Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon Part VI of VI: POST HALLOWEEN EDITION

Three more selections of chilling terror to inspire your choices for next October or whenever you feel the call to horror. Afterwards, either I talk about something contemporary finally or more 80s retrospective entries.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Image from Youtube (Welcome to the Family, girl.)

Why am I talking about a 70s horror movie rather than the expected 80s one again? Because one of my selections for 80s horror is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and I had yet to see the highly influential and still highly effective original. It’s a movie that is able to shock and repulse, as it has been said, through not every element of what Leatherface and his family does is explicitly explained or shown off.

Much of what this movie does show you makes you think about what else goes into the process of this particular family’s lifestyle in some remote part of our second largest state, even if due to atlases we often see it and think of it as the biggest.

That Texas is this big, unwieldy state in the American Union adds to the tension of the concept of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not just that you could be effectively alone in this wide open place with any potential help far away, but that somewhere, maybe closer than you think, is a group of people more mad and macabre than you can fathom.

Another element is that while the narrative of the movie is indeed fictional despite the claims of the opening crawl, it was inspired by a real serial killer who is just about the most screwed up in the analogues of American history: Ed Gein. His influence is great, seeing as how he already inspired Hitchcock with Psycho and would later inspire Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, among others.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterwork is the most viscerally influenced as if there was doubt, but again it doesn’t go as far as you would think and it’s just as uncomfortable in spite of its restraint. While there is blood, especially near the end, there is basically no gore and only one person gets chainsawed, and it’s shot late at night and far enough away from view that the details are not graphic if still undeniably clear.

More than artistry, Hooper actually didn’t go further because he was originally aiming for a PG RATING. Now, of course, the PG rating back then was more broad in what could be covered, an issue that led to the PG-13 rating a decade later. I’ve seen PG rated movies with full on nudity and sex so there.

The raters at the time not only laughed at Hooper’s gall at trying for a PG rating, they initially slapped him with an X rating. Just the subject matter couldn’t allow for that low rating, hell, it would be very hard to pull off any story with cannibalism with even a PG-13. X was the original NC-17 and a lot of movies that once had that rating would be considered R or even lower by today.

1969’s Midnight Cowboy was given an X almost entirely because it had male prostitutes. Nowadays, it would be a light R or even PG-13 and even then the severe rating didn’t stop it from receiving Oscar Gold, at a time when that Gold meant something. Another film that could be given a less harsh rating or has done so is The Wild Bunch and TTCM 74 now has a fair R classification.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre is often viewed alongside Black Christmas of the same year of being the first real slasher movies. Psycho is considered a precursor than an actual example and the slasher genre in many people’s eyes truly began with John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 tells what is now an overly familiar tale of a group of young men and women going on a road-trip through a desolate place, all in their Volkswagen which sadly does not have A/C and the Texas heat is certainly sweltering. I thought Texas gets hot in the Summer now but I suppose it was little better in the 70s.

The crew consists of five, three males and two females, one of which is called Sally, who will become possibly the first of many, many “final girls”, the often feminine sole survivor of a slasher’s rampage. She has her brother Franklin, overweight, stuck in a wheelchair and the most overly Texan sounding of the group. Despite the circumstances of his condition, Franklin will be the last of the group to die, perhaps done to subvert the obvious expectation he’d be among the first.

After a seriously unsettling encounter with a hitchhiker called Nubbins, who acts as a clear forewarning for the film’s events, they come across an old abandoned house that used to belong to Sally and Franklin’s family. In fact, that near plantation-like house is due to them being part of a family which runs a slaughterhouse business, which makes the coming events all the more ironic.

I first thought that this was Leatherface and Co’s lair, but no, it’s nearby which contains most suspiciously before you reach the house a large tent containing a bunch of cars, with their fuel being drained to help power the lights. Hmmm, that’s odd. If I was remotely genre savvy, that would’ve been a titanic red flag to run back, collect your friends and keep on trucking along. That this is a movie at essentially the beginning of the slasher era actually helps as these youngsters have no cultural reason to be wary, though I suppose some deductive reasoning could’ve worked just as well.

The first teen to reach the house, who is the leader of the five, is also the first victim. I would not be surprised if the choice to off the leader early on would inspire the brilliant narrative move for Alien at the end of the decade.I should note now how ingenious this first encounter with Leatherface really is. You would expect a scare chord upon seeing Leatherface encounter our ill-fated teen.

Instead the admittingly disturbing music, which was meant to resemble sounds an animal would hear in a very particular place (do I need to spell it out?) is playing before, during and after the guy’s encounter with the big, apron-wearing fella. There is no sudden rise or drop in the music in the scene. There’s no need when what you’re seeing is the scare.

Despite the creepy music, it doesn’t fully prepare you for the moment and might leave you off-kilter with what you had just seen. It happens so fast. The dude walks into the house, asking if there’s any gas they can borrow for their van, which is running low, and decides to up and enter the house. I mean, I get that this is set nearly 50 years ago, but c’mon my man!

What further intrigues the guy to enter the house is not only that it’s an open screen door but that he hears a strange, off sound like a pig squealing, the source we never get to learn for certain. He comes across a red-colored hallway at the foyer, full of displayed animal skulls when suddenly Leatherface is there and he looks and acts just as surprised to see the teen as he is to see him. He immediately whacks the guy on the head and carries him further into the house, but not before shutting the hallway with a metal door. All of this occurs in around 20 seconds or less.

In spite of how genuinely scary Leatherface is, he’s also paradoxically the least evil of the family. For one, Hooper has stated that Leatherface’s behavior in at least the first movie is not predicated on rage, blood-lust or sadism, but on pure fear. He has been taught by his brothers that make up the appropriately titled “Sawyer” family that he must be wary of anyone that comes from outside the family grounds, most likely due to their activities being exposed and stopped. He is also overly subservient and pathetic around the Old Man (Jim Siedow), who may be one of three things: his father, his uncle or even his brother.

Right after he has caught and killed the third teen, while he was looking for his girlfriend the second victim, Leatherface rushes over to the window, looking out and around with terror in his eyes. That’s right, one of the most legendary, frightening and violent slasher villains of all time is, in at least one interpretation, as scared of you as you are of him.

A lot of the details of what the teens go through and see are pretty well known by now and not just because this film is currently 48 years old. It’s such a defining, influential and starkly memorable piece of American horror that a lot of moments have entered into generally broad knowledge, so I risk repeating a lot of what may be known or spoiling something that should be left for one to finally discover, such as the immediacy of Leatherface’s debut.

What I can also say is that Hooper’s filming of the movie is genius, as it doesn’t always feel like I’m watching a movie in the conventional sense. The minimalist approach to the soundtrack and how the camera is framed with a scratchy ,DIY feel to the camerawork almost feels like a found footage movie if it wasn’t for how many of the shots are staged. It’s unconventional, near Indie take on filmmaking reinforces a sense that what you’re watching is either really happening or that you are watching an utterly earnest recreation. It was this direction which led many to believe that the marketing had told the truth of this being a real event.

The third act , by which Sally is the last one standing has a near breathless pace, where neither her nor the audience have any time to decompress. A sense that any minute now, especially during the infamous dinner scene I have up there as header image, Sally will die. Despite being only an observer on a fictional series of events, I felt just about as helpless as Sally, hoping that the nightmare would end, that she would just wake up.

It even got to a point where it almost became too much. In spite of the lack of all the things a movie like Texas Chainsaw Massacre has you expect to feature, the endless screaming of Marilyn Burns’ Sally, the utter lack of sympathy or awareness that what the Sawyer family is doing is horribly messed up to say the least and wondering just how the first final girl will ultimately escape put me for in an exhausted yet exhilarated final stretch.

The famous conclusion, of Sally being chased by Leatherface onto a road and then finally finding safety on the back of a pickup truck, left me feeling not so much triumphant as weary, but in a good way. As the famous final shot of Leatherface twirling his chainsaw around in the air in frustration for failing to stop Sally which leads to an utterly sudden but correct cut to black, Sally is seen slowly laughing to the point of hysteria. She physically survived her stay at the Sawyer place, but as for her mind…

The original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is often seen as not only the sole good movie period in the franchise it spawned, but as a must see for those with the stomachs to get through it. What I saw and what I experienced has me gladly join that bandwagon. If you but the courage and the will for just one of these kinds of movies, make sure it’s this one. It’s a literal grind-house film with a brain on top of its guts.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Image from The Austin Chronicle (Here, have a non-disturbing image to help lighten the mood after the last section.)

Rather than go for a straight follow-up to his 1974 classic, Tobe Hooper, who had (maybe) directed 1982’s Poltergeist and 1985’s Lifeforce (which I covered for this year’s Horrorthon), wanted a different approach than outright trying to top the original. It could be that the first couldn’t be topped, it was just so well done the way it was. But on the other hand, he still wanted to return to the grisly world that started his career.

He opted for a black comedy approach that, more than anything, reminds one less of the original movie in tone and more like the cult classic 1980 cannibalism horror comedy, Motel Hell. Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 does actually carry a lot of the same plot beats of the original, including another dinner scene and the final girl that you see above you laughing mad by the end of it all. Despite being a narrative followup set thirteen years later, it’s almost a darkly comic remake or re-imagining of the first, much like Sam Raimi’s approach to the second Evil Dead.

The Sawyer family is still out there, still preying on people who happen to walk into their part of the figurative woods. Police officer “Lefty” Enright, portrayed with enthusiasm by Dennis Hopper, knows it and has spent the past near decade and a half looking for any clues that will lead him to Leatherface and company. Everyone thinks he’s mad, and they’re right. But, he’s also quite right about the Sawyers being out there.

“Stretch” Brock (Caroline Williams), a radio DJ living near Wichita Falls in Northeastern Texas, manages to catch evidence of Leatherface’s latest predation as some late-night callers, known to harass Stretch and her radio station with prank calls, happen to record the fatal attack they’re victims of. Hearing that is enough for Lefty to realize that he has to get literally revved up to face the family and end the massacre once and for all. In one of the best scenes, Lefty goes to a Chainsaw store, browses the many selections and decides on three that will do just nicely on gaining both justice and revenge on the cannibal family, seeing as how he has an out of nowhere connection to one of the victims of the first movie.

However, the Sawyer family also learn of the recording Stretch made of their activities. They send to the radio station the replacement for Stubbins the hitchhiker (seeing as how he’s the only family member that died in the original), Chop-Top, and as the consensus as proven, he is the best new addition for the movie. Even people who aren’t really hot about Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 admit that Bill Moseley’s performance as the music obsessed Vietnam veteran-hippie from hell is the true highlight of the movie.

The scene where he confronts Stretch alone in the radio station and rambles on and on to the point that Stretch gets increasingly worried (as she should) about what his actual intentions are is possibly the other standout moment aside from Lefty’s chainsaw shopping. He has a metal coat-hanger that he keeps scratching his head with, all the more concerning considering that he heats up the tip with a lighter though we soon learn why and how it relates to his Vietnam history. It also sheds light that more than a few of the Sawyer family may not be related by blood necessarily though supposedly Chop-Top wasn’t there for the first movie as he was busy serving in Nam’. The original movie was released in 74 but set in 1973, the last year of American involvement.

The encounter between Stretch and Chop-Top cascades into another fantastic jump scare reveal of Leatherface. While Leatherface was already revealed during the scene where the callers are killed on the road, his introduction regarding the lead characters is even better. How he appears actually made me jump in my sofa seat. It’s followed by a different take for the hulking slasher that keeps the mentally challenged grunting and mannerisms from before but frames it as much more comedic. In almost every scene involving Leatherface and his now much longer chainsaw, he moves his feet up back and forth and motions his chainsaw up in the air in a funny motion that’s purposefully silly. While he is still a killer and a threat, this Leatherface is even more sympathetic than before, due to him being treated even worse than last time from his family.

Leatherface is also shown for the first time to have the quality of mercy, if only due to becoming infatuated with Stretch. It’s both creepy and sad in how Leatherface goes about with Stretch and how she has to go through a hell of a lot to allow him not to, you know, do some chainsaw massacring on her. By the time the film crescendos with Leatherface engaging in an honest to God chainsaw duel with Lefty, I actually felt sorry for the big guy, likely because had he been in a much less depraved nurturing environment, he could’ve been a less dangerous and even friendly mentally challenged Goliath of a man.

The guy that nurtured Leatherface to be the horrifying yet tragic monster that he is the returning Old Man played by Jim Siedow. To tell you the truth, I often got Siedow confused with Gilbert Gottfried due to how both their face and manner of speaking are close if not exact. It was as if I was watching an evil relative of Gottfried onscreen and had a ball with his interplay antics with both Leatherface and Chop-Top.

The film concludes at an abandoned Texas History amusement park, which is the new Sawyer family hideout. What the family is up to now echoes the intent of what the couple from Motel Hell were about: taking their “practices” and making a profit out of it. The Old Man is the proud winner of a Texas vs Oklahoma chili contest and that he wins at all is you better believe a statement about how actually closer than not we may be to a much more savage, worse aspect of ourselves from the neanderthal age.

Despite the praise I’ve given to TTCM2, it’s not as good a movie as the first. It’s pacing especially at the end can feel overstretched (pun not intended) and that it copies, as a joke or not, a lot of the same moments from the first time around can make the proceedings feel repetitive. The last moment, which is more of a spiritual reflection of the last scene than a copy does work and honestly, were I or any to survive the events of this movie, would I not lose just a little bit of my sanity?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is not as strong a recommendation for me as the first, but once you understand what Tobe Hooper is getting at with his ersatz return to this flavor of slasher horror and you can also stand it, you should have a satisfyingly memorable time. If you can’t bring yourself to see the whole thing through, I still recommend finding and viewing online clips of the scenes with Lefty at the chainsaw store, Chop-Top’s introduction and maybe Lefty and Leatherface’s duel, a moment that like with Motel Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if it inspired a boss fight from Resident Evil 7, replete with chainsaw vs chainsaw.

After all, RE7 also clear took inspiration from Texas Chainsaw Massacre with its own first person dinner scene, a moment that counts among the most comically dark and disturbing in Resident Evil’s entire history, especially since all the player can do up to a point is move their head around in desperation, like Sally and Stretch before.

If you got the guts and the time, jump right in and see what you think.

Hellraiser (1987)

Image from Upcoming on Screen (The least disturbing yet still disturbing image I could find.)

Upon it’s impending American release, Stephen King himself declared that the future of horror, the guy that would carry the torch after him, was Clive Barker, the author/director behind the movie you see before you. He didn’t quite become the title he was heralded for, but he for certain became a facet of the horror landscape. He’s one of two figures identified with body horror, the other being our boy David Cronenberg.

There have been 11 movies in the Hellraiser series, the most recent being a reboot attempt under Hulu with a now female Pinhead. When it comes to films from the series to recommend, that has been difficult to ascertain, as only the first movie has garnered acclaim from both audiences and critics, albeit overtime. If I had to guess, it would be based on whats fans of the series say and on how closely or not Barker was involved in the project.

The first movie, as many allegorical horror movies are want to be, are about asking uncomfortable questions about ourselves and not being OK with the answers we might discover. Despite its title, Hellraiser is not about the horror of discovering that, yes, Hell and demons or something akin to that is real, but about how actually different the experience of pain is to pleasure. While the general attitude is that there is of course a difference as we always desire pleasure and fear pain, the truth is much more complicated.

What arouses or feels good to a human being is a canvas that gets bigger and bigger the more we study it. For a long time we have been aware of those who can find pleasure in pain being put upon them. Whether you call it BDSM or not, whether you find it morally abhorrent or not, it doesn’t change that it’s there and that plenty of everyday people, people you wouldn’t call suspect or concerning engage in it. They engage in it consensually, with rules and the understanding that it’s always OK to stay stop when the need arises.

Culturally, this side of sexual identity or expression, with it not always necessarily having a sexual aspect has been vilified, feared or at least questioned by those who either have or are instilled in them conventional attitudes or tastes in sexuality. I myself don’t quite get BDSM based on what I find pleasurable or not. When I feel pain, I simply feel pain and don’t want more of that. And yet, somehow, I do get the sense that someone could find a way to derive pleasure from it. For instance, after pain of many different sorts subside, you can feel pretty good even great afterwards. Have no idea if that’s a connection but there.

Hellraiser is not strictly about the “painful” pleasures as conventional pleasure is also explored. It’s core idea is what happens if you reach a point where all the options to experience pleasure are used up, explored and you still can’t get no satisfaction. That is the lead motivation behind Frank, a man who gets his hands on a puzzle box called the “Cube of Configuration”. Upon using it, the Cenobites arrive, led by Pinhead (Doug Bradley with his wonderfully sonorous voice) and give onto him a supernatural experience that to some is a true nightmare but to him is the true peak of what he craves. The only cost is his soul under the Cenobites.

However, Frank’s brother Larry (who I just learned writing this is played by Andrew Robinson who portrayed one of the best characters on Deep Space Nine, Garak) arrives at Frank’s home with his British wife Julia. Because Frank seemingly abandoned the place, they get to buy it in his absence. Julia, who we learn in flashback was in an adulterous affair with Frank, learns to her initial horror what has become of Frank. In a freak accident where Larry bleeds on the floor where Frank was taken by the Cenobites, that begins Frank’s slow, gruesome yet amazingly filmed resurrection.

Just as Larry’s daughter Kirsty comes to visit the family, does Julia encounter a returned Frank, who is little better than a zombie in appearance. In order to get his full body back, he needs more blood and the best way to expedite the process is through whole ass people being brought over to the house when Larry and Kirsty aren’t around and killing them. At first Julia is horrified at what it will take to get her lover back, but eventually upon remembering her promise to Frank in the throes of passion that she would do anything for him and plain old lust, she slowly lets go of her reservations and starts to gladly help out.

As film academics have made note of, all while likely smoking a pipe thoughtfully, Julia and Kirsty are meant to be contrasted as the two female leads. Kirsty, in spite of being a young, sexually open woman is a kind, decent person who never falls victim to the same temptations as Frank her Uncle. Julia however, shows how simply unsuitable a partner she would be to Larry or basically anyone with ethics as she lets more and more terrible things slide, all to get someone that was really great in bed, if indeed the best, back. The things we do for lust.

Sexual arousal and the compulsions around it are near-universal, unless you are asexual or have a weak or non-existent sex drive. While most of us would be aghast at Julia’s actions, you never really know where those sexual desires could take you if you let them. Even worse, the drive could be so strong that a question of whether there was any choice in the matter arises. Our instincts define our choices more than we would like and rarely for the better.

Kirsty does get involved with the Cenobites’ cube, out of sheer curiosity, having no idea what it does save that it relates to what it’s doing to her family. It’s the cube’s capabilities, among others being a portal to a dark other-world. That alone can best explain why there is so much meat on the bone of Hellraiser as a franchise, so many possibilities. The meat proved to be not of the best quality, but still.

It’s when the Cenobites get directly involved with Kirsty’s use of the cube is where the film really picks up and becomes more of what I was expecting. I had no idea that a good chunk would deal with an unfaithful wife’s attempts to help restore a lover to life. The Cenobites are intriguing on top of how they look due to being evil beings who have a surprisingly ambiguous side. It could factor into Barker’s atheism, but they’re not strictly the hosts of hell the name implies and may not even be from Hell.

Often in fiction the devils or demons seek out human targets for their unholy games and agendas. The Cenobites are demons that wait on you to come to them. They are secure in the knowledge that the appetites of humanity will always be so that eventually someone will learn of their cube and their power and seek them out. In spite of the consequence that your soul and being will be forever in their hands, it is very much a deal with a devil that puts the impetus on you to see it through.

To save time and my carpal-tunnel hands from further undesired pain, the film concludes in a practical effects spectacle that once again shows the nigh unique things that practical 80s horror can bring to the table that is all but gone from today. In spite of its dark, brutal and oh so bloody imagery, there is a strange savage sense of satisfaction in watching the ultimate fates of Frank and Julia. No matter how horrible their ends by the cenobites are, they are very much deserving of what comes to them. You may cringe, but you still won’t call it inappropriate.

Like the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it is enough that you cautiously check the first Hellraiser. It’s a still novel vision of horror and the supernatural that taps into various insecurities just about all of us have. I felt uncomfortable and yet I was glad I did as it reminded me of my humanity. If you didn’t feel anything from watching Hellraiser, I would be very sorry for you indeed. Unlikely I know, as this British classic HAS SUCH SIGHTS TO SHOW YOU.

On a final note, I must give props to composer Christopher Young, who does a classical sounding yet oddly fitting score that, of all things, reminded me of the music from my favorite Wallace and Gromit feature, The Wrong Trousers. Sounds random, but it’s a hearty endorsement all the same just to listen to Hellraiser on top of watching it.

Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon Part V of VI

It’s Halloween day as I begin writing this part and I shall complete it five days afterwards. It’s really so that I can’t help but do part VI well after as well. So again, take these belated Halloween entries on this blog for next year’s enjoyment or whenever you want, if I recommend it or it leave you curious.

Here, we cover Goonies-but Universal Horror Monsters, Stan Winston’s remarkable directorial debut and an anime movie classic coming from a time when Japan was showing us up in mature animation and then some.

The Monster Squad (1987)

Image from Bloody Disgusting (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Dark Universe if it happened in the 80s. And worked.)

The Monster Squad is special in that it recalls the last time I can think of when young kids or teens really seemed to care about the original block of horror monsters, or at least that’s the impression this movie is supposed to leave you with.

It could just as easily be director Fred Dekker and screenwriter Shane Black (script doctor for Predator and future director of Iron Man 3) making a love letter to what they grew up with as kids, seeing cinematic takes on Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, Mummy and the Creature from the black lagoon or in this movie’s case Gill Man on black and white television.

When it comes to the visual representations of this classic creatures, they are just about the best at being both quasi-contemporary while faithful enough to their original appearances.

The Monster Squad as a film of the 80s let alone a kids movie, is the type of experience that technically can’t be done anymore. I say technically because we actually kinda did have an experience that among other things apes with love The Goonies, Stand by Me and this film: Stranger Things.

Netflix’s blockbuster phenomenon continues to go strong based on the fourth season’s commercial success if nothing else and whatever good or bad you have to say about it, you can give partial credit to The Monster Squad. It’s a very appealing fantasy even as a grown adult. Imagine you’re put in a dangerous situation like confronting these literary and cinematic boogeymen and actually having the knowledge to confront and survive them. All of that and you are around 12 years old.

The Monster Squad is led by Sean who proudly wears a “Stephen King rocks!” shirt which considering a lot of what I’ve recently watched feels like a nice capoff. The squad consists of four other boys, one who seems young enough to be in Kindergarten and has interesting varied tastes beyond horror as I’ll mention later on.

The oldest member is a teen who is clearly trying to pull off a tough, bad boy image to get girls and yet despite his age wants to hang out with kids younger than him. A little weird honestly, though it could have something to do with the squad’s treehouse having a good view of one of the girl’s next door getting dressed or undressed (It’s an 80s movie).

One of the most notable members also plays on a convention that was very much of its time like pervy teens watching girls getting dressed: the chubby kid. Stand by Me has one ,The Goonies has Chunk and his love of Baby Ruths and this movie has what is up until his dramatic name reveal as straight up Fat-Kid. In what really does show the film’s age when it comes to demeaning people heavier than you who may or may not have an eating problem, Fat-Kid is called as such by both bullies and by his friends. The treatment is so similar that I actually mistook some bullies for being Fat-Kid’s friends. It’s that bad.

There’s also sadly then true to life casual slinging of the F-word when it comes to someone gay and one very dated scene where the girl that was being perved on earlier is being asked by the squad to help them with stopping Dracula and the monsters. They believe the teen girl called Lisa is a virgin so in order to get her to help in spite of her incredulousness, they up and blackmail her with pictures in a state of undress. Jesus.

I mean, this kinda stuff can distract and even detract from all the positives like the pretty great presentation and use of the monsters. Dracula as portrayed by Duncan Regehr is pretty fantastic as the vampire of vampires. This is the case for a lot of people but what really gets this Dracula high up there isn’t just genuinely trying to kill a bunch of meddling kids nor his cruel enslaved treatment for both Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man, but that he calls a little girl, Sean’s sister, a bitch right to her face.

In spite of Stranger Things existing, Monster Squad recalls a bygone time when films for all ages had both adults and kids swearing though rarely to the highest level and a level of violence that’s kinda daring. Dracula’s brides, the gill-man and the Wolf-Man get it the worst violence-wise and are the clearest reason behind the PG-13 rating, more so than The Goonies‘ PG, which was given after the creation of the former rating.

Of course the Wolf-Man often is the stand-out monster not only being central to the best known line, “Wolfman’s got Nards!”, but in an attempt to kill him when no silver bullet is around, he explodes from dynamite and because that isn’t a weakness, the guy comes back together like the Iron Giant would.

What exactly is Dracula and those monsters doing in the Squad’s home town? Well, it’s almost the hundredth anniversary of the last time that Dracula was truly vulnerable, when an amulet would make him so. Van Helsing a century ago tried to do so by sucking Dracula and his minions into literally Limbo but instead he got himself sucked up.

His followers took the amulet across the Atlantic over to America hoping that would deter Dracula. Well, it didn’t and Dracula summons and awakens the other Universal horror monsters to assist him in finding and destroying the amulet, making him invincible. It’s not explained why any other method of killing a vampire like a stake to the heart wouldn’t kill him though it certainly hurts as the film shows.

I guess being THE vampire means that his power level is so high it weakens the weaknesses. Also, there has to be an excuse for an epic finale, which is not unlike the ending of Evil Dead II, what with a spell from a book being read that summons a portal to suck stuff in. Same year in fact as Ash’s groovy sophomore appearance.

So the Monster Squad assembles, with their numbers growing to include Sean’s aforementioned little sister Phoebe, Frankenstein’s Monster who gives up his loyalty to Dracula very easily due to Phoebe’s friendly influence and a Holocaust survivor who knows German that is called at first apprehensively then affectionately by the Squad Scary German Guy. The poor guy is never asked what his real name is not that he seems to mind. Then again, him helping the kids fight literal monsters over the figurative ones from his tragic past takes precedence I suppose.

Aside from Scary German Guy, where’s all the adults? Well, of course they don’t believe the kids until it’s much too late and the lone black dude, Sean and Phoebe’s Dad’s cop partner, will pay the price for their disbelief. It is very established in stories where a kid or group of kids are the lead heroes facing a dangerous conflict will have adults, parents or otherwise, who are at best bemused by what their kids are up to. On the one hand, is that not how parents or anyone over the age of 13 would likely react? This realistic response has become overtime a turgid cliche.

So far, I have given off a positive response to this movie, barring that outdated stuff I brought up. Well, let me take the time to make it clear in how Monster Squad stacks up in comparison to the other “Kids go on perilous adventure” genre as seen through Stand by Me and especially The Goonies. This is the weakest of the three and that has to do with the weak characterization of most if not all the Monster Squad members.

The Goonies, from the four boys including Mikey (Sean Astin), Chunk, Mouth (Corey Feldman), Data (Jonathan Ke Huy Quan) to the teenage newcomers who join in due to place and circumstance such as Mikey’s brother Brand (future Thanos Josh Brolin), Andrea and Stef all feel well defined and recognizable on their own merits. It’s the well-defined nature of the seven Goonies that helps along what is one of the most enjoyable family pictures the 80s had ever produced. Their character aspects help better inform their underground adventure to find pirate treasure as being as memorable and fun as it was.

The Monster Squad characters, while some have a few traits, like Sean and Fat-Kid, feel flat and are just meant to serve what the plot needs them to do without any way of how their own characterizations inform what they go through. It doesn’t even bother me that some if not all of the Goonies fall into some convention or stereotype. How they’re told by Goonies screenwriter Chris Columbus and executed by the actors makes them feel more real and noteworthy than any one Monster Squad member.

The film is also really short, under an hour and 30 minutes, which means it doesn’t drag, but it also feels as if they’re rushing past any character buildup beyond the most obvious. Sure, it means it gets us involved with the monster stuff in good time, but there’s a cost.

If you haven’t already checked out The Monster Squad and people of a certain, nostalgic age likely already have, please do so but I would encourage you to also see Goonies and Stand by Me in conjunction if you have the time. You will likely feel the difference as I did. But there’s nothing from what I said that implies you won’t have something of a good time. It’s own conceit, that of youngsters enjoying old horror movies, is also a refreshing touch from where I stand.

Oh, and this film will likely have you google ”Robotech” and discover out of the blue an influential American dub and mashing of three separate anime shows. Love it or hate it, you will get something out of it, no lie.

Pumpkinhead (1988)

Image from Entertainment Weekly (In West Virginia, no one can hear you scream.)

Stan Winston is a legend in the practical effects industry and is responsible for some of yesteryear cinema’s most impressive V/FX. The Alien Queen in Aliens. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the Terminators in….The Terminator, John Carpenter’s Thing, The Predator among other accomplishments.

His sole feature length movie director job has him doing his unique take on both the creature feature and the slasher genre. Set in some podunk part of America, almost certainly part of the Appalachians, Lance Henriksen plays a simple road store owner named Ed Harley. He has a bespectacled son, Billy, and a dog.

Some city folk teens are looking to stay in a cabin deep in the woods and are bringing their motorbikes along. At a stop at Ed’s place, some of the more adrenaline fueled kids can’t wait to play with their bikes. In doing so, they run over little Billy. The teens save for one stay with the boy until Ed arrives and angrily takes his son away. Sadly, little Billy dies upon returning to their home.

Being already a widower and having no other family save his dog, Ed is left with nothing except vengeance. At the apprehension of his fellow hill-dwellers, he heads to an old crone who lives at a swamp near a mountain. That crone, who sounds as if she has smoked a trillion Marlboros in her life has indeed the power to get Ed Harley his vengeance. There is a steep price. Ed accepts as hasn’t he already lost basically everything that matters? Everything but his own moral compass that is.

As a young boy, he once stayed cooped up in his house with his ma and pa and saw for his own eyes the eventual tool of his revenge, the Pumpkinhead, as it slowly yet surely hunts down and kills some poor sucker who had wronged another man. Since childhood, he has known what his weapon would look like, and once it starts cruelly hunting down those city teens, he begins to regret it, as the crone had warned. But, there is no going back once the Pumpkinhead is summoned through a ritual in blood.

What separates Pumpkinhead from other slashers of its time and in general is that only one of the crew of teens meant to die or be victimized by our slasher is the teen biker who struck Billy accidentally. Due to pre-existing trouble with the police, he runs from what he did and soon puts the rest of his innocent friends including his girlfriend in grave danger. To be fair, not one of them could have known that a terror from hillbilly folktale was coming for them.

For that reason, you’re not meant to really be cheering on the slasher or at least looking forward to how he or it will do in its targets one by one. It’s more of a genuine horror experience for that reason. Playing on the idea that the wronged person for which it’s committing this violence would want to have the perpetrator suffer, Pumpkinhead takes his time when other slashers like Jason and Michael have the courtesy to often make it quick..

Now, based on the header image, you’re wondering how that monster got the name “pumpkinhead”. Well, it’s because the body that will be the creature is exhumed from a creepy graveyard full of pumpkins. When it comes to what the fella looks like, well, it actually changes overtime. At first I thought I had overlooked something watching or there was a continuity issue, but it soon becomes clear that it’s deliberate.

In this instance, as the film nears the end, it starts to resemble..Ed Harley himself and that leads into a ingenuous plot element I will leave for you to watch and see for yourself though I think some of you can piece it together already. As expected from Stan Winston, Pumpkinhead as an effects monster is brilliantly executed. It comes closer than most of its kind to actually looking like a real creature, alien yet so familiar to our eyes. Now, as my image blurb points out, it can resemble a familiar cinema monster from beyond the stars, one that Winston has already been involved in.

It’s Pumpkinhead’s behavior, his sheer presence that makes him into what is affectionately called by fans the “hillbilly xenomorph”. Where the similarity is forgivable due to how well he works conceptually and in practice.

This is a definite recommend, especially for those looking for an expedient horror thrill as it clocks at just 86 minutes. Unlike the issues that came with Monster’s Squad’s swiftness, not a second feels wasted nor does it last any longer than it needs to make it’s country-ass diabolical points.

Vampire Hunter D (Japan) (1985)

Image from IMDB (A whole different kind of “pale” rider.)

Rarely is the European aesthetic as cool or awe inspiring in my eyes when seen through the lens of Japanese interpretation.

While I have yet to summon the courage and the patience to see Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls, Bloodborne or Elden Ring through, these hard but beloved games from Japanese developer From Software showcase in one respect what the Land of the Rising Sun have done in visualizing Medieval and Victorian Europe in a way that seems outwardly respectful, even fascinated.

Other examples are many of Studio Ghibli’s work, especially under Miyazaki. In spite of his many criticisms of the West’s geopolitical actions, he does wonders in bringing European cultural and architectural expression to life in a way that might be more beautiful than the real thing. All while still keeping his critique of Western imperialism intact, best seen in Castle in the Sky (my first and favorite) and Howl’s Moving Castle.

Some of Japan’s appreciation for European aesthetic can become uncomfortable, however. This is especially true when it tackles Germanic style, especially when regarding those in positions of power, like nobility and the military. Manga and anime series alike have received both praise and harsh criticism of utilizing European imagery that can get a little too…Nazi-like.

Mobile Suit Gundam’s Principality of Zeon was clearly inspired by the visual and political aspect of Nazi Germany, though in fairness they are the baddies of the story. But like Star Wars’ also Fascist Galactic Empire, they look so cool being evil. Zeon’s Mobile Suits (Piloted giant robots) called Zakus look menacing yet awesome.

MSG shows sympathetic if still villainous members of Zeon and also establishes that the original vision of the outer space breakaway state from Earth’s Federation wasn’t necessarily always Fascist, rather with supposedly noble intent that humanity must embrace being a species among the stars and not under Earth’s jurisdiction. Why I am spending so much time on how the Japanese use of European and recent European style and history can have unfortunate implications instead of just getting to Vampire Hunter D?

Well, I just wanted something of a crash course in how Japan, for all its at times too-reverent love of its own complicated and bloody history, like anyone else’s, can also show an honestly humbling enthusiasm for exploring other cultures and infusing a bit of themselves in it.

Vampire Hunter D is set ten thousand years in the future, presumably from when it was released like in 1985. It’s a post-apocalyptic future with a mix of high-flung cyber-tech like robot horses with stuff that is definitely more agrarian, old by today’s standards.

Whatever the event that sent humanity into this long, dark future with a mix of old and very, very new, it is certainly not a world that a viewer of 1985 or 2022 would recognize. The abundance of Gothic monsters preying on humanity’s remaining settlements attest to that.

Vampire Hunter D plays with how in this far future, humanity is still or maybe for the first time, openly dealing with fantasy horrors of a very distant past. What is one monster of the night that can naturally bridge the vast gulf of ten thousand years and even then? Vampires!

Count Lee (who I at first thought was called “Countly”), an obvious reference to the second most famous person to portray Dracula cinematically, wants a new bride. He doesn’t need one as his vampire aristocracy rules-minded daughter keeps reminding him of, but he wants one because why not? Why the hell not?

As he later reminds his vampire daughter that their kind can be around for a very, very long time. How you start to view time and keep yourself occupied when being immortal becomes as important as basic vampire stuff like drinking blood and caring for your fangs.

Doris Lang, a blonde-haired farm-girl, who lives only with her young brother Dan, are accosted by Count Lee and she is soon vampirized. It takes awhile for the process to become a full vampire on Doris, longer than most depictions, so there’s enough time,she hopes, for a very long-haired, hatted stranger on horseback to help with dealing with Count Lee and his court of vampires and other creepy-crawlies. Here comes the Toshiro Mifune/ Clint Eastwood-like D.

Yes, his name is straight-up D. Why? Well, as the final confrontation D has with the Count strongly insinuates, he is a descendant of THE vampire, Dracula. This also plays into the mid-movie reveal which I honestly saw coming that D is a Dhampir, someone who is the offspring of a vampire and human coupling. It doesn’t matter whom is whom, so long as they have sex and one doesn’t turn the partner before and during the process so to speak.

D is part of the small but significant group of heroes/anti-heroes that are half-vampires that include Marvel’s Blade and Castlevania’s Alucard. It is generally easier for a Dhampir to resist the desire to consume blood, but it is never gone. Because they can resist, they are thus far more likely to be on the side of good and also have the added benefit of walking in sunlight without consequence.

They are also made hunters of vampires for those same reasons, whether it comes from a thirst for justice or self-loathing or both. D falls more into the latter category than Blade or Alucard in wishing to hunt vampires because he despises that he is half of one and has that potential temptation at all. Even if his mission is impossible in ridding the world of vampirism, being long lived or immortal gives him basically all the time in the world to find out.

A key distinction from other hero dhampirs is that he has on his left hand a living entity with a mouth and eyes. It speaks to D and often tempts him to go about being more…vampy. He also tries to goad D to be more human as D also abstains from most forms of physical contact, up to and including sex. After all, D fears that in the heat of the moment, he could bite his lover/partner and spread the curse further, defeating his life purpose.

The Hand yet argues that he has to live a little eventually, he won’t necessarily get someone vampirized if he goes all the way with someone and without that kind of emotional or physical connection, all he’s got is his mission. A mission, while well intended, that by itself can make you lonely and miserable. Considering his dhampir lifespan, a far longer ordeal than any one of us will endure.

D accepts the offer to help Doris and Dan with their vampire problem even when he realizes it will involve fighting Count Lee, who he recognizes as a potentially unsurpassable foe, even for him. Eventually, circumstances force D to journey alone into the Count’s castle, full of beautifully animated yet ugly creatures for him to face.

It’s at this moment that I might address Vampire Hunter D’s mature if possibly reckless attitude towards sexual expression, namely showing off female nudity. Keep in mind that anime and manga have long surpassed other regional forms of animation like my own when it comes to mainstream mature content being presented. Japan, despite having many reservations about public displays of affection or sexual content, including for the most part not featuring sexual intercourse even, they are more OK with just showing off cartoon ladies with less covering them.

This very complicated nature Japan has with expression or showcasing of sexual activity can both leave one with a headache parsing what is and is not acceptable for what has been a socially conservative nation while it can also seem as if the ready featuring of female nudity can show a cultural double standard. Is it sexist? In some areas or examples definitely, but it can also be a case of Japan culturally trying to get past it’s own censorship and dare I very much say it, hangups. The notorious “tentacle” porn is actually an alternative to what has been allowed in other parts of pornographic or sexual expression.

Vampire Hunter D is only ever graphic in showing female breasts, and some of them come from three siren sisters who transform into super long necked serpent monsters and do the best job of anyone other than Count Lee and his hatchet man Rei of wrecking D’s shit. There is a scene where for a short moment Doris has a wardrobe malfunction, but it occurs during a dramatic scene, not played for carnal laughs.

While the serpent sirens showing off their breasts makes sense as they’re sirens and initially try to seduce D which of course doesn’t work for our stoic anime protagonist, it comes across as frivolous in Doris’ example. It’s just because the animators could or to further show off maybe maybe not to a non-Japanese consumer that this is what anime can get away with that American animation cannot, unless you’re Ralph Bakshi.

It reminded me of an intentionally disturbing moment from Akira released three years later which involves almost-rapists ripping off the shirt of a teenage girl and that moment doesn’t come as frivolous rather as a stark example of how dystopian and not okay Neo-Tokyo’s world is meant to be. Within the confines of how “justifiable” a scene like that can be, Akira is more skillful than Vampire Hunter D, but then again Akira is masterful in almost every sense save for compressing to feature-length a long manga narrative that hadn’t even been finished at the time.

Now, like I have done in a case of last resort before, I watched Vampire Hunter D in its entirety for free as a YouTube video. Don’t ask me why that hasn’t been taken down. For that reason and that I might have been watching a VHS copy of the movie, I didn’t see the film in a crisp manner. Being animated and not live action, it was easier to catch the details but it was not the optimum way to view a distinctive as hell take on the Vampire mythos. For the modern age viewer’s vocabulary, Vampire Hunter D is a mid-80s Anime classic that is dripping with style.

Yes, because the limitations of budget and time, it can be more stilted in character’s movement and expression than say Akira. But Akira’s animation quality is so ludicrously high that it still looks better and more animated than most animations made today, whether it’s hand-drawn, CG or anime. So, yes, a beastly unfair comparison to make.

Anime movies, as it would be the case with Western animation, typically have better animation or quality than a TV series, so if you wanted to get the real good s**t of Japanese animation of the time and even now, you better hope it’s feature length. Vampire Hunter D isn’t the apex of its era but it is a beautiful if morbidly presented example of how varied and ambitious animation could be across the Pacific from us. In the 80s, we were basically flailing for the most part in the U.S. when it came to animation, though we would end the decade on a refreshing high note with the beginning of the Disney Renaissance through Little Mermaid as brought up earlier with Return to Oz on this horrorthon.

Vampire Hunter D is a must-see whether you like anime or not and if you know that, yes, the blood shall flow, among other things in this animated picture.

Next time: Halloween Horrorthon concludes well after Halloween has.

Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon part IV of VI: Fight Night between Fright Nights

Vampires and werewolves, Werewolves and vampires. Somehow they keep on coming back to haunt me and my reader-base this Halloween season. The MCU’s Werewolf by Night only added to the coincidence as I didn’t even realize some of my selections for this year’s Horrorthon would feature these two Gothic monsters.

While’s it’s neat I have a consistent theme to what I’m covering for the most part, it can at times feel like overload having Vampires and Lycans constantly re-emerging in my work. Well, for this showdown of two vampire titles of the same name, there is at least the vampire and in the original movie’s case, a vampire who has a very werewolf transformation.

Fright Night (1985)

Image from YouTube (No wuv, true wuv here….)

Part of what made the original Fright Night so effective in a way that may not hold up as well to an audience of my generation is that it plays itself up as a celebration of an older generation’s consumption of horror media. The movie’s name comes from a TV show that showcases old horror movies. It’s host is Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) and I don’t think I have to tell you who Vincent Price was as that is something you a younger reader could have a vague recollection of. Know who the narrator is in Michael Jackson’s Thriller? Well then you know of Vincent Price.

There was also Elvira and Vampirella as hosts to TV-approved versions of old horror or relatively recent horror flicks. The most contemporary example would be Joe Bob Briggs and it’s worth it to check out his host segments for MonsterVision’s Friday the 13th marathon back in the 90s. Because of how viciously edited Jason’s movies were for public consumption, Brigg’s commentary during the breaks are all that’s worthwhile.

In spite of Briggs keeping the tradition alive with The Last Drive-In on Shudder, the kind of TV program Fright Night is known for is basically gone, unless you count TCM doing a horror marathon. The remake would address this by totally changing what Fright Night is.

Fright Night is also a 80s teen comedy that seeks to give an update to the vampire movie formula. Taking the trends of how vampires worked and were fought and killed in earlier movies and placing it in an 80s environment. I for one, am all for that concept on the face of it. Nevertheless, not every promising 80s teen comedy with a twist works as well as even I thought it would for me.

Teen Wolf with Michael J. Fox is a perfect example. Save for one perfect scene, where Fox’s character transforms into a werewolf in his bathroom then opens the door to see his also transformed father, that’s just great, let alone a subversion of how you were expecting that scene to play out. But it begins and ends as what you don’t want the film to be, a sports movie. And even then, all the other moments with or without Teen Wolfing involved are either boring or not nearly reaching the highs of that one scene.

Fright Night thankfully is much better than Teen Wolf, both at executing its own premise, being a comedy involving teens and even being a horror film, not that Teen Wolf was ever trying to be scary. It also reminded me of another 1985 film released the same year as Teen Wolf and also starring Michael J. Fox. Do I even have to say what it is?

Image from IMDB (The original, not toxic Rick and Morty.)

I mean, Fright Night is a movie starring a teen who in this case makes acquaintances with what is at best a middle-aged man getting involved in something bigger than either one of them can solve alone. Only Back to the Future would became a monstrous box office success its year with a generation crossing recognition and acclaim. Like a vampire, Fright Night kept to the shadows.

William Ragsdale plays Charley Brewster, a teen who just wants his relationship with Amy (Amanda Bearse) to go all the way as an 80s teen was especially want to do at least in popular culture. But discovering that his new neighbor is a creature of the night just ruins the mood. Chris Sarandon plays the original Jerry Dandridge, the charismatic as hell vampire in secret and at first I thought he looked like a fusion of Hugh Grant and Billy Zane. I had to be prodded by a family member to remember that I had seen Sarandon before, as Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride. How could I forget him from a kissing movie no one would dare forget?

He’s also the voice of Jack Skellington from Nightmare before Christmas so his acumen is clearly something I should’ve picked up fast. He has his non-vampire yet not entirely human companion Billy who is meant to remind you of Renfield, the man Dracula enslaves and makes into a whimpering, desperate for affection fool. However, the relationship between Jerry and Billy seems to be mutually friendly without one dominating the other, the latter even pointing out how not miserable his setup is as a vampire servant.

Now, this came as a surprise to Sarandon and Jonathan Stark who plays Billy but there was intentional gay undertones to the nature of Jerry and Billy’s partnership. There’s one moment where anyone can see what the filmmakers are playing at with those two and you will know it when you see it.

Considering this is a film made and set in the mid-80s amidst the horrific AIDS crisis, it’s not as mean or outwardly homophobic as it could’ve been. Sure, Jerry is a remorseless vampire and Billy is his helper but if it wasn’t for that predilection of theirs, they would otherwise come across pretty well.

Hell, when Jerry and Billy are first seen publicly as living together, no one seems to make a fuss out of it, even though based on what was happening in America and much of the world at the time, you think someone would at least speak up in a way.

In fact, this movie seems to have a tragic yet sympathetic attitude towards homosexuals. Charley’s jerkass friend “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys), who is known for among other things saying one of the movie’s best known lines, “You’re so COOL, Brewster!”, is a guy who has been interpreted for being in the closest and the text of the film eventually gives way to making it not even ambiguous.

For starters, he’s shown to be annoyed and abrasive whenever Amy gets in the way of an activity that he clearly wanted to do just with Charley. Eventually, after getting shunned from his perspective by Charley and Amy, he encounters Jerry in an alleyway. He tells him to no longer be afraid for being different from his friends and to just embrace what he’s offering, which is, what else, vampirism.

Now, it’s also possible to take Fright Night’s attitude about homosexuality in a manner that is less accommodating and for that reason, less surprising considering the time it was made. Again, the scene of Ed being bitten by Jerry is occurring between a teen boy and a grown man. You know, that could be reinforcing one of the ugliest assumptions about someone being gay, especially for gay men. On the other hand, Ed not being “accepted” has him being drawn in and ensnared by a predatory person, one who uses him for his own ends.

Of course, the gay metaphor might become blurry to some considering that Jerry definitely preys on women as a vampire. But if Fright Night feels just a little bit allegorical for some stuff here and there, it was meant to be that way and it’s takeaways could’ve been much more disheartening.

So, basically, the premise is that Charley comes to learn that without a bat-shadow of a doubt that he has a vampire in his midst and sooner rather than later, he will come for his mother, his girlfriend and hell, maybe even him at some point. He soon realizes he can’t do it alone, especially since Amy and Ed are initially disbelieving and even then, not expert vampire hunters. The closest option is Fright Night’s Peter Vincent and he is a washed up, failing actor who can only be convinced to go along with Charley’s plans at first because money is on the table.

Roddy McDowall is the most recognizable actor and does a great job as the veteran actor getting on in years to help connect old cinema-goers with the new ones. Even though I implied he’s like Doc Brown earlier, he’s really more like if an actor who once portrayed Doctor Who was called upon by a fan to help him fight one of the Doctor’s enemies like Daleks or Cybermen. This may or may not be preparing you for David Tennant to be Vincent in the next movie.

As a horror experience, it can be effective yet the tone is always on mixing with comedy and other emotions. Some of the scarier moments of this movie can often be followed with something actually sad. Namely, when vampirized Evil Ed is preying upon McDowall’s Vincent during the third act, it at first baffles you by him transforming into a wolf (which I think is an actual ability for a vampire, one of many that are often underused in fiction).

Vincent accidentally gets Ed as a wolf staked with a broken table leg which leads to his slow, drawn out transformation back into human form. Yep, werewolf transformations were so much the rage in the 80s, even non-werewolf movies had them. That being said, there’s no humor, no real horror, just sympathy from an old man for a young man’s outcome.

There is an appropriate mixing of tones to Fright Night, neither zany silliness or fearful terrors all the time. If there’s one thing the original Fright Night struggles with, it’s the pacing of it’s climax which while there’s not necessarily an unneeded scene, it can go on too long. That header image showing Jerry realizing dawn has come, that’s a moment where you expect him to be exposed to sunlight and die there and then. Nope, and sure what happens after is certainly good, even great. But it can feel a bit too extensive. That being said, the final fates of both Jerry and Billy are near gold-standard examples of practical effects horror.

So yeah, Fright Night is an 80s cult horror comedy classic that does manage to hold up well enough though it doesn’t reach the heights of other similar movies of its era. But, it’s hard to be too down on a movie that shows up Teen Wolf and good.

Fright Night (2011)

Image from Plugged In (Offscreen: Colin Farrell’s Jerry circumventing a vampire rule in the coolest yet most alarming way possible.)

‘Oh look, it’s a 2010s remake of a horror movie or just a movie from the 1980s. Yawn, I’m not falling for that cash grab, see ya later.

I am guessing that is the abridged reason why audiences more or less skipped the 2011 Fright Night movie, having it even adjusted for inflation making less money then the original. All the more funny considering some consider it to be better than the original film. That’s not a universal opinion, and I go back and forth on which is better, but that this mental process is even happening is kind of shocking.

It’s still a story of a teen boy and his teen girlfriend getting wrapped up in the perils of having a vampire living next door, albeit without the “Renfield” character of Billy. There is still an actor of sorts in Peter Vincent, now a Las Vegas stage performer, with an understanding of vampires and their weaknesses. There is still the wayward friend, Ed, who will become a vampire himself all over a breakdown of friendship with our hero teen. It even ends with Charley and Peter Vincent bravely going into Jerry Dandridge’s home to find and kill him, ending the curse. It can be familiar, like a remake must risk being, but it never felt as distractedly similar as say the American Ring could.

It feels like an honest to God update on the original movie, not just placing it in a time much closer to our own, but also with building on the concept, even using the new Las Vegas setting to actually better justify the concept. You might think a vampire living in Nevada is a terrible idea, but the conceit that Jerry’s potential prey are often in transit, rarely ever staying in Vegas is actually kind of genius.

Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away shortly before the release of the third and most recent “Kelvin” Star Trek film from an auto accident, is the new Charley Brewster. He comes across as a slightly more mature and less fast-talking Tom Holland in both appearance and personality, which really works in this movie’s favor. Amusingly as I make this sentiment, the director of the original movie was named Tom Holland.

The boyish nature in comparison to Ragsdale’s take actually makes him seem more vulnerable a protagonist to Jerry and anything he might throw his way. His girlfriend, still called Amy, is played by Imogen Poots, and of course she is a bombshell-looking girlfriend though having been through College I can tell you they’re normal people in real life that do come close to approaching that level of look, so to speak, so it’s not purely Hollywood idealism.

Toni Collette plays Charley’s mother and like the original she is an open-minded, liberal-leaning woman who really has no problem with her son’s relationship with Amy going all the way. Collette is just the right person for that kind of mother character and she thankfully has a larger role to play than the original mom played by Dorothy Fielding. This won’t be the last time Toni Collette gets involved in a horror story, though due to Fright Night having a foot in comedy, it makes her role in 2018’s Hereditary far more stark in comparison.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse is the new Evil Ed and is for one less grating than the original, thus making his outcome even more pitiable. Because of Mintz-Plasse having already made a name for himself in pop culture unlike Stephan Geoffreys through Superbad and Kickass, it was a bit harder to just see him as Evil Ed where I know Geoffreys from just Fright Night at this point in my viewing experience.

On the other hand, the characterization is possibly the most different between versions of the whole cast. For one, he believes Jerry is a vampire before Charley and actually has to goad him into following along in breaking into a friend’s house which has curiously gone quiet. He still does the “You’re so cool, Brewster!” line but it feels even more sarcastic here than before, but that could just be Mintz-Plasse’s way of saying it.

This Evil Ed is the sole character for whom any gay undertones or subtext exist in this version. Jerry not having Billy here makes him come across as less of a potentially uncomfortable allegory, fitting more into just the sociopathic scumbag predator that was the first layer of takeaway to be had originally. They don’t even try to hide Ed’s closeted nature in this movie, as one moment between vampire Ed and Charley makes abundantly clear.

Now let’s talk about the two actors responsible for giving the new Fright Night the praise it did: Colin Farrell’s Jerry and David Tennant’s Peter Vincent.

Farrell’s take on Jerry is different than Sarandon due to him having less a suave sex appeal in favor of a rugged, bad-boy aesthetic which he of course uses to great effect on potential targets like Amy and Charley’s mom. That he lives by himself actually sells this better because me and likely you have known neighbors like this. But as we often are ones to wonder, rightly or not, about what our neighbors are hiding, so Farrell gives off a tone that might be dangerous but probably isn’t, assuming you don’t know the truth.

Once Charley infiltrates Jerry’s house, which on the outside looks like a conventional suburban home unlike the totally standout haunted-looking house from before, this is where the new take plays some of its more diabolical tricks to great effect. Charley’s search through the house reveals a hidden hallway meant explicitly for his still-living targets, all female. Unlike the original, where Jerry’s targets for feasting were killed then and there, this Jerry doesn’t immediately kill his food. Even worse, when Charley attempts to rescue one of Jerry’s food sources, he in turn plays a horrifically cruel trick on Charley.

Initially the scene is like hiding from the aliens from Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. It seems as if Charley and the woman are mere moments away from being spotted by an unaware Jerry. Considering Charley has no skills in stealth and he has a quietly whimpering lady beside him, it appears inevitable they will be caught. But no, Charley manages to get out of the house with the woman. That’s when the other shoe drops and it leads to a shocking, inspired moment that helps sell this take as building on the original rather than merely copying it.

You might be wondering if any of the original cast appears in the 2011 version and you’d be right. Chris Sarandon appears in a wonderfully black comic encounter with Farrell’s Jerry in a moment that can act as visual metaphor for those who think this film supplants the original.

The last notable actor is David Tennant as Peter Vincent, coming right after his time as the Tenth Doctor. Well, his full time. Tennant’s incarnation has reappeared in special appearances down the road, very recently in fact as he helped with Jodie Whittaker’s bowing out as the Thirteenth Doctor to make way for the Fourteenth.

This Peter Vincent is very different from McDowall’s, save for being British and initially appearing as an actor with no actual belief or ability regarding facing off with vampires. For one, he’s meant to be like a Criss Angel/ David Blaine like stage performer, but with a supernatural twist. Seeing as how I was recently in Vegas for the first time, this version of Fright Night seems plausible. Performing and living in the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tennant’s Vincent makes no attempt to hide the actor’s unique Scottish accent to the point where it sounded and eventually looked as if the Tenth Doctor is actually in this movie facing off against vampires.

This is all the more funny considering that the next Doctor, Matt Smith’s 11th, would get to actually fight vampires in a place that Las Vegas has recreated: Venice. This Vincent is also a little bit better for me than McDowall’s due to giving him an actual connection with vampires in his past. I won’t reveal how, but unlike the original Peter Vincent who was just as shocked to learn vampires are real as Charley and everyone else, this one is hiding his history in plain sight, making up for his painful life with alcoholism, a frivolous stage life and being a really unsocial recluse.

All of these elements described add up to a new take that mostly follows the trajectory of the original, without feeling hollow. It doesn’t hurt that the third act occurring in Jerry’s basement is not as long as the original while losing none of the desperation or horror. Hell, it might be an even more desperate final struggle for Charley and Vincent as Jerry, unlike what I said earlier, isn’t actually as alone as I said before and there is a good number of times where it appears that all hope is lost.

It obviously isn’t, as Fright Night doesn’t lose sight of being both a horror and a comedy. It remains surprisingly reverent of even some assumptions or traits of an 80s teen comedy, feeling like a movie that both works as a product of modern day and as a love letter to a bygone era that doesn’t go for the easy bait of nostalgia and fan service.

That could be that Fright Night is not held as deeply nostalgic as other 80s properties of its time. Despite the clear references to the original movie, like the quote Evil Ed says and Jerry does indeed once again state “It’s Fright Night. For Real.”, it feels more like a project that had actual passion and interest from its creators than just studio obligation to resurrect an old property. That it was a box office failure helps secure it as becoming like it’s forebear, a cult classic.

It has become itself a creature of the night that is very much worth being brought into the light for your perusal.

Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon Part III of VI

Almost half way there, how much more horror can my large group of readers take? Well, let me start you off easy with something crazy, something titillating and something kind of fascinating from cult horror icon Tobe Hooper.

Lifeforce (1985) (U.K.)

Image by IMDB (Please insert the obvious TNG joke for those in the know.)

I must say, I struggled to find a header image that, one, I liked, and two, didn’t show off one of the more…noteworthy aspects to this Tobe Hooper cult classic. I was first made aware of Lifeforce while watching on Netflix the highly entertaining documentary on the infamous Cannon Group, Electric Boogaloo.

Cannon has already received much deserved attention from this blog through its masterfully silly Ninja trilogy as well as Michael Dudikoff’s American Ninja and Avenging Force. Now, we take a look at one of the stingiest film companies’ most expensive and impressive works. From the man who directed The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its comedy sequel as well as (maybe) Poltergeist, co-written by the man who wrote Alien and with a bombastic, epic score by the Pink Panther man himself, Henry Mancini.

It’s cast list includes the lead played by Steve Railsback who I last saw in 1980’s The Stunt Man, Patrick Stewart who you clearly see above you, Peter Firth as a quite British SAS agent and secondary, Frank Finlay as an inquisitive scientist who of course gets too close to comfort to the mystery and Mathilda May as the seductive and almost always nude space woman. It should provide some comfort that May had no reservations nor regrets about the requirements to portray the role and to be honest once you get past the bare obvious thing about her role, she can be kind of frightening.

Based on a short story by Colin Wilson whose title completely gives away the mystery of whom the mysterious aliens are in this movie, it is set in an extremely different, not so distant future as viewed from the mid-80s. A joint space expedition between the U.S. and U.K. is trying to actually land on the returning Halley’s comet but something else next to it catches the crew’s attention.

A massive obelisk that can grow in size into the appearance of an organic umbrella is riding on its tail and the shuttle’s crew just has to investigate no matter how clearly ominous it appears. To be fair, Halley’s doesn’t come around all that often so the opportunity is there and they’ve got to take it.

It’s at this point that I have to compliment the production design and scope of a movie that is one, crazy, and also from a company that was known to and had to penny-pinch to stay afloat. By the production standards of a mid-80s movie, Lifeforce can be pretty impressive, especially in the moments set in space, inside the obelisk, inside the space shuttle and then during the climatic, apocalyptic sequence in London.

What the crew find are three humans in giant crystals, all nude and very visually appealing if you get where I’m coming from. It’s almost as if they are… meant to look most alluring. They are surrounded by the drifting, dead carcasses of what seem to be bat-like creatures. Again, that could be a mighty big tell for the uninformed about this movie. One of the reasons given and the most understandable one to bring back these three humanoids is why they’re humans not of Earth here in this obelisk in the first place.

However, shortly after getting them aboard the shuttle and beginning the long trip home, contact is lost with the shuttle. It’s found drifting erratically above Earth. Another shuttle goes up to investigate and the entire ship is scorched from the inside, the whole crew skeletonized. The three in the crystals are curiously unaffected and the only unaccounted for member, Col. Tom Carlsen (Railsback) who captained the vessel, is found landing in an escape pod later with little to no memory of what had transpired on the journey home. He does begin to suffer horrible nightmares relating to the shuttle, its crew and one of the three humanoids, obviously in this case being the female.

The European Space Research Centre based in London, where the crew’s mission control was established, is where Carlsen tries to recover and give answers about what happened. It’s also where the three beautiful humanoids are brought in to see what they are and what relation they have to the ill-fated shuttle. Once May’s lead female alien awakens, you already know things are going to go cork-screwed from here on out.

In spite of the Cannon Group association and that yes, a lot of screentime is spent with a very titillating woman walking around naked and causing havoc, there is a genuinely entertaining even spooky at times mystery for Lifeforce to delve into. The dawning realization of what the lead scientist played by Finlay discovers about the humanoids, what they are and more importantly what they can do and intend to do is quite fun. Firth’s Col. Caine being the straight man to an increasingly unhinged Col. Carlsen as they both try to find out what happened on the shuttle and contain the danger of what those three are leads to a race against time that is as extravagantly out there as it is curiously, bizarrely, even paradoxically grounded. To the point that I can believe there could be aliens out there who would prey on us, namely through one of our more… intimate bodily functions.

It got to the point where I wondered if association with Cannon and a hot, full-frontal lady walking around were the reason for Lifeforce’s negative critical reception and reputation, only ever served from being forgotten due to a cult status. It’s honestly, as the British would say, a cracking good experience.

If there are problems, serious problems which gives it low critical marks and an IMDB rating that hovers above 6.0, I didn’t see it. I mean, perhaps the concept once it’s fully recognized by movie’s end and how the film plays on a strangely ambiguous note is part of it’s reputation not being higher.

You can call it sleazy, you can call it stupid, you can call it exploitative to an actress which based on her remarks didn’t feel exploited at all. You can even call it too strange to be good which I didn’t realize was a qualification for a bad or lesser film. What I call it is a movie that deserves less said here about the full picture to fully appreciate with a production that is economic enough to appear both expensive yet cheap in a way that is remarkable, much like a Hammer movie.

I also call it a movie you should definitively check out unless you really are put off by female nudity and yes, I did notice that the film was hesitant to show full male nudity, implying an unsurprising double standard from the filmmakers. There’s this long standing hang-up at least in America where an R-rated movie can’t show at least clearly, a fully nude man but is more accommodating to a fully nude woman.

For many reasons, Lifeforce is an ostensibly dumb movie with plenty of food for thought.

Silver Bullet (1985) (Spoilers here)

Image from Werewolf News (Here, have a mid-tier werewolf transformation.)

If the section for Lifeforce seemed slight, it’s because it’s a movie where a good portion of it I want you the reader to see for yourself. Due to it’s cult status, it does not guarantee having a wide viewership, so if there is anything cool or interesting left unspoiled out in the ether, I’d like to keep it that way.

Silver Bullet, also considered a cult classic, is not that film for me. For that reason, I don’t mind giving away the narrative too much, including the identity of the man whose a werewolf. Now, if you’re interested in watching Silver Bullet one day, then please skip this section to Cat’s Eye.

Another reason I want to spill the beans is due to the actor and appearance of the man who is a werewolf, Everett McGill. You might know him from portraying Stilgar in the original Dune movie by David Lynch and for playing a Bond henchman in License to Kill, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Silver Bullet is an OK Stephen King adaptation. I’m not a good judge of that seeing as how I haven’t read any Stephen King story, let alone the novella that this flick is an adaptation of, Cycle of the Werewolf. Instead, I should say it was an OK King movie. Many might think I give my thumbs up for consideration for a lot of movies I review in my retrospectives. Well, here’s one that I don’t necessarily recommend but I also wouldn’t say skip.

If you like or want to watch as many werewolf movies as possible, are a big fan of Gary Busey or just need to see any given movie based on King, then sure, it’s worth your time. Anyone else can use their own discretion.

Set in a place where 80% of King’s stories are set, his native Maine, not that you would necessarily know by watching, Silver Bullet is the story of a seemingly old woman recounting the year that her hometown of Tarker’s Mills was preyed upon by a werewolf and how her and her handicapped brother Marty end up learning who it is and being witness to its end.

The movie is set in 1976 and was made into a movie in 85′ and yet rather than having the woman recalling the story by what was the then present of the mid-80s, it sounds like she’s recalling it when she is elderly, just like Rose in Titanic. Considering that Jane the sister is either a pre-adolescent or a young teen in 1976, that would mean she’s retelling the tale far in the future, meaning after 2022 when I’m watching and reviewing it. She would be middle-aged, approaching 60 today. That thought kinda scattered my mind a bit while viewing.

Tragic child actor Corey Haim plays Marty, who is confined to a wheelchair. Now, because this is a werewolf movie, you naturally assume that the title of Silver Bullet is about just that, a werewolf’s weakness. You’re correct, eventually.

It starts off as the name of Marty’s wheelchair which eventually becomes a motorcycle that his Uncle Red (Busey, huge surprise) builds for him. So, a story about a werewolf has a central character whose wheelchair turned motorcycle is called “Silver Bullet”. King has been accused of a lack of subtlety from time to time.

On the note of Gary Busey, I did check afterwards about the accident he suffered that caused him brain damage and wondered, if based on his style of playing an oft drunk yet affectionate Uncle if that was just his style or an offshoot of the accident. Couldn’t be, as it occurred in 1988 three years later. It so happened it was a motorcycle accident he went through and his Uncle Red here gives Marty a stern warning about being careful on the machine he builds for him. Oof.

Other notable faces include an early appearance by John Loc….Terry O’Quinn as the town sheriff who of course remains skeptical of the claims that something more than human is preying on the town in increasingly frightening numbers. So much so, that vigilante search parties begin going against the Sheriff’s commands and he in return becomes helpless to stop it once one of the victim’s relatives, an aggrieved father, tells him what right he has to stop them from committing “personal justice”. I kept waiting for someone to say “vigilantism” or “vigilante” but it never happens. Just an observation about how the most expected description isn’t used here.

It soon becomes honestly an R-rated yet never excessive GooseBumps or supernatural Hardy Boys tale, considering it amounts to a brother and sister with their eventually convinced Uncle to solve a mystery. R-rated because ,what else, werewolf-inflicted violence and some of it can hit quite hard, especially when only seeing the aftermath.

One reason I decided to up and reveal the identity of the man whose a werewolf is because of how McGill appears in the movie. After a midnight rendezvous where Marty stupidly decides to try out the Silver Bullet at night in spite of the night-based terror on the loose, he of course confronts the werewolf at what appears to be a swamp walkway. It was that location that threw me off from thinking it was set in Maine when that looks like a location from down south like South Carolina’s Congaree. Gary Busey and his signature accent also helped with that confusion.

Marty uses some leftover Fourth of July fireworks to blind the werewolf and break one of it’s eyes, saving his life. What helps seal the deal on finding out the mystery for Marty is that the town’s Man of God, Reverend Lowe, has an eye-patch all of a sudden and in the place Marty struck. More importantly, Lowe’s human appearance kept reminding me of a certain figure from the comics.

Image from Horror Obsessive

Image from Comic Art Fans

I have no idea if Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon saw Silver Bullet and thought that having an eye-patch for a badass, Texan reverend literally searching for God in order to kick his ass in Preacher would be a swell idea or if this is sheer coincidence. All I know is that no one else including TV Tropes, which loves to point these things out, have brought it up and yet I couldn’t help but keep thinking of the best graphic novel series that one might hate solely for it’s severe (to put it lightly) stance on religion and everything that comes with it.

As for whether Silver Bullet is a story where Stephen King is airing out some thoughts on religion himself by making the Christian pastor the main antagonist, I doubt it. It appears that Reverend Lowe may have been bitten by a werewolf once in the past and like most werewolf characters has no real control over the horrors that his state puts upon him. However, and this is suggested to be the case based on the cycle of the moon, how close to or full it is to be precise, he can be a malevolent monster when he is human and much to poor Terry O’Quinn’s chagrin, can transform at will.

There is an ambiguity to Lowe’s responsibility as a serial slayer of innocent people based on how much is him and how much was the werewolf, which is of course intentional. Like it will be when I cover The Monster Squad, often the silver bullet is not so much just a weapon of self-defense or a hunter’s tool, but an act of mercy.

Silver Bullet works, but not to the point of enthusiastic appraisal. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the more “quiet” cult classics, let alone for horror. Other cult hits before and after this selection have more notoriety and popular recognition, coming dangerously close to leaving the distinction of “cult” behind.

One of my favorite movies, Big Trouble in Little China, I’ve now come to wonder if it’s gone past that status to becoming just a classic of action-horror-adventure 80s’ cinema, let alone one of the most accessible John Carpenter pictures. That there’s a remake on the way with Dwayne Johnson involved should make you wonder.

Don’t worry, we can put that idea to the test in the next part of the horrorthon but for now, take or leave Silver Bullet for your perusal. Not seriously pushing you one way or the other.

Cat’s Eye (1985)

Image from Bloody Disgusting (A future Charlie’s Angel and the world’s best tabby.)

I would like to take this time to remind you that even now, well into into the 21st century, people out there still harm and attempt to kill black cats, especially around Halloween. Considering how sweet-natured and affectionate my departed black cat Prowl was and that there is no basically no difference between a black cat and any other cat because obviously, I wonder how much is adhering to superstitious fear and how many use that superstition to air out their sadism with some manner of excuse.

Stephen’s King’s Cat’s Eye, an anthology picture with two stories adapted from his short story collection Night Shift and one created just for this movie, also plays up another superstitious myth meant to put down our brother and sister cats. The idea that at night, a cat can go up to where you sleep and steal your breath away. Literally.

I know of many myths involving felines, mostly stemming around the black ones of course, but I hadn’t heard of this myth existing until after watching Cat’s Eye. I thought the urban legend of cats stealing your breath was made up then and there by the movie. Nope, my mother told me that that legend existed well before 1985.

Like most superstitions, it was likely a consequence of time and fate. For instance, a person with pre-existing breathing or lung issues ups and croaks in bed. And a cat just happened to be there at the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t have any facts to back that up, but then again I don’t need to when cats nor any animal on this planet has the ability to suck air out of someone’s lungs. We can’t do that to ourselves.

In a move of genius, King and film director Lewis Teague (returning from Cujo) make an adorable tabby cat the framing device for three stories, eventually becoming the rightful protagonist for the third and final story. That story involves trading one myth for another, one for the cat to gallantly fight against.

The first story involves the stray cat wandering around Manhattan getting picked up by a stranger, right after witnessing a vision of a mysterious girl in a window, pleading for the cat’s help. The stranger takes the cat to Quitter’s Inc, a most extreme organization dedicated to helping anyone interested in kicking nicotine for good. They pride themselves on an especially low failure rate, only 2%. What they do with that 2% or most of their methods would certainly get them shut down or thrown in prison. It’s implied they have big money behind them and allows them to get away with it all.

James Woods is possibly the best overall actor in the film, big surprise, as his acting talent is one of the few redeeming features of the guy as far as I know. He might be the best thing about Disney’s Hercules and fans were oh so happy to see him reprise Hades for both Kingdom Hearts II and even Kingdom Hearts III.

Woods portrays Dick Morrison, a family man who is desperate to kick the habit for his wife and daughter, especially his daughter. He soon realizes how…much is included in the package deal of how they will get him permanently off smoking and the poor kitty is used to demonstrate a “shock” room. Non-lethally of course as the kitty has to get to the next two stories. It’s meant to forewarn Dick about what his wife will go through if he doesn’t stop after two strikes. The third strike, well, goes even harder.

It’s obviously an allegory for the kind of pressure one trying to kick the habit would go through, exaggerated with external forces promising physical harm on top of simple nicotine withdrawal. Some, like Leonard Maltin did, might find it mean-spirited but then again horror stories are not often known for being nice.

For anyone who has had some form of addiction they know they can’t manage and should stop, like me and food intake, it can feel real watching this segment. Sure, I’m pretty confident I’ll never get into nicotine as this rate in my life and not just because I was raised knowing it was horrible for you in the long run.

It’s a fun and dark in a different way from other King tales, as we often associate him with supernatural horror. Of course, books/movies like Misery are all about dispelling that pigeonholing of King’s range, on top of being one of the most visible meditations on parasocial relationships going off the rails.

My favorite of the three is the middle called “The Ledge“, starring Kenneth McMillan and Robert Hays, you know, from Airplane! The cat escapes Quitter’s Inc and manages to make it all the way to Atlantic City, where after escaping a death-defying lane of traffic, is picked up by an utterly scummy businessman played by McMillan. He has his mooks pick up Johnny Norris, a gambling man whose history with McMillan’s Cressner finally catches up to him.

With his girlfriend probably dead and him being framed for drug possession, Johnny is seemingly given one chance to escape with both money and his life by Cressner. Just crawl along the edge of a high-rise building all the way to the other side. Johnny being the gambler takes it though the other choice is to accept being framed and going to prison.

The tabby watches the events from the safety of the balcony as Cressner and his minions put extra obstacles in Johnny’s way on top of the wind, narrow ledge and some really obstinate pigeons. Does Hays’ Johnny survive and get back at Cressner? How does Hays keep arriving at dangerous situations involving great heights? I leave that for you to find out though I can tell you our tabby friend clearly makes it through and arrives in Wilmington, North Carolina for the final story where he’s the star of the show.

The cat arrives in suburban Wilmington and finds a young girl named Amanda played by Drew Barrymore, three years after E.T. It happens that this is the same mysterious girl the cat has been seeing in his visions. So, the cat goes ahead and warms himself up to young Amanda who immediately wants to adopt him. Candy Clark plays her mother who immediately does not want the cat part of the family, mostly because her daughter already has a pet bird.

James Naughton plays the father who is at best indifferent about the whole deal, because for some reason dads often are at least in fiction. However, the cat has good reason to become part of Amanda’s family as a mysterious, small gremlin-like creature, called the “troll” also makes his way to the household. Suddenly seeing a supernatural element enter a story which has thus far included outlandish if still natural elements can be jarring. Then again, maybe the filmmakers wanted to ease you into that element through the cat’s magical visions of a girl beckoning the cat to find and protect her.

The design of the troll resembles a cross between the front of a tortoise’s face and…something else I can’t quite place but it does strike the right balance between too dark and too whimsical. The effects for when the troll is going thorough Amanda’s room at night and climbing up stuff are pretty impressive though some of the green screen like when the troll is at the foot of the bed and you see Amanda’s superimposed feet look really bad.

Eventually, the troll frames the cat, whom Amanda names “General” for murdering and eating Polly the bird, all so there is no cat that can get in the way of him stealing the girl’s breath. That and the mom’s prejudice over the cat is enough to convince her to take General away over to a pound where it will be slotted to be euthanized. However, this cat, like it has before, takes advantage of split second opportunity to escape the pound and race back to the house in spite of a rainstorm to save Amanda from the troll. Now that’s some pawsitive reinforcement of human and cat relations there.

12 cats were used to portray General and in order to convince the cats to all do the very specific things they wanted, as felines are notoriously difficult to train unlike dogs, they goaded them into certain actions through offering them food, often tuna. I don’t know how the offer of food convinced them to do all the things the film needed of them. Scenarios such as getting an angry, hissing face and swatting something seems to be a contrary response to an offering of delicious tuna.

I’ve thought much of any scene where a cat is visibly angry like when Jonesy the cat starts hissing in closeup when Ripley has a chestburster nightmare at the beginning of Aliens. I mean, what did directors like Lewis Teague and James Cameron do to piss off cats in just the right way and at the right time?

Either way, Cat’s Eye ends on a note that reaffirms humanity’s relationship with not so much our “best friend” but our “best associate”. It also toys with the conceit that cats will try to steal one’s breath in a deliberate fakeout ending that I saw coming.

I suppose if Cat’s Eye has any consistent theme, it’s with the exploration of both phobia and obsession. The first story, Quitter’s Inc., juxtaposes the compulsion to smoke with the fear of being being watched upon by strangers and the expectations to meet commitments and failing. The on-the-nose yet perfect use of The Police’s Every Breath you Take accentuates this in one memorable hallucination sequence on Dick Morrison’s part. The song is later used more comically in the final battle between General and the Troll, with a different context.

The second story, The Ledge, combines the compulsion to gamble, with the fear with what will or could happen if you didn’t heed Kenny Rogers’ advice on whether to hold or fold em’. That fear then bleeds into a fear of heights and someone trying to actively kill you.

The third doesn’t seem to have any addiction or compulsion unless you have a compulsion to adopt cute animals which in this case is a good thing as it protects you from miniature fantasy monsters. There is the fear of what may bump in the night, like the troll and perhaps the danger of misunderstanding what one should be wary of. Again, humanity had an irrational fear of one of the most adorable creatures yet discovered in this universe. This is a story of a once feared animal becoming the hero they were always meant to be.

Next time, a look at an 80s vampire classic and its 2010s remake that if conceivable could be better than the original.

Bengal’s Halloween Horrorthon Part I of VI (Some spoilers inbound)

It’s that time of year again, the time for the actual best holiday season. Where mankind embraces fear rather than rejects it, celebrates our relationship with it.

It’s time for more horror cinema to be covered, with most coming from the 80s. Two entries are not from that decade but rather a highly influential 90s Japanese film that inspired an American remake that didn’t suck if you can believe it. But first, a return to a collaboration between Stephen King and George Romero.

Creepshow 2 (1987)

Image from iHorror (A typical swim in Flint, Michigan.)

I held back from Creepshow 2 due to it having not as strong a reputation as the original classic anthology feature. Despite still having King and Romero’s involvement, it just hasn’t gotten the same positive rap as the first. It wasn’t so much bad as not needed. I took that perspective and had it off my horror watch-list from the 1980s for a long time.

And yet, I was pulled back in by hearing individual anecdotes from those who have seen it and liked it. My godfather once saw the film while on tour in the Navy and others I follow online have expressed support for this movie, often bundling it alongside their viewing of the first.

I was also very curious to see where if any Creepshow 2 failed to be as good as the original and so made it part of my 2022 Halloween watchlist at the last moment. It’s….fine. Just fine.

It’s not as fun, it’s not as spooky, it’s not as pulpy as the first movie, but it’s not a waste of your time. It has impressive practical effects, especially with the first story’s leading figure and a couple of moments did actually make me jump in my sofa seat.

The first Creepshow had five stories to tell, all framed from a young boy reading his comic of the same name on Halloween night. This Creepshow goes down to three stories, framed again with a young boy receiving a copy by the ghoulish host of the comic, portrayed physically by practical effects legend Tom Savini and voiced to gravelly perfection by Joe Silver in one of his last roles. After getting the comic, he is harassed by bullies until eventually they’re eaten by a bunch of giant Venus flytraps the boy had ordered from the comic. Stephen King and bullies, man.

The first story is the best and most memorable, featuring a general store’s wooden Indian Chief coming to life to avenge both the store’s murdered owners and reclaim some Native jewelry that was loaned to the owners before the robbery. George Kennedy plays the ill-fated store owner and Dorothy Lamour his wife.

Kennedy as the store owner is a kind, elderly man who always tries his best to maintain both his business and Old Chief Wood’nhead, the mascot on display outside the store. The Arizona town they live in is basically dead, no future in it. Three young men who also know that town’s future is sealed decide to express their aimlessness in the best way possible: hold up the store for any valuables and use what they steal to afford living in L.A.

The leader of the three is the son of the nearby Native chief, not caring whatsoever for his tribe’s tradition or honor. He kills the couple and takes the necklace that was graciously given by his Father to the couple. Can you guess where this going, seeing as how this is a Creepshow movie?

You’re also probably aware of the Native American curse that is awakened when anyone disrespects the Tribe’s people customs or land. Oh, if those curses were remotely real, the nature of the United States would be vastly different. The best variant of the curse is building anything, knowingly or unknowingly, under an “ancient Indian burial ground”, as best seen in Poltergeist and The Simpsons.

The curse or ancient power, is that the Wooden Chief comes to life and the effects are incredible in mixing a real life actor while convincingly making his motion relate to being, well, wooden. It’s an effect that has to be seen to be believed and holds up tremendously. It lends an (intentionally) predictable story an effective creepiness that befits the film it’s part of. Almost certain that Chief Wood’nhead’s effects would be CG done today.

The Chief basically becomes a slasher in hunting down the three delinquents though unlike Jason or Michael, his goal is tangible and even relatable, even with the supernatural slaying and whatnot.

The next two stories while having some decent elements aren’t as rewarding as either the first or most of the stories from Creepshow 1. It’s the “ehness” that comes with 2/3rds of the movie that makes this entry feel like a lesser result. The Raft is about 4 teens going on a day-trip to a lake to engage in typical 80s’ teen frivolities, but on a titular wooden raft in the middle of the lake. Once they get there, they spot this mysterious black substance on the water.

Turns out, this black stuff is unsurprisingly dangerous and one of the teens gets in contact with it and well the header image shows the result, not unlike the fate of anyone who gets caught by the 80s’ Blob except that take went much further with the details. Eventually, only two remain, one male and one female and a combination of fatigue, heat from the sun and lust becomes their undoing.

While this concept certainly screams the short story concept it is, I think it could’ve benefited from a slightly longer length as the result is over too soon, even if again you can see or sense the result as soon as they reach the lake of doom. The weakest of the three stories.

The third involves a woman played by Lois Chiles, who you might know as the lead Bond girl from Moonraker, which is if nothing else the most entertaining Roger Moore film. After leaving the home of a man she’s having an affair with, on the drive back she hits a guy hitchhiking. In what seems like a precursor to I know what you did last Summer, she panics, realizes she killed a guy then drives off trying to put her mind off her manslaughter.

Being Creepshow, it turns out to be “I know what you did 20 minutes ago”, as the hitchhiker in an undead form keeps appearing as the woman tries to get home, constantly saying “Thanks for the ride, Lady!” This obviously freaks out the woman as the consistent return of the hitchhiker obviously drives home her guilt. Eventually guilt and horror turns to frustration and rage as she tries over and over again to kill the hitchhiker revenant for good. The face of the hitchhiker getting more and more mangled from the damage but never changing its tone of voice.

Again, I won’t spoil how it ends though I had inferred from the first two stories that you could figure out already its conclusion. This one is possibly the least predictable, with your only compass guiding you is that something macabre is going to be involved by the end.

Unlike the original, I don’t recommend watching Creepshow 2 in its entirety.

If you can find it for free or find scenes on YouTube, sate your curiosity that way. The effects, namely for the Wooden Chief and the Hitchhiker are highlights no doubt, there’s a cute cameo by Stephen King in the third story and I forgot to mention that the framing device segments with the boy and bullies are all animated and very well at that.

It’s not as fun maybe because there’s not as much of it, like there being two stories more in the original. Many of my complaints actually echo many of the critic complaints so I dunno. If there is any real takeaway more I can give you other than what I’ve already said, it’s don’t watch Creepshow 3, which was a decades later cash-grab that from all accounts is hollow and horrible. There’s a new anthology show on Shudder that continues the Creepshow legacy and I guess some episodes of Black Mirror would fit the bill for those hungry for more anthology horror fun.

Ringu (1998) (Japan)

Image from Reddit (Ohhhh, here she comes….)

One of the defining examples of not just J-horror but horror from the last 30 years is from a 1998 Japanese horror movie adapted from a 1991 Japanese novel. You already should know the gist of what Ringu or “Ring” is about. It’s one of those pieces of media where not having experienced it doesn’t mean you don’t know it. You know about the Japanese girl with white dress and inky black hair. You know it is not what so ever good for one’s health.

This image of the long haired, white dressed girl or woman is so ubiquitous that other horror media has taken from it including other J-Horror like the just as well known Grudge. I’ve played video games where this archetype appears as a threat or the main threat like Alma of the F.E.A.R. series, Laura from the first Evil Within (now with multiple appendages and long-ass fingernails) or Eveline from Resident Evil 7.

It even shows up as a joke in Nintendo’s Luigi’s Mansion 3. The ubiquity of this girl and her often supernatural ways can keep from the recognition of how horrifyingly fresh and startling this girl was upon Japanese and eventually international audiences. It wasn’t just a 20th century update on a Japanese ghost tale, that of the onryo, a vengeful often female spirit who will get a wrong righted after death, it was a commentary on our anxieties over technology’s unending spread as the 21st century neared. How old fears can manifest in the new.

I saw both this and the American remake released 4 years later and will cover it right after. Let me get this out of the way: surprise, the original is better. Gasp! However, that is not to say that Gore Verbinski’s take is bad, it’s possibly the only good remake Hollywood has yet made of this side of horror.

Ringu does a supreme job of stringing you along with a genuine mystery, one that you want to know the answer to, even if in truth, it would be entirely better even necessary for this mystery to go unanswered.

One of the key factors in the original movie’s success is the score by Kenji Kawai and it does almost better than the visuals and the implications of putting you in a constantly unsettled place while watching. The standout track is a repeated one, that plays whenever a new day is shown through onscreen titling. I couldn’t find a soundbite or track from YouTube but it instills a sense of dread better than almost anything I can think of.

Of course, knowing what the ghostly girl named Sadako does is well known. I had an inkling like you probably do of how it ends. Of course, the timetable of how it proceeds and when the scene occurs was not known to me. It actually spoiled to me what is revealed to be a fake resolution where our leads think the nightmare is over or has been prevented for them. Instead of feeling cheated, it left me with a big “OH S**T” feeling because the scene hadn’t happened.

What makes Ringu rewarding is that so many of the details, the why, the what and the how are not as well known. That other details no less discomforting were still fresh for me to discover for the first time.

Now, you could be wondering why I’m covering a 90s followed by an oughts movie instead of the expected, promised 80s fare. Well, I saw a video about Ringu from Accented Cinema, one of my subscribed YT channels and without giving away the conclusion, his video essay hooked me on wanting to accelerate my viewing of Ringu and The Ring. He titled it “How Ringu eases you into the horror”. Much like the characters of the movie, you want to know the truth. But this truth will not set you free.

The film also gives an understandable reason for why someone would watch a cursed videotape, other than incredulity that supernatural curses exist, of course. The lead character, Reiko, is a journalist investigating a case which hits home for her when her niece Tomoko is among the latest victims. What makes it all the more enticing a mystery is that three other people, all Tomoko’s friends who also watched the tape, all died as well, on the same day, at the same time.

Again, like Reiko and as posited buy Accented Cinema, it’s not really figuring out a series of deaths, it’s knowing just what is even happening. Humanity as a species has a compulsion to know stuff, to uncover the unknown, instinctively perhaps so we no longer fear it. Ringu twists that instinct on its head deliciously.

Reiko heads to the holiday cabin in the woods where Tomoko and friends watched the tape. Along the way, she receives in her investigation a photo of the four and here was a detail I didn’t know about the curse’s power: everyone who is marked for death by Sadako has their face distort in images. The American version would expand this to most forms of capturing people’s faces such as a security camera at a convenience store.

She then of course selects the unmarked tape from the visitor’s center for the campground and watches it. Both versions of the video from the East and West versions have a genuine creepiness, though again the original edges out. There is no dialogue, just strange vaguely melodic sounds and noises that would be welcome in any given Silent Hill game. The imagery at first seems random, without meaning. It’s a puzzle that Reiko and her divorced husband Ryuji have to solve.

Ryuji is played by an actor that Westerners might be familiar with, Hiroyuki Sanada. You might remember him as the Yakuza boss that Clint Barton as Ronin slays in Avengers: Endgame. He most recently played Scorpion in the latest live action Mortal Kombat movie. The interplay between Reiko and Ryuji as mostly amicable divorcees plays on a contemporary theme for Japan: the nature of the modern Japanese family. It’s takeaways might leave a mixed taste in some mouths.

They had a son, Yoichi, and after their separation, Yoichi lives as a latchkey kid. Reiko is often too busy at work, whether it’s at the office or out investigating. Ryuji no longer lives with his family. It’s pretty clear what the message here is supposed to be and to Ringu’s credit, there is no one way you’re meant to feel, save that Yoichi should have more attention from a parental figure at least. Rest assured, the predicament Reiko places herself in reaffirms she loves her son.

I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Ringu, among it’s many visual inspirations overtime, actually inspired of all things, one noteworthy episode of Doctor Who. The episode which introduced the Doctor’s most terrifying enemy the Weeping Angels. Their debut episode in 2007 is itself a mystery with a young female journalist investigating the mystery of both an abandoned house deep in the English woods and a DVD featuring David Tennant’s 10th Doctor.

Unlike the cursed video tape having a net negative (to put it the lightest) effect on the viewer, the journalist Sally Sparrow watching the doctor’s DVD is the only reason she survives encountering the Angels. He gives direct instructions to Sally on how to stop the Angels from killing her. Solving the mystery here saves her and quite a few others. There’s a sense of time running out for Sally to both solve the mystery to survive, not unlike Reiko and Ryuji having exactly 7 days from them first watching the video to find a way around Sadako’s doom.

That’s all the more ironic considering that the Doctor put Sally through what is ultimately a stable time loop, much like how the Terminator going back in time to kill Sarah Connor in the first movie guaranteed that the father of the Resistance leader that fights the genocidal machines comes into contact with Sarah, impregnates her, thus assuring humanity’s survival by the T-800’s travel back in time.

Much like that stable time loop twist in the episode “Blink” of Doctor Who, Ringu reveals its more nefarious side by giving no easy answer to overcoming Sadako. In that in truth, there really isn’t one. To help better sell the idea that Sadako will win no matter what, we of course get to learn her background as a psychic girl who got scorned by the people of her time not just for her powers, but in protecting the honor of her also psychic mother.

When her mother is accused of fraud when successfully reading out cards while blindfolded, the critic is then suddenly killed in the manner that you the viewer have become accustomed to: Their face stricken in a face of utter horror, as if you have been frightened to death. Sadako, possibly not even ten years old does not recognize the dire scope of her powers despite her loving mother.

This otherwise innocent girl is then killed by the doctor who was going to use the mother and child for profit and she is dropped down a well after getting whacked on the head. She doesn’t die. She spends, you guessed it, seven miserable days trying to escape the well, losing her fingernails in the process. She never escapes. Well, not in the way you and I could.

Sadako’s ESP powers tap into a concept unique to Japan: the concept of thoughtograpy, where an individual with such power can burn her essence into an object, leaving off a mark of sorts. It’s never fully explained in either version how Sadako decided that a videotape would be the channel for her indiscriminate vengeance but it’s ultimately not important that we find out that.

Now, for the crime of being murdered, leaving her mother in utter despair so much that she threw herself into a volcano, and for being stuck in the dark for the last 7 days of her life, anyone no matter how good or bad they may be will suffer. Those who recognize they have been cursed like Reiko and Ryuji must spend 7 days realizing they are about to die, like how Sadako came to realize her own fate down in the well.

Her punishment is indiscriminate because she was already given reason as an impressionable young girl to hate all humanity. For her freakish powers, she was shunned, feared, taken advantage of in experiments. The only person she didn’t hate was of course her Mom. Even the horror element of never seeing her face through her deep, long hair represents how she didn’t want anyone to even see her, due to her treatment.

Now, on the seventh day, when she takes out the person who sated their curiosity and watched her video, she gets not just revenge but a really sorrowful sense of wish fulfillment she never got when alive. The iconic scene of her crawling out of a well and approaching the camera isn’t just because it’s freaky to look at, it represents her desperate unfulfilled desire to escape the well that was her tomb. It’s both horrifying and sad. No matter how cruel it seems for Sadako to prey on total strangers, she wasn’t given any reason to be empathetic to anyone, it’s a poor young girl endlessly lashing out at a world which deserves nothing but punishment.

It ties into a familiar strain of thought in horror that many of the terrors we make in the real world are the consequence of our past mistakes. Had we shown kindness, the better angels of our nature, a benevolent curiosity to Sadako and her mother’s powers, maybe things would be different. Maybe Sadako wouldn’t have become the monster society automatically deemed her if they weren’t dismissing her.

What really seals the deal on Ringu and the story itself regardless of the adaptation being a modern classic is that the secret of how you “defeat” Sadako is delightfully twisted and plays into the movie’s anxious viewpoint on technological spread, not unlike a virus. I won’t spoil what the twist is, because that curiosity I hope will be enough for you to check Ringu out if you haven’t already.

The Ring (2002)

Image from IMDB ( In the end, there will be only one channel…)

Gore Verbinski and future Transformers sequel writer Ehren Kruger do a remarkable even commendable job translating this Japanese-at-heart tale of nigh inescapable horror and giving it an American expression. There are some cute references to the Japanese roots, with even an implication that part of this ghostly girl’s origins, that of her father, might actually be from the land of the rising sun. Otherwise, the transplant other to Washington State, USA is complete and total.

Naomi Watts’ Rachel replaces Reiko, Martin Henderson’s Noah replaces Ryuji, David Dorfman replaces Yoichi and the Ring Girl goes from Sadako to Samara. The biggest change is the atmosphere.

Befitting perhaps the new setting of the tale of the Ring, in and around Seattle, there is an absolutely oppressive feel to the world we see on film. The look of the movie has this bluish-greenish sheen that feels washed out and gloomy, with the rain that Seattle’s known for making Rachel, Noah and Aidan’s world feel like it’s off its meds. And that’s before any of our leads have watched the tape.

Instead of being depressing, it helps set up the tone in a fresh way from the original, which once the tape is viewed and Rachel and Noah know what they’re in for, it makes the impending seven days more stressful, as they and the audience can see let alone feel a sense of doom in the air. The sound that plays when a new date is presented is gone which I really miss. Sometimes, the film’s intense faith to the original can rob that sense of curiosity mixed with apprehension. You push instead to how much more different this experience could ultimately be, barring the obvious change of country.

Once it gets to exploring Samara’s background over Sadako’s, that’s where the changes feel most apparent. Rather than her mother sharing some of her daughter’s ESP power, it is just Samara’s. Instead of the dark side of her powers manifesting in suddenly killing someone, her powers cause the horses on the farm she lives on to go wild and die. The mother has more of a part to play in her daughter’s descent into misanthropic fury.

Are these changes better? Not necessarily though they don’t detract. If nothing else, it makes Samara’s desire for vengeance even more understandable as she had no one in the end that cared for her this go around.

Rachel’s kid Aidan has more involvement in the events of the movie and even in some scenes actually converses with both her mother and father on the nature of the curse more than Yoichi. Another interesting change, perhaps to denote this as an American story over an Japanese one is that Rachel and Noah never married and had their son out of wedlock. Noah has barely even seen Aidan in his life. Because marriage and having kids through wedlock is a more expected and I imagine carried through on thing in Japan, having the parents be divorced was the Japanese way of expressing trouble with relationships. Having kids out of wedlock must’ve been the American distinction Kruger and Verbinski decided on.

Watching Ehren Kruger write a distinctive yet reverent take on a Japanese classic changes my perspective on his writing of three horrible Transformers movies. In that he had even less of an excuse to be as lazy, juvenile and mindless with his handling of the concept of the Transformers and their war as he was. Now, obviously, Michael’s Bay anarchic even mean-spirited cinematic lens affected the writing process. That same “Bay” feel is present in every film in the series save Bumblebee, the movie he only was a producer of. So, it was not Kruger entirely, but seeing the respect he gave towards a Japanese property proves he has talent that he decided three times to squander. Don’t worry, he would in time do a disservice to an influential Japanese title when adapting Ghost in the Shell later on.

Again, I can’t say I enjoyed or found as unsettling the American Ring as I did the original though some re-imaginings of some scenes did work well. Katie, Rachel’s niece like Tomoko for Reiko, has a more startling discovery of her body after her 7 days were up. The discovery of Tomoko hiding dead in her closet was scary enough, with the closeup of her contorted face forever open-mouthed in terror was scary. But the scare chord composed by Hans Zimmer along with showing Katie’s body in her closet has a more jolting feel. What’s great about both scenes is that the jump-scare occurs after a soft fakeout.

In the lead up to that moment, we have Reiko/Rachel looking through Tomoko/ Katie’s room following their funeral. They both turn towards the camera and you in turn expect something scary or creepy to be shown after. Instead, it’s just the departed girl’s grieving mother. They then start talking about Tomoko and Katie’s fate, and both turn toward the closet. THEN, the jump cut to discovering the body with the accompanying chord.

The scare serves a purpose which both frightens the viewer while also invoking sympathy to what befell Tomoko and Katie. It also serves to demonstrate what will happen to everyone who watches the tape. Another moment unique to the original also serves to potentially fool the audience for a jumpscare. Tomoko in the original shortly before the TV turns on is using a refrigerator and the camera is aimed at the fridge door from the side. You expect once she closes the door for something spooky like Sadako to be there. Nope, nothing. Because there’s no reason yet for there to be something spooky.

In spite of the scare chord I mentioned earlier, Hans Zimmer’s scoring is actually understated going for a more melancholic feel. While Kawai’s score was meant to keep you permanently on edge, Zimmer goes for a piano-like morose feel which represents the gloom that complements the either inevitable or potential doom coming down the road. It reminds me of some of the music, namely in the end credits for The Babadook released 12 years later though that film certainly has many unnerving, scary compositions included.

Perhaps it’s Zimmer deciding to emphasize the mystery and the tragedy of Samara more than the horror as the horror can largely speak for itself. It might even accommodate those who have already seen the original and want something different enough a second time.

Either way, I do recommend seeing these movies back to back and deciding for yourself what were changes meant to help along an American audience and be rather pleased at all the things that weren’t changed. As mentioned before, it actually builds in parts on what Samara’s curse does leading up to the seven days being completed. While on a ferry heading towards the island Samara lived on, there’s a horse in a trailer. Rachel going up to the horse causes it to panic eventually breaking out of its trailer, rampaging throughout the boat until eventually it falls over the side to its doom. Just like the horses Samara knowingly or unknowingly drove crazy.

That’s a nice expansion which shows the effect a cursed person can possibly have on the world for their seven allotted days. Again, not necessary really, but shows that this take can strive to be more than a carbon copy.

Give it a watch, maybe even marathon the both of them. Try to keep mental notes whenever you can as both movies really want you to think through the details, realize how the dots connect the disturbing picture. It’s also a horror story that thrives on the implications that Sadako/Samara’s power contains. Later movies, such as the recent American sequel Rings has tried to expand the concept and on paper the conceits of that movie are sound. I am aware of one scenario where Samara’s tape in played on seat TVs on an airplane.

In spite of it building on the idea, Rings is quite bad from what I’ve heard. To be fair, even the Japanese sequels have struggled to make their own continuations of the story. They did their own Godzilla vs. Kong with pitting Sadako versus the boy from the Grudge.

It’s yet a miracle that two different sides of the world could do justice for a story all about a girl meting out her own pitiless “justice” on everyone else.

In part two, I tackle two movies, one that is a dark journey back to a world you wouldn’t generally consider scary at least on celluloid and the first of many flicks involving to some extent werewolves.

Bengal’s Vegas Deep Dive part 2 of 2

Before I delve into the scariest time of year over the course of a six part series for Halloween, let’s give a fond farewell to Sin City, pitting two movies about the history of Las Vegas. One’s take is very spurious and the other is surprisingly faithful to the truth.

Bugsy (1991)

Image from Letterboxd (The romance between the actors was real. The figures they portray on the other hand…

Directed by Barry Levinson and produced by Warren Beatty, the man playing the titular Jewish gangster, Bugsy is a film not unlike the portrayal of the central figure. An experience that can win you over with sheer swagger, confidence and unflappable personality. Behind closed doors, it becomes a rougher time, where it’s harder to tell what is actually good in a takeaway that comes across poorly.

Bugsy Siegel is an up and coming star in the Jewish Mob, something that I at first didn’t believe existed. I assumed figures like Siegel, Meyer Lansky (Ben Kingsley) and Mickey Cohen (Harvey Keitel) were part of the Italian-American mafia everyone knows. Despite their names clearly not being Italian.

I also thought, due to historic persecution of those Semitic that Jews in America would do everything in their power to put their best foot forward. Sort of like how Irish-Americans took on police work, to better ingratiate themselves among the rest of the Americans, namely those dastardly Anglo-Saxons. Well, then again, persecuted minorities do get involved in crime when other opportunities are either limited or outright kept from them.

Despite being a criminal figure more than willing to lay a few slugs into anyone that gets in his way, he’s also a loving family man who clearly loves his two daughters. That itself doesn’t stop him from getting some ladies on the side. Won’t stop him from falling in love with a scarlet-clothed dame from Los Angeles.

Upon getting to LA and schmoozing his way into the good graces and eventual partnerships of enemies like Mickey Cohen, he soon realizes upon a business trip to Las Vegas that, wouldn’t you know it, a piece of desert land near Vegas would make for a swell place for a drink, a smoke and some gaming tables, among other accommodations.

It’s here that we witness, of all things, a compelling underdog story for a historic mobster play out. The rest of the Jewish mob including his mentor figure Lansky express doubts over a potential boondoggle being made near a dust-strewn gambling town with their money. His infidelity with Hill starts to make it harder for his wife and children. And there’s the constant friction between “Nice” Bugsy and “Rough” Bugsy troubling a relationship he earnestly pursues with Virginia.

Knowing the actual history of Bugsy Siegel (Warren Beatty) after the fact makes me wish this was something akin to Tarantino’s Once upon a Time in Hollywood. A historical piece with staggering attention to getting the little details of the period right while eventually revealing itself as a piece of knowing fiction. Yes, it is true that Bugsy Siegel is one of the key architects of the Vegas that we’ve come to know today. Yes, he was indeed whacked by the ‘ahem’ “Kosher Nostra” for failing to live up to the expensive investment that is the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

Yes, he certainly had an extramarital affair with Virginia Hill (Annette Benning) when Siegel went from New York to LA to expand the business of the Jewish side of organized crime. But as far as I can tell, that’s where the film stops caring about the truth.

Just how Bugsy screws up the timeline of events is where that sinking feeling you’ve watched a historically careless piece of Hollywood comes in. It reminds me of Gibson’s Braveheart though the timeline liberties that film take makes Bugsy appear reserved. The date of the Flamingo’s opening was not the day of Siegel’s assassination. It was the second opening the following year.

Midway through the movie, Bugsy has to kill one of his mooks, Harry Greenberg (Elliott Gould, last covered in Ocean’s 11), for failing just one too many times. The film portrays it as an awkward car ride with Bugsy, Greenberg and Virginia. Virginia does not realize Harry’s being driven to a whacking by her gentleman love. At a trainyard, Bugsy and Harry go for a walk with the former demanding Virginia stay at the car.

Virginia obliges and then an expected crack (by the audience) is heard. Bugsy returns to the car by himself with Virginia wondering where Harry is. For the purposes of the film, it’s to show Virginia how cold her criminal boyfriend can get.

This whacking of Harry Greenberg is depicted as occurring in 1945. Siegel, alongside two other goons did the deed in 1939. Bugsy hadn’t even met Virginia yet. There’s also the evidence that suggests that one of the factors that led to Bugsy’s own whacking was from Hill herself. What is ultimately portrayed as an earnest love story with sweeping romantic gestures is hiding that perhaps those two didn’t really love the other as much as Levinson and Beatty would have you believe. Virginia Hill’s own date of death as brought up in the film’s closing crawl is wrong by a good several decades.

It makes other details of the story that I didn’t research or find out about themselves more suspicious. Did Bugsy die like he does? Was he even killed for the reasons espoused by the movie? Did he and Mickey Cohen really become friends? Were they even partnered?

Aside from how often Hollywood can notoriously get it wrong, on purpose or by carelessness/ apathy, why would an accomplished director like Levinson and Beatty, a man who starred and directed in a fairly accurate dramatization of American Communists Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, do this?

Well, it might be because Bugsy can be read more as a story about Warren Beatty than Bugsy Siegel. What cinches it is that Beatty and Benning would be married the following year, in a marriage that endures to this day. It’s a story that could be read as representing Beatty’s own struggles to overcome the Hollywood system to do the stuff he wanted to do with his career, like the aforementioned Reds. That there’s an intentional interplay between the Mob in LA and Hollywood adds to this.

This isn’t the first time a work of art supposedly about a real life figure or set of figures was in turn a stealth self-commentary about the artist. Hayao Miyazaki’s last film (for the time being) is less about the real history of a man called Jiro Hirikoshi. It’s more about Miyazaki himself and how his artistic ambitions the world came to love may have come into conflict with the personal aspects of his life. It can also be an allegory for Japan’s own fraught history in the modern period.

The Wind Rises places the real life of Hirikoshi third in priority but to Studio Ghibli’s credit, they made no effort to hide that it was a fictionalized account. Considering that animation company’s prevalence for fantasy, it is fitting.

As a film in which you willfully ignore all considerations to historical fidelity, it is a well crafted work, perfectly in line with the quality you expect from the man behind pictures like Diner. Beatty, despite being several years older than Siegel was when he took the big sleep is a genuinely entertaining figure. He sweeps you up in just the energy of his idealized depiction of a fella that was all by means not as good as this film infers. Basically, he seduces you like he seduces Virginia.

So, in that framing, Bugsy can be called an acceptable piece of historical fan fiction.

Casino (1995)

Image from Cinevue (Two goodfellas who find actual history entertaining.)

Call it a case of covering ass if you want, but Scorsese’s take on the Vegas life of Frank Rosenthal and the gambling “skimming” scheme he helped cover for sets off on a foot that is meant to reassure historians watching they aren’t in for another “loose retelling” of the past. 1995 was a notorious year for films that did so with Braveheart and Disney’s Pocahontas being the worst offenders and I do mean offensive. Not surprising then that both movies starred Mel Gibson, a man who loves to direct or be part of movies that don’t care that much for the truth as The Patriot and Apocalypto will attest.

Casino is in the same vein, almost to a fault, of other Scorsese historical flicks about combining real events with crime. His magnum opus for this type of film and in general, is Goodfellas. Sure, they were inaccuracies there if only because the truth was even more graphic that even Scorsese got nervous. Later on, The Wolf of Wall Street. This trilogy of movies involve a criminal protagonist, in this case Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro), narrating to the audience their life story or at least the parts that involve an ill gotten gains lifestyle and eventually culminating in downfall.

Goodfellas’ Henry Hill, Casino’s Ace and Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort are destined for that downfall in the movie. It happened more or less in real life. Scorsese had decided to essentially remake Goodfellas twice where aside from the sheer craft of his style and that in spite of all three of these movies being lengthy, having yet a paradoxically bracing, quick pace, what makes this repeat performance work is that there is a unique true to life set of details to the latter two movies.

Goodfellas was about a man who famously always wanted to be a gangster living out a gangster life. Wolf of Wall Street is about a stock broker running a company off of lies and corruption with the biggest s**t-eating grin ever on his face while doing so. Casino is both about a man who was genuinely good at running a casino fair and square and could’ve have kept doing it if one, he didn’t let his lust for a chip hustler bleed in with his unwise friendship with a mafia man running his own string of crimes in LV, and two, there wasn’t that whole skimming the winnings thing happening for the Chicago Outfit of the Mob.

Remember about that best foot forward I brought up at the start? The film opens saying that it is “inspired by true story” rather than “based”. In spite of what turns out to be a pretty faithful retelling of the rise and fall of Frank Rosenthal, Scorsese renames all the characters such as going from Frank to Sam and even adds in historic events that happen after the story of Rosenthal/ Rothstein had concluded but more on that later.

You get both a pretty good retelling of the past and yet ultimately still a knowing piece of fiction so you know in return that this is not 100% up to the truth. The best example of Casino actually taking stark liberty is with the characterization of Sam Rothstein and his eventual wife Ginger Mckenna (Geri McGee) played by Sharon Stone.

The film portrays Rothstein as indeed a mob scumbag but an intelligent one and not without a few redeeming qualities. Ginger is portrayed as an ultimately vain, riches-hungry woman who ultimately becomes possibly more unlikable than the character you’re meant to hate and/or fear, the guy played by Joe Pesci. She does terrible things during the course of the movie, such as tying up her and Sam’s daughter and a bed and acts more or less as the real catalyst that begins the downfall of the operation Rothstein is protecting at the Tangiers Hotel and Casino (based on the Stardust). Of course, Ginger’s behavior is hardly the only thing that brings down the operation and Ace and Pesci’s Nicky Santoro ( Anthony Spilotro) are also guilty of contributing to it.

The unfortunate truth and this might be one of the bigger reasons Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (based off of his own book like with Goodfellas) changed names and made the disclaimer at the start is that the personalities of the real life figures DeNiro and Stone play are almost reversed.

Frank Rosenthal, as far as history can tell us really had no redeeming qualities. He was an abusive, vain, possessive piece of shit who tormented Geri. Geri, by comparison, while obviously still a woman caught up in the hedonism of the Vegas and mob life, was considered by those who knew her a compassionate, friendly and entertaining person. She was a person many would say did not deserve the miserable drug-addled end she faced and well, even Stone’s liberal take known as Ginger probably didn’t deserve it that bad too.

So, yeah, making the male mobster more tame and the relatively innocent female lover he had worse than she was can make one tighten their collar. One scenario that happens early on, during the Scorsese patented montage where Ace demonstrates how he operates the Tangiers is based on a historical event that was by Casino’s release recent history.

A Japanese businessman does incredibly well and all but but clears the house with his success. Not letting a guy like that make off with that amount of winnings, he has his plane back to Japan (which is owned by Ace) pretend to have a malfunction so that the guy is now stuck in Vegas. He then is returned to the Tangiers and Ace graciously welcomes him back and offers a rematch, all so he can get the businessman’s massive earnings back. What a cad.

If you were alive and old enough in the early to mid 90s, unlike me, that may sound familiar. Well, this little skit in the film is taken from Donald Trump trying to get back the winnings that all but bankrupted his struggling hotel/casino, the Taj Mahal. Instead of sabotaging the ride home for Akio Kashiwagi, he called him on the way back and convinced him to return with no extra expense back to the casino for a rematch. Don’t remember if our future fascist President succeeded in getting his winnings back, but that was a recent story that found itself added in to a story that occurs earlier. Why did Scorsese do that? As one way to show how expertly Rothstein went about running the Tangiers.

So, yeah in spite of the questionable characterization of two of the central figures and transplanting a 90s gambling story into one set only in the 70s and 80s, Casino will serve you well more or less as a real retelling of the last time the mob had a confirmed presence in the day to day operations of anywhere in Sin City. While Bugsy told a fallacious beginning to Vegas and the Mafia’s ties, Casino will tell you it’s end, and decides to showcase the crazy things that happen along the way, some of which may surprise you as not being the invention of Hollywood screenwriters but genuine fact.

I recommend watching this after you read this blog entry to the end, but here is the Casino episode from the Youtube channel series History Buffs, who will do a far more through job of explaining where Casino does right by you the filmgoer and the few where it doesn’t.

Anyhoo, it’s time to now talk about Casino as a film-watching experience. Some consider Casino to be a lesser version of Goodfellas yet anything but a bad one. Some see it as being just as good and certainly as entertaining. I fall more into the latter category as one, I was genuinely captivated by Scorsese’s proven style of direction and was honestly glad to have well, Goodfellas again, but different.

It doesn’t hurt that his direction of the actors is ever fantastic and helped dispel a rather unpleasant notion I had about Sharon Stone. This could be a consequence of having not seen, well, any film of hers but she was known for extremely good reason as one of the sex symbols of the 1990s. Basic Instinct all by itself can be proof of that. But there was plenty of other films where her sex appeal was used as major factor for the movie or at least she was in a film that involved her getting busy. Sliver, Year of the Gun, The Quick and the Dead among others involve Ms. Stone in… intimate moments of celluloid.

There’s indeed a sex scene here, but it’s 4 seconds long, shows no nudity and involves Joe Pesci so it is not remotely titillating. Here, Scorsese gives Sharon Stone a chance to act and despite playing an inaccurate representation of a real person gives I would dare argue the best performance in the film. I thought to myself, “She deserves an Oscar for this” and she was indeed nominated for Best Actress.

To be fair, part of what made her role as Catherine Tramell in Basic Instinct unforgettable wasn’t just what she physically showed audiences and she showed more than what was common in 1992. How she acted as Catherine as a bona fide femme fatale made her. She had to be a good actress to make Basic Instinct work in the way it ultimately did, whether you like that or not.

Of course, while DeNiro’s performance is essentially flawless, as the guy has made playing an Italian-American mobster down to a science, Joe Pesci and his always profane voice helps too in making Casino a film I honestly find as good at least in entertainment as Goodfellas. Goodfellas still has the edge because for the kind of gangster film it was, it was new, it was fresh. It essentially helped form the modern way we tell Mob stories, the successor to The Godfather movies in that respect. I doubt there would’ve have been the Sopranos if not for both Goodfellas and Casino.

Casino could edge out Goodfellas for brutal violence. The two scenes best known for such content are also two of the best remembered scenes in the film. Wonder why? There’s the horrifying torture scene involving a guy who gets his head in a vise by Pesci’s Nicky. This is after one of his…vital parts got ice picked. He then gets one of his eyes loosely popped out. This is the scene that Scorsese claimed he was willing to sacrifice to avoid an NC-17 rating, or at least he would trim it down because important plot details are involved there. To his surprise, the MPAA let the whole scene go uncut.

The other violent scene is the part where Joe Pesci plays a role he is familiar with, whether it’s in a Scorsese film or in a Christmas themed kids movie: getting the living hell beat out of him. Unlike the traps of Kevin McCallister, which indeed would’ve been lethal for the Wet Bandits especially in the second film, Nicky Santoro’s mostly true to life miserable method of death involve lots and lots of baseball bats. The inaccuracy comes in that the real life death was again, even more terrible.

On one last note and this is something History Buffs informed me of, unlike Joe Pesci’s casting as Tommy DeVito which really didn’t look close to the real person he’s based on, Pesci looks disturbingly close to Tony Spilotro. I can’t speak for how Spilotro sounded in life but wow, Scorsese didn’t just bring back Pesci because he needed someone to play the violent, unhinged wiseguy, he found a part he was physically born to play.

Of the films I watched for my Vegas deep dive, I will indeed place Casino as being the best overall movie. It doesn’t hurt that it actually gave a history lesson about a place I visited, all to see for the first Gorillaz on the stage. If you have three hours, you won’t need to have your head put in a vise to see it as a no-brainer.

Next time: PART 1 of 2022 HORRORTHON

Bengal’s Vegas Cinema Deep Dive part 1 of 2

Thanks to the glory of the Gorillaz, I visited Vegas last weekend. Seeing them live for the first and maybe only time was quite something. I got a new white t-shirt of them over there to both commemorate the event and because a white shirt in the Vegas heat is better than a black one. Also, the black shirt I’ve got was wearing down and getting too tight.

I couldn’t help but take a break from 80s cinema for my retrospective series to focus on some recent Hollywood offerings about the city of “second” chances. All of them are from the 90s to today and in doing so removes some titles that were already waiting on my watchlist far in the future after I conquer everything in my 80s’ itinerary.

The second part will be two movies based or inspired by historical fact, seeing which is better at telling a history lesson and which is just the better film. These three explore the cool, the profane and the sad of what is known in English as The Meadows.

Ocean’s 11 (2001)

Image from IMDB (Release the Safe-Crackers.)

Steven Soderbergh is a man who, comfortably it seems, lives in two worlds. Ever since his breakthrough debut in 1989’s Sex, Lies and Videotape (which of course dear viewer I will one day tackle), the bald maestro has done many, many films. Some have been mainstream work that even attained critical and commercial success like the film here and others are movies which made so little money you’ve likely never heard of them.

My first time seeing a Soderbergh picture was 2017’s Logan Lucky and how fortuitous for me that that was my first film of his. It’s a heist film involving some West Virginia brothers breaking a southern-fried Daniel Craig out of prison so they can perform a break-in of the Charlotte Speedway during a Nascar race. It’s a Robin Hood tale with it’s players consisting of the proudly podunk, yet smart enough to know that the system has screwed them. They’re just about smart enough to perform a Danny Ocean play but on a smaller scale.

It’s an endearing little movie and proved prophetic for Daniel Craig’s future career choices of playing Dixie-accented figures like in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out. I don’t know if any film of his before Ocean’s 11 could be construed as heist picture, but as the general public is concerned, 2001 was the beginning of a more playful Soderbergh experience.

The early 2000’s was a good time to be that man. In 2000, he somehow found the time to make two blockbusters, Traffic and Erin Brockovich. He would follow up the next year with his interpretation of a Rat Pack flick from 1960. Frank Sinatra and his thick as thieves performer friends got involved in a heist picture that on paper sounds like it should be a classic of the era.

Imagine it, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin alongside eight others on a daring Vegas heist plan: Rob five casinos in one night. Sounds awesome, right? Well, apparently not, as the original Ocean’s 11 is not a film to write home about from basically all accounts. Aside from the Rat Pack presence, inspiring the concept of the first modern feature and there being a crew numbering 11, nothing about it is exceptional.

It seems evident to me that Soderbergh took a film maybe he liked as a kid, thought could be better and did just that. The remake stands a better chance of being remembered, respected even in the long course of time. It’s rare that a remake utterly eclipses the original but here we are.

Danny Ocean is played by an actor, who almost by design, was meant to portray a heist crew ringleader, George Clooney. It takes a lot to make the guy not charming or charismatic. It is sadly possible, as evidenced by Batman and Robin.

After leaving prison, with the board narrowly deciding that he won’t go back to his robbery wiles, Danny immediately starts canvassing to get a crew together for a job that’s more personal than just business.

He gets his number two from L.A. back, Rusty (Brad Pitt), and tells him that despite his recently concluded prison time and that he’s supposed to stay in New Jersey as part of his parole, he wants to rob three Vegas casinos in a single night. Fortunately, there is an underground vault where money that comes from those three casinos is stored. The establishments are all run by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia), a mildly criminal business magnate whose as far as I can tell is actually on the level. His only vice really is that if someone screws him in any way, his retribution is quite disproportionate.

In order to make us not despise even like the heist crew, to want them to outright win, the victim of this supposedly victimless crime has to be on some level, unsympathetic or villainous. Only Terry is affected by his money being stolen so you don’t feel uncomfortable at the ultimately still criminal thing the Eleven pull off. This is more so for caper films where the crew gets away scot free, a more recent trend in the genre.

It used to be the case that the crooks would start to get what’s coming to them after the heist is successfully pulled off, their own greed and/or carelessness being their undoing. It lets the more morally minded audiences of yesteryear have it both ways: they get to enjoy a risky, even stressful break-in occur and then after it is gloriously accomplished, they still get the hammer of the law smacked on them, so the audience is reminded that as cool as that caper was, please don’t commit any crimes.

Outside of wanting to show how awesome a caper-man he is and I guess money in and of itself, why is Danny going forward with this super dangerous, seemingly impossible job? Well, his ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts) is dating Terry and he still holds a candle for her. It’s not so much showing up Terry as ultimately he must not know for certain he pulled the caper, it’s just to impress his old flame, show her that he most certainly still has it, even after having served time.

Danny and Rusty assemble the 11 in a humorous, expectedly montage manner. Strangely enough, it can also come across like Seven Samurai or any film like Magnificent Seven that apes Kurosawa’s masterpiece: looking around for people to join a team on what could be a suicide mission.

One of the eleven is someone they already know: Frank Catton (Bernie Mac), a con man and actor whose good at drawing attention away from something more important, a must for someone who won’t just do it the forceful way, which in Vegas is essentially either a prison or death sentence.

The guy who gets them the financing and equipment is Reuben, an old friend of Danny who’s the only other member who has a personal stake: he lost his casino to Terry and wants some bloodless revenge. Won’t be the last time that Elliot Gould appears in my Vegas series.

Scott Caan, the late James Caan’s son, and Casey Affleck play Virgil and Turk, two mechanic brothers who play the getaway drivers. Eddie Jemison is Dell, the appropriately named tech guy. Don Cheadle is the cockney accented demolitions man and Shaobo Qin is a short, Chinese acrobat who goes from circus attraction to both genuinely impressive athlete and comic relief, often through his very flexible body.

Rounding out the eleven is Carl Reiner as the old con artist Saul who decides an almost certain to fail heist in Vegas is better than dogtrack betting. At least it will be entertaining for him no matter the outcome. Due to his advanced age compared to everyone else, he’s the one who appears the most vulnerable and even likely to die just for that reason.

The real life Reiner was in his late 70s in 2001 and still had the moxy for two more capers down the road. He managed to have a one line cameo in 2019’s Toy Story 4 before he finally cashed out the following year in 2020 at 98. This tangent is here because I was genuinely impressed by Reiner’s longevity after Ocean’s 11 made it look like this was a swan song role. For him, he was never too old for one last score, bless him.

Finally, MATT DAMON. Sorry, I momentarily envisioned his unflattering voice and appearence from Team America, which oddly enough the real man actually likes. Damon is the young rookie Linus picked up in Chicago by Danny Ocean. Despite his inexperience, his skill’s undeniable as he did manage to pick-pocket a guy like Ocean.

Due to Julia Roberts being prominently featured in the marketing and because usually there is a token female, I assumed Tess or someone else would take the place of one of the eleven. I actually thought Reiner’s Saul was going to die before the job began. Referencing Seven Samurai again, one of the seven dies before the big battle that closes out the movie. I thought Damon was supposed to debut later as no. 12 in the next movie. This uncertainty and getting everything mixed up sure helped with the drama of a job that you already know is going to succeed.

The inevitability that the heist will, 90% of the time, be pulled off doesn’t ruin the magic. You want to see how it’s pulled off, what tricks or on the spot actions are taken to make it work. More importantly, can the audience place themselves in the shoes of someone like Terry Benedict and believe that they got duped?

Despite being over 20 years old now, it really is great that I was entirely unspoiled to how this movie plays out. Let’s just say for your sake that the movie plays a con on you not unlike how in Redford and Newman’s The Sting, the finale fools both the main antagonist and the audience with one big sleight of hand. There’s a sleight of hand that Ocean and Co. pull off that I should have seen coming but was successfully prevented from predicting. The bastards got me good and I loved it.

How Soderbergh goes about with Ocean and his eleven eventually thirteen continuing to cleverly dupe both antagonist and audience remains a divisive topic. Ocean’s 12 released three years later is seen as the weakest of the now four contemporary Ocean pictures. Soderbergh on the other hand thinks the opposite and considers 12 to be the best of the three movies he made. I’m not curious enough to see if that’s true.

I’m not even curious enough to check out 2007’s 13 which was seen as better but the details of how Danny Ocean pulls it off that time has been taken to task as too ridiculous. Can’t honestly speak for the recent Ocean’s 8, where Sandra Bullock plays Danny’s sister, on any account other than I hear it’s just OK and that Soderbergh didn’t direct.

What I can tell you is that the first time is considered the charm and does as good a job as you can imagine making you understand why Clooney and Pitt aren’t just considered sexy Hollywood royalty but charming royalty. To preface way down my thoughts on the early works of Jim Jarmusch, this movie will put a spell on you.

The Hangover (2009)

Image from IMDB (Two of the three man Wolf Pack, encountering a very annoying problem.)

Just recently, I rewatched the Simpsons episode having Homer and Ned Flanders going on a trip to Las Vegas, all because the latter is worried he’s wasted his life being a totally square, unhip Christian man. On the one hand, he looks barely 40 at the age of 60 due to his pious lifestyle. On the other hand, he wonders concerningly what he’s been missing. Homer, despite normally despising stupid, lousy Flanders is actually happy to help him with his unusual life crisis.

Eventually, both Homer and Ned got so wasted that they forget a wild night that involves them both getting married to some strippers and their escapades eventually involve a tiger, a Mike Tyson parody and it all takes place in a joke version of Caesar’s Palace.

The Hangover is a story of two brothers and their two best friends going on a bachelor party trip to Las Vegas. As the title makes inevitable, a wild night is stripped from memory as three of the four wake up to find one’s missing. The hotel they groggily awake in is Caesar’s Palace and the following proceedings will include a tiger, one of them marrying having married a stripper (played by Heather Graham), and Mike Tyson.

My friends, what we have here is a case of what South Park famously called “SIMPSONS DID IT!” Or, The Simpsons already did it. Sure, there are more details to what should have been an unforgettable night for the four but man they just had to drink what is revealed to be roofies at the start of the night. A lot of those details would’ve been almost impossible to allow on the Simpsons.

Todd Phillips most critically successful movie was a sleeper hit in the summer of 2009. Only an abysmal Transformers sequel and Pixar’s masterpiece Up made more money that season. Before the Hangover came out, the idea of a drunken, crazy night with a destructive aftermath was already a concept. Again, the Simpsons. So, what made this take on the idea into such a cultural phenomenon, leading to two lackluster sequels and essentially launching the careers of Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms?

It was probably that this take leaned in on at being a comical mystery, seeing how far down the rabbit hole the three friends fell and for rewatch value, seeing how the pieces fit together before the credits show a chronological photo montage of the wild night.

It’s also the interplay of the three friends searching for the fourth. Bradley Cooper’s Phil is nominally the most mature and is revealed to be a dad by the film’s end. He is the most concerned with dealing with the problem as orderly as possible and when things refuse to go their way, grows the most aggressive. Ed Helms’ Stu is the put upon guy, with an overly controlling girlfriend and a real passive streak that comes with a lack of spine. The wild night reveals that he is a more decisive person when under the influence.

Maybe the most memorable of the Wolf Pack is Galifianakis’ Alan, a man-child who despite growing up with a loving brother can’t seem to mature fully into an emotionally adult person. For me, this is ironic considering that due to the beard Alan looks the oldest of the three or at least in appearence the least child-like. He’s the innocuous type of man-child, as he can’t even bring himself to swear like his friends.

What works about the humorous task of seeing the Wolf Pack learn about the night and figure out how to unscrew themselves is the balance between being not absurd enough or too absurd. Nothing about The Hangover is completely off the wall bonkers. It seems crazy enough to actually happen and that this is set in Vegas, a place notorious for wild, seemingly unrealistic events helps shore up plausibility.

It could be my bias in favor of the striped, orange animal, but seeing how the trio deals with the tiger in their bathroom is the most enjoyable obstacle they have to solve. It’s also the scenario that seems least likely for them to resolve because it’s a tiger in a Caesar’s Palace hotel room. How the tiger got up there is never explained and it is honestly better that is never revealed. We certainly know how the friends came across it and it ties into another famous obstacle: Mike Tyson.

One of the greatest boxers of all time is notorious for his behavior off the ring with an incident involving punching someone down some stairs being for many the standout moment. Now, while playing himself in an acting role, part of the humor is not only that the Wolf Pack got involved in a bad way with Tyson, but their fear that Tyson will physically hurt them, due to reputation. I ain’t spoiling if he does though considering this film’s blockbuster status, you likely already know.

The Hangover presents conventions of a stay in Vegas going wrong to comedic effect as intended but it also sometimes subverts what you think might happen. The reveal that Stu drunkenly married a stripper comes to a conclusion that some may seem coming and others won’t. I didn’t, for what’s it worth and it sometimes feels that The Hangover is almost satirizing the cliches of Vegas more than simply comically upping the ante about them.

Let’s get to the obstacle that I’m sure split people more than not on how funny or unfunny it was. Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow works for the intended reason of being an eccentric Chinese mobster that the Wolf Pack got in trouble with. In terms of how actually funny he is, that is subjective even by the standards of comedy. Clearly, Phillips thought people liked Jeong as Chow since he’s around for the whole trilogy.

I didn’t like him though I could at least tolerate him. He is meant to be annoying for the Wolf Pack, further emphasizing how deep the problems they have go. My first real exposure to Ken Jeong was in the third Transformers movie playing a horribly grating and quite racist figure who calls himself Deep Wang. A person who has traded information with the Decepticons in secret, he gets up close and personal with Shia LeBeouf’s Sam in an infuriating comedy sequence that does at least end with him getting killed by a Decepticon.

I was actually cheering when he finally did die, albeit from an dumb interpretation of a fan-favorite Transformers villain. It was moments like Jeong’s contribution to Transformers where it felt less like another immature comedy skit and more like Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger were demonstrating spite on those hoping to have a decent film involving transforming, warring robots.

Jeong is never near as horrible in at least the first Hangover as he is in Transformers 3. He serves his purpose, acts as a genuine threat to our marginal heroes and once his role is done, it is done.

The Hangover’s success can also be best recognized for its interpretation that comedy should be about failure. We laugh at fictional characters making mistakes and suffering defeats over and over again. While this film is about the Wolf Pack stumbling their way out of a totally ruinous mess and actually triumphing, be honest with yourselves: your amusement also comes from seeing them in these messed situations and wondering how worse it will get before it does get better.

The Wolf Pack are not the most likable group of characters and thankfully them not always being sympathetic actually adds to the comedy at times. They’re just likable enough and that they ultimately make it out of Vegas with some dignity intact is a testament to one of the lessons that can be given out like a PSA message: Teamwork matters. One of the funniest moments is when the Pack have to win back some money so they can pay Chow in exchange for what they think is their missing friend.

Alan gets cleaned up, dressed up and uses a guidebook about gambling to help beat the system and win the money. Though it predates it, Alan’s mental process at the game table is just like Sherlock piecing together the mystery’s clues.

It’s not the best comedy I’ve seen, it’s not the best film about Vegas I’ve seen. But it is a film that can be understood for why it was the surprise hit of 2009. Those with the right attitude will enjoy, maybe even savor this comedy with quite an attitude all its own.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Image from Business Insider (The Unbearable Weight of Massive Hangovers)

Based on a novel from a young author who shot himself after learning his book would be made into a novel, Leaving Las Vegas is often considered one of Nicolas Cage’s best movies, proof that he is more than just his eccentricities or voice. The Academy thought so, they gave him Best Actor.

It’s a film that shows perhaps the best the utterly sad, unenviable side of Las Vegas. Or at least, for those who have and could live there. Cage’s Ben Sanderson is a drunk. A hopelessly, I mean hopelessly drunk man. He can’t write scripts for Hollywood anymore and his addiction, compulsion to drink has cost him his wife, kids and circle of friends. After getting a “golden parachute” pension from the workplace who shows uncommon pity on him, he decides to buy as much booze as possible, burns all of his personal belongings and drives to Vegas.

Why Vegas? Oh, it’s not to gamble, he has no reason to. Other than gambling, what is one thing that place has in great quantity? Booze. Based on my recent trip, I can confirm that in 2022, that is still very true. It might’ve been the first time I’ve personally encountered drunk people. I’m so sheltered.

There, he meets Sera, played by Elisabeth Shue. I know her as the girlfriend for Daniel-San in the original Karate Kid, the replacement for Jennifer, Marty McFly’s girlfriend in the Back to the Future sequels and recently in a very uncomfortable to watch role in the first season of The Boys. Here, she’s a prostitute who is able to get much free time to spend with Ben after her Latvian pimp Yuri (Julian Sands) gets whacked due to his poor turnout of profit.

Ben goes from being customer who really isn’t interested in her “services” to simply having someone to talk to in his last days. He intends to drink so much that it kills him. Overtime, the two start to become romantically involved in spite of one having a terminal connection to liquor and the other being a lady of the night.

As you could infer, they come together due to both being outcasts of society: one a failed screenwriter turned drunkard and the other a hooker. This and a little more causes their romance to blossom, but Ben says rather bluntly that she can’t expect him to be kept from his “drink to death” mission. No matter what, it will happen, no matter how much it hurts.

Nicolas Cage’s voice adds well to the sense of a person being hammered and then some. Even when sober, his voice has a certain lilt which suggests something is off. Anyone who has heard Nic Cage speak knows what I’m talking about. He’s perfect for the role as Ben is never sober, not once in the film. He’s clear-headed enough at times to socialize with Sera, to know how to push back verbally when he thinks he has to.

His performance did make me wonder about how often Cage actually drank, because makeup aside he does look and act like a drunk. It gets increasingly discomforting to watch because I started to wonder if Cage actually caused himself harm playing this role. Now, obviously there are certain parts where you can tell he wasn’t actually hurt. The end result of drinking to death can’t be replicated because you know you’re endangering an actor at that point. It’s like actors including extras who play Holocaust victims.

How much should be done to show the starved, weakened results of that genocide? You got to make sure the actors are healthy enough at the end of the day or really put in the movie magic to create the visual illusion of a person brought physically low by the holocaust.

Directed by Mike Figgis, there is an appropriately dreamy look to the film, helped along by Anthony Marinelli and Figgis’ own composition of the score. A jazz score that always underscores that this film will not head to a happy ending, even though the convention is that the drunk will be saved and sober up, helped along by the hooker with the heart of gold. Nope, real life is not often enough like that Hollywood ending and the real life plight of John O’Brien, the story’s writer, cements that.

This Vegas movie is not about Vegas, it is merely the backdrop to a man’s fall and a woman’s potential rise above her current lifestyle. The 90s’ filmgrain, which is quite thick, lends to this environment of forlornness, where every bright spot in Ben and Sera’s short time together is followed up by a reminder that none of this is going to last.

This sure sounds like a depressing watch and the film all but begins with the warning that don’t expect it to lighten up. I found it more sad than depressing. Maybe it was me knowing ahead of time that Ben was indeed doomed to the fate he had decided for himself, perhaps knowing eased that. Or I don’t know, maybe something more depressing in my own life actually made this an escape. A coolly filmed picture which better than any other movie in this series of mine makes you feel like you’re in Vegas, no matter the circumstances.

It’s not the best film about Vegas I’ve seen, but it’s the best set in Vegas I’ve seen.

Part Two: Coming this Weekend

More Marvel, more Problems: Reviews for Thor 4 and Ms. Marvel, guest starring The Boys Season 3 (Spoilers)

Image from Memphis Flyer (Two Thors, the rock guy from Neverending Story and a black, bisexual Valkyrie.)

San Diego was the place to learn about the future of the world’s biggest media series, the MCU.

Phase 4 is ending likely on a much needed high note with Black Panther 2. Phase 5 will open with Ant-Man’s third outing and will consist of two years like the current phase we’re in. Phase 6 will occur entirely in one year and will feature the new, hopefully improved Fantastic Four and the fifth and sixth Avengers. If nothing else, a sense of direction towards an ‘event’ level set of movies is welcome and very needed. If all turns out well, it might make reappraisal for the current set of films and shows we’ve gotten recently occur, for the most part. As for how they stand on their own, well….

My thoughts on Moon Knight and Doctor Strange 2 are already on site. Now, before She-Hulk and Black Panther’s return, let’s delve into two properties that are not exactly bad but endemic to an issue certainly discussed much in the past several months. If I could have it a different way, I would take people’s discussion over the state of a fictional universe and place that concerned passion over something far more meaningful by several thousands fold. Namely, a dying planet and the corrupt, sociopathic institutions that enable that slide downward. But you can’t always have what you want, even if it’s to the benefit of more than yourself. Anyway…..

Thor: Love and Thunder

I really wanna like Thor’s fourth, possibly last solo movie, though not final appearence. Conceptually speaking, Taika Waititi and Chris Hemsworth had the right idea with how to follow up both Thor Ragnarok and the titular character’s part played in Infinity War and Endgame. How it ends I’m genuinely quite fine with. You might agree but your enthusiasm for it’s outcome may not mirror your “agreement”. It resolves a romantic subplot that was seemingly abandoned for good with Thor and Jane Foster’s love story that was seen as too conventional for many. Natalie Portman agreed with that, hence why she was gone for a good amount of time. Then, a surprise cameo appearence in Endgame and the announcement that she was back as Jane Foster for Thor 4.

Recently in the comics, 2014 exactly, Marvel made the controversial decision to make one of Thor’s most enduring love interests, the mortal human doctor into a person who could wield the power of Thor, even taking on his Norse loverboy’s namesake, that itself being one of the sticking points for criticism. Wielding a new hammer distinct from Mjolnir, she basically became a new helmeted figure fighting the good, Scandinavian fight but it came with a catch.

Jane Foster had gotten terminal cancer and her chances of survival were expectably low. However, for reasons I could research right now but won’t, she become worthy of Thor’s power while also gaining some new abilities unique to her iteration. It even made her start speaking Shakespearean. As ‘The Mighty Thor’, it kept her cancer at bay but the continued use of her hammer would worsen the cancer. Don’t know Comic Jane’s current status or whether comic Thor has gone back to basics, but that is the comic book background to explain not only Jane’s cinematic return, but why Portman was convinced to return.

The dramatic romcom angle between Thor and Jane is one of Thor Four’s stronger aspects. Not only is it the unlikely return of something from the MCU you might have honestly forgotten, it helps reinforce that Thor still has a place to go in the increasingly unwieldy MCU. It ends both triumphant and somber, and yes, that movie Jane Foster shares the same cancer diagnosis should clue in those who have not yet viewed.

One of the big critiques of Love and Thunder was an element that went mostly uncriticized for Ragnarok, a distinct Waititi-like mix of seriousness and comic goofiness. While I can see why this tonal dissonance will turn off more than a few people (again, a main character has terminal cancer), my body’s response cannot lie as I certainly laughed at most of the humor. I did think that maybe, more than a few times a good joke or moment of humor that occurred could’ve been replaced for something more straight-faced. That being said, the standout recurring gag, the two giant screaming goats that Thor is gifted early on for “saving” an alien holy site never got old for me even though I was preparing myself to get sick of them.

It’s not just that actual goats really scream in that strangely human manner, it’s also a mythic in-joke that the Thor of legend actually does have two goats at his disposal. If you want to call the goats stupid, then blame the Norse people of over a thousand years ago for their involvement here. But they’re yet moments where the either Waititi, James Gunn or MCU brand humor doesn’t so much elicit a laugh as it does mild approval or not even a response.

This was evident most when Thor and his rock-man buddy Korg were hanging out with the Guardians. The Guardians themselves seem underutilized though again, this is not their movie. Star-Lord’s pep talk about the pain that comes with not so much loss but the pain of when you come to genuinely love someone and lose them was touching and certainly sets up something for next year’s Volume 3.

This in effect sets up Thor and Jane’s story and how in turn right after she returns to his life, he then learns that she doesn’t have much time left. That is, of course, right after coming to grips with his most beloved ex-girlfriend having his powers and his hammer. This leads to another amusing recurring gag involving his current weapon Stormbreaker, created with help from Groot in Infinity War, becoming jealous of Thor longing for Mjolnir back.

When I think back on it, Thor dealing with Jane’s return, potentially permanent departure and what comes after is the heart of Love and Thunder’s strength. The main antagonist, played by and with the same voice Christian Bale has for 85% of his roles albeit appropriate here, is almost another strength. As pointed out by others, including the fine Austin based people of Double Toasted, Gorr the God Butcher is good. But to paraphrase the Wonder Woman 84 villain, he could be better.

It’s rather surprising that the meaning of Gorr and his vendetta to kill all Gods hasn’t been the thing that has caused, ahem, “controversy” for Thor 4. The controversy as it happens comes from One Million Moms and their issue with both Valkyrie giving a bisexual kiss to the hand to one of Zeus’ ladies midway through, but also that Korg and his entire species are gay. Well, it so happens that Kronan reproduction happens in a manner that is not remotely sexual.

It’s about the most G-rated yet comically silly explanation for a type of procreation you could think up. But because it involves two male alien characters getting busy in any fashion, the most certainly 1 million of those moms are upset. Well, sorry to hear that. But, hey, it will be alright! The Supreme Court might soon remove Gay Rights up to and including bringing back anti-sodomy laws, so that should hold you over.

Anyway, I was surprised by how un-triggered people were by the movie’s commentary on worship of Gods and how Gorr responds to their promises in return for fealty being all BS, in the very first scene no less. Gorr, after losing his daughter and becoming the last of his species, comes across an oasis that is not actually a mirage. He finds his literally golden God lounging over there, with other Gods or God-equivalents just chilling. Gorr is confused as to why his God did not help his people, let alone him and his daughter in their absolute time of need. He has never broken faith.

The God rudely dismisses Gorr and essentially laughs at his plight and for falling for the lie he created that he would ever care about or for his creation. Unfortunately for those Gods, they had just killed a being that had a weapon capable of slaying them. Gorr takes up the sword in a fit of rage and kills his God, the others in turn flee. The God Butcher is born.

So you see, I’m wondering why Christians or news media folk who play up the “Christian Persecution Complex” like Tucker Carlson, haven’t had any conniptions over the supposedly anti-theistic sentiments of the latest Marvel movie. For many religions, namely Christianity and Islam, one of the selling points of being devout and faithful is that you will be rewarded with eternal paradise after death. Maybe because Yahweh and Allah aren’t any of the featured Gods in the movie, seeing as how lots of people actually believe they exist, they don’t appear, even in passing mention. Only mythological or whole-cloth made up Gods for Marvel’s universe apply here.

Yet, the critique at the heart of Love and Thunder’s opening sequence is a criticism of one major component of two of the biggest faith systems existing in the world today: be faithful and follow the teachings of the faith and you get not only an afterlife, but an awesome afterlife. Thor 4’s Gorr’s painful revelation seems to point towards it being a negative response to that aspect of faith. From where I’m standing, not only a good response but in this day and age, a timely one. How many Christians or Muslims show a lack of interest or concern with the cataclysmic consequences of climate change down the road for this very reason?

So long as Christians believe in Jesus as God the lord and savior, they will enter a never-ending Heaven. If that is in the cards for you, why bother insuring the temporary world you live in is protected or saved from ourselves? Even with future generations in consideration, why worry for them, so long as they believe like they do? To me, the promise of a better, permanent afterlife is one of the most dangerous and exploitable risks of religion. Indeed, not every religion necessarilly promises a heaven or even an afterlife. Buddhism from what I roughly know actually says it’s great that you won’t get one as Enlightenment in Death is comparable to cessation of existence. That oblivion under Buddhism is true peace.

This is indeed quite a tangent, but I wanted to delve into the surprisingly bold proclamations about religion and faith that a Marvel movie is making, seemingly out of the blue. Then again, there has to be a reason that Gorr, in both comic and on film, has a murderous hatred for Gods.

So, I’ve seen more supportive of Gorr than not, what is the problem? Well, the issue is that we don’t spend enough time seeing Gorr’s deeds as the God Butcher. Before the admittedly awesome encounter Thor, Jane and Valkyrie have with him in the Shadow Realm, the only time Gorr is doing or attempting his God-slaying on-screen is when he raids the New Asgard, run by Valkyrie in Norway. The principal heroes are all there to protect the city-state from Gorr. Gorr doesn’t kill any Gods save a few random Asgardians and he only succeeds in kidnapping the children of New Asgard including the never before seen son of the late Heimdall, Astrid. On that note, would’ve been nice to have established the kid before now, just saying.

All the other times, Gorr slays Gods off-screen and we get to see the aftermath of his destruction, such as when Thor and Korg investigate the death of a giant Snow-beast God. Maybe it’s because Taika wanted to focus more on Thor and Jane for understandable reasons, while also giving some time to where Valkyrie and Korg are at, but Gorr, for all of his significance, isn’t quite present enough. He’s certainly memorable, helped by where his story begins and where it ends. But for a film that was criticized for having too much of something, it also doesn’t have enough of another something.

Then, let’s deal with that dragon of an issue that is not necessarilly Thor 4’s fault alone. The oversaturation and overexposure of superhero content. While the general inconsistency of quality for Marvel’s Fourth phase is often viewed in a vacuum, it’s often paired with a growing sentiment that superheroes, mostly when it comes to the movies, are overstaying their welcome. What they’re doing for the most part isn’t enough anymore. The conventions and trends of a superhero story are becoming too familiar, even if still handled well.

We’ve reached the point of having a good number of media which satirizes superhero film convention, all the way to box office gold, as evidenced by Deadpool’s success. To be featured later, The television adaptation of The Boys is a satire and brutal critique of many things, and superhero storytelling and the culture that surrounds superheroes has proven to be a ripe, ripe target for three seasons and counting.

What was once niche or unprofitable, the deconstruction and critique of the superhero, with Snyder’s Watchmen film and the Kick-Ass movies, is now both making money and getting more than a few people talking. It is now exciting to talk about where superheroes conceptually fail or why they can’t get better or evolve once more. Whether they even should evolve is another question, but here familiarity breeds contempt and we are very, very familiar now. On my calendar for the rest of the year, four things are superhero based. When it comes to what Marvel expects you to watch just next year alone, it’s the following:

-Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania

-Secret Invasion

-GOTG Vol. 3

-Echo

-The Marvels

-Loki: Season 2

-Ironheart

-Blade

-Agatha: Coven of Chaos

-Daredevil: Born Again

That’s ten things in one year and six of them are shows. People have already been complaining about the load of content to watch for this phase alone, currently over 50 hours. This is irrespective of how good or bad this content will be, but does it not feel like too much to process, to keep the complicated picture in place? Once, the MCU would give two things a year, then three. That was good enough for both audiences and critics.

Starting in 2021 with its fourth phase, Marvel asked you to consume nine entries of the MCU. If nothing else, Marvel and Disney are exacerbating a growing concern for the genre, making eventual burnout if not a possibility an inevitability. Some have already tapped out. Now Avengers Endgame was perhaps meant to be a stopping point for those who were already inclined to want a stopping point. But then again, having the next MCU entry release a mere two months later with Spider-Man: Far from Home might have confused that possible intention of there being a “stopping point.”

When it comes to how Thor: Love and Thunder addresses a concern that Marvel Studios should be aware of, just look at the second weekend drop, of 68%, to suggest if not an impending death in attendance, a withering enthusiasm for what Marvel has in store. Now, based on what I thought of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s teaser and even what I think of the conceit behind next month’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, there is still a chance to recapture that enthusiasm. The reveals at SDCC 2022 and that there is a direction to look at does mean if nothing else, there is something potentially dynamic on the horizon.

Thor: Love and Thunder is fine. In some areas, I like it, in others I almost love it, like that Shadow Realm sequence. All that said, I feel more approving of last May’s second Doctor Strange. It was darker, more daring, and had visual and stylistic choices which made it feel like not the same filmed thing we have grown weary of over the years. It took chances and while it also recieved a muted reception and a second weekend drop only a percent less bad than Thor’s, I believe the reasons for Stephan Strange’s divisive second solo outing were mostly different than Thor’s. The fourth Thor feels more indicative of much of the growing frustration with where both Marvel and superheroes are at this moment in time.

The visual set pieces were across the board more visually arresting and imaginative in execution for Multiverse of Madness than Love and Thunder. In spite of the very kind words towards the Shadow Realm sequence I’ve given, a lot of the other set pieces don’t feel as fresh or as rewarding. The opening fight Thor and the Guardians have with basically Fragglerock aliens wasn’t as fun as it should’ve been. It was there, more than anywhere else, where I felt that accusation of Love and Thunder being an inferior Ragnarok was real.

Thor: Love and Thunder seems destined less to be seen in its entirety again by me on Disneyplus and more to be watched through in parts, checking out the moments that really worked over those that either didn’t or not well enough. I suspect that is a diagnosis I will give to the next MCU entry up to bat.

Ms. Marvel

Image by Deadline (Fangirl Ascendant.)

My relationship with Kamala Khan, the most recent one to take on the mantle of Ms. Marvel, the first being Carol Danvers, is complicated. I would’ve liked and read more of her series which began in 2011, if I didn’t find the artwork so unappealing and honestly kind of ugly. It’s hard to describe why I didn’t like it but it reminds me of how butt-ugly John Romita Jr’s style is, especially on display in the comic book version of Kick-Ass. I’m sure that later on a different, possibly better (for me) art style took over but it not only stunted my exposure to one of Marvel’s newest mainstays, it also made it harder to appreciate what good was in those original stories.

Of course, the live action show doesn’t have that problem, though it does reference the comic series’ art in the closing credits. In this framing, its much easier to appreciate what makes Kamala Kahn potentially one of the “leading” figures of the MCU going forward, seeing as how the early maypole characters like Tony and Steve are certainly gone now.

Iman Vellani, despite being a first time actress, acts like she’s been a veteran actor for years. She encapsulates Kamala Kahn so well because she is almost certainly playing herself. If that is actually not the case behind closed doors, consider me fooled.

More than Oscar Isaac’s dual personality duties in Moon Knight, Vellani’s Kahn carries Ms. Marvel through the rough patches or elements that have sadly become an expected factor of the Marvel Disneyplus experience. It starts exuberant and so confident in it’s direction, that you and by that I mean I didn’t care when it ventured into territory that could reasonably be called “Disney Channel” adjacent.. Even when it starts to feel a little too close to the tone of Tom Holland’s Spider-movies, I still didn’t care because Kamala Kahn is executed so well. I could forgive and even mildly appreciate much, but not all.

The thing that makes Kamala Kahn/ Ms. Marvel stand out despite it all and the inevitable comparisons to Peter Parker or Miles Morales is that she is an in-universe fangirl of superheroes. She is a nerd who drinks deep the well of information and knowledge surrounding her world of real life superpowers and individuals. The poor girl would be shattered if she lived in The Boys’ universe. Of all the heroes, she idolizes most the girl power superhero of Marvel: Carol Danvers/ Captain Marvel. She’s such a fan, she makes excuses or rationales for the very issues most have with this interpretation of the already contested comic book figure.

I’ll go out on a limb and call her a better character overall than Carol Danvers. That’s…actually not a controversial opinion to be honest. When I think about Brie Larson’s take on Carol Danvers, I respect more than like how she has been handled. For those who complain about her being the perpetual frowner of the MCU, even more than her actually more cheerful looking comic counterpart, the point is that she is encompassing attributes of male comic characters that are either not even noticed or mocked if its gets a little too much, i.e. “emo” or “angsty.”

The point I’ve accepted about the Larson Carol Danvers is that she is defiantly herself, powers or no powers. Nothing will talk her down from that. Hopefully, next year’s The Marvels, which will be featuring Kamala, will actually take time to explore her more, something that none of her appearances outside of her first movie have deigned or had time to do. But I won’t lie: I’m more eager to see more of Kamala and the returning from Wandavision Monica Rambeau than Carol. I’ll let that ill thought-out gaffe of hers at the end of WV slide for now. Look it up online to know what I’m referring to there if you don’t.

Kamala’s interest bordering on obsession with Danvers and Marvel’s superheroes is just one of the two primary factors of Ms. Marvel. The other is the typical teenager growing up pains colored in by her admittedly very liberal Muslim upbringing. For one, the only time Kamala is told to cover her head with something is during mosque. The rest of the time, none of her family remotely cares that her whole head is uncovered. I take it on faith ironically enough that the Middle-Eastern American showrunners and Vellani’s own life experience explains this aspect of generally Progressive Islam on display.

It’s important to remember that like Christianity and most populated enough religions, there is a sizable number of strains to Islam. Despite what the era of the War on Terror might infer to you in Islamic practice, or what the horrifying extremes nations like Saudi Arabia practice, there is actually a lot of variation in expectation for the role a Muslim is expected to play in life. The roles of women can actually differ considerably depending on the interpretation that is given to the Quran.

Much is the same with the Bible and they’re passages of the Bible, non-contradictory passages mind you, that say a good number of things against general assumptions modern day Christians, namely many American Christians, have made in favor of being biblical. They’re is also stuff that modern Christians that I am very glad for all our sakes don’t practice. This conscious or unconscious cherry-picking of what or what not to follow in biblical faith, is by Ms. Marvel’s account, no less true for Islam, especially when it comes to Muslims living in North America.

In fact, now that I think about it, Kamala’s own relation with her Muslim faith is actually not a component of her story arc. Muslim culture, not necessarilly how to follow the will of either Muhammad and Allah, is at center stage, but when it comes to how belief colors the actions that lead Kamala on, it really isn’t a factor. There seems to be a general truth to this approach as plenty of people who live under religious households or self-identify as a certain religion, will not necessarilly paint a lot of their life course under it strictly or otherwise.

In that respect, Kamala very much comes across to me as a “secular” Muslim, which does sound like an oxymoron, but it’s an oxymoron that seems to be alive and well in the real world. Considering my own thoughts on religion, religiosity and so forth, it’s very much for the best that is the tact they’re going for with the MCU’s Kamala Kahn, which mirrors the comic version.

Of course, living in a multicultural place like Jersey City, with Manhattan just over the water, means that Kamala can’t help but be exposed to many different worldviews. She can’t be closed off even if her parents wished, which they don’t. They’re revealed to have been Bon Jovi fans in their youth on that note. Her best friend is a white as white can be nerd called Bruno who certainly mirrors Peter Parker but is destined to stay the Ned to Kamala’s Peter.

Around the midpoint, the aspects that make Ms. Marvel not quite the best Disneyplus Marvel show it could’ve been seep in. The introduction following her harnessing of powers of the two principal antagonist forces, The Department of Damage Control, given its more FBI-like feel in Spider-Man: No Way Home and the Clandestines, a group of superhuman beings also known as Djinn. Damage Control is the much expected, superpower police force that was bound to come into being in a world like the MCU’s Earth are better than the frankly underwritten and underexecuted Clandestines, led by Nakia (No relation to the Black Panther character).

They start off promising, not only to help explain why this version of Kamala has her powers (deliberately, controversially different than the comic explanation), but also to explore an idea that Shang-Chi last year first posited: alternate/pocket dimension worlds with entry points hidden throughout the planet. How they go about with explanation and what it leads to, leaves more than a little to be desired.

It leads to a trip from Jersey City all the way to Karachi, Pakistan. While it does give an informative look into the circumstances that lead to modern Pakistan’s strained birth, in connection with the fall of British India, that might be quite intriguing stuff to the uninformed, it does once again fall on how… half-baked the results can feel.

Whether it’s the consequences of a TV budget (some of the CGI is baaaaad), or whether this was actually the best format to tell this story, not unlike Obi-Wan’s own Disneyplus experience, I started to feel a little cut off from what made Ms. Marvel stand out in a good way. The action sequences, more so in the Pakistani locations, are less compelling than the ones that are back home in Joisey. How the Clandestines face up against the inexperienced Kamala and her scarved ally Red Dagger can be honestly kind of embarrassing.

Meant for a younger audience or not, the Clandestines’ sense of danger fades more and more as the season goes on to the point where they make bone-headed mistakes that are laughably stupid. Also, the motivations of the last surviving Clandestine at the end, Kamran (who of course Kamala crushes on) are more than a little confusing or hard to fully accept. Still, not as bizarre as what Reva was doing at Obi-Wan’s conclusion.

Ms. Marvel, like Thor 4 and Obi-Wan, ends in a place that makes you feel fine about the end result. How it got there is a lot harder to fully process one way or another. I for one am getting increasingly tired of Disney not really flexing their money power levels when it comes to their TV entries for the MCU. You and I both know that more money can and should go into making the shows be as well-budgeted in presentation as the movies.

This is especially true when it comes to the upcoming She-Hulk. The first trailer’s CG, which is a must considering not one but three Hulk-like characters are in the show, was seen as wanting. The second trailer, premiering at SDCC, showed off CG effects which were better. The expressiveness of the green characters is commendably present. Considering Kamala’s presence in next year’s The Marvels and how in time she might prove even more valuable to the MCU’s survival than at first, having her debut appearance be more polished would’ve helped.

Disney’s attitude towards poor Kamala might differ from Marvel’s, including Kevin Feige. The debut episode of Ms. Marvel aired the same day as Obi-Wan’s fifth. This, along with other factors, including a sizable portion of bitter and/or bigoted Marvel fans, resulted in the lowest numbers for a Disneyplus show. Online bad-mouthing, regardless of the more complex picture of the show’s quality led to scoring on sites like IMDB that are certainly not up to snuff not just with critical opinion but mine. As it stands in late July 2022, the IMDB score is 6.2 out of 10, actually higher than its rating while the episodes came out.

Please, if you’re inclined, share your honest thoughts about Kamala’s entry to the MCU. Earnestness of online opinion aside, Kamala Kahn and us should both be grateful that she has nowhere to go but up. Considering the cosmic place of Carol Danvers, she will go high indeed.

The Boys Season 3 (Huge spoilers in particular here)

Image from CNET (Audience surrogate Hughie and Soldier Boy, America’s Ass…hole.)

The third Season of the superior version of Garth Ennis’ vitriolic send up of superhero..anything is the most definitive proof that the tightrope balancing act it’s performing has been perfected. It is gross, it is beautiful, it is mean, it is warm, it is provocative, it is thought provoking. It hits more than almost any other piece of contemporary media at addressing the frightening circumstances of the modern world today, let alone for America. It’s an irreverent, to put it so lightly, satire of current superhero popular culture and what it means to us, why we follow it no matter what it might actually be prescribing.

It’s greatest feat, which might be the best showcased by this season, is it’s pitch perfect attack on “corporate wokeness.” As you might’ve guessed, I am not an anti-woke person, far from it. I’m only against it when it’s poorly or so bluntly executed it does a bad job of communicating its points in a relatable manner. The most recent season of DC’s Young Justice has suffered from this, when it was actually doing a pretty good job being “woke” in earlier seasons. In terms of media that does “dreaded” wokeness so well you might not even realize it’s happening, check out the newest She-Ra show and Disney’s The Owl House. The latter is so fantastic, you might have a hard time even believing it’s under the Mouse’s control.

The Boys is not anti-woke. It very much is. It’s against the cynical “wokeness” of corporations that make profit out of civil and human rights issues, namely LGBT rights. The Boys airing in June, which is Pride month, was almost intentional. Real life corporations put out all the rainbows and LGBT iconography to show their support. I am not saying that no one who works in any of those companies aren’t true believers in representation or rights. It’s often the creators, the artistic people within those places that actually show off their uncynical support through their work.

Getting back to the Owl House under Disney, it is created and showrun by Dana Terrace, a bisexual woman. She actually had to fight with Disney higher-ups to allow her bisexual and other LGBT subject matter to be showcased in the show, up to and including the main character and her love interest. Disney, whose board I’ve heard is actually pretty conservative, actually yielded because they reportedly admired Terrace’s stubborn determination. That, and they looked at where the polls were leaning to greenlight Terrace’s creative vision.

That’s the thing about “corporate wokeness” and why it’s actually insidious. If the polls somehow went in the opposite direction regarding gay rights and representation tomorrow, would those same companies still hold water for Pride? No, they would then change their tunes to fit with what the viewerbase supposedly supports by the charts. No actual conviction, no integrity. Sure, there will still be individual examples of people working under those corporations who will still fight for that representation no matter the direction of the wind. Because, to people like Dana Terrace, it deeply matters to them in a way that profit can never account for. That is at least my hope, and The Owl House’s earnest quality leads me to believe as such.

Vought, the monopolistic company that among other things runs the real-life superhero team, The Seven, would flip their tune on a dime if America changed their minds. The manipulation of the masses is a key feature of Season 3, as Homelander, the terrifying yet really sad deconstruction of Superman, becomes a Trump like figure. Near the Season’s beginning, after losing his girlfriend Stormfront (who happened to be a long-living, superpowered literal Nazi), decides he’s had enough of inhibiting himself for the sake of corporate image or fear that how he really feels will make the world hate and fear him.

Much to his surprise and eventual joy, many people love the things he’s saying, even as it leads to a cult of personality developing. A moment from the first season, that deliberately echoes George W. Bush’s words at Ground Zero, was the birth of an alarming seed that is flowering by this point of the series. It’s bad enough that Homelander is Superman without the humble upbringing that keeps him down to earth and decent. Now, the people of the modern world eat up his words, many of them lies or half-truths, because it rings true to them. Much like the prior and possibly future President of my nation.

The titular Boys, lead by Karl Urban’s quintessentially South London Billy Butcher, are a mostly unpowered group of agents whose role is to either clear up superhero messes caused behind the scenes or to outright neutralize Supes that have gone bad. Due to Butcher’s fraught history with the reality of superheroes, his end goal is ideally the end of all superheroes. But if he can’t have that, killing Homelander will do.

That’s a problem for the Boys considering that one of them is superpowered, the mute Kimiko, who was kidnapped and forced to have superpowers through Compound V, the man-made drug Vought created and administered into the global population in secret and without anyone’s consent. I don’t know which came first, this plot idea, but the Ultimate Marvel universe controversially revealed in the much despised Ultimatum event story that the Mutants of that Marvel continuity were all the byproduct of the U.S. government trying to replicate the super soldier serum that made Captain America, not the X-gene being the next step in human evolution.

Let’s just say that what really did not work out in the end for Marvel Comics really works out in the Boys. That a soulless corporation slowly created their own age of superheroes on the unsuspecting populace fits perfectly in line with the show’s philosophy. It also makes the more sympathetic, maybe even actually heroic Supes more interesting. Starlight is the one supe who in general avoids reaching the “grey” zone of most superheroes in The Boys’ universe.

She comes the closest this season of actually falling down the rabbit hole that leads other once optimistic and idealistic supes like the Wonder Woman-like Queen Maeve, Flash-like A-Train and Aquamanesque The Deep into cynical, desperate celebrities. Thankfully, a moment mid-season has her finally throw her hands up in the air and let go of the celebrity angle to her superhero life. She broadcasts to the world the truth about Vought, about Homelander, that she will no longer be Starlight to anyone or anything. She will be Annie Jones, her real self, come what may.

The Boys’ perspective on superpowers, if they were real, and what would actually happen, mirrors a line of thought that last year’s The Falcon and Winter Soldier brought up. Steve Rogers being the continually good person he was, despite the power the super soldier serum gave him was a reflection of the idea that the serum didn’t just give the guy super strength and agility. It enhanced what he was, made him more of who he already was.

When it is used by someone who does not share Roger’s morality or ideology, John Walker, the man who will be U.S. Agent, he turns not to be worthy of that power and abuses it almost immediately. That the MCU show does not stick the landing in that subject matter in the end, among other flaws, is not what matters. What matters is that The Boys picks up that idea and does it, what’s the word oh right, justice. Annie Jones started as a good person, and had less of an impulse to fall for the same vain things as other members of the Seven, especially A-Train and Deep. Queen Maeve has undergone a slow but steady redemption, to actually fight in secret against the corrosive nature of Vought and Homelander, even at the risk of her own life. Her ultimate goal, if it’s even possible, is to leave it all behind, maybe get back with her girlfriend.

Kimiko undergoes a personal revelation about her extremely violent powers and how it relates to the surprisingly sweet-natured relationship and romance she shares with Frenchie, the Boys’ weapon-master. What she once despised she comes to begrudgingly like, no matter how visceral it is. That it can let her protect the people she loves, predominantly Frenchie, has her come to a conclusion that was purposefully meant to let people like myself feel conflicted. Hughie, the audience surrogate, undergoes a similar crisis where he does not have the powers to protect Starlight, whom he is in a loving relationship with. When he is given the chance, offered by Butcher, to gain temporary superpowers for a day, he takes it without a second thought.

Butcher, a man who is shown to have every reason to be suspicious of those with power, figurative or not, allows himself to take Temporary Compound V. It gives him a fighting chance to actually stop Homelander, but he’s also putting his own values on the line on the process. Aside from Temp V unsubtly being like a dangerous drug that hurts you the more you take, it also best reflects the philosophy of superpowers enhancing who you already are, for better and more so for worse.

Butcher knows he’s not a good person. While he believes he does bad things for the right reasons, he yet realizes it’s still bad. Maybe he’s convinced himself, not unlike Stephen Strange up until a point, that his way is the only way. A really heart-breaking flashback sequence we witness shows that a lot of the bad aspects of Billy Butcher are the result of his abusive father.

Hughie on the surface seems like a far better person that Butcher, maybe even a guy who would be worthy of superpowers. His deep insecurities, and that his desire for power comes from misplaced lack of trust in his relationship with Annie/Starlight dooms his use to be bad. All of this ties into the very essential understanding that the reason we should be glad superpowers don’t exist is because most humans cannot handle that power. An argument could be made that humanity has not evolved or will never evolve to wisely use power as we know it now. Perhaps our species is falling down the path to self-destruction this century because our minds cannot properly harness power conceptually, at least not for long periods of time. Despite the show yet arguing that a select few like Starlight and maybe Kimiko can handle it, the argument is still against that power. Those two are the exception to the rule.

Even more than Homelander, no one embodies this concept better than the Captain America parody Soldier Boy. Jensen Ackles’ excellent performance as the Boys’ star spangled man echoes Chris Evans’ take, giving it a slightly more Texan slang, perhaps referencing the actor’s Texas roots. His outfit deliberately mirrors the MCU Cap, and his disheveled, bearded appearence recalls Rogers in Infinity War.

Soldier Boy is not solely a unrelenting stab at the “patriotic superhero” concept that basically began with Captain America back in the 1940s, he is possibly the best showcase of Falcon and Winter Soldier’s idea done well. This is John Walker truly without restraint. Before becoming Soldier Boy in the 40s, the guy was a douche, sharing many of the bigoted and contemporarily unwelcome attitudes of a person at the time. Actually, he might actually be douchey even for a guy from the 40s. Revealed as a silver spoon kid, he had less reason than most of the time to even try to be gentlemanly.

This in turn is not just an inversion of the Chris Evan’s variant, but is also another callback and improvement to Ultimate Marvel, in this case their more “realistic” depiction of Captain America, as written by Mark Millar. Millar is actually comparable to Garth Ennis, though Millar tends to do more “tame” stuff than Ennis from time to time. It would be news to me if Ennis ever did anything that went below a Mature rating in his works.

Soldier Boy is a supe from the past who was captured by the Russians during the Cold War. Unlike Cap America, Soldier Boy can actually go toe to toe with the Superman level Homelander. Even though it would never really happen, Superman would wipe the floor with Steve Rogers. Not here. He also has Wolverine-like long life, being essentially the same age today as he was in the 1940s. Butcher and the Boys risk a lot trying to break Soldier Boy out of his cryofreeze prison below Moscow. Once back in America, Butcher basically makes a deal with the devil: Help Soldier Boy with some loose ends and in turn he will help end Homelander.

Those loose ends involve his old team, Payback, who actually were responsible for him getting taken by the Reds in the first place in the 80s. Why the betrayal? Because he was f**king horrible to his team, being the toxic masculine figure he is. One of his old team-mates is Black Noir, a current day member of The Seven and the masked, mute supe undergoes an existential crisis upon learning of his return. He resolves it in possibly the looniest way imaginable. In that, it involves toons only he can see in his shattered mind.

If the amount of text alone for this section is any indication, The Boys handles an exceptional amount of content to parse through, all of it exceptionally well. I could bring up A-Train’s cynical use of his skin color to try to promote black rights, when it’s really about self-promotion. I could delve into the Deep’s own insecurities leading to his betrayal in time of good things he stands for over the fear yet respect he has for Homelander. The African-American member of the Boys, Marvin/Mother’s Milk/M.M., is reconciling his mix of fear and hatred for Soldier Boy, who did his family horrifically wrong growing up with the utility Butcher sees in bringing him along as a secret weapon. That’s not even counting his strained relationship with his ex-wife who has married a middle-aged, bespectacled schlub who begins to fall for Homelander’s rhetoric and how it affects his cute, growing daughter’s own life.

Then, there’s finally Ryan, the son of Homelander whose mother was Butcher’s wife and true love, Becca, who brought out the best in him. A recognition of who Butcher believes himself to be causes him to distance himself unwisely from the kid, who is in hiding from his awful father, following a mutually sorrowful end to Becca that happened due to Butcher and Homelander’s one-on-one war.

Left alone by Butcher, Ryan, who has the powers of Homelander, is now is running the terrifying risk of being like his old man. Homelander became a messed up figure due to being an artificially created person born in a lab with an uncaring, unnurturing environment. By season’s end, Homelander finds and offers Ryan to join him. With Butcher having left him, Ryan accepts. The last scene of the season involving Homelander and Ryan at a rally in the former’s honor ends with one of the most bone-chilling final shots I’ve seen from media in a long time. It recalls a moment from the MCU, actually one of the most iconic.

It recalls the final scene of Avengers: Infinity War, where after Thanos’ hard fought, hard cost victory in wiping out half of all life in the universe, he sits down at his retirement hut, looks out at the sunset and initially sports a morose visage. But it slowly turns to a smile, knowing that all his sacrifice was worth it, in his own twisted perspective. The Boys’ third season ends with Ryan watching something his father does in front of a crowd and then the crowd cheers and claps. What Homelander did was horrible, as you would expect and the crowd decided after initial shock it was great. Ryan goes from a concerned frown to a small smile. History does not repeat, it rhymes.

That’s not every thread worth mentioning, even now. There’s still Congresswoman Neuman, who I would bet strong money is meant to be a multifaceted critique of AOC. An AOC who has in secret, in my opinion, the scariest superpower in the entire show. What she is about is worth exploring all by itself. But much like sentiment about the superhero genre today, this is starting to overstay its welcome.

Against all odds and in spite of the utterly profane and honestly boundary-pushing humor The Boys proudly displays without any shame, this show and what it stands for is anything but overstaying its welcome. No matter how terrible, no matter how ugly the things it will show me in the coming years, The Boys remains one of the most necessary pieces of entertainment being made today. Only a weak stomach and deeply embedded personal bias will keep you out of its diabolical vacuum.

Next time: maybe, maybe not more 80s’ glory.

Bengal’s 80s Retrospective part XII

I should delve into the latest stuff happening this year like the fourth Thor, the third season of The Boys, maybe even some games I’ve come around to completing. Part of me even wants to talk about the astonishingly great reimagining of all things, She-Ra. A show that manages to be appealing to a straight white dude while also nailing the pursuit of “girl power” without becoming heavy-handed. Again, I’m referring to She-Ra. It also just happens to have one of the most emotionally satisfying endings I’ve experienced in a long time, while somehow leaving itself open-ended.

It’s also quite a treasure trove of joy for those who can appreciate LGBT storytelling and relationships like I do. It might be a bit harder to enjoy it as an American, knowing that LGBT rights may well be on the way out in a depressingly regressive political period through an authoritarian, anti-majority opinion Supreme Court. With that in mind, I will continue to likely torture myself, cursed with that knowledge, as I started watching another acclaimed cartoon show right after with a gay love story included, The Owl House, courtesy of Disney. As far as I know, the one place where on gay representation, the House of Mouse walks the walk and talks the talk.

So, after (maybe) depressing you with all that, let’s talk about four more films from a time where if nothing else, we had a lot more time apart from the present day hellscape of the 2020s’, even if a lot of the setup for said hellscape was being established at the time. Let’s get another Bollywood classic out of the way, 1985’s Babu.

Babu (1985, India) (Featuring a ramble about international media’s handling of progressive or not so progressive subject matter)

Image from cinemaazi (Have a poster, in lieu of a screenshot not available on Google Images.)

Films of other nations have been called or are indeed morality plays. America has made some, certainly. Nigeria from what I know is all about their motion pictures explicitly being tales with a moral learned at the end. India’s Bollywood industry, hardly the only major film industry for the nation, with entirely different languages boasting their own, such as the Tamil and Telugu tongues, just can’t seem to get enough of them, at least as far as the 80s’s period would inform me.

In spite of poverty or the lack of many first world utilities that are essentially a given in most parts of the States, India especially in presentation has always struck a balance between appearing behind the times and yet also of the times. I get that I’m watching Indian cinema that is around 40 years old give or take and plenty has happened since but I make the point that Bollywood takes India’s fears and insecurities and finds a way to address them, often with several dance numbers.

While involving stories about morality that may or may not be connected with Hindu beliefs and teachings, these 80s’ Bollywood flicks address then and maybe even contemporary societal and political ills. While I couldn’t call the political/cultural prescriptions of these movies on quite the same level as American progress, they do seem more progressive and even outright challenging of societal assumptions everyone has to some degree about India.

It appears to me that often the media of a country can be more progressive or more willing to challenge the status quo than not. Japan is a fantastic example. While there is plenty in Japanese popular culture that serves to remind one of not just cultural difference but a distinct “not quite based enough” attitude compared to something in America or Europe, there are just as many examples of their popular culture flying in the face to varying degrees to Japan being a “socially conservative” nation.

A lot of Japanese media features material that I would not call socially conservative. Female characters in positions of power, outright criticism of Japan’s modern political situation among other things. The layout however is complicated, as issues of female representation continue to be a thorny aspect of Japan’s cultural expression and in some ways they’re still catching up. Depictions of gay or trans people in Japanese media I’ve consumed can leave much to be desired. Transphobia is a particularly frustrating strain I’ve witnessed.

On that note, India is a country which has it’s continuous hang-ups, often religiously inspired, when it comes to its treatment of gay or trans people. Whole-ass pieces of media, like games featuring gay characters, are banned over there. And yet, as Babu here proves, Indian entertainment has a long-standing tradition of challenging tradition. Take for instance, the caste system.

While not explicitly mentioned, the titular character is part of a lower class in the caste system. I do not know or remember the levels of the caste system or what power or lack thereof one has over the other but it is made clear that the rickshaw driver that is our hero is not on the same level as other characters. I could be entirely missing the point over what Babu is saying but if nothing else the applicability resonates.

In what I imagine is Mumbai, Babu pulls people along the many crowded streets with a rickshaw cart. I was surprised at rickshaws being something in India as I assumed they were a uniquely Chinese form of transportation. Then again, this is just a grown man pulling someone in a cart, not very complicated. The story occurs over several decades as we see the once young Babu grow into an old man, with terminal sickness following suit. A little girl and her family also change with the times.

At first, Babu simply helps the rich family with their commute but after the patriarch of the family dies, it leaves the little girl and her mother poor and forced to live in a run-down home. This alone acts, I almost guarantee it, as critique of how for many Indian citizens the financial security of a whole family is dependent on just the man and if the man goes….

Out of the Samaritan kindness of his heart, Babu starts supporting the wife and her daughter, as she grows into a teenager and then a young woman. The girl is called “Pinky”. No, really. Eventually, as Pinky grows into maturity, the matter of her education and eventually marrying a guy takes precedent.

Babu essentially works himself to death over the course of the movie. Any of the money he earns through his hard work to help support himself or maybe ascend the ladder of Indian life he puts towards Pinky and her mother. In spite of having no blood relation to Pinky or her family, he basically becomes a new surrogate father for the girl.

This apparently acts as commentary on the nature of surrogate parenthood in India. Family, on a biological level, is a deeply important aspect of Indian life and this film is nowhere near the only to showcase that, as if there was any doubt. Based on the implication of this movie, surrogate parenthood appears to be if not taboo close enough to it. I don’t know why that has to be the case over in India. Whether the Caste system is tied into what is and is not appropriate to be a parent, I don’t know, but Babu’s blunt expression of somber regret over India’s position on the issue seems to suggest it is a tradition in some way.

Eventually, as age causes Babu’s beard to turn white, his illness grows worse. He soon becomes incapable of being the rickshaw driver he once was. He could get treatment for it but again Pinky comes first. Always.

In his last days, near the end of the surprisingly short (for Bollywood) run of the movie, Babu starts wearing a robe all black with a red stripe white on both ends. I could not help but think of the color layout for Mass Effect’s main character, Commander Shepard, whose outfit consists of blackish grey with a red and white sigil that runs down his/her armor’s left arm, representing them being part of N7, which is humanity’s space military’s version basically of the Navy Seals.

I would end my observation on how these two completely unrelated pieces of media have an arbitrary connection my autistic ass noticed, but I thought about how, by Mass Effect 3, the end of Shepard’s story in the Mass Effect series, in most cases, the story ends with their heroic sacrifice. They must make a decision that in 3 of 4 base scenarios, will involve them not reuniting with their friends and potential love interest. Whether they did it for their own ego or because it was just what they had to do, tailored of course in how you build Shepard to reflect what you want them to be, most players will have Shepard make the mortal choice at the end out of love for those that followed him/her through thick and thin.

Like Shepard for the most part, Babu does what he does entirely for the benefit of someone else. His last moments are at Pinky’s wedding, for which due to not being blood related to her, he was not allowed to attend. He comes anyway and the whole wedding crowd regrets that he was not officially invited, as he had done more than most to earn the right. Make no mistake, the whole thing is very melodramatic almost to a comical level with Babu’s near endless incurable cough of impending death.

Maybe that’s a consequence of my considerable exposure to many dramas or the conventions therein. Or maybe for the Indian audiences of the 1980s, what for me is somewhat overblown melodrama is just drama. I mean, again, Babu passes away at the wedding, all dramatically like, but still the point, let alone the political point is made. Of course, I played the music on my iPhone that occurs during Shepard’s almost certainly fatal, final action from Mass Effect 3. About half of it really lines up well with the emotions of Babu’s ending, even with no sitar involved. Here it is for context to listen to, if you want to.

Again, I wouldn’t have bothered if it wasn’t for the serendipitous choice of Babu’s robes to wear in his climatic final moments.

So, yeah, would I recommend Babu? I haven’t not recommended any of the Bollywood films so far but it might have been the melodrama but I was the least enthusiastic for this film compared to the earlier ones I’ve brought up in the retrospective series. It’s shorter length for the time-conscious readers is a bonus so keep that in mind. If you have any Indian friends, be sure to let them know about these particular entries I bring up and see how closely it reflects their own stories involving India and Indian life.

Ragtime (1981)

Image from MUBI (James “Jimmy” Cagney’s final role as turn of the century New York Police Commissioner Rhinelander Waldo.)

Shortly after I was convinced to watch by my family 70s’ classic The Sting, the Robert Redford/Paul Newman blockbuster that acted as nostalgic throwback to the 1930s (Plenty of fond memories indeed from the Great Depression), I decided to put on my 80s watchlist a film I had initially turned my nose up at: Milos Forman’s Ragtime. What compelled me was the Sting’s use of two “ragtime” classics by Scott Joplin, “The Entertainer” and “Solace”. It threw me for a loop due to me being quite familiar with that music.

“The Entertainer” is often played in today’s internet meme culture as music that stands in for something really old, often with a silent film aesthetic. “Solace” however was more surprising due to it being the loading screen music for Bioshock Infinite, a game set in the ragtime period of both the public domain music it uses and Ragtime the movie itself.

Have a listen.

In case you didn’t know, Scott Joplin was an African-American composer who managed to create this widely used, widely loved music during what is called in no uncertain terms “The Nadir of American race-relations.” Wanna know what’s worse, I assumed that Joplin was a white guy who wrote all of this. I had no way to know unless I did a google search, but the reason I was surprised was that I thought it wasn’t until the 1920s’ when African-American musical voices recieved recognition, from the likes of Duke Ellington and of course Louis Armstrong. Before those two Jazz legends came to attention, Scott Joplin made enduring musical history when society supposedly would’ve shut the whole venture down back then.

Ragtime, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, features a prominent character called Coalhouse Walker Jr, who basically in some respects is not unlike Scott Joplin. Coalhouse is played by Howard Rollins, who died at only 46 from lymphoma. Coalhouse starts off as a piano player using music similar to Joplin though those works of Joplin I mentioned do not feature here, perhaps due to association with The Sting. Funnily enough, it would more appropriate here than in The Sting, due to ragtime not having been in vogue in the 30s’.

Like Rollins, Joplin died early at 48. I can imagine that simply being a black man in that time and place made it not an easy life. I don’t know how closely Coalhouse Walker Jr. is meant to reflect Joplin as a very different fate awaits him, one even more tragic if sadly not surprising.

Ragtime, the book and movie, is historical fiction. In that, actual historical events are intermeshed with entirely fictional ones. The most important real life event is one I had no idea actually happened until I was told it had, a moment which made me scream “HOLY SHIT” when it happened early in the film. For one, Ragtime is a “PG” film before the PG-13 rating was created. A lot of PG films I’ve watched recently for this retrospective contain material that would either warrant PG-13 or an R.

The real life incident that Ragtime features is the murder of the architect Stanford White, best known for creating the Arch at NYC’s Washington Square, by the Millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw. This was a big deal at the time and I believe was the first murder trial to be called the “Trial of the Century”. Heh, just you wait, 20th Century….

The killing as depicted in the movie is graphic, something that would warrant an R today. The wife of Thaw, Evelyn Nesbit (Elizabeth McGovern), soon becomes a scandalous figure over her behavior following her husband’s actions, making publicity out of the trial and helping pump herself up. Gotta say, this seems eerily prescient to nowadays if the portrayal of Nesbit here is remotely accurate.

A fictional, upper class white family from New Rochelle, New York soon becomes the maypole of sorts for the events that occur going forward in Ragtime. The family never gets first or last names and are called by the familial titles: father, mother, older brother, younger brother, etc. Older brother is the stand out member played by the unmistakable Brad Dourif in not only an early role but a non-villainous role if that can be fathomed.

He becomes involved first in Evelyn Nesbit’s life due to an infatuation he has with her, which almost leads to sex but does lead to PG-approved full-frontal female nudity. It was a simpler time. Eventually, the selfish, dare I say it sociopathic behavior of Evelyn pushes Older Brother away and he then becomes focused on an issue concerning the whole family.

A black baby is found in the family’s garden and soon after the mother is brought to the home. One of the police men who brings the mother to the family is played by Andreas Katsulas, the Hungarian-American actor who will one day portray G’Kar, one of the best characters on Babylon 5. The mother and child are Coalhouse Walker Jr’s girlfriend and daughter, who he is then given an emotional reunion with.

The problem with describing Ragtime is that these interconnected characters are all part of a story that spans a good amount of time. I must mention a major development involving racist behavior directed at Coalhouse that begins tying most of the cast together including Dourif’s Older Brother. He volunteers to help Coalhouse and his black acquaintances in an all-but-suicidal attack on the system, which gets James Cagney’s Commissioner Waldo involved in an anarchist bomb attempt of a historic Manhattan library. One of Coalhouse’s militant friends features an early and I do mean early appearence by Samuel L. motherf***ing Jackson.

Mother and Father, played by James Olson and Mary Steenburgen, attempt a go at a peaceful resolution that gets Booker T. Washington (Moses Gunn) involved. While the plot seems to coalesce around the library situation, side events involving Mandy Patinkin as an early filmmaker and Nesbit as film actress among others seems to be sideshows that don’t necessarily appear to matter.

Much like the novel, it appears to be a book chronicling through both fiction and non-fiction, a time and place. The film begins with actual silent news reels of figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Houdini interspersed with fictionalized moments. Having Coalhouse’s vendetta following tragedy borne out of racism become a focal point was I suppose a way to make a point about early 20th century America clear. Say what you will about all the cool stuff, all the things the gilded age/ ragtime period of the United States you might find appealing and worth remembering for curiosity’s sake if nothing else.

This 1981 movie was about reminding us of how distinctly bleak a period it could be for many of its players. About how complicated it is to be both nostalgic and yet honest towards a bygone era. To maybe learn from the past so we improve the future. About how the events of the early 20th century bore out the world that existed in 1981 and today even. Or maybe Doctorow and by extension Forman just wanted to make/ adapt a story about an era that intrigued them and in turn hopes to intrigue you.

There are so many other faces that Ragtime gives us a grand preview of on top of the ones already mentioned: Jeff Daniels, Debbie Allen, Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips, Jeffrey DeMunn and Fran Drescher. There’s already by then familiar faces like Kenneth McMillan (The first guy to play Baron Harkonnen for Dune), Pat O’Brien, Norman Mailer, Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon), Michael Jeter and Jack Nicholson in a cameo role I wholesale missed.

Give it a watch and I wonder if your takeaway will be anything close to mine. Speaking of Jack Nicholson….

Reds (1981)

Image from IMDB (Making their “Marx” on the world.)

Here’s a fun fact to set the mood: Warren Beatty and Ronald Reagan were friends, due to them both being Hollywood guys and in spite of what I can gather is quite a gulf of political opinion. Reagan might be the President best known for being anti-communist and yet, within his first year in office, Beatty convinced him to watch a three hour movie all about American communists/ communist sympathizers where the sympathies of the movie are unambiguously on those Yankee Reds. They may be flawed, but it is never a question of conviction on their parts.

Not only did Reagan sit through a movie I imagine he was politically revulsed by, it was even a movie, PG or otherwise, which depicts sex in a manner he would straight up call “pornographic” if my perusal of “The Reagan Diaries” is any indication. If I could, I would perform black magic to go back in time, transmogrify into a fly and be on a wall in the White House so I could hear Ronnie Reagan’s thoughts on the movie to director/star Warren Beatty. Oh man.

My pro-Reagan parents have also seen the movie. In fact, it was the movie they first saw on their Honeymoon. In a time when America voted in Reagan, Reds actually did pretty well at the box office, earning $40 million in 1981 money and receiving mass acclaim which made it nominated heavily at the Oscars, albeit losing to Chariots of Fire, another early 20th century historical drama, best known for the oft repeated Vangelis slow-motion-running-on-the-beach music. In terms of sheer engagement, Reds is better than Chariots of Fire. I was honestly bored through most of it with the latter.

So, what made many proud American patriots, including my just married conservative parents spend three hours with Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, those godless commies? Could it be the somber manner in which it ends, not with communism triumphant but instead with communism perverted, twisted into the authoritarian fashion that became sadly fashionable to countries that proclaimed themselves communist? Neither Reed nor Bryant end the movie feeling as if their ideology has won out.

As for my own political identity, that is something I haven’t quite pinned down though part of me thinks it’s a waste of time to try to identify as a certain single thing when some other parts of my political beliefs wouldn’t gel with that “thing” in question. Am I leftist or left-leaning? Yes. Socialist or at least favorable to many socialist ideas or prescriptions? Yes. Anarchist, at least when it comes to governmental hierarchy? Dunno, but I wouldn’t necessarilly say “nay” if it was enacted and/or attempted. Communist? Well, maybe I would be OK with actual communism happening and working if it ever did so.

Since it hasn’t, I would take the alternatives or something like the alternatives over it. Beatty’s Reed makes a point towards a Soviet official late in the movie that what the new Soviet Union is doing or becoming is not communism or what communism should be. That same official would later be purged when our boy Stalin came into power.

It might’ve been an extended cut I was watching but intercut with the movie are these talking head interviews with elderly witnesses who were around in Reed and Bryant’s time. They give their Rashomon-like perspective and memory on who the two of them were like and the time and place it was to be a left-leaning person a century from today. I almost wondered if those interviews weren’t done in the early 80s as it looked a bit more modern, almost like it was done more recently like the early 2000s’.

Jack Reed is the man who wrote the controversial Ten Days that shook the World, his novel that acted as his perspective on the October Revolution as it happened. An American bearing witness to the death of the Tsar system and the birth of the Soviet Union. Warren Beatty, who honestly looks like Pierce Brosnan here due to his giant cheekbones, does a great job encompassing a man who if nothing else is passionate, endlessly passionate.

He dreams that a post-capitalist world is not only close but possible in the United States. Of course, the foregone conclusion that he is quite wrong from the audience’s perspective is played to maximum effect. Diane Keaton’s Louise Bryant acts as the comparatively less zealous but no less committed Feminist author who believes that Marxist thinking goes hand in hand with increasing women independence. Keep in mind that this film is set in the decade that would actually give women the right to vote and by extension is a time where such strides were successfully occurring for Bryant’s cause.

The two meet in Portland and it should be remembered that Oregon’s largest city was not considered a left-leaning hub in America whatsoever back then. Jack Reed being the kinda guy he was is denoted by him coming from, of all places, Portland. If a guy like Reed came from Portland today, it would be read as “whatever.” While not exactly matching ideologically, the two certainly are close enough and their connection, heartfelt as it is, should make even the not politically sided viewer feel no small part of sympathy.

This is in of itself might be the most controversial aspect of Reds (assuming it was), but the good nature and good intentions of our duo of leads in conjunction with their communist beliefs is the heart of the movie, beating ever so red. The third character, as you can see from the header is Eugene O’Neill, played by Jack Nicholson.

I’ve come to recognize, having been exposed to much more of Jack, that his style of acting rarely changes, no matter the role. And yet somehow his relative one-notedness has not been a detriment, not really. I saw not too long ago a film that will make it onto this retrospective later, Terms of Endearment. Jack’s almost constant snarky/smarmy voice is ever present, even if the intention behind the performance is different. It does play up the idea that in Burton’s 89′ Batman, we weren’t seeing Nicholson play the Joker, we were seeing Nicholson play Nicholson, just a lot more misanthropic/psychopathic. Almost a spiritual successor to Jack Torrance from The Shining.

I had heard of Eugene O’Neill before Reds. He’s best known for created the plays The Iceman Cometh, Ah, Wilderness! and Long Day’s Journey into Night. All of those works that defined him were made after the period in which Reds is set and it’s safe to say that O’Neill probably had the least sad outcome to their life of the leading three.

I understand that artists, big thinkers and philosophers hob-knobbed with all sorts of people back in the day and maybe even now, but I had no idea that O’Neill was ever associated with two of the best known American Communists. O’Neill is sympathetic to what Reed and Bryant are fighting for, but befitting his body of work, he’s much more of a realist about the chances of their dream coming to life in the kind of world like the United States.

He certainly wouldn’t mind if their dream came to reality, but he tries his best, especially with Louise Bryant, to rein in their expectations. Something about Eugene works on her, as they have an affair while Reed is out covering Woodrow Wilson’s re-election campaign.

If there is a fourth lead, it would be Maureen Stapleton’s Emma Goldman. She is a fascinating figure to me as she went possibly further than Louise in marrying her feminist ideals with left-leaning belief. She is considered an important anarchist figure and you should probably know that political anarchism doesn’t necessarilly mean “Destroy everything cause freedom”, more an elimination of hierarchal structures in society that perpetuate an unequal and by extension, oppressive society. Considering America’s history alone with slavery, segregation and the place of women or anyone who wasn’t a white male, it’s easy to see where she came from.

I was first made aware of Goldman due to, what else, a Bioshock game, Infinite again in this case. The revolutionary figure of Daisy Fitzroy, who wants to tear down the white supremacist, American exceptionalist beautiful nightmare of the flying city of Columbia, is based off of her, but not entirely. She’s also like Harriet Tubman, if Tubman more distinctively followed Marx and had a hankering to do more than abolish slavery in America.

How many people my age became aware of life and the politics of the early 20th solely from video games like Bioshock or Red Dead Redemption? How many found out from perusing a book or watching a documentary? Possibly fewer than not, but then again, the internet gives anyone easy access to verifiable information.

As the years pass and Reed and Bryant grow closer, eventually resulting in marriage, which comes as a surprise to most, as people thought Louise’s ideology would have her resistant towards the practice, they eventually start hearing about rumblings of revolution over in the Russian Empire. The catalyst that might’ve well led to the Tsar’s collapse? Them getting involved in the First World War. As history tells us, in spite of the considerable numbers of the Russian army (almost always a constant throughout time), the Germans are better equipped and with more state of the art weaponry.

Unlike the notorious Western Front, it was mostly a lopsided affair on the East, ironically enough considering what the Eastern Front would end up being for the sequel. The Russians got curb stomped, again and again and again. The people of Russia, who weren’t in a great place to begin with before the Great War, got in an even worse predicament. Food and water became distinctly scarce, even by the standards of the era. What did Russia have to show for all the effort? Embarrassing defeats writ large.

Under those conditions, it seemed highly unlikely that the Tsar wouldn’t be taken out of power by some force eventually. The country essentially collapsed and Lenin, sent back home by the Germans themselves, took advantage. Reed and Bryant found themselves in the right place and the right time, in St. Petersburg (then the capitol) to witness what they thought was the culmination of their dream. If it was happening in Russia, why not America? The film cuts to intermission right as it seems a happy ending for our couple is at hand.

Then, the other half happens. The West, having seen what happened over in Eastern Europe, starts to crack down on anyone Red or Red-sympathetic. The first Red Scare begins. Reed attempts to organize himself in the American Communist party but infighting, some helped along by government moles on the inside, causes things to fall apart.

Even worse, as Reed heads back to the newly formed Soviet Union, having to wade across the vast Finnish-Russian tundra because normal means of transportation have been blocked, he gradually develops typhus, that will by the end, claim his life. Before you say this is too spoilerific, well this here is a historical fact. You’re just as likely to know Jack Reed’s fate via an internet search or maybe in school.

What perhaps made Reds palatable to the American public of the early 80s’ was that it was about the rise of the authoritarian communist system coming into power, not the communism that Reed, Bryant or Goldman wanted or intended. In one very noteworthy moment, as a weary from typhus Reed is addressing a communist gathering in Baku, he learns afterward on the train back to Russia that the translator for his English was saying something entirely different from what he was speaking. Seeing how the officials of the first “communist” nation betray him so deeply through that act kinda tears into what Beatty has been trying to say himself as the director.

They’re many leftists, communist or not, who view the Soviet Union not only as not communist, but a betrayal of its ideals. The Soviet Union carried with it many of the hierarchical even monarchist foundations that had plagued the Tsarist era. Internal corruption was soon a factor that would one day become terminal in the 1980s’. Chernobyl itself is the defining example of that rot, a rot that Reed saw for himself growing in his final days. In other words, you come up to a leftie, you will likely hear them detesting the Soviet Union and Mao’s China for that matter.

Based on what I know, a Leftist who will uncritically defend nations like the Soviet Union and Mao’s China are called “Tankies”. They will play defense for Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism, the philosophies that doomed those countries to be what they were. Jack Reed and Louise Bryant, based on what Beatty’s Reds says, would not stand for them, and neither would I.

It is rather crazy that a film like Reds was successfully made and even sold to the public to help show two distinctive sides of what a communist is or is not. It would be hard pressed I imagine, to be made and released today. But then again, the opening of this entry might’ve already disproved that. It would certainly be more attacked, fear mongered over today, in the internet age. If nothing else, Reds is all about perspective and what happens when good or useful ideas are twisted and essentially hollowed out by the same people who’re supposed to uphold them.

The question is then this: what hope of a better future do we really have if humanity perpetually undercuts it’s own progress, it’s own attempts at something different, possibly preferable? That’s a disquieting message more in tune to the 2020s than the 1980s.

Eye of the Needle (1981) (UK)

Image from Haphazard Stuff (I might just have to add Donald Sutherland to the handful of mustached men that I, a straight guy, think look attractive, along with Selleck and Reynolds.)

Return of the Jedi is to many the last good Star Wars film, especially if you are of a certain age. To others, it’s the first bad one. To some, one of the few good threequels, to others just another one on the long list. It ended the legendary Star Wars film series for 16 whole years. While George Lucas is notorious for how more involved in the production than he officially was or meant to be, it was yet directed by Richard Marquand, a Welsh director whose life was tragically cut short merely four years after Episode VI’s release.

One thing that Return of the Jedi maintains notoriety for, whether you fall in the camp of loving or hating it, was that it was more intentionally kid-friendly than the first two movies. The dominant reason?

Image from Warped Factor (The Care Bears go to Nam’.)

These guys make many like myself wonder so wistfully about the original idea for ROTJ involving the Wookies taking the place of the indigenous resistance who assist the Rebels against the Empire. Having Chewie’s race take center stage in what could’ve still been the grand finale for Star Wars would’ve been more fitting and epic. It would connect an established character more closely with the narrative and hell, could’ve actually addressed one of Jedi’s biggest criticisms: giving Han Solo more to do or have more stake. Sure, fighting the Empire for his friends on top of his love Leia is something, but it still can’t help but feel like less than he had in the first two episodes.

With the Wookies over the Ewoks, Han would’ve also been fighting on his best friend’s home turf and could’ve given a better lee-way for the original idea to have Solo commit a heroic sacrifice. But instead, wo got this internet meme as compensation. It’s a good one, no lie.

Image from Giphy (Apologies if this doesn’t play, but you’ve seen this film 40 times so you know the moment.)

So the guy who directed the most kid-pandering Star Wars film (before the Prequels) first directed an R-rated WW2 spy thriller. It was Eye of the Needle in fact that convinced Lucas to hire Marquand. Here, there’s murderous violence, a sordid love affair between a lonely married woman and a seemingly quintessential British gentlemen who is in fact a master German spy with an expected ruthless streak. Let’s just say the love scenes between Sutherland’s Henry Faber and Kate Nelligan’s Lucy Rose are not something you would expect from the guy who would direct Ewoks gallivanting in a forest. Well, I guess that means the guy has range? Sort of like how Alfonso Cuaron, the guy behind the sexually explicit Y tu Mama Tambien not only made a Harry Potter movie, but the best one all told.

Farber has been spying for years in Great Britain ever since the Second World War broke out. He is among the best in his class of German field intelligence, essentially a genius in espionage. He learns about a feint the Allies are using for their eventual invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe and that Normandy will be the landing zone.

In his attempt to get to a U-boat off the British coast, an incident along the way following escaping British forces on a train has him wash up on the Scottish coast. A radioman lives with his wife and son near the coast and recovers him. Because this is Donald Sutherland we’re talking about, no one remotely expects him to be a Nazi spy, in spite of the state of the world. I would be fooled.

While the guy does have a time table, to get in contact with the U-boat so they can get him out of dodge and inform the Third Reich command of where the Allies will land, he becomes infatuated with Nelligan’s Lucy. Of course, it is quite mutual. What makes her temptation more evident is that her husband David (Christopher Cazenove) was handicapped in a car accident, the very day they were married. The guy’s frustration with being unable to fulfill his duty as a soldier for King and Country has soured the marital relationship.

Along comes a guy with the deepest British eyes fathomable and well, barring that she has a young boy who might learn about the two of them, it comes as no surprise that an affair occurs. Now, of course comes the expected tension of when she learns the terrible truth about Henry and what he is trying to do. It’s predictable but is carried because it is Sutherland’s stone cold portrayal of Faber that makes it so frightening.

There is then the extra drama that comes from whether Faber himself can go as far as he normally goes to keep his cover and complete his mission. There is the telling ambiguity to how much Faber comes to care for Lucy, how much of it is love and how much of it is lustful possessiveness? Considering what he does to the husband, well…

You basically know what you’re getting with Eye of the Needle and here it is more than acceptable, strangely enjoyable in spite of the beats in play. Like with Reds, there is the foregone conclusion that Faber won’t complete his mission. But how will he fail? Will Lucy and her son survive and will they be unscathed in the process? It ends on a note that despite being triumphant in the sense that, surprise, the Nazis lose, it still feels sad due to the circumstances of what Lucy put herself through with an unwitting affair with a Nazi agent. But had she refused Henry’s advances and stayed faithful, would that instead have doomed her to being quietly “taken care of” when no one was looking?

In the spy games, nothing is certain. A video game I’m fond of once asked if “Love can bloom on the battlefield.” Of course, this is not a conventional battlefield, and up until the end, only one player is aware that it is. But, in spite of it all, did love still bloom? I can’t say that it was a love that redeemed.

Bengal’s 80s Retrospective part XI (De Palma Deep Dive) (Yup, spoilers)

In this rendition of the seemingly infinite amount of entries required to get through just the 80s phase of my movie catch up collection, I will be looking at three films from New Hollywood legend Brian De Palma, known both lovingly and derisively as the world’s biggest Hitchcock fan. The fourth film seems like De Palma but is actually directed by Paul Schrader, a collaborator with Martin Scorsese best known for having co-written Raging Bull.

Dressed to Kill (1980)

Image from Film Forum (What was shocking in 1980 will be depressing in 2022.)

Of the three De Palma films to showcased here, Dressed to Kill might simultaneously be the best and yet the worst at the same time. All for a reason which might not have been all that noteworthy back in the day. It’s for a reason that even De Palma himself has admitted makes him feel a little uneasy and even apologetic.

It’s all tied to the reveal of who the killer is in this murder mystery. I should be grateful that this is also a well-crafted, well-filmed, well-paced and even most things considered well thought out R-rated tribute to the master of suspense at the end of the day.

De Palma’s Body Double, to later be featured, is meant as an ode to Hitchcock’s Rear Window, one of his most copied works though I would dare say Body Double is indeed inspired, not a copy like D.J. Caruso’s Shia LeBeouf vehicle Disturbia. If I was to reveal what movie Dressed to Kill takes influence from, it would give the game away too early and to really dig into this flick, I will eventually. Then again, the title itself all but acts as a spoiler if you know Hitchcock. You kinda should know the baby faced maestro, he’s the guy who coined two enduring names for plot devices, the macguffin and the red herring, among other lasting tenets of cinema.

Dressed to Kill starts as a story of a middle aged woman, Kate, living in Manhattan, played by Angie Dickinson. After being declined into entering into an affair with her therapist played by Michael Caine( infidelity or not, this is still Michael Caine), she then has a one night stand with a mysterious person she meets at an art museum. She learns after the night together that this stranger has some STDs and runs out of the apartment into an elevator where a blonde woman with a razor is waiting to do her in.

There was one witness to her demise, a high end call girl called Liz (Nancy Allen) who was, as befits Hitchcock storytelling, at the wrong place at the wrong time and flees before the killer can get her too. Also like a certain Hitchcock title, the focuses shifts from Kate to Liz, on account of the former having died.

I should note ahead of time that Allen’s Liz is treated surprisingly, even for the time, as a sympathetic, likable figure. More than just the “Hooker with the heart of Gold”, she is one of the two central characters after Kate’s murder. Because she is a call girl rather than a “Woman of the Night“, she is paid quite well for her services, some that are hinted to not always be exactly sexual, and has an impressive Manhattan Penthouse that would give the friends from Friends pause.

The other protagonist is Kate’s teenage son Peter (Keith Gordon), who is more interested in spending time with his pet invention based projects as well as some interesting plot related hobbies with regards to snapshot photography. I’m not certain if autism was well understood by the early 80s, I know it would take awhile and is still an issue when it comes to consistently decent portrayal of those on the spectrum like last year’s ill-advised Music.

Rain Man, eight years after Dressed to Kill, would be considered a landmark picture in regards to autistic representation, enough to make that film the biggest movie of 1988. It still receives flak, fairly or not, for presenting either the myth or exaggeration that autistics are all savants in a particular field, barring the social and behavioral hang-ups. Peter from Dressed to Kill is remarkably a more realistic depiction, if intended, of someone high-functioning autistic like myself. Socially awkward and restrained, has obsessive interests which makes it difficult to look into other new ones and often has a frustrating insistence to stay to a schedule that reflects those interests. Again, I kindof saw myself in Peter.

Of course, once his mother gets killed, he can’t help but take interest in that murder getting solved and it just so happens that his particular set of skills can help both him and Liz solve the mystery and save their lives. After all, their connections to Kate make them targets. It’s also quite nice that no tacked on romance happens between Liz and Peter. On one hand, one is teen age, the other isn’t. On the other, Pete possibly being on the spectrum might make him reluctant to go that far anyway. Besides, they’ve got no time for love.

As Liz and Peter’s increasingly perilous investigation goes further, with Caine’s Dr. Elliott, Kate’s therapist, and De Palma regular Dennis Franz’s Detective Marino getting involved, it all crescendos into a revelation that is perhaps not that shocking in terms of who dun it. I clocked it as soon as I recognized that the disguised blonde woman killing Kate in the elevator looked very familiar. It didn’t help that I went into this movie knowing De Palma’s admitted love for Hitchcock. Besides, this all culminates into discussing why Dressed to Kill, a great murder mystery drama, might be tainted by some extremely unfortunate implications by contemporary standards.

So, first of all, if you didn’t already piece it together by my summary or better yet have already seen the movie (It is one of De Palma’s more profitable movies), Michael Caine’s Dr. Elliott is the murderer in drag but it goes beyond even that. It is all but stated that Elliott is a trans woman on top of that. To further paint this as connected to transgender, Dr. Elliott pre-reveal watches a TV interview of a trans person discussing their sex change.

To the film’s credit, the depiction of this interview is not at all to suggest you should mock or fear this trans person, regardless of the details of the sex change. The framing of this moment suggests either neutrality or possibly sympathy. Perhaps it is De Palma going so far as to state that no matter your takeaway of my killer antagonist being a trans psychopath, not every trans person is a monstrous murderer to be feared.

Even then, when I consider how, based on present day statistics, transgender individuals in America are not only among the least violent demographics we have, there are also one of the most prone to violence committed upon them. That’s not even accounting for the suicide rate, all but stemming from a society or at least local social circles which struggle or refuse to accept them.

Don’t get me started on how there is, as of this writing, a loathsome roll-back on what rights they do have in certain parts of my nation, let alone more and more rhetoric that is meant to demonize and scapegoat them, all to fulfill rotten prejudices and to deflect from discussing far more pressing actual dangers to the country’s survival. Take for instance, how in the wake of our latest avoidable mass murder, this go around including elementary school children and their teachers in Texas, some outlets made the erroneous (or perhaps knowingly deceitful) statement that the shooter was a trans person.

So, yes, in light of the current climate, and on basic matters of human decency and empathy, Michael Caine playing a trans, cross-dressing murderer who masquerades as the vengeful wife of the STD filled man Kate slept with can be hard to fully accept, no matter De Palma’s current day opinions and that hey, at least it wasn’t demonization of all trans people. By the standards of 1980, that actually is quite commendable. Maybe.

Nevertheless, I feel weird about my albeit confident recommendation of watching Dressed to Kill. I already brought up all the high points, including some areas where this movie might actually be less problematic than not on certain subject matter. It’s certainly a great demonstration of De Palma’s skill as a drama director. In how he molds and bends Hitchcock’s style of both filmmaking and storytelling into something that remarkably ends up being his own. He certainly shows us Hitchcock through the end of an R-rated, gritty atmosphere that was mostly impossible in the master’s time.

Then again, the film that Dressed to Kill clearly takes most from, Psycho, was a movie that broke boundaries in what Hollywood could or could not do back in 1960. Many of the some concerning handling of subject matter that Dressed to Kill has been critiqued for was presented twenty years earlier, the same disconcerting conclusions that now look woefully outdated when we know or wish to know the truth as it is now.

Blow-Out (1981)

Image from MUBI (John Travolta, in his first strong period, probing for sound effects until…)

De Palma was more than just showing off his style of Hitchcock. While that certainly applies to the film he did after Dressed to Kill, there are shades of other filmmakers given his style. Like Francis Ford Coppola and the most significant film he made not called Godfather or Apocalypse Now, The Conversation.

Travolta plays Jack Terry, a sounds effect artist for an independent low budget film studio based out, of all places, Philadelphia. They mainly do slasher films, which was experiencing its greatest hey-day at the time, thanks to Carpenter’s Halloween and Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th.

At the moment in the film he’s working on where the killer, in first person view, is about to get his female victim in the shower, the screams they have on film just aren’t cutting it. So, he’s tasked by the movie’s producer to go out into the big wide world in Philly and find a sound more appropriate for that scene. While out at night in a park, Jack here’s something not meant for him to hear. The titular blow-out he records followed by tires screeching an a limousine careening over.

He gets to where the crash is and wouldn’t you know it, Nancy Allen’s back! Not that surprising when you learn she was married to DePalma at the time. She’s the sole survivor of the crash and was driving with, aw shucks, the governor of Pennsylvania, George McRyan, and even better, it’s election season and he was the favorite for the presidency. HMMMM.

Turns out Allen’s character Sally is a call girl, just like last time. In spite of the sympathetic portrayals of women with such professions, I’m starting to wonder if De Palma and Allen split up because the hubby kept making the wife into an escort. That, in and of itself, is actually a criticism some have with De Palma, continually making movies where women are prostitutes with the risk or follow through of violence or worse placed upon them.

The presidential candidate having a call girl is just one layer of the conspiracy that Jack Terry suddenly finds himself in. For instance, the circumstances of the crash sure are suspicious on its face. Like for instance, could Terry find in the recording an additional sound that might indicate a gun-shot, one responsible for the blow-out? On top of that, the people that end up being responsible for the assassination of the Governor are now hunting both Jack and Sally, but specifically the latter.

We go from a witness to a serial killer’s work to a political hit-job, literally in this case, with poor Nancy Allen again stuck in the middle. To better separate from Dressed to Kill, we soon see for ourselves the audience who the killers are and their motives and planning for their deeds. It’s now a matter of protecting Sally and proving the conspiracy behind McRyan’s death. Dennis Franz here plays Manny, a sleazy additional witness like Jack, who actually filmed the crash while he was out and about, not unlike Zapruder. However Manny is all too happy to sell the film to the conspirators not just to protect his ass but for some money on the side.

It becomes a matter of a sound effects technician, hardly a secret agent, trying to protect an innocent woman, prove an assassination and keep himself from death as the lead assassin, Burke (John Lithgow), menacingly hunts them down through the many streets of Philadelphia. It culminates in a chase where Sally tries to meet up with Jack during a city celebration, starting at 30th St Station, going through a light rail and eventually ending up at a harbor, with either Jack or Burke moments away from either succeeding.

The film’s conclusion, in which Jack fails to save Sally from Burke, is part of the reason for Blow-Out having a far poorer box office than Dressed to Kill and for initially having a lesser opinion from critics. De Palma would have box office success again right after with his controversial version of Scarface but it would take time for audiences and critics both to warm up to De Palma’s Dressed to Kill follow up.

Nowadays, the film as a whole has been positively re-evaluated, some considering it among De Palma’s best, one of them being Quentin Tarantino. In all fairness, the downer ending was actually set up from the start. After all, Jack’s producer wanted him to find the best scream for the movie and Sally’s fate provided it in the end.

Aside from providing more of De Palma’s love for Hitchcockian storytelling, it can also be seen as a film about De Palma’s own relation with film-making and the processes he goes to for his art. The main protagonist being a movie sound technician, like Star Wars’ Ben Burtt, helps accommodate the notion of this being a more personal title. Namely, the idea that an artist would be willing to use material which might come from an inappropriate place for the sake of a work. Maybe it’s a commentary on De Palma’s own marriage with Nancy Allen, which would end in 1984.

Maybe he was growing concerned with how people would view him putting his significant other into film roles with not the most uplifting of purposes or outcomes. Maybe Jack Terry’s depressed, self-loathing state by film’s end is permission from De Palma to say that if you dislike me for my work, for what I put in it, go ahead. I don’t mind the heat. Maybe, every now and then, I could use it.

Body Double (1984)

Image from TCM (Nope, not Richard Gere on the left, yes, Melanie Griffith on the right.)

Due to having inadvertently viewed two De Palma films back to back, I decided to just make the next selection about the man and went forward with a film from him I meant to watch later. His 1984 Body Double might be even more explicit about the Hitchcock connection than even Dressed to Kill. Here, it’s not just one but two of his films that are given the De Palma touch: Vertigo and more obviously Rear Window.

In all fairness, it also connects to a theme that is more De Palma than not: an interest in voyeurism and why we, no matter our backgrounds, are drawn to it. It gets meta when you consider De Palma has stated that the act of viewing movies is itself voyeurism. Of course, all the actors and actresses know that someone is going to watch what they’re doing on the screen, that’s the entire point. But, the fictional characters don’t know that and never will, not unless they break the fourth wall. Unlike anyone here, Deadpool can see you watching him. And he’s just peachy about it.

Hitchcock’s Rear Window wasn’t the only film with aspects of exploring voyeurism as Psycho and Vertigo also feature it in some way. Rear Window, with James Stewart’s wheelchair bound photographer watching his neighbors out of sheer boredom, starts to draw some amount of leeriness from the audience. Sure, his behavior soon involves him investigating a possible murder, which in turn puts him in danger following one of cinema’s most famous “oh shit” moments.

But he also watches moments that really should be left to his neighbor’s privacy, like a honeymoon couple who just can’t get enough of the other’s body. I mean, I know Hitchcock loved trolling censors with innuendo like the very last scene from North by Northwest but man I’m still wondering how our boy Alfred got away with the implication of, admittedly a married couple, getting it on a lot in a 1954 film.

This being a 1984 De Palma movie, there is less innuendo and more of, how should I put it, what you see is what you get. There is nudity, there is sex, there is one hell of a music video that snuck itself into a murder mystery. More on that later, my friends.

But you get the sense that the titillation you see here is part of an almost meta-observation on audience desires and how the camera isn’t just serving the filmmaker as it is the likely audience. Ironically, it’s a film about deception, about how maybe what you see actually is not what you get as it turns out. That cinema by design is about cleverly lying to you.

Jake Scully, played by Craig Wasson (who might as well be a body double himself for Richard Gere), is an actor whose career is put on the line after he suffers claustrophobia while filming a vampire sex comedy. Dennis Franz returns as that film’s director. Following his leaving the production from that psychological break, not unlike James Stewart’s titular vertigo from another Hitchcock production, and after he finds his girlfriend sleeping with someone else, he flunks out of a casting call and meets a strange man played by Gregg Henry. His role, spoilers, is on hindsight not unlike Strangers on a Train.

Out of supposed sympathy with Jake’s state, he allows him to stay at his swank future-home on a hill, with an observation deck-like window showing the valley below. Yes, the place does remind me of Troy McClure’s home from the Simpsons, right down to the interior detail. The stranger, Sam, is going on a business trip and is letting Jake watch the place while he’s out. There’s a telescope that allows him to see just about anything below, especially when a resident in an apartment down there at night dances nude, apparently unaware anyone could be watching. Jake of course gets a real kick out of that.

The music that plays while Jake watches the woman from afar is fantastic and can be enjoyed for its atmospheric peak 80s snyth feel without the context. It’s actually better without context as it can do more than just represent the sensuality of the sequence. Like much great music, it’s purpose is adaptable and is no less true here.

Eventually, however, as a film inspired by Hitchcock is want to do, things take a turn for the worse. During one session of watching the nude woman dancing to herself, suddenly MURDER happens and like the last two movies, our nominal hero finds himself embroiled in a mystery where nothing really is at it seems. Some twists and turns you can certainly already seem coming, like the stranger Sam not being on the up and up, and others are genuinely surprising. Melanie Griffith’s role in the story is part of the latter thankfully.

Griffith plays Holly, not a call girl this time, but a porn star appearing in a bunch of straight to private channel or VHS films that, for us the viewing audience, never go beyond an R-rating in terms of material. Funnily enough, maybe as part of a joke, the porno stuff we see Holly doing is pretty tame. Befitting De Palma’s kind portrayal of women in unsavory professions, Holly, while abrasive to Jake only due to the admittedly off-putting way he goes about explaining her role in the conspiracy, is ultimately not a character he wants you to look down on.

Like I would think most actual porn stars, male or female, it’s a job, one that involves if you could believe it some measure of genuine talent. In the film’s world, Holly is one of the best in the business. Once you get past her Jersey accent, not a bad person to know in general. Her role is where the Vertigo side of things really come into focus, such as her unknowingly playing a wait for it….body double for the woman Gloria , who Jake thought he was viewing through the telescope.

Why the conspiracy? Why this deception that Holly herself was put through? Unlike the last two movies, I won’t give away the whole game, as this film has the most upbeat even playful way it wraps up, as if to say that De Palma wants to both stress you out and give you a fun time in his own telling of Hitchcock’s stories, now with as heavy a sheen of that 80s’s magic as you could imagine.

Before I wrap up this section, I’ve gotta talk about the music video section, a moment where the movie basically stops dead for a somewhat brief but all-encompassing endorsement for one of the 1980s’ most significant one hit wonders: Frankie goes to Hollywood.

In order to get in contact with Holly over the mystery surrounding Gloria, Jake goes all the way to the porno studio where Holly works. The only way the producer will let Jake get in contact with Holly is if he participates in a shoot of her latest work. Fortunately, Jake’s already an actor and gets the part as a nerdy guy who wants to meet Holly in the video. It then leads to a music video rendition of the one song everyone knows from Frankie Goes to Hollywood: Relax.

In spite of the very suggestive lyrics, which made the song and the band controversial at the time, Relax is such a ubiquitous song with the era that even material which doesn’t have a shred of sexual content down the road uses this song. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, which uses more than a little from De Palma’s Scarface, has the song in the game’s acclaimed radio selection, which might contain a near perfect sampling of 80s’ hits to give a lay-person an idea of the period’s music.

Of course Grand Theft Auto notoriously has sexual content in it, but the use of Relax ingame can have nothing to do with that, simply listening to its sick beats while driving recklessly or not through its send up of 80s Miami. Another game, which has no sexual content really at all, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, used the song to promote that game’s rendition of the “Zombies” mode, which had a tongue in cheek rendition of all things 80s, set in a theme park with a selection of music including Relax, all hosted by the man, the myth, the legend, DAVID HASSELHOFF.

All that being said, Relax as featured here in a music video with the band itself, certainly uses the sexual context of the song. It can be watched divorced from the film and it’s plain fun that way if you can stomach the subject matter like myself. But within the film it serves as another reminder of the film’s preoccupation of not just cinematic deception, but knowing deception.

Body Double has all the serious subject matter of De Palma’s earlier works but with an arresting sense of fun and in some areas even adventure weirdly enough in comparison. The film’s final scene, which plays over the end credits, is the best reminder that De Palma wanted you to have fun more than ever while also considering the food for thought he presented. Not just over his own appetites, but what potentially are yours.

Speaking of Richard Gere….

American Gigolo (1980)

Image from SARTOISM (Bill Duke and a pretty Man.)

Let’s set the mood.

The theme for Paul Schrader’s directorial debut comes from Blondie and the mesmerizing vocals of Debbie Harry, last featured on this retrospective for animated cult classic Rock n’ Rule. It should be noted that American Gigolo was not my first exposure to this particular Blondie hit. It was last year’s surprisingly great Guardians of the Galaxy game, from the makers of the recentish Deus Ex titles.

That’s the great thing about music, even some that have intended purposes from its creators can be made adaptable for more than one interpretation. In GOTG 2021’s case, it’s part of Peter Quill/ Star Lord’s jukebox of mostly 80s’ hits onboard the Guardians’ vessel the Milano. It’s played automatically after Peter and the Guardians have a heated meeting with one of his old flames, an alien police officer and as it turns out potential mother of his daughter.

In exchange for freedom following an illegal incursion the Guardians take in a no-fly zone part of the galaxy, she reluctantly allows Peter to go in search of credits (legally) to pay the fine. Blondie’s Call Me blares amusingly after this unexpected reunion as the puckish roguish heroes wonder what to do next.

In the context of American Gigolo, for which Call Me was written for, it’s pretty straightforward. Julian Kay, played by a young Richard Gere, a decade away from another movie of his involving sympathetic prostitutes, is a male escort. Like Nancy Allen’s character from Dressed to Kill of the same year no less, he is a high paid, high living courtesan who, wouldn’t you know it, doesn’t want to use his rockin’ body for this profession much longer.

The interesting thing about American Gigolo is how not actually explicit it is in spite of the subject matter, for the most part. There is implication of sex, of course, often pre and post the acts. The most R-rated the movie gets is the language and violence. For those who I guess are more squeamish about certain areas of sexual activity, there is a sequence at what very much looks like either a gay or S+M/ leather club. That sequence is much like a similar moment from the original Matrix, where the main character visits the club but only to meet someone for information.

The topic of note at that club is so Julian’s pimp Leon (Bill Duke) can further convince him to go into sides of the business he isn’t comfortable with like homosexual services. Fear not, audiences of 1980, Julian is quite straight. He even gets a loving girlfriend who further compels him to leave the job behind.

That being said, the main conflict is that after an assignment he’s given by Leon in Palm Springs, to give service to a wealthy man’s wife, after the job it turns out she was MURDERED. And gee, who could possibly have been framed in this situation?

It goes from a film that honestly sounds like a spiritual predecessor for Magic Mike to a murder mystery where a member of society we generally look down upon like prostitutes, male or otherwise, has been wrongfully pinned for a truly heinous act.

It deals with an idea that can be just as applicable for the more expected “female” variation on the oldest profession. While some can take this job with grace, like again Nancy Allen’s Liz of Dressed to Kill, some will just find it demeaning or a waste of their…natural talents so to speak. It’s not so much condemnation of prostitution as it is sympathy with both the physical and societal strains of the job.

Giorgio Moroder, the composer of Body Double, worked alongside Blondie to compose the distinctive and catchy score for American Gigolo. Regardless of its contemporary purpose, it yet acts as an effective time capsule to the time and the place that was 1980 America, especially in L.A. Moroder has been called “The Father of Disco” and Blondie’s earlier work was often described as a fusion of both rock and disco, though I have a hard time really hearing the latter part.

I would not call American Gigolo’s soundtrack truly disco as it doesn’t sound anything like what you might imagine the genre to be like Bee Gees or Village People. Then again, Moroder was an Italian composer known for European disco, not American, so maybe therein lies the difference.

In spite of some subject matter that might leave more than a few cautious (again, the movie is called what again?), it’s not that hardcore in spite of Gere admittedly breaking taboo at the time in being the first mainstream actor to bare all in one moment. It really is an atmospheric murder drama, where the focus is more on solving the mystery and survival than showcasing the tenets of this side to American pleasure-seeking.

The moment that sticks out to me is a section where Julian returns to his pad and it has been combed over, either by the police or possibly someone more nefarious. With varied colored lights seeping through the blinds, he sits on the counter and just thinks about what he can do next, all while Moroder’s low-key music quietly yet vividly sets the mood. No matter the context of the moment, it makes me feel just chilled out while watching and listening to that scene, even if Gere’s Julian is doing anything but.

Can’t forget to mention a moment that made me watch at long last a 70s’ classic that released the year before. Julian catches up to one of the people he thinks that might’ve framed him for the murder in Palm Springs. He pins him to the wall of a movie theater with his arm, interrogating him. The mook in question is pinned to a giant wall display for none other than Walter Hill’s The Warriors. I don’t know the behind the scenes reasons for this endorsement of the controversial gang classic. Maybe Schrader and Hill were friends and he was showing his support by this blatant marketing. The film was being produced as The Warriors opened in 1979.

So, maybe, Schrader thought why not and gave a promotion to a film that in time would be considered a quite quotable, overall classic of sorts let alone time capsule in its own way to the time and place it was made like American Gigolo. Can I dig it?

I. CAN. DIG. IT.

So, yes, I would at least give both The Warriors and American Gigolo a try and see where you end up. If you can’t take it, you can’t take it. If you can, you’re in for two distinct types of cinematic rides.

NEXT TIME: contemporary stuff catch up almost certainly.