Big Trouble in Little China, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Wolf Creek, Night of the Living Dead 3D, and Spider Baby: Reviewed

John Carpenter simultaneously juggles action, horror, sci-fi, martial arts and comedy in a pulpy comic book framework that rips from multiple sources while still seeming fresh and inspired. Kurt Russel’s Jack Burton is a loudmouth truck driver whose unshakable desire to collect on a bet forces him into a supernatural Chinatown underground. A Chinese buddy’s green-eyed girl has been kidnapped by the undead dark magician who needs her blood so he can return to human form. Russel’s performance garners some solid laughs and the action is non-stop. A Mannequin-era Kim Catrell plays the spunky love-interest, reminding us of a time when she was actually kind of cute. Carpenter’s pacing is consistently jazzy and loose. Many character’s speak in dense blocks of exposition — that may or may not be intentionally ridiculous — without killing any of the action’s momentum. Despite a fairly flat resolution, BTiLC’s monsters, magic and mayhem keep it afloat and help secure it’s rep as one of Carpenter’s most fun eighties-era outings. ***

A sequel to a remake of a movie that had a sequel of it’s own which this sequel is NOT based on. Got it? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre reboot pulled the same curious shit that same year. After a promising opening introduces a motley — if pretty dumb — crew of young National Guardsmen (-and women) that find themselves the prey of the same dessert-dwelling atom-age mutants that terrorized (to better effect) a helpless (and unarmed) family last time around. Cannibal mutants are, by now, a horror sub-genre staple/cliche’ and they always seem to look The Goonies’ Sloth. No real surprises here, but there is an air of b-movie cheapness that would make this a valid pick for a mutant-cannibal-themed Drive-In film festival. *1/2

Well-directed but pretty pointless shock-a-thon of epic brutality pitting a likable group of young travelers against a sadistic (though, rather happy-go-lucky) bushman in the vast, isolating Australian outback. After rescuing the broken-down road-trippers, said bushman turns the tables making them the prey of his craven cravings. That we get to know the youths makes their ordeal that much harder to watch — distinguishing WC from countless movies that have covered this ground before. Still though, that doesn’t mean I ever want to watch it again. Great performances and stunning cinematography do nothing to soften the blow.**

More assholes insist on taking a big shit on the legacy of Romero’s NotLD simply because it’s bungled rights and public-domain status mean they can. Despite impressive 3-D effects that transfer surprisingly well to DVD, this unforgivable, opportunistic abhorration of cynical check-cashing barely registers as a zombie movie at all. Employing the loosest interpretation of it’s namesake to date, this sleepwalks from one nonsensical scene to the next with a script that seems like it must have been written during filming. Though there may be something to be said for being handed a smoldering joint in 3 dimensions, it’s not enough giddy gimmickery to make it worthy of even a second of your time. Sid Haig, as the kooky mortician at the center of the second half, does what he can. *

Probably the most heralded of Jack Hill’s early output – and justifiably so. Sub-billed as “the maddest story ever told” SB lives up to its cult hype. A family afflicted by an ultra-rare disease — named after their family, incidentally — each slowly regresses, mentally aging backwards until they even bypass “pre-natal(?!)” form and become cannibals (natch!). They’re cared for “forever and ever” by a sad-looking Lon Chaney Jr., in top form. (Real tears!) Sid Haig is the bald overgrown infant, drooling and howling and really pulling off the role. The show belongs, however, to the baby girls of the clan — one, a bratty pig-tailed tattle-tale type; the other, a trouble-making, disobedient Lolita with a spider obsession (See the title.). Both have irrepressible homicidal tendencies that really come to the surface when the family unit is threatened by distant family and a lawyer who’ve come to swoop in and take ownership of the estate. A hilariously flip Quinn Redeker plays the distant cousin who seems most sympathetic — more bemused than terrified of the family freak show. ***

Nothing about RZ’s remake of one of the most important horror classics inspires me to change my ‘tude about the guy. So maybe he can frame a shot. So what? As far as John Carpenter’s chill ride goes, RZ reveals that he just doesn’t get it. Without a single scare or legitimately tense moment, he wanders in and out of familiar scenes but not before subjecting us to a toooo-looong back-story for The Shape. See, RZ — here’s the thing: Halloween isn’t ABOUT Michael Myers. It’s about THE SHAPE; the faceless, identity-free embodiment of “puuuure eeeeevil.” Mike Myers was merely a vessel for an unexplainable manifestation of the bogeyman. It wasn’t an abusive step-dad, a stripper mom, school bullies or a slutty sister that pushed MM over the edge. The Shape…just happened. And he just happened to…er…happen to an innocent little suburb-dwelling child. The moment we see RZ’s young MM brutalizing vermin, you KNOW that we’ve already taken a wrong turn into ZombieLand, where all horror seems to stem from obnoxious white-trash (as it does in House of 1,ooo Corpses and Devil’s Rejects — Was a young RZ kidnapped by Southern gypsies or something?). A slew of great genre character actors are mistreated yet AGAIN by Zombie (Udo Kier, for example, shows up for a few seconds and does absolutely nothing.) On the plus side — nudity. I was especially excited to see Danielle Harris, who played a niece to MM in two of the early 90s Halloween sequels (which are suddenly seeming far less bad than they did, say, a year ago) playing one of the teen primaries who wastes no time getting naked and butchered. Malcolm McDowell picks up a paycheck succeeding the late, Donald Pleasance as the spooked Dr. Loomis. No one else makes much of an impression (though, the GillMan always enjoys some Ken Foree). This scareless, rambling mess rates with Halloween II as a big ol’ FUCK YOU, to loyal fans of the 78 original. *

The fact that this is the “beginning” pretty much negates the need for any real suspense, unless “HOW are they going to die?” is enough of a hook for you. I give nothing away when I point out that, since this incarnation of the Sawyer obviously survives to mutilate and massacre another day, all that’s left to chew on is a decidedly slight Leatherface back story that’s about as surprising as you’d expect. Sadly, capable actors, including the always unnerving R. Lee Ermy, are pretty much wasted. Jordana Brewster can emulate terror with the best of them but she’s not given much more to do than that. There ARE some inventively grotesque kill sequences and generous ladels of gore, but I’m guessing this won’t be of much interest to anyone but “torture porn” enthusiasts (the ones that just LOVE everything Eli Roth and Rob Zombie puke up) and hard-core TCM completionists. * 1/2

…28 WEEKS LATER (2007)
Here’s a sequel worthy of the movie that begat it. Robert Carlisle (who played one scary motherfucker in Trainspotting) turns chickenshit when the chips are down and abandons his wife in a country cottage that had served as a safe house for them (during the same time frame outlined in the original) when it’s swarmed by those running, frothing, blood-puking, red-eyed, contagious “zombies” we’d come to love in the last outing. (And argue if you like — they’re dead but alive and they infect and tear the living apart — they’re fucking zombies!) Cut to the title’s time frame and London has been quarantined and is now positioned for rebuilding. Carlisle, who’s been reunited with his kids, plays a fairly large role in a brand new break-out that wreaks more havoc on the temp-city that’s been constructed on London’s outskirts. What follows is some fairly routine chasing and the same type of top-notch gross-outs we’d experienced the first time around. But the desperation, terror and isolation of a world gone to shit is evident and chilling. One scene shows a real-time escalation of the outbreak spreading like a wave where survivors are locked up in a “safe” underground bunker. Grim stuff, but exhilarating movie making with solid production values and it’s own sense of style that somehow remains true to the original while still doing its own thing — both visually and narratively. Definitely worth your time. ** 1/2

~ by Number5ive on May 9, 2008.

One Response to “Big Trouble in Little China, The Hills Have Eyes 2, Wolf Creek, Night of the Living Dead 3D, and Spider Baby: Reviewed”

  1. Re: TCM: The Beginning…Sawyer? Really? That’s the name they give the family? *sigh*

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