Poltergeist ( 1982 )
Raiders of the Lost Ark had put Steven Spielberg back on top. He had two projects in development from stories he had written. With Universal there was that movie about children finding and adopting a lost space alien, who dies after the children feed him nothing but Reese's Pieces. With M.G.M., a pre Amblin horror movie about a family who moves into a haunted house. Both movies took place in suburban Californian town, perhaps even the same town. And both got green lit the second Raiders became a hit. And for a while Spielberg thought he could do both movies at the same time. Until Universal pointed out their contract with him forbade him from directing any other movie until the final cut of E.T. was delivered. Which meant that even though he had wrapped principle photography on E.T., he still had months of post production as the visual effects, music and soundtrack was added. So for legal purposes, the official director for Poltergeist was Tobe Hooper, the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre ( 1974 ). But according to most of the cast, Spielberg was the actual director. In the summer of 1982, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Poltergeist opened up within a week of each other. The alien movie would go on to become the all time biggest box office success, taking the crown away from Star Wars ( 1977 ). And while the ghost move only earned a sixth of the money that E.T. did, it did earn more than $100 million and was the eighth highest grossing film of the year.
While both E.T. and Poltergeist have gone on to become some of Spielberg's most beloved films, they were more of a desperate retreat for the director. Much the same way Sylvester Stallone would retreat to a Rocky or Rambo sequel after a batch of failed films. Spielberg's two biggest successes were a horror film ( Jaws )and a U.F.O film ( Close Encounters ), so deciding that was were his strength was and not with comedies, he was developing a horror movie and a U.F.O. movie when Raiders gave him another genre he was good in; action. It was almost as if both E.T. and Poltergeist were meant to have been identical. Two films in some sort of Trilogy he abandoned. The suburban trilogy. Even both John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith's theme music whenever just showing life in the two towns seems identical. But what exactly was the message? It could not have been a tribute, as if Spielberg was romanticizing the suburban California town like a Norman Rockwell painting. The family in E.T. is broken, living in Suburbia after the parents divorced and the kids still trying to cope with it. While the town in Poltergeist was built over a graveyard, and as pointed out early in the film, was just phase one of several identically built towns where all the houses are exactly the same and every street ends in the identical cul-de-sac. This was not the small town that Americans knew from Leave It to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show, but some sort of horror from the modern age where individuality was fading away.
Poltergeist was meant to have been a horror movie. But I did not find it scary. In fact, when I saw it in theaters back in the 80s I was not frightened by anything. The only effective jump scare was due to sudden thunder and lightning early on in the movie. ( and pretty damn effective. I knew it was coming from having seen the movie before, but it still startled me. ) The story has a family living in a town built over a graveyard. The family unleashes the wrath of the dead when the mother buries a pet bird in the backyard. ( Or then again, maybe their wrath was the result of the father having a pool dug the same yard. ) The house is suddenly haunted, which the family finds amusing until the scary old dead tree in the back yard tries to eat one child, and while he is being rescued another child is sucked through a vortex in her closet. Instead of telling the police, the family contacts scientists who study the paranormal, and they in turn bring in a dwarf exorcist to save the girl and cleanse the house. In the meantime objects fly around the room, toys come to life, walls bang and ghosts periodically appear. And then of course once the exorcist shows up and reopens the vortex, the visual effects extravaganza begins. ( Visual effects that have dated since 1982. For example, a scene where one of the scientists has his face riped away from his skull is laughably fake puppet work, but in 1982 looked pretty damn gross. )
While not effective as a horror movie, it does work as an adventure film. You have to at least give Spielberg that. He knew how to make a movie fun, and how to build anticipation for the monster. One thing that does make this movie hard to judge is the real life fate of the cast. Dominique Dunne, who played the eldest daughter, was murdered by her boyfriend just months after the movie's release. This was her first and only feature film, and she was in the middle of shooting the miniseries V when the murder occurred, forcing the producers of that miniseries to reshoot her scenes with another actress. Heather O'Rourke who played the youngest daughter who needed to be rescued from the vortex, died of a sudden illness just days after the filming of Poltergeist III. Out of the cast that played the family, she was the only one to agree to be in the third movie. This began speculation that the franchise was cursed. It is hard watching the film today, knowing that both actresses would die so tragically soon after. Unfortunate baggage that will hurt this movie for decades to come.
The Resurrection of the Golden Wolf ( 1979 )
Another one of those movies with Sonny Chiba in a small role. About 15 minutes worth of screen time in a 2 hour 10 minute film. So far, with three out of four films that he only guest starred in, this has not been much of a Sonny Chiba box set. Not a bad film, but a bit pointless. Yusaku Matsuda plays the lead as a ruthless criminal who by day has a secret identity as a nerd working in an office. In the beginning of the movie Yusaku has just ambushed and murdered a courier transporting transporting 100 million yen for the bank, but then discovers he can not spend the loot because the police have the serial numbers of all the stolen cash. So instead he goes around killing local thugs in order to get the name of the city's drug kingpin. Then once he has found him, forces the kingpin to sell him 100 million yen worth of heroine with the stolen cash, which he will later sell for money that can't be traced. The movie suddenly switches to another plot. Sonny Chiba shows up as a blackmailer who is blackmailing an executive of Yusaku's company with evidence of embezzlement. So Yusaku follows him and steals the evidence from him. Suddenly we are in plot 3 where Yusaku seduces the mistress of another of his company's executives, and after getting her addicted to heroine, begins pumping her for information. And then we find ourselves in plot 4. The executives had hired a hitman to kill Sonny Chiba, but now the hitman is blackmailing them. Yusaku is able to manipulate the executives into hiring him to kill the blackmailing hitman and his crew. You have to wait until the end of the movie to find out how all four plots converge, but for most of it's running time it is as if the movie keeps abandoning plots without any resolution. Unlike the first two films in the Sonny Chiba collection, this one takes place in modern times. Or at least it was still modern times back in the 70s when it was shot. The film has a 70s music soundtrack with a lot of generic Japanese disco songs sung in broken English, and for some reason the occasionall 1900's melodramatic music ( the sort of music you hear in silent movies when the villain ties a girl to the railroad tracks. )
Doctor Mordrid: Master of the Unknown ( 1992 )
A while back I mentioned that Doctor Strange almost came to the big screen in '92 when a script was written, but the studio lost the rights, then made the movie anyway by changing the names of the characters. Doctor Mordrid is 74 minutes of almost nothing happening. ( yes, it is that short!! ) It was produced by Full Moon Entertainment, the studio that made direct to video B movies and who's greatest success was the Puppet Master franchise. The fact that for a brief time Full Moon had the rights to Doctor Strange is testament to the cheapo studios Marvel was selling its property to in the 80s and 90s. This was the same period that Live Entertainment had Punisher, 21st Century Film had Captain America and Roger Corman produced a very cheap Fantastic Four movie. Doctor Strange came ever so close to joining these other low budget Marvel films during their most embarrassing period. But unlike the unreleased Fantastic Four movie, the completed Doctor Mordrid movie was a chance to see exactly what we would have missed.
Jeffrey Combs is Doctor
Strange Mordrid, a warlock who lives in an old building that is not the Sanctum Sanctorum, as evident by other residents he leases apartments to. A good five minutes is wasted between two residents ( who you never see again ) arguing over a barking dog. Mordrid's apartment must be mystical, because it is full of antiques and books. The movie opens with Mordrid being warned by a pair of disembodied eyes that warn him that his nemesis Kabal ( Brian Thompson ) has escaped from the cosmic fortress he was kept prisoner in, and is now on Earth. To confirm this Mordrid travels to the cosmic fortress, which is a model of a castle on a floating rock, and a section of set consisting of a castle wall and a few rock outcrops. And that is all of the mystic realm you see. Once Mordrid is back on Earth, the film wastes more time until Mordrid and Kabal have their final anticlimactic confrontation in a one room museum that has only four displays, a dinosaur skeleton, a mammoth skeleton, a gals case with old bottles and the Philosopher's Stone. So basically, one of the most sought after mythical artifacts, only second in importance to the Ark of the Covenant, ended up in a cheap one room museum. Kabal wants to use the stone to release a hoard of demons on Earth as his army. Mordrid wants to stop him. So they both use their powers to make the dinosaur and mammoth have a stop motion animation fight. This is definitely not the big budget Doctor Strange released in theaters last year. ( Would any MCU movie have a scene where the villain fondles, then sacrafices a naked woman? ) The movie hovers between entertaining and waste of time boring. While some credit should be given to Full Moon for making a Doctor Strange like movie with such a small budget, this is one Marvel property which should have been left to the major studios who could have paid for a big budget ILM extravaganza.
Prison Break: The Final Break ( 2009 )
The FOX series Prison Break about two brothers who plan and escape from a maximum security prison, ended it's first season with the mass prison break. FOX promised that the breakout was just the beginning. Not really true. While the first season was about the planning and eventual execution of the break, most of the second season had the group of escaped convicts on a treasure hunt for a fortune in hidden ransom money they were told about by one of the escapees just before he died. For the third season most of the escapees wound up in a prison in Panama which they once again needed to escape from, and for the fourth season the escapees are captured and forced to work for homeland security on a black ops mission to use their skills to break into a building filled with enemy agents and steal a MacGuffin called Scylla. Pretty much everything after season 1 was a mess. And on top of that, actress Sarah Wayne Callies left the show during a contract dispute. At first her character's disappearance was explained as a kidnapping, but when the producers decided Callies was not returning, revealed her character had been executed by the kidnappers. And then Callies called back to accept the producers previous offer just as the episode where her character died was airing. So the next season they brought her character back, with the explanation that she had escaped from her kidnappers. Even though the previous season the kidnappers deliver her severed head to one of the brothers as proof of execution. By the end of the fourth season FOX decided to end the series. And to make sure it was the end, one of the brothers gets brain cancer. The episode cuts to a year later and the entire cast is gathered around his grave ( including severed head girl. )
Sure the series was a mess. Think ten times the mess of an average season of 24. But I enjoyed it. When it ended, I had assumed that was that. But then one day while reading an article, I discovered there had been a Prison Break movie. Apparently FOX had wanted to cut the season by two episodes. Those two episodes were suppose to take place in between where the brother discovers he still has cancer, and when the cast visits his grave. The unused footage was edited into a movie and released direct to video. And even though that movie showed how the brother really died ( not by cancer as we all had assumed, ) I could not be bothered tracking it down and renting it. The dead brother was played by actor Wentworth Miller, who five years later became the villain Captain Cold in the series The Flash. The producer of The Flash and the rest of the shows in the WB's Arrowverse was into trick casting ( for example, the recent casting of Teri Hatcher, formerly Lois Lane in Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, as a villianess in Supergirl ). So when Captian Cold got a partner named Heat Wave, they cast Dominic Purcell, who played the other brother in Prison Break. When the Arrowverse expanded to include the series Legends of Tomorrow, Captain Cold and Heat Wave reformed themselves and joined the rest of the heroes. So with both leads in another series, it seemed as if there was no chance that Prison Break would join 24 and The X-Files as the latest show that FOX resurrected from cancellation.
Except they did resurrect it. Season five of Prison Break begins this week. So I have no choice but to track down and watch the Prison Break movie.
The plot: the feds arrest severed head girl and send her to a prison to await trial while the brothers plot a scheme to break her out. And if I am seeming a little cryptic in this review, it is not just to avoid spoilers for those of you who just got interested in watching past seasons of Prison Break on Hulu, but that really having to explain the series would take several pages. The brother played by Miller comes up with a scheme to get himself into the prison, and then ends up sacrificing himself in order to get severed head girl out. Once outside the prison severed head girl is given a video left behind by the dead brother explaining that, because of the cancer, he had only a few weeks left to live anyway. Prison Break: The Final Break is no more entertaining than an average episode of the series. Which brings us to season five, which takes place about eight years later, and needs to explain why the exploded dead brother with terminal brain cancer is somehow alive and well and locked up in another prison. But then again, this is a series where you can cut someones head off and they will just grow a new one.