New Moon

Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) is in way over her head. Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison), the pretty mopey boy she fell for, decides to break up with her the day after her birthday because he's an awesome boyfriend.

Bella, being an 18-year-old, decides that the break up is the end of the world so she wails like a banshee in her sleep. Her father (Billy Burke) now forever loathes Edward for giving his daughter what sounds like post-traumatic whooping cough.

Bella starts hanging out with Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner); local Native American, Vidal Sassoon poster boy, and Edward's arch nemesis. They have an awkward and sad relationship, as Bella uses him so she doesn't feel alone. She rebuffs his advances, so he cuts his hair and joins a gang whose sole focus appears to be showing off their rippling abdominal muscles. They have an exchange that goes something like this:

JACOB: I ARE TEH KILLAR MONSTER! (*ab flex*)

BELLA: I'm sorry I used you.

JACOB: RAWR!! (*ab flex*)

BELLA: I miss Edward! She is so beautiful!

JACOB: (*pout* *ab flex*)

Business as usual in Forks, Wash!

Jacob and his new gang of underage underwear models spend most of their time killing the vampires that stray onto their land, one is being the former girlfriend of the guy who tried kill Bella in the previous film. She is unhappy. So much so that she kills veteran character actor Graham Greene while Thom York's "Hearing Damage" drains the tension out of all the action.

Edward's hot goth sister, Alice (Ashely Green),  shows up to tell Bella that Edward believes Bella to be dead; so he's off to Italy to ask Vampire Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) to kill him, as he can't go on without Bella. Ain't love grand?

The Vampire c Council is the best part of the movie. It barely lasts 20 minutes, but Vampire Tony Blair is a sight to behold. He's unctuous as all get out, speaking Italian and leering at Bella like she was as if she were a pert, firm teenager. . . as everyone else has been doing, really. Dakota Fanning is also here, playing one of those really young-looking vampires. Also present is professional Creepy Kid Cameron Bright , all grown up!  Vampire Tony Blair wants to kill Bella unless the Cullen family agrees to turn her into a vampire. They all shake on it, and then the group gets back in their mystery machine and head heads back to Forks.

Edward swears to never leave Bella again, so he and Jacob have a final face off, but nothing comes of it; they just glower at each other. Edward then asks Bella to marry him. The end! No really, Bella gasps and then they roll credits.

I must praise this movie, however, for having excellent internal continuity. New Moon definitely continues the story started in the first film. Sadly, that story is as a tortuously slow tale of teenagers falling hopelessly in and out of love, which is boring, even when they're not creatures of the night.

New Moon, like its predecessor, feels completely unnecessary. The film doesn't stand on its own, as everything that happens was set up in the first film, making it a true sequel like Lethal Weapon 2 ...only lame.

Wolfman, The

Remember back in the 1990’s when Hollywood decided to make big budget updates for the old Universal Movie Monsters?  Francis Ford Coppola gave us the reinterpretation/bad acid trip Bram Stoker’s DraculaKenneth Branagh gave us an epic interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  Then came Stephen Sommers’ The Mummy which, despite many reviews to the contrary, was an excellent update on what was originally a boring remake of Dracula (1931). Now over ten years later, another successful update/remake gets added to the bunch: The Wolfman.

Joe Johnston’s film is better than it has any right to be, based on the controversy surrounding the film’s production.  Johnston creates a dark, foreboding atmosphere with lush Victorian-era countryside and does the one thing we were all waiting for: brutally eviscerates hapless villagers!  I had forgotten how vicious werewolves are supposed to be.  There are some truly inspired amputations leading up to a full-on attack on a Gypsy village.  The attack is shot in such a way that every time the camera whips around, someone new is suddenly on the ground-missing vital parts. And since they're all “movie Gypsies,” the audience doesn't have to feel bad.  Well, no audience that's seen Drag Me to Hell.  Evil, eeevile people.

Well evil and helpful, as they stitch up poor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) after his attack and leave him to his wolfy fate.  Oh dear.  I should have put up a spoiler alert there.  Benicio Del Toro is the titular wolfman!  I’ve done gone and ruined the movie for you! Unless you saw the trailer.

Anyway.

The story here is essentially the same as the original 1941 film: prodigal son, Lawrence Talbot returns to his father’s home, is attacked by werewolf, becomes new werewolf, and hijinks ensue!  Unfortunately, this about as far as the plot goes. Well, that’s not entirely true.  There is actually a whole bonus plot that is summarily explained by Anthony Hopkins in the middle of the film.  But, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Werewolf films, like the similar Jekyll and Hyde pictures, should not be too plot-obsessed.  These stories are supposed to be character studies: an examination of a man trying to master his own base nature.  Ideally the conflict should be entirely internal, which the original film did to an extent.  This update chooses to have its cake and eat it too by creating a bad guy for the Wolfman to fight in a similar fashion to the Absorbing Man’s third act entrance in Ang Lee’s Hulk.  In fairness, The Wolfman’s villain is much more organically introduced and built up throughout the movie but, nonetheless, the external conflict muddies what should have been the sole focus of the story.

However, on a superficial  horror movie level, the movie does nothing but satisfy.  Del Toro and Hopkins deliver wonderful performances with the always great Hugo Weaving following closely behind.  I will warn horror connoisseurs that there is extensive use of computer generated imagery for the werewolf transformations and succeeding violence.  I can already hear the complaints of the CGI not being realistic enough.  I totally agree, CGI makes the actor transforming into a bipedal, ferocious hound from hell look less realistic, dammit!

Dog Soldiers

Certain movies are so good that their winning formula creates a whole new genre.  Die Hard is a prime example.  How often have you seen movies that are essentially Die Hard in some other environment?  My personal favorite is still Under SiegeDie Hard + boat + Steven Segal +Gary Busey + Tommy Lee Jones = Awesome!  Another trend-setter was Zulu:  Michael Caine + British Army vs. literally A MILLION Zulus.  It is an incredible picture, and has inspired its fair share of imitators, such as Dog Soldiers.

There are few things that can’t be made better with werewolves.  Neil “I bring the balls back to horror” Marshall’s 2002 feature film debut takes the Zulu formula and in place of Zulus gives us 7-foot-tall-blood-thirsty Scottish werewolves.

And we should all thank him for it.

Dog Soldiers follows a doomed squad of British soldiers on a training exercise against American soldiers.  Just when everything is going fine, the British squad find the remains of a completely separate special ops team and are immediately attacked by what ate the rest.  The rest of the film follows the squad as they hole up in a farmhouse desperately fighting insurmountable odds to make it to the dawn.

We get to see the beginnings of a few staples of Marshall’s film-making: great characters with decent development, juxtaposition/rearrangement of older themes to create new craziness, and balls out gore!

Kevin McKidd of Rome and Trainspotting leads our plucky band of Brit soldiers, including the always brilliant and gravelly-voiced Sean Pertwee, and channels past great “I don’t know what the hell’s going on, but I’m dealing with it” characters like Kurt Russell’s in The Thing or Ben Affleck’s in Phantoms.  Yeah, I put them in the same sentence. For as we all know:   “Affleck was the bomb in Phantoms, yo.”

What makes these characters intriguing is that they attack the werewolf problem as if it were just another enemy.  The deck is stacked against them, sure, but they apply their army training and determination with a surprising degree of effectiveness.

As I mentioned, werewolves make everything better, and I have to say, as something of a connoisseur, these are some great werewolves.  Admittedly, the film was low budget so Marshall uses them much like Steven Spielberg used the shark in Jaws : brief moments, quick glances, and hideous violence.  Though once Marshall finally lets the audience get a good look at the wolves, they are quite memorable.  Intimidating figures with distinctive wolf features as compared to the wolves in the first two Underworld films that had no fur, and didn't really look like anything.  As an added bonus, these wolves have no compunction with turning six feet of badass Brit into a wet pile of goo!

Marshall creates a film that at first glance does not know what it should be; but, in fact, it mixes multiple genres to create its own voice and a wickedly good, adrenaline-fueled ride.

Trick R Treat

I love horror movies. Eat. Sleep. Breathe them.

Lately, it’s not easy to justify my love of horror films as I find myself wading through a sea of unworthy remakes and characterless gore-fests. However, there are still a few new horror movies that remind me of why I loved the genre in the first place. One of these being the recent DVD release of Michael Dougherty’s Trick R Treat.

Trick R Treat is a Halloween-themed anthology film that gives the audience four-count 'em, four-different horror stories for the price of one. Each follows someone or some group that fails to abide by Sam’s (Quinn Lord) rules for Halloween. Unfortunately for them, Sam is a childlike trick-or-treater with a creatively homicidal streak, so these transgressions tend to lead to deadly results.

Setting this film apart from other horror anthologies like CreepshowBodybags, or Twilight Zone: the Movie, is the inter-connectivity of the four stories. Well, that and no one died during the making of the film (poor, poor Vic Morrow). Anyway, the ease and timing with which Dougherty weaves the characters in the different short stories reminds me more of Pulp Fiction than the above-referenced horror films. The re-appearances of characters add not only to their individual stories, but also, strengthens the larger film, creating a more satisfying larger story of Halloween night in this small town.

But, let’s get down to brass tacks: is it scary?

Answer: You bet your ass it is.

Though the nature of the film requires any suspenseful moments be brief, they’re quite effective. Starting when Leslie Bibb blows out a Jack-O-Lantern despite her husband’s warnings to Brian Cox’s desperate fight with a certain home intruder. (By the by, Dylan Baker is also featured prominently; bringing our Kings cast member count to three. Shame on you for not watching that wonderful show!) There are also more than enough gory and visceral moments for those of us demented weirdos who appreciate such things. More disturbing and fun (yes, fun) is Dougherty’s complete willingness to do horrible, horrible things to little children. You just don’t see that as often these days. Well, at least not outside of a Disney film.

Also memorable is Sam, our mascot for the picture. Dressed in orange “footie” pajamas and a burlap sack that you’ll wish he never took off, Sam (as in “Samhain”) appears to be the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween and its chief enforcer. His character hearkens back to the more solid horror movies of the 80s, when we could count on some visually appealing (or disgusting) figure to root for. At the very least, he makes a great little action figure, which you should go out and buy.

Seriously, we need to encourage more movies like this and the best way to say “I love you” to a movie is with cash. So if you find yourself looking for that perfect Halloween horror flick, I cannot recommend Trick R Treat enough. As long as you don’t watch on Halloween, as you should be out trick-r-treating.

Or else Sam will get you. Have you not been paying attention?

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

In 1995 I sat down in the cruddy studio apartment I shared with my girlfriend with a shiny new videotape I picked up from the video store in the mall across the street. The Anime phenom was still a couple of years out,  and we were still only getting tidbits here and there from the one or two studios that would import the biggest titles over to our shores... Well, that and the Hentai which, for those of you who might not know, is animated porn. Horaay freaky tentacles! But that's getting off the subject, where was I?

Oh. Yes. The cyber-steampunk-western-horror story  that was the first Vampire Hunter D. It a mash-up story that was unlike anything I'd ever seen outside of the best comics of the 80's, which, as it turned out, was the time period the movie was originally released (1985, to be exact). The tale of the half-human/half-vampire (Damphir), hunter-for-hire, constantly battling his nature in a spaghetti-western themed post apocalyptic wasteland filled with vampires, demons, mutants, and other monsters, relying heavily on his trusty sword to mete out swift and bloody retribution. resonated even more loudly when large portions of it appeared a few years later in the Wesley Snipes vehicle, Blade, which was the story of a half-human/half-vampire hunter, constantly battling his own nature in a ultra-modern urban cityscape filled with vampires, demons, and mutants, relying heavily on his trusty sword to mete out swift and bloody retribution.

Oh sure, there were some huge differences. For instance: Blade didn't have a smartmouth symbiote living in his left hand or a bitchin' cybernetic horse, but the parallels are there to be drawn. However, this review isn't about Blade, this review is about my boy, D. As the years passed and anime grew in popularity, so too did the popularity of Vampire Hunter D. Eventually a sequel would be green-lighted, and that sequel would be one of the biggest little releases in Anime fandom.

The story of Charlotte, a young human girl, who is abducted by Count Meier Link, a vampire. Charlotte’s father hires D to find her and kill her humanely if she turns into a vampire. At the same time, her older brother also hires the notorious Marcus brothers for backup. The movie follows D's hunt of Meier, his run-ins with the Marcus brothers, and a confrontation with an ancient enemy.

Let's get the basics out of the way. This is a great movie. As it was a co-production with an American studio, the voice acting is far better than average and the dubbing quality is phenominal. A lot of American dubs sound like a person in a studio reading lines. No matter how well acted, the acoustics say "I'm in a room!" However, the mix here is amazingly well done. I know, not the first thing you notice, but this detail speaks well to the rest of the production. Great art, quality animation in key sequences, and amazing production. The story is convoluted and surreal, but that's the source material, and in all fairness, secondary. This is a worthwhile movie... But that's not why we're here.  We want to determine wether or not it's a worthy addition to the Cavalcade. Unfortunately... I have to say no.

While it's a great film, with some truly impressive set pieces, the pacing is too deliberate to satisfy a hungry audience. As a matter of fact, the quality of the acting makes the melodrama work. It's really not all that mockable. While the world of Anime is filled with opportunity for great party entertainment for the Cavalcade. As much as I love it, and highly recommend you watch it, I can't say it's a good pick for the Cavalcade.

Underworld

It probably will come as no surprise to any of you reading this when I say that I'm a geek. After all, I write for a website dedicated to B movies, I read about B movies, and in my spare time I even watch B movies. Furthermore, and I know this must come as a shock, but I even read comic books and play video games. I am hereby sacrificing my potential future sex life so that you know that when I say that when this film was released in 2003, I was the full embodiment of its target demographic.

So when I say that this is one of the dumber movies I've ever had to sit through, then you know it's not because of some high-handed thought process. I mean, when I hear there's a movie that's all about Werewolves (or "Lycans", rather) and Vampires (err-"Death Dealers") kicking each others asses, I get all kinds of excited. And to be fair, the movie does deliver on the monster mash, at least in terms of the Werewolves. Very cool transformation sequences, coupled with the fuzzy whirling dervishes of death walking on walls and ceilings makes for one cool dog.

The vampires don't come off nearly as well, however. As near as I could make out, being a vampire in this universe means that you have sharp pointy teeth, pale skin, and have to wear freaky fetish gear. They are only as strong as a human, and be killed as easily as any human. The only time they demonstrate any kind of abilities is when they jump really high and occasionally stick to ceilings. Oh, and while they do drink blood, it seems to be more for plot related reasons than for sustenance. I spent most of the movie trying to figure out why the werewolves, who are stronger, faster, and a hell of a lot more durable, didn't wipe out the vampires years before the movie takes place.

I had the time to think about this because while the action set pieces are reasonably impressive, and the movie is certainly pretty, there is absolutely nothing going on in the plot that is interesting, or even makes much sense for that matter. Kate Bekinsale plays Selene, who is the big bad-ass Death Dealer in the movie, though that seems to be more for her ability to look hot in a leather catsuit and the fact that she doesn't just stand there and scream when the werewolves come a-knocking than anything else. She ends up in a Romeo-Juliet situation with Michael Corvin (Scott Speedman). When I wasn't wondering why the vampires weren't already extinct, I was trying to figure out why Selene felt the need to sacrifice everything for Michael, as it went from one scene of "I don't care about you" to the next, where she suddenly loves him and is therefore gonna kill every motherf#$ker that gets in her way. It doesn't help that they have about the same chemistry as Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman did in the Star Wars prequels.

Scratch that. Mother Theresa and Ghandi have more chemistry than those two. This movie's central romantic story is pure Remains of the Day in comparison.

Director Len Wiseman (who also co-wrote the script) managed to put together a stylish looking movie, of that there is no doubt. But it's stretched so thinly over a plot that has a more interesting backstory than actual story, so that by the end, you don't really care what happens to anybody in the movie.

You know, I was getting worried there. After quality screenings of 28 Days Later, and An American Werewolf in London, I was worried that an "A-List blockbuster" like Underworld might be yet another good film sneaking it's way into the Cavalcade. It turns out there was nothing to worry about. It's perfect for talking over, since nobody says anything of interest, and as already stated, it can't really make much less sense, so nobody will feel especially lost watching it. Be sure to include this one!

Howling, The

Having hit my teenage, hormone-induced, T&A littered, monster movie loving phase somewhere in the early 1990's, I grew up listening to the legends of the great horror movie classics of the 70's and 80's.  By the time I was old enough to go see these movies in the theater, I was getting the watered-down recycled formulas of Nightmare on Elm Street 4 or Jason Goes to Hell. Gone were the days of wildly original movies like Scanners and its exploding heads or the sheer intensity of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

One of the movies that I heard the most about was The Howling. After all, It had an amazing poster, and by 1991 there were already 6 movies in the franchise, one of which being the weirdly outlandish Howling III: The Marsupials, which I saw late night on HBO when I was 12 and was not terribly impressed (though I think I'd now want to screen it for the Cavalcade). Unfortunately, after that I never made it a priority to go back and see the one that started it all, no mater what my friends said about it. They would go on and on about the transformation sequences, how scary the whole thing was, and how it was even better than the later An American Werewolf in London at mixing comedy with horror. Eventually however, as video tape gave way to DVD and the Special Edition of the movie fell into my lap, I gathered the minions of the Cavalcade and set down to watch.

After having done so I have to wonder, what was all the hype about?

This film was directed by Joe Dante, who had by this point in his career helmed the Schlocktastic Jaws knock-off, Piranha, and would later go on to direct Gremlins, which was produced by none-other than Jaws director, Steven Spielberg. A staple of Dante's work is a mixture of Comedy and Horror along with numerous references to other films, things that are in full effect in The Howling. The scenes in the bookstore, with veteran actor and frequent Dante collaborator, Dick Miller as the store owner are some of the funniest. After providing the key explanations about the rules of the werewolves of the movie, he's asked,  "Do you really believe all of this?" only to respond, "What? Do I look crazy to you?"

Sadly, these scenes are few and far between, with the best reserved for the ending. So we have to rely on the horror and suspense to keep us going... which is where the film completely falls apart. Aside from one cheap scare with a dog, and one really effective stalking sequence, this movie fails at generating any level of excitement on the suspense. Long, television soap opera scenes with Dee Wallace and her on-screen (and soon to be real-life) husband Christopher Stone are the order of the day. This is something that was completely left out of the tales I was told of how "awesome" this movie was by my friends as a teenager, all I heard was:

"Dude! Freaky Werewolves!"

"Dude! Freaky Sex!"

"Dude! Freaky Werewolf Sex!"

I should mention that a lot of the kids I knew as a teenager did a lot of drugs.

While they didn't lie-this film does indeed contain a great transformation sequence and some on-screen doggy style (and not in the traditional sense), it's also filled to the brim with the worst thing possible in a low-budget movie... Padding for time.

Over the years, The Howling has become a revered cult classic, with many hailing it as best of the staple of werewolf movies to come out of the 80's. Not only do I have to disagree, I can't even argue that it was all that good. Though when you're comparing it to other werewolf movies like Silver Bullet, Teen Wolf Too, or it's own sequels, this film is pure gold...

But still not recommended for a Cavalcade.

An American Werewolf In London

You ever wake up after a night out on the town and not remember everything that happened, including how you got to wherever you woke up? There was once a time when I was 17 and woke up in my best friend's front yard, with my Dad sitting in a minivan parked on the street, yelling at me. It could have been worse though, my friend was throwing up in his neighbor's bushes at the time, wishing he was dead. But still, I suppose we got off easy.

There's a point in An American Werewolf in London where our hero David Kessler (David Naughton) wakes up naked in a zoo... in a habitat, with no idea of how he got there.  Considering the circumstances, he handles the situation with aplomb, running from tree-to-tree, until he can find suitable "cover". His ability to remain calm in this situation is rather easy to understand: He think's he's lost his mind. To be fair, it's been a hard couple of days, and this isn't the first time he's woken up in a strange place. This all follows the scene where wakes up in a hospital and finds out his best friend (Griffin Dunne) was killed by a lunatic while he survived with some cuts and scratches ...A fact his friend doesn't really hold against him when he shows shortly after, looking like "a meatloaf". But while his friend is rather nonplussed about being a decomposing undead meatsack messenger, he still wishes David would do everybody a favor and kill himself before he turns into a monster.

To say that this is a quirky film is a gross understatement. Directed by John Landis, who was just coming off of The Blues Brothers, and had previously done Animal House, and The Kentucky Fried Movie, this film is filled with comedic moments that make the gory ones all the more shocking and unexpected. Make no bones about it: this is a horror movie, and a good one at that. But part of the reason it works is that the comedy is handled so deftly by the Director, script, and all the principles. There's a thin line between scaring people and making them laugh. The Cavalcade is built around the idea of watching movies that often have one happen where the other was intended by the filmmakers. There are Nazi Werewolves in this movie, and it works. That's saying something right there.

That said, this film is far from perfect. To start, the ending just doesn't work. It's every bit as rushed and anticlimactic as a teenage boy's first time, and when it's over, you're just kind of staring at the screen going "that's it?"

The middle section of the movie drags in certain sections as it jumps from point to point. Though that didn't bother, as several of the scenes felt like they were lifted from 30's horror classics, like The Wolf Man, with which most of the characters in this movie are familiar. By the time you get to the first transformation sequence, a full hour into the movie, it comes at just the moment the audience is starting to get antsy. Even now, more than 25 years since it's release, that scene is still very effective at making the audience go "wow!"

This film comes highly recommended for a screening, but make it the second or third show, as you'll want the crowd settled in and prepared. You know, considering that this is supposed to be a Cavalcade of Schlock, we've been lucky to have 28 Days Later, and this film in successive events, no?