Frighteners, The

As the omnipresent eye of the audience hovers above the dark mansion in the woods, a storm is brewing-both outside and within. passing through an attic window, the camera drops down past the rats, and through the hole in the floor as screams rush up out of the speakers. Eventually our view settles on a woman rushing through a house as the carpet and the walls themselves reach out to take hold of her. Suddenly,  an elderly woman appears in her bedroom door wielding a long-barreled shotgun and, while backlit by a clash of lightning, blasts the possessed floor covering right between the indistinct eye-sockets, causing the spirit housed within to rush out towards the us, blanketing our eye in darkness, as the ghostly titles materialize into view. Here we are again, ladies and gentlesirs, rollicking through another night with another typical Peter Jackson film family.

While working on the script for Heavenly Creatures (which if you haven't seen it, stop reading this and go do so now-- --we'll wait), Jackson and partner Fran Walsh met with Robert Zemeckis (Back to the FutureWho Framed Roger Rabbit), and pitched the idea of a con-man using ghosts to swindle customers. The original idea was to have it be a segment directed by Zemeckis in a Tales from the Crypt movie, but after reading the first draft and seeing an early preview of Heavenly Creatures , he felt that it would be better if the Kiwi headed up the project.  The result is a movie that at times is damn scary, at others cartoonish, and as a whole-pretty good.

Focusing on the previously mentioned psychic con-man Frank Bannister (Michael J. Fox), his merry band of spooks (played by Chi McbrideJim Fyfe, and John Astin), and their run-in with the supernatural serial bully known as "The Reaper". Along the way, Bannister tussles with an "eccentric" FBI agent brilliantly played by Jeffrey Combs (Bride of the ReanimatorThe 4400), finds love with a widow (Trini Alvarado), and shares a few tender moments with his kooky neighbors (Dee WallaceR. Lee Emry).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Somebody needs to get Peter Jackson to write a family sit-com.

On to the movie itself: The special effects, AMAZING ten years ago,  are still intriguing, but dated (Funny: 80's movies, with their practical muppetry, strobe lights, and hand-drawn animated lightning, ended up aging much better than the early CG powerhouses like Stargate). Of special note is The Reaper and his WICKED scythe. Why they didn't make a holiday toy out of that, I'll never know. Imagine, kids running around with a big, sharp implement of grim decapitating destruction. Laughs for the whole family!

The story has an internal logic, but is basically there to move you from plot point to plot point.  A word about the director's cut: While it makes more sense than the theatrical, it also seriously drags in parts, especially early-on, when they're setting up the relationship between Bannister and friends.   So while this film is completely recommended for the Cavalcade, grab the shorter theatrical cut to keep things moving along.

Braindead (A.K.A. Dead-Alive)

Let's start this review off with two words that are perfectly suited to letting you know what kind of movie this is. No, I'm not going to use gory or funny, though those words also apply beautifully. No, the words I'm going to use are Rat Monkey. That's right: Rat. Monkey.

In 28 Days Later, the rage-virus comes from human beings "coming in contact with a chimpanzee" (read: being beaten like they owed him money) in a lab. Here, all the bloodletting stems from the afore-mentioned Rat Monkey. This leads us to our first lesson of the day: Simians = Bad Juju.

I first ran into Peter Jackson's Dead Alive in 1995, when I stumbled across it while I was working at the video store. I had just seen this oddly captivating movie called Heavenly Creatures a few weeks before, and lo, there was another movie from the same guy, and a horror movie no less. I might as well check it out. Man, was I ever unprepared for what I saw.

The film establishes its tone right away. Opening on the island of Sumarta, where the Rat Monkey makes its home. The dangers of the creature are made readily apparent when an explorer returns from an expidition with a bite mark on his right hand, which is quickly amputated by his guides. Then his left arm, as that had another mark. Finally, they notice scratches on his forehead... This whole sequence had the feel of a Warner Brother's cartoon hopped up on PCP.

Which, frankly, describes the rest of the movie pretty well.

The bulk of the movie takes place in Wellington, New Zealand, where the dangerous Rat Monkey was sent for exhibition in a zoo. Now, I fear that up until this point, I may have portrayed this film as a greusome excursion down Goryville Lane. But it's at this point in the story that the film's true heart reveals itself. The fact that it is, indeed, a romantic family comedy.

Our hero, Lionel Cosgrove, lives at home with his overbearing mother, who rules over him with a cast-iron fist in order to keep him close to "mummy". Much to her consternation, Lionel falls in love with a girl in town named Paquita Maria Sanchez. Enter into this formula tale of true love... The Sumartan RAT MONKEY, who takes a nibble of dear ol' "mum", and puts a bit of a spin on the rest of the picture.

Boy meets girl. Boy loves girl. Mom expresses her displeasure... by eating girl's dog. Later mom eats others. Then the others eat still more others. A zombie baby shows up for some crazy hijinks, and everything is resolved with gardening equipment. Wholesome family entertainment. Seriously, there's a sitcom in here somewhere.

A word to the wise: This move is filled to the brim with pus, ooze, ick, splatterifica, disembowelemnts, decapitations, meat smoothie blending, ass-kicking for the lord, vicera, dismemberments, parliaments (ok, I may have made that one up), and all sorts of gorific stuff. While it's so completely over the top to move into screwball territory, it may bother some.

But if it does, they shouldn't be watching a zombie marathon at all anyway, so you can just ask them to get sick in the appropriate porcelin recepticle.