Thursday, October 27, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: THE HOWLING (1981)

Back in the days of Blockbuster Video, I got my own membership later in high school and could rent any movie I wanted. One film I rented was The Howling, a well-regarded werewolf movie from the early 1980s. October 2022 is werewolf month on the film podcast Myopia Movies and this was one of the films I really wanted to do.

Here's the episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

In 1980s Los Angeles, television anchor Karen White (Dee Wallace) has been getting phone calls from serial killer Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo). In order to catch him, she agrees to meet up with him--with the police close by. As one might expect, this turns violent very quickly and the traumatized Karen can't remember precisely what happened. Dr. George Waggner, (Patrick Macnee), a local psychologist, invites her and her husband Bill Neil (Christopher Stone) to a rural commune called "The Colony" so she can rest and undergo group therapy. They arrive and meet various colorful characters living there, including Marcia Quist (Elisabeth Brooks), who is a little too interested in Bill.

And did I mention that Eddie's corpse has disappeared from the morgue? Karen's colleagues Chris Halloran (Dennis Dugan) and Terri Fisher (Belinda Belaski) investigate that as things get progressively weirder and more dangerous at The Colony.

The Good

*There is some good foreshadowing, like a character early on who specifically wants to commit suicide by fire.

*There're some moments of humor, like when a snoopy character is caught going through a filing cabinet.

*There is also some good development for the supporting cast, like how Karen's boss at the station is depicted as a jackass. He signs off on the scheme to bait serial-killer Eddie never mind that it's putting one of his employees at great risk and a good number of people openly object to it, and when she's clearly upset by the experience, says it's just as likely she could be pregnant (sexism) and casually and profanely butchers the name of an Asian anchor the station could use if she can't handle being on-air (racism). The guy is a real tool, and we get that mostly in one scene almost as an aside.

*I can't go into too much detail for reasons of spoilers, but they do develop the villains as people. Some are content with living in isolation and hunting animals and even peacefully coexisting with ordinary people, but others are more overtly predatory and violent and the former have to resort to increasing concessions to the latter in order to (barely) keep them under control. The politics of it could have been developed more, but they are interesting.

*I liked the side story with Chris and Terri investigating the aftermath of Eddie's attack on Karen and how it ultimately links back up with Karen's stay at the Colony.

The Bad

*After the initial confrontation with Eddie, the movie slows down considerably. Not much happens of note until Karen and Bill arrive at the Colony and Karen starts hearing wolves howling outside. This section of the movie functions more like a mystery than a straight-up horror movie in the vein of Silver Bullet or An American Werewolf in London. If that's what you're into that's fine, but be aware.

*Per the above, the internal politics of the Colony could have come up earlier--perhaps when Terri comes to see Karen, the residents could argue among themselves about this new development.

The Verdict

A bit dull if you go in expecting a full-on monster movie, but if you go in expecting a mystery, it's better. 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Films I Bought Because of Myopia Movies

As my readers know, I'm a regular participant in the film podcast Myopia Movies, organized by one of my friends from the Boy Scouts. To that end, I've probably watched dozens if not hundreds of movies I haven't seen in forever (or never saw at all) over the last eight-odd years we've been recording. Some of these I liked so much I actually purchased them on physical media so I'll have them forever and not lose them to the whims of the streaming company or IP holder. Seriously, the streaming services giveth and the streaming services taketh away.  Netflix in particular has shed a lot of films over the years. And per The New York Times, you don't actually own your digital movies.

And so here are the DVDs or Blu-Rays that I've bought...

How The Grinch Stole Christmas-This is the Jim Carrey Nightmare Fuel edition that my colleagues didn't like but I thought was hilarious. Those damn materialistic Whos needed a wakeup call. The movie even opens with a Black Friday commercialistic nightmare. The episode is slated to premiere December 15 to coincide with the Grinch parody film The Mean One, so I'll update this page when it is.

The Abyss-This underwater science fiction extravaganza was something I first saw in elementary school, but didn't see again until we recorded a podcast on it. Here's my review and here is the episode. It's a blast. Also check out my YouTube video.

The Rocketeer-This and Shipwrecked were the first movies I saw with my mother when I first moved from Kennesaw-ish to East Cobb as a child. The episode was originally recorded for the show's defunct Patreon and won't be out until the planned sequel, but re-watching the movie again was a blast. I even got my college-student younger cousin watching it.

Labyrinth-For years I avoided this film due to seeing some creepy-looking production stills, but I'm glad I finally saw it. Here's the episode and here's the review. I also came up with some other posts based on and even created my first meme. I'm going to be on a panel about the film at the Atlanta fantasy festival CONjuration in early November, where some material from "Labyrinth is Hellraiser for Kids" (here in blog form and here on YouTube) will make an appearance.

Howard The Duck-This was a movie I'd wanted to do an episode on for years and it was a blast. Here's my review. I think I'm one of the few people in the world who non-ironically loves this one. Here's to hoping they let the original Beverly Lea Thompson direct an official MCU version, with one of her daughters playing the new Beverly. As of October 2022, Thompson is still campaigning for job.

Gremlins-This one came out the year I was born and I saw it for the first time at The Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Here's the podcast and here's my review. This one is definitely a hoot.

Highlander-I first saw this one as one of Joe Bob Briggs' late-night movie shows and was a big fan of the spinoff TV series that featured a younger relative of Connor MacLeod, with Connor dropping in now and then. Here's my review and here's the episode. The appearance of the villain Grendel from my steampunk series Battle for the Wastelands was inspired by the evil Kurgan's medieval war-gear, especially the helmet.

Willow-This movie came out when I was in pre-school, but I don't remember being interested. Cheesy and fun. The episode won't come out until December 22 to coincide with the Disney+ spinoff series featuring an older Willow training a new generation of heroes. Watching the film inspired me to purchase an ancient copy of the novelization and gave me more fodder for the 1980s fantasy film panel I'll be on at CONjuration.

Secret of NIMH-The movie that scared me to death in kindergarten. Here's the episode and here's the review. It's a beautiful film with excellent voice-work and animation.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Blast from the Past Movie Review: AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)

Back when I was in high school, one of the first movies I rented when I got my own Blockbuster card (remember those?) was An American Werewolf in London. For Myopia Movies' October werewolf month, a movie pretty much everybody wanted to do was this one, so away we went. Here is the podcast episode. And now for the review...

The Plot

David Kessler (David Noughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking through Europe and detour (for some reason) into rural northern England on their way to meet up with friends in Italy. After an awkward encounter with some villagers, they're warned to stay on the roads and stay off the moors--and they don't. Something big and vicious attacks them, killing Jack and chewing up David before the villagers arrive to kill it.

David awakens weeks later in a London hospital under the care of nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) with a bunch of new scars--and the unwelcome presence of the ghostly, decaying Jack, who warns him that he's now a werewolf. To allow Jack to move on into the afterlife and not take any more lives, David needs to commit suicide pronto.

What happens next? Well, watch the movie to find out...

The Good

*The performances and characterizations are very good. Noughton does a good job playing David as he goes through all the mental and physical changes his condition imposes on him. Dunne does well as Jack, and keeps it up well even though he begins to increasingly resemble Achmed the Dead Terrorist. And Agutter's Alex is good as well--although she doesn't exactly display a lot of common sense (more on that later), she is well-developed as a compassionate nurse who cares about David and the children in her ward.

*Although the comedy is quite dark, it's pretty funny. The hijinks of the undead Jack are a big part of it, but there's plenty more.

*The transformation sequences are very well-done, especially since we're using 1981 technology. All practical effects, including effects that are actually attached to the human body.

*The movie gets a lot of British cultural details right, like how British police typically don't carry guns and have to call in special units with rifles when things get out of hand.

*David is Jewish and it's implied Jack is too. That's not something one typically sees in horror films--most characters don't seem religious at all, and those that are are at least nominally Christian.

The Bad

*There are a couple scenes, like one where David is pacing around Alex's apartment, reading her books, and generally moping, that don't seem to serve much of a purpose. That scene, for example, would have made more sense if Jack had put in another appearance warning him about what's coming that very night. The opening at least has the point of establishing the desolation of rural northern England--setting the scene--even if it goes on for too long.

*One scene kind of defies common sense--the famous transformation scene takes place in Alex's apartment. Do the neighbors not hear the screaming? There's a missed opportunity for comedy--since Alex is a nurse, a neighbor could comment that she must be bringing her work home with her. Or, since Alex is fairly open about her promiscuity, perhaps the neighbor is smirking and says something like, "I wonder who it is this time?" There's a joke about people mistaking a werewolf killing someone for "hooligans in the park," so this type of humor would fit nicely.

*London is a pretty distinctive city and probably a better draw for viewers, but if David and Jack are attacked somewhere in the northern part of England, it would make more sense to set the movie in a big city like Manchester. More creative too, since London is in movies a lot but the North of England, not so much.

*David is unconscious for three weeks? He was conscious when the villagers rescued him and his injuries were largely superficial. Not only does that not make a lot of sense, but as we briefly discussed on the podcast, being immobile for that long should lead to him losing a lot of strength. He should have trouble walking. I would keep the coma a bit shorter and then depict him doing physical therapy with Alex for the rest of the time it takes to get to the next full moon. To avoid taking up too much time, this could be a montage, possibly even set to an appropriate song. That would explain how they bond so quickly and a patient and the person assisting them becoming involved romantically is something that does happen. Alex having worked with David regularly for weeks is a much better basis for a relationship that "I've been taking care of you while you were unconscious for three weeks and a couple days after you woke up." 

Also, even if Alex is promiscuous, inviting someone you've known for maybe two days to crash with you is dangerous, especially given that Alex is aware David was involved in some kind of violent mishap (why he's hospitalized in the first place). Even if Alex does not object to premarital sex on moral grounds, one would hope a nurse (i.e. an educated professional) has the intelligence and common sense to not invite essentially a potentially-violent stranger to live with her.

A prolonged courtship between Alex and David could also be played for laughs--Jack's increasingly decayed ghost is hanging around David's physical therapy routines, commenting on his relationship with Alex and urging David to kill himself while David keeps coming up with elaborate excuses as to why he's talking to somebody nobody else can see. Alex and/or the doctors could just write it off as symptoms of PTSD or head trauma, much to Jack's increasing frustration.

*David being Jewish could be built up a bit more--although this is supposed to be a horror-comedy, perhaps that's one reason he won't commit suicide. "There aren't enough of us left in the world." David at one point has a nightmare about Nazis and assuming he was born in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Holocaust is something that would weigh heavily on him. Given how Alex clearly isn't Jewish, Zombie Jack can also make some shiksa jokes.

The Verdict

Definitely worth watching again. 9.0/10