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Source: Jonathan Stryker

Oct 5, 2012, 8:0 AM

Tim Burton's FRANKENWEENIE (2012) is a big-screen remake of his own 1984 short film of the same name and utilizes the Frankenstein monster tale by Mary Shelley to tell a clever story about a young boy, Victor Frankenstein, and how he copes with the loss of his dog. 


Victor loves making 16mm movies with his dog, Sparky, in his hometown of New Holland, which looks like Everytown, USA.  Sparky stars as the Sparkysaurus, because what young boy doesn't love dinosaurs?  Mixing footage of Sparky with self-made animation, Victor's movie shows off an imagination no doubt inspired by "The Twilight Zone" and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).  Victor, obviously and alter-ego for director Burton, is an awkward child, and keeps a low profile from his classmates and his neighbor Mr. Burgermeister, an overweight man who brandishes a hedgeclipper.  During a baseball game, Victor manages to hit a home run, but unfortunately his dog chases the ball into the street and is killed by a car.  Devastated, Victor mopes through school until his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, shows the class how to use electricity to move a dead frog's legs.  Experiencing a eureka moment, Victor is filled with a new sense of purpose, and converts his parents' attic into a makeshift laboratory.  Following his teacher's instructions, he reanimates Sparky with the help of lightning.

Victor does his best to keep Sparky's existence a secret, and a creepy kid from the neighborhood, Edgar, wants to know how Victor did it.  Word gets out about Sparky, and other kids vying for a science project attempt similar experiements until things get out of control.  A rat becomes a crazed monster; a turtle is made enormous and stomps among a town square carnival  like a mixture of Godzilla and Gamera; and sea monkeys run amok through the streets.  A cute, next-door poodle who fancies Sparky is made to resemble Elsa Lanchaster; the name "Shelley" appears on a tombstone; and BAMBI is displayed on a local theatre marquee.  The film's ending is a loving homage to James Whale's 1931 classic that started it all and fueled nightmare for years to come. 

Thematically, FRANKENWEENIE shares many similarities to Henry Selick's 1993 film THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (produced by Tim Burton) in that a protagonist compelled to do a good deed ends up making a mess of things.  The film can been seen in 2D and 3D, though the latter is preferable as it bolsters the onscreen antics.  A black cat sticks its head into the audience and hisses in one of the more memorable sequences.

Filmed on Canon EOS 5D Mark II single lens reflux cameras and printed in black and white, FRANKENWEENIE looks lovely.  It would be nice to see black and white return to the screen as an artform. 

Danny Elfman provides another memorable score to this amazingly-animated stop-motion film.  Highly recommended in 3D, and finally someone got the right idea to release it in time for Halloween. 

Take a look at the MAD MONSTER PARTY, a film that inspired director Burton to pursue this method of filmmaking. 


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Book Review: ALIEN VAULT

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Jonathan Stryker

Oct 3, 2012, 4:0 AM

Ridley Scott's ALIEN (1979) is one of those movies that I just never get tired of.  It is a film that I love unconditionally because it not only is one of the few films that makes me feel as though I am in outer space, but also because it is a perfectly made film.  The advertising campaign is one of the most genius marketing schemes ever devised for a motion picture. 

I was too young to see ALIEN at the Menlo Park Twin Cinema where it opened, in addition to 90 other movie theater screens, on Friday, May 25, 1979, before opening to a wider 635 theaters four weeks later.  My parents were not the type of people to take me to see an R-rated science-fiction film as I was only ten and-a-half years-old.  I look back at this now as a good thing, because as a sensitive child the movie would've given me a heart attack.  I was expecting ALIEN to be a film along the lines of STAR WARS and apparently, so did toy manufacturers who released board games, viewmaster clips from the film, posters, puzzles, and an eighteen-inch plastic doll replica of the titular monster that is widely considered to be the scariest toy ever marketed to children, and today commands hundreds of dollars on Ebay.  Someone at Kenner failed to get the memo from Fox that ALIEN was an adult science fiction film.  Oops!

There are few films that I have ever seen that have affected me as deeply as ALIEN.  Anybody who has seen it cannot deny the film's sheer, raw power.  Is there another film, with the possible exception of William Friedkin's THE EXORCIST (1973) or Steven Spielberg's JAWS (1975), both of which, like ALIEN, deal with a seemingly uncontrollable force, that has elicited such strong and quite literally gut-wrenching responses from audiences? 

I didn't see ALIEN until the summer of 1983.  It was on a home video system called Capacitance Electronic Disc which was manufactured by RCA.  The movie was essentially pressed into grooves on a 12-inch disc like a standard long-playing record.  The disc was housed in a plastic caddie to protect it from human hands, much like the alien incubating inside Kane (sorry, couldn't resist), and I spent the entire summer watching this and other movies that quickly became favorites.  For some reason, the image of the egg was reversed on the cover. 

In retrospect, ALIEN is no different than its classic predecessors in that the great fright films of our time were all badly or poorly received upon their initial theatrical releases.  To think that ALIEN was brushed off by some critics almost makes you want to call them out for being film snobs.  Bosley Crowther believed that Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO belonged in a toilet; John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN was, in his own words, universally across-the-board panned by every reviewer who saw it; even THE SHINING (1980) was met with lukewarm responses.  In the end it didn't matter what the critics thought, because the best advertisement for ALIEN, even more so than its brilliant tagline and equally chilling trailers and movie poster art, would be the throngs of people waiting outside the theater trying to get tickets to see the film. 

Given that Ridley Scott directed PROMETHEUS, which is due for release on home video this month, it is only fitting that we revisit his classic 1979 chiller.  Super-ALIEN fan Ian Nathan, executive editor at Empire Magazine, recently penned ALIEN VAULT, a book which boasts itself as the definitive story of the making of the film.  While it is considerably smaller than the glorious "making of" books on STAR WARS and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK by J.W. Rinzler, it is no less audacious in its quest to act as a biography of the film itself.  Ian knows this film inside-out. 

ALIEN VAULT is a definite must-have for fans of Ridley Scott's science-fiction masterpiece.  While it covers material that is already familiar to die-hard fans, it is still well worth the purchase.  Starting with the late Dan O'Bannon, ALIEN VAULT is an extraordinarily well-written account of the process of bringing this brilliant film to fruition.  This is a very neatly put together affair that describes the main people involved in the making of the film, crew members from the far corners of the world who came together with their own perceptions, ideas, and pre-conceived notions about what this film should be like, and how they were all put into a pot and mixed together by director Scott to produce one of the most iconic and ultimately most frightening motion pictures of our time, unequalled in this scribe's humble opinion. 

With access to Fox's archive of unpublished photos, in addition to his accumulation of interviews over the past ten years, author Nathan has compiled a book that cannot be experienced in digital format: there are pull-outs and pop-ups the give the reader a deeper understanding of just how complex an undertaking making this film was.  Author Nathan wanted this book to be the celebration of the experience of holding a physical book in your hands.

The book has gone out of print fairly quickly, but copies can be had from, Barnes and Noble, and Ebay. 

There is also a terrific website, Last Exit to Nowhere, that features t-shirts based on fake corporations in genre films, and it features logo designs based on the Nostromo and The Company, Weyland-Yutani:



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Oct 1, 2012, 12:0 PM

When I talk to people today about KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE, some of them are under the erroneous impression that the movie was made for video. Quite the contrary, the film was given a small but definite theatrical release on Friday, May 27,1988. I recall walking through Times Square in New York City and passing by the long gone Cineplex Odeon which featured the film on its marquee. I remember balking at the prospect of spending seven dollars to see a movie that looked, to be honest, terrible. I didn't catch up with the film until its home video release sometime later and was positively delighted to find that KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE is one of the most original, entertaining, and outright funny movies made during the 1980s.

The film is low-budget and extremely clever and creative; it almost looks like something that would have come out of 1960s B-movie drive-in cinema by way of Samuel Zachary Arkoff or Roger Corman.  The film has gone on to become something of a cult classic and deservedly so.  The film preys on people's fears of clowns, something that I personally do not share. I never found clowns to be anything other than annoying, however Stephen King's Pennywise the Clown from his novel IT (1986) certainly makes a good argument as to why people fear clowns. 

Filmed in Watsonville, CA and Santa Cruz, CA, KILLER KLOWNS follows a familiar formula of a small U.S. town invaded by an alien intruder, but in this case an army of aliens dressed like circus clowns who land in a ship masquerading as a circus tent!  Their cover is blown when Mike Tobacco (Grant Cramer) and Debbie Stone (Suzanne Snyder) investigate the tent and are stunned to find people cocooned inside cotton candy.  Naturally, when they go to tell the police, they are met with furrowed brows, insults and disbelief.  John Vernon, who played the mayor in DIRTY HARRY (1971), is hilarious as the officious Officer Mooney who just doesn't believe anything that Mike and Debbie have to say.  His partner, Officer Dave Hanson (John Allen Nelson), is willing to listen to Debbie as they were once an item.  Once he does realize the truth, the town is subject to a mini invasion of killer klowns who kill people for sustenance.   

In the film, over-sized ray guns fire popcorn; balloon animals come to life and sniff out trouble; shadow puppets come to life and eat onlookers; and cotton candy is used for nefarious purposes. 

One of the funniest sequences in the film is when a tricycle-riding klown encounters a motorcycle gang and is taunted by a Meatloaf-look-alike crew member who dares him to "knock my block off."  The result is laugh-out-loud funny. 

KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE has appeared on home video on VHS (which contained the video of the title track by The Dickies), laserdisc, and DVD (which contained a multitude of extras).  The new Blu-ray features:

            Audio commentary with the Chiodo Brothers (from the DVD)

            Five Killer Klowns Featurettes (from the DVD)

            Deleted Scenes (from the DVD)

            New to the Blu-ray: Vignettes: Holy Smoke & Klown Auditions

            Theatrical Trailer (from the DVD)

Note that the Storyboard Gallery and the Photo Gallery that was featured on the 2001 DVD have been dropped, so hang on to that edition if you want those extras.

The transfer itself appears to be sourced from the same transfer done for the 2001 DVD.  However, the increased resolution alone makes this Blu-ray a worthy upgrade since this film is so vibrant and colorful.  This is a bit of film grain in the overall image, but nothing too distracting. 

Highly recommended, especially with Halloween four weeks away.


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Sep 27, 2012, 7:0 PM

MAD MONSTER PARTY is a relatively obscure treat from 1967 that primarily made its rounds to movie theaters as a Saturday and Sunday matinee film for children.  Made by Rankin and Bass, the same production team who famously brought RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER to television five years earlier, MAD MONSTER PARTY is a stop motion musical that is the obvious inspiration for Tim Burton's THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993), boasting an infectious musical score and a cavalcade of talent voicing the eclectic assortment of titular characters.

Baron Boris von Frankenstein, voiced by Boris Karloff who had one of the greatest voices in the entertainment industry, decides to hang up his lab coat and turn his castle and duties over to his less than capable nephew Felix Flankin (Allen Swift). 

He plans to make this announcement at a gathering of monsters that includes a dim-witted monster he has created, the monster's mate (voiced by Phyllis Diller who recently passed away at 95), his lab assistant Francesca (Gale Garnett), Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Dracula, the Werewolf, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Mummy, and a King Kong-like ape), and a creepy Peter Lorre-like character.  Naturally, Felix goofs up everything, which causes the monsters to conspire to eliminate him and find out the secret that Frankenstein his unearthed, as the film hurtles towards its BLADE RUNNER-like ending. 

Bolstered by a terrific musical score, MAD MONSTER PARTY was originally released on Embassy home entertainment in the mid-1980s. This release, along with the film's scarce television airings, was sourced from very dark 16mm prints, making it difficult at times to see the action.  The opening credits referred to the availability of a soundtrack album, however one was never released at the time. It took nearly 20 years for a now defunct record company, Percepto Records, to finally issue the music on compact disc, which is long out of print.

Unfortunately, the film's original camera negative was reportedly damaged many years ago, rendering it unusable. Whether or not it still exists, is anybody's guess. Fortunately, a pristine 35mm print, which possesses a minimum amount of dirt and scratches at the head and tail of each reel, survived and has been used for the new Blu-ray/DVD combo release now available from Lionsgate.  The Blu-ray is a revelation and the film has never looked this good before.  It is framed in the 4 x 3 (1.33:1) ratio, but on widescreen monitors and televisions the image can easily be expanded to 16 x 9 (1.78:1) without looking contorted. 

Both the Blu-ray and the DVD have the following extras that have been ported over from the Lionsgate DVD release from 2009:

"Mad Monster Party: Making of a Cult Classic" featurette (14:47)

"It's Sheer Animagic! Secrets of Stop-Motion Animation" featurette with Mark Caballero and Seamus Walsh (9:35)

"Groovy Ghouls: The Music of Mad Monster Party" featurette with Maury Laws (3:45)

Two bonus sing-along tracks for kids of all ages: "Our Time to Shine" and "One Step Ahead"

Trailer (1:29)

The new Blu-ray is a worthy step up from the standard DVD and worth the purchase. 

Great for Halloween! 



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Sep 27, 2012, 2:59 AM

I love a movie that surprises me from start to finish and I'll be damned if THE TALL MAN doesn't do just exactly that.


What an unexpected little gem this one is and I can't urge you strongly enough to head out to you local video haunt and pick this one up right now.


Like probably the rest of my generation of horror fans when I hear the words THE TALL MAN one thing and one thing only come to mind, Angus Scrimm.


The PHANTASM films have cemented that character in my mind for all eternity but this TALL MAN has nothing to do with that TALL MAN.


There will be spoilers a head so please, proceed with caution if you don???t want to know important story segments.  Just stop here and go check it out, it???s good.


The town of Cold Rock is dying.  No jobs, no money and the town is just barely holding on.  Poverty is rampant and folks and their families are living in broken down trailers and shacks, it's not a pretty scene and in this drab, unforgiving environment we are introduced to Julia Denning.  A local nurse whose husband, the respected town doctor, has passed away and Julia is trying to hold it all together with her daughter and young son and through her eyes we meet many of the down trodden town folk and also learn of the local legend of THE TALL MAN who is deemed responsible for a rash of child disappearances that have plagued the area.


Things take a violent, personal turn when one night THE TALL MAN breaks into Julia's home and takes her young son.  An impressive chase sequence ensues and Julia moves heaven and earth to get to her son.  It's also at this point that the film starts to morph and a series of twists to the story arc really keeps you on the edge of your seat. 


Jessica Biel really gives a tour de force performance playing down her knock out good looks and really getting down and dirty as this hard working mother who will stop at nothing to find her son. 


What really impressed me was the ability of director Pascal Laugier whose previous film MARTYRS was a bloody, vicious but beautiful work to take this slower, more character driven story and really make it riveting.  The story is beautifully written and it unfolds at the perfect pace to keep the evolving tale and the surprises it holds hitting the viewer at just the right time.


You've got to give this one time, got to invest a little of yourself into it.  Not a lot of bloodshed, not a lot of high action but this one that sticks with you and you find yourself thinking about long after the end credits roll.


In a genre where the fans like to bitch about "original" ideas and "remakes" killing the genre it's nice to see someone take a chance and push the boundaries of the genre with a well written, character driven piece that puts intelligence ahead of blood shed and feelings ahead of boobs and sex jokes.  I liked THE TALL MAN, I like it a lot and if you give it a chance I think you'll like it as well.


THE TALL MAN is available now from IMAGE Entertainment.  Go get it!!


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