’s even some sex with a conscious before all the adulterous stuff with Mickey. Otherwise, Bauer doesn’t have much else to do beyond ‘unnecessary’ finger lickings, up close smiles, shirtless scenes, and a be-scored, slow motion sun tan lotion rub down all over his thick, eighties hairy chest! It’s hysterical; really, this hour and a half should have just been cut down to the juice. Otherwise, the mind must enter in and ruin it. We like Scott because of all the dreamy eighties manness, yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is kind of predatory behavior. So he didn’t have a negative motive to start- that doesn’t mean his elaborate ruse and runaway plans with Mickey are okay. The violent and threatening reveal of the journal theft is also very poorly handled. Again, is this every woman’s dream or a crime? We want to be along for the dream, but as Thief of Hearts unravels for its end, one has to ask, what’s the moral here? Mickey must be with her boring husband Ray and avoid good sex? But she should learn how to use a gun just in case? Scott cries over it, that makes it all okay? Thief of Hearts can indeed be enjoyed…if you don’t think too hard and just look- or heck, press mute.

Barbara Williams (Who didn’t really do much else but marry Tom Hayden) also carries the eighties torch perfectly with tiny boobs and career woman business suits. She looks both young and eighties as the supposedly rockin’ pent up housewife oozing for a cruising, and yet also so old and eighties limp satin bowtie blouses and big shoulder pads at the same time. Mickey’s budding sensuality would be sexy, if not for the stupidity of taking hot sex over her suspicions and fears. She’s a little too mousy at times, and not so stunning as we expect today to warrant all this attention, but as I said, it was the eighties. Forgive us! Time, however, has remained unchanged for David Caruso (NYPD Blue, CSI: Miami) as valet and thief with an attitude, Buddy- yes, that’s his name. My gosh, his hair was as Opie orange as it is now! He’s playing himself, of course the same as always, and yet he’s so fitting as a creepy drug dealer and lady pusher trying to slink his way to the top. Unfortunately, his supposedly dangerous and toy knife wielding self is totally hysterical! John Getz (Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead) doesn’t have as much screen time but fits the bill absolutely as the jerky, uninterested husband who writes children’s books. And hey, it’s Alan North from Highlander, and Norm Peterson- er, I mean, George Wendt!

Naturally, Thief of Hearts is dated in looks and design. The bad music- both the heavy stuff for the heists and sappy stuff, too- is pretty annoying. And let’s not forget that obligatory eighties titular theme song! Woof! The heist scenes are too dark as well, and lame, too, with no fancy stealing schemes or designs. The stuff being stolen is totally eighties crappy, too. You know, all the contemporary mod junk that sent everyone back to eclectic and traditional stylings. The bad perms and Miami Vice colors don’t help, either. I do, however, confess, I laughed over seeing people stop to make change at the tollbooth! The house and loft are cool at least, and the old school Bug and Mercedes roadster are sweet! Remember, Thief of Hearts is Rated R for that aforementioned steamy, and this poor man’s 9 ½ Weeks is truly only for adults or those old enough to appreciate the juicy and goofy old mess that accompanies it.

The topless bits and #$#%^# edited scenes might be tame to some, but there are a few almost glimpses of male nudity, in Thief of Hearts, too. I would say go ahead and content yourself with your freeze frame, but one shouldn’t mess further with this bare bones and skipping DVD! This video was dang elusive, too, no sellers available, unavailable on Netflix fore eve rrr, pfft. At least there were subtitles, but their irony of shortening the written ‘S.O.B’ when it is said in full just about sums up the bipolar film nature here. Enjoy the saucy, laugh at the eighties, try not to think too much and indulge your Thief of Hearts. 


08 February 2012

Tres Dickens

And the Dickens’ Bicentennial Keeps Rolling Along…
By Kristin Battestella

Party like its 2/7/1812! 

Bleak House – This 2005 BBC mini series adaptation boasts a dynamite looking Gillian Anderson (Scully), Denis Lawson (Wedge), Anna Maxwell Martin (Poppy Shakespeare), Carey Mulligan (Shame), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), Hugo Speer (The Full Monty), and many, many more.  The high-end decor, low looks, and to the hilt HD style are great- complete with a brewing, spooky atmosphere and sharp editing. Instead of spending visual time on lavish scenery and scopes, numerous up close shots and tight photography keep the focus on Dickens’ players as they chase fortunes and vices while the legalese profits from it all.  The decidedly not quick, full 8-hour serial format works superbly for the hefty source material-which seems slightly less well known, but is just as complex. This is both dark cinematically, with a lack of bright and colorful Victorian cheer, and saucier thematically, with slightly obvious but nonetheless juicy and illicit soap-esque twists. If only we had ongoing miniseries like this again on American TV instead of reality junk or unintentionally short and mislaid fluff with no attention to detail. It’s bemusing to see such a large cast interconnected and inescapably tied to the system- entire lives and families rise and fall on the espionage and law here. But of course, we should not be surprised how those vile at the top use legality for their gains in the same way the unscrupulous at the bottom lean upon the establishment. The unforgiving societal consequences come to the forefront with great mystery and crime plotting just to keep things interesting, too. For as the characters themselves say: lawyers…villains…same thing!

Little Dorrit (1988) – Another film with a huge cast of Dickensian unfortunates, this 6-hour two part version is lead by Sir Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius), Joan Greenwood (Kind Hearts and Coronets), and Alec Guinness again. Much as I love Jacobi, he is damn tough to hear, with a dry delivery that makes the opening hour seem overly stuffy and highbrow. Greenwood is also cold and unlikeable, but perfectly freaky and right on the mark. The interplay between those in debtors’ prison content to be big fish in their low pond, the impoverished who are actually better off, and the rich maintaining the high life appearances is wonderfully ironic.  Unfortunately, with such a windblown running time padded needlessly with annoying, loud crowds and passersby distracting from players as they go here, there, and everywhere for seemingly meaningless conversation-whew! - it does take time to get to the titular mystery.  Fortunately, young Sarah Pickering as Amy Dorrit is lovely- if perhaps too soft spoken.  Indeed, Little Dorrit could be graceful and upscale, and this potential heredity versus environment debate from Dickens amid the blasé attitudes on impoverishment is intriguing. Oh, it’s no one’s fault really, and no one is actually to blame, but it is what it is, and the bureaucratic red tape and technicalities remain. It’s amazing also how this apathy is unchanged, even typical, nay expected today. Of course, it’s all dang confusing without subtitles and hints of comedy or sardonic uplift are missing for large segments. Despite the source novel’s twofold framework, it’s tough to sit down with two 3-hour long episodes.  Finite viewers might really enjoy this presentation, but it is not for the Dickensian lightweight.  It’s not the small scale or simplistic design- the Victorian lows and pitiful mood is here perfectly- but this 19th century stifling, mid life crisis feeling makes this watch feel older or too mature. How old is everyone supposed to be anyway?  Even with the more innocent and humble second half, the slow and dull pace can be somewhat disinteresting.  I greatly appreciate the attempt made by writer and director Christine Edzard (As You Like It), but seriously, some of the fat should have been trimmed here.

A Tale of Two Cities – Dirk Bogarde (Victim, Death in Venice) stars in this fairly accurate but slightly unloved 1958 British adaptation along with the young and pretty but very ruthless Christopher Lee (really?) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween). Though the black and white photography and budget décor make director Ralph Thomas’ (helmer of the Doctor series frequented by Bogarde) take seem more dated or a little older than it is, there is also a feeling of old-fashioned ambiance created by the monochrome tricorn hats and shadowy aristocratic houses.  It seems we’re witnessing this little Vive la France! via 1858 as perhaps Dickens himself might have done. Though built within an unrequited love- not usually the first genre element we think of with Dickens- there’s still plenty of espionage, intrigue, adventure, and revolution for the expected Dickensian twists and turns. For being the epitome of Victorian literature and 19th century England, Dickens’ parallels of the poor injustices amid the Revolution and the aristocratic turnabouts of the guillotine come across exceptionally. Unfortunately, some of the place and time transitions and foreign situations might be confusing to those unfamiliar with the novel, so this edition should be left for older scholars or wise students.  However, unlike some of Dickens’ other interwoven and complex intricacies, this is actually quite a straightforward tale. Besides, this is a British production; the viewer is expected to be not just familiar, but dang intimate with dear Sydney! “It is a far, far better thing that I do….”  Sniff. 

06 February 2012

Boris Karloff Part Deux

And More Karloff Appreciation, Please!
By Kristin Battestella

Let’s also pay tribute to the February long late actor, shall we? The man just made that much great horror, what can I say, people?

The Ape – Big Boris gets in touch with his inner primate for this hour-long 1940 mad murder fest.  We believe Karloff as a radical doctor seeking a polio cure to avenge the loss of his family just as much as we fear the lengths to which he will go to achieve his medical breakthroughs.  He’s tall and strong and menacing, but also old, pitiful and tragic, even tender- except when he’s testing his serum on those poor pups! Again, the ideology is so twisted because Doctor B thinks he is doing right in his villainy- and parallels can be drawn to our own contemporary debates over spinal fluids and stem cell research, too.  Is he so wrong in what he’s doing? Does the science trump the humanity? Yes, it looks simple and the kid cast is so no- I confess it is appropriate to see Karloff run them down with his bicycle! Though the mad scientist décor fits the bill, the black and white filmmaking is bare, and it’s tough to see the poor effects. Granted, the ape angle is hokey, but the science gone awry premise and the weight of Boris’ portrayal is worth a look.

Bedlam – There’s great black and white colonial style in this 80-minute lunacy thriller from 1946. The lace, frocks, and powdered wigs add a bizarre layer of class to the obviously totally inappropriate mocking of Quaker ideology and 1761portrayals of asylums as near circus-like- houses for loonies in cages and entertainment rather than hospitals for the mentally ill.  Of course, Our Man Karloff is so suave in his slick speech and uncaring in the lecherous use of people both high and low. He commits his enemies to the titular institution regardless of sanity.  It’s not outright scary as we might expect, but modern audiences can certainly imagine all the prison naughty and hysteria that could go on in such a place. We do, after all, still use the titular term in regards to assorted mayhem.  The very young Anna Lee (General Hospital) is quite the aristocratic snot to start, but she learns of the institutional injustices fortunately- with religious help- and unfortunately – with a bit of kink thanks to what the tubby old men really want from her.  The talk of Tories and Whigs might confuse folks not up on their history, but the dramatic disturbia works more than enough wonders here.

The Black Room – A fun premise, solid plotting, and unfortunate prophecy create the opportunity for Karloff to play the ever-popular good twin versus bad twin!  Big K is exceptional as both the dark and juicy, salacious ne’er do well Baron Gregor and his crippled, but upscale and prodigal brother Anton.  We shouldn’t be surprised in the height of Borisness- it’s not that he can’t do both, just that we are delightfully treated to it all at the same time. Karloff looks great in capes, top hats, and naughtiness alike. However, I do think I like the twisted and obviously insane but totally cold calculating Baron more!  The 1935 design looks peaches; the black and white is fresh and crisp with fun split screens. These dual cheats are nicely hidden or at the very least not distracting thanks to the creepy atmosphere, 18th century castle stylings, and lovely costumes.  Marian Marsh (Svengali) looks period fine as well, creating sympathy and juice for our two for the price of one Karloff.

The Body Snatcher – Bela Lugosi (Dracula) co-stars in this 1945 Robert Louis Stevenson tale from director Robert Wise (The Haunting, The Sound of Music) and writer/producer Val Lewton (also of Bedlam, Cat People). While it’s great to see the elder Lugosi and the Karloff pinnacle go head to head; the unfortunately typecasted Lugosi is playing a humble, dimwitted servant, and it’s a complete waste of his talent.  Big Boris, however, is perfectly twisted as a grubby grave robber who thinks his business means he can pester high society- and he’s just too dang happy about what he does!  Some of the supporting cast is a little weak, and there’s some off color early 19th century insults. The frocks are again looking good, even if the music is a little dated. Thankfully, the murderous action and creepy notions of medicine being synonymous with butchery and barbarism will still give some modern viewers the heebee geebees.    

Isle of the Dead – OMK teams with producer Val Lewton again!  Ellen Drew (That’s My Baby!) and Alan Napier (Batman) are trapped on a Greek island in fear of the plague thanks to BK’s deranged General Pherides in this 1945 thriller. Man, he looks so crazy, such eyes, and sinister insistence! Pherides is just so certain that his way is the right way in saving those in his care from death- but the vrykolakas vampire scares still get the best of them and us.  The moaning sounds and up close, tight suspense photography work perfectly along with excellent uses of shadow and light. Oh, that wispy white flowing gown is just lovely!  Fast-paced viewers may find the slow brewing build is perhaps a little too slow, but at 75 minutes; Karloff fans can easily enjoy this one again thanks to several Lewton horror collections.

Son of Frankenstein – Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff reunited for the fourth time in this 1939 second sequel.  This time around, Basil Rathbone (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes) continues a very credible plot as the suave titular returnee who becomes caught up in his blasphemous legacy. Karloff is stepped down from the sympathetic monster in Bride of Frankenstein, made to be an angrier, scary pawn- but it’s still dang good if you want scares over sentiment. Lugosi, however, is unrecognizably wonderful as the scene stealing and deceptive Ygor who uses the creation for his own vengeance.  Of course, anyone making a study will find plenty of internal troubles with this franchise, and the timeline is always iffy- this is a thirties contemporary after two Victorian predecessors? Thankfully, the sets are big and ominous with plenty of creepy décor, thunderclaps, and lightning. Though slow to start and an unusual for the time full-length feature, the exciting finale and spooky atmosphere are perfect for a late night viewing. If only there wasn’t another kid due for a Karloff bicycle encounter!

Just in case you still can’t get enough of Big Boris, here’s a complete list of our previous Karloff commentaries.

Son of Frankenstein
The Fatal Hour
Doomed to Die 
Black Friday 
The Ape
Isle of the Dead

01 February 2012

Full Eclipse and Howling II

Bad, Bad Dog: Full Eclipse and Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf
By Kristin Battestella

Somehow, I managed to stumble upon not one, but two questionable tales of wolfdom- the 1985 sequel Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and the 1993 HBO original movie Full Eclipse.  Ruh-roh!

LA detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) loses his wife and his partner and can’t quite deal.  Fortunately, new special officer Adam Garou (Bruce Payne) invites Max to join his exclusive criminal task force- composed of other quality, but struggling cops like Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) who take the law into their own hands.  The team injects themselves with a special serum designed by Garou, giving them superior prowess against the crime on the street…and a few werewolf tendencies.

Director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) and writers Michael Reaves (Gargoyles, Smurfs) and Richard Christian Matheson’s (The A-Team, and yes, son of Richard Matheson) standard, undeveloped cop story has its share of script issues as it weakly deals with all the typical detective traumas like alcohol, empty marriages, and corruption.  More repeating clichés and meandering plots waste far too much time for a 90-minute movie. Worse still, Full Eclipse never decides whether it’s a cop movie or a horror film- this wolf unit is supposed to be so total justice and badass, but the entire idea is just too preposterous even for fantasy.  The dark realism attempt comes across as totally hokey, and a lot of the poor design work is too dark and tough to see anyway.  Though dated by the nineties fashions, the lingering low budget feelings and mismashed plots are worse than any of the old motifs.  ‘Looks old’ you can forgive if the tale holds up, but this nineties badass isn’t really that badass at all thanks to too much useless, bad action and slow motion police work.  And all this is before all the cheesy werewolf mess! There’s simply not enough mystery or scares to accept the crappy effects, wolverine like wolf claws, and cops suited up like cannibal superheroes.

Fans of Mario Van Peebles, thankfully, can find a few things to enjoy in Full Eclipse. Granted, Peebles (Damages, All My Children, New Jack City, Heartbreak Ridge, Posse, Solo, I’ll stop) is kind of just being himself as always, but it’s juicy, cocky, and fun to watch as expected. Likewise, Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) is freaky fun.  The script and goofy wolf serum plot don’t serve him well, but some might enjoy his violent creepy, disturbing as that it is.  Unfortunately, it’s Patsy Kensit (Emmerdale, Lethal Weapon 2, music chick and rocker wife) who drops the ball most in Full Eclipse. Yes, there’s plenty of nineties rowdy English rose pretty, but she’s also pretty obvious and absolutely unbelievable as a cop- much less an action hero with hairy secrets or a meaty attitude.  Actually, there’s no chemistry among the cast, and Full Eclipse isn’t nearly as sexy as it could have been.  And that ‘love scene’ between Kensit and MVP is just pathetic.  I’ve never seen people bump and grind whilst being so far away from each other! 

Likewise, fans of that horror titan himself, Christopher Lee, can attempt the badly bizarre novelty of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf.  But of course, Sir Christopher’s voice is great as always- and I do so love the way he insistently repeats that subtitle! He certainly looks the classy werewolf hunter, or excuse me, the ‘occult investigator’.   Big C always comes to play even in a bad, bad movie such as this, but the classy older Lee going for those funky white sunglasses and red leather jacket for some undercover eighties clubbing is just….no.  In some scenes, it’s like there’s Christopher Lee, and then there’s everyone else- and to top it off, he has the Holy Grail in his wolf arsenal. I kid you not. Lee’s Occult expert Stefan must convince reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America) that his sister- the reporter Karen White from the 1981 film The Howling- is now a werewolf needing to be staked in her crypt.  To stop all the virile werewolves from rising with the full moon, the trio must travel to Transylvania and destroy the ancient wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) before she makes hairy werewolf love in a spectacular eighties light show. I repeat, I kid you not.

Truly, this cast is so, so bad (I made a mistake when I typed my notes and wrote ‘sos’ bad, as in ‘S.O.S’, wow!) Annie McEnroe (Beetlejuice) is a totally unrealistic and mousy reporter with pathetic delivery.  In her scenes with Lee, it feels like he would have been better off talking to a wall because it is that one-sided of a conversation.  None of it sounds right, especially the bad howling during the weird wolf sex. While I love the idea of a sexy and badass black wolf chick stealing the show, Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972) isn’t given the proper treatment.  Her makeup and over the top wolf plots are too eighties to be sexy, and the full doggy getup ends up looking more like a drag queen.  It’s an utter injustice for what could have been hot hot hot. Thankfully, Sybil Danning (Amazon Women on the Moon) is totally fetching despite that scary and violent leather bodysuit. The incredibly weak script gives her nothing to say but growls and gibberish- was that aged 10 millennia did you say, really? Danning looks perfectly perky and kinky in her prime, but if only we could have seen more of her and Lee together in something more Hammer juicy. Alas, instead we get the very disturbing Little Person Werewolf Hunter Jiri Krytinar (Amadeus), who unfortunately gets his brain imploded by Stirba before turning Don’t Look Now. Ouch.  

This utterly preposterous story from director Phillippe Mora (A Breed Apart) twists source novelist Gary Brandner’s mythos and also goes by Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch.  Well, I may as well stop reviewing right there, for there isn’t anything major wolfy or bitchy here. This 1985 sequel is a far cry from its cult treat predecessor, with nasty werewolf implications that don’t go far enough and awkward, reaching ties to the original film. Too many changes to the werewolf essentials almost turn Howling II into a vampire move. These Transylvania wolves are immune to silver and can only be stopped by titanium stakes through the heart.   Every eighties horror shtick possible is used – fire magic wolves get their powers binded by Big Christopher in what is a completely random and unfulfilling attempt at sexy horror and wolf comedy.  Everything about Howling II is mistaken, from the bad, unnecessary eighties music over taking everything to the low of the lowest budget 1985 design.  The punk teen Euro wolfy fashions, horrible lycan effects, awful zooms, and disastrous attempts at what you don’t see horror- really; these werewolves toss crates to ensnare their victims! Likewise, they themselves are caught in some bad action scenes and get captured with fishing nets!  

I’m harsh, yes, but Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Full Eclipse can be entertaining believe it or not- if you really, really like bad wolfy movies or are seriously jonesing over the leading men. It’s ironic because Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lee are probably as far from each other in the leading man spectrum as you could get, but both deserve to be in a quality wolf horror movie. Nonetheless, their fans can still have fun here. However, if you are a highbrow fright connoisseur and expect some sense of credibility or logic in your lycan films, then move along doggie.