Monday, October 8, 2012

THE KEEP (1983): Michael Mann's adaptation of F. Paul Wilson's novel The Keep is not easy to track down. Legal disputes over Tangerine Dream's music for the film, combined with Mann disowning the studio's cut (his original version of the 96-minute film reportedly ran over three hours long!), have kept the film in format limbo since its original VHS and Laserdisc release. But this stylish horror-fantasy is worth seeking out, provided you have a high tolerance for arty direction and early '80s practical effects. A squadron of Nazis, led by a sympathetic captain played by Jurgen Prochnow (your go-to guy for sympathetic Germans, Das Boot having come out two years earlier), invade a small Romanian village that's home to a mysterious fortress. Rumours of silver hidden within lead some of the Nazi troops to explore the title building, only to be destroyed by a mysterious supernatural force. The captain brings in an ailing doctor (Ian McKellen) and his daughter (Alberta Watson) to try and solve the mystery behind the killings, while a sadistic superior officer played by Gabriel Byrne is just fine with executing the local villagers until they tell them what's going on. Turns out the Keep was originally built to contain a centuries-old creature called the Molasar, who grows stronger with each killing. The Molasar recruits the doctor by rejuvenating him supernaturally, while a mysterious guardian (Scott Glenn) arrives in the village to make sure the creature stays imprisoned. Is the Molasar really going to help defeat the Nazi evil, or is it a creature of pure evil itself?
The Keep is a pretty silly movie at times--it's filled with laser light shows, smoke effects, and it contains one hell of an over-the-top sex scene partway through. But it's an ambitious kind of silly. It has a terrific cast, an unorthodox approach to the usual good vs. evil struggle (not all of the heroes are good, while not all of the Nazis are evil), and the Molasar, a sort of Golem who re-forms himself in layers over the course of the movie, like Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan after his atomic accident, looks pretty damn cool. Worth seeking out if you can find it, depending on your tastes.
Q THE WINGED SERPENT (1982): I don't know who exactly was supposed to be scared of the title monster in Q: The Winged Serpent. Unless you were a construction worker on a high building or a sunbather who favoured high rise complexes, you had little to fear from a resurrected flying Aztec lizard god with a penchant for plucking hapless New Yorkers off of rooftops. But even though there are some dry stretches between kills in writer/director Larry Cohen's monster mash, he fills in the space with fun turns from great character actors like David Carradine as a cop trying to find the connection between the monster attacks and a series of ritual sacrifice killings, Richard Roundtree (Shaft!) as his skeptical partner, Michael Moriarty as a sleazy small-time crook who knows the location of the monster's lair, and American Graffiti's Candy Clark as his long-suffering girlfriend.
The stop-motion monster effects are dated but fun (and, wisely, used sparingly), there are lots of hysterical extras reacting to blood and body parts raining from above, and Cohen's witty script doesn't take itself too seriously. The human subplots between Q attacks might turn off some casual viewers, but fans of vintage monster mayhem and sleazy, pre-Giuliani New York will find plenty to enjoy here.
THE BLOB (1988): After perfecting the Freddy Krueger movie with Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors in 1987, writer Frank Darabont and director Chuck Russell reteamed a year later to remake one of the silliest creature features the 1950s had to offer, The Blob. Taking a page from John Carpenter's imaginatively gory remake of The Thing six years earlier (Darabont has always been a fan, and was even attached to a Thing companion miniseries for the Sci-Fi Channel some time ago), this new take on the tale of carnivorous extraterrestrial goo is truly, freakishly disgusting. A meteorite containing the putrid pink protoplasm lands in a small town and promptly begins to gobble up everyone it meets, growing exponentially with each meal. Entourage's Kevin Dillon, sporting one of the most majestic mullets ever captured on film, stars as the town rebel who teams up with a squeaky-clean pharmacist's daughter (Shawnee Smith, from Summer School and the Saw franchise) to take out the insatiable snot-monster before it eats the whole town. The Blob is most definitely not for the squeamish--characters are sucked down drains, dissolved into chunks, and sizzled alive by the corrosive glop, and no character is safe, regardless of age or likability.
I hadn't seen this film in at least a decade, and I'd forgotten the cool third-act twist about the Blob's origins that Darabont and Russell added. I won't spoil it here, but suffice it to say that the Blob isn't the only villain in the film. The slyly funny script, wild gross-out effects, and fine supporting cast (including Darabont regular Jeffrey DeMunn, RoboCop psycho Paul McCrane, legendary Second City instructor Del Close, and, once again, Candy Clark) make The Blob a fun, often-overlooked '80s gem.
FREDDY VS. JASON (2003): Let's face it--you're either going to be into the idea of a movie called Freddy Vs. Jason, or you're not. A grudge match between the two biggest horror icons of Reagan-era America was inevitable, especially once the rights to the Jason Voorhees character fell into the hands of New Line Cinema, home of Freddy Krueger. As a movie, Freddy Vs. Jason really didn't have to do much other than carve up a few teens and pit the title psychos against each other to be deemed a success, but writer Damian Shannon & Mark Swift and director Ronny Yu went above and beyond for this slasher mashup, filling the movie with nods to the iconography of the Friday The 13th series (a beyond-the-grave cameo by Pamela Voorhees and a dream sequence set at Camp Crystal Lake in Jason's youth, complete with neglectful, sex-crazed camp counsellors) and the Nightmare On Elm Street films (the first murder takes place at Nancy's house from the first film, and features a detour to the Westin Hills Asylum from the third film--that movie's dream-suppressing drug, Hypnocil, also plays a key role). The plot is fairly ingenious; Freddy's cursed existence has been covered up by Springwood's police department, thereby cutting off the supply of precious fear generated by the town's children. Freddy needs that fear to power him, so he manipulates Jason via the dream world into rising again and committing bloody murders in Springwood. The locals once again begin spreading rumours about the return of the legendary Springwood Slasher, and Freddy begins to regain his power...but once Jason has been unleashed, he starts cutting in on Freddy's would-be victims and, by extension, his power supply, setting the stage for an epic throwdown that stretches from Jason's subconscious all the way to Camp Crystal Lake.
The original films in these series were chock-full of teen stereotypes, and it's fun to see how they've been updated for the 2000s--there's a Jack Black clone, a Jason Mewes-style stoner (who gets the movie's best line--"That goalie was pissed about something"), and a girl who's obsessed with getting a nose job. The body count is high, the nudity is gratuitous, and director Yu doesn't skimp on the gore (even the film's title is revealed by bloody slashes across a fleshy backdrop). Like I said, you're either going to be into the idea or not into it, but any true child of the golden age of slasher cinema has no excuse to miss this one.

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